How Many Engineers Does it Take to Fix a Telephone Line?

 

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You’ve got my number, why don’t you use it?

Tuesday 11th September 2012, the phone lines go down. This is a disaster for a small business. The engineer is unable to find the cause of the problem and schedules another call for the next morning.

Wednesday 12th, engineer number 2 arrives. He says the problem might be coming from the telegraph pole, or it might be an underground problem. As he is a ground engineer he can’t investigate further and calls for an underground and an overhead engineer to come and investigate. Dom asks if he’s being serious. We then spend an hour waiting for the two engineers to arrive from separate jobs.

The 3rd engineer says the fault is 60 meters from the house, which leads him to the telegraph pole and the box at the top. As he is not allowed to fix anything above head height, he calls for another engineer to go up the pole.

The 4th engineer arrives and says the fault is 3 meters away, which leads him to the manhole cover at the bottom of the garden. We now have two engineers on site, but neither of them are allowed to carry out work underground, so a 5th engineer is called. Meanwhile, the overhead engineer is called away to another job.

The underground engineer arrives. He determines that the fault is 2 meters away, which is half way up the telegraph pole. However neither of the engineers are allowed to fix this and they need an overhead engineer. By now it’s too late to organise a call out, so we have to wait until the following morning in the hope that the issue is finally resolved.

Thursday 13th, the underground engineer and overhead engineer arrive and finally fix the problem. Wait, did I say fix? Not quite. It turns out that the wire on the telegraph pole needs replacing but the supervisor will only sanction a temporary fix. We are living on borrowed time until we have to go through the rigmarole all over again.

Is this the end of the story? Not quite. In a bizarre twist of fate, our remote IT system gets hit by a virus and we lose all incoming emails and access to the Spice booking system for 48 hours. We have no idea as to how many members have booked onto how many events, or which events are full. Our part-time event coordinators can’t do their work, so we have to cover for them. In the end we had four days of backed up emails to attend to and a frantic rush to issue event instructions for the weekend ahead.

And how long did this hiatus last for, exactly?

Until Monday 24th September 2012. The phone line breaks again. It’s beginning to feel like Groundhog Day.

There are so many cool songs we could have associated with this story; Hanging on the Telephone, Wichita Lineman, Telephone Man (okay, maybe not this one), but which song have we opted for?

“Underground, overground, Wombling free.” 

My sincere apologies to my UK friends for putting this song in their heads, and foreign friends unfamiliar with the Wombles beware! You Google it at your peril!

 

 

 

Throwing in the Towels

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Have towel, will travel

The annual Halloween fancy dress ball set in a candle-lit cave in the Forest of Dean was a must-do event in the social calendar. Defined as a ‘Spice Classic’, it was a firm favourite which would sell out within weeks of being advertised.

We cannot take the credit for finding this awesome venue; by the time we took over our particular Spice group the event had been running for a number of years. Our predecessor had procured the most basic of accommodation and for the first two years of our tenure we stuck it out in a dismal, grimy youth hostel, complete with single sex dorms and chewing gum encrusted bunk beds. Most of the old school members liked its communal feel; we had the entire venue to ourselves and there was a huge dining area for breakfasts, suppers and for general chats and costume adjustments over a cup of tea (or something stronger). New members weren’t quite so enamoured with its shambolic charm and as we were restricted to the number of people it could accommodate, we decided it was time for a change.

Feedback also revealed that people didn’t enjoy the two mile walk to and from the venue along dark, unlit country roads. Each and everyone was in fancy dress, warm coats covering bulky costumes to keep out the cold and rain. Apart from scaring a few dog-walkers en-route, the outward journey usually passed without incident. As you can imagine, the walk home was much more problematic. By now we had 30 or more very inebriated Spice members staggering along narrow footpaths, straying into the path of oncoming traffic. Quite what the drivers thought of 30 or so drunken vampires and witches stumbling along, with make-up, wigs and hats askew, in the dead of night, I can only imagine.

By 2006 we had found brand new accommodation at Whitemead Forest Park in Lydney, complete with spa, jacuzzi, swimming pool and bar. We increased the number of spaces to 50 and for the first time we organised a coach to take us to and from Clearwell Caves. We arrived early on Friday afternoon ahead of our preparations for that night’s meet-up. Exploring the brand new facilities, we got chatting to a few of the members and everyone was very happy with the new accommodation. Apart from two brand new members, two ladies attending their first event. Despite the write up giving a full description of that weekend’s event and highlighting the pool and spa facilities, these two ladies arrived for the weekend without towels. My first reaction was ‘Who goes away for a weekend without a towel?’ Dom, however went into a blind panic and without checking if any other members had arrived sans towels, rushed to the nearest Tesco to purchase what they had in stock.

