Archive for May, 2007

Going Underground

Thursday, May 31st, 2007

So, here’s a little puzzle.

You’re on a train from Oop North which gets into St Pancreatitis at four minutes past five: You’re scheduled to be on the five past six from Waterloo, but there’s a five thirty five from Waterloo which would get you home – and onwards to Sarah’s for curry and salad (yes, real salad) – half an hour sooner. You have your weekend case and a heavy briefcase: are you going to make it?

The attempt is made more difficult because there are a load of hairy blokes with hard hats and beer bellies, knocking St Pancreatitis station about with sledgehammers, so there’s no easy route from the trains to the underground: once you get underground there’s a choice of two routes, each of which involves a change: the shorter, more direct route is mainly on the Northern line (known by regular users as the “Misery Line”), the other is less likely to break down but involves a longer journey.

In short, yes it is possible, as long as you know where you’re going, and you’re not shy about elbowing slow-moving pedestrians out of the way. By the time you get to Waterloo the train will have no seats left, and you’ll be so hot and sweaty you’ll end up washing and getting changed in the loo on the train (lucky you had that weekend bag eh?), but it’s possible.

And yes, the curry was yummy as usual, thanks for asking.

Star Turn

Tuesday, May 29th, 2007

Oh yeah – I promised horoscope results didn’t I.

The only one that anyone got right was number 4, “You may not be being assertive enough”, which was indeed Jenny. Number 1, “There is an audience hanging on your every word”, was the world’s previously most entertaining blogger, and now among the least frequent, our good chum Mongers. Number two, “A gift connected to where you live could be on its way”, was a bit of a curve ball as many of you don’t know him, but had you followed the directions and read the blogs I link to, you’d have discovered that Rockin’ Rob has recently moved, and is therefore presumably receiving loads of housewarming prezzies. And number three, “You may have been wondering how to make certain changes at work” was me!

As I said, it was only for fun anyway.

Further to my First Class experiment, this morning’s trip to a work meeting gave me a chance to experience Midland Mainline standard class: it’s much nicer than anyone else’s standard class that I’ve yet experienced, so I don’t think I’ll be bothering with the first class upgrade on their trains in future.

And finally for today – remember I said yesterday that Chris and I would probably try for a cache after footie yesterday? In the end we did two, Mystic Mavis and Bluebell Surprise. So that was OK :-)

First Things First

Monday, May 28th, 2007

So – adventures in travelling first class eh? The first train – South West Trains from Southampton to Waterloo – was a bit spanking: wider than usual seats, more legroom, wider aisles, and a mains socket for the laptop! And as I mentioned yesterday, upgrading to firsty from my season ticket was only a fiver! I’ll definitely do that again, next time I travel off-peak (note to self: check how late in the evening this is available!). Oh, and the train was seventeen minutes latre leaving Southampton, because of engineering works in the New Forest, but arrived in London on time – wish they could do THAT on weekdays!

The cross-London portion was by Northern Line underground. I’ll walk next time.

First on Midland Mainline, from St Pancras to Derby, was crowded, but still more comfy than cargo class would’ve been. No mains for the lappy though, which meant I went flat just north of Leicester, but it was worse for the bloke sitting opposite – he wanted to watch a DVD but had no power at all.

Journey completed, the rest of the day was spent having a fabby meal with Jenny, Chris, Bill, Jan and Andy – and yes, that IS my main course in the picture. Well, it’s Andy’s but mine was identical except I had the chips rather than the jacket. Oh, and the sizzling chicken and bacon doesn’t show in the picture. Then Jenny and I went to see her Mum in hospital, and in the evening we went to the fantastic Three Nuns music quiz with Stu and Helen.

And then this morning Chris and I went caching – we did Not THAT Trent Bridge. We might do another one later on, after the footie.

First Class

Sunday, May 27th, 2007

I promised the other day that I’d tell you a bit more about the amazing scams you can work once you’ve got a season ticket for the choo-choos.

Unless something’s gone nipples north, as they say, by the time you see this I should be in Nottingham, visiting Jenny and Chris, attending pub quizzes and playing with kittens. Since I have to be in the area for work on Tuesday – and work’ve bought me a train ticket home – I’ve come up by train rather than bring Grunty and then be unable to get her home.

