Monday, 31 January 2011

Picture Post. No. 3

The recent unrest in Egypt is troubling. I have been fortunate to visit this amazing country three times and have seen the natural beauties of the Red Sea in Sharm-el-Sheik, the fantastic temples of Luxor and, of course, the Pyramids and Museums of Cairo.

I love Egypt. It is a truly remarkable country and there is so much more to do than the highlights noted in the opening paragraph. The people are a delight and the food is good too. I hope that a resolution can be rapidly found that allows this country to move forward without damaging one of it's significant income sources; tourism. This revenue source is massive and a lack of tourist dollars is going to make matters worse.

In the absence of anything exciting from The Pile I present to you this little gem from my archives:-

On the Giza Plateau alongside the Great Pyramid of Khufu/ Cheops stands a peculiar modern structure. It is a museum and it is built over the top of a carefully constructed pit that was covered with truly enormous dressed stone blocks.

Inside that pit this beauty was placed for the use of Khufu in the afterlife. She is referred to as the Solar Boat and is an amazing site to behold. The people in the pictures give you some sense of her scale and, in turn, the scale of the pit and the stone blocks that once protected her.

145' long, 19' wide and truly beautiful
She is estimated to be in the region of 4,500 years old and recent excavations combined with the use of video cameras show that there is another such boat still entombed under the plateau.

Giza Plateau, Cairo, Egypt: Autumn 2008

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Sunday Review

Sarah Millican was absolutely splendid last night.

She was witty, bawdy, observant and laugh-out-loud funny. I know I say this a lot but if you get the chance grab a couple of tickets and go and see this South Shields lass. This is the tail end of her first tour and any watchers of "Live at the Apollo" and similar shows will have seen much of her current material albeit somewhat sanitised and condensed for the TV audience.

Having said that the gig was brilliant and I found myself roaring with laughter even though, on occasion, I knew what was coming. Even though a fair portion of her material has been televised the linking narrative and improvised stuff is as good, if not better, and it was a brilliant evening.

She also announced that her new tour, with a completely new material, will be kicking off later on in the year. I'll be looking out for that one, for sure.
Other stuff

In the middle of the week I mentioned that T&M had been down to the Groomers to be clipped. I now have two very skinny dogs:-

Marauder, posing

They look very different without 4" of hair. The pictures taken around Christmas clearly show the difference.
Marauder just before Christmas

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Do not do now ....

.... what you can put off until tomorrow*.

I am not a plumber.  I am reasonably handy around the home and am comfortable with timber, plaster, bricks, mortar and basic electrics but I am not a plumber.

"Why", you may ask. The reason is that you have to turn your water supply off to play at being a plumber and once you have done that you are committed to finishing the job. There is no "I'll leave it at that and finish it tomorrow" because that means that nobody drinks and toilets remain un-flushed until the job is done.

So for many weeks I have been putting off dismantling the shower mixer valve in the en-suite to replace the O-rings that have failed and resulted in a lack of warm water. I have found countless reasons for avoiding doing this in the hope that a professional would be calling but yesterday I just ran out. I had a clear day with nothing on the agenda but the servicing of the valve.

There was a glimmer of hope when 30% put on the washing machine but the cycle was soon finished, TP was showered and I was OK to turn off the water at the mains. Curse Them!

So I made a start. things went reasonably well. The suspect O-ring was identified and replaced and I started to put the thing back together. This is where things went from fair to shite. The main valve unit would not fit back in to the valve body. I tried numerous methods but avoided the traditional "blow with a hammer". After an hour or so, with some fairly inventive under the breath expletives, I decided to call in the Professional.

Now the Professional in question is a big Aston Villa fan so I already had a sense of foreboding as his availability on a Saturday afternoon was already unlikely. He also lives 200 yards down the High Street and is a regular customer for fresh eggs so was always going to be the plumber of choice but he does have a reputation that is along the lines of "a really nice chap but a bugger to get hold off".

I called at about 3.15 and his wife answered. I explained my predicament and she said that he was at the match but thought that it was an early kick off and he should be back by 4.00 pm. I thanked her and started the wait gently fuming amd somewhat frustrated at my lack of plumbing skills. I checked the web and noted that the kick-off was at 1.00pm and that the final score was 3-1 to Villa. Thank God he is not a Blackburn fan.

Sometime around 4 o'clock T&M's barking indicated a caller at the door. The Gods had smiled on me and the unreliable plumber had arrived. I talked him though the problem and he fiddled with bits and pieces and advised that the service kit was not the correct one. One of the O-rings was oversized preventing the union of the parts and also the shower valve was also open which was also complicating matters. Twenty minutes later the damned thing was back together and issuing hot water from the appropriate apertures.

I'm glad it's sorted but am disappointed at the same time. The shower mixer was a quality product from a reliable manufacturer but this is the first time the bloody thing has worked properly since it was installed back in 2008. This poor product performance combined with my inability to fix the thing and the manufacturer's provision of an incorrect service kit have left me feeling a tad grumpy this afternoon.

Venting here is helping the black cloud to dissipate, which is for the good as we are off to see Sarah Millican this evening at Warwick Arts Centre. I have seen her stand-up on TV and am really looking forward to the gig. Perhaps a report tomorrow.

Oh, and I forgot to mention, the Emergency Call Out Fee was a dozen eggs and they had to be pressed upon him. He's a good lad when you can get hold of him.
* in the hope of a Professional being called upon instead

Friday, 28 January 2011

Sloe Gin

Back in the Autumn we picked a few bags of sloes. Most of these were gathered on walks with T&M but one batch was raided from C&M's Orchard. These bitter fruits were first frozen and then pricked and added to preserving jars with plenty of sugar and gin. After daily shaking for a week or so they have sat undisturbed in a cupboard for the past 4 months.

