Monday, 31 December 2012

New Year's Eve

New Year's Eve was a quiet day here at The Pile. The weather was pretty vile so, for once, the daily walk was abandoned and T&M spent most of their day alternating between loitering in the kitchen in the hope of titbits or curled up in a warm favourite spot.

30% and I did pop over to Alcester in the hope of selecting light fittings for the Dining Room but the lamp shop was closed, presumably not thinking it was worth opening for a single day between Sunday and the New Year Bank Holiday. However the trip was not completely wasted as we visited a little Antique shop that had recently opened on the High Street and, whilst chatting over a small purchase, the owner seemed quite interested in an old and quite distressed veneered chest of drawers that has been sitting in the garage for many years. We arranged for him to visit later in the day to inspect and hopefully purchase this waste of space.

Back at home I finally got my arse in to gear and started the cure of a loin of pork that has been sitting in the refrigerator since just before Christmas. This will be a fairly standard dry cure for a week with the option of a second week coated in black treacle for  all or half of the loin if we fancy some Black Bacon. I had just about finished when the Dealer had arrived and within a few minutes he had a chest of drawers in his van and 30% had £35 in her purse. It was not a huge amount of money but it was better than nothing ...

... which is exactly what we would have received from the significant number of people that had responded to 30%'s advertisement of it on the Freecycle website.

I then set removing a further job from my Dining Room to do list and filled the two holes where the wall meets the hearth stone.

As evening drew in the 'phone rang and we were somewhat surprised to hear Village Idiot on the other end of the line. He called to advise that he had recently dispatched a cockerel but that his muscle wasting condition meant that he no longer had the strength to remove the feet from the drumsticks ...

... ten minutes later he was sat in our kitchen whilst I plucked and removed the drum sticks and then filleted off the breasts for him. A grateful VI then departed with a plastic bag containing the key ingredient of a chicken casserole.

We had a quiet New Year's Eve and did make it through to midnight and were quite surprised to receive a "Happy New Year" call from an apparently squiffy SMS. We then spent another twenty minutes pacifying T&M ...

... They really don't like fireworks!

Sunday, 30 December 2012

Home Straits

There has been some improvement in my shoulder and today I was able to break away from the Christmas/New Year hiatus more normally filled with grazing on left-overs, slouching on the sofa and the watching of shit television...

... after an early walk with the dogs I wandered back in to the Dining Room and spent some time cutting and fitting the door stop strips on the cupboard along with the handles. I then spent the rest of the day with wood filler and caulk ensuring that the skirting board fixings are concealed and that the slight gaps between boards and walls are filled.

We are now very close to the point where there is just that mammoth sanding session before Andy & Steve are called in to paint. The outstanding job list looks like this :-

  • fit retaining catches to the cupboard doors
  • fill the last few knot holes in the oak flooring
  • mix up some plaster and fill the two holes where the wall meets the hearth stone 

and that is it. I just need to sort out those few tasks and it is time for the huge sanding session. I know that there are a load of post decorating jobs such as fitting light fittings and curtain rails but basically I am just about there.

Saturday, 29 December 2012

The Orphan of Zhao

It was a quiet day here at the Pile. The dogs were walked and the house was tidied.*

Late in the afternoon 30% and I put on our glad rags and took a ride in to Stratford. We took a late afternoon wander around the shops and made a few purchases but our overriding impression was that the town was very quiet for a Post-Christmas Sale Saturday. We also noticed that very few of the goods were enticing and our purchases were definitely necessities rather than impulse buys.

We loitered until six o'clock and then popped in to a local pasta restaurant for an early supper as this evening we had front row seats at The Swan Theatre for The Orphan of Zhao ...

... "no, I'd never heard of it either", but it was a Christmas present from 30% and it was an absolute cracker. It is a Chinese play that has it's origins over 2,500 years ago and was the first Chinese play ever translated in to a European language; French in the 1730's.** It is a long time since I have last been to the theatre and I had forgotten how much I enjoy the simplicity of it's story telling and how so much can be portrayed with so little in the way of back drops and props. The Orphan is sometimes referred to as The Chinese Hamlet and  I could see the similarities to some of Shakepseare's works and there was even a Hamlet in-joke during General Tu Angu's first speech.

It was a fantastic evening and a refreshing change from the recent entertainment fodder of recycled TV Christmas Specials and repeat showings of films. A most definite 10/10.
---
* a little!
** I didn't know this until I looked it up on Wikipedia afterwards

Friday, 28 December 2012

Out for lunch

A combination of paracetamol and prescribed drugs meant that I had a half decent night's sleep and it was nine o'clock before I dragged myself out of bed  and released some very annoyed chickens from their coops.

The morning was taken up with a walk around the Three Miler, accompanied by 30%, as I don't yet feel up to holding on to T or M with an injured shoulder. I realise that I am starting to sound like a complete hypo-fucking-chondriac and promise that I will not make reference to it again.

After the walk it was time for a wash and brush up and then we set out over to Broadway for an extended lunch with the Oranges & Lemons clan. We spent a happy few hours chatting and munching and returned home in the evening to vegetate alone as TP departed to his Grandma's yesterday to catch up with his Mum's side of the family.

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Every Cloud ...

I had another lousy night's sleep but am fortunate that The Pile is a very short walk away from the Village surgery. I therefore wandered in a few minutes after opening and got myself on the list for this morning's consultations. I then wandered back home, had coffee and breakfast and returned for my appointment. The diagnosis is Tendonitis and some seriously high powered anti inflammatories were prescribed.

Apart from a walk around the Three Miler with 30% the rest of the day was spent catching up on some sleep now that I had some relatively effective pain relief.

As the day drew to a close I realised that there was no way I could drive down to Staines for work next week. At present I can barely dress myself let alone drive long distances or sit at a keyboard for hours on end...

... First thing tomorrow I need to fire off an email to let a few people know in order that they can look to find an alternative resource mug.*
---
* This job looked like it was going to be a pile of shit from the start. Despite the assurances that it would all be just about finished before I came on board, I didn't believe a single fucking word I had been told and knew I was going to get screwed. As I now have an official diagnosis and treatment plan, with a potential need for an x-ray next week, I have a near perfect get out and the physical pain I am suffering is far more preferable to what I expected to go through in Staines next week.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

A tale from Christmas Past

Christ, did I have a bad night's sleep! My bloody should was giving me huge amounts of pain and after tossing and turning for what seemed like an age I eventually dosed myself up with pain killers and retired to the spare room for some space and to avoid disturbing 30%. I think I eventually fell asleep between two and three and was woken by the pain at around six this morning. There is obviously something serious going on with my right shoulder but I haven't a clue what I have done to it.

Having taken further painkillers to take the edge of it, I was off around the Three Miler as BMS and SMS* were joining us for lunch. Dad was in pretty good form and insisted that I include a tale from Christmas past in my blog. This is probably quite a good suggestion as otherwise this will be yet another entry filled with present opening and the eating of turkey and ham based products ...

... When my Dad was young and still courting my Mother he recalled an occasion when he accompanied her on a Christmas visit to her paternal Grand Parents who lived in Kings Road in Evesham. Basically it was a seasonal gathering of the family and my Dad reports that it was quite a party as my Mother's Dad was one of twelve children.

I'll nip off at a tangent for a minute to mention that I knew very few of my Maternal Grandfather's family but was always very fond of his sister; Ev who bore a striking resemblance to Harpo Marx and was one of those grown ups that was a delight to be around as a child. The other sibling I remember was Harry who was always better known as The Tailors Dummy on account of his posture and huge amount of personality. Now one might ask why Harry was so well remembered if he was so dull. The answer to this quandary was his wife; Meg. Even as a boy I could recognise that this vivacious woman in her sixties must have been an absolute Stunner when she was a young woman and apparently she was incredibly popular with the American Air Men during the war. BMS didn't go in to a huge amount of detail about Meg's personal life but the word prostitute was muttered briefly at one point! It perhaps explains how a Proof Reader for the Evesham Journal managed to keep a home together during the War Years!

Now turning back to the Gathering this was a typical Christmas Party with drinks, news and leg pulling  and one particular tale stood out from the rest ...

... it revolves around yet another of my Grandfather's brothers and this one was was somewhat lacking in the brains department. The story was told that, on an incredibly cold and frosty morning, this dullard came across a freshly deposited pile of horse shit in the road. The warmth of the manure and the coldness of the air resulted in significant quantities of steam rising from the road apples. Apparently this simple lad was found attempting to light his pipe from the pile assuming that the steam was smoke and as we all know, there is no smoke without fire.

This tale always resulted in huge laughs at the poor chap's expense and my Dad can remember how my Grand Father used to get really uptight whenever it was told.**

There you go Dad, I've set it down for posterity.

