Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Just when

you think things might be starting to go a bit more to plan...

Went into my 'Billy-no-mates' office as the Middle Eastern correspondent has disparagingly described it...obviously a put down ref. my new status symbol ;o). The idea was to get total P&Q to draw up a plan of what needs to be attacked as snowed under is a major understatement. The 'to do' list in itself is intimidating never mind actually trying to work out how or when things might get done given the amount of recruitment activity we’ve got on- going!!!

I'd dealt with the usual deluge of emails (everyone copies everyone else into everything - sooo need to break that habit), and was making some progress when the school phoned to tell me there'd been an accident & I needed to collect Minor Mayhem & take him to the emergency dentist. He'd been playing some game which involved lying on the playground whilst people chucked text book laden bags around (don't ask!). Exact rules & goals were unclear but they obviously hadn't undertaken a formal risk assessment first :o/ Consequently he was the first casualty... front tooth broken off almost at the gum :o( Fortunately he managed not to swallow it so we arranged to see if there was the dental equivalent of Superglue. Turns out that's more or less exactly what they used, then 'fixed' it with ultra violet light and gave him some antibiotics to make sure it doesn't become infected whilst it settles. Have to take him back in a few weeks so that they can check how it's doing and file a chipped bit on the other tooth. Hopefully his looks will be unaffected & he will desist from extreme sports for the foreseeable ;o)

Monday, 29 March 2010

Another day in 'the Smoke'

getting used to my 5am alarm call..problem is the body clock kicks in at that time now whether I'm in London or not... :o/

Usual full-on mental day eventually managing to escape in time for the 6.22pm train. Fortunately my house elves are very well trained hence without even requesting it, I got home to find the Strident Student had cooked, and Minor Mayhem had made desert, so everyone had been fed & they'd left some chicken enchiladas & Rocky Road for me :o) Great not to have to rustle something up...I normally don't bother if it gets that late as I'm pretty well past eating by that point. Only down side was the mess...too much to expect them to tidy up as well as cook I guess...

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Termly trip to Steel City completed

...mutt delighted that all flock are now successfully rounded up...he absolutely hates it when anyone goes missing.

Strident Student now in the process settling back in & re-arranging her bedroom furniture which has ensured place looks like a bomb's gone off. Hmmm, how to undo Mum's mega housework fest this morning which was done to ensure she could sample the delights of clean living environment. Oh well...

All is harmony...wonder how long it will take before household dynamics shift & a sibling row occurs?

Rumour has it

that the contents of this blog have been a topic of conversation in one of the local curry emporiums! Really pleased to discover it's a source of distraction to those still employed at my previous work establishment :o) I do miss the people, & the multitude of Mocha breaks, but am loving the new job...

Friday, 26 March 2010

Having spent most the last decade

(boy does it sound both scary & ‘sad’ when you say that) interviewing Scientists & Engineers, sitting in on the assessment of a whole load of potential Close Protection Officers has been illuminating to say the least. Learnt a stack of new stuff about the role & deployment issues on the ground, as well as what life is like in the British Forces, Danish Army & French Foreign Legion plus the associated subtleties of experience these bring! For example, did you know the Danish army is Unionised and pays overtime? - that didn't go down well with 'our boys'.

So instead of getting embroiled & asking about geolocation or data mining techniques, I sat & observed whilst the candidates were questioned about dealing with hostile situations & presented with typical scenarios. Worryingly some of the responses were so off-mark they’d have put their team and client in significant danger hence quite quickly took themselves out of further consideration, others though demonstrated they could easily make the transition so we've got a few new potential recruits lined up & ready to vet.

Catching up on some phone calls later I was informed we were having problems recruiting enough local nationals in one of the Middle Eastern countries...apparently there are medical issues including a number of cases of Syphilis...can't say dealing with that's been something which has cropped up in my career to date !?!

Thursday, 25 March 2010

You can tell what sort of day it's been

when you walk into the Audit & Compliance Manager's office and he has purchased and unwrapped the most humongous bar of chocolate for you to both consume as you got through all of the minimum standard documentation....says it all really....

