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Blog entries written by Aaron Brigatti
My last day - and my new Singapore chapter and blog
(Saturday, 08 December 2012) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well today is my last day in the Brighton office, my last day of work in 2012, my last day with Amex UK, and the UK, before I start my new chapter of my life in Singapore.

I am certainly starting to look forward to the opportunity - and everything is finally slotting into place. My last day ended with a team meeting for most of the day, followed by a team lunch, and then drinks after work - and I was honoured to have received such a farewell from each and every member of the Brighton teams. I will certainly miss the people - possibly the work too - and I think it really is the people that made the work and life fun over the 8 years that I have been in the team.

At the same time, I will put another 'pause'' on this blog and set-up a dedicated one for my new Singapore chapter - it will be located at http://singaporelife.brigatti.co.uk or http://www.brigatti.co.uk/singaporeadventure - whichever is easier to remember :). Keep checking it out for the fun and games I have in the Asia region...until then, I will sign off from the Brigatti Blog for a while!!! Bye for now...

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British Gas Homecare - Another knight are episode
(Thursday, 06 December 2012) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well it is time for another annual service of my boiler, and after the bad experiences last year (which silted in hefty compensation from British Gas from a total quality of service breakdown!), I duly booked up and planned to work from home on the day.

They gave me a slot of 8am to 12pm on Friday, 2nd December - so I hope it goes smoothly. I worked from home that morning and the time slipped by. I looked at my watch and it was about 11.30am and no visit yet. I then got a call around 11.45am stating that the engineer was stuck at a previous job and couldn't turn up for my appointment. They arranged a re-scheduled appointment for Tuesday, 4th December - and due to my work commitments that day, I arranged for my dad to turn up for the 4-6pm slot that they allocated. Apparently, if the first appointment is delayed, the second one is prioritised, so I was expecting it to happen without issue.

But...yup you guessed it....it didn't! In fact, we didn't hear a thing and no one turned up by 5.50pm, so I phoned them and was told that they had cancelled it at 5.30pm. I said why wasn't I contacted? They couldn't determine why! I went berserk - I had told the guy that if they told me that it was cancelled or re-scheduled, I would be peed off, and they had done exactly this. I asked to speak to the supervisor, and I must admit, they had to eat humble pie, as there was simply apologies occurring on the other side of the phone. No matter what they could say (they didn't say that much) it was simply a total breakdown of servicing once again!!

I agreed to re-schedule the appointment, as I needed the boiler service - under my Homecare contract - so they committed it to be on Thursday, 6th December between 2-4pm. I told him that it better happen - and he promised that it would. I then asked him what form of recompensate that they would offer - he said none as they were committed to re-schedule and would not offer any financial compensation. I then said, this was unsatisfactory, and told him I would give him one last chance, if nothing is offered, then I would need to complain formally to his head office. All of a sudden he agreed to cancel the next two direct debits - so two months free service... Equating to about £55 - I accepted this, as felt it was the least they could do.

The moral of the story - always push for more, and never take nothing as a response to compensation - what a mess, once again!!

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Krispie Kreme - for London Office (it went a bit mad!)
(Friday, 23 November 2012) Written by Aaron Brigatti

To follow in the footsteps of what I arranged for the Brighton teams, I decided to visit the Krespie Kreme store at London Victoria station and redeem the voucher offer again... This time I decided to go with the buy two dozen, get another two dozen free - so 48 doughnuts in total. for about £20 in total. A nice treat and gesture I thought :)

Anyway, I did this, and brought them into the office early - only to find that a work colleague also got wind of the offer (from my Brighton episode) and also brought 2 dozen doughnuts too ... So between the two of us, we had purchased 72 doughnuts for the office... Ouch!

The sugar rush is going to be mad!!!

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Amex Shop Small - Great Offers
(Sunday, 18 November 2012) Written by Aaron Brigatti

You may have heard that in November, Amex UK deployed a merchant campaign called "Shop Small", to help customers spend at their local small establishments.

It doesn't seemed to have been heavily promoted but Amex employees received an internal email announcing the offer and for staff members it was just too good to be true... The offer was that a card member spends £5 and receives a £5 rebate on their statement a few days after the purchase has been made. That's right a free £5 purchase.

Now you don't have to be stupid to calculate the benefits of this if you spend at the respective merchants. There was no limit - you just are limited to spend at the same merchant once in the statement cycle, and as such once during the promotion - which ran from 1st - 30th November period.

You could do an off license run, or a pub crawl, or buy a shirt for a ridiculous price :) A fantastic card member and merchant campaign :). Happy shopping!!!

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I've sold my baby Audi A3 Sports :(
(Saturday, 17 November 2012) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well with my new opportunity in Sngapore confirmed, I had to sort out a few logistics - and more importantly start to liquify my assets...the first one was my car!

I had quite a bit of interest with 4 parties keen to buy it (her) of me. But only one came it tops at the end - as a quick sale.

I managed to sell it to a neighbour near to my mum's place - and sold it for £10,500 - which isn't too bad for a 3 years and 2 months car. I do think I could have pushed it for £11k but I wanted a quick sale - so I think it was a good price under the circumstances.

It is sad to say goodbye to the car, as she was a perfect ride - a great size, a great fit for my personality, great quality and was a great purchase when the dealer was keen to push for a sale. I also think the new Audi A3 model - which I also recently test-drove last month - is a bit different. Especially, the electronic hand-brake, which needs a bit to get used to.

I am going to miss driving the car, driving in general and the convenience of it all - but on the positive, I can drink plenty more pints of Guinness without any recourse now - I just have to get used to the public transportation and commuting malarkey :). Wish me well!!

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Krespie Kremes - went down well
(Saturday, 17 November 2012) Written by Aaron Brigatti

I saw that Krespie Kremes had a vouchercloud.co.uk offer - a BOGOF one, where you buy a dozen doughnuts and get another dozen (original) free. So a colleague and I decided to go to get some from work for our team meeting on Friday, 17th December.

We walked from the shop at North Road in Brighton to the office (and we didn't eat one on the way - haha) and they went down well. They only costs us £9.50 - so we went halves. What a way to spice up our weekly Team meeting :)

I think I may do the same in London one day, before I leave :)

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Lewes Bonfire Night - Second year I missed it in a row :(
(Thursday, 08 November 2012) Written by Aaron Brigatti

There has only been 2 years that I have ever missed Lewes Bonfire Night on 5th November, over the past 12-15 years or so, it was really such an annual event :)

Historically, we usually opened the restaurant and did a sterling trade, so by default, I managed to enjoy the amazing sights and sounds of the night. But last year I was in Singapore and this year, I wasn't feeling that great. So I decided to give it a miss.

Hey-ho...there is always next year....whoops...I've in Singapore as an expat for the next couple of years, so possibly I may have to miss it again :(. Well I will remind myself to schedule a return around to coincide with one of the forthcoming nights in the future - it just HAS to be done - haha :)

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New Opportunity Confirmed
(Sunday, 04 November 2012) Written by Aaron Brigatti

After a year of tooing and froing, I have finally got the confirmation of the new job in Sngapore - and started the process of transitioning my responsibilities over to other members of the team, whilst preparing myself for the move.

The flight is booked for Monday, 10th December and my Visa is sorted (it was completed in less than 24 hours - that is impressive!). The home search is the key thing that I feel a bit unsettled about, mainly because it won't be resolved until I arrive in Sngapore - but if that's the only thing outstanding, that's not too bad, is it!?

I decided to go with the minimalist approach, and take limited items with me. I am not taking any furniture (as I am hoping to get a fully furnished apartment), and I really only need clothes and immediate needs - everything else is just optional - or I just buy it in Singapore.

I hope the move goes smoothly!

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Start of the Leaving Doos
(Friday, 02 November 2012) Written by Aaron Brigatti

When one is preparing to leave, one has to say farewell to quite a few people. When one is embarking on a new chapter of their life in a different country, the number of people to say goodbye too grows and the more sessions are then scheduled.

So in advance, I say sorry to my liver :). It's going to be messy.

With a couple of other leaving doos already in the diary for other people who are retiring from the company - the only date that was available was Friday, 24th November. I duly booked this date up and booked an area of the Open House near London Road train station.

I also booked up a session in London on Thursday, 29th November - again scheduled around another big leaving Doo session scheduled for a trio of people leaving.

AND another couple of people were also leaving the Brighton team / Country - so another couple of leaving drink sessions were also scheduled.

Boy it is the season of leaving drinks and massive hangovers :). Hey-ho if needs must!!! Wish me well (or should that wish my liver well!!!)

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Birthday Time - I really should sort out a party!
(Tuesday, 16 October 2012) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well I am going to be 33 years young very soon, as I hit another birthday milestone.  Where have the past few years gone - they have certainly flown by.

Looking back, there have been challenges, it's been hard work, long hours, moments of enjoyment, and some great experiences - but there is two things that I do miss...and which should my next focus over the next couple of years to make it complete!

Anyway, that's enough contemplating...lets think of the future and plan for the future...I should try to sort out a Party or Birthday meal at least... Just need to decide who to invite and where to have it :)

Maybe Donatello Restaurant - with some close friends!!  Lets see what I can sort out over the next week :)

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Holiday - Still have 13 days left!
(Monday, 15 October 2012) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well, well, well...looking at my holiday allowance, it would appear I still have 13 days left.

Now do I do another holiday in November - somewhere cheap, warm and sunny - or do I take 3 weeks of December off...to then enjoy the moment of doing nothing towards the end of the year (and go somewhere nice in December or similar).

With possibly change on the horizon, this could be a good thing to consider, as well :) 

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Time for Change?
(Monday, 08 October 2012) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well I am a step closer to the time for change mindset that I have been considering for the past 8 or so months.

I am keen to still grow and develop in my work, I do still like working for Amex - but I am starting to feel a bit like the furniture in my current team and role...and I am really keen to get that next promotion.

It's a difficult career choice to stay and develop in your current team/role, or move around every couple of years - I feel the latter may give you a depth of experience and open your networking circles a bit, but the risk is that you never develop in one particular field.  Deep down, I do believe I should have changed roles a few years ago, but the timing and job market was not ideal.  In fact the right time would have been 2007-08 - but that was the time the job market simply contracted like no business!  One had to simply keep ones head down, work hard and hope you get through the worst of it...luckily I did!

Since then, the market hasn't really improved, there are opportunities, but I just haven't found the right role...if the next role that I am planning to take works out, it will give me a couple of years to further grow and develop in a new region/market, whilst still shining in the skillsets that I have developed.

One of the challenges I face in my role, is that we are not specialist in a specific area of the business, e.g. we cover Card Issuance, Merchant, Servicing, Corporate, New Payments, Finance, Marketing, Operations, Technology - we touch or "govern" all of these elements, but don't specialise in one.  That's the biggest concern I have.  Maybe I should have gone into a business unit that focuses on one of these areas, and at least being recognised as this being my subject area of expertise.  I am not sure if this is a real concern or not, it just feels like it!

If I don't go into a specialised area now, the only other area of the business to consider is a "network" role - in a the area of the business that is one group higher than my one.  This is a relatively new group, but I think the opportunities are actually there - there's plenty of room to grow in those new and exciting roles, and bring the skillsets I have developed over the past several years.

The most scary thing is that I joined on 1st September 2003, and moved roles into the GNS division in October 2004, to grow, get a promotion and expand my horizons since then - but 8 years in one team seems far too much!

What do you think?

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Holiday Time! About Time!
(Thursday, 27 September 2012) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well I had quite a bit of holiday still to take this year...the usual happened...I had a small holiday in March/April for my university friend's wedding in Florida, a couple of days adhoc, 5 days brought over from 2011, and then the year just flew by!  Is it me or is this happening every year - the "year flying bit" that is!  And I am not getting any younger, and still keen to find that special someone :)

Anyway, I decided to take an Europe break with my good ol' University Chum, and we decided upon Barcelona.  Actually, I've don't taken a Spanish holiday/break before this, and I heard a lot about Barca, but never thought about doing anything about it!  But it was absolutely amazing.

It was a short break - 8 days...which was just enough time for this City...some people say a long 3 or 4 day weekend is enough, but we didn't rush around, and took our time to see the places of interest around the City.  In fact the La Merce Festival was scheduled for 4 days during our stay - so timing was perfect.  This was a Catalonian festival - a big carnival and city event with concerts, street events and parties all across the City. 

We took in the sights of the city, saw the old Olympic Stadium, the Sagrada Famlilar (the infamous unfinished Basilica Church at the centre of the City that is immense in size and statue!).  We went to the Dali museum - also walked several times around the Gophic Quarter and enjoyed the Las Ramblas - the main street in the City Centre.  We then spent time looking for places to eat and drink and enjoy the atmosphere of the City. 

We stayed at two hostels - lived cheap, and spent more money on eating/drinking - both were relatively new hostels.  One called Bon Moustache Hostel and the other called St Christopher's Hostel - the latter being a huge hostel and part of a chain - with one even found in Brighton too! 

With relatively cheap flights, great weather (apart from the first day) and enjoyable events throughout our stay, it was certainly fun and relaxing!  Oh and the beach was absolutely amazing.  The Spanish ladies are truly hot hot hot ... and I ain't talking about the weather!

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VIP Event at Audi Crawley
(Monday, 17 September 2012) Written by Aaron Brigatti

I was invited to an event at Audi Crawley to coincide with the release of the new Audi A3 model. 

It was a test drive event (similar to the one I went on - which resulted in me buying my current new Audi A3! :) ), so I was expecting to be a bit of a sale's pitch to persuade me to part-exchange for the new one.

The route we took was from the dealership in Maidenbower, on the outskirts of Crawley, to the South Lodge Hotel in Hassocks - a nice 14 mile journey to the impressive hotel location.  If I was looking for a location for a wedding or another event - this would certainly be on the list - looks quite esquisite!  They even had a Ford Escort event - with all of the years worth of Ford Escorts on display - haha!

We then had freshly baked Continental Breakfast and tea/coffee, before we left to return to the dealership. 

I was then expecting a bit of a hard sale from one of the sales advisors, but no, just handed a brochure/business card and told to call back upon my return from my holiday.  Strange!  Maybe they have turned into a softly-softly sales approach, due to the hard-times of late?  Before these events would have had several Sales Advisors on hand that would take you to a side to discuss your personal circumstances - but this event...none of that, it was simply a test drive and breakfast event - and that was it!

At the end of the day, I am just keen to see how much my car is worth...hence the reason I attended...oh that and I wanted to drive out the new Audi A3. It's nice, but different! It has a electric handbrake now (released and enabled with a flick of a switch - bit surreal), and some other subtle inclusions...not sure it's that different to the one I've got!

So I will go on holiday, and then decide what to do next. 

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Have I Got News For You - Tickets Requested
(Monday, 10 September 2012) Written by Aaron Brigatti

I still can't believe that this show first aired in 1990 - and now has reached it's 45 series and over 370 episodes have been recorded...and I think I've been to 4 recordings now over the years.

So I decided to try to bag another set of tickets.  You have to go to the Hattrick.co.uk website, and register.  You are only allowed to request one set of tickets (one recording) per series, and as they are in hot demand, they go very quickly, once the date/time of the ticket release is announced. 

I went for Thursday, 22nd November 2012 (6.45pm recording).  Lets hope I managed to get some.  You don't actually know until about a week before hand - especially as they are now issued as e-Tickets only. 

If I am still around, I hope to experience another fun night in the TV studio near to the South Bank :)

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Paralympics Tickets - at the Olympic Stadium
(Monday, 03 September 2012) Written by Aaron Brigatti

As soon as the London 2012 Olympic games had finished, I went straight onto the Paralympic 2012 Ticket website to see what events were available.  They had several events, but I had a feeling many sports were being held until closer to the time.

But I decided to buy a couple of day-passes for the ExCel Arena - for Friday, 7th September - here there was Boccia, Table Tennis, Sitting Volleyball and Wheelchair Fencing.  For amazing sports that I certainly will be mesmorised!  My mum and I decided go go for this.

