Archive for the ‘The World of Mungo’ Category

Egg(head) on Face

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012

Some of you already know that, along with a few chums, I recently auditioned for the BBC quiz show Eggheads.

Southampton Hospital Radio is sixty years old this year, so Chairman Steve thought it would be a jolly wheeze to enter: he assembled a collective of the station’s geekiest finest minds, nagged us until we filled in our application forms, and put our entry in.

About a million years later – or at least six months – we were called for audition, and this indeed was where we went last Saturday. Chairman Steve, Rockin’ Rob, Neil (who is also called Guy) and yours truly (accompanied by Neil (wiacG)’s good lady), caught a horribly early train packed with already-drunk football supporters and headed for the Nation’s Capital.

We got to London a bit earlier than necessary so we took the indirect route to the TV building, browsing through an open-air book market on the way. We should have browsed more thoroughly, as will become apparent. Anyway, once we arrived, we found we were one of four teams being auditioned – two of the other teams had only brought three of their five members with them, so we didn’t feel too bad about having left our number five, Gary (who doesn’t have a daft nickname…yet) behind – he couldn’t get the day off work.

Once the audition proper started, the first thing that happened was an individual written quiz: I won’t tell you the real questions as I’m pretty sure that somewhere in the two hundred pages of legal documents we signed, we said that we wouldn’t. But to give you a flavour, one of them was something like “Which American crime writer wrote I, Alex Cross?” As that was one of the books we’d all browsed about thirty minutes earlier, you’d think that would’ve been easy…you’d think wrong, we all had to guess, and it transpired that we all guessed wrong. Another question was similar to “To which island group does Sark belong?” to which I originally put the right answer, then crossed it out and put something else. But first prize for numb-nuttery, at least in this round, went to my answer to a question similar to “What does the S in USA stand for?” Of course I knew the answer (the real question was, if anything, even easier than that), but I totally failed to RTFQ and answered “United”.

Perhaps in some future quiz, I’ll be asked “What does the F in RTFQ stand for?” I’ll probably get that wrong too…the correct answer is of course “flipping”.

Next up was a mini game of Eggheads between the four teams. The first round was Films and TV, so we nominated Chairman Steve, who’s probably seen more films than the rest of us put together. The question was to identify a film from which a particular quote came – he had one of those blank moments where you know the answer but for some reason say the wrong thing. Ah well. Two of the other teams lost a person that round too.

Next up was Food and Drink, which I’d already claimed as my number one sepcialist subject, so I stood up, answered my question correctly, and sat down. At least it wasn’t a whitewash. The next round was Sport, so we put in Neil (who is also called Guy). They asked him possibly the only sports question in the whole world that he didn’t know the answer to, but he put in an inspired guess and was right.

Round four was Science – I wanted to take it as my second-claim sepcial subject, and as there were only four of us, one was going to have to go twice, so I could have done. But Rockin’ Rob hadn’t been yet, and got the question right, so it was lucky I didn’t.

The last individual round was Music: Had Gary (who doesn’t have a daft nickname…yet) been there, he would’ve been our music expert, but Neil (who is also called Guy) stepped up to the plate and answered brilliantly, so we were fine. Three out of the four of us through to the final round!

In short, we won.

The final part of the day involved each team doing a piece to camera about how interesting we are, and what an enthralling episode of Eggheads it would make if we were picked. If we’re shortlisted, we should hear in the next couple of weeks.

Once we left, Neil (who is also called Guy) headed off to join his lady for a day’s research into his main sepcialist subject, Real Ale Pubs of London. We tried to tell him that isn’t a round in Eggheads, but he went anyway. Rockin’ Rob had to get home because he was playing a gig that night, I needed to get home because I had a toilet to mend, and Chairman Steve isn’t safe to be left out on his own, so the three of us headed back to Waterloo. We had a thirty minute wait for our train, so we stopped for a drink and a go on the pub quiz machine.

We played two games of Eggheads on the quiz machine. We lost dramatically both times.

A New Flame

Sunday, July 15th, 2012

(Simply Red, 1989)

The Olympic flame came to Southampton on Saturday.