At that time it was Tesco’s policy to limit sales of the same item to 15. How many towels did Dom want? 50! A long-winded discussion ensued between Dom and the cashier, the manager was called over and after further deliberation, Dom left with a car full of fluffy white towels.

At 7pm the members started to arrive at our chalet for welcome drinks before heading off to the bar.

“Don’t forget to grab a towel” Dom told everyone.

“No thanks, we’ve brought our own” replied all but the two aforementioned ladies.

We gave away as many towels as we could, but still had a pile leftover because Dom was too embarrassed to return them. They weren’t of the highest quality, but came in very handy for using as dust sheets for our many DIY projects.

 

 

The Silent Hill

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I can see for miles

In response to the Daily Prompt: Undulate

In Spice we would organise lots of local rambles and walking weekends. And I mean lots. Three friends; Andy, Cara and Geoff joined forces to become our walk leaders, calling themselves ACG Adventures.

All events required a write up, and it was extremely important to include the correct information regarding the difficulty of the walks. We didn’t want a novice over-stretching themselves on a 15 mile challenge walk, for example. The members soon became wise to the fact that any write up including the words ‘undulating terrain’ was code for:

‘This is going to be a long, hard, painful slog and you will be walking like John Wayne for days afterwards.’

Now, Spicers are a friendly bunch and there was a hardcore group of regular walkers. They took these opportunities to catch up with members they might have met on other events and to introduce themselves to any newbies. So our peaceful countryside was often filled with the sound of laughter and conversation. Until they reached a hill. The walk leaders would smile quietly to themselves as the chatter would die out as the hill got steeper.

This became known as ‘the silent hill.’

Blown Away

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Bowling a maiden over

The Spice booking system was the bane of our working lives. We would send out joining instructions for each event but there was no way of previewing an email prior to sending it, so we were in effect sending it out ‘blind’. Mistakes were a regular occurrence and a high proportion of our time was spent on damage control; trying to explain to confused members as to why they’d received an email bearing no significance to the events they had booked onto.

One such error resulted in Dom posting on Facebook:

Oops, just sent an email for Ten Pin Bowling tonight for the ‘Blowing Alley’, rather than the ‘Bowling Alley’

This prompted some cheeky responses:

Jonathan: “On the other hand…”

Jane: “This could be a totally different kind of event!”

Sue: “Dom’s blown it!”

Mark: “OMG!!! You can get arrested for less!”

Carol: “Do they know what they’ve let themselves in for?”

Alex: “I’m sure that wasn’t in the event write-up!”

Andy: “Are there any spaces left?”

 

The Meditation Room

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How not to make an entrance

Spicers would descend upon three different Center Parcs venues 3-4 times a year, but it was the Nottingham summer party weekend that no one wanted to miss. Spaces were limited to 500 and the event could sell out within weeks of being advertised.

We were allowed to check in from Friday afternoon. Most would explore the subtropical swimming paradise or take a wander around the village before joining their fellow party goers at their group’s local welcome meet early that evening. Free drinks (very much diluted) and a few nibbles were provided and many a conversation was struck up over a cocktail sausage and a handful of Pringles. At nine o’clock they started to disperse, spilling out onto the pavements and heading for the ‘Venue.’ Some maintain it was the best night of the weekend, giving them the chance to meet up with all the people they’d met on previous events.

Saturday was sports day and a mixture of people with a range of sporting abilities would turn up, impeded by the size of their hangover. After a couple of hours running around we’d head off to the Rapids to cool off, then back to our villa to meet up with our villa mates, grab some food and get ready for the fancy dress party. It was pretty full-on. Sunday was less frenzied with lots of members heading home, but we liked to stay until the Monday and our trip to the Aqua Sana was a ritual we very much looked forward to.

It still surprises me that Dom likes a sauna, he doesn’t come across as the sort of person who enjoys a herbal-infused steam room. He’s more of a roughty-toughty kinda guy who measures how much fun he’s had by how much dirt he’s accumulated. He’s also very loud, and the Aqua Sana had signs everywhere asking visitors to respect the silence and tranquility of the other users. Yes, you already know where this story is going.

