Thursday 21 December 2006
Somebody once said that programming is like sex ... one mistake and you have to support it for the rest of your life.
But what do you do if the programmer has left and you're being asked to look into the run-time errors that
prevent users from entering stuff in the database? It's bad enough trying to get my head around something like that
on a good day, but when I arrive staff are having a Christmas booze-up and are on the drunk side of being sober.
So here I am, attempting to resolve error 2424 while Elvis is blaring that he is dreaming of a white Christmas.
Looks like Elvis is winning.
Tuesday 19 December
Had to make my way to a client by bus. The last time I sat on one of these modes of transport was probably ten years
ago. Which is why I could be excused for not knowing how much to pay. Having handed over all my cash to the cab driver
last night, I count my spare 5p pieces and come to the grand total of one pound and five pence. So when I get
to the bus stop I ask a fellow commuter what to expect. "£1.50" he replies. Consequently I trod off
to the nearest cash machine, operated by Cheatem & Rip Off, charging me £1.75 for the transaction.
But when I happily wave my tenner at the bus driver I'm being told to sit down as he didn't have any change.
Friday 15 December
This week I've been living with multiple personalities. Heaven forbid I suffer from multiple personality disorder.
(After all to have a split personality you need to have at least one to start off with.) It's just that
I've been logging in on my PC as the fictitious John Isaac, Angela Russell, Francine le Boef and Jemima Lewis-Cooper.
All in search of a good e-learning storyboard. Confused?
Well, even my computer was and decided to throw in the towel this afternoon, refusing to boot up.
Guess computers have lots of memory, but no imagination.
Saturday 9 December
Just got back from a client's Christmas party. "Black tie with a touch of summer." the invitation
read. (Hands up who would have known what the heck that meant.) Like it or not, we all understand perfectly well that part of it
forces you to wear a penguin suit or posh frock. But they clearly wanted a bit more, didn't they?
So hubby dusted off his tux and wore his silly straw hat, normally reserved for punt trips down the Cam.
And I - trying to make sure I was appropriately dressed for the occasion - donned my party dress
and accessorized it with a snorkel. I won't go into details about what the others were wearing, but suffice to say that public
humiliation has never been so in my face.
Monday 4 December
Just got back from making thank-you-for-your-business deliveries in the Cambridge area.
A Dutch tradition during the feast of Sinterklaas and a great opportunity to catch up with my clients.
Or so I thought.
Instead, I got stuck on the notorious A14.
Almost hit a cyclist who fell off his bike when his chain broke.
Drove all the way up to a client, only to find they had moved premises.
Was unable to find offices that carried names rather than numbers. Was blocked in by a car with only 2 minutes left on
my parking meter. Missed three phone calls that might have been important.
And obviously had to somehow make up for lost time when I got back in the office.
So much for thinking I'd have a chance to chat to my course participants.
Oh, and when I did manage to get there, I didn't
get past the receptionist. Should have left all of the packages
with these nice ladies at the Royal Mail District Office who helped lick the four non-adhesive stamps for each of the
30-odd other parcels.
So I made one extra trip to bring them their own goodie-bags. Happy Sinterklaas for tomorrow, girls!
Wednesday 29 November
Spent the past three days in the classroom, rather than in front of it.
There I was with my
aging eyesight, struggling to swap between looking at my laptop monitor, following the projection on the big screen and
reading my handout. OK, I know this is what you get when you're chronologically gifted (that and hot flushes
and night sweats) but the thought of walking around with three pair of glasses does my head in.
Mind you, it gave me a great
weekly tip idea
as my fellow course participant told me how to use the mouse wheel to quickly change the text size.
Friday 24 November
It seems to be one of those mornings that the business equivalent of double glazing salesmen keep pestering me.
But as some of my clients somehow hold back their telephone number, I cannot simply ignore calls that
show "withheld" in the display, so I pick up the phone.
"Can I speak to your credit department, please?"
a voice on the other end of the line says. Sounding too much like
"Can I speak to the person in charge of toner cartridges" I inform her
she must have dialled the wrong number and - hardened by years of dealing with pushy sales techniques - I hang up.
But before I know it the phone rings again. "Withheld" it reads on the display. Must be the same
lady adamant to flog some kind of credit management software.
So I wait for the answering machine to kick in. Much to my surprise I notice she has left a message.
Turns out she was ringing on behalf of a client I've been chasing because they hadn't paid my invoice on time. Oops!
Friday 17 November
Went to check out a venue for one of my next seminars.
This beautiful 17th century, carefully restored, building was once the home of King Charles II
when pursuing his love of horse racing. (This "Where was I" competition is
open only to registered Roem Online members.)
Besides the attractive yet practical rooms in which to run training sessions,
they also cater for - prepare yourselves - baby yoga. So here I am, trying to decide between the
King's Bedroom and the Rothchild's Dining Room when I'm greeted by the sound of screaming kids.
Being allergic to children - especially in large quantities - I gotta make sure not to book the seminar on a
Monday 13 November
One of my neighbours is a writer who - over the years - has asked me for help with his Word manuscripts. Having been quoted
an exorbitant price for typesetting of his latest book he spotted me working from home, so picked a bit more of my brain.
Today he paid me ... with a nice bubbly!
"I know you like a bottle or two" he said, pointing to the spot where every other Wednesday our
recycling box is waiting on the kerbside to be collected. How embarrassing!
Friday 10 November
Did a cool, yet potentially ego-bruising, exercise at a marketing seminar I attended this morning ...
we had to hand in our business card, which was then stapled on a blank piece of paper and
spread across a table. During the coffee break we were asked to write down comments about
each other's cards on the attached sheet. Judging on the lack of a queue at the ladies and the excitement
at the table, it looked like those present were on a personal crusade to rid the world of boring business cards and
it suddenly dawned on me I might need to brace myself. Am I bovvered, though?
Well, here's a clue ... I really like the design of my cards and I still have about trizzilion
of them left. So I thank my lucky stars there were plenty of people who had tried to save time or money, displaying ad lines on the back identifying
them as free cards, which made mine stand out as pretty decent-looking, if I may say so myself. (Got some great write-up to back it up! Thanks, guys!)
Friday 3 November
Got the attendance list for next week's pilot course. The first of - hopefully - many as we're about
to start a global rollout. I skim the list of names and job titles. Programme Director. Data coordinator.
