Monday, June 30, 2008

A little literary help

As previously mentioned, where I work, everyone drinks tea. A lot of tea. So we have a machine in the break area that heats the water. Something like the coffee machine in McDonald's, but without the million dollar lawsuits. Pull the lever, you get instant boiling water.

The other day, the machine broke, and we had no hot water for tea. Mostly because no one could find the kettle that was supposed to be in the cupboard. So, no hot water.

I work for a company that installs solar panels that are used to interface with the hot water heating system in homes, in order to provide hot water at low cost and be environmentally correct. We sit above a warehouse filled with panels and boilers.

Is this an example of irony, or am I lost in translation?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Differences between the US and the UK # 4

I've done some commuting in the states, mostly in L.A. and D.C. Oh, the land of the initials. You have to love it. In L.A., it was the bus, even though they actually do have a subway. Its not real big, but its there. I've seen it. Its as real as the Hollywood Hills. Trust me on this one. In D.C., it was bus and mostly on the Metro (subway/tram).

But they have something unique here in the U.K., (oh, those initials again, I'm really starting to feel at home) which are the double-decker buses. If you ever get yourself to a place where they have, get up on top and enjoy the ride.

Its the same thing as why I like driving a pick-up (I will get one here). Its because you sit up high, over the top of everyone else. You can see the world from a different perspective. Plus the feeling while you're riding up there is great. Like your going to tip over on ever sharp curve or corner. It kinds of puts a charge into your system and gets you going for the day. I'm sure to the people who do it everyday, it becomes common place. But I still enjoy it.

If you're ever here, give it a try.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Differences between the US and the UK # 3

The Brits drink tea. A lot of tea. All the time. Its like a mania. Its a little excessive really. And they have tea breaks instead of coffee breaks. Nothing really strange about that, except that it isn't really a break. Its just an accepted thing that every couple of hours someone in the office will go downstairs and make tea for everyone.

And if you drink tea (or coffee for a few people), then you're expected to take your turn. And of course, everyone drinks it differently. Milk, or no milk. Or some milk, or a lot of milk. Or no sugar. Or two sugars, or one. Or black. We wrote up a list. So I can keep it straight.

And it really is little different. I think back to my army days. We all drank coffee. A lot of it. You wouldn't believe how much coffee is drunk by the Army. If the Army ever banned coffee, Columbia would go out of business. At least the legal business. But never in 20 years did I ever, at any rank, offer to get coffee for everyone in the office. They could get their own damn cup if they wanted it, especially if they were going to bitch about the amount of milk and sugar.

Things like that just aren't done in the States. At meetings, yes, but this is different. Everyone expects that. But not just sitting in the office working. We don't do that. But nothing like this. And don't screw and do something stupid like forgetting and getting a cup for yourself and not bringing one for everyone. IT JUST ISN'T DONE. AND AMERICANS ARE UNCVILIZED FOR NOT DOING THIS. I've been hearing about that for a week.

So I either have to stop drinking tea and coffee, or learn to go with the flow. Its not hard, just strange.

But to prove my point that I'm not a selfish person, and I'm willing to be a team player, I did something that I thought was funny. I had forgotten and got myself a cup, and didn't for everyone else. And they let me hear about it. So when I went to the water cooler to get a drink of water, I brought everyone else a cup also. It didn't go over well.

But I thought it was funny.

Now I'm workin' for a livin'

I got hired. I think. They waited until late Friday afternoon to talk to us. There was a woman who was temping also, and we were both wanting to get hired on full-time. Originally, we thought we were both going to get hired on, but then we found out they were only going to keep one of us, and it was actually a competition. I kind of felt bad about it, because we were riding the bus together and had gotten to know each other, and she's a nice lady.

We knew Friday was the day they would let us know, but neither one of us was sure about anything, or how it would work out. I wasn't stressing about it too much, because there just wasn't a reason to. I couldn't do anything about their decision, except just work hard and show them what I could do.

