Thursday, 31 January 2013

Marauder to the rescue.

Work is starting to ramp up and it is fair to say that the day simply rushed by. Apart from an hour out in the soggy lanes walking the dogs, I was head down at the laptop until I finally closed everything down a little before six.

I needed to finish early this evening as 30% and I are going over to the Artrix Theater in Bromsgrove to see Colin Blunstone... so, as I said, it was a case of tools down and tidy up. First evening duty was to shut up the chickens and I then let T&M out for a race around the garden. After five or ten minutes I called them back but there was no sign of Marauder. Somewhat concerned after several calls, I grabbed a torch and scouted the grounds. I eventually found her staring intently though the fence that separates the garden from the High Street... There, flustered in the rapidly fading light, was a hen that had failed to make it's way back to the coop and most definitely aiming to be fox fodder. With TP's assistance I rescued the hen and shoved her back in the safety of the hen house.

Marauder received a biscuit in recognition of her services to the Poultry Population.*
* She is on record as saying she would have rather just had twenty minutes alone with the aforementioned hen!

Tuesday, 29 January 2013


Yes "bleugh" sums up quite nicely how I felt when I woke for work on Monday. The cold was still there and I really didn't feel like doing much. My main objective of the day was get some contractual definitions associated with some baselines and after a short call I managed to locate a couple of individuals to take this forward. Other than that my day was fortunately pretty light and, if I am totally honest, a fire was lit in the mid afternoon and I fell asleep in front of it.

On Tuesday I felt marginally better and sidled up to the laptop with an improved frame of mind. First order of the day was to sort out some arrangements for a piece of voluntary work that Tigger and I have agreed to do. It involves installing some computer equipment out in the community and I was finally able to determine that the kit had been delivered and that provisional installation dates could be set. I fired off a mail to all parties and out of courtesy carbon copied IM and his soon to be replacement ...

... IM's response was a complete surprise. It was a very snotty missive that went along the lines of "this is the first I have heard about this" and "I don't recall being asked to sanction vacation for you to do this".  Both Tigger and I had discussed this with him on previous occasions and we pointed this out to him in our separate responses. What transpires is that he felt that he should have been consulted again before we set the date for the activity. He is a complete wanker, as the only question he would have asked would have been whether our respective projects would be impacted by the day spent doing voluntary work. Funnily enough, that was at the forefront of both Tiggers' and my minds when we planned this escapade. We picked a quiet day. As a result it is fair to say that IM is leaving his role in the same way he arrived ... by being a patronising control freak who has a very poor choice of communication methods and consequently ensures that most people have a low opinion of him.

To be honest the day didn't really improve. The US Lead Team got really snotty about a one hundred and three page Contract Schedule that had not been reviewed within the two day timescale that they set! It looks like I am going to have to take a run through it as most of the subject matter experts are on holiday or training courses. I am far from well acquainted with Contract so my input is going to be of a general nature at best. Oh well, if they will set stupid timescales and not get buy in or support, I am assuming that their quality expectations are set accordingly.

I also chased up the assignment of my No. 2 on the latest project and found that the assignee only works a three day week. I have worked with this individual before and she has a lot of positive qualities but unfortunately she is as naive as they come and we are working in an environment where, at times, one simply cannot pack up work on Wednesday and say "see you Monday". I tried to protest but simply got "We don't have anyone else".

As a result I was not in the best frames of mind when I finished the day and really didn't need the one-sided discussion with TP about his electric ukulele project, the amount of work that needs to be done, the timescales to complete that work and the involvement I am likely to have...

... and I had to ferry the ungrateful little sod to and from Rugby Training too.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Weekend Round Up

As predicted, I was late to bed last night after collecting TP from the party. It was close to one o'clock before I climbed in to bed so I was not overjoyed to be wide awake a little after six on Saturday morning. I seem to lack the lying in gene so I rose and spent the early morning hours drinking coffee and watching television.

Eventually 30% and TP surfaced; the former keen to spend the morning at the auction house and the latter slightly less keen to spend the day with his mother and his much younger siblings. Just before we were about to leave for the auction Postie arrived at the door carrying a large Amazon liveried box. "What have you bought now?" came the interrogative tones of 30%. I replied that I hadn't a clue and hurriedly scrawled a squiggle across Postie's grimy, touch sensitive screen before coming back inside and setting the box down. On closer examination it could be seen that the Amazon box was an example of recycling in action and my hopes were raised as I slid a knife through the parcel tape holding the package together ...

... Oh Joy, there nestled in layers of bubble wrap was my recent impulse buy from eBay. I have hankered after one of these beauties for the best part of twenty years and I finally stupidly made a last minute bid on one at the beginning of the week. Peering out from the cardboard nest was a vintage, 1950's Rolliecord twin lens reflex camera. I haven't a clue whether it works or not and consequently whether I have just wasted the best part of ninety quid on it but it is gorgeous and I already have a 120 roll film sat in the desk waiting to be loaded ... watch this space.

I reluctantly put the camera to one side and 30% and I nipped over to the auction. It was an interesting experience and a few bids were made on some of the items we had earmarked yesterday. We didn't win any of those items but did come away with a mahogany gentleman's shaving mirror for twenty five quid and all it will need is a dab of glue under a small piece of lifted veneer and coat of polish to restore it to it's original glory.

Back at home the afternoon was taken up with a walk around the Three Miler and I then made a start on the dining room job list. I managed to fit the picture light and apply a coat of liquid wax to the door frames before it was time to get myself tidied up for this evening's Burns Night Supper ...

... this has become an annual event for us although we are still not wholly sure why we go. None of us are Scottish, we can't stand the venue, the meal is barely the right side of mediocre and the land lady is the most sour faced cow you will ever meet but we do love haggis and Colin; the Organiser is such a splendid chap that it would be rude not to attend.

