Sunday, 14 December 2014

How do they do it?

Yesterday evening I ordered something from Next online.

I got an email saying it’d be ready after 2pm the next day from my local store.  I was amazed.  How do they achieve this?

This morning I got a text just before 11am saying that the item I’d ordered was ready for collection.  How is this possible?

The item I’d ordered isn’t normally stocked by our local store so it would have travelled from a distribution centre.  

Surely one item can’t have been worth the logistical cost.  Let’s assume that a few items were delivered and let’s assume one van or truck delivers to a few stores, can the cost of the vehicle, fuel and the cost of the driver really justify this, on a Sunday?

Or are deliveries happening seven days a week to all stores and my item was just chucked on the van before it left this morning?  This seems fairly logical but I am surprised all stores receive deliveries that frequently, and that all deliveries happen by 2pm.

Anyone out there know how they do it?

Monday, 8 December 2014

Unintended consequences

I wasn’t meant to be at home today but a dose of heavy cold/flu meant that for the first time in eight years I needed to work from home because Hannah was poorly.  

I had to nip to work to collect my laptop and shortly after I arrived back home there was a knock at the door.  A workman wanted to know if I used my drive.  I explained that I didn’t, but others do and, in turn, he explained that there was going to be work happening for five days digging up the pavement area in front of our house.

This was new news to me and he told me that the Council should have got in touch to warn me.  He also realised that, because the drive does get used, he needed to order a plate to continue to provide me with vehicle access.

Later in the day I called the Council who told me that UK Power Networks should have told me about the work and that I didn’t get a letter from the Council because they had determined that there would be no traffic impact.

I tweeted UK Power Networks : https://twitter.com/a4ann/status/541942927015305216 and responded with the information they requested.

The Council called back later to explain the work was to happen around the school runs.  This made no sense as, whether work was happening or not, the pavement was closed to pedestrians, on their way to school or not.

I spoke to the contractors, Morrisons, who were effectively doing what the contract said.  I clearly needed to get UK Power Networks to take this seriously.

UK Power Networks called me and I explained that the situation with a closed pavement, and no alternative for pedestrians, was unsafe.  I had just video’d the situation and sent that to Debbie in the Romford UK Power Networks office.  Here it is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tiZNi0X_Zvg

Lots of to-ing and fro-ing later and there was a promise of traffic lights and a walkway for pedestrians.  I was happy that everything had been done to make things safe.  I felt responsible because this was outside my house and if anything happened to anyone crossing the road because of the work, I would feel terrible if I hadn’t done what I could to make it as safe as possible.  It’s bad enough that there’s construction traffic next door without adding to the danger.

But then came the kick.  The site manager, who had told me about the traffic lights and walkway, then told me he thought the two workmen who had been on site all day would probably lose their jobs as a result of my intervention.

This shouldn’t be how this situation ends.  I had been clear all the way through that it was the planning that was lacking, not the execution.  The improvement opportunities were with the interaction between UK Power Networks and Essex County Council and not the contractor Morrisons who were just carrying out the instructions on a contract.

I wrote an email to UK Power Networks to try and mitigate things:

Hi Debbie

Thank you for your intervention.  I have just been advised that traffic lights will be installed tomorrow morning.  I feel a lot happier about the situation.
I am concerned that there should not be any blame apportioned to the young gentlemen who have been working on site today.  They have been at all times courteous and helpful within the constraints over which they had no control.  They should be commended for their concern and for doing everything within their power and authority.
In the future, for such work, I would like to see much better collaboration between Essex County Council and UK Power Networks.  Better decisions should be made earlier on to enable contractors such as Morrisons to work for the safety of all concerned.
If you are confused by the multiple addressees, I apologise, but I thought it would be good to share the good news with local residents and Councillors.
Thank you again
Kind regards
Ann
I was left balancing the potential accident that the dangerous closed pavement might cause and two people needlessly losing their jobs.  It was no choice and it seemed wrong that in trying to do the right thing and achieving a result, I was also responsible for potential job losses.
 
I gave the workmen a copy of the email and hoped that this physical evidence, and the fact I had copied about 30 people, might prevent any corporate blaming of the lowest common denominator rather than addressing the fundamental flaws in the process.
 
I don’t know whether to be pleased that children (and others) will be safer walking along our road this week, or whether to regret getting involved.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

It's not difficult

All I want is a nice sparkly top to wear with jeans. Why can't I find something that works?

I want something with a v-neck  and yet most retailers seem to think high neck or round neck is de rigueur.