They called her down first at around 3:30 to talk to her. When she came back upstairs, I could tell she wasn't happy. But I couldn't talk to her because of the amount of people around. And I still didn't know my status. But I had a good idea. That morning, the manager came to me and asked me to make a phone call. There had been some problems on the job, and he wanted me to do a courtesy call to see if everything was satisfactory. And to see if they had sent in the payment for their system.

Now that's not really the job I was hired on for. They have people to do that. So I figured I was being tested. I didn't really want to do it, and I won't do it as a normal part of the job. I was a recruiter in the Army, against my will. For those of you who have been in, you know what I'm talking about. For those who haven't, its hard to explain. But I won't do that kind of work, where I have to call people and ask them to buy things, or try to collect money.

I was getting tested. So I said I would. Fortunately, they were at work all day and I never did get hold of them. But that told me I pretty much had the job. Why else would they ask a temp on his last day to do something like that. The manager finally got my resume, and told he was impressed by it. That's a good thing, I guess, but its just what I've done. I work hard, I work well, and I put in a full days work for a full days pay. So I've been successful. Nothing special about that. We're all supposed to do that, right.

Technically, I'm still a temp for another week, but he was already talking about grooming me for more responsibility and bigger things. Right now, we have two scheduling manager and two scheduling assistants. But because of the volume of business we're getting, they're talking about splitting London into a separate team. So I think he's talking about me being a Scheduling Manager when it happens. It would be a promotion, and a raise, but I'm not sure if I want it.

They have to meet a target each week of £250,000 right now. Another manager would increase it close to £400,00. I could use the money, but I have an aversion to doing any job based on sales, or a quota, or a target. I don't want to do it. I might tell them no. But at this point, I'm not sure. Money is at a premium right now.

Which is why I feel bad for the woman who didn't get kept on. My performance was what kept her from getting a job. I have enough chivalry in me to think I should have not accepted the position, because she didn't get it. But that's kind of stupid, really. I need the job. I need the money. I don't owe anyone any loyalty or charity. We all have to make our way. But I do feel bad.

But the main thing is that I have a job. Now I need a place to stay.

Monday, June 16, 2008

A new job

I finally got hired on last week. Its a temp job, for two weeks, working towards permanent if they like what I'm doing. Its for a company that installs solar panels for hot water heaters in houses. Its a boom business, making over $26 million a year. Growing really fast. Look at me, being green. When I don't even believe in global warming.

My job is the assistant scheduling manager. Once a salesman gets a buy, we arrange for the roofers to do the installation of the panel(s), a plumber for that, scaffolding, electricians, etc. And provide basic customer service for service calls and minor problems. Not bad. Busy, which I like. A little hectic, at times, but nothing impossible.

The only problem I have right now is actually learning the job. Or putting it all together, actually. The girl I'm replacing is a little scatter-brained, and kind of lazy. She's all over the place, and keeps taking the phone away to talk to customers herself, or taking over the computer. I'm trying to be polite, and not say much, but that can't last. If I can't get the specifics down, they won't want to keep me on. And I really need the job. I'm going to have talk to the boss tomorrow. We're going to have to do something different.

The only other problem is the distance. Its not hear in town where I'm at. Its about 15 miles out, so that means 2 buses. Only problem is that only one runs from where I am at in time to get me to the 2nd one. And that only has a 5-minute leeway. I'm looking for a new route, but there really aren't. What I'm doing is walking about 30 minutes to get to the bus I need without relying on the first one. Which I don't mind, because its good exercise. But the problem is, again, when I get to where I'm going, its another 20 minute walk.

The office is in an industrial park at the edge of town, and no buses right there on the schedule. And the bus I need at night leaves at 5:50, and I get off of work at 5:30. So I'm hoofing it to get there. And spending almost 13 hours a day at work, or traveling. Looks like I'm buying a car a lot sooner than I had planned. Assuming I keep this job.

But its a start, and the agency I'm with said they can get me more work if that doesn't work out.
So, here's hoping. But its a start.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Working for a livin'

Or not, as the case would be. I know this is a lot of me pissin' and moanin', just like the previous post. But I'm actually getting a little irritated. I've been here 4 weeks now, and I still don't have a job. I understand the UK is going through a recession, just like the US either is, or isn't, depending on who you believe.