As we wandered home after the meal I noticed a nasty scratchy feel at the back of my throat. Out of the blue I appeared to have picked up a cold or sore throat or something. Over night the scratchy feeling worsened and every time I coughed I woke. That was two crap night's sleep in a row.

Sunday started with a trip over to Leamington to take a look at a car 30% had found on the internet. The advertisment made it sound very promising but the reality was somewhat different and a quick walk around the car had me saying a most definite "no" and dashing 30%'s hopes of driving away in a yellow Audi TT quattro. It may have had a low mileage but it hadn't been well looked after and four knackered alloys and a host of scratched body panels said this car was a long way away from being the one. We drove home past the TT that we had test driven a few weeks ago. It was, by far, a better car and it's presence on the forecourt showed that there are plenty of them for sale, they are not selling like hot cakes and there is no need to rush in to this particular purchase.

Back at home I fitted the ceiling light in the dining room ably assisted by TP and after lunch I grudgingly donned hat and coat and took T&M for a walk. The cold was getting worse and I would have much rather been asleep on the sofa ...

... however, my to do list beckoned and I dug out my acrylic paints and disguised the two dutchmen that I had inserted in one of the dining room door frames. Exhausted by this artistic endeavour I retired to the sofa and, a couple of hours later, I woke to the smell of Sunday dinner being cooked. Slightly refreshed, or should that be slightly less jaded I completed the penultimate task on my to do list and finished the cleaning and waxing of the fire surround. 30% has arranged for the set of dining chairs to be cleaned and reupholstered so it is getting to the point where we really do need to get a table.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Coasting through to the weekend

Andy and Steve arrive bright and early this morning and hit the ground running. Within minutes they were stood in the dining room, tea in hand, debating their respective Pop Master scores over the previous four days. Their plan today was to get the final coat of emulsion on the ceiling, the final coat of varnish on the doors to the garden, sand and apply the top coat to the woodwork and get two coats of emulsion on the walls ...

... I left them to it and retired to the office to make a start on my working day. My main objectives were to submit a resource request in order that I can get a team of SMIs assembled to do some work and, secondly,  to wriggle my way out of progressing the baseline spreadsheet activity that I seem to have been lumbered with ... well, I succeeded on one count anyway!

A&S finished at around four o'clock and I have to say that the room looks stunning. The combination of white woodwork, the oak floor and the green walls looks fantastic and I will take some photo's once I have finished the few loose ends. It looks like my job list over the weekend is as follows:-
  • fit picture light
  • fit ceiling light
  • finish waxing the fire surround
  • find my acrylic paints and colour match in the "dutch men" with the old pine of the door frame
  • apply liquid wax to the door frames, small cupboard door and architraves
  • remove stripped pine door, give it a final sand and then apply liquid wax
I'm not sure how many of these I will get through as 30% is keen to visit a local auction on Saturday and there is also the local Burns Night Supper on Saturday night too.*

Before Supper, 30% and I took a trip over to the auction house at Middle Littleton for a viewing. 30% is understandably keen to find the table for the dining room and was hopeful that a splendid Mahogany edifice would be found amongst the lots. Unfortunately that was not the case but there were sufficient items of interest to persuade us that a return visit tomorrow would be worthwhile even if it achieved nothing more than getting the feel of the operation. Before we left the viewing we had a quick chat with the Auctioneer and he advised that the lots were a little thin on the ground due to the recent snow and that the next sale in early February was likely to be rammed with goodies. I can see this becoming a regular haunt.

And that just about sums up the day. I know I will be late to bed tonight as TP is out at a party. I have volunteered to collect him and his girlfriend at eleven thirty and tour Worcestershire in the dark, taking in the delights of Eckington and Norton, before I manage to get my arse in to bed.
* I know it is a day too late but I only attend. I don't arrange it.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Tea Break's over ...

It is Thursday which means the week is nearly done. I will admit that the weekend is always welcome but, as this week has involved getting back in to the swing of things after a long break, I am already looking forward to a couple of days off. I know that things will become far more intense over the next month but simply getting this beast moving has quite taken it out of me. I have realised how unused to work I have become after more than a month away from the coal face ...

... I finally dragged the mojo out from under the cupboard and it is now sulking grumpily in a shoebox* on my desk. Hopefully, in time, it's attitude will improve and I can let it loose to scurry around the office like a slightly past it, scurrying thing**. I have issued my draft timetable back to the Lead Team in America and have finished off the baseline spreadsheet that was dumped in my virtual in-box earlier this week...
I'm not coming out.

... I set up a review call with the interested parties and there were minimal changes to be made. Once those were done it was fired back over The States for the Lead Team to consider. It is really frustrating that there are a number of people far better placed to perform this task but it has been left for me to progress. This is one of those tasks where I am constantly going to be asking the same people "is this OK?" and "what amount should be put in this cell?". It would be so much easier if those people were tasked with the job but, for some strange reason, it has been left with me.***

Away from work, Andy & Steve arrived promptly at nine ish and got stuck in to a busy day of drinking copious quantities of tea, demonstrating their pop knowledge and occasional painting. They have me well trained and I ensure that two cups of strong tea; one with two sugars, one with one and a half are delivered at twenty past ten. The tea is then ready for drinking as soon as the Radio 2 Pop Master quiz commences at half past the hour. By the end of the day all of the woodwork had been primed and undercoated and the walls and ceilings had at least one coat of emulsion applied. With a fair wind they should well have finished by the end of tomorrow and I can't wait to see what it looks like with the green we have chosen for the walls.

* I thoughtfully cut air holes in the lid but am now wishing I didn't as there is now a strong aroma of stale piss emanating from this temporary cage.
** Maybe I should have put more thought in to that metaphor
*** reading between the lines it is because those people are shite.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Looking for grip

Over the past couple of days I may have found my solutioning mojo. The only problem is that, whilst I may have found it, I haven't yet reached it, as it has scuttled under a cupboard and is peering out at me in a "there is no way I want to get involved in that" kind of way...