I want sleeves but they don't have to be full length.  They can be short sleeves or 3/4 length but don't give me sleeveless or cap sleeves.

I want a diaphonous fabric,  perhaps and perhaps preferably with an opaque layer beneath.

Don't make it black.  Black does not suit me.  A muted  silvery blue would be nice or maybe a soft raspberry colour.

I'm not averse to a few sequins but let's not go sequin crazy.

And a semi-fitted top is fine but completely clingy is not appropriate. So a wrap style top could work or maybe empire line.

This top should work with a bra.  Don't design something that is so low cut that breasts and bra are exposed. It would be acceptable to design bra functionality into the top.

Oh and this should ideally be machine washable.

This top should not have cutouts at the front of the back that would expose bra or pasty winter skin.

So .... It really isn't difficult so why can't I find it.?

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Don't ask, don't get


My pressure cooker broke during my inaugural Christmas pudding cooking.

I'm not sure exactly when the breakage occurred but when I took it apart to wash it (yes I know it's unfair that I do the cooking and the washing up) I noticed a bit of plastic had snapped.

I knew the pressure cooker had a warranty so I sent Kuhn Rikon an email. I asked how I could get a replacement item.

They responded with details of their spare parts service.

I asked about a replacement under warranty as my pressure cooker was less than a couple of years old.

I was advised that whilst the pressure cooker has a ten year warranty some bits of it were only covered by a one year warranty.

I explained that this was disappointing as my pressure cooker is used infrequently, and I asked whether they had a goodwill policy.

An offer to replace the part at no cost "just this once" arrived in my inbox this morning.

If you don't ask, you don't get.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Experiencing problems

I bank with RBS.  It might always have been RBS but when I took out my mortgage it was branded as the One Account.

It’s an offset account that sends statements every month that demonstrate the extent of my debt by displaying it as a huge overdraft.  There’s nothing like the constant reminder of the amount of money one owes to keep spending and saving at the forefront of one’s mind.

I don’t often use online banking for this account as most payments are automated.  When I do use it it’s because I want to transfer money to an individual, which is why I was logging on this evening.

I tried the url for the One Account and kept getting errors. 

Our Wifi can be unreliable, or my Mac can be unreliable, so I tried a few more times.  The One Account website is an antiquated piece of junk and has been known to have issues when site maintenance hasn’t gone to plan.

I gave up and called to hear the following “If you are experiencing issues when logging on to our online service when using Chrome or Firefox, please use Internet Explorer and the site will work."

Really, in 2014 you expect me to use a cruddy Microsoft browser and you can’t get your site working with Chrome which is the UK’s number one browser choice?

RBS has been criticised recently for insufficient expenditure on IT.  It seems I’m experiencing it first hand.

Cameron's bucket list

Never let it be said that a Tory was selfish, but...

Cameron isn’t happy that his mobile phone signal gets a bit off when he visits Cornwall.

But that’s OK, he can just announce he’ll spend £150 million on fixing mobile phone coverage.  Problem sorted.

I wonder if Cameron travels to Cornwall on the A303.  If he does then he’s bound to have experienced delays around Stonehenge.  We all have.  The difference is that we can’t all say that £15 billion will be spent on his Road Improvement Project (notice the acronym) part of which will mean a tunnel under Stonehenge.

It might be worth pointing out that Cameron’s plans for Stonehenge are the bare minimum.  Apparently the tunnel would need to be 2.8 miles long as a minimum if it isn’t going to breach the World Heritage Convention because of damage to surrounding countryside.  He’s promising just enough to fix the traffic issue.

I wonder what else frustrates our leader?

Maybe he’s not keen on library book fines.  Perhaps he objects to young children playing ball games in communal park areas.  Who knows what ridiculous scheme he’ll come up with next rather than addressing the basic services that are being hacked at by the Westminster bean counters on a daily basis.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d like a better phone signal and I don’t like sitting in a queue on the A303, but if it were my money, and some of it is, I’d be choosing other priorities.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Controlled failure

The Child Genius programme conversation came up at home today prompted by a conversation I had yesterday with Victoria.

Ethan piped up that he’d like to watch it but he couldn’t.  So I explained to my child genius (I’m being ironic in case you hadn’t spotted it) that he could watch it on 4OD.

So we sat down and watched the first episode of the 2014 series as a family.

We watched a father who had a strict regime for his son that involved physical exercise, homework, domestic chores and managed recreation.

The next thing we saw was this child being entered into a badminton competition having little or no experience of playing badminton.  His father explained this as controlled failure.  The idea was to expose the child to failure to make success something more desirable, but to do this in a safe and controlled environment.