Today I finally got my act together and strained the liqueur off the fruits and bottled it.

Sloe Gin
I have read that a coffee filter paper is ideal for filtering off the dregs before bottling but have found that the Sloe Gin is generally too viscous for the filter to be effective and seems to cause the filter seams to separate. I tend to use a square of absorbent kitchen paper towel. These are 2-ply and can easily be split in to two thin sheets. I then place one of the thin sheets in a funnel and use that to filter out the crud. It is still a slow process - no pun intended - but it does work.

The gin is drinkable straight away but those in the know advise on letting it mature in the bottle for a further 9-12 months before drinking.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

BBBB .....

......  or Badman's Black Back Bacon.

It seems like an age back when I started curing a Pork Loin joint that 30% had picked up at the supermarket.  The piece of pork has been dry cured for a week, then washed and soaked before spending another 10 days in a coating of black treacle. This second process was ably carried out by 30% and TP while I was slumming it in Boston.

I finally got my act together last night and dragged it out of the fridge.

Black Back Bacon
The black treacle imparts both colour and flavour to the bacon and the result is a melt-in-the-mouth sweet cured rasher.

After 20 minutes with a sharp knife I had 4 lbs of bacon to be packed up and frozen.

Hand cut rashers - Mmmm !
Even allowing a comfortable 50p per lb for cure materials this bacon came out at about £2.50 per lb and therefore blows the commercial stuff in to the weeds at a supermarket price of £8 per lb.

Guess what we're having for supper ?

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Here's a thought ...

Burns Night was a great success and "C" had thoughtfully sat us on the same table as Village Idiot and his long suffering spouse. A lovely evening was had by all but it was troubling to hear that VI had, once again, taken a tumble and this time had suffered a broken tooth and extensive bruising on his leg and backside. He needed assistance to get up from his chair at the dinner and I repeated that he should "shout" if he needs help with the flock as I helped him to his feet.

Apparently VI had been trying to fix a problem with the central locking on his Suzuki 4WD and was walking around the vehicle when he tripped over the tow bar of his sheep trailer. Having seen the state of his sheep trailer I would recommend a tetanus shot as a bare minimum. Seriously though, it is a concern that VI does seem to be unwell again as he apparently needed a night in hospital after wheeling his horse drawn plough down to the church for the Plough Sunday service. I'd say he needs to take it easy but he doesn't do a lot as it is.

Right,  where was I? Yes - while I was in the Pub I noticed that they are advertising a Chinese New Year Supper and I thought, since they are so close together, how about combining the two and having Chinese Burns Night* where you dine on sweet and sour haggis, get hammered on rice wine and inflict childish torture on your dining companions.
Other Stuff .....

Andy and Steve are cracking on with the painting but have cocked up their estimates and need an extra day. This means that two of the rooms will not be finished this week and I am either going to have to pick up the brushes myself or wait a couple of weeks. Needless to say, 30% has taken this with a stoical patience - NOT!

The Dog Groomer managed to fit both T&M in today so I now have two very skinny dogs. They look amazingly different with 4" of hair removed and I will see if I can grab a snap in the next day or so to paste in to the Journal.

* Imagine Burns recited with a Chinese accent rather than an Ayrshire accent. It might make it a bit less impenetrable.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Burns Night

Before I start I need to point out that I am not, have never been and will never be Scottish. My paternal ancestors came raiding across the borders from Wales a good few hundred years ago and liked the women and sheep so much they settled here.

My surname is incredibly localised in the UK and quite rare. The majority of people live in just a handful of Counties on the border of England and Wales. If the surname distribution is reviewed for the 1881 census the greatest concentration can be seen to shift back towards the Welsh border with most living in Herefordshire. Even now only about 30 people in a million will have the same surname as me.

... but I digress, tonight is Burns Night and a neighbour organises a Burns Night supper at the local pub complete with whisky, haggis and the traditional Address to the main course. It is great fun and an excuse to imbibe and enjoy this fantastic Scottish pudding. Don't be put off by the ingredients, a good haggis takes some beating. Try it and only then deny it, rather than, as many seem to do, declare it awful having never let a morsel past their lips.

It will be an "intimate" evening as the local Pub can just about seat 30 covers* and "C"; the Organiser has arranged for about 25 of us to be served. It is quite an honour to be included on the guest list and I am still not quite sure how we managed it. C&M live behind our house and we have an casual relationship based usually on bumping in to each other as we perambulate round the village. Occasionally we do something more formal such as raiding their orchard for sloes, having a drink at the Pub or one of C's "Do's" - He also does a St Georges Night Bash on 23rd April. As I said, I'm not sure how we came to be originally invited but we have become regulars on the list and really look forward to it.
Other stuff - Andy & Steve have turned up and are painting like crazy upstairs in TP's new bedroom and the two bathrooms. Their Property Services venture is really taking off and they are now fully booked for the next three months. 30% has instructed me to get them booked in to re-plaster and decorate the Master Bedroom at some point in April.

The Digital Aerial guy turned up as promised and apparently I now have more than 50 channels of Free-view telly in the Bedroom. Fantastic - 30% no longer has an excuse to stop ironing - Ouch !

* if your idea of a great table is six inches from the bar and with absolutely no elbow room at all. The Land Lady does like to cram them in and maximise profit margin

Monday, 24 January 2011

Loose Ends

Monday has been spent catching up on things that have been overlooked for one reason or another. Work is pretty quiet so I have managed to find a few minutes here and there to get a few things moving.

An Installer has been booked to come and erect a Digital TV aerial and T&M have both been booked in at the Groomer's. They were last clipped back in August and we left them to get shaggy over the Winter to keep out the cold. They have certainly done that. Their coats are so thick that knots and tangles are forming faster than we can brush them out so its off for a Shampoo and Clip job; one on Wednesday and the other on Friday. I have also taken a trip over to the local Feed Merchant as we are down to the last bag of Layers Pellets.

