Friday, 26 November 2010

Xmas list are so much more sophisticated these days

all three sproglets have written their Xmas lists and included hyperlinks to the appropriate items to avoid any ambiguity...Minor Mayhem has even gone as far as doing his on PowerPoint so that I have pics just in case...Is this now the norm or should I be impressed with their ingenuity & initiative!?!
So I toddled off to Solihull this afternoon to help raise the profit margins of John Lewis. Bought all the gubbins for the stockings and some other things off the lists and then succumbed to a new 'beckoned to me' from its hanger and I was powerless to resist...nowhere to go but you never quite know... ;o)
A girl can live in hope....

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Landed in 'Madchester'

That wasn't on the agenda!!! Crash at Brum so they closed the runway hence change of route. The knock on effect was a massive a backlog of diverted flights which meant we were left on the aircraft waiting to disembark for an hour and a half whilst the ground crew dealt with the influx of additional passengers plus their onward transport.

Fortunately one of the staff at the taxi company booked to collect me from Birmingham sounded the alert and a whole chain of telecoms ensued whereupon the aged parents came to the rescue, organising a taxi to transport me back to their place.

Bit disorientated when I woke up in my old childhood bed this morning...slightly surreal end to the trip but lovely to spend some time with the folks and get a bit of fussing :o) Almond croissant & fresh coffee this morning...bestest breakfast all week...mind you, that wouldn't be hard ;o)

Friday, 19 November 2010

Checked in

at Dubai and in the Emirates business lounge, availed myself of some yummy bits and connected to wireless to get some work done. Hopefully boarding in 40 mins. Yay!!!

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Saved from room service

(which can be a fate worse than death) by the infamous Mr. & Mrs Rallyman who very kindly txt inviting me to dinner, collecting me from the hotel, then whisking me away to the Wafi Centre...more specifically the Mahi Mahi seafood restaurant where we partook of Raspberry Twist cocktails, dined al fresco and generally had a really lovely night.

Like many of the buildings in Dubai, the Wafi Centre is something else...completely styled on Ancient Egypt, complete with pyramid architecture, monoliths and towering statues of Ramses 2 etc. à Luxor Quite spectacular, highly civilised and a million miles (metaphorically) from the shipping container city in the earlier part of the week.

there may well be signs everywhere saying
...but I'm working on the premise that no one will believe this place without here it is...

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Been on a tour of the entire site. Huge!!! There's a fuel depot, all kinds of construction equipment, garages, stacks of disused containers, and heaven knows what...Can't believe how many people are actually out here and there’s way more facilities than I’d expected including a number of restaurants, cafes, shops etc. including Burger King & Subway (of sorts), not to mention 'the Oasis" which has at it's centre-point an electronic rodeo bull...obvious evening entertainment for our American cousins. Dunno what I expected, but it wasn't this!!
Now met most of the management team and a number of the ExPat team leaders etc. so have a good overview of the set up and operations out here, as well as the associated issues. It's not too bad providing you don't think about things too much. I was shown the full report and pics from last weeks fatality earlier. Looked but not too carefully as I'd like to get some zzzz tonight. One of our teams had been out on a mission in the area in which the incident took place so naturally everyone was on tenterhooks about whether things would run smoothly. We were all glued to the vehicle tracking system and as a result we all carried on working until we knew they were back on base by which time the 'cookhouse' was closed. By that point we were all ravenous so went to the American side of the base for pizza. Bizarre place with US troops coming in in their uniform complete with M4s slung nonchalantly across their you do....!

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

So far, so good this end,

albeit knackered due to another night with minimal sleep. You'd have thought that the drone of the generator outside my room or the constant circling of helicopters might have lulled me into slumber but no such luck. I think that HEAT training might be playing on my mind subconsciously.

Been to get my site pass done this morning. Had to go into the American bit of the compound and have biometric data captured - retinal and hand that's me on some CIA database or other for posterity. Really stringent on security, check your retina at each entry point like something out of a 007/ Mission Impossible! No sign of Daniel Craig, Pierce Brosnan or Tom Cruise though... :o(

Comms are a big signal's rubbish and at least twice a day the generators go down and everything grinds to a halt but not doing too badly getting through the stuff I need to cover whilst out here but then again I was working til 11pm last night. That's the typical work ethic when the guys are out here...nothing much else to do other than that and exercise and I'm certainly no gym bunny ;o)

Monday, 15 November 2010

1st leg completed

...ah the joys of an airport hotel...might be 5* but I may as well have been sleeping on the runway. Managed 2hrs kip before the Director I was meeting rang me to arrange our rendezvous :o/

The Iraqi airways flight eventually took off from T2 an hour and a half late. Getting used to this type of erratic approach to timetables now and just buried my head in a book and stood back from the mêlée that ensued when the gate'd think that there weren't enough seats on the aircraft or they desperately needed to flee the country. I guess queueing really is a British institution...

Fortunately I'd also been warned to expect a bun fight at immigration when I landed at Basra that's exactly what it was. I think the basic premise is if you're not Iraqi, you automatically go to the back of the queue. Eventually got my health stamp and then had to go to another booth for a visa. The guy behind the desk gave me a big smile and put my passport separate from the others to be processed. Wasn't sure how that boded but it turned out to be a good omen as once he'd collected the others in he pushed mine out first so I was actually waiting in the arrivals lounge when my colleagues turned up which is apparently un-heard of.