It was a case of revolving doors for, as my Dad and Sue left, 30%'s sister, brother and the Elf arrived for the exchanging of gifts and supper. We had a lovely evening and the Elf was delighted with the framed mirror I had made for her. We were informed that it was to be hung the very next day.

We also finally unwrapped the Gravlax experiment and served it as a starter with cream cheese and a slice of brown bred and butter. I can report that it worked really well and is one that I will definitely do again.

It was a late night and I retired again dosed with as many pain killers as I could take.
---
* My Brother was included in the invitation but we never know in advance whether he is going to turn up or not.
** My maternal Grandfather was a pompous idiot who, to use the modern vernacular was really up his self. He liked to recount a tale of lost opportunities back in his families past when a will, that would have resulted in him having a share in a grand estate in Gloucestershire, was thrown on to a fire as his Grandfather died after breaking his back. In reality he was a motor mechanic who got lucky when he fell through a roof at his employer's premises ...

... firstly he was lucky because they had just discovered penicillin and could therefore treat infection and secondly because he made a significant claim against his employer's insurance.

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

A day without Marmite ...

... and look what happens.

But  I'm getting ahead of myself, let's cover Christmas Day first. It was a quiet day here at The Pile with just the three of us but we had a lovely relaxing day. Whilst 30% prepared the lunch, I took T&M for a walk and then we settled down to a bit of present opening. 30% will be keen to point out that there were no huge surprises in her pile and my prompt response is that is because she didn't tell me in advance what to surprise her with! I wasn't expecting anything significant, as my new camera body had been a joint Christmas and Birthday present, so was quite surprised to find myself opening a Kindle Fire tablet. TP was quite literally gobsmacked with his gift and his MacBook Pro hasn't left his lap all day.

Lunch was splendid and as we settled down for TV and further presents I noticed a twinge in my right shoulder. As the day went on this became noticeably worse and I could think of nothing that could have caused the pain...

... I put it down to the fact that this is one of the very few days in the year when I do not consume Marmite and simply assumed that I was suffering some sort of withdrawal symptom from the fine yeast extract spread.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, 24 December 2012

Preparations

Bloody Hell! If it rains much more I am going to apply my recently tested carpentry skills to building a boat. This morning the sky was a leaden grey and the rain was torrential. It was a good job that I was up early as Kathy H-R came knocking at the door shortly after eight to deliver the turkey.

First job of the day was to re-engineer the Christmas Tree stand following last year's regular fellings by the cats.* TP and I then climbed in to the Defender and headed over to the local Nursery to take advantage of the lousy weather and impending deadline. We came away with a lovely 7' Nordic Spruce at a knock down price and after letting it dry it was erected, placed in the living room and TP was left to decorate it.

I then braved the elements again and took T&M for a very soggy walk/wade around the Three Miler. After getting dry and having lunch I dragged a huge gammon joint from the fridge and put it in the jam kettle to simmer for a good three hours.

Whilst it was bubbling away 30% and I nipped in to the supermarket for a few last minute items and to see if there were any last minute deals to be had. We came away with another whole salmon for under £7 and a few other meaty bargains. The net result of this trip is that I then spent a further hour or so filleting fish and cubing beef steak. There were a couple of joints of pork too, but they were refrigerated and a cure will be started after Boxing Day. The Gammon joint was extracted from the pan, studded with cloves and liberally coated with honey and brown sugar. It was then glazed in the oven for twenty five minutes and came out looking gorgeous.

In the evening we were joined by 30%'s Mum, Dad and sister for the Village Carol Concert and supper. The former was relocated from a sodden Village Green to the firmer footing of the Doctor's surgery car park and whilst it may have been better underfoot I felt the setting did tend to take away some of the festive nature of the event.

With Dinner over our Guests departed and we settled down for a quiet evening. A couple of last minute presents were wrapped and that was it ... we were all ready for Christmas.
---
* the tripod is now drilled and bolted to a 2' square board. There is no way the little sod will bring it down now unless he has worked out how to use a chainsaw.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Gravlax

Sunday started with a leisurely breakfast of croissant and coffee and birthday greetings from 30% and BMS. It is my forty ninth today but, as anyone who knows me well will be aware, I normally tend to keep things low key at this time of year and celebrate my birthday in March. Today was however slightly different as a luncheon reservation had been made at The Bridge in Bidford on Avon.

In advance of lunch I took T&M for a walk around the Three Miler and was back home in time for a wash and brush up before we drove out to Bidford. We had a fantastic table looking out over the river and, as the river was in flood, the swirling waters were literally inches below the edges of the decking outside the window adding a touch of drama to the meal. . The food was lovely and, for me, the star of the meal was the starter of chicken livers and bacon. That is not to say that the main of kidneys was not good but the starter was just unbelievable.

It would be nice to say that a boozy afternoon followed but that is never going to happen with a birthday two days before Christmas and we returned home to tidy up for the big day. Once the house had some semblance of order I took half an hour out to kick off my latest curing experiment ...

... yesterday I picked up a whole Salmon at the supermarket and two pounds of it are to be put to one side and cured as Gravlax. The cure recipe seems fairly straightforward; salt, sugar, black pepper and chopped dill are mixed and spread over one of the pieces of fish followed by a splash of gin. The other piece is laid on top so that the skin is on the outside. This cure sandwich is then tightly wrapped in cling film and placed in a pyrex tray. a slightly smaller glass dish/tray is placed on top and weights are added. This is then refrigerated for three days. each day the weights are removed, any liquor is poured off and the fish is turned...

... if all goes well I should have cured Salmon for Boxing Day supper with a side of cream cheese and a garnish of dill.

As the evening rolled on I finally found time to have a fiddle with my Birthday/Christmas present; a new Canon D60 body which will hopefully bring an end to the nightmare I have had with Canon camera bodies over the past eighteen months.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

In search of the Goldilocks bracelet

Saturday started in the best possible way. I had slept reasonably well* and had lay in until eight. I also had a clear agenda for the morning and took a leisurely hour to drink coffee before taking T&M out for a walk...

All three of us got absolutely soaked. The weather was appalling and the roads around the village are again flooded. On our return I got all three of us dried and, upon checking, noticed that the low corner in the cellar has a puddle so the water table must be very high at the moment.

Late in the morning 30% returned from some errands in Redditch and having dropped TP at his friend's house. We had an early lunch before nipping over to Stratford in search of her Christmas present. It was a pleasant couple of hours wandering around and we managed a few purchases but none of them were that special something. Fortunately, 30% is like me in that she is now in her late 40s and has plenty of stuff. She is therefore more than happy to wait until we can find that special thing that she really wants rather than just getting something to be opened on Christmas Day.  I should add that she wants a silver bracelet but it has to be just right; the right weight, the right length, not too shiny, not too chunky but not too flimsy either. We plan to take a tour of the Sales after Christmas in the hope of finding something then. A trip to the Birmingham Jewellery Quarter has been threatened.

After leaving Stratford we took a trip back to Redditch for a wander around Tesco and to collect TP's Christmas Present. The grocery list included some supplies for a curing experiment that I am going to try over the next few days, but I will cover that in tomorrow's entry. It was then time to head back home and enjoy an evening together as TP rang to advise that he was "stopping over". As we would be home alone we spent the evening on our hands and knees on the rug in front of the log burner...

... wrapping presents!
---
* I had only woken twice and had fallen straight back to sleep.

Friday, 21 December 2012

*%@#@@** ! continued ....

I had a bloody awful night's sleep. My blood sugar dropped in the middle of the night and the midnight 2 am snack to restore it took an age to kick in. As a result I tossed and turned for more than an hour and the bloody level must have dropped again around five o'clock as it was still sub-normal when I gave up and got up just before six.

It is fair to say that I was not in the best of humours after being shat on yesterday and the crap night's sleep had done nothing to improve matters. I was not at all happy about having my holiday period potentially tainted by having to worry about a project that was not my problem. As a result I attempted to draw a few lines in the sand...

... I contacted the Manager who was attempting to dump this crap on me and eventually got him to find time to talk to me. I think it is fair to say that it was one of those conversations where each participant was going to have a different view of the discussion. For example I am fairly sure I was very assertive and I am pretty sure that the Manager thought I was fucking rude. I took the liberty of giving him a frank set of opinions on the project including my view that the deliverables were not achievable in the timescales, that the issues were his problem not mine and that I would add little if any value in view of my complete lack of knowledge. He attempted to disagree with my views but he was on very shaky ground, especially when I pointed out that the incumbent Solutioner described it as a complete pile of shite. I baited him to the point where he said that he would take it through the approval stages. I think this was an attempt on his part to be sarcastic.* I seized the opportunity and thanked him for his kind offer. I then rapidly summarised my view of the call which involved him and his colleagues doing all the work over Christmas and me doing bugger all except turning up in Staines on 2nd January to provide Consultancy and advice. I then rapidly closed down the call and documented the agreements in an email and issued it to him and a set of suitable witnesses,

I spent the rest of the day dodging ownership of actions and obtaining approvals such that I could spend and enchanting couple of days in the vicinity of Staines in early January.