IT Manager. Oh, and the Project Leader will fly in from Capetown. So no pressure, then. (Gulp!)
Tuesday 31 October
Been working on a really exciting new Time Management seminar I'll be co-facilitating in February.
My contribution will be to help people discover how to use Microsoft Office as it was meant to be used ...
as a problem-solver, a time-saver, a streamlined means to an impressive end. So last week, determined to spend less time in the office myself, I changed the
settings of my daily backup - during which I tend to avoid working because of the slow speed of my computer - from 22:00 to 19:00 hours.
(My own personal halo. And some wings.)
But, sod's law, I'm running a little short of time. So I cancel tonight's meeting. And change the backup settings back to late at night.
Do as I say, not as I do.
Monday 23 October
Back to do some more one-to-one training in a stunning Arts and Crafts house.
In case you didn't know (like myself!) this movement's architects were appalled by the ugliness
of the mass-produced houses you and I live in.
So they reintroduced stuff like the wrought-iron medieval-style window fastenings and exposed beams,
stating they were - and I'm quoting now - set about creating a more humane alternative.
Well, when my course participant opens the door I cannot help but spot the bandage on his head ...
he had cracked open his skull on one of those beautiful oak beams. Remember the humane bit?
Look up the word and it tells you the adjective
means "marked or motivated by concern with the allevation of suffering."
Thursday 19 October
Did a one-to-one training session this morning with a person who was recommended by somebody I know.
So when the deal was made last Tuesday I sent an email to the kind so-and-so to thank him for the referral.
Although he seemed to have some problem placing the name of the client, he happily
accepted my invitation for lunch. But when I asked
the participant this morning how he knew my contact, all became clear ... I thanked the wrong chap!
Wednesday 18 October
Just picked up my entacard for an exciting new project I'm going to work on for the next few months. The mug shot
on the swipe card was taken when I visited the office last Thursday. When I look at the magic door-opening
device the magnitude of my actions of last Saturday hits ... I cut off my hair!
Big mistake!? Or not?! (My inferiority complex is not as good as yours.)
Wednesday 11 October
Not sure whether we're having a proper Indian Summer right now, but there is stuff
flowering in my garden that isn't supposed to be in bloom. And the leaves seem happy to stay on the trees
for a little bit longer.
But the College gardener was hired to come along with his leaf blower today - leaves on the ground or not -
creating excessive decibels of noise.
Not conducive to learning if your co-facilitator tries to get
your delegates into using NLP techniques in PowerPoint presentations.
So I slip out of the room and ask the guy nicely how much longer he thinks he needs.
"Five minutes," he replies. So we breath a sigh of relieve when he stops. Only to find him raking the gravel
patch outside our seminar room. Can you imagine the noise of somebody raking gravel?
He might as well have been waving a finger at me, shouting
"How do you like it now, huh? Not so funny, is it?"
Sunday 8 October
Coming home from a business-trip-stroke-weekend-away things started to go wrong just
after I stepped off the train in a Dutch city boasting a full array of services including an airport.
Traffic had come to a near standstill because of a marathon starting and finishing in the city centre.
This meant the bus from the station to the airport
couldn't get through. A taxi seemed the only option, but as it's
one of these airports that is miles from the city its name it carries, it would cost a small fortune. So I get four
other stranded passengers to share a cab (and the fee!) with me. Even though they are all fellow country men
it turns out they also live in the UK and had - like me - rid themselves of spare Euros.
Somehow we manage to scrape enough
cash together and off we go. On my way to the airport I ponder
about a time when citizens can travel more easily without the hassle of changing currencies every time they cross a border.
Dreaming of a single currency. Wake up!?
Wednesday 4 October
Yesterday I sent out joining instructions for next week's seminar. Rather than copying and pasting maps and directions
to the training venue I simply give the link to the centre's website, telling them to
"look out for the wacky tower and white pillars."
One of the delegates emailed to say that the website was "under construction" and that the map wasn't available.
This morning I noticed the site was up and running again and spotted some changes to the How-to-find-us pages.
"For clients travelling by private helicopter, a heli-pad is available within our grounds."
So I was pleased to inform the participant
he could check out the revamped pages and better still, land his chopper right on the doorstep.
He seemed pleased. "This will make my day even more perfect, the traffic can be such a drag.
I'll just look for the wacky white tower from the air ...."
Tuesday 3 October
Why is it that whenever I'm having a shower I get my best business ideas? Same again this morning. Same problem ...
shampoo in my eyes and no paper in sight. Perhaps I oughto look into patenting waterproof paper. Oh, and put aside time in my diary for more time in the bathroom. The power of the shower.
Thursday 28 September
Got invited to come and talk about a possible piece of work in London. As I walk up to the station I get a text message
from a friend of mine, also on her way to The Smoke.
"If u not already on train reconsider. Stuck at Hatfield." Turns out all trains to London King's Cross were
cancelled because of fallen power lines across the tracks. So I ring the - potential - client to let her know
I'm on my way to a different terminal, in an overcrowded carriage, stopping at every station along the line,
likely to be late. So tell me, should I ignore the warning signs and go and work in the city? Email your suggestion to firstname.lastname@example.org
Wednesday 20 September
Me and my big mouth! In an attempt to get feedback during the training
day - when I still have control over it - I always tell delegates the Dutch are known to be uninhibited.
This often gets them to open up, which in turn helps me shape the course content when certain aspects seem less relevant.
Just because getting negative feedback isn't easy, it doesn't mean we shouldn't ask for it! Anyway.
At lunch time one of my course participants walks up to me. "Hope you won't take
this the wrong way", she starts, reminding me of my heritage. "But do you realize that your skirt is see-through?" Ohmigod!
Thursday 14 September
As a consultant I spend a lot of time in company waiting rooms. Rather than staring at the wall,
trying to avoid eye-contact with other visitors, I tend to flick through the magazines in the reception area.
But it feels rather odd to see the latest copy
Cambridge Network Connection magazine
on the client's coffee table as it contains a full page feature and a bigger than normal
mug shot of moi. OK, I have to admit I kinda get a kick out of being a local legend, but knowing
that the guys I'm sharing the reception area with might have glanced over the article makes me feel a bit
wobbly. One chap looks up and I search his face for a sign of recognition, but I cannot see nothing but boredom.
