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    28 October 2006

    Another new toy

    Saw one in Borders at Newark NY airport at Terminal C. Bought it very quickly!

    Sat in the Presidents Club for an hour before boarding the flight, reader on charge, silly grin on face as I stroked it(I was going to order one to go the the US office ready for the next trip).

    1st problem, I travel fairly light and didn't have the CD/DVD drive for my laptop. No problem, I'll download it. Oh no I won't, dog slow connection speed and couldn't find anywhere to download it from (I've since seen all the comments on it not actually being on the Sony site). I've got a load of RTF books on a memory stick, I'll use that, oh no I won't, memory stick won't connect to the reader and can't transfer from the stick to the laptop to the reader as the software can't be loaded. Bugger, this is more difficult than I thought it was going to be.

    Got onto the airplane 45 minutes before departure, with that and the now mandatory extra 45 minutes before pushback, I had an hour and a half to play with it. Read the online manual (not like me), drooled a little as I read it, and tried not to press all the buttons. It's very tactile, neat buttons that make a positive click when pressed, nice cover, wow! that screen. Started to read 1984 (again, but it was the first book in the menu list). 1st slight dissapointment, the cabin lights dimmed as they cut from land based to APU based power, help! can't see the screen. I should have realised but it was still a shock when it dawned on my there is no backlight and you need external lighting to see it! Not a problem, still grinning and stroking it!

    2nd dissapointment, can't use the reader on the plane when they shut the cabin door - same rule apply as a laptop or cd/mp3 player. I tried communicating (no, I didn't argue) with the cabin services director but a curt 'if it's got a power button, it's gotta be turned off' made me put it down for the 30 minutes wait to take off and then the 10 minutes flying before the 'bing' sounds and normal service is resumed.

    Bloody hell, this screen is clear. Even better if I make the text large, I can leave the reader on the tray table and eat dinner (managed not to drip the ice cream and chocolate sauce over it).

    Later that night, when back at home, after having spoken to the wife and napped for a couple of hours, bloody hell, this screen is really clear! No pain just easy flipping through the pages, they might want to put some buttons on the right hand side or provide a remote control though (no complaining though).

    The complaining started today. Connect software, good grief it's bad. I think I need to spend a little longer reading some of the forums on here. Connect site. Bugger, you need to have a US addressed credit card. Double bugger, you need a US address to get the $50 coupon. Trebble bugger, there's no sign of a date for launch in the UK. (looking at the state of the software, the downloading site etc, I think I may be in a beta program, only having paid for the privilage of joining).

    So, reader 11 out of 10. Software and support 1 out of 10.
    Still don't regret anything though.

    Off to read the connect software forums and maybe search for pdfs of some books!

    21 October 2006


    I’m always surprised by how reliant I have become on technology and how irritated I get when it doesn’t work.

    Take this week for instance, I’m an 8 hour flight from home, living in a hotel for a couple of weeks. Nothing new there, it’s what I have been doing for the past 4 months and will do until the end of Feb.

    I expect the hot water, radio, toilet and lights to work in the hotel. I’ve also come to expect the wireless network to be there whenever I want it.

    You can guess which one hasn’t been working for the last few days.

    I’m almost missing the internet access as I would if the water were cut off!

    The infrastructure in the US seems a little fragile compared to the UK, there are many more power cuts, mainly due to weather, thought the weather is slightly more extreme here than at home.

    So, 12 hours days, come back and want to catch up on the BBC news and no joy but I can get over it. A whole weekend when I was planning to do some of my dissertation (and read blogs and generally surf of course) is a bit grim.

    Trying to work out which of the various bits of technology is proving difficult:

    Laptop wireless working.
    Local access point seems OK.
    Sometimes can see the ISP providers page.
    Sometimes can get to blogger
    Once got onto the Oxford Brookes site

    I’ll put it down to my favorite, which I tell people at work when they ask why their machine has stopped doing what it is supposed to:

    ‘It’s the confluence of Jupiter and Mars, in conjunction with the relationship of the Moon at this time of year, and the resulting electromagnetic phenomenon has been picked up by the machine and confused it’

    It’s as good a reason as any I can think of just now.

    17 October 2006


    It's been more years than I care to remember since I was at school. That's probably the last time I understood what Fahrenheit figures actually meant.

    Before leaving for the current fortnightly jaunt in New Jersey, I scanned the BBC weather site to look at what Mr Weather was doing over here, there were nice pictures of a sun blazing away or a sun peeking out from behind clouds, for some reason the numbers didn't register very well, I seem to remember them being fairly high.