By four o'clock the out of office was set and the voicemail message had been changed to a polite sod off. I took a gamble and left my instant messaging application switched on until five o'clock. This paid off in that no-one hassled me and it looked like I had worked a full day. As the last chime of the clock faded*** I shut down my lap top and prepared for a great Christmas break.
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* Perhaps he was implying that I didn't have the ability **
** No, but I did have the ability to engineer a stress free Christmas and dump all of the shite back in his lap
*** it had actually struck six ****
**** it is a very old long case clock and is entitled to be a bit temperamental from time to time.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

*%@#@@** !

Do you know, all was going so well. After the past few very hectic months I was winding down quite nicely in preparation for a decent break from work. Then, in the mid afternoon, I was pinged by my Dispatcher. "Bad man" he said "I hear you have nothing to do". A feeling of dark foreboding gathered in my head as he continued ...

... He advised that I was needed to baby mind a project for a few days in the New Year and provided a contact name. That didn't seem too bad. After all, it was only three days. What could possible go wrong?

I eventually got hold of the contact and she provided a few details :-
  • She doesn't work Fridays
    (so today was the last day to get any detail from her)
  • The project needs to be priced and delivered to the customer on 9th January
    (so I get to look after the fun stages of the project)
  • She isn't working the week commencing 31st December
  • The solution is not yet fully defined
  • She is working two days next week
    (I'm sure I would do two full days on Christmas Eve & the day following Boxing Day!)
  • I am to take a solution that is not completed and that I do not know through three Delivery reviews
    (My value add would be an ability to read the slides)
  • The contact may be able to complete the necessary slide decks for these reviews
    (the word may had an unnerving stress in our discussion)
Oh Fuck ... oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck!

This is just not achievable. I finish work tomorrow and will therefore turn up in the middle of a metaphorical war zone, knowing nothing, and be expected to work absolute fucking miracles. There is no fucking way that I want to go any where near this as, based on what I have heard, this needs another week or two at best to stand any chance of success. The current incumbent did have the decency to agree that both the project and the situation were a "complete pile of shit".

As afternoon turned to evening I managed to get hold of my Dispatcher and recounted the situation and my concerns.  He agreed that it was nonsense and that this was not what I was expected to do. He advised that I should stand down.

At this point one would think that this was a Happy Ending and that the black clouds had dissipated...

... So why the fuck is my in-box full of meeting invitations and request for me to be at an unknown client site for three days starting on 2nd January 2013.

It is fair to say that I have gone from winding down to wound up in very short order.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

From this ...


For the past couple of months I have been prattling on about the cupboard that I have been constructing in the alcove in the Dining Room. I know that it has taken an absolute age to complete but work and home life have done their best to hinder me and my design certainly set me a few woodworking challenges.

This doodle is how it all started back in October once Chippy Ian had finally laid the oak floor. A few swift pencil strokes and I had managed to commit myself to many hours of head scratching and a multitude of mortice and tenon joints as I constructed a cupboard that would a) stand up to the wear and tear of daily life, b) provide ample storage for glasses and the dinner service and c) be of an appropriate design for a room built in the Victorian era.

Today I finally managed to hang the second door and was able to go from my scrawled aspirations to this; reality ...

I know that it needs to be sanded and finished but it is a major milestone in the completion of the dining room and it really is just a case of filling and sanding before the painters are brought in.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

"Education"

Today's education involved a refresher course in the finishing of elm floorboards. It is fair to say that progressing from 80 grit, through 120, to 240 grit produced a satin smooth finish on The Elf's mirror frame and a couple of liberal applications of wood reviver have enhanced the grain and colour. All I need to do tomorrow is apply a coat of wax polish, install the mirror glass, fix in the hardboard backing, D rings and cord and then 30% can then wrap it up and shove it under a tree somewhere.

Having completed the course in finishing elm my next learning experience was door hanging as I fitted the first of the two cupboard doors. I also took T&M for a walk around the Three Miler.

At some point in the day a team call took place but it was a non-event that featured IM attempting to show some personality by wishing us all a Happy Holiday. I noted that he had stuck to the weird American approach of avoiding the word "Christmas" when offering salutations at this time of year.*

... and that was it. That was my day. I tried very hard to motivate myself to endure an on-line training course or two but really couldn't face it. As a result I took back a few of those hours Dante's has stolen over the past couple of months when I have been immersed in the latest monstrosity of a deal.
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* I am guessing that this is aimed at inclusivity in that it it will avoid offending non-Christians ... I find this perversely amusing because, as an Atheist, it winds me up good and proper!

Monday, 17 December 2012

Winding Down

So I find myself on the last working Monday before Christmas. As a result of deal time lines and budgetary issues I don't have any work this week and at the moment it looks like I will spend most of the week ... ahem ... "training".

But before worrying about how to fill my hours I made a leisurely start to the week and eventually left the house shortly after nine for a check up at the Dentist. As usual, my Dentist has the ability to spot a cracked filling from fifteen feet away and I shall be back there in the New Year to have the offending amalgam removed and renewed.

I then trundled in to the Nearest Circle of Hell where I actually managed to find some proper work to do for an hour or so before meeting up with Golfy and others for the unofficial works Christmas Lunch. Dante's Nine Circles of Hell is far too tight to fund a staff Christmas "Do" and anyone who has ever been to a canteen Christmas Lunch will know that such an event manages to dilute the festivity to a level where a) one wonders why the fuck they have to wear a paper hat and b) why the fuck the only thing on the menu is Turkey? One of our number was conscious of these facts and, being one of those people who "likes to organise things", and arranged for a gathering at the Rose & Crown for a decent Christmas Lunch.

It was a really nice "do". It was very informal, there was none of the awkwardness that happens when management are on the guest list and everyone there knew each other well enough to spend the time merrily taking the piss whilst enjoying a decent meal.  The only thing missing was a couple of drinks but neither driving nor rolling back in to the office slightly oiled are good ideas. I was going to say "at this time of year"  but I cant think of any good times to be drunk in the Office or the car.*

A couple of hours later we headed back to the Office and loitered for a while before heading home. If I am honest my loitering was minimal and I took up most of the time sat in the refectory drinking coffee and nattering to Golfy and Granddad Jack before a swift ext at four o'clock.
---
*  There may be exceptions to this. For example I was drunk in the car last Friday but I am yet to decide whether being chauffeured by 30% is a good thing or not.** I cannot however think of a single scenario where being drunk in the Office would be a good thing.
** it is however much better than being left on the side of the road or in a pub car park.



Sunday, 16 December 2012

I'm sure Sundays used to be longer

I'm not sure what happened to Sunday. One minute I was drinking coffee and raising 30% and TP from their slumbers, the next I was slouched on the sofa watching the end of a film and thinking about my bed. Sunday seems to have raced by and I am sure that if I look closely some nefarious individual has stolen a few hours of it because I am sure they are usually longer than this one.

The morning had a reasonably early start as we had an away game over near Leamington Spa. We were all quite looking forward to the match as TP's team have done well against them at every clash and we hoped for an away win. It was a scrappy game but we came away 19:0 victors from a match supervised by a reluctant referee of dubious skill level. TP played out on the wing and scored twice in the match but had one of the tries disallowed as a forward pass was alleged however, he had a very good game despite the fact that he was playing at position he doesn't really enjoy.

By the time the lads had scoffed a post-match chicken curry it was past one o'clock before we headed back taking in a minor detour to drop one of TP's team mates home in Bidford. At home we were greeted by an enthusiastic T&M and a hasty lunch was taken before I was straight out in to the lanes for a long over due walk.

I returned home around three and, after a quick coffee break, was out in to the garage to apply myself to a Christmas project. I spent the next couple of hours getting an elm frame cut and assembled as it needs to be completed, have a mirror inserted and then be wrapped in the next few days.

By the time I had tidied up dinner was being served and then it was a few hours of relaxation in advance of the working week.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Hung Over.

I definitely felt a little shabby this morning after last night's antics. Note to self; after six months with minimal alcohol intake, polishing off a bottle of Blackberry Vodka with James Bond after several glasses of fizzy and a couple of glasses of Red with Dinner was probably not my best move. According to 30% I committed no major crimes and will be able to face the hosts and guests who were possibly more drunk than I.