Just as I'm thinking of burning the remaining magazines, they're off with their host. Phew!
Tuesday 12 September
Gave myself the morning off to bring the car in for a service. The last time I did this, I almost bought
a brand spanking new model, which is why I decided to bring somebody along to put a stop to any potential impulse buys.
This "somebody", a former course-participant-turned-friend, knows about my
passion for Confucius' sayings. Especially the one about the fish. So he surprised me with the perfect
pressie and instead of going home with a new car
I am now the proud owner of a fishing figurine of Confucius.
Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day;
teach a man to fish and he will be your friend for a lifetime.
Monday 4 September
And the dimwit of the week award goes to ... myself. Yesterday I was playing around with Word's mail merge feature and
before I knew it I was emailing all of my clients. In a blind panic I janked out the network cable, but 20-odd contacts
(odd, as in being in excess of, and not odd as in strange) received a message
advertising two seminars I held back in 2005. Oh boy, did I feel silly! (Especially with my
Mail Merge Demystified seminar
around the corner.) So I explained my blonde moment and grovelled profusely.
Today, however, the whole thing is turned around into something positive with people emailing not to worry and one even
checking whether I was interested in some work. Neat, eh?
Wednesday 30 August
"Please do not send me any more advertisements, thank you."
Yikes! An angry Do Not Spam Me Or Else e-mail. Turns out some clever clog has been sending spoofed email messages
that appear to come from WeightLossDrops@roem.co.uk claiming you have nothing to lose but that extra weight.
Needless to say, it's extremely annoying, especially if you have to explain to the
recipients of those unsolicited commercial emails that it's other people, hiding behind smoke and mirrors.
So, if you'll excuse me, I have some email to attend to.
Wednesday 23 August
Did you know that 47 million printer cartridges go into UK landfill sites each year? And that each cartridge
can take more than 450 years to decompose? Me neither.
So with recyclomania on the up I embrace my inner hippie, 2006 style, and take my empty cartridge to my
to have it refilled. Two birds. One stone. The first bird is called money. The stone is the environment.
Saturday 19 August
Ok, it might sound a tad narcissistic to want to find out how many hits you get when you do a google search on yourself
(679 in case you're interested)
but it keeps me on the ball about what's "out there" about me.
And as bizarre surprises go, this has to be right up there: one of my tips is published in
(Yes, that Microsoft.) Me, gloat? Never!
Friday 18 August
Got an email from a self-proclaimed devoted hints and tips reader/collector whose favourite Word trick I used for
I'm thrilled to be mentioned. As Dr Hook and the Medicine Show used to sing,
it's like having your picture on the cover of the Rolling Stone ... "gonna send ten copies to my mother!"
Saturday 12 August
I have a new passport! So if the training hadn't been postponed I would still have made it to Kuala Lumpur
in time for Monday morning.
I love it when a plan could've come together.
Friday 11 August
Love helping people? So do I! Which is why I could not possibly pass up the chance to be the "debt collector"
at our bacon sarnie club. (She said, tongue in cheek.) But as I know I don't have any monetary charisma (the last time I helped out I put the receipt in the till and gave
the money back to the delighted guest) I asked for a list of names so I'd have one less thing to worry about.
This is what the organiser sent me:
Does he want me to do the room layout or something?
(People attending today's meeting may experience long delays departing with their money.)
Wednesday 9 August
In April I got an "invitation to connect" to somebody at one of those online networking sites.
In May I was told the call to become part of the (quote unquote) professional network was about to expire. Hurrah!
In July the same guy sent me another invite. But this morning I found a message from him in my inbox
saying that my invitation has expired and is now withdrawn. Well, I'm sorry. You confuse me with somebody who cares a toss.
Tuesday 8 August
Remember the passport pickies I frenetically worked on last week?
Well, this morning the Honorary Vice Consul of The Netherlands informed me the Malaysian authorities do not recognise
my emergency passport. The advice is to get in touch with the
High Commission (that's "embassy" to you and me) and see whether there is a loop hole so I can get to my
nineteen course participants next week. One problem: I have to navigate through one of those automated phone systems and
cannot reach a human being. When I finally speak to the operator she explains the immigration chappies
do not answer their telephones. Come on, how hard can this Ferrero Rocher malarkey be?
Well, as it's probably easier to get an audience with the king of Malaysia himself, I decide to give up.
Tuesday 1 August
Will go on another business trip shortly. That is, if I manage to get my passport renewed in time.
What is it with countries that require passports to be valid for at least six months
after the date you leave the place? I mean, your passport is either valid or it isn't. Right?
Well, I decide not to throw a tantrum and go into town to get some mug shots taken. Easier said than done.
On 26 August new passport pictures regulations come into force and the guy at the Dutch
vice-consulate had told me I had to comply. So I show the photographer the six (!) page document with
do's and don'ts. "Slight" problem ... they don't have the required light grey background. So I head to the
local art shop in search of light grey paper. Pearl Grey. Silver Grey. Soft Pastel Grey. Deep Grey. Grey Cobalt. Clouded slate ...
In the end I engage in a desperate session of eenie meenie minie mo and head back to the photography shop. While one of the assistants holds up the
paper the other one pays particular attention to the new requirements. All I have to do is look
straight at the camera with a neutral expression. No teeth. No smiling. Preposterous.
Thursday 27 July
If I was ever worried I would be out of work now that the generation of kids growing up with computers are
hitting the job market ... fear no more! Today I spent time with one of these wiz kids who had the
beta version (that's test to you and me) of Microsoft Office on her computer. Well, I've been using the system for yonks and dare to say I'm pretty good at it.
But I couldn't find a thing. Not even the Help menu!
Microsoft Office 2007. Bring it on!
Wednesday 19 July
Today was going to be the hottest July day in England ever.
The national trade union centre had called upon employers
to let their workers dress down to beat the heat. But knowing the importance of first impressions (like, mega)
I swap the flip flops for high heels and enter my classroom
in black trousers and a nice shirt. Bad idea. The room did not have any airco and with the windows open
I could not make myself heard above the noise of the busy city streets.
We somehow managed to struggle through the day and I live in hope that the course participants retained the bits they were
awake for. Time to jump in a cab to go to the airport for more of the same somewhere else.
