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Naval-gazing Karma.

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I’m getting stares. A waitress has just said, “look, he’s sitting there with his imaginary friends. “A Birdhouse In Your Soul” – a wacky favourite of mine – is playing around the restaurant.

Ladies and gentlefolk, I am in Chester, in a very nice hotel just on the outskirts of the town – and there’s a reason they’re staring. I have brought my laptop to the table, in an fine example of geekery. In fairness, I do have online work to do, and the wireless internet isn’t working in my room. I could have caused a stink about it, of course. Just like I could have kicked up a fuss at the petrol attendant for charging me for someone else’s petrol earlier today. I could have torn a strip out off a colleague who managed to stand on an important certificate I’d dropped at the office. And I could have had some serious words about my company expecting me to come in to work for the entire weekend a few weeks ago.

But I’ve always been calm, been a little laid back. And I’ve found, certainly recently, that calmness is definitely the way forward. By not complaining about my weekend of work, I’ve been rewarded with a bonus and a letter of thanks from the Managing Director. As a reward for not kicking off at a colleague, I’ve managed to get a fresh printout of the certificate and a mention that I was “a nice chap”. By going along with the mis-charged petrol, I managed to get the petrol free (as it’s a company car, they WILL be pleased with me). And finally, by accepting that problems happen, my internet charge is being refunded, I’m moving rooms and, as I join in the mocking of my geekiness at the table this evening, the staff have said how nice it is to have “someone who’s not angry at everything.”

As I said in a slightly drunken stupor to someone the other day, life’s too short to get shirty with people. Problem’s happen. Some people get lucky, others don’t. You’ve only got one life – spread the love while you can.

And so endeth the sermon for this week.

Switzerland – Minus seven, and I was still laughing…

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Last time I visited Switzerland, you may remember, I was waxing lyrical about the sheer amount of brothels. Not the wonderful cheese, the spectacular mountains, the glorious Swiss chocolate – but brothels.
And now, at the risk of being utterly stereotypical, I shall discuss at length the quality of Swiss beer. No, actually, first I shall let you in on my trip. And then discuss at length the beer.
It was a trip that had been put off since early January, and my experience of Switzerland before had made me eager to sample more. This time, three of my colleagues were on the plane with me for the three-day jaunt – Ian, John and Dean, who hails from Ireland and had come via a Westlife concert – don’t ask. Ian, John and I managed to meet – almost by accident – at Heathrow Terminal 4 on Sunday afternoon, and after checking in with the first check-in assistant I’ve ever witnessed with a personality, we headed for the bar.
Finding the bar was tricky though, and we split up to search. An excited call from John later, and we were in the Duty Free shop, trying 3 different types of vodka cocktails for free. “You’re meant to buy the bottles afterwards” came the distant call from the waitress as we hurried into the distance, our stomachs warmed considerably courtesy of Smirnoff.
Boarding the plane, Ian remarked that my lack of furry coat may be a problem in Switzerland. “No,” I retorted, “they’re closer to the equator than we are. If anything it’ll be warmer.” My ill-thought logic was woefully off-piste, as confirmed by the helpful captain as we looked over the frozen landscape a couple of hours later. “Best get your woolies on,” he cheerily advised, “it’s minus 7 degree centigrade down there.” Christ, I muttered.
We landed remarkably smoothly despite the Siberian conditions outside, and sidled off the plane in awe at the landscape. Switzerland is reknowned for its beautiful scenery and towering mountain landscapes, but I was blown away. Time was not on our side though – it was getting dark and there was a 1 hour train journey ahead of us. Switzerland’s transport system is legendary (at least in my eyes), and after momentary directional confusion, we found the train and reclined in leather-clad luxury for the smoothest ride I’ve ever experienced.
The hotel, just 100 metres from the station, was a pleasant surprise too. Decked out in classy glass and red leather sofas, mirrored ceilings and a glorious bar, it was manna from heaven at 10.30pm on a cold night. We dumped our bags, met Dean, tested the bar, and then slept. Slept well.
The following three days were a mix of training, evening drinking, laughing, resplendent restaurants and a battle for sleep. My colleagues, I discovered, were genuinely amusing, and I laughed until I cried at least three times a day. There were many hundreds of comical moments – from Dean’s initial greeting as he met us in the bar (as he passed the bar with his travel bags, we misheard “two secs” as “group sex”, a greeting that will forever be repeated on future meetings) to Ian’s “petit peu/petit pois” confusion and Dean’s description of the Irish traffic light system (“orange means put your foot down, red means you’re good for two more cars). I was struggling to stop giggling for most of the trip. The main company bod over in Germany, a large Bavarian man called Herbert, was a drinker beyond compare, and we managed to stay up until 2am every day, sampling the Swiss beer like there was no tomorrow.
Ah yes, the Swiss beer. Now, Dean had informed me of a little known fact at our first meeting about the difference between beer in the UK and Ireland and beer in the rest of Europe. According the gospel of Dean, there is a chemical in the UK beer that is banned in European beer. This chemical, I was informed, causes hangovers, in some complicated way I was unable to fully grasp. “Surely not,” I replied, “I’ve never heard that before”. So, in true British style, we decided to test it out. Nine pints of lager and a good sleep later and Dean’s theory was proved correct – we woke a little sleepy but otherwise completely fine.
And there, my friends, is the secret to the drinking skills of other Europeans. The drink because their beer is actually tasty and because they don’t get hangovers. There are all sorts of questions that arise from this, not least why we have that darned chemical in the first place, but we were content to test the theory every night for three days. On the last day we toured Zurich city centre, and discovered an odd mixture of lapdancing clubs and many, many clothes shops. Its architecture is very like Milan, if you’ve ever been, and I’m eager to visit again, despite their extortionate taxis.
So, another trip to Switzerland finished. Safe to say I was in need of a rest, and slept for most of the next two days. Now I’m back in the land of the living, and eagerly awaiting the next excuse to visit…

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.