Fool on a hill

Somehow I always end up having perfect protection from flooding. I always end up living on a hill.

It is not like I plan this. It just happens.

Before coming to the UK I lived at a top of a hill for all my life. This made coming back from a long bike ride kill any option of cool down. At times I was taking extra rounds around the block to allow myself to cool off.

Now in Wales I again ended up on a hill. Coming back from work I have several options – short 14% climb, slightly longer easy climb with a little sting in the tail. There’s even a direction where the climb is so gentle that it is almost flat, 3 mile long, but flat.

So going to London I knew one thing for sure. London is flat. To some extent that saddened me.  But then the property search began.

I used the best technology has to offer – rightmove.com and findaproperty.com to hunt. I lined up three properties – two in west London (Ealing and Acton) and one in north London – Muswell Hill. Looking at pictures and schools around the properties I had a clear favourite – the house on the hill.

How steep could a London hill be? After all – London’s flat. Right?!

Well, it is. Except Muswell hill is aptly named. It is a proper hill. Not a three yard dash.

If all goes well – within the next few days the contract would be signed and I’ll be pushing forward with moving everything to London.

Schools would be a chore to arrange. They are already. More on that – soon.

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.

A sporting week

Finally, a leader?

Liverpool won 4-1 in the first game of the group stage in the Europa league. No, they didn’t put 4 past one of the great European sides. It was a Romanian team. But Liverpool had mostly their #2 team on the pitch against Steaua Bucharest.

I’ve complained that Rafa Benitez may be a good manager but he is not a leader. On Thursday we’ve seen a very motivate team. A team of players who are neither afraid to play and attack, and want to prove their worth.

After all, this is the b-team. Those who aspire to join the a-team. Yes, Joe Cole is not a b-team player… and neither are Agger and Reina, but even Joe Cole was motivated to a point I was afraid his skin is going to split from the effort he’s put in. N’Gog is top scorer, Lucas looks (relatively) good, some young and virtually unknown players played 90 minutes, and impressed! Where were they all this time?! Apparently at home ’cause Rafa didn’t call them to duty.

Technology is missing from football. Don’t get me wrong, I am happy Liverpool were awarded a penalty, but they didn’t deserve it.

I don’t know if Roy Hodgson is the man for the job, but I know he will do a better job than Rafa. Simply because he’ll have the team play for him, when he needs them to. Had Rafa still been in charge I am certain the a-team would’ve won 1-0, and the crowd would’ve had a good night’s sleep meanwhile.

Instead we had a good, positive, game. More please, Roy!

Vuelta, now? Really?

The Vuelta never took my breath away. It never managed to get me to watch, to follow, to care.

Maybe it is the care-free attitude which the Spanish have shown towards doping. Maybe it is the long stages on a motorway from somewhere to nowhere, not spectator in sight.

Maybe I am just drained after the Tour and the Giro?!

I don’t know. My friends assure me it is a great race, but I can’t even name the leader off the top of my head!

Look at all the recent winners

  • Contador: Exciting and fresh. But he’ll visit the Vuelta again sometime in the future.
  • Menchov: So exciting I could fall asleep just thinking about it. Not forgetting the one time he won because he was second to Herras (who was doped to the ears and got disqualified)
  • Valverde: Won the Vuelta while everyone knew that he was banned from riding in Italy due to his involvement in the Puerto affair, and that the ban will be upheld by the UCI and would eventually apply to the whole world. Not that it mattered to the Vuelta organizers…

Spanish races are on the decline for a long while now. Quite a few, allegedly key, races couldn’t find the funding and have disappeared from the calendar. I am a cyclist, and a cycling fan, but I’d be the first to say that a race has to be exciting to non-cyclist and only then it has a right to live. Put the tour of California instead of the Vuelta, please. Give me a 3 week cross USA tour. Or take the Vuelta through the roads and towns my friends tell me that Spain has, but never appear on the screen during the Vuelta.

The apples fell quite close

Last Sunday we went on a 2Km run.

When I say we, I mean my two eldest boys and myself, aka #1 and #2. It was part of the Cardiff 10k run, and my eldest son has been talking about doing it, ever since I’ve done the Cardiff 10k and he saw kids participate in the 2km run.

And when I say 2km I really mean 1.4k. Unfortunately they’ve shortened the course to 1.4km due to some constraints.

It has not made much difference, though. The atmosphere was great, as always in such events. And this being a family event, made it even better. My eldest was actually training for this. Running around the square in front of our house in the past weeks.

But somehow, I am still not sure why, #2 said he’d run with us just the night before.

So, there I was on the starting line, with 9 and 7 year old boys. Going for a run.

10 minutes later it was over. ‘Pipsqueek’ to quote #1.

And this what makes me wonder…. “pipsqueek”? Is this a sign that he has better genes than I? Is this a sign I have been living far too long in the UK, as “pipsqueek” actually made sense to me?

This run also gave me another opportunity to evaluate how my kids run, style wise of course. And I am glad to report that #2’s running style has remained as erratic as before. One might argue that it is even more.

As we set off his arms and legs were going in all directions. At one point I was afraid he’s going to knock another child out. As he got a bit more tired he became a bit more streamlined, but just a bit. And during the sprint to the line, a matter of about 200m, he managed to kick himself in the backside quite a few times.

I remember myself and my brother running at the age of 7. It was always very efficient. Slow, but efficient. And #1 is just like that. But #2… he is out of this world. He changes direction for no good reason. Just suddenly goes sideways. I reckon he added at least two or maybe even three miles to the distance of the run.

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.

