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Blown Away in Leeds

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“Oraclecoursethangyouverymuch.”
I was still trying to wake up after an early morning start. The
geek-based course was about to get in full swing, and all the various
course teachers were coming in, vulture-like, picking off the
delegates one by one. Their enforced cheeriness grated slightly after
half an hour spent trying to find a car park in Leeds, a task only
marginally easier than forcing jelly down a drain. However, they did lighten our spirits on the drab, rain-filled morning. I even started looking forward to five days of database training. Sadly, people with personalities generally don’t train people in databases, as I discovered when a small Indian man shuffled round the corner. He announced the course in a thick Indian accent, showing all the excitement of a morgue assistant finding another dead body down the back of the incinerator. We all glanced at each other before shuffling off behind him to the training room.
By lunchtime I had at least learned something – never underestimate a boring man. He seemed to know everything there was to know about databases and computers in general. His problem, sadly, was that he was not good at conveying that knowledge. We could only understand every other sentence and developed a system of nodding whenever he looked at us, attempting to show we were following every word. It took about an hour to tune into his accent, and a further hour before I got into the groove of the difficult topic. Luckily the course notes we comprehensive enough to bluff my way through.
Lunch was not particularly inspirational either. Cold salad, hastily knocked together quiches and orange juice filled the vapid hour before the afternoon session. Thanks to the smokers insisting on going outside in the freezing wet weather to puff on their cancer sticks, the room got colder and colder. It was, frankly, a relief to go back into the training room, and perhaps this was precisely the reverse psychology we needed. The afternoon went with a bang, and before I knew it we had finished the first day. I managed to get to the car park without being blown off course – coinciding the course with bad weather was a possible error – and got into my car on the top floor. “Dammit”, I thought as I saw the NCP car park ticket on my passenger seat. “Please pay on the bottom floor,” it mentioned. So, downstairs I went, wallet in hand. A wallet, it turned out, which caught the notice of a woman sitting huddled on the bottom stair, looking as if she was waiting for someone. Me, as it turned out. “Nice weather,” I ventured, trying to be friendly as I searched for the ticket machines. “Yeah. The machines are other there.” She pointed to a darkened corner of the room. As I opened my wallet and got out wads of cash – NCP managed to charge £14 for 7 hours of parking – she piped up again. “Yeah, I may be homeless but I can be useful.” Here we go, I thought. After a wail about her life story, I felt compelled to give her a couple of pounds. I told myself off as I wandered up the stairs, but it was too late. She had probably bought a quarter pound of brown by the time I’d reached the top stair.
I had arrived in Leeds on Sunday afternoon for the five-day marathon and booked into the closest hotel I could find. It managed to be situated beside a chinese restaurant and a TGI Fridays, which gave little choice for healthy eating – but a big choice for deliciously overpriced fodder. I was here that I returned that first afternoon. As I entered the hotel for the second time that week, a large gust of wind heralded my arrival, blowing everything around me off the table. Hell of an entrance, I think you’ll agree.
After a meal at TGI Friday’s, some newspaper reading and email sending, I settled down to a good night’s sleep.
And that’s how it’s been for the past five nights. The weather has got worse – my mother phoned on Tuesday to check how close I was to the especially windy Pennines – the trainer’s accent has got bearable, and I’ve actually learnt a whole load of useful stuff. Today I’m off home, back to my wonderful girlfriend, my wonderful new house and a whole load of DIY…

Look at me! I can train!

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There is a little visited place just outside Leeds that goes by the name of Beeston. Sadly, Beeston is not somewhere you’d find on the front of any Leeds Tourist Board leaflet, covered as it is with empty and broken buildings, large concrete slabs of car parks and a remarkably large travellers site. However, there is a shining beacon of light just near the centre – my company’s northern office – and this was the venue for me to give my first solo training course to unsuspecting trainees on the merits of our software system. They were travelling from Ireland and London, eager to listen to my pearls of wisdom. God help them.
I made it up to Leeds in a mere four hours, taking in the sights and sounds of the M1 along the way. It seems that regular drivers on the M1 have developed their own way of coping with the mangled wrecks and twisted metal of more unfortunate drivers as they pass by – and their coping mechanism involves ignoring other drivers for a good part of their journey. Every time I’ve driven up the blessed road, it becomes the survival of the fittest, each twist and turn of the motorway presenting intriguing uses of the brake and accelerator from each driver, all eager to get into first place in an imaginary race. Most cruise on in the outside lane, daring others behind to undertake illegally – a challenge which I take on with enthusiastic aplomb. Many others, when seeing that most are cruising in the outside lane, take the inside, steaming past all the other cars with a big grin on their faces.
I made it in one piece, and that night began to look through the training notes for the two day course. I ought to know a little about what I’m talking about, I thought…
As it turned out, the trainees were very low maintenence. One, an Irish man from Belfast with a barely intelligible accent, knew very little about the system while the other, a large African woman, knew even less. The best possible training situation had presented itself – and I got stuck in, flirting with the woman and cracking jokes with the man, making sure I’d win round the audience even if the content was a little below par.
In the end, I even surprised myself with the knowledge I was able to give, and we all met in the bar that night to celebrate, accompanied by Dean, a colleague who I’d only recently visited Switzerland with. We talked for hours, over beer and over dinner, about seemingly nothing. The Belfast man turned out to be an ex-employee of the Guinness factory and was able to confirm my recent revelation about the hangover-inducing chemicals in English beer. On top of that, he was able to divulge several other drinking facts. For example, Guinness doesn’t contain any iron despite claiming to do so; the best way to drink without hangovers is to have vodka and lemonade; and that one sixth of Ireland are allegic to rice, meaning that they can’t drink Guinness.
Sozzled, I wandered upstars to my room an hour later, and couldn’t tell whether I was so drunk I was hallucinating – or whether I did actually see my old college friend Rob Simpson (under the amusing moniker Rufus Hound) presenting a late night BBC show called Destination Three.
I was unsure I’d manage to fill the second day’s training, but I’d remembered an old trainer’s trick I’d learnt the night before – “if you’re struggling to fill the last day, bore them a little and then tell them all they’re going home at 1.30pm. They’ll be pleased as punch.” Which turned out to be entirely true, and I managed to be 200 miles away, in the loving arms of my sofa and my girlfriend, before sundown.