    As I was packing, Mavis asked me if I wanted to pack my coat, 'No, it'll be OK, it was warm when I was there 3 weeks ago' I said. Mavis duly put the nice coat back in the wardrobe.

    Yesterday when I arrived it was quite nice, sun, pleasantly warm - but it was late afternoon.

    I put my nicely ironed shirt on, left the suit jacket in the cupboard when I left this morning.

    It was a shock to the system when I had to scrape the ice off the windows of the car.

    Note to self, 30 degrees Fahrenheit isn't warm. (For those of a Celsius bent, it's about freezing).

    Wish I'd packed my coat!

    14 October 2006

    Did he really say that?

    Ex Boss (in the US), 'When you come over tomorrow do you fancy dinner?'

    WBS 'Yeah, that would be nice, been a while since we chatted'

    Ex Boss ' Any chance of bringing some of the decaffeinated  Earl Grey tea with you, I can't get it over here?'

    WBS 'No problem, I'll pick some up while we are out shopping today'

    Ex Boss 'I forget the make I like, it's got a picture of a man in old fashioned clothes on it, who would it be, Wellington?'

    WBS ' errm Earl errrrrrm, Grey, possibly?'

    30 seconds silence from the man at the other side of the Atlantic 'what time you landing?'

    I promised I wouldn't speak to anyone about it - well typing on here isn't the same as speaking is it?

    And so it goes

    I've spent the last 3 days in meetings of one sort or another, one on one, one to many, many to one and by various means , face to face, teleconference, video conference and one in a nasty offsite conference centre. 

    Many in my organisation, particularly in the US, though it is becoming more prevalent in the UK as well, seem to judge their worth and value by how many meetings they have.  After 3, 12 hour days of meetings I'm wondering how we actually function (or is it that everyone who is attending meeting isn't actually needed to make the organisation work?).

    I fly to the US for two weeks again tomorrow (no prizes for guessing that most of the first week is already full of meetings), so today we were going to have a nice day mooching round the shops in Oxford, couple of coffee's, nice lunch, then something special tonight.  Or that was the plan:

    A man is coming to fix the boiler sometime between 10 and 12.
    Some people want to come and view the house sometime between 12 and 3.
    Mavis has knackered something on the computer and has to go into work for the morning.

    I've hoovered, put another load of washing on, made the place respectable for the potential buyers, what shall I do with myself for the next few hours then?  Oh, yes, that'll be me doing all the bloody emails that came in while I was on meetings for 3 days.

    For some reason I'm feeling a bit miserable, can't quite put my finger on the reason why, must lie down in a dark room (after doing my emails) and work out the meaning of life again.

    10 October 2006

    Mavis Strikes Again

    Mavis has attended two sessions of the new cookery course.  The first one was cancelled as the room they use has now windows, the course is held in the evenings, the tutor didn't know how to turn the fans and air conditioning on so they couldn't use the ovens.  The second sessions produced some goods:

    The apple cake was exceedingly good if certain commercial products are to be believed.

    I wasn't so sure about the Strawberry one though, I still managed to convincingly eat more than my share.

    Mavis also ate some of each.

    Mavis is complaining about being 8 pounds overweight, guess where she went tonight, two nights before the next pastry cooking lesson?

    Weight Watchers!

    08 October 2006

    The meaning of wife - part 2

    'Well I really like cooking and just think of all the money we'll save' said Mavis as part of the not needed justification of her going on a cookery course.  I think it's an evening a week for 30 weeks.

    Mavis started the course two weeks ago, we now have to eat out the evening before and after the day of the course, or get something in - Mavis has to get everything ready the night before and is too knackered to do anything the night afterwards.  (I don't get home till too late to cook her anything most nights - unless we want to be eating at gone 10pm).

    We also seem to be losing half of the weekend.  Mavis doesn't want to look daft infront of the others on the course, so she's spending either Saturday or Sunday, making the exact same dishes that she'll be taught to do properly the following Thursday. (I'm still coming to terms with this bit!)

    Costs so far:

    Eating out: £100 per week
    New knives £200
    Chefs Whites £60 (why?)
    Academic Texts (as opposed to Cookery Books) £300
    Pallet knives, piping bags, nozzles and other assorted plastic devices £50

    Savings so far:

    Um, I'll get back to you on that.

    07 October 2006

    The Meaning of Wife - Part One

    'I'm going to do a cookery course' said Mavis.

    Mavis is a pretty good cook and does like experimenting, 'that's nice' said I, followed by 'hope your not going to make my diet any harder' (While I haven't put anything on for a while, nothing has come off either).

    'You'll eat anything whether it's made by me or someone else, or if it's good or bad for you' she said smiling sweetly.

