David's diary: March 2006
Wednesday morning, and the day's dragging even before ten o'clock - even after undoubtedly my best night's sleep in weeks. Same old same old here really, but I've just received an email expressing an interest in me from one of the other teams. Two roles, one of which I'm sure I'd looked at before and fairly quickly discounted, but the other might be worth pursuing once I know what all the jargon and acronyms mean. Someone will apparently contact me later today. My main concern is not to jump out of the frying pan and into the fire - and have my mobility restricted into the bargain, given that at the moment I get the impression they are being at least a little bit flexible by way of a degree of acknowledgement of the mess they've dragged me through over the six months since I accepted this post. Being as low as I am feeling, it would be too easy to take the first alternative opportunity that came along, but I would need to be sure it was measurably better than this role before making any commitment. On the other hand, it probably is make or break now. Six months is more than long enough to have been messed around for, even if I've only actually been in post for four of them. So if today's discussions prove not to be useful, I'll be starting on that favourite old cycle of mine with the job websites I guess; for all the good they have ever done me, they're sadly the way things are done now, for the kind of work I delude myself into thinking I am looking for. Just would need to discuss and decide whether we can afford for me to quit from here before I have somewhere else definite to go, given that my track record is that whilst I am working I do not remotely have the energy left to job hunt too.
The work that should have been weeks ago, was going to have been today, was almost yesterday (indeed we just had gone upstairs in a delegation to have a first look when the news was broken) but then finally was going to be Friday after all, is now scheduled for Monday - and I believe Ladbrokes are doing roaring business. Apparently the bloke in charge is terribly apologetic, but I doubt anyone's told him that it's being screwed around by him and his partners in crime here that have been responsible for two weeks of absence from me so far this year - almost more than I have taken off from any other job ever - and lots more to come at the current rate of them learning from their mistakes...
Under half an hour to last out today now, and thankfully the earlier snow seems to have stopped now. I love snow, under the right circumstances, but given this nation's seeming inability to cope with a few flakes without journeys suddenly tripling or more in duration I'm glad this appears to have come to nothing. Of course they are still forecasting "severe weather" for later in the week, but I really can't say that anything other than severe sub-zero would count, and that is plainly not what they're predicting, more just not the weather for a picnic.
After the morning's excitement, precisely nothing more of any interest has come to pass other than a flurry of emails relating by various degrees to our new inflexible benefits. Namely, complete confusion over how much individual items are actually worth (no-one, least of all the people administering the scheme, seems to know for sure), and speculation that air-conditioning and heating are now opt-in items not provided as standard... So, amusing and diverting though all that may well be in the short term, it's making my next move a bit clearer.
As I drove into work this morning I asked for a sign, and promptly found that my network login no longer works properly. That might have been compelling, but for the fact that there are now at least two or three other similar helpdesk tickets raised (and I don't believe God wants us all to leave), I had a phone call from someone in connection with internal recruitment, and most of all, Joe brought in chocolate croissants for everyone in our bay... Add to that, coming out of our Alpha feedback session last night even more confused and lacking in direction than ever, and I really am utterly at a loss to know what to do about anything much at the moment. My mind is clearer than it's been for a long time, but that's really not helping with making sense of this quagmire of a life.
Three hours on and my network login appears to be working again. I do like the approach of starting with the most recent tickets first, and telling everyone apart from those directly affected what's going on - well at least in terms of reinforcing my desire to get the hell out of here as soon as possible. Needless to say there is no booking code in our time recording system for time wasted while unable to work. Obviously the idiot management response would be that we should find something productive to do that doesn't require use of the systems that are unavailable. In my case, that was trawling some of the job websites... Mind you there's no booking code for that. Perhaps I'll invent one: P45-ASAP.
I keep being exhorted to "hang on in there", like it's the cure-all for life's woes. It's not; it's the way to let others take best advantage of you at your lowest ebb while you waste your own precious life in vain hope of a "something better" that won't come into being unless you are proactive about enabling it.
As I said in an opinion piece I had published late last year, life's too short, and I challenged myself to do something about it. Is "hanging on in there" the best response to my self-challenge? Amidst all the general nodding of approval at the time, I'm not sure I quite realised where this was going to take me...
Another more compelling sign received this evening... Don't know quite what to make of it, or what will come of it, but God's timing really is quite uncanny.
Yummy tea too, a Katy/David joint effort - Katy cooking a spot-on main course of fresh pasta stuffed with mushrooms, with bacon, tomato, herbs and roasted vegetables, and me using up the last of our pancake batter mix from Tuesday by preparing hot waffles with strawberries and chocolate sauce. Well nourished!
I have to laugh at least a teensy little bit. A memo has gone out this morning regarding abuse of the company logo, someone having noticed - as indeed I did - that some people are using unauthorised and/or outdated versions. But reading the "regulations" further, it turns out that not only is the official logo required content on all communications, all use technically requires specific authorisation, all use requires yet another paragraph of disclaimer twaddle, and to cap it all, graphics are not supposed to be included in emails - which is why they have provided a font-based version, which proudly displays as an upper-case "E" on any but the few thousand PCs in the world with the said font installed. I believe this is what is politely known as a half-baked mess.
Anyway, it's Friday, and it doesn't feel like I've just had a short week. Some decent work to get my teeth into would help, but the powers that be seem to be quite happy to pay me to do flip-all as I gently slide back into the pit I have fallen into twice this year already. Nothing much planned for the weekend; this was to have been our second choice date for a trip to Milton Keynes but neither of us was really in a fit state to contemplate that. We've got some other less ambitious ideas, but on balance another nice quiet weekend will be in order.
Yet more bickering buck-passing politics this morning that I really had no interest in at all but that those involved dragged me into anyway. I can't and won't go into details, but it doesn't heighten my sense of this really being any more reputable than the fly-by-night outfits I've worked for in the past... I had a phone call this morning relating to an alternative internal position I had shown interest in and have set up an informal interview for next Wednesday. That's good, but they'll have to try hard to convince me that it really will be better than this, and I'll have to try hard to conceal my justifiable cynicism.
But I am at least starting to feel that there is some hope of a way out of here that I can hold my head up high, when only a couple of days ago it really did seem like the only way to go could only blight my lousy career still further. I have felt really quite distant from God lately, but having asked in desperation he certainly seems now to be nudging me to remind me that no matter how distant I may feel, he's still there and still cares dearly about what happens to me.