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

In London most of this week as there's loads of stuff to do here. Trying to compile a resourcing strategy, look at the whole recruitment process from end to end in order to try to streamline things and ensure it is legally robust, as well as deal with some compliance issues etc. Also interviewing recruitment officers to bolster the team. Took the 'guys' out for a drink last night to do some team bonding etc. They’re a great bunch – good attitude and plenty of development potential from what I can see.
I'm staying at the Grosvenor Thistle by Victoria which is one of London’s great railway hotels with period features and ambiance reflecting its Victorian heritage - you can almost hear the rustle of the dresses and visualise piles of trunks ready to be transported...really elegant and spacious with over 350 bedrooms - huge! Walk miles to get to your room but it's fabulous as this pic of the entrance hallway shows.

Absolutely love this area of the City. Although there are loads of new buildings there is so much that stems from the Victorian period you can easily imagine how impressive it must have looked to those who arrived from the provinces. Find it fascinating to see how grandiose the buildings are and take in stuff such as the names of the pubs e.g 'The Colonies' ...speaks volumes about the era!

Friday, 19 March 2010

After living in Open Plan

I can’t quite get my head round the whole office thing. Not used to having so much space and solitude. Kind of miss people popping in & out and the office banter. Having said that being the total opposite of the London office it does give me chance to catch up with stuff.

Kept my head down today and think I've got a grip on most of the work stuff now. ..well at least until someone throws another spanner in the works! Just glad I've done bid prep/management work in the past. Never thought that experience of preparing a multi £M bid to the MoD for a Radar Threat Warning System would come in handy again....after that this shouldn't pose too much of a problem...once I get them in line ;o)

Had a couple of emails from old colleagues this morning about my previous employer renegotiating the T&Cs including redundancy and the pension scheme :o( Looks like I may have timed my escape well.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

6am skyline

Pretty, but seeing slightly more of this rather than my family, than I would like. Having got home at 10.30pm twice this week I thought it warranted leaving the office early to test the wireless connectivity ...doesn't work so trying to do emails on BlackBerry yet again :o/ Maybe I should sue for 'BlackBerry thumb' as it's been nicknamed ;o)

Manic work-wise at the mo. Soooo much to do, and a great deal of 'coaching' required for the managers. The following is an example...telecon this morning informing me we need to have c200 recruits ready for a possibly contract award at the end of May guarding an oil pipeline in the Middle East...like we have that many people sitting around waiting for us to call and offer them a job. No details about the breakdown/type of roles, whether they could consider Gurkas or locals etc. Asked lots of questions and requested further info and got a very arsey response. Hmmm they'll learn.....

On the upside I was able to pick the sproglets up from school tonight and they were really pleased to see me...maybe I should go away more often!?! Interesting topic of conversation on the way home, discussion around the recent Methadrone deaths and whether they should criminalise the sale & use of the substance. Playground conversations have changed a bit since my day....

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

As part of this new role one of the things I need to review is the vetting & screening process so I had a session discussing the need to do a thorough medical prior to deployment with an occupational health provider. The plan is that since the chaps have to come to Head Office to get their travel docs etc. we could potentially conduct the medical on site. We went through the various requirements including drug & alcohol screening. We chatted about the various alternatives approaches and decided hair samples were probably the most suitable as they give a longer history of any substance abuse. I then naively commented that it could be an issue as most of the Close Protection guys have a no.1 just like in the forces. The Doc promptly came back with, “we don't need to take it from their head”...Speachless!!!

I’ve also spent time learning about Close Protection courses plus Surveillance, Anti Surveillance and Counter Surveillance, Hostile Environments, and Contractors On Deployed Operation training etc. We’ve got the most fab setup - two beautiful buildings one of which is in the middle of the rolling countryside. They’re used for the residential courses and are more akin to hotels with one fairly major exception…one of them has a basement set up to look like an insurgent bunker complete with Middle Eastern artefacts, typical bomb making equipment and hide-aways. Using ‘black light’ the trainees and have to break in, capture the terrorists, deal with potential explosive devices and make secure the premises etc. all slightly surreal. This is highly specialist training and the trainers tend to be ex SAS, SBS or Paras…really nice blokes who told me some of their exploits which make your hair stand on end...Sometimes feel like I've wandered onto a film set or am hallucinating.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Mother's Day

Breakfast in bed (croissant & tea) courtesy of Minor Mayhem, plus card & pressies...new Dandy Warhol’s CD (confiscated immediately & downloaded onto ipods before I even got a look in), plus the most humongous bar of Galaxy (to be consumed in case of emergency), having established the chocolate was not likely to be opened that instant they then scarpered & everything returned to normality.