To make a bad day even worse I get stuck in traffic.
With five minutes to spare I run into the airport's terminal, passport in hand.
But Lady Luck had clearly decided that today wasn't going to be my day ... as I head for the check-in desk my backpack's zip gives way.
Looking at my stuff scattered around the departure hall I don't
know whether to laugh or cry. Like a mad woman I stuff
everything in my bag and queue for check-in. But when I get to the front I cannot find my passport. "Can you
step out of the line, please, ma'am?" So for the second time that day, I'm displaying the whole contents of my luggage
on the floor and find my passport amongst the hastily repacked items.
I rejoin the queue and feel extremely relieved when they let me on.
But the excitement stopped there, because - get this - the plane was delayed.
Tuesday 18 July
Last Saturday our Mother of All Showers with its lifetime guarantee packed in.
So my business trip couldn't have been more perfectly timed. With visions of hot showers I stroll into my regular
hotel. Full. How 'bout the overpriced one around the corner? No spaces available. Perhaps the one half a mile from the office?
Ditto. So I end up in a hostel. (Spot the S.) With a communal bath down the hall.
Monday 10 July
Typical! The one time a client asks for a copy of
IT Training Magazine, to see the periodical that
reprints my blog, it's half its normal size! Guess I can always pretend I never got today's copy and send
one of the old ones?
Thursday 6 July
Good intentions and all that. From now on I would work ON, not IN, the business.
But here I am, printing off sixteen training manuals. Myself. But hey, I have a spare hour. Or two.
So I put on some nice music and get out the (manual!) binding machine. Seven done. Nine to go.
And all hell breaks loose. One of those transparent binding cover-thingies
gets stuck in the stupid device. "CAUTION:" it says on the archaic piece of machinery.
"Punching more than one plastic cover
at one time may cause damage to machine."
OK, I spot heaps of small pieces of white and orange paper trying to push its way through the waste tray. But I wasn't
punching more than one binding cover! Anyway. I get out a knife and try to repair the thing.
In no time the place looks like a wedding has taken place. Yet the plastic thing is still stuck. Getting a proper
screw driver (and twelve screws) out doesn't help either. Plan B. Slidebinders. (And hire a student to do the next batch!)
Friday 30 June
I know it's old school, but I well and truly believe in eight words ... "Act your pay packet. Not your bank loan".
(Did you really count them?) Well, I have a confession to make. Here I was, at my early morning breakfast club.
Rather than the usual You Must Buy My Services Because
<insert euphemism for mutual back-scratching compliment-fishing
here>, we had some local artists around to talk about
Cambridge Open Studios. So far, so good.
That is, if only Heidi,
a weaver and designer from Bottisham, hadn't brought this most wonderful silk shawl along.
"Buy me!", shouted the shawl throughout the talk. Well, knowing I'd have some paid work this afternoon, I decided to get it.
In the end, however, it all went horribly pear-shaped. When I got home I got a phone call to say
this afternoon's training session was off. And to add injury to financial insult another client
emailed to announce a late payment.
Don't tell anyone you saw me buy the shawl!
Wednesday 28 June
Time to put my money where my mouth is and walk the talk ... I'm attending a seminar.
"Are there any trainers in the room?" the facilitator asks. Me and my big mouth!
Before I know it I find myself scribbling the group's ideas
about what they want to get out of the day on a flipchart.
But in case you think there is nothing more hilarious than reminding me of this, it was a few minutes well spent. He now knew my name. And kept
using me as an example throughout the morning. He even
made an effort to pronounce it properly. So repeat after me ... Kaäåæâren - but spelled without all the
fancy symbols - and Roem like Room but with a rolling R.
Friday 23 June
Did I tell you that I do a sponsored walk for Children of Nepal? OK, I know that you know that I know.
Still, the Dutch are known to be uninhibited, so I'll tell you again. You see, now that our local business editor
put me in my clogs on the front page of Tuesday's paper
I'm getting donations left, right and centre.
But the best one came today. In the form of a stack of
beautifully hand-made cards from one of my weekly tip
subscribers. Penny, I've put the value of the cards in as sponsorship money!
Oh, and thanks for the tip to wear thick socks.
Thursday 22 June
Waiting for the meeting to start, I'm flicking through the delegate list.
Apart from one's first name, surname and organisation the organisers had asked for a one sentence company synopsis.
Great news for businesses such as Roem Limited where the name doesn't really convey what it is they're doing.
So mine reads local provider of Microsoft Office and Livelink training. Another lists Customer-centred technology design
and innovation consultancy. (Hi, Rachel!)
But the description submitted by an employee of the University of Cambridge is legendary ... Top UK university.
Tuesday 20 June
Some of today's participants have been to one of my seminars before. During the coffee break they go on and on about how good lunch is at
this conference centre.
Well, tough luck. This seminar is half a day only. Guess I'm not surprised though when I flick through the "happy sheets"
and see the "List three things you think could be altered or
improved" question sticking out. Lunch. Include lunch! Lunch at the training centre ... you get my drift. Come on, guys!
Although there is no such thing as a free lunch, there was free coffee!!
Monday 19 June
Bad news. THE house is off. Don't get me wrong. It was the perfect place to hold my seminars. My current
office on steroids. Saw it. Wanted it. Might have got it.
But it turns out the neighbour's house will be demolished and replaced by a three storey block of 18 flats.
Makes it a bit less attractive, doncha think?
Saturday 17 June
One of my fellow networkers from a local business club
emails some stuff about his new venture, selling high quality products
designed to encourage and protect the delightful wildlife that brings pleasure to us all.
"I'll be interested to know what you think." he writes.
Nice one. This is exactly what I like about these networking meetings! Running your own business can be lonely at times.
OK, the commute time is hard to beat as you walk from the breakfast table to your office. But it can be tough to stay focussed.
So these get-togethers are an excellent opportunity to bounce off
ideas and learn from one another's successes and mistakes. Virtual colleagues. A successful team without having to build sand castles
or walk on hot coals. Anyway, where was I?
I launch the
new website and give myself RSI clicking through its pages. It's clear he's done his homework.
You know, market research and all that. He's even
interviewed prospective customers. Ingenious!
By the way, you might want to check out
the guy's other business. I recently bought the Astoria and the Imperial. No chain, stamp duty, conveyancing or agents fees.