Have I said before how terrible our web access is here? It's supposed to be automatically available to all new starters, but since I didn't technically exist for several months after starting I was late getting it. But it really is questionable whether it's worth having. For "security reasons" it is accessible only through two levels of Windows terminal services on horribly overloaded servers. One level would be bad enough, but two really is unimaginable without trying it. It's bearable in the morning, but once our American colleagues get to work you might as well forget it. Further, sites with anything but the most rudimentary graphic content completely grind to a halt - and sadly that's an increasing number of our own company websites and other online resources, most especially anything buying into Hewlett Packard's latest advertising campaign. They're in the process of commissioning some new servers to balance the load a little better, but when I tried them they barely worked at all. I'm sure they could save a packet by removing stupid Flash videos and suchlike from intranet resources, and make them optional on external sites. But no, there's no chance of anything as simple and obvious as that while we're best buddies with Bill, and no doubt the more Windows servers that get installed the better someone's bonus is, even if us poor sods on the ground have to make do with mediocrity.
Nice enough if reasonably uneventful weekend, much needed as we both still try to bring our health back up to at least par. We got out for a walk up at Alice Holt yesterday, and today (apart from dragging ourselves along to church in the morning) have been out to Aldershot for a buffet Chinese lunch and a bit of shopping with George and Kit for the first time in quite a while, as well as popped along to a planning meeting for the next OAPs' party. Both moderately shattered now though, and Katy's back at work tomorrow after a couple of weeks off once again, so planning on taking it nice and easy for the evening now.
Monday, back to work, and how much do you think has changed since last week, when everything was supposed to have changed? Umm, yeah, you guessed it... But if they're happy to pay me a few hundred quid a week to do nothing but prepare myself for my inevitable getaway, more fool them. So in the meantime, just pressing on with some SharePoint and C++ training material, pretty dreadful though it is, punctuated by occasional visits from my boss apologising about the lack of any proper work for me to do. Times change a little bit, with one of my immediate colleagues having moved on to pastures new, albeit still within the company. This bay has seen quite a few staff changes over the past months, and needless to say I intend that should be a tradition that continues. Sadly no responses as yet to any of the emails I fired off at the end of last week regarding opportunities outside this company, but seeing as at least one of those was to a recruiter I really shouldn't expect a reply to all of them. Still, at least I am in a slightly stronger position than in the past, being in work at the time of job-hunting so no awkward explanations of why I've been out of work for the last eight months or whatever. OK, so in practice I have in fact been out of work for most of the last four and a half months too, but it doesn't look like that way to anyone who doesn't know the full story, and I can be selective who exactly I tell. I do feel though that maybe God is trying to drop hints that now is the time to do my own thing, as I stumble from appalling employer to appalling employer and get increasingly despondent about it, as is plainly evident from reading this diary. Some have been better than others but I have yet to find a company or organisation that I can be truly content in and even want to build a career. But I am too cautious to grab the bull by its horns and do what I need to, with the risks involved. I need more faith...
Tuesday morning, and using matchsticks to keep my eyes open, being very wary of splinters of course. Work may be decidedly lacking but it's still been a pretty hectic last day, for a combination of other reasons, and sleep has gone back to decided mediocrity - though I know I did sleep because I remember dreaming that the Queen had died, and I expect I snored - which really doesn't help much.
Main hassle has been with the car. At the end of last year I took it in to our local tyre place to get a definite slow puncture repaired and to have the spare checked since I wasn't entirely happy with that either. They mended the first, but deemed the spare to be fine after testing it. But the other day, I found I had another unconnected slow puncture, so swapped that tyre with the supposedly good spare, and needless to say within a day the replacement was down by a good 20psi. So we ran the car round to the tyre place just before they closed for business last night and they tried in vain to find anything wrong with either the almost flat tyre or the one it had replaced. Clearly not very satisfactory, but there wasn't a lot more they could do on the spot, so after some discussion we agreed they would keep the worse of the tyres in overnight, and Katy and I would swap cars today so she could pop back before going into work, having a little more flexibility in that regard - and not as far to drive or as busy roads if there was still a problem. It turns out that the tyre did indeed go down overnight but they still couldn't see why, so they have fitted a new valve to eliminate that as a possibility, and that's the tyre Katy's risked taking to work while they run tests on the other... All fun fun fun, like it always is with cars, and I am just so thankful that Katy was able to help out as she has.
It was a bit funny as we sat in the waiting room though, shattered after the day and decidedly sullen with hassles we didn't need at that point. It was like we were sat in a hospital, waiting for news of a loved one hurt in an accident, undergoing surgery or something. But, no matter how much we rightly insist they are just petrol-powered lumps of metal and plastic, cars can be like that...
That all meant we were unavoidably a little late for setting up for Alpha, but we were still there before our guests arrived for the meal, so no problem there - and it was a good evening, with Simon talking in typically engaging fashion on how and why we should share our faith. We also thankfully had the chance to talk privately about a couple of essentially communication-based issues that had come to light recently, which although not necessarily fully resolved, weigh a little less heavily now, and there is now a degree of understanding.
There's been some possible progress on one of the more interesting external job opportunities I'm currently pursuing, with someone from a local company trying to arrange an interview which will hopefully take place within the next few days. I also have an interview for an internal position tomorrow morning, which doesn't interest me anywhere near as much but I feel that with this company having belatedly made at least a little effort to find me proper work, I owe it to them to at least pay attention to what little they might have to offer.
Questionable progress, still, on getting something to get my teeth into here in the short term though. I've now been back for a week after my last bout of illness, and of course I was assured it would be pretty much ready to roll this time last week - as indeed it was supposed to have been after I was ill the time before, etc etc. So we went upstairs this morning to check it out, having been told it would be ready, and of course it was still stuck under some guy's desk and hadn't really been looked at. ETA for getting it up and running then shifted to 11.30, and needless to say 11.30 has passed without any more news.
Still, at least it feels like my escape plans may be gaining flesh.
On a rather better note I think, I have just started reading The Lord of the Rings. Well, I thought I'd started reading it the other day, but have only just finished ploughing through the "Note on the text", "Foreword to the second edition" and the "Prologue concerning hobbits and other matters", and been able to start on the story proper - and so far so good. I must admit I do have a bit of an aversion to books that require too many diagrams, maps and so on - most often seen in books clearly written with the dream that one day they might become a blockbuster film, ironically - but I guess we can cut Tolkien a bit of slack. But anyway, enjoying it so far, and it's certainly beaten going out into the pouring rain for my lunchtime R and R. My late uncle Tim (an accomplished writer himself) apparently considered Tolkien to have been a wasted talent, and I think I can see where he was coming from, but hey if I can enjoy it, what's the problem? Time will tell if I can cope with all three volumes, of course...
