Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Past halfway!

I leave for the states in exactly one month! At this point I think I'd like to do a post essentially summing up my experience so far.

But I'm quite behind from last time so I'll catch you up first and then if I still have energy in 3 hours when I'm done, I'll do a quick summary. If not, I'll try to get that one up soon.

So where did I leave off... *skims first and last few chapters of the Portugal blog* ... Okay, last thing was Monday Night Football. We won! Yay! I didn't actually watch that much of it, just the 3rd quarter and then fell asleep a couple minutes into the first.

Hold on folks, I'm gonna jump around in time for a second. Cut to right now.

In hindsight, the whole messed up sleep schedule thing was probably a terrible idea since I've had quite a bad cold (borderline flu?) since then. Basically the lymph nodes in my neck have been really swollen. Like visibly noticible. It also hurt to swallow, I had a runny nose, a bit of a cough and no energy whatsoever. Enough moaning, I'm feeling better now. Lymph nodes are still a bit swollen but everything else is gone (other that still feeling quite drained). I came to the determination (from years of listening to my mom talk about why I was sick when I was a kid, see I was listening) that it was caused by the unholy trinity of dehydration, lack of sleep and stress. All three are moderately justifiable, but also fairly easily remedied (other than the stress). I've been making it a point to always have a bottle of water around, and get to bed at a reasonable time (usually around midnight). As far as the stress goes, I know its not caused by the job, because its all been quite easy. Mostly just watching the engineers do their thing while taking a few notes (either mentally or otherwise) and asking questions. I'm 95% sure the stress is coming from not having a lot of actual free time because I'm spending most of my time booking hotels, packing/unpacking my suitcases and searching for restaurants. I think I have a remedy for this as well, which I just put into action today, I'll let you know how it goes. The plan is simple: find a hotel, and stay there for more than 2 or 3 days. It's slightly complicated by the fact that I rarely know where I'll be for more than 3 days in a row, but at this point it seems like I'll be spending most of my time at the midlands office, since they actually do work on site there and its a lot of the subjects I've been asked to train on. That way I can keep going into one office for 5 days in a row and potentially see 3 subjects on my list. If I were at the Bristol office, though the engineers are all quite a bit more fun to be around, the work is never there, it's always off site somewhere (like the US office) which either requires quite a bit of driving, or staying in a hotel somewhere for a day or two. I'm done with that.

Ready... cut back to a week ago.

Now that I've figured out the Midlands office is where I need to be, now its just a matter of finding the right engineer doing the right work. It took a while to figure that out, so the first day I continued working on buses with Richard, the engineer I had been working with the week before. Buses are rather tedious and not on my training list so it was one of those just-to-fill-the-day kind of jobs. The next day however, I got to do something that is on my list, and it was at Jaguar. It was really cool getting to see their facility, though I will say their parking scheme needs a revamp. They have probably 4 or 5 separate lots and ALL of them were full. Apparently about 324857080932845 people work there... give or take. The test we were doing was (I think I'm allowed to say this) pedestrian protection, which basically means that if you get hit by the car and your head hits the hood you shouldn't get a concussion. That's tested by shooting a dummy head at the hood at a certain speed and seeing what forces it experiences. It's quite violent to see the first couple times but you get used to it. We also did a discussion of what type of approval they will need for a new vehicle they're working on. That I definitely can't say any more about, but it's cool. ;-)

Thursday it was back to buses. I mean that literally, I nearly threw out my back working on this one. We had to do masses and dimensions which is usually a pretty easy test, just weigh it with some weights for the driver in it, measure its max length, width and height and then put in 75 kilos per passenger and weigh it again. You can see where this becomes troublesome with a bus. Thankfully this was only a 16 seater as opposed to a 32 seat coach which isn't especially rare. Nonetheless, being the new guy, it fell to me to be the one to lift every 25 kg jug of sand out of the metal cages where they're kept, the other guys would then carry it a few feet to the bus and some other guys would arrange them in the seats. I realized by the end though that I was the only one who actually lifted every weight. Then 10 minutes later, after weighing it, we undid it all. This time I was moving the weights from the seats to the back of the bus for unloading, but since I was the only one doing that this time, I again moved all the weights. It was a good workout, if I hadn't been bending over the whole time. The other engineers were unsurprisingly unsympatheic. Don't worry, I'm fine.

