Sunday, 31 March 2013

Photography & Foraging

Sunday was another fine, bright day however the unseasonably cold wind ever present. We wrapped up warmly and took a walk from Ship Cottage along the footpath that runs up through Bishopston Valley. The wooded valley provided shelter from the wind and we enjoyed a lovely walk alongside the river that empties in to Pwll Du Bay. After half an hour of walking we turned left on to the Bridlepath and headed up towards South Gate. The path emerged from the woods and fields through a farm yard and the last hundred yards were along a residential lane. At the end of the lane was an area of common land at the top of the cliffs giving splendid views along the coast towards Oxwich Bay.
 After taking in the views we headed back down in to the valley. Virtually every square yard of woodland floor was covered with narrow green leaves and for some strange reason I had a vague suspicion that these might be wild garlic. A picked and crushed leaf confirmed our thoughts and a healthy handful was collected. Back at the cottage the identification and use of the leaves were confirmed with a quick Google session and they were then washed, chopped and added to the Bolognese sauce prepared for dinner this evening.

Lunch followed this discovery of wild food and in the afternoon, after a restorative nap, we took a short walk across the beach and back up on to the cliff path to take some photos as the sun started to drop in the western sky.

We wandered back to the cottage having had our fill of some of the freshest air I had experienced in a long while and I set to lighting the fire whilst 30% prepared wine, olives and nibbles.

Looks like another evening in front of the fire with wine and spag bol warming us from the inside and a large pile of burning driftwood doing the same on the outside.

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Receiving Visitors

I woke a little before seven this morning and first order of the day was to take the dogs down to the beach to relieve themselves. The weather was splendid. The skies were clear and there was a cold crisp wind coming in from the sea. It was most definitely hat, coat and scarf weather but unfortunately I had donned none of these when I wandered out to take T&M for a pee. Luckily the dogs decided to perform promptly and I was soon back in the cottage getting myself on the outside of a warming cup of coffee.

This morning we decided to take the cliff path to Caswell Bay. It was a lovely walk in the sun with T&M charging hither and thither taking in the new smells on the cliffs within forty minutes or so we had reached Caswell Bay where we stopped at the cafe for a coffee before heading back to Pwll Du. It is a perfect little walk with fantastic views and is just the right distance. By the time you reach Caswell you are ready for that coffee and feel that you have exerted enough energy to justify a cake if the fancy takes you.

Upon our return we had a light lunch and even found time for a post-prandial snooze in advance of our afternoon's socialising ...

... The Oranges & Lemons clan are staying in the vicinity for Easter as Ian's parents live just around the coast in Swansea. 30% arranged to meet up with them for the afternoon so at the agreed time I drove up the cliff track to collect them from the village. We had a splendidly lazy afternoon; drinking coffee, chatting and took a gentle stroll on the beach to allow the children to get soaked in the rivulets and pools left by the receding tide.

As evening drew in I lit the log burner and then ferried the O&Ls back to their car. On my return I was greeted with a glass of wine and nibbles and we settled down for dinner and a relaxing evening in front of the fire.

Friday, 29 March 2013

A trip to Blackpool*

The first day of my holiday and I find myself wide awake well before six o'clock in the morning. It is bloody typical, the first day of the week that I don't have to haul my arse out of bed and I am up before cock crow ...

... to be honest it was useful to be up and about early as we are off down to the Gower today and neither of us could be bothered to do any packing yesterday. Therefore we need this morning to, if you will forgive the vernacular, get our shit together. At this point I should point out that 30% did brave Tesco on Thursday evening so we have adequate supplies for our week in Pwll Du Bay.*

Whilst 30% and TP slumbered I started my preparations for our week away; cameras and laptop were packed in to bags, iPads, Kindles and their respective charging leads were piled ready for the off and rolls of film** and Sat Nav were removed from their respective homes and positioned where they would not be forgotten.

By the time 30% had risen I had assembled everything but my clothes and had made several trips to the garage to ensure that there was adequate food for the chickens and that the roof bag was ready to be attached to the roof rack on the Defender. I then took time out to nip in to Redditch to buy 30%'s Birthday Card as she celebrates her anniversary on the last day of our holiday next Friday...

... 30% asked me to pick up a few last minute items from the supermarket and as a result I had to spend twenty minutes zombie dodging in Tesco's aisles. Why is it that the majority of the population appear to loose all mental faculties and awareness of others the moment they attach themselves to the handles of a trolly and start to browse the stacked rows of grocery store? They lurch from side to side, oblivious to all other consumers and their feral, fucking children rave and charge around the aisles clad in obscenely bright, but grubby and tasteless synthetic apparel. I really wish that Waitrose  was a) closer and b) had a better selection of greetings cards. I am also eternally grateful that 30% does much of our grocery shopping. I also think that we should reconsider what actually does constitute justifiable homicide in the light of my experiences with the supermarket undead.

I arrived back at home in time to see TP depart to spend a few days at his Grandma's house with his Mum, brother and sister. He will join us in Pwll Du on Monday evening, taking a train from Paddington down to Swansea to meet up with us.

After an early lunch we loaded up the Defender, threw T&M in to the back and headed off down the M5. An hour or so later we had passed through the short tunnel at Monmouth and could see the snow covered  Brecon Beacons ahead of us. By three thirty we were driving through Swansea's plethora of traffic lights*** and once the other side of the city we were ten minutes from the steep and rocky cliff track that leads down to the bay.

With an efficiency that comes from two previous visits to Ship Cottage, we were unpacked and drinking coffee within a quarter of an hour and were walking across the stony shore shortly after that.

The evening was spent in front of the log burner having consumed a steak supper and a bottle of red wine. Once the TV was switched off the only noise was the roar of the incoming tide as it pounds the cobbles at the head of the beach.

