Bad Luck or Just Bad Management?

Following on from the previous post here is a slightly closer look at the Carillion debacle.

Barely into the new year and the news broke that a large company handling many multi-million-pound government contracts had gone bust. That company is (or was) Carillion and included in their remit were several large hospital and school construction projects.

Everyone has a Carillion Story… Don’t They?

Now the name Carillion is in the news and everyone has a story to tell. OK, maybe not everyone; but I do. I once worked for a company when they (like many others) were taken over by Carillion. That company was known as Mowlem and their management was equally poor. And that is being kind. Back then Carillion was evolving into an industrial behemoth taking over many well-established engineering companies and dealing with an increasingly large number of important projects being handed out by the government.

In most engineering projects acronyms are used in documents and drawings for all kinds of things. One particular project more or less had its own acronym dictionary there were so many. An acronym by definition is an abbreviation formed by the initial letters from a group of words or phrase. One of those acronyms we used was for what was called the Southern Operations Building – literally an operations building at the southern end of the construction site– hence SOB. Obvious right? Well; read on…

Enter the “Management”

One day a meeting was attended by the overall manager who hardly ever visited or paid much attention to the obvious lack of progress. This manager was a woman whose name escapes me. With all the usual issues on a large construction job you might expect some helpful feedback or inspiration from someone so high up the food chain, right? Wrong. The only thing she seemed concerned about was that all references to the SOB needed to be changed to something “more appropriate” like “SOP” (her suggestion) to mean Southern OPerations building.

I had to think long and hard about that one. Finally, I realised what it was all about and my colleagues confirmed. This woman actually thought that SOB could be taken to mean Son Of a Bitch. That (still) pretty much American mid-ranking insult.

It Takes Your Breath Away…

This would mean changing thousands of references in hundreds of drawings and documents. Obviously at a cost. Yet this is what she insisted upon.

I remember thinking; REALLY??!! No; it can’t be. But it was true. This was the height of Tony Blair’s reorganisation of anything that may have once worked correctly. Such people were appearing almost out of nowhere and taking up highly paid positions in all kinds of companies. They still do of course.

In reality the acronym SOB probably does not conjure up anything to most people. Especially when being used in technical documents; you just look it up in the list of acronyms and abbreviations section of a document and there you will find the definition/meaning. If you were to visit a hospital in America as an outpatient complaining of symptoms like shortness of breath it is quite likely your record will have SOB written on it. In some circles “SOB” has a specific and, clearly in this example, important meaning. But none of this would ever be considered by managers like this woman.

Where does that leave us?

So, where does that leave us? What does that tell us about the people who run these companies? I use the term “run” loosely. They probably couldn’t run a bath if you left them alone.

When Carillion took over was its senior management any better? What do you think? I seem to recall that the ‘manager’ mentioned above left before the Carillion take-over; but sadly the new incoming management was equally confident in their own inabilities. Is it really such a surprise that Carillion folded like a deck-chair?

Just how are you supposed to explain this kind of thing to your kids as they grow up trying their best at school and making career defining decisions along the way?

Is there a new subject in schools that teaches kids how to hide in a large company, do as little as possible and get paid a lot of money for it? I doubt it; so where do these people come from?

More worryingly maybe; where do they go once they have ruined your project or company?

2017: A Quick Review – Of Sorts

As promised in a post at the turn of the year here is a little review of sorts for 2017.

Last year saw the usual mix of sad, tragic and exciting news stories from around the world. One which was both sad and tragic (for me) was the story of Charlie Gard, a subject I dedicated a few posts to last year.

Dani’s Year…

For my young son 2017 saw the end of his first year of full time school and the start of his second. As a result of all this he is now displaying basic reading and writing skills. He still has a long way to go of course but it is great that he starting to pick it up having only just turned four years old.

Dani also had his first caravan holiday in 2017. That most British of holidays in a trailer home right on the British coastline. It was also the year that he became bored of flying. No longer a novelty, more of an inconvenience. Such is the life of a modern child. I never flew in a plane until I was 16.

On the subject of travel; he is on his third ID card. The police even let him sign it. He also needs his third passport. These are required to be renewed every two years at that age as the child’s appearance alters significantly over the first six years. Fortunately the cost of new passports is a lot less in Spain.

There was another year that was mentioned rather frequently during 2017. That year is 1967. Why? you may ask…

An incredible Year…

1967 was an incredible year for many reasons. I could easily write pages about what happened during that year but one thing in particular got me doing some research.

2017 was the 50th anniversary of two huge landmarks in British legal history. This past year was a cause for celebration in the gay community as it was way back in 1967 that homosexuality was de-criminalised. This event received a lot of media coverage throughout 2017.