Now my general feeling about the Olympics is pretty well known – I don’t like the fact that London residents and businesses have been made to pay for it, yet received no preferential ticket allocations; I don’t like the fact that little or no advantage in ticket allocation was given to grass roots supporters of the sports in question; I don’t like the arrogant way that London businesses will only be allowed to receive deliveries between 11 PM and 6 AM, to keep the roads clear of commercial vehicles so the “Games Family” can speed unhindered between sites; most of all, I don’t like the fact that London’s commuters are being told to plan alternative ways of getting to work, because public transport is going to be jammed solid with those games tourists who are not part of the Games Family, and therefore don’t qualify for chauffer driven limos and sepcial traffic lanes.

All that said – and to clarify doubts that someone raised as a result of a Facebook post I made t’other day – I hope the Games are a rousing success: I hope London shows off its best face, that the Underground and Bus networks get people where they’re going without problems, that all the spectators, volunteers and competitors have a great time. I truly do hope all these things – it’s just that experience – together with the stories that have appeared in the press over the last few days – makes me think that at least the middle of those hopes – on which the other two largely depend – is unlikely to be realised.

Anyway, the flame came to Southampton, and Purple Fred (Whom I Love Very Much), Mini Fred, another friend of ours, and I, all went to see it. It has to be said that the adults in the party weren’t keen – I know it was a once in a lifetime opportunity, but so was the Black Death and I’m quite glad I missed that – but we went anyway. Even though it rained all afternoon, I was sure we’d need to get there early or we wouldn’t find a parking space. And Yes, PF(WILVM), I freely admit I was wrong about that. Still, it would be worth turning up early, as Southampton’s Guildhall Square, that magnificent public open space in the town centre, had been turned into the “Olympic Activity Village” to entertain the crowds. Here’s a picture of the Olympic Activity Village in the Guildhall Square:

The Olympic Inactivity Village

We spent three minutes in the Olympic Inactivity Village, but only because that’s how long it took to walk from one side to the other, stopping to take a picture on the way. We found ourselves a good spot to see the flame in the rain, and awaited developments. The crowd were all getting into the spirit of things, even the non-human ones:

Dog with flags

Then three sponsors vehicles came round the corner, handing out freebies (we didn’t get any): The crowd surged forward, leaving just enough space for the flame carrier and his escorts to come through, and the flame carrier came and went. This picture was provided by PF(WILVM), as at the key moment of flame-passingness, the person next to me leaned forwards and blocked my view:

The torch bearer passes by, version 1

From the place we’d chosen, we knew we could easily get to another bit of the route before the torch did, so we headed off through the parks for another go – more in the hope of being more successful at getting freebies than having a better view. More by luck than planning, however, we’d chosen a spot where the flame passed from one torch bearer to another, so it went a bit slower, and we’d also chosen a spot that the flame had to pass twice: As it had been through once, most of the crowds had pushed off to the pub, so we had a much better view:

The torch bearer passes by, version 2

The Police people were friendly – we were also at the changeover spot for the escort teams, and a couple of the motorbike cops were posing for photos with the kids in the crowd, and we have to admit we were all glad we went.

And then we went home to change into dry clothes and warm up.

Capital Idea

Saturday, June 2nd, 2012

I have a brilliant idea. I think I should maybe patent it.

Passing through my least favourite railway station earlier this week, I was offered a free walking map of London – the idea is to get people walking and reduce reliance on the public transport, and in the words of the map-giving-away person, “get ready for the games”. Transport for London have already accepted they don’t have the capacity for all the games spectators AND all the normal London people going to work, so they’re doing everything they can to ease the process.

I have an idea to help London Underground prepare for the games which may be even better: As anyone who travels by public transport regularly in London knows, the cheapest way to get around is with an Oyster card, a pre-loaded charge card with which you swipe on to a bus, or into and out of the Underground. The system keeps a record of the use of the cards, which is handy if you use one for work travel as you can get a printout from the internet and whack it in with your dodgy exes claim.