The revised ETA was 11.30. There is now no ETA, and even less hope. Apparently the machine that was supposedly being set up for us has had to be cannibalised to fix one of the customer's field units. Dejection and desperation reigns supreme in these parts, with loads of people seriously wondering how long we can carry on as we currently are. Oh well, it's a good thing I've managed to secure myself an interview with regard to that external job opportunity, eh?
It's great that I can tell whether a newly-arrived email is worth reading without actually looking at it! That is to say, if I hear a crescendo of beeps and Windows "ding-dongs" from the rest of the office, leading up to my own machine beeping, I know it's just going to be another pointless announcement, whinge about the air conditioning, or last-wordist follow-up twaddle message. When my machine alone beeps, it probably really is a message just for me - or in my idleness I've accidentally kicked the reset button, of course...
Well the tyre they fitted the new valve to seems to be staying up nicely, so that seems to have solved that. The spare obviously has a little bit of a question mark hanging over it, but they've said to come back in a week's time and they've refused to take a penny off us for their services thus far. Back to driving our own cars tomorrow, anyway. Just watch me emergency stop at the end of our close, oh yes... So long as Katy doesn't do quite the opposite!
No emergency stops, and no other problems. All quiet here - especially with a couple of colleagues out on site today - but got my internal interview in a few minutes so I'd better be wrapping up to walk across to the other offices. I'm primarily viewing this as "experience" but am being open-minded just in case...
Been, gone, and back again. As expected it was a pretty informal chat, rather than a full blown interview, and indeed we ended up having it in the canteen rather than the meeting room as intended - though the coffee machine there had a distinct lack of decaf so I hope I'm not awake all night tonight as a result. But anyway, the upshot seems to be that there are three roles that I can have if I want (though I'd not be greedy, just one would do) and there would be work for me to do as soon as I could make my move. So actually quite positive, and more than mere interview experience (indeed, probably not really good interview experience at all since it was all so informal), but although he would be keen for me to start a.s.a.p. the guy quite understands that I have other options to consider and don't want to rush my decision so he's not pushing me in any way. Still, it's nice to be wanted, though I don't want to be taken on as a charity case - and I do have to rather suspect that the guy had been tipped off to at least some extent of the imperativeness of my finding another role, and from the company's point of view, an internal one obviously has its benefits...
It was damp but not quite raining when I walked across to my "interview", but it's now very definitely wet outside. No pressing need to go to Tesco, and no great desire to tog up in waterproofs or to fetch my brolly from the car, so looks like I'll be reading another chapter of my book instead, doesn't it?
I eventually decided the benefits of getting some fresh air were greater than the risk of getting soaked, so I did go out in the end. And still read a bit when I came back, in the continuing absence of much else worthwhile to do. Nice email upon my return, relating to our wonderful new flexible benefits package. Apparently because our health-care - if opted for - will now be paid from our salary rather than as a perk, its tax status changes. I'm sure it doesn't make any difference in the end, but it does mean that our tax code changes for next year as a result. But, and this is the best bit, all indications at present are that it's incumbent on ourselves to inform the Inland Revenue of this - and if we don't, we'll be over-taxed and have to cross our fingers for a rebate in a year's time. Perhaps at some point just one single announcement will be made that will promote this new scheme as being genuinely beneficial rather than a downright millstone, but they're not doing at all well on the PR front so far.
This company models its staff retention policy on NTL's customer service - i.e. only do anything about a problem when the customer threatens to jump ship - and that's official! There's a bloke in personnel who's been doing a bit of running around on my behalf, but not with any particular urgency by the sounds of it. Well certainly not, given that when he realised earlier today that I might just be looking outside the walls of this institution, he audibly shifted up a gear. It's really rather amusing to think there are people here so brainwashed that they are genuinely surprised when they hear that a staff member who's been screwed around in multiple ways since Day One, without significant improvement after four months, and been off work several weeks as a direct result, might actually be considering that working for another company could be a good idea. It was a calculated gamble to even mention external opportunities (he was first a little shocked I meant outside our division, let alone the company, like I had just queried the Pope's catholicism) and I am little concerned that his stepping up a gear might upset a few people who have been doing at least as much to try and help, but hey, I need work (and my sanity back) darn it, and if that ups the ante a little then so be it! If I do get an internal transfer (as appears possible if I want it, regardless of this bloke's efforts) that needn't preclude my taking external work almost immediately if something better comes up, and wouldn't look bad on my CV. My loyalty is earned, not indoctrinated.
Thinking some more about that, the simplest explanation is that the bloke's on an incentive scheme, and loses out on every employee who is referred to him who eventually goes elsewhere. I am told it is "his job to find work for people looking to move so it's in his interests to find something suitable", so given that he always unnecessarily phones from his mobile, it sounds like he quite probably is employed on similar terms to the average agency-based recruiter.
Anyway, had a nice evening out yesterday, visiting Jo and Ian - though, as we had planned, Ian and I walked out to the pub and put the world to rights over a couple of pints of Adnams finest, while Jo and Katy did similarly at home while experimenting with a bit of massage - though no beer. Come this morning, the world's probably all gone wrong again, but hey, it's the thought that counts.
It would be nice to be able to announce that having put the world to rights last night I'm now so much clearer about what to do regarding work and church, as the two main things getting me down at the moment. Not so. But hopefully it's like when you blitz a room, and for the first hour it seems worse than ever as you pull stuff out of the recesses to sort through. That's to say, it has to get a little bit worse, albeit in an organised fashion, before it gets better. Hopefully that's where I am at the moment in life. I think I broadly know where I'm going now, even if the exact destination and quite how I'm going to get there remains elusive - but it's only by pulling everything out that I'm going to crack it. So I was glad to be able to speak so openly with someone both intelligent and emotionally unattached who really could understand where I was coming from. Far too many people around us, in all fields of life, are too blinkered by familiarity, only pondering the "approved thoughts" as talked about recently, so - although lovely people - are never really going to be the ones to help troubleshoot life in all its undoubted and undeniable subtlety.
Damn, it's raining again, just in time for my lunchtime constitutional...