Sunday. White fluffy oversized robes donned, our first stop is the foot spa. Despite having incredibly ticklish feet, Dom loves it. We head for the jacuzzi, Dom’s in seventh heaven. A few steam rooms later and we’re as chilled out as a polar bear on an iceberg. Then we spot it, the Meditation Room. This is a new one on us, so we read the description on the outside which reads something along the lines of:

‘Feel how body and soul become one in this oasis of total relaxation and multi-sensory stimulation. Water droplets, cascading from above, create a constantly moving water surface, reflecting the walls and ceiling. It results in a very peaceful atmosphere. The scent of lemons inspires your personal meditation, invigorating the mind, restoring energy levels and uplifting the spirit.’

We open the door.

“Ooh, it’s dark!” whispered Dom. Loudly.

“Ssshhh!” I replied, hands outstretched, searching for something solid to guide me. We stumble upon another door. We enter. It was possibly even darker inside.

With self-preservation kicking in, I stopped dead in my tracks to let my eyes adjust to the darkness before taking another step. After a couple of seconds a dim strip of floor lights became visible. They curved round in an arc and following them I found the seating area. Gung-ho Dom on the other hand just steamed in, full speed ahead. Easing myself gently and considerately passed some spa goers who were enjoying the tranquility, I heard a thud, a thump and a cry of pain and before I reached an empty seat I had started giggling. Just as I was thanking my lucky stars that Dom would have no chance of finding me in the dark, therefore giving me some time to pull myself together, I heard him barging his way along the people I had so considerately passed just seconds before.

“Excuse me.”

“Ooops, sorry!”

Toes were stepped upon, knees were bashed and with a thud, Dom sat down next to me.

“I couldn’t find you.” He said.

“That’s because I was trying to lose you!”

We giggled. Several people tutted. We sat for what seemed like an eternity, desperately trying to control ourselves, but as soon as one stopped giggling, the other would start, and so the cycle continued until our eyes finally adjusted. Then we saw it; a huge fountain about 8 foot high, with a large overhanging bowl and a knee-high wall all around it. Dom had tripped over the wall and headbutted the bowl.

Then came the realisation that everyone in the room would have seen the entire fiasco.

Unable to contain ourselves any longer, we burst out laughing, giving the remaining few who had remained in contemplative ignorance a very rude awakening.

“Well that’s ruined my contemplation” said one lady who proceeded to stand up and storm out.

“Don’t worry, you won’t have been the first to do it and I doubt you’ll be the last” said another, at which point we made our excuses and beat a hasty retreat.

 

The Porn Star

 

Being a Spice Coordinator meant being visible at all times (not easy when you’re the same height as a Munchkin). That should explain the innumerable sitings of the ubiquitous red polo shirt which appear in most of these posts.

Dom liked wearing his Spice polo shirts. A lot. He’s even been known to wear them to non-Spice events, giving friends and family plenty of ammunition to take the mickey out of him. He also liked his Spice fleeces to the point of being virtually inseparable from them, come rain or shine. Whilst the polo shirts were quite subtle (in as much as red can be described as ‘subtle’), the fleeces were less so, with “Spice – live your dream” emblazoned in large letters on the back.

This was never usually a problem, apart from in Las Vegas where he was the holiday host to a group of Spicers. Enjoying a night out on the Strip, the group noticed they were receiving a lot of attention from some ‘interesting’ characters across the bar. Curiosity got the better of them and they started talking. The nature of their inquisitiveness was quickly established;

‘Spice’ was a porn channel in the USA and they were trying to figure out if they had seen Dom on it!

Dom quickly ditched the ‘uniform’ and spent the rest of the trip incognito!

 

Extreme Knitting

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Fooled again!

We loved organising Spice events and were always looking for new and exciting events to tempt people out of their comfort zone. Every year, on the run-up to April Fool’s Day we would conjure up a one-off, unique experience and way back in 2007 the event was Extreme Knitting.

Let me explain, this wasn’t a real event, but bearing in mind we organised 100+ events every month, it was easy to pass it off as authentic. Every month we held a series of Preview Nights for potential new members to find out more about us. On one such night we mentioned the April Fool event which prompted everyone to scour the pages to find it.

“Is it Underwater Hockey?”

“No, that’s a real event.”

“What about riding a Mini Motorbike?”

“No, that’s also real.”