Friday I got to do some tractor noise, basically watching it drive by and watching the numbers on a microphone. I imagine it'd be a bit more exciting with something like a Ferrari or Lamborghini, but they both stick with the Italian approval authority unfortunately. Though companies aren't actually limited to an approval authority (thats what the VCA is) based on what country they're in, it seems like a lot of European companies tend to stick with their local authorities anyway. I suppose it makes sense, but there is a difference in the service you get from each, and from the extremely unbiased opinions I've heard so far *WINK* the VCA is quite good. Apparently if a manufacturer fails a test with some other authorities, they'll just say, "no, its not good enough. Fix it and come back later" whereas we'll actually help them to make it pass, either by allowing them to tweak something onsite (of course they'll have to make all production vehicles with that tweak, which we do enforce) or replacing an obviously faulty part. Things like that. Wow, that was quite a tangent from boring ole noise testing. The point of the story is that Italian cars tend to go to the Italians, German cars to the Germans, British to us. So maybe I'll get to see an Aston Martin noise test. That'd be fun too.

After work on Friday I drove back down to Bristol, as theres infinitely more to do there over the weekend. I checked into my hotel, which was actually an apartment. I'm starting to love those. They tend to be the same price or cheaper than an equivalent hotel and you actually get some space to spread out and a kitchen! Unfortunately, I've only been in that kinds of room for 3 nights so far this entire trip, I'll have to work on that. Around 7 a couple of my coworkers picked me up and we headed to a bar on the far side of town for a bite to eat and a few pints. We waited there for the rest of our group to show up and by the time we left there were probably 10 or 12 of us. All VCA employees plus a spouse or two. We then progressed from pub to pub having a pint or two at each one and I was made aware of a few different things that make pub going in the UK more fun besides the obvious fact that their beer/cidre (not a typo) is better than ours. 1: The kitty. Basically, instead of everyone waiting at the bar and starting their own tabs or keeping who's round it is straight, everyone just pitches in a certain amount of money. Say 10 pounds. One person is designated the kitty holder and orders all the drinks from there on. As long as you make sure to say what you want when everyone else is ordering you'll get your money's worth. After a while you'll inevitibly need to top up the kitty, but generally you've lost a few people from the group anyway so its good to reorganize. Number 2: Mr. Freeze. This is just a game you play to make sure people are paying attention/drinking. One person is designated Mr. Freeze to start off with. They then, at any point in the next 15 minutes, can stop moving, conspicuously or inconspicuously, it's your choice. The last person to freeze has to drink 3 fingers of their beer (that is, the amount it takes to make the level of your beer drop by the width of 3 fingers) and then they become Mr. Freeze and it all starts over. We have a drinking game in the states that that would fit into perfectly, I'm going to remember that one. So after Mr. Freezing and pub crawling for several hours, its now about 2:30 am, our numbers have dropped to 5 and apparently they aren't done yet so I'm not allowed to be. I was ready to press on anyway, in the spirit of proving something about America (or so it seemed to me at the time). We went to a proper night club called La Rocca, had another couple drinks and then finally decided it was time to call it a night. Nick, who seems to be the most social of the engineers, had made it his personal mission to make sure I was okay that night so he was kind enough to walk me back to my hotel, which I probably wouldn't have found on my own anyway. We stopped for some food on the way back and I got some delicious chips smothered in cheese which was probably a good blanket to lay over all the beer in my stomach. I remember looking at the clock just before I collapsed into my bed and it said something like 5 am. I think I handled that 10 hours of drinking much better than I handled... well I'm not sure how many it was at Oktoberfest, and thats how I know I was better.

Saturday would say otherwise though. Whereas after Oktoberfest I had only a slight hangover (mostly just very thirsty) Saturday was a complete waste of a day. I stayed in bed until noon, took my first bath in years and just soaked for an hour or so and then took a nap. Then around 5 I decided to drag myself out of bed, despite alternating between sweats and shivers and go down to a pub I found online that advertised having wifi. I ordered one beer (to earn my keep so to speak) and a glass of water and sat at a table with my laptop and headphones watching the UM v MSU game. Again... What a waste of a day.

Let me just take a moment to say that I'm embarrassed for how poorly we played and embarrassed for how... can't think of an adequate adverb here so I'll just say embarrassed for how MSU played. I'm going to go on a little rant about Sparty, so bear with me. On facebook immediately following the game, all I saw were the same conversations over and over again...
"Haha, we won!"
"Yeah, but you played dirty"
"Yeah, well winning's all that matters. Besides, we only play so dirty against you because you don't respect us. Calling us little brother and stuff"
"Well, we don't respect you because you play dirty"
"We only play dirty because you don't respect us."
You can see how annoying this becomes very quickly. Look, the point is we haven't respected you because you made SUCH a big deal out of a game that was, until recently, generally a cake walk for us. And now that you are winning, you do it so unclassily that it is still impossible to respect you. Did you see the pictures of your field after the game Saturday? Did you see your players trash talking our marching band before they went over to celebrate with your student section? Did you see your baseball team spitting (really) on our marching band? (Notice I didn't mention anything that happened in the game, if our team is willing to let it go, then I am as well). All I'm saying is, act like you've been there or we'll be forced to assume that you haven't and won't stay there long. If you act like a child, we're going to treat you like one, and call you little brother from time to time. If you complain like a baby about that, we'll know we were right. If you brush it off like a man. Hey, we'll probably show you some respect.