It is dog training this evening and it seems a long time since we were last there. I have been trying to keep up with their education and have been practising walking to heel "off the lead" during our walks. It seems to be going well but we will see how they perform tonight under Dog Trainer Len's scrutiny.  I suppose I had better get them walked as they are, shall we say, somewhat inattentive if they go to training without prior exercise.

I met up with Marilyn and Murphy on my walk and it appears that she is having Wellington quality issues too. Today she was sporting a green wellie on her left foot and a cream, flowered one on her right.  Always the optimist, she smiled and commented on how fortunate she was that the two pairs she owned had developed leaks in different feet and she was able to create one good pair from the two. 

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggity Jig ...

... Good Evening JF*.

The flight home was fine and once again I had a row of seats to myself. I stretched out and studiously ignored the announcements to belt up during the bouts of mild turbulence as apparently did everyone else.

The plane landed on time in Birmingham and I sped through passport control, baggage reclaim and customs. I was soon de-icing the car in the Long Stay car park and, after a 40 minute drive, was walking through the door at home. I was enthusiastically greeted by T&M and, when I had extricated myself from their manic circling, made a couple of cups of coffee and wandered upstairs to say hello to 30% and TP.

30% was absolutely shattered as she had been on conference calls until 11.30 p.m. and was then awoken at 1.30 a.m. and kept on the phone until 4.30 by a project team that couldn't grasp that their data circuit upgrade could not be completed simply by spouting hot air and making empty threats.

Needless to say we have had a quiet day.

My Dad popped over at around 11 to drop off his dog; Tilly. He is away for the weekend at my elder sister's birthday party and we have been entrusted with her care. Dad had a surprise gift. He had been visited by a farmer friend earlier in the week and was given a brace of Mallard.....

..... excellent - that was Dinner sorted** and one less decision for my fatigued brain to deliver.

The rest of the day was the bare essentials as dictated by minimal sleep; a trip to the Supermarket, a good walk with dogs and an early supper.
* Blade Runner. The greeting given by the Replicant toys to their creator; J F Sebastian as he returns home.
** Once they had been plucked and jointed

Friday, 21 January 2011

BAA Take Note

I woke this morning at about 5.30 a.m.

I have found that I have problems adjusting to Eastern Time and tend to wake very early and be pretty tired by about 7 o'clock in the evening. They say that your body clock adjusts at a rate of an hour each day so a 5 day stay should have me adjusted to ET just in time to fly back to the UK.

I have found that only partially adjusting suits me better. It means that I wake very early and need to avoid late nights - or at least try to - but the plus side is that I don't really suffer any jet lag problems when I fly back home.

Now, where was I? Yes - there is not a lot to report today as most of it will be spent in airports and airliners. The forecasted snow was still falling and I checked my flights on the web. All seemed fine so I packed, had a leisurely breakfast and caught a cab to the airport. There was a couple of inches of snow on the major routes from Cambridge to Logan airport and it was falling so quickly that visibility was severely restricted. The Cabbie thought I had little chance of flying out and gave me his card so I could call him back if necessary.

I wandered up to the check-in desk and was booked on to an earlier flight. The desk staff seemed optimistic of my departure and so I went through the rigmarole of removing belts, boots, metallic objects, emptying pockets and taking laptops out of cases before they and I were blasted with several millirads of x-ray radiation and the Department of Homeland Security judged me safe to pass through to the Departure Lounge.

I located my Gate and peered out at the plane. It was covered in snow to a depth of at least 4". I am guessing that it had been at the Gate all night and this was it's first flight of the day. The snow was still falling and the airport seemed to be running like clockwork. Skid Steer Bobcats with Miniplows were whizzing around the landing gear of the Jet and larger Pick-up Trucks with full size ploughs were dealing with the routes near the Terminal whilst Monster Ploughs were out on the runways and Taxi ways.
it left 20 mins behind schedule

I recall BAA* wittering on about how much snow sat beneath a standing Jet and that it had to be cleared before a plane could be moved when the UK airports ground to a halt in December's snow. Not out here they don't. We boarded and the jet was rolled off the snow on to the Taxi-ways. We then parked whilst the De-icing teams rolled up and blasted the snow and ice off with a sickly pink liquid from a high pressure hose before following with a gooey green de-icer that was more gently sprayed on to the wing surfaces. The hose operators must have been absolutely bloody frozen standing on a cherry-picker platform on an exposed piece of tarmac in sub-zero temperatures. Perhaps that is why it took them less than 20 minutes to de-ice the plane and before I knew it we were at the end of the run-way with the engines spinning up.

The flight over New England and New York was great and 16,000 feet was low enough to take in the snowy landscape, the frozen lakes and the fractured ice on the partially frozen rivers. They say that a shot of sun-shine is a great mood enhancer and I can believe it as my spirits lift further as the plane cleared the clouds. No wonder pilots look so damned cheerful all the time. They must be blissed out on the vast quantities of endorphins or whatever are liberated by exposure to the sun. If you suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder take my advise, don't buy the crappy lamp that is supposed to mimic sunlight, re-train and take a job as a Pilot.
Other Stuff

A quick recap on last night, I spent the evening with colleague, and hopefully a new friend, in an Irish Pub called Mr Dooley's in the Financial District of Boston. It was great. He was fine company and considering our wildly different backgrounds we had much in common. The conversation was great and it was really good to spend some time meeting someone new and not having work encroach on the chat to any great extent.  The food was incredibly good. I ordered a Boston Seafood Scampi and was rewarded with a bowl of linguine in a white wine and cream sauce topped with seared scallops, king prawns and fresh fish. It was gorgeous and cooked to perfection and, considering the location, very reasonably priced.