Some of this training software is so badly produced, I have to wonder for a moment whether it's been written in-house... In my desperation for something to do, I decided to do a Perl course. Not that I'm particularly learning much (except a few little nuggets like "!~" being the doesn't-match regex operator) but it's providing a refresher and reminding me how much I do in fact know. But a little while ago, the Thomson NETg player used decided to get stuck in a loop, and ten minutes later was still doing its pointless little animation. I eventually managed to persuade the window to close, and restarted the player. Of course, it tried to carry on from where I got to before, and yes, you guessed it, it got stuck again, and even more solidly than before. Rather like the lovely bug in Jet Set Willy back in the home computer days, where even an "infinite lives" POKE wouldn't save you if you entered a room such that you died immediately, kindly replaying your doomed manoeuvre until you pulled the power plug out. However, on about the fourth or fifth time of asking I have finally managed to restart the player without it locking solid, but of course that's because this time it's completely forgotten where I got to. Ah well.
It's Friday, thank Crunchie. Another week of nothingness almost over with, and yet again assurance that my next bit of work will appear "next week". I tried to pin down a particular day (or at least some idea of whether it's going to be the start of the week, the middle of the week, or 4.59pm on Friday) but no-one was silly enough to oblige this time round. Still, maybe on Monday I might have a better idea exactly when I'm going to be out of here for good. One way or another I now have an exit in sight; all that remains is whether this interview on Monday comes up trumps or I go for one of the options discussed a couple of days ago. In any case it's a good excuse to be reasonably pushy on Monday as to getting a decision from them, given that I have promised to get back regarding the internal opportunities by the middle of next week, and although I may not have an ounce of loyalty to this company I do have a few shreds of ethics...
Nothing more to report really, as if I ever did. You can tell how bored I am.
As an indication of just how dreadful this training material is, aside from questions which have identical repeated multiple choice answers - so it's a lucky dip which one to select - there is just plain twaddle. For example, one of the correct answers to "what is a hit counter used for?" is stated as "to determine which pages on a site are successful in design or content". Sorry, but even five years ago, a hit counter basically identified your site as being hosted on Geocities, and was more often than not accompanied by 101 different fonts, colours and animated images in introducing one's pets - and more often than not hadn't even broken into double figures, of course. Yeah, I suppose in fairness the question didn't specify that it was a positive correlation.
P.S. Please ignore the purple icon to the left, if viewing this on the web, OK?
Chuffing marvellous: at least the web actually worked earlier - well, as good as "worked" ever was with the two levels of terminal services and multiple transatlantic routing hops. All this training is web based, so rubbish though it may have been, at least I could get to it. Now everything is knackered. Naturally, this diary post will not be appearing at the time I'm writing it...
Good time to take a possibly very long lunch break, I do believe.
I have to laugh a little as I read an article in one of the unspeakable daily newspapers that finds its way into our bay. It's about a woman who combines being a social worker and a Wicca witch. I've got no particular problem with that (perhaps surprisingly) but I do have to giggle at her claiming to be in touch with her "inner badger". I would worry if I were her, given reported plans to cull her stripy kin for allegedly spreading bovine tuberculosis. In any case, given this planet's biodiversity, isn't it more statistically likely that if anything she would be in touch with her inner fruit fly or something?
Buzzword bingo ahoy! If I had "end-to-end" on my card, I'd have just hit the jackpot, thanks to the highly exciting company circulars received today. As it is, I didn't, so I'll just quietly carry on despairing as to why they really believe these motivational missives are worth the electrons they're sent via.
Oh well, half an hour to go, then half an hour on the road, and about half an hour before Katy goes away for the weekend - one of a small group going down to the Alpha weekend near Chichester. Not the best weekend ever to be doing that, from any point of view really, but we are determined that life should go on.
All on my ownsome, for just about the first time since we've been married. I think Katy's been away overnight once, but this will be the longest... I think I will cope! Busied myself this evening improving the PHP mail form I made for Darren's site, after he was forced to take it down when it was used to spam him. It was already nice and secure against being used for spam in general, but it's not so easy to prevent the intended recipient receiving unwanted junk, presumably generated by "robots" thinking they were spamming lots more people. But the solution I've devised - requiring the user to enter a random PIN style security code - should work against all but the most determined spammer now!
Just back from a nice afternoon down at the seaside - though too early in the year to contemplate paddling! As planned, I joined Katy and the others who had gone down to the Alpha weekend away just outside Chichester, since they had a free afternoon - and as one of our number had prayed for, the weather forecast was completely wrong and we got patchy sunshine rather than pouring rain. So the six of us went for a healthy but bracing walk round the headland at West Wittering, winding up at the "restaurant" there for a bit of afternoon tea. It seems they're having a good time of it so far, but according to the timetable I have in front of me here they still have a couple of teaching and discussion sessions to go, and rather worryingly something billed as "entertainment" - which given that it's all happening at a slightly tacky holiday camp doesn't exactly inspire confidence. I'm not sure who of ours has the knobbliest knees.
Ah well, Sunday lunchtime, back at home on my own, and not really inspired to do anything much. Church meant not a great deal to me this morning, with a talk on "joy" that more than anything just rubbed in how let down I currently feel, and worship that barely averted near disaster, thanks to Tim not being there to work his usual magic with insane laptop and projection configuration issues. I turned down a curry lunch out due to a combination of trying to conserve some energy for tomorrow and sensing that it wasn't going to be arranged in time in any case, so here I am back at home, with another couple of Katyless hours.
Ahh, normality returns. Time to start cooking up a nice chicken curry methinks!
Monday morning, and the beginning of what certainly should be a decisive week, so unenthusiastic as I might have been dragging myself out of bed this morning, at least I get the feeling there might be a point to it all now. Just by way of reassurance that I am doing the right thing, my boss called by a few minutes ago to confirm that my next bit of work that he had been assured was ready to roll this morning won't now be until Thursday - but I guess on the positively geological timescale that has applied to this project so far that's nothing...
But all that will be history soon, one way or the other. I have my external interview at lunchtime today, feel enthusiastic and reasonably confident about that, and know I have that reasonable-looking internal option if that doesn't work out. Other than exactly where I go, the only real remaining unknown is "when" - that's to say, what kind of notice period they will hold me to given that they are paying me for doing next to nothing as it stands. I'm just so glad the "if" bit is all but dealt with anyway, a massive weight off my chest.
