Saturday, 27 October 2012

The Missing Week *

It is half past seven in the morning. The house is quiet and I have a few minutes sat in front of the laptop when I know with absolute certainty that a) no-one or thing should take priority over writing this Journal entry and b) I don't have to sit here if I don't want to.

It is fair to say that the past week has been hectic on the work front and I am using the prehistoric excuse that after a day at work the last thing I wanted to do was spend further time pecking at a keyboard to fill the Journal with tedium.

Let's try to get work out of the way first. The current project has ludicrously tight timescales and there is the usual problem of getting Dante's to provide the right sort of Imps and Daemons to work on it. To make matters worse, my project is not likely to come to fruition until next year and the current "focus" is on projects that will sign before the end of this year. Personally I'm not sure that this is the right way of doing things as every deal has a certain likelihood of getting a client signature and it would make more sense to staff a certainty for early 2013 that a dying duck at the end of 2012. I'm not saying that my project is a "cert" but we have an established relationship with the client, are already delivering the services and there is no other competitor involved. It is, as they say "ours to loose" or as it appears at the moment "ours to totally fuck up".

The main issues of the week were that the client requirements failed to appear but the delivery date for our response was not shifted. This was leading towards the nonsensical situation where we just get nine women involved and then we can produce the baby in a month**. Late in the week I finally called out to IM that there was no way I could commit to the delivery dates for this project taking in to account the lack of information and resources combined with a weak Sales Team and unnecessary Executive reviews. This finally got the Management focus that is needed and hopefully some expectations have been re-set.

I don't feel any more in control but at least I know that I am now able to go further up the food chain than IM if I need support or assistance over the next couple of weeks.

Away from work I have made limited but steady progress in the Dining Room. The cupboard in the alcove is now definitely cupboardy rather than "a  pile of timber on the floor" although I still have a frame section to build and I am studiously avoiding thinking about the doors at the moment. I managed to put on the skirting boards behind the radiators which meant that I could finally call Paul the Plumber and get the heating put back on in the room. He was a Star and called round the same day and only charged a "cuppa" for the job. Chippy Ian also called around on Thursday evening and we installed the cast iron fire back. There was much faffing around with vermiculite, heat proof silicone and fire cement but it went in reasonably easily and all I need to do now is screw the oak surround to the wall and apply a little more fire cement in the cavity behind the fire back.

This weekend I really have to do some work but I am hoping to at least get the skirting boards routed and the shelving finished in the alcove.

On the entertainment front there were a few events too. We saw Greg Davis last Friday which was a reasonable stand up gig and definitely got a 7.5 out of 10. On Saturday we popped over to a local pub to see the Worzels. If you are under 40 or from another country this is going to make absolutely no sense whatsoever so apologies in advance ... I think it fair to say that the novelty of a geriatric, accordion based "oompah" band performing West Country versions of well known tunes soon wore off and I could have quite gladly left by song#3. Unfortunate we had to stay until after eleven o'clock as "I got a brand new combine harvester" was the encore number .... Bastards! We also nipped over to Bromsgrove to see Mark Thomas' stand up show Bravo Figaro. The first half of the gig was based around his People's Manifesto tour and radia show but the was a complete change in tack after the interval. The second half was a performance about his father, his father's love of opera, his father's debilitating illness and an English National Opera performance in a bungalow in Bournemouth. It was very funny and very touching and well worth seeing.

So that just about covers the missing week. The next two are going to be quite similar. Oh Joy!
* or, What the Fuck have I been up to
** see previous paragraph regarding resource availability !

Friday, 19 October 2012

Remind me, why do I do this job?

The past two weeks have been quite intense. Firstly there was the Promotion Board I had to face and in addition to that there has been the mounting pressure of the latest Project. As usual it has crazy timescales and Dante's was true to form with it's inability to provide named resources to do the work until the last minute.* This lack of resourcing was causing me major concerns because I literally had three days to do a job that should normally take four weeks. I was rapidly thinking that I was heading for failure or delivering a complete piece of shit at best...

... late in the morning a metaphorical glimmer of sunlight pierced the dark clouds. I was forwarded an e-mail that indicated that we have been given an extra eleven days which means I now have a week to do the bulk of my work.