I am warm, my appetite is sated and I have no demands on my time ... It is truly delightful here.
* Pwll Du translates from Welsh as Black Pool and is named for the pool that forms in a bend in the river before it empties in to the Bay.
** I am taking the Rolleicord as well as the Canon
*** These are always red

Thursday, 28 March 2013

I'm off ...

It is the last working day of the week and I just needed to dodge bullets for the next eight or nine hours before I can forget about it all for the next ten days.

The working day started with a quick call to the poor chap who is providing holiday cover for one of the SMIs and has ended up with a monumental task to finish off. I tried to make life easy for him by giving him some leeway to throw additional resources in to his solution in order to receive the necessary tick in the box from his Lords and Masters.

Next on the Agenda was a follow-up call with the Business Unit and Project Executives after Monday's informal review. In the intervening period I had updated my cost bridge and highlighted additional justifications for our increased cost. I talked the two Execs through the significant changes and the call went well. The Senior Executive advised that he had been concerned after Monday's call but was far more comfortable following today's presentation. He even sent me an instant message later in the day advising that he felt I had got things back on track and promised a share of any deal team bonus.*

This call also covered the hand over of this project back to the Account Team. As I mentioned on Tuesday, a significant number of new deals are expected in the very near future and this renegotiation is to be passed back to the Account Team to progress. I now have a steer on the deliverable I need to, err for want of a better word, deliver before I can go and do something with less politics and fewer fuckwits** in the mix. Hopefully I should be clear of this nightmare in the next two to three weeks.

I then had a couple of hours clear of any appointments so made a quick trip over to the Auction House to collect the items that 30% had bid on earlier in the week. I came home with a diminutive ivory carving of three fighting cocks and an unfortunately still functional accordion that caught TP's eye.

The rest of the day was spent on necessary pre-holiday must do activities ...
  • I performed the hand-over of chicken and cat care duties to Village Idiot & LSW***
  • I performed the hand-over of my work duties to a colleague who will mind the shop next week
  • I sent the Exec's unsolicited note of gratitude to my manager in an attempt to re-balance the recent differences of opinions that seem to be developing between us
  • I made repeated trips to the stop cock for Andy & Steve as they installed a temporary fix to the leaking copper pipe in the bathroom.
By five o'clock the last e-mail had been sent, pet and livestock care had been sorted and the house was no longer likely to dissolve. I shut down my instant messenger application and took the dogs for a early evening walk around the Three Miler.

For the next week, the only time I will use a laptop will be for my own pleasure or benefit ... Fantastic.
* I won't be counting any chickens!
** A New Business Deal does not have the complication of having to work with an existing Account Team. Everything we have done needs to be cross referenced back to what is done today and this complicates, constrains and slows everything down. As for the fuckwits, it is not just me that categorises the departing Project Executive in this way ... why do you think she is departing!
*** LSW - Long Suffering Wife

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Getting There?

Looking back over the day I did not feel that it had been particularly positive and a large gin was poured when 30% arrived home from work. However, as I jot down the events, I really should feel more positive especially as the working week will end tomorrow and from Friday we are away for a week on The Gower.

My plan for today was to ind time to nip over to the Auction House and pick up a couple of items that 30% had won but, as soon as I looked at my diary, I realised that this was an impossibility. I had a series of non-urgent but essential calls over the course of the day with gaps in between that were just too short to achieve anything significant. Bugger!

I started the first call of the day only to find that the host failed to turn up so took the opportunity to crack the whip behind the SMI who has still not managed to finalise their project element.

I then had a few minutes spare and investigated the recently discovered leak further by pulling down part of the ceiling in the back porch. The drip is very regular and the weather is dry which made me doubt the diagnosis of rain water ingress via the waste pipe vent. I guess that I was just hoping for the best but the more I look the more I think that we have a proper leak somewhere. I phoned 30% to discuss and she called Andy & Steve to discuss their approach to the bathroom refurbishment, which seems to be the focal point for the increasingly large damp patch upstairs. A&S confirmed that they had done a proper job but were more than happy to nip over at lunch time to have a look.

They arrived and were their normal cheerful selves. Within minutes they were drinking tea and peering in to the recesses of The Pile. After a quick inspection of the loft they informed me that it was necessary to cut in to the boxed in pipework in the bathroom and I gave them the thumbs up, just happy that progress was being made. After twenty minutes they had discovered that an old copper pipe had developed a pin prick hole and was spraying a constant mist of water on to the now sodden wall. They advised that they will apply a temporary patch tomorrow and find a day or so when they can come in and do a full repair including replacement of the full length of the elderly copper pipework.

It is fair to say that, despite the fact that this is a significant amount of work, 30% and I are both extremely relieved that the cause of the problem has been identified and we can now progress with repairs.

Back at work I was again scouring my project costs looking for errant sums. I contacted an American colleague about a significant cost that I hoped could be reduced and awaited their response. The cynic in me thought that my request would be rebuffed but I was wrong and half an hour later I had the go ahead to remove the best part of another million pounds from my project. This may be the final piece of the bridge that we need.

I ended the working day with a phone glued to my ear for ninety minutes on a training call. When the phone battery finally expired I asked myself why I had bothered to attend the call as I know that I didn't listen to a single sentence and spent the time dealing with emails and other exciting things.

So there we have it, a reasonable day, the source of the leak has been located and repairs arranged. I managed to reduce my project costs by one million pounds and the end of the week is one day closer. I also managed a late walk around the Three Miler with T&M.

I guess, on analysis, the day went better than I felt it had.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

From Spanning the gulf ...

.. to New Horizons.