So, my master plan for the Olympic Summer is this: during the period when public transport is expected to he disrupted by Games crowds (which seems to start a month before the opening ceremony and finish two weeks after the paralympics), between seven and nine in the morning, and five and seven in the afternoon, you won’t be able to enter an Underground station except by using an Oyster card that has at least 100 journeys in the previous six months. That averages to just under four a week, which would easily cover London’s workforce, and make sure that most people can still get to work without much trouble.

Of course my plan isn’t perfect – it does nothing to help anyone who starts and finishes work outside the normal rush hour times, nor does it help anyone who hasn’t been working in London for very long. But it’s a start, and it’s a lot better than what we have now.

St Pancras

Saturday, May 12th, 2012

I mentioned in a recent post on The Facebook, “I truly loathe St Pancras railway station”

I know St Panc is a Marmite thing – you either love or hate it – and I suppose it all depends on what you look for in a railway station. When I pass through, I’m not looking for a ten-course fine dining experience or the chance to buy French groceries, and I’m certainly not in the market for tacky souvenirs of a tacky sports event that hasn’t happened yet, and I (and most Londoners) will be keeping clear of when it does.

When I’m on a railway station, the most I want to buy is a bacon roll and maybe a newspaper – but what I really want, and would gladly sacrifice the chance to buy anything for, is to be able to get from the station entrance (and in London, the Underground terminal) to the train as quickly as possible, with the minimum fuss. Whoever designed the refurbished StP was so fixated on making it a major experience that the only way to fit in all the shops and overpriced eateries was to put the platforms so far from the station access that by the time you get on the train, you’ve already walked halfway to where you were going.

Incidentally, you can get a decent bacon roll at St Panc, from the Camden Food Company by the upstairs platforms. Just don’t be in a hurry.

If the designers of this commuters’ nightmare want some ideas for what a railway station eatery should look like, they need to go back in time and visit Kings Cross before the recent “improvements”. They’ll find a lovely old inn called the Duke of Wellington, with reasonably priced food and free wi-fi…all gone now, of course, in the need for modernisation.

But my favourite railway station food place is the sushi bar at Paddington. Not for the food, although I do like sushi, but for the statue of Paddington Bear in the middle. Of course the fact that the statue is also a virtual geocache helps!


Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

Last night’s journey home from work didn’t go as well as it might.

Now let me say at the outset that I’m not over-dramatising here – I know that for all that I was forty minutes late home, someone has died, and their family and friends, a train driver and all the witnesses had a much worse evening than I did. And I know that whem a tragedy happens on the rail line, trains have to be disrupted while certain things get done.

It’s the information I get annoyed about: People have complained that there wasn’t any information about what was going on, where really the reverse is true – there was too much information, on the platform boards, on the concourse displays, on the official South West Trains Twitter feed and on the website. All of it contradictory and all of it bearing no resemblance to what was actually happening.

I got to Waterloo to be told the Southampton train (or more precisely the Weymouth train, which goes through Southampton) was at platform fourteen – so I went there, to find a crowd waiting to board the train who’d been told it was going to Reading. It didn’t matter, the train was locked down with no crew anywhere in sight, so wherever it was meant to be going, it wasn’t going anywhere.

Then someone had a phone call from someone at home, who’d seen on the website that the previous Weymouth train, which should have already left, was still on platform seven, so we all scrummed down and beetled across to there. Well the train was still there right enough, but so full of people that you couldn’t have squeezed a chocolate swiss roll (or other confectionery of your choice) on board, never mind another person. They must have been taking it in turns to breathe on there, and I wasn’t getting involved with that.

So we charged back to the tunnel again, this time in response to a tannoy announcement that there was a Basingstoke train on platform nine, and that would at least get me partly home and there’s a better selection of trains from Basingstoke. And sure enough there was a train, and there was plenty of space – in fact it was only half full – because the guard had shut and locked the doors, and didn’t open them again before the train left five minutes later.

Then exactly the same thing happened with another Basingstoke train, this time from platform eleven after another dash through the tunnel between platforms.

Then there was a call for a train to Southampton from platform eight: I was one of the lucky ones who made it there before the doors were shut, and as the train pulled out we were told that this had been going to be the Southampton train, but for technical reasons it was going to terminate at Basingstoke, Arrrgh…still, at least I was moving in the right direction.