I fortunately avoided a headache but was definitely not my best as we headed in to Worcester for a spot of Christmas shopping. I put on a brave face and didn't moan once but must admit that I was pretty pleased when 30% announced that she wasn't really in the mood for shopping and suggested returning home for lunch.

We did this and then I dutifully headed out around the lanes to walk off some of T&M's limitless energy. I was back home by about three and settled on the sofa ...

... the next thing I recall is waking in the dark with a crick in my neck. I had slept for a couple of hours and 30% had retired upstairs to bed to do the same. Our laziness continued in to the evening and a Chinese meal was ordered and collected. Further alcohol was also avoided as I needed to drive back out towards Worcester late in the evening to collect TP form his girlfriend's house.

I really have got to get my arse in to gear and get some of this Christmas shit sorted!

Friday, 14 December 2012

The deadline arrives.

By the time Friday morning arrived my in-box contained all of the necessary approvals. These were dutifully saved as evidence and I ensured that the Pricer and the Sales Exec were informed ...

... and that was it. There was nothing else for me to do. I had an easy day and I took advantage of it. T&M were walked and we got soaked as the hard frosts have been replaced by a cold rain. Other than that I just kicked my heels. I had a call late in the day where the Sales Team quibbled over how they were going to present the Proposal, which messages would fit and which would not be palatable but, to be honest at four o'clock on a Friday after the past few weeks I really did have no real enthusiasm for it.

It was then time to shut everything off and get in to weekend mode. I showered and shaved as this evening we are meeting up with Bond, Moneypenny, Rosie and Jim at Maison R&J.

If I am honest it is likely to get very messy later on. I have a strong suspicion that I am not going to be at my best when we head in to Worcester for a spot of Christmas shopping tomorrow.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

It really should be Friday 13th

Today looked like it was going to be easy. I had a few calls to attend and needed to be around to answer any questions that might arise. Other than that I had nothing of any great urgency so settled down for a long overdue rest skive.

All was going swimmingly. I had marked out my mirror frame in preparation for cutting and had a fantastic walk around the frosty lanes. Shortly before lunch I had made a start on preparing this evening's Bolognese sauce when my instant messenger started to ping incessantly. It was the Pricer and she needed me to urgently check some numbers for her. After ten minutes with a spreadsheet I provided her with my numbers and she advised that she had confused cost with price and I was not to worry ... git!

As the afternoon trundled on things started to get worrying ...

... Our price is due for presentation tomorrow and late in the afternoon the Account Executive started asking peculiar questions like "why are these costs still in the proposal" and "why haven't these changes been executed". The Pricer, Sales Exec and I were a little stunned by these last minute scope changes and responded with an answer that went along the lines of "this is the first we have heard about changing the solution as we thought these elements were still to be proposed".

It is fair to say that the discussion became a little heated especially once the Pricer and I had realised that her instruction to us had been cryptically contained within an e-mail addressed to the client and on which we had been carbon copied. On re-reading the note I can most definitely advise that it is far from an instruction to re-solution and throughout the past couple of weeks I have spoken to her on a daily basis where I have been most clear on what I am, and am not, doing.

The Client Exec was insistent that the changes needed to be made in time for tomorrow's presentation. We advised that this was a significant piece of work and that SMIs should really be engaged and a series of re-approvals should also be requested and obtained. This resulted in the Exec taking on the persona of the wicked witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz.* We let her rant on for a while and took quiet amusement as we attempted to pin down her requirements and made her backtrack a number of times due to her general confusion and tendency to contradict herself.

The net result of the call was that we would start to progress the changes but would most definitely not subvert process, all necessary approvals would be obtained...

... There are changes and then there are CHANGES. The ones we are being asked to make sit as the less risky end of the spectrum but they are significant enough for us to run in to real trouble in later rounds of this deal unless we have sufficient Executive awareness and consent at this stage. I put a quick call in to IM and soon found myself in a three way conversation with him and his Boss. A pragmatic way forward was soon found and Boss Lady has the clout to allow us to proceed and meet the deadline.

All I needed to do was spend a couple of happy hours crafting carefully worded e-mails, making changes to cost models and chasing reluctant senior managers for approvals.

When I find the time I am going to get to the bottom of why we found ourselves in this mess.
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* not particularly scary, but quite comical

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Job Done ?

Today started way too early. I was awake at five o'clock and eventually gave up on sleep and crawled out of bed at six. The most frustrating thing about this is that I have no real need to get up early, work is appointment free and TP is out of school on study leave. The one day I could have a lie-in my body clock decides I don't need one.

As I mentioned yesterday, today has the potential to sit at either end of the Fucking Nightmare ... Absolute Breeze spectrum. I am waiting on one final approval before I can officially hand my work products over to the Pricer and this all depends on the whim of a very Senior Daemon. It would have been premature, verging on impolite, to chase for his response so I did what any home worker with a slack day would do and glued and cramped the two panel door I have made.

I just need to trim and hang them now.
How to make life more complicated - add details.
After putting the door to one side to dry I wandered back to my laptop and found a response from the Senior Daemon in my in-box. The e-mail contained a single word; Approved. My response was also a single word; Result. This meant that I had achieved my deliverable within stated timescales and would now be taking on the role of Consultant for the rest of the week and we all know what that role involves.*

I informed my colleagues of this final tick in the box and then spent the rest of the day attending the same call on three occasions. I suppose I had better explain this as one might be mistaken and assume that each call was a repeat of the first but  it was even more peculiar than that ...

... in the early afternoon the Sales Exec had arranged a progress review call to which I dutifully dialled in. We spent two minutes celebrating the formal completion of my solution and another twelve discussing winter holiday destinations. It became apparent that we would not be joined by the rest of the team so the call was abandoned and rescheduled for a couple of hours later ...

... I therefore routed the beading detail on a mirror frame I am making and dialled back in at the scheduled re-start. The same thing happened again and the Exec and I were the only attendees. A second reschedule was arranged and the call eventually happened right at the end of the day. The call was long and most irrelevant to me and I used the time to get the fire lit. It is amazing what one can achieve with a cordless 'phone on mute.

All being well I should not have any further work allocated this side of Christmas and will spend next week on education and training before the Christmas/New Year Break.
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* Loitering on conference calls, not taking actions, providing opinions whether requested or not, avoiding answering questions etc. In summary being a pain in the arse, know-all that doesn't really add value. What a job!




Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Break on through to the other side **

This morning we finally got some sense out of the Delivery Team and they agreed to approve the work we have done provided we load in some extra effort. The justifications they provided for this extra cost were weak but in view of the tight timescales we took it on the chin and loaded in the extra headcount. At one point in the debate there was a discussion about whether this additional labour should be delivered from India or the UK. Obviously my preference for India would be much less costly and when I was asked whether I would split the labour across these two locations I simply replied "no". I didn't follow it up with any explanation or justification. Neither did I offer any compromise. I simply, point blank, refused with one tiny, but incredibly powerful, little word. The effect was amazing. There was a pause and I could hear mental gears grind and then a simple acceptance of this position. Within a few minutes I had the call wrapped up and verbal approval given subject to me drafting and issuing a set of minutes.

The rest of the day was hitch free and by early afternoon I had the first two of the three approvals in the bag and was drafting a carefully worded e-mail to the Lord High Daemon of Delivery to seek his continued Blessings. All being well I will have this done and dusted by tomorrow.*

During lulls in the working day I cut the mortices and panels for the second of the doors I am making and, by early evening, had fine tuned the joints and completed a dry fit. I'm pleased with the result and will get it glued up and cramped tomorrow morning.

I also managed a swift walk around the Three Miler and as I headed back down the lane towards the village I came across a number of sheep stood in a gateway ...

... with no gate between them and Tyson! I was amazed as she simply looked at them then turned and returned to me in response to my startled call.

It looks like the training is taking effect. Mind you, if they had been pheasants things would have been very different as both she and I regard them as fair game.
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* ... or I will be having a nightmare of a day.  It all hinges on the Daemon's decision; a yes will mean plain sailing for me through to the end of the week, a no will mean that I will have to cross very stormy sea's at a record pace.
** a little cryptic perhaps but it seemed to fit with both work and leisure activities.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Here we go again

Monday was pretty much as expected; this week I have to get a set of costs revised, approved and priced before they are issued to the client on Friday.  The tricky link in that chain of events is the approval stages. I need three approvals; one from the Account Team, one from the Team responsible for the Service Tower and finally one from the Lord High Daemon of all Delivery Matters. Each of these approvals needs to be obtained in turn, like dominoes, if one falls they all fall!

