Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Dead Man's Footsteps by Peter James .

I was in WH Smith when I saw this paperback and the back cover read...

Amid the tragic unfolding mayhem of the morning of 9/11, failed Brighton businessman and ne'er-do-well Ronnie Wilson sees the chance of a lifetime: to shed his debts, disappear and reinvent himself in another country. Six years later the discovery of the skeletal remains of a woman's body in a storm drain in Brighton leads Detective Superintendent Roy Grace on an enquiry spanning the globe, and into a desperate race against time to save the life of a woman being hunted down like an animal in the streets and alleys of Brighton.

...I liked the sound of that so I bought a copy of this book. I had just finished reading Broken Skin by Stuart MacBride which I found very disappointing. This book however is far better, after reading just a few pages you discover that this book is in another league. Dead Man's Footsteps is a crime thriller spanning 566 pages. This novel has a well developed plot with well developed characters and a lot of local detail. The story unfolds because all the Police Officers work as a team. This book demonstrates just what team work can achieve. Without this team work and knowledge sharing the Police would not have solved this mystery. I vote this book a HIT. I would buy another of Peter's books because the quality is there.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Petition to help stop the nuisance caused by the Police when they close motorways.

The current 'Health and Safety' culture appears to be causing a significant increase in the time motorways are closed when road traffic accidents occur. This results in very significant inconvenience to the travelling public, loss of revenue, loss of business, major congestion on local roads not suited for this traffic volume and dangerous levels of frustration among drivers. Currently there do not appear to be any controls or targets to encourage Chief Constables to re-open motorways as soon as the critical evidence has been gathered. Other developed countries in the EU and North America put a more balanced priority on keeping open the main autoroutes. The Prime Minister should require Chief Constables, who have responsibility for Motorways, to publish annual statistics of the percentage of times these motorways are shut for accident investigation and the total numbers of cars affected by each such closure.

We all know just what a nuisance it is when the Police close motorways for hours on end at the drop of a hat. Enough is enough and the general public are getting pissed off with the attitude of the Police. I am the 20th person to have signed up to this petition which closes on 27 January 2009, so why not add your name to this petition? We have very little say in this country of ours and this is an example of showing government just how we feel. We suffer regular city centre road closures in Cardiff due to the Police, when an event is on at the Millennium Stadium. If the Police are not stopped we will slowly drift into a Police state where our freedom of movement can be restricted on the whim of the Police.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Festival of Consumerism.

Okay, so here we are with this year's Festival of Consumerism. Christians call this period Christmas and shopkeepers call it the Last Chance Saloon. Across the country people are celebrating, all people whatever their religious beliefs. It is the time to be merry and to be thankful for our place in the world. Many people give others gifts to show how much they value their relationship with that person. Gifts are given between family members and close friends. Gifts are also given by employers to their employees to demonstrate just how much they value the work they have put in over the year.

Gail's boss asked her what she would like to drink and gave her a 1 litre bottle of Southern Comfort. My boss gave me a Christmas Hamper which has a lovely selection of high quality goodies to eat and drink. His covering letter stated..."may we take this opportunity to thank you for all your hard work and continued commitment during 2008 - a year which, in many ways, has been both exciting and challenging. We hope you enjoy your Christmas Hamper, offered as a small gesture of our thanks and appreciation for your continued hard work and support."

This means a great deal to me, being thanked in this way by my boss. I feel that he is thanking me as a person, not viewing me as an expendable, replaceable wage number.

However, I have a letter from the nationwide company who we work for under-contract. This letter has a completely different tone and states..."without doubt, 2008 has been one of the most challenging years for xx.xx. Despite that, everyone has worked extremely hard to help further develop our business and I am pleased to have this opportunity to write and thank you personally for the support and dedication you have shown during these past twelve months.

However, the increasingly difficult financial conditions within the UK over the past six months have created difficulties, not just for xx.xx, but for a whole range of UK companies. Within the xx.xx coach business you will be aware that we have previously been able to distribute a small number of shopping vouchers to you over the Christmas period. I am sorry to have to advise you that I will not be able to repeat that distribution this year."