Also, 1967 marked another huge landmark in society. In August 1967 the abortion act was brought into British law. This 50th anniversary received substantially less attention from the media. By the time you have read this post you may feel that you know why.

Before I go any further I need to point out that I am neither for nor against abortion and definitely do not want to get into a ‘rights and wrongs’ discussion. I sit on the fence when it comes to the abortion debate. Not something I do very often as I tend to see most things very much in black and white. However, that said, these facts will almost certainly surprise you – if not shock you.

The Least Safe Place in Britain

Since being made legal there have been over nine million abortions in Great Britain. That may seem an unfeasibly high figure, but it is true. You can easily check the statistics online yourselves if you find it hard to believe. Especially when you realise that over 50 years the numbers average out to about 180,000 per year – which do not seem unrealistic. Still the overall total is something that should be considered in more detail.

That figure becomes even more incredible the more you examine it. Nine million is higher than the populations of many countries such as Serbia, Austria, Switzerland, Paraguay and Denmark to name a few.

It all begs the question: Does anyone know where the least safe place in Britain is? The answer might scare you, but it is both obvious and very real. That place is a woman’s womb. That may not be an “official” government statement but it is an indisputable fact.

Catalonian Stalemate

Meanwhile the Catalan saga rolls on. December last year saw regional elections with some of the main players either being locked up or in self-imposed exile in Belgium. The election results basically left us exactly the same as before the unilateral declaration of independence with the Catalan parliament having more or less the same make up.

Fortunately Señor Puigdemont uses his trusty droid to communicate in meetings from his new home in Belgium, somewhere on the planet Tatooine.

Back to the Present…

Less than a month into 2018 and most of the UK news already this year has been about the collapse of a huge industrial giant – Carillion. This large company has collapsed despite having been awarded plenty of multi-million-pound government contracts. Hard to imagine isn’t it? Some 20,000+ employees are said to be now out of work as a result of the collapse. Although in reality most of the skilled workers will have already found other work.

I have a tale about Carillion and more specifically the managers of such companies which I will share with you in my next post.

The Work Attitude Conundrum….The (No) Work Centre

Do I file this under grumpy old dad or simply shrug my shoulders and compartmentalise it away in my mind under “This is Spain”?

Ever heard of a high street business called “Work Centre”? A place where you can go and print, photocopy or laminate drawings and documents. They also sell a range of stationery and provide a photo printing service so can be quite useful at times. Anyway, I am sure you will be familiar with such places whatever they may be called in your country. Work Centre is widespread in Spain with offices all over Madrid.

I have used the one nearest our house on a few occasions. Last Monday was one such day.

(No) Work Centre….

I only wanted a single page. It took me nearly 10 minutes. That may not seem like a long time so let me explain. When I walked in there were 4 employees in the “work centre” and only one other customer. The customer was being attended to while the three other employees were stood in one corner talking about…well nothing in particular, but certainly not about work. The “work centre” was more like a No Work Centre. Even when one of the three attempted to join the world of work it took him forever just to print my page. Continually stopping to join in the conversation with his co-workers. Or should that be no-workers? What’s that thing people say about multi-tasking? Well you get the picture I am sure. The whole thing should have taken no more than two minutes. By now a third customer had entered the work free zone and was only attended to because the first customer was just leaving.

This is classic Spain. Not only Spain of course but definitely classic Spain. One of the things that most pisses people off about the place is ironically one of the things that makes it such a fun country to be in. Some call it a care-free attitude. But it can also be interpreted as a ‘couldn’t give a shit’ attitude – especially when it comes to work.

Paying Bills into the Bank

Although the most recent and fresh in my mind, this is nowhere near the best example I can come up with. That prize goes to a bank close to where we lived when Dani was first born.

I can’t recall which bank but it hardly matters. All banks in Spain – as far as I am aware – have similar odd policies of only allowing you to pay certain bills on specific days and times.

OK. If you are not Spanish or do not live in Spain let me explain…

If you want to pay a gas or electric bill then banks will only take the money/cheque from you on (say) Tuesday mornings between 10am and 11am. If it is a bill related to the town hall then this may be during a different timeframe, say Wednesday mornings between 10amm and midday. I really do not have the exact details to hand and certainly not for every bank but that is more or less how it works.

This one particular day – several years ago – I had to pay something to the town hall. It was that long ago I cannot even remember what it was. I went into the bank about 2 minutes past 11 o’clock fully aware of the strange rules for making payments.

The Conversation – Real and Imagined

The bank clerk looked at me then looked at the paperwork I had slid under his nose. He looked at me again and pointed to a small notice just to my left (his right). It said that these bills could only be paid into the bank between 10 and 11am on Tuesdays. It was a Tuesday. I didn’t need to think about that one. I looked over my shoulder quickly at the bank’s wall clock and saw that it was just past 11am.