Much of today has been taken up with attempting to obtain the Account Team's approval. On would've have thought that they would just rubber stamp it as they are the ones that are keen to offer an attractive package to the client on 14th December but their Delivery Exec has been nothing but a complete pain in the arse. After two lengthy calls she has still not managed to compete a review of the detail despite agreeing to look over the material on the first call. I finished the day with her promising to have completed her review by ten o'clock on Tuesday morning.

To make matters worse she is a ditherer and a waffler and calls with her rapidly spiral in a confused mess where actions and issues are as easy to grasp as ghosts in fog.

...................... help meeeeeeeeeeeee.

Away from work I spent my time cutting the tenons in the rails of the second cupboard door.

It is fair to say that, at present, the amount of time spent writing about an activity is inversely proportional to the enjoyment I get from it!

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Weekend Round Up

It probably comes as no surprise that much of Saturday was taken up with woodworking. I made an early start and nipped in to Redditch to pick up some 6mm ply for the door panels and a bale of wood shavings for the chicken coops. The latter item had a slight tinge  of irony in view of the huge amount of sawdust I have generated over the past couple of days. On my return I set to and cut the mortices in the door stiles. I was finished by lunch time and, after eating, took T&M for a walk.

The remainder of the afternoon was spent trimming the mortices and tenons to ensure a tight fit. By the time a G&T had been poured, the door had been glued and cramped and, if I say so myself, it is a reasonable first attempt.

Sunday started with an early walk around the Three Miler. The plan was to get T&M exercised and then go over to the Rugby Club to watch TP play. As we passed the half way point on our walk a car puled up along side me and the Driver asked if I had seen three loose horses. Apparently they had escaped overnight and he proceeded to provide a description of the escapees. I advised that I would keep an eye open for them whilst wondering why he had provided a description of the three equines. I suppose it was just in case there was an entirely different trio of escaped nags racing around the Parish too...

... the final leg of my walk takes me back in to the Village through a lane of 1960's housing with wide swathes of manicured lawns in front of each and every house. As I wandered up the road I heard that unmistakeable clatter of horseshoes on tarmac, followed by the repeated thud, thud of large horses running across soft, pristine turf. I stayed and assisted with the herding of the beasts until the owner arrived with his posse and made ham fisted attempts to catch the skittish animals. There were plenty of them so I left them to it and wandered the last half mile home.

The rugby match was against TP's old team and we hoped for a long awaited victory against his old team mates. Once again we were frustrated as TP's team failed to take every opportunity to convert possession in to points and came away  with a 29:17 final score in favour of the opposition.

The rest of the day was spent back at the work bench preparing the stock for the second of the cupboard doors...

... and doing my best to avoid thinking about the nightmare that next week is likely to be.

Friday, 7 December 2012

I could quite get in to a Three Day Week

Today started with an early walk around the Three Miler. I was back shortly after ten and had a quick coffee with 30% before she nipped out to pick up Bad Man Senior and a few essentials for lunch. While 30% was about her errands I made a start on cutting the tenons on my cupboard project as a visit by BMS has a natural tendency to limit my productivity and I did want to achieve something today. That is not to say that his visit was not welcome as I love spending time with him and the great thing about today was that I had no idiots from Dante's Nine Circles of Hell distracting me.

Dad arrived and after we had extricated him from the pack of enthusiastic, welcoming dogs we had coffee and I took him on a tour of the latest projects. The coffee and chat extended through to a lingering lunch break and then we settled in front of the fire.

30% dropped BMS back at home in the early afternoon whilst I drove over to collect TP from school. The reason for this unusual parental attention was that he had his Grade 5 Rock Guitar Examination this afternoon and I took on the role of Chief Roadie* and was required to deliver the guitar and locate the venue for his performance. Apparently the exam went well but we will need to wait two or three weeks before he gets his results.

The evening was spent finishing off the tenons and setting up the new Morticer. I am hoping that I will have my first door completed tomorrow.
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* it is fair to say that I was more miserable, sweary Roadie rather than relaxed, stoned, hippie Roadie this afternoon due to a rather casual exit from school by TP, a need to be at the exam venue a good fifteen minutes before the test and a need to search two adjacent Industrial Estates before I managed to locate Unit 31B!

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Did I mention Marauder got clipped?

In all the excitement of yesterday's emergency dash to the Village Green, to assist VI, I forgot to mention that Marauder also got clipped. She is absolutely delighted to be rid of that long warm coat as we head in to a week of alternating frosts and cold rainy spells. At one point I was worried that M would look like she had suffered a terrible attack of mange when the clipper blades became blunt part way through the clip. She was left with clumps of hair on her legs and belly and looked to be suffering from a most dreadful skin condition. I needed to be inventive with an alternative set to finish the job and from a distance she looks now quite good.

Note to self: Get the blades sent off to be sharpened.

Today has been the first day of my very long weekend and it can be summed up with the phrase "mostly wood work". After taking T&M for a good walk first thing, I wandered out to the garage and made a start on project number one. We have decided to make 30%'s brother's girlfriend an elm framed mirror for Christmas. She has admired and commented on the ones we have hanging around the house so this morning was spent selecting some lengths of timber, ripping them to size, belt sanding off the accumulated crap and drilling and plugging the nail holes. They were then left for the glue to dry and tomorrow I will sand them and rout a beading detail on the face.

The next job was to make a long overdue start on the cupboard doors in the Dining Room. These are to be constructed using a traditional mortised frame with floating panel approach and much of the day was spent preparing the timber. The stock needed to have rebates cut to hold the panel and then a bead detail was added to the face of the wood. The bead adds a much needed design element but complicates the mortice and tenon joints by adding a mitre element to the joint.
My head hurt after marking and cutting four of these
I still need to cut the actual mortices and tenons but managed to complete the mitre elements before we had an early supper and then headed over to Warwick Arts Centre to see Al Murray's; The Only Way is Epic show.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

VI takes a tumble

As expected I was formally asked to apply standard metrics to our  light bulb changing activities today. I did what was needed to be done; I set expectations around delivery timescales, I requested resources, I briefed them and then I set my out of office and buggered off for a couple of days. Other stuff happened but I can't be bothered to record it here apart from the fact that there is huge amount of internal and client politics going on at the moment and these are all impacting the work that I am doing. My approach is just work out what can be done in the time available and get on with it, making sure that the Execs are either informed or in agreement ... if I am lucky; both.

We are in the final straits now. Pricing modifications need to be completed over the next few days and our revisions will be presented on 14th December. We will then sit back and await the Client's decision.

As I was loitering for the final conference call of the day an unrecognised number came up on my 'phone ...

... it was the long suffering wife of Village Idiot. To be honest I haven't seen much of VI recently as his muscle wasting disease is taking a significant toll, so I was concerned when she advised that he had fallen over on the Village Green whilst feeding his sheep and she couldn't lift him. I said I would be there in five minutes, threw on a hat and coat and climbed in to the Land Rover.

I trudged across the sodden Green as dusk turned to dark and found VI on his hands and knees in the mud with his LSW taking a rather relaxed attitude to the unfolding events. We attempted to support him on either side and lift him upright but his legs are no longer strong enough to support his weight and lock straight. After a couple of further failed attempts we tried another tack and found a depression the edge of which formed a natural seat. VI sat on the edge and dangled his legs in to the dip. On this attempt we were finally able to get him upright and quickly gave him his walking stick to keep the Bugger upright.

We wandered slowly across the Green in the dark with VI joking about his condition. His final words of the day were of gratitude and the reminder that he had said that he would only ask for my help when he was really in the shit and today ...

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

We could really do with a 100 watt, Edison Screw

There were no real surprises today. As expected, the Sales Execs pushed for me to reduce the number of men we have changing light bulbs. I pointed out that there had been no information given to inform why we have so many men involved in this activity and, as a consequence, I was not able to say we can do it with less. It may be that we have particularly lazy men and can kick them up the arse replace them but it may just as well be that our light bulbs are very difficult to change and that very long ladders are needed for each one. If that is the case then cutting the headcount would not be sensible as we would soon be wandering around in the dark bumping in to God knows what!

I am guessing that tomorrow will be very similar but I am on holiday on Thursday and Friday and, to be quite frank, am so fed up with this crappy deal that they can all go and fuck themselves.

Monday, 3 December 2012

How many men does it take to change a light bulb?

It is a good question.

Last week the UK Sales Exec and I were continuing the forensic analysis of the costs for the latest project and noticed an unusually high metric. When I say high I mean high as in if you look down there you can see the top of Everest high. Basically the Delivery Team use an unusually high number of personnel to support their servers. I was expecting a football team but found the top half of the Premier League! We tested this figure and found that our model was well aligned with reality and that is where our problems really started ...