What a difference in the two letters. The first letter really appreciates staff, thanks them for their good work and loyalty, then motivates them for 2009. The second letter acknowledges the good work of the staff but basically say's tough, you lot are not worth a penny more. We all know that coach drivers throughout the network have made the best of a bad job and have worked professionally. We can only work within the limitations that management have built into the infrastructure of the business. Any problems within the business are the result of management action and the collective conscience of the drivers is clean. A quantifiable thank you from management is missing here. This letter does not motivate staff towards 2009 and leaves you with the impression that no matter how well you do your job, you will just be taken for granted and thought of as an expendable, replaceable wage number.

I am happy with the work I do, driving a coach on this nationwide network. However, we have a roster of 27 drivers doing this dedicated work at our depot. There are only 4 other drivers who have been here longer than I have, which demonstrates how low staff morale can be working under-contract for this nationwide company. This latest letter does nothing to encourage morale among the 27 drivers and I am sure this feeling is reflected throughout the network, where staff turnover can be even greater than our depot suffers.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Spoiling a Christmas meal with workmates.

This one made me laugh, you know how it is when you are with friends in a pub and someone tries to butt into your conversation. Or how annoying it is when you are interrupted by someone trying to sell you something. Well, this tale serves this cowboy right!

The office Christmas meal turned into a working lunch for trading standards officers when they were approached by a man who tried to sell them fake DVDs. The hapless dealer hoped to make a quick profit after spotting a group of office workers in the Rose and Crown pub in Streatham, south London. But he made the mistake of offering up to 300 fake DVDs to officers of Lambeth Council who are responsible for cracking down on counterfeit sales. They showed the man their identification before seizing the discs and his mobile phone.

Ray Bouch, senior trading standards officer for the council, said: "This guy definitely picked the wrong customers. He looked a bit shocked to say the least when we produced our ID and it dawned on him who we were.

"The afternoon turned into something of a working lunch for us. Our turkey went a bit cold while we were questioning him and confiscating his goods, but it's our job to get these things off the streets.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Where do they go?

The big refuse lorry comes down my street and collects the green dry recyclable bags. I have done my civic duty and legal responsibility and have put all my clean, dry recyclable refuse items into the green bags. Off the refuse lorry goes and I have my doubts over what happens to my recyclable waste. I often wondered if recycling schemes were run by councils to condition their residents into sorting their waste into different groups so that in years to come they could introduce a workable recycling scheme. Maybe this is just a con by councils to see if their ideas would actually work. Tell the rate payers that they must recycle and the waste is being recycled but behind the scenes monitor the waste before sending it to landfill or incineration. Maybe recycling was just a myth put about by councils but once you have doubts about the situation, they linger in your mind.

And what is in the newspaper today?

Councils dumping more than 200,000 tonnes of recycling every year. Household rubbish put out for recycling is being dumped in landfill sites or sent to incinerators by three out of four councils, a Daily Telegraph investigation has discovered. Up to 200,000 tonnes of recyclable waste was dumped last year with some councils failing to recycle over 10 per cent of glass, paper, plastic and other materials left out by conscientious homeowners. The Daily Telegraph surveyed all 400 councils across England and Wales. Of the 209 which replied, more than 75 per cent admitted to sending at least some of their recyclable waste to landfill sites or incinerators. The councils responding to the survey admitted dumping a total of 100,503 tonnes of recyclable waste in landfill or sending it to incinerators in the 2007/08 financial year. If the figure is extrapolated to all councils in England, it suggests that nearly 200,000 tonnes of recycling is being dumped every year.

...Ah well, I have done my bit for the environment but have I been wasting my time? I have my doubts but I know that my legal responsibility is to sort my rubbish and my conscience is clear.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Grampy Steve does building work.

