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Tuesday, 27 November 2007

'Things ain't cooking in my kitchen', Weather with you, Crowded House

I'd rather face a drunk with a knife.

It's true, I would rather face a drunk with a knife than cook. I know this to be a fair statement because, recently, I did face a drunk with a knife on the streets (but that's another story) and I have tried cooking.

I said just at the weekend to Mrs EoTP, 'Why do you use that saucepan on that ring on the cooker? I don't, I do it this way. I just may be getting the hang of this cooking thing.' Mrs EoTP gave me the look. 'The look lasted about 12 months, or so it felt. 'You haven't mastered cooking' she said, 'you have just about learned how to warm things up.'

I was deflated, it has to be said. But there is a small grain of truth in there somewhere with the lumpy gravy.

I don't know what the problem is. I am (if I say so myself and as there isn't any one around at the moment to contradict me I will say it) a pretty good project manager. I mean I have set the aims and objectives for many substantial projects. For example: collecting all the rubber bands in the organisation and making a huge ball with them; organising the ugliest paper clip contest; working out why the consumption of internal post envelopes massively exceeds the amount of internal post sent; determining the optimum day for most managers to be in the pub at lunchtime so that the company is being run entirely by nineteen year olds for the best part of an afternoon (like Woolworths over the weekends). And all of these projects were delivered on time and on budget. Cooking is just another sort of project so why doesn't it work?

Well Mrs EoTP says that's because you haven't any staff or colleagues to boss around, you can't set progress update meetings and harangue staff for not performing, have no opportunity to write well aimed minutes so that you can pinion the underlings and make them wriggle in embarrassment because they have failed to undertake some action point and so on. 'Basically' she says 'you've got to do it on your own.' So that's the problem.

The other problem is that my hands do not always do what my brain says. It was the same with Airfix models. My resultant efforts were always covered in excess glue (and fluff where I had dropped the model on the floor) with the transfers placed erratically over the fuselage or hull on whatever I made. Same with cooking. The instructions may say blend but the output is lumpy, sticky, the wrong colour, all three. I can chop an onion but it looks like it has been hit with a hammer and not finely diced. I can peel potatoes but there is more potato left on the peelings than on the bit that is peeled. I can sautee a steak but it looks like (and tastes like) the bit of carpet you wipe your feet on. Recent meals have included:
1. The night I finally managed, I thought, to bring the cooking all together to present the family with their meal only to find that I had completely forgotten to cook the different meal for one of the kids (he had to wait a further twenty minutes to eat). That is referred to regularly at meal times along the lines of 'Haven't forget me this time have you Dad?'.
2. Making bolognese sauce, putting the remainder in the oven to keep warm and finding it still there the following morning. Still, it now makes a very effective whetstone for sharpening the knives or acting as a chock for the wheels of a 747.
3. Making a shepherd's pie and forgetting to put the potatoes on to boil. The meal didn't work quite so well after that.
4. We won't talk about the apple crumble, though the local fire brigade still use the episode as part of their video training about domestic fires.

So I struggle on but am beginning to think that I may never master this art - perhaps for me I am doomed to be forever warming up ready meals from Marks and Spencers. Oh pass me that cooking wine and I'll have another go at dicing the onion. Mrs EoTP has pointed out that if I carry on with that Spanish wine I'll soon be able to face another drunk with a knife, 'Just go and look in the mirror.'

Monday, 19 November 2007

Party politics

'You're not still married to her, I thought she was a real [add insult of choice here]?' His tone was incredulous. I'd bumped into an old colleague from the company I first worked for. He asked me how things were going and we'd had the usual conversation. He was doing supremely well, now in charge of worldwide biro purchases for International Whocares, huge salary, was living in a wonderful country house, his fourth wife was charming when not drinking, he had supervised access to the kids once every Candlemass and then forgot to ask about my life. I remembered this conversation as I drove past the location of a long forgotten office Christmas party for the first time in 25 years last week.

You see, I don't like office Christmas parties very much. Here's some examples.

