Saturday, 24 September 2011

New Arrivals

Saturday started gently with a few cups of coffee and a wander down the road for a haircut. I suppose I had better look reasonable tidy for the meetings with the Swiss on Tuesday.

Once shorn I climbed in to the car and set out to pick up the kittens. Normally I would have taken the Defender but 30% offered the use of her Seat and I accepted. I am truly glad that I did as the kittens proceeded to have the most horrendous smelling dump in the cat carrier as soon as I started the car and I spent the return journey with the window open....

... as I said, I'm glad it is her car that smells of cat shit rather than mine.

The arrival of the kittens has gone really well and whilst T&M are quite excited by them they have behaved really well. The cats seem quite unfazed to have two great big dogs towering over them, sniffing their nether regions. We now need to decide on names for them and Tog and Noggin seem to be the current favourites but who knows what will actually stick. We'll see what happens over the next few days but I have the feeling that at least one of these choices will morph in to something more appropriate as their characters become apparent.

I should point out that my suggestions that they should be named in tribute to the Dam Busters fell on stony ground. It is probably best that you don't ask.

Having got the cats settled in, I popped over to see the Mad Bat & Dickie on the pretence of borrowing Dickie's sack truck. After spending the best part of an hour catching up on their news I finally left with the aforementioned trolley and spent the afternoon clearing the lawn of paving slabs and stone left over from Hank's patio job.

30% and I have now decided that the remaining slabs would form a great shed base in a corner of the garden under one of the Yew trees. Absolutely nothing grows there and it would be a useful place to tuck away the "porn mower" and garden tools so it looks like Hank might be back sooner than he thought.

Once the lawn was cleared it got mown and the garden now looks a lot more civilised as prior to this afternoon's tidy up it only needed a rusting Metro on bricks to complete the Council Estate gritty urban chic look.

The evening saw a Pasta Supper disappear and after the afternoon's exertions bed beckoned early.

 As the day closes I think that, in the future, I will look back and remember this day as the one when we decided to buy a shed.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Road Closed

The Pile is located on a main road which is currently closed as Severn Trent are replacing the water mains.

Despite two signs in the middle of the highway clearly stating that the road is closed it is amazing how many people ignore them and drive past only to be forced to turn around in front of the house and head back in search of a diversion* ...

... out here in the sticks we take our entertainment where we can find it.

This evening VI turned up with his long suffering spouse and a lamb carcass. 30%'s wallet is now £100 lighter and the freezer is filled with  over 40lb of local lamb.
* to be fair to the motorists Severn Trent could have done a better job of signing the diversion** in view of the fact that it is an A road
** apparently the diversion signs disappeared, allegedly removed by locals who didn't like the increased traffic on the back lane

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Bike News

After a couple of left messages I got a call from Tim Hyett this morning. Tim is the owner of Moto-vation, an independent Ducati Dealer in Cheltenham, and as Autumn is now here it is time to book the Vespa in for a a bit of tidying up.

She is in great condition and has reached the stage where she is starting to appreciate in value. The consequence of this is that I now need to keep an eye on her and ensure that she remains a thing of beauty.

She will be going in at the beginning of October to have the engine removed and re-painted where there is some slight alloy corrosion causing paint bubbling. She will also have the exhaust pipes polished, a carbon hugger fitted and the rear shock absorber will also get some attention as the adjuster has seized.

The great thing about having the work done now is that there are unlikely to be any glorious evenings that I will miss while she is sat in Tim's workshop.

All I need to do now is encourage 30% to go to Cheltenham for a bit of shopping and that is my lift home sorted.

Wandering slightly off topic I also spent a fun hour and a half waiting at the local Doctor's surgery this morning. I have a recurrence of Trigger Finger in my left index finger and needed to get a referral to a Consultant. The actual consultation took less than five minutes and the Locum looked a little bemused when I turned up sat down and told him a) what was wrong with me and b) what I wanted him to do. I think he might be more used to people who take a  more passive approach to their healthcare needs.

There seems to be some strange link between getting the Ducati  sorted and having my hands fixed as it was June last year when she was restored to full health after 5 years off the road and then in the following August I was out of action for a good few weeks as the National Health service made a balls up of a Trigger Finger release for my right index finger*.

