Friday, October 31, 2008

No room at the Inn.

On Friday 12th December it is Gail's birthday. Each year she chooses where to have her birthday celebration meal. She invites friends and family to join her. Generally she chooses a Christmas Festival meal deal and this year she is going for the same type of thing. There are a lot of places around Cardiff for her to choose from and she had decided to go to the Castell Mynach Llantrisant Road, Groesfaen, Pontyclun. This is a country pub which trades under the branding of Vintage Inns which is part of the mighty Mitchells & Butlers which run around 2,000 pubs in the UK.

The offer is for a 3 course Festive Season meal deal at £15.95 a person. You have to book your table, choose your meal from the menu and pay a £5 deposit per person in advance. This booking cannot be done over the telephone, you have to book and pay in person over the bar. We went to the Castell Mynach this afternoon to book for a party of 15 adults.

Much to our surprise they said no, they will not accept bookings for a party of 15 on either a Friday or Saturday night. This was not because they were fully booked but because the manager, Ian Stadden, decided he did not want the business. We were shocked, you hear so much about pubs closing because of challenging trading conditions and here is a pub, with no houses nearby, turning down a booking with a value of over £300. What is up with these people? You cannot afford to turn away business but we shall not darken their door again because of their attitude.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Spooks is back.

Last night on television I watched the first episode of series 7 of the BBC television drama called Spooks . The episode saw central character Adam Carter (portrayed by Rupert Penry Jones) die in a car explosion. It also saw the return of Ros Myers (played by Hermione Norris) and Jo Portman (Miranda Raison) as both of their fates were uncertain at the end of series 6. Richard Armitage joined the cast as Lucas North, an agent who has been held in a Russian prison for the past eight years.

I think that Spooks is the best drama being shown on British television today. It is entertaining, gritty and realistic. It is fast paced and really makes the viewer think about how close this drama is to real life. The plot of last night's episode was a terrorist attack in London on Remembrance Sunday . In the United Kingdom, Remembrance Sunday is the second Sunday of November, the Sunday nearest to 11 November (Remembrance Day), which is the anniversary of the end of the hostilities of the First World War at 11 a.m. in 1918.

This episode of Spooks was spot on in it's research and you realize just how impossible it is for MI5 to stop terrorists before they strike. It really makes me wonder because Remembrance Sunday this year falls on the 9th November, which using the British date format records itself as 9/11 - a date already etched in our minds.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Coffee is back on the menu.

Further to my post on Wednesday 15th October 2008 , coffee is now back on the menu. I laid off the coffee but on the nights of Friday 17th October and Saturday 18th October I was awoken by an acute pain in the lower right hand section of my back. This pain was dreadful and I wondered what the devil was going on. Paracetamol did not help but drinking tea really did help and I got back to sleep. I did not understand why drinking tea helped and relieved the pain but felt that I may have to visit the doctor on Monday. However on Sunday afternoon I felt this discomfort lifting and I had a strong feeling that whatever was wrong was simply going away. By Sunday night I was feeling my old self and 7 days later I now know that whatever I had picked up has gone away for good. I think that because I never had any sickness or diarrhoea and nobody else had my symptoms that it was not food poisoning. I think that a mosquito that bit me in Cuba gave me an infection that took my immune system some time to overcome. Still I got the better of this nasty little bug and I did not lose any work over it!

I am so pleased that coffee is back on the menu, I gave it a try with no side effects. Therefore I have not developed a food intolerance to coffee, unlike my mother. Gail does not drink a lot of coffee and I knew we had quite a bit in our garage. We buy coffee when it is on offer in the supermarket, never paying full price. I thought, what if I cannot drink coffee any more? Still, I am drinking coffee again and today I looked in the garage to check on our coffee stock level. We are not running low and do not need to check supermarket prices. We have 19, yes nineteen large jars of coffee in our garage! Thank goodness I have not developed a food intolerance to coffee!

I did not rush at writing a holiday review, I wrote a little bit here and there. I have now finished writing and editing my report and it can be read on my holiday blog .

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Dress Code.

Without warning my employer has sent out a notice stating that a tie now must be worn from October to June as part of the company's dress code. This is a big surprise because the nationwide company who we work under contract for have a continuous "ties are optional" policy in force. Because my employer pays my wages, I will have to wear a tie from October to June, although other drivers who work for other operators doing the same work as me will not have to wear a tie at any time. This is a very sad situation and has led to a lowering of staff morale in our depot.

We continually have problems with reporting to the Bus Station on time. This is because whatever coach you are allocated it is not ready for service. Your coach is either in the workshop having an inspection or repair work done, or you have defects on your coach that need to be resolved before you depart the depot. Simply wearing a tie does not magically make your coach ready for service, you still arrive late into the Bus Station with or without a tie.