A normal direct service from Southampton to Derby (which is the nearest mainline station to where Jenny and Chris live) costs fifty-ish quid, although for that price if you pick your train time carefully you can go straight through without changing trains. I was just about to get my ticket when I realised that if I was prepared to travel via London, I could use my season ticket for part of the journey and save some dosh. In fact – by buying my ticket from the Trainline more than a week in advance – I got a first class ticket for £21, only three pounds more than standard class would have cost. Sounded like a worthwhile investment to enjoy a touch of luxury, especially since, according to my contact who knows about these things, it includes free tea and coffee.

Better still, travelling on a season ticket in the off-peak period, I could upgrade to first class for the Southampton – London portion of the journey for just a fiver as well :-) .

I’m writing this well in advance, so a report on what I thought of posh people’s travel will follow soon: In due course I’ll let you know how I make use of my other season ticket perks: Cut price tickets for people travelling with me, a small allocation of free tickets for me to non-season ticket destinations, and “kids travel for a quid”. I bet you can’t wait.

Star Quality

Saturday, May 26th, 2007

…but first, a public service announcement. Some of you may have had an e-mail from “gonetoosoon.co.uk”: Unfortunately anyone using anti-spam software won’t have had it. It actually came from Sarah and contained a link to the memorial page she’s set up for Bob – and in any case, the link it gave me didn’t work. So you can go to that page using the “Bob’s Page” link over there on the right.

One of the things that happens in London when you’re on your way home, is that people give you free newspapers. The two on offer are the “London Lite” or the imaginatively-titled “The London Paper”: What they have in common is…well, everything, basically, they’re so alike that you can’t see why they both bother. The good thing about them is that they each have a crossword and three sudokus which generally last exactly the same time as the journey home.

They also have horoscopes: I don’t normally bother with horoscopes, but I sometimes glance through what they have to say about my friends, just for a laugh. So I thought for a bit of fun we’d have a little competition. Read the last few days worth of all those blogs what are linked over on the right hand side, and see if you can guess which of my blog chums each of these relates to – needless to say these are just extracts:

  1. An audience of some kind is taking a keen interest in you right now and wants to hear what you have to say
  2. A gift of some kind connected to where you live, or those with whom you share your abode, is on offer
  3. If you’ve been wondering how to instigate changes at work, then what transpires now should confirm you don’t need to do as much as you thought
  4. And the best one…

  5. If someone isn’t getting the message, maybe you should shout a bit louder. Maybe you’re not being as assertive as you should be

Just remember these are just for fun – I don’t believe horoscopes for one second. But they do seem to fit the people they’re supposed to this time :-) . Guesses in the comments please!

In Training

Friday, May 25th, 2007

So – I’ve now been a train-ridin’ commuter person for four whole weeks (minus one bank holiday), so I thought it’d be worth taking a look at all those things that “everyone knows” about train travel:

Trains are always packed – you have to stand up all the way
Yes and no: on my morning train, it seems to occasionally happen that people who get on at Winchester (the last stop before Waterloo) can’t get a seat: but for me, getting on at Southampton, I’ve never had a problem. In the evening I always have a choice of seats, although again those who board at the last minute might not fair so well.

Trains always run late
In four weeks, I’ve had three “late running” issues – on day one there was some problem in the morning, but it didn’t make me late so doesn’t really count. Similarly Wednesday’s “had to wait for the Police to come and arrest a passenger” problem didn’t make me late, and wasn’t caused by anything the train company could’ve done anything about anyway. Which leaves one evening when I WAS late because of a train problem, but which I made worse by trying to be clever and devise a way round the problem. The trains run a minute or so either side of the schedule time most days, but that doesn’t fit most people’s definition of “late”: Overall I have to say that “being made late by train problems” happens no more often than “being made late by road problems” would over a similar journey.

Train travel is expen$ive
Well – I suppose for a one-off journey it is: if I bought a Standard day return every morning it would be £51-40 a day. But my annual season ticket – making reasonable assumptions about how many days in the year I’ll use it, bearing in mind holidays and stuff – costs £19-82 a day: if you assume that the only cost of driving the equivalent journey would be fuel, I’d have to get 36mpg to break even – something the Gruntmobile’s never done in its life, and certainly wouldn’t achieve in central London. And that’s without considering the congestion charge (£8 a day) or London parking.

It also doesn’t consider the other advantages of a season ticket – but I’ll save those for another day.

Salad!

Thursday, May 24th, 2007

I’ve had an e-mail from my old mate Peter. Among other things, he said “I’ve been reading your blog, and I’m very impressed with all these salad meals you’ve been having”.