* To this day the finger is numb down one side as the amateurs have managed to damage the nerve that serves the most sensitive finger on my dominant hand.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

I almost forgot ...

... Village Idiot turned up on the doorstep this evening with three of the most enormous, verging on pornographic, carrots*. He didn't have time to pop in for a coffee but he did advise that he had taken some lambs in to the abattoir and would we like one.

I enthusiastically took him up on his offer and we now need to clear some space in the freezer.

All we need now are some spuds and onions and we have the makings of a fine Irish Stew
* His son grows exhibition veg and these were some spares that didn't quite make the grade for a recent show.

Picture Post. No. 9

Tuesday was a case of "more of the same"; more document reviews and the same questions, sometimes asked by people who had asked them a number of times before!.

I am getting desperately frustrated by my apparent role as the font of all knowledge as it seems to be a case of "ask bad man" rather than "read the manual". I need to disengage to encourage them to use their heads rather than mine.

Rather than rant I have decided to go with a Picture Post and today's subject is Bryce Canyon in Utah. It was our first stop after leaving Las Vegas en route to Yellowstone. Bryce is renowned for it's Hoodoos. These are stone towers and are formed as a result of rain and snow melt erosion. Each tower is capped by a harder rock and it it this that protects the softer lower rocks as erosive forces wear away the surrounding matrix. It is an amazing place and the views across the Canyon with it's thousand of towering Hoodoos are incredible. One of the early settlers described it as "one hell of a place to loose a cow" and that neatly sums up the confusing local geography.

Monday, 19 September 2011

A trip to Switzerland .... AND BACK!

There is a black joke here at The Pile that revolves around my reluctance to visit Switzerland ...

... It goes along the lines of 30% asking if I'd like to go to Switzerland and me steadfastly refusing because no mention is ever made of any return journey*. She always says "Would you like to go to Switzerland?". In view of their infamy as the Euthanasia Centre of Europe I would much rather hear "Would you like to go to Switzerland and come back still breathing and most definitely not in a casket?"

Well, guess where I'm going next week? Yes' I'm off to see an Alp or two and I have checked, rechecked and once more checked my travel arrangements to ensure that a) there is a return flight and b) my accommodation is a hotel rather than a "clinic".  I'm also hoping to get to see some of the city this time as my trip to Luxembourg trip comprised a stay in a  hotel and a trip to a business park and there was nothing to indicate a National flavour. I could have been in Slough!

The rest of the day was the usual mixture of calls and e-mail which seem to revolve around me repeating myself and the rest of my team until the message sinks in. It seems that any message needs to be repeated at least three times and at least two other people need to concur before our Transition team finally get it.

I also schlepped in to the nearest Circle of Hell for a 4 hour meeting only to find that the host only wanted to see me for 20 minutes and much of what he wanted to discuss had already been covered in my written response to his bloody document. A phone call would have been sufficient.

Away from work I was to be found lying on the kitchen work surfaces cursing and swearing as I replaced bulbs in the cabinet lighting. What genius decided to make fiddly little 12 volt halogen bulbs with tiny pin connectors and then advise that you should not touch the bulb surface as the oil from your skin shortens their life? I was a happy little soul after spending a good while with torches, pliers and tissue paper to get the sodding things inserted in to the tiny light fittings.

On reading this I suppose I shouldn't really let little stuff like this irritate me ... Chill bad man, Chill!
* Google The Dignitas Organisation to get a better understanding of my reluctance

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Sunday in brief

Sunday came and went; The dogs got walked whilst TP attended a Rugby Training session and the afternoon saw a major clean out of one of the chicken coops that has a red mite infestation. The dogs had their faces clipped and Monday now looms like a grey cloud encroaching on a sunset.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

No Surprises Here

As arranged, 30%, TP and I set out for the nether reaches of Droitwich this morning to "see" two Ginger Kittens. As I jot this down I wonder how many people actually go to see kittens and say "no, sorry mate, their not quite what I was looking for". I am guessing very few ...