And then I got to Basingstoke, and after running between platforms one and four three times (because that was what the announcements led me to do, not for fun or anything), I got on a train home which wasn’t run by South West Trains, so went very smoothly.

The thing is, the only sensible explanation for all that confusion – and I use the word “sensible” loosely – is that the person deciding what information goes out to the waiting passengers isn’t the same person who decides which trains will go where – and they aren’t talking to each other. Not only that, but the Twitter feed, website and station information boards are all run by different people as well.

I’m not sure if this is most like Schroedinger or Einstein, but it seems the only way to really know where a train is going is to get on it and go there. I’m sure it didn’t ought to be like that.

Four Words

Friday, March 16th, 2012

I mentioned that I’d been reading Tom Reynolds’ book, along with my general preference to avoid blogging work-related stuff.

Something I can share with you – which I’m astonished Reynolds doesn’t mention – is the power of a simple four word phrase to irritate public sector workers.

Actually, there’s two of them – four word phrases, that is, not public sector workers, although I’m sure Call Me Dave has a target date by when that will also be true. The phrases are, “I know my rights” and “I pay your wages”: the first of those is obviously a Key Performance Indicator for every “English as a second language” school in London, as we frequently hear it from people who then insist we rustle up an interpreter (at fifty squid an hour, paid for by the taxpayer) as their English is too poor to explain their fantastically-complicated problem to us (and of course I’m already contravening their yoomin rights by not understanding their language). Nine times out of ten, the problem will turn out to be completely outside our remit, and all we can do is send them off to some other agency to repeat the process.

Actually, that’s often true of the fluent English speakers as well.

The second of those phrases (check back two paragraphs, just before the mini-rant) is most often heard, completely without irony, from people who’ve never done a day’s work, and therefore never paid a penny in income tax, in their lives.

There’s a third phrase, used by one particular frequent flyer, which is guaranteed to wind my mate Brian up no end: this guy prefaces each of his demands for sepcial treatment with “We the people insist…”. He’s never specified what marks him out as one of The People, and Brian as NOT one of The People, but whatever it is, he’s pretty fixated on it.

Whatever he – and spouters of the other wind-up magic words – mean by it, it seems to be symptomatic of a feeling that’s becoming pretty widespread, if my extensive research (the comments from the ranting idiots who respond to stories on the Echo website) are accurate: a feeling that the working population is divided into two groups: the private sector, with their Victorian working conditions, poor salaries, lack of job security and enforced flexibility of contract, and the public sector with their massive salaries, gold-plated pensions, total security of employment, early retirement, and contracts that tie down job descriptions to within an inch of their lives.

While I’d be the last to deny that private sector working conditions are pretty grim at the moment, things are no better for public servants. I’m paid significantly less than I could earn in the private sector (if there were any private sector jobs going in my speciality) and I haven’t had a pay rise for three years, in spite of increased responsibilities in that time. My team is two people down because of redundancies, and is picking up more work because of redundancies in teams around us. My pension looks pretty rosy, at least compared to the state pension, but only because I’ve contributed heavily to a private scheme for years. I get fairly decent amount of holiday – or at least I would, if I had time to take it. I’ll be carrying the maximum-permitted number of days over at the year end, because I haven’t had time to take them. I actually had to cancel a booked holiday so another member of my team could get married in half term week – his fiancee’s a teacher and couldn’t have time off anywhen else, and there isn’t enough flexibility to allow us both to be off at the same time, even though if you looked at our contracts you’d think there was no overlap in what we do.

Please understand I’m not telling you this to make you think I’m anything sepcial, quite the opposite: my working conditions are no different to ninety-nine percent of public sector workers.