It isn’t real salad, Peter. I s’pose I ought to explain really. Not long after I started to be a regular visitor to Sarah’s, we started having a takeaway on Wednesdays. We took it in turns to pay, and developed the “Whoever pays, chooses which takeaway we go to” rule: normally – but not always – this means Indian when Sarah’s buying, and Chinese when I am. Interruptions to normal food service came whenever I admitted – in a blog, for example – to having already had one takeaway in a week, and Sarah wouldn’t let me have another :-( All for my own good, needless to say.

I was visiting Jenny en route to yet another fabby Hospital Radio conference, and at Jenny’s insistence we had KFC. Seeing the following Wednesday’s takeaway vanishing, I told Jenny “If you speak to Sarah, this was a salad, OK?”.

It became the theme of the weekend, and we had “salad” in Burger King, the conference hotel, and back at Jenny’s once conference was over. Needless to say Sarah wasn’t fooled for a second – she knows both me and Jenny too well for that – but at least we tried.

The only trouble now is, when I really do have a salad, no one believes me.

Train Humour

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2007

I’ve commented before about the sense of humour shown in Virgin Trains’ on-board announcements: This morning I heard the South West Trains version.

It started when, just after leaving Southampton Airport station, we came to a juddering halt.
“Ladies and gentlemen we do apologise for the delay, this is due to the Police being called to an incident on the train”

Ooh!

After an impossibly short delay we started again, and carried on to the next scheduled stop in Winchester.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we’ll be on our way soon, we have to wait for the Police from the airport to catch up with us”

There followed a couple of increasingly stressed-sounding announcements explaining that the Police had been called to remove an abusive and aggressive passenger from the train – it kinda reminded me of the old joke that means that whenever I see one of those road signs saying “POLICE SLOW”, I can’t help shouting “We know they are!!”. But that’s another story. The eventual departure of the boys in blue from the train was marked by an unusual amount of beeping from the ends of the carriages, followed by:
“Ladies and gentlemen the Police have now left us, so just to further spoil your day we’re now having door problems. It’s not my day”

I’d like, for comic effect, to say there were banging, crashing and hitting-things-with-hammers sound effects, but there weren’t: all that happened was some more beeping from the doors followed by the train lurching forward, and
“Ladies and gentlemen we’re now on our way, I’m sorry to tell you we’re running seventeen minutes late and our revised arrival time at Waterloo is…(long pause for mental arithmetic)…Eight thirty.
God willing”

We later found out – when the guard came through to check our tickets – that a passenger in the next coach had attacked someone who had the temerity to want to sit next to him. Sounds reasonable to me.

Licensed to Mis-Spell

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2007

One of the spelling rules that always confuses me is the whole license/licence thing. Because I needed to get it right for something I was doing this afternoon, I know that it’s “LicenCe=noun” and “LicenSe=verb” – so if I license you, you’ve got a licence. Whether I’ll remember that the next time I need to know is anyone’s guess. I never get “practice/practise” right either, I guess they work the same.

The funny thing was, when I went on-line looking for guidance, many websites – including those of some respected academic institutions – don’t do it consistently, with a couple using “licence” and “license” as a noun in the same paragraph.

In the end I got my Big Boy’s Book of Health and Safety Law and checked the spelling in the Asbestos (Licensing) Regulations 1983. If I do the same as they say, I’m in with a pretty good chance.

Getting Shirty

Monday, May 21st, 2007

When you find yourself yawning at work, and it’s only Monday lunchtime, it’s probably a sign that you overdid it at the weekend.

Although I can’t see that I did, really. Saturday mainly involved a visit to my tailor (“Man at Matalan”) in a hunt for shirts: Sunday featured church, followed by the rather fabby County Raynet Barbecue, funded by the local council Emergency Planning Team as a thank-you for all that Raynet do.

And on the subject of shirts – where have all the large sizes gone? Last week when I was looking, I could only find three short sleeved shirts with 18″ collars, and they were all in…ummm…”interesting” colours. I’ve got enough problems meeting women without wearing pink or lime green shirts. This week, between Matalan, Asda and John Lewis, I found a grand total of one shirt that met my three basic requirements of short sleeves, man-sized collar, and a colour that wouldn’t have everyone around me wearing sunglasses.

Or maybe I’m too particular?

You Learn Something New Every Day

Sunday, May 20th, 2007

Apparently Thursday this week is “National Learning at Work” day.

I know that because on Friday we all had an e-mail from the Learning and Development Team about it. Now after my last job it’s enough of a culture shock to work somewhere that believes in Learning and Development, but there was more to come.