1. As above. Three line whip demands you bring your partner. At the time partner meant a heterosexual relationship involving marriage or engagement. Anything outside that was viewed as evil, a pact with Satan (at the least), perverse, an anomaly in the universe and outside the parameters of a good company man (and the company was, inevitably, male). If you considered that living in sin (how quaint) with a partner older than you was OK , the Company considered she was likely to be a Wicca and probably worth bringing out the ducking stool and stocking up the timber faggots for a good fire just in case. And the word from the Three Line Whipper ins was 'turn up to the party with your partner, the Company will pay all fares and bills and having turned up expect us to ignore them completely all night did we mention it was Dinner Jackets? Did we also mention that not turning up with said partner means instant end to career prospects? Did we also mention that if you do not get totally out of your head we will consider you a baby girl with bows in her hair?' And the heinous sin Mrs EoTP committed to cause that comment many years later? She dared to disagree with my then boss about some literature he had read. Mrs EoTP - English graduate. Boss - 'O' level in Patronising, 'A' level in Condescension. Degree in Boreish.

2. Senior manager decides that the company really is a family organisation and sells idea to MD. On what basis this is decided no one knows. We all know that his wife is a passive aggressive obsessive and his son regularly comes home drunk and they fight on the front lawn. Perhaps he sees the company like that. Two line whip this time. 'We expect you to bring your partner, please sort of stick to the conventions of relationships and not turning up means an instant end to your career prospects. We might talk to your partner if she is good looking with good legs and doesn't answer back. Did we also mention that if you do not get totally out of your head we will consider you a baby girl with bows in her hair?'

3. CEO decides international company (they in States, we in UK) ought to be a family organisation (just like a family, live hundreds of miles from each other and never talk) and that Christmas party is necessary. Tickets go on sale and only three are sold one week before party, and MD bought two of them. MD cannot understand why low paid employees will not fork out £55 per ticket to drive 30 miles to venue and did we mention it was Dinner Jackets? Three line whip to management team. 'You must go to the party and you must get all your supervisors to go as well. Did we also mention that if you do not get totally out of your head we will consider you a baby girl with bows in her hair?' I point out that price of ticket and low morale in Company may explain low ticket sales. Instant end to career prospects. Result is Christmas party with 45 sulking managers. 44 very drunk managers. And a fight later on in the evening between two partners.

There are other issues.

Does anyone really want to go to an office Christmas party? I mean really want to go or are they just doing it because they think they ought to?

Which of the supplementary Christmas meals do you go to? Finance, Sales and Operations have all invited you to their evening? All of them, none of them? Oh the angst.

When you are part of a organisation that has conflicting Christmas parties on the same evening what do you do? Right now I have invites for a meal at a local bar/fight club (especially Saturdays) or a 20 mile drive to an elegant hotel for a meal twice the price (and yes DJs are required. Why?). I'm going to upset someone. And this is a voluntary organisation as well.

When all around are totally out of their heads what do you do? Easy this one. Come 1115pm everyone is so drunk they are no longer capable of knowing if they are still at the party let alone anyone else. So you leave surreptitiously and on the Monday pick up a little gossip about what went on post 1115pm - then just tell everyone how funny that incident was. Works every time, no one knows you left early.

So you might understand why, when someone mentions office Christmas parties, my soul dies a little each time

Oh, I forgot one type. MD of Company asks whether I would like to go to Christmas party at a local pub one evening, with a reputation for good food, at the Company's expense to have a meal with a few of my colleagues from the last eight months. Partners not expected to come, soft drinks only if driving, smart casual is fine. That's odd, I want to go to this one. Perhaps it is not all bad after all?

And I'm still married to the same woman.

Friday, 16 November 2007

'I've been driving in my car it's not quite a Jaguar', Madness, Driving in my car

There's a large oblong on my drive where my company car used to be. Where once stood my shiny Jaguar/Mercedes/other large 'executive' car now stands a small shrine to company perks plus the last faint trace of an oil leak. I now drive Mrs EoTP's little blue car.

