30 June, 2012

The new knights of the road

I have great admiration for our dustmen. Not only because they pick up our rubbish and recycling for us, which is such a vital role in our society, but also because they are all round good eggs.

They are unfailing polite. They always say good morning to me when I’m walking the kids to school and stand aside to let us past. If you pull in when driving to let the dustcart go by, the men are hugely grateful. And if you wait patiently in your car behind the dustcart until they’ve finished emptying all the bins, well, you really get the red carpet treatment.  The other morning when I did just that I was saluted and waved through with a flourish. I consider our dustmen to be nothing less than the new knights of the road.

However, if you show any sort of impatience, blow your horn, or try to push past the dustcart, woe betide you. You’ll be stuck there twice as long as you would have been had you been patient. And you’re likely to experience a few choice words or an obscene gesture or two to boot.

And who can blame our dustmen? If I were trapped in a huge lorry surrounded by the stench of rotting garbage while performing a community service, I’d be expecting to demand some respect too.

23 June, 2012

Vehicles in bus lanes

I was walking to work the other day and saw a a minibus parked by the side of the road. It had a handwritten notice in the back window saying 'Bus lane enabled'.

This struck me as rather odd. If I put a notice in the back of my car saying 'Bus lane enabled' would that mean I was entitled to use the bus lane too?

It would certainly mean I got to work quicker in the mornings...

17 June, 2012

A jumble of holiday thoughts

We're now back from holiday -- have been for a few days, actually -- and before succumbing to a full attack of back-to-reality blues, I'll cheer myself up by setting down some thoughts about our travels. I don't have a complete story to tell, so a handful of observations and anecdotes will have to do...

I noticed a difference with my kids and the pool this year. They're both now fully competent swimmers, which leaves my husband and I free to read and relax by the pool, rather than sitting tensely at the edge, ready to jump in and save a life at any moment. Hurrah!

We were in Tuscany and visited some of the most heavily touristed places there -- Florence and Pisa. What amazes me, though, is no matter how busy the place, you don't have to go far to get away from the crowds. In Pisa we admired the Leaning Tower and the Duomo along with the masses, but we also visited the cemetery (the Camposanto), which is literally next door. It was absolutely beautiful -- wonderful frescoes on the walls, a tranquil inner cloister -- and we were pretty much the only visitors. Bliss!

Guess how much we paid for a soft drink at a cafe in the heart of Florence? Five euros! Gulp! The pizza that we had to accompany it wasn't much more expensive...

And a couple of updates:

As predicted, our BA flights were much better than the no frills alternatives in many ways. However, I have two complaints. Both our outbound and inbound flights were delayed. Not BA's fault, you might say. True, but a one-and-three-quarter hour delay can become a problem when you're stuck in the plane on the tarmac and the complimentary food offered by the airline on a lunchtime flight turns out to be a drink plus a bag of crisps or a cereal bar. To make matters even worse, they'd run out of crisps by the time they reached us.

And finally -- I can report that holidays during the summer half term are much less hot and sick making than those during August. My kids didn't throw up once. Result!

Roll on the next half-term holiday, I say. 

14 June, 2012

5 stars for A Matter of Degree!

My novel "A Matter of Degree" has just received its first 5 star review on Amazon! "A rollicking good holiday read" according to Liz Quintrell: http://amzn.to/NAGhlP.

The review site Indie E-books has also given it a great four star review: "...a relaxing and enjoyable read..." See the full text of the review here: http://bit.ly/MtcQQt.

It's got to be a bargain at just 77p or 99 cents... 
Thank you very much, reviewers!

09 June, 2012

The joys of procurement

You may have noticed that stories about so-called ‘government procurement cards’ have been in the news recently. Essentially these are credit cards that are issued to government departments in order to make the purchasing of small items quicker and easier. Unfortunately, some government employees have been misusing these cards to buy things like music downloads, stays at luxury hotels and, most bizarrely, doughnuts.

The place in which I work has such a card. As far as I am aware, no one has misused it, yet we are now no longer allowed to use it for any standard transactions. As an example, I need to buy an essential textbook for my team. In the past I would have been able to do this in a couple of minutes on Amazon using the card. BUT I am now forced to use an online government purchasing system in order to buy the book from a government-approved supplier.

A couple of interesting things about this:
  • the book is ten pounds more expensive (yes, that’s ten pounds more expensive) to purchase from the government-approved supplier than from Amazon; and
  • it took two weeks (yes, that’s two weeks) for our purchasing centre to issue me with login details that allowed me to access the government-approved supplier’s website and so purchase the book.
I always think it’s interesting to be aware of both sides of any story...

02 June, 2012

Packing for family holidays

It’s getting very close now to the time that we’ll be flying off on holiday, and I’m getting rather excited. However, before we can go anywhere we need to pack. And that poses an interesting situation for a family.

Our kids are no longer very young, so we don’t need all the baby paraphernalia, but they’re still young enough that we need to pack on their behalf—and I’m still amazed by the amount of stuff we need to pack for them. Plenty of spare clothes in case they’re sick/spill things on themselves (will there be a washing machine that we can use?); lots of amusements (books, pens and paper, swimming pool toys); high factor sun cream and sun hats; sweets to suck on the plane to prevent sore ears; car seats (if not already hired with the hire car company)... The list seems to go on and on.

We could, I suppose, get them to pack for themselves, but I know that if we did, we’d end up with a pile of inappropriate stuff. Mainly books and toys, and perhaps the odd pair of jeans or long sleeved top. Nothing useful like shorts or t-shirts...