I was right about other tickets going on sale later.  In fact over the course of the week or so, more and more events were being added and tickets made available.  The one we were keen to see was the Oscar Piterious T44 100 metre finals.  Raffi actually managed to get two tickets and one of the ticket release allocations - and this was for Thursday, 6th September at the Olympic Stadium and Olympic Park - wow! 

So two-days of fun ahead!  This is sure going to be an exciting couple of days of sports event - going to love it!  Lets just hope Paralympics Team GB do their stuff!  Go team!

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My 3 year car service - that means MOT time
(Friday, 31 August 2012) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well I can't believe 3 years have flown by since I purchased my little baby Audi A3 - and now it's time for the next service and MOT...

Hopefully, it's a piece of cake, but I knew these type of thigns can be expensive.  I decided to use Caffyn's Audi in Dyke Road, Brighton, as they could drop me off at the Office and pick-me up again at the end of the day, when the car was ready.

I had a feeling it would cost between £100-150 - hopefully without anything major to replace - and it turned out to be £108.95 - with a clean bill of health!  Nice!  The only thing to be aware off was the two front-tyres were nearly down to their minimum tread.  Seems a bit odd, but I guess, the signifies the state of the road etc.

That's the car sorted for another 12 months at least ... not sure what I will do if my circumstances change over the next year, so we'll see :)

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London Olympics 2012 - Beach-Volleyball!
(Tuesday, 07 August 2012) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Yup you read correctly...I managed to bag some London 2012 Olympic tickets - a chance of a lifetime...I certainly felt that it had to be done. 

And the sport - well Women's Quarter-final beach volleyball of course :)  Haha!  Nice!  We were expecting to see two matches - Czech Republic vs. USA and Brazil vs. Germany...great teams!. They were £75 each, but they were certainly worth it.  I wanted to enjoy the experience, and most importantly witness a spectacle at Horse Guard's Parade - which is usually received for Military events and such things - and not usually massive sport events like the Olympics...soooooo surreal!

Raffi and I decided to make a day of it, so we decided to get up to London earlier and enjoy the London Olympic's Women's Marathon which course winded its way around the streets of London.  What an amazing and thrilling atmosphere - you could certainly feel it all over the place!  Thoroughly enjoyable.

I must now get some tickets for the Paralympics - well I want to experience the Olympic Park and the infamous Olympic Stadium before it's all over :)

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Chelsea and Brighton footie game - yeah baby!
(Tuesday, 07 August 2012) Written by Aaron Brigatti

An amazing friendly game was scheduled at the Amex Stadium between the Seagulls versus the Chelsea - wow!  I would never have thought the day would come when these leading teams would face each other :)

I went with a friend from work and his two sons - and we thoroughly enjoy the atmosphere, the game and the interesting result. 

Nope Chelsea FC didn't win - it was 3-1 to the Seagulls - how surreal!  Well I don't think they were trying that much :)  But it was good seeing Cole, Lampard and the rest of the top players on the Brighton and Hove Albion football pitch, and experience a shock result :) 

Does this mean the Seagulls are Premiership league material - ergh...I still don't think they are or are ready for the top-flight yet!

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Savoy Afternoon Tea - Telegraph Offers
(Tuesday, 31 July 2012) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well I purchased an offer from the Telegraph Selected website, for a Art Decadent Afternoon Tea at the Savoy for £45 - original value is £76, so about 40% off.  I take this as face value, as I know that the original price is sometimes not accurate, or there are other offers available.

Either way, I purchased one tea.  I kept thinking it was tea for two - but when I received the confirmation email and voucher offer, it materialised that it was only tea for one.  So I need to find out how best to get another ticket :)

After contacting the Telegraph and the Savoy - who both confirmed that no further vouchers at this price were now available, I had to make a choice on how best to resolve.  I decided to take my mum, and the Savoy advised me that I could buy another voucher but at a different offer rate - from their own website.  So I did so - it was at £62.50 - so still slightly cheaper than the "original value" price that the Telegraph quoted.

At how was the tea - DELICIOUS :)  Certainly worth a visit, something I always wanted to experience now that the Savoy was refurbished a few years back.  If you haven't experienced it, go give it a try!

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Another Japanese TV Network Interview
(Saturday, 09 June 2012) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well I had another interview with a third Japanese TV Network - relating to my 'Weird Cloud Videos'.  This one was NHK-TV Europe.

This time it was a Skype Interview, and it seemed to have gone down well.  I have requested a copy of the video, so hopefully it will be sent when it airs in a months time.

I'm getting made famous due to some weird clouds I saw - haha! :)

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Fatboy Concert - Amazing!
(Friday, 08 June 2012) Written by Aaron Brigatti

What a day - having purchased my ticket in October, I couldn't wait for the concert date to come around.

The first and long-anticipated Fatboy Slim concert at the Amex Stadium in Falmer, Brighton.

I went with a uni friend of mine, and we decided to arrive at 3pm to enjoy the whole days event - the line up was certainly going to be amazing - it really did live up to the expectations.  2 Bears, Luciano, Maya Jane-Coles, Carl Cox, and Fat Boy master himself.  WOW!

It was certainly an amazing event, the weather held-out - in fact it was a nice warm and sunny afternoon and evening, and the atmosphere was electric.  I hope he does it again soon!!

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Booked La Gavroche Restaurant for Mum's Birthday Dinner
(Sunday, 15 April 2012) Written by Aaron Brigatti

I managed to book a table at La Gavroche restaurant - which is the Michelin 2 Star Restaurant from Michel Roux Jr.  I hope it's worth the visit :)  Kinda a bit pricey...but it will be worth the experience.

We booked it for the evening of Tuesday, 10th April - and my Aunt and Cousin from Hong Kong will be over - so we decided to go all together.

Sounds good...just hope the food is as exquisite as it sounds :)

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Chelsea Game - Amex Box Ticket!
(Wednesday, 14 March 2012) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well occassionally, I am lucky in prize draws, so I was very lucky to get my name picked for 2 tickets to see the Chelsea and Stoke City game on Saturday, 10th March.

I decided to take my dad, as I know he would thoroughly enjoy the experience.  We decided to make a day of it, taking our time to get up to London - having a nice catch-up beforehand, and then headed off to Stamford Bridge in good time - to enjoy the food and drinks accordingly.

The game was enjoyable, but I must say the experience was enjoying it with my dad - who seemed to have enjoyed the experience too.  Lets hope I can bag some more tickets again soon :)

Oh and the game result - Chelsea won 1-0 against Stoke City! :)

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Wedding time - for a Uni mate that us!
(Wednesday, 15 February 2012) Written by Aaron Brigatti

I am looking forward to spend time with a great friend from uni - who is getting married in Florida with his darling US fiancee in March. 

Not only is this a great time to have a wedding, I can coincide it with a holiday - as well as spend time with the happy couple!

The wedding is on 24th March - so I am thinking of spending a few days before and possibly a week after for the holiday.  Lets hope the airfare's are pretty reasonable...oh and I need to start thinking of getting a wedding pressie too :)

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Excess Baggage - A Lesson Learnt
(Sunday, 05 February 2012) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well the Singapore Adventures came to a close - after a tough, challenging, but fun and enjoyable experience - I definitely like I want to come back again for work in the future! Hope it happens sooner rather than later :)

Either way, I did learn one very expensive lesson - the excess luggage experience!

When I went out at the beginning of July, I had 3 big suitcases and a cabin bag (which I took on-board as hand luggage). The total Business Class allowance on Singapore Airlines was 40kg (+ the hand luggage) - so I assumed I must have been within this. More of a shock, as on my return trip in November back to the UK, I took a whole suitcase full and returned with pretty much an empty suitcase (well I filled it with Mince Pies for the Singapore office!) :) I then arrived at the Singapore Int'l Airport, and learnt I was at 76kg for 4 bags - some 36kg extra in total to my Business Class Allowance.

Singapore Airlines charge S$70 per kg over (£35) - that was a total of S$2,520 (over £1,200) - and my company allowance only allowed US$750 (£460 / S$910) - so this meant I was still S$1600 (£800) over that I would have to settle myself. I enquired with the frieght company at the airport, they would charge S$40 per kg, but my goods would take 4 weeks to arrive home - and I had Christmas goods etc, so I couldn't wait that long. I decided to go back to the Singapore Airlines check-in desk and pay the difference.

I was still a bit shocked by all of this - how could I have been over by soooo much!?!? I decided to write to Singapore Airlines to enquire about this - I do feel I must have been over at the first outward journey and this must have given me a false sense of comfort! Anyway, Singapore Airlines advised that they couldn't do anything about it, and I had to pay - noting that on my outward journey I was within my 40kg allowance (still unbelievable). After all, I didn't buy anything new when I was in Singapore, and was returning with the SAME items. The only thing was some additional papers, books, and the Christmas hamper I received from work. Anyway, I still didn't think this would equate to 36kg extra?

After a couple of weeks of discussions, my work was able to sign-off an extra allowance for my return (noting that I didn't use the outward excess allowance). So they allowed me to use the extra US$750 allowance for my return (i.e. claim this back).

This still meant I was over by S$670 / £336, so I queried this with Singapore Airlines to see what they could offer. They weren't budging, until I managed to be creative and advise them that I didn't use my Hand Baggage Allowance (which is officially equiv to 7kg) - so they agreed to refund S$490 (£225) back to me, and I agreed to settle the difference personally - all of S$180 / £90 - that's better than £1200! Phew!

Lesson learnt - weigh your luggage before you go to the airport! Ouch!

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New iPhone 4S - Staying with Apple for 18 more months!
(Monday, 16 January 2012) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well in November 2011, my O2 contract came up for renewal, so I coincided my trip back to the UK to start looking for the iPhone 4S from O2 or CarphoneWarehouse - having decided to stay with Apple for another year or so.  The rationale which seems to stick is that I am used to the product, have all of my music collection on my phone, my address, calendar, and iPhone apps purchased - the latter being the key decisional factor.  Anyway, lets see what happens after this purchase.

Having experienced the "all sold out" response late last year, a new batch arrived in the new year, so I decided to take the plunge.

I went for the O2 All Rounder package (staying with o2 because of the Corporate cashback offer, as well as this being the only mobile network that works in the Brighton satellite office).  This was £26 a month + £6 for the 500mb monthly internet allowance.  That's pretty close to what I am paying on my old contract.  This one was also an 18 month contract, so I can try to keep the monthly tarriff low.  I am not too bothered about when the iPhone 5 eventually comes out - as the hardware on the iPhone 4S is sufficient for my needs.

Lets see what happens in 18 more months :)

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HSBC Re-Mortgage Cock-Up
(Monday, 18 July 2011) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well my remortgage was pending, and I noticed that there was a great offer from HSBC supporting a 2.29% mortgage rate, which is very competitive - and there was plenty of tempting features. No remortgage fees, no valuation fees, no early redemption fees - wow it sounded too good to be true, but I think it is this good!

Anyway, the remortgage was completed quite effectively - and during this process I requested £9k more than my current mortgage redemption figure amount, as I wanted to use this funds to cover the new ISA savings for 2011/2012. All seemed fine, and I was expecting the full amount to be released - £xk for the redemption with Nationwide, and the ~£9k to me as a cash advance.

This is where things started to be realised as an issue. The redemption with Nationwide was effective, but the £9k was not released to me. Apparently, HSBC only honour a redemption amount to the existing mortgage provider and does not link the remortgage application as an additional advance funds release (equity release). So the £9k was not going to be provided.

I questioned this as I stated that surely it was strange that I was asking such a high 'difference' between the mortgage balance and my requested mortgage advance. It materialised that what I had needed was to apply for a second loan (which HSBC call a "home owner loan" and there was no other way to receive this. I explained that this was not crystalied to me and that I would have requested this at the time of my application - which the Mortgage Manager dealing with my application commented that it would "match" my existing mortgage set-up (rate, duration, conditions etc). Anyway, I duly agreed to this home owner loan request, but it then materialised that the rate was 0.1% higher than my initial advance.

I had had enough, so filed this as a complaint to HSBC Complaints department. The Area Manager reviewed my case and admitted that there were a number of "learnings" noted, and things that they could have done better. The agreed to expedite my Home Owner loan application, and as I was about to go on holiday in April, he agreed to process the application so I had to he offer on my door-mat ready for signing upon my return. Finally, I said to myself.

Upon my return, I sifted through my amil, and no letter from HSBC. I visited the branch, and received a phone call from the Area Manager. He advised that due to compliance requirements, he had to receive 3 more recent payslips. I explained that this was not what he explained to me before my holiday, which he accepted - we discussed compensation and he agreed to offer me £100. I emailed him the payslips and he duly processed the Loan Application promptly thereafter. He actually advised me that they had suspended the Mortgage Manager dealing with my original mortgage application, whilst my complaint was investigated.

I received a letter from the area manager, which confirmed what he had told me verbally - but one thing he omitted was the reference to the £100 compensation. I simply had had enough (again!).

So in late-June, I decided to send a more formal letter of complaint to the Head Office outlining the catalogue of failings and requested £250 in compensation - non negotiatoable. Today, I received a far more apologetic response, accepting the shortcomings, during my previous communications and more recently - and provided me the cheque for £250 without question. They accepted that there were significant learnings with the communication and accepted that what been offered verbally had not been confirmed in writing - which was a further mistake (re the £100 compensation offer).

At least companies do put their hands up when they do wrong once in a while!

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My Singapore Adventure - 6 months of hard work!
(Wednesday, 29 June 2011) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well the time has come to move abroad for 6 months, and experience an opportunity that I am immensely honoured to receive.

Time to work in a different country for a 6 months placement, time to experience a different culture, time to experience working in the Asian region, and time to grow and live for the moment.

I've decided to create a dedicate area of this website for this experience - the website URL is http://singapore.brigatti.co.uk - I won't be updating this particular blog during the next 6 months, so skip across to my Singapore Adventure section - and join me in my next chapter of my life's adventure!  It is going to be hard work, I am going to miss my family, my friend, the UK, the weather(!), my car and my house - but it's only for 6 months, and I am sure it will fly by!

The adventure starts now!

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Avis Over-Charge and Subsequent Refund
(Tuesday, 28 June 2011) Written by Aaron Brigatti

When we went to see our good uni-mate in Tampa, Florida, we took the option of a Hire Car via Avis. All was good, and just prior to completing the rental request, I signed up to their "Avis Preferred" loyalty scheme, which allows you to 'set' some standard preferences. I didn't realise that by setting this booking settings, these become "activated" during a rental booking as extras.

Anyway, during the reservation, this wasn't clear, and actually was not picked up on the original booking. As I was a BA Executive Club member (their FFP) they supported a "free additional driver" application, which I duly accepted when I picked-up the keys in Tampa. However, this and the other "optional" (turn-default) extras became listed on my booking as firmed-up extras.

The rep giving me the keys didn't make this clear at all, so the only time I noticed it was when we deposited our keys and I was given a receipt confirming "pre-paid" charges and then the shock news that added charges were incurred.

Upon my return, I contacted Avis to question this, as they would have to contact Avis Tampa, they would respond within 15 days. I received a voicemail a couple of weeks latter which simply stated "all charges were correct, no refund was due". No contact number was left, nothing! WTF?

I therefore wrong a letter addressed to the Complaints department, demanding that a more effective review should be carried out and requested the £188 refund to be honoured in full. They finally responded, accepting that the 'preferences' should have been discussed by the rep at Tampa before allowing me to sign the declaration, as well as the erroneous "additional driver" charge. In conclusion, they would honour the full refund of £190.

Yes perservance does work!

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British Gas Ombudsman Response
(Monday, 27 June 2011) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well I wanted to hear what the Financial Ombudsman Service had got to say, and after an amount of problems experiences last Winter when I suffered over 20days without heating and hot water, I wanted British Gas to pay.