It's that time of year again, the Festival of Consumerism. Nanna Gail has purchased 2 wooden dolls houses for her granddaughters and it was my task today to assemble both of these wonderful toys. The instructions clearly state: Adult assembly required, tighten all the screws before giving this toy to a child.

This was easy work for me, the instructions and construction were well planned. It just seemed rather daft to me, sat in the middle of the lounge floor making a girl's toy. Both granddaughter has her own dolls house, one roof is stenciled Lauren, the other Louise. It does seem strange assembling a toy for a child who has no biological link to me but calls me Grampy Steve. It all seems to belong to another world, a world that I have never lived in. Of course once the time has gone, it has gone forever - childhood never returns.

Still the task has been completed with no problems or bits left over. It does seem rather novel with all the electronic games available to children, that Lauren and Louise are getting a traditional and rather old fashioned wooden dolls house. What shall we give them when they become teenagers, a Personal Computer with 640kb of RAM running DOS?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

"Put it up to thirty".

Overheard a woman passenger on my coach last night talking into her mobile phone. The weather outside my coach was nippy with the gauge indicating 0 degrees C. She was talking to someone whom she was obviously going to meet at her stop. Her instructions were for that person to go into the kitchen and turn the thermostat up to thirty.

I was shocked to hear this, setting a domestic heating thermostat to 30 degrees C is obscene. To run any domestic heating system up to 30 degrees is expensive and a waste of money. Twenty degrees is plenty, why throw your money away in excess heat? People should dress properly for the season.

This is the time of year when women everywhere are complaining about the cold. Well, dress properly for the season you silly little girls. It does not seem to matter how old the woman is, they still complain of feeling cold rather than dressing properly for the season.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Every little helps.

"Every little helps" goes the tagline on Tesco advertising. This is a little sad when it is the end of your fingers though.

A Tesco employee had part of two fingers chopped off when he put his hand inside a faulty dough-dividing machine. The incident happened on 22 February 2007 at the in-store bakery in a Tesco store in Cheltenham. An employee put his hand inside the hopper of the machine, in order to clear some dough, but the power supply had not been cut and the machine activated, slicing the top section from two fingers on his right hand.

An investigation into the incident revealed that the interlock switch had become unattached from the side of the machine. Tesco was aware of the fault and the interlock was re-attached to the machine by tying it together with a plastic bag. This allowed the device to operate when the lid was open and meant that the power supply was live when the employee put his hand inside the machine.

...Well, here we go again. Another case of big companies bodging a job all in the name of profit. It is the same all over our country and Tesco is just another example of sharp practice. A lot of companies will take shortcuts with safety and this time both Tesco and their employee got their fingers caught, literally.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

No further forward in 25 years.

On Wednesday I went to Bradford in an Iveco EuroRider . It is the only Iveco we have in our depot and it is known as the short straw. Having this coach for 2 days made me think how far forward coaches have come in the last 25 years. All other coach manufacturers have moved forward with better and better models produced year on year. All except Iveco, which brought back to me what driving a coach 25 years ago used to be like.

You can take for granted the power and acceleration of modern coaches. Today's Volvo B12's accelerate briskly and cruise up hills very comfortably. However, driving this Iveco EuroRider brings it all back to another age. An age when coaches were very slow off the mark, plodded along and cried on the hills. Most main road hills are now driven up in top gear but 25 years ago your coach would change down one or two gears to climb the hill. 25 years ago whenever you lost your speed on a main road it took a long time to build it back up again and you would hope that nothing would slow you down as you approached a hill.

The mainstay of the nationwide company 25 years ago was the Leyland Leopard and the performance of the Iveco EuroRider is broadly similar. All other coaches have come on a long way but not the Iveco. The Leyland Leopard generally had a 5 speed semi automatic gearbox which worked well and was smooth. However, this Iveco has a 5 speed fully automatic ZF gearbox and it goes in with a bang, a big bang. Changing from second to third gives the driver a bigger thrust to his hips than during sex.