    'Don't be nasty now, I know I'm a bit big, but inside very fat person there's a thin person trying to get out' I said in my best be nice voice.

    'Just the one dear?' she said as the door slowly closed behind her.

    Blurry women.

    03 October 2006


    Not sure if serendipity is really the correct word but it's pretty close.

    I mentioned in the last post that while we were away we ate at a place called the log house.

    While browsing through the site (oh look, there's the table we ate at etc) I went to the page about the history of the place and where it came from.

    Just before we went up to the lakes we stopped off at my parents house in North Wales.  We used to live in the lake district and there is a picture of a waterfall over the fire place in their living room (Upper Eskdale if your interested).  Mavis asked if my mum had painted it (she does do a bit of painting).  Mum looked horrified but pleased at that and told us the it was a 'Heaton Cooper', she also mentioned that there was a gallery of his, his son's and grandson's work in Grassmere.

    While in Ambleside we went to Grassmere, it's only a couple of miles up the road (and there is a very nice ginger bread shop there).  We went to the gallery (after having been in a couple of others and having had a couple of coffees and cakes - and bought some ginger bread).  Mavis was very taken with Heaton Cooper senior, though I must admit I much preferred his son, William's work.  Mavis bought a 3 prints of Alfreds work (I must frame them and put them up before we go again next year).

    OK, here's the serendipity bit.  The person who brought the log house from Norway was Alfred Heaton Cooper. So our favorite eating place and new favorite artists are connected.

    This and us visiting Aria Force falls and not knowing that was the picture in our room has made Mavis start talking about 'it was meant to be' and stuff like that.

    So is it karma (not sure that Mavis has the right word here)  like Mavis thinks or just coincidence as I tend to think?

    01 October 2006

    Slowly returning to normal

    After I got back last Saturday from the latest stint in the US, Mavis and I decided to spend a few days away - especially when we realised this would be the first break more than a long weekend we'd had since Christmas.

    We trundled up to the Lake District, popping in to see my folks in North Wales on the way up. The hotel we stayed at was the Waterhead at Ambleside.  It's a town house that has been done up in a modern way.  They haven't gone over the top though.  The rooms are good, the bathrooms are stunning!  The shower and hand basin  deserve special mention, the water comes out of the centre of a saucer shaped piece of glass, which is angled at about 35 degrees, they way it spills over is, I think, supposed to be like a mountain stream falling over the edge of a cliff.  The sensation is like being draped in warm silk, it took a fair while for Mavis to drag me out of there and down to dinner.

    Dinner in the hotel is OK, I can recommend the Log House, half a mile towards Ambleside from the hotel.  There is a new couple running it from when we last went, which was about 18 months ago, they haven't messed around with the menus though, and it's good, reasonably plain, tasty stuff.  The seafood pasta special I had on the last night was particularly good.

    So, a week spent looking at the hills and lakes, a couple of trips on boats to the fairly well spoilt Bowness, and few simple walks to places like Aira Force Falls (which was also the name of our hotel room - we noticed after the visit to the falls). Now I'm trying to get back into the routine of being office based for a couple of weeks before the next trip.

    Have I got any work clothes left that don't need dry cleaning?
    Will I remember to set the alarm tomorrow?
    What are the chances of me actually going to the gym before going to work tomorrow?
    What are the chances of me going to the gym more than once in the 10 days available?
    How many times will I swear at the traffic on the M40?
    Will anyone every buy this house so we can move?
    How much more crap can there be on the TV?

    Can you tell I'm really chuffed to be back and going to work tomorrow?

    17 September 2006

    Driving New Jersey

    No, not like the film Driving Miss Daisy - more what it's like driving in New Jersey (which it seems has different rules to most of the other US states).

    When a school bus stops on the other side of the road and the car in front of you stops for seemingly no reason, don't toot the horn at him to get a move on. You have to stop irrespective of the side of the road you are on when the school bus stops (Tuesday).

    When you come to a red traffic light and want to turn right, unless it says "no turn on red" you can, if it is clear, turn right. Therefore don't give the guy behind who is tooting at you the V sign or finger (First trip out here).

    At many junctions you can't turn left, you have to turn right and get onto the road crossing the one you were on (they have things called jug handles). Good in concept, bloody confusing in reality.

    When you come to a cross roads (4 way) and both roads are minor roads, you take turns going through the junction. Hint, leaving the Avis card hanging from the rear view mirror, lets people know you may not wait your turn and aren't too sure of all the rules. (Every day).

    You can undertake on the big roads - Brilliant! (If you only I knew before hand).