... On Tuesday I did what I had committed to and prepared a draft plan of the activities that we need to complete to get this deal signed. I dutifully tarted up the spreadsheet with lots of colour and formatting to disguise the fact that it was a very limited amount of work and set up a call to get it reviewed and agreed. I then attended a call with the American Sales Lead who promptly advised that we would be delivering our proposal to the client at least one week earlier than had previously been stated which meant that my plan now needed to be withdrawn and redrafted ... Bugger! 

I also learnt that the client wants us to revise our Service and deliver against more aggressive Service Levels, a draft of these was provided. At least I was on firm ground here and within 30 minutes of the call ending I had spoken to our Subject Matter Expert on SLAs and she had agreed to take a look at them and provide an impact analysis. She went on to say that my timing was perfect as she was about to issue a general communication advising that her team should carry out a review of this type on all future deals ... Result!

After Monday's inability to achieve anything, I realised that this was the high to finish on so I  switched off the laptop and returned to the cleaning and polishing of the oak fire surround in the dining room.*

This morning the mojo was still lurking under the cupboard, out of reach, and appeared to have made a nest. I swear it winked**at me as I tried to grasp it and then resumed it's nibbling on a discarded dog biscuit. When I get hold of the little sod ...

... Today was mostly filled with the redrafting of plans and the development of a baseline spreadsheet that no-one else wanted to step up and own. This is one of those jobs that most definitely needs to be reviewed and approved by a number of people but not one of them is willing to actually put pen to paper so muggins here is left to do the donkey work! I re-worked my draft plan and had it reviewed and, other than a few tweaks, it stood up well to scrutiny. This project is going to be filled with challenges as there is limited time to pull the solution together and the period of peak activity coincides with the half term holiday so SMIs*** are going to be in short supply. In my recent appraisal I had some feedback that suggested that I could come across as being negative**** so I decided to use the word "challenging" and leave it at that.

The call finished and the sun appeared to be loitering in the vicinity of the yard arm so, again, the laptop was switched off and I whizzed over to the DIY store to get some paint mixed for the Dining Room...

... Yes, Andy & Steve make an appearance tomorrow.
* There is a lot of it and it has many mouldings and spindles, so my approach has been a section at a time.
** I said "WINKED"!
*** SMI: Subject Matter Idiot, an individual paid for a level of expertise they do not actually possess. Coincidentally their level of knowledge is directly proportional to the amount of work the do.
**** This is because I work with a bunch of delusional individuals who a) have no knowledge of how long a certain activity takes and b) don't really give a fuck anyway. This results in an endless chain of projects that can be summarised as trying to fit a quart in to a pint pot.

Monday, 21 January 2013

A bit of a struggle getting started

Since before Christmas, work has been very thin on the ground and this has meant that the organisation of my time has been very much left to me. I have pottered around the house, done immense work in the dining room, walked the dogs frequently and unhurriedly and, as a last resort, have progressed a series of leadership training modules. It now looks like this regime is going to change significantly as my latest project has just surfaced from it's midwinter slumber and is starting to stretch it's sleep stiffened limbs...

... it is the same pile of shite that I was playing around with in October and November last year. The client has finally decided that we are it's IT Outsourcer of choice and we are to provide them with a firm price this time. The Sales Team optimistically think they will have this signed, sealed and delivered by the end of March.*

The trickle of e-mails started in the middle of last week and I did what any conscientious Project Manager would do and ignored them until a budget was made available for me to book my time to. It now appears that a measly few pounds has been made available and I am now to make a start on planning this phase of the engagement...

... Do you know, after so many weeks of floating around doing what I pleased, combined with a ten day Christmas Break, I found it very hard to do anything constructive today. I attended a call with the EMEA Sales Lead, committed myself to reviewing an American plan and drafting something for Europe that lines up with the key dates. I did fuck all for the rest of the day but am hoping that guilt will kick in early tomorrow and I will actually justify the hours that I plan to put down in Dante's electronic time sheet.

If I am honest I am actually a morning person and tend to use my afternoons for the quick, less complex elements of my work. I also like to think before I act, so an afternoon call was never going to have me chomping at the bit and rushing head long in to a flurry of activity. This evening will allow me to mull over a few things and I am hopeful of a significant change in attitude that will result in me knocking up my draft plan tomorrow morning.**

 And that is about it; a day spent procrastinating instead of actually doing any work. I reserved my productive urges for domestic activities and made a start on waxing the fire surround in the dining room. As you can see from the pictures, there is quite a lot of it.
* That may well be true for my colleagues in North America and Asia but the Europeans are already muttering about crappy service and the need to see a sustained improvement before they will think about putting pen to paper.  See also foot note below.
** Oh look, Gloucester Old Spots in the South Western sky at an altitude of 2,000' !

Sunday, 20 January 2013

I keep thinking it is Monday today

The more observant might note that yesterday's pictures of the dining room showed a cosy fire burning in the grate. This is at odds with the narrative where I state that I had just applied the second and final coat of finish to the floor. How could I traipse to and fro across the floor to feed the fire and wouldn't the open flame be a little risky with a product that can, under certain conditions, self ignite? The truth is that the photos were taken today and published with yesterday's entry.

Having resolved that temporal mess I will recount Sunday's limited comings and goings. As already mentioned, I lit the first fire in the dining room fireplace. This was a little worrying as we had no way of knowing whether it would burn well or fill the room with smoke.* Fortune was with us and it burnt beautifully and, once the cast iron fire back was warmed, heated the room easily.

I then donned hat, coat and gloves and ventured out for a walk with the dogs in the light snow that trickled down for most of the day.

In the afternoon I had just settled down for a kip when I heard footsteps in my lair. It was TP. His furtive shufflings reminded me that I had agreed to assist with his "Wood Tech" project and, as a result, spent a chilly couple of hours in the garage working on the construction of an electric ukelele.