Put the lack of acceleration, poor hill climbing ability and the rough gearchange all together and I was glad to see the back of this coach on Thursday night. This is one hell of a shed to drive and is a disgrace to have on the network. Oh yes, the toilet blocked up as usual which is no surprise because the drain turns through 90 degrees. Thankfully this coach does not see service every day but occasionally every driver will draw the short straw and will be given this shed of a coach.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Broken Skin by Stuart MacBride .

This book starts off well...

Up ahead the woman stops. She stands on one leg under the streetlight, rubbing her ankle, as if she's not used to wearing high heels. Number seven: a wee Torry quine on her way home after a night out on the pish, staggering along in her fuck-me heels and miniskirt, even though it's February in Aberdeen and freezing cold. She's a looker. Curly brown hair. Upturned little nose. Nice legs, long and sexy. The kind he likes to feel struggling beneath him as he makes the bitch take it. Shows her who's boss.
She straightens up and teeters off again, mumbling away to herself in a little alcoholic haze. He likes them drunk: not so drunk they don't know what's happening, but drunk enough that they can't do anything about it. Can't get a good look at him.
Dirty bitches.
She lurches past the NorFish building - spotlit for a moment in the sweeping headlights of an articulated lorry - across the roundabout and onto the cobbles of Victoria Bridge, crossing the dark, silent River Dee into Torry. He hangs back a bit, pretending to tie his shoelace until she's nearly all the way over. This part of town isn't his usual hunting ground, so he has to play it carefully. Make sure no one's watching. He smiles: the dark, grey street is deserted - just him and lucky Number Seven.
A quick jog and he's right behind her again. He's fit, doesn't even break a sweat in his Aberdeen Football Club tracksuit, complete with hood and black Nike trainers. Who's going to look twice at a man out for a jog?
Torry's bleak in the late February night - granite buildings stained almost black with grime, washed with piss-yellow streetlight. The woman fits right in: cheap clothes, cheap black leather jacket, cheap shoes, cheap perfume. A dirty girl. He smiles and feels the knife in his pocket. Time for the dirty girl to get her 'treat'.
She turns left, heading off the long, sweeping curve of Victoria Road onto one of the side streets, where the fish processing factories are. Probably taking a shortcut back to her horrible little bedsit, or the house she shares with mummy and daddy - she should have someone to share her pain with when this is all over. Because there's going to be a lot of pain to share.
The street's deserted, just the back end of an empty eighteen-wheeler parked opposite the oriental cash and carry. It's all industrial units here, silent and dark and closed for the night. No one to see them and call for help.
The woman - Number Seven - passes a skip full of twisted metal, and he speeds up, closing the gap. Her heels go click-clack on the cold concrete pavement, but his Nikes are silent. Past a couple of those big plastic bins overflowing with discarded fish heads and bones, grimy wooden pallets slapped on top to keep the seagulls out. Closer.
Out with the knife, one hand rubbing the front of his tracksuit, stroking his erection for luck. Every detail stands out bright and clear, like blood splashed on pale, white skin.
She turns at the last minute, eyes going wide as she sees him, then sees the knife, too shocked to scream. This is going to be special. Number Seven will get to do things she's never dreamed of, not in her darkest nightmares. She-

...but then it is downhill all the way. That is as good as it gets and the quality of Stuart's writing declines. This book is okay but it is not a thriller, more a soap opera like the successful television series of The Bill . This story features the lead character of Detective Sergeant Logan McRae with a supporting cast of other Police officers. There are 5 deaths and all the crimes are solved by the end. This novel is not of the same quality of the other thrillers I have enjoyed, it is a plodding story about PC Plod. It is set in the Scottish city of Aberdeen but Stuart drones on and on about the granite used in the buildings. Granite is the most over-used word in the whole book and the constant references to granite really gets on your nerves by the end of this book.

At the end of the story you get a preview of his next book called Flesh House. The Police cast of Broken Skin continue, just like another episode of The Bill, so no thank you. Looking at his earlier 2 books, Cold Granite and Dying Light, they also feature the same cast of Police officers. There is nothing special to recommend about Broken Skin, Stuart may think he is writing a TV series but I will not be following his books.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Number not in use.