It is fair to say that, with hindsight, today demonstrated the child like approach Dante's Senior Daemons have towards their clients. Current ones are like old toys and are only played with under duress. They are soon chucked in the back of the toy cupboard and forgotten when a trip to the Toy Shop looks likely.

Tuesday's mission was to complete the "bridge". Basically this is a multi-tabbed, brightly coloured spreadsheet that presents the costs of the two iterations of my project, the costs that are actually being incurred delivering the current service and attempts to explain any differences in terms of new client requirements ...

... or fuck ups that we made, intentionally or unintentionally, when we delivered a price to delight in November last year.  That low price did the trick and client decided to proceed with Dante's Nine Circles of Hell as their sole supplier of choice but now the Hell is attempting to explain, or preferably remove, any cost increases.

The day went well and by early afternoon I had imported new sets of costs and added the additional scope from yesterday's flash of genius stroke of luck. With the careful application of smoke and mirrors my numbers were starting to look quite good indeed. Difficult discussions would still need to be had with the client but there is enough wriggle room for some "if you buy that we will also include this" type conversations.

Late in the afternoon I found time for a walk with T&M before returning and wrapping up with the EMEA Sales Exec as he is about to take time off and it will be over two weeks before we are both back in work. To be honest there is not a lot to do in that time and his final email, late in the day, diminished the amount of work even further ...

... it now looks like this deal will be tidied up and put in ice until the client is ready to sign. No major reviews are to happen until that point so all I have to do is get my bridge approved by the Account and Sector Execs and ensure that the SMIs all have their appropriate ticks in boxes

The reason for this sudden change in approach; a Senior Sales Director is calling out a significant number of deals about to come in and basically he doesn't want to waste time and resources on this pile of shite. I am now wondering what I will end up with when this pipeline starts to flow.

Away from work Chippy Ian called round this evening to give us a Professional opinion on the leak/damp situation. He thinks my conclusion is reasonable and that we should start with capping the vent pipe and then waiting to see if things start to dry out ...

... looks like my shopping list now includes a Dehumidifier.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Building Bridges

Today I had arranged to meet the EMEA Sales Exec at the nearest Circle of Hell to present our still unattractive numbers to a Business Unit Executive. The walk-through went reasonably well and after ninety minutes we closed down the call with a handful of actions to progress ...

... Basically we need to explain, or preferably remove, five or even six million pounds of cost and so we started to scratch our heads. We had already made a reasonable dent in this cost increase over the past two weeks but were still a couple of million quid short when I had a moment of realisation. The sun pierced the gloom as it dawned on me that it could be argued that the costs of supporting a recently acquired subsidiary company had not been fully costed in an earlier iteration of my solution but were so now.

We set to with a spreadsheet and a calculator and within a couple of hours had a much improved bridge to move from one set of costs to another. The only issue will be how much of this bullshit explanation the client will accept. Actually that is not the only issue. We know that I have a cost reduction from one element of my solution and an, as yet, unknown cost increase from another. We are currently guessing that these will give a further million pounds of cost increase to explain away.

I may have about seven hundred and fifty thousand pounds tucked away for this eventuality but, for the moment, I am keeping my gob shut.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

I wish I had an inside project

Sunday featured a leisurely start as TP's rugby match had been cancelled due to the snow and ice. I made the most of this and wandered about the house drinking coffee and taking in the news bulletins. At a little after nine o'clock the 'phone rang and, after listening to 30%'s half of the conversation, it became apparent that the transfer of funds had made it through to the Dealer and her new car could be collected. There was therefore a period of enforced loitering until I was commanded to chauffeur her a few miles down the road at eleven o'clock sharp.  I left her filling in forms, drove back home and took T&M out for a walk around a bitterly cold Three Miler. We arrived home wet and frozen an hour or so later and were greeted with a warming lunch.

In the afternoon I headed out to the garage where I planned to select and prepare some elm for my box frame project. It was bitterly cold in the garage and a complete mess after the recent sessions on TP's electric ukulele. As a result I abandoned my plan and set to tidying up the mess and trying to restore some sense of order* ...

... it is fair to say that there is still some way to go but the tools are back in their proper places and there is far less sawdust on the floor. 30% and I have agreed to have a good couple of days at it, possibly taking advantage of one of the two Bank Holidays in May. I think that 30% thinks that it will just be a case of emptying as much as possible and giving it a good sweep through but I would really like to get an additional work bench thrown together and move some of the contents in to the front cellar to give me more space. I think that I will need to start chipping away at some of the smaller jobs to make it feasible to clear it up in a weekend.

 As the afternoon turned to evening I reached the point where I could make no further progress without starting to take items out of the garage. It was way too cold to start nipping in and out so I gave up, returned to the house and lit the fire instead.

Sunday evening was spent in front of the TV and my mind turned towards the week ahead. It could go one of two ways; steady or complete chaos. Knowing my luck it will be the latter ...

...looking on the bright side the EMEA Sales Exec is under the knife on Wednesday and Thursday and my Easter break starts on Good Friday so it will only be four days of pain.
* I find it interesting that, despite my quite clear requests, TP has yet to find his way in to the garage to pack tools away or sweep up piles of mahogany saw dust.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

One step forward, two steps back ...

Last week TP noticed a patch of damp appearing on a wall on the Landing. This was concerning for a couple of reasons. Firstly, damp is usually found rising from ground level and secondly it was appearing on an internal wall. Today I performed some preliminary investigations and think I may have found the cause but have also left Chippy Ian a message to come over and give me a professional opinion.

