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Sunday, August 23, 2015

Never Forget - Take That

I can't even start typing before I have to comment on last night when England were thrashed 25-20 by the French team that are allegedly under performers and out of sorts due to a poor coach. Looks like England are the under performers and have the poor coach. Not sure that is the case, but at some point these players have to look up within the match and play what is in front of them. Stringing across the field to defend is great, and they actually defended well as France had 80+% of the ball but only scored one try. The big but is that you can't score without the ball and the way to get the ball back is to contest the breakdown. Preferably without giving penalties away. When England had the ball and went through the phases, 70 minutes too late, and had 2 playmakers on the pitch - bang - two tries, through good backs moves.

I left for Solihull early this morning for the 'Home Turf' training, the last compulsory training session before the tournament begins. Outside the College, two branded Land Rovers were parked, close to its manufacturing base. The first stage was to show proof of identity for your accreditation pass. We've been made to feel very special, the chosen few etc., but at each session, I wonder at the quirks of people. Maybe they are special in other ways. One woman had forgot her ID, as she had only got back from her holiday yesterday. She didn't know that she needed to bring it. The e-mail telling you what time and place to be, also asked for ID. Surely she checked on that for the start time?

There was a presentation running while we waited for everyone to pick up their passes, of the history of rugby. So the FA was founded to stop people running with the ball, something England found difficult to do the night before. Thus Wendyball became our national game and rugby its quirkier cousin. The presentation moved onto the tourist attractions of Birmingham and showed Birmingham Central Library as one of the attractions, The old one!!!!!. The old one that's closed off, well in fact being knocked down, rather than the impressive modern blue and gold building. No wonder Birmingham suffers with people having a poor perception of it.

The next stage was the introductions. has to be done, the text books says so. We had to find something unique about the person next to you and something in common. I found a like minded person who disliked the 'tell me something about yourself'. I realised again I'd got a strange one, when she refused to tell me anything unique about herself, whilst everyone else was in "News of the World mode. Still I suppose that is unique. We then had a quiz about the Villa, including the usual when was it built etc. They didn't include the factoid about Villa going half the season without scoring, but brought up their European Cup win. Most people attending the Villa games will be from Staffordshire, but geographically people are coming from as far away as Skye, and Canterbury, Kent. For our Skye visitors, a warning about the horseless carriages on the roads, even in Birmingham occasionally they go fast. As Villa is a 45 minute walk away from the city centre, there will be a set fan route with mobile bars, food, souvenirs, bands etc. to make the journey pass a lot quicker. There will be shuttle buses, from Curzon Street and the Fanzone at Eastside - after the game, you will be directed to the city centre as there's nothing around Villa.  We then had to come up with 3 off the beat tourist attractions. We came up with 5 or 6, without too many problems, including the Jewellery Quarter, great bars, Tolkien and Michelin starred restaurants.

The training itself was really dry. This included Hints about security - 100% bag search, and random body searches, Health and Safety, when we were asked about the main causes of injuries, the reply came 'slips, trips and falls' in unison. The Manual Handling 'competition' led to 5 out of 5 scores, I think we can safely say everyone knew how to pick up a box, unlike Electricity and Machinery, where we guessed the answers. We will also be responsible for watching out for Guerrilla or Ambush marketing, around the stadium.

The final scenario, was a power cut stopping trains coming into Birmingham on match day. This got the most reaction, as there were people with mental scars, (although electrification is not present on all of the lines), as horror stories about how long it took everyone to get home when the scenario was actually fact too often on our railways. Too regularly sadly. The woman who did not want to reveal herself, earlier, pushed to leave early and the trainer was upset. Again, if you volunteer for something, you see it through not moan about it. Finally we got to pick the kit up. 1 tee shirt, 1 rugby shirt, 1 fleece, 1 rain jacket, 1 pair of trousers plus belt, shoes, socks, back pack, lunch bag, and a bright yellow hat. (eBay will be advertising loads of the hats after the World Cup has ended: yellow baseball cap, hardly worn.'.....)