Spent the rest of the day in the garden deadheading, cutting back & generally tidying up. Can't believe what a state it's in... Guess I just studiously ignored it when the weather was bad. Weather's been very Spring-like, beautiful bright sunshine but cold...been quite happy just pottering around stalked by the robin who obviously sees me as a good source of worms.

Friday, 12 March 2010

Sleep pattern's

screwed...keep waking up in the middle of the night. Soo looking forward to a lie in this weekend...just need to get through today first. Yesterday was completely full-on...caught the 6am train down & the 18.22 back = 15.5 hr day. Non-stop meetings and information gathering... honestly don't know whether I'm on my arse or elbow. Didn't get much chance to explore around Head Office but have worked out that I am a stones throw from Buckingham Palace & St. James' Park (somewhere to eat lunch in the summer if I manage to escape for a bit - British weather permitting), the Grenadier Guards' barracks are across the road (could hear the band practising during the afternoon), plus there's an excellent selection of shops by the Tube (handy when a spot of retail therapy's required)...so not a bad set up... :o)

Wednesday, 10 March 2010


Brilliant flight back with Emirates...got to be the best airline ever; superb food & service and another opportunity to catch up on some films. This leg I managed to see 'Up in the Air' (resonated with some of my experiences on a number of fronts) and 'the Time Travellers Wife' which required copious amounts of tissues....so, much as I can handle a gun, and the rigors of Kabul I am a bit a softy at heart.

Sproglets appeared pleased to see returning maternal one even before the pressies were produced & the mutt bounced up & down with obvious delight...a lovely homecoming.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Flew back into Dubai

& civilisation...the contrast with earlier in the day is quite remarkable.

Did some work stuff in the morning but had the afternoon & evening free so managed to meet up with the Middle Eastern Correspondent who gave me a whistle-stop tour of the City. Took in the old part (blink & you miss it!), the public beach (surprisingly quiet), the Marina development (cranes & concrete a go-go), the much publicised Mall & leaky fish tank ;o), the out-of-order Burj Tower & the sand dunes of Al Ain complete with Camel racing..& all that before grabbing a bite to eat!

Interesting place but definitely not somewhere I'd choose to go for my hols.

Afghan adventure day 4

Had a very early rise to get to the airport. So half asleep in our usual attire of flack jacket and headscarf we were transported by a close protection team to Kabul airport. At that time in the morning the roads were pretty clear which meant that our vehicle was more obvious and needless to say we were stopped at two police roadblocks. It has to be said that was the most vulnerable I have felt in the whole trip. There's no one around to see what's going on and there's an AK47 being pointed straight into the car. Just kept our cool and sat there as if it was a regular occurrence whilst trying to control the shakes.

When we got to the airport site we were segregated and sent into what looked like an old abandoned shipping container with a filthy curtain slung across it. Turned out to be the venue for our first body search. The second frisk was in the actual airport and was completed by two beautiful Afghan women, fantastically made-up but wearing Burkas & headscarves, who appeared to be delighted to see us. They did the necessary then asked if we'd enjoyed our stay & would return to Kabul...which to be honest I would. In the course of our conversation they told me it was 'Womens' Day' which obviously delighted them, they hugged & kissed us before sending us on our way. Such a surreal experience.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Afghan adventure day 3

Feel catering merits a mention seeing as they are feeding the multitudes on base...had a lovely meal last night - lamb with mint sauce, rosemary roast potatoes and veg, then spent a couple of hours at the bar with the medic hearing the anecdotes about what they've dealt with...some stories there believe me...quite a few of which are not suitable for publication!! These guys are something else!