I said, jokingly, that I did this to Hannah and Ethan, and Ethan piped up that that must be what I’m doing by involving him in the football team that he plays for.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Gluten free Christmas pudding recipe

This was a first attempt at a Christmas pudding and, given that it was gluten free and my first attempt, I was quite impressed with the results, but we haven’t eaten it yet.
I used a pressure cooker to reduce the cooking time but I’ll tell you how long you’d need to steam it for if you go for a steamer or saucepan.
Ingredients
  • 500g dried fruit
  • 50g dried cranberries
  • 4tbsp brandy
  • 125ml gluten-free dark beer
  • 120g softened unsalted butter
  • 225g dark soft brown sugar
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • a random amount of grated nutmeg
  • 100g ground almonds
  • 1 tsp gluten-free baking powder
  • grated zest of 1 lemon
  • grated zest of 1 orange
  • 1 Bramley apple - grated

Method
  • Firstly, looking at the ingredients… grating apple is a messy affair.  I can’t be bothered with grating the apple and if you have a rotary grater then messiness is reduced.  You may want to sprinkle diluted lemon juice on this to stop it from turning brown but given that then end product is brown, I didn’t bother.  I did leave the grating until the last minute but the apple still went brown ish.  The non-specific amount of nutmeg wasn’t overly helpful.  I aimed for about 1/2 tsp but it’s really difficult to judge this amount when you’re grating whole nutmeg.  I need a rotary nutmeg grater because I always come too close to grating my fingers.
  • And gluten-free dark beer.  This does exist but the only place I could find it would have meant ordering a crate of the stuff for over £30.  Instead I found a golden ale sold by the bottle in Sainsbury.  It’s not dark but it’s a better alternative than the pilsner that was the only other alternative.  There might be a non alcoholic alternative but frankly, what’s the point?
  • Right…on to prep.  Butter a bowl with a capacity of 1.2 litres is what the instructions say.  The bowl I had was exactly 1.2 litres in capacity and I ended up with more mixture than I had space in the bowl.  I carried on regardless and had a bit of a bulge (a bit like my tummy) but when cooking, this all got a bit messy.  It wasn’t a disaster but there was seepage. I have cleaned up the seepage and nobody will be any the wiser, unless they’ve read this, but next time a slightly bigger bowl would be better.  In the bottom of your bowl you need to place a circle of greaseproof paper.  I’m not entirely sure this is necessary as my mum never bothered with this type of frippery but hey ho.
  • OK, onward to the mixing.  Actually your fist step is to bung stuff in a saucepan and use the hob.  Not everything, just the dried fruit and yummy (or in my case supermarket own label) brandy and beer.  Heat for two minutes and cool.
  • In a bowl, or in my case Kenwood mixer, beat the butter and sugar.  It will start dark but with enough beating it becomes a light mink colour.  I stop the mixture quite a bit and use a spatula to scrape the bowl and mixer attachment.  This ensures everything gets properly beaten.
  • In another bowl mix almonds, spices and baking powder.
  • Gradually mix the eggs into the butter and sugar mixture and then stir in the citrus zests and apple followed by the dried fruit mixture.
  • At this point the mixture looked very unappetising.
  • Spoon the resultant mixture into the pudding basin and then cover with a pleated piece of greaseproof paper and foil (you can buy greaseproof paper with foil already combined in Wilkinsons).  Pleated means just add a fold about an inch and a half wide to allow for expansion.  Tie this paper/foil in place with string.  I found this a bit tricky and it would have been easier with an extra pair of hands.
  • If using a saucepan then put an old upturned saucer or jam jar lid in the bottom of a saucepan.  Put the bowl on top and opus boiling water in to come up to two thirds of the height of the bowl.  Cover the pan and simmer for 4 1/2 hours.  It’s important not to let the water boil off completely and you should be topping up the water every now and again.  Setting a timer to check every 20 minutes is a good idea.  You do not want this to boil dry.  When cooked you need to cool, and store for up to a year.  To serve you will need to boil like this again for about an hour and a half.
  • If using a pressure cooker then use a trivet, put the bowl in followed by a litre of water around the side.  Cover with the lid but not fully sealed and steam for 15 mins.  After this close the lid and steam at high pressure for 1 3/4 hours.  Release pressure slowly when cooked, cool and store for up to a year.  To serve you need to cook at high pressure for 15 minutes and release pressure slowly.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

How is this possible?