More quality stuff from our web-based training material this morning. After past experience I wasn't entirely surprised that it had forgotten what I'd done last week, but I wasn't so impressed that ten seconds after I had (as far as I am concerned) completed the particular course this morning, and passed all the assessments again with flying colours, it had suffered complete memory loss yet again. So I had to manually mark the course complete and submit my recollection of what my overall score had been - which it promptly ignored anyway. Quality.
Right, well that's one interview down, and one to go - and that's going to be my second interview with the same company. The interview at lunchtime went very well. That's to say, not "better than expected", "as good as I could have hoped" or any other such self-deprecating assessment. Trying (and succeeding) to be positive, and I arrived back here with an unaccustomed spring in my step.
But (and there had to be one, didn't there?) it's early days yet. They have others to interview, and there would indeed very likely be a second interview and some kind of written test before a decision in my favour would be made. So it doesn't really leave me much clearer as to what to do this week, when I had promised to make a decision on the internal opportunities here - but Katy has suggested something that could well buy a little bit of time. They did seem a really nice company though: lovely people, informal but productive environment, and the right attitude towards dealing with all shapes and sizes of clients.
Yes, I do want it. And yes, I am going to get it!
Of course, the flip-side of having applied for this position is that since it was via a recruitment website, I now have all the dumber species of recruiter plaguing me with calls again. That's dumb as in not actually reading the CVs that match keywords before phoning candidates. Note to self: there may be very little I can do to clarify that "local" doesn't mean abroad, but I really must remove all reference to things I don't want to do, because of these idiots. I have discovered over time that there are a few good recruiters, but alas those that aren't (and it sadly seems to be a majority nowadays) let the side down.
But it was definitely one of the good ones who got me my interview today, and I would grudgingly have to admit it was a good one who got me this current job - he wasn't to know that the specific post he had been recruiting for didn't really exist and that I would be messed around so much. There have been plenty of others who've been all mouth, promising lots but delivering nothing, sweet talking me into believing they were moving heaven and earth for me while doing nothing of the sort. In the more "cutting edge" (read: "sharp") recruitment agencies, the better staff tend not to last too long. They're too honest and conscientious to fill their quotas - and when they get the boot, their contact lists get passed to whichever more "productive" scumbags are left behind.
Altogether glad that security requirements dictate I keep my phone turned off.
I've said it all before, I know. I just hope in vain that things will improve, but frankly as more and more dependence is made on technology - from the points of view of client, agency and candidate - there's probably no turning back.
Oh well, back to the training materials again... Needless to say, the system had decided that I had completed the course I had barely started yesterday afternoon, and consequently marked it as a "fail". Thankfully it's dumb enough to let you re-enter and have another try, though it's also dumb enough that I had to make rather more tries than should have been necessary, thanks to its picky-picky answer matching. That was one thing we generally used to do pretty well at the Open University, parsing student input and being flexible within certain constraints. But in this software, it seems totally arbitrary from question to question for example which of the following (all of which are of course syntactically equivalent in Perl) is marked correct:
- print $name;
- print "$name";
- print ($name);
- print ("$name");
And it's normally the most stupid of the options that it wants. No wonder I only scored about 40% on the first run through of perfectly familiar stuff...
Today's dragging over-averagely (even with a lunchtime walk and another chapter of my book duly read) and I'm not sure why. But only a little over an hour to go now, so I'm sure I can last out... Of course, nothing has actually happened here today (and even if it had I wouldn't be at liberty to say very much about it) so quite why I'm writing except out of sheer utter boredom is a mystery.
Truth is, it's better than working through terminally flawed training material.
Still, thanks for reading.
As I suspected, there is pretty much nothing going here, alternative role wise. I emailed my line manager yesterday, expressing disappointment that although the interview last week went quite well, I had nothing else internal to compare it with. With regard to a couple of roles we had identified but heard nothing back from, she certainly agrees, and (reading between the lines) feels none too complimentary about the people involved. Her only advice as such is to "hang on in there", in which as you know I no longer hold any credence, so although it's good she remains apparently on my side, I'm left none the clearer what to do.
Meanwhile two out of the four people in this bay are off sick today, and the other's on leave anyway, so it's going to be an even quieter day than usual, I suspect. Despite being physically a little closer to the action than I was when I was "hot desking" for a while after I started, I really am remarkably lonely here, which does nothing to help my general wellbeing. At least when I had work to do I had a good excuse to go and visit others, but there is simply no reason to communicate with anyone much at the moment, and it sometimes seems a little blatant to contrive excuses. It would be helpful if I could actually feel a bit of reciprocated friendship from most of my colleagues. Even ones I have worked alongside "blank" me when I say hello. My line manager understandably wonders if it's a certain amount of wariness after I admit I was a bit unstable leading up to my depression diagnosis, but I harbour no antipathy; instead I just think to a large extent it's a company that exists around cliques rather than teams.
Well, perhaps not the worst ever day in the end, certainly made better by Katy twisting my arm (OK, not very much) to join her at the pub for a lunchtime drink before she went on for a chiropractor's appointment. Having run out of vaguely relevant training material to work though, and still reasonably hopeful that this next bit of work really will start tomorrow, I've been spending the afternoon messing around with SharePoint. We've got a test server or two set up here, but I know people are working on Terribly Important Things with them, which I really wouldn't like to interfere with, so I've taken the liberty of setting up an account with a 30-day free trial service which I can play with to my heart's content. And thirty days should surely see me to my departure...
Still an hour to go until I can hit the road, but given that it was two hours ago when I last looked at my watch, I think I should be able to last out now!
Today's the day, again... That is, the day I am supposed to be getting at least a little more work to keep me busy. No sign of it yet but there are, after all, another eight hours of today. I'm trying to be at least moderately optimistic.
Oh, guess what, I've just been informed that... No, not even going to say it.
Last night was good, spent round at Katy's parents' house, where Katy's cousin Jo and her husband Ben were visiting for the evening. Roast duck (as seems to be the "in thing" thanks to Sainsburys' current special offer) with a yummy apricot, ginger and brandy sauce, and vegetables, followed by lemon meringue pie and a fine cheese selection (which Ben and I particularly enjoyed), washed down with a choice of wines. I'd briefly met Jo at our wedding - and just about remembered doing so - but Ben had been out of the country at the time so last night was the first time I'd met him. So although it's always nice to go and see Katy's parents it was doubly nice to catch up with Jo and Ben properly and to browse the pictures from their recent trip to the Far East. Talking of all things photographic, we'd found a nice little case in Tesco that we thought would suit Katy's parents' new camera to the ground - and indeed it did, but we found it also fitted our own camera perfectly too, so we'll be buying another!