I was employed – and technically still am – as a Health and Safety sepcialist, but an expectation of flexibility and a desire to stay employed means that I’m expected to do more and more little “odd jobs” on the side. In the last couple of weeks, I’ve –

  • Investigated a suspicious package which our mailroom team thought might be a hostile device. It turned out to be a broken washing machine part that one of our regular contributors thought we should see.
  • Scrambled around on my hands and knees making secure a broken security gate. I wouldn’t have been allowed to go home and leave it insecure.
  • Explained to a colleague that the reason he hasn’t got his new ID card yet is that he refused to supply a photograph, or to attend to have one taken.
  • Explained to another colleague that the reason it isn’t warm enough to sit in the office in shirtssleeves might be connected to the snow in the ground outside (his response was“it’s all right for you, you’ve got a pullover on”)
  • Spent 45 minutes trying to explain to a member of the public that turning up without an appointment, at five o’clock and without an apparent reason means he’s not going to get to see our Chief Executive. And that swearing at me and offering to sort me out outside doesn’t help his case. And for the record, he was wrong – I’ve seen my parents’ wedding photos.

All grist to the mill of the average public sector worker.


Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

If a Star Trek fan is a “Trekkie”, what’s a Doctor Who fan?

The reason I ask is that last weekend, Purple Fred (whom I love very much), MiniFred and I went to the Doctor Who Experience, at Olympia. We went by train, which was a pretty good deal – as a holder of a South West Trains annual season ticket I not only travel free, but I get a certain number of free off-peak tickets for people travelling with me. So the whole day’s travel cost us a fiver for parking at the station, and two and a half returns from Clapham Junction to Olympia, which not being operated by South West Trains isn’t covered by the free offer.

PF(WILVM) had a more expen$ive day as she bought the admission tickets. We tried to redress the balance by me buying lunch in the Olympia cafe, drinks on the trains, and our evening meal, but I still came in with the slightly cheaper day!

So, the experience itself…it was pretty darned good, they seem to have realised that in every group there’s going to be one person who’s not as dedicated a Who-ist as the others, and designed it to be interesting for them as well. There was techie stuff, costumes, designs and props and scenery from the early series of the canon, and of course a display of daleks through the ages. Most fascinating to me was the fact that the Doctor Who programme team includes a choreographer whose role is to study the various monsters – who made them, from what, for what purpose etc – and create a walk for each monster that fits. There’s even a video presentation where you can learn to walk like a cyberman or a scarecrow. Presumably walking like a dalek would be too difficult, unless you come with wheels.

Sepcial mention, however, must go to the bloke in the queue for the walk-through just in front of us. A man in his thirties and there on his own, so obviously a Who-ist, so his Doctor Who T-shirt and satchel were within the realms of “normal”. It was when he started fiddling with his sonic screwdriver (and no, that’s not a euphemism) that we realised we were in the presence of an obsessive.

Unfair Games

Thursday, September 8th, 2011

An advertisement in the Evening Standard asks London businesses, “Are you ready for the games?”, before going on to explain that the London Olympics are less than a year away and that traffic routes throughout the capital will be severely affected by athletes, officials and spectators travelling to the games. Businesses should be building contingency plans against staff being unable to travel to work, deliveries failing to arrive on time or at all, and customers staying away to avoid the crowds.

There’s an argument that the Games will be good for tourism, of course, although the experiences of Beijing and Sydney both suggest that for all the tourists who come to London for the Olympics, an equal number of ‘normal’ tourists will stay away to avoid the crowds and the inflated hotel prices. But London’s businesses and residents – everyone who pays tax of any kind to the London Assembly – have already made a huge financial contribution to the Games, even though many will get no interest or business advantage from them. Drivers and public transport users have suffered two years of disruption while networks are “upgraded” in a probably-vain attempt to ensure that tubes and busses run properly for a couple of months next Summer, before the whole creaking shambles falls over again.

What I’m leading up to is the question, why aren’t the powers that be in London protecting businesses and residents – and commuters – from the consequences of the Games, rather than bending over backwards to accommodate the sports and advising businesses to tell their staff to stay at home (which is the advice that the organisation I work for has received)? These taxpayers are London’s employers, not the travelling circus of the IOC.


Monday, August 29th, 2011

So many promises for future bloggage in my last submission – what first? Let’s lead with the tale of the car breakdown…

It rained on the last day of New Wine. Quite a lot, which meant that packing up was done in several stages, as I did a bit, then ran for cover, then did a bit more, and so on. The process was further slowed by me having to look for my keys all the time, which I’d invariably put down somewhere not under cover, then had to rescue from a puddle next time it stopped raining.