On Tuesday night my Vodafone pay as you talk mobile phone did not work. The screen simply displayed "Number not in use" when I tried to make a call. I have never had this problem before and I wondered just what had caused this error. When I got home I took out my SIM card, cleaned it but the problem remained. I then put my SIM into another mobile phone but the problem still remained. However, my mobile phone would receive calls.

The next day I tried to ring out on my mobile phone again and everything was back to normal. My mobile phone has worked with no problems ever since. I do not know what had happened but on Tuesday I had received a text message from Vodafone telling me about the reduction in VAT and the increased amount of call credit customers would be allocated whenever they topped up their pay as you talk phones from the 1st December 2008. This makes me think that maybe the Vodafone network computers were having a software update that temporarily stopped pay as you talk customers from making chargeable calls from their phones. Whatever glitch there was has now been resolved. A lot of things happen behind the scenes and big companies do not make press releases about their problems, so as always the public is left in the dark. If this network non-availability was due to a software update on their servers you would think that rather than let their customers down, they could have just routed the calls through free-of-charge. This would have kept the glitch out of the public eye and they would have avoided the risk of losing customers for life.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Barmaid sacked after blogging about defence minister.

A New York barmaid was sacked after blogging about the Belgian defence minister's alleged antics during an official visit to the city. Nathalie Lubbe Bakker was fired from her job after government officials rang the bar owner to complain about the claims relating to Pieter De Crem. Miss Lubbe Bakker, also a Belgian, said she was shocked when she recognised the defence minister among a rowdy party of her countrymen who "stumbled" into the B-Café. Writing on her "Living in New York" blog the next day, Miss Lubbe Bakker claimed the minister's sang "bawdy" songs and made persistent demands to take over the serving of drinks behind the bar. Four days later, after her posting had been picked by Belgium's De Standaard newspaper, Miss Lubbe Bakker reported on her blog that she had been sacked after a defence ministry telephone call to her boss. "I was astonished to learn from a well-informed source that the defence minister's spokesman had telephoned the bar's owner," she wrote.
"What the contents of that conversation were are unknown to me but when my next shift finished, he dismissed me on the spot without any explanation."

...This is bad news, very bad news. I hope that Pieter De Crem loses his own job when the Belgians have their next elections. Many politicians come across as boring people and the story of him partying in a bar should have lifted his public profile, not reduced it. The freedom of speech must be upheld throughout the world. Time and time again bloggers are being sacked because they have written about their day jobs. As for the owner of the B-Cafe in New York, he must be an ignorant arsehole and I hope his business goes down the plug hole. People must have the right to free expression and although employers buy our time they should not be able to buy our thoughts.

Friday, December 05, 2008

It could happen here!

Now we have all got over the shock of the Mumbai terrorist massacre, we are left with one haunting thought. Could it happen here in the UK? Unfortunately it could so easily happen here but luckily our security services have already stopped the planning of one attack. Kazi Nurur Rahman, from east London, was associated with the same terrorist group that is accused of the attack in India which killed almost 200 people. He was arrested in a sting operation as he tried to buy three Uzi submachine guns and 3,000 rounds of ammunition. He had talked of buying up to five weapons, hand grenades and as many bullets as possible along with Russian-made rocket-propelled grenades and SAM-7 surface-to-air missiles. He pleaded guilty to offences under the Terrorism Act 2000 and was sentenced to nine years in prison in May 2006.

Rahman, 31, was an associate of Omar Khyam, the leader of a gang plotting to blow up Bluewater shopping centre or the Ministry of Sound nightclub with a fertiliser bomb.
Khyam trained with Lashkar-e-Taiba (Let) the Kashmiri separatist group accused of the Mumbai (formerly Bombay) massacre, before he turned to al-Qaeda.

So, there you have it. There were plans to have this type of terrorist outrage here in the UK. I am glad that I do not have to go into Golders Green bus station when I go to London on my day job!

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