Travel, torrential rain and sleep deprivation

It's been quite a busy week so far in my world.

  • On Monday I travelled up to Dunfermline with a colleague, for a meeting that we were having at our site there the following morning. We arrived at the hotel about 5 and I set off with my key to find my room. When I opened the door I was surprised to find that by stretching my ams out, I could almost touch all the walls but I'm not especially bothered by small rooms so this wasn't really an issue. The sub-tropical temperature was, especially when I discovered that turning the radiator thermostat to 'off' only succeeded in ramping the heat up further. Unusual. After mush wrestling and swearing, I finally ascertained that yes, the window catch was indeed fucked and had two settings – sealed shut and wide open. Given the torrential rain, my only real option was 'sealed shut' and so I resigned myself to kipping in a sauna. As it happened, this wasn't the biggest obstacle to sleep that I was going to find. After dinner and more drinks that I intended to have (more of that later) I went back to my teeny tiny oven and got into bed. I was just getting comfy when the man in the room next to me arrive back at his room. After bellowing goodbye to his friends, who seemed to be at the other end of the corridor, he went into his room and turned on the tv, ramping the volume up to 'stun'. This pissed me off but I thought 'No Vicola, let it drop, he'll turn it off soon'. An hour later, I was really pissed off and after a further hour I was ready to kill. On careful listening I detected, above the roaring of the telly, the distinctive sound of snoring. Oh fucking brilliant, the pig ignorant twat had fallen asleep with the telly on, so wasn't going to be turning it down anytime soon. Enough was enough, I got out of bed, put some trousers on and went and banged on his door. Nothing. I did it again. Nothing. So I went downstairs to fetch the man from reception. He came up and banged on the door a few times. Nothing. He turns to me "I think he might be asleep". D'you think? "Well I can't go in and wake him up so do you want to be moved to another room?" It's now 2am, what I REALLY want is to have been asleep two hours ago but in the absence of that option then yes, I'll move rooms. The new room turns out to be a lot bigger than the other one and absolutely freezing. When I turn on the heating it belches out clouds of searing heat and there doesn't seem to be any way of adjusting the levels. If I leave that on I'm going to be found in the morning with all the water from my body evaporated, like a large raisin in pyjamas, so I turn off the radiator, put my coat on and get into a bed that seems to have been made from the leftover asphalt and hardcore used in road building. At 4.30am or so I finally go to sleep, at 7am the alarm goes off and I get up, safe in the knowledge that I'm going to be a complete fucking cabbage all day but too tired to actually care. On arrival at breakfast I notice that my 4 colleagues also look completely wrecked. Seems that they also had the asphalt mattresses. Let that be a lesson to all – if a hotel is the cheapest in the city, there's usually a reason.
  • After dinner in the hotel, my boss went upstairs to do some work leaving me and the 3 blokes who act as regional advisors in the bar and the drinks started flowing. The Scotland advisor (who I had previously thought was a nice, failry respectable bloke) got most of the drinks on his room tab and after a while it occured to me that the drinks seemed to be a wee bit strong, however I figured that it was probably just cheap vodka. At about the 6th drink, I mentioned this. "That's because they're doubles" he grins. Ok, I've no problem with joining in the manly drinking session, I really don't, but if I want a fucking double, I'll ask for one and if you're buying me doubles, I expect to be informed because otherwise I'm going to inadvertantly end up flat on my arse in a hotel bar and sitting in a meeting with the HSE sporting the world's greatest hangover. The thing about vodka drunkeness is that is doesn't come upon you a bit at a time, it waits till you get into the bright lights of the ladies for a pee then it clubs you round the back of the head, leaving you a dribbling idiot with no control over your legs or your destiny. Hence the fact I'd like to actually know how much I'm putting away. The other thing is that earlier in the evening, in fact all through the evening, tales of the Scotland advisor's antics had been surfacing. Bearing in mind that the guy is living with his long time girlfriend, he is – to put it nicely – at it like a rat up a drainpipe with anything that has breasts and a pulse. According to a tale told when the guy went to the loo, he turned up at one of the work christmas parties with two women and a bottle of champagne, all of which bypassed the bar and headed straight up the stairs to his room. This makes me uncomfortable, not because I care who he sleeps with, I don't give a toss if he bonks man, woman and beast, but because it leads me to think that perhaps his office flirting isn't quite the harmless banter I took it for. Add this to the fact that he seems to be trying to get me plastered without my knowledge and I'm now on my guard. If he thinks he's adding me to his list of bedpost notches he's got another thing coming.

