Catfight

So the cat got into a fight a couple of nights ago. We were merrily being couch potatos of an evening (as you do) when the cat appeared from the back garden. He sat in the doorway of the room we are temporarily using as our living room, looked at us for a moment with that expression of pity all cats are capable of, and started licking himself.

Nothing new there.

He didn’t stop, though. At some point we got up to check and noticed a trail of blood terminating at the cat and leading back to the bedroom. After checking him over (three claws have been damaged, one of which had been bleeding but had stopped by the time we realised something was up) we followed the drips of blood (splattered over our brand new floor, I must add) and it led us to the window the cat had clearly jumped in. There wasn’t anything alive (or dead, though looking for the corpse of something our cat had a fight with is giving the cat a bit too much credit) outside so we’ve no idea if this was the cat being a clutz or the cat being attacked, but our money is on the latter.

After a day the claw on his front paw hadn’t properly healed. He kept licking it, too, so suspecting infection we rushed him off to the vet. They confirmed our suspicions and gave him a shot and a cone of shame.

Poor boy

Since getting the cone he has become exceedingly affectionate. It’s kinda nice, maybe we should keep it on him all the time… just kidding, of course. His front paw is healing up nicely, though he has figured out that he can stretch his leg out, wrap it around the base of the cone, then push forward onto the floor or bed (yes, with his face) trapping his paw under the cone allowing him to lick part of it. He doesn’t do it often, though.

When The Wind Blows

When deciding to buy and renovate an older, run-down house the one guaranteed thing you have to expect is unexpected things cropping up just when you don’t want them to.

A fence in our back garden has just blown over in the high winds we’ve been experiencing.

The neighbours shed (top left) is the only thing holding it up!

It went over this morning and from what I can tell the posts have rotted and snapped in the ground. Looks like they’ll need replacing. Not too much of an issue in the grand scheme of the universe of course.

We’ve managed to spread out the cost of various things we’ve been doing in the house so we’re not hit in the financial balls all in one go, the fireplace and flooring being the most recent examples. But, of course, chance and nature don’t operate on a schedule.

Technically, it’s not our fence, so we don’t have to pay for it to be replaced/repaired… However there were some fat trees pushing on it for many years which have absolutely contributed to the current situation. I need to speak to the neighbours but I’m thinking we’ll at least contribute to the repairs on a moral basis let alone the fact that it may be partially our fault. Well, the fault of the people who lived here before us. Neighbours gotta be neighbourly and work together ‘n’ all that.

It’s a shame this has happened now. We’ve just paid out for a new floor (not cheap) and have a baby on the way, so we (read, I) are sensitive to unexpected outgoings at the moment. But hey, this is what the emergency fund is for!

The money is only one of two issues. In order to repair this fence, either the neighbours need to move their two sheds (one of which is holding the fence up right now) or we need to remove our horrible disgusting… shed… thing which you can see it on the very left of this pic. This is something we want to do, but we’re actually using it to store a load of trash at the moment (old carpet, ancient chest-freezer, broken lawnmower, etc.)

We need to pay to get the trash and the shed removed as there are some very large bulky things in there and we don’t have the transportation for it. Needing to pay for this stuff to happen is why it hasn’t happened yet. Other things to sort out. We’ll get to it eventually. Or soon, if the fence repairs demand it…

Oh, to make matters slightly more frustrating, I’ve just noticed that the opposite fence by the patio is starting to fall too. Great.

Floorless Victory: Epilogue

The final room has had the flooring fitted and the beading is done!

Shiny!

One last thing to do is the skirting around the fireplace, but that room needs to be decorated anyway so there’s no immediate rush.

Floorless Victory

14.5 months. That’s how long we’ve been living in a building site.

Well, that’s not quite true as for the first few months we had carpet. I’m sure the carpet was nice back in the 90’s when it was first installed but by the time we came to live here it was worn and stained. It had the delicate aroma of dog piss and cigarettes eminating from within.

We ripped up this carpet fairly quickly to remove the smell and found rotten underlay underneath, which we also tore out. In one of the bedrooms, directly below where a bed used to live, the concrete was still wet with the aforementioned dog urine. Yeah, months after moving in, we still had liquid piss in the house from the previous owners pet (and we’re clinging to the belief that it was dog wee and not human.) I love dogs and dread to think what kind of environment it lived in for it to crawl under a bed and piss itself so much that it stayed wet for months afterward. We cleaned the hell out of that floor and had a dehumidifier in the room for a good few weeks to suck out any remaining moisture. Eventually, and thankfully, we got it dry and the smell dissipated.