A huge poster appeared on the wall, advertising Learning at Work day and inviting people to sign up for what they fancied doing. There were even three marker pens provided. After it had been there a while, I commented to Brad, who sits next to me, “At my last job, that would’ve been covered in obscene graffiti by now, and someone would’ve stolen the marker pens”.

At first he thought I was joking – bless him, I don’t think he’s ever worked in industry – and when I finally convinced him he thought it was so funny he went round telling everyone.

I didn’t have the heart to tell him it wouldn’t have mattered much – another ten minutes and the poster would’ve been on the floor: someone would’ve nicked the Blu-Tac.

Thanks…

Saturday, May 19th, 2007

..to those of you who commented on yesterday’s offering – particularly Nick, Nobby, MMM and AOJ, who’d read the original and said nice things about it.

It WAS a fine post, though I say it myself, and I’d said something I really wanted to say – in particular, something I wanted to say to a particular handful of people. The trouble is, there are a couple of readers of my blog who, from their comments, think they know a lot more about my life than they actually do. And of course they’re the ones I know about – there’s no telling who’s reading that doesn’t comment. I’ve never been totally comfortable with password-protecting blogs: it isn’t that secure, and there’s always someone you’ve missed telling the password, that you wouldn’t have minded seeing it.

So I decided to just not leave that post up there.

Self-Revealing

Friday, May 18th, 2007

I wrote a post called “embarrassingly self-revealing” – which it was.

Then I deleted it. Sorry chums – maybe one day.

Party!

Thursday, May 17th, 2007

Being a train-riding commuter of long experience – nearly three weeks now – I’m realising that the old philosophy of “You DO see some things, don’t you?” holds just as true on the 07:00 to Waterloo as it does anywhere else. There’s a group who always ride in the same carriage as me, who obviously know each other pretty well. They elbow their way through the queue to make sure they always get to sit in the middle of the carriage, where there are two proper tables each with four seats, rather than the “airline style” the rest of us get. They then buy each other coffee and do the crosswords together.

It was the birthday of one of them last Sunday: I know that because on Monday, the others all asked him if he had a nice birthday, and what did he get up to. Better still, no sooner was the train underway, than they all produced various bottles of sparkling wine and proceeded to have a birthday party!

At 7 o’clock in the morning…

(I’m writing this on the train a couple of days later: they’ve just started passing round the mixed nuts and fun-sized Mars bars)

OK, I know I once caught myself drinking whisky at half past eight on a Sunday morning, but in my own defence it was day three of a huge event we were working on, and my body clock was totally screwed. And I wasn’t on my way to paid employment.

It’s Grim up North

Wednesday, May 16th, 2007

If you have it, stick on a recording of “Duelling Banjos” from the movie “Deliverance”: it’ll be the ideal soundtrack for this little tale.

I had to spend last night in a northern town – let’s call it Bogthorpe – for work reasons. Not yet being schooled in the public sector way of doing things, I’d selected the cheapest hotel I could find on the internet.

:-(

Bogthorpe itself isn’t the nicest place I’ve ever been to: I went for a walk to see the sights and had just started to think the place was a bit Royston Vesey-ish, when I spotted the sign in the JobCentre window – honest to God, it said “Local Jobs for Local People”!

Still, the town itself was pretty welcoming – as I arrived the bells of the church next to the hotel were ringing, obviously bellringers’ practice night. It started to wear a bit thin when they were still practicing nearly three hours later, mind you, especially as two of the windows in my room wouldn’t shut.

If you are listening to “Duelling Banjos”, now would be a good moment to turn the volume up a bit – and not only to drown out those flippin’ church bells. Having exhausted the local entertainment with the sign in the JobCentre window, I decided to eat in the hotel. Arriving in the restaurant, it was deserted apart from a party of 14; from their conversation they were obviously in the hotel on a course. The waiter seemed surprised that anyone should be wanting to eat in his restaurant at half past seven, and had to print a copy of the menu before I could order.

The paté, toast and cranberry sauce wasn’t bad, and even came with a salad! The surf ‘n turf – where I’d ordered my steak “medium” – wasn’t so good: a bowl of chips (pale), ten pieces of scampi, and a rump steak with three pieces of lemon grass as vegetables. And if the steak was medium, then “medium rare” must be local jargon for “not dead yet”.

Breakfast came with black pudding, which is usually a good sign. It was so dry, I didn’t finish it.