    On Sundays there are more Sunday drivers going twenty five miles an hour than there are in Oxfordshire. Getting close to their rear bumper does not good as they don't look in their mirrors. Tooting does no good as they probably don't have their hearing aids turned on. Overtaking is dangerous as they swerve out, nearly hitting you when your half way past. (Today)

    When your stopped by the police, smile, show them your British passport and driving licence, sound as posh as you can, plead ignorance, blame Avis for not having an drivers guide, smile some more, watch them get confused over your drivers (sic) licence, they wave nicely at them when they let you off.

    Worked for me this morning anyway!

    16 September 2006

    Just like a boy in New York City

    Managed to get out into town last night, maybe it's just me but the places I've been in New York are always a bit of a dissapointment. Times Square particularly, perhaps it's because I expected it to be bigger, better and brighter than anything else. Like lots of New York it seems a bit more seedy than London. The food was good in the Chinese we went to. I never realised calamari was a chinese dish!

    As most of the week was taken up with meetings, followed by yet more meetings, today, Saturday will be mostly trying to do the work that I should have done - if I wasn't attending meetings. There does seem to be a culture here of people justifying how important and how busy they are by the number of meetings they have in their calendars. Maybe this is just this company, though I get the feeling that it may be a sympton of corporate America - big on talking but poor on execution.

    Yesterday's strange conversation, talking about a technical problem that we had to let some of the business clients know about "can we verbalize that enough".

    Yeah, you just open your mouth and tell them.

    I will get the hang of speaking US soon, honest.

    12 September 2006

    Worst Hire Car Ever?

    I've had some pretty naff and useless hire cars in my trips around the world, most of the nastiest cars have been while in the US. This trip is no exception.

    Because I do this so often, when I get to the Avis desk, invariably my name is shown on the board, with a bay number next to it so I know where to pick the car up from, I can then get in it, and drive off only showing my licence at the gate to get out of the Avis lot. My expectations as I walk down the lines of cars to see what automotive toy to play with aren't very high.

    Past lowlights have been a Chevvy Impala, about four models behind the latest - a nasty plasticky monster, only slightly worse was the Ford Crowne Victoria, a large (very large) car with the handling dynamics of a boat, so bad they put a tiller in instead of a steering wheel.

    Imagine my delight when I saw the Chevvy HHR in bay 58, for the full experience go here .

    Its just a little bit smaller than a Ford Mondeo, but looks like a SUV or pickup that has shrunk in the wash, the forties styling does nothing for it either. I think they got the plastics and switches from the pound shop.

    They have found a funny place to put the volume control, it fits nicely under your right foot. There's lots of noise, from what I'm sure is a V6 engine, but there isn't much forward movement.

    The seats move forwards and back but not up or down, with the stupid little windows it means you have to drive with your chin tucked into your chest because if you sit up properly all you can see is the sun visor.

    I'm supposed to keep this for two weeks, I'm working on an excuse to take it back. . . .

    10 September 2006

    New jersey revisited

    Back in my second home, a hotel on Route one in New Jersey.

    Good things:

    Birmingham airport (the one in the UK, not Alabama). It's tiny compared to Heathrow or Gatwick, but boy is it a lot nicer, hardly any queues at security, plenty of space in the waiting areas (the business lounge was a bit small), I'll have to try it again on a workday rather than rely on being there at stupid o'clock on a Sunday.

    Bad things:

    Cheesy Continental staff, they have got even worse than before, now they the cabin services manager comes and shakes your hand at the beginning and end of the flight and spouts the same spiel to every person sat in business class. I know they make most of the money from the business class flights but maybe they ought to ask the customers if this is really what they want.

    Next bad thing, after 13 hours of travel, got to the hotel about 2pm US time only to be told the room wouldn't be ready for another 2 hours, went shopping and they managed to get me one for 3pm. Think I may have to winge to the corporate travel people.

    Final bad thing: The rental car, what a heap! I'll try and find a picture, it looks as bad as it drives, I Chevvy HHR if you can't wait for the next grumpy post.

    I've ironed my stuff, ran Mavis, got the room sorted and it's only half four US time so need to stay awake for another 6 or 7 hours so that I don't wake up at 3am with no chance of going back to sleep. Unfortunately I have two reports to read and comment on and a presentation to create, I can think of better ways of spending my time - trouble is none of the better things I can think of are do-able out here.

    Time for my first of many Cheerios meals I think.

    09 September 2006

    Happy Anniversary

    Well, a belated happy anniversary, ours was on the 5th (I could have swore blind it was the 6th - but will let it pass).

    We had a stunning lunch at the Angel in Long Crendon (near to Thame if you must know), it's a long way from the sea but the fish dishes are brilliant - and of course helped down with a glass of Riesling - or more than one glass in the case of Mavis. The puddings were very chocolate and calorie laden. We waddled out to the car after a couple of hours.