(And no, still no news on THE house.)
Wednesday 14 June
Some of you may know that whenever you come to one of Roem Limited's courses your money does good stuff.
How? Well, like any other training company I ask participants' opinion on the course they attended.
But as I know everyone hates filling out forms, I donate 3 pounds to "Children of Nepal" for every completed
form I receive. Personally I also actively support this small British charity by joining in their annual sponsored walk.
(My halo is choking me.) But before you dismiss this five mile walk in the fen
with mothers with push chairs as a doddle, you need to know that one of my sponsors promised more money if I'd complete
the walk wearing traditional Dutch footwear. (Three cheers for "FSB Tony".) Always in for a challenge
I've just dusted off my clogs and can assure you they are not comfy. At all!
Visions of nice snug new walking boots are quickly replaced by kids in Nepal who don't ask for new trainers.
(Or the latest computer games. Or television ...) But they would appreciate classrooms
with clean running water and toilets. So here's where you come in. With your help, "Children of Nepal" can give young people
a fair chance to gain an education. Money earned easily in the developed world goes a long way in Nepal.
So if you can spare some money, however small, please
drop me a line to say you'd like to sponsor me for this year's 10th annual sponsored walk,
to be held on 15 July in Peterborough.
"Children of Nepal" is a small British charitable organisation that has
the aim of extending and improving educational opportunities for children living in Nepal,
one of the poorest countries in the world.
To find out more about the charity you should definitely check out the
Monday 12 June
Gotta speak to my bank manager about THE house. As I dig out her business card it has one of these
teeny tiny Post-its stuck on it. Probably something I wrote down for myself to remember, but got glued to something
else. "Do one thing every day that scares you." it reads. Guess placing an offer on a new business property is
brave enough!? Mind you, brave is one term; others may call it something far less complimentary!
Thursday 8 June
The phone rings. "Hello, Roem Limited". Even though the female voice on the other end of the line doesn't
identify herself, I easily recognise it as that of one of my dear friends. "Your house is up for sale", she shouts
excitedly down the line. No need for further explanation. Every man and his dog know I've been
eyeing a particular property for the past decade or so. Telling whoever would bear to listen that I could see
myself running my seminars from one of its eccentric-looking rooms. My enthusiasm has clearly rubbed off and friends and
relatives refer to the listed dwelling as "Karen's house".
Guess "all" that remains is to
have a serious chat with my friendly, but no doubt more composed, bank manager. (A girl can but dream.)
Monday 5 June
Women are often let to believe we need to be willing to work our way up.
So you start as dog's body. Advance to senior dog's body.
And after a couple of years you have your own converted garage.
But even then you end up doing everything from marketing to putting stamps on envelopes.
From training needs analysis to typing and filing. A bit of a chameleon.
But never before was I asked by a client what blinds to order for the windows in the new computer training room.
Bet it did my street cred no end of good.
Friday 2 June
I love Fridays! And I don't mean this in a Thank-God-It's-Friday-kind-of-way.
You know, one tequila, two tequila, three tequila, floor. No, Fridays are for doing stuff like going to my local
breakfast club, catching up on admin chores such as chasing payments, updating my website and - last but
by no means least - a reflexology session. All in an attempt to prevent trainer's fatigue.
So at 7.30 (AM!) I find myself chatting to a guy who sells pools and seems to know me as
"the computer tip lady who writes in the paper". He had no clue I sell courses. (Well, he
does now!) Back in the company's nerve centre (my converted garage) I find a reply from
the producer of BBC Radio Cambridgeshire giving me permission to use a
taken by one of my fan club members (hi dad!). But I suddenly realise these
Computer Says No "clinics" are more of the same ... free!
Which means that 25000 listeners or so might know me as the
"computer tip lady who appears on the radio". For free.
Pro Bono is my middle name. Which should hopefully make other tip sites reconsider charging readers
for their archives or use the increasingly popular technique of requesting a name and email address before
providing the information. (How many seminars can I guilt you into buying?)
Wednesday 31 May
Ohmigod! I have one of my successors in my classroom. So what's the big deal, I hear you ask? Well, she replaced me
back in 1984. Nine teen eighty four! And just in case there was anyone present young
enough not to give a damn about ageing (yeah, right!) she also told all course participants about this bit of trivia.
Thanks, Ellen, for making me feel like a dinosaur.
Tuesday 30 May
Having a bit more time on my hands I take a midday flight to Schiphol airport instead of the last evening
flight from Stansted to Rotterdam. I notice things have changed a fair bit since my last visit.
Yellow train ticket machines have popped up everywhere, even inside the terminal.
However, these queue-busting machines don't seem to like my British credit card,
so I walk up to the horrendously busy ticket counter. I ask for a single to The Hague.
And a "strippenkaart" for the short tram ride to my hotel.
The guy behind the desk looks at me as if I come from another planet.
"We stopped selling those about two years ago", he barks in Dutch.
OK, OK. Keep your shirt on! I've been living abroad since 1993!!
But I keep my calm and hand him a ten Euros note. At least I won't give him the
satisfaction of thinking I'm a saddo who - after its introduction four years -
still doesn't recognise the various coins.
Thursday 25 May
A day off after having had a big client standing on my eyelashes for what feels like a decade.
So I kindly declined the invitation
to get up with the larks to come along to a BNI visitors day. Instead, I make time to take care of myself and head to
my local salon. "Back massage, Mrs Roem?" "Don't mind if I do, Miss Jessica."
Friday 19 May Testimonial for your website, the subject of the email reads. Feedback from a client I have been working nearly
a year for. All psyched up I open the message.
"Karen is a REAL bitch. I can't stand her. And she always makes me pay for my own dinner which just isn't on."
One paragraph down it continues:
Ok here's the real one.
Sunday 14 May
In the hope of some extra prep time before a family visit, I sit myself down on a bench in a park in Holland.
An elderly couple next to me spot my backpack and ask where I'm heading.
While rummaging through my stuff for my laptop and course handout I give a brief answer,
avoiding all eye contact. Rather than putting them off, this opens the door for a one-way conversation about
the make of my PC, the hopelessness of software, computer crashes I explain I normally love having a chat,
but that I really need the time to go over some things. (Are you blind or sump'n?)