All this excitement and it's only Wednesday. How do I manage? 

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Autumn Walk

In the absence of anything exciting to report, I thought I'd share some photos from mine and the dog's autumn wanders. Sadly since these were taken last weekend we've had gale force winds and torrential rains so everything looks bald and wet now. But at least I got a few pics of the autumn colours before our charming British weather trashed the landscape….

I've no idea what the hell this is. It looks like a witches hut to me but I am assured that there are no witches to found in these parts as it's the posher end of town, which restricts itself to key swapping parties and tax fraud. Sorcery is SO passe.


Walks can be a bit slow in Autumn as the dog insists on sniffing every pile of leaves, on the off chance there may be something interesting under it. Imagine his surprise when he encountered a disgruntled hedgehog…


Some of the trees seem to change earlier than others…


And some already have bright orange. Or did, before the storms, now they just look a bit bald and twiggy…


We came across a farm dog that had the unusual physical attribute of being as wide as he is tall. You don't see that very often…..


The holly berries have come out and are not yet shrivelled and grim, like dangly raisins…..


However there's still the odd flower to be found.


The woodland is beginning to change and those horses should be rugged up in this weather ( as an aside, I've been watching -and feeding- these horses for nearly three years now and if anyone knows of anyone who is chucking out or replacing any old, scruffy winter horse rugs could they let me know because the rugs she puts on these three about January time are utterly inadequate for a British winter).


We walked past the field where I buried the last of one of my guinea pigs to shuffle off this mortal coil. It is indeed private land however the dog loves to run there and it is a most excellent place to bury dead pets, should you have a garden created from builder's rubble with a 1 inch layer of topsoil plonked on the top.


The city looks cold and hazy. Because it is. Very cold and very hazy….


Sometimes, in a heap of mouldy old leaves you spot one unblemished one. I didn't even have to place it, it was just sat there….


The Japanese Acer in my parent's front garden is dark red in summer but goes this scarlet colour in Autumn and it looks stunning. I'd have taken a shot of the whole tree except that the picture was somewhat buggered up by the builder's skip on the driveway. Rarely a thing of beauty. Sadly, this tree is also now brown and twiggy and the pretty red leaves are plastered all over the road and, amusingly, my dad's car.


So there you have it, Autumn in Manchester. Not quite as amazing as Autumn in New England or the forests of Canada but still pretty in it's own way and with little hidden delights that you don't see unless you're looking out for things to photograph.

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Some more drivel from my day to day life

Sadly nothing very exciting has happened in the last few days. I think I may have PMT because life is currently a patchwork of little irritations woven together to create a quilt of annoyance. These include but are not limited to:

Telephone Twat
I pick up the phone yesterday and there's some bloke on the other end. Great, they've put another marketing monkey through to me. Why do reception always stick anyone selling crap through to me? Only this one turns out to have arrogance factor 10.
"Can I speak to the head of sustainability?"
"We don't have a head of sustainability, we aren't a huge organisation and so sustainability is split between a few different departments.
"Well then I'd like to speak to the head of engineering sustainable development."
"We don't have one of those either. Like I just said said, sustainability is split between a few different departments."
"Well I'll speak to the person in charge of all those departments."
"They are DIFFERENT DEPARTMENTS. This means they have DIFFERENT MANAGERS. See? There isn't someone in charge of all of them, each one has a manager of its own."
"Oh don't bother then, I'll just speak to the MD." And he hangs up.
Good luck with that mate. If he thinks I'm the most unhelpful person our organisation has to offer then he's in for a rude awakening when he's put through to the MD's personal assistant, a woman whose unhelpful manner and ability to take a marketing call for the MD as a personal insult are legendary throughout the organisation. And the arrogant little git deserves it too.