    Then off to John Lewis in High Wycombe to get me a new brief case as the one I have they won't let me through airport security with. It was my present as Mavis, even after her prompting, forgot to get me anything, and thanks to some good ideas from people on here I didn't!

    So thank you all for the suggestions, for some reason I was struggling to think of anything to do with paper, a quick trip to Paperchase in Borders while Mavis looked at another IT book found the stuff I knew she would like.

    Mavis loves making lists, and loves those gel pens that write in garish colours (I've checked, it's a girl thing), so I got a nice pretty box (about quarter the size of a shoe box) and filled it with gel pens, posh note paper, a small leather bound notebook, a dinky little calculator and a couple of other bits and pieces. Did the trick, especially as Mavis hadn't got me anything.

    Our delayed anniversary celebration will continue like this: Mavis has gone for a snooze, I need to get my things together for a two week business trip but daren't get the case down from the loft in case I wake her - and most of the clothes are in the bedroom where Mavis is delicately snoring her head off.

    This means, I'll doodle on the computer, do a few more emails, pack my nice new briefcase with the flight essentials (laptop, PSP, MP3 player, headphones, passport, eticket - in that order). I'll make a little it of noise in an hour so I can get on with the packing of the case. Then we'll probably watch the Maria thing on the TV, be too sleepy still from lunch to go out, so will watch either the last night of the proms or x factor. (we will fight over proms or x factor but for some strange reason I quite like that Maria show). Then early to bed to be up at 4am to get ready to go to Birmingham for the delights of the flight to Newark - Oooooh I can't wait.

    Thanks for all the suggestions for paper presents for the anniversary, Mavis seems chuffed which of course means I am. . . . .

    06 September 2006

    Paper Anniversary

    A year ago yesterday Mavis and I got married on a big boat off the shore of the Bahamas.

    As I'm disappearing off to the states for a couple of weeks again on Sunday we thought we would go to a nice restaurant we know on Saturday rather than try and cram things in during the week (one of us would bound to be late because of work).

    Mavis did manage to drop a little bombshell in a text she sent me.  It mentioned, 'we can exchange presents, I've only got you a little something and yes it's paper'.

    Strange  I thought, why would she give me cash?  After a wander through the corridors to get a coffee it dawned on me.  First Anniversary, must be paper. Bugger, Exchange gifts, double bugger.

    As we've done the soppy poems, have loads of photos of each other and currently need to buy 3 more bookcases to store the mountains of novels, hardbacks and seriously uncool IT non fiction books, all of these are out.

    Two days to think of something, all suggestions gratefully received......

    04 September 2006

    Christmas is coming

    Heard on the radio the other day that they are switching the lights on at Blackpool.

    Bloody ell, that's a bit early I was thinking.

    But then on second thoughts it is a resort (of sorts, bit different from when I went there as a kid), and it is starting to get dark at about half eight so maybe it is that time of year (I'm sure it used to be about Bonfire night when they used to turn them on though).

    I carried on down the road muttering about how times fly and how times change.  Near to where I live there is a carvery on one of the roundabouts.

    When we first moved here, the lady who was selling us the house (Her name was Pearl, a lady of a certain age, who we couldn't help but call Pearl the Swinger thereafter), recommended this place to us.

    It was one of those places that when you go to and actually have some of the food your think one of the following:

    God, I'd hate to have a meal at their place,
    Maybe it's changed hands since they were here.
    Maybe we upset them if the recommended this crap.

    Or others along those lines, it was pretty awful.  Anyway, they have a nice new banner draped tastefully over the building.

    "Book early for Christmas, bookings now being taken."

    Good grief, how much earlier can the Christmas season start?

    01 September 2006

    Mac codes

    When I heard about MAC codes earlier this week I initially thought it was to do with dirty old men in big raincoats and secret signals between them (Thumb showing over right pocket, two buttons undone indicates local branch of dirty old men).

    The only other MAC thing I know about is MAC addresses (bit techy, its an ID all computer equipment that talks to other stuff has to identify itself).

    There is now a new MAC code or address.  It's the thing that your ISP who, when it suits them, let you access the interweb over their connection.

    A few years ago I got my current connection through work (my phone line, they provide the broadband).  This through a useless French company in a misguide attempt to get a global contract.  Eventually this got transferred to another UK company who of course I'd never heard of.

    Now we are moving again, this time to BT.  I have a BT line, can they change the broadband from the no-name company I am currently with?  Of course not, they need a MAC code.  The company who currently has the account, can't find a trace of me or the account - guess who won't issue a MAC code?