Eventually the packing was complete and I headed for home – or at least the storage site where the caravan lives. I was running so late by now that I decided not to stop at the Little Chef where I’d planned to have lunch, and later foreswore the bacon-butty-wagon-in-a-layby which had been my reserve position. I just put my head down and headed for home.

One consequence of which was that by the time I reached Mungo’s Caravan Storage Site, I had an even more urgent need than food. I stopped car and caravan outside the wooden hut provided for such situations, did what I needed to do, and returned to the car.

Which didn’t start.

Analysis of the flashing light on the dashboard suggested that the immobiliser wasn’t recognising the transponder in the key. I wonder if all that leaving the keys out in the rain had fried the RFID tag in the key? I rang Purple Fred (whom I love very much).

“Any chance you could come here with my spare car keys?”

PF arrived and the spare key started the car, so my diagnosis seems to have been correct. As this left me with only one key that would start the car, I headed at my earliest opportunity to Mungo’s Jeep Emporium.

“Hello”, quoth I, “I’d like a new spare key for my Jeep please”

The guys eyes lit up, and I soon found out why: One key…cut to suit the car…with the door-unlocking blipper set to the right code…and the RFID tag set for the immobiliser…ONE HUNDRED AND FORTY ZARKING QUID!

It’s still cheaper than getting stranded somewhere without a working key, though. And in future, on long trips the spare key goes with me. And the keys get kept somewhere dry.

London-centric stereotype

Saturday, May 21st, 2011

…and in a further demonstration of local stereotypes, we had our new fleet vehicles delivered to London office yesterday. The delivery driver drove them off the car transporter, we put them in the car park.

And in the time between the delivery driver getting out, and our driver getting in…one out of ten cars got a parking ticket.


Thursday, March 17th, 2011

Not this blog entry – at least not intentionally – but the conference I went to yesterday.

It was aimed at representatives of various government departments and was aimed at helping us meet our obligations under the Carbon Reduction Commitment – you’ll remember I’ve picked up Environmental Management as a little bolt-on to my portfolio of tasks, so it looked like a good idea. I was wrong about that.

Although the attendees were all representatives of the public sector one way or the other, no-one seemed to have told the speakers, all of whose talks were based on selling us expensive bits of kit next time we commission a new building. Since none of us actually have enough money to fulfil our organisations’ core operational requirements I don’t think new buildings are really on the cards (although I notice the Environment Agency have just moved into a new building) but I suppose these sales folk have to dream.

A lot of time was spent telling us how important carbon reduction and energy efficiency is, and why we should all be playing our parts. We were all thinking “We’re public sector – we have to do it because David Cameron says we have to do it. Move on.”. One talk – and I promise this is true – was aimed at “Making your operation Carbon Neutral”, which seemed interesting. The talk consisted of:

  1. Why it’s increasingly important in the current climate to become more energy efficient without spending wads of cash (we know, get on with it)
  2. The instruction “Be more energy efficient and reduce waste”
  3. Fifteen minutes of “If you employ our building management company we can make all this happen for you”

Even the freebies were pretty carp, I managed to score two pens and a notepad; Even the lunch wasn’t really worth going for.

On the good side, the conference was in a bit of London I don’t normally visit, so I managed to score three new geocaches in the lunchbreak!


Monday, March 7th, 2011

Two blokes were standing near me on the bus this evening – what follows is the unabridged entirety of their conversation…

Bloke 1: “Steve”
Bloke 2: “Steve?”
Bloke 1: “Steve”


Bloke 2: “Chris?”
Bloke 1: “Chris”

I’d love to know what that was all about, but I don’t suppose I ever will.

Hedging your Bets

Tuesday, January 12th, 2010

I spotted this in London t’other day…


Apart from it being a shame to hide perfectly good scaffolding, I’d say they’re on to a pretty safe thing there: There must have been something that happened in 1966 that doesn’t happen this year, so they can just say that was what they were referring to…

Or have I missed the point?

Neat Freak

Monday, June 29th, 2009

As regular readers will know, I usually go out from work at lunchtime to buy my lunch (or sometimes to get it on the way in, if I want something that will survive a morning in the fridge).