Whew, glad I got that off my chest

Anyway, after the game, brought some dinner back to my hotel, and upon inspecting the kitched I discovered I had a washing machine! but wait... no dryer? nope. It was a two in one machine. I'd never seen or heard of such a thing before but there it was, taking up the cabinet next to the stove. Overjoyed that I wouldn't have to go find a laundrette the next day, I put in a load, deciphered the bizarre laundry code (there was a cheat sheet to help me as well as some detergent in the drawer) and got it started. I realized after about 2 and a half hours the thing was still on washing mode and I'm just praying it doesn't take so long to dry as well, but it took longer. The thing was really small so there was no room for the clothes to tumble, I ended up splitting it into two loads and they still took well over an hour each to dry. I only ended up having time for one load since checkout was at 11 on sunday and I still had to finish the drying in the morning. I got the bulk of my clothes cleaned, and all of the socks and underwear which is what I really needed anyway. After checking out of the hotel, I went to the mall I had stayed near before to add some more data to my iPad (250 MB goes really fast, even when you buy 3 or 4 of those) so I bought 40 pounds worth this time (2 GB) and hopefully that'll last me until I leave. Also got some shoes. I'm hesitant to say it was an impulse buy since that starts making me sound a bit Sex in the City, but I came up with three seemingly reasonable reasons (apparently there are unreasonable reasons?) which seemed like justification enough for me. Basically I knew I was going to need something good to walk around Amsterdam for 4 days (Oh yeah, I'm going to Amsterday for 4 days over Halloween. I'll get to that at some point), I also would like to be able to take advantage of the gyms that some of the hotels I have booked include, not really feasible in Sperrys. The third reason is that I haven't really bought any souvenirs yet. I guess it's not really my style. It is occurring to me that I do still need to pick up some gifts for some people back home though, but this is probably the last you'll hear about it since you could be one of them, but don't get your hopes up :-p

After that I came back up to the Midlands, checked into the Sketchley Grange Manor which is a really long mansion essentially and because historical buildings don't apparently need any sort of regulation, they didn't have to have a lift to every floor etc. All the rooms were off one main hallway, but there were random stairs up or down to chunks of 4 rooms or so, and then the hallway would go up 2 steps and then 3 more and then back down a few. It was a right pain in the ass with all my luggage, especially because I was only there two nights. Aside from that, the hotel was very nice. The room was huge for a hotel room and appropriately it was called the King Henry Suite. It didn't specify a number so I'm going to guess VIII since the bed was apparently designed for his... girth. It was big. Texas big. The hotel also had a pretty nice gym/pool area, which I checked out. I tested my new shoes by running a mile or so on the treadmill. I'll count that as a success since I haven't run in at least 2 months and I was always crap on a treadmill anyway. The restaurant had really good food too, but it was way overpriced for what you got. First night I payed 35 pounds which is like $45 for a salad, burger and a coke. WHOA! 2nd night I balanced my budget a bit with some good ole Burger King which I noticed is way more popular here than McDonald's. Must be the royalty thing.

My current hotel is a similar deal as the Sketchley Grange: mansion, no rhyme or reason to the floor plan, no elevator that goes to my floor, overpriced restaurant, located in the middle of nowhere. The room itself is quite a bit worse though, it's tiny, it has 3 sets of outlets but they're all right next to eachother, in the closet, the floors are super creaky and the walls are paper thin. At least the grounds look nice.

As for work this week, I've just been taking what comes to me, so yesterday I did horn tests a few different small cars, and some headlight stuff. Today I did some trailer stuff: more masses and dimensions, brakes, mudflaps. Random stuff. Hopefully tomorrow I'll actually get to do some air brakes or legit trailer brakes (as opposed to the parking brake style I did today), but we'll see. It's always a bit of a crap shoot with these guys.

This weekend I'm going back to Bristol, no plans yet other than take it a bit easier than last Friday, but hopefully hang out with a couple people from the office or maybe Rachel and her buddies that I met a few weeks ago. The weekend after that I'm going to Amsterdam with Megan from Friday evening until Tuesday morning (flight leaves AMS at 8:05 and lands in Bristol at 8:15) so I'll be able to go into the office for pretty much a full day on Tuesday. We're supposed to meet up with some people from her English teaching dealie in Seville as well, though I'm not sure what their situation is at the moment. Either way, it'll be Halloween and I'll probably take that opportunity to celebrate my birthday as well even though it'll be a couple days early so I'm sure that weekend is going to be awesome!

Anyway, thats enough out of me, as predicted it took almost exactly 3 hours. I hope you've enjoyed this essay!

I wish 3,383 words could have come to me as easily when I was in school!

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