I think that the leak may have arisen following Andy & Steve's bathroom refit back in 2010.  As part of this job they fitted a new toilet which involved removing the original WC and then splicing the new sanitary ware in to the original vented cast iron waste pipe. I have suspicion that they have left the upper portion of the waste pipe open at both ends which has allowed rain water to trickle down and, instead of running in to the waste system, is now seeping in to the walls causing the damp.

This is bloody annoying to say the least as it will as a minimum involve redecoration on the landing and could also necessitate tiling and decoration in the bathroom. It is of little consolation that the two rooms underneath have yet to be refurbished so at least there is no re-work there. And none of this work can be progressed until the leak is fixed and the damp is dried out.

Actually it is not bloody annoying I am really very pissed off about this. The upper story of the house had been completely refurbished and was looking splendid and now two of the rooms will look like crap for a good few months until this fuck up can be rectified.

Other stuff

We had further snow overnight and I awoke to a partial covering and snow continuing to fall. Fortunately the roads were reasonably clear as first job of the day was to take 30% over to collect her new car. That didn't go well either ...

... firstly the Dealer's card reader refused to operate which meant that 30% had to resort to internet banking to transfer the payment. Then the bank's fraud detection systems kicked in and refused to transfer the funds until 30% had contacted them in person via a 'phone number that didn't actually work. In the end we came home and I left 30% to sort things out whilst I took T&M for a walk around the snowy lanes.

Upon my return it transpired that 30% had managed to shift the money out of her account and we now just needed to wait until it landed in the Dealer's account. Unfortunately this didn't happen today and it looks like it will be early next week before we collect her car.

After lunch I recruited the assistance of 30% and TP and glued the kid leather lining to the inside of my box frame project. It needed all three of us to keep the leather taught whilst applying contact adhesive and positioning in the shallow box. It looks great and will make a perfect backing for the spear heads. It is just a bloody shame that I had planned to hang this on the landing wall where there is now a monstrous damp patch.

30% and TP then popped in to Stratford to pick up a case for the now completed ukulele whilst I completed the aforementioned damp investigations. They returned a little before four and by this time I had lit a fire and had started winding down.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Thoughts on a bad deal

Overnight there was a light snowfall and I awoke to half an inch of wet snow on the lawn. It didn't look like it would be around for long and most of it had disappeared before lunch time.

On the work front things were steady, straying towards quiet  and, to be honest, I did nothing to disturb a quiet day. The deal is due for an informal review with a Business Unit Exec on Monday. As a result I spent  time pulling together "facts" and figures in an attempt to allow a three-way comparison of two solution iterations and the current costs of delivering the service. To be honest this review is a little premature as two elements of the solution are still being refined. One has identified significant reductions whilst the other is likely to see a rise in cost. I am attempting to underplay the cost reduction and emphasise the possible increases in order to prevent the EMEA Sales Exec saying or doing something rash.

He wants to be in a position where we can preferably remove, or at least justify, cost increases over the price we presented in November and December last year. This is virtually impossible especially in view of the fact that rash decisions were made previously and costs were "scrubbed" to make a price point. Now we are presenting a firm price those costs need to be restored inflating our price. The fact that this is a contract renegotiation means that the client will not sign for a price higher than the one currently contracted for.

I have no magic wand and I think it will be down to the Sales Team to use weasel words and smoke and mirrors if they are to get the client to sign on the dotted line. In reality this will end up with a contract being signed with more aggressive delivery obligations and little or no extra revenue to fund them. I have attempted to insert protective terms in to the contract to provide a degree of protection but, in a five minute interlude this afternoon, I noted that the terms that had been inserted were as watertight as a colander. The interesting fact was that there were some quite tight terms for my colleagues in the Asia Pacific region but EMEA was not well supported. I am now wondering whether the EMEA Exec has been less assertive than he should have been ...

... whatever the reason the EMEA team are likely to be screwed within six months of this getting signed. The only possible salvation will be to attempt to address these contractual issues in the local agreements. Who knows whether this is feasible or not?

Away from work I took a walk with T&M and knocked off before five o'clock. By the time 30% came in from work I had the log burner up to temperature and thoughts of work were rapidly evaporating from my mind.  The early evening saw a trip over to Littleton Auctions to preview the lots but there was nothing to persuade us to bid in person. I have an inkling that 30% may make a couple of on-line bids though.

I hope she doesn't win that bloody accordion.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Have the screws arrived?

For most of this week this peculiar question has become TP's greeting upon his return from school. No "Hello Dad" or even "Hi" just a hopeful "Have the screws arrived yet?"

The reason for this is that the final stage of the electric ukulele project is to affix the chromium plated neck plate to provide reinforcement of the neck to body joint. This little metal plate was another challenge that fell to me ...

... full size guitar neck plates are freely available in the UK but this diminutive component could only be found on-line in Canada* and arrived in an amazingly short space of time for the princely sum of $8. Having obtained the neck plate the next task was to find chrome plated screws of the exact length and pitch to fix the plate to the body. I thought that this would be a simple trip to the nearest DIY store but after a few minutes on-line I realised that these were specialist items.** I eventually found a specialist firm in the Manchester area that would provide me with ten 32 x 4 screws for the best part of eight quid. Eight bloody quid for ten screws! I only need four of the damned things and the rest will sit in the garage for eternity. However they were needed and the order was placed last weekend.

The screws arrived this evening and I assisted TP with the drilling of pilot holes and fitting the plate. Twenty minutes later he had the strings back on and the little guitar plugged in to his amplifier. It looks and sounds great and we are hoping that he is is rewarded with a good grade*** for his Resistant Materials GCSE.
Why couldn't he make a table like the other Kids?

* and for some strange reason I appear to be the only person in the house who can a) use the internet to find things like this and b) have a Paypal account to buy the damned things
** is a pattern becoming apparent? TP's project needs a component so TP's Dad searches internet, locates, orders and pays for component
*** and for the rest of my life I will claim a good 45% of that grade

Tuesday, 19 March 2013


I finished today later than expected and was quite annoyed ...

