Archive for November 2007

Coffee Cock-Up

Posted on Thursday 29th November 2007 at 00:00
I'm ordered to serve coffee and tea to some very important people.

Apparently these are senior people within the university and should be pleased at all costs. Having regularly served formal dinners to the Board of Governors over the last year, I'm pretty confident that I am up to the challenge. However, I'm rather pushed for time, it being the middle of the lunch time rush, and I'm cross to have this extra burden dumped on me at no notice.

Fortunately, as I enter the kitchen I find a full up pot of coffee and a full up pot of tea sitting ready for me to take into the board room, where the very senior people are. Without hesitation I take them on through, bow myself out of the room and return to my duties.

After a minute The Boss shows up and asks if I've done the teas and coffees yet. I tell her that I have, thanks to the pots she'd already prepared for me.

'What pots?? she asks in a worried voice, and I explain the situation to her. 'Oh shit!? she replies, 'Those pots weren't for the very senior people. They've been sat there since yesterday!?

Needless to say the coffee was stone cold and there were complaints and apologies and replacement beverages. Two weeks on and I'm still trying to live it down.

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An Honest Day's Work…

Posted on Tuesday 27th November 2007 at 00:00
If you ever have far too much time on your hands, and are wondering what to do with it, I can highly recommend a job in catering.

Assuming you aren't required to serve breakfast for anybody, you can stroll in at about 8 or 9 in order to prepare your bar, cafe or restaurant for the mid morning coffee rush. This tends to merge quite nicely into the lunch rush, during which you will be rushed off your feet, shouted at, complained at, insulted, made to look stupid, made to feel as though you are ruining everyone's day and generally subjected to the worst of the pre-lunch bad moods to be had about the place.

At about 3pm you should be able to sit down for your own lunch, but don't expect to stay sat there for long as you will be interrupted at least once every 3 minutes in order to serve customers wanting their afternoon coffees. This is the quiet part of the day, when you can begin to tidy up the mess and regroup for dinner, which you should already be preparing to set up.

As the deadline for the start of the evening meal looms ever closer, the list of things to do doesn't seem to be getting any shorter. Even highly experienced caterers need hours to lay up a formal dinner and a missing knife or dirty glass can turn the whole thing on its head.

Finally, with mere minutes to go, you are ready to begin the meal. The tables are laid, the food is cooked and the drinks reception is prepared. Now all you need is the customers. An hour later, the first of the customers arrive and express an air of surprise that you expected them to be on time in the first place.

At this point one of two things will happen: either only half of the customers you've spent all afternoon and evening preparing for turn up, the rest having decided to go to Pizza Hut instead and not thought it necessary to cancel their booking, or they all turn up and bring a few friends along as well, so you have to completely destroy your carefully laid out tables in order to squeeze these people in, rushing around to find extra cutlery whilst shouting to the chefs to put on some more steaks or something.

Eventually the meal will get underway and, as you catch your breath between clearing one course and taking out the next, you realise that things aren't going all that badly. Assuming there are no unforeseen screw ups, you should be able to sit down for your own dinner at about 10pm, after which the wash up will become your home for the next hour as you battle to clean each and every plate, knife, fork, spoon and wine glass used throughout the evening.

A good day is easily identified as one on which you get home in time for a full 8 hours sleep before you have to go back to work. That's the only sign of a good day in catering. In all other respects it still looks fairly bollocks. Hooray!

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Sunday Stuff

Posted on Sunday 25th November 2007 at 00:00
Sunday is a funny old day in the Iggy household. That is, assuming that household is the right word when one lives alone. Yet more changes to the work schedule mean that for the time being I don't have to work on Sundays, which although not a great thing financially, does at least ensure me a day off each week.

I often spend Sunday morning in bed, sound asleep. I need this time to make up for my very poor sleeping patterns the rest of the week, but frankly I'd rather be awake in bed with the radio on, a continental breakfast and the Sunday papers. Once again, this is prevented by living alone, as the very act of getting up to make breakfast and go and buy a paper rather defeats the purpose of staying in bed.

I usually rise around lunch time and spend my shower time cursing myself for not being up in time to cook a really nice breakfast on the only day of the week when I have time to eat one. Lunch on a Sunday is, frankly a miserable affair. I was brought up in a fairly traditional home, where for the majority of my childhood years, Sunday Lunch was a full roast with potatoes, vegetables, gravy and dessert. We ate at the table and no one was allowed to leave until we'd all finished eating.