After arriving in sunshine, we left in rain. Next World Cup adventure is a tour of Villa Park in September to get our bearings. Can't wait.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

August 17 - Fast Car - Tracey Chapman

Last week I received an e-mail from 'The Pack' informing me that I would receive an e-mail from a third party, to check my driving licence details, so that I could use the World Cup vehicles to fetch and carry and respond to emergencies etc. I hope that emergency will be South Africa running out of Powerade. Needless to say, the e-mail did n't come and there was a close deadline for the 2 stage process. I contacted 'The Pack' who told me to contact the third party. Eventually the e-mail came, and I submitted my licence details. Stage 2 was an online training and testing module, that you have to pass.

Anyone in the West Midlands will know what happened last Friday. I saw it start to build up outside the office. Traffic was stationary at 1.30 in the afternoon. With the 3 sets of roadworks within 5 miles of the office that I have to navigate each night, my heart sank. Idiot alert on the M6 or Aston Expressway. A quick check on the net revealed a lorry had gone through the central reservation which had closed the M6 in both directions until 10 that night.

My cunning plan kicked in. I would leave the office and go southwards to pick up some more of the colourful owls around Birmingham. The gauntlet has been laid by the Big Hoot, 89 large owls, 120 small ones, and I had to get the lot as photos on my phone. There were some outlying owls that I could pick up if I followed the ring road out of Birmingham and away from the accident.

Driving around the ring road I timed my arrival at Birmingham Central Mosque at the end of prayers. This meant pedestrians crossing at the pelican crossing at the roundabout, people getting into cars that were parked on the roundabout (I kid you not!), and just the congestion of people trying to get home. 20 minutes later I got over the roundabout and the road was clear. Oh how I felt smug. I'd beaten the traffic, so drove to the Airport to photograph 3 outlying owlets - small owls designed by schools local to the airport. £4.50, 19 minutes, and 3 photographs later I jumped into my car to go home.

The M42 was stationary, so I thought "I know what I can do to beat the traffic, I'll go up the A446". Why did I think that no one else would have that idea? I didn't move for 20 minutes, and 90 minute later, I had travelled about 9 miles. Once I got over the roundabout where all the traffic was being directed away from the M6, and the redirected A446 traffic southwards, I contemplated why 4 hours after I had noticed the traffic building up, the road was still shut. Is there no way of putting a giant curtain around the scene, to stop rubber necking but keep the road open? When I arrived home 3 hours 45 minutes after I left, I didn't care if I ever got in a car again, let alone fetch Powerade for any of the International Rugby teams.

The next day, I jumped back in the car to finish off the owl hunt, only 2 large ones, and 4 locations of smaller owlets I looked forward to having the next weekend free of driving. Alas I failed miserably. I didn't want to do the hunt the 'App' way, with directions and guidance on numbers etc., I wanted to have an adventure and use my investigative skills, so was doing it a lot more slowly than I could have done. I arrived 15 minutes late to pick up the last 2 owlets, so next weekend, on the way to the next training module, I will finally finish at Sutton Park Donkey Sanctuary. (the driver who caused the chaos will be in there, along with the Law. ('the Law is an Ass' - Geddit?)

Today I have spent about 4 hours running through all the driver training modules, including the voluntary ones. I suppose it would have been easier had I read the Highway Code somewhere along the way since I passed my test at 17 years, 5 months and 3 days old. However, I've learnt that a speed limit is not a target, that driver error accounts for 95% of all accidents and it is perfectly legal for motorbikes to weave through traffic, but cars can't undertake. (Please explain the difference, other than the former is harder to police). I did the lot, because if there is the chance of me putting Powerade in the changing rooms, I want to take it!

PS was there ever a better driving song to listen to on a rare sunny day, on an even rarer open road than Tracey Chapman's Fast Car?