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!


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!

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!

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!

Following in the footsteps…

After failing a number of my O levels in the last year of school, I decided on stay on at sixth form to try to retake them as well as do a couple of A levels. I completed the retakes, passing all of them second-time around but knew that an academic future was not or me and started looking for a job.

When a British Telecom apprenticeship programme was spotted in the local paper, I applied on the off chance, not really expecting to get anywhere. The selection process included an interview, a technical test and a practical and with so many other people attending, I thought my chances of being chosen were slim. To my surprise I did get offered me a position, with the assessor telling me that I’d done just enough to get through but would have to work hard to make sure I would progress.

A year later, having settled into the new career, like a duck to water, I was awarded Apprentice of the Year, proving those that doubted me that I could do it. The apprenticeship set me up well for a career in telecommunications and when the time was right I left the safe environment of BT and joined a relatively new company, Telecential, one of the many Cable TV companies that were springing up around the country.

I soon progressed into a managerial role and whilst the cable industry has gone through some tough times, I have managed to hang in there and now work for Virgin Media, the combination of all those individual companies. And they are doing really well.

So it was especially pleasing when they announced a few years ago that they were starting up an apprentice scheme, knowing from experience how beneficial such schemes are. The initial intake was small at first, but the results were positive and the programme was expanded in subsequent years, to a point where now it plays a major role in recruiting for the future. And the quality of the technicians it has produced is excellent, with many going on to start more technical apprenticeships which will lead them into engineering roles.

And so to three months ago.

I spotted on the company job board some apprentice positions that were being advertised for Northamptonshire for later in the year and mentioned them to Matt. He had been working at the local Co-op since leaving school, biding his time until he knew what he really wanted to do as a career.

And so he applied online and waited.

A couple of weeks later he was asked to do an online test which he did and passed and so then went on to do a telephone interview, which he was successful at also.

He was then invited to a selection day, where he was asked to prepare a four minute presentation and was told he would have to do some individual and group tasks. Now Matt is not particularly confident in his abilities and seemed quiet about the whole thing, but did do some preparation, with a little help from his dad 🙂

Anyhow, last Wednesday, he attended the selection day and rang me up afterwards saying he thought he’d done OK, although had struggled to complete one of the practical tests. He mentioned that they asked him how he came to apply for the job and Matt explained that I worked for the company, and they acknowledged that they knew who I was but no more. They said they would let him know if he was successful within a week.

And so to yesterday afternoon he got the call he was waiting for to tell him he had been offered the apprenticeship and that he starts next month. What brilliant news, I’m certain he will enjoy the experience as I did and should set him up for a future in telecommunications, which I must say hasn’t done me any harm!

Well done, Matt!

Never act with children or animals…or stuffed toys

“We want you to say some lines” Claire said “and we want you to tell Red off” she continued as her assistant was handing me a portable microphone.

I had an inkling that someone might be filmed when carrying out a briefing at our office at Wellingborough last week but when Claire, the Internal Communications Manager, spoke to me soon after they arrived but I didn’t think it would be me. A quick discussion with my colleague Steve and it was ‘decided’ that I would do it.

Claire outline the plan with the filming.

“Just carry on as if the cameraman is not there and ignore Red and the puppeteer, who will be mingling in the crowd”, she commented.

Red, if you were not aware is Virgin Media’s ‘Chief Values Officer’, a red coloured puppet mascot who communicates the companies core messages and objectives in a humorous way through performing in short films.

I started the briefing and managed to get through the points without too many problems. Then I had to re-do it, this time withe camera looking out at the crowd and Red standing next to some of the techs and engineers. They were instructed not to look at him and act as if he was just one of the team listening to the briefing. They did quite well. I deliberately didn’t look at Red as I knew I would start laughing and that would be my lot. Once this section of filming had been completed Claire then said we want you to say some words to Red.

“OK” I said “that shouldn’t be too difficult!”

She outlined the scenario.

And then it was my turn to act with Red. I had to grab him by the shoulder then deliver my lines and it was at that point I realised I was no actor. With some of my team acting as ‘extras’ laughing and generally not helping the situation it became apparent that trying to act natural with a stuffed toy wasn’t as easy as it seemed. We eventually got there after a few retakes. Once done Claire said she was pleased with the outcome but I think when it’s played back I will sound quite wooden.

Red with some extras on location in Rushden

The final filming was back with the whole group and I had to act as if the day was at an end and everyone had a successful time. Claire gave me some more lines to say to the crowd, but again trying to remember them, in the right order and in a positive way was challenging to say the least. Still I got through it and at least I didn’t have to do any more acting with Red, who was now getting ready for some filming out on location.

All in all it was a fun day and I’m looking forward to seeing the ‘final cut’ to see how much of my briefing will be used however I think my acting days are over, especially with stuffed toys!

One thing I did forget was that for about two hours I was walking around with a microphone still on, I just hope I didn’t do a Gordon Brown and say something I shouldn’t have!

Big Bonus Baby

Once again my company has performed well in 2011, exceeding targets in many areas and continuing to grow despite the downturn in the economy. It seems that despite record unemployment numbers and the country finances in turmoil, people still want fast broadband and to watch TV on out flagship product TiVo. In fact one of the reasons why we are getting a bonus is the success of the TiVo product, demand outstripped our ability to install the boxes; I guess that is a great position to be in. And hopefully 2012 should be just as good if we deliver the ‘double speed’ broadband announced last month.

Once again this year’s bonus is a healthy amount, it should pay off a few debts and hopefully they’ll be a bit left over for a holiday too.

This year I must remember not to text Abby like I did last year resulting in some of it getting diverted into the kids accounts.  I just hope they don’t read this anytime soon 🙂

Warbrook House and Grange

For the past six working days I have been staying down in Hampshire at a process workshop with a number of other people from across the Virgin Media business. The set of meetings were aptly entitled ‘lock ins’ which meant that those that attended all remained together and were able to be fully focussed on discussing all the issues, both formally during working hours and in the evenings, when there was a more relaxed atmosphere.

And despite the fact that I’ve had been away from home for a few days I really enjoyed the experience. I think this was partly due to the location of the meetings, which had been set at a de-vere hotel venue and conference centre, Warbrook House and Grange, which is located just north of Hook in Hampshire, near Eversley.

The house was built in the early 1700’s by John James, a master carpenter who later became an architect and who during his career had been involved in the building of the Royal Hospital at Greenwich and more impressively St Paul’s Cathedral.

Now I’m no expert on country houses or gardens (yep, the above bit was Google’d) and I don’t watch Downton Abbey but I can say that it’s great to see that a large country home can be kept in use for people to enjoy. This particular house has been tastefully converted, keeping many of the internal features and the grounds are beautiful, with lawns and a canal all well tended.

What does make you think though is how wealthy the people who have lived there have had to have been to run a place like that? In researching the owners it seems that after John James sold it to pay off debts, it has been owned by a Private Secretary to the leader of the House of Commons, an artist and then an MP’s daughter, another MP , IBM and finally a hotel chain. I guess there must have been some huge MP’s expenses claims to cover the costs of running the place!

When I got home from my few days away I then reflected on what it must be like to have a place like that, with it’s well manicured lawns and trees. And then I glanced out at our garden with shrubs ripped up and holes dug in the grass by the dog and thought that I’m a long, long way from ever having a garden like that!