I wish that management would get their act together and kick the arse of the garage so that coaches are ready for service on time and that driver reported defects are resolved as part of a working defect system.

My stance on the wearing of the company tie remains unchanged from my post dated 27th September 2007 on this blog.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai.

This book won the Man Booker Prize in 2006 and I read all 324 pages. I did not like this book at all and I fail to see just what the judges saw in it. I only read it all because I had paid for the book, if I had got this novel for free then I would have aborted reading it within the first 8 pages. Only the odd little bit made me smile like on Page 34...

"Well," he said to his granddaughter, "one must not disturb one another. One's had to hire a tutor for you - a lady down the hill, can't afford a convent school - why should one be in the business of fattening the church...? Too far, anyway, and one doesn't have the luxury of transport anymore, does one? Can't send you to a government school, I suppose... you'd come out speaking with the wrong accent and picking your nose...."

I took nothing away from this book, it did not inspire me and I will not buy another of Kiran's books. This novel is set in England, India and New York with the story chopping from location to location. The story also flashes back in time and reading it is a chore. There is nothing thrilling about this novel, it is just a drab story set mostly in a run down house in the Himalayas featuring a retired judge, who is the grandfather of an orphaned teenager, his pet dog and his cook. At the end of this book you feel as though you have been stuck at home with visitors who were too slow to leave. Ah! thank goodness they have gone!

NEXT book please!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The feel of a car.

Going up to Gatwick Airport with our friends Faye and David, it was better to take their car because it is bigger. Women like to take a lot of luggage on holiday. To make things easier for David, I drove from Reading Services to Gatwick Airport on the way up and Membury Services to Cardiff on the way back. I have never driven a Hyundai Matrix before and what surprised me was that the feel was exactly the same as our Citroen C3. Okay, the Hyundai Matrix is a bigger car, the indicator switch is on the right rather than the left but the feel was exactly the same. This really surprised me as every other car that I have driven or owned has always felt different from all the other cars. In the day job we have 19, 49 seater coaches, Iveco, Daf, Scania and Volvo. All the coaches have 49 seats, are 12 metres long, 2.55 metres wide and about 3.65 metres tall. Only the engine and chassis are different but each marque of coach feels totally different to all the other coaches.

So if Faye and David wish to change their car to a smaller and cheaper to run car then they should seriously consider a Citroen C3 as it will feel and drive exactly the same as their old car.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

natural yogurt is back in the UK.

Ah yes, I am back from my holiday in Cuba and have been back to work today. What a difference to Cuba! Back into civilisation, city living and busy traffic - what a change in cultures. I did not have any holiday tummy whilst I was in Cuba but when I got to Varadero Airport on Monday afternoon to fly back to the UK I had some griping hunger pangs. The meal on the plane did not resolve the hunger pangs and I had stomach ache all the way home back to Cardiff on Tuesday lunchtime. With this stomach pain I had very little appetite so I just drank plenty of fluids.

Last night in bed the stomach pain continued but in the middle of the night I felt my stomach spasm and shift to the left. Before this feeling happened I felt hot and then cold, hot and then cold, a kind of toggle between hot and cold. My alarm clock went off and I awoke feeling normal and fit for work. I did not fancy coffee before I left home so I had a mug of tea instead.

This afternoon I had a mug of coffee, the first I have had since Monday afternoon at our hotel in Cuba. Straight away I could feel that the stomach pain had returned. Strange I thought, let's try a mug of tea and see what happens. I drank the tea and the stomach pain thankfully went straight away. This may all be a coincidence but I may have developed some strange intolerance to coffee. As I type this now, a bell has just rang in my head!!! My mother has developed a range of food intolerances and she cannot have coffee. This may all be coincidence but it may well be some time before I try another coffee!

The 2 book reviews below where posted from the internet facility in our hotel in Cuba, similar keyboard to the UK but the " and @ keys were transposed.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

In the Country of Men by Hisham Matar.

This book was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2006. It is a story about a 9 year old boy called Suleiman growing up in Tripoli, Libya. This novel is told in the first person and deals with Suleiman's, who has a family nickname of Slooma, relationships mainly with his mother but also his father, his father's friends plus the neighbouring children.

Suleiman is very close to his mother who tells him tales when she is drunk. He cares a lot about her and wants to protect her particularly when his father is away. He learns that people lie and he slowly works through these lies to discover that they are made to protect him rather than to mislead. This is a mother and son story set upon a time of great challenge in Libya when no political opposition was allowed.

I like the way Hisham writes. He tells a very clear story. He paints a very clear picture of life in Libya at that time. The reader feels that you are on holiday with Hisham in Libya for the first time and he is your guide.