Meeting about HR issues all morning was more than compensated for with a trip to the Afghan Army weapons range for some instruction in firing an AK47, M4, Smith & Wesson, plus Glock. That is some place...covers a huge expanse of ground and there are literally tens of thousands of recruits going through drills etc. Slightly intimidating being a blond western woman in that environment even if wearing full body armour & a helmet ! (Very fetching) There's loads of evidence of the Russian invasion strewn about including hundreds of tanks slowly rusting away in a tank graveyard. Maybe as a result of feeling I might need to protect myself I managed reasonable score on targets (pics of insurgents & small bulls-eyes) but was best with the Glock. Semi automatics gave me a fat lip & broken nails from the recoil...how girlie is that? Least you think me somewhat pathetic I should point out that the instructor actually reckons my rapid response firing with a handgun is excellent and well within the range of the professionals which made me feel extremely chuffed and should ensure more compliance at home from now on ;o)

Later on I was put through a rigorous defensive driving course in a B6 armoured Land Cruiser. Had to take this beast of a vehicle through chicanes a rapid speed both forward and reverse, plus react & avoid sudden obstacles in the line of driving. Initially quite scary as I'm not used to driving so aggressively but over time my confidence in vehicle handling increased and I became less wussy.

Still can't quite believe what I'm up to....surely this can't be a paid job!?!?

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Afghan adventure day 2

Worn out after all the briefings & lugging round 24lbs of body armour all day. Been talked through all the contracts in Afghanistan: customers, positioning, headcount, requirements, outstanding issues, improvement opportunities etc. Then went off to the British Embassy to see the set up there, met the key managers and some of the staff plus visited some of their accommodation. Managed to see a bit more of the city and it has to be said it's pretty desolate in parts, just bombsites and mud, there are the odd few shops selling weird and wonderful combinations of products interspersed with the occasional carcasses of animals handing outside the 'butchers' but mostly it's handcarts laden with fruit parked up at the roadside. Cannot fathom how on earth anyone could make a living like that.

The trip was a real eye-opener in terms of the driving too. Having driven in various cities in the UK, US and Europe I can honestly say you ain't seen nothing until you've been here. The roads are poor at best, but there are absolutely no road markings or pavements which means it's a complete free for all. In the space of what would normally be two UK lanes you'll find four streams of cars, buses, lorries, tractors plus horse & carts which gets decidedly interesting when it comes to roundabouts or the police checkpoints. No one uses indicators and mirrors are decidedly optional. You feel you're taking your life into your hands but it doesn't stop small children running into the road to try to beg from 'western' vehicles. I guess the sense of danger has been tempered by the situation they've lived through. So much to absorb & think about.

Afghan adventure part 1.1....late night

Can't go into detail but due to a local incident my boss and I were wrapped up in our coats & headscarves drinking tea in our 'lounge' whilst waiting for some guys to come back from the Embassy until the early hours of the morning.

Made a new friend - there's a mouse in the Administration office living behind the fridge. Gave us a bit of a shock when we went in search of milk! Didn't do a girlie panic ...it was toooo cute and just sat there watching us. Probably a male Afghan mouse who's not seen blond women before ;o)

With all the travel, high altitude & late night I was completely knackered but couldn't sleep...there was a smoke alarm outside my room with the battery wearing out so constantly emitting a slow, high-pitched bleeping, a couple of low flying Hercules passed overhead plus there's a water machine & fridge in the room which kept on cutting in a whirring away! Arggghhh!!!

Friday, 5 March 2010

Adventures in Afghanistan - Day 1

Flew into Kabul on Safi Airways Business Class which was much better experience than I'd expected. Sat next to a really nice Diplomat from the Dutch Embassy who's been out here for a couple of years so filled me in on loads of interesting facts & helped while away the flight. Came in over the mountains which are pretty stunning and saw a great deal of the landscape around Kabul on the descent. Looks like the out-lying regions are quite picturesque...not that we'll be visiting them!