I had requested compensation amounting to £3k which was equiv to a new boiler quote - which they had provided me once they declared my boiler non-repairable.

Unfortunately the Adjudicator (the step before an Ombudsman review the case) didn't really support my case 100% - whilst he accepted the points I was making, in that by declaring the boiler non-repairable, they was a £2700 cost that I would incur, he commented that he had to take the "actual events" that unfolded in the particular review. Noting that British Gas had repaired the boiler (although again accepting that this was after my intervention, asking for a second opinion), and that they had offered a suitable level of compensation £200 or 50% of a new boiler cost.

British Gas have now offered, via the Adjudicator, £200 AND the 50% offer as a way of settlement, whilst I still wanted more, I did not have the time nor patience to keep pursuing, so accepted this amount. At least I receive £200 PLUS the 50% offer, which I hope to receive during the time I am away. In fact the offer has to be resolved within 6mths, so I better get cracking with progressing that very soon!

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Broadband Speed Increase (for Parent's Place)
(Tuesday, 21 June 2011) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well my mum had commented that her broadband connection had been quite slow, so I decided to test this out. Surprisingly it was very slow.

On Sunday, 19th June I went on www.mybroadbandspeed.co.uk and tested the theory, and this was the results.

http://www.mybroadbandspeed.co.uk/results/102409352.png

I then filed a support ticket for PlusNet, and surprisingly they actually reviewed the case quite promptly. They noticed a few ping-drops during their remove tests, but couldn't understand why the speeds were that low.

Since they started looking at it, I did a follow-up 'test' myself, and amazingly the speed had increased over 1800%! No joke!! Here's the results completed on Tuesday, 21st June

http://www.mybroadbandspeed.co.uk/results/102727342.png

That's ridiculous - although PlusNet agreed that there was some sort of network issue, they couldn't pinpoint the cause. But as the speed had vastly improved, I agreed for them to close the ticket, and if the speeds dropped again, I could simply reference the ticket!

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Luvly Tampa Florida Holiday
(Monday, 16 May 2011) Written by Aaron Brigatti

What a holiday it was - not only did I spend some quality time with a couple of great mates from university, but it was sooooo relaxing it was unbelievable!!

It was a great choice (thanks Raffi!) for renting a car, cos you definitely need one to venture anywhere!

Anyway, we saw a lot of places, went to some amazing beaches met up with some great people, and tanned very nicely!

Food was fantastic - though I must admit the Big Red Cinnammon Chewing Gum gave me a bit of a shock - ergh it caused me to have a "burning" sensation in my mough - which made it difficult to eat anything.  Weird...!!  It felt like you just put a burning hot slice of pizza or boiling water in your mouth!

Anyway our fun adventures went like this...we started with a nice meal in Hooters....some relaxing strolls along the beaches around the West coast of Florida. We had plenty of pool-side fun in the 30C Florida sunshine, TGI Friday meal (where we tried the TGI-speciality Guinness Milkshake), some healthy options at Sweet Tomotoes, tried an IHOP brekkie - interesting indeed (that's like 4 pancakes with a fry-up!). We went on to a German meal one evening - very nice indeedy, very popular place. We tried to see the penultimate shuttle launch (the last for Endeavour), but it got canned at the last minute (grrr!), I saw my first Baseball game with the USF Bulls against St John's (Bulls won - yay!), relaxing in Clearwater, followed by Japenese Teppanyaki, with some licking fun with Karalyn's 2 dogs...a stroll in St Petersburg, a great burger at Mel's Hot Dogs, a few drinks at some nice drinking establishments, an afternoon adventure down historic Ybor, our first kick-ball experience (USF won at this too!), and a row down Hillsborough River alongside some 'gators. Wow!  Whilst rowing along the Hillsborough River, I learnt that put your oar down means stick it in the water (as a brake) - ha!  I chose the "lets just crash into a tree" approach to slow us down) ... Anyway, our hunt for my wildlife continued...well they hunted us down :) We then concluded our trip with a relaxing dinner at Clearwater beach - watching a magical sunset with great friends and great company - a nice way to conclude our Florida holiday!! PS if you wanna tip for a great Florida beach - try Siesta Keys - absolutely stunning!!!!

Great fun, great friends, great entertainment and definitely a relaxing trip indeedy! Right, time for the next holiday!

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Fantastic opportunity on the horizon
(Sunday, 24 April 2011) Written by Aaron Brigatti

At the end of last year, a Global Rotation Programme opened up again within Amex, to give employees the opportunity to learn and develop in a different area of the Business.

I didn't manage to research in time for the "Wave-1" applicants, but managed to consider the Wave-2 positions this time around. The positions opened up on 23rd March, and the applications were due in on 5th April.

As I was looking for a change and a different challenge, I thought this was a great opportunity to achieve both. There were 2 positions that I was keen on, one was based on Sydney in the Digital Transformational area, which is part of the Enterprise Growth division - a relatively new division set-up last year...it sounds like one that I could associate myself in very easily - think social networking, new marketing, and innovation platform applications combined. The other was still in GNS but part of the Advisory Services arm based in Singapore.

I applied for both - but I didn't seem to get through the initial sifting process for the Sydney one - although this was very different to what I am doing - it was going into the area of Sales & Marketing and Member Get Member marketing, I thought it was going be very interesting - c'est la vie. But the other position, the GNS one, I managed to get through the initial sift and got an interview. Chuffed to bits!

The interview went fine, and it was then a matter of time to hear back. Part of me was very hopeful, and the other part was a bit uncertain, as it was looking at two areas that I would have to do some research prior to the placement. I then heard back on late Wednesday evening that I was successful in the interview, and received the job offer! I would be mad not to accept it, so I duly acknowledged and confirmed my acceptance on Thursday morning. Talk about an amazing experience, and I am soooo happy to hear about this great opportunity.

I can now leave for holiday and relax, whilst being assured that I only have 4-6 weeks before the placement commences - wow! How exciting, hey? :)

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Public Sector March!!! What's the point?
(Monday, 28 March 2011) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Lets firstly put democracy aside as the reason behind the march - which of course is going to be remembered by the Riots in London by the Anarchists rather than actual TUC march itself. 

I found that the Labour and TUC are in a dream-world when they think that there is an alternative - yes the alternative is significany austerity cuts that Greece, Ireland, Portgual, Spain and Italy are all facing - do we want to be embarrased and be "FORCED" to make these cuts by the IMF/EU - of course not, so lets do it before we are forced too!

I just luved (not!) Ed Miliband's speech - it was nothing short as being CRAP!  Why the comparisions with the Civil Rights movement, Apartheid and the Suffragettes - that's absurd - the March was no way similar!  In fact, the irony that he was making a speech for cuts that we driven by his own parties shortcomings for a decade!  The Labour party paid over the noise for lots of things, created the power to the Unions (as always!), and made the Public Sector so bloated and over-burdened that it was only a matter of time that people realise it couldn't continue.  Then he says who ever swings the axe is the bad-guy - hmmm!!  Funny!

What did they achieve by the March - well nothing.  I don't see a clear alternative answer from those who were protesting (the Unions and Labour party didn't seem to want to mutter the specifics of this alternative!).  Hey-ho - dream-on guys, get real, and welcome the world of the realism - that the rest of the Private Sector have faced (e.g. CUTS!) over the past 4-5 years!

PS: talk about CUTS - the fact that the Police and Cleaner's had to cover the marches (during and post) - meant that we (the public) has just paid for what appeared to be a massive street party!  Grrr!!! 

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Tax the rich? - well here's the consequences!
(Sunday, 27 March 2011) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well I read this a couple of months back, and it gave me a chuckle...the irony is that it is so true, more so when you reflect on the current unrest of taxes and the wealth-tax focus of late!


Suppose that every day, ten men go out for beer and the bill for all ten comes to £100. If they paid their bill the way we pay our taxes, it would go something like this:

  • The first four men (the poorest) would pay nothing.
  • The fifth would pay £1.
  • The sixth would pay £3.
  • The seventh would pay £7.
  • The eighth would pay £12.
  • The ninth would pay £18.
  • The tenth man (the richest) would pay £59.

So, that's what they decided to do.

The ten men drank in the bar every day and seemed quite happy with the arrangement, until one day, the owner threw them a curve. "Since you are all such good customers," he said, "I'm going to reduce the cost of your daily beer by £20." Drinks for the ten now cost just £80.

The group still wanted to pay their bill the way we pay our taxes so the first four men were unaffected. They would still drink for free. But what about the other six men - the paying customers? How could they divide the £20 windfall so that everyone would get his "fair share?" They realized that £20 divided by six is £3.33. But if they subtracted that from everybody's share, then the fifth man and the sixth man would each end up being paid to drink his beer. So, the bar owner suggested that it would be fair to reduce each man's bill by roughly the same amount, and he proceeded to work out the amounts each should pay.

And so:

  • The fifth man, like the first four, now paid nothing (100% savings).
  • The sixth now paid £2 instead of £3 (33%savings).
  • The seventh now pay £5 instead of £7 (28%savings).
  • The eighth now paid £9 instead of £12 (25% savings).
  • The ninth now paid £14 instead of £18 (22% savings).
  • The tenth now paid £49 instead of £59 (16% savings).

Each of the six was better off than before. And the first four continued to drink for free. But once outside the restaurant, the men began to compare their savings.

"I only got a pound out of the £20," declared the sixth man. He pointed to the tenth man, "but he got £10!" "Yeah, that's right," exclaimed the fifth man. "I only saved a pound, too. It's unfair that he got ten times more than I!" "That's true!!" shouted the seventh man. "Why should he get £10 back when I got only two pounds? The wealthy get all the breaks!" "Wait a minute," yelled the first four men in unison. "We didn't get anything at all. The system exploits the poor!"

The nine men surrounded the tenth and beat him up.

The next night the tenth man didn't show up for drinks, so the nine sat down and had beers without him. But when it came time to pay the bill, they discovered something important. They didn't have enough money between all of them for even half of the bill!

And that, ladies and gentlemen, journalists and college professors, is how our tax system works. The people who pay the highest taxes get the most benefit from a tax reduction. Tax them too much, attack them for being wealthy, and they just may not show up anymore. In fact, they might start drinking overseas where the atmosphere is somewhat friendlier.

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Personalised Number Plate
(Sunday, 27 March 2011) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well a bit of a belated 30th Birthday pressie for myself (well a treat for myself), but I was intending to purchased a personalised number plate for ages...

Unfortunately, "Aaron 1" wasn't available - and there was no way of creating a play with the legal plate characters (AANN AAA - Alpha and Numeric respectively) to create my name, so I decided to go with the X26 ADB strategy. My month and date of birth - followed by my initials.

Quite nice I though :) Wasn't cheap-cheap, but wasn't ridiculously expensive...but it does look quite nice now on the car - ha!

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Dear oh dear, British Gas!
(Sunday, 06 March 2011) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well having experienced a hellish snowed-in period without heating and hot water water in late December, I was close to having to buy a new boiler.

Only after my persistance did I manage to get a second opinion on the state of the boiler - which resulted in British Gas being able to repair it.  It turned out to be a faulty pump - which they had already replaced - how funny, hey?  They made it worse by replacing a shoddy part!  Nice!!

Anyway, now I'm on their case, because they threw in the towel, and almost made me sign off on a £3,200 boiler - which I didn't actually need...if only they replaced the faulty pump, it would have been resolved a lot sooner - without the 8 visits and 20 days outage issue!

So the formal complaint letter fell on deaf ears - they weren't interested in coughing up with my expected settlement request, and have offered £30 then £200 and a final offer of £265.  I'm not interested, I want them to accept their significant shortcomings, rather than keep "apologising"!

Anyway, the matter is now with the FSA, because British Gas are no longer willing to offer a more appealing settlement offer to me!

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Febuary - well that month flew by!
(Wednesday, 02 March 2011) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well what a month February was...

A few highs...managed to enjoy it, finally saw the garage building extension finish on my home earlier in the month, managed to have a belated 30th birthday party of a friend of mine in Rochester - hmmm...an "interesting" place!!  And really just a month of recovery from my Saudi Arabia expedition!

I must say I was glad it went quickly - cos it has been a knackering few weeks!

Anyway, at least it is Bonus pay month - and boy do I need that extra funds - to cover the costs of the outstanding bills :)

That reminds me - must book that US holiday - aiming to see some Uni and School chums who are based on the East Coast :)

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Renault Clio Bonnet Catch Failure - Stupid VOSA and Stupid PSHO!
(Saturday, 19 February 2011) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well I thought it would be a good idea to complaint about VOSA's (in)actions with the Parliamentary and Health Services Ombudsperson...but it would be useful if they actually investigated the case.

I received a response saying that having assessed the complaint I made, they see that VOSA has performed within their remit and do not feel any malpractice or maladministration has occurred. 

So have made a complaint with the Chief Ombudsperson about that statement - cos it clearly was a maladministration - in the fact that the PHSO original statement that the cause of the bonnet catch failure was due to "lack of the required maintenance or the bonnet was not closed correctly".  The latter is a matter of your word against mine, but the former is interesting, cos the catch didn't require maintenance - so how could that be a root-cause at the time of my incident?  Strange, hey?

Well we will see what the Chief Ombudsperson has to say!

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Travel System 'Feature'
(Friday, 28 January 2011) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well how annoying.  I knew that there was a Direct flight to Riyadh - via BA, and I knew that this would have been a Business-Class flight.  However, when I booked my travel in early-January, our Travel Booking system didn't seem to bring up the BA or any other direct flights - so I booked the one via Dubai on Emirates.

Didn't think too much of it at the time, but it got me pondering.  There was a 7hr wait stay-over at Dubai Transit though, and a 4hr break on the return journey - but I said, well a wait, is a wait - not much I could do about it!

I was then told the day before about the BA flight again by a colleague who just travelled to the same market.  So when I was in Dubai (yes should have done it before I left!), I phoned the Travel service and questionned the quality of the database result.  They actually found the BA direct flight (with spaces) on their back-office system, but the couldn't seem to locate the same on their own website.  I told them that I had learnt that it had actually cost more going indirectly and wasted time en-transit - so made a formal complaint about this.

Luckily, I had already questionned this to my line leader, who was very supportive and allowed me to upgrade to Business on the way back.  Business-class on the luvly, juvly A380 is an amazing chance - so I think this should make the returning journey slightly easier - we'll see :)

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Work fun and games...!!
(Friday, 14 January 2011) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well I can't believe that we are almost half way through January, and the time is just flying by...ring any bells?

Work is as busy as ever - but this time, for a slightly different reason.  I am scheduled to go out to Riyadh in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia - for a business trip - to perform some Training.

I can't wait!  Different - yes, culturally intriguing - yes, am I ready - not quite yet! 

Hopefully, the two-day dry-run will help me perform those final tweaks before I finalise the deck and go out!  I am actually looking forward to it.  Never really been to the Gulf region before, so am going to open-minded about the whole trip!  Looking forward to it actually!

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Christmas Day Meal
(Sunday, 26 December 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well a nice Christmas after all, spent with my mum. We also invited a Chinese friend across with his girlfriend - and we certainly had some fun

The Organic turkey was fantastic (she looked amazing - ha!) and the trimmings cooked to puurfection. It was low-key but really nice and enjoyable - and of course, home-cooked food never tasted soooo goood!!

We ended the meal just watching the US version of the Apprentice through all of Series 3 - quite enjoyable and fun too!

So another Christmas down, another year almost over! Also means work starts up again soon - grrr... Bar hum-bug!

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VOSA Response (it continues!)
(Wednesday, 22 December 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Yes I know I sound like a broken record, but it's now been over 4 years (March 2006) when I experienced my infamous (and as Renault labelled it "unique") bonnet-catch failure incident, where the manufacturer lay blame at my door for causing it! Almost a slanderous comment!