I understand that no one owes me anything, particularly a job. But I haven't even had an interview yet. That's a little ridiculous. Seems there is no law here in the UK, like the US, that says they have to tell someone why they weren't accepted. A simple, "You were unsuccessful", is all that is required. So I've put in over 200 applications at different jobs, in different areas. I've worked HR and admin, logistics, purchasing, finance, bookkeeping, maintenance, telecommunications, and senior management. I am willing to work in a warehouse, clean things, do grounds work, work in a concession stand, sell pizza, pretty much anything. The only two things I won't do are telemarketing and sales. I was forced to be a recruiter in the Army, and I would rather go back to Iraq than ever do that again.

I've only actually had one company tell me that my American experience didn't match up with what they were looking for. I don't believe it, but I give them credit for trying. My last job in the states was managing a bowling alley. It seem I'm not even qualified to work the counter in one here. I don't get it. I understand the difficulties of being in a foreign country, and that no one will just give me a job, because I want it and need it. But I haven't had a single interview yet. I find that hard to believe. That no on is even willing to sit down and talk to me about what I might do to them.

I don't want to think its an anti-American thing, because I don't really believe it is. But much like the housing situation, I think it confuses them. They wouldn't get a Pakistani or a Nigerian applying for the jobs I'm looking at. But I am, and they don't know how to deal with. A foreigner, but one who has applicable experience and speaks and reads and writes the language fluently.
Okay, I'm from Missouri, so adequately. They don't know who to deal with it, so they just tell me no.

I have to go to a laundromat to dry my clothes. They provide a service also. For over 3 weeks, since I've been here, there's been a sign on the door advertising for weekend help. Less than 20 hours a week. So I called today, and was asked what kind of experience I had working in a laundromat. I asked what kind of experience I needed. The replay was, "working in a laundry mat". My question again was, "what kind of experience do I need. I can use a washing machine. I can use a dryer. I can fold, I can fluff. I can iron. I can even put it all back in the bag. What kind of experience do you need."

The guy then proceeds to get a rude, snotty attitude, and tell me I don't have the experience necessary. I mention to him that the sign has been up for almost a month and they don't' have any experienced people. That's why they're still looking. They need someone. I'm willing to work. I can do the job. I fail to understand the problem, as stated. He then proceeds to tell me that they have "interviewed" several qualified candidates for the post, but if I wanted to call back in two weeks and talk them again, assuming the position was still open, I could. If anyone is confused by this, good. Because I am.

This is what I'm dealing with. I did have one interview, I thought. An agency called me and had me come down and fill out all the paperwork, and told me there was a job I was a fit for, and they would set up an interview for me. A temp job for 5 weeks, but a start. So I waited all day Monday and got no call. Fair enough. I waited all day today, and got no call. Now I'm pissed. If they don't want me, its fine. But don't leave me sitting all day waiting, then not call. Very unprofessional, in my opinion.

As I said, this might be all null and void by tomorrow. I do have an interview for one job. But its nights and weekends, and I don't really want it, because of the time issue when I start getting my daughter. But its a job, so I'll take it if offered, and worry about the details later. I did get a call late this afternoon that I'll have to call back on in the morning. Should be another interview. I might get one of them. All for 7 an hour. And if those don't work out, I'll start the day labor thing by next Monday. I can do that six days a week, and make 300 - 400 a week. Maybe.

Unless I can get paid to do this, but I find that highly unlikely. Time to start the manuscript, and see if it sells.

Living on a prayer

I have to get a 2-bedroom place, for when my daughter starts to come stay with me. Since I haven't worked for almost 2 months now, money's getting tight. And the system here, first and last months rent, and a deposit. So I'm looking at almost 2,000 just to get into a place. And I'm not working. If I can get in, I'll be alright. Between my Army retirement and my disability and what I can make over here, I'll be able to pay the rent, the utilities, buy groceries, and pay my child support. And not much else.

I have another problem, when it comes to living conditions however. I might have to move out of where I am right now. It seems I was misinformed. I found this place on-line. Its a shared student house, which is common, because there is a university here. 4 bedrooms, and shared kitchen, bathroom and living spaces. A guy from Ghana, a guy from Spain, a girl from the Congo, and a couple from the UK.

