An Office Move

Over this second Lockdown, it appears that quite a few companies have decided to move out of the building where my office sits.  Some have found that they can cope just fine entirely working from home, some have moved elsewhere, and some (I’m pretty sure) have just given up the ghost.

However, taking some advantage of that, I’ve been able to move my office to a larger/better one with minimum hassle.

The one I was in was OK, but had an issue with *very* thin walls – studwork walls, in an 80’s open-plan setup that was then converted to house multiple small businesses – to the extent that I could hear phone calls and conversations from the offices either side of mine, with absolute clarity. (Which meant I knew *way* more about their clients than I ever wanted to)  And with the new prevalence of video-calls and so on, that’s even more of a factor.

The new one is better built, better lit, and larger. I’m paying a bit more for it, but it’s well within manageable levels.  The only downside (at the moment) is that the fluorescent tube lights in it are noisy, with a buzz that I can hear all the time.  However, I’ve raised that as an issue, and been able to get them to agree to change them to new lamps with an electronic ballast – I don’t have a clue, but apparently it’ll mean it runs silently. And if it doesn’t, well I’ll just unplug them, as I have in other offices.

Even better, the move was easy as chuff. It took two hours to move everything from one to the other, and get it all set up.  I’ve probably got some layout changes to make, a couple of things to buy (a new office chair, for example, once Lockdown is over) , but it’s all good. I’m happy with the new unit, and hopefully it’ll be home for another couple of years.


Car Costs

Last week was an expensive one (and disappointing in some ways) with regards to the car.

Firstly, on Wednesday morning it failed the MoT test – three of the four linkages on the anti-roll bars were “excessively worn” (read “fucked”) and needed replacing.  Slightly annoying/disappointing, but not unexpected at 160,000 miles. (And one of the linkages had a warning last year)

What was more annoying/disappointing was the attitude of the garage about it all, who told me they had no availability until a week on Friday (i.e. October 16th) in order to do the work. And that’s just shit.

The problem is that with the “new” MoT (it’s been around for a couple of years now, so ‘new’ is a bit of a misnomer) if the car fails, it’s not really supposed to be driven at all. With the time duration, I was OK to drive it home but then wasn’t supposed to use it again ’til it’s time to be repaired. And being stuck at home like that for ten days is not my idea of fun.

Fortunately, I had a way round it – albeit a potentially expensive one.  Hire a car to use while mine was unavailable – and then it occurred to me that there’s a KwikFit on the same site, so I gave them a call as well, and organised it for them to look at my car and do whatever was necessary. Because it was later in the day, they said it might take time to order the parts, so it might not be done ’til Saturday (still a week earlier than the original garage could do) but that was fine.  And of course it also meant I could legally get to the car-hire place!

So that’s what happened. Over to KwikFit, drop off the car and paperwork, collect the hire car, and home. All fairly easy, and a better alternative than being stuck at home, or facing any legal issues.

The next day, KwikFit gave me a call, confirmed the work, told me what it would cost, and it was all fine. So they said I could collect it Friday morning, including having re-taken the MoT test.

So all told, it could’ve been a lot worse.

The original garage have pissed me off though – I’ve had this issue before with their other dealership, and it’s frustrating. I’m happy that they’re busy, and I know there’s less availability because of social distancing and so on. All the same, if it were my business, I’d keep at least one workshop slot per day open for same-day and urgent repairs. That way these sort of things wouldn’t be a problem – and they’d show some customer service by being able to go “Oh, yeah, we can juggle this, we’ll do it today (or tomorrow at a push)“. Which would also mean the money from said work went into their account, not that of one of their competitors.

I get that they want to keep busy and maximise things, but the simple fact is that it’s cost them money – both in not having the money for the work and replacements I needed, but also in the likelihood of me going back there for any future work. Which is what makes it so sad and short-sighted.

Anyway, from my side it’s all fine, and the car’s taxed, MoTed and fully insured again.


Silver Linings

I don’t really need to update anyone about the current Coronavirus Lockdown and all the fun and games that entails.  (Suffice to say for now, I’m doing fine, but there’ll probably be a separate post about that some other time)  It’s generally a bit shitey, and a bit dull, but it’s OK.

However, I was also thinking this week that for me things could’ve been so much worse – and very nearly were. So as well as the shitey-and-dull bits, it’s time to look a bit at silver linings, the things that – if they’d happened – would have made things shitey-er. (That’s not a word, but in context it’ll be fine)

At the start of this year, I was looking at renting a different office – still in Milton Keynes, but with a nicer specification, some more facilities and so on. And, of course, significantly more expensive.  They were still fitting it out when I went for a look – which was perhaps a short-sighted move on the part of the company, as I’d have far rather seen things when they were a bit further along, rather than saying “This is where the walls will be” – but all the same, it looked nice, and suitable for most of my needs, along with some interesting extras for being “one of the first in”.  But for a number of reasons (primarily the cost, and that I don’t like being hassled by sales people afterwards – particularly when they then can’t even follow their script efficiently) I decided to wait and see. And if I’d taken it, I’d have moved in a month ago, and then been effectively locked out a week later, while still paying that contracted rent for a locked-in 12-month minimum.  (At my current one, if all else fails, I can now give them a month’s notice and be done and dusted)

In a similar vein, back in November I was looking at a couple of other houses I could move to instead of the current one. My tenancy was expiring on the current one, I’ve been here a scarily long time, and in many ways I’d like somewhere with more room. (That would’ve been nice in the current situation, I’d have had space to set aside a room as a home-office, which simply isn’t possible where I am now)  But again, the ones I liked were a lot more expensive, and not quite right enough to make the decision.   So again, if things had worked out differently, I’d be in a bigger house and so on, but also be paying considerably more for doing so.