After going through Immigration we were met by our Personal Security Detail, a Brit & an Afghan driver both of whom were carrying AK47s and immediately presented us with flack jackets & the instruction to put them on asap - needless to say we happily complied. We drove through Kabul city which is every bit as devastated as you see on the news.... huge stretches with just rubble with kids playing on bombsites or kicking footballs around by the roadside and women dressed in Burkas lugging stuff a few paces behind their husbands. En route we passed through various checkpoints some of which had Tanks station
ed, others vehicle mounted machine guns pointing into our jeep...it may well be armoured but I somehow doubt it would withstand a missile at that range!

Anjaman base is quite something, heavily fortified with blast proof walls and two underground bunkers as well as various armed watch towers. Got the guided tour of the place and it's facilities which are pretty good...gym, bars, pool room, Sat TV., laundry, tailor (makes both uniforms & flack jackets!) etc. Although it's well set-up I imagine it's a good job most of the guys only do a six week rotation as I reckon longer than that & you'd go stir crazy. There are a complete mix of nationalities on site which means there are various forms of catering including a Nepalese slaughter house (I jest not) where tonight they were preparing goat stew! I gave that a miss & stuck to the ex-pat diet tonight...

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Induction to new company

carried out at hotel poolside in 80C temperatures. Very civilised :o) As the day progressed it got too hot so we did the rest of the work & a meeting with the local staff in the bosses suite!

Had another meeting this evening overlooking Dubai Creek watching the boats cruise by with a G&T in hand then braved a journey back to the hotel in a taxi wondering if it was 'acceptable' for a lone woman to be out on her own that time of night.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

I've arrived!!!

In both the literal & metaphorical sense...I was collected at some unearthly hour this morning & chauffeured by Limousine to Heathrow. Having already been checked in by one of the PAs I moved swiftly through security to the Emirates lounge for breakfast in the company of none other than Bruce Forsyth & his wife.

Excellent flight, fab meals & caught up on a couple of films to boot (strongly recommend 'An Education')...not the usual onerous journey. Really great coming in to land & seeing the lights of Sharjah then Dubai. Skyline looks fab from the air. Hopefully get to see a bit of the City tomorrow in between working which is I guess what I am here for ;o)
Now ensconced in a beautiful suite at the hotel. All in all not bad for the first day in a new job...could get used to this!

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Ready as I'll ever be...

House is tidy, organised, & cleaned to high standard (won't last!), in order that aged parents can find all necessary items. Freezer stocked, kids given a list of reminders, Frosty's itinerary & kit list checked, & double checked....I think I've packed everything I need. I cannot believe how much stuff I've managed to squeeze into a cabin case...quite impressed with my spacial utilisation skills....off to pastures new...or maybe that should be deserts as yet unexperienced...
Will endeavour to update blog whilst away, tinternet access permitting and all that.

As Mr Adams once said..."So long & thanks for all the fish..."

Monday, 1 March 2010

Reactions & Anecdotes

to me leaving:
  • Noooooooooooooooooooooooooo!
  • Now there's leaving and there's leeeaaving.
  • I thought this was a joke when I first read it - are you really going to Afghanistan?! Bit of an adventure!!!
  • WOW! WOW! WOW!...........what a surprise!!! My, you're a brave girl.

  • OH MY GOD! WOW you go girl .................how mad is that! You were one of the good ones................you will be very missed. What a shame. GOOD luck and be safe.
  • Hells bells girl I didn't think your project was that bad an experience! Well good for you and I wish you every success in your new venture - lets face it risk management in Kabul has to be easier to manage than trying to get three Sectors to use one system :o) 
  • We’ll really miss you honey! Congratulations and best of luck with the new job! You’ll need to let me know what it’s like in the big scary outside world…
  • Before you go can you instruct me on proper meringue technique as last time I tried to do one it shattered to a cloud of dust when you went anywhere near it with a spoon!!!!

  • I can't believe it, you little tinker, after all these years! Sounds like a wonderful challenge and opportunity - keep safe you hear!
  • Those Taliban will have me to answer to if they lay a hand on your head...even if they have never seen anything like it before! ;o)
  • Don’t know whether to laugh or cry :-(    I guess I have to say Congratulations....but we won't half miss you.