Category: People (page 2 of 3)

Just Checkin’

Yesterday, I did a Health & Safety audit on one of our gangs out at High Wycombe.

The Water Board take Health & Safety very seriously. I have worked at many places where they say that H&S is their number one priority, but I’ve never worked anywhere where they take it quite so seriously as the Water Board do.

Which is a good thing.

Of course, accidents can and do still happen, that is inevitable, but, considering the type of work and the amount done each day, the number is quite small. And very, very few are life-threatening.

As an engineer,I always used to see H&S as a pain in the arse. That’s quite possibly the view of many engineers. I mean, it’s just common sense, isn’t it? All this paperwork we have to do for each job: method statements and risk assessments; it all just slows the job down.

But, my views have changed somewhat, since I started working somewhere with such a focus on H&S.

Doing the paperwork reminds you of how to approach each job safely – we can all get lackadaisical with repetitive tasks.

And yes, a lot of it is just common sense, but I’ve come to realise that sense isn’t as common as I first thought. Not everyone has it. Or some just need to be reminded of it, from time to time.

An interesting statistic is that when the Olympic stadium was built in London, there were up to 13,000 workers working on it at one point and yet there was not a single fatality. Not one. Rare for the construction industry with a project on that scale.

And yet in Rio – where, as you might imagine, Health & Safety doesn’t have quite the same level of focus – eleven people died from accidents whilst working on the Olympic stadium there.

So yes, Health & Safety in the workplace can be a pain in the arse but, rather like having a camera shoved up your bum,  it can save your life.

 

Gentleman Jim

I am in the process of building one of my electronic gizmos.

For this particular project, I need a transistor. But not just any old transistor… I’ve got plenty of those.  No, for this I needed a ZXTP2012ASTZ.

Yes, a ZXTP2012ASTZ.

As I’m sure you have realised, this transistor is a little bit out of the ordinary and, as such, none of my normal suppliers stocked it.

I eventually found it on Mouser. They’re a major supplier of electronic components, but I’ve never used them before.

I added the transistor to My Basket and clicked Checkout.

Mouser presented me with a price for my purchase: 59p.

Fifty-nine pence. That’s alright. But then they added another £12.00 for postage!

How the hell can something of that size warrant 12 quid postage?

For those of you not sure how big a transistor is, that it should justify 12 quid postage, I have included a picture… with a 5p coin for scale.

Turns out, Mouser have a standard 12 quid P&P added to any order under 33 pounds.

No matter what it is.

Ridiculous!

Obviously, I didn’t buy it.

But then, I mentioned this to a chap I talk to regularly on the radio.  Jim said that he often ordered stuff from Mouser and would be happy to add my transistor to his next order. What a top fellow!

I received an email from him yesterday, telling me it had arrived.

As he only lives ten miles from me, I took a drive over and we had a good ol’ chat over a cup of tea and a biscuit.

It was good to finally put a face to the voice I’ve spoken to, so many times over the past couple of years.

And he never even charged me for the transistor.

Yesterday, I drove like a twat!

This week has been school half term and, as such, I was fully expecting the roads to be much emptier than usual.

I was fully expecting my commute to and from work, to be a doddle. Because it normally is when the schools are off.

But not this week. Oh no: this week, the roads have been as bad as usual.

Nay. Nay. And thrice nay, I tell you, the roads have actually been worse!

The mornings have been slow and torturous, thanks to broken down lorries and accidents. 

But the evenings have been worse. Much worse.

No word of a lie, every night this week, I have been caught up in stationary traffic on my way home, thanks to accidents on the motorway.

Every.

Single.

Fucking.

Evening.

Some have been worse than others. Tuesday night was pretty bad, thanks to a lorry shedding its load of portloos across the M25.  That was quite possibly a real case of the shit hitting the van.

But yesterday evening was truly awful.  Stuck in stationary traffic for ages at the Hemel junction, I found myself starting to get frustrated.  I spend so much time in traffic nowadays, that I’m kind of used to it now and it’s like water off a duck’s back. But, being stuck in stationary traffic for the fourth day in a row, meant it was starting to get to me. Please God, just one day! Just let me have one decent journey home!

Eventually, things started moving again and we all slowly crawled past the five-car shunt that was surrounded by the flashing blue and red lights of the emergency services and in unison we all shouted “Learn to drive, you bastards!”
Well, I shouted it.
In unison with myself.