This last rule was infuriating for the entire family, since it meant having to waste half the afternoon watching my brother Michael pick away at his food and complain bitterly that he didn't like this and that. Eventually he'd be forced to finish it, but not before we'd all near died of boredom waiting for the next course. But I digress.

Because of this long association between roasts and Sunday lunches, I find myself greatly saddened by the sandwich I have for lunch on a Sunday now. I miss the smell of the meat cooking in the oven, with maybe a pineapple upside-down cake adding its own sweet scent to the aroma of the house. Sundays often meant a trip to Blackbushe Sunday Market, and on our return that wonderful smell would be there to greet us.

My mood perks up a little in the afternoon, though not very much, as this is the one time I have to really sink my teeth into the housework. I'm well known for being a slow worker at the best of times, and even the basics such as vacuuming, dusting and cleaning the kitchen and bathroom can take me hours.

If the weather is fine, I might allow myself some fresh air by washing the car for 20 minutes, but even this is no substitute for what Sunday afternoons should be about. After lunch is the best time for a long walk in the countryside; taking in that fresh cold air and gazing with wonderment as the scene before me slips from autumn into winter.

When the weather is less accommodating, a good book or magazine strikes me as the perfect way to pass those fleeting afternoons and long, dark evenings. I seem to have little time for such things as reading these days, and it is beginning to vex me somewhat. I hope that this week I can find the time to get all my housework completed on Saturday, sometime around my time at work, so that when I've lunched on Sunday I can focus my attention on doing what I want to do again, and not on what I feel obliged to undertake.

Happy Sunday everyone.

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Horrible Hotspots

Posted on Sunday 11th November 2007 at 00:00
As I write to you, I am sat in Starbucks once again, but this time with my laptop. As regular readers of this blog will know, I often like to take advantage of the built in keyboard on my mobile phone by sitting here and typing out blog posts whilst sipping my coffee.

Today though, I have a lot to type, as there are several posts I've been meaning to write for a while now, so rather than killing my thumbs on my mobile, I've decided to lug my laptop along with me, so that I can enjoy a more comfortable typing experience. The plan had been to connect my laptop to the wireless hotspot in Starbucks so that I can upload posts as I write them, but here my plans have rather fallen apart.

Wi-Fi is a fantastic idea. As a concept I absolutely love it, and in theory it is one of the greatest inventions of recent years. Unfortunately it has one minor flaw. It doesn't work. The technology has been made too complex, with encryption, IP addresses, DHCP servers and Default Gateways, and now it's broke.

Sure, sometimes it works. If you have a home Wi-Fi network that's been set up correctly, it probably works most of the time. But at home, resetting the router by yanking the plug out whenever it breaks isn't really a problem. In public it is. I can't even see the router in here, and I certainly wouldn't switch it off and on again even if I could find it.

Which sucks really, because it isn't working properly. My phone connected ok, perhaps a symptom of it having been connected before, but the laptop, which is a new visitor to Starbucks cannot establish a connection. I've spent an hour or two trying to get it to connect now, to no avail.

Given that I'm pretty good with such things, a veteran you might say, it's probably not me. I connect these things every day and I'm pretty good at troubleshooting. If it were anything at this end, I'd have found it by now. But I've found nothing, because there is nothing to find. Windows Vista is getting quite good at self diagnosis, and even it says the problem is with the hotspot router.

If I had GPRS set up on my phone, I could use that to connect the laptop to the internet, but I don't because it costs too much to use. Unfortunately the makers of the phone never thought of a scenario in which I'd want to connect a laptop through the phone's Wi-Fi connection, as if the phone has Wi-Fi, the laptop should as well, right?

I'm beginning to wonder if it would be rude to tell the staff that their router needs restarting. I'm not sure they'd believe me at any rate. From their perspective, it's far more likely that the problem is at my end. Sunday staff are notorious for being useless and this lot don't seem to be an exception. The mug of coffee I finished over an hour ago has still not been collected from my table. It's entirely possible that they don't know what a router is, or how to restart it. Do you, dear reader?

I have a few more ideas I want to try, but failing that I'll just have to post this when I get home. Til then, I remain yours disconnectedly, Ignorminious.