    Guess whose not been online all week while they try and sort themselves out?

    Blurry irriots

    26 August 2006

    The danger of modern technology

    The daily work load is increasing,, so much so that in the new car, I've had the hands free kit installed.  This is so I can try and get the US folks to ring me on my way home from work and do the networking chat stuff they like to do. 

    Quite frankly I could do without it but unless I speak to each one of my team members, the outside project manager and other various project sponsors at least daily (and say at least one 'Great Job' per call), I get the lost puppy dog look from my boss that tells me I'm not quite doing enough of the human interfacing.

    It's been a couple of years since I bothered with a hands free kit, this new, bluetooth one, seems very slinky, I can keep the phone in my pocket and either let it ring for 5 seconds and talk (or listen) or press a discreet button near the radio to accept or reject the call.  All very civilized.

    After a couple of weeks the boss realized I had another couple of hours to talk while traveling and occasionally asked me to call him while on the way home.  Being a bright spark, I set up the voice control for him, Mavis and a few others.

    For those that don't use it, this is a neat idea, I press the button on the dashboard, it cuts out the radio, I shout 'Mavis', the phone dials her number, she answers, I tell her to get the tea on cos I'm nearly home, press the button, it cuts Mavis off to leave her to do the tea, turns my radio back on.  All with barely a distraction from the queue of cars infront of me on the M40.  (There is bit of a fib in this paragraph, I'll leave you to guess which bit - hint:  it involves food).

    Last night on the way home, the queues were swelled by those who wanted to experience the delights of minutely examining the hard shoulder and fences that adorn the M40 so that they had something to talk about to their relatives who they are visiting for the bank holiday weekend; so it took a bit longer to crawl between Junctions 8 and 9 than normal.  'I know, I'll ring the boss and let him know what I've done today' I thought.

    I pressed the discreet button.

    I shouted 'Bastard'.

    Nothing happened.

    Push, 'Bastard', nothing,

    Push, 'BASTARD'. nothing.

    Repeat about 12 times.

    Did I mention that the discreet button had a volume control round the outside of it?

    It was turned down to minimum.

    I spent 5 minutes of the call, telling my boss that I'd tried to call him, but terminated the call because someone in the car next to me was having a road rage fit against the bloke in the car in front of him and kept on shouting and swearing at him.

    Wonder if he believes me?

    Should I change his name on the voice control?

    Should I grow up?

    20 August 2006

    A little too polite?

    Continental Airlines have always had very polite and 'nice' people on it's aeroplanes. The service in business class (no, I wouldn't pay for it myself either but if the company is.....) has always been, well, I hate to use the word again but nice.  Nothing over the top, the meal takes a bit too long (4 or 5 courses but the ice cream sundays are better than nice).  They have fairly new air craft, the seats aren't too bad, everything tends to work.  Check in at Newark could be better.  So overall, nice.

    They aren't a patch on Virgin, but their Upper Class costs abut 500 pounds more each way, I think quite a few, including BA could learn from Virgin, not just in the service, seats but in customer service, their communications during the recent security hiccup were amazingly accurate and well timed - nothing from BA or Continental except telling me how many points on their programmes I have and how to check in online.

    But back to the nice Continental people.  Their latest wheeze to get people to come back to their business class is a bit over the top.  The Cabin Services Manager, or Cabin Services Director on big flights (I think it means steward or stewardess who has been there the longest) now has to greet each business passenger individually.  Do they do this as you board? As you take your seat?  Of course not.  Once you have got to your seat, handed your jacket in, got out book, laptop, ipod and all the other stuff essential for a flight these days, they come round and offer you a drink before departure.  All twenty or sometimes forty odd people are now sat down, sipping the drink of their choice, looking at the menu or reading newspapers and the poor Cabin Services Manager now has to come down each aisle, and shake each person's hand and tell them that they really appreciate their business and having them on board and wishing them an enjoyable flight. On the flight out last week, I thought that it was a one off and just that particular persons thing, as it happened on the way back, and the stewardess did look a bit sheepish having to do it, I assume it is now policy.

    I'm sure I saw a couple of Brits feigning sleep rather go through the slightly embarrassing routine, I wonder if I'll do that as well in a couple of weeks on the next trip?

    15 August 2006

    Sods Law

    While I'm chuffed for all those travelling from UK airports from tomorrow as the travel restrictions have been lifted.

    Why the sodding hell couldn't they have lifted them yesterday when I was enjoying in minute detail the halls, corridors and security checkpoints of Gatwick?


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    14 August 2006

    An English Boy in New Jersey (again)

    19 hours after leaving home I've finally got to what feels like my second home, the Marriott on Route One, Princeton.