... The thing is that our client is suspicious of our server costs too and, for once, I agree with him. The net result of this is that I have been asked to completely rework this part of our solution and have it priced and ready for presentation by the end of this week. I pointed out that this was not feasible but suggested an alternative approach whereby we could cost some additional servers at standard support metrics and use these to lower our overall costs. Fortunately the Execs agreed and that is this week's task.

This is not an ideal approach but the time constraints force us down this route. It does however mean that we avoid the steaming pile of manure rather than poking it and clearing it away ...

... why the hell are there so many people supporting servers on this Account? Are they useless, lazy idiots? Is the hardware so appallingly assembled that is needs to be hand held from one near disaster to the next? None of these questions has been answered and, if the Delivery Executive is to be believed, she needs more people to look after the tin not less!

So today I ensured that my Server Guy was working on the task and all was going well until early in the afternoon when the client advised that the additional server volumes had plummeted from a several racks full to a couple hid under a desk. This was very worrying as the fewer the number of additional servers the less impact their frugal support metrics would have on the bloated delivery team. Bugger!

I pressed on and late in the day a further mail arrived from the client advising that they had cocked up their additional volumes and they were back to where we had started this morning. Phew!

Just as I was closing down for the day the Sales Exec called again and advised that he wants me to re-solution all of the server support for the full estate based on Standard metrics. My response was that the Delivery Exec had been in the job for at least nine months and had not managed to achieve this so how the hell did he think I could get that solution approved. He nodded sagely ...

... but I am guessing that he still wants me to go down that path with two working days left.

This tale of today might sound dreadful but I have actually had a quiet day and dogs have been walked and I even made a start on clipping Tyson. Her body is now fairly neatly shorn and I just need to finish off her face and feet before we go out tomorrow.

Marauder, You are next!

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Weekend Round Up

It seemed like this was the first "normal" weekend for a long time. Over the past month or more I have either had to work, run around like a mad thing or be constrained in one way or another. This weekend however there was nothing planned. I didn't need to be anywhere, I didn't need to prepare for anything and I didn't need to produce anything. It was as close as possible to two blank days on the calendar.

Saturday started with a drive over to Redditch to drop off TP for his final day of volunteering at the Charity Shop. 30% and I then continued on out towards Wythall to pick up some timber for the doors I need to make for the Dining Room alcove cupboard. After loading up we headed back home via Alcester to collect a photo for framing. Once home there was time for a walk around the Three Miler whilst 30% went to collect TP and then lunch.

In the afternoon we all went in to Worcester for a wander. Unfortunately we had failed to carry out adequate research and wandered in to the middle of some sort of Christmas Fayre. The streets of the City were absolutely stuffed with aimlessly wandering halfwits. It had the appearance of a zombie movie where the main cast and extras had lost their appetite. I will admit that I am not the most patient of people but can usually cope with city crowds however this was a order of magnitude worse and was more like a queue for free money than a city street. Even the far more tolerant 30% was making statements along the lines of "if I had known this was on I would have stayed at home". It was the usual Christmas assemblage of craft, food and card stalls that magically appear from the end of November to the 24th December. They were all there, their owners all wear festive clothing or traditional costumes and were selling things that one would never buy for their own home but somehow seem to think will make the perfect present for someone else.

We didn't really have anything specific to achieve but I had taken in my troublesome camera that was bought in America last year.  Following it's repair I had totally lost confidence in it and an intermittent fault is still apparent. The net result is that it has sat in it's bag and I have not taken a photo for months. I had decided that I would part exchange this for a new body and 30% offered this as my joint birthday and Christmas present. A deal was done at the local camera dealer and we also hit a few of the department stores looking for things we didn't really want in order that we could provide a Christmas list for our families.

Three more weeks, three more weeks and it will all be done.

Sunday started with a walk whilst 30% dropped TP off at the rugby club for training. I then got busy in the kitchen cubing the recently cured guanciale. Having finished that I collected TP and lunchtime had arrived. The afternoon saw me tick off a few domestic chores including cleaning of chickens, lighting of fires and framing of the photo that was picked up yesterday.

The next week is likely to be very busy but Thursday and Friday are going to be taken as holiday and I am really looking forward to the upcoming long weekend.

Friday, 30 November 2012

Escape Route Blocked

Thursday: Kicking My Heels

I checked out of my hotel at eight o'clock on Thursday morning and lugged laptop and suit carrier over to the principal Circle of Hell in London. We spent a couple of hours slicing and dicing server costs before we headed over to the client offices. The aim was to meet up and attempt to get clarity on the key information they needed that woudl allow them to make a decision on our proposal. It is fair to say that the meeting was close to a complete waste of time. The client CIO obviously isn't that familiar with IT outsourcing and needs to be hand held through the pricing. After demanding this he returned to his usual activity of moaning about the service we are providing. As we walked away from the meeting we analysed his comments and determined that he was creating merry hell about support at a site that is not covered by our contract. All he has to do is sign the relevant paperwork and we can give him what he wants. Fundamentally the guy is playing hardball with us but doesn't really have particularly good ammunition. The CSE and I have decided that from here on in we will be taking a much firmer approach with him as he is basically a lightweight, moaning bag of shite.

We headed back to the Circle of Hell, lunched and kicked our heels for a couple of hours before the remaining members of the Sales Team headed out for another session with the Client. I was not required and the CSE said that I may as well head back up to Worcestershire. This entailed a quick Tube ride across to Paddington where the Departures Boards carried ominous messages. The recent rains had caused flooding between Didcot and Oxford and there were a number of delays and cancellations. The advice was to take whatever train I could get to Oxford and then pick up a local train onwards to Evesham. I joined the rush for the next train and spent the next hour stood in the Buffet Car in a train filled beyond capacity. At Oxford it was a twenty minute wait and then again I joined the jostle and squeezed myself, along with several hundred other commuters, in to a three carriage "bus on rails". I was fortunate, found a seat and within an hour was being collected by 30% from the Station.

It was lovely to be home.

Friday: If I'm not careful this could get messy!

I had hoped that Friday would be a quiet day as I was supposed to be disengaging from this latest project due to budgetary constraints. However the CSE likes to have me around and insisted that I made myself available for the following week. He wasn't particularly clear on why I was needed and stuttered something about a possible client meeting ...

... sometimes I feel like a Security Blanket for the Sales Guys!

This morning there was a moment of clarity when it became apparent that they Sales Team and Account Senior Executive advised that they would like to re-work the entire server services solution and price by next Friday. I pointed out that there was no way on earth that this could be completed in time especially as I was on holiday for two days at the back end of next week. I gave them an outline of what I saw as achievable, challenging but achievable, and luckily got their agreement. As a result a significant chunk of my day was spent getting things lined up for a hectic few days next week.

The net result of this was that instead of having a slack day with plenty of time to potter I managed to squeeze in a walk around the Three Miler but spent the rest of the day in front of the lap top. It was gone six by the time I sealed the flap on the expenses claim envelope and put it ready for posting...

... an evening of vegetation followed.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Hanging Around


After yesterday’s less than successful presentation session, the Team regrouped at one of the London Circles of Hell and we spent the morning shuffling the numbers and throwing them on to PowerPoint slides.

A little after lunch the Senior Execs headed back out to the Client’s Offices to persuade them that we had provided them with an offer they cannot refuse.

If I am honest I spent most of the day kicking my heels and, apart from answering the occasional question*, my most productive activity was when I took a coffee order and headed over to Starbucks.**

As four o’clock approached I had already attained the “knocking off” mind set when a member of the team was called by the Senior Execs. We were all to remain in the War Room as there were a number of activities that needed to be completed in advance of a meeting tomorrow …

… Oh Joy! We spent a happy couple of hours responding to further client questions where we basically tried to say “yes” whilst not exposing ourselves to anything that will cost more money.

 I eventually made my escape at seven and retired to a Thames side bar for a quick G&T before wandering back to the hotel for supper and an evening of TV and bag packing.
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* I also knocked up a quick info-graphic slide for the Aussie Exec showing her Geographic range and in-scope countries which was all of ten minutes work with Google Maps and MS Paint.
** I managed to cock that up and came back short by one Cappuccino.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

I vant to be alone ...


After eleven hours sat in a crowded conference room the last thing I wanted to do was to decamp to a restaurant with the same group of people for a “team event”. Unfortunately I found myself wandering up Regent Street in the early evening to spend an unspecified number of hours in an even more cramped restaurant and be frustrated attempting to hone in on one conversation amongst a babble of voices.