Looks like the "complete piece of shit" now stands a better chance of being delivered then.
* or, as is becoming more frequent, until two or three days after they due to start **
** and apparently I should think myself luck that I got them

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

The Jury returns

For the past few weeks I have been wittering on about the drafting of documentation and the development of a presentation. I intentionally avoided commenting on the purpose of these two items because if it all went horribly wrong I could simply move on and not have to be reminded of it. Fortunately my cynical foresight was way off the mark and my twenty eight pages of career history, references and delivery of the presentation were not the train wrecks that I thought.*

After a couple of days of "normalisation" activities the more Senior Daemons at Dante's Nine Circles of Hell have deemed that I am to be promoted. It appears that I am now worthy of the title Daemon - 3rd Class (Solutions).
* there is still work to do on Presentation Technique though

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Busy ? Yes, Productive? Good Question.

Today started with a Murder Scene. As I wandered across the lawn to let out the chickens I noticed a suspicious scattering of black and white feathers ... for the past few weeks one of the old hens has taken to jumping the fence of the run and spending her days in the garden. It was apparent that she had not returned to the coop last night and had become supper for the Fox. Having checked for signs of ingress to the runs or coops it was time to start work.

The working day is best described as "non-stop without a huge amount of progress". I am in the deeply frustrating stage of a project where there are preliminary activities that need to be completed but we are still waiting for a set of requirements against which we can develop our solution. To make this even more complicated the Client is, shall we say muddled, and is starting to request a variety of ill defined options in timescales that are not feasible. I have alerted the appropriate Management to this situation and it appears that their role is to ignore these alerts!

Most of the working day was spent herding the Account Team to provide us with information that only they can provide, but seem somewhat unwilling to deliver. I set up a call and knocked up a quick spread sheet that clearly summarised the lack of progress on their piecemeal half arsed approach. I thought the red, amber and green colour coding was a nice touch as I ran the call like a Dictator with a gun sat on the table in front of him. Funnily enough the "not taking no for an answer" approach seemed to work and we now have a clear set of activities to progress with.

I then had to take a break from work and take TP in for a Dental Check Up. I could have really done without this diversion so was not best impressed when the Dentist said "Why are you here. He is not due for a check up for another month".  I pointed out that I had responded to a letter from the Practice inviting me to make an appointment and I had assumed that he was either overdue or there was finally some contact from the Birmingham Dental Hospital about his root canal treatment. There had been no contact from Birmingham so she had a quick root around his mouth for the show of things and commanded the Nurse to  chase up Birmingham for his treatment plan.

Back at home it was another half an hour of calls before an evening wander with T&M around the Three Miler we walked back in through the door moments before 30% and we quickly summarised our working days before I was back at the laptop again. This was another brief session before I was required to drop TP over at the Rugby Club for practice. Back at home I finally got the meeting set up and then sat down for supper.

It would be nice to say that my day was now over but TP had to be collected at eight thirty and it was nine o'clock before I finally finished for the day.

Monday, 15 October 2012

The Jury is out

The day I have been preparing for over the past three weeks finally arrived. I had a ten thirty slot so it was a leisurely start to the day with ample time for ablutions and picking the perfect tie to go with both shirt and jacket. I most definitely had a case of butterflies so ended up in the Office early and spent the best part of an hour wandering around drinking coffee and annoying colleagues.

As half past ten drew close I wandered over to the venue and waited to be called in. Whilst waiting I finally thumbed through my slides and made mental notes which, like the butterflies in my stomach fluttered and I wondered if I would ever be able to recall these salient facts. I also wondered if I had enough material to fill the forty minute slot ...

... time for tactic #1; invite them to ask questions during the Presentation thereby getting the audience to both contribute to the material and to ensure the material gives them the information they require. My time arrived and I was ushered in to the room. I briefly wondered  if I was in the wrong place as there was a panel of eight people there, a good few more than I was expecting. After a round of introductions I stepped up to the speakers position, paused and internally panicked as my opening line fluttered from my brain ... FUCK! ... I grabbed my metaphorical butterfly net, caught the little bastard, pinned him down and off I set.

I rambled through my slides, answering questions along the way and was very surprised to be told that I was only five minutes from home with a slide and a half still to present. I upped my pace slightly, finished and took a fairly gentle selection of questions from the panel. IM then escorted me from the room advising that I had done a really good job ...


He added that he hoped to be able to provide feedback later on in the day so I hung around waiting for this. I have to be honest, I couldn't really focus on my project work after this morning's session so it was a day of just waiting.

At a little after three I was stuck on a conference call when IM sent an instant message advising that he would not have time to talk later and that he would catch me tomorrow. I then went in to a round of futile analysis on this turn of events; is that a good, thing? if it was good news wouldn't he just ping me? is pinging good news good or bad etiquette?

This is one of those days when I really would have rather heard nothing instead of "I'll tell you tomorrow". I now look forward to an evening of recalling and internally cringing over the worst elements of my presentation whilst managing to forget every part that was pure genius.