For a few minutes the man directs his rants to his female companion. But soon all his "I used to work with computers
all the time" talk is, once again, addressed to me and is beginning to annoy me beyond coping.
Something tells me we are not going to be soul mates, so I pack my bags and head for the next bench.
Tuesday 9 May
Gotta cancellation this morning. They were off the hook as it was (just!) within the 10 working days notice period.
But the euphoria of having a day off between now and mid July soon wanes off when I find a request for work in my inbox.
Could I possibly come in on the morning of that day that was just freed up.
"The incentive is I've provisionally booked the car parking space ..." my client writes.
Free parking in Cambridge? Bring it on!
Monday 8 May National stereotypes.
You know, the Germans don't have a sense of humour. The Russians are drunk most of the time.
The French eat frogs. And the Dutch ... well, suffice to say that they make the same jokes about us as you do about
the Scotsmen. Supposedly we're mean. Tight fisted. Penny-(cent)-pinching. So when I get home with my packs of
laser printer paper to print off the manuals for various upcoming events and I notice I've been charged for one too many,
I jump in my car and drive back. Expecting a verbal fight with the customer service lady as I could easily have
made this story up, I am pleasantly surprised she refunds the money immediately. No questions asked.
So when I express my gratitude she just looks at me and mumbles "Most people wouldn't have bothered".
Wednesday 3 May
Long before there were computer games, kids had fun playing in the street. Rather than ballet, horseback riding lessons,
or the latest video game, all we needed was a ball and some neighbourhood pals. I grew up playing dodge ball and stuff
like that. Is there anyone out there old enough to remember the game called "piggy in the middle"?
It was nothing more than two or more players throwing a ball to each other,
trying hard to keep it out of reach of the hapless child who had been chosen to be the pig in the middle.
Memories of being the frustrated "pig" came flooding back today. Trapped and pressured from two sides
I emailed my American client about not being comfortable as a living piggy-in-the-middle. Well,
all you British English speaking people who think Americans will understand what it is you talk about, listen up.
Across the pond they put a monkey in the middle. Not a pig! Oh, the joy of transatlantic mutations. See also: "Telling porkies" which is probably something the client thinks I'm doing anyway. Gotta distinct feeling she
started to doubt my command of the English language when I explained my remark about not wanting to
teach her grandmother to suck eggs.
Saturday 29 April
Please allow me a brief Victor Meldrew moment while I gaze in horror at my latest bank statement and
shout "I don't be-LIEVE it!" A few weeks ago I took out some cash from my business account. I now see
that I was charged £32.50 for the privilege of walking off with my own hard-earned dosh.
Thirty two pounds and fifty pence! (And no, I hadn't gone overdrawn.) Now complete this tie breaker:
High street banks have the reputation of being greedy because ...
Wednesday 26 April
It's almost 1AM and I cannot sleep. Not that I'm fretting over the training session I'm about to start in 8 hours' time.
It's because my room is
right next to the hotel's generator and the noise is simply unbearable. Even with earplugs. Even when you're exhausted.
So I put on my coat and go to Reception. "What room are you in?" the night porter asks. "Seven."
"That's the worst room of the hotel!" he replies. You tell me!? OK, I can understand why you might want
to squeeze as many beds into your hotel as possible, leaving plenty of space as long
as you keep your legs folded. But not turning that pokey little room next to the hotel's loudest piece of machinery
into a sleeping place might have been a novel idea, might'n it? I'm sure I read somewhere that the aim of a hotel is
to look after their guests, which would presumably include things such as making sure they have a good night's sleep.
Saturday 22 April
Coming soon to a website near you ... me on video! Got interviewed by UK's largest small business organisation to find out
why on earth I gave up a sun-soaked Saturday for a chance to lobby politicians. Ummmmm. Free lunch?
Thursday 20 April
Last day of a big project. The fire alarm goes off and for a moment we think we need to evacuate.
"Too many Dutch people on the floor." the fire chappie says. (Heard the one about the
fire warden who can crack a good joke?) But it turns out the drill is in a different part of
the office and we don't need to leave the building.
So I can finish my last day in style. Read: another long day. I'll miss you, guys!!
Thursday 13 April
When I'm about to leave the client's office I get a box of chocolate Easter Bunnies. (Now how nice is that?)
As soon as I get on the train I chomp off one of the bunny's ears. Yum!!
Before I'm even half way home
I've stuffed myself silly and devoured the entire pack. Oh, the art of over-eating.
Tuesday 11 April
One of my course participants informs me he's been on this very same course with me before.
Gee, thanks for telling me that. As if I'm not already self-conscious enough about making the same jokes every time
I run the session! And that's without somebody in the audience who might realise I'm not as funny as I'd like to think I am.
But then again, if it was applause I was after, I should have signed up for Sylvia Young Theatre School.
Friday 7 April
Back on air. On arrival the producer warns me it'll be three of us in the studio. Apparently Ian is there too.
"But he'll be really quiet." she assures me. Turns out that, tying in with the BBC2 programme "How to Have a Good Death",
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire has been broadcasting
a week of features on the often
taboo subject of death. Yesterday Sue Dougan did her broadcast live from behind the scenes at Cambridge's crematorium. Today
she brought her deceased friend's ashes and as I enter he's sitting on a chair in the studio.
But it's business as usual ... callers are invited to phone, text
or email their questions. And guess what. The dead guy scores better ratings than me!
Thursday 30 March
Wrap-up time. So here I am, giving closure to the two-day train-the-trainer programme, ensuring that participants are happy with what was covered and that they feel confident
to return to their desks and start their new role. "Any last-minute questions?" I ask. "Yes", one of my female course participants answers.
"Where did you buy your shoes?"
Tuesday 28 March
Gotta message from somebody asking why I would sit on a table with a client.
(Well, at least someone has read my
posting of last Tuesday!) Visions of the customer and I dangling our feet over the edge of a rickety office table make me reconsider
my choice of words. Lord knows what the correct
preposition is, but
I suggest "around". The smirk commenter proposes "at". In the end we settle for "under" and
agree never to talk about it anymore. Ever.
Tuesday 21 March
Picture this. I'm sitting with my client on a table. Both with our laptops. Suddenly my laptop
makes what sounds like a good old fashioned woolf whistle to the client's laptop. The delighted device responds in an amorous manner by suggesting to
connect. And before I know it I have a version of the client's Word document on my desktop.