... for the past few weeks I have been tied to a bloody laptop trying to turn a fucked up Account in to a silk purse of an opportunity for a client. I have been piggy in the middle between a Sales Exec that wants it to cost virtually nothing, a Delivery Exec who wants me to add more and more expensive resource to cover her skinny arse and an Account Executive that hasn't got a fucking clue what she is doing. I think it fair to say that it has been a trying time.

So, when a Sales Exec crawled out of the woodwork and asked me for ten minutes of my time and a quick call I wasn't overly keen to get involved. The reason for my reticence was that she wanted me to reacquaint myself with a piece of work I did nine months ago and then compare it with seventy five pages of material that  she had thoughtfully attached to her e-mail. She went on to advise that there was a possibility of her needing a refined solution within the next 4 weeks.

Realistically her "ten minutes" was going to be an hour or more and her urgent need for a solution was going to require a full team so I politely advised that I was very busy and pointed her at the Resource Manager who would ensure she got the support she needed.

I stupidly copied my new manager on my response and late in the afternoon he called to basically slap my wrist and advise that I wasn't showing a "can do" attitude. As a result I was required to jump tracks and spend a couple of hours looking over a pair of documents and a very Rough Order of Magnitude costing that I threw together last July.

I wish I had just ignored her mail and pretended to be somewhere else.

Monday, 18 March 2013

I can see... that pin down there

From a work perspective today was a bit of a write-off. *

My day started with a trip to the local hospital for my annual eye review. This involves tests way beyond the normal chart of ever decreasing letter sizes and featured pressure tests, determination of corneal thickness and a full visual inspection of the blood vessels in my retina. It may sound horrific but it is all painless and after more than forty years of tests like these the Specialist advised that my retinas were in fantastic shape and consequently decided that future annual tests were not necessary as the regular retinal photography should pick up any problems.

The aforementioned eye test requires that my pupils are dilated to maximum size for the retinal examinations and it takes up to six hours for them to return to normal size and function. During this six hour period one is hypersensitive to bright lights and focusing on fine print is an impossibility. As a result working, with the exception of the occasional call, wasn't feasible until late in the afternoon.

The second reason for writing off Monday was that most of the SMIs I needed to interface were not at work. As a result things were quiet but blurry vision meant that I couldn't take much advantage of this enforced hiatus.

I had a couple of calls; the first was with the EMEA Sales Exec and last weeks moment of sanity seems to have taken hold and it now looks like we will finalise the solution over the next two weeks and will take it through the Delivery review process when I return from my Easter break. The second call was from my new manager who had obviously had his ear bent by his manager following the briefing call I had with her last Friday. He wanted an update on the status of the project and what assistance he could provide. After telling him the history of the project and the recent move to sensible timescales it was very tempting to tell him that his offer of assistance would have been more valuable three weeks ago when we were right in the shit but I tempered my response only giving him the right hand barrel on the shitty approach to resourcing and the fact that at least three of my SMIs work part time.

This second call wasn't a complete waste of time as I did manage to negotiate a "day off in lieu" following the intense hours I have recently worked. This means that I can take a full week off at Easter rather than having to work one day due to insufficient holiday.

Late in the afternoon my eyes returned to normality and I took T&M for a walk and then cleared my in-box. I then did something that I haven't done for far too long and rattled a few pots and pans in the kitchen. The result was a Chinese spiced beef curry and it will be served for dinner tomorrow.
* or was it? First action of the day was to send out a speculative resume. Whether it will lead to anything remains to be seen.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Busy but relaxing

Sunday started reasonably early too and I was out walking the dogs by nine o'clock and 30% took responsibility for dropping TP off at the rugby club. I had finished my walk by ten which gave time for a coffee before 30% and I returned to the club to watch the game ...

... and what a game it was. The pitch was very wet and, with two evenly matched sides, there was some incredibly sustained play for much of the match. At the end of the first half TP's team were five points to nil and TP claimed those points with his single try. The second half was equally tough and the opposition managed to equalise with a final score of 5:5. TP had a cracking game playing at both outside centre and full back and was involved in several of key defensive and attacking plays. At one point he picked up the ball from near his team's try line and ran it twenty yards or more up the pitch before being tackled in to touch by the opposition. In the muddy conditions he slid several yards in the liquid mud coming to a rest at our feet.

Leaving the club it was back home for a quick lunch and then 30% and I were out again. This time it was for a trip over to Broadway. We had seen an auction advertised for a local well know country house hotel that was about to have a major refurbishment. The few on-line pictures looked interesting so we headed over to see if the reality was anything like the catalogue descriptions ...

... unfortunately it wasn't. Basically the lots managed to convey an aura of a tired hotel that was unlikely to get repeat business. It all quite depressing and the eye candy catalogue items were not quite right and likely to fetch high prices. We left and dropped back in to Broadway for a chat and coffee with the Oranges & Lemons clan.

Ian O&L and I had a lengthy discussion about work and 30% and Rachel disappeared to talk about far more interesting things. As the afternoon loitered on the edge of evening we were forced to say our goodbyes as we had a dinner invitation at 30%'s parents' house for a belated celebration of her mum's birthday.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

30%'s new toy

Despite a shattering week, I found myself awake a little before six this morning and thus had a very gentle start to my day with ample quantities of coffee and a healthy dose of TV news. 30% joined me a little after eight and forty minutes later we were stepping out through the door to go and see a car ...

... this one was at a car dealer only three miles down the road and was being sold by a friend of 30%'s brother. We were somewhat reassured by this and hoped that the adage you don't shit on your own doorstep applied, especially as 30% had placed a deposit on the car unseen.