    Mavis took me to Gatwick, we left at 7.30 Sunday morning. It's just coming up to 2am Monday morning UK time so 19 or 20 hours, my brain is a bit dead and I can't be bothered to take my socks and shoes off to finish off the adding up (or subtracting).

    The long lines at Gatwick weren't too bad (pretty grim though). There was a huge line of people shuffling to the check in area, I was thinking it was quite organised. Until I hit the check in area, then its a free for all. A seething mass of humanity, all with luggage, 95% of which are milling about trying to find out which zone their check in desk is in, then spending 5 minutes in disbelief as they see the size of the line waiting to check in. I managed to dodge most of them, and even smiled at the odd few who managed to run over my heels with their trolleys.

    Check in was a little like queuing for food in Beriut but nothing like as bad as the slowly shuffling line to get through security. The amount of people though who tried to take a bag through was amazing - maybe they haven't seen the news or read a paper in the last few days.

    Joy of joys, despite what the notices said, you can buy a book (once through security) and as long as you have the receipt, they let you take it on the plane. No pens though, my cunning plan was to buy a note book and and reading book, then use the pen in the otherwise useless travel pack Continental give you - however it took a while to get onto the plane to put the writing up notes bit of the plan into action.

    The plane was supposed to depart at 1230, according to all the schedules it was on time, by the time I'd stood in the 4 different lines of refugees I only had 20 minutes before boarding. That makes it about 2 and a half hours of queuing. So get to the departure gate for 1130 and then spend an hour and a half waiting to get onto the plane, once on it took another hour and a half to take off.

    Security at Newark was pretty standard, though you do have to show your passport to get off the plane, it's the same wait as normal for the non smiling immigration fella to stamp your passport. There was one moment of note while stood in yet another line though, one of the immigration guys, yelled at the top of his voice to a woman in another line to find another line to stand in as he wouldn't handle her passport as she'd been holding it in her mouth while she got something out of her plastic bag. (Never thought of it before and have probably done it myself, must remember not to in future (or at least not to do it where anyone can see).

    So, finally here, managed to get the grocery store to stock up on a catering pack of chicken and some pasta, and of course the obligatory Cheerios for breakfast for when I can't be bothered to cook.

    The security checks going back seem similar to the ones going out, I wonder if they relax them at all by Friday?

    12 August 2006

    The long wait

    Despite my best efforts at feigning illness, madness and general apathy I haven't managed to get out of yet another business trip to the US. So tomorrow I'll generally be hanging around Gatwick airport.  Continental Lounge, South Terminal to be exact.  I may be trying to speed read a book - read on to find out why.

    You may have noticed from the TV, Radio, Internet or Newspaper that there's bit a security alert at British airports at the moment.  Thankfully I'm travelling 4 days after the initial implementation of the new security features so the scenes of chaos may not be quite so bad by the time I get there.

    It will still be an uninteresting day though.  Continental and the corporate security company are recommending arriving 4 hours prior the the original flight departure time. Most flight to the US are about 3 hours behind schedule (you still have to get there 4 hours before it was supposed to take off, not the new time).

    Current estimates are that it will take about 20 hours, a bit longer than normal by about 8 hours. OK, I can cope with that. Then heard the bit about only being able to take on board a passport, ticket, glasses (no case), pocket sized wallet (I thought they all were pocket sized) or purse (never seen a pocket sized one of them).  Eeeek, no laptop, PSP, Ipod, headphones, mobile phone (with more games on). Oh well, it's for security reasons.

    Double Eeek, no pen or paper (there goes the plan of getting some work done), no book to read either!

    Then a spec of relief, once through the first lot of screening (about 2 hours today) you can then buy things and take them on the plane as long as they aren't liquid. Hooray, at least I can get a pad, pen and a couple of books, perhaps a newspaper to take on board with me.  I bet it has to taxi for at least an hour, then in the stack for a while, then wait for a stand to become free, the eight hours quickly gets to 10 hours so having at least a book to read will be bit of a relief. (I did have a brief thought that maybe the terrorists are sponsored by the shops that have duty free outlets at Heathrow and Gatwick but that would be a bit cynical).

    Bugger, they have now changed the BAA website to say that of course you can buy stuff from the duty free shops once you are through security - Unless your going to the US, in which case you can buy things from the nice duty free shops but aren't allowed to take it on the plane.

    I have a feeling I'll know every letter and mark on my passport by the time I get to Newark and will of course of read the emergency card for the aeroplane 26 times, not to mention the duty free brochure.  I still don't think I'll be bored enough to read Continentals inflight magazine though.