* BAA - British Airport Authorities.

Thursday, 20 January 2011


It appears that I many have been flown over 3,500 miles at quite considerable expense for a contribution that I could have made from the comfort of my own home.

I was originally flown out to Boston as it was indicated that the client wanted to explore the way my project had been constructed. I was considered to be the SME* and therefore was required for the face to face discussions. It should be noted that this is a tenuous justification as if they dig much below the surface ….. “their legal guys will need to talk to our legal guys” – I am not a Lawyer.

Over the course of the week the client has changed their approach and late yesterday provided us with a list of 120 questions/clarification points to be discussed today. None of these relate to the structure of my project. I have therefore sat around and, where possible, assisted my colleagues with some of the responses. I would place a significant wager on me not being called in to the Client’s Meeting Room today.

As I type this I am sat in a “break out” room with a number of colleagues. The Core Team are in the meeting and we are here “just in case”

So, I have been dragged from my bed at 5.30 am. I have been driven to a meeting before the hotel restaurant opened for Breakfast and have spent the day in a suit and tie drinking coffee and eating pastries and a fairly typical Business Buffet Lunch.

I could kill for a decent Espresso and a slice of wholemeal toast spread with Marmite. For the fine diners out there this is “pain rustique flambe with a yeast jus” **

* I am contravening several Trade/Product description laws by using the acronym SME – particularly in the use of “E for Expert”. I might just get away with “E for Elf”
** I know that flambĂ© isn’t toasted but it serves for comedic effect

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Your Fish, Sir

Most of Tuesday was spent in a windowless "war room" discussing tactics for the client meeting on Thursday. Very little was really accomplished as most of the time was spent second guessing what the client might ask*.

In the evening we went to a restaurant down on Boston's Fish Dock called the No Name. I have to say that the company was much much better than the quality of the meal. I ordered fried scallops and expected some pan seared beauties, white and plump. Instead I received deep fried, breaded, watery nuggets about the size of cherry tomato piled on a huge portion of tartare sauce. It was edible but the nuggets could have had anything in them. Fortunately the squid and fried oysters that were shared as a starter were much better and actually tasted of the sea.

On my return to the hotel I had another fishy experience......

...... I am staying at the Marlowe Kimpton in Cambridge MA and this small US chain has a "Pet Friendly" policy. They have fantastic rooms and, somewhat surprisingly, welcome pets. This goes as far as having the customary bowl of mints for Human Guests at Reception which is accompanied by a bowl of dog treats. They also provide pet beds and gift baskets for your dog and cat on arrival - only in America!

A colleague is also staying at the Marlowe and was rattling on about having a Fish in his room called Francis. I listened for a while and asked what on earth he was talking about. He advised that the Marlowe's pet friendly policy goes as far as providing you with a Pet Fish for the duration of your stay if you don't have a pet.

I half believed him but my underlying cynicism thought that he might be pulling my leg. However, on my return to the hotel after work, I asked at reception feeling slightly foolish. The receptionist beamed and advised that she would be more than happy to provide a fish and when I returned to my room after dinner I found a bowl on my desk with Sebastian swimming happily around.
"No, I don't want to be in your Blog"

Alongside his bowl is a card telling me his name and that all I need to do is enjoy his presence as the hotel staff take care of his feeding, water etc. It might seem odd but it is really nice to have the little fellow around. When I was last in Boston I actually mentioned that how strange it was not to be in the company of animals and I can report that for some strange reason it is nice to have Sebastian mooching around his bowl when I get home at night.

*late in the day we were informed that the client will submit questions tomorrow so our deliberations were abandoned but we are now expecting a late finish as we prepare for Thursday

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

A chat with my hat

Badman           Hat
Hat                  Yes Master

Badman           Hat, it’s time
Hat                  Yes Master

Badman           Hat, this is the moment that you were created for.
Hat                  Yes Master

Badman           Hat, now we step out in to a New England Winter.
                         Are you ready?
Hat                  Yes Master. My warm embrace will keep the chill
                         from your ears……

Badman           Thank you Hat
Hat                  ….. and your thinning pate

Badman           THANK YOU HAT
Hat                  Master?

Badman           Yes Hat
Hat                  Master, what will happen when I am old?

Badman           But Hat, you are still young and have years of
                         service yet to give
Hat                  Yes Master, but when I am old ...?

Badman           Then Hat, you will be suitably rewarded for the
                         fine times we have shared
Hat                  Thank you Master. My reward ...?

Badman           You will be given to Marauder and your fate will
                         ensure that you are recorded for all time in the
                         Bumper Book of Crime

Cue: Vincent Price Laughter

Monday, 17 January 2011

On a “Cut & Shut” with the Invisible Man

As I type this I am at 36,000 feet  listening to Buddy Holly. Something about listening to Buddy in an aircraft seems very wrong!

As I climbed aboard Continental flight CO27 from Birmingham, UK to Newark, NJ I had mixed feelings. First the elation of being gifted an aisle seat. This was improved further when I realised that the two seats adjacent to me were occupied by the Invisible Man and his partner*. Yes, I had a row of three seats to myself – now watch and learn as I spread myself out . I know it’s not an upgrade to Business Class but I can live in Cattle Class when all around me are crammed in and I have a row to myself. There is nothing like space and other people’s discomfort to give me a warm glow. No, it’s not selfish, I’ve done my time and flown the miles, I’ve earned this. I still have the mental scars of a flight to Mexico stuck between two very fat women and my last flight from Newark to Boston was between the Halitosis twins – THIS ROW IS MINE.

The smug feelings were somewhat dampened as I took my seat as looked up at the overhead lockers. Imagine my concern as I note, and I kid you not, that the row numbers go like this …..31, 32, 34, 35 …..

