Going out out

Since the original lockdown last March, I’ve only ventured into the office three times. The first time was to familiarise myself with the Covid restrictions and changes that had been implemented and I only stayed there for a couple of hours once I’d done the tour. Whilst it was clear the company had done a lot of work to try to make the site safe such as one-way corridors, the restaurant was closed and some temporary staff didn’t seem rot follow the guidelines such as wearing face masks when walking around the office.

The second time was to visit the new office space that had been created for my division, but again the restaurant was closed and there was lots of building activity going on making it a difficult place to work.

The third time was this week.

I’d been invited to go into the office as a couple of my colleagues and my boss were meeting up so I booked a desk and drove to Birmingham on Tuesday. The new work area had now been completed and desks allocated for our department but as only a few other staff have returned and with social distancing rules still in place the area felt pretty empty and uninviting. On the plus side, the restaurant was also now open, albeit at a reduced capacity so at least there was the better refreshments than the coffee machine.

Anyhow, on arrival I found a desk and fired up my laptop, having first visited the Starbucks counter to get a Latte. Regrettably I couldn’t get the stand-alone screen to connect to my laptop as I knew I would struggle to work on a single screen, especially so used to my home set up of having three screens. So I started messing with the larger monitor connections trying to get it to come to life. Unfortunately, I subsequently managed to knock my large cup of latte over my laptop, mouse and laptop bag, sending me into sheer panic. Fortunately, a quick-thinking colleague obtained some kitchen towel and I was able to mop up the spillage and wipe down the laptop, which luckily hadn’t got covered in the coffee.

Once I’d calmed down I then proceeded to do some work and also have a nice catch up with my colleagues; it’s surprising how just seeing people face to face rather than on the phone or via Teams makes a difference. We all had a good natter and put the world to rights and then I had the job of ringing round my team to inform them their pay-rises & bonuses. Of course, it would have been much easier to do at home as those types of conversations are best done out of ear-shot of others but I found a small office and delivered their good news.

And then it was my time to get the news of mine from my boss and pleasingly it was very good news. Suffice to say the tax man and Tina will benefit 🙂

I remained in the office until late afternoon before heading back home and whilst we agreed it was great to meet up, I think the visits will now be fewer than I did in the past, even after the Covid situation goes away.

When I arrived home, I was greeted by Rio, who for the first time in a long while had been left alone, very excited to see me and wanting some attention for abandoning him. I think if he sees my laptop bag being packed up again he’ll pick it up and hide it so I can’t go back to work.

V(aughan) Fest

Last week our team held a ‘charity event’ at the Patshull Scout Activity Centre in South Staffordshire. One of the team is a scout leader and suggested that he could organise the event in exchange for the team carrying out ‘tasks’ such as clearing paths and digging holes, and fortunately everyone was up for it.

On arrival it didn’t take long for the team to erect their own tents. They were small two-man versions (everyone got their own for comfort and reduced embarrassment factor) and for me, having spent many a happy time in my youth camping, erecting the tent was just like riding a bike and it was soon upright and the outer flysheet pegged down (note I even remember the technical terms still).

Whilst the rest of the camp was preparing for the day ahead, I decided it would be a good opportunity to fly the drone to get some shots of the campsite and as expected it caused quite a stir with everyone down below.

Somehow I managed to get voted in a team leader and our first task was to decide what work we would do. After debate we decided that digging a hole for a drain soak away would be just down our street (Virgin Media people do like digging holes) so we headed off to the shed to obtain some shovels. Vaughan, the organiser and scout leader, said the hole needed to be 2m x 2m x 2m deep, but we soon realised that was going to be a tall ask, especially with only spades and a couple of broken forks available. One of the guys did bring a mattock which helped break up the soil and soon we had the job completed; albeit only to a depth of 1m.

After an impromptu team meeting with the boss, we then started on some of the not-such-a-small-quantity of alcohol which had been gathered for the team. A 4pm start meant it was going to be a long night though.

After the BBQ, we settled around the campfire for a good old scouting singsong, led by Skip, a chap Vaughan had arranged, who knew all the words and got us all up, despite most now being quite inebriated.

I managed to stay awake till gone midnight, when I made my way back to my tent, hoping the wine and cider combination would send me straight to sleep. Not a chance!

Sleeping on a slope, in a smallish tent, on a single airbed, in a tiny sleeping bag and with noises outside is just not great for a good nights sleep, with multiple trips to the loo not helping. Eventually I got to sleep about 4am but at dawn, I was woken by the chorus of wildlife that surrounded the campsite. I decided to get up for a shower!