    I wonder if the laptop and other electronic goodies, including mobile phone will actually make it across the Atlantic in my suitcase?

    11 August 2006

    Gouls or trying to cash in?

    After another hectic week, including driving from London to the North East and back in a day, I settled down last night to read the local paper.  You know the sort, two pages of news, 5 pages of garage adverts for second hand cars and a supplement bigger than that of houses for sale.  After a couple of minutes I realised it was from the week before. The headline story made me choke on my Horlicks though.

    The day I picked up the shiney new car car, I drove back home to Oxford via the M40, and as the normal encirclement of road works gridlocks the ring roads decided I'd chance going up to J9 and the madness that is the A34.

    While passing the last turn off for Oxford the traffic report came on saying that there was an accident North bound on the A34, 'I'll still try it' I thought, as I was going to be going South. Bugger, wrong again.

    It took an hour to do a single mile.  The accident on the other side of the road was pretty bad, a car transporter and another big artic.  What I didn't know until I heard it on the radio was that there was a car underneath the transporter.  4 were killed in the car.  When it's a bad accident like that there's nothing much you can do except slowly inch forwards, feeling glad it wasn't me and mine in the car on the opposite side of the road.

    Reading the local rag I found out why it was so bad on the road that didn't have the accident on it.  Rather than just slow down to nose at what's happening as often happens, some drivers were slowing down, taking out their mobile phones, complete with camera and taking pictures.  The police, when they had the spare time were stopping them and 'doing' them for using a mobile while driving. This was holding up the traffic even more.  The quote from the police was that they charged about 15 but could have done 3 or 4 time that number but didn't have the resources and the build up of traffic was starting to back onto the M40.

    Personally I don't blame the police, I think I'd have done something similar in their shoes, on reflection, something a lot worse if I was able.

    It makes me think though, why on earth would someone want such a photograph, is it because it's different? Or to explain to their wives or girlfriends (I presume they were all male but could of course be wrong) why they were late?  Or could it be because they thought they could sell the photographs to the newspapers or get it on the local BBC website?

    05 August 2006

    What gear do you think you should you be in dear?

    Apart for being manically busy this week, it was a good week. I got my new car. It's not actually mine, being a company car but near enough.

    Very nice and shiny and it is too. It also has that new car smell, I'm still deciding if I like it or not. On the one hand it signifies that well being feeling of having something new, on the other hand it is a bit chemically if you see what I mean.

    It's amazing the clarity of the view through the windscreen and rear window. The nice man who delivered it, unfortunately for him, had to pick up the old one. On the handover notes for the exterior he noted down a couple of stone chips on the bonnet and slightly scuffed alloy wheels. His notes for the inside read 'grubby'. I think I blushed a little when he wrote that, I'd taken out the rubbish but not actually cleaned it, so he had a point. I really noticed what he meant when I looked out of the windows in the new one though. Note to self - clean this one a little more often.

    The last 4 or 5 cars I've had have been automatics. In order to save a bit of cash for operation 'Moving to the other side of the M40' I've gone for a manual this time.

    After 7 or so years of automatics it takes a bit of getting used to a manual again! I managed to stall it quite a few times on the first day. For some reason mild panic sets in when I stall it. It seems to take ages to put a foot on the brake and clutch and press the start button (impressed? Start Button - I thought they were only on very old cars, they seem to be making a comeback), all the time waiting for someone to peep or at least catch sight of raised eyebrows in the rear view mirror. Thank fully that hasn't happened yet.

    The other thing I am struggling with is 2nd gear. No matter how I try, getting it into second from first is bit of a bugger. Mavis reckons I nearly broke her neck on Thursday the lurch was so bad. Lots of practice needed there I think.

    Mavis was particularly impressed with my hill starts though, I haven't dared to admit that the car has a gizmo built into it that holds the cars brakes for a couple of seconds if you have the clutch and brake depressed so you don't get that rolling back feeling (no doubt followed by yet another kangarooing lurch as I stir the oil and bit trying to get it into second). I'm sure she'll be onto me when she decides she wants a drive, I'll probably adopt an air of nonchalance and feign ignorance of that particular feature, intimating that my superb driving skills haven't need that sort of assistance yet.

    I have to admit, I'm not the worlds best driver, for many reasons, impatience probably being the biggest problem. So if your driving round Oxford in the next week or too, please be patient if your overtaken or tailgated by a shiny black estate thingy from a certain Bavarian car maker. You'll be able to tell it's me when you catch me up at the next lights or roundabout and the car takes off like a duck with one leg and the passengers head is imitating one of those nodding dogs.

    'Yes dear, I'll change up now. . Anything else?'