Notice anything there? WHAT THE FUCK HAPPENED TO ROW 33? I am not kidding there is no row 33 on the plane. Now I know that some people are nervous of things being numbered 13 and so I would allow for row 12 to smoothly transition to row 14, But I can see no reason for missing out row 33. That smacks of extreme carelessness.
Should I be worried?

Now I’m not a big fan of United Airlines / Continental but fly with them I must – as long as my employer is paying but a missing row really does give me some major concerns. I can see only two reasons why row 33 is missing and neither of them gives me a warm glow.

The first is that it was a manufacturing error. OK, so I am sat at 36,000feet flying at about 550 miles per hour with nothing beneath me but a cold Atlantic in an aircraft that has been built by some Boeing red-neck than has problems with counting sequentially when he reaches the 30’s. I want to be flying in a plant that has been hand built by skilled craftsmen out of unobtanium not some tit who can’t count.

The second and even more worrying scenario is that this Boeing B757-200 is what is know in the trade as a “cut and shut”, in other words a plane that has been assembled from the front end of one plane and the rear of another**. They would have got away with it if it hadn’t been for that meddling kid in 34C that noticed that an entire row had been lost in this botched union.

I have saved this to a USB stick and will tuck it inside the Black Box when I have finished.
 * I’m not sure whether the Invisible Man is married, gay or travelling with a business colleague on account of the fact that I couldn’t see either him or his partner.
** usually after accident damage!

Sunday, 16 January 2011

A win at last

Sunday started an hour earlier than I would have liked as TP had a Rugby match scheduled at a nearby club.

His Team were matched against a “Development Squad” at one of the big local clubs. I have to admit that I wasn’t over confident as the A-Team feature a few County Players and I thought that the Dev Squad** would be pretty handy too. TP’s team have been a bit “iffy” recently and consequently I expected the worst ….

…. How wrong was I!. TP’s team absolutely thrashed the opposition with a final score of 34:5. It was an impressive score for an away match on a pitch that had a slope like a Himalayan foot hill. It could have been higher still as a couple of tries were lost due to an infectious case of “white line fever” where the players failed to pass to better positioned team mates. TP nearly scored too but was tackled in to touch just on the Try Line. Hopefully this will give the team the confidence boost they need and put them in shape for next Sunday’s home fixture.

The afternoon was somewhat hectic as T&M needed walking, my case needed packing and I had a piece of back bacon that needed removing from the dry cure, soaking and then having a thorough rub with black treacle.

After that I was ready for a very early night as I need to be up and out of the house by 6 a.m. to catch a 9 o’clock flight to Boston. This however was not going to happen as 30%’s brother and his GF joined us for Dinner before we went to the Courtyard Theatre at Stratford-on-Avon to spend an evening in conversation with Tim Minchin.

The aforementioned Mr Minchin has written the music and lyrics for Matilda, The Musical which is currently receiving massive acclaim and which I fucking missed because I was in Boston on the night I had front row. stalls tickets! 30%, TP and Jules all told me how fantastic the show was – CURSE THEM. Tim spent the evening talking about the show and how he constructed the songs. He was his usual funny self and he threw in a couple of his comedy numbers as well as excerpts from many of the show’s songs.

Despite not having seen Matilda, the show was great but I have this message for the arsehole that decided that he needed to check his i-Phone on the stairs as the entire population of the auditorium exited at the end of the show ….

…… “You, Mate, are not that fucking important and neither will you ever be that important. There is nothing in your tedious little life that necessitates holding up an entire theatre audience just because you want to see whether you have a text or a Facebook message. Also, you are not good looking enough to get a shag now FUCK OFF out of my way and try to get a semblance of a life instead of living a sad, empty, virtual one through the semen smeared screen of  your bloody phone – WANKER.

Rant over.

Oh, there was one other thing, the hens have managed a total of 6 eggs over the past eight days. It should be noted that I am well aware that this is down to two hard working members of the flock and the other, bone-idle, dozen or so better watch out - I know who you are*.
* You can tell the layers by their bright red combs. The "slackers" are easy to identify.
** "B" Team

Saturday, 15 January 2011


On Saturday TP spent the day with his Mum and 30% had nipped down to the Hair Salon to have some welding done so I was left to my own devices in the morning. NOTE TO SELF: comment* on 30%’s hair on her return.

I took T&M out for an early walk and then returned to dig my suitcase out from the garage ensuring that I picked the one with the US power adapted after the cock-up of my previous trip. I then spent a happy hour or so collecting my travel essentials together and made a start on tidying the kitchen.

30% and I lunched together and then I spent a couple of hours doing some necessary woodwork in TP’s new bedroom…..

….. Andy & Steve have been re-hired and are turning up the week after next to decorate the two bathrooms and TP’s new room. Although it is a pretty straightforward “sand and paint” sort of job there was an irritating narrowing gap between the TP’s door frame architrave and the wall. I therefore had to scribe and cut a fillet of timber a couple of metres in length and between 6 and 18 mm in width to fill the unsightly gap. Job Done.

In the evening we dined out at The Why Not; a local pub. The food was absolutely fantastic and the menu was surprisingly extensive. I had smoked duck breast as a starter and followed it with fillets of Sea Bass. I couldn’t fault it and TP and 30%’s meals were reported to be just as good.

We retired from the pub quite early as we were all shattered and collapsed sated in front of the TV.
* “Positively” is probably best for my health

Friday, 14 January 2011

A Mystery Solved.

I bumped in to Marilyn this afternoon when I was walking T&M.