Some of m’colleagues bring a packed lunch in from home, partly to save money and partly to have some control over what they’re eating. In Don’s case, he has loads of food allergies so he needs to know what’s in his lunch box – normally carrot sticks and rich tea biscuits.

Don now has an apprentice called Jimmy: Jimmy is obviously following in the Master’s foodsteps:


Notice how his lunch isn’t just healthy, it’s obscenely neat as well. I don’t suppose I need to tell you that Jimmy used to be in the Army?


Wednesday, June 24th, 2009

We had a fire at work today.

Total building evacuation, loads of firefighters swarming all over the place, smoke, you name it. OK, it was only a burned-out water heater in the basement that set off the smoke detectors, but it still counts. As Chief Fire Warden for our two floors, I was the last of us out of the building – and as that meant escorting someone on crutches down seven flights of stairs, I have to say I was in there for a bit longer than I was comfortable with. There’s a learning point there, and we have to look at how we deal with that situation. My favourite is for me NOT to be the last out, but I suspect that bit of the plan isn’t going to change.

With everyone – including me – safely out, our fire wardens have a secondary duty: Our assembly point is in a small park with roads all around, and we have to marshall the people to stop them getting run over. With 450 people and a small park, that’s quite a challenge – 20% want to get back into the office, 15% are thinking of sneaking off for a fag and another 15% are wondering if they can get away with going to the pub. The remainder are queuing for a cup of tea in Mungo’s Tea Caravan, oblivious to the fact that there’s no going to the loo until the fire brigade let us back in the building.

I think after an hour of that, I’m now fully qualified to herd cats.


Thursday, May 14th, 2009

A couple of weeks ago I tried a Japanese noodle soup, from the new Miso bar over the road. They only had half of the advertised flavours available then, so I ended up with vegetable dumpling flavour. It was a close contender for the least satisfying meal I’ve ever eaten.

But on the credit side, it came with a little plastic bottle of Wasabi sauce, in a doomed attempt to give the thing some interest: when washed out, this proved ideal for packing a handfull of vitamin pills ready to take on holiday, rather than transporting the whole pack. It also seemed quite useful in geocaching terms…

I really need a second pill pot, and today Mungo’s Miso Shop had Hoisin Duck flavour. Hoisin Duck being one of my favourite oriental foods, it HAD to be worth a try.

It was a close contender for runner-up in the least satisfying meal I’ve ever eaten. And they forgot to give me the little bottle of Wasabi sauce.

Not So Sob

Monday, April 20th, 2009

Stand down the alert team.

It’s not over yet, but I’m a bit more relaxed about the whole credit card/South West Trains shenanigans I reported yesterday. I also know a bit more about the slightly odd way that credit cards work.

Apparently processing a credit card payment happens in two stages. Firstly the trader says to the credit card company, “Mr Gottle wants to spend a hundred quid, is that OK?”. The credit card company say “Yes, he’s a trustworthy chap, we authorise that transaction”.

Stage two is that the trader says “OK, you’ve authorised the transaction, now give us the money”, and the credit card company dob up the dosh. Sometimes there’s a delay between stages one and two, although it’s normally short enough that it doesn’t notice.

What seems to have happened this time is:
South West Trains: “Hello, Mr Gottle wants to spend four and a half grand on getting to work for the next year. Is that authorised?”
Mungo’s Credit Cards: “Hmm, well that would take him just over his credit limit, but he’s a nice trustworthy chap, so yes, it’s authorised”.

The problem came when, ten minutes later, SWT should have said “OK, you’ve authorised the transaction, now give us the money”. What actually happened was:
South West Trains: “Hello, Mr Gottle wants to spend four and a half grand on getting to work for the next year. Is that authorised?”
Mungo’s Credit Cards: “Ooh blimey, with what’s already on that card, plus the authorised transaction that hasn’t gone through yet, that would take him miles over his credit limit. No, it isn’t authorised”.