I wandered around the little Audi in the rain and was pleasantly surprised at how good it looked for a ten year old car. The paintwork was not far off immaculate and there was only a slight dent in one of the sills that needed attention. We then took it down the road for a quick test drive and, as far as the Saturday morning traffic would allow, the engine and gearbox seemed good too. The only issue was a slight pull towards the kerb which we mentioned on our return. "No problem" said the Salesman "I'll send it off and have the tracking and 50 point check done as part of our sales preparation". I wandered around the car again and could see nothing troubling about the car. The rear disks would need changing at some point in the future but, as I keep telling 30%, what do I know, I'm no mechanic.

In the Office 30% reached a decision very quickly. If I am honest I think she knew she was going to buy it before she had even driven it and she will be collecting her new toy next weekend.

Back at home I entered a period of forced loitering; waiting for an appointment for a much needed haircut. As I mooched around the house I gave TP some assistance with the finishing touches of his electric ukulele project. My appointment was delayed by a good thirty minutes and so, by the time I climbed from the chair and paid my fee, the time I had set aside to walk T&M had been reduced to an inadequate duration and consequently further hanging around took place.

I eventually walked the dogs after lunch and returned feeling absolutely shattered. I settled on the sofa to watch the Italy vs Ireland Six Nations match and awoke about two hours later as the Wales vs England game was about to start! It was a fantastic game and was about the last thing I did today that is anywhere close to being worth recording here.

I guess that I am just so tired by the past few weeks at work that I really needed to just wind down.

Friday, 15 March 2013

A moment of sanity?

After banging my head against a proverbial wall for the past few weeks I have either reached the point where the EMEA Sales Exec is finally seeing sense or I have just damaged my brain so badly that I am now in a coma and living in an imaginary world constructed by my own wrecked frontal lobes.

I spoke to him fairly early on in the day  and he reported that he thought yesterday's sessions in London had gone well.* He then advised that he had had some discussions with the US Sales Exec and the Daemon** who manages the Business Unit that this deal falls within ...

... I think is is fair to say that is was these latter discussions that had really improved his mood as it looks like the pressure to finalise the EMEA costs has waned and he is now talking about taking the time to do things properly. I am all for this but if yesterday's sessions showed one thing it demonstrated that much of my solution was in a reasonable shape with only two areas that looked "iffy".*** With a fair wind I should get these sorted and be in a position to get this stage of the deal sorted before I take a weeks holiday starting from Good Friday.

With this glimmer of sanity illuminating my day I set about the normal series of calls and communications that would attempt to resolves today's set of issues. There is little else to say about the working day apart from the final briefing call with my second line manager where the Exec and I attempted to get her on board to assist with a particularly tricky issue that will most definitely require her support. ****

The big news of the day was on the home front, 30% may have found herself a new car. There is a small car dealership a few miles down the road and they have an Audi TT that may meet with her specific criteria,***** She has reserved and inspected it, rather than inspecting it and then reserving it, and a test drive is arranged for tomorrow.
* I could have sworn that his face looked like Thunder when I left and raced for the 19:22 from Paddington
** Now there is a sarcastic, bullshitting wanker if ever there was one.
*** one looks to be over costed and the other under costed. In view of the fact that I prepare models built from estimates one nets out the other so my total number is in the ball park.
**** a trifling matter of a few Service Level Agreements that we can't actually meet.
***** or it may be that she has just got bored with scouring the internet for every single Audi TT for sale within a 100 mile radius of home

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Two Days in One

Up until today I had been making an effort to keep this working week under control and had been making reasonable progress. Both Monday and Tuesday were acceptable in terms of hours worked and included time for walks with the dogs.

Wednesday arrived and could probably be best described as the calm before the storm as Thursday was to be a war room session down in London to scrutinise and hopefully reduce my solution costs. I really could not believe how quiet Wednesday was. I had a few evenly spaced calls, the usual hassle from someone in India, who doesn't really know what is going on but needs to make a fuss in order to justify their presence, and very little else. By the time the clock had struck four I was chopping kindling and and settling down in the lounge in front of the log burner.

Thursday, however, was the complete opposite. I was out of bed before six and trundling over to Evesham in a freezing Land Rover to make the ten to seven train down to Paddington. I then spent a good forty minutes negotiating a tube system that featured a temporary closure at Paddington due to volume of passengers and a halted Jubilee Line train at Baker Street due to a "Passenger Incident" at London Bridge. I eventually wandered in to the war room at about nine thirty to hear the dulcet tones of IM issuing from a conference phone on the table. I ignored him, and the call, and set up my stall ready for the day. At this point I had already accumulated over three hours of travelling time and the working day had not yet started. It was going to be a long one.

The aim of the day was to review my solution costs with each of the SMIs, the Delivery Team that are currently providing service and the Sales Exec ...

... and that was the problem. The Delivery Guys wanted  more men on the ground and the Sales Exec thought that we could do it with 4 poorly trained simians from a location in the Far East. It is fair to say that the day was long and hard and not very fruitful. By six o'clock the SMI's had sensibly switched off their Instant Messenger applications which forced a close to the day.  If I hadn't stood firm the Sales Exec would have had me ringing them at home and having calls running in to the evening. He really does have no sense of personal space and time. As a result there will be more calls tomorrow to try to get to the bottom of this mess.

 I think the interim position is that the costs were actually higher than when the day had started. We have a better understanding of them and are able to justify much of them but the Execs face on my departure was the most thunderous I had ever seen him.

I did warn him this is how it would go.

It was another three and a half hour journey home which netted out at a fifteen hour working day; two days in one.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Still Stalled

Tuesday continued in a very similar vein to Monday* ...