The Fridge Witch
I got into the office this morning and on a Friday the lady who usually mans reception from 8am till 9am doesn't come in, meaning the Fridge Witch is on the desk. So at 8.10am she rings up, as per fire regulations, to find out who is in my end of the office.
"Hello. Is it just you in your office?"
"Yes. Just me."
"No L & N?"
Of course they're here, that's exactly what I meant when I said "just me".
"No, they're not here, it's just me."
"Where are they? Are they coming in today? Are they out for the day?"
Mind your own fucking business you cheeky cow. That woman is terminally nosy. For the purposes of fire regulations you are required to know who is in the building. Where the other members of my department are if they aren't in this building is absolutely none of your concern. It's not like they submit their itinerary for the next fortnight in to me for approval and even if I did know, I'd say I didn't because I know it bugs the hell out of you not to be in the know about everything that's going on. Work is making me even more childish than I was to start with. If things continue there's every chance I'm going to end up buying a slingshot and lurking behind the fake potted palm in reception flicking inkballs at the old bat.

Bonfire night
Last night was bonfire night and as per usual, the folk of my estate had spent a fortnights salary (or benefits, depending on which house you're referring to) on buying the loudest illegal fireworks they could get their hands on. And for the third year running, next door won with what sounded like colourfully filled depth charges illegally purchased from the armed forces. The first one went off without warning, causing me to drop a mug of coffee on my own feet, the windows to rattle and the dog to go entirely rigid with his eyes on stalks and the look of a rabbit in headlights. After 10 minutes of talking the dog down we seemed to be making progress. Until the next one went off and the animal shot under the dining table. He stayed there for over an hour while what sounded like an airstrike on the next town along went off from the back gardens and even this morning he went 2 feet in the air when I dropped a plate in the kitchen. At about ten o'clock I decided to go and look at the fireworks from out of the bathroom window, a great vantage point because it looks out over a section of the town. As I opened the window a dead spider was hanging from the outside of the frame. I bloody hate spiders so I took a ball of loo roll and lobbed it at the spider corpse to knock it off, figuring I could just go and pick the loo roll up out of the garden. What I had forgotten to take into consideration was that we've just had a new conservatory put on the back of the house so my big ball of bog roll landed square on the  shiny new glass roof. Fuckity fuck. I can't reach it with a broom handle, I tried. So I went to bed. I offer a hearty mental apology to the boys next door who Mr Vicola thinks threw the loo roll out of THEIR window, mistakenly assuming that his wife would not be thick enough to lob it out of theirs. I promise I will 'fess up when I get home.

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Once again, we do nothing….

Thanks to The Times it has come to light that the government are once again about to show us their utter disregard for due process and good sense when it comes to attempting to plug the massive black hole in the finances spawned by their epic overspending.

A few years back, the 'Proceeds of Crime Act' was put onto the statute books. This was legislation designed to deprive crime barons of luxury lifestyles when they finally emerged, blinking, into the daylight outside Wormwood Scrubs. And this was only right, after all why should they be living in a 12 bedroomed mansion built on getting scrotes to sell crack to kids in playgrounds, why should importing Romanian women into Britain for use in the sex trade allow these people to spend 6 months a years cruising the Carribean on an 80 foot yacht? But this legislation is about to be extended beyond Albanian Al Capones towards a brand new target – the general public. Why? Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin….