So I continue my grievances to VOSA (given up with Renault - who are sticking firm, with their head in the sand, that is!) and now onwards and upwards to my MP, the Transport Minister and now the Parliamentary and Health Services Ombudsman (PHSO).

My previous post was the responses I received, notably how the PHSO advised that they didn't seem to feel that VOSA had acted outside of their remit or dishonourably - but I started to identify a few flaws behind their decision - so had penned an correspondence asking for a review of the decision. Almost a "complaint" about a "complaints" department(!) - Nice, hey!?

So here it is...

Dear Ms....

I understand that there is need to outline my points on why I feel the decision reached by the PHS Ombudsman is incorrect.

I have outlined these points to your Assessor, Mr Driscoll, previously and during a telephone conversation with him, but will summarise these for your benefit in this correspondence.

1. The PHSO advised that VOSA based its investigative decision on the fact that “fault was not caused by a safety-defect in the design on construction of the bonnet catch, but was caused by a lack of the required maintenance of the part; or the failure to close the bonnet correctly, or a combination of both.”

  • This is the key reason why I feel that there are inaccuracies in the review completed by PHSO and as such invalidates the decision.
  • The safety-catch mechanism in question was designed and constructed as one that does NOT required maintenance, so when this status changes it signifies a defect in the way the mechanism is constructed and designed.
  • The PHSO decision was based on a maintenance condition when no actual maintenance was required on this particular mechanism at the time of my incident (in 2006).
  • My recommendation: the PHSO decision should be based on whether the design and construction specification has changed (maintenance-free to maintenance-required is core to this)? Are Renault able to define this particular component as maintenance-free and still be considered safe (and fit for purpose) at the time of my incident?


2. PHSO has advised that VOSA and the Manufacturer can adapt processes quickly (changes to the owner manual and servicing plans).
  • The conditions of this particular incident seems to include media pressure, and as such could influence whether the correct due process is followed or not by both organisations.
  • Any remedial steps do not remediate the cases where incidents have already happened. Does this mean that a safety defect exists if such remediate actions was deemed necessary?
  • My recommendation: PHSO need to assess whether the correct remedial processes were followed by VOSA, why were action steps implemented if a safety defect didn’t exist? Note: the communications weren’t enforced or managed by VOSA – instead it was a reaction from the manufacturer due to the public media, if there was no public / media focus from programmes, such as BBC Watchdog, I do not believe a “PR communication campaign” would have been initiated by the manufacturer or VOSA, because Renault conditioned my case as “unique”.


3. PHSO has advised that an “Advisory” communication was sent to the vehicle owners, however such PR communications is not the correct course of action.
  • VOSA felt that this was an “informal safety recall” – there is no such thing, a safety recall either exists or doesn’t. A formal safety recall is one that requires continuous remedial communications and actions to be addressed across the whole owner base, until a time that VOSA is comfortable that the satisfactory level of preventive (risk mitigation) actions has been implemented (i.e. majority of the vehicles have been inspected and risk mitigated).
  • Advisory communications are not enforceable nor are the responses monitored by VOSA, so should not be referenced as to how VOSA performed in this case.
  • My recommendation: PHSO need to review why VOSA did not follow the correct safety recall communications process as set-out within its own Code of Practice. This was a reactive communication PR media campaign (not a safety recall campaign) and does not appear to follow the correct safety defect enforcement procedures. If the correct process was followed then the defect should have been listed on the EU RAPEX database as part of the EU safety defect mandate. Most importantly, why did the ‘reassurance’ communications stop in 2007, even though cases continue to be reported up to the current day (even after an inspection was completed by the manufacturer), which continued to be reported to VOSA, but were not investigated further by the organisation.


4. PHSO inferred that Renault’s acceptance that the maintenance-free part suffered from corrosion and that Renault did not want this report shared to the public, which was endorsed by VOSA is acceptable.
  • Can a VOSA investigation be performed transparently without advising to the claimant the root-cause of the defect? Is VOSA’s remit to be transparent with a need to undertake an investigation with integrity?
  • Because VOSA did not undertake the investigation, is it acceptable for VOSA to allow the manufacturer to mark the report as “confidential” without the need to publish it to the claimant who filed the original case? Is this an acceptable course of action for a transparent and impartial safety investigation carried out by a Government body?
  • My recommendation: PHSO to review whether VOSA have the correct authority to manage such defects, possibly signifying that the safety enforcement mandate is not strong enough, if the manufacturer can shy away from a potential safety defect. VOSA should have investigated why the manufacturer did not want the subject of “corrosion” being made public (which signifies a potential safety defect)? What were the manufacturers concerns and why did VOSA allow this “lack of transparency” to happen? VOSA did nothing to enforce the publication of the report findings. PHSO should review these points – the admission by Renault that corrosion was evident on the safety mechanism of my vehicle at the time of the incident would mean it should be considered as a safety-mechanism part-failure, and one that could possibly be the root-cause of why the mechanism failed on my vehicle at the time of the incident. PHSO need to confirm whether VOSA investigated the feasibility of me driving for 4 weeks without neither of the bonnet catch mechanisms secured? And if maintenance was a contributable factor by Renault / VOSA, whether this meant that a safety defect exists in the safety-mechanism functionality.


5. PHSO inferred that one of VOSA’s roles is as a “road safety standard enforcement” agency and they could have enforced the replacement of unsafe-catch mechanism across the affected Clio vehicle base.
  • VOSA chose not to do so; the part-replacement was not enforced in all cases.
  • VOSA allowed the manufacturer to follow a very ineffective (and “informal”) advisory communication process to respond to the Media/PR and Public outcry.
  • My recommendation: PHSO to investigate why some road safety enforcement processes were not actioned by VOSA. The main concern is that the manufacturer’s investigation seems to be biased and does appear to shy away from any admission of a defect (even though their report infers a change in the design/manufacturing standards). Contrary to this, there are additional reports completed by independent engineer’s inspections of damaged vehicles and insurance companies which counter this claim by Renault. Now either Renault’s investigation is wrong (which VOSA ‘rubber-stamped’) or further investigations are required into the root-cause (which VOSA will not endorse). We cannot have two different statements here – one signifying a safety defect and one that doesn’t. VOSA did not inspect ANY damaged vehicles, but somehow agreed with the manufacturer’s findings, having only ‘discussed’ the matter with the manufacturer. PHSO has noted that VOSA do not have the mandate the complete any inspections and therefore the outcome of VOSA’s investigation is satisfactory for one that could have endangered the lives to anyone who experienced these incidents (they were life-threatening cases!).


In summary, to outline why a further review maybe required:
  • “Maintenance” can only be used as a reason behind a potential case if maintenance was required in the first place – this was not the case of the parts in question.
  • Renault did not want their internal investigation findings to be made public? VOSA accepted that Renault did not need to publish the findings of their safety report – into a complaint that a member of the public filed to VOSA. Is this the correct notion of a safety investigation when VOSA and Renault do not need to publish a report to the claimant?
  • VOSA did not follow the correct communication or safety enforcement procedures as set out in their own code of practice.
  • If the 3 elements of the “safety defect” definition are valid in the case of the “bonnet safety catch mechanism”, why didn’t the Safety Defect process get triggered or enforced by VOSA?
  • If this whole matter is not a safety recall, then why was there a need to provide any reassurance to the owners and advise that there was a change in the servicing programme (the parts now needed maintenance (which were designed as “maintenance-free” in the first place))? Seem to be a PR-reassurance campaign and nothing to do with the safety notion of the issue in hand, with an underpinning message that they will communicate the safety defect informally as a “side-point”.
  • The most important consideration – this matter could risk injury or death to the vehicle occupants. This itself should signify that the necessary safety defect processes should be enacted to prevent such life-threatening cases. PHSO should review the case based on this notion, in accordance to VOSA’s Code of Practice, and whether there is a wider issue with the safety procedures on the UK Roads. Why were some “bonnet safety catch failures” in the past deemed as a ‘safety defect’ (Alfa Romeo 156) whilst the Renault Clio Mark-2 didn’t seem to follow the same conclusion. Two different decisions on what ultimately was the same design / part-construction flaw.


My concern is that because the definition of a safety defect has not been accurately interpreted by Renault, VOSA and PHSO, with inaccurate decisions and statements makes it very difficult for us to accept the integrity of each organisation that has now looked into this matter. If you can review the decision based on my observations above, hopefully you are at the very least confirm whether my statements are invalid or has no bearing on your ultimate decision.

I trust this is sufficient for you to review the decision reached by your Assessor and then you can advise me the course of action that you intend to take relating to my referral.

I do apologises for the length, but the key points here are very contentious and why the members of the public believe that there is a core issue with how road safety standards are managed and defects investigated (I do accept these are key issues for Parliament to address). The issue here is that the MPs in question, up to the Minister for Transportation, have not looked into this matter comprehensively, and I do feel this is something which could be recommended by the Ombudsman to ensure the Clio Bonnet road safety defects are fully mitigated once and for all – and enforceable with potential fines to the manufacturer. Until then, please be assured that we will continue to hear of reported cases on what appears to be a dangerous vehicle on the UK roads, which VOSA seems to accept is not an issue for them.

Thanks for your time and support and I look forward to hear from you.

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British Gas Formal Outline of My Grievances - Really Hope it Works!
(Thursday, 16 December 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well I really had enough with the failed attempts by British Gas to repair my Boiler, that after they through in the towel, almost cost me over £3000 in a new boiler installation. So I decided to outline my grievances to see whether it resulted in something...maybe nothing, maybe something - but who knows! I just couldn't do anything for what amounted to 20 days in the freezing cold!

Dear Sir/Madam,

Further to my recent call to your Corporate Complaints department, I thought it worthwhile to put my grievances in writing to you, to consider how you intend to resolve them and formally support the closure of my complaint case.

  • I arranged for an annual inspection of my boiler system as part of the HomeCare maintenance agreement – where I also reported a “lock-out” issue with the CH supply. The visit was completed on 26th November 2010 and seemingly “passed” my boiler, however the next day the boiler stopped functioning completely.
  • Between 28th November through to 9th December, I had a total of 8 other Home Care engineer visits, which inspected and replaced numerous parts to the boiler. The Engineer’s have been supportive and professional, but unfortunately on the last visit could not find the cause of the fault, and declared the boiler non-repairable, and that he would arrange for a visit for the Sales teams. Although I appreciate that they tried in vain, the end conclusion is that the British Gas Home Care could not repair my boiler and make it operational again.
  • On 10th December, a Sales Representative visited and the provided two quotes of between £2,700+ and £3,200 for the boiler installation. I believe the £2,700 was a conservative quote on a “best-case” scenario.
  • After the visit on 10th December, I spoke with the Sales Team Manager to see whether this quote could be reduced further. I was told that it was the best quote available and no further reduction was possible.
  • Mid-afternoon on the 10th December I made a formal complaint to the Home Care Department advising of the above points and that the failure to repair the boiler had resulted in a potential boiler replacement cost of over £3,000 that I would have to pay.
  • The Corporate Complaints department contacted me and advised that the matter and case file would be passed across to the Regional Area Manager, who contacted me on 13th December. I explained that I did not feel it was justified that I had to expense over £3,000 and requested that British Gas cover the full cost of the replacement boiler. The Area Manager advised that a Senior Engineer would visit on 15th December for a final review of the boiler before a decision was made on the boiler replacement cost request.
  • On the 15th December, the Senior Engineer visited and located a fault with the replacement pump (which was replaced twice already over the previous 8 visits) and did a thorough check before finally making the boiler operational again.


I am quite astounded that after a total of 10 visits over a period of 20 days, which has resulted in this duration without HW/CH at all (which was very inconvenient and problematic), that a solution was eventually found, but only because I escalated this.

If I did not push this matter upwards and make a formal complaint against the sales visit and previous failed repairs, I would have signed-off a quote of £3,000 for the replacement boiler with no questions asked. Do you believe this is acceptable?

Therefore, I feel it is clearly justified that I request this £3,000 cost as compensation from British Gas for all of the inconvenience caused and the failure to meet your Home Care obligations to repair the boiler within the previous visits (this equates to £150 for each day without CH/HW). I feel it was not the Engineer’s fault in question here but potentially quality issues with the replacement parts used, which made it very difficult for the Engineer to root-cause the fault.

Ultimately all of these experiences I have outlined are representative of the British Gas / Centrica as a whole; therefore feel that this compensation request should be honoured in full. I remind you that it was only my persistence that prevented me in incurring this cost in the first place – in addition to the standard annual charge that I already incur for the Home Care maintenance contract with you. I would remind you that when I ask further support related to the new boiler quote, you offered none.

I look forward for your response into this matter and accepance of my compensation claim.

Note: I am at the moment monitoring the performance of the boiler after today’s engineer’s visit, so would say it remains operational for now.

Many thanks for your time and support.

We'll see what they say in response...

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GNS Christmas Party 2010
(Tuesday, 14 December 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti

This year's event was held at the Hilton Metropole - a very corporate location for a Chrimbo Party - but it was still quite enjoyable.

Luckily it was on a Friday night (10th December) and it was a Ball-themed night - although the two rooms we had weren't quite "tacky" in terms of look and feel.

In any case, I brushed off my DJ and made a real effort to look good - and I managed to get a few nice compliments through the nigh - nicely done methinks.

It was a nice session - although a few of the people I usually enjoy chatting with weren't able to make it, so it kinda was one of a "mingling" attempt with the newer members of my team and some of the other sub-team members, which didn't really know that well.

...and of course, my camera was by my side - I did take a few snaps, although I was a bit more conservative this year, after ergh...lets just say...some people not liking their photos being taken, last year. Hey-ho, can't win them all!

Anyway, the best of the best are at my gallery - GBS Christmas Picture Gallery - Hope you enjoy it!

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British Gas Boiler Complaint
(Sunday, 12 December 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well on Thursday morning, the British Gas engineer who had been on their 9th visit - finally conceded and announced that he had thrown in the towel in respect to my Boiler...notably walking away without fixing it!

This has now been a 14 day window without either HW or CW - being I had to wash in my mum's place, and boil water in pots to wash up!  Both very inconvenient!

So on Friday morning, a British Gas Sales man visited to sell me the replacement boiler - with two quotes at what amounted too £2,700 or £3,200 - with all of the appropriate discounts I could muster!  OUCH!  I decided to think about it and will see what to do over the next few days.  I MUST get this sorted before Christmas - it's going to be very frustrating otherwise!

Anyway, I decided to not take this matter lightly.  For a repair job that British Gas simply could not solve would mean I would have to fork out almost £3k!  That's simply not on!

So, I phoned the Manager of the Sales Rep, who advised he couldn't comment about my experiences with the Home Care Servicing teams, but would speak to the rep to see if they can set any additional discounts (no holding out on that!).  Separately, I phone the Home Care department who put me through to the Corporate Support Department (complaints dept to you and me!), who noted my grievances and said that the Area Manager would then call me back!

I am now waiting for this phone call, to see what they will do.  Ultimately, I rather have the boiler fixed - but failing this, I want them to replace the boiler for free.  I just cannot see it is justified for me to fork out in addition to what I've experienced so far!  Maybe there should refund and compensate me for the failure in repairing, and then I can use this to contribute to the new boiler.  Either way, they need to think of something to help me out! 

I'm cold and very fed up with the whole mess of a situation!  C'mon British Gas, lets see what you are worthy off!

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A Nice Christmas Team Lunch
(Sunday, 12 December 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well it has been a pretty surreal year, namely that it has flown by so quickly - and the team I work in has changed quite a bit during 2010. New leadership, new team members, some old faces rejoined and some existing faces remain. It remains quite a fun job, although at times, I am finding it a bit of a struggle to remain motivated. This has probably been one of the toughest years in this respect, well it has now been 7 years in Amex - 6 in my current team. I am just about feeling like a bit like the furniture - well okay on occasions!