The girl from the Congo moved out and went back to the Congo. I guess people do that. The guy from Spain is off somewhere making a movie. So the let me move into the room the Congolese girl had been living in. I was in to replace the couple downstairs. Seems they were moving out early, and had to find someone to replace them so they could have their deposit back. Which I wasn't aware of until after the fact.

They also told me the rent was 300. Come to find out, its actually 340. When I asked about it, they told me they would pay the extra 40 a month, and put it in the landlords account. Then they disappeared, and no one knows where they moved to. Add on top of that, here in the UK they have something called a council tax. I'm still trying to figure out what that is. But their exemption for students ran out, so now I am supposed to pay it. Another 78 a month.

To add to all of that, they had told me that Internet and cable TV was provided, along with a washer/dryer. Which it was, until they moved out and took it all. Now I'm a little pissed. Mainly because they left the place a pigsty, and I've cleaned it up. So the landlord says if I want to stay, I need to pay the extra cost and the council tax. But I still have to be out by the 1st of August, so she can rent it to a new group of students. She's only charging me by the week right now, and giving me a chance to look for another place to live.

So I've spent all day on line, and looking through the paper, and going to all the convenience stores where they let people post notices. I've called at least a dozen places, and have gotten nothing. I don't know if its because I'm American or not, but I'm starting to wonder. I don't think its because they dislike Americans here. They just don't understand us as immigrants. In the 4+ years I've been coming here, I've heard exactly 3 Americans speaking. And its possible some of them were Canadians and I didn't catch the accent.

Here's my main dilemma, however. What kind of place do I look for. Eventually, my daughter will be staying with on the weekends, but when? So do I look for a room to stay in until I get back on my feet (working) and then look for something later, when she is ready? Or do I go ahead and try to get a place of my own, hoping maybe she'll be able to stay even sooner? And if I do that, will I be able to afford it, with the deposit and all?

Do I stay where I am, and pay the extra, and try to move into a place in August, when I'm short of money, on the hopes my daughter might stay with me? Or do I try to find a temp place for a few months until I can afford something? I want to move into a house/apartment once, not several times. Where ever I find, I'm staying for at least 3 years. Until I'm ready to think about buying something.

The problem might be solved for me if I can't find a room. The only answer I received back was from someone wanting a 6-month commitment. I can't do that. Or more appropriately, I don't want to. I have enough issues in life without worrying about this one. And I just have the nagging feeling that I'll make the wrong one, whichever one it is. But that's okay too.

Because I've already made the only one that really matters, and it was the right one.

The cost of living

Its expensive over here. Worse than New York, DC, or LA. To be fair, I've only lived in LA and DC, and not New York. But people are always telling me how expensive it is there. I think I've figured out the correlation, however.

The pound (I've got to find the symbol for that and get it on my keyboard somewhere) is going for $1.97. Basically, 2 - 1. So I figured out how to do the conversion in my head so that its a little easier to deal with. I'm trying to keep track of how much money I'm spending, and what things are costing, and the like. Here are some examples:

a beer here: £2.80
a beer at home: $2.25

rent for a 2-bedroom place: £600
rent for a 2-bedroom place: $350

KFC: £4.19 for the 3-piece, but no biscuit
KFC: $4.50 with a biscuit and an extra side

utilities: £200 a month utilities: $225 a month

Pepsi: 95p for the small one
Pepsi: $1.35 for the big one

minimum wage: £5.62
minimum wage: $6.50?

So, all in all, its more expensive over here, but if I just look at it as a 1-1 exchange, its pretty simple. Its seems the best way to do it. If I spend 10 pounds ($19.70) on dinner and a couple of beers, its like spending $19.70 on dinner a couple of beers.

The most important thing, however, that I've been able to figure is this. Its expensive as hell over here.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

A little bit about why I suck at relationships

I suck at relationships. I always have. I probably always will. I've only been in a couple of long-term relationships in my life, and none of them have worked out. Partly because of me, partly because of the woman involved, and partly due to the demands of the Army. Especially when I was moving on an average of every 10 months, for quite awhile. Add in deployments, field problems of 30 - 45 days, all the duty time, and its hard sometimes.