... it does not, therefore, take a rocket scientist to work out that we went, we saw and we instantly fell for two tiny and very cute little killers. We passed whatever adoption criteria had been established, paid a deposit and will be popping over next weekend to pick them up.

For anyone who can't wait, I did manage to get one half decent snap of one of them as they careered around the room.
Hold still you little sod.
The other one is equally adorable and we now have the naming discussions to fill our evenings for a week or so.  This then becomes doubly complicated as virtually everyone in The Journal has an alias so I may also need to think up two nick-names for them pretty quickly.

The afternoon saw an abbreviated walk with T&M as the sky threatened rain and the house is messy enough without two soggy dogs to add to the chaos. We then popped over to see Bad Man Senior and took cake to ensure we were allowed through the front door. We spent a pleasant couple of hours catching up with each other's news and then liberated a few beetroot and leeks from the garden. The former will be made in to chutney and the latter will go well with Sunday Dinner.

The day closed with me sat on the sofa alongside 30%, who threw random cat names at me. This had the fortunate effect of distracting me from Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves as it is a very, very bad film that is made truly magic by Mr Rickman's performance as the Sheriff of Nottingham. I knew my heart wasn't in it when the film referred to Nottingham as a city and I baulked, knowing that it didn't obtain city status until late in the 1800's*.
* Apparently it was awarded City Status as part of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee celebrations in 1897.

Friday, 16 September 2011

I'm glad thats over

The working day has finished and I am very tired. It has been a surprisingly hard week. The hours have not been excessive but it has been intensive with a plethora of conference calls and multiple reviews of a document completed.

I did have a "head in hands" moment today when I was told that I needed to respond urgently to a request for some help desk  services to be moved from one of the cheaper locations in Europe to one of the most expensive.  The request dissipated like clouds in a sunny sky when I pointed out that the client had already been given a rate per call for each country and there was no way in Hell they would accept the resulting 50% price increase.

I'd like to say that I was happy when five o'clock arrived but, to be honest, it was verging towards relief. 30% was equally fatigued and serious consideration was given to a takeaway but neither of us could summon the energy to drive to The Chinese. We instead compromised with a short walk around the playing field with T&M, throwing a tennis ball to burn of a bit of excess energy*, and a home cooked Chinese Chicken Curry.

The paving job is storming ahead and curbs have been laid in swooping curves, ballast and sand screeds have been laid and the first paviers have been positioned. It is really taking shape and is a vast improvement over the grim path it replaces.
* Theirs not ours!

Thursday, 15 September 2011

The true European

Thursday continued in the same vein as Wednesday with further reviews of documentation and calls with my European colleagues. On that subject; what is it with the French? I appreciate that I have had some differences with the Luxembourgers but at least they are relatively polite and professional. The French team are a completely different kettle of fish. They are abrupt and whiny, bordering on rude and there were a couple of occasions where I was tempted to tell them to bugger off and set fire to some sheep on a motorway*...

... to be fair it was only one member of the team that was a pain in the arse but one bad apple...

Away from work Hank had a short day on the patio project due to a cock up with the ballast delivery and achieved little more than offloading kerb stones and laying of a weed prevention membrane.

It also appears that 30% has arranged to go and see two ginger kittens at the weekend. I'm guessing that it is more than going to "see" them in view of the new litter tray and bag of litter that is sat in the boot of her car.
* For anyone outside of Europe this is the typical Frenchman's response to any political issue; a motorway blockade followed by ritual burning of the offensive object. If any of them read this they'll be printing it out and torching it in the middle of the M5 before you can say "Bob est votre l'oncle"

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

A dull day in the office.

Wednesday was spent at my nearest Circle of Hell in a series of meetings with Senior Members of the Account Team. They are a likeable bunch but it was a pretty tedious day.  I finally crawled away a little before six with a raft of documents to review and some "urgent" slides to prepare!

At home there had been some serious excavation work in preparation for the block paving. Our original ideas have been somewhat revised due to the location of a tree and changing levels but the cleared area gives an idea of the final shape and it is going to be so much better than the strip of 1950's concrete slabs which were very utilitarian and simply provided a way of walking around the house without getting your feet muddy.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

An unexpected visitor

Tuesday started in an unexceptional fashion. I was sat in front of my laptop responding to the usual drivel when T & M went absolutely mental, barking at the door out to the garden.