Ah, the wonders of Wireless Link.
Thursday 16 March
It's finally released! After six months without any sleep we finished our Computer Based Training. Last night, when the client and I were drinking premature
celebratory champagne cocktails, we were still unsure about the exact date it would be online,
but today we got the green light.
OK, I have to admit we've been through hell and back. (A few times.) Fears of not being up to the task.
Writer's block. Shitty pilot feedback. Web hosting issues. But the result is pretty cool.
Mind you, we've kinda been knocked off cloud nine as - get this - one down, four to go.
By the way, if you love the satisfaction of popping bubble wrap when stress levels
go sky-high, there is an insane
virtual version of this entertaining packaging material. And the nice guys from
Virtual Bubble Wrap
even allow you to download it, so I couldn't resist ...
Thursday 9 March
End of a training day. But no rest for the wicked as I have to make sure the online training environment is squeeky clean for
tomorrow morning. So it's well past 6pm when I suddenly hear a clicking sound coming from the door.
What the ?? I go over and guess what? They've locked me in! So now what? I bang on the door for a while, but there is nobody there.
OK, if worst comes to the worst I'll have a kip in the corner and be nice and early
for tomorrow's session, but there must be something else I can try? So I go to the phone and ring the guy who hired me. I get through to his
voicemail. So I dial 100. (Just felt like a good number to ring.) Nothing.
9? Nada. 0? Zilch! My mobile phone has no reception and dialling outside the company seems barred, so my plan to ring
the hotel or hubby or 999 (panic? moi?) is useless. I then spot a notice saying "If you encounter any difficulties
using these facilities please call the Help Desk on extension 2111." Assuming they'd gone
home for the day I am surprised to hear a voice on the other end of the line. "Out of Hours Help Desk, how can I
I explain my predicament and we both laugh about his joke I'll have to wait until tomorrow. (He is
joking, right?) Four hours pass (I check my watch; no, its only four minutes) and I hear the sweet sound of the doors being released.
Hi ho, hi ho, it's home from work we go. (Whistles.) Hi ho, hi ho!
Wednesday 8 March
One of my clients employs twin sisters.
Take it from me: if you don't see them together you could be forgiven for thinking that there is only one of them.
So here I am, in the lift with one of them. Having recently done a one-to-one training session with either her or
her sister I feel the urge to break the elevator etiquette of staring at the numbers. Me: "Is it you or your sister?" Twin: "It's me." Remembering
the trainee was about to go on holiday the day after the course, I continue. "So how was your holiday?" Twin: "That was my sister."
(Welcome to Mastermind. Next contestant: Karen Roem. Special subject: Stupid Questions.)
Friday 3 March
Once upon a time, back in the almost unimaginable days before junk email, you did not have to worry about your legit
messages landing in the Spam box. Nowadays, they even have a name for it. False positives. (There was me thinking that
this was linked to drug tests, but as they say, you learn something new every day.) Well, turns out my messages to the
event organiser who invited me as a speaker were trapped by his anti-spam software. Cor blimey! I wasn't
posing as a reputable financial institution. Nor was I claiming to be the surviving spouse of
a former Nigerian government honcho, offering to transfer millions of dollars into his bank account in
exchange for a small fee. And - honestly - my messages contained none of those kind of words that rarely make it into your inbox. ("Viagra" springs to mind.) Nonetheless, I didn't make it
through. OK, sifting through spam is an irritating and time-consuming activity, but surely
the loss of an email from a client or potential customer (or speaker!) could prove devastating for a business. Mind you, something good came out of it. If I believe this guy's software I gained a friend!
Wednesday 1 March
Found out a few things today.
Forty one percent read their email first thing in the morning.
Five million workers in the UK work unpaid and uncompensated overtime. And 81% of women-owned businesses are sole traders.
This last one strikes a particular chord.
Sixteen months into trading as a Limited and I got a letter from Companies
House asking whether I am still operating. "PROPOSED REMOVAL OF YOUR COMPANY" it reads in bold
capitals. Yikes! Apparently I messed up the annual return form once again and they are considering removing my company from
the register. Oh, the joy of not having all the red tape, rules and regulations and complicated forms to deal with when I was a sole trader.
That reminds me ... need to do my VAT return form today. Eeeeeuch!
Friday 24 February
It's not every day you get invited to appear on BBC Radio, even if it is just the local station. So I put on my best clothes,
comb my hair (it's radio, man!) and drive to 104 Hills Road to pop in for a chat with Sue Dougan.
First question, live on air. Ron from Cambridge.
"What's the Scroll Lock key on my keyboard for?" Nerve-racking start.
What is this key that seems to serve no purpose whatsoever?
In all these years I don't remember ever pushing it. Oh boy, do I feel
silly! Right. Get over it. Next! Sixty minutes later and I'm the owner of a
recording I probably
never ever want to listen to.
But in a strange way we seemed to hit it off ... I'll be back on 7 April.
Wednesday 22 February
Taxi drivers' reputation for fleecing customers seems to be widespread across the world.
But last Saturday's and this morning's cabbies kicked <insert euphemism for backside here>, so it just goes to show that
some people want a job that offers more than a payslip. So what happened? As usual I had pre-booked my return trip from the airport.
The price includes car parking and an initial half hour's wait after the landing time of the flight.
But as ground staff had problems connecting the jet bridge to the plane, it took a long time to disembark.
When the door finally opened a stampede from economy class meant I had to queue for ages at passport control. So
the taxi driver (I'll call him Leonard because that's his name) had been waiting for more than half an hour.
But Leonard didn't want extra dosh. Oh no.
"Keep my card and ring me next time." he said. "So what happend last Saturday?" I hear you ask.
At Singapore's Changi Airport the cabdriver (Roger) had told me that he accepted credit cards.
But when we got to the hotel he didn't get the darn thing to work.
So I tried three different cash machines. No joy. At which point Roger told me not to worry and simply use his
services on my way back. So I did. See Leonard? I keep my promises!
Monday 20 February
So here I am in front of my classroom, having spent Sunday in the boiling Singaporean sunshine, looking like
a cross between a robin and Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer. My co-facilitator from Texas had made the same
mistake and is a proper "redneck". So at least I'm not the only Western git,
sticking out like a proverbial thumb. Guess that fine system I spoke about last week needs updating ... sunscreen. (Check!)