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My Four Months Of Pleasure

Posted on Sunday 11th November 2007 at 00:00
If you meet me in the street and ask me what my favourite time of year is, I will probably say who are you? that I like them all equally. I know this, because that's what I always say.

Generally speaking it's true. The most notable feature of any time of year, in Britain at least, is the weather. Since I see as much charm in the wind and rain as in sun and blue skies, I am pretty content with all times of year. The obvious exception, as I'm sure is the case for most people, is the end of winter. Usually around February, when Christmas is a distant memory and spring is still not yet here, and there is nothing fun about the weather that simply refuses to improve.

Apart from that, I like all times of year equally.

This autumn however, I've begun to think that actually I like the evening of the year far more than any other time. This isn't specifically because of the weather, although there's a lot to be said for the coming of the wind and rain, the foggy evenings and the crisp, clear, cold mornings, with dew glistening from the cobwebs. All these things are fantastic, but what I like more are the social occasions. The Autumn is ushered in by the beginning of the school year. This always excited me when I was young. New uniform and brand new school supplies. New books, classrooms and teachers. Within a week the novelty of being back at school had long since worn off, but those first few days were some of my happiest in the school calendar.

Autumn, I think, has more celebrations than any other time of year. There is Harvest Festival, which although not widely celebrated by the community at large, still evokes vivid memories of church services, fresh ripe fruit and the glorious end to the hot, sleepy summer. Next comes Halloween, which I never bothered to celebrate as a child; trick-or-treating being far too tacky and American to be tasteful; but now dressing up has become fun again. Fancy dress parties really come into their own at Halloween and I can safely say that I was more proud of my vampire costume this year than of any other fancy dress outfit I've ever worn.

Almost before Halloween is over we are into Bonfire night. Remember, remember the 5th of November; gunpowder, treason and plot!As a child, this was the night when we all put on our coats and wellington boots (I tried to type 'wellys' and Microsoft Word corrected it to 'willies?; go figure) and stepped out into the dark and damp night to play with sparklers, whilst Dad lit rockets and catherine wheels by the light of the bonfire in the back garden. Later we'd retire indoors to enjoy the delicious tea Mum had cooked, with everything based on a bonfire theme. I wish I could remember exactly what it was we had...

By now the trees are mostly bare, and the leaves that scatter the ground are all dead. But throughout October, we are treated to the most beautiful sights nature has to offer. If this was special when I lived in Yateley, it is doubly so here in Bristol, where a dramatic increase in the number of trees serves to intensify the effect, almost to the point of distracting me from the road as I drive to work. The last week of October was the week when every year of my childhood, we'd holiday in a caravan on the Isle of Wight. What a perfect time of year for enjoying the outdoors one last time before winter! There is a certain weather - perhaps cool but not cold, with a fresh breeze - that reminds me of those holidays every time I experience it. In the same way that Christmas can be summed up by the smell of a Christmas tree, the Isle of Wight can be summed up by that fresh autumn breeze.

My biggest regret this autumn is that a combination of a dire work schedule (7 days a week most weeks between September and Christmas) and a bad foot conspired to stop me walking through Bristol with my camera on a sunny weekend to capture the magic of the season. The Clifton Suspension Bridge must have looked stunning at sunset, with the woods behind it aflame with yellow, orange and crimson. Oddly enough, the best sight I got of the falling leaves was in the car park at Tesco one afternoon, when I came out to find leaves falling from the trees onto all the cars. It was a picture perfect autumn scene, and had I had a camera with me, I'd have stopped there for an hour or more.

As the year draws on, the nights begin to come earlier and earlier each day. Some people, my mother included, find this very depressing, but not me. I love winter nights, snug and warm inside, with the heating on and the TV working its way through the BBC's autumn and winter schedule, and at this time of year, we are treated to tantalising tasters of what is to come. In summer, one can't really appreciate the coming of the night, as by the time it arrives, we are too tired to appreciate it, not to mention too hot and sticky. In winter itself, darkness comes a little too early, and it is already with us when we come out of work, but for a few weeks in Autumn, we bear witness to stunning sunsets and misty twilights whilst on our way home, or else just out and about.

In town the Christmas lights are already up, and in a fortnight or so, I too shall turn my mind to the cheer and excitement that is the festive season. For me, this has always been the climax and finale to my four months of pleasure; the last big celebration to finish Nature's end of year celebrations. Come January I will inevitably feel saddened by its passing, but for now I'm as content as any man in England.

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