Our ramble leaders were in on the deception and had kindly obliged us with some great photos to make the subterfuge more realistic. All our events had a write up, and this was the blurb we concocted:

“After the success of their Orienteering Days in Bracknell Forest, and Shotover Park, we asked ACG Adventures to come up with something a little bit different and they have come up with a belter! Join Geoff and Cara for an afternoon spent running around the forest – with a difference.

You’ve heard of Extreme Ironing – well here is the next big thing – Extreme Knitting! So many film stars are taking up knitting, it really has become incredibly cool. The main aim of the day is to have some fun in groups of three or four searching for clues, whilst hopefully improving our navigation and knitting! When we have reached our destination there will be a pack waiting for you, with a different coloured ball of wool and a pair of knitting needles. You will have to negotiate your way around 16 different areas, and knit 2 rows at each location until you have finished a 3’ long scarf. Penalties will be given for dropped stitches and poor tension and there will be a prize for the most aesthetically pleasing scarf.

Geoff and Cara will be on hand to help where necessary and whilst navigation skills and being able to knit are an advantage, neither are essential. There will be a brief introduction on the skills needed at the start.”

We even put a clue at the end:

*Before booking this event, you might want to check the date!* 

We had 3 bona-fide bookings and countless requests to organise it as a real event, but couldn’t persuade Geoff to run it for us, or learn how to knit!

 

The Sinner Shuffle

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Don’t count your sinners until they’ve sinned

A major part of the Spice social programme was dining out. We would book a local restaurant for anything between 8-30 people, rotating the choice of cuisine. We had a great time eating our way around the tasty (and some less so) gastronomies of the world, as our burgeoning waistlines will testify.

Our Spice ‘realm’ covered a large area; Oxfordshire to the north, Hampshire to the south and Berkshire in the middle. Each area had their own events enabling members to meet others local to them and this included a weekly meal.

How can I say this delicately? Not all members were created equal. Some could bore for England, so pity the poor soul stuck with the ‘autocrat’ who would blather on, oblivious to anyone wanting to get a word in edgways. Or you could be sat next to the ‘mouse’ sitting in nervous silence, desperately trying to avoid any attempt at conversation.

Luckily, there was a solution. After each course, every second or third person would get up and move to an empty seat, to sit next to someone new. Chaos would invariably ensue with those not knowing their left from their right or how many empty seats to leave between them. Wine glasses, napkins and various items of clothing would then have to be retrieved from their original start points, whilst the restaurant’s other patrons would look on in mild curiosity and/or disapproval at the disruption to their evening’s festivities. And so the Dinner Shuffle was born.

Now, not all events went ahead, some being postponed or cancelled due to low numbers (or lack of interest). Even after 12 years in the role we were unable to predict what would and wouldn’t appeal and telling members an event wasn’t going ahead was a job we both dreaded.

Being dyslexic, Dom normally passed any member correspondence over to me. I must have been out of the office on the day he received an email from a Hampshire member.  The full response is irrelevant, but the poor chap must have been totally perplexed by the closing paragraph:

“Sadly on another note the Sinner Shuffle in Southampton tomorrow night has had to be cancelled as only 2 had booked.” 

Always looking to engage with our members, I posted the following on Facebook, and some of the responses from our members was priceless:

“Oooh, Dom’s just created a new event genre. Anyone fancy coming to a Sinner Shuffle?”

Hazel: “Ooh that sounds like fun!!”

Elaine: “OMG yes!!!”

Hazel: “What new sins can we try on this event???”

Karen: “Where do I sign up?!!” 

Melanie: “Do we have to renounce our sins between courses?”

Karen: “There wouldn’t be enough courses to renounce all my sins!!”

Chelsea: “Or perhaps we get to commit the sins between the courses…”

 

Spice Up Your Life

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Spicing it up at 80’s Rewind

Dom and I met in 2003 on a party weekend at Oasis in Penrith, run by a social group called ‘Spice’. I was looking for someone to join me on a High Ropes course and he accepted the challenge. He later confessed he had a fear of heights.

Eight months later, we had moved from London to South Oxfordshire to run our own Thames Valley Spice group, heralding the start of a life filled with friendship and adventure.

At its peak, our group had 1,000 members and we organised over 100 events every month. (We did a lot of socialising!) Nearly every event needed written instructions – and that can be extremely challenging if you’re dyslexic. Let’s just say we managed to confuse a lot of members over the years, and some ‘Dom-isms’ are still repeated to this day, years after the incidents occurred.

This blog concentrates on those faux pas. An in-depth blog of our life running Spice is in the pipeline – and those revelations will truly make your hair curl!