... the crunched numbers were given further analysis so that we truly knew that we are in the shit rather than, more sensibly, working on a plan to get us out of the aforementioned excrement. At one point in the day I had a brief discussion with the Sales Exec and I candidly mentioned that I was at a loss to see where we were headed with this analysis. I was somewhat taken aback that he admitted that he wasn't clear either. I need to stress that my surprise was at the fact that he admitted this to me, as his actions and statements have been lacking direction and leadership for a good few weeks.

The lack of a plan has meant that I have refused to work stupid hours each day. I can see no point in doing crazily long days when, for the moment, we are stood around looking at a bloated corpse of a deal. As a result I have made sure that I have taken an hour out the day to walk T&M around the Three Miler. On that subject all I can say is "Christ, it is bloody cold out at the moment" with bitterly cold winds and snow flurries coming in from the Continent.

Towards the end of the day a conference call was held with some senior interested parties and, as usual, they all stood around and poked the corpse with a stick hoping to make it ooze. At an opportune moment I took to the stage and outlined an action that might get the numbers in to better shape. Basically we need to remove cost and there is only one way that this can be done. The SMIs will get nowhere taking resources out of their solutions because they don't have the on the ground knowledge to know whether they are removing fat or cutting out critical organs. We need to have the Delivery Executive involved to sanction each and every head that we remove from the solution. As a result it looks like I will be having a long day in London on Thursday.

It was an early dinner this evening as 30% and TP headed out with the ukulele to see Doctor Dave. I filled this time crunching further numbers and chatting the the Sales Exec. At about half past eight the two returned with smiles on their faces ...

... apparently the volume control had failed and Dr Dave had simply bypassed the control making the ukulele reliant on the amplifier for adjustments. This is great news as the deadline for submitting this project is rapidly approaching and short of getting a new control box I was at a loss to help him.

*Apart from not having a trip to the Artrix in Bromsgrove to see Marcus Brigstocke's Brig Society tour. It was basically Brigstocke telling us that he was a posh bloke, but not as posh as David Cameron or Gideon George Osborne and how the Big Society concept hadn't really worked. I have to say that it was "OK" and raised a few laughs but, as a set, it didn't really hang together particularly well and I saw similarities to Mark Thomas' Peoples Manifesto concept so question the originality. The biggest laugh of the night was given to a member of the audience who told Brigstocke he was a Fudge Packer in response to an enquiry about his occupation. Sorry Marcus, it was funny but only 6/10 funny.

Monday, 11 March 2013


Monday started with a very early call to the EMEA Sales Exec. I explained about my inability to prepare for a major review and attend his escalation call at one and the same time and he finally, but briefly, grew a pair of balls and informed me that I should cancel the review. It has taken this bleeding idiot the best part of a week to make this decision despite having arguments and evidences piled in to his in-box. On Saturday evening I even gave him a specific action to let me know one way or another by Sunday evening ...

... and yet I still find my self talking to him before I have even had breakfast today. What a Prick!

The day rumbled on and the reason for the current situation is that the costs are too high, the client wouldn't accept them, and there are contractual terms we are unlikely to be able to deliver so the Delivery Organisation will not accept them either.  For some peculiar reason the EMEA Sales Exec is only focussed on reducing cost and seems to ignore the fact that Delivery will not approve the solution.

As a result of this I have spent my day extracting and comparing cost figures to give him a detailed view of how bad the cost situation is. From my perspective this isn't really telling us anything we don't already know. It is just wasting time telling him that we are precisely £347,281 up in a certain area rather than about three hundred "K".*

 At present we are stalled with an inability to turn costs in to a compelling price and a Delivery Organisation that does not view the solution favourably. To get this machine** moving again we need to reduce costs and garner approval from our Delivery teams. His role is to pull together advice from all parties and put a high level plan and set of actions together to achieve that.

Piss arsing around with a spreadsheet of doom is not going to help!
* This is an example and not the magnitude of the real problem. Please believe me when I say that are cost increases are SO much  worse than this.
** Do not be thinking "finely tuned racer" instead one should picture a rust ridden heap that has just spluttered to a halt outside the Scrap Yard.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

I wish he had chosen to make a table

I wandered through Sunday periodically checking my e-mail in the hope that the Sales Exec would see sense and cancel tomorrow's review call. The time not spent in front of the laptop was passed undertaking normal domestic duties ...

... first order of the day, after a Mother's Day breakfast of eggs in various guises, was a walk around the Three Miler with T&M. Upon my return all three of us gathered to bath the dogs. 30% and TP were on bathing duties and I was responsible for toweling them dry.

Next job was to complete final assembly of TP's electric ukulele. TP soldered the various components together and a single string was strung for testing purposes. The mini guitar was plugged in to his practice amp and we were rewarded with a significantly louder plink, plink, plink from the plucked string. Encouraged, we inserted the volume and tone controls in to the body and retested ...

... Nothing, Fuck! Well that is not wholly true, varying the tone or volume controls on the ukulele did have an audible affect on the amp's natural background hum so we knew that some form of connection was there but there was no sound. After a fruitless hour of connection checking it was time to call in an expert and a friend of 30%'s Dad will have a look at it on Tuesday evening. He has had a lifelong involvement with guitars; playing, building and selling. Fingers are crossed that this is an easy fix.

Frustrated by my inability to create sound from a lump of Mahogany, I retired to a freezing garage to sulk. The results of this session were the box components for a glazed, box frame I have designed to display the Spear Heads we acquired at Littleton Auctions a few weeks ago.