Driving Katy's car into work again, for the second time in the last couple of weeks. Last time it was while the tyres on mine were being sorted out, today it's while she hopefully manages to get the reversing light fixed. I don't know how common a problem it is - though it certainly afflicted my last car too - but it seems that the switch (linked to the gearbox, detecting when reverse is selected) is not particularly durable. The end result is that although the reversing light comes on, it flickers while the car is stationary, and goes out altogether while the car is moving, which isn't terribly ideal. I'm 99% certain it's the switch at fault, and hopefully Katy will be able to get it done more or less on the spot - and equally hopefully, under the warranty, though I fear they may consider the switch to be a consumable part and therefore not covered.
Oh well, hey ho, I'd better decide what I'm going to "do" today now.
Good news on the car front: they couldn't fix the reversing light there and then, for lack of time and of the part they agreed probably was the problem, but we've booked it in for an hour next week, when they will have ordered the part in, and they have confirmed it will be repaired under the warranty.
Friday again. For all that these days are dragging, the weeks do seem to pass reasonably quickly - good in that it perhaps makes things more bearable, though bad in that it means my meagre life is being frittered away all the quicker... For various reasons (mainly staff availability) we have now formally put off this new work until a week Monday, but it seems the project head honcho himself is on the case now, so I would be surprised if it didn't now happen. So I just need to invent work for myself for a few more days - and I'm taking some time off next week anyway, which should prove to be genuinely impeccable timing.
Nothing heard back yet after Monday's interview (though it's early days yet so I'm not reading anything into that) and nothing heard back after the email I sent to the guy who I had an internal interview with last week, explaining that I needed some extra time since I had nothing much to compare his offer with. But it's definitely lifted me a little to know that I now should have an escape route that doesn't involve resigning with nothing else to go to. And that will make a refreshing change for me: looking back I am trying to remember a single job I've resigned in order to immediately start another, and frankly cannot.
The BBC describe yesterday at Cheltenham as "a tough day for punters".
I don't recall any of them having fallen and died. Ultimately for all the assurances made about the welfare of racehorses, it's the money that talks.
Well I twiddled my thumbs one way, and I twiddled them the other, then tried the first way again, etc, ad nauseam, and finally it's almost time to go home for the weekend. The excitement... Bit sniffy and sore throaty again, hopefully just the tail end of what I had before rather than something new, but it's a quiet weekend coming up anyway so I should be able to rest a bit if need be.
And lo, a fairly quiet weekend did indeed come to pass. We drove into town yesterday to get our paper and a coffee as well as a little bit of shopping to see us through the next couple of days. Today, with nothing much happening after church, we decided to give the newly-opened Zizzi pizzeria a try. George and Kit speak highly of other restaurants in the chain, so we were delighted to find that they have done an utterly amazing job of transforming the old and strictly functional Pizza Piazza premises into something really contemporary - indeed if one hadn't known, it would have been quite unrecognisable - and by all accounts, much more popular. The food was happily well up to scratch too - and the first time we've ever ordered a starter to share and they've brought it on two plates, a nice touch. Not surprised to discover from our till receipt that Zizzi and my favourite from Milton Keynes, ASK, are one and the same firm, though a little more surprised to find on looking them up on the web that so are Pizza Express. Especially given that there is a Pizza Express only a couple of doors down from Zizzi - surely not an entirely sustainable arrangement, but on the other hand, given the amount of custom both seem to get, maybe it is... Anyway, jolly glad that the Pizza Piazza premises have been put to good use, in the same vein as before, and by a concern that seems to be "going somewhere". We just need to find out when the Bengal Lounge, a short walk round the corner from here, opens - having been following its transformation from a dilapidated local pub into what will hopefully be a pretty nice Indian restaurant - and our gastronomic happiness will be complete. We'll never have to cook again. Maybe.
Ah, all this talk of pizza; it's just like the olden days isn't it?
All quiet back at work on Monday. I think most people have either got this week or next week off, by way of using up their annual leave - a situation that will only get worse this time next year when there will be no carry-over entitlement any longer. This year, by the end of this month we must have used all our leave from the 2005 calendar year, but the extra five or so days granted in advance of our new April-to-April arrangement coming in can be carried over if need be - though I'd happily plotted using all mine up before they announced that. But anyway, with half my colleagues on leave, and most of the rest of them ill with one or other of the bugs going around, today will remain pretty quiet I think.
I see we are now well into the time of things being true or false solely on the say-so of our informed government. Tessa Jowell's husband reportedly accepted huge bribes but that was OK because Tony Blair said so - and didn't want to drag his good buddy Silvio Berlusconi into the mire. Now this morning we have our defence secretary declaring there is no civil war brewing in Iraq and that he has no idea where Iyad Allawi got the idea from - other than perhaps being out there and experiencing the day to day mess that is developing thanks to previous utter misunderstanding of the situation, unlike Mr Reid back in his cosy Whitehall office, obviously thinking if he insists loud enough the entire world will believe him. After all, it worked for the Bushies, didn't it?
HP wisdom may well say, "Resolving issues early ensures smoother workflow."
Your Flash adverts jamming up half the tech websites in the world don't though.
Gently winding down for the day now - as if I ever quite wound myself up, so to speak... My line manager called by a little while ago to explain that the other posts I had applied for, but that we'd heard nothing back from despite repeated requests, are now "on hold". Nice that it took them a couple of months to tell us so, eh? She wondered if that made my immediate position any clearer, with regard to whether or not to accept the internal offer that is presumably still open to me, but wasn't entirely surprised that it didn't. Although there are a couple more possibilities she hopes to know some more about in a few days, I think without quite saying as much, she's quietly resigned to the fact that it is going to be an uphill struggle finding anything to make it worth my staying.
But for now, I really don't give a hoot - and indeed my line manager positively encouraged me not to do so, or at least in an hour and a half's time, anyway... All will become clear in due course, fear not, my few but faithful readers.
We're not too impressed by our bank at the moment, though. We decided at the weekend to juggle our funds around a little, part of which involved opening a couple of ISAs before the end of this tax year. Since our current account is a joint account, we should be able to add both ISAs to our online banking page. However, only mine has appeared. Katy's been on the phone to them today to find out what's happening, and needless to say it's because the online banking is in my name only for some bizarre reason, and she needs her own login. This despite obviously knowing my password, not that the customer service adviser accepted the details Katy provided, so perhaps I won't get slapped wrists for sharing it after all... All very annoying though, and we just hope it gets sorted out in time for the end of the tax year, or our bank will be getting a earful from us.