The Ends of the Earth

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Well, tie me down and call me Bertha, I’ve been bombing around the country this week. Here’s a brief overview:

humberbridge.jpg

Hull – The fact that it rhymes with dull is no coincidence. Saved only by the magnificence of the Humber Bridge (see right).
Grimsby – As enticing as the name suggests. A constant and sometimes overpowering smell of fish hangs over the town, although the locals are oblivious after years of fishy assaults on their nasal passages.
The M62 – The views in some parts are spectacular. The drivers in the area, however, are not.
Leeds – Dark, but presumably only because I arrived late. Has not improved since the last visit, although the transvestite hitching a lift off the motorway was an interesting distraction.
Manchester – Surprisingly pleasant. However, a word of advice: never make jokes about back passages and Canal Street while in the city. Oooh, the stares I got…

A Trip To Leeds

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My work diary said it quite clearly. “Training in Leeds?!”, I exclaimed, hoping that a statement about the customary wet weather in that region had merely been misprinted. Nope, this was the real deal, and I dutifully trundled up there on Wednesday afternoon, eager to see what the city of Leeds had to offer.
Not a lot, I noted five hours later, as the aforementioned rain came swirling down past the Leeds football stadium. I veered off the M62 down towards the hotel, placed neatly between the motorway and a downtrodden and half-empty business park. Still, the staff seemed oblivious to their location, and emitted plenty of false smiles as they guided me up the labyrinthine stairs to my room.
My manager had warned me about their 12-table restaurant. I know I should have listened, but after 5 hours of motorway, I was in no fit state to drive around for an inviting place to eat. A full 15 minutes after I arrived, a waitress arrived to take my order. “I’d love to,” I replied, “just as soon as you manage to offer me a menu.” The rest of the meal was a comedy act, although the food was passable and the bar was exceedingly well stocked. I wandered up to my room, set my alarm and retired to bed.
As it turned out, there was no need for an alarm – the early morning fire alarm did just the job. After roll call, I decided a short walk to the office would do me good. I’d managed to get vague directions to the address – “Down the road, round the corner, it’s just about 300 yards away, easy to find”. So off I trotted.
A good 30 minutes later, I was most definitely lost. Even the local workers hadn’t heard of Royds Hall Road, and I desperately floundered against the growing flurry of rain. I upped the place.
The trouble, you see, was this. “Just down the road” takes on confusing proportions when you are met with two crossroads and a roundabout within 200 metres of your hotel – and as it turned out the correct road was the very last one I chose. I stormed in, 20 minutes late and soaked to the skin.
The rest of the day was filled with training, training and a bit more training. In fact, the following day was a spitting image, minus the extra mile of walking. The final night, in a moment of utter boredom, I took a trip to the local newsagent for something to munch and something to read. Being a little out of my way, I asked for directions. “Just down the road,” said the receptionist – I’d heard that before – “and it’s on the left, next to White Rose.” The White Rose, I pondered as I spooned myself into the car – a pub perhaps? Maybe a garage. I drove into the night.
After 5 minutes, I was sure I’d gone too far. A quick, slightly illegal u-turn, and I was travelling back. I passed Waitrose on my left. “Waitrose… Waitrose… I wonder…” And there it was. The small white newsagent sign flashed intermittently as the vagaries of the Leeds accent dawned on me. I was grinning all the way back. Little things, eh.
My trip back down was troubled by the usual M25 chaos, and I must admit I was glad to be home. The promised travelling in my role is beginning to take hold – and I must admit it all makes a pleasant change from the Guildford-Liss jaunt.

Missing In Action

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I’m having one of those lulls. The avid journalist in me seems to be taking a holiday, jumped ship, all worn out after the recent BBC article I somehow spurted out in a late night scribbling session one Thursday night. It’s not like I have nothing to say – I’ve taken in the delights of Munich, flying back with the legendary Boris Becker; been to Nick’s 32nd birthday party; started visiting the gym; and now I’m off to Leeds. In short, I’ve been very busy, and my wibbler.com rants have suffered. But have no fear. I’ll be back with you just as soon as I can…