Now T & M going mental is nothing unusual and they always bark at unexpected sounds. The thing is that they tend to practice directional barking rather than random shouting. In other words if they are going crazy you just need follow their eye line to see what the problem is. Now the garden is not a prime location for an alarm call and this had me wondering what the hell was going on.

I wandered over to the door and saw a strange man bent over by the old potting shed. I was about to challenge him when he straightened up and I could see that it was Hank....

... Hank is the chap who gave us an absolutely outstanding quote for some block paving work along with a rather vague start date. Well apparently today is the day that the patio refurbishment starts and he has certainly made an impact. Most of the old slabs are lifted and stacked, the potting shed is no more and all of 30%'s potted plants are haphazardly scattered across the lawn. It is a bit embarrassing really as we had planned to do the site clearance for him but his unexpected arrival meant that he had to shift a multitude of garden decor before he could even start. Ooops!

He disappeared shortly after lunch having made short work of most of the demolition and apparently the digger arrives tomorrow and a cash advance was requested.

The rest of the day has been uneventful and I type this while TP attends the first evening practice of the 2011/12 rugby season. One thing that is worth mentioning was the outstanding rainbow that appeared while I was walking T & M.

It's an iPhone picture so don't expect SLR quality but it was truly beautiful forming a full arc across the ridge of Lords Hill.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Monday, 12 September 2011

Hedgerow Supper

Whilst walking T&M on Saturday I noticed a Puffball Mushroom growing in the verge. These fungal fruiting bodies can grow to the size of a football or even larger and when ripe release literally trillions of spores when knocked or blown - hence the name; Puffball....

.... They also allegedly make good eating.

I mentioned my discovery to 30% and she was as interested as I to give it a go so I returned and picked it and it became the inspiration for Monday's supper.

I can take no credit for the recipe, it is one of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's but the ingredients seemed to go with the hedgerow origins of the prime ingredient and it is basically a tarted up version of bacon, eggs and mushrooms.

Puffball - this one is about the size of a large grapefruit

Bacon or pancetta is fried in a pan and chopped garlic is added. As soon as the garlic starts to brown the bacon is removed and put to one side. The puffball is peeled and cut in to slices about 1cm thick. These are dipped in beaten egg and are then coated in seasoned breadcrumbs. The puffball slices are then fried in the bacon fat.

The puffball slices are then placed on a plate and are topped with the garlicky bacon and a fried egg.

I like mushrooms but am not a connoisseur but I can advise that these tasted wonderful. The mushroom flavour was present with a fragrant, slightly perfumed overtone that added a further dimension. I was concerned that the garlic and bacon would overpower the puffball flavour but need not have worried. The recipe was spot on and this made a lovely Autumnal supper.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Marauder's Bumper Book of Crimes. No. 9 in an occasional series

The late afternoon walk started so well; we wandered across the paddock at the foot of St Peter's, climbed the style, passed through the kissing gate and then crossed the footbridge by the badger's set. As we wandered through the wood at the edge of the Village Marauder decided to investigate the stream and returned coated in black, stinking, stagnant mud ...

... a bath is going to be a  must before she enters the house this evening.

The week in brief

This week I seem to have been somewhat remiss in jotting down my activities in The Journal so here, for anyone remotely interested, is a quick summary of the week.

On the work front Tuesday was unexceptional. During the day an old friend called to say that he might be in the area in the evening and suggested we meet up. I haven't seen "Paparazzi Pete" for the best part of 12 years and we recently re-established contact via Linkedin. Unfortunately the Gods did not smile on us and the Channel 5 photo shoot was delayed until late in the evening which meant that his work prevented an evening of beer and raucous reminiscence.

I trundled in to the nearest Circle of Hell for a catch up with Tigger and a handover meeting with the chap who will take over the commercial management of the deal we have just signed. I was finished by lunchtime and then drove down to Heathrow to catch a flight out to Luxembourg. I spent the evening with the Project Executive and managed to stay sober this time.