Such is the life of a hopeful pessimist.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Mostly Woodwork

Sunday’s agenda didn’t look much better than Saturday’s. I was up and about fairly early and did my best to start the day gently with a few cups of coffee. I knew that I was going to be busy for much of the day and the hours before nine were going to be the only down time I was going to get today.

First task of the day was to “encourage” TP from his pit and take him over to the Rugby Club for a practice session. I then took the dogs out for a walk with the aim of leaving the rest of the day free from “have to do” tasks.* I wandered back in to the house at half past eleven and finally settled to the main project of the weekend …

… Our Dining Room is now looking splendid with its plastered walls and freshly laid oak floor but there is still a lot to do and the first job is to build a cupboard in to the alcove in the corner of the room. I have sketched out a rough drawing that is based on a Victorian era design and spent much of today building the face frame for the lower portion of the cupboard. It might seem that more than half a day to knock up a face frame is a little excessive but it is constructed from 4” x 2” timber and is mortised and tenoned at each corner. It was therefore quite time consuming to cut and fit the four joints plus a rebated cross piece. It was a little before seven o’clock before I tightened up the last sash cramp and wiped the dribbles of PVA from the frame.

I am pleased with both the frame and the amount of progress as I need to get this fixed in place so that the skirting boards can be installed. I can then get the radiators connected back up and the heating back on in the room.

Monday is the big day when I will be delivering the presentation that I have been labouring over for the past couple of weeks. This weekend I have managed to avoid doing anything more than printing out my slides** and I’m not sure whether keeping myself busy on domestic activities was the right thing to do or not.

I’ll find out tomorrow I guess!
* I forgot about the pig’s cheeks in the fridge and missed their daily rub in cure mixture
** I’m a strong believer in not over preparing***
*** I am also a procrastinating bullshitter.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Where did Saturday go?

My feet hardly touched the ground today ...

... I was out of bed at a reasonable 7.30, let the chickens out, grabbed a sedate cup of coffee and then the day started. First task was a trip in to the DIY store to collect the timber for the cupboard that I am building in to the alcove in the dining room. The trip was reasonably successful and after unloading supplies I was back out in the Defender to pick up a free pig's head that had been offered yesterday by Kathy H-R.

It was the usual story; a pig had been killed and butchered and the customer had no use for the head. I gratefully received the off-cut and confirmed that I would be more than happy to take the heads of the two that were due to be slaughtered over the next couple of months too. I then trundled back to The Pile and set about separating the cheeks from the jaw bones and the ears from the skull. The former are now sat in the fridge on day one of a Guanciale cure and the latter were rubbed with oil and roasted as a treat for T&M.

After clearing the body parts and mess from the kitchen I found time for a quick coffee* before I went back in to Redditch to collect TP from his Saturday morning volunteering session at the Charity Shop. The trip home included a diversion to the Feed Merchants to pick up Layers Pellets and Sawdust and then I threw together a light lunch for TP and me.

After lunch I got TP to assist with unloading the Defender and moving a selection of tools from the garage to the dining room which has become a temporary workshop for the next few weeks. I then headed out around the Three Miler with T&M. My return from the walk coincided with 30% arriving back home from a shopping trip to Birmingham so we caught up on each other's news before I headed out AGAIN to collect Bad Man Senior's Morticer and a few other workshop sundries that will make life easier over the next few weeks.

I didn't stay long at BMS's but caught up with their news but hopefully avoided catching the cold that has infected SMS. Back home I found a few minutes to get acquainted with the Morticer before I was called in for an early supper...

... we were joined by Emma as tonight we returned to Warwick Arts Centre to see Jack Dee's stand up tour. Chippy Ian and Deb also came along and a great night was had by all. After more than twenty years in the business there is not lot more that needs to be said about Jack. He was at ease on the stage a delivered an endless stream of dry, sarcastic and extremely funny anecdotes and stories. It was clever and engaging and well worth the effort to get there after what had seemed to be a non-stop day.
* If you read this paragraph in isolation it makes me look like the most casual Serial Killer ever.

Friday, 12 October 2012

It's been a bit of a week ...

... and that pretty much sums it up; nothing major has happened but I have been head down on the new project trying to get to grips with what is being done and what needs to be done. I haven't swayed from my initial opinion that the current team are a little "light weight" and that with more experience and a few swift kicks in the arse they could be performing better than they are and making more profit. Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, it's not my job to sort them out but they have a tendency to suck me in to the day to day operations and they seem to want to drag me  in to a number of activities that  are most definitely not my job. I do what I can but my overriding conclusion about the Account Team is I'm fairly certain that they just don't get "it". Let's hope that if we are successful on this one Dante's see fit to bring in some experienced personnel to captain this ship.

