Thursday, 22 September 2011

Lost track of what number this is but who cares!

As you might have gathered from the fact that I haven't posted in a while, things started getting busier. Let me go back and see where I left off...

...last Saturday. Wow, ok, I guess I have some catching (you) up to do. I was considering doing this Pulp Fiction style and not going in chronological order but I'm sure I'd end up repeating some stuff and skipping more. Let's just start after the game last Saturday. I went across the street from my hotel to the mall for some dinner and enjoyed a nice attempt at a very American burger: 160g ish patty (can someone explain to me why we still use the English system of units when even they've abandoned it?) with barbecue sauce, onion rings and cheddar on it. Of course mayo as well because the Brits put that on damn near everything. Went back to the hotel, watched some South Park and went to bed.

Sunday I was a bit of a bum during the day, had breakfast and then watched tv/caught up on sports and such until about 3 when Nick called and invited me over to his house just outside Bristol to watch the Manchester United vs Chelsea football game. He picked me up rather than trying to explain how to get there, which is nice because I'm sure I wouldn't have made it. On the way he gave me a nice driving tour of the city and showed me the highlights. Some of which I had seen on Saturday and some I hadn't. The most interesting part would have to be the University of Bristol campus which includes a couple cool bars and some awesome architecture. I didn't think to bring my camera with me and the weather was pretty crappy anyway, but I'll get some pictures of it eventually. Anyway, made it to Nick's house and watched the game was apparently pretty exciting... I guess their definition of exciting football is pretty different than mine, then again I think my idea of football (that'd be the American variety) is more exciting than theirs anyway. 

After the game we went to Jamie Oliver's restaurant near those bars I just mentioned and met up with a girl named Rachel who just finished the VCA graduate scheme (a two year rotation that most of the non-USA based engineers go through) and was starting full time at the Bristol office on Monday. I had a black truffle risotto that, aside from being very peppery, was really taste. To compliment that I had a Peroni beer. To be honest, I can't remember it very well except it was light and crisp and good. After that we went to Brown's (looked like it may have been a bar in a hotel? I didn't really get a chance to investigate) and had a drink on the patio. I had a cider there, couldn't tell you what kind but it was strong and tasty, I've always enjoyed ciders ever since I had my first Strongbow at a pub in Stuttgart on the Pioneer band trip... Mom and dad, you didn't just read that. After that bar, Nick had to go home to watch Downton Abbey with his wife. Rachel was making fun of him endlessly for that since apparently it's the kind of show that might appeal to an audience in their 50s but is aimed at the generation above that. Nick is about 30. Rachel and I proceeded to the O2 bar which, aside from being nearly entirely empty (Sunday night isn't a bug bar night in Bristol apparently) was really cool. Had a kind of futuristic/industrial vibe and also happens to be a microbrewery that makes some pretty good stuff. Rachel recommended I have a "wango" which is half wheat beer and half specialty mango beer. I took her advice since apparently she knows everyone that works there because she goes so often. Generally I don't care for mangos, but on this occasion I went back for seconds. Eventually the bar shut down so we headed out. Turns out I was only a few blocks from my hotel and I had no idea.

Monday I went into work to find a full office. Matt (the office comedian it would seem) had just returned from Japan, both younger guys I had met on Friday were there, Rachel was in along with a bunch of other people I hadn't met as well. I spend the day going through the individual vehicle approval (IVA) manual in preparation for a trip to Southampton to witness an IVA test. After work I had planned to do some laundry, but my hotel's washer was broken and all the launderettes (that's English for laundromat apparently) close at 8. (thwarted again) I ended up going out to dinner with Pete, one of the young, new guys (who it turns out are just starting the graduate scheme). We went to Coal, the steakhouse in the mall and had some steaks, which were just alright. Not too expensive though so I'm not upset about it. When I got back to the hotel I inquired about getting one more night since I was only booked through Monday night and was planning on staying in London yesterday. Well unfortunately they were full, so I had to book a different hotel across town on Tuesday. I probably would have had a hard time finding it if they hadn't dug out a Garmin for me at work. Tried again for laundry at a place kinda near the VCA office after work, but it turns out that place is out of business. Foiled again. Checked into the Arnos Manor hotel which was actually really cool. I wish I had had time to wander around a bit and take some photos, but alas, right after checking in I went back out to meet with Rachel and a few of her friends to watch the Man U v Leeds match at the White Harte pub. Her mates Joe and Tim are cool guys, I'll probably hang out with them a bit more when I get back to Bristol. The first thing Tim asked me when we met was if I was from N. Ireland. It's especially funny because HE is from N. Ireland and still misplaced my accent. Turns out he's a trumpet player as well, so we talked at length about that, turns out we have pretty similar tastes in music. They're also all into call of duty (specifically zombies mode(!)) and beer pong, even though it's not very popular over here. I think I just found my best friends for the next couple months. After the game I headed back to the hotel in anticipation of an early (early!) morning the next day.

