Tuesday, 8 April 2008

How to avoid the strain

I spotted this in the Daily Telegraph Doctor's Diary while on holiday last year, ripped it out and kept it thinking it may well be useful for you especially when you are out camping on the ice and are perhaps suffering from difficulties because of the meagre rations. It could involve having to pack a length of wood if you can find one. Read on:

"The recent suggestion that those “straining at stool” should reach skywards with their hands has, inevitably, provoked some interesting comments. “I find that a few heavy thwacks on the behind before assuming the sitting position works wonders,” writes a Northumberland reader. He originally worked out for himself, from elementary principles of mechanics, that an impulsive force is much more effective than steady pressure (as in pile driving).
Country law, however, confirms it, as it is well known that the easiest way to obtain a fresh cow pat (to apply, for example, as a poultice) is by whacking the cow’s behind with a plank.
There are also a couple of useful suggestions on how to adapt a modern convenience to the squatting position, which has the great advantage of re-positioning the pelvic muscles as to permit a straight “run through”. The first option, much favoured apparently by the Royal Navy, is to place the feet on a low stool (as it were) placed beneath the bowl. The alternative is to squat on the seat itself and those who might be concerned about leaving their footprints behind can purchase an ingenious device called ‘Nature’s Platform' which, as the name suggests, provides a platform over the bowl."

Well I thought it was funny and it may just come in useful one day. I might take a cricket bat on the next diving trip in an effort to avoid the embarrasment of using the 'head' on the Blue Turtle again (that name now take on a whole new meaning).

If you feel the urge you can find 'Nature's Platform' on the internet

Monday, 21 January 2008

Guess the cook

Harry spotted a review of the Waterfall that appeared in the Express and Star last week and passed it on to me. It provided a very accurate reflection of the food offerings at one of my favourite pubs but unfortunately made no mention of the quality of the ales served there. To be fair the pub is famous for its beer rather than its food, as you know, but this made me chuckle.

Bet you can't guess who the 'chef' is?

"AFTER looking at a picture of The Waterfall pub in Old Hill on the internet I was impressed by the attractive white-bricked pub.
On arrival, it seemed to match up to its cosy, traditional image, as it is also well positioned at the top of a hill with a view over Cradley Heath and the surrounding Black Country towns.
The pub was reassuringly busy for a Saturday night and we quickly bagged the only remaining table.
The internet write up said the pub has been listed on the Camra good beer guide and the food was “good and basic”.

The menu lived up to this - it was full of classic pub fare including mixed grill, beef chilli and chicken tikka masala.
Non meat eaters like me had a rea­sonable selection of fish and chips, homemade vegetable lasagne and vegetable curry
All meals were unbelievably cheap with most of them just over £5. To beat the winter chill James ordered beef chilli and I went for the vegetable curry
We then sat down to enjoy our drinks which included a pint of lager for him and a glass of red wine for me.
Suddenly a woman, who appeared to be the chef, burst out of the kitchen and said “who ordered the chilli” almost as though it was a mis-demeanor. It transpired that there was no rice which basically meant the curry option I had picked was also under threat. It may sound fussy but I don’t like eating curry without rice. So I asked the woman if I could have something else.
It could be said her response was less than helpful — “well you had better hurry up we close at 8.3Opm.”
It was only 8.lOpm when she said this. In the end James agreed on the beef chilli with chips and I switched to fish and chips — but we were left feeling a bit miffed that the pub’s lack of food was somehow used to make us
- the customers after all - feel guilty.
The beef chilli was apparently very pleasant and the fish and chips prob­ably above average. Another menu surprise came in the form of a plate of mushrooms which was just plonked on the table a good 10 minutes after everything else without explanation.
All in all basic meal but what can only be described as poor service.

Rebecca Jones"


Sunday, 25 November 2007

Turtle Encounter

Took the camera to the Sea Life Centre today and managed a few pics and videos amongst the cleaning and sticking duties.

This one shows just how close the turtles get. They are very inquisitive and just barge you out of the way if they feel like it - and to be honest you don't have much choice given they weigh about 40st. They are very nice about it though - quite gentle creatures.