I hastily pulled together a plan to stop off at the restaurant have a quick G&T, make excuses, leave and head back to the hotel for room service and an evening of solitude. Unfortunately that was never going to happen and I ended up sat next to my Sales Executive and opposite the Client’s EMEA CIO. Salvation was at my right hand provided by an Australian Exec and we spent much of the evening swapping stories and anecdotes. The Aussie was also my “get out” as she was understandably suffering from Jet Lag so when she decided to retire early I made my excuses and shared a cab with her and the Singapore Exec back to the Team Hotel.

To be honest the working day had been interesting. The presentations had been delivered effectively but it was apparent from very early in the day that the EMEA Client was not a fan and was going to do his best to pick holes in everything we had to say. He didn’t let facts or the responsibilities and failings of his own organisation get in the way of his criticism either. As the working day came to a close he set out his stall and informed us that there was no way that he could put our proposal or price in front of his Management team. This was an interesting position to take as he is responsible for a “Geography” and this is a Global Deal. The Global CIO and CTO seem far more aligned with what we were proposing. If the Global CIO decides to proceed the EMEA CIO would have painted himself in to a corner with his local Business Team, the Global Client Organisation and us as a Supplier. I wandered away from his stroppy positioning wondering why he would take such a resolute position that would be so difficult to recover from ….

… it was only later that I discovered that he is a Contractor and therefore has no real investment with the Client.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Catching Up


It is Monday evening and I have finally found a few minutes to jot down the comings and goings of the past three days.

Saturday morning was filled by working my way down an enormous “to do” list. It started with a trip in to Redditch to drop TP off for his voluntary work at the Charity Shop. I then filled up with Diesel and headed over to Alcester to collect some timber that I had ordered ten days ago. This was when my plans started to go awry. The chap at the Builders Merchant wasn’t familiar with my order so I was asked to wander around the warehouse in a search for the goods. We eventually located the timber and at this point I will quote the warehouseman; “if that is premier quality I’d hate to see their lower grades of timber”…

… it is fair to say that I politely declined to accept the timber and left somewhat frustrated at having waited ten days for nothing. I then drove out to Chippy Ian’s house and dropped off the cash we owed for the installation of the fire back. I then headed back towards home stopping off at the Feed Store to pick up some Layers Pellets.

This had taken the bulk of the morning and there was just time to walk T&M whilst 30% returned to Redditch to pick up TP. The weather was vile and the dogs and I were thoroughly soaked by the time we got back home. I had just about towelled them off as the remaining family members walked in through the door.

In the afternoon I took things at a gentler pace and managed a healthy snooze on the sofa. The second half of the day wasn’t entirely unproductive and I eventually wandered in to the Dining Room and made an elm spacing disk to pad out the door handle and stop the damned thing rattling. I appreciate that this seems almost inconsequential but this is one of those countless tiny tasks that need to be completed as we head towards the point where paint can get applied to the walls.

Sunday morning was an early start as TP was playing with the Under 17’s squad in a league match North of Birmingham. He was playing out on the Wing on a sodden pitch and it is fair to say that he didn’t really see much action. The heavy going meant that it was very much a Forwards match as the slippery conditions meant that the Backs were never going to demonstrate feats of agility and pace.  To be fair it was actually quite a good game and although we lost we held up well against a strong opposition especially as nearly half of our team was comprised of Under 16’s.

While I was spectating 30% called to let me know that our cellar had flooded. Basically the heavy rains over the past few weeks have raised the water table and it has seeped through the cellar floor over night. This was nothing too disastrous as it was only a couple of inches and having had this happen once before all white goods are raised on a course of bricks above the stone flags. There was no damage done but it did mean that 30% had a fun morning pumping the water in to buckets and carrying it up and out of the house. It is fair to say that when we got home she was absolutely shattered.

The afternoon saw me complete the regular walk around the Three Miler and then 30%’s Mum and Dad paid a visit and we spent the afternoon chatting, drinking coffee and sampling a very nice Banana and Chocolate Chip Tea Bread.

As the evening drew to a close I found myself packing a suit carrier as most of next week will be spent in London hopefully persuading a Client that they should continue to patronise Dante’s Nine Circles of Hell as their chosen supplier of IT Services. 

Time for an early night I think.

Monday started way too early as 30% kindly dropped me at Evesham Station in time for the ten to seven train. By ten o’clock I was drinking coffee in one of the London Circles of Hell and I remained in the same room for the next nine hours reviewing PowerPoint slides and preparing for the client meetings tomorrow.

It wasn’t as arduous as it sounds as the American Executive has a VERY relaxed approach to the sessions that will be held tomorrow. Personally I would have spent more time on some dry runs but I have to admit that his approach is infectious and I can honestly say that I am far more relaxed about a client presentation than I would normally be.

We ended up dining together at the Swan Inn on the South Bank of the Thames along side the Globe Theatre. A G&T, a steak dinner and some decent conversation followed by a wander back to the hotel under the gaze of St Pauls.

I’ve had worse days.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Off to see the "Head"

Friday was slower that yesterday but I had to remain chained to the desk just in case. A badly scheduled set of work and personal meetings meant that I didn't have time to walk T&M today. Fortunately 30% had a day off work and took them for a run around the football field. By the look of Tyson she had spent most of that session diving in the goal mouth as she came back plastered with a rich red mud.

Although I needed to be close to a phone and laptop all day I did have free rein to wander about the house and managed to clear spare timber and tools from the Dining Room. I also finally mixed and applied the heat proof concrete behind the fire back which allowed me to tick another job off the to do list.

In the early afternoon I closed down my laptop and 30% and I headed over to school for a meeting with TP's head master and English Teacher. This year there has been quite a furore in the Press following a decision to mark English papers more aggressively and TP has been an unfortunate bystander to this decision ...

... his papers were marked and he and a dozen of his peers all attained the necessary grades. Unfortunately the rest of his class were required to repeat a number of controlled assessments. The net result of this situation is that, since September, TP and his 12 mates have been sidelined whilst the teacher concentrated on the rest of the class. We first raised our concerns over the  lack of tuition more than a month ago but the word of reassurance we received were just that; "words" and matters came to a head when a number of the students complained to the Head Master that they were not being taught. This resulted in a "behind the scenes" set of meetings and one of the outcomes was TP's teacher sidelining his cohort and clearly pointing out to them that "they should not have gone to the head master and she has the teaching degree and therefore know best". It is fair to say that we were not best impressed so spent a hour with the Head and the English Teacher making clear that leaving a dozen Top Set students to their own devices for two months was not acceptable and neither was an admonishment when they made it clear that they wanted to be taught. We also made it very clear that when we are told matters are in hand we expect matters to be "in hand" and not, as it appeared, that they just carried on as normal.

The day finished with a trip over to Warwick Arts Centre to see Kevin Bridges stand up show.  I have to be honest and say that I wasn't really looking forward to the gig. We have been to Warwick many times in the recent few months and I am becoming a little bored with the whole event; the drive, the hanging around in the foyer with the smell of burnt panini arising from the cafe, the wait for the show to start, listening to a number of tracks from the Performers i-Tunes library. It is all getting a little "samey" and a piss poor, instantly forgettable, Australian support act did nothing to improve my mood. We wandered out and kicked our heels people watching for the mandated twenty minute interval and then returned for Bridges set ...

... I am delighted to say that he turned my jaded mood completely around with a very funny series of anecdotes and topical material delivered with a Glaswegian twist and perspective. It was a great night with a performance that reminded me of why I love going to see live comedy. I am still bored with the "Warwick Arts Centre experience" but I really enjoyed the show.  A definite 8/10.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Long Lunch

It was another fairly quiet day and, after a boring ninety minute 'phone call with a Sales Executive, I trundled over to collect Band Man Senior and we spent a few hours chatting and taking lunch together.  I dropped him back at home in the early afternoon and returned to walk T&M in the rapidly fading light.

That pretty much sums up my day. In the early evening I had to pop out and pick up TP from a neighbouring village. He had rung earlier in the day to advise that school was closing early due to a fear of flooding and he was going to spend the afternoon at his mates' house. The rain came down heavily as we driving home and I have to say that the drops were absolutely enormous and so heavy that full beam could not be used as the rain just reflected it back in to the car. The last time I saw raindrops like these was during a tropical storm in Southern Mexico more than twelve years ago.

 That was my day, on the work front I still think that we are disorganised in terms of what we are to present to the client next week but I am not going to worry about that. We have a couple of rehearsal sessions on Monday and I am sure we will think of something to say.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

More of the same

It will probably come as no surprise to learn that today was spent reviewing PowerPoint slides and answering questions raised by the Client. Apparently it has become my role to take minutes and convert Executive scrawl in to polished prose. I was not best impressed at landing these jobs as we do have a team member specifically in place to perform those duties ...

