How I love bureaucrats

Kids need to go to school. Simple, isn’t it? Yes. So simple only a stupid bureaucrat can.

Here’s the story, so far:
– You fill in the mid-year admission forms. Easy.
– You send form + proof of address. Easy.
– Forms read, checked, school has place, kids go to school. Easy.
Well, actually no. Just the last step can take a few weeks.

No, it is not that the good people in Haringey council are sitting drinking tea, planning the new-year’s party. They are very busy processong next year’s admissions, while my kids miss out on school now.

The fact my kids moved from Wales and are without a school to go to, doesn’t register as an exception worth stopping for a split second and think. Three or four phone calls wouldn’t convince then.

The best response was “if you feel strongly about it, you can complain to the complaints department”. I don’t know if father of the year is a status that I will have soon, but I do feel strongly about it. As a matter of fact, I believe almost all parents would.

So I did write, and got a very quick, shocked, response at the ineptitude of school admissions, though not at so many words.

9 days the head of admissions has to respond. And if I learned anything about Haringey council – it will take them the whole 9.

So what do we do? Months ago, long before London came on our radars, airplane tickets to visit the family over end of December, were bought. We actually timed the move so that kids will a few weeks in school before flying.

Based on the expected timing, the answer from admissions would just as the kids take off. So? So we moved the flights and they fly off tonight!!!


Sheffield is closest

A bit long, this one. Sorry.

In the past few months I’ve been in a transition. Changing jobs, that is.

It was all going on quite fast. I got a call from an agent that he saw my profile on LinkedIN and he has a job for me. Usually I turn these down. But this time I’ve decided to talk. Talk led to a phone interview which lead to an Interview in London.

Circumstances dictated that the interview would be the next day. And then I realised – I don’t even own a suite I could wear in the interview. Looking in my wardrobe I quickly realised that the only jacket I own is ten years old, and at best looks tired. A dash to M&S resulted in a simple yet functional suite. And shoes. And tie. Now I am ready for a wedding. Preferably someone else’s.

End was two interviews in London. So the suite got used more than once. And I got to know the city a bit better. Yes, the interview was in the heart of the city.

One thing lead to another and I signed the contract. One minor thing left to fix – work permit. As I am a bloody foreigner I still need one.

Enter stage left – Mr David Cameron. New government changed the law. A cap was introduced on work permits, causing my future employer to stop and count – is it still within the allowed number of permits? This really put the spanner in the works.

Two months later the answer was clear – yes, they can request it for me.

As a lot of time has passed already, my work permit application was to go through the express-lane in the Border Agency. Instead of sending the application by mail and waiting for six to eight weeks – I’d go and submit it myself.

Oh, minor thing – I must take an English test. Well, it is the law. Only I took one two years ago. But apparently these tests have a short shelf life – two years and they expire. I guess if I lived in Essex it is quite likely my English would deteriorate.

So there I went again, to London, to take an English test. First time I took the lucrative IELTS test, in Cardiff. This time I went for the Pearson computerized test in London, as the results are immediate. Suite not required. Just me.

How did it go? It started like any alien examination of an earthling. Short of certain type of probing which it seems aliens are keen on. I needed to take everything out of my pockets, including kleenex tissue. A photo and scan of right palm were taken. My palm was scanned also when I entered the exam room, and when I left it. I was watched like any criminal through a window. No food or drink allowed. I did not have the right to remain silent.

Earphones on, keyboard at hand and the smallest dry-wipe note-board on my right: it has begun. Earphones were not good enough and I could easily hear all the other test-taker’s voices clearly. The keyboard was hard and stiff. But I type quickly anyway. What could possibly go wrong?

Two hours later, or one hour ahead of schedule I emerged from the interrogation exam room, having finished my test. I had plenty of time to walk across London to Paddington station, as my train was not due to leave for Cardiff for two hours.

Results came in.

I needed a 59. I got an 85 out of 90.  If you want to know what all the scores mean – press here. To sum it up – 85 means my English is good enough for me to teach in the English language. This goes well with what I got on the IELTS test – 8.5 out of 9.

There was a small issue…. spelling. I got a 19 out of 90. Now, I know I am not a great speller – but 19 seems quite wrong to me. Mostly because I got 80/90 for a 400 word written discourse. I also hardly use a spell checker.

I do make spelling mistakes, and get some typos. But 19? Pearson claim this is correct and I can pay them to automatically re-check my test. What’s the point?! Either they take a look and see if there’s an odd problem with the algorithm, or they tell me to bugger off. So I’ve decided to let go.

With the final obstacle removed we could finally apply for my new work-permit.

“Cardiff is full and the next closest one is Sheffield” I was told by the lawyer who is in charge of my application.

“Closest one is Sheffield”? Where’s the next one? Falklands?

So we all set for Sheffield. I’ll say that I haven’t seen a dirtiest, dullest and possibly the biggest waste of space than Sheffield. Not that it doesn’t have potential. It does. Only it is all dirty and stinking.

