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Thursday, 16 September 2010

On the road

I have only the vaguest idea where I am. This is not, I should rush to assure the reader, a repeat of the occasion, roughly fifteen years ago, when I briefly became a mentalist and was unsuccessful in finding RHB in our one bedroom apartment for over two hours - a situation that led to the prescribed ingestion of copious amounts of valium, and is a story perhaps for another time, involving as it does a picnic, pork chops, emigration and a warehouse in deepest Wales - rather this current lack of orientation is entirely technological in origin, and sanely work related.

The reason I have no idea where I am is that just five day after our bike ride, I am working once more for my previous employers, work that involves installing a travelling exhibition for a large company at various venues across the UK. Such employment has always been slightly discombobulating as the daily sequence is similar to a rock and roll tour: highway-venue-hotel-drink-venue-highway but in my previous UK incarnation, an enjoyable part of every day, (and practically the only intellectual exercise achieved) was route planning via the use of out-of-date physical maps. A century later, and the efficiencies of satellite aided navigation mean that all I know, and heartily resent, is that I am in a very pretty little village that is, as I later tell RHB, "not far from Birmingham". East, West, South, North, town names, visible landmarks,signposts, road identifiers such as 'A46', friendly passers by giving directions - all are forgotten and forbidden navigational tools in the era of sat-nav. All a driver knows is a postcode then "turn left", "turn right" and "take the exit". So I have, and now I 'have reached my destination'.

I turn off the unlit country road into the driveway of the destination - a hotel my employers have pre-booked for me, and stop my vehicle, sighing. I open up my faux leather LFC crested notebook and turn to a list I have made over the previous three days. The list is titled "Debrief items for discussion with Project Manager". A quick scan to ensure this entry is not a repeat of a previous one, and I write:

'Item 26: To admin: Do NOT, under any circumstances, book hotels for conference installers where the descrption of the hotel includes the words "quaint", "barn", "rural", "ivy", "duck pond", "Ye", "hideaway", "historic","tranquil". '

I replace the notebook in my bag, start the engine and go to disengage the brake. A thought strikes me, so I cancel that action, retrieve the notebook and add to my entry:

"NOTE; This does not imply that I dont appreciate your sentiments in booking me into these hotels. Its just that when you mentioned you'd put additional effort into booking me 'nice hotels' for this trip, I was thinking jacussi, penthouse, sauna."

This addition is necessary, I think, because it is possible that the debrief I intend to conduct may, even if only by virtue of its length, cause some minor offence within the company. I dont want to sour things unnecessarily, but I can already see how other entries might be seen as criticism. For example, Item One concludes:

"... so never send this idiot out on the road with me again"

While Item Five helpfully advises:

" .......when constructing display boxes incorporating tv screens that are supposed to have hinged rear panels for access to the integrated DVD players, ensure your workshop doesnt glue, screw and pin said access panel permanently closed with screw holes filled, sanded and painted. I feel that the words "Access panel do not fix" that were written in bold across the aforementioned panel provided a sufficient clue to your production manager that these additional fixings were unnecessary. The placement of a DVD player on a shelf behind the access panel, might I feel, have provided additional information if only because his own empirical attempts to activate said DVD player via a remote control through 18mm of solid MDF should have proved unsuccessful. What I find mystifying is not only that your workshop has done this to all five boxes incorporating access panels, tv's and DVD players, but that your production manager claims to have tested these DVD players by watching 45 minutes of home produced pornography - 'Bertha's Birthday', I beleive - after they were assembled. Such an achievement, if true, implies a mastery over natural laws suggestive that he may be better occupied in research at one of the better universities.."

Noting mentally that I may have to edit my list somewhat, I release the brake and attempt to manoeuvre my 7.5 tonne lorry down the narrow unlit driveway. There is a right angle turn 50 metres down the driveway so as I concentrate on not demolishing a 500 year old ivy covered barn with the tail end of my truck as it swings round, I simultaneously must avoid plunging through the historic pond directly ahead and must also line the vehicle up to cross the quaint bridge past that. This involves a lot of low gear work so the tranquility of the rural night is shattered by the roar of a diesel engine at high revs. Barn owls flee in panic at the noise and a the pounding of hooves is evidence of a cattle stampede in a field nearby. After half and hour of this, the driveway is negotiated and the truck is parked, matter out of place, in front of "Ye Olde Station: The Perfect Hideaway".

I climb out of the cab and walk to the front door. It is nine pm and I am ravenously hungry. The prospect of a home cooked farmhouse meal is tantalising. Unfortunately, a lightning bolt awaits. With trembling hands I unstick the piece of paper taped to the oaken front door:

"Hello Mr Nickson. Your office said to expect you at eight. Waited half an hour, but as you are the only guest tonight, have gone home. Tried to reach you but no phone signal. Will return at ten thirty to see if you have arrived. If you are hungry there is a very good restaurant near Coleshill. Just follow the A56 south west. Its about ten miles, so only a fifteen minute drive. My home phone is 98763632."

I return to the cab, open my notebook and amend my notes. I cross out the numeral "26" from my most recent entry and write, and underline, in words, "ITEM NUMBER ONE".

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