Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Chilled

Just getting into the swing of travelling back up to London, having spent Thursday and Friday away from the client's. They had suggested that I work remotely from my own office, to which I reluctantly agreed, but as it happened they couldn't get their act together in order to make things happen in time.

So, Thursday I headed over to my local garden machinery shop, the guys who service the mower, and indulged in a new hedge trimmer. At double the price of the old one (which in fairness was total crap), it was either that or carry on using the shears! Needless to say, the result of this was around half an hour cutting and two hours tidying!

Friday, and I cycled Alice to school for the first time. She wasn't bad, around 25 minutes from home to school, although the journey back was somewhat longer since she was obviously quite tired. In between dropping off and picking up, Jacqueline and I headed over to Bournemouth where we enjoyed a delicious three course lunch at Oscar's, the restaurant at the Royal Bath. Mmmmmm.....my liver just melted in my mouth, and the smoked salmon starter wasn't bad either.

Saturday was very lazy, save for taking Alice to her tutor's. I even found time for an afternoon nap! Still, we made up for it on Sunday, when we went on Jacqueline's suggestion to a National Trust place just beyond Bath - Dyrham Park. Its a stately home plus deer park, and I managed many excellent photos of the resident fallow deer. We had a long walk in the grounds, up and down hills, and the fact that it was blowing a gale totally guaranteed Alice's misery.

Back up to London yesterday, only to find out that the clients had had some minor crisis while I was away, making me glad I hadn't been around - even though I was only up there three days last week I still ended up staying until 8 o'clock twice. The day was compounded when the member of staff I work quite closely with told me that he'd just quit, and my astonishment was complete when one of the client's managers - the person who decides whether or not they want to buy my company's services - asked me if I was interested in working there permanently. For sure I was mightily surprised that the question was asked - the first time in almost six years of providing consultancy services - but fortunately I had thought the scenario through previously and was able to regain my composure and say, "I'm very flattered, but...", and gave her a nice, solid, inoffensive reason why I wasn't interested. In fairness, I am sure she would have expected a negative response, I guess she was just going through the motions. Recruitment is an expensive business after all.

Of course the upshot of all this is that one does re-analyse the type of job offer that would be required in order to convince me to shut up shop and go back to working for someone else. But the bottom line doesn't change - for consultancy work, to a great extent the quality of the work is irrelevant, since the name of the game is to turn in a healthy profit; a potential job, however, would need to appear very interesting even to consider it.

So, an interesting day yesterday, especially in the context of the credit crunch and the anticipated job losses. The clients are obviously sufficiently impressed with the quality of the service that I won't be first out of the door at least!

Saturday, 14 June 2008

Birds and Bees

One thing about when we went to tea the other day, at the Bramble Hill they have a pigeon loft, with several pigeons strutting their stuff on the lawn as we were having tea. Obviously it must be the time of year for pigeons, with several male birds looking very impressive as they pushed out their chests in a id to impress the girlies. It was not much surprise, then, when Alice said to us, "Look, that pigeon's giving a piggy back!". Elementary Sex Education, Lesson One!!

On to more serious things, I was hugely disappointed last week when the UK parliament voted to allow people to be incarcerated for up to six weeks, without any charges being made against them. This flew in the face of advice by many people, including ex-PM John Major, who had to contend on a daily basis with the threat from the IRA. For me, this a further step down the road of intolerance and is truly appalling to see from a government with a Labour badge. Once again.

I have now determined that despite my severe doubts surrounding the Conservative economic philosophy, I must vote for them next time around. New Labour simply must be stopped - their attacks on civil liberties are just unacceptable.

On a related subject, I have started watching a new news channel, France24, which had a really good article on people - US military people - who had deserted and had headed up to Canada. One guy had done a tour of Iraq and had really become turned off when it became obvius to him that he was there against the wishes of "normal" Iraquis. Another guy had seventeed years service as a nuclear engineer, and basically gave it up to become a janitor. Yet another - albeit pretty naive - chap was saying how he'd joined to do some humanitarian work (as I said, very naive!), and that this was how the it had been sold to him by the recruiters, and he finds himself drafted into Intelligence and sent to Iraq. Anyway, the Canadian Parliament has just passed a motion - eminently sensible to me - that anybody deserting from a war which was not sanctioned by the United Nations should automatically be granted asylum in Canada. Although this motion was non-binding, it is interesting because hitherto Canada's stance has been that because these people volunteered to join the US Military, rather than being draftees, they would not be granted asylum. But the pressure is there and they'll surely have to change.