The team lunch was good - a nice team meeting, a £5 Secret Santa (ALWAYS fun!), followed by a nice enjoyable meal at Preston Park Tavern at Havelock Road, near Preston Park. Food was pretty enjoyable. The only funny thing about the team is that unlike some of the other teams I seem to pop along to events or team builds, people very rarely seem to stay out very long, as soon as the even is over, everyone just drifts home. This is good and bad, I guess - I know it depends on their commitments (children, spouses etc), but it just feels like a missed opportunity at times. Hey-ho...

Another year, another party at least!

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Referral of VOSA (in)actions to Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman
(Monday, 06 December 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti

A letter to the Right Hon Nicholas Soames MP, in relation to for request for a referral to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman.

“On 20 October 2020, you referred Mr Brigatti’s complaint about the Vehicle and Operator Service Agency (VOSA) to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman. We have carefully considered Mr Brigatti’s complaint and I am now able to let you know our decision.

Mr Brigatti complains about VOSA’s handling of reports he made to them about a bonnet failure/safety defect on his Renault Clio II. He complains that VOSA did not carry out formal inspections of any vehicles with the fault. Mr Brigatti does not consider that VOSA carried out a transparent or impartial investigation in the fault. He considers that a safety recall should have been enforced by VOSA. Mr Brigatti would like VOSA to carry out an impartial, independent and comprehensive investigation using scientific and technical engineers, mechanics and experts who can advise why the fault has happened. Mr Brigatti would like the report of such an investigation to be openly available and not owned by Renault. Mr Brigatti would also like to see a review of the safety assessment procedures at VOSA.

It may be helpful if I explain about the Ombudsman’s remit. The Ombudsman can, in principle, investigate the administrative actions of VOSA. The Ombudsman only usually investigates a complaint where it appears that there are grounds for believing the body’s actions to have been maladministrative; that this has resulted in an injustice to the aggrieve which is yet to be remedied; and that an investigation by this office is likely to achieve a satisfactory outcome.

We have decided not to investigate Mr Brigatti’s complaint as it does not appear that VOSA have acted unreasonably. VOSA have explained that it is not within their remit to investigate defects themselves and that it is their responsibility to oversee the investigation by the manufacturer. The powers to enforce the safety standards of the automotive industry come from the General Product Safety Regulations 2005 and the UK Cde of Practice on Vehicle Safety Defects. VOSA only have the remit to formally pursue defects which are deemed to be part of the design or construction of a vehicle. VOSA’s UK Code of Practice on Vehicle Safety Defects places primary responsibility for identification of evidence of a safety defect with the vehicle manufacturer.

VOSA did oversee an investigation by Renault. The investigation found that the fault was not caused by a safety defect in the design or construction of the bonnet catch but was caused by a lack of the required maintenance of the part; or the failure to close the bonnet correctly; or a combination of the two factors. VOSA have explained what action they took to remedy the fault. VOSA worked with Renault to gain the latest vehicle keeper information from the DVLA and in 2007 Renault updated the owners’ manual and the service plans held at dealerships to remind owners and technicians of the maintenance schedule for bonnet locks and latches. VOSA also said that in 2007 and 2008 Renault had issued customer mailing offering to check, clean and lubricate bonnet catches and replace them if there was significant corrosion. It appears that VOSA acted reasonably, within their remit, and have provided reasonable explanations to Mr Brigatti about their role.

I appreciated that Mr Brigatti may be disappointed with our decision. However, I trust that I have clearly explained the reasons for it. I have sent a copy of this letter to Mr Brigatti.”

Shall I let it go - you know me by now!! :)

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RIP Janet Thomas
(Saturday, 04 December 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Just prior to going to the Jordan holiday, we learnt that a close family friend was diagnosed with an inoperable Cancer!

Cancer is such a cruel illness, and we knew that it had already advanced, but we felt helpless.

We went away and returned in mid-November, and my mum and dad were able to keep in touch with developments - but things went south very quickly over the last couple of weeks. We finally learnt that the good lady passed away early on 24th November!

She was such a great lady, they are a great family and are very good friends to my family and I - they have done so much for us, provided help, advice and personally I have learnt so much from them. They have been wonderful.

The funeral and "celebration of life" service was held in Glynde earlier today - it was an intimate and very heartwarming session and it was good seeing sooo many of her friends and family. We were very lucky that the thaw had started, so we all managed to find out way down to the Church without incident.

So Janet, RIP, you have been dear to my heart and that of the family - and we will miss you dearly - BUT we will always remember the good times!!

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Boiler Problems - AGAIN
(Saturday, 04 December 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Okay the background...prior to the annual boiler (CH/HW) servicing on Friday, 26th November, I had previously reported that the boiler sometimes "locked-out" (on safety), thus disabling the Central Heating and Hot Water supply.

The Servicing Engineer completed the servicing, and it seemed to work fine, but the next day it locked out again - and I couldn't get it to switch back on. So onto British Gas once again!

On Sunday morning (28th November), another Engineer visited and this time noted that a couple of parts had to be replaced, the Switch, some wiring etc. and subsequently ordered this for replacement on Monday.

Monday, 29th November, another engineer visited and this installed the replacement parts. The boiler seemed to work fine, but again during the evening after the engineer left, the boiler "locked out" again.

I phoned again on Tuesday, 30th November, and another engineer came out the same day. This time, noting that the fan had gone and ordered a replacement, this time also including the metal cover of the boiler (which was 'just hanging on'). It was expected that the parts would be delivered on Wednesday.

THEN the weather turned for the worse (I was snowed in!) on Wednesday and Thursday - unfortunately no parts were delivered to the Engineers on both days, so no visits were arranged. So finally, on Friday, 3rd December, an engineer visited again (5th time if you are keeping up), to finally fit the fan pump and make good the boiler cover with a replacement too. I was thinking this was it, but I must have wished too early...he left, and it worked fine for the evening (I was advised to leave it on, low, to give the boiler a chance to run its course) - but early morning, I was cold again, and had a quick look and yep you guessed it the boiler had "locked out" once again!

I phoned today, Saturday, 4th December and another engineer inspection is due on the morning of Monday, 6th December!

I am starting to lose patience now!!! Grrr or should that be brrrr!!! Thank goodness that I am on the British Gas Home Care 200 - which means everything (so far) is covered by the Maintenance scheme - phew! I wonder how long it will take before they stop servicing the boiler!

Oh, and I have managed to take a couple of showers during the week and wash my hair in the sink a few times during the week - not pleasant, but at least "I'm clean". Relating to heating, luckily I managed to bag two fan heaters from Sainsbury's to keep me warm in the Sitting Room and the main Bed Room. But it remains FREEZING!!!

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Oh snow, not more snow!
(Friday, 03 December 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Yup another episode of freezing weather swept across the UK - this time from Eastern parts (Russia, Scandinavia, East Europe etc) - which resulted in heavy snowfall that hit the majority of the UK.

It started with light snow showers in the afternoon on Tuesday, 30th November, but nothing much settled - we woke up on Wednesday, 1st December, and significant volumes (about 10cm) had fallen and settled - so I decided not to venture out and to WFH!

The snow continued lightly at first, but got progressively worse during Wednesday, and there were rumours of significant snowfall overnight. After coming home from a meal with a friend during Wednesday night, the snow flakes were larger and heavier than during the day, and I sensed it was going to be "interesting" overnight.

I woke up and another 20-25cm had fallen - resulted in about a foot and half of snow fallen in parts of the surrounding area - and meaning I was well and truly snowed in.

Methinks a WFH day was expected. Snow stopped falling on Thursday late-morning, so I decided to make an attempt to clear the snow - from the car and drive way, as I didn't want the snow to freeze and become ice overnight. Luckily I had a small supply of sand too - which I brushed around to make the thawing easier :)

Another like dusting came down over night on Thursday night, but by Friday it had stopped - and in fact, turned out to be a rather sunny (albeit really cold) day!

In any case, the car and drive were clear - just hoped it clears soon, as want to hit the roads and hopefully go to work early next week!

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Boiler fun and games (ergh actually neither of these!)
(Tuesday, 30 November 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Luckily I am covered under the British Gas HomeCare scheme - but I reported a potential problem with my boiler during the time when I booked my annual boiler servicing.

It turns out this was a right approach, as the boiler kept "locking out" and as such wouldn't allow me to have any Hot Water or Central Heating!  Brrr!

Anyway, after the first inspection on Friday, I reported the boiler failure on Saturday, with a further call-out on Sunday morning.  A few parts had to be ordered - which meant another visit on Monday afternoon.  This seemed to have done the trick.  BUT, the boiler once again "locked-out" this morning, so another call-out has been arranged this afternoon.  Visit number 4 and counting.

I really hope they solve the problem once and for all - cos it is FREEZING!

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Jamie's Italian (Brighton) - Celebrational Meal
(Monday, 29 November 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti

We celebrated a recent project launch with a great meal and team congrats session at Jamie's Italian!  It was such a great place, always wanted to go and it didn't let me down at all!

Great ambience, great food, great fun, and a great night overall!

Highly recommend going there if you haven't already, though the "no-booking" policy can be a bit challenging!

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Garage Extension - coming on nicely
(Thursday, 25 November 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well a nice way to try to increase the value of the house - and also store the car :) - the extension on the side of the house is coming on.  Slowly but surely that is!

It is a bit of a painful month or so, as there was a bit of a delay in starting the work, but the pace of work picked up, and it turned out very nicely indeedy.  Just wish it is finished and then I can finally "use" the ruddy thing - lol!

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Jordan Holiday - a Must-See Place!
(Wednesday, 24 November 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well a last minute holiday was long-overdue...well especially as I wanted to have it just after all of the schools went back in mid-September...but alas finger and arse came to mind, so had to wait for a couple of months.

And then the time of the year came, and I decided to venture to Jordan (the Country, not the person).  Great choice, a more deluxe version of Egypt, but less touristy - but it comes at a price - it's much more of an expensive, up-market type of place.

Anyway, we were based on the south-part of the country, located in Tala Bay - which overlooked Taba in Egupt, Eilat in Israel - and was about 15km to the Saudi Arabia border to the south.  Great place, great food, and luvly sunshine indeedy - mid to late 20's for the whole time...and mid-teens in the evening. 

A visit to Jordan couldn't be a success without a visit to the Dead Sea.  Ideally, we wanted to also visit Petra, but the trek was too much for the 7 day holiday, but Dead Sea was a must!  The Dead Sea was such a great experience - floating madness - and definitely very relaxing.  A must-do recommendation!  lol!

Anyway, that was now a distant memory as work picks up again.

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When is a friend, a real friend?
(Tuesday, 16 November 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well I have been hurt a couple of times by so-called friends, but the impact even now still hurts me.

Sometimes one does question what a real friend is all about - and I must admit, a colleague who offered a listening ear gave me some very good advice recently to mull over.  A good friend is one that respects your friendship, respects you as an individual, and has integrity more than anything else.  Anything that doesn't meet this is not a real friend.  Hmmm...this has got me thinking!!!

It doesn't mean I hate or feel fooled my the friend, but it simply gives me food for thought...

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Lewes Bonfire Night Fun!
(Thursday, 04 November 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well it's coming towards the 5th November, and this can only mean one thing - LEWES BONFIRE NIGHT!

This year, it is on a Friday, meaning screw the next day - lol! It will certainly be wicked...I hear that one of the burning effigies is Wayne Rooney, but would luv to see what the others will mean - alway a politician, but which one!?

Hopefully, we will be able to get a few of together for the night - we'll see! Either way, I'm going to enjoy the night, the possessions, the bonfire and the fireworks - oh and my mission is to find the "hog-roast" - haha!

Bring it on!!

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Birthday Meal - Chequers Inn, Maresfield
(Thursday, 28 October 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti

My mum decided to take me to Marco Pierre White's recently-renovated (and acquired) restaurant in Maresfield. The Chequers Inn was closed, refurbished and re-launched as MPW's "Wheeler’s of St James" brand.

It only received 4 out of 10 from the Daily Telegraph food critics, so I wasn't sure what to expect...and I would have to say that I do (surprisingly!) agree with the mixed reviews.

The menu choice was really nice, and we decided to go with the set menu choice, however, all of the courses were heavy-handed with the salt.

The problem was more with the service - there was no crumb-down service between courses, there was no wine-service at all (I had to top-up and pour our wine throughout the meal!), we collected our own coat at end of the meal because there was no staff manning the entrance and they didn't accept AmEx - shock!

Would I go back again - hmmm...tough one - I am truly not sure!

Marco Pierre White, you better up your game with this place - truly shocking!

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Onwards to Halloween Night
(Wednesday, 27 October 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti

This year, rather than doing sod all, I was invited to attend a Halloween Night bash in Dartford. It was a bit touch and go whether I and couple of uni-mates would go, but we decided to go on the 11th hour and make the effort to dress the part too!

...I must admit, it was worth the effort. The hostess was a true darling, the company fantastic, the drinks, dancing, singing and 'other' entertainment was ... well... fun!

Problem these days is that it takes it out of ya - must be a sign of getting ol' lol!

Photos will be uploaded in due course - but on on facebook already, if you fancy a peek :)

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Another year, another birthday! Ouch!
(Sunday, 24 October 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well, that magic time has come once again!  Reaching into the 30's is quite worrying, although this year it's still the low end of the 30's decade :)

But what better way to celebrate my birthday, by having a few friends around my place to drink, have some fun, play some games, singing (after the drinking) and a generally chilled and mad session!

But what did we eat and drink...well I decided to go with the Mozzarella, Basil and Tomato (MBT) starter, with Chilli Con Carne for the main course - with Tomoto and Cucumber salad, and a birthday cake for dessert (thanks Debs and Sam!).  Oh and accompanied by GUINNESS galore...well the fridge was by coincidence full of the stuff!

Great friends, great fun!  I am not really a birthday celebration person, but felt I had to do something... :)

Thanks folks - definitely enjoyed it!

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Holiday Time - Yay!
(Thursday, 21 October 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well I have taken 13 days out of my 27 days, so this can only mean one thing...better book up the remaining of the holiday before I lose it!

I decided to take another short break trip, and had tried to find a nice bargain for a week off somewhere nice! 

The venue: well Jordan that's where!  Decided to book via Voyages Jules Verne (VJV), which is meant to be renowned for quality and good service - I just hope this will be the case.  Apart from the aim to visit the Dead Sea, I think the rest of the trip will just be a lazy one relaxing in the sunshine :)  Certainly hope it will be a nice break!  Need it. 

I think I'm getting to the mentally exhausted stage at the moment! :)

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Komedia - Comedy Night Galore
(Tuesday, 19 October 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti

A friend invited me to a Komedia Comedy Night, and I must admit it was good fun. 

I have been a couple of times before, but quite a few years back - but the timing was puurfect, having been quite stressed at work, and lots going on in and out of work!  Relaxing, enjoyable and plenty of fun and games (comedy that is!)

Anyway, would highly recommend it!  It always tops the bill for a good night out, although I must admit the MC, 1st and 3rd act was good - there was always one on the list that doesn't quite hack it...and that was number 2.  Hey-ho!  Still quite enjoyable throughout!

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Busy time - but last minute idea - Dublin!
(Tuesday, 05 October 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well a bloody long time coming, but having debated for a few months (years!), I decided to get a couple of uni. folks westward and visit Dublin-town!

List of to do's:

  • Guinness Factory
  • Drink Guinness
  • Acquaint some Irish ladies
  • Drink more Guinness
  • Irish dancing
  • More Guinness
  • and have some fun!

...and yes it was bloody amazing!

Hotel was brilliant, the weather was pretty sunny for a large majority of the time...cheap flights, reasonable hotel accommodation - the Maldron Hotel Cardiff Lane had a wicked Gym, Sauna and Steam-Room, great breakfast buffet!, a great tour of the city - and Dublin weekend fun!

