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Into the Jaws of the North…

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I bade farewell to the office contingent, offering my last pieces of advice and advising on the best course of action if I failed to return. I was off, I said, to a dangerous place. A place where drinks are a penny a pint and where even Boris Johnson would be lynched. I was off, my friends, to Northern Liverpool.
The five hour trip started with a shock. Bombing along the M40 at a rate of several hundred knots, events came to a head. To kick off, a BMW – what else – had cut me up, deciding without warning that my lane was far more superior for his car. Within a second the car phone rang and, thanks to my ability to constantly fiddle with technology, the auto-answer feature helpfully and surprisingly answered the incoming call. And as a finale, before I’d even managed to answer the mystery caller, an improbably large and very green grasshopper emerged from the sealing of my driver door, twiddling its antenna as if to announce, “And for my next trick…”
Needless to say, I was stunned. I was happily driving along mere seconds ago and now here I was swerving out of trouble while finding an intruder in the car. And, of course, there was a mystery caller listening intently to all of it. Eventually I found my tongue. “Hello?” I uttered – and was relieved to find Paul D’s stepdad on the other end. The call having been answered, my next worry was my new green friend. God alone knows how he got in, but out he would most definitely have to go. I pulled over and opened the car door, shaking its metal frame in and out to dislodge the grasshopper while trying to pretend nothing was amiss to the caller. This was no mean feat. I temporarily lost concentration on the insect and when I regained focus, it had gone. I never did find out whether it flew in or out of the car.
Luckily, the rest of the journey was more humdrum. I found out half way through that I was actually heading for Lancaster which was a huge relief. After finding the hotel and munching through a small supper, I bedded down.
The morning broke with an argument outside. Attributing it to early morning blues, I dressed and trundled downstairs to find myself in the thick of World War Three, with several veterans arguing over their bar bill. Leaving them behind, I made my way to Heysham Power Station.
That’s right – a power station. A perk of my job is that I get to go to wierd and wonderful places and power stations are certainly wierd and wonderful. Housed in the wastelands near the sea, the stations have their own microcosm, their own way of life. And, in an unreported side effect of the recent terrorism, not reported on any maps which made it a bugger to find. I arrived a good half an hour late, before enduring a thirty minute search of my belonging, a test of my laptop for viruses and my power supply for legality – and an airport-style search of my clothes. Contrary to popular opinion, the safest place to be at the moment is in a nuclear power station.
All the while, I was being educated by my “mentor”, someone who is responsible for my whereabouts at all times. For example, did you know that every forty years a nuclear power station has ended its useful life and a new one has to be built? Also, were you aware that every nuclear power station is beside the sea so that the sea water can cool the nuclear reactors? Or that every employee is on an ultra-rare final salary pension? Or that after every station is shut down, people man it for ten years, twiddling their thumbs, in case anything goes wrong?
Then, finally, I was in. And as I was travelling home an hour later, I begun to question whether to whole travel/work ratio (a whopping 10:1 on this trip) was cutting a little off-balance…