Monday, 1 October 2007

Underwater Window Cleaning

Got a new voluntary job cleaning windows at the Birmingham Seal Life Centre. When I say windows I mean the wet side of the tunnel that people walk through to see the sharks and turtles etc in the main tank.

Andy Moore and myself were asked to become members of the dive team at the centre by Ray Kirton who has been running it for several years. (He is off to Corfu and Ade Marsland is taking over). We turned up a couple of Sundays ago to meet the rest of the team and get stuck in after a briefing and reading how to deal with a shark 'hold bite'. Then signed our lives away through a variety of disclaimers.

Soon in the 21m long and 6m deep tank diving with the sharks (several Grey-Tipped Reef sharks about 1m long but very shy so never really saw them while in the water) and a couple of magnificent turtles aged about 35 and 50 years the oldest weighing in at 40st last time it was checked.

We were advised to wear hoods otherwise the turtles would probably mistake our hair for weed and try to eat it. Unlike the sharks they have no fear of the divers so are likely to bump into you regularly. Such a privilege to be in the water with them.

There are several jobs to be done and I got involved in sticking the 'coral' back onto pegs sticking out of the 'rocks'. The coral was pre-glued with superglue, the glue filled orifice covered with duck tape and the items handed to us by Graham (the curator) who quickly made his way into the tunnel and shone a torch on the spot where the coral had to be fixed. Not always too easy to get hole aligned with peg but managed them all eventually. (Pic is not me!)

Also had to clean the inside of the tunnel. So difficult because it was hard to see where you had cleaned it, there are no hand holds so as soon as you put any pressure on you push yourself away (could do with the 4 week course in Dunoon!). Rosie who was cleaning the dry side gave directions so that no bits were missed.

Andy Moore seemed to enjoy sprucing up the mermaid - he proved to be an excellent scrubber who obviously gets plenty of practice at home!

It beats the **** out of Netherton Resa

I feel very privileged to have this opportunity every month

Monday, 26 March 2007

Cannock Chase Walk

As you know Bob, Kathy, Amy, Roger, (memory failure) and myself ran a feeding station/checkpoint for the Cannock Chase Walk a couple of weekends ago. (In case anyone else is reading this, the Chase Walk is organised by the Scouts every year and involved teams of walkers completing a 40 mile walk in under 24 hours around Cannock Chase). We have run checkpoint 12, at the 32 mile mark,for a few years now.
It involves going to the scout stores at 09:00 picking up a mess tent, cooking stuff, tables, chairs, generator, lights, water carriers, water etc. 3 cars driving to Cannock and setting everything up by 11:00. Spending the day checking the teams in, providing drinks, cooking about 250 sausages and onions for the hot dogs, providing encouragement and the occasional first aid, packing up in the dark after the last teams have reached the following checkpoint and leaving site at about 22:00 getting back just in time to unpack and head for the pub.
It is completely voluntary, we do it for fun and to provide a bit of humour, support, food and drink for the brave souls who are doing this walk.

What really annoyed us was that for the last hour or so we entertained a couple of the organisers (a man and wife I think) who sat in the tent doing nothing but feeling important then watched us dismantling everything and carrying it back to our cars while managing to stand there without lifting a finger to help. Very full of self-importance. The woman did comment that there is nothing more difficult than taking a tent down in the dark! I don't think they even said thank-you.

We don't do it for the thanks but it wouldn't hurt. Roger was adamant that he wouldn't do it again. No wonder they have trouble finding people to run the checkpoints.


Bob and myself got involved in a search and rescue mission. After darkness fell Kathy popped into the woods for a pee. Amy received a phone call about 10 mins later from Kathy saying the she had got lost. Bob and I headed off with torches in the direction we thought she had gone and made a pincer movement around a hill waving torches while Bob chatted to Kathy on the phone. She couldn't see the torches so we asked her to shout and headed in the direction of her call. She spotted the torches and we completed a successful rescue. She was greeted by cheers from some of the resting walkers when we returned to the checkpoint.