After a full English breakfast (I assisted in the cooking) we took part in a team building exercise – building a bridge out of poles and ropes – amazingly it supported ten people, did some rifle shooting and then cleared the site ready for departure.

Whilst the experience was worth participating in, I think my camping days are over and I’ll stick to hotels in future. And when I got home I counted eleven mosquito bites on my arms, back and feet, the perils of sleeping outdoors I guess.

Somehow I managed to become the unofficial videographer so cobbled together a short film capturing the highlights of the two days.

We all enjoyed the experience although I’m not quite sure how much ‘charity’ work we actually really did!

The Right Way Up

So we finally arrived back at Heathrow at Sunday lunchtime; to glorious blue skies. So much for the cold, damp, wet weather everyone said it had been like whilst we’d been on holiday, I think others were just trying to make us feel guilty.

As expected, the journey home was a long one; with the internal flight from Brisbane to Melbourne adding to the endurance flights. We finally left Australia just before midnight and settled down in the Qantas A380 Airbus with the full intention of getting some sleep.

No chance!

The fourteen hour flight from Melbourne to Dubai seemed to go on for ever and even a large dose of ‘Game of Thrones’ to watch on my iPad didn’t really help. Also, just when I managed to get to sleep I was woken by the stewardess offering me my dinner/breakfast/lunch (I didn’t really know what the time was so it could have been any one of those meals) but seeing as it was food I was happy to accept it.

Eventually we arrived in Dubai around 7am and after negotiating the two lots of security checks that were in place, we re-boarded the same plane (all spick and span again after a service clean) and headed off on the final leg from there to Heathrow, some seven hours apart.

We got through UK Border Control after thirty minutes of queuing and were soon collecting our cases and entering Arrivals, where Matt was waiting to take us home. After rescuing the dog from the kennels Tina and I managed to stay awake for a couple of hours before giving up and catching up on the lost sleep.

And so to reflect on the holiday.

I must say Australia is a fantastic place to visit; with so much to see and do. And you really do feel chilled when you get back. I drove to work on Tuesday with not a care in the world. ‘No worries’ when someone overtook me. ‘Fair dinkum’ when someone cut me up on the roundabout. ‘Alright Possums’ when I met my work colleagues on my arrival.

Then I checked my e-mails and started working through the backlog of the past three weeks. Arghhh.

Still as someone quite rightly said “You need to do one to pay for the other!” How very true.



As I mentioned in my blog last week, I attended a meeting to discuss team engagement and in particular engineer reward and recognition. We were all given our budget and were then asked to agree a way it could be spent on our teams to get the best for our buck.

I have found that food is a pretty good motivator for my team and helps greatly in getting them to turn up to my team meetings each month; a greasy bacon buttie seems to hit just the right note. I have tried the healthier croissants and biscuits but they never seem to go down as well as the traditional breakfast snack. In the spirit of consultation I will check with my team at this weeks meeting to ensure they still want rolls this year, but I suspect there will be no change in the refreshment area.

Another part of the budget was to go towards a monthly team award; the winner being an engineer who is nominated by me for doing something out of the ordinary or supporting a colleague or resolving a difficult customer issue. For this we agreed to give a prize (Amazon or Argos voucher etc), the title of Red Hot Engineer of the Month, their name on a team plaque and forwarded on join nine other winners to make up the ‘Midlands Massiff Red Hot Team of the Month’. The monthly winners also will have their photo added to a flier that will be posted on noticeboards around the buildings and will be considered for attendance to an end of year bash if they make it into Team of the Year.

shieldWith all agreed it was my job to pull all of these plans into a presentation so that it could be shared with the teams. Also I agreed I would knock up the monthly flier to be distributed around the teams and so when I got back to the office I got straight to work on it.

With the use of my Macbook Air, I soon had the flier created and this morning sent out the first edition along with the presentation on the reward and recognition plans. Immediately I started getting replies back from the managers questioning my spelling of the wider teams’ name, namely the ‘Midlands Massiff’. This name has come about from my boss, who wanted to create a team name that everyone would remember and convey a sense of pride across the patch.

In the discussions earlier in the week, we talked about the award and whilst we agreed we with the boss about the name we didn’t really discuss the actual spelling, although he did say it wasn’t spelt the conventional way (massive).

And so to the replies.

The first said…

That’s a great piece of work.

Followed by…

Nice one Wrighty !

Then from Hannah…

Great stuff Mr W….lots of cuddles for you!

But then came the egghead replies…

Looks good Graham, just one query though having missed the discussions last week.

Why the spelling of Massiff that way?