 I looked at the bank teller and questioned, “No?” – as if to shout “are you taking the f***ing piss or what?!”

“No” he replied calmly, again pointing to the sign to his right – no doubt implying “can’t you f***ing read?”

Again I turned to look around over my shoulder – slowly this time – scanning the empty bank behind me. The only other people in there were more bank employees. There were five of us in total.

I turned to face the bank clerk again almost in slow motion as if to emphasise the fact that time was standing still in this place and not a lot was happening.

En serio?” I pleaded (Really?) – meaning, “There is nobody else in here for f*** sake!”

Then I looked over – almost gesturing – towards his co-workers who were busy doing not a great deal and repeated my plea.

En serio ?!!” – by now in a tone which at the very least suggested, “are you really that much of a c**t?”

“No” he said again; probably thinking “I wish this foreign prick would f**k off and leave me in peace”.

So, defeated and deflated, I turned in despair muttering some profanities under my breath as I traipsed out of this pretend ‘bank’.

Any Conclusions?

Sometimes that is just the way it goes in Spain. The over-bearing weight of bureaucracy that some people pretend is a hangover from the Franco era is in fact ingrained in almost every aspect of business life whether it is public or private sector. Or to put it another way; simply trying to get basic things done in Spain can, at times, be a real pain in the arse.

This kind of thing is supposedly rife these days. And clearly not only in Spain. It has been well documented by newspaper columnists and several explanations offered. One of them is that there is real a sense of entitlement in the younger generations today.

I will buy into that one. Or is that just me getting old? You tell me.

New Bedtime Stories – with a few Old Names

Bedtime Stories with a new Twist

I have had to think fast when telling bedtime stories lately.

While the old favourites like the Elves and the Shoemaker, Jack and the Beanstalk and Red Riding Hood still work most of the time, the recent obsession with Star Wars and a new (for Dani) TV show have taken story-time to a new level.

Quick TV Show Premise

That TV show is called Zak Storm. Basically, the series goes like this:

While out surfing, teenager Zak Storm gets sucked into some kind of giant wave vortex (apparently ending up in the Bermuda Triangle) after “borrowing” (stealing) his father’s necklace, which is really some mythical “eye” of some mysterious sea. Still with me? Zak ends up as the captain of a ship called The Chaos, which has its own rag tag crew and a talking sword (Calabrass). He then has to try to find his way home while fighting off skeleton pirates who appear more like robots.

Yes. Exactly!

I am not a big fan and I haven’t really been paying much attention to this TV programme. I am definitely not yet familiar with all the members of Zak’s crew so I simply decided to make them up.

Introducing the Crew….

The other day I introduced them to my son. Please be aware that no copyright infringement is intended. You just might recognise some of the characters from elsewhere…Story-time went a bit like this:

“Daddy who is on the ship with Zak?”

“Well. Let me see. Blue Beard, Peg-leg Pete and One-eyed Jack.” Names that came instantly to mind but no idea from where.

“Who else daddy?”.

I was already struggling. Then a moment of inspiration…

“There was his second in command. Roger Mellie”

(Laughing) “Roger Mellie???”

“Yes. He used to be on the telly. Then there was Biffa Bacon.”

(Laughing) “Biffa Bacon? Biffa Bacon!!? Hahahaa. What?”

“Yes. He likes to eat bacon and he hits people for the captain”

“And Biffa Cheese?” laughing to himself. “He likes cheese sandwiches.”

“No. Not on this ship. Then there was Johnny Fartpants”

More laughter…Lots more…

“He was the cook. Then there was Jimmy Two-Times. They call him that because he says everything two times, two times”.

“Daddy. Daddy. He says everything two times? He says everything two times?” (Laughs.)

“Yes. And he also had a friend, Frankie the Wop.”

And that is how it goes… We now spend most of the time discussing the ship’s crew and their special (or not so special) abilities, while I try to weave a bit of a story in between. He loves it. Almost as much as his dad.


Incidentally, I have only just discovered that the word “wop”, whilst sometimes being used as a kind of insult, is derived from ‘WithOut Papers’. Many Italian immigrants to the USA had no papers when they arrived so they were branded ‘wops’. At least that is what I read online. It’s hard to know the truth about some of these things but that explanation seems logical enough to me. So there you go… Story-time can be quite an education.

A Three Kings Day Event With a Difference

I have filed this one under ‘Grumpy Old Dad’ but maybe I am just right. You decide…

Three years ago on his first Three Kings day children’s event at a well-known company the children received a DVD of the Disney film Frozen. Not exactly my cup of tea but an undisputed classic nonetheless. The following year it was “Big Hero 6” another excellent and popular animated film. Last year it was basically some sweets and a piece of cake (or something similar).