The one thing I've found out is that long distance relationships don't work. It amazes me that people try to do it, but I just don't get it. I'm not talking about married guys deployed to a war zone, or going to Korea for a year. Those are commitments that are much deeper. I never got that far into a relationship for those kind of feelings to matter.

The reasons why relations start are exactly the reason they don't work long distance. If its sex, you can't do that. So you'll find it somewhere else. Or not, and the frustration mounts, and it only becomes about the sex when you're together. Why travel 3000 miles to get laid, when its at the nearest bar. If its for companionship, you don't get that on a phone call once a week. If its for money, eventually one of you will do something that screws it up. So they don't work.

So what would happen in my case is, something always happened. I've met a lot of great women. Probably more than my fair share of them. I would have been happy marrying any one of a dozen of them. But it always seemed to happen right as I was getting ready to leave for another country. To me, 2 months of dating isn't enough time to build a relationship that will involve separation.

Sidenote*** I did work with one guy who made it work somehow. He got out of training, went home for the weekend, got married to his highschool sweetheart, and left on Monday for Korea. He spent a year over there, came home for a weekend, and reported to duty at our company. He wanted to save money for a place to live and get her to where we were as soon as possible, so he saved his leave. Common thing. He arrived in the states on Friday, arrived at our unit on Monday, and on Wednesday, he deployed to Saudi Arabia with us for 8 months. Last I heard, they were still together. But I don't how. That must be what true love is.

As I said, I would always end up leaving, or the woman would end up leaving. Or, like the girl Michelle I knew, who chased after me for a year, and I wasn't smart enough to release she was the right one, because I was chasing some other girl. Who I dumped when I found out she was out banging other guys while I was gone. Or the two women I met who were perfect. I really thought I had something going with both of them, but it wasn't to be. They both decided to go back to their husbands. The fact that they both told me they were divorced, and not separated probably makes them less than perfect. For some reason, married women have always chased after me. Its a double-edged sword, however. Sex, with no complications. Woo hoo!!!!! Angry husbands with guns. Not so woo hoo.

Another good reason why I suck at relationships, and probably the best, is because of my family. We are so dysfunctional we make the Bundy's look like the Brady Bunch. Two parents who never loved each other. Thank god for the 50's and "doing the right thing". Wink, wink, nudge, nudge. And they had 3 more kids on top of it. And when you're a kid and you realize you are an inconvenience in your parent's life, it makes you think about the future. When they finally got divorced, we were actually happy, because then we didn't have to deal with the arguing and fighting.

In my extended family, of 8 aunts and uncles and 27 cousins, there are 7 that haven't either been divorced or married someone who had previously been divorced. I'm a child of the 70's, but it wasn't always good, the new way. So growing up, marriage wasn't something that worked. In my family, if you weren't divorced, you were going to be. I have lots of great examples of the "perfect marriage" to choose from. So one of the main reasons I never worried about relationships and trying to build was, "why?" It doesn't work. It will all end up badly. I don't want to do that.

Which is also a lot of denial. There have been women I should have had long relationships with, or married, but I always talked myself out of it. I convinced myself she wasn't the right one, or it just wouldn't work. I can blame my family, and the Army, or anyone else that I want. They didn't make it easy. In fact, at times it was damn near impossible. But in the end, its still on me. Sometimes you just have to suck it up, slap yourself around, and get on with life. Making excuses is not the way to go through life.

We all have the ability to be better than what we were taught. That's what makes us intelligent beings. That's why I have a hard time labeling addiction a disease. It takes away personal responsibility. If we can always blame someone or something else, then it can't be our fault. But until we can admit its our fault, we'll never get over it.

I've met the perfect woman. Three times. Could've, should've, would've, its still on me, regardless of the reason. And even if I know all of this now, as opposed to pretending I didn't know it for 20 years, I'll still suck at relationships. But one thing I know. Somewhere out there is a woman who'll convince me otherwise.

And I'll probably screw it up.

Or maybe I won't.