Alarm goes off at 4:40 and I get pulled together, checked out, lunch bought and on the road to Southampton by 6:00. Got there right on time at 8 to watch the VOSA guys do some IVA work. VOSA (vehicle operator services agency?) is another gov't agency that does more consumer end approval stuff (pretty much all of the IVA at this point) as well as some other stuff like making sure cars are the ones salesmen say they are after an accident and the subsequent repairs. The cars we IVA'd were a Ford Explorer, Nissan Cube and a Prodrive modded Mini Countryman which had been outfitted to race in the World Rally Championships that are going on right now.  That was pretty cool, by far the most expensive car I've ever sat in at £350,000 (that's more than half a millions dollars!) Of course I didn't get to drive it but I'm not complaining. The IVA process itself is pretty half assed in my professional opinion but I suppose they do the best with what they're given. Basically they do a much more relaxed version of what VCA does, but instead of checking one vehicle in a series and then making sure the rest are made the same way (that's what we do) they have to check every one, so it's only cost effective for people like importers who bring in cars that aren't already type approved for the UK or kit car builders who only make one car anyway. What I mean by half assed can best be illustrated by example of the Ford Explorer. They have to do a brake test to make sure the thing in fact has brakes, so the standard procedure is to put it on a grippy dyno, run it at speed then hit the brakes to check the efficiency. Well it's only a 1 axle dyno so since the explorer is 4WD only, they just skipped that test and replaced it by driving it in the parking lot and stopping, to ensure that it does in fact have brakes of some design. That would never fly with VCA but I guess since in theory it's only 1 vehicle in 5000 or so on the road it doesn't matter enough to be worth the expense of more comprehensive testing. Anyway... Thats IVA and apparently I'll be doing it eventually. Ducked out of there around 3 since my work day started at 6 (driving anywhere other than the office counts as work time) and headed towards London.

First stop was dropping off the rental car at Heathrow. From there I caught a train into the city itself, checked into my hotel in Notting Hill, Bayswater actually and was excited to find a launderette right down the street from the hotel. After getting all the dirty clothes in one suitcase and walking over it was 7:05. I walked in and the guy at the counter immediately says "can I help you?" in a "what the hell are you doing" sort of way. I said I was hoping to run a load of laundry and he said "no. Last wash at 7." (thwarted yet again!) I asked if there was another place with later hours nearby and fortunately there was, about 4 blocks up from there. So after being thwarted 3 times, I finally, through pure grit and determination, did my laundry. After dropping it at my hotel I went to a pub down the block for a Bulmer's (another cider, quite good) and some chips (fries). Went back to my rather small hotel room after that and went to bed.

This morning I met up with Nick in downtown London for an IMechE (the institute for  mechanical engineers, similar to our ASME) seminar on electric cars which was quite insightful. Apparently the biggest barriers are infrastructure (charging stations) and range anxiety. Range anxiety is basically caused by the people who need to drive more than 80 miles on a regular basis, which it seems like there shouldn't be too many of, but they make quite a fuss. The presenters ranged from manufacturers (Ford and Tata, who's huge in India) to researchers to psychologists talking about ways of measuring public opinions of electric vehicles. It was all pretty interesting. Afterwards I headed back to the hotel to pick up my bags, then to King's Cross - St Pancras train station to drop off the big suitcase at the storage place and catch my ride to Paris!!! 

As I write this I am probably some few hundred yards under the English channel and the woman next to me has decided now is a good time to paint her nails. Good thing the windows don't open on high speed trains... At least it is high speed though.

I don't have any specific plans for while I'm in Paris but I've got tonight and most of tomorrow to myself before Katy and her friend Cheri get in. I'll probably just wander around, find a cafe to hang out in and people watch. Maybe some shopping tomorrow, since I never did that while in England. Since Cheri has never been to Europe we'll probably do some of the touristy stuff tomorrow, Sacre Coeur, walk around the Eiffel tower etc. Other than that, who knows what this weekends holds.

That's all for now. I'm going to find the food cart


Now that I'm settled into my hotel I'll continue a bit. I conveniently booked a hotel right next to the Gare du Nord where my train came in, so when I arrived all I had to do was get some Euros and walk around the block to my hotel. After my room key not working and taking about 6 trips up to the 3rd (4th) floor to test the new ones the guy at reception kept giving me, I finally got on that worked. Dropped off my stuff and immediately went out in search of a cafe to grab a beer. As luck would have it, there's a ton around the train station so it wasn't very difficult. I'm surprised at how well my French has come back to me, though it still wasn't enough to tell the hobo that came and sat next to me begging for food to leave. Fortunately the waiter came and told him to go, and when that didn't work some big guy walking by was nice enough to give him a little threat if he didn't leave me alone. And people say the French aren't nice... After my 2 €6 1664's I headed back to the hotel to sort out wifi and inform you fine people what I've been up to.

And there you have it. Wow that was long. Hope you get through it before my next one.

Au revoir!

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