A Month in a nutshell

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“I’ll be there in twenty minutes.”
“Great, I’ll put the dinner in.”
Sounding unnervingly like a married couple, I arranged to pop over to Nick’s parents house for a bite to eat, some serious TV watching and a bit of computer troubleshooting – something I seem to do a lot of nowadays. And as I travelled over to Pyrford last night, my mind wandered to the last month’s frenetic events.
Not, of course, that any remaining readers of this blog will know about them. My postings have sunk to an all time low, and the combination of minimal time and a lack of motivation have landed me here – 25 days after my last post.
So, back to the car journey, and mind-wanderings. One of the most adventurous days last month was the trip to Silverstone. Simon B phoned at the ungodly hour of 7.30 (I never even knew he got up that early) to ask if I wanted to go to Silverstone for some corporate hospitality at the Touring Car Championships. And the mode of transport to and from the event? A BMW M3. It was, of course, a formality as questions go and by 8.30am I was taking control of the vehicular beast, charging up the A3, M25 and M40 to Silverstone. It was an awesome car, making me feel completely in control and far superior to anyone else on the road. My experience in it went some way to explaining why BMW drivers drive the way they do. Only some way, mind.
The day at Silverstone was entertaining and, crucially, entirely free. Jensen Button was in the corporate box next to us, his Porsche Carrera outside causing all sorts of sycophantic excitement. There are pictures, which if you’re lucky I may put up before 2012.
Most of the month has been consumed with daily trips to Amersham in Buckinghamshire. Not for pleasure – although it seems a very picturesque place – but for business. I won’t bore you with what my job entails, but suffice to say that the client we were visiting had placed an order with us that was forty times the normal size. So, for me, it was an endless carousel of installing, consulting and 7 days of solid training. I was little more than a wreck by the end of it, although this was mainly due to the travelling – a thirty minute trip on the M25 turned into a 2 hour journey from hell every morning and night.
Michelle has not been without excitement, however. She had all four wisdom teeth out, and my arrival to her hospital bed with flowers and a bunch of unamusing jokes failed to cut the ice as she said there, as white as a sheet and unable to speak. The following week of near silence was unnerving, and it was a relief when I heard the dulcet tones of complaint about the clothes I’d left on the floor again.
Whipsnade Zoo was also graced with a visit a few weeks ago – and gave me a chance to see the elephant Michelle adopted for me at Christmas! For those who don’t know, I love elephants. It’s possibly to do with their large floppy ears or enormous clumpy feet – I don’t know. What I do know, however, is that they don’t grow very fast.
I was expecting my elephant to be an enormous, triumphant beast of a thing, but he was still a mere stripling. I suppose living a long time means that you are smaller for longer – something I’ve never had to experience…
Last Wednesday Michelle, Jac, Debs and I went to see Rob Thomas (ex-Matchbox Twenty) at the Astoria in London. The night was in the clutches of the considerable heatwave and the inside of the venue was akin to standing in a sauna for a couple of hours. The gig was as good as we had hoped – and Glasswerk have a review here.
Michelle and I have also made trips to Paul D’s for a barbeque (and a snoop around his brother’s new house – seven doors down from the doorstep where Jill Dando was shot, I was at pains to point out) and Jac’s new house in Harrow for some technical help and a very spicy Indian. We’ve shopped at Gunwharf Quays, dined at Italian restaurants and ate at a very nice pub for my mum’s birthday. It’s been, frankly, a hell of a month and I’ve rewarded myself with two weeks off. I’m currently lounging around in a dressing gown doing nothing except watching the Lions rugby tour and Wimbledon, which is a rare treat. Michelle is off working in Oxfordshire this week, leaving me to fend for myself. How does the washing machine work? How do I cook anything other than a pizza? I’m not sure I’ll make it through the week…

Chester Drawers

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Chester. The only thing I knew about Chester before my trip up on was
that it was a bloody long way away. And getting up at four thirty that
morning, with the night still in full flow, didn’t make the trip any
more welcoming. My task for this trip was to find an office (needle) in
Chester (haystack), diagnose the computer’s “issues”, give it a couple
of kicks, and – job done – retire mid afternoon to the luxurious Travel
Inn down the road.
I left at the ungodly hour of 4.30am. Nothing stirred as I left my house
– so quiet that you might hear a pin drop on a leather banquette a goodly mile away. I’d clambered into the
car, banana in hand in case hunger struck, and off I went.
4 hours later, I was still driving. Chester, as I’ve said, is not near
to my neck of the woods, and only a brief visit to the little boy’s room
broke the monotony of the M3/M25/M40/M42/M6 trudge. The beauty of
morning travel though, it’s one saving grace, is that there is barely a
soul on the road. The only car I remember seeing on the M40 was freshly
embedded in the back of a large parked truck – the driver, I surmised,
was probably well on the way down the M99 to heaven.
I reached the outskirts of Chester as the rush hour was in full flow,
and cursed the sleepy, non-indicating drivers in their BMWs. My trusty
AA directions in my sweaty palm, I negotiated several hundred
roundabouts and many old-age pensioners before I found the office at
8:55am. I was brimming with pleasure – 5 hours of driving to a place
I’ve never been, and just look at my timekeeping…
The task was simple. Rebuild the computer, make sure the battered thing
was still working, and leave. And sure enough, in between several trips
to the coffee shop and a deep discussion about fishing, the job was done
by midday. Just in time for lunch, my stomach told me, and a quick
baguette later I was released into Chester. Just for completeness, I can
confirm that it’s a goodlooking place, with rivers, trees and some sort
of northern architecture. However, I was bushed after my early morning,
and I made straight for the Travel Inn.
Well, “straight”. I managed 4 wrong turnings before eventually giving in
and stopping at a local hotel for directions. It turned out to be just
round the corner and I arrived pleasantly surprised. New building, and a
pub just next door. I was blessed with an enormous room too, with a food
and drink machine just outside. And the ‘piece de resistance’ for the
true geek in me – wireless broadband internet access. In a year I may
look back and wonder what the fuss was about, but my virgin experience
sealed my passion for Travel Inns. I shall now request them at every
So, that was Chester. I could take you through my evening meal; the screaming
bores that were sat next to me discussing the pros and cons of the new
Intel microchip; I could even detail the trip down the M40 and on to the
horror of the M25 – but that’ll just bore you. Instead, I shall leave
you with this piece of advice: never try to fob off your spare Euro
change on a British food and drink machine with a queue of people
standing behind you. It gets stuck.