Its my understanding that when used colloquially the spelling is either the standard Oxford dictionary way massive or mahusive but that the latter is generally used to indicate something huge, immense etc. as massive is used to indicate the group/community/gang thingy which I though we were emulating.

Massif is I vaguely remember something to do with mountains or Skiing?

And someone else followed up with:

Found on Wikipedia:

List of Star Wars creatures

Massiffs are creatures that can be found across the galaxy, including Geonosis and Tatooine. They are used as pets and guards.

It’s funny how some people think in certain ways and others the complete opposite!

I didn’t bother replying back but suffice to say the spelling is staying as the boss wanted…with two f’s.


customer-service+excellent.0822.12For a couple of days this week I was away at a team managers conference in the Midlands. The meeting on the first day was held in Birmingham where the group discussed the plans for this year; agreeing ways in which we can improve our teams engagement in the company. After a very full day, we then relocated the short drive to The Village Hotel in Coventry, where we were to have an overnight stay and then attend the second day of the conference the following morning.

The hotel bookings were made prior to us arriving by our team assistance, who had negotiated a really good deal and included a two course meal, breakfast, lunch and conference facilities for 25 people. We duly arrived at the reception to be told that they had no record of our booking, including the reservation of the rooms we were to stay that night. It seems that the agency Virgin Media use had failed to inform the hotel of our booking and the manager was not around to resolve the cock-up at that time.

“Apologies for the inconvenience this has caused” the hotel receptionist stated “whilst we sort out the problem, why not go to the bar and have a drink on the house” she added.

As you can imagine, we didn’t argue and were soon enjoying the outcome of the admin debacle in the form of some free alcohol until the rooms were sorted. We were eventually given our key cards along with further apologies from the front of house staff for the delay we’d experience (all of 30 minutes).

A while later we reconvened in the bar for another quick drink before walking through to the dining room, where we were shown to our table.

“As a way of an apology for the check-in mistake” the waitress said “your two course meal will be upgraded to a three course meal tonight” she stated. Result, we thought!

We were then given the fixed menu; which was of varied choice and when it arrived was plentiful and of good quality. They also were knowledgeable about my dietary requirements and offered me a number of alternatives, for both starters and main courses. After eating we retired back to the bar, where we remained until the wee hours; the hotel agreeing to keep the bar open for just our party. I like this hotel, I thought.

The following morning, whilst sitting eating our breakfast we were interrupted by the hotel’s Sales Manager, Dermot, who introduced himself before apologising again for the mistake the previous evening. He explained what had happened and said he was there to ensure we had a smooth day ahead, during our conference. He then asked us to point out our admin assistant when she came down to eat so I suspect he could have a ‘chat’ with her too.

Clearly the hotel chain were out to ensure there was going to be no negative feedback from our stay there and judging by the number of Virgin Media personnel in the restaurant (there must have been 30-40 apprentices there too) they were trying their hardest to make amends.

The crazy thing was that I didn’t think the problem was too big a deal anyhow and the way they sorted it through the free drinks and food made us feel like they really cared about their customers. I guess the large corporate account with us helps!

Have you tried turning it off and on again…?

it crowdOver recent weeks my work laptop has been progressively been getting slower and slower to boot up in the mornings. It has never been the fastest of models; somehow I seemed to miss out on the distribution of the superfast HP models when everyone was given new laptops in favour of an older Dell unit. Even when that first Dell had a trackpad fail I was given a replacement Dell and not a HP. Me bitter, never!

Anyhow, as I say my current laptop was getting really slow to work with, to the point where I not only could make a drink whilst it booted, but also wash the cups up beforehand and even, if required, go and buy the coffee from the shop too. I noted on Tuesday it took from 7.45am until 9.15am until I was logged in and ready to start doing my e-mails. Clearly unsatisfactory.

Of course, when ever you need IT to investigate a fault at work, you firstly have to phone the central ‘Help Desk’ who then try various remote diagnostics, remove temporary files and of course tell you to ‘switch it off and on again’ which as expected does bugger all. They then say that there is nothing else they can do their end and it will need to go to the local IT team, which in my case are 30 miles away.

And so to yesterday, when I got a call from the local IT guy, Pat, to say he has managed to get me a replacement laptop, and yes it was an HP. Whoohoo! Unfortunately it wasn’t a new one, he added, but it would be faster than my current model. I said that would be fine and agreed to drive to Peterborough this afternoon to swap them over.

I duly arrived and entered the IT room; a small office that was crammed full of computers, power supplies, hard drives and two ‘geeks’ sitting at their desks. The set up reminded me exactly of the comedy show The IT Crowd and when they started speaking they could have quite easily have been duplicates of Roy and Moss. I did try and get a photo of them in the room, but felt it was a bit sneaky. Pat soon got my new laptop powered up and I could see it was going to be much quicker than the old one.

