Books, life the universe

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

The week so far

It's Wednesday already - amazing how time flies when you're having fun! Obviously I missed the fun. What is getting me down at the moment is the heat. I like hot weather - say a gentle 22deg C - that would suit me all year round. This is too much. They keep promising us rain - but no signs of it in this neck of the woods. A good night's sleep would help.

Work is as ever somewhat fraught with various people who should know better spreading doom gloom and misinformation. Our employer does not insist we have a driving licence as part of our contract. They do not dictate how we get to work. Yet one poor woman had been scared half out of her wits and into the bankruptcy court by someone saying she'd have to buy a second car to get to work as her husband uses the family car. They tried this on me 3 years ago - and failed - so I knew the answer. If you normally travel by public transport etc then that is how they assess your journey to the office they want you to go to. If people don't know the answer they should not make it up rather than admit they don't know!

Books - a somewhat neglected subject of late. I have finished Judy Astley's latest - 'Other People's Husbands'. This is the aga saga - can't call it chick lit as it's mainly older women - at its best. The story revolves round Conrad and Sara, and their two adult daughters - Cassandra and Pandora. Conrad is going through an existential crisis as he approaches his 70th birthday and Sara - in her 4os is going through a mid life crisis. Can their relationship cope? What happens if Sara's artistic career takes off when Conrad's is fading? Lots of sub plots and warm and lovable characters.

I've also started Ken Follett's 'The Pillars of the Earth' - a huge saga about the building a medieval cathedral. So far so good - but it's about 1000 pages and too heavy to carry around. I'm also reading one of Alison Joseph's Sister Agnes crime novels - 'A Dark and Sinful Death'. with Agnes being just as disobedient and iconoclastic as ever. A lady after my own heart.

Off to catch up on the internet and then a cold shower for me.

Sunday, 27 July 2008

What's in a name?

I've just been reading this about weird names. I've come across Teresa Green and Arran Cardie but nothing else terribly notable. I knew of someone who called her children both girls Ocean and Summer which is hardly remarkable today. I also worked with a girl who was always known as Gina but was actually Georgiana and her sister was Xanthe. I also worked with a woman called Isora though she was always known as Is. Everyone thought her parents made a mistake and it should have been Isadora.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Ghost bikes

I saw something on one of the online newspapers the other day about some organisation which is buying up old bicycles, spraying them white and depositing them at strategic places to remind people that cyclists are vulnerable. I was idly speculating about whether they'd bother to put them in rural Lincolnshire after I'd read the article. Then this morning I saw one chained to a lamp post in the middle of the market place when I was walking to work. News come to life! I haven't a clue where I read it so I can't post the link to it.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Market day

It's market day in Spalding. I love walking through the market place after I get off the bus and seeing everyone setting out their stalls. They all have their allotted pitches. There's the one that sells all sorts of rugs and doormats; the second hand books stall - not as interesting as you might think - with his ingenious trailer which folds out both sides to display shelves of battered paperbacks; the people who have the 'foreign' food stall - must be Latvian or Polish - something vaguely east European anyway; clothes stalls - designer or otherwise - mainly manned (womanned) by immigrants; the fresh fish stall; 2 birthday card etc stalls; net curtains; cushions; haberdashery; bicycles; DVDs - probably illegal copies; many and varied fruit and veg stalls; fresh meat and of course the obligatory snack bar - selling at that time in the morning bacon butties!! The smell is gorgeous! I usually stop at one of the fruit and veg stalls - today I bought Braeburn apples, clementines and some cherries - delicious. It occurred to me as I was buying them that cherries must be some of the few things that defy the saying about anything nice must be illegal, immoral or fattening.

Once through the market place I have to walk down a narrow passage by the civic centre dignified with the name of Buttermarket, and come out by the river Welland. The ducks haven't woken up yet and they're all in little huddles with their heads under their wings. Because there are a few white ducks on the river the mallards are starting to look very strange with lots of white feathers mixed in especially on their chests. I have yet to see an all white duck with a green head but I'm sure it's only a matter of time. This morning the weather was a bit dull but on a sunny morning this walk to work is idyllic. I often take the river path and then across a footbridge coming out opposite the office. A great start to the day.

Friday, 18 July 2008

Friday at last

It has been a very long week. But I did get an unexpected compliment today - thank you Tracey - from a work colleague. She'd appeared at my desk to ask a couple of questions and then said she really couldn't make up her mind what to do and explained her thinking so far. I simply said to her that I would check everything myself - by actually making the journeys at the appropriate times and timing them. After about 5 minutes discussion she gave me a big grin and said 'I'm glad I came to talk to you - you always make me see sense!'

Today I'm feeling all right - a bit along the lines of 'Don't let the bs get you down'. Everyone else is much the same. We'll cope - nothing's over until the fat lady sings. Yes - sorry for the cliches but I do like both of those and there are occasions when only a cliche will do.

It's the weekend so I can put my feet up and relax at least for some of the time. Have a nice weekend everyone.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Today was D-Day

Today I can finally reveal that the office I work in will be closing - though not yet. We now start a whole round of meetings with our managers to discuss our personal circumstances and precisely why we can't travel to various points of the compass on a daily basis. Fortunately there is something called RDT - Reasonable Daily Travel - an hour each way. They can't make you use a car if you normally travel by bus etc. There are lots of rules and regulations surrounding the whole thing fortunately. My next nearest office is also for the chop. I can see lots of confusion and misinformation being spread by all and sundry. Basically the whole thing is not much fun and I suppose I really shouldn't be saying anything more about it in public so I'll stop there. I'm not too concerned for myself as I have various options being fairly close to retirement, but for others this is desperately serious stuff, especially as wages round here are on the low side as it's a rural economy. Ho hum.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Above and beyond the call of duty

I had a good example of excellent customer service this morning. The road on which my bus stop is situated is closed for essential maintenance. Something I wasn't aware of when I walked to the bus stop at 7.00am this morning. They hadn't put all the road closed except for access signs up at that point but they had further up the road. This meant the bus had to do a detour from its normal route and would have missed out my stop. As I am a regular on the bus, the driver and the passengers obviously realised I didn't know about the road and the bus came and got me even though it had to turn round and go back again the way it had come!! Now that is service - even though the driver did tell me off because I didn't know about the road - it had been in the paper apparently. I shall have to walk about 5 minutes further to the next stop, which is on a different road, tomorrow, and I had to walk from there tonight. I shall be ringing the bus company tomorrow to suggest they put up notices to say the bus stops aren't being used.