I have rarely felt so frustrated and I decided to put some music on.  Normally, a bit of Mozart or Bruckner will smooth the waters for me, but, so pent-up was I, I needed something with a bit more oomph. I needed to let it out.

Once past the accident, the road was clear. I put on some AC/DC, turned the volume up and put my foot down; singing at the top of my voice. Well, I call it singing, but it was more like shouting really.

At junction 11, the end of the slip road divides into three lanes. Two are for turning left and the third is for going straight on or for turning right. They are marked accordingly. But, very often, impatient drivers will get into the middle lane and then cut across to turn right, forcing the vehicle in the right hand lane to give way or risk hitting them. It happens to me quite often and normally I will let them in, just to avoid having a prang in my car. “Tsk”, I’ll say.

But, it happened again last night and this time I didn’t give way.  My still pent-up frustration, boiled over into anger and -fuelled by Brian Johnson screaming at me that I was Back In Black – I refused to let this opportunist get eight feet in front of me.  But, having flown down the middle lane at speed, he had a speed advantage on the roundabout and I was ultimately forced to brake and let him in. 

Where normally I would have tutted and let it go, this time I let him know he was a twat. I flashed my lights at him and then I followed him round the roundabout at speed, just a couple of feet off his rear bumper. We headed up the short stretch of dual carriageway at a quick pace and then took the first left turning.  Still I hung onto his tail lights. We blatted down the road together, completely ignoring the 20mph speed limit… until I suddenly realised what I was doing. This bloke was driving like a complete twat, but I was too.

I slowed down and let him speed off down the road. He was probably chuffed with himself for having left me behind, but I didn’t care.

I turned the music down, slowed to within the speed limit and took a deep breath.

My first ever bit of road rage. 

I didn’t like it.

B&B

The erudite Mr Jones mentioned in a post earlier, of how much he enjoys taking his morning tea back to bed with him.

I think he has also mentioned previously, the joy of having breakfast in bed.

You are sadly mistaken, my friend.

Many claim this as an enjoyable little luxury, but does anyone really enjoy having breakfast in bed?

Really?

You know already that I don’t!

I’ve never seen the attraction.

Firstly, I don’t see how sitting upright in bed, propped up with pillows and balancing a bowl of Rice Krispies – other breakfast cereals are available –  can be more comfortable than sitting in a chair at the dining room table. Let’s face it, it’s not.

And then there’s the tray – if you have one. Again, balancing a tray containing a bowl of cereal and/or toast; a cup of tea/coffee; a glass of juice etc, isn’t easy. One wrong move – a sudden burst of hiccups – and it’s all over your 10 tog, duck-feather duvet – of course, other tog values are available.

Then there are the crumbs – especially if you have toast.  Doesn’t matter how careful you are, there will be crumbage. Which you won’t find until you get back into bed later that evening, when it will feel like half of Yarmouth beach is in bed with you – other, stonier, British beaches are available.

So please, tell me, where’s the luxury in that?

Or am I missing something.

Nothing on the telly

Working – as I do – alongside people of a younger generation, I’m constantly reminded of just how fucking old I am.

I was chatting with one such millennial the other day, and he was saying about how he was thinking of getting Sky TV, because he was a bit of a night owl and there’s not much on the thirty-or-so terrestrial (Freeview) channels after midnight.

He was genuinely taken aback when I told him that I could remember when we only had three TV channels: BBC1; BBC2 and ITV and that they would all switch off sometime just after 11pm, after playing the national anthem.

I told him of how – in 1982 – I made a special effort to get home from work early, just so I could watch the launch of Channel 4.  I was so excited at the time: an extra TV channel! This was history in the making.

Of course, nowadays, new TV channels come and go regularly. Some have fleeting lives, lasting only a few months whilst others seem to go on forever, despite the niche audience they are targeted at.

For today’s generations, this is the norm: super-thin flat-screen TVs with a gazillion channels.

But for us old farts, four channels was always enough.

Some would say it still is.

Knowledge Is Power

I don’t mind admitting that, when I was young, I was a bit of a swot.

I loved reading and I loved learning from reading.

Even if I were reading a storybook (a novel, in adult parlance), I would generally learn something. 

About the world.