After an intense day at work I tend to prefer an extended period of vegetation on the sofa so two evenings out on Thursday and Friday weren't really what I had in mind. Thursday saw us out in Birmingham to see John Bishop on his current Rollercoaster tour. He performed at the National Indoor Arena which is a huge venue and it takes a particular talent to connect with an audience and personally I don't think Bishop quite made it. He has a likeable persona but the act was more of an audience with rather than a stand up gig and his material was probably best described as amusing rather than laugh out loud funny. The script was mostly a series of anecdotes based around family and friends and relied on funny situations rather than sharp writing or clever construction. Overall I'd say 6/10 and would recommend borrowing the DVD from a friend as, in a venue that size, you end up watching the screens rather than the performer anyway.

This evening saw us over at Warwick Arts Centre to see Jason Byrne's People's Puppeteer tour. After last night's average performance I wasn't really sure what to expect having only seen a couple of clips of Byrne on TV. What I saw was a great routine, perhaps helped by the mid, front row seats. As with Bishop it was an anecdote based set but Byrne's surreal lunacy and manic pace made it incredibly funny. He took great delight in the fact that he had a fifteen year old in the front row and made several references and apologies to TP during his set. TP actually ended up on stage a couple of times; one of which was to participate in a Space Hopper bouncing routine. All in all I much preferred this to Bishop's gig which seemed lazy in comparison and Byrne gets a commendable 8/10.

Tomorrow sees us at Warwick again to see Jack Dee. I really could do with a night in as I need to prepare for Monday's presentation.

Monday, 8 October 2012

15 Hour Day

"Ah" I hear you say "a fifteen hour day, that's easy, mine are all twenty four hours long"...

... yes, and so are mine but this one had the added excitement of leaving the house at twenty past five in the morning and not walking back in until twenty past eight in the evening. Add in an endless series of meetings and the mid afternoon realisation that my total food and drink intake before wolfing down supper had been limited to a slice of wholemeal toast, two apples, three cups of coffee and a glass of water.

The aim of the day was to get under the skin of the latest Client and try to understand what they required from us and the timescales for the delivery. I have to be honest and say that it was all rather muddled with a distinct lack of detail and I have already raised a number of warning flags highlighting where we are likely to run aground.

This is an existing client that wants us to make a number of changes to Global and local service. They are making it very clear that that the existing service needs to improve if they are to continue to use Dante's as a Supplier. The arrangement between us and them is most peculiar and a lack of clarity combined with weak management and unrealistic expectations may well be the route cause but it is only in recent times that this Account has gone bad, having been a star performer a year or so ago. I am wondering whether we have ignored this client and used the Account as a training ground for new personnel as the existing team seem either inexperienced or perhaps even a little dull  .. in the way that scalpels are not.

Ah well, I have my work cut out as the timescales are ridiculously short and the there are a number of deliverables that need to be, well err, delivered.

It looks like I will be hammering out the e-mails tomorrow.

As I mentioned early in this entry it was gone eight by the time I arrived back home and was delighted to have 30% proffer wine and dinner within minutes of me climbing out of my suit. It probably comes as no surprise that I then simply vegetated until bed summoned at not long after ten.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Catching Up

Friday: A floor gets laid

After much procrastination I finally chained myself to the Laptop and completed the first draft of my Presentation. The driving force behind this sudden flurry of activity was an instant message from IM offering to review my work so I thought it a good idea to have something to review. That session went reasonably well and, although I have some work to do, I am heading in the right direction.

On the home front; Chippy Ian arrived bright and early and made a start on laying the floor boards. By the end of the day just over half the room had been finished and it is going to look fantastic on completion. Ian thinks it will be done by Monday and I will then take over and fix the skirting boards and convert the corner alcove in to a cupboard. I just hope that my carpentry skills are up to it. Ian also gave me a mission to complete over the weekend as he needs about one hundred and fifty oak plugs cutting to conceal the screws that hold the oak boards to the joists. He will also need to come back at some point to finish the installation of the fireback but his work schedule and the need to acquire vermiculite and fireproof mortar means that this will be at some yet to be defined point in the future.


Today started with the now regular trip in to Redditch to drop TP off for his voluntary duties at the Charity Shop. 30% accompanied me and we killed several birds with the same stone by combining this trip with a visit to the Super Market and other retail establishments. Key visits were the Butchers where we collected the leg of pork for the next air dried ham and the Gallery next door where, after two weeks of waiting, the half wit manager presented us with three mounts that were the wrong size. After the two week wait we were somewhat riled when he advised that he could re-cut the mounts and have then ready by lunch time…

… needless to say we took a refund and I found myself cutting the mounts later in the afternoon.