So first impressions of the Combined Operating Base is a huge site with approx. 9km perimeter. There's nothing but sand and a mass of shipping containers used for everything from accommodation to shops, cafes and gyms. Very military be expected I suppose....concrete blast walls, razor wire and armed guards as well as a Phalanx (fast-reaction, rapid-fire 20-millimetre gun system that provides defence against missiles, destroys them mid-air which I'm hoping I won't hear going off!). It's all set out on a grid basis so with no discernible differences it's a bit of a rabbit warren which didn't help when I tried to find my way back to the office in the dark tonight.

Bizarrely in the middle of the camp shielded by a bunker there's a coffee shop with rows and rows of amazing looking patisserie. On the basis of such promising coffee breaks I thought I might manage a few days here ok but I'm reliably informed they're nowhere near as nice as they look..."gutted" as Minor Mayhem would say.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Seconds out, round 2

off to sunny Basra...

Packed the M&S 'Percy Pigs' sweeties (as requested by my colleague...obviously one of life's essentials), along with a weeks worth of gear, a laptop etc. So with that and the hostile environment training I'm ready for whatever gets thrown at me...hopefully....

Friday, 12 November 2010

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing

Set off bright and early this morning to a somewhat damp and windy dis-used airfield for my postponed Hostile Environment Awareness training.

Has to be said I'm both knackered and emotionally drained after the course. I've learnt loads about the cultures of Iraq & Afghanistan, the religious aspects and how the various elements play into the situation. We then went on to look at various types of bombs, IEDs, RPGs, mortars and missiles.
I've been shown an assortment of Person Protection Equipment as well has their component materials, then had a demonstration of how successful they are in preventing piercing by various projectiles. Was drilled in 'actions on' operating procedures as well as being taught how to 'cross deck' between vehicles should the need arise e.g. the vehicles come under fire, have a blow-out or become incapacitated etc. Mrs. Terribly Squeamish also got to study first aid (including some pretty gruesome pics of war injuries - definitely not for the feint-hearted) and subsequently now know when and how to apply tourniquets to save limbs. Rounded up the day being taken hostage, blindfolded and instructed how best to behave in order to survive!!!

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Outing to Oxford

for a HR conference today...Last time I was at that hotel was to run a training course for my last company many many moons ago. We did a business simulation game were we got two teams to set up a newspaper.  One lot decided to be a tabloid and persuaded the training manager and I (the only girls) to strip down to towels and pose in front of the sauna door so they could take some pics...Reader I was young and naive.

As is pretty standard it was one of those events where you get 'talked at' and are supposed to 'network'.  We had an employment law update...always useful. There was an interesting presentation about organisational design which is something I'm into so enjoyed, but am highly unlikely to use any of the theory/methods for the foreseeable with where the business is at right now. There was also a presentation around a bid to provide outsourced services to those on the range of unemployment benefits. Timely stuff with the 'White Paper" out today. Fascinating stats on the number of people out of work and the demographic breakdown, benefit spend and success rate of getting them back into work over the various previous government schemes...that sort of stuff appeals to the sociologist in me ;o)   It'll be interesting to see what how this current governments scheme pans out and whether we actually learn from history.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Oh to be young and idealistic...

Little did I know when I first coined the pseudonym 'Strident Student' for the birth of the blog some eighteen months ago, how true this would turn out to be.  The eldest has taken it upon herself to become involved in a wide variety of causes and developed strong political views to accompany her already decidedly ethical/idealist approach. 

In between studying (allegedly), she's involved with Chocolate Box (a voluntary scheme to provide support and education to prostitutes), helps with a teaching scheme for disadvantaged children, sits on the student union council and more recently has been found stating her views on the cuts to Further Education on News24....does beg the question whether she'll manage to get a degree next year, but she is making the world a better place in her own small way :o)

No surprise then that she is today stewarding coach C of Steel City students who have gone on their merry way to challenge Nick whom she fervently supported through the elections....

Now mother dearest having seen the news, the protest seemingly infiltrated by anarchists and high levels of violence in and around Westminster then been unable to reach eldest by phone sits and frets....

They might leave home but they're never off your radar....

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Feeling a little jaded today after doing a 'Come Dine with Me' episode last night which included flambéd fireplace in the midst of the meal.....kinda dinner with a bit of extra 'spark'...
Organised pre-dinner drinks and nibbles in the lounge, lit the fire and some candles to create a but of ambiance etc. So far so good...
We all moved into the dining room to eat, with the sproglets deciding they'd prefer to eat separately. Good job....we'd just got to the main course when Miss Sensible came running in to say that two of the candles have burnt down and set alight something on the fireplace, fortunately Minor Mayhem doused the flames and all that was left was the smoldering mess and the distinct odour of burn. Played it down and got through the rest of the night with nothing more eventful than Monty sitting on everyone's knee due to further fireworks. Can't be said the night lacked entertainment value!
Surveying the damage this morning, the wall behind the mantelpiece is scorched and covered in wax. Spent ages trying to scrape the stuff off then remove more of the residue by putting some brown paper over it and running and iron across....needless to say the lounge now needs redecorating...deep joy....