The right to search properties, seize cash, freeze bank accounts and confiscate property is from next week, on the orders of the Home Secretary Alan Johnson, to be extended to councils, quangos and agencies to use against the public for a range of minor infringements, including (but definately not limited to) fare dodging, non payment of parking fines and being in arrears on your council tax. And what's more they're going to be bribed to use these new powers. According to an explanatory memorandum, "Investigation bodies will receive a share of monies recovered as additional funding in order to incentivise further work in recovering the proceeds of crime." In other words, the more you collect, the more we'll give you. Bribery, nice. The same memo informs us that the explantion of seizure powers is part of a Home Office plan to embed financial seizure across the criminal justice system. Like all good government plans should, it comes with collection of targets set by ministers – to recover £250m in criminal assets by 2010 rising to £1bn per year soon after. The police are far too busy trying to reach their other targets, fill in paperwork and finish reading their diversity and equality handbooks to have the time to confiscate a billion quids worth of Russian mafia money so the task of leading the government's truffle-hunt for bailout cash has been handed to people who frankly don't do anything useful with their time anyway – local councils, quangos and agencies. Yes ladies and gents, the government is now bribing Transport for London to launch a smash and grab on the holiday fund of the pimply youth seen hurdling the ticket barrier at Waterloo Tube and to remove the car of the family at number 23 who are now 4 months behind on the council tax without even having the decency to be living solely on benefits.  What's even more alarming  is that whereas a confiscation under the old system required an order to be issued by a court and administered by the police, there is no such regard for proof and due process under the new system. The councils will be allowed to seize over £1000 of cash from your house completely independently of any court or law enforcement body. Anyone else see the irony that the police have to have permission from a court that has studied availbale evidence before seizing the assets of major criminals but your local council doesn't have to ask anyone for permission to raid the piggy bank of an ordinary person while they're at work?

Even the police are horrified – Paul McKeever, Chairman of the Police Federation said that 'There is a behind the scenes creep of power here and I think the public would be very surpised'. You'd be very wrong there Paul, we're not surprised at all because this government has been leading a stealth attack on civil liberties for some time now. Holding terror suspects without charge for 28 days (they wanted 42), the demand for closed courts without juries in terrorism cases and that's before we even start on the Civil Contingencies Act. There's no basic right too big or too small to receive a massive kick in the spuds from Tony Blair/ Gordon Brown and the Cabinet stormtroopers. Britain, land of free speech, as long as your free speech doesn't offend anyone, doesn't involve public speaking in a group of more than 3 people and doesn't involve taking a photo of the police. All of these things can get you busted. In one way I suppose I am surprised – surprised it's taken them this long to find a way of extracting more cash from the general public while pretending they're trying to do something noble.

The legal profession aren't happy either. One judge said "It looks like this has been sneaked through". It looks like that for a reason, my learned friend. Sir Ivan Lawrence, QC, asked "Does anyone in government understand that if you give prosecutors, who are supposed to be unbiased ministers of justice, the bribe of a proportion of the money they can find, you are actually poisoning the roots of justice in our society?". Yes Sir Ivan, they do realise, they just don't care. As we've seen by the whole expenses debacle, when it comes to a choice between money and morals, precious few of our ruling elite will take the ethical path.

The new powers that these agencies etc will have include: freezing a suspect's assets at the BEGINNING of an investigation, presumption that all assets are acquired through a criminal lifestyle, searching and confiscating cash of £1000 or more, demanding that banks and other institutions disclose financial information, seeking confiscation of assets after conviction and collecting a share of of confiscated assets. "Innocent until proven guilty' is clearly SO last season. Do you really want your local council to have these powers to use against you, given that they've already used anti-terrorism laws to spy on whether people are recycling correctly and fine them accordingly? Tough, because by the end of the week they will.

The agencies that will have the new powers are: councils in England and Wales, Gangmasters Licensing Authority, Counter Fraud and Security Management Service, Gambling Commission, Rural Payments Agency, Financial Services Authority, Vehicle and Operator Services Agency, Transport for London, Medicine and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency and everyone's favourite strike-ridden shambles, Royal Mail.

And the government's justification for this appalling stampede over justice and fair play? According to an unnamed Home Office Spokesman (presumably refusing to give his name in order to avoid being associated with the crap his boss hasn't got the balls to spout himself and so has sent him to deal with) said that "Seizing ill-gotten gains is a key part of the fight against criminals – whether it is from small-time offences or organised crime". Leaving aside the fact that refusing to pay a parking fine is hardly accruing 'ill-gotten gains', does anyone actually believe they are doing this for the good of the country? Pull the other one sunshine, it's attached to the foghorn.  It's a revenue-raiser, pure and simple, and the real tragedy of the whole thing is that the great British public have once again walked right into it without so much as a whimper. Countries have revolted over lesser insults to their rights than our current administration have issued but yet we do nothing but grumble politely. Sometimes I wonder if we don't deserve everything that this revolting collection of mendacious bastards throw at us.

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