Marilyn (not her real name) is "mum" to Murphy and, until fairly recently Twig; a greyhound who sadly died last year. We wandered along where our walk routes overlap and Murphy bounded along with T&M. Marilyn commented that the exercise was doing him good as he no longer had Twig to play with. It was really nice to see T&M cavorting with him, especially as he bounded in to the Dew Pond which encouraged T&M to follow. Tyson was quite apprehensive as I think she is nervous of water after falling though the ice in to the Old Moat when she was chasing Ducks on Boxing Day. Her confidence eventually won out and she bounded in. Her desire to play with Murphy suggests to me that her next season may not be that far off either!

During the walk the conversation turned to Blaize who was another 2010 casualty and this is the mystery in the title of today's entry.

Blaize was a young gelding that lived in a paddock along my most frequent walk. Most days I would stop and give his nose a rub and rummage through my pockets for a Polo or two which he seemed to enjoy. Blaize was a fairly young horse, maybe 5 years old, but he had never been broken as it was suspected that he had a weakness in his forelegs and it was thought that he would not make a good hack, being susceptible to lameness. He therefore lived out his days in the paddock scrounging a variety of titbits and treats from the various walkers and passers by.

Just before Christmas Blaize disappeared from his paddock, or so I thought. The weather at that time was cold with heavy snow so I guess I just assumed that he was snug in his field shelter. The weather tended to make me hunch in to my coat and scarf and trudge on. So it was a couple of days before I noticed the blue tarpaulin in the field which was ominously horse shaped, or should I say "dead horse shaped". An acquaintance confirmed that he had been put down but that his corpse could not be moved until the snow had cleared somewhat.

The mystery was why he had been put down. He had seemed a young and healthy animal and had become a regular visit for me and many others. He had become just as much of an acquaintance on the walk as many people and a lot more personable than some!

I found out from Marilyn that he had been a victim of the hard frosts and snow and had apparently slipped on the frozen ground and damaged one of his front legs beyond hope of recovery. I'm guessing a break and so the vet was called in and his days were ended.

It was a bit dark walking past his covered corpse for a week or so until the thaw set in and a JCB was able to access his paddock and dig a suitably large hole. I quite miss the old fellow and the field is not such a pleasant point in the walk now it has a slight rise of bare earth at its centre.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Picture Post. No. 2

Another quiet day and there are only so many dog walking tales that a body can take so I have trawled through my picture archives and decided upon this one.
Geese: Tarbet, Scotland - Summer 2009

It was taken in Tarbet in the North of Scotland in the Summer of 2009. We were waiting for a boat to take us over to the Handa Island Bird Sanctuary and this flock of geese were gently paddling across the bay.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Marauder's Bumper Book of Crimes No. 5 in an occasional series

Yesterday morning I hosted a conference call to discuss Disaster Recovery on the latest assignment.

During the introductions Marauder decided to announce herself to my colleagues. It appears that her volume control and sustain are currently set to 11.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Travel Planning

Yesterday evening's request to travel to Boston early next week meant that much of Tuesday morning was spent battling with Dante's unwieldy on-line reservation tool to locate flights that allowed sufficient time to transfer from one airliner to another and a hotel that was in the same city let alone State.

I may be exaggerating slightly but the tool is appalling. I asked for hotels in the vicinity of Cambridge MA. In fact I asked for hotels withing 3 miles of Cambridge MA. Why then was the bloody tool giving me a list of 50 hotels, the majority of which were more than 10 miles away? It even gave me half a dozen hotels which didn't have an "approved room rate". In other words; book at your peril because there will be all sorts of scrutiny when you try to claim the room cost.

And as for flights, don't get me started. American Airlines and Continental are merging and the damn tool gives flights by each of these carriers to Boston. The only difference is the logo and the flight number but the tool will only let me buy a flight from one of them. No clues as to which one I just have to select one and hope. No surprises then, when I had to abort, go back and select the other one!

I don't mind choice but take exception when the damn things are presenting invalid information and have filter tools that don't work.

Then there is the general grumble that I cannot fly direct to Boston and have to travel an hour further in to New York, spend a couple of hours in the Terminal and then fly back on myself in to Boston. That results in an additional 4 hours of travelling time and an additional 400 miles of air travel.

Did I mention the entirely separate travel authorisation tool where I need to estimate all of my expenses and then get 4 levels of approval before I book my trip?

Rant over.

Monday, 10 January 2011

Unexpected sight

This morning I took a drive in to the nearest Circle of Hell to meet up with Golfy. Golfy has recently moved in to a similar job to mine and we agreed to meet up and have a chat. I have decided that I may know very little but am an expert in being the New Guy in this role. Golfy is now challenging for this position which means that I am heading for the anonymity of been around a bit and therefore should know better. Curse him!

It is Golfy's birthday to day and he is 294* I therefore decanted a portion of the 2010 Blackberry Vodka for him and took it in as a gift. He seemed to be delighted and took a sip from the bottle at approximately 9.15 am. That is, perhaps, a glimpse in to his near future as a possible way of dealing with the new job.

The unexpected sight - Yes, I'm getting to that - on the way in to work I saw a small herd of Fresians strip grazing a fodder crop. "So" you might ask, "what is so unusual about that?". It is the middle of January and it is rare to see dairy cattle turned out in Winter. They are usually housed in barns and fed on silage, hay and concentrates rather than go to the effort of turning them out to graze pasture that isn't growing. It was a rare sight and it triggered a memory from some forty years ago.

When I was a child my Dad was a Dairy Farmer too and I remember being in the cattle shed during the winter feeling the warmth from the cows and the unmistakable smells of the beasts, their food and their wastes. But most of all I recall the day in Spring when they were finally turned out. It is an unforgettable sight; that small herd of cows released after perhaps 3 months inside. I remember them galloping and bucking with the sheer exuberance of being released back out in the pastures.

Golfy and I had a good day and I gave him an overview of my current project to give him an idea of how things are done. It looks like we will be working together for the next few weeks at least. I have to say that this might seem to be a case of the blind leading the blind but, as we both agreed, we old enough to ask for help and guidance so I'm sure things will be fine.