Thursday was an all day session with the Luxembourg Team and it went very well considering that neither of the teams trust each other. An interesting point was that the Luxembourg Directeur looked very much like an "old school" European Vampyre and I made a mental note to wear garlic on my next visit. In fact the meeting went so well that the Project Exec is considering a similar session in Switzerland and would like me to tag along to that one too.

Overall I am somewhat dismayed that I didn't get to see anything particularly Luxembourgish while I was over there. The hotel was at the edge of the modern concrete and glass Banking Sector and the Company Office was in a Business Park. For all I know BA might have just flown around for an hour and then landed me near Basingstoke. If the locals hadn't insisted on speaking French all the time I could have been anywhere.

One thing that did prove I was in Luxembourg was the taxi fare back to the airport. It was €80. Eighty fucking Euros! The whole country is no bigger than the table I am sat at! It cannot be physically possible to rack up a taxi fare that high without going through passport control. This goes some way to explain the half million dollars of travel costs the thieving gits put in to their cost case a few months back.

An evening flight had me back at Heathrow by half past seven and I was back at The Pile by ten.

Friday was spent chatting to Tigger and catching up on stuff that had accumulated over the past couple of days. Tigger and I got a mention in the weekly dispatch issued by one of the most senior Daemons in the UK following the signing of the UK Contract on Monday. I'd like to say that this came as a complete surprise and we were bathing in this unexpected glory but the truth is that I drafted the note and submitted it for publication working on the principal that if you want good publicity write it yourself.

Away from work I had a fortuitous meeting with the local Plumber when I was walking T&M. He is a lovely chap but a complete nightmare to get hold of. I need his services as I have a radiator that needs to be disconnected so that I can replace the skirting board behind it. To my complete and utter amazement he advised that he would pop round on Saturday afternoon and remove the rad. I wandered away pondering on my current gullibility rating.

It was an early start as we needed to pop in to Worcester to get TP a new school blazer. We needed to be home by midday as the plumber had given us a rather vague appointment time. True to form the appointment slot came and went with no tradesman appearing at the door. At a little after three in the afternoon I was about to walk the dogs when he finally turned up. Twenty minutes later the job was completed and he was away.

As he disappeared down the road a mixture of thoughts passed through my head. These condensed as the following; a) I now have to do some DIY, b) 2 hours late is actually early considering the normal punctuality of the plumber and c) what are the chances of him returning to reconnect the rad before the end of Winter?

I then popped out to walk T&M and returned to find that Village Idiot had called and had left nine fertile eggs for me to put in the incubator. Apparently his wife has another cake to make for a local poultry breeder and the aforementioned breeder had provided the eggs ...

... these will be gently warmed for 21 days and "shop eggs" will go in the cake.

No surprises here, I spent a good part of the morning and early afternoon fitting skirting boards on the landing. The radiator brackets were repositioned so the rad won't foul the skirting board and I now wonder how long it will take to get Reliable Roger through the door to connect it all back up again.

The incubator was brought up to temperature and the eggs were set. I now have 21 days of egg turning and all being well will have chicks at the beginning of October. I stress "all being well" as the last attempt was a complete failure.

So that brings me up to date and I suppose I had better start my day job now ...

... well perhaps coffee and toast first.

Monday, 5 September 2011

One down ...

... thirteen to go.

Today's good news is that the first of the European Local Country Agreements was signed off today. This means that the Transition and Delivery Guys can start doing their job in earnest and it means that Tigger and I can officially hand this project over as there is now a contractual entity to hand it over to.

I appreciate that there are still a raft of Agreements to be signed but the first is enough to allow work to start and it is the official "beginning of the end" for this project as far as Pooh and Tigger are concerned.

This is great timing as there is news of another huge nelifunt out on the plains and our recent triumph has meant that Tigger and me will have no time to sit by the fire eating hunny sandwiches, toasting our toes and reminiscing. We must gird out loins and go out and get that one too.

To be honest we barely have enough work to fill our days and after ten long months on this hunt I am now well and truly ready for something different. I have enjoyed it enormously but our time is finished and we must now get our colleagues to step up and take it forward.