There is a lot of humour in this book and to illustrate this I will quote from Page 78...

Another time he imported tyres from Poland. For days all he spoke about was how Polish car tyres were destined to be world-famous. 'Mark my words, as we now know China for silk, Japan for televisions, New Zealand for sheep, Poland too will become known for car tyres. You will see, this will be the most successful import into Libya since JCB's.'

Well, he imported the Polish tyres and as with the chickens, he did'nt order a few to try out first, he bought a whole shipload. 'When the market demands, Slooma, you must be in a position to respond,' he said, walking me through the warehouse where they were stored. It was strange and wonderful to be surrounded by columns and columns of black rubber tyres piled on top of one another. Moosa's lips were moist, and he had a big proud smile on his face.

The tyres sold very well, but, as soon as August come, Moosa's Polish tyres melted. It was a big problem - and it definitely wasn't funny - because his customers, feeling cheated, returned to him furious, demanding their money back. On one occasion the tyres melted completely, gluing the car to the road. In a fit of rage, its owner threatened to teach Moosa a 'good lesson'. On more than one occasion Baba has to intervene to rescue Moosa from an angry customer. He would pay them back their money, apologizing repeatedly, unable to completely lose his smile. And to the man who wanted to teach Moosa a good lesson, Baba paid more money, apologized harder and, after the man was gone, burst out laughing.

Moosa refused to talk about this venture. The only explanation I remember him giving for his mistake was, 'It doesn't get very hot in Poland.' Mama and Baba didn't allow him a grieving period, they immediately started teasing him about the episode: 'Moosa, how's the weather in Poland today?' 'Listen, do you think we can have another set of those world-famous tyres for next winter?' 'For God's sake, Moosa, if you marry a Polish girl, remember to take her home during the summer.'...

I cannot knock this book but cannot vote it a hit either. It is a very warm novel, full of family love, communal spirit and local colour. It gives the reader a warm parental glow. You want to care for Suleiman. I really enjoy ethnic novels but this is not of the same high standard of Khaled Hosseini and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

The reader takes away from this book strong feelings about a mother/son relationship, support within marriage, the dangers of opposing an oppressive political system and the telling of lies to protect the vulnerable, which in hindsight is wrong. You close the book and it forces you to reconsider the relationship you have with your own mother.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid.

This novel was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2007 and published in paperback in 2008. However, ignore the claims on the book cover because this novel is poor. How Philip Pullman can claim "Beautifully written... more exciting than any thriller I've read for a long time" is beyond me. This is not a thriller, it is a drab monologue.

This is a short novel, it is really a novella as it has only 209 pages that are printed in a relatively large font pitch. This story is told in the first person, where a local in Lahore, Pakistan called Changez, is talking to an American visitor. He tells how he left Pakistan to study at Princeton University in the United States, graduates with top marks and gains employment with top firm Underwood Samson. He then falls in love with Erica. This romance with Erica does not take off and you do not develop any empathy for Changez.

Changez is emotionally affected by the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center in 2001 and then considers his life, his values and the role the United States plays around the world. Changez then moves back to Lahore where he teaches in the university and motivates students to protest.

I took very little away from this book. It is an easy read and is told in a very light style. It reminds me of bumping into a boring tourist on holiday who drones on and you wish they would leave you alone. The only colour in this book is when Moshin describes life in Lahore whilst Changez drones on to the American tourist, who adds nothing to this poor story.

I will not buy another of Mohsin's books as he clearly does not ring my bell!

NEXT book please!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Absurdistan by Gary Shteyngart.

This book was written in 2006 and published in paperback in 2008. What a great book this is, it was an absolute joy to read. It is satire, very dry indeed. It is told in the first person and in the style of a stand-up comedian. This is the story of Misha Vainberg, a.k.a Snack Daddy, the son of the 1,238th richest man in Russia. Misha is a Russian Jew and this story is set in the United States, Russia and Absurdistan. He pokes fun at all cultures and Gary is extremely witty. I vote this book a hit, it is written in a very easy going style and the reader will smile their way all the way through. Even the graphic parts are funny. This book is also good to raise people's awareness of diversity as it pokes such good fun at all cultures.

There is a very funny introduction that various characters use whenever they meet Misha for the first time. This speech starts on Page 114 and is repeated many times...

"The Jewish people have a long and peaceful history in our land. They are our brothers, and whoever is their enemy is our enemy also. When you are in Absurdsvani, my mother will be your mother, my wife your sister, and you will always find water in my well to drink."

On a serious note what the reader will take away from this book, is that you can find love in ALL cultures because there are no real differences between people of different ethic origins to your own.

I will be very happy to buy another of Gary's books when they are published.

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