There have been (and even are) some other silver linings to this whole thing, but for now, I think these two will do, to remind me that things really could be a lot worse…


Organising

Among all the usual stuff, I’ve spent some time this month getting things a bit more organised, and kicking off things that had slipped last year.

So in the last two weeks, I’ve…

  • Moved/merged my credit-card crap onto one interest-free balance-transfer card.
    It’s not a huge amount, and not something I’m worried about, but it’s good to have it in one place and no interest for the next two years.
  • Started playing hunt-the-pensions, seeing if I can find them and merge them into one fund, so I know where the hell things stand.
    I’m not expecting much, but again, it’ll be good to know
  • Started sorting a new will, as the last one was done while I was still with Herself. So yeah, that *really* needs to be sorted
  • Booked in cat-sitting people for all the stuff I’ve currently got lined up (which is more than it should be, but less than it could’ve been)
  • Actually also done less – in each of the three weekends so far, I’ve had a day of doing very very little, as per the plan for this year.  I don’t know if that’ll keep on happening (in some ways I’m finding it more exhausting than being busy, but I’ll write about that another time) but so far it’s worked out
  • Completed another project outside of my usual work, which has already made me more productive than last year
  • Oh, and visited my first Michelin-starred restaurant of the year as well (and it was bloody excellent)

It’s been interesting, and eventful – and it’s good to have some of that stuff checked off the list already


Worst Retailer

In the news today, a survey (admittedly, of only 8,000-ish people) lists WHSmith as the worst retailer, for the second year running.

Which doesn’t surprise me – to be honest, the only thing that ever surprises me about WHSmith is that they continue to keep trading. They’ve been in my retail dead pool for about a decade now, and they keep stumbling on.

Personally, I rarely (if ever) darken the doors of a WHSmith. They simply don’t do what I want to buy, there are plenty of places that are cheaper/better, and (to me) most of the stores look dull and dirty.  I’m not saying they are dull and dirty, but they look it – again, to me.

The most recent example of this was a couple of weekends ago, I was in a place I’d not been before, and they had a big WHSmith store.  But from the outside, the lighting inside was so dull that it looked as though the store wasn’t actually open.  Just grim.

Anyway.

The thing that interested me in the story was this :

Every week we serve three million customers in our 600 UK High Street stores

That doesn’t seem like a very big figure, to be honest.  So I worked it out.

3,000,000 divided between 600 stores is 5,000 customers per store. Per week.  Which isn’t much.

And then you average it out over the seven days of the week – I’ll round it up to the nearest whole, as .25 of a person is ridiculous – and you get 715 people per store per day.   Which really isn’t a lot. I can’t see how those numbers all the stores to break even, let alone make a profit.

I truly don’t understand how they stay in business


Small Wins – Backup

Way, way back in the day – Nov 2006, to be precise – I bought a backup drive for all my music, photos and work. It wasn’t anything hugely special – a now laughable 320Gb drive – but it did what I wanted, and made sure I’d got everything preserved.  (Amusingly, I just took a look, and the roughly-similar drives now done by WD start at 3Tb!)

And then I moved a few times, and the drive got separated from its power brick, and I sort of gave up on it a bit.  Over the last few years I’ve mainly been using online backups instead (which mean that as soon as I save a file, it’s backed up, and synchronises to my other machines) and the drive became even less of an issue.

I always knew where the drive itself was, even though I was fairly sure I’d lost (or thrown away) the power lead/brick.  The drive has been on one of my bookcases, doing nothing except attracting dust.

Last weekend, though, I found a random power cable that looked like it might fit the drive.  So I took them both into my office this week, and gave it a go.

At the end of the day, I’d pretty much given up on it – it’s been sat there doing sod-all for a number of years, and has been carelessly moved, shoved in boxes and so on. So I expected nothing.

And yet, when I plugged the cables in and connected it to the laptop, it all worked. Straight away, with no issues, clanks, grinds, or other Warning Noises Of Doom.  Needless to say, I’m actually pretty impressed.

Of course, I’ll also now be working to ensure that a lot of it is backed up somewhere else as well, as that drive is distinctly venerable, but all the same, it’s a bit of a win for it all to have come back in the way it has.

 


Starting The Year

And so, Happy New Year. Another orbit round the sun, and as is the tradition, some thoughts about what’s coming.

As usual, I don’t really do resolutions – particularly not New Year’s ones.  I do a list around my birthday, which can be found here, but I’m thinking about some changes this year as part of that as well.

One of the things that will change a bit is that I’m going to put more into sorting out routines for things, rather than necessarily just looking at the goals themselves.  There are a couple of bits on my list where it’s about “I want to have done [x]”, and that’s fine.  But more of them are about “I want to achieve [y]”, and while I’ve always had the intention, the actuality has evaded me.

Last year I got pointed at this article about creating systems rather than setting goals, and it rang a major bell with me.

All told, I’m in a good place to get started on this stuff.

I’ve just completed version one of a project for another contact, and I’ve done pretty much all I can on it until they get back to me with final information. It’s a working version, although I’ve had to replace some of the functionality/information I’m waiting for with automated processes for the minute. But I’m happy with where it is, and it’s now out of my brain, which is A Good Thing.

Of course, it’s immediately been replaced with another project – this one something that’s important to me as well – which I want to work on sooner rather than later.

So, Happy New Year. Onwards and upwards, etc. etc.

And as one of the Doctors would say, “Allons-y!