And that was it. My four day weekend drew to a close and I prepared for a week where I might actually get some proper work to do and there is a threat of impending Decorators on Thursday and Friday.
* When we bought the house the Seller informed us that the old fire place burnt beautifully. I can still recall lighting it on our first Christmas in the house and promptly chucking a few pints of water on it when it poured smoke in to the room. The fire back was actually too small for the fireplace opening and the cowboy had simply stood the fire back against the wall and filled the gap between it and the brickwork with mdf filler panels held in place with builders adhesive.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Real Progress

Back in June last year I spent a few minutes creating a mock up of how we hoped the dining room fireplace would look once the new cast iron fireback was installed. Now, many hours of effort later, I can finally present the real thing...
... I made an early start on Saturday and had the final coat of liquid wax/oil on the floor before the clock struck eleven. As promised yesterday, here are a couple of shots before it gets carefully covered in advance of Andy & Steve's arrival to throw some paint around. I suppose it might seem odd to farm out the painting after putting in all the effort of preparation and I am not really sure why I do it. After all, it is the Decorators that get all the plaudits when they have finished, everyone else just gets "it'll look great once it's been painted". Perhaps I just prefer the design, construction and preparation or maybe it is the fact that applying multiple coats of paint just does my head in?
 Anyway, I have completed the "prep". I have sealed the floor and all there is left to do it take a couple of steps back and admire my efforts. I am pleased with what we have achieved and 30% and I now need to make a start on furniture and soft furnishings to stand a chance of eating in here before Easter!*
 After finishing off the floor I took T&M out for a walk and, after lunch, 30% and I nipped in to Stratford for a wander around the shops and to pick up a few non-essentials. We arrived back home in the late afternoon and, after lighting the fire, I promptly fell asleep in front of it.

I think, with a decent Barrister, I might successfully defend any accusations of laziness.**
* My next job is to sand and wax an 1830's pine sideboard that has been stripped and is currently lurking in the garage. It will sit along the wall shown in the lower photograph.
** Mind you 30% does have a demonic legal team and a corrupt High Court Judge on her payroll.

Friday, 18 January 2013

A Snowy Day

The forecast snow started yesterday evening and there was a light covering when we went to bed. I woke a little before six and there had not been a significant increase while I slept. As I slowly started the day the flakes thickened and by half past eight it was falling thick and fast. 30% had understandably decided to work from home and TP was dispatched to school with his mobile 'phone in case he needed to summon me to collect him in the Defender.

My first task of the day was to vacuum and dust the floor in the dining room and I then applied the first coat of liquid wax/oil. The treatment instantly transformed the boards, bringing out the figure and grain. Both 30% and I were somewhat taken aback by how beautiful they look. They will need a second coat tomorrow and I will then take a couple of photos to display my efforts.

I finished the floor shortly after eleven and 30% called from her desk to advise that school had been closed and that TP should be home around midday. By this time the snow had slowed and there was agood four or five inches on the ground. I decided to take T&M out for walk before lunch and give myself the afternoon to do as I pleased. Just as I was about to walk out of the house TP called to say that there was no sight of his bus and asked if I could collect him from school. I cleared the Defender of snow and ice and was just leaving the village when he called me again to stand me down as his bus had finally appeared...

... At least I was now dressed for outdoors! The walk was delightful and the dogs were absolutely manic, charging to and fro, snuffling in the drifts and periodically breaking into spontaneous play fights.  My timing was also pretty good and I completed the Three Miler before a horde of school children invaded with sledges and snow boards.

After lunch I settled on the sofa for a little me time and awoke much later in the day. And that is just about it; it snowed, I finally moved from preparation to decoration and then had a bloody good snooze on the settee.

And the good news is that the weekend is yet to start.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

A Mission

A day off work, so what do I do? I work bloody harder than I have in ages. My Herculean task was to turn the dirtiest room in the house in to the cleanest, in order that the floor could be sealed with liquid wax and deliver a beautiful, speck free, satin finish...

... Literally every surface in the room was coated in a thick layer of sawdust following the various construction and sanding activities that have taken place over the past few months. I started out with the vacuum cleaner to remove the worst of it and then moved on to a damp microfiber cloth to pick up the remaining dust. Every square inch of the room needed to be wiped over including the ceiling and walls. Apart from an hour out walking the dogs, this mission took up most of my day. I even had to take this approach with the toolboxes as I finally cleared the room.

I finally finished in the early evening and did little other than vegetate in front of the television, tomorrow all it will need is a quick whizz over with the vacuum cleaner and I can finally move from preparation to decoration.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Better the Devil you know?

I had another quiet day at work as I could see little point in starting anything* as I have the next two days booked as holiday. Note the use of italics for the word "holiday" as I plan to finish sanding the dining room floor, clean up the dust and apply the first coat of liquid wax. There is very little mention of country walks, shopping or settling down in front of a roaring fire with a glass of red wine and a good book, as one might more normally expect of a British January mini-break.

As I mentioned on Monday, we are in the midst of a cold spell and there was another hard frost overnight. It is icy out but it has brought a firm crust to the sodden ground and I was able to take the dogs up in to the fields for the first time in many weeks. I also managed to complete the walk without falling flat on my arse like I did yesterday.

Back at the desk I whiled away the hours until I could set my out of office and dialled in to IM's weekly team call. It was the usual village pump chat with urgent messages and instructions followed by a round the table of who is doing what. At the end of the call IM advised us that he was moving on to pastures new** and that he was to be replaced by, perhaps, the less than Artful Dodger.

Golfy pinged me immediately to say "Yay, maybe?" and I thought about this. IM  did not make a great start as our team manager and his first broadcasts within minutes of starting were patronising and insensitive. He is very much an analytical person with no knowledge of the work his team perform and a manner that makes him difficult to get to know. As a result many members of the team, myself included, have found it very hard to form any great bond with him and more importantly develop any great degree of trust or respect...