Since the floor came up all those months ago we’ve been living on concrete. Not the polished stuff you find in modern fancy houses, we’re talking the giant slabs of rough cheap stuff the building actually sits on. It was freezing cold, uncomfortable to stand on and always dirty. The friction from walking on it would pull up tiny stones and dust. We rejoice, however, as of this weekend that is no longer the case. We’ve finally had our floor installed!

The first few boards are down
Ta-da! Oh adequte flooring, how I have missed you so…

We initially wanted to get LVT but ended up going with a good quality laminate instead due to the cost. A family friend installed it for us – doing the door frames and edges is something that I couldn’t do without a lot of trial & error and a lot of time. Plus repairing all the damage I would undoubtedly cause would cost a lot of money, so we decided to get professional help. We’ve still got one room to go, plus the beading around the edges (we didn’t fancy ripping out the skirting) but once those are done we’ll actually live in a house rather than a construction yard!

It’s odd living somewhere with a floor. It feels much cleaner, warmer and comfier. More like a home. I certainly appreciate it more now than I had done in the past.

Next few items on the list: finish painting the livingroom, repaint some walls, buy some furniture. Maybe then we can start unpacking some of the boxes we had when we first moved in!

Lofty Goals

Unfortunately we’re not lucky enough to be living somewhere clean and comfortable whilst we work on renovating the house, we have to live inside the house. Due to the amount of work needed, we have only unpacked the bare essentials. Most of our belongings are still in boxes (we’ve been here for over a year – just goes to show how much stuff you need) and none of our furniture has been rebuilt yet.

As we have been decorating, we have found ourselves frequently moving furniture and these boxes into different rooms depending on which one we’re working on and living out of at the time.

We’ve got to the point now where we only have one room to paint, and then we need to get flooring sorted. The flooring will be an issue for us as we will need to have most rooms empty for it to be laid quickly. To make this much easier for me (as my significant other is pregnant I can’t really ask her to help me move heavy furniture around when the flooring goes in) I decided to take advantage of our relatively large loft space.

The main struggle with the loft is lighting. Unfortunately we don’t have any sockets up there for power, so hauling an extension lead up there to power our only lamp was the (poor, awkward) solution to this issue. This is also why some of the pictures aren’t too great – single light source.

The floor of the loft is already boarded which means storing our boxes is nice and simple. It is by far our biggest space, but the main issue is access. We have a ladder with a loft hatch, but the opening is quite small. In order to get our stuff up there, we’re going to have to unpack it all, shift it awkwardly up the ladder, then repack it. Not too much of an issue, but it sure makes things that much more time consuming.

I’ve not really spent much time up the loft so before making a start on taking stuff up there I decided to take a good look around. I’m glad I did, as I found that not only was the floor covered in fairly fresh bat droppings, but we had a wasp (or hornet!) nest too.

Guano! Makes great fertiliser by the way.

The immediate concern was the wasp/hornet nest. I would normally assume it was a wasp nest by default, however during the summer we had a regular hornet visitor that would somehow find its way into our livingroom and chill out on the window. That said, you can hear an active nest from quite a distance and we had no idea that this one was here before this point, so I am assuming it has been dead for a while. Perhaps even before we moved in.

I very carefully edged close but still couldn’t hear anything, so ended up taking it down. You can leave them where they are as nests are not reused (as far as I know from research online) but we decided we may as well remove it.

As for the bat poop, this was easily vacuumed up. Bats in this country (UK) do not carry disease and are also protected, preventing their removal. I quite like the idea of having bats in the loft, though their poop is a bit annoying to deal with. It does make great fertiliser, though, so if we get any more we’ll collect it up and use it. Unfortunately we don’t have much growing at the moment so it just went into the bin. Moving forward we may need to figure out how to keep the bats isolated somewhat, or we will suffer from bat poop covered belongings, though from what I’ve read this can be really hard to do. We have loads of little openings to the outside world up there, sealing all but a couple could be tricky, and bats can fit through tiny gaps.

Whilst cleaning up the loft I came across this message on the side of the chimney stack, left by a mystery individual (possibly) over 60 years ago:

I’ve edited this to try and make the text more readable but didn’t want to mangle the image too much

It says:

ENGLAND

FOR THE

CUP

EN

ENGLAND 4

W GERMANY 2

1966

Pretty cool. I’d like to say it was a prediction but chances are it was done after the event.