Wednesday 15 February
Being chronologically gifted my memory isn't what it used to be. Which is why I created a checklist for when going
"on tour". Laptop? (check) Evaluation forms? (check) Training material? (check) ... Well, no point having such
a wonderful system if you don't take it with you, ainnit? So on my way to the airport to the next assignment I realise
I left my laptop's power cord underneath the client's desk. D'oh!
Saturday 11 February
Avid visitors of this site know I write handy tips to help you "tame your computer".
Over the years the number of people who start the week with their own personal copy has been growing steadily.
But since noon today I've received a whopping 244 subscription requests. Well, the excitement stops there ... guess it's harvest time for spammers.
Wednesday 8 February
OK, I work stupid hours and spend way too much time in hotels.
So, yes, loved ones worry about me and I sometimes feel sorry for myself.
Which is why hubby travelled up to London for the night and we're off to see the Lion King.
Hakuna matata! [singing]: It means no worries for the rest of your days. All [singing]: It's our problem-free philosophy!
[simultaneously singing and chanting] Hakuna matata! (Apologies to anyone who finds themselves humming this for the rest of the day!)
Friday 3 February
First of all I should apologise for a blatant bit of bragging, but
what's the point of having your own blog if you cannot stick in some mildly important news about yourself?
So here we go ...
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire has asked me to "appear" on the Sue Dougan show.
They were looking for a computer expert and that expert will be me. (Wooha!) In case you're
interested to tune in, I'll be riding the radio waves between 2 and 3 on
Friday 24 February.
Wednesday 1 February
It's Wednesday, so it must be Holland. (Should have saved this line for a time I'm doing training in Farawaystan.)
Global implementation has started and we've begun training the trainers. We kicked off in the States last
week, followed by Singapore in two week's time, then London. I'm just going to repeat that last one ... London. So
here we are, in The Hague, with 5 attendees (and me) flown in from the UK and one from Denmark. No Dutch person in sight.
(Well, apart from me.) Remember common sense?
Thursday 26 January
Can somebody please explain why, at check-out, it turns out that I was charged different rates
for each of my four nights hotel accommodation in Texas? OK, I can grasp the concept that the more nights
you book, the lower the price. Or perhaps they even throw in a free first night
with a minimum two nights stay, or something. But, get this, the tariff went up.
Don't they want you to stay longer, rather than
shorter? Y'all don't mind if I don't get that, do you?
Tuesday 24 January
As I'm having breakfast in my hotel in Houston, I spot a thought-provoking British Airways ad in today's
New York Times. "2 FREE nights in London when you fly anywhere in the world",
it reads. And underneath it, in brackets, it continues "What better way to
brush up on your English?" Ouch! That's a poke in the
eye of Uncle Sam, right? I mean, ever since I asked for feedback
about my Facilitator's Guide from my American counterparts, I've been on the
receiving end of critique about spelling and grammar and choice of words generally ...
Verbs ending in -ise, such as legalise, should be changed to -ize. (Advertise being
a rare exception.) Could I please refer to "poster putty" rather than blu-tac
on the list of usual training tools? (Well, can I remind y'all that you happily use the term "Xerox
machine" to refer to xerographic duplicators produced by other companies?
Same difference!) Trainers ought to be encouraged to use humor,
rather than humour and write with different colored pens. Color/colour, humor/humour ...
let's call the whole thing off.
Friday 20 January
Now then, this week I was able to commute to work with hubby as I was hired by his employer. (Don't worry. No favouritism.
Most people don't even know I'm his wife as I carry my maiden name. I mean, Mrs X is his mum. Not me!) Makes
sense to travel together, innit? Well yeah, but I have to admit to finding
his constant remarks about my driving style - which is pretty similar to his own - so unbelievably
irritating I'm happy this was the last day. Never again. End of.
Tuesday 17 January
Psychologists say that men have "positive illusion". Blokes believe they are better at what they do than they are.
Women, on the other hand, have "negative illusion". We don't think we are as good as we actually are. Is that why
this morning I had seven women in my classroom and the token man on the attendee list didn't turn up?
Thursday 12 January
Gotta tip-off that I was training four "very senior lawyers". Well, what do you do with that kind of
information? I mean, other than putting on your Special Occasion Suit? (You know, the one that makes you suddenly
super-confident.) So I went to London's SE1 and simply made the same effort I am used to. And you know what?
(Pause for dramatic effect.) It was spot on! (Oh, and we had a good laugh too!)
Friday 6 January
For some reason I cannot get the hang of drinking out of the lid of one of those, no doubt cleverly designed,
take-away coffee cups. I mean, how on earth am I supposed to sip from a steaming hole, half
the size of the tip of my index finger? So I always stick a straw through the vent, as if I'm drinking a milkshake,
the hot coffee from spurting out of the tiny opening. Well, the AMT Coffee booth at the station had just
trained a new batch of so-called baristas, fresh from Poland, keen to practice their carefully written English scripts.
"Would you like anything else with that?", he asks politely, remembering the words chocolate chip cookie,
pretzel, croissant and flapjack as replies.
"Can I have a straw, please?" I answer. "A what?" "A straw." "A what??" Oh forget it!
I lean over the counter and wriggle my way through the stands to get my favourite utensil.
May his baffled smile remind me of my first few months in this country.
Wednesday 4 January
One of my clients is about to upgrade their automated workflow process and I've been given two days to update the
user documentation I wrote. Turns out the work isn't as straight-forward as expected and I'm on the phone to London
quite a bit. Phone rings. I'm not paying attention to my caller display and answer the call.
Complete silence. How irritating ... it'll probably take about 10 seconds before I get one of those
offshore operators on the line. Or worse, a "silent call" from a telemarketing company
that randomly dials a large amount of telephone numbers, yet doesn't think of investing in sufficient members of staff to
deal with the calls. I'm about to hang up when I suddenly realise the client has their support centre in India.
(Yeah, I'm embarrassed.)
Tuesday 3 January 2006
Day three and I've already broken my New Year's Resolution. Even though I ate my lunch al desko I've only just finished work for today.
It's 20:23 hrs and my vow to improve my work-life balance starts nibbling at my conscience.