We, on the other hand, have no such enlightened parliament.

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Bonus

Just been blessed with an unexpected long weekend. Yesterday the car wouldn't start, and the man in orange soon confirmed that the battery was as dead as a dodo. So, a trip to my garage in Bournemouth was required. However this meant that the day was written off and I had some time on my hands. Jacqueline was home too, so it was nice just to have the two of us in the house for a while. Got on with the profoundly interesting task of cleaning the bathroom (I cleaned Alice's bedroom over the weekend too).

Everything has just got so messy, something had to be done, although I could still only do part of the job since our hoover is currently in need of some TLC and is performing very poorly. However one of the good things about Dyson is that new parts can just be ordered as old parts wear out - I have to say I get very upset with the culture nowadays which says that it is not possible to repair, only to replace. This way, what is fundamentally an excellent product (the hoover) is kept going for another couple of years with minimum unnecessary waste or outlay. So, by the end of the week, the thing will be "as new" once again. Anyway...

Of course the cleaning didn't take all day, and was interspersed with liberal doses of the wonderful Wii! (I am now rated "pro" on the tennis game, and, seriously, this thing is amazing for getting fit. I tried out the boxing too and after three bouts I was literally dripping sweat. Talk about aerobic!)

It really was lovely just, for once, having this unexpected time on my hands. I left for the garage after lunch, and by the time I returned home Alice was back from school, and we headed out as a family for some tea. We went to one of our old haunts, the Bramble Hill Hotel over at Bramshaw, for some delicious scones, straight out of the oven, and homemade jam. Yummy! The Bramble Hill is a funny old place, we used to go there a lot but haven't been for four or five years, neither Jacqueline nor I can remember why we stopped going. Certainly on the basis of yesterday, there's no obvious reason. The place itself is not in the best of repair, but is a country house straight out of Jeeves and Wooster. Has a great aura about it, with a wonderful lawn on which to enjoy tea. A lovely, relaxing way to while away some time. Ahhhh....

Back to earth with a bump this morning, the car fired up first time and I am now on the train bound for what promises to be a busy day up in London.

Before I go, I must just mention Wilton House. In all the time we've lived in the area we'd only ever driven past the place. However on Sunday we went to a fundraiser for the local hospital, held in the grounds of the house. Looks lovely there, we'll have to make a point of stopping by one day.

Monday, 2 June 2008

What a Difference...

...an hour makes.

As I wrote yesterday's entry we were right in the middle of a wonderfully relaxing weekend. Having braved the three-hour journey out of London on Friday evening, Jacqueline and I met up at Axminster station, ready for a soothing weekend in an English country house hotel in Lyme Regis, in Dorset. In a prime location overlooking the Cobb, the Alexandra Hotel was an ideal place in which to chill out.

Indeed, Saturday was exactly that. A beautiful summer morning, I was up and out at 7:30am, armed with camera, and had an extremely pleasant walk before anyone else was about. Returned to the hotel for a fine cooked breakfast, by which time Jacqueline and Alice had surfaced, and then out for a leisurely stroll through the town. We topped off the morning by sitting on the beach (which was by now quite packed) for an hour or so.

Back to the hotel for an overpriced lunch, and we enjoyed the garden until I felt the need to return to our room for an obligatory nap. When I awoke, the bad news was that the weather had closed in somewhat, though the good news was that Jacqueline had ordered an Afternoon Tea for us to share. All very relaxing, and we completed the day by heading back down to the beach, where we let Alice play until around 7:30.

The weather improved, and of course during this time the beach became more and more quiet, another bonus, Alice amusing herself catching crabs from the rocks.

Out for dinner - there was still a surprising number of people around - but we eventually found a table at a small pizzeria in the town. A decent enough meal, followed by a gentle stroll back along the beach and up to the hotel. The Perfect Day.