This year there was nothing.

Well not quite.

This Year’s Show…

There was a short stage show with Christmas songs by a group of actors who had obviously been hired specially. Three employees played the kings – as in previous years. One of the actors played a little girl who was asked about her expectations on the big day. This included a not so subtle message that what the ‘little girl’ really wanted from the three kings was to spend that day with her parents. Gifts were not really needed. It was becoming obvious that the kids were not going to receive any presents this year.

The kings finally appeared. They walked in one door and down one side of the theatre to the stage. One of them made an announcement that they had received a lot of letters from children and so had a lot of work to be getting on with (or something like that). Then they trailed off up the other side of the theatre and out through the other door. Patting a few kids on the heads as they went and sharing high (and low) fives with others – including Dani and Susana.

OK. I know. The true meaning and spirit of Christmas and all that… but seriously?

Seriously? !

The Award Goes to…

And so; – drum roll please -the Ebenezer Scrooge award for 2017 goes to Repsol, the Spanish oil giant.

It was the biggest con since Paul Newman “shot” Robert Redford in “The Sting” (awesome film by the way). And we all thought it was the Grinch that stole Christmas. Wrong.

The company is the highest contributor to the Spanish Treasury. Put another way it pays more taxes than any other company, organisation or individual. Put yet another way that means that they make a sh1t load of profit – i.e. money. So, you would think that they could afford decent gifts for their Three Kings day event right? Or any gift (if last year was anything to go by).

Not All Bad – perhaps?

Admittedly, Dani only gets invited to these things because his auntie works for the company. None of this grumpy old dad moan is about Dani getting a gift. If I want him to have something I can probably get it. It’s just that I was there to see it all and it didn’t seem right. Because the nephews, nieces and even grandchildren of employees are able to attend these events there are thousands of kids in total. Maybe as many as five thousand in the case of the main office. Even so, that still would only amount to about €40k of spending on some good presents. Probably much less if buying in such bulk. It may sound a lot but it is the proverbial drop in the ocean to this huge company.

The one good thing was that the kids really did not miss getting a present. I don’t think they even realised that they had effectively been conned out of a gift this year. I suppose that says something about the message they were trying to give out. In a way that was nice to see. Oh, and they did get some sweets and a chocolate milk drink. Still; I think a company the size of Repsol should be able to put on a good show and still give their employees children a gift.

Don’t you?


And now the big day has passed and all the excitement has disappeared as reality has dawned on the children – mine included. They are back to school today. Welcome back to earth kids.

There Goes Another One

And so, another year passes by and we enter 2018. I wanted to do a quick round up of 2017 before it ended as it was quite a year in some odd ways. Due to being away from home for a few days either side of new year I will have to make that recap in a week or so…

First Time Skiers

For the New Year period we stayed in the small town of Riaza north of Madrid. One of the reasons was the close proximity of a ski resort called La Pinilla. Dani and his cousin had their first ski lesson on the beginner’s slope at the top of the first chair lift.

It would be an exaggeration to say that they enjoyed their first experience locked onto two planks but they went through the motions nonetheless. Meanwhile those who wanted to ski made a few trips down the mountain and back up again.

It is bad enough for adults with those super uncomfortable boots but for the kids it is seriously hard work. Just getting them to put that unnatural footwear on their feet was a challenge in itself.

At least it was sunny and just enough snow. Once they were with the instructor they were more or less fine. To try and teach your own kids something so different is near impossible. Leave them with a complete stranger and hey presto! they listen.

A few days later – and in another year – they tried again. This time the weather was not so good but amazingly the kids went through the booting ritual with no fuss and had a second lesson. Now they are making progress.


New year came with a bang. Literally. This is Spain. In the town plaza at midnight the fireworks went off and as usual some were very loud – not to Dani’s liking.

Riaza is a nice little town with an old (very small) centre built around a sand covered circular plaza. Perfect for converting into a plaza de toros. And that’s exactly what they do on occasion during the summer. The town is well known for its cordero (lamb) dishes.

At this time of the year they place a Christmas tree in the centre and decorate it with recycled (or should that be reinvented?) decorations made from used plastic bottles etc… (see photo)

And so thoughts now turn to the Three Kings and more presents for the little ones. Three days and counting…

   Geared up and ready to go? It doesn’t look like.

On the slopes. Well you will have to take it from me; there was a slight incline


Lavadero just outside the centre of Riaza, where the people of the village would have once gathered to do their laundry.


A typical Riaza doorway complete with crest.