I'd describe the little blue car (lbc) as one of variable noise constant velocity. In the last three months I've driven around 5000 miles in it, that's about as twice as many as Mrs EoTP would do in a normal year as I undertake interviews for my part time job. I feel like it's being part of the the early days of flight. Pull on leather flying hat, screw goggles firmly into eyes, chocks away and then clatter off into the sky with the smell of avgas and oil streaming back from the propeller engine. When I had my company car I would turn the ignition key, open the driver's window just to check that the engine had actually started it was so quiet, turn on the air-con, the CD player, settle down into the sumptuous leather covered seats (that were heated) and then majestically point the vehicle into the traffic and glide off to whatever my destination was. Speed? Just look at the accelerator peddle and you'd be doing 70 mph. Overtaking? Blink of an eye. Motorway clear? Cruise control on. Mobile phone? Hands free with teeny microphone in sun blind.

Mrs EoTPs lbc is not quite that at that level. Start engine? Ear defenders in. Struggle to get into traffic and maintain poise whilst wearing made to measure suit and trying to adopt a 'well it's good for the environment driving a small car' look. Overtaking? Best to book several days ahead. Speed? Press the accelerator to the floor and there's a change in engine noise and a barely perceptible increase in speed. Hills? We don't like hills. Mobile phone? Stuck in a spare compartment. Will answer when arrive at destination. Radio/CD player - fine as long as you are not actually moving because after that the road noise drowns out the sound anyway.

When you drive a company car vehicles like the one I'm driving now are an annoyance. They take ages to overtake, they slow down on hills on motorways, they don't accelerate away from roundabouts. They are driven by mums and losers! And by me. I think my driving is better mind you, but that is on the basis that as I can't drive fast anymore I can avoid things more easily as it takes me ten times as long to arrive at an incident as I did in my Jag. Company car drivers actually look down at you. Stop at a motorway service station to eat your sandwiches and you can see the sneers on their faces as they step of of their big cars and see you in your lbc. Not that I'm prejudiced but come the revolution and I am made el Presidento, all you BMW drivers are up against the wall.

And the bills. I've never seen such bills. Because of the increased mileage the car has needed a major service, a replacement cam belt, new tyres, new exhaust and so on and so on. Because of the increased mileage the insurance cover we had was no longer applicable so we've had to change it and, guess what, much more expensive. With a company car you just take it to the dealer (or in my case they would come and collect it then return it) and that was it. All the nasty paying stuff would be handled by the leasing company. Nothing to sign. OK I know there was a biggish tax bill for the car but that was taken from your salary beforehand. Now I have to pay the bills myself you see the money flowing away like water over Niagara.

Long journeys are not much fun. In the old days (e.g. big car) large numbers of miles in one day were no problem. Geneva to Yorkshire in a day? Yes. West Midlands to Munich in a day? Of course. Now West Midlands to Essex and back in a day and I'm exhausted. I hadn't realised how hard driving was in a little car. When I went to the HQ of a large prestige car manufacturer recently I can honestly say the the lbc was the smallest and cheapest car in the car park by probably some £30k. I was dwarfed by huge new cars, SUVs and the like. I thought I'd be asked to leave or enter by the tradesman (persons?) entrance at the back. Mind you Mrs EoTP positively revels in that sort of thing. Before the latest car she had a 16 year old Golf and would love parking it next to the big, glittering car of the MD of Consolidated HooHahs. 'I don't care' she would say 'It's reliable, cheap and I can always find a parking space. And the drivers of these big cars don't like parking next to me in case I open the door and scratch their lovely paint work.' And off she would roar fighting to turn the steering wheel in the absence of power steering. Muscles like a stevedore she had.

But here's an interesting thing. Would I have a big car again if I could? Well of course I would I was just teasing - the more gadgets, leather, cubic capacity the better. No I am still teasing. I'm not sure I would anymore. When I had the Merc I chose it on the basis of brand snobbery. I wanted the three pointed star on my drive and actually that particular car was one of the most unreliable I have ever had. The Jag was a great car but was really a Mondeo with a different body. And in any event it was only me in it 95% of the time. So maybe I wouldn't...but then there is that space on the drive.

Of course it all entirely academic at the moment as the lbc is all we have and I'm sure that's a new oil leak on the drive. But then I do have a motorcycle license - I could always have one of these...