... BUT, I realised very early on that he wore the Manager's hat*** and it really was a case of his way or no way. As a result I have bitten my tongue and played the game according to the rules he has set down and have done well. I will admit that I have had some good luck along the way but fundamentally this prickly, insensitive stickler has given me the best performance ratings I have ever had and has sponsored me through the promotion process. It would be churlish of me to say anything other than he has been alright with me.****

Now, what of the Artful Dodger? I have known him for a couple of years as he has a role in assigning Subject Matter Idiots to my teams. He is a likeable sort of chap who has a much greater understanding of what I do and seems to value and respect my skills. But, will he be better than IM? That remains to be seen. My recent promotion means that I now swim in a different "pool" and have needs for different guidance and mentoring if I am to keep my chin out of the shit that Dante's regularly forces us to stand in.

So is this a case of "Yay, maybe?"

I'm not so sure.

* it is not as if there is anything much to start!
** He is not going  that far and will still be found hanging from the  petticoats of my second line manager.
*** If I had ever found it I would have definitely pooed in it.
**** That is not to say that he has managed to fuck me off on a regular basis and has frequently left me to sort out crap that really was his to resolve. I suppose that showing that I could put up with that sort of crap might be why he rated me.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

I wasn't expecting that ...

... If I am totally honest a combination of a complete lack of urgent work, a lack of enthusiasm for on-line training and two days scheduled holiday at the end of this week mean that I am having problems getting my arse in to gear on the work front.

Today I needed to get myself in to the nearest circle of hell for my appraisal meeting with IM. Instead of spending a full day in an office environment, that is not very conducive to completion of training courses, I spent the morning at home and took T&M out for a walk. There had been a hard frost overnight and stretches of the Three Miler were covered in sheet ice as a result of the near constant run-off from the fields. As I picked my way along the slippery lanes warnings were exchanged with the few people I met and I took care in the worst areas. Even the dogs went skittering across the road in a few places and tended to charge along the verges where the grip was better. As I passed the half way point and headed back in to the village I suddenly lost my footing and went from vertical to horizontal in the blink of an eye. One minute I was walking along the road, the next I was flat on my back, looking skyward. I hauled myself upright and there was no damage done although I contemplated the fact that I could have easily cracked my skull in many of the alternate universes I might inhabit.*

Back at home I got my act together, tidied myself up and headed in to the Office. The appraisal meeting was of the traditional format; how was 2012 for you? what went well? what didn't go well? what do you plan to do as you move in 2013? blah, blah, blah. I think when you have sat in a few of these you get a little bored with the foreplay and really are only interested in the money shot. It might seem strange to use sex as a metaphor for an appraisal meeting but fundamentally that is what it is ...

... a series of manoeuvrings to get both parties in the right frame of mind and then the delivery of the assessment which will hopefully leave both parties satisfied - in that one will get slightly less than what they want** and the other didn't get berated or physically abused for getting it totally wrong.

Everyone goes into these meetings with an expectation of their appraisal score. These expectations can range from delusional to overly cynical. I must admit that, after working for Dante's for more than twelve years, I tend to sit slump at the overly cynical end of the spectrum and not have any great expectations. Eventually the thirty minute point came and it was time for IM to justify his existence by giving me the number we had been dancing around for the last half hour...

... from my perspective the year had been reasonable. I had had successes rather than wins, had managed to justify a promotion and hadn't fucked anything up. Fundamentally, I thought that I had done alright and might get a slightly better than average score. I was therefore lost for words when IM delivered his final score.

Looks like I might get another pay rise this year.
* most of these are very similar to this one although in some of the more peculiar ones 30% is a lot calmer and Marauder can talk!
** but enough that they don't make a complete fuss

Monday, 14 January 2013


An inch of wet snow meant that I had the pleasure of working alongside 30% at home today...

... Bless Her, she may be incredibly good at identifying risks but I think that she really needs to work on her impact analysis as the roads were clear and traffic was flowing freely. However her argument was that she didn't need to go in to the office and consequently was not going to go in. That argument is probably valid for at least 50% of her time but she has only pulled it out because there is an inch of rapidly thawing snow on the ground. Ho hum!

The net result is that I have listened to several halves of conversations as she has busily progressed through her day. I'm not sure which are worse; the ones about circuit decommissioning, about which I know nothing, or the personal chatty ones, where she recounts our comings and goings and I get to spot the exaggerations and omissions. Either way it is not an environment that is conducive to me getting my head down and concentrating on Leadership training modules so in the end I give up and take the dogs around the Three Miler.*

As I left the house the snow had turned to a cold rain and there was little left on the ground by the time I returned home and took lunch.

The afternoon was much like the morning and I alternated between work and sanding the dining room floor to fill my time until I could stop and light the fire.

Tomorrow I get to meet up with IM at the nearest Circle of Hell and see what my performance appraisal was for last year.

* I love her dearly but I am so used to working in silence that I find her work conversations incredibly distracting.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

I can take it easy tomorrow

Sunday morning was much more intense than I would prefer ...

... 30% had spent the night in Hereford which meant that I was responsible for a range of activities that are more normally handled with a divide and conquer approach. As a result I was out of bed shortly after seven and by 8:15 I was leaving the house to take T&M for a walk. This ensured that I was back home in time to take TP over to the Rugby Club for the ten o'clock pre-match warm up session. I then drove home for a much needed coffee before returning to the club for the eleven o'clock kick-off.

It was a cold but sunny morning so I grabbed my camera and took it out for it's first real outing with the intention of taking a few shots of the match. The bitter cold meant that I was not as keen to take pictures as I would normally be and, to be honest, would rather have had my hands stuffed in my pockets or wrapped around a hot cup of coffee. For most of the match I had no feeling in my shutter button finger but managed a few half decent snaps ...