After cleaning everything up and changing the TV aerial we use (for some reason we have three aerials, with the livingroom on the smallest one. It’s now on the largest, highest one, resulting in perfect signal strength) I grabbed our extra wood logs for our new fireplace and a couple of items that needed storing, stuck it up there and had had enough. It’s worth noting that you shouldn’t store firewood in the house for too long, but I know we’ll work through this tiny pile pretty quickly.

One half of the loft. The writing from above is on the right side of that chimney stack

All I need to do now is get all our unpacked stuff up there. There’s a lot of it, but once it’s done we can get the floor installed

A Fireplace Appears!

After dreaming about having this in my life for decades, I finally have a log burning stove.

Hello flames my old friend

We went for the Hunter Aspect 4 with a granite hearth. We both liked the Aspect stoves as the window is large, letting you see more of the fire inside it.

In our case, a log burning stove isn’t necessarily 100% for heating the home, it’s partially decorative, but I can’t imagine we’re ever going to use the radiators in this room ever again.

We need to decorate the livingroom and sort out somewhere to store wood and we’ll be set!

Of course, when I say “set” I mean “set to get furniture and begin making the house a home rather than a building site.” One step at a time.

Plastering a Popcorn Ceiling

With the exception of the livingroom and the hallway, all our rooms have plain, smooth plaster for the ceiling.

The hallway has a textured wallpaper which, now we’ve painted it, doesn’t look too bad. It works well enough for us to keep it for a while at least.

The livingroom, however, is a different story.

(more…)

Sunrise, Sunset

I never get tired of the view here. I want to set up a static camera and do a timelapse over a year of wild variety of sights we get. Every day is something new.

The most special times to view the horizon are absolutely the sunset and, if I’m awake early enough, the sunrise.

Sunrise from the back garden. I’ve had to zoom in a bit here to not get most of the trashy garden in the shot so it’s not the best quality
A sunset from the front garden. I may have done a bit more editing here than in the last image, but only to more closely represent what my eyes saw. Doesn’t do the view justice!

Magical.

Tech Support Management: Projects, Respect, and PlayStation 4’s

I am incredibly privileged to work with a team of technical support folks who not only get along very well, but actively support each other on a daily basis. As the manager of this team, it is my duty to ensure they are being supported in every way possible by the workplace itself as well as the other teams within the organisation. This is a very delicate balancing act that I have yet to master.

Often, this ‘support’ means answering questions, taking responsibility for issues or working behind the scenes to enable the team to do their job effectively. A lot of the work I do (that isn’t GDPR related, and there’s a lot of that) is aimed at improving the quality of the work we do as a team, which in turn improves the quality of work the rest of the organisation is able to achieve.

Unfortunately, this kind of ‘enabling’ work that I or my team do is often invisible to both the organisation ah large as well as the team itself. It can take many meetings and a long time to get anywhere in management as everything on the organisation level often happens too quickly to react to, or takes such a long time that any progress that is made is barely noticeable to anyone not involved. Either way, this work is often isolated into individual projects, each of which requires lots of careful thought and consideration before any work can be started.

The first step in any project is to figure out if it is even worth it. Whatever the idea or project is, you have got to make sure you are doing it for the right reasons. These reasons are varied, it could be cost saving or efficiency improvements, or the introduction of something new, such as a product, feature or resource.

Understanding the purpose is key to progressing into the planning stages. These plans could outline the single task required for the implementation of smaller projects or building a fully fledged project plan for larger endeavours, such as to introduce new technology or rebuild some core infrastructure. Whatever it is, planning is important, takes time, and happens invisibly to anyone not directly involved.

Working in the public sector, money is often the deciding factor when it comes to projects or general progress and change. Producing an effective budget is something that I am constantly improving on. It sucks up quite a lot of my time, however at the end of the day all that everyone else sees is a number that they can spend up to. It’s my job to make sure these numbers stay within certain bounds and do not change too much, and to also keep an eye on the state of things to see if any cost savings can be made. Doing this is quite time consuming and can often be invisible to the casual observer.