About nature.

About humanity.

Something.

Many times, I would just learn a new word. I loved learning new words and would often take two books to bed with me: a novel and a dictionary – so I could look up any words I didn’t understand.

It’s no idle boast that as a young teenager, I easily had the largest vocabulary in my family.

My parents bought me a small set of encyclopaedias – I remember they had purple covers – and they took pride of place on my bookshelf.  I’m pretty sure that I read them from cover to cover more than once, over the years.

On a Saturday, I would go into town on the bus and would spend a happy couple of hours in the Town Library… just reading anything that took my fancy or – more often than not – looking up something that I’d heard or read about and just felt I needed to know more.

Once I started work, I never had the time so much, to go into the library. More than that, my thirst for knowledge became more immediate: if I wanted to know about something, I wanted to know about it now! And so, I spent over a thousand pounds on a set of Encyclopaedia Brittanica.

A beautiful set of books and, undoubtedly, the best repository of knowledge that money could buy… at the time.

I kept them for years.

And then Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web.

A game changer.

In an amazingly short period of time, all the major knowledge houses had their encyclopaedias or dictionaries and the like, online. Even Microsoft got in on the act with it’s own encyclopaedia: Encarta, which, to be fair, was really very good.

And then, of course, we got Wikipedia – another game changer… because it was free.

Nowadays, just about anything you want to know (and at any time you want to know it), is available somewhere online. For free. It’s bloody fantastic!

And, at Amelia’s Parent’s Evening, last night, the teachers were extolling the virtues of several websites, aimed specifically at helping kids with their education, by providing online, extra-curricular lessons and teaching.

Wow! If I’d had all this when I was their age, maybe I would have done better at school than I did.

Maybe I’d have gone on to university and made a huge success of my life.

Or maybe I’d have been a winner on The Chase.

I need to become a glass half-full, kinda person

I spent yesterday at Epsom Downs Racecourse.

And very nice it was too.

I wasn’t there for the dobbin racing though, but rather, for a conference.

I’ve mentioned before how the firm loves a conference.

The management team spoke at length, about how the company will be transformed and improved over the coming years.

They told us what they were going to put in place, to make us into a successful company. 

Into a company where the customer always gets a fantastic service.

Into a company where the workforce just love coming to work.

And they told us how we are all a part of it.

I’ve been around, so I’ve heard it all before, of course.

But, it does sound promising. 

And results are already being seen… if facts and figures are to be believed.

So, maybe, just maybe, it will be different this time round.

I really do hope so. 

My personal highlight of the day? Lunch.

Crapachino

I’ve mentioned it before but, I still cannot get my head around how important coffee is. 

To some.

I just don’t understand what it means to some people to have a ‘proper’ cup of coffee.

Maybe that’s because, whilst I don’t mind the occasional cup of Joe – as our American cousins inexplicably call it – I am, in the main, a tea drinker.

I don’t want to pay extortionate prices for a skinny-flat-white-mocha-latte-cappucino (essentially, two spoons of Nescafe topped up with hot milk), when I can get a whole jar of Maxwell House for the same price.

But I seem to be in an ever-shrinking minority.

More and more coffee shops proliferate our high streets and they always seem busy: full of people holding huge, white, ceramic cups full of the dark brown liquid.

Trains and public areas are littered with cardboard cups, all bearing various logos from the well-known establishments.

At work, we have recently been getting visits from a mobile ‘proper’ coffee wagon. It pulls up outside a few times a day and beeps its horn. Within a few minutes, there is a line of people queueing up, to get their morning fix.

Honestly, I have seen some of them stand there for up to fifteen minutes, in freezing temperatures, just to get a cup of coffee.

Fifteen minutes!

I’m on my second cup of PG by then!

From a Great Height Part 2

A few years later – somewhere around 1989/90 – the same thing happened again: a chap at work brought in a leaflet and said that we should all do a parachute jump as a team, for charity.

Now, at the time, I had a bit of rivalry going on with Pat. He was always trying to outdo me at work – completing more surveys; finishing the job a bit quicker, that sort of thing. And I was doing the same to him. It started as friendly rivalry, but developed a bit of a harsh edge as the months passed.

It also didn’t help that we were both vying for the affections of the same girl in the office: Liz.