Friday, 11 July 2008

Trains and meetings

I had to go to a meeting for work on Tuesday in Birmingham of all places. Muttering awful curses against people who arrange meetings to start at 1.30pm when I've got a nearly 3 hour journey to get home afterwards, I said to my manager that I was intending to go to Birmingham early so that I had time to have lunch before the meeting started, rather than grabbing a sandwich in passing. He agreed so I set off from the office in Spalding at 8.40am to catch the 9.00am train. It was a nice sunny day and all was right with the world - even if I wasn't looking forward to the meeting.

I arrived on time in Peterborough where I had to change to a train for Birmingham. But the 9.54am train to Birmingham was cancelled! Curses! So I ended up sitting on Peterborough station for an hour waiting for the next train. I spoke to a very helpful lady at the train information kiosk to find out which of the corresponding afternoon trains had also been cancelled - after all if a train hasn't gone up it can't go back again. Fortunately it wasn't the one I was intending to catch.

So I ended up grabbing a tuna salad sandwich - instead of having a nice relaxed sit down lunch. Grhh!!

The meeting was not good news but as I'm not allowed to talk about it I'll say no more. It was interesting to meet someone from another office who I last saw about 25 years ago when I still lived in Norfolk! That's the thing about working for a big organisation if you've been out of your own office and met other staff members some sort of serendipity ensures you will meet them again - usually where you least expect them. Probably because it's always the same people who get dragooned into attending meetings.

The journey back was better than the one going as I got back to Spalding just in time to catch the 6.00pm bus home as the meeting finished about an hour early.

Then today - again on a work front - our manager e-mailed us a memo which had us all saying 'What?? You must be joking!! Which planet do these people live on? Where do they get their information from and no one consulted me!!' Yes probably typical conversations in any office in any large organisation whether public sector or private. And no we weren't criticising our manager - just the source of the memo.

I know I mentioned a couple of months ago that we were getting a new manager but it looks like we shan't keep him much longer as he's moving on to something else. Now if people have a few days off they're likely to come back and ask who today's manager is!! It doesn't exactly make for a very settled environment in which to work.

Sunday, 6 July 2008

Books etc and reviewing wars

Books: I am currently reading Barbara Erskine's latest time slip offering - 'The Warrior Princess' - and totally absorbing and scary it is too. This one to a certain extent follows on from the last as it's set in Romano Britain and modern day Wales and Italy. More later when I've finished it.

Noreen over at Norn's Notebook has raised some interesting points about the life and death of the high street as we know it. We need moderation and balance really - not just independent shops but also the chains. In Spalding - population approx 25,000 - there are Boots, Woolworths, Holland and Barrett, Dorothy Perkins, Specsavers and just outside the town centre - Halfords, Sainsbury's, Argos, Carphone Warehouse, Lidl, Co-op, Aldi etc. But we also have - an independent book shop, independent butchers, greengrocers and bakers. It is a similar mix in Boston - population approx 70,000. Though in Boston there are more of the chains and they have a Marks & Spencer whereas Spalding only has an M & S Simply Food. If I was to draw a sweeping generalisation I would say small towns perhaps get the balance right. The bigger towns are of more interest to the chains - e.g Boston has a Waterstones, Costa Coffee and Past Times. Spalding has an out of town outlet centre which attracts a lot of visitors from elsewhere as it has an excellent garden centre, Cotton Traders, Marks & Spencer outlet, Next outlet etc etc. So really we have the best of all possible worlds living here. There is also a water taxi from the town centre!

Reviewing wars - I only became aware of this issue recently because I belong to Amazon Vine. There is a members only forum where such esoteric issues as tactical voting on reviews published on Amazon are discussed. Apparently there are certain reviewers out there who apply tactical voting to other people's reviews to try and get higher up the reviewer ranking list. As no one has managed to work out exactly how Amazon calculate the reviewer rankings I can't help feeling this is a total waste of time. Through reading the discussions I become aware that there are some very weird reviewers out there - people who always mention their family in derogatory terms in the review, others who post exactly the same review whatever the product and then there's the people who paste in reviews from elsewhere on the Internet! Skulduggery aplenty!! Amazon do take down anything that contravenes the law but they seem to let the rest carry on - fascinating stuff!

Saturday, 5 July 2008

An unusual book

I finished reading a strange book last night - 'The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society' by Mary Ann Shaffer. Set in 1946 and written in the form of letters - reminiscent of the original novels. It starts off with Juliet - a writer - who has found fame and fortune with a newspaper column and a book of that column. She receives a letter from Dawsey - a shy farmer living in Guernsey, who has come across a book which Juliet once owned. His letter starts a correspondence which gradually draws in more people from the island until several of them are writing to Juliet. She is writing an article for the Times about the psychological benefits of reading. The letters tell her how reading helped the islanders during the German occupation. They made me laugh and they made me cry. There were glimpses of the cruelty of the Germans and also of their humanity and there were examples of courage and the steadfastness of the human soul in impossible circumstances. I loved it and I'm sure it will acquire a devoted following.