I returned home early as TP had been off school sick and he was still huddled on the sofa. He appears brighter this evening and I think he may be fighting off a cold.

As for me my evening started with the rubbing of cure in to the loin of pork. I then came to my laptop to write this Journal entry .....

..... that was my mistake. I now have to arrange to fly to Boston next week for a Customer visit. I really should turn off the instant messaging software but that would only have delayed the request. Ho Hum!

* in cat years

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Eggs & Bacon

Today started with a whizz over to the Rugby club for 10 o'clock only to find that TP's team had an away match but we seemed to have been missed off the email advising us of the location and time of kick off. Having missed the match we left TP to his own devices in the car and took T&M for a walk over the fields behind the pitches. There seemed little point in simply turning round and going straight home as T&M seem to enjoy walks in pastures new.

The missed rugby match meant that I had regained an hour of my life and used this to start the curing of a large loin of pork that 30% had picked up in Tesco on Friday. The plan for this piece of meat is to produce some more Black Bacon following the success of our first attempt that was devoured over Christmas.

The Loin will be massaged in a dry cure daily for the next five or six days before being washed and soaked and then massaged in black treacle for a further week. The result should be a fine piece of Black Back Bacon ......

...... and perfect timing too as the first egg of the year was laid by one of the Minorca's this morning. About time too - those idle hens haven't laid an egg for the best part of 4 months as the moult and the diminishing day lengths inhibit their laying. I'm not expecting a glut anytime soon as it could be days before she lays again and weeks before her colleagues decide to pitch in. That's the thing with older hens, they lay lovely big eggs but not many of them.

This afternoon 30% has planned our US Road Trip and TP and I have pretended to help by nodding and saying yes at the appropriate points.This is not wholly true but apparently my tangential research in to how much a bison would cost* was "Not Helping".

* a calf is in the region of $700 - $1200

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Dog House

Funnily enough this is not a Tyson or Marauder related Journal Entry.

It is a reference to TP's metaphorical location as, for the THIRD time, he has gone straight from school to a friend's home and not bothered to 'phone to say he has arrived.

I'm not, or at least I don't think I am, an over protective parent, and I have not spent the past 24 hours fretting but it would be nice if the little git took 2 minutes of his life to phone home.

Friday, 7 January 2011

A quiet day

Things have been quiet all week and I am starting to look at some on-line education to keep me occupied, fill some knowledge gaps and place ticks in boxes.

Mind you, after yesterday's entry I am also tempted to look at jobs where the salaries are on the increase as Dante's salary reduction tactics i.e. not applying inflationary increases means that within a short space of time I will be able to slip from a  Technical Sales role to a B&Q shelf stacker with no impact on annual income. Plus I will then get a substantial discount on DIY materials and be able to shrug aimlessly at customers and direct them to the wrong end of the store before buggering off for a tea break.

Dad popped in for coffee this morning and brought Tilly with him. He disappeared with a couple of frozen packs of pea and ham soup and a large jar of pickled eggs. He has promised to drop off some of his tomato soup when he next visits. We do this often - swapping food and recipes - and it is always a delight. His most recent offering was a pork terrine that Younger Brother dropped off when I helped him out with his dissertation a couple of days back.

TP is spending the night over at a friend's so it was just 30% and I that sat down to a couple of fine steaks from a local farm washed down with a 2002 Faustino IV Reserva. 30% commented that it was quite a fine bottle of wine to open just because it was Friday but we agreed the steaks definitely deserved it.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Think of a Number .....

Today is the point in Dante's Staff Appraisal Process where I get to meet with my Manager and he tells me how I have done in the past year, what my performance rating is and the things I should look to do in the next 12 months.

Any of you who don't work for Dante's will be possibly thinking "seems fair enough" but those who do will either be sniggering cynically or frothing at the mouth.

You see, Dante's appraisal system is a little odd in that it has a stated aim*** of driving up the performance level of its personnel. One can understand that any organisation would want to do this to be competitive and it does, of course, use mentoring and training* to do this. It also, and here's the rub, has quotas for each Performance Grade.

This makes it very rough on those who are at the point between one grading and another. There appears to be no lee way; x% are top performers and get the benefits. You may have worked your whatsits off during the year but if your face doesn't fit and the bullshit you and your Feedback providers have given is not up to the mark, then forget it. I probably also need to point out that it is a qualitative system rather than a quantitative system so the judgements are made on the basis of narrative and perception rather than fact finding.

I suppose, at this point, that I should state that I did OK. not "great", not even "not quite great", but "OK". This is what I had expected. I have just moved to a new role and could hardly be expected to be winning hearts and minds with little or no experience, but I did OK.

Where this approach is especially rough is at the lower end of the performance spectrum where a low grading can result in all sorts of management focus and activities to "up one's game". That is all well and good if you truly need to pull up your socks but what about the poor sods that have been pushed in to that category by the immovable clip levels that are in place. They were doing fine. They weren't top flight bods but they were there keeping things running and fixing broke things. They were perhaps, never going to set the world on fire but they are a necessary part of the organisation and understandably tend to get very demotivated when they get a crappy rating just because a management policy set a quota rather than developing a review system that actually attempts to accurately rate personnel.

There are countless gripes and issues with the system and one of the major ones is that it is securely linked to the pecuniary rewards. Consequently one can have worked one's balls off but be just outside the clip level and get sweet  F A when the pay rises are announced. I have encountered this situation personally and know how insulting it is to be told that you are situated high in your performance category. So what, when push comes to shove there are no formal gradations in that category so I am just the same as the slacker that has managed to pull their socks up and crawl from an "unsatisfactory" to a "satisfactory".