The box is basically a ply and softwood construction with the sides rebated to hold the base. The corners are screwed and glued but joints. It was assembled in the warmth of the house and now sits in the corner of the office drying. The next stage will be to line the box with tan coloured kid leather as a background for the spears. Then it will simply be a matter of mounting the spear heads, fixing the box to the back of glazed frame and chucking it on to the wall.

As the evening wore on I checked my e-mail one last time and noticed that the Sales Exec had invited me to a call early tomorrow when I really should be preparing for an Executive review call. The call he had set up had the potential to start to sort out the mess we are in but he hasn't made the decision to cancel my review call.

As a result I am stuck between a rock and a hard place and will need to make some very early calls in an attempt to rectify his cock ups.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Ignoring the Life Ring!

As we tucked in to a Chinese takeaway the 'phone rang. We ignored it and allowed the answerphone to do it's job ...

... it was the EMEA Sales Executive wondering if I could take a call this evening with him and the Pricer. I returned the call and grudgingly agreed to have a call at eight thirty. At the appointed hour I dialled in to his conference bridge and we started to discuss this train wreck of a deal. He was concerned about the increase in price over our last presentation in December last year and I was forced to remind him of a few conveniently forgotten facts ...

... Basically this deal wasn't properly solutioned when HE first led it in 2009 and then last year there was some cavalier scrubbing of cost to make the price point dictated by the client. Now we are being asked to provide a firm price it has been necessary to re-insert those costs to ensure Delivery capability. Like all Salesmen he really doesn't want to  go in with a high price and I can actually understand his position but my job is to protect Delivery and the only way I can cut cost is to reduce scope and that aint yet happening.

A short way in to the call it was decided that we should get the Lead Sales Exec involved and so the call became Transatlantic in nature...

... After doing our very best to get the American Sales Exec up to speed* he realised that there was no way the Client would sign up to our new price when the current price was far more palatable and contractually committed until the back end of 2016. He repeatedly stated that he would like to cut out the EMEA part of the bid so that we could go away and put something together that was an attractive Business proposition.**

This was our Get out of Jail Card. This would stop the train on the very edge of the collapsed canyon bridge. Would our EMEA Sales Exec take this gracious offer ?

Oh No. The stupid dithering idiot still wants to go through reviews that will fail and result in a price that is around twelve million dollars higher than it is today, rather than taking a few weeks and doing the job properly as opposed to chucking it together in 4 days flat.
* A monumental task for he literally hasn't a clue about the EMEA Services or Solution
** i.e. Cheaper for them, Deliverable for us

Taking a gulp of air

It has been nearly a fortnight since I put "pen to paper" and the reason for that is twofold; firstly after a twelve or thirteen hour day stuck in front of a laptop the last thing I have wanted to do is spend even more time pecking at a keyboard and secondly, the ins and outs of a badly assembled IT Services Outsourcing deal is never ever going to be fun reading.

Fundamentally I have spent most of the last fortnight stuck in my office with a 'phone stuck to my ear on back to back conference calls. At the same time I have been trying to communicate with a team of frustrated SMIs via hastily assembled emails and poorly spelled instant messages. It is fair to say that it has all been pretty shitty. The time line for this deal means that I am assembling a solution and costs whilst the requirements are still being negotiated and that means that  a) my solution is not going to align with what the client want and b) my solution may well not align with the contract finally agreed and that well mean that the Delivery Guys will be deep in the shit if this ever signs!

The Sales team are ignoring our carefully constructed arguments and solid reasons to stop, take a breath and do things properly and, as time has gone on, things are starting to unravel as the issues that have been ignored finally come to a head.

This sounds awful and I have to say that I am not really having fun but it is nowhere near as stressful as I had expected it to be. I think I have finally realised that this isn't worth getting worked up about. Basically what happens is I follow the process until we get to the eleventh hour. At that point I have a solution which is probably about 80 - 90 % acceptable with a few objectionable features that prevent a contract being agreed. At the eleventh hour a review happens, the objectionable features are exposed and an Exec somewhere starts shouting. People then start running around and all of the objectionable features either get accepted or forced in to a contract...

... and that basically is another deal completed.

To be fair last weekend was reasonably free but I did put in a couple of hours on Saturday and Sunday to keep on top of things.* I was unwilling to tie myself to the laptop for the sake of my own sanity and, more importantly, last weekend we were joined by a young visitor...

... Joe spent a couple of days with us while his Mum was in hospital for a scheduled operation. It has been quite a while since we had a "nearly eight" year old in the house and I have to say that he was an absolute pleasure. He ate like a horse, drank tea by the bucket full and  was willing to just join in and go along with our weekend agenda. After TP's teenage grunts and monosyllabic nature an eight year old's chatter and questions were quite refreshing.

This weekend has only just started and one of the first things I did was get outside and walk T&M. The long days of this week have meant that I literally have not stepped outside the boundaries of The Pile and TP has been on dog walking duties. It was nice to be outside in the fresh air but if I am honest work did keep creeping back in to my head as I wandered around the Three Miler.

I returned to an empty house as TP had headed in to Worcester and 30% was spending the day with Jules at a Spa in Malvern. I therefore settled down at the laptop to finalise my presentation for Monday's eleventh hour review before lunch. The afternoon saw a fire get lit and a small repair was performed on TP's electric ukulele...

... I think it will be a takeaway for supper tonight.
* This is not actually true. There is no way you can keep on top of things at the pace these deals run. All you can do is hope and pray that you focus on the right emails at the right time. To give some idea of the pace, a standard day will have six hours of scheduled conference calls plus impromptu discussions in the gaps between. There will be one or more contract schedules to review and comment against and these can be eighty pages in length. Finally, there are the technical issues of the actual solution that need to be addressed to. I just prioritise and pray I don't get caught out.