... Lets call him John, "Hello John, what are you doing today". "Hello bad man, I'm sat out on the verandah drinking a Pimms. Do you know, I've a terrible mole problem out on the Southern Lawn at the moment"

That pretty much sums up John. He is a delightful chap, beautifully spoken with a splendid turn of phrase from a bygone age, but as a Bid Manager he is a complete waste of space. I have worked with him ... well I say worked, what I really mean that we have been assigned on the same deals a number of times and I have yet to see him do anything worthwhile and if he does do something it is usually wrong.

The first time I encountered him we were discussing a unit rate on an opportunity and I mentioned that the number looked totally wrong and seemed to be a pricing problem. He told me that couldn't be so. I did what any "newby" would do and ignored him and looked in to how this number had been developed. Surprise, Surprise! The Pricer advised that he had taken annual costs and converted them in to a monthly rate thereby producing a price twelve times higher than it should be.

From that point forward he has dithered around the far edges of my projects doing the bare minimum and taking a healthy bonus when they get signed. On rare occasions I have worked with proper bid managers that actually know what they are doing and they are an absolute boon. They really do take the weight and leave you to concentrate on the important elements. They will act as your chaser, your  compiler or your  event organiser and do it far better than you can because that is all they do. They are not responsible for delivering anything they simply collate and arrange. I am seriously considering becoming a bid manager when I get too old to perform my current role.

I will say one more thing about dear old John. On the reviews last week I noticed that one of the slides had a comment assigned to it. I clicked on the flag and noticed that it was one I made early in 2011. The lazy old sod had been repeatedly using the same deck on deal after deal and had never bothered to review and delete irrelevant and possible confusing information.

Talk about a quality product.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

SEP *

Today the work on the PowerPoint presentation continued and, if I am totally honest, I threw together a simple set of six slides and passed them out for review while I got on with more important things like tidying up in the dining room and preparing for the application of heat proof concrete behind the fire back.

After lunch I attended the daily call where my slides were discussed ...

... sort of ! There was no actual critique. In fact there was no real discussion of any sort other than an acknowledgement that they existed. What the discussion revolved around was the slides that didn't exist. Our slides need an Executive Summary and Introduction up at the front and a presentation of the Financials at the back. My stuff sits in the middle. These slides need to be drafted by the Sales Executive and the Account Executive with support from the Pricer. As the call progressed it became apparent that the Account Executive was totally overwhelmed by the amount of work she had on her plate and had absolutely no intention of drafting anything. It was clear that all she had time for was a review of slides drafted by someone else. I did what any good citizen would do and kept my mouth shut and let this discussion pan out. To be blunt, I had been the only person on the team that had actually stuck their neck out proposed some ideas and developed a draft of the material that I needed to present.  There was no fucking way that I was going to volunteer to draft slides for subjects about which I know little and for people that don't seem to be particularly concerned about organising their time to get  this work completed.

I have reached that nirvana state that is neatly summed up by the phrase bollocks to them!.

 Away from work it was 30%'s brothers 30th birthday today so we joined him, his girlfriend, parents and sister for a couple of drinks and watched them eat dinner. The reason for this peculiar arrangement was that TP had rugby practice at a nearby pitch and the timing of dinner and rugby antics meant that a) TP could not attend and b) there was insufficient time for us to eat dinner before we needed to collect TP. As a result we stayed as long as we could and ended up absolutely famished watching them tuck in to fine fare whilst we needed to get home before our supper could be had.
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* My favourite TLA. SEP : Someone Else's Problem.

Monday, 19 November 2012

The Weak Link

Monday came and went from a working perspective. Next week I will be up in London as part of the team presenting our recently developed proposal to the Client. I am sure that will be great fun as the draft agenda had me stood up for an hour when I really only have twenty minutes of material at best and that includes a couple of jokes that wouldn't sit well in mixed company. The agenda also had me presenting the Financials which is a bit like asking a brick layer to carry out the re-wiring of your home ...

... definitely not my area of expertise. As a result much of today has been spent thinking about PowerPoint presentations, story boarding and whom will present what.

As is usual on this deal, the Sales Executive isn't exactly leading from the front and it is down to me to come up with the ideas so that he can agree and then I get left to knock them in to shape.*

This is the point where we both get a little worried as neither of us have a detailed knowledge of the Client or the services that are currently being delivered. We therefore see the exiting Account and Delivery Leads as having a key role in providing the detail and selling this extension of services ...

... and that is where nagging doubts start to surface. One of them manages to turn up for meetings and calls but is a bit waffly and seems slow to grasp what we are doing and where we are coming from but that is fantastic compared to the other one who is, at best, late for meetings but more usually just doesn't turn up, cannot manage their e-mail so has to be told which mails must be read and I am becoming a little suspicious that she actually uses illness or extreme business to avoid any significant involvement in our current project. I might be doing her a disservice ...

... but I doubt it.
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* and we all know how hard it is to polish a turd.**
** but apparently it is possible to sprinkle them with glitter!

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Hat Trick

I woke at a horrible hour on Sunday morning and couldn't get back to sleep. As we needed to be up and about very early this morning I bit the bullet and rose a little before six and used coffee to ease my way in to the day. An hour or so later I "encouraged" 30% from her slumbers and we were out of the house a full twenty minutes before eight o'clock...

... The reason for this early start was that TP needed to be picked up following yesterday evening's party and then ferried across the county to the rugby club where one of the Wingers needed a lift to an away match at a club North of Coventry. We arrived at the ground shortly before ten after spending two hours in the car that should have been spent somewhere betwixt bedroom and the kitchen.

I don't like away matches as they have a tendency to knacker up my Sundays. The take away the opportunity to walk the dogs while TP warms up for a home match and consequently an "away day" just becomes rugby, a dog walk and preparation for the working week ahead.

As eleven o'clock neared 30% and I wandered up to the touch line and acknowledged that the summer sun on our faces was a pleasant experience. The lads gathered on the pitch and the match started. After last week's fiasco TP's team seemed to be making a reasonably job of things and within a matter of minutes TP was passed the ball close to the line and took it over for the first try of the game, a good omen perhaps? Over the next forty minutes TP's team kept the ball in their opponents half for the majority of the time and ended the first half with a commanding lead having only lost concentration once when the opposition got a well deserved five points. The second half continued in the same vein and TP added a further two tries to his tally and the final score was 53:5. The lads played an outstanding game and came away with a well deserved win. There is still room for improvement in a couple of areas but it definitely made it worth the very early start.

We got home a little after two and following lunch I took T&M for a walk and then crashed on the sofa for a hour or so before a spell of gently pottering in the Dining Room where further pieces of trim and architrave were shaped and fitted.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Getting on with Things

Before I make a start on Saturday's comings and goings I'll give a quick recount of Friday night's stand up session at Warwick Arts Centre ...

... it was great. I found it quite difficult to put my finger on why I found Alan Davies so funny but I think it comes down to the fact that whilst he is a well known TV personality he hasn't really performed a stand up routine on television for many, many years. As a consequence you have had no real exposure, or over exposure, to his material or delivery and his routine was therefore both a surprise and a delight. I won't put any "spoilers" in this brief review but to hear Jonathan Creek describing the removal of Thai Love Beads as a fine balance between starting the lawn mower and removing a Guinea Worm by winding it on to a stick had me in stitches. It was a fun night out and very refreshing to see Davies out doing what he is so good at. Definitely 8.5/10.

Having covered Friday night I'll amble in to Saturday. There is no point in rushing as it is the weekend after all...

... After yesterday's rapid sorting and packing of the half pig the fridge still seemed to contain a mountain of pork and I spent the first half of the morning cubing a shoulder joint for future casseroles. I also seemed to have bought a pig with two heads so the next job was to remove the cheeks and start another batch of Guanciale. Having finished that I was left looking at a huge pile of bones so the final task of the morning was to roast the bones and then drag out the Jam Kettle and some vegetables to make a cauldron of pork stock.

It was close to midday by the time 30% returned from dropping TP off in Redditch and a tour of various grocery stores. We lunched together and I then took T&M out for a walk whilst she attempted to clear the decks.

Saturday's DIY task was to cut and fix the oak quadrant around the hearth stone in the Dining Room. It sounds straightforward but nothing in the Dining Room is either square or level so each piece had to be planed to ensure it didn't sit "proud" towards the back of the stone. There is no such thing as a five minute job at The Pile.

Having finished that I actually took a few minutes to just do nothing before I was careering around the lanes of the Vale of Evesham taking TP and friend; Nathan to a party. I hurried home for 30%'s Lamb Pilaf which went down well with Pinky who had joined us for supper and an evening of chat.