Tuesday, 13 February 2007

Who's coat is that jacket

Something on the radio last night reminded me about my new leather jacket that was given to me by Norman several months ago for services rendered over several years sorting out his computer. It is a very smart jacket and mom reckons I look good in it but for some unknown reason I have never felt entirely at home in it.
Any way a few weeks ago I decided that I really should use the jacket instead of leaving it languishing in the wardrobe. So I put it on and went to work. As soon as I walked into the office a colleague asked me if I had turned gay! I was a little surprised at this so a bit later on I asked another colleague what first came into his mind when leather jacket is mentioned. He also said gay!
Although I am not homophobic (the spelling doesn't look right to me, so probably isn't) I really don't want Joe public to get confused about my sexuality and so put the jacket back into the wardrobe. I mentioned this dilemma to mom and she told me not to be so silly and to wear the jacket with pride.
I hadn't plucked up the courage to wear it again and quite probably won't after someone said on Radio 2 last night that no-one over 40 should wear a leather jacket. So sadly it may never see the light of day again......sorry Norman.

Friday, 9 February 2007

The sublime and the ridiculous

Just returned from a very useful visit to Dell in Limerick where we were able to talk to their Global IT strategist about how they are implementing Oracle Grid Computing and gained a lot of useful information that will help us to shape our architecture for this challenging venture.

We also had a tour of the factory where your laptop was screwed together. This is a very impressive setup not the least because they don't hold any stock! They have local suppliers who are given 90 minutes notice of what bits and pieces are required for the machines that will be built in the next batch. At the start of the assembly line a bar code label is produced for every individual machine and the picking list for parts appears on a screen. All the bits are picked , the bar code scanned and checked to ensure it is the correct part for the machine being built before they are put in a tray to be sent up the line for assembly. The machine bar code is scanned again to enable the correct assembly instructions to be sent to the operators screen. It takes just over 3 mins to assemble a laptop (the motherboard is already fitted). Then inspected for damage and correct build before being plugged in to the central computer systems that determine what software needs to be loaded and then loads it (the barcode label is burned into the Bios during assembly to identify the machine.) Then on to a further inspection before being joined up with the correct flat pack of keyboard, manuals etc and boxed up ready for shipping, along a series of conveyors where the barcode is used to determine destination and push it down the conveyor to be loaded on the correct lorry. They turn out 30,000 units every day. This is a very slick, very impressive business that is heading towards a worldwide turnover of 60 billion (dollars I think)

Compare the impressive processes on which Dell manufacturing is built to our companies process for claiming my expenses for this and a previous (cancelled) trip to Amsterdam.

I have to fill in an online form for each and every item of expense and make sure that I have a VAT receipt where appropriate. I had no VAT number for the AerLingus tickets and couldn't see anywhere on their web site that I could obtain one. I phoned customer services and after a tortuous navigation through the maze of options managed to speak to someone. They told me that I would have to contact customer services to ask for a receipt and gave me a number and added that this was a FAX number and that this was the only way to contact them. Fax machines are not easy to find these days and I decided that it would cost more for me to deal with faxes and waiting for responses than the £17 VAT that could be claimed back. I have no doubt that the people who deal with validating expenses claims in India (yes India!) will reject my claim due to a rule infringement and I will have to get the infernal VAT receipt somehow.

I also had a confusing invoice from NIS (the travel management company that we are supposed to deal with) because it looked like they had charged me excessive agency fees. I could not check whether or not they had charged my credit card because some Mafioso felon has managed to get hold of my credit card details and buy train tickets, perfume and skype in Italy to the tune of nearly £500 - so that has been cancelled (another tortuous experience I will save for another day) and I cannot check transactions via the internet. So I phoned NIS and navigated my way through option selections to have a conversation with a helpful lady who said that the amount on the invoice was an error and that she really didn't think I had been charged. If I have been charged I will have to enter another claim......

Having logged all my claims I then had to scout around for an envelope and a label that has to be sellotaped onto it. Then you have to sellotape all of the receipts onto pieces of A4 paper taking care not overlap them. You write on every receipt the claim number and the unique ID that is generated for every expense item.

All you have to do then is photocopy all of the receipts, staple the photocopies to the expense claim form and staple the originals together and put the two bundles into the envelope (oh and you had better keep a photocopy for yourself just in case everything goes missing).

Because of a couple of flight changes and a cancellation there were a number of receipts and in all this expense claim involved 28 pieces of A4 paper and consumed most of a morning in its assembly. Not very efficient or cost effective for an expense claim of under £500 but I don't see how I could have done it any faster.