I was a homing pigeon in my previous life

So I’ve volunteered to join my colleagues for a charity run. It wasn’t the first time. 10 legs, with a total of 56 miles from Bristol in the direction of Basingstoke. Taking in the best of what Wiltshire has to offer. This is a charity run our client organizes, and had teams from their company, and a single team from ours.

Due to the day of run falling on the Jewish new-year’s eve, I’ve said that I’d run and head straight home. There’s cooking to finish, and kids to wash.

Three of us, the “fit” ones put our bodies on the line to do a double leg. Making it 10miles rather than 5. After all, all three of us – Albino Rob, 8 minute Bruce and myself are seasoned half marathon runners. Bruce being a full marathon-man.

Rob replenishing

Cardiff half marathon is drawing closer, so obviously we are all fit as a fiddle?!

Usually I run a good 15-20 miles a week. Only the summer heat drained me and I’ve resorted to a ‘what could possibly go wrong’ attitude. To make things better, I contracted a serious case of man-flu just the night before the race.

What could possibly go wrong?

I woke up, on time at 5:30 am. Oh, the great humanity! The second clue came when everyone started asking how I feel given the fact that both my legs are the hardest ones. Seriously more. Denial worked for me. I was surprised, as I clearly remember that we’ve agreed to stitch Rob (again) with the massive hills. I guess it backfired.

Rob went first, at 8:00 before dawn. Tackling the Bristol rush hour and hitting the Wiltshire country side at good pace. I was second to go.

Ready to start

Ready to start

My running started quite deceptively – on a flat section. I think it was at least 50 feet long. then things started to go wrong. The next three miles were a moderate up hill. Three miles where I spent most of the time trying not to run cars over. At the top of the hill I was feeling thirsty, tired and hot. Shall I say what BBC weather promised? I’ll just say they were wrong.

Surprisingly, the support team handing out drinks in silly plastic cups that spill on the road rather than into your mouth, said that I look fresh. Well, I bet I know what he had for breakfast.

The next 7 miles served me with two massive steep hills, with the easier one being only 16%. Walking up was faster.

As I tackled the last hill, I sprinted up it. Or as others might call it – I walked.

Here a twist is added to the plot. The whole route was sign-posted. With a person removing the signs after the last runner.

After the hill I realised I have not seen a single sign in over a mile. I pushed, slowly, on. Another half mile gone without a sign. Here I called the guys and said I thought I was lost. What a mistake! I am still getting stick at work for thinking I am lost on a straight. Apparently the sign-guy removed all the ‘straight-on’ signs as he saw me ‘sprint’ up the hill.

At the end, I finished at a very slow time of 1:56. Yes, a 10 miler slower than almost all my half marathons.

So, time to go home? Na. My friends had me shuttle them for the next 2 hours between start/end of legs.

So, time to go home? Kind-of. I’ve left the guys who we waiting deep in Wiltshire.

An hour later, as I was nearing Bristol and the M5, getting the smell of the Severn estuary I got a call. One of the guys put his bag and car keys in my car. I had to go back. Without a GPS or a clear memory of the name of the place.

Luckily I was a homing pigeon in my previous life.

So, time to go home? Yes!!! Four thirty I was home. Just the time we were supposed to leave the house.

So how is the new year so far? Stiff, mostly around my legs.

Arriving at the finish

Arriving, looking deceptively fresh

No-one’s fault

We have a ‘no blame’ culture here

Oh really?! So it is no one’s fault that everything went tits-up?!

This is part of an interesting trend, of either blaming no one, or decapitating them.

It’s no-ones fault

In the 2010 six nations Rugby tournament Wales performed badly. The grand-slam winners of 2008 were fighting not to finish last. One of the games which saved them from the wooden spoon was the game against Scotland. Wales didn’t win the game so much as Scotland lost it, stupidly.

I don’t want to talk much about the game, but rather about Ryan Jones’, Wales’ captain, interview a few days later. “Do you treat this game as a win or as a loss?” he was asked. His answer was brilliant – “…it doesn’t matter… we treat all games the same way… we talk about what was good, and what was bad. And we name names because that is what you expect at this level“.

Yes, they point a finger.

They don’t point a finger because it personal, but because it is professional. Because it what you expect at this level of professionalism. You expect a player to be able to handle “you did that wrong”.

Otherwise, how would you expect people to learn? “oh we lost, but we all were great. Better luck next time”?! or maybe “someone forgot to follow the process”… who’s that someone? A garden gnome?

A rugby team, just like any other organisation is a learning organisation. Experience is important part of learning. Professionals are allowed to make mistakes. But not to repeat them – otherwise they are not so professional.

A clever man learns from his mistakes. A smart man learns from other people’s mistakes. Not everyone is as smart. And someone has to make a mistake in-order for others to learn from.

You’re fired

So now to the other trend, the opposite one – blaming and decapitating. A lot of organisations fire people for their mistakes. This includes army generals and politicians.

But if you fire them… how would they learn?! That army general won’t repeat that mistake. A new general might. That project manager would’ve absorbed the knowledge and build on it. A new one would need to ‘acquire’ new knowledge, in order to learn. Only to be fired.

I think Machiavelli said that an army general who made a mistake needs to be promoted – because he gained important experience.

Well, maybe he went a bit far, but the idea is right. As long as people are in-charge, as long as people are involved – errors would happen. You should do everything you can to avoid that. But the most important thing is to learn. To avoid hiding behind political correctness. To allow people to learn.

So next time you have a retrospective, or a lessons-learned session – put it all on the table. Don’t take it personally.