Sunday, however, Alice basically got it into her head that she was going to spoil everything for us. Sometimes she just gets into moods where she becomes so awkward and truculent. I'd have though she would have been quite positive because we had planned both to go fossil hunting, and to let her go crab hunting once again.

However it was not to be, and instead she was so naughty that we ended up heading back home by 10 o'clock. We were all very upset, though Alice mostly because we had carried out our threat and set off home early. But Jacqueline and I were really looking forward to looking for fossils.

So, that was yesterday. A weekend thoroughly spoilt by Alice. I am not yet on speaking terms with her, and clearly these weekends away must now become a thing of the past since we cannot trust her to behave.

Sunday, 1 June 2008

Mersey Blues

Very busy this last week or so. Rather well-travelled.

Jacqueline has just done a nursey course, she had trouble booking it close to home so she booked it up in Liverpool - so she could stay at Grandma's and get childcare to boot. As it happened I took a couple of days off and so the trip became a family visit.

We headed up last Friday. Me, a smooth journey up there, quite quick too, courtesy of Virgin trains; Jacqueline, a five-and-a-half hour trip mostly up the tortuous M6. Saturday we headed over to Manchester, it was basically just somewhere Jacqueline wanted to go, but she left there quite disappointed. She'd expected some kind of shopping paradise and got....well....Manchester.

Sunday we headed over to north Wales, despite somewhat murky weather conditions. Lunch at Llanrwst, my childhood holiday destination, what else but roast lamb, followed by a walk along the Conwy. The paths along the riverbank didn't exist when I was a kid, so they've put in some good work to make things accessible. Of course, times change and Llanrwst has changed lots since I last visited, but a lot of things still remain. Very beautiful. North to Llandudno, where we had a bracing walk along the promenade and pier, followed by a disappointing afternoon tea in one of the hotels on the front. Though the tea was disappointing the hotel itself had a wonderful conservatory and we had panoramic views of just how choppy the Irish Sea had become. It says a lot for the infrastructure improvements up there that a journey that used to take a half-day now takes less than a couple of hours, and we were safely back at Grandma's in time for supper.

Following two days of excursions, we spent the bank holiday pretty much at rest, though we did visit nearby Speke Hall after lunch. A lovely old house, it is situated rather unfortunately next door to Liverpool's new airport, and I'm sure all the noise and vibration can't be doing it any good. Stelios's legacy of progress, no doubt.

Monday evening, however, Jac and I went out for what turned out to be an excellent Indian meal at the Gulshan restaurant. I'd picked it out of the Michelin Guide, and it didn't disappoint.

Tuesday and Wednesday were Jacqueline's course, and save for dropping Jacqueline off in Liverpool city centre, were spent quietly with a couple of family visits. I can take these or leave them, but Alice enjoys meeting her extended family. When we visited Hilda it became interesting, since Alice has been doing a project about the Second World War, and Hilda, now in her eighties, told us how she was in the Fire Service. Fascinating. Of course it is a great shame since in most cases the lives of such "ordinary" people will go unrecorded, indeed in a few years nothing will be left, and yet they inform us more than anything about war and about our history in general.

Wednesday evening we travelled back home, and we were relieved that we had one of our best journeys ever. Door-to-door in three-and-a-half hours. But it still made for a very tired Thursday!

Overall, quite a tough week family-wise. My mother chatters away - she is unable to sit in a room quietly - and over time this grates enormously. Plus, she and Alice constantly bicker with each other, a further source of stress. And, of course, one cannot say a word against Liverpool (despite the fact that on picking up the local newspaper one reads of four shootings in the first two pages) without her getting on the defensive.
On that subject also, I would have to say that this "Capital of Culture" gimic is complete tosh. Even when I spoke to supposedly clued up tourism information people, they were totally switched off. Now, I'm sure that there must be some people up there who are trying their utmost to make a success of this, but I rather suspect that many people there see it as just another hand-out rather than a golden opportunity to improve the city's prospects in the long term. In that respect it'll be just like the garden festival that occurred there just before I left. No lasting impact.

Anyway, I'll climb down from my soapbox. Work Thursday and Friday - Thursday was a real struggle - but then this weekend had proved to be the perfect antidote to our northern ordeal. But right now it is breakfast time, so you'll have to wait until next time to find out!