"Half Decent" described the team's performance too. They lost but could have so easily won with a little more effort and coordination.

After the match it was home for lunch and 30% made an appearance a little after two o'clock. She recounted tales of a Tapas evening with folk/rock entertainment and it sounds like She and Pinky had a fabulous time. After catching up on her news we popped over to local Furniture retailer as we have finally admitted that our memory foam mattress seems to have developed Alzheimer's and it is definitely time for a new one.

As the afternoon faded in to the evening I dragged myself away from the fire and had an experimental session sanding the dining room floor. All went well and it should need no more than a day to complete it.

All being well I should get the first coat of liquid wax on by the end of the week.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Another productive Saturday

Saturday started later than usual, as I had had a late night due to the need to collect TP from a party somewhere in the wilds of South West Worcestershire.

There was a cold wind and the odd flake of snow in the rain that was falling as I let the chickens out. At least they are laying now and my early morning trudge in to a soggy garden has a small reward in the shape of an egg or two.

After a couple of cups of coffee and breakfast I made a start in the dining room and 30% pitched in to help finish off the skirting boards, door frames and architraves. By lunchtime we had just about finished and had swept up the worst of the dust. There is only the floor left to do now and Steve and Andy have been booked to come and paint in three weeks time.

After lunch I took down the loin join that I had cured and set about slicing it before vacuum packing the rashers and freezing it. It was then time for a brisk walk around the Three Miler with T&M. I arrived back just as 30% was about to leave for a "girly night" in Hereford with her friend ; Pinky. I'm not quite sure what they are actually up to but have a vague recollection of some mention of seeing a band or something? No doubt both of them will drink more than is wise and 30% will return later than she expects to.

My final task of the day was a trip in to Screwfix for sanding and electrical sundries and I am now hurriedly trying to finish this entry as there is a fire lit in the lounge and I am desperate to spend a few minutes in front of it before I make a start on supper.

Friday, 11 January 2013

The weekend cometh

Thursday and Friday blurred together in to a period of wading through training material interspersed with sanding the woodwork in the dining room ...

... both tasks are going quite well but neither of them are particularly enjoyable and neither is particularly straight forward. I suppose there is some peculiar analogy that could be made between decoration and career development where time spent on preparation is key and only that leads to satisfactory results.

There is, however, only so much of this that I can take and I have decided to take a couple of days off work at the end of next week. My plan is to use that time to finish the sanding of the dining room floor and get the room swept up and vacuumed. That will leave me the following weekend to get the floor sealed with a liquid wax.

There is little else to report; the chickens' output is increasing and we now have one of the Marans, two Barnevelders and two Araucanas laying resulting in a steady trickle of three eggs every day. I think that we will be pickling before the end of the week and that 30% and TP will be taking egg sandwiches for their packed lunches. I also saw the first lambs of the year when I walked T&M on Friday.  A set of twins were seen gamboling in a field on the three miler but I must admit that poor little devils didn't pick the best week to make their entry in to this world as the weather is now starting to turn quite cold and pessimistic forecasters are mentioning snow...

... I'll believe it when I see it.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013


It was another quiet day and I alternated between sanding and training.

The one thing that stood out today was the peculiar item of road kill that I encountered whilst I was walking T&M ...

... early in the walk I pass the Church before I wander down the bank and out of the village. As I was passing The Old Vicarage I noticed a tiny and strange looking splat on  the road. I paused to inspect the corpse and realised that I was looking at the remnants of a newt that had not stood up well to the pressure and grip imparted by a modern radial tyre.

I contemplated this little corpse for a few minutes and was surprised that an amphibian would be out and about at this time of year. A quick search of the internet suggest that newts normally emerge from hibernation in February or March when conditions are moist and the temperature rises above 0 degrees centigrade. I am guessing this little fellow was active as a result of the incredibly wet and mild weather we have been having.

Oh, I forgot ...

... I cut the Christmas Tree in to pieces and dropped it off at the nearest recycling point and took a circular route back home taking in the lamp shop where I collected the ceiling light for the dining room,

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Stuff ...

The chickens laid two eggs today and I managed to complete one on-line training course ...

... the jury is still out on which of us was the more productive!

I do however now know two things; one, that we will soon be flooded with a multitude of pullet eggs and rapidly need a plan to deal with them* and two, that my Management issued Performance goals are very badly written.**

Away from work I persevered with the sanding of the woodwork in the dining room and have got to grips with the architrave around the doors. The plan is to leave this as stripped and waxed wood which means that over a century of paint needs to be totally removed. A hot air gun took the worst of this off months back but it is now a long, hard slog with abrasive paper and various profiled sanding blocks to remove the residues from the mouldings.***
* pullet eggs are very small and with a dozen hens we could get as many as ten a day once they all come in to lay. As the egg size increased we can sell the surplus but not many people want to buy small eggs. I am guessing that I will be pickling eggs very soon.
** today's course required me to review my Performance objectives against a set of drafting guidelines for goals. My conclusion was that they all clearly demonstrated the signs one would expect of goals provided by a senior manager in that they demonstrated wide scope for interpretation and were very difficult to pin down when it came to assessing performance against them ... is it any wonder I am so disillusioned with Dante's appraisal system.
*** bad man's tip of the day: sections of bamboo garden canes are great as a sanding block for concave, curved profiles

Monday, 7 January 2013

Are either of us learning anything?

After three days of faffing about last week I really needed to apply myself and  be able to present some demonstrable output while I am waiting for my next assignment. I therefore applied myself to a programme of training that I had been enrolled for and had failed miserably to progress over the past three months.

As is typical at Dante's, this is on-line, self scheduled training and I have over thirty courses to get through. As is slightly less typical, a feature of this programme is a monthly e-mail to me and IM telling both of us how much I have failed to achieve. It is time to get that issue rectified.