The bank stuff was all fine in the end. We've been away for a few days as you might have guessed, and there was a veritable doormat's worth of post for us on our return yesterday evening, almost all in connection with ISAs and whatnot!
So yes, we've been away, specifically for a midweek break to Bruges with my parents. For some time we'd been pondering taking them away somewhere nice, and after our success of going to Paris the November before last, decided that a trip on the Eurostar to Bruges could be spot on, and having consulted with them at Christmas, went ahead and booked it up. Just two nights, but that was two nights in a reasonably decent four-star hotel, and pretty close to the best of the sights of the city - not that anywhere is really too far, in what must be one of the more compact cities of the world, so we mainly toured on foot.
We decided that going into London was going to be a hassle and expensive, so instead parked up at Ashford in Kent and picked up the train from there. Pretty straightforward journey from start to finish, although the signs in Brussels could have been a little clearer for finding our connecting train, and there was a momentary panic thanks to the bilingual naming of the station - "midi" and "zuid" being one and the same! We could have walked it from Bruges railway station to our hotel but the taxi rank was there, and... well, it made sense.
We had Tuesday evening, the whole of Wednesday and most of Thursday to spend in the city, and that turned out to be about right for our levels of energy and our preferences of what to see and do. To a large extent we simply walked around and absorbed the whole feel of the city, with its unspoilt architecture, peaceful canals and interesting history. We didn't actually go into that many museums etc in the end, apart from anything because the weather was so gorgeous from start to finish - if a tad cold! Highlights were going on the recommended canal trip, a lovely way to see the most historic parts of the city, and climbing the 366 steps up the Belfry, a huge tower with an impressive 47-bell carillon and spectacular panoramic views. But it was also very good to get out of the historic quarter, to the larger canal that encircles the city, with its open spaces, windmills, city gates and drawbridges - the latter seen in action - and calling at a couple of interesting museums on our way back to the centre.
Of course we couldn't go to Belgium without good food and drink being involved, and although it took some searching to find the best deals we certainly did all right in the end. We tried to be vaguely traditional in our tastes, so chose local sounding dishes and brews where possible - apart from the pizza I had at lunch yesterday, while the others had more appropriate omelettes. Most of the desserts we had were included in set meals and a little basic, but we insisted that we should have waffles at some point, and that turned out to be our grand finale at lunch yesterday, before we shopped for a few chocolates for presents, collected our bags from the hotel and caught the bus back to the station.
The journey home yesterday was altogether a bit more tiring but still just as simple, probably mainly because we were all quite shattered from the walking. My parents had come down on the Monday, and went home earlier today, so that made a nice week away for them, and it was good to spend quality time with them in a completely different setting. Indeed I realised as we were on the train home that it was in fact the first time I had ever been away abroad with them. We could never be quite sure what they would make of it all, being more country people than townies, but they were enthralled from start to finish, and I would hope it won't be the last opportunity we get to do something of that ilk.
And nice that we've still got the weekend before work need trouble us again!
It's Monday morning and almost time to go to work after my (almost a) week off. Anyone going to hazard whether the managerial intervention of a fortnight ago will have helped in securing the work belatedly promised for today?
I knew things were going "too well" when my door entry card swiped first time.
Needless to say, the promised task isn't ready yet, but it might be later today possibly. Who knows - we certainly don't. But before I got as far as finding that out, I had to contend with the network having forgotten about my existence - though at least that was a legitimate excuse to put my feet up with a book for half an hour while I waited for the system administrators to get into work.
So all pretty quiet here, and only two or three takers for the yummy chocolates brought back from Bruges, but the consensus is that they're pretty good...
To rub salt into the wound regarding this work I'm waiting for, apparently it would actually have been possible to have looked at it already. We were told that the machine involved (which has very specific hardware) was in use, but it was lying idle, and then of course someone else came along and used it anyway.
The weekend was good, considering how tired we were after Bruges. Yes, I know holidays aren't supposed to do that, but it was a "healthy kind of tired", one I am not that familiar with from recent times. We went round for a meal with Simon, Becki and Mali on Saturday evening, and had Rachel, Mark and Daniel round at ours for tea yesterday though we were all pretty pooped by that point so they didn't stay that long. Which left us all the more time to play with our new toy! Having taken the plunge with digital television at the end of last year, we decided we would try the same with radio, since we wanted to juggle around our stereo equipment a bit anyway. It was a bit of a gamble, not knowing for sure what reception would be like - our area being particularly variable due to the lie of the land - but we got a unit with FM too, and as it turns out the DAB reception's not generally bad anyway and should be even better when we get round to sorting out our aerials at some point. It was a bit chaotic on Saturday afternoon though, with our neighbour calling round for a chat just as we were amidst cables, cardboard boxes and polystyrene packing foam, followed an hour later by Rachel, Mark and Daniel popping in for a few minutes en route home from Portsmouth - confusing us immensely given their previously planned visit Sunday afternoon! Other than that, the usual stuff really: a bit of food shopping, crosswords, su doku, and generally chilling. Oh, and breakfast at church on Sunday morning, though we didn't stay too long in the end.
Chocolates are still going slowly, though a few people have come "out of the woodwork" to help me. Good way to make new friends, anyway, even if I never see them again... Pretty yucky weather outside, but I really do want to get out for a walk at lunchtime - if only because I will otherwise just sit here twiddling my thumbs for an hour, which isn't so very different from what I've been doing all morning anyway. In between chocolates and updating my diary, of course!
I did indeed get out, and didn't get too wet in the end. Definitely needed, given the lack of anything much else happening for the whole day. This farce really cannot continue much longer, but I'm sure it will try jolly hard...
Nice steak and chips back at home, to salvage an overall pretty lousy day.
Nowt much happening here today, you'll no doubt be shocked to hear. But saying so kills another couple of minutes as I while my mind-numbingly bored way to lunchtime with what little there is left of my packed lunch...
I've just this moment had a visit from my line manager to explain that there is perhaps some internal work coming up - but not for at least another month, and with no further details to speak of. And no more details of another role that had briefly been mentioned before I went on holiday. I genuinely appreciate the effort she is going to, but really do feel it's all rather futile.