I’m guessing you’ve used self-checkout.  Most people have at least tried it.

The one I use most regularly is the one in my local Sainsbury.  I hate it.  It’s a useless and incompetent system.  How is it that it continues to be useless and incompetant years after its introduction?

I use my own bags, because obviously that completely saves the environment, and regardless of which type of bag I use the system doesn’t like my bags and I have to wait, like a naughty child for the assistant to come and save me from the flashing red light of doom.

Several times during the scanning and “placing things in the bagging area” process the system has a wobble and needs the reassurance of a qualified human.  I don’t qualify and never will.  The qualified humans stationed on idiot machine duty have to stand around trying to deal with flashing red light problems all day long.  They’re dashing from one rouge hue to another constantly.  These superior humans also have to listen to foul language being emitted through gritted teeth from the mouths of the customers whose souls are slowly being destroyed by the machines that could give Marvin a run for his money.

Then the machine needs to check with a human when a customer wants to buy alcohol.  Again this relies on the human to spot the flashing “Is this person over 18?” light.

It’s not liked my cards before and sometimes I think it has a camera and has decided it just doesn’t like the look of me.

On average for a basket of six items I need human intervention about six times.  It’s an obscene technology fail and yet it persists.  Is this because it’s better than the alternative or are we just a bunch of masochists going back for more?

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Sharing economy

I saw an item on the new sharing economy this evening.

I don’t think there’s anything new about it at all.  People used to rent out their spare rooms and people used to share their hedge trimmer with neighbours or am I remembering a Nirvana that exists only in my rose-tinted and failing memory?

Airbnb makes sharing your spare room easier but I’m not sure it happens anymore than it ever used to.

And I don’t think there’s any more sharing of stuff than there ever was.  I’ve tried to encourage it with setting up a Street Club for our neighbourhood but at the moment the only people that have joined are me, Hannah and one neighbour.  

Street Club (www.streetclub.co.uk) is a really nice idea to try and get communities talking and sharing.  It was set up by B&Q but given that the last tweet from the @streetclub account happened quite a few months ago I’m guessing that particular budget has been cut.

The site is still usable though and I would still like it to work, but it needs more people engage for it to be successful.

But either way I don’t think the sharing economy is any bigger than it’s been in the past.  So there.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Creatively skinning felines

I’ve set up a food bank collection at work.

Tesco are lending me some crates, I’ve ordered and received the groceries to kick start the collection, I’ve printed off sample shopping lists, I’ve secured a room at work, I’ve got the appropriate approvals from HR and Facilities Management but I hadn’t got approval to send an email to everyone in the building using the bulk mail facility.

The bulk mail system at work is tightly controlled and there are strict rules applied when decided what can use the functionality and what can’t.  I understand that every Tom, Dick and Harry can’t use this system and it’s important to have appropriate controls in place.

As bulk mail wasn’t available to me I considered my other options.  

Posters around the building are tightly controlled too and whilst there is a system for distributing them I’ve never been sure that this is a perfect system.

I could talk to everyone in the building but that would take some time and distract me, and the people I’m talking to, from the day job.

I could do a desk drop but that would be costly in terms of resource and my time.

I could email everyone I know but that wouldn’t give me the exhaustive coverage I was looking for.

So I decided to ask the Chairman and Managing Director for help.  If he cascaded an email and all of those recipients cascaded the email and so on, then that should be fairly comprehensive coverage.

I sent the email.  He replied: he supported what I was doing and requested that a bulk mail be sent out.

I wore a grin from ear the ear, or ‘ere to ‘ere, for the rest of the day.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Did I just do that?

So  I think I went onto Amazon and bought a couple of things. It's just too easy.

I wanted a lamp and there was one there that I'd added to my wish list a few days ago.

I think I might have bought something else too.

I think someone else should control our router settings.  Buying whilst tired does lead to excitement in ensuing days as I see what the postman delivers, but I'm not sure I make the best purchase decisions when sleepy.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Sorting stuff

I’ve been sorting stuff this evening.

Yes, I’ve ferried the children to various scouting activities and yes I’ve cooked for all of us.  Obviously the washing up had to be done and the packed lunch making and the drying up and putting away.  Work surfaces needed cleaning, the vac needed emptying, recycling boxes needed to be brought back to the side of the house...

A delivery from Amazon that was due on Saturday needed chasing.  Flowers needed ordering.  I had to try and find a replacement valve cover for Ethan’s Sigg water bottle - I realise why we live in a disposable society now.