For most of today I have knuckled down and completed the first two elements of this Leadership Programme and it hasn't been too bad. I have to keep a Training Diary where I record notes and the outputs from the various exercises I have to complete. It is a chore but I have to say that it does ensure that at least some of the content actually sinks in. This is unlike a lot of "education" at Dante's which tends to be presented in a patronising slide show plus voice-over format followed by a multiple choice test where one is allowed unlimited attempts to achieve the required score.*

Away from work there was not a huge amount to note; the dogs got walked and I made small progress in the Dining Room. There is also a high probability of home grown bacon and eggs as one of the Barnevelders laid a beautiful brown egg today and I removed the loin of bacon from the cure, soaked it and hung it in the kitchen while I contemplate whether to smoke it or rub it with black treacle. ** I also had a couple of conversations with TP about the need for balance between personal and school life ...

... I use the word conversations but they were very one sided.
* All one learns is that you write down the answers at the first attempt at the test and, should it be necessary, these allow you to pass with an acceptable mark at the second attempt.
** or just slice it and eat it.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

... or not, as the case may be.

Yesterday's Journal entry was entitled Mistakes and learning from them and this is a follow on from that piece. It will not take a genius level IQ to determine that, despite his abject apologies, TP is still being led by his hormones and his electrochemical systems have yet to catch up.

But before I get to that I will set down a quick recount of today's activities. The morning started with the first trip of the year over to the Rugby Club to deliver TP for a training session. 30% and I then nipped over to the nearby car sales lot to test drive the Audi TT she took a liking to yesterday. It is fair to say that it drove well, is in nice condition and would suit 30% down to the ground but it is priced right at the top end of the market and it isn't quite worth it. I think 30% would buy it if she could get a decent discount but I'm not sure that the salesman wants to move on the price. I therefore think she will back off as there are many, many second hand sports cars out there in her price range. I also have to be honest and say that, although it handled beautifully, the 1.8 turbo, petrol engine didn't have a significant amount more oomph than her current 2.0 litre turbo diesel.*

Back at home after the test drive it was lunch, followed by a walk with T&M and then back in to the dining room for more sanding. I am making progress but there is still a huge amount to do including the floor and some quite intricate architraves ... painting rather than stripped and waxed wood is starting to look like a great interior design alternative.

After knocking off I got myself cleaned up and settled down for the evening. Shortly after dinner TP disappeared upstairs and from the occasional muted voices it was apparent that he was "Skyping" his girlfriend. At ten o'clock I went up and pointed out that he needed to say goodnight and think about going to bed as he is back in school this week and needs to get back to "school hours" rather than his holiday time zone which involves rising at eleven and going to sleep after midnight. I received a semi-committal nod and grunt and returned downstairs. Twenty minutes later it was apparent that he was still skyping ...

... so I turned the wireless router off at the mains.
* and, before you ask, I did red line it through the gear box on a nearby bypass.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Mistakes and learning from them

I don't tend to write much about TP in The Journal. He is a fairly typical teenager; could be worse, could be better but on the whole he is a good lad who just needs the occasional kick up the arse like most young men of his age. Today, however, I thought I would jot down a few lines as he is rapidly growing up and I wanted to capture something from this period of change.

He is currently supposed to be revising for his GSCE examinations but has also managed to persuade a pleasant, but obviously mentally defective, young lady to "walk out with him". As a result he has a tendency to borrow 30%'s iPad* for the purpose of extended Skype sessions with the aforementioned young lady, requires frequent lifts  to Worcester and it's environs and the use of Lynx body spray seems to have increased by an order of magnitude too.

As, is to be expected, he is understandably absorbed by this relationship and so we have the interesting juxtaposition of increasing maturity with an increased need for us to manage and shepherd him as he has, to use the vernacular, his head in the clouds most of the time. It has therefore fallen upon 30% and I to ensure that revision happens and other necessary non-girl friend related activities get completed. To be fair to TP he will complete the non-GF stuff but I wish we didn't have to nag him so much.

Today was a classic example; TP planned to take the bus in to Worcester to spend the day at his GF's house. He planned to be home shortly after six o'clock in order to spend some time revising for his upcoming science and english exams. Shortly before ten in the morning he wandered down to the bus stop and fifteen minutes later 30% drove past to check that he had made it on to the bus. It didn't come as a huge surprise that he managed to screw up his interpretation of the bus timetable so first detour of the day was an unexpected trip over to Norton to drop him at Chez Amour ...

... 30% and I then had a fairly normal Saturday. We took a trip in to Alcester to look at lighting options for the Dining Room and then made an impulse stop on a car dealer's forecourt where she instantly fell for a little Audi TT Roadster and made arrangements for a test drive tomorrow. It was then home for lunch after which 30% popped over to Pinky's to help her celebrate her 50th Birthday. I took T&M for  walk and then made a start on sanding the woodwork in the Dining Room.**

30% came home shortly before six and busied herself with the iPad with the aim of becoming an instant Audi TT expert. I continued to cover myself and the rest of the room with dust and grit. A little after six 30% popped her head around the door and she didn't look happy. She had just seen the Worcester bus pass the house and there was no sign of TP. A 'phone call was made and it appears that TP had missed his bus and needed picking up. I volunteered for this duty and am expecting some sort of award for services to humanity because 30%'s would have killed or maimed TP and many innocent bystanders in her current frame of mind. It is fair to say that she was furious***.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that TP had spent much of the day snogging and obviously the last passionate embrace was five minutes longer than it should have been hence he missed the last bus home. I pointed this out to him on the way home and tasked him with placating 30%.

As punishments go that one is far, far worse than a dressing down from a mildly amused Dad.
* his iPad doesn't have the forward facing camera
** Lord knows what the Victorians used as a primer but the tiniest residue clogs abrasive papers.
*** actually "fucking furious"!