Today's jammed-on-the-screen-so-I can't-see-anything-else HP wisdom: "Focus on one simple server solution and tap into increased productivity and efficiency."
Ho ho ho.
Though ten minutes and a bit of cunning style-sheet overriding later...
Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. Ha ha. Ha ha hee.
Timed my lunchtime walk just right. Five minutes after I got in, having enjoyed blue skies, it was lashing it down. April's a few days early I guess!
Nothing else that interesting to report really. Predictably enough there has been no progress on any of this internal (infernal) stuff. My line manager found a bit more training for me ("Workplace harassment" - I can think of a couple of others here who've obviously not done it either, assuming it's how to prevent it rather than the opposite!) but I couldn't access it and now it turns out I probably don't have to do it anyway, being more geared up for the US.
Just a few more minutes to last out now, as if my being here conferred any more benefit to the organisation than it does to me. We're not quite sure what this evening is going to bring: we're having a bit of a conference with the church leaders, principally as a follow-up to discussions about our health etc that we had a few weeks ago, but perhaps getting on to more controversial ground. First though, a nice warm bacon and pasta salad, and just maybe chocolate croissants!
Well last night's conference was somewhat better than expected, though didn't really provide much in the way of answers as such. Indeed it probably left the waters ever muddier than ever - but at least that means the waters have been stirred by getting a lot of stuff off our chests, which has to be a good thing.
Meanwhile, this morning our lovely new stereo's died and the rear washer on my car has stopped working for the third time in two and a half years. As if we didn't have enough to contend with already, without stuff like that too...
As Katy commented this morning, so much for the five-year warranty we avoided being talked into buying with the stereo. It didn't even last five days.
Does no-one else find BT Broadband's latest advertisements unnecessarily and often tastelessly scaremongering? For example: "BT Broadband helps protect your kids online. So they'll stay kids for a bit longer." If only it weren't such a deadly serious issue, I couldn't wait to see the first parent take BT to court.
My main achievements at work today have been: one mild, one fiendish and one tricky killer su doku, and about a third of the Times cryptic crossword. The latest prospect for my next proper work is "Friday at the earliest but Monday for sure". Though considering how many times I've heard such assurances over the past two months, I've given up believing a word of it. Once again, the unit we were supposed to have been working on was suddenly required elsewhere, so another one's got to be acquired. And alas, what I need to work on isn't really that urgent for anyone but me; having been put off for several years already, a few more months here and there don't make a blind bit of difference to them...
I would love to be able to jump out of bed in the morning, full of positive expectation and enthusiasm for the interesting challenges of the day ahead. Instead it was in order to turn James "euphemism" Blunt off on the clock-radio as a matter of utmost urgency, whining toff. Or rather, Katy did, bless her.
Quite an interesting evening out yesterday though, going to the annual review of the pregnancy crisis organisation we financially support. It was really good to see all the stuff they're involved with and the impact they're having. Not too late a finish, but stacked up against a very late night the evening before, it really didn't contribute to our motivation to face the world this morning!
More irritating or misleading advertising noted today:
The radio adverts for Yell suggesting that getting a mortgage is as simple as using their service and picking a lender. So that's where thousands of would-be first-time buyers are going wrong, and it's got nothing to do with lenders not being prepared to lend enough for them to get on to the ladder when they are already splashing out more than their projected monthly repayments in rent...
Tesco, claiming they are "helping [us] spend less every day". Umm, not when if there wasn't a Tesco round the corner I would be spending precisely nothing!
No hint of the Ocado man for a few days though, but then I have been listening rather less lately. Perhaps he's been found out for putting eggs at the bottom after all and merely dumping the bags in the hall rather than the kitchen.
Meanwhile, I thought for a happy moment I might actually have some work to do. There was an email relating to the system in question, entitled "success". However, it was a circular going to the whole project marking the system's acceptance for operational readiness. Obviously, apart from the broken bit we're supposed to be working on sometime during the current geological age, presumably? So no, jack to do today too, and nowhere near as successful with the puzzles in today's paper - but at least I got some encouraging feedback from a company I contacted yesterday, one I almost got a job with before...
Oh, and Katy tried to sort out the stereo and the car this morning. Despite having assured us yesterday that subject to availability, the stereo would be a straight swap once confirmed dead, they tried to pull a bit of a fast one on us, but Katy kicked up a fuss and managed to agree probably better terms than originally discussed, so we should be picking up a replacement early next week - though we will have to wait a little longer to get Ray Charles back, alas. As for the car, well we ascertained yesterday evening that the rear washer hose had somehow become detached from the reservoir, such that operating it left a puddle under the front of the car. Katy took it to the garage and they had a quick look but couldn't get to wherever the problem was, typically, so it's booked in for a week's time. They naturally denied it had anything to do with the work done last week, before which we were not aware of the problem, but it does seem rather uncanny the number of times this kind of thing happens, eh?
One employment "door" that was slightly ajar was shut this morning, though perhaps not locked. We'd thought that a job I had applied for might be local, but it turns out it was based in Welwyn Garden City. As so often on job sites the specified area was very vague. The recruiter explained that he was having great difficulty attracting candidates. It must be one of those conundrums of recruitment: be vague about where the job is and hope that doesn't put off too many people, or mention it's at Welwyn Garden City and risk losing the lot... But he seemed, on the face of it, one of the better recruiters (though as I have found in the past, many who seem so are deceptive) and his agency could well have more relevant stuff, so it's not necessarily a complete dead end.
Nothing too specific back from anything else "on the simmer" at the moment, particularly the web job I had the interview for a couple of weeks ago, but I have now more or less switched myself off from caring about my current job (or lack thereof) too much. Not sure if that's good or bad! It was wryly amusing the other day when a couple asked Katy and me what we did for work, and we had to explain that neither of us did a great deal at the moment, for entirely different reasons! I have made a little progress on one front though, with Katy noticing that the company I turned down a belated second interview with last year when I had just accepted this position (or rather, the position I had applied for, strictly speaking) was recruiting again. They've not got anything relevant at the moment, but remember me and hope to have some stuff coming up in the near future. I wonder if timing can work out a little better this time?
Buy hey, it's under seven hours now until I can go home and not care about this nonsense at all for a couple of days. All being well, we have our friend Meryl coming round this evening to partake in oriental goodness, and Rachel and co visiting tomorrow for lunch out somewhere. Yes, OK, I admit it; seven hours is ages yet, I'm just desperately trying to see something positive in all this...