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Fantastic BH Weekend - thanks chums!
(Tuesday, 31 August 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well after a couple of weeks of final planning, including "food prep" delegation, I must admit it all came together in the end...the only thing I couldn't predict or guarantee is the UK weather (of course!), and the ruddy wasps :)

Anyway, a great crowd of about 15 odd people, and a massive amount of alcohol shifted from bottles and cans to the recycle bin :)

Really appreciate the turn out from far afield, from college friends, old friends, uni mates, someone who worked for my father's restaurant to Amex folks!

The BBQ was great, and the entertainment - well, enjoyable...plenty of Jenga, Uno and ergh.... SingStar (of course!)

Thanks peeps for coming and enjoying yourself, been far too long seeing some of ya!

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BBQ Time!!
(Saturday, 28 August 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti

An August Bank Holiday (the last BH before Christmas!) can only be marked with one way...yep plenty of Guinness drinking, and plenty of fun and games!

And what better way to celebrate by socialising with great people, having a ball of a time, and having a BBQ in my back yard!

Marvellous, hey? So whether you are an old college friend, university friend, amex-friend or just a friend - I hope to see some of you there :) !!

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There is still time for some fun!
(Saturday, 07 August 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti

At least there is still time for some fun, as we did a Mid-year team meeting followed by a team-build at a National Trust property, just outside of Brighton.  It was based in Saddlescombe Farm and Newtimber Hill in Saddlescombe (Nr Poynings, near Brighton).  We did some hard grafting, removing some old fenceing and clearing some bushes...before we headed off for a team meal in Royal Oak in Poynings. 

Was a little surprised that only a few people made it to the team meal in the evening...of 13 PMs, 6 made it for dinner - hmmm... but people have their personal circumstances (family, children etc) - just didn't appear to bring the team together, as such, and a chance to talk to each other...hey-ho!

Anyway, so how many project managers does it take to repair a fench - well 11PMs and 2 Directors is the answer :)

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All work and no play makes Aaron a dull boy...
(Monday, 02 August 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well it is looking to be a very busy August so far, with work, work, work - and a little bit of fun in-between!

I have a couple of strategic meetings during August, including a 4-day trip to Moscow in the middle of August - and I sense it is going to be manic for a few months ahead and probably going forward! 

But there is also time to have a bit of fun, at least - well I hope!

Just hope the heatwave in Moscow cools down a bit when we are there, 'cos it is incredibly hot at the moment, touching the 40oC at the moment - ouch, that's hot!

Anyway, better keep my head down, plough ahead and then see how things go...oh, also reminds me of the need to plan and schedule a holiday VERY SOON - cos I don't wanna burn out or anything!!

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Group-1 Joint-Venture Team Build @ Ascot
(Sunday, 01 August 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well having worked extensively with the Joint-Venture business team for over the past couple of years, I felt privileged to have been extended an invitation to visit Ascot Races - for their Summer team build. 

It was a good day out, and although it wasn't the main Race Day on Friday, 23rd July (Royal Ascot was a few weeks previous, and the George VI race on the Saturday, 24th July), the session was still great fun!

It was quite easy to get there, travelling from Haywards Heath to Clapham, and then Clapham across to Ascot Main Station.

Didn't win a thing - I'm pretty crap at betting on horses - but the Champagne and Gunniess (which became a Black Velvet in my stomach!) was fabulous!

We will all merry at the end of the afternoon - although a big no-no from me was not eating breakfast or lunch - whoopsie... :)  Luckily it was a Friday, so no-work day on the Saturday!   Phew!

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Take a screenshot of your iPhone desktop
(Sunday, 11 July 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti

The original iPhone OS (firmware) didn't provide a facility to capture a screenshot of your iPhone desktop. 

Now (since OS2), you can do so. How?

iPhone 3GS (with IOS4) - screenshot of iPhone desktopWell, you press the "Home" button and the "Sleep/Wake" (on/off) button on the top of your iPhone at the same time, et voila!

The iPhone device screen will then flash and capture the picture, which would be saved to your inbuilt Camera Roll or Photo Album folder.  Luvly, juvly!

The funny thing is that I must have done this once, but I didn't work out how, as an image was stored in the album gallery, but I couldn't find out how I did it.  Now I know - lol!  It wasn't a miracle,it was real!   Now you can do the same...

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iPhone 3GS + IOS4 Upgrade - that will do :)
(Sunday, 11 July 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well the iPhone 4 came out and I still have another year (until November 2011) before I can upgrade my iPhone 3GS. 

iPhone 3GS with the IOS4 upgradeBUT, they are releasing the IOS4 to the 3G and 3GS models at the same time.  So if I perform the upgrade, I get the majority of the features of the iPhone 4 but on the 3GS. 

Okay, I don't get the new HD screen, or HD video, or 5MB camera, or longer battery life, or front-loaded camera...or the other hardware bits and bobs - but I get the highlights of the software on my iPhone!  Oh did I say IOS4 is great! :)

iPhone 3GSwith IOS4 - My App Folders!Anyway, I'm very content with the software upgrade now...just breathed new life into my iPhone 3GS :) 

I'm actually very content (again).  I know it's not the BEST phone on the market any longer, with the competitors taking strides into Apple's lead - notably the various Android hybrids, but I'm happy with it.  The funny thing is that looking back over the last decade or so, I used to have an HP iPAQ PDA, a Mobile Phone and a iPod Classic.  Overtime, I've managed to combine the PDA and Mobile Phone into the HTC phone, which was rebranded to the T-Mobile MDAs (Vario 1 and Vario 2's), and took the plunge in November 2009 to combine the MDA and the iPod together.  That's the real achievement, one device that serves as a PDA, Mobile Phone and IPod!  Brilliant :)

Anyway, that'll do for the next year at least...we'll see what gets released next year by Apple - lol!

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Dark Star Brewery Tour
(Saturday, 10 July 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti

A uni-mate of mind invited me to a Brewery Tour, and I must admit I couldn't resist.  It was something I always wanted to do having walked past the Harvery's Brewery in Lewes for many years, and that whiff of fermenting hobs was weird and interesting at the same time.  But I never got around to it.

So when this offer was made, I say a resounding yes!  And I didn't regret it!

I didn't know anything or previously heard about "Dark Star Brewery", but I knew that there were various small breweries around the place.

We got picked up from Preston Park on Friday evening, and the drive up to the Business Park near Henfield took about 25mins or so. 

Upon arriving, we had a few samples - well it was a Brewery after all.  I had a few of the brew - and must admit it was growing on me.  The "how we brew" explanations were quite fascinating - didn't realise the level of machinery involved.  More interesting was that this particular "small brewery" (ala microbrewery) in a business warehouse - yep no joke...like those warehouse units you see out of town... Weird, hey!  :)  Just shows you can set up a brewery anywhere - lol!

We finished around 9ish and returned back to Preston Park where I then managed to get home safely!  Oh - yes! A nice and pleasant evening!  Would recommend a visit one day!

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iPhone SatNat - Comparisons
(Saturday, 03 July 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well there was a bed of activity wrt to Sat-Nav options for the iPhone over the last year or so...and all of the conventional big players are on-board now (Garmin, TomTom, etc) and a few surprise new names...

For a complete comparison, have a look here... --> http://www.pocketgpsworld.com/iphone-navigation-app-comparison-xr5133.php

Make special note on the variants in the price for each iPhone App! I was recommended to get the N-Drive UK and Ireland when it was £9.99 - yep no-joke, it was £9.99 - compared with TomTom iPhone which was over £50!! Then N-Drive reduced it further to £4.99. BARGAIN!

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Busy couple of weeks ahead!
(Friday, 25 June 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well, I am planning for a busy trip to Cairo, Egypt, in a few days time - for work, that is!

It's going to be a hard slog, going to be outside of my comfort zone a bit, but I was up for the challenge.

I am leaving on Sunday, 27th June - taxi pick-up at 10.30am for a 3pm afternoon flight...damn it, I forgot the England/Germany game starts then - grrr...that means I have 4 and a half hours of agony before I find out the game's final result!!! Arghhh!! I've sorted all of the pick-ups to the hotel, and from the hotel to the office, and so I think the logistics are all sorted! I then return back on the 10.30am flight on Wednesday, 29th June. Least I get a day in lieu for the weekend travel!

Hopefully I can try to get a Camel trip and/or some fun out of the trip too! Well work-life balance at the like!

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Alex's and Claire's Wedding - 21st June 2010
(Wednesday, 23 June 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti

A great friend of mine got married on the Summer Solstice...a find gentlemen, and fine lady indeedy! It was based on Sedgwick Park near Horsham.

The weather was amazing, the food was great (good choice with the Hog-Roast - nice little - well LARGE piggy there!), drink was amazing (thanks to Tesco France - luckily we went there before they closed!), good friends and entertainment and most importantly a luvly couple!

It was good seeing some good ol' uni mates - been a while meeting up with some of them, and it was a good crowd of people.

I decided to train it there, with the aim of training it back, but the late-night taxi's in Horsham were pretty crud - they told me I had to wait an hour and a half - no joke - to get a Taxi. So I could either way, and then risk missing the last-train back, or try to grab a lift from someone...which I eventually managed to do...Luckily, a nice couple were heading back to Brighton, so managed to go via Haywards Heath! Phew!

Anyway, I went a bit snappy crazy during the day, and it sure was a good session indeedy! Photos are here --> http://www.brigatti.co.uk/gallery/alex_claire_wedding_21june2010.

Decided to take the Tuesday off, and luckily I did - was shattered! Ha!

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TalkTalk (Tiscali) Finally Act!
(Tuesday, 22 June 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti

After my father first reporting the issues to Tiscali (now part of TalkTalk) on 11th March, and the complaint I sent to them on 12th April - the issue has been going round and round since then! Yep for a basic termination and explanation why they terminated the connection 5-days early, it took over 14 weeks to get redress!

This involved two support tickets to customer service, a complaint letter, escalation to OTELO (the OFCOM Ombudsperson), an email to the Chairman of TalkTalk/CarPhoneWarehouse group and my intervention! Ridiculous, hey?

Good Morning,

I have been forwarded a complaint email from the office of our CEO. I am very sorry that you are experiencing these issues.

One of my Team will be in touch shortly to investigate this matter further and bring it to a speedy resolution.

If in the meantime I can be of further assistance please do not hesitate to contact me directly.

Also I would be grateful if you could forward me some account details so I may look into this promptly.

I simply responded back very quickly, stating the following:

Dear Richard,

The details would be contained in the complaint letter published to Tiscali/TalkTalk in the attached file.

[website link now removed]

We are still looking at some level of compensation and more importantly ensuring that you call off the debt collection agency - who are awaiting an update from Tiscali - after you automatically passed the case to them, in error.

This matter has been extremely distressing to my father hence my intervention!

Richard then contacted me by phone, I put the case forward and requested £100 compensation on top of what they were offering, as follows:

  • Final Bill to be adjusted and published to my father - with the pro-rated amount. Amount to be written off (approx £18).
  • Mobile telephone cost of £24 to be refunded back, as part of compensation amount.
  • Investigation of the various communications and the numerous failures to delivery the customer service and support to my father and myself.
  • the debt collection case to be closed, with no further action (or letters) being take against my father.
  • and the £100 compensation as I referenced before. He originally offer £50, I said this remained insulting, and that I was after £100 (I originally referenced that we had calculated £25 per business day for the case, amounting to £1400 as of COB Friday, 18th June).
  • I also advised that the case remained at OTELO.

Just hope the actions by Richard will now close this matter for my father!!

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Renault Clio - Last Chance Pursuing the DoT
(Sunday, 20 June 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Probably the last chance I get to get the Department of Transport to resolve my query in relation to the infamous Bonnet failure affecting the Renault Clio Mark-2 models. Here goes...

The outputs I am expecting is for a investigation (judicial review) of the performance and the way in which VOSA acted throughout the case, and why a formal recall was not instructed to the manufacturer and enforced by VOSA.

I sent this to a MP to request this review, so might as well address it to the department head, the Secretary of State for Transport, the Rt Hon Philip Hammond MP.

Dear Mr Hammond,

Further to my recent correspondence to the DoT, VOSA and your Ministerial colleagues in relation to the infamous Renault Clio Mark-2 Bonnet catch failures, this matter still has not been fully resolved to fully mitigate the safety risk to the UK (and Europe) roads.

Several thousand motorists have experienced this safety failure, and this number continues to grow. This is a significant volume of motorists for something that was originally classed as a “unique” case. It remains life-threatening; VOSA have admitted that they had to rely on the manufacture to drive the investigation, due to a lack of expertise. This is the context of VOSA’s impartial investigation.

VOSA has not inspected any “damaged” vehicles. Renault inspected my vehicle and reported that the catches were not broken. The principle here is that because a catch is not broken doesn’t mean that it functioned correctly. If a catch is stuck “open” then this means the core functionality of the safety mechanism has failed. This cannot and should not be permitted as part of a safety catch mechanism functionality, it calls into question its design and safety context.

This matters requires a Judicial Review, hence this letter to you as the Secretary of State for Transport.

By basis of the request is as follows:

  • My case originally occurred in March 2006, and in April became part of the BBC Watchdog program, where reports exceeding 2,000 were reported – I think the true amount is significantly greater – as through various mediums, cases continue to be reported as of today.
  • Renault completed their inspection on my vehicle in April 2006, upon my request.
  • VOSA commenced their investigation after I field a case to them in April 2006, and advised that they would complete an impartial investigation in conjunction with the manufacturer.
  • VOSA admitted that they did not have any technical expertises, and had to rely on the manufacture to supply the knowledge and investigation input. Is still impartial?
  • VOSA compiled a report (on 3 non-damaged vehicle spot-checks) but could not issue report this to me, as it was a Renault owned-investigation. Renault did not agree to share their report into my vehicle inspection to me or the public.
  • I requested a FoI request, and obtained copies of both report from VOSA.
  • VOSA have admitted that they have not inspected any vehicles were the bonnet catch has failed, and advised that any other inspections would not be documented. If fact, numerous processes have not been documented; meetings, inspections and any new cases filed.
  • The reports advised that the catch mechanism were not broken, but were functioning and required maintenance.
  • The issue is that the design and manufacturing specification were to treat the mechanism as “maintenance-free”. With this notion, this means that the functionality HAS failed, as the mechanism were prone to stuck in the open position or not engage fully. A complete failure in the original functionality and performance of the safety catch mechanism.
  • Through ongoing discussions with VOSA, this point was repeatedly raised for VOSA to consider, where a functionality and design / construction specification change has occurred.
  • I appreciate that maintenance is not part of the “Code of Practice of Safety Defects”, but this can only be the case when maintenance was a necessary requirement of a noted mechanism. In the case of the bonnet catch, they were maintenance-free, so maintenance cannot be used as a reason for “failure” without admitting that it has become a safety defect.
  • This means that a fault exists in the functionality of the mechanism, specifically the safety catch. It is not safe and fails its function; therefore it is defective.
  • VOSA reluctantly advised Renault to send two letters of invitation, in 2007 and 2008. However, these were not raised as part of the formal Recall system, including entering this into the EU RAPEX system. This is a significant process failure by VOSA.
  • There are potential fatalities linked to the bonnet catch failures, one in South Africa and two RTAs in the UK, VOSA were notified of this but did not investigate further.
  • VOSA confirmed that they would continue to monitor the situation based on any new evidence provided to it. However, any subsequent cases filed to it are not investigated, with the standard “no case to answer” response. This has been the case since 2006.
  • Renault have asserted that all cases are either down to lack of maintenance (which was Renault’s responsibility until the invitation letters were sent to the owner base) or the bonnet was not closed as prescribed (which is incorrect, as an owner cannot tell if the safety mechanism is fully engaged when the main catch is engaged (bonnet is flush)).

The dangers and safety risk to owners and the other road users are real and tangible. Cases continue to happen even after the rudimental notifications sent by Renault. VOSA have not acted in alignment to their Code of Practice of Safety Defects. Renault’s own investigations have indicated that the original “maintenance-free” stance has changed, and thus confirms that a change in the functionality, performance and design of the mechanism was necessary.