Friday, 4 January 2013

Meh continued.

It is Friday and I am safely through my first "working" week of the year. I can report that I have done little other than enter my results in to the staff appraisal system and am greatly relieved that I managed to evade the horrific assignment Dante's intended for me to pursue.

There is little else to report. Hopefully some proper work will arrive in the near future as I am at the point where I am going to have to endure a large amount of on-line training to justify the timesheet code I am forced to use.

On the bright side, I only have six weeks before I have a week's holiday down on The Gower ...

... not that I am counting.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

I could write 8,000 characters or simply say "Meh"

Dante's staff appraisal system is one of the most unpopular and, many would say, unfair processes that I have ever encountered. Whilst I have managed to do well out of it recently I have many colleagues that have felt it's malevolent side and I have concerns that my recent promotion could well come back to bite me in about twelve months time. Putting that to one side it should be noted that Dante's do their best to worsen the appraisal process experience by ensuring that it is as protracted as possible, combined with a strong tendency towards vagueness.

The reason I bring this up is that today I finally got my arse in to gear and decided to document my performance results for 2012 in advance of next Wednesday's deadline. I had already done this twice before in a mandated spreadsheet format and now I was required to summarise the results in a web application. Is it me, or does this seem like overkill and it certainly leaves me with negative and cynical feelings as I have no faith or trust in the process.

So, what have I done today? Well I have spent a good chunk of time reducing a semi-fictitious tale of solid and consistent performance to 8,000 characters or less. The strong vein of Procrastinator*in my character meant that I didn't finish the summary as that will give me something to do on Friday as the week has been quiet following my escape from baby-minding duties.

Away from work I can report the production of a second Araucana egg and a trip to Drunken Bidford to pick up oak filler and floor oil for the Dining Room project.
* obviously I made no reference to this in my summary

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Jammy Git?

One thing I have learnt over the past couple of years is that the worst thing I can do is take a peek at my e-mails whilst I am on holiday. I know from bitter experience that a work e-mail whilst on holiday has the same effect as a cold shower has on one's ardour. I am not that good at separating work and home life and am unable to simply ignore these communications. As a result I end up niggling and worrying about them when I should be relaxing and enjoying myself.

Having learnt from past experiences, I am now very strict with myself and the laptop is turned off at the beginning of a holiday period and I avoid the e-mail app on the i-Phone. This self imposed rule was strictly followed this festive season in view of the absolute pile of shit, masquerading as a project, that I was theoretically supposed to be baby minding this week. I had already advised the Management team that I was unable to travel due to Tendonitis and had checked my e-mail JUST to ensure that I had read receipts from the key individuals. I secretly hoped that my rapidly improving condition was still sufficient for them to find some other sucker to look after this monstrosity. 

This morning as I returned to work I noticed a horrific communication festering in my in-box. Despite my protestations of injury there was a task list as long as my injured arm and there was absolutely no chance that this list would be completed by next Tuesday's deadline with just me assigned to it. I stoically realised that I would not be able to refuse this poisoned chalice and that all I could do was start at the top of the list and work my way through it. As I started to mull things over I noticed that IM was at work and pinged him to discuss my concerns. His response was surprising to say the least ...

... "bad man, why are you looking at this project?" he asked, and then went on to advise that I was to go nowhere near it and that a colleague had been assigned to take it forward. It appears that my shoulder was sufficient to escape this mess but that every single manager involved in resourcing it had failed to notify me that I was to stand down


Other Stuff:

This morning I was surprised to find that one of our young pullets had laid it's first egg. I had noticed that one of the Brown Leghorn's comb had reddened which is a sure sign of impending eggs but had heard none of the increased vocality that usually accompanies the coming in to lay. As it happens I had been observing the wrong birds as Leghorns lay white eggs and our first diminutive egg was a most definite blue green in colour. It was one of the Araucanas that provided the first egg of 2013.

It'll be a while before we get
anything like the one on the left

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

The dutchman and Gravlax

Yesterday was quiet, today was quieter still. I spent the morning cutting and fitting a couple of dutchmen in to the door frame in the Dining Room. At some point in the past the door has been moved from one side of the frame to the other and, as a result, there were two sections removed from the frame for lock mechanisms. These are now filled with pieces of timber and, after sanding and staining, will look a lot less conspicuous than the two tatty holes they now fill.

After this hour of carpentry 30% and I took a walk around the Three Miler and spent out time calling back the dogs due to the horde of New Year Wanlkers, lunch followed and in the mid-afternoon we were joined by Pinky for afternoon tea and chat.

We strong-armed her in to sampling the last of the Gravlax and, based on her experiences in Denmark, she declared it a success and demanded the recipe. So here it is ...


2 x 1 lb salmon fillets (from either side of the fish towards the head end)
3 tbsp cooking salt
2 tbsp soft brown sugar
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
25 - 30 g chopped Dill
1 tbsp spirits (I used Gin)

  • Mix the salt, sugar, black pepper and dill together in a bowl and put to one side
  • Place a length of cling film about 18" - 24" long on a work surface and place the first piece of salmon, skin side down, on the plastic film
  • Spread the salt/sugar/pepper/dill mixture on the piece of fish
  • Sprinkle on the spirits
  • Then lay the second piece of fish on top with the skin facing outwards
  • Wrap tightly with the cling film but leave the ends of the parcel open
  • Wrap with a second piece of cling film and, again, leave the ends open
  • Place the salmon parcel in a glass dish
  • Place a second, slightly smaller dish on top and weight (I used about 3lbs of weights)
  • Refrigerate and turn the salmon over every twelve hours, pour off any liquor that accumulates in the dish
  • After three days remove and unwrap
The salmon should now have changed both in colour and texture and can be thinly sliced on the bias as is smoked salmon. It is fantastic served with cream cheese and rye bread.