I know this is a difficult task. A lifetime ago I used to appraise staff and I know how hard it is to stray away from the middle ground and define someone as a star or as crap but that is what is needed. Managers who know their people and can identify wheat and chaff.

I could go on about this "ad nauseam" but the bottom line is that an Appraisal System should be just that. A system that evaluates an organisations personnel. Dante's seem to have bastardised that in to some form of black joke that doesn't stand up well to scrutiny.

* Provided that you can book and complete your course before the budget is frozen**
** usually around 2nd February
*** as for it's unstated aims -"don't go there".

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Picture Post

A quiet day at work and so I have taken the opportunity to trawl through My Pictures and present this one.

I took it at San Diego zoo back in August 2006 when we took our first road-trip. I love the pattern on the Hippo's skin made by the sunlight hitting the waters surface.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Back to work

Tuesday was my first day back in front of the laptop after the Christmas and New Year break.

It was a relatively quiet day as the 4th of January was the deadline date for my current project and we are now hopefully in to a lull whilst the client makes some decisions. There are a few loose ends to be tied and whilst addressing one of these I noted how my world had turned during the past year.

Early in 2010 I became aware of a very senior member of staff at Dante's Nine Circles of Hell. I became aware of him because he used to send legally necessary missives to me and five thousand of my colleagues telling us that 20% of us were to be made redundant. They were neither pleasant or unpleasant mails. Just communications that had to be made as part of a headcount reduction and the associated UK legislation. It was a rough few months and I was one of the lucky ones.

During that process and, in part, as a result of the negative feelings it evoked, I decided to take on a new role at Dante's - pushing another boulder incessantly up the hill - as it were.

The net result of the role change is that this Senior Daemon now e-mails me personally and even bothers to send a "Thank you" when I reply.
But that wasn't what I had planned to note down today.

The holidays are over and most people are back at work. This means that I can retake my walk and not have to utter a jovial greeting every 400 yards to a bunch of people who I have never seen before and am highly unlikely to see again.

Christmas Holiday walkers ...... its not a crime. I can understand why people would want to take a walk at Christmas. After all, the weather was fantastic and there is nothing like exercise to shift the uncomfortable stuffed feeling that follows a full breakfast, followed by chocolate, incessant nibbles and a colossal turkey dinner.

As I said, its not a crime but I have found that I have become very possessive about my walking routes and strangers are not particularly welcomed. I am not alone in this feeling and other regular walkers feel the same....

...... and that is the peculiar thing. I am quite happy to bump in to other regular walkers but the "Christmas Walkers" are a source of mild irritation. Why is that? I suppose one of the factors is that my fellow Regulars are used to each others dogs and accept the canine chaos that ensues when dogs meet up and perform the obligatory chasing round in circles accompanied by enthusiastic barks. Christmas Walkers, on the other hand are an unknown and I end up frequently calling T&M back and restraining them to avoid startling these "once a year walkers".

As I jot this down I think fondly of Francis who died sadly and unexpectedly at the beginning of 2010. I didn't know her particularly well but we used to meet regularly when walking and she shared this view. She was a vivacious retired nurse who was "mum" to Mungo and Fidey.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Helping Out

A large chunk of my final day of holiday was spent in the company of my much younger brother.

We don't see a lot of each other as he is currently away at University in Cardiff where he is studying Illustration. The reason for the visit was that he wanted me to give his Dissertation a look over and see whether I could assist with its readability.....

...... after a few hours on the Psychology of motivation and creativity I have to say that my head hurt.

I hope he does OK. It is nerve racking to take apart sentences on a subject one is not overly familiar with and reassemble them hoping to clarify thoughts and arguments.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Advance Planning

30% and I are air-miles collectors, or rather the credit cards we use allow air-miles to be taken as an alternative to in-store discounts. With the increasingly wide availability of card payments points we simply make the majority of our purchases via a credit card and then settle the account at the end of each month. This approach allows us to rack up as many air-miles as possible at no cost other than a little discipline around payment method and account settlement.

Today we reaped the rewards as we booked 3 flights out to LasVegas in August. We don't plan to spend much time at all in Vegas, it is simply a reasonable entry and exit point for a road trip through some of the Western States. There are always plenty of hotels and hire cars available and fight availability is good via the air-miles site. We plan to head North from LasVegas towards Yellowstone but at the moment that's the sum total of our planning. Some of my colleagues have suggested that the Grand Tetons are a "must" if visiting Yellowstone so the route is likely to take in that National Park.

We have been out West a couple of time before and I absolutely adore the Western States I have visited; California, Arizona, Utah and Colorado. I even enjoyed the desert landscapes of Nevada so am really looking forward to the next trip.

We didn't quite have enough air-miles to get three free trips but the discount was excellent and we have three flights for the price of one and plenty of air-miles left over to book the hire car.

Roll on August.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

New Year seems a bit of an odd celebration to me. It is, after all, an entirely artificial point in the calendar. If one were looking for a significant date in the calendar that was a transitional point surely the Winter Solstice would be better, not from a pseudo-Druidic religious viewpoint, but from a celestial mechanics perspective it is the point at which the days start to  lengthen and therefore a more logical point to mark the end of one year and the beginning of another.

I appreciate that the majority in the Judea / Christian world go with 1st January but I just think it's a bit odd and to me 21st December is more significant as I know, from that point, that the days are getting longer and that, in time, the Spring will arrive with the associated explosion of life.

Even this suggestion is somewhat globally localised as the Southern Hemisphere would look to 21st June as their New Year as this is the point at which their days lengthen again.

Putting this aside, we had a normal Saturday really. Christmas debris was cleared and the pile of logs deposited near the garage just before Christmas was stacked under a tarpaulin with the assistance of TP.

We went to my Dad's for dinner and he had done a beautiful roast leg of lamb and, to 30%'s delight, a trifle for dessert.