…and that was when South West Trains phoned me up, told me the card had been declined and I paid on the Cats’ Protection card instead. Meanwhile, although South West Train haven’t taken anything from my Mungo’s card, Mungo can’t let me have any more credit because there’s an outstanding authorisation for a big amount…

According to Mungo’s nice telephone helpline lady Nicola, the authorisation will time-expire at close of business tomorrow. I hope so.


Sunday, April 19th, 2009

I renewed my annual train season ticket last week.

I wasn’t going to mention it – whacking over four and a half grand on a credit card is something I’d rather forget than blog about – but it’s turned into a bit of a drama. I originally tried to pay for the ticket on my Mungo’s credit card (I get a good rewards deal with every pound spent), but knowing that it would take the card slightly over the limit I wasn’t surprised when it was declined, and paid with a different card instead. I used a charity card where Cats Protection gets a commission with every purchase, so that’s OK.

Then my Mungo’s card was refused when I tried to buy fuel with it yesterday, and again this morning with an online purchase. I rang the Mungo helpline.

To cut a long story short, it looks like when I tried to buy my train ticket, even though it took the card just over the limit, because I’m a regular trusted customer they let it go. But then, for some reason, South West Trains tried to put the purchase through again, and that one was refused, quite reasonably. But SWT, thinking the payment hadn’t gone through, took the money again from my other card.

So at the moment I have two 4600 purchases on two different cards, for one ticket, and I’ll be on the phone to the train company early tomorrow. I’ll let you know how it pans out.

Free LongLie and the Speeding Ticket

Wednesday, April 15th, 2009

One of the hazards of working in the Nation’s Capital is that on the way home you get hordes of people trying to force free newspapers on you: there are two main ones, the London Paper and the London Lite.

As an aside, I know that giving out free newspapers is possibly the perfect job for people whose English leaves something to be desired – but if I was in charge of recruiting distributors, I’d at least teach them that “Free London Lite” isn’t pronounced “Free Long Lies”. Not exactly the right image for a newspaper, even a free one.

Anyway, what prompted this line of discussion was a story in yesterday’s Free Long Lie…sorry, I mean London Lite. Apparently to mark some festival or other, volunteers are going to be handing out “speeding tickets” on the streets of London, to people who walk too quickly. Apparently it’s part of an initiative to encourage people to be more relaxed and outgoing on their travel around the capital.

I really really hope I get one when I’m hurrying for the train: I can’t wait to see one of these busybody “volunteers” doing a “flaming rooster” with an incendiary speeding ticket stuck up their trousers.

Mungo Mechanic

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

I finally motivated myself to phone Mungo’s Garage Services.

“Hello, Mungo speaking, how can I help?”
“Hello Mungo, I’d like to book my car in for some work”
“Finest kind, that’s what we do best! What would you like us to do?”
“You did some diagnostics a couple of weeks ago, I’d like the work out of that done please”.
“OK hang on, I’ll just check the screen”

*Our hero is left listening to an interesting selection of on-hold music*

*There is some negotiation about dates*

“Yes sir, we can do that, we’ll see you next week then”
“Great…oh, and while you’ve got it, could you do an MOT?”
“We sure can…of, but we’d better do the work before the MOT or it’ll fail”
“I kinda knew that…that’s why I’m asking you to do the work”.

Why am I trusting my lovely Grunty to these people?


Monday, December 22nd, 2008

According to the paper being read by the bloke in front of me on the train this morning, the key question of the day is, “Strictly: Did the Right Couple Win?”. Since I don’t know which couple did win I can’t really comment, but from the accompanying photo it looks like at least one of them was wearing a pink fluffy dress, so that’s ok.

I was quite happy that both Strictly AND X Factor have finished for the season…until I discovered that a new series of Big Brother is about to start :-(

Anyway, to more important things…I came out of the office this evening and the road outside was crowded, not with the usual going-home-commuter crowd, but with families with small children. OK, I know the school hols have just started, and I can understand them going to London for shopping or shows…but there’re no shows anywhere near where I work and no shops of the kind that would interest a family on a day out. The oldest building is about thirty years old, and we’re not on the way to anywhere famous…so what’s the attraction?

My theory: They’re all blog readers I didn’t know about, on a Mungo-spotting tour. ‘Tis the only possibility.