My second experience

My second attempt at driving a car here went much better than my first one. Mainly being, I didn't hit anything. Its not really all that difficult, if you take your time, go slow, and pay a lot of attention to what's happening around you.

The only problems this morning was timing. It was 8:00 am rush hour traffic, it was raining, and I was following the girl, who likes to drive fast. And went a completely different direction than I was expecting.

I'm pretty good with directions, and have only been lost twice in my life driving, that I can remember. So I knew how to get to the place, but I was following her and she went down a road I wasn't familiar with, so I lost my bearings immediately. I would have figured it out eventually. Its a small city, and everything is close together. But she kept driving away from me, then having to stop and wait.

She also decieded to go on the dual carriageway, which is 4-lane divided highway. I wasn't expecting that. Everyone merges from the wrong side. But I made it, and didn't kill anyone. So I guess it was okay. With a little practice, I think I can probably do this.

Monday, June 2, 2008

My first experience

I'm staying in a shared house, with a bunch of students, at the moment. Two of them are living together, and have found their own house, as they both just gradutated. They are moving today, and had to rent a van in order to move everything they have. It was that, or hire a company to do it, which they can't really afford.

The problem, however, is they are both 23. And to rent a vehicle in the UK, you have to be 26. So they needed someone with a driver's license to go down and actually rent the vehicle for them. I didn't think too much of it. They have been nice to me since I've been here, and actually let me stay for the first 2 weeks free. The landlord was in Thailand and didn't know anything about it.

The trouble began when we got to the rental place. We drove down in their car. She was going to drive their car back, and I was going to ride back in the van. Until they informed me that the guy didn't drive. I was expected to. I had thought we would get around the corner, and then switch places. But he's only had 3 driving lessons, and doesn't know how. So I got volunteered. Oh, just like in the Army.

And it went fine, for about the first 10 feet, when I hit the mirror on a parked truck and broke the mirror on the rental van. It scared the hell out of me, because I heard this big bang, and did'nt know what it was. I've never done that before.

Sidenote*** Always get the insureance on a rental. Its worth the $10.

But we continued on down the road, because it was a 1/4 mile before I could find a place to pull over and fix it. By then, it was too late to go back. The rest of the trip, about 5 miles, was fine. No serious issues. The roads are narrow, and when people are parked, it becomes one-lane in many places. So you have to figure out the right away.

It was defintely different. The gear shift is on the opposite side, the mirror thing (for the ones that work) are backasswards, and the roads are too narrow. There are alos a lot of roundabouts.

But for only my second time doing, I guess it was okay. With the one minor hiccup. The only other time was in South Africa, 5 years ago. Going down the highway, I reached over to shift, opened the door, and almost fell out of the car.

Sidenote*** Wear seatbelts in this situation.

It also helped having a passenger who can navigate and remind me of things not to do. Once I get a car, I'll get out early Sunday mornings, when there isn't much traffic. Its still a little nerve-racking, but I think I can get used to it. Eventually.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Doing the Daddy duty

I saw my daughter last weekend, and it was a good visit. She's getting more used to me all of the time. Good things will happen. But at the end of the visit, I was hit with my first taste of "Daddy Duty".

Some charity did a book project at her school. Basically, they had a form poem, and talked to each child, and had them fill in the blanks. My best friend is --------. My favorite food is -------.
That sort of thing. Then it was published in book format, as "My Child's First Poem", with their name listed below the poem. To prove it is theirs, obviously.

When my daughter and her mother were getting into the car, my ex called my daughter to the trunk and had her give me the books. Its a pretty neat idea. I found my daughters, and read it to her. I really enjoyed it, and I think she did also. She's not into a lot of affection just yet, but she leaned against me while I was reading, which was great. I think sometimes she forgets.

She had two books left. I guess there was a quota for each child. So I offered to buy both of them. As I found out after I offered, at $25 each. Did I tell you its expensive over here. So I got my real first taste of what the future will hold. Lessons, dresses, parties, all the good stuff that will end up costing me a fortune.

And I don't care. It will be worth every penny I spend. She can have it all. Daddy Duty is going to be great.