Liz was intelligent, easy to talk to and – being a former beauty contestant winner – was as pretty as they come.

She was also up for a challenge, so she put her name down for the parachute jump. Having already done one, I put put my name down too, without hesitation.  Not wanting to lose face in front of me or Liz, Pat also signed up, despite obviously being as nervous as hell about it.

When the time came, we went to the airfield and -as I had done before – spent the whole of Saturday learning the correct way to fall out of an aeroplane.

It was a bright Sunday morning, as we lined up on the airfield, wearing all our kit and caboodle. We had been told in training that the last person on the plane would be first to jump, and so I made an effort to get in the line before Pat. I wanted him to jump before me, because I knew he was bricking it and I wanted to see the horror on  his face when it was his turn to jump.

The jump-master made his way along the line, checking that each of us had strapped on our parachutes correctly. When he got to me, he stopped and gave my chute a good checking over. “How much do you weigh?” he asked, looking me up and down. I told him. “You need a bigger chute”, he said matter-of-factly, “Double over to the chute-hut and get another.”

I legged it over to the large barn that stored all the parachutes and plonked my one on the counter. “I need a bigger one”, I said.

“That’s the biggest we do”, said the chap behind the counter. “You’ll have to have a cargo chute”.

“A cargo chute? Will that be OK?”

He nodded and so I grabbed it and ran back to the plane, where everybody was now on board, waiting for me. The jump-master helped me on with my chute and bundled me on board the waiting aircraft, where I had to squeeze in at the back.

On my first jump, a few years earlier, we went up in a small 6-seater (with the seats removed) and when it was time to jump, you sat in the doorway with your legs outside and pushed yourself out when you were ready.  This plane was much larger and held about 15 people (older readers may remember seeing it, as it featured as part of an advert for the Abbey National back then) and the back was open, so you just stepped out and dropped. A very different kettle of fish: a worserer kettle of fish!

“You ready?” asked the jump-master.

I stood up in position and found Liz’ face amongst all the crash helmets staring back at me. She gave me a little smile of encouragement.

And then I saw Pat, grinning at me like a loon. He was loving that I had to go first.

The jump-master tapped me on the shoulder: my cue.

I gave Pat a wry smile, turned, and without hesitation, stepped out of the door.

“ONE THOUSAND… TWO THOUSAND… THREE THOUSAND… CHECK CANOPY”

Like a seasoned pro.

On the ground, I gathered up my chute, and looked up to my colleagues who were still falling from the sky.  I kind of hoped that Pat would have bottled it, but he didn’t. No-one did: everybody made the jump and there were no injuries.

Apart from Liz, who twisted her ankle upon landing. 

Stuart- the storeman – helped her hobble back to the training area and took her chute in for her.

They started dating the following weekend.

From A Great Height Part1

A few years ago (well, 1985 to be precise), me and three mates decided to do a parachute jump.

It was Rob’s idea. We were seated in the cafè, one Saturday morning, when he showed us a leaflet. “I found this”, he said, excitedly. “You get to do a free parachute jump if you raise sixty quid for charity. I reckon we should do it”.

We discussed it for a while and agreed that, although it was a somewhat scary thing to do, it would give us plenty of kudos amongst our peers and would make us look cool in front of girls (none of us had a serious girlfriend at the time).

We booked a date a few months in advance and once the sponsorship forms came in, I set about collecting as much money as possible. £120 needed to be raised: 60 for the jump and the remainder to the charity… which I think was the British Heart Foundation. It didn’t take me long to collect the full amount, I mean, hell: I was going to jump out of a fucking aeroplane!

The date got nearer and then Chris suddenly announced that he wouldn’t be able to do it as – all of a sudden – he had a wedding to go to that weekend.

A few days later, Steve announced that he wouldn’t be able to make it either, because of “… a family matter”.

And finally, a week before the jump, Rob phoned me and told me that he had badly sprained an ankle.

Bastards!

I went on my own and spent a whole Saturday learning how to fall out of a plane:

“ONE THOUSAND… TWO THOUSAND… THREE THOUSAND… CHECK CANOPY!”

On Sunday, I jumped.

“ONE THOUSAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHH… JESUSCHRIST… CANOPY…  YAY!!”

It was the single most exhilarating thing I’d ever done.

But sadly, my daring exploits didn’t seem to impress the female population very much.

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