I am personally responsible for a KFC employee getting employee of the month. Yes, Sheffield is the place where I first ate at KFC. Four years in the UK and never made it into a KFC. But Sheffield presented the opportunity. This is all thanks to the kindness of the employees of Her Majesty’s border agency.

Now, normally if someone says the words “kindness” and “border agency” one would assume he is being sarcastic. Only, quite against nature, I am not. Everyone in the office of the BA was extremely nice and understanding. We’ve spent six hours there watching them deal with far too many people (student-visa high-season they said), while still maintaining a positive attitude.

I was there with four children, two who are babies. And they’ve done everything they could to help. Putting CBeebies on the telly being one, showing good spirit and will to help when it came to take a photograph of the (crying) babies is another.

Telling us to go out for two hours as the other option is wait right there was another. And this is what lead us to KFC, and to me being responsible for the potential rise to fame of a KFC employee.

I asked him to clean a table for us. The floor was black with dirt. And sticky. The table was dirty with what I hope was ketchup. Quietly, without even acknowledging my request the hero went to the kitchen, tore a piece of kitchen-roll, took some sort of spray and cleaned not only our table, but the one next to it.

Food was good, mind.

Once we’ve come back from our glorious trip to KFC we were happy to hear the application was approved.

London – here I come. Farewell Wales – you’ve been a great place to live in.

Everything’s relative

Yes, Einstein said it before me.

He was right.

Here in the UK I keep hearing

  • About a hectic lifestyle. How people are in a chase. Really?
  • This is a small island. Really?
  • That driving is bad. Really?
  • That schools are not as good as they used to. Really?

For all of the above I say – come to Israel. It’ll give you perspective. Will make you happier with what you’ve got.

And for all Israelis who complain about the health services in Israel – come to the UK. It’ll give you perspective. Will make you happier with what you’ve got.

Everything’s relative.

Fool me one time…

I must be a sucker. There is no other word for it, I guess. I believe people and believe in them. Though years of being a cycling fan made me a cynic, I still belive people. Even cyclists.

When everyone said that Jan Ullrich must be doping – I didn’t belive them. Even though many of his performances were out of this world. Though never convicted of doping, the Puerto Affair made it quite clear that Ullrich is not just fond of doughnuts and other pastry, but also of blood-doping.

When Landis got caught, I knew it made perfect sense. After all, his heroic recovery and solo attack were out of this world. But his constant defence and reluctance to accept the charge made me think he was innocent somehow. I mean, this defence ruined him financially. Yes, I believed him.

After he came clean about his cheating ways I find myself torn; on the one had I feel I have to believe him, while on the other I believe Lance Armstrong.

Now my favourite rider – Fabian Cancellara, aka Spartacus,  is involved in insinuations about a new kind of doping. Mechanical doping.

Of all things that form the alleged accusation, then one which stands out in my eyes is at 1:56. Spartacus and former world-champ Tom Boonen are at the top of a gruelling climb. Spartacus is distancing Boonen while sitting on his bike, whilst Boonen is in visible pain trying to kick the bike over the hill and keep up. It looks, much like Landis’ miracle attack – out of this world. Again.

Cancellara winning the tour of Flanders

On the podium after beating Boonen

Did Cancellara change bikes during the race? Yes he did. Is it normal? Yes it is. Do I believe him when he says this is all rubbish? Yes I do. Would I be ashamed for being fooled for the n-th time within a year or two? I hope not.


Do you smell a rat?

So Floyd Landis spat in the soup. After years of denying any wrongdoing and fighting to prove his innocence, throwing all the money he had, and a million of his fans’ money into the fight, he’s decided to come clean and take as many of his rivals as he can down with him. And though being a Mennonite, Landis showed no respect for the bible and lied time after time in his trial, protesting his innocence.

Everybody now is looking to see if there is any truth in the allegations against Lance Armstrong, even the federal authorities in the US

Now, of course Floyd Landis has zero credibility. And of course it is possible he not lying this time. And of course Armstrong is denying.

So, jail for the Texan?

The great absurd is that whether Lance Armstrong actually doped or not… it is better for cycling that he is found innocent rather than guilty.

Should Lance be found guilty – the whole of cycling would suffer. Armstrong brings a lot of glamour and money into the sport. If he is found guilty it would deter big American sponsors. In the past few years the American contingent to cycling has grown from a lone Motorolla->Us-Postal->Discovery team to four: RadioShack (Armstrong’s current team), Columbia-HTC, Garmin Transitions and BMC.

Almost all Americans are now familiar with cycling. Much of this is thanks to the Texan. When he went to compete in the Tour Down Under in 2009, the media frenzy was unprecedented. He is not the messiah, but he may be a very naughty boy.

Armstrong’s guilt would not impact the fight against doping in cycling. Cycling already does ten-fold more than any other sport. Including almost infringing on rider’s basic human-rights. No other sports-person has to declare three months in advance where he is. Cycling has introduced the biological-passport which again goes way beyond what any other sport was even willing to consider.