My recent holiday has helped to break the ties and all being well we should be hunting something different in a couple of weeks.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Lazy Sunday afternoon

30%                                TP and I are about to watch that film that I recorded last night. Are you coming to join us ?

Bad Man                        Is that the one with Ricky Gervais in it?

30%                                Yes.

Bad Man                        Isn’t it a bit sexually explicit for TP to watch?

30%                                What?

Bad Man                        Well, its got a c**t in nearly every scene.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Thought for the Day ...

... I'm guessing that it was at this time of year that they invented gravity.

With a hop and a skip ...

While we were in The States Chippy Ian did a fantastic job of ripping out some vile uPVC double glazing and replacing it with some more appropriate Sash and Casement windows. The ripping out and re-fitting was done really well and he made an absolutely fantastic job of hiding my trailer under a pile of packaging and redundant double glazing units ...

... as a result I now have a skip on the drive and spent a good portion of today filling it with the aforementioned debris.

We also had a bit of a clear up in the garden taking out a few Ash and Silver Birch saplings and a Conifer that had managed to work its way in to 30%'s bad books. TP's "den" was also dismantled and the potting shed was emptied as it will be demolished as part of the upcoming block paved patio project ....

... as a result I now have a FULL skip on the drive and a desire to do nothing more than snore on the sofa.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Its a little bit "Country" ...

Friday evening saw 30% and I put on our glad rags and drive over to the NEC in Birmingham to see Dolly Parton...

... I'm guessing that most of you have disappeared now so I'll just write for myself. We had the most amazing evening. I'm not a particular fan of Country & Western but I am prepared to experience most things provided they are done well and the show she put on was absolutely fantastic.

Her voice was amazing and many  of the numbers she sang were either a capella or with a single instrument such as a Dulcimer. There were, of course, the back catalogue classics such as Jolene and 9 to 5 that had the full support of the band too. I hadn't realised how versatile she was as demonstrated by the range of instruments played including banjo, guitar, piano, penny whistle, harmonica and the aforementioned dulcimer.

Of course, it wouldn't be Dolly Parton if they didn't have most surfaces covered with Rhinestones and they did, as did her costumes*. Her material ranged from Country and Bluegrass through to pop and rock and she did a medley including interesting Bluegrass versions of Help and Stairway to Heaven.

As I said earlier in this entry, I am prepared to experience most things provided they are done well and Dolly absolutely charmed the audience. Her narratives were engaging and witty and her performances were faultless. There was none of the mediocrity that pervades stage and screen under the guise of new talent and has me heading for the door or reaching for the remote control.

I can quite honestly say that I have never seen a show like this one and there were parts of it that were most unusual but she has, without doubt, the X Factor and the best word I can use to describe the experience was mesmeric.

This post would not be complete without mention of the audience which, I think it is fair to say, is one of the most peculiar I have ever sat amongst.
* Quote of the evening; " I buy 'em two sizes too small ... and then I have 'em taken in ! "

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Luxembourg, Schmuxemburg

What a fun time I have had today.

At one of yesterday's meetings Tigger and I were instructed that one of us had to have a case packed and to be in Luxembourg next Thursday morning. "Oooh!" I hear you say "A European Trip, how lovely" ...

... Well yes it would be if it weren't for the God-awful Corporate Travel Booking Tool and the 4 levels of approval required to leave the country. You may have guessed that I have pulled the short straw and will be travelling to the smallest country in Europe*.  I haven't a clue of what I am required to do there other than attend a meeting. Obviously I understand the general background but it would be nice if someone would consider spending 10 minutes briefing me on the purpose of the meeting....

... That is not likely to happen so I have spent an hour or so this morning making travel plans and initiating the approval process.

I'm quite interested to visit The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg but am not  overly keen on meeting my colleagues over there. They were far from cooperative on the recent project. In fact they were bloody obstructive on occasions. I can recall one point where they were actually inserting costs for services that weren't in-scope and the round of Executive Escalations when they refused to remove them.

As a result, it is fair to say, this was not an environment where long lasting friendships were established and I am not looking forward to the false bonhomie I will have to project to a bunch of fucking crooks that would have screwed me over given half a chance.
* I think you will find that Monaco is a Principality.