Meanwhile, Steve sat nearby talking technical on the phone to someone, repeating the word ‘bonzo’ in every sentence. I’m not sure whether it was some new protocol that had been invented or he was talking about his dog, but it was beyond my comprehension.

Anyhow, I left with a shiny, almost new, laptop and hopefully I will be able to now just have time to get a coffee from the machine in the morning before I can start doing some work! Time will tell.


Global takeover

Virgin-Media16Yesterday it was just a rumour but this morning when I woke up the mail waiting for me on my Blackberry confirmed the speculation was true. Virgin Media, my employer, has received an offer to buy them out for some astronomical amount of money. The bid had come in from Liberty Global, a large cable group who own companies across Europe and Central & South America and if the deal goes through it will create the world’s largest broadband communications company. Not a bad employer to be working for.

The merger will of course mean some uncertainty but with the two companies not competing in the same market place it should have a minimal impact on Virgin Media employees in the foreseeable future. One surprising fact is that Liberty Global have three times as much debt as VM ($30 billion against Virgin’s $11 billion) so I think it will be a while until we will be in the same league of Apple or Microsoft.

Also announced today were the 2012 results which were positive, which I suppose also helped make the decision to buy VM easier. It also meant that they will be paying an annual bonus at nearly 100% of target, which means I will soon be able to get the holiday brochures out and play for out summer excursion.

Now that news really did please me!

Mighty meaty meal

Last week I took my Northampton team on their Christmas dinner; yes I know it was January but we were so busy in December we did’t get around to booking anything up. Every employee who works for Virgin Media usually gets allocated £35 towards a Xmas do and if you don’t use it you lose it, so the guys organised a late lunch dinner in a small village pub in Leicestershire.

old_red_lionWe arrived mid-afternoon and we soon shown to a table and handed the menu. Each engineer ordered their food, including one who ordered a mixed grill. I looked at the choice and decided to follow suite. When it arrived I was surprised how big the plate of food was but soon got stuck in. The meal consisted of a steak, gammon, lamb chop, pork chop, liver, kidney and an egg as well as mushrooms, chips and salad. I skipped the sausage and onion rings due to the gluten content. I polished off the meal without too much fuss (even though I have lost nearly two stone last year I still have a good appertite) and even managed a coffee to wash it all down. The others also managed to finish their meals, engineers can certainly put away free meals!

It wasn’t until I got home and I was telling Matt and Tina about the pub and logged on to their website to show them the menu when I realised the amount of food I’d eaten equalled two pounds in weight. No wonder my stomach was aching that evening. I have just realised I have another story regarding eating a 32oz steak but that’s for another day. Masher may be able to recall that one too 🙂

Suffice to say I’ve been walking Rio a little further this week.

Do the mobot

It was one of my guys at work that first suggested we should give it a go, but it wasn’t until my boss sent a couple of his managers the challenge of participating that I took it seriously.

A link was sent to me to the YouTube site of the Mo Farah Foundation where our Olympic double gold medal winner had created a ‘how to’ video demonstrating how to do his new dance. He was encouraging everyone to record a video of them ‘doing the mobot’ and for every submission Virgin media would donate £2 to the charity. And for the best ones there was the chance they could appear in the final video for the release of the official song by Tigermonkey.

I sent out a text to the engineer who suggested we participate and asked him to gather some willing volunteers. Surprisingly he confirmed back that a few of the guys were up for it.

On Friday six of the team (five participants and a camera man) gathered at the Northampton office and we agreed our dance strategy. I was a bit apprehensive as to my participation as I have often been told by Tina that I have no rhythm and have two left feet when it comes to dancing. Still it was for a good cause and as the boss I had to lead from the front.

We relocated to the meeting room and were soon going through the ‘complex’ moves that Mo was demonstrating on his video, with the camera phone recording our efforts. Fifteen minutes later we gave up practicing as a lost cause and went out into the car park to make our video.
We rearranged two Virgin media vehicles to give us a good backdrop and then started to dance. Well, when I say dance I mean, five grown men trying to co-ordinate themselves into following five simple moves, in time and without corpsing. It wasn’t pretty. After about ten takes we were finally getting it together and there was a semblance of a dance video in the can, so to speak.