The mail needed opening and sorting and filing, as far as my filing goes: pile of stuff Ann needs to file, Dave’s stuff, stuff for the recycling bin, stuff for shredding.

I had to tell Akele that Ethan was moving from his current cubs group to another, different scout group and then check that I was right with that assumption.  I needed to see if Ethan’s friend could also join the same scout group.

The grocery shopping needed doing and I had to remember to order extra for the food bank.  This reminded me the bread maker needed feeding with ingredients.

My old phone needed erasing.  I needed to check phone contract options for 4G but before that had to endure hours of trying to reset my bloody username and password for my T-Mobile account.  It’s written down now to prevent me swearing quite so much next time.

I needed to figure out exactly where to park at Bluewater to maximise efficiency and minimise time-wasting when I go there tomorrow.

I put books in a bag to share with someone tomorrow and they’re near the back door so that they won’t be forgotten.

I didn’t have to watch a snippet of Strictly - It Takes Two and Masterchef, but I did anyway.  

Facebook required response to a friend and Twitter had someone I know was asking a question about my availability in December.

Online payment was done so that Ethan could have school meals and that reminded me to check Hannah’s school balance which lead to me topping that up too and paying a further instalment towards her German trip.

E-mail needed checking in case I’d overlooked something important.

I blogged - but I recognise this didn’t need to happen.

The mud on the inside of the car needed shifting - I didn’t do that.

There is something else I haven’t done that’s also essential.  I need to sleep.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Doing it legally

Imagine you're in the office and people are raving about a series that's currently on Sky. You don't have Sky because you think they don't deserve your money - there's bad blood there and you've sworn off them for life.

Rather than eat humble pie and sign up with Sky you want to know where you can stream it legally.

You could browse Netflix and Amazon Prime etc or you could get someone else to do the hard work for you.

The first service you could use is http://wheretowatch.com which will search legal streaming sources to advise you on availability.

If it's not available on your platform of choice then you could use http://www.canistream.it.  This site also searches for you but will also notify you when the show you are interested in becomes available on a particular platform.

Useful.

It's my mum's fault

"Hannah - you know it's a non uniform day today?"

"Er no, I thought that was next week."

I knew I'd seen an email about a non uniform day for Children in Need and I knew Children in Need was today. I also knew Ethan was going to school in normal clothes today.

I checked the email.

It is next week.

"As you were. It's next week. That's stupid because it's on the wrong day."

Dave piped up "Hannah, Mum just tried to get you a detention."

Thanks Dave.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

An hour or so

This is a snapshot of an hour or so of my life.  It's not extraordinary and I'm sure other parents could cite similar hours.  Wednesday evenings require choreographing.  Planning is involved and punctuality is important.

I leave work at 16:45.  As I'm driving home I get a call from Hannah.  She's near home and wants to go home and not collect Ethan from the after school club. I say that that's OK providing she fills the kettle and puts it on.

I pull up at the after school club at about 16:55 and collect Ethan who had seen me pull up and had gathered his coat and bag so he could be ready.

We park at home at 17:03.

I tell Ethan to get ready for football while I cook.

I smell fresh bread and check the bread maker. It has three minutes left on the timer.

I check mail - two items, both junk.

I start to prepare a stir fry having prepared cooked chicken yesterday evening and cut vegetables this morning.  Sauce is shop bought.

I take the bread out of the bread maker.

Hannah and I sit down to eat at 17:12 and Ethan joins at 17:14 when he's finished getting changed.

I finish eating at 17:24 and the children take a little longer.  We're using chopsticks and none of us has mastered this.

I go upstairs and get changed into jeans whilst reading the junk mail from Amazon.  Who would have anticipated Amazon using direct mail? (They shouldn't have bothered.)

I come downstairs at 17:28 and plonk myself on the sofa.  I check Facebook, Twitter, email and then indulge in a  few minutes of the 2048 app.

I ask Hannah if she has homework and encourage her to stop reading and do her homework.  I also remind her that her room needs tidying.

Ethan asks me to sign his homework diary.  He's read 1984 (twice and now finished the book), Guinness Book of World Records (twice) and Amazing Brain Teasers.  He's done some maths homework - he tells me some of the set homework was optional so I make sure I let the teacher know which bit he's done.

Dave phones.  He has been to Swindon and, whilst he said he wouldn't be back late, he has decided to pop into the office.  He won't be home until probably eight o'clock.

I don coat and boots and Ethan and I leave for football practice.  We walk there arriving at 17:58.

I walk back arriving home at 18:07.  Hannah's homework is done, the tidying isn't.

I type a blog post…