So there’s an idea for a project that you believe will be good for the organisation, those teams that it directly affects know that it will be great to do, and with luck you know that the money will be there (as it’s always worth getting buy-in from the finance team first!) The next step is trying to convince everyone else in the decision making chain that your idea or project is worth both the time to bother actually implementing as well as the money you want to spend on it. Working towards this “yes” from each person often requires background tasks, sometimes these involve the team in ways they don’t recognise, too…

Quite often I’ll ask my team to perform a string of seemingly unrelated jobs or to focus on a certain type of issue in order to affect the outcome of some discussion about a project I know will occur in the future. There’s an element of “keeping certain people happy” which unfortunately ties in to this, too, but I try very hard to treat everyone as equals, and certainly avoid treating anyone as inferior or less important. As anyone who has worked in a technical support role will know, this is a very difficult thing to do. That one customer who always brings you snacks and tasty treats? It’ll be near impossible for your team to not give them preferential treatment. That other customer who is constantly rude and abusive? Incredibly hard to work with and support effectively.

But that’s my job. Give the treats to the team, take the abuse so it doesn’t hit my colleagues. And get all the invisible management/planning/budgeting stuff done to enable the continual improvement of the organisation as a whole. Oh, and again, there’s a whole boatload of GDPR stuff to deal with, too.

It is difficult, tiring work. I am by no means perfect of course, but I like to think I’m generally successful in doing my invisible work. I always strive to improve and do better for the team and the rest of the organisation.

Unfortunately the team doesn’t often see what I get up to day to day. I’m often out in meetings or deep into spreadsheets, only to occasionally request work from them, seemingly for random reasons or for no reason at all. I’ve been on the other side of this and I know it can be quite frustrating. Communication with the team is key here, and I am always looking for ways to foster this within the team, but especially when it comes to myself communicating with the team members about what I’m up to and where all our work is heading.

Having their respect and support is important to me and I encourage open criticism, however it is very hard for me to measure how well I am doing with the team. It’s one thing to complete projects, but knowing that a team of people are happy with me (or not) is something I have yet to really figure out. It’s something I worry about quite a bit, actually.

So it came as a shock to me on the last day of work in 2018 when I arrived to find that the team had secretly set up a treasure hunt in the workplace filled with riddles and puzzles.

The team had come together and planned this months ago, contributing towards a gift, then working on the clues over the last couple of weeks and setting it all up without any indication to me that it was happening. All out of hours, I should add! After the dozens of clues and puzzles, the final clue led me to a box with a wrapped up Christmas present in it.

That present? It was a PlayStation 4 with four games. Yeah.

It blew me away. It was the last thing I ever expected anyone – let alone the team at work – to gift me. Despite my initial refusal to accept it, I now have it connected up to the 11-year-old 720p 40″ TV (which is now due an upgrade to at least a 1080p model thanks to the PS4) and have been enjoying it every single day of the holiday period.

The four games are:

  • The Last of Us (remastered)
  • Uncharted 4
  • Red Dead Redemption 2
  • Shadow of the Colossus (remastered)

To top it off, my partner has known about this for months and got me God of War for Christmas. She somehow kept it secret the whole time. I had no idea this was happening, even up until holding the thing in my hands. It still blows my mind that anyone would do this for me.

Clearly, I must be doing something right!

I’ve had a PS3 since release, but it died around six months ago. Not that I played any games on it anymore, it was a glorified Netflix box. Normally my gaming was done on a PC, however that too had suffered from age. The newest component is at least 4 years old so it’s not able to run modern games too well, but the PSU has also failed and I haven’t yet replaced it.

I used to play video games a lot, however since moving out I’ve been rather preoccupied with all the renovating and cleaning. I still dabble, though. I’ve been playing a little bit of Borderlands 1 & 2 and The Witcher 3, which I have been running on a borrowed laptop. Since the PS3 died, Netflix was being run through Firefox on Linux Mint which I installed on my partner’s low-to-mid-end-at-release laptop that’s ageing quite rapidly.

As you can probably guess, this has now changed. I’m still a PCMR at heart, but the ease of playing on a console and the fact that it’s the only reliable access to gaming I have, PLUS the fact that it’s the most modern bit of technology I own, means that I am now back on the gaming scene. There are a lot of current gen games I’ve missed out on, plus some really awesome looking PlayStation exclusives that I can now play.

I suspect, though, that this gaming will be infrequent once the holiday period is over. I will still make time for it of course!

In fact, I plan on writing reviews of the games I play on here. They may not all be modern games, nor will they be overly professional or likely to contain anything new, but I have plans for a “media review” feature for this site that has now opened up quite significantly in scope with the addition of modern video games. There’s no better time to start than now!

The first game review will be Uncharted 4 as I have already completed it.

If any of the team from work eventually come across this: thank you. Now get back to work 😁

New Year, New Life

2019 is going to be a very interesting year!