I then went to task in creating our masterpiece. It was whilst I was editing the video I had the sudden realisation that I really can’t dance. It was the first time that from a distance I had ever seen myself dancing and it was clear that co-ordinating my hands and feet into any sort of order was an impossible feat. After the shock of seeing my moves in reality and after stopping the tears from running down my face from the laughter I got on with the task of editing and adding the signature backing track. I then uploaded it to Mo’s site, happy in the knowledge that we had contributed £2 to his cause via Virgin media’s donation, even it was at the expense making fools of ourselves.

I then shared the video with the rest of the team and my peers and immediately got some great feedback (and some cutting comments about my dancing, all in jest I might add).

Later that evening I received a mail from the Mo Farah Foundation stating that our effort had been considered for possible selection in the official video and could I send them a copy of the original. I emailed my fellow participants and got an agreement that it was OK and sent it off, not really expecting it to be chosen.

But it was!

Yesterday, the completed video was released and incredibly we are included, albeit for a second or two. Other participants include Tom Daley, Example, Jack Whitehall, Joey Essex, James Corden, Jermain Defoe, David Haye, Boris Johnson, Richard Branson and many more.

And so here is the official final cut version of the ‘Do the Mobot’ video (we appear at 1:28)…

Dont’ forget to download the song from iTunes too as all the profits go to the charity. And you never know if it becomes a hit it might even make the Christmas number one!

You can view the full version of the team video by clicking here.

Someone told me yesterday that I was in time and it was the rest of the guys that were out 🙂


Time marches on…

Wow, what happened to March and April?

With only one blog entry since the end of February, it is clear the blog-a-day-in-february cleared me out of any inspiration or inclination to want to write anything new. But my life didn’t stop so what has happened in the past two months?

Family-wise it’s been fairly quiet with the only notable highlight being Matt starting his new job at Virgin Media. His first week saw him on an induction course in Dudley, where he met his fellow apprentices. The company put them up in a £140 per day hotel next to the main office and Matt thought he was in heaven. He seemed to enjoy the week and it set him up for a positive start in joining VM. The following Monday he had to report to the Northampton office and so we both went to work together, which was nice, although I think Matt was a bit embarrassed when we arrived as his other apprentice colleagues were waiting at the gate. He soon joined them rather than hang around with his dad. He’s now into his third week and says he’s still enjoying the job, which is pleasing.

Whilst mentioning work, I attended a management conference in Birmingham last month. The event was held for all field managers and was really well organised and I really enjoyed it. It was also the first public showing of the video I took part in February. The final cut was really well put together and everyone I spoke at the conference seemed to enjoy my performance :). It still hasn’t been released onto the company intranet, but when it does I’m expecting Hollywood to be knocking. In the meantime my equity card is in the post…not!

In other news, Tina and I have decided to update our kitchen, which is now looking a bit tired. I managed to persuade Tina that it would be a good idea to knock down the wall between the kitchen and dining room, creating a larger room and would allow for more cupboard space. We started looking around and saw a kitchen in Magnet’s that we both liked. Plans are now afoot to get things moving but me being the geeky person I am decided to try to do a bit of CAD planning myself using an iPad app called  ‘Home Design 3D‘. I was really impressed with how easy it was to create a room, add in the units and then view it in 3D. The results were pretty good and we now have a good idea on what we want when we go and visit the showroom at the weekend. Tina mentioned what I’d done to the Magnet designer and she said that there was always a job for a kitchen planner should I want to give up the day job.

One casualty of the new kitchen/diner is my piano. It won’t fit in the new room and there is nowhere else in the house it will fit so it was placed on eBay last night. I stuck it on for a low price and insisted it was ‘collection only’ as it would have taken a hell of a large amount of wrapping paper and packing tape to post it to the new owner. I won’t really be too sad to see it go as it was really one of those hobbies I really didn’t get into and got ridiculed from the family over my ‘ Les Dawson-esk’ playing.

Rio has been challenging over recent weeks, we think he’s going through his troublesome teenage years and so we’ve had to go back to basics with him, stopping him from going upstairs and jumping on our heads. We have had the last laugh this week though as he visited the vets for castration. He’s now a Ria rather than a Rio. It didn’t seem to make much difference last night though as once the anaesthetic had worn off he was back to his normal, playful self.

The only other thing I’ve been doing over recent months is joining the ‘Instagram‘ crowd by posting a few of my photos on the popular social photo site. I had used the site before the announcement of the Facebook takeover but not really uploaded too many pictures to it. Over recent weeks I’ve been regularly posting photos from my albums, using the app filters to change the pix to make them look more arty. I will upload a few here sometime.

So all-in-all a pretty busy few months has gone by in a shot. With the kitchen work due to start at the end of the month, along with a two week holiday, I think it’s going to fly by and it won’t be long before we’ll me talking about how the days are drawing in!