Still, the bed was comfortable, and there was free wireless internet in the room which only crashed once, so I spent most of the evening – when I should have been preparing for the meeting the next day – on MSN, firstly with Morty, and then with Sarah. So it wasn’t all bad ;-)

Mug

Tuesday, May 15th, 2007

You’ll remember that I told you how, in week one of new job, I won a “Teecher’s Pet” mug of my very own. At the time it seemed destined to live its life as a pen holder – I’d already taken my own sepcial mug – one of only 800 in the world of that design – in to work for coffee-drinking purposes.

Until it got nicked.

It was my own fault really – because I only drink black coffee my mug never really gets that manky, so I’d gone home, leaving it on my desk and intending to wash it in the morning. But by the morning it had been snaffled by the cleaners, washed, and hidden away somewhere.

So it was a nice surprise this morning, when attending a meeting down on the fifth floor, to be offered a cup of coffee in my own mug. Yes, we’re reunited!

Dontcha just LOVE a happy ending?

Bark

Monday, May 14th, 2007

Following last night’s entry, one of my readers left a comment suggesting he knew what it was that hadn’t worked out: as I said, only two people know – and a comment he left on someone else’s blog leaves me thinking he wasn’t so much barking up the wrong tree, as in totally the wrong forest. So to save my correspondent from feeling a twit if he ever does find out, I deleted the comment.

Other than that – I’m not sure what was going on at Waterloo this morning: I got off the train and the station had a fairly heavy Police presence. There were Met. Police “Special Response Teams”, and better still, dog handlers with sniffer dogs: one of them started checking the train I’d just left (the first class carriage, not Cargo Class where I’d been) and the doggie started barking his head off.

I always knew SouthWest Trains coffee was high-explosive…

All Write

Sunday, May 13th, 2007

Something happened today that didn’t go as I’d hoped – but I won’t dwell on that. The two of my readers who need to know about it already do: One because they were there, and the other because I was on the phone to them five minutes later!

Captain Henrington X Thirst Esquire asked me the other day “What are you doing with your commuting time? Are you writing a book?”. I WOULD like to write a book, and it sounds like something I could usefully do on the train – but what would I write about? I don’t have much talent for fiction (although ex-boss Sean, who used to sign my expenses claims, might disagree), and while I can occasionally do comedy, I can’t turn it on to order.

I’ve been asked to turn out a couple of magazine articles about health and safety for small community voluntary organisations, so maybe I should start with those: Once I get my teeth into it, there could be a book worth doing in that. And if not, at least I’ll have written the magazine thingies.

I’ll have plenty of time to try it – I’ve got a couple of meetings up Nawf this week, so I’ll have a bonus four hours train riding on top of my normal commuting.

Take a Seat

Saturday, May 12th, 2007

Seats…and dump it outside my back gate, apparently…

I’ve no idea how long they’ve been there – today was the first time I’ve been round that way for a week, but I’m a bit suspicious that some neighbours moved out in the week. This cutway has always been a dumping ground for people’s junk – there’re two tennis rackets and a desk calendar in those bushes on the right – but this is getting silly.

I wouldn’t mind, but they’re not even any good…

(UPDATE: Someone’s nicked the tennis rackets)

Finger Trouble

Friday, May 11th, 2007

Yes, OK – I knew all along that it was the 27th that the Grinning Idiot was planning to crawl back under his stone – I just pressed the wrong button :-( : What we Hospital Radio people call “finger trouble” – or as I just know Rockin’ Rob is going to say, “Paul can’t cope with the technology!”.

Technology trouble struck me again today: because I work in a secure location we have to use pass cards to get out of the office, as well as to get in. In fact, every time I go to the tea room (or the loo), I have to swipe out of the office into reception, then into the other office where those facilities live. Then back into reception, and back into the office. And actually leaving the building is even worse.

So what you really don’t want to discover at 5 o’clock on Friday afternoon is that your pass card seems to have stopped working. Lucky it was only a temporary glitch.

Importance

Thursday, May 10th, 2007

So first and most importantly, happy birthday to SimonG! I sent him a “happy birthday” text this morning, to which he replied “You managed to get the right date this year!” – a reference to an unfortunate event two years ago when I sent the same text a week early.

Better than forgetting altogether anyway :-)

The second most important news of the day has been Bliar’s resignation announcement – neatly timed to bury any news about interest rate rises. We have a TV in reception permanently tuned to Sky News, and every time I walked past, there was the grinning idiot’s ugly mug in yet another photo opportunity. I guess we have that to look forward to until his actual departure date of June 17th.

Ah well – we’ve put up with him for ten years, I suppose another month won’t kill us.