Should Armstrong be found innocent, though guilty, it would be a shame that who potentially would be the greatest doper of all times walks free. Should he be found guilty it could be a huge blow to a sport that is just now starting to regain credibility. Not least amongst its fans.

A side effect of a guilty Armstrong would be a hit on the fight against cancer. Where Armstrong could be considered by many no less than a saint through his LA Foundation/LiveStrong charity.

So, is he guilty?

Personally? I believe he is innocent. But I have also to acknowledge that he could be guilty. I hope is found innocent, firstly because he is innocent, but also because I love cycling.

On a side note

MJ on Armstrong’s cap stands for Mellow Johnny which is Armstrong’s brand. It comes from mispronunciation of maillot jaune – yellow jersey. His coffee shop – Juan Pellota is… uniballer.

I never win anything. Never

I never win anything. If I were to participate in a raffle and I was to be the only one – I’d still lose. Some technicality would crop up and the whole thing would be cancelled.

I guess I belong to the breed of people who are bound to work for everything. I also probably somehow contribute to it. I don’t buy a lottery ticket, and I don’t gamble. Friendly office bet aside.

What’s worse is that I can’t even lose properly. At the office we have a Premier-League fantasy game going on. I managed to hold on to last place quite firmly. So firmly I already took hold of the wooden-spoon and placed it on my desk. Oh the vanity came back to bite as my team went from last to second to last last week. With just a few games left my team seems determined to win more games.

So from the glory of one end of the table to the obscurity of, well, somewhere not at either end.

The only problem in this well deserved rant is that I could be called a liar. Yup. I did win. Twice. $50 and $20. Once minutes before getting married and once just after finding out the missus is pregnant with our first son.

The one with the wedding is quite interesting, I’d like to think. See, we got married in Vegas. No we were not drunk, and no Elvis didn’t perform the ceremony. But it was in a drive-through. But no, we didn’t order fries with it.

It was an idea the missus had after watching an episode of Coach where coach and his girl get married in a drive-through.

So minutes before the limo picked us up (after all we can’t walk through the drive-through) I went passed a slot machine. One of those big ones that are too posh for a quarter and take only $5 notes. Having inserted the money and a second before pooling the lever I thought comically to myself – “If I win – I marry, if I don’t – I don’t”. $50 I won. And I did marry. Though I am pretty sure had I lost again I would still married.

But except these two extraordinary occasions I keep losing. Maybe it has something with the fact that  I really don’t care so much about winning as I just love the suspense.

I guess I am not the lucky type. No, scratch that – I am very lucky. Just not when it comes to betting and betting (friendly bets). After all I did find a lady who is bonkers enough to marry me, or worse have children with me.

Don’t want your iPhone

cameman using PC

It’s funny but everyone is getting an iPhone. You can’t walk around our office without a couple of guys fiddling with their iPhone. Being a geek by trade I’d be expected to love the iPhone. Much as my geeky friends and co-workers do. But I don’t. I know about all gazillions and gazillions of apps available. I know about its sleek interface and its ability to act as an iPod. And I’ve heard you can actually call people with it, though I’ve yet to witness this particular function.

I have a similar experience when it comes to bicycle. I’ve been riding for quite a few years, and I know all the benefits of carbon-fibre. I know it can give you all the benefits of aluminium – strength and rigidity, and the benefits of steel – absorption. Thus giving you the full package. Allegedly.

Yet being a techy guy who’s supposed to love all these things and be pulled by them – I’m not. Yes, I do love F1 racing for all the tech and science. And I do love how a HD TV displays a hummingbird in slow-motion. But somehow the two above don’t charm me.

When the guys compare iPhone apps, all I want to do is check their vibration-meter app by banging their foreheads on the desk. I bet I can get it to 10 on the Richter scale. A bicycle is a thing I use to ride. I love my bike. But I know that the thing that prevents me from flying up that mountain is my legs, not the bike. The thing that makes my fly down the mountain is my stupidity bravery.

I think that this is because they appear to me as over-the-top solutions to a problem I don’t think anyone has. A F1 car is a problem I don’t have. But the guys in the cars do. And every millisecond counts there. So it still makes sense.

I still don’t have a HD TV. Maybe the last person in the civilized world who still has a CRT TV. Maybe because BBC news still looks good enough. Not that I’d mind watching Fiona Bruce on a 72″ screen I am not sure that Ultra HiDef will not reveal the tiniest blemish which would ruin it all for me. I do get the solution it provides to a real problem. Though I don’t need it (HD TV), other people do watch hi-def movies or play PS3 games. David Attenborough film aside, I don’t.

Maybe I am a dinosaur. Maybe I am a functional person in a world of appearances. I don’t care how un-trendy I appear. I fixed my old HTC mobile phone when the screen got broken. I use my phone for talking and sending text messages. And I have to admit that I still prefer talking to texting.

Maybe I am a dinosaur or maybe just an old fart.