Why should owners be liable for something that was actually the manufactures liability, similar to the Toyota safety cases last year? The same principles are here for Renault, and thus the manufacture is fully liable and need to formally recall and resolve the safety risk (replace the parts). VOSA’s failure to drive to this principle means that it renders the agency unfit for purpose and gives the impression that is VOSA does not serve the road safety function that is was intended to govern.

VOSA should have ensured that the manufacture acts more responsibly to recall and replace the mechanism accordingly, and that periodic notifications are sent to the owner base until VOSA are satisfied that the safety risk is resolved.

It is very still shocking to think that I could have been killed by this incident 4 years ago, and I am disheartened to continue to hear cases continue to happen until this day for a known road-safety risk.

I look forward for your response and the appropriate Judicial Review into this matter.

Yours sincerely,

Aaron Brigatti

We'll see what the outcome is...if any! SHould I hold my breathe? Ummm...probably not!!

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Forza Italia - Lackluster Performance (so far)
(Sunday, 20 June 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well having my hearts set two-fold, on England and Italy (yep split allegiance there - more centred on Forza Azzurri though!), I am shocked by both team's performance so far!

It seems that the European teams are struggling, and only the German's on their first game really mustered together a team effort worth singing praises on, but they also lost their second game. Gosh, this is becoming a very open World Cup...maybe all of the teams will improve over time...or is it really an issue with the ball (?) - ha!)

Lets hope things improve...as whether you are following England, Italy, Germany, Spain or France - it's been a bit disappointing thus far!

Forza Italia!!!

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Abysmal Service from Tiscali (now TalkTalk)
(Sunday, 20 June 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well my father decided to terminate his telephone and broadband internet service with Tiscali (now part of the TalkTalk Group), and transfer to PlusNet.

If only it was this easy. It fell apart from the point when Tiscali abruptly brought forward the termination day by 5 days without warning or notification to PlusNet or my father.

Since then we have been battling to get the final bill (we still owe the some service charges until 10th March 2010) and we have raised a complaint, due to the poor service shown.

They even raised it to their external Debt Collections agency, for a final bill amount that we never saw! Grrr!

We can fight fire with fire, and raised this to the OTELO ombudsperson to investigate too!

I also decided to do some research and email the Chairman to the TalkTalk group, hopefully he can intervene and offer something for the total lapse of quality service!  Here's the note I sent to Mr Dunstone...lets hope it results into something more positive than the current communications with Tiscali/Talktalk!!  Shocking indeed!

Dear Mr Dunstone,

I am writing to you on behalf of my father Giorgio Brigatti, who had a Tiscali (now part of TalkTalk) Telephone and Broadband service until very recently.

As part of his consumer rights, he opted to transfer to another Service Provider (PlusNet), and raised the appropriate requests to Tiscali, who confirmed that this transfer would happen on 16th March 2010. This was aligned with PlusNet and my father. Tiscali triggered in the telephone and broadband services early, so on the 11th March 2010 both services were terminated abruptly and without notification to PlusNet or my father.

My father contacted Tiscali to complaint about this, and Tiscali failed to respect that they were liable for this early termination but did admit that they did indeed trigger it early, in error. Through numerous telephone and support ticket discussions with your servicing teams, we continue to fail to obtain a copy of the final bill or close the account with you, even after persistent requests to do so. This matter became far more serious when Tiscali actually passed this matter to a Debt Collections Agency – for a final bill settlement that we never actually received. This is a total disregard of the basic principles of Customer Service, it caused significant distress and still (to this day), we have not yet received the final bill for the services until the early termination date of 10th March 2010. We are not willing to pay for a service charge that we did not utilise, why should we?

This is extremely poor customer service that I am receiving from your Tiscali division. Surely, this is not the way to perform as a Communication company?

We am hopeful that with your intervention this matter can be brought to a satisfactory conclusion. I am looking for an agreed level of compensation, at this time we have notified Tiscali that £25 would be added to our original £100 compensation claim for every business day exceeding past 12th April 2010. As of COB Friday, 18th June this amounted to £1,400 claimed and this figure continues to rise. Although this is significant, this amount has been notified to Tiscali and I feel is justified for the lack of support, breach of contract and the continued distrust we have with your servicing teams to honour their servicing agreements with my father, including anguish and distress experienced after the Debt Collection letter was received by him, and most importantly the fact that over 3 months this matter has yet to be resolved.

This is extremely poor service, the matter of breach of contract has been raised, I have advised Tiscali/TalkTalk of a liability of this fact, raise a requested for compensation and now raised this matter to the Ombudsman. All of which for something that your customer support teams should have resolved effectively.

I trust that with your intervention, this can be resolved. I very much look forward for your response accordingly.

Many thanks for your time.

Your sincerely,

Aaron Brigatti
(sent on my behalf of Giorgio Brigatti)

We will see what Mr Dunstone has got to say for himself!

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Alex's Stag Doo in Amsterdam
(Monday, 07 June 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti

What a marvellous way to spend a stag doo. Some people do it in Brighton (ahem), others in Prague or Riga, but Amsterdam was different - and in my opinion, the better of the destinations on offer! Good choice Al! It was my first time to 'dam, but I knew it was going to be a marvellous place to spend a long weekend. Heard a lot of good things about it!

It was a bit of a trek to get to with an early start on Friday morning to a Preston Park congregation point, but we headed off in good time towards Dover. We stopped off upon our arrival in Calais to the Tesco Wine supermarket - great location to pick-up a few bevvies on the way out (cos they were unfortunately closed on Sunday's!! Grrr...Sunday trading laws still in force across France! - Those were the days!). We then made our way through north-east France, through Belgium, via Gent and up towards Antwerpen - where we got stuck in the Friday afternoon rush hour traffic. Grrrrrr! A nice journey sooo far though!

We reached the Netherlands in pretty good timing, and headed up passed Rotherdam and arrived in the evening in Amsterdam. Finding our way across the city, we made it to the Hotel The Crown in Oudezijds Voorburgwal 21 street, in the intriguing area of the City. We refreshed ourselves and got ready for the first night of fun, fun, fun!

We found a nice steakhouse, called La Clina, and had a nice plate of the House-special Mixed Grill - great stuff indeedy - did the job! We then went around, had a few drinks in various drinking establishments - enjoyed the sights and sounds of the fabulous city - including walking cascually around the Red Light District - well the experience was good, although I didn't participate in the seedy activity, just enjoyed the view! Ha! We then enjoyed an intriguing show at Moulin Rouge - different to say the least. Anyway, after a long day, evening, night and early morning, we made our way back to the hotel and relaxed with a couple of games of pool before our night-cap around 3am.

The next morning, Saturday, we had a nice morning coffee and watched the world go buy. We grabbed a quick bite to eat, and then headed off to see whether we could book a canal boat for later in the day. We also decided to hire a bike from MacBike Hire. For €14.25 for the whole day, it felt like a great way to get around the city. Possibly one of the highlights of the trip. We saw sooo much of the trip. We must have done a good few miles - but it certainly was good. We stopped off for lunch at Cafe de Groene Vlinder at Albert Cuypstraat 130 - great little place. Good was pretty good too - waitresses were evening better to accompany the meal - ha! :)

The canal trip was brilliant - certainly a great 75 mins we spent, and we saw sooo much of the city from a different vantage point. It was a bit calmer on the tour boats, versus the ones that were private-hires that travelled later in the afternoon/early-evening - which were just "different" indeedy! We then settled for a nice meal at Café Loetje - another highlight of the trip, and a great recommendation for anyone wanting great good, great atmosphere - though it was slightly out of the hub of the city, it was a great location (Johannes Vermeerstraat 52 in the Oud Zuid neighborhood) and place to visit, oh and the good was amazing! Eat where the locals eat, as they say!!

We then found our back in the Red Light District again, it was more interesting just to look at the people's reactions more than anything - people watching at its best! After a few more drinks in a few different bars, we decided to head back to the hotel...for a few more games of pool, watching the world go by and relaxation! I must admit I was shattered at this point - one can only have so much of a good time - ha!

The next morning, Sunday, we ventured for some food. We walked pass China Town, and headed towards what was a nice eating establishment. I enjoyed my freshly-made crepes - with Cinnammon and Syrup - yummy indeedy! We picked-up our bikes and then went back to the bike-hire shop to drop them off. Great memories - and the best value of the trip. We then walked back to the hotel, checked-out, waited for the car to return from the car park, and then started our long journey home.

We stopped off at Gent - an amazing place in Belgium. We experienced what I must admit was the best Belgium waffles I've ever had - with chocolate and cream - yummy indeedy! We grabbed a quick sandwich, and then continued our way. The journey, although long, was uneventful. We actually arrived in Calais about an hour earlier than planned and managed to catch the earlier ferry back to Dover. We then headed home. What a trip!

So to summarises the trip, my top 5 highlights were as follows:

  1. spending the time with fabulous company,
  2. the bike-hire MacBike,
  3. and then the great food and drinks (although some were a bit pricey! Red Bull for €4 - what!?) The key highlight was Café Loetje - a great fillet steak and atmosphere!
  4. the canal trip.
  5. ...oh and finally followed by the other "entertainment" during the trip!

Great company, a great stag event, and a fantastic experience. Brilliant all round! I just can't wait to the big day itself now! Congrats Al and good job Si - fine gentlemen indeedy!!

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Help nominate a good friend of mine to take part in the EuroStar Tri-City-Athlon
(Wednesday, 02 June 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Please can I call all of my Facebook buddies to vote for this fine chap, Giampaolo Burgio... he is a great gentlemen and work colleague who is worthy to take part in this great (and bloody difficult endurance) challenge --> the Eurostar Tri-City-Athlon...!!

All it takes is to go to Giampi's page and register your vote......it can't be easier than this! --> http://www.eurostartricityathlon.com/home-page(en)/view-entry.aspx?id=2744 - note: only the top 20 nominated votes in the UK go through! So please help register your vote asap!

P.S you only have until 9th June to register your vote so please do it today! Grazia and ciao for now!

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Late-May Bank Holiday Weekend
(Wednesday, 02 June 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti

A nice and relaxing weekend was planned - with a number of Ex-Sussex Uni ("Ex-Coggies") mates popping around for food, fun and games - and chilling. Oh and yes we also enjoyed the Eurovision Song Contest - amazing stuff. I actually got back into it a couple of years ago - not due to any UK entries - but mainly for the fab entertainment value it brings!

The highlight for me was the Flash Dance across many of the European capital cities - amazing indeed! Here's the video:

A great tune, some amazing dance choreography, an overzealous security guard, and a fantastic event - nice one Oslo! This really illustrates a united Europe! Ha!

Cheap pizza too - thanks Domino's for your £5.99 for any size, any pizza offer :) 4 large pizzas for a total of £23.96 - great :) Okay not necessarily the "best" pizza - but for that price - amazing value for money! Ha!

We must schedule another session soon - as I know a few people had to drop out at the last minute - must have been the sight of the weather forecast! Hey-ho!

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Have I Got News for You - Show Recording!
(Saturday, 29 May 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti

I managed to bag 4 tickets to watch "Have I Got News for You" being recorded on Wednesday night and it was a bloody good show with lots of stuff to work with. And who was the Guest presenter I ask you shout...well the one and only Mr Bruce Forsyth esq - with Laura Solon and Ross Noble as the guests on Ian's and Paul's panel respectively.

The wait before the studio doors opened was long and painful, as always! I arrived early (learning from previous episodes when I was a tad late), so turned up at 4.45pm (for a 6:30 entry). It was a long wait for my guests, but a wonderful wait all the less.

We managed to get inside, the seats were okay, on the right side (behind Paul Merton)...and the recording started as usual.

Now, as a member of the audience, although the tickets are free and we are there for a good time, there is expected to be a significant level of of audience participation (ergh laughter and clapping).

And the warm-up act (whoever the chap was) was actually surprisingly good. The audience themselves actually poked fun of one and other...taking the piss of someone who worked in Asset Management, another one who couldn't remember where he lived (resides in Spain, but staying in the UK currently), people who were cold, a nice Italian lass who was wearing a sparkly hat.

Anyway, the recording was quite long (as always)...we started around 7pm but the recording lasted till just short of 10pm! But it was magic. Ian kept taking the piss out of Brucie, especially because he couldn't didn't know any of the one-liners or shows that Brucie was famous for - ergh but Ross Noble did :) Ha!

The show finished well, and we managed to walk back towards the South Bank for dinner (as we didn't manage to grab a bite before the show.

We went to Giraffe, and all had the bloody gorgeous burgers, whilst one of the guests had a salad. Trying to do small talk with the waitress, my first line was "so are you finishing late tonight" and "it still seems quite busy, does it get quieter later" - oh why do I try and bother :) Ha! There was an unease of a moment when she managed to find an acceptable response, whilst the rest of my group just cracked up laughing (at me, not her!)!! Whoops...

Anyway, must try to get tickets for the next show soon! Methinks that will be in the Autumn 2010 - bring it on...

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New Government but same old Department of Transport
(Friday, 21 May 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti
Well I recently received another standard "thank you for your letter but no further comments to add" note from the VOSA Corporate Office (I think they are getting a tad annoyed now!)...so I decided to not directly response to this letter and instead direct my email directly to the Ministry of Transport and Under Secretary of Transport - responsible for Road Safety....that's the Conservative MP, Mike Penning.

"Mike, Angie, Jade,

I am going try not to be rude in my response here.

The reason I have not formally responded directly to VOSA in relation to their letter sent and received on 11th May 2010, is because I do not believe this matter sits with VOSA any longer.

This remains a life-threatening issue which affects thousands of motorists on the UK roads (500k+ vehicles), and the risk to the road users are far too great too simply state we “acknowledge but have no further comment to make”. I am one on a growing list of “victims” that have almost been killed by an incident of no fault of ourselves. Renault Clio Mark-2’s bonnet catch remains dangerous and are in an urgent need to be officially recalled and the safety catch mechanism replaced effectively.

VOSA are simply stating that they are no longer in the position to deal with this matter appropriately, so I would suggest that no further correspondence is directly to or from VOSA, when they have proven their inability to deal with this safety risk. This is a road safety risk that does endanger the motorist lives and has unfortunately, impacted thousands already, mainly due to the slow actions of VOSA (& Renault). This remains classed as a safety defect, and we deserve a lot better performance in the way this is investigated and treated – it’s a basic Duty of Care that as employees of the State, we are simply not receiving the right or correctly applied focus.

I look forward for a more appropriate response to this road safety matter. VOSA are not capable of “dealing with the matter” and it is quite unacceptable to receive such replies going further. Thank you."


I received an interesting response today! Actually I read it and laughed so loudly my boss had to ask me what was up (I showed him the response I got, and he also laughed! He praised me top marks for being persistent though! Ha).

Here's the response from the DoT representative:

"Angie,

I’ve spoken to VOSA who are dealing with this issue and they are going to write back to Mr Brigatti. Please don not reply to any of his emails and engage in any correspondence with this man.

He has been writing to the Department for many years and won’t stop.

If he becomes persistent with his emails we can arrange to have them blocked.

Thanks,

Jade Baird
Diary Secretary and Assistant Private Secretary
Mike Penning
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State
for Transport
020 7944 4406"


I really don't care what they think of me - this simply shows that they have no respect for any of the victims (no matter which Government is in power), and that they think that they can walk all over the victims. It is simply not acceptable. This people are employees of the state, they are public service members of staff - and we pay their wages. The parliamentary teams email address are on the Parliament website and ultimately the DoT are responsible for VOSA's mandates. So as we have a complaint against VOSA, this is a complaint that the DoT need to look into!!

As I said, I really didn't take this personally, but since we have this email, it's going to be distributed widely now! Oh, she tried to recall the email a few minutes later - but too late

I wonder if Jade Baird has been asked into Mike Penning's office yet?

