Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Gym Bunny

We both took Lara to her second gymnastics class yesterday, so I could see how it all worked, as I'll have to take her whilst Olga is away in Kazakhstan next month.  She was just a little bit shy going out into the sports hall with the other kids, but soon relaxed. It helps that there is another girl from her room in nursery who goes, Jessica, so the two of them stuck together for the warm up. Yep, they have a proper warm up, running and jumping and stretching, then they split into small groups and move around different pieces of apparatus, such as the beam, parallel bars, and rings. Here's a video to give you an idea, hopefully I'll take a few more over the next few weeks. I did take a good one of her on the rings, doing a sort of backward-roll thing (I know all the technical terms), but I lost the recording, doh!

Sunday, 20 February 2011

The End of an Era

So, Friday was my last day working with Tigress software. In different guises, and under different companies, I've done this since September 1997. In that time I've worked with IBM for 10 months, then PGS until 2003, then the company went independent until 2006, and since then with Geotrace. From tomorrow I'll be joining Olga at Flare Solutions Limited, run by some of the guys who recruited me for IBM when I was finishing my Masters at Keele University.
It hasn't quite sunk in yet that I'll not be seeing the same faces, other than at the odd reunion in a pub or whilst working in some random oil town. The receptionist at Tigress has known me since my first day on the job, when IBM shared the same office building in Maidenhead as PGS, who went on to buy the bit of the Tigress software IBM had owned, and that I was working on. I've worked with 8 of the 9 people left working for Tigress in Marlow for over 12 years, and in this day and age, in a technology company, that's quite a family atmosphere to leave behind.
In those times I've seen places that most people with my middle class Lancashire upbringing would never see, starting with Maracaibo in Venezuela (my first foreign trip), when the oxygen masks came down on the flight from Miami to Maracaibo. With hindsight, it probably wasn't great preparation to spend the day before a long trip to a strange country, representing your company for the first time, watching England play South Africa in a Test Match at Headingly. More than a couple of red wines were put away during the day, and I remember the struggle to get into the taxi at 6am to go to Leeds Bradford airport (I bet Anton and Becca do too?!).
Atfer that the trips to, erm, shall we say "interesting" places followed thick and fast... Lagos & Port Harcourt (Nigeria) a few times, Port Gentil (Gabon), Pointe Noire (Congo), Tehran, Aberdeen, Almaty (Kazakhstan), Tripoli, then some more desirable postings like Cairo, Dubai, Houston, Oslo, The Hague, Copenhagen, and my favourite place I ever visited for work - Zagreb. Let's not forget Tyumen, and the trip to a hot spring where the water temperature was +43 deg C and the air temperature was -17. That was before I'd met Olga, and subsequent trips to Tyumen were even more fun as I met Olga's family and later we took Lara.
In all that time I almost exclusively travelled in economy class, and this became a feature of travelling with Tigress; the Gabon trip was all business, and I was upgraded on BA on the way back from Maracaibo, and once I had to go to Jakarta at short notice and the only seats left available were in business class. This was one of my favourite trips, but also had one of the worst moments.. I went all the way there and back in business, including my only time upstairs on a 747, with BA from Hong Kong. However, I'd been advised by the well-travelled boss of Tigress that I should enter Indonesia on a visitor's visa, as time was short, and when I tried to leave to get my flight to Hong Kong, wearing my shirt and tie and carrying a laptop, the passport official saw his chance for a quick buck. It cost me $100 and almost a new pair of boxers after an "interview" in a sweaty office before I was allowed to embark. Two days in Hong Kong and my upper deck return flight more than made up for it. Hong Kong is my favourite city of any I've visited so far, for work or pleasure. It's a cliche, but watch the laser light show from Felix Bar in the Peninsula Hotel if you're ever there (don't stay in the Peninsula Hotel, if the price of the drinks in Felix are anything to go by).

(Felix Bar, not my photo, but you get the idea)

Rather spookily, the BBC has just put a video on their news website about the light show today.. I did spend more time in Hong Kong either side of a two week trip to Guangzhou and Beijing, where I took speed tourism to new extremes by visiting the Forbidden City, the Ming Tombs and the Great Wall at Badaling in one day.

Even with economy travel, I did save up enough airmiles to visit my friend Katan in Rio de Janeiro in 2002, a return trip on BA costing my £57 in tax plus my 50,000 miles, and I stayed in his flat in Ipanema.
It tells it's own story that it was only in August 2010 that I earned my first airline Silver card, with Emirates, as I made my third trip to Dhaka (Bangladesh), and the chances are I'll not get to benefit from it before it exipres in 6 months time.
Of course, I couldn't mention Tigress without mentioning Olga. The boss had met Olga in Russia and on a trip to Kazakhstan, and on his return to Marlow he told us about this fiery blond the Tyumen office had hired, who attacked a Kazakh taxi driver with a high-heeled shoe soon after arriving at Almaty airport. Months later Olga would insist that at no point did her shoe come off, although she will admit to giving the said taxi driver some earache, but the myth had been born. This was Olga, and don't mess with her.  I was very interested in meeting her, and could have sworn that malicious people were at work when I had to carry out the follow-up installation visit to Almaty during the very same week when Olga would be visiting the Marlow office - I was actually seriously peeved about it, and I'd not even met her yet!  Someone upstairs must have felt sorry for me, and Olga's visit was extended, so I did get to meet her, and I wasted no time in inviting her to watch the Russia v Portugal Euro 2004 football match at a pub in Marlow (16th June, Olga! I looked that up, I didn't remember it. Well done Chris Rose for being my wingman). I proposed at sunset on 25th May 2005 (Liverpool beat AC Milan on penalties after being 0-3 down at half time - I've still not seen that game!) on the lip of the Grand Canyon during a 3-week tour of the USA, and we married in July 2006. Lara came along on December 10th 2007, and we took her to the Tigress Christmas Party 4 days later.
Back to this week, there was a leaving card and some drinks on Friday afternoon, but I couldn't clear my office in time, and had to go back in yesterday morning. A fitting way to say a quiet goodbye to a job that I've really enjoyed, and has given me a lot, but now is the right time to try something new and exciting.
It's a small world in the Oil & Gas business, and the chances are good that I'll bump into old faces in airport bars (not lounges) in unpleasant places.
Olga and I will move on from having different offices in the same building, to sharing the same office at home. I'm really looking forward to learning something new, to being out of my comfort zone, and helping Flare be successful. The fact I'll get to work with Olga every day is a bonus that money can't buy. Having said that, she is bugg*ring off to Kazakhstan in March for two weeks. Some things never change. 
The flight class does - she's going Business....

Sorry this has gone a bit, but I wanted to write this for myself, it'll be something to look back on in my retirement!

Jackson takes Lara for a walk

I took the kids out for a walk today so Olga could get some work done, and Lara wanted to try taking Jackson for a walk. We've let her practise a little bit with this in the house, and I thought that, with a bit of clever work with the leads, she'd be OK to try out in the real world today. She had two goes, this was the first, and more successful, attempt. Jacksy did pull her over on the second go, but thanks to the backup lead, he didn't escape and Lara was fine, although she was happy to give him back to me after that...