The day continued at a leisurely pace and we were joined for supper by 30%’s brother’s Girlfriend who, from this point forward will simply be referred to as Emma because the relationship based descriptive is far too complicated for my liking. She had been made redundant this week and Stevie is in Madrid at the moment so she joined us for “tea and sympathy”. She has taken this really positively and is already polishing up her CV and linking up with contacts to find a new position.

Sunday: Air Dried Ham - day one

It was another early start with a walk around the Three Miler with T&M whist 30% dropped TP off at the Rugby Club for pre-match practice. We then drove back to the club later to watch the match …

… it is probably best if I leave it there as they had an appalling match, played indifferently at best and got their sorry arses kicked by a very strong opposition.

After lunch I dragged the leg of pork from the fridge and started the air drying process. It is now sitting in a large plastic box, packed with 25 kg of salt and underneath a weighted board. It needs to be salted and pressed for 3 to 4 days per kilogramme of pork and at 14.5 lbs it will be the end of the month before it is ready to be washed, wrapped and hung up in the garage to dry.

I spent most of the remaining afternoon out in the garage where I was supposed to be cutting oak plugs for Ian…

… I actually found a few off cuts of oak floor boards and knocked up a picture frame instead.

It was an early night too as I need to haul my sorry arse out of bed at five o’clock tomorrow morning to catch an early train up to London. It looks like my quiet spell is coming to an end.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Things are starting to happen

Chippy Ian arrived at the crack of sparrows this morning and after half an hour of catching up with each others' news he made a start on the Dining Room. I did my best not to disturb him but seemed to supply an endless stream of tea so I could avoid doing what I was supposed to be doing and check on progress instead.* By the end of the day the floating joists had been tied together by inserting a small forest of noggins and the slate hearthstone was settled on a solid bed of mortar.

On the work front I have been tasked with progressing a new project which is associated with an existing Client's Account. I spent a few hours digging around  to get an idea of what I was supposed to be doing. It was the usual mess of unclear requirements, a Sales Team that want it done as quickly and as cheaply as possible and Account and Delivery  Executives that have only recently joined the team. It came as no great surprise that there had been relationship and client satisfaction issues and a combination of new management combined with a history of crappy service performance doesn't bode well for getting to the route cause or any fundamental facts for that matter. Scariest encounter of the day was with a colleague who performs an almost identical role to mine within the confines of the Account. He advised that he was a Contractor, had been in the role for three months, had no idea of his roles and responsibilities and had no training in the tools he was required to use. This is the equivalent of trying to buy a steak from a Vegan Butcher who has never held a knife before ... it is no wonder that Dante's is having problems if this is the calibre of personnel they are willing to employ at considerable expense...

... I gave up for the day and put my glad rags on as we then went over to the Artrix in Bromsgrove to see Mark Watson's stand up show, The Information Tour. It was a great night and he delivered a rapid, verging on manic, stream of anecdotes, jokes and stories with a nervy but engaging style. I have to say that he deserves a Geography House Point for knowing the capital city of Burkina Faso.** In summary it wasn't the best stand up performance I have seen this year but it was an engaging routine and I'd definitely watch out for his next show. 7.5/10.
* I was required at intervals to assist with shifting the fire surround, the positioning of the hearthstone and sundry fetching, carrying and lifting activities.
** Ougadougou

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

For the past two days ...

... I have been mostly avoiding developing a PowerPoint presentation.

I have however made it to the tip as Chippy Ian is here tomorrow to make a start on laying the Dining Room floor and I needed to dispose of the old chipboard flooring panels.

Monday, 1 October 2012


Monday was one of those rare days when I had nothing pressing to do. My recent documentation activities are just about complete and all I needed to do was to chase a couple of colleagues for their missing contributions.

I therefore took time out and finished off my mirror project by waxing the frame and inserting the mirror glass. It now hangs in the spare bedroom and goes rather well with the chest of drawers I refurbished a month or so back.

The day ambled on and I filled an hour with a walk and eventually it was time to collect the Defender from the workshop...

... Mark was his usual self and enthused about the general condition of the car, the fact that the Land Rover market was still quite buoyant and that following the refurbishment it was probably worth £500 to £1000 more than I paid for it four years ago. Unfortunately this did little to soften the bill for the service, MOT, brake callipers and CV joint.

 I now need to seriously disturb the wallet moths.