Oh and my response...well a bit of irony, but here it is:

"Thank you Jade for your note. At least you are being truthful on how you feel.

Shame this is how you intend to treat a public safety measure.

The reason we have remained on the case is because UK motorist's lives are at risk.

I look forward for your apology."


Your views very welcome!
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My friends have been fantastic
(Sunday, 16 May 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Listening to my close friends over the past 2 weeks has been soooo amazing...whether from work, my old-college mates, ex-Uni colleagues or recent friends - they have been inspiring. They have made a tough journey easier, and I am truly grateful to you all! You know who you are! You have been fantastic!

I just wish the luvly person was able to give it a go - but alas, I'm come to a stage where I know this simply won't happen. I gave it a shot, such a shame but c'est la vie, hey?

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Lost my work car space - grrrr!
(Sunday, 16 May 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti

I know it's a perk rather than anything else, but it still is quite annoying that I have now lost my car space in the Basement of my work building. This means I know have to find a public car space outside for the first time in over a year!

I actually received the Car space allocation from 17th August 2009, and it has been continuous until 28th May 2010. Argh...soo close but no cigar. I knew it was too good to last!

I wonder how I will sort this out...hopefully I get back on the allocation list during the next car space review in 3 months time...

One positive comment, luckily it is getting warmed and towards the summer months - though, the downfall is that pay and display has commenced over the last 6 mths around Preston Park in Brighton, where I used to park before I got the permit. Bugger!

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Still thinking of that special someone!
(Sunday, 16 May 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti

A week or so has passed since I last spoke to that special one, I am still finding it tough going...

She remains a darling in my heart - I know I need to get over her, I know it will remain a tough journey...argh...we'll see! I think I can do it, I just need to be strong, focus myself, think about myself and move forward - there's no other option...

Well, I say this, I am still seeing her on Wednesday, 26th May, for a TV show recording on the South Bank. I know she will look stunning - but it's the entertainment on the night that should count. I dunno how I will feel around her - I need to find out then!

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Session in London
(Sunday, 16 May 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Working in the London Victoria office is a bit bemusing at times...especially when I haven't been up for many months!

In respect of productivity, it is a bit shocking, as I actually catch-up ("network") with sooo many people...it is funny that I am sooo recognised across the floors of the office...everyone stops and chats when they see me - really funny! I need to be up more often - ha!

Relating to the purpose of my visit - it was amazingly productive and effectively, two strategic review meetings, and we got the direction we needed - good Project Management methinks! A tip someone gave me is that the need to hold the strategic discussions BEFORE the actual review meeting, and then you can breeze through the meeting with a round of nods - and agreement - puurfect planning and a puurfect result!! That made me complete a 107 page deck in 1hr 20 minutes - wow - talk about great time management!! Brilliant indeedy! The best parts of my job methinks!

Oh Thursday evening, I stayed in town to visit the London Eye - Corporate Entertainment - plus a meal in Skylon restaurant on the South Bank. Followed by a couple of bevvies back in the hotel lounge, before I trekked my way back to Haywards Heath! What a day, what a session!!

On Friday afternoon, we took the party to a nice English establishment (aka Public House), showing how most office-folk enjoy the Friday evening, before they go home. Guinness flowed indeed, as I introduced them to this fine drink. Ha!

I also managed to enjoy a session on Friday night in Croydon - fantastic, a nice bevvie or two - ergh...that means Guinness...and a nice Italian meal - really fantastic place, busy place, great atmosphere - and pretty reasonably priced! Luv it!

Heading back to Haywards Heath on the train was a bit eventful - some f***ing sod got on the tracks at Gatwick Airport, and they stopped all trains going south at Redhill. We waited at the station for over 40mins, before they restarted services - not a nice way to spend a late Friday evening. Managed to get eventually, and boy did I need to sleep! Absolutely shattered!

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Chelsea double - oh yes indeedy!
(Saturday, 15 May 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Yes, Chelsea have done it again - not only winning the Premiership in 2010, but they bagged the double with the FA Cup final - against Pompey! Well it had to be a blue win regardless - but the top team came out trumps! I know Pompey have had a topsy turvy season - with relegation, financial issues, and administration - but wow what a game indeed!

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Blue remains the colour - double Win!
(Monday, 10 May 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well, after the shenanigans of an election result, the Tories finally came up trumps, with the Labour government being pushed into the siding yard for a while! A coalition is better than minority government, so I hope it will work out for the best. I still say blue is the colour

AND, Chelsea smashing came up trumps over the weekend, with a 8-nil show against the Wigan! What a way to end the season - nice jobs boys!

Blue, blue, blue - the only colour you need to know!

Jolly good show...

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Blue is the colour
(Friday, 07 May 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well Thursday, 6th May is a magical day for the UK - we vote for a new Government.

I think there is only one colour that deserves to win. Although, Lib-Dems have a few elements going for it, they need such a big swing across the UK to come to power, it's so unrealistic. It my opinion, lets go with a party that can make a difference - the Blue Conservatives (Tories).

The current results seem quite positive - although the Tories just don't have the full majority that they really need to win overall!

The key result is that Labour received a huge thumping - and well deserved - they have made a mockery for the last 13 years - I wish they didn't screw us over. They sold our gold reserves, screwed our fantastic industries, no protection for cheap imports etc - all in all, it's a mess of a Country to recovery from now - hey ho!

And if Chelsea win over the weekend - it will be a double-Blue victory all-around! One can hope, hey? :)

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Topsy turvy reflection period
(Monday, 03 May 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Over the last few weeks, I have had a lot of emotional highs and lows which I am currently reflecting on. Lows in the sense of personal rejection, rather than anything more serious than this, but it still hurts all the same.

Having fallen for what I felt was a real beautiful gal (a gal that has a lot going for her), and going through a period of "I think she likes me too", it does hurt when the the ordinary 'it won't go anyway' response is received. No matter how many times one hears this (I've only had a few chances, to be honest, so haven't had a lot of experience personally!), it still is a bitter pill to swallow.

I just need some time and space to get over my emotions and see where I want to go. I actually have to think of a number of things concurrently, my work, where I want to be/go, what I need to do to get there, what else I need to experience in this life (my "must do's" before I reach 40!) who I want to spend this time with etc etc. It's a difficult journey, but I've learnt one thing. I have a great bunch of friends that have given me direction and advise - whether from work (Amex), from Uni, from College - the ones that I respect, trust and can confide into have all been fantastic and been there for me! It's been an interesting experience actually - and my hat goes off to everyone of you who offered help and support through one of life's toughest challenges! THANK YOU!!! I really mean it...just by being there, for that phone call, that SMS, that drink - it's been magical - and actually has helped me feel better already! Wow!

I have written what I hoped could be classed as a "sincere reflection" letter to the fine lady, so I will see how she reflects on this. It is a shame, I really thought that she could be the one, she is one that ticks the majority of the tick-boxes (I know this process is wrong, but we all have this thought-process when we meet that special person). We have shared a few highs, and a few low moments together - and we were getting quite close (well I thought we were). Just dunno what I could do differently - if it's me, then it's me, I can't potentially change who I am (well okay, I can change a few things, but ultimately, I am me and me is I), but if there were other factors outside of "us", I would have preferred to find out what these were or are...though I don't think I want to know now - it'll hurt too much!!

Time to move on, time to continue life's tough journey, and time to be ME again - I need to move forward, it's the only way I can and should go :)

I still respect her, I still will have a special place in my heart, it's an emotional roller-coaster that I am riding on...I just hope it ends smoothly, so I can get on with my life! It's hard, but as people keep saying, life must go on! So true...Wish me luck...

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UNO is such a fun game!
(Thursday, 29 April 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti

It is amazing that something so simple as a card game, can be so much fun...

Then again, it has to be linked to the amazing company that helps too...

Anyway, hopefully I can share the fun - cos it's great seeing some great friends smiles soooo cutely...hmmm...

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Ordinary day in the office
(Monday, 26 April 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Meetings, meetings, tea, conference calls, presentation decks, lunch, conference calls, tea, meetings and presentation decks - a normal day in the office really!

Look on the positive, one day down, another 4 to go...and methinks the same approach for the rest of the week - argh... I need another holiday - well to book one first and then aim for it second! But where...Greek Island, Athens, Guersey, Dublin - or all of the above at some point! Ha!

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St George's Day 2010 - My Dad's 70th - wahoo!
(Friday, 23 April 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well, my dad, Giorgio, has reached another important threshold, he has reached his magic 70.  Coinciding with St George's Day 2010. 

It's been a bit of a topsy turvy few years for him - well a decade really...with the the family restaurant business-environment proving to be very stressful, the Lewes floods shutting down the restaurant in Oct 2010, family challenges, problems with his neighbour amongst the biggest.

But there are some positive highs as well.  He's seen both of his sons graduate through university, and generally doing quite well - we are sooo independent now.  We are both at work, and hopefully settling down somewhat (I hope!).

Anyway, we are looking to celebrate in style, so my dad arranged an event with friends & family joining us at the Birch Hotel in Haywards Heath tomorrow.  Hopefully it would be a nice event...hopefully the session will be very nice indeed!

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Another day - another VOSA email...
(Friday, 23 April 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well I couldn't just accept VOSA's last email as their official stand, so decided to rip it to shreds -and make sure that the chaps integrity in front of their Ministry bosses is thrown out of the window!

"Thank you for your letter dated and received on 19th April. 

I don’t think the bonnet catch fundamental mechanism is complex as you seem to imply. Renault has agreed that it is a simple 2-catch mechanism in their previous correspondence to me, so I would question your stance on some of the points you’ve quoted, which seems to contradict the manufactures own opinions on the functionality and closure process for the same mechanism.

  • It is also clear that any “potential” of failure is far from satisfactorily.  To put this into context, DoT / VOSA are therefore stating that it is acceptable for a safety mechanism to fail, and still be deemed safe.  You are trying to justify that 55,000+ bonnet failures for Renault Clio’s is acceptable(1), when it simply should not be the case.  A safety mechanism should not be allowed to fail in its basic function.  The bonnet safety catch primary function is to prevent a bonnet releasing and obscuring the driver’s visibility through the front windscreen.  I disagree with you on your comment; the safety mechanism in the Clio Mk2 has simply failed and the safety catch design is not safe. 

  • Referencing your views on whether this is a defect in accordance to the “Code of Practice(2)” policies.  The number involved with a particular issue/safety defect is actually part of the equation.  The policies quotes definition is that “the defect appears to be common to a number of vehicles”.  I disagree with you on this point too, vehicle volumes do matter.  You are not even able to interpret your own Code of Practice! 

  • “A ‘safety defect’ is a feature of design or construction liable to cause significant risk of personal injury or death.”  Please can you explain why the Clio is not one that causes significant risk of personal injury or death?  I find your position untenably if you think something that could have killed me and the other motorists around me (i.e. could have caused a fatal RTA), is not a safety risk.  What justification do you have to make such an outrageous statement?  I disagree with you on your comment.  Actually, it’s quite insulting for VOSA to continue to try to make such justifications for VOSA’s apparent failure to deal with matter more professionally and honourably.  There is no respect shown to the DoT/VOSA for a matter that could have killed thousands of people.  I guess it is pure luck that deaths have been avoided (unless?), and this has nothing to do with the two “invitations” correspondence sent out by Renault.

  • I do not see “positive guidance” being received from Renault.  Renault has opted to shy away from investigating any cases filed going forward (they only looked into 1 case in 2006).  Renault accused the motorist / owner of causing the incident, which is quite a slanderous statement, only to then advise that it was down to the maintenance (corrosion) of their mechanism (which was Renault’s responsibility and liability).  All in all, if you believe Renault has been honourably in the way they have dealt with this safety risk, then you are quite mistaken.  It was only because of the public pressure (including me and the UK media) on VOSA and Renault, that we ensured you enforced notifications to owners.  VOSA agreed that the process followed was an “informal recall”, but this is not the same as a formal recall no matter how you position in.  A recall is a recall, and by the Code of Practice definition, this particular case should have deemed as a safety recall.  Therefore, I disagree with your comment.  A formal recall should have been followed.

  • I have requested a FoI, and do not need to file a further FoI.   Let me outline what appear to be quite incompetent statements from VOSA’s VSB(3):

    o  “VOSA has undertaken inspections on an additional 3 vehicles, thereby bringing the total to 6 vehicles. The details of these inspections are not documented.
    o  VOSA’s Vehicle Safety Branch have also undertaken 10 (ten) random checks on vehicles which have not been documented. The VSB engineers continue examinations on an adhoc basis in respect of any Renault Clio they encounter, however no contemporaneous notes are made.
    o  A further 2 joint VOSA/Renault vehicles inspections have been undertaken, these details are not documented by VOSA.”

As you need to continue to collate evidence in case a defect is established, this requires all parts of your assessments (part of your wider investigation) to be documented.  This proves that your department’s investigation was not completed effectively and brings your own organisation into disrepute.  How can a department who is responsible for “vehicle safety” perform like this?  This is outrageous and really means your investigation department is not competent to complete any safety investigations at all.  I cannot agree that you have investigated this particular case in accordance to your Code of Practice.  Therefore, I disagree with your comments.

You are inferring that your organisation doesn’t have the ability to complete a thorough or impartial investigation (VOSA has admitted it didn’t have the technical experts); any assessments completed are not necessarily documented and contravene your own Code of Practice.

  • Another quote from your Code of Practice: “Vehicle manufacturers will notify VOSA of the response rate at 3 monthly intervals until the recall action is complete or it is mutually agreed that the campaign be closed as any remaining unactioned vehicles are unlikely to be traced”.  A formal recall would have triggered the continual communications to the owner base (including to any new owners following an ownership exchange).  As you did not invoke this formal recall process, this means neither Renault nor VOSA are continuing to communicate to the customer base.  Since a proportion of the vehicle base has not been checked, we will continue to hear about incidents to continue to happen.  We have evidence that this is the case, so your inactions are proving quite unsustainable.  You quoted that you “will not take any further action”.  How can you make this statement, when incidents continue to occur on the UK roads?  Your department’s role is to prevent these issues re-occurring, and fully mitigate the risk.  More importantly, the manufacture has the duty of care to replace all defective mechanisms to one that can withstand general usage on the UK roads.

We have all lost faith in VOSA’s ability to deal with any safety reports filed to it and I thank you for confirming your inability to deal with the confirmed safety defects.  I can only agree with you one thing, that I am far from satisfied with VOSA’s attitude towards something that could have killed me.


Footnotes:
(1) Based on your previous commentary in your 31st March 2010 correspondence that “11% of Clio Mk2s submitted for (MOT) tests failed due to problems with the bonnet catch” with over 500,000 Clios Mk2/Campus models in the UK.
(2) Code of Practice -
http://www.vosa.gov.uk/vosa/apps/recalls/static/codeofpractice.htm (maintenance not referenced)
(3) A copy of the FoI is located here:
http://www.dft.gov.uk/vosa/repository/07%20152a.pdf "

I don't think I've been too strong, just the fact I disagree with everything, except one point - that I am far from happy with VOSA's (in)actions!!

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N-Drive Sat-Nav for iPhone - £9.99 Bargain
(Friday, 23 April 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Yep for under a tenner, you get a Sat Nav for the UK and Ireland that works pretty well - for your iPhone.

A few of my colleagues have purchased it from iTunes (including me), and so far I am not disappointed.  It beats paying another £30-£40 for a TomTom, Garmin or Navman - works like a treat!

The offer price appears to be limited though - originally priced £34.99, it was slowly reduced in price from £24.99 to £14.99 (Feb 2010) and now since the beginning of April 2010, £9.99.

So grab a bargain whilst it lasts!

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Another lousy response from VOSA - shame on the COO!
(Tuesday, 20 April 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well I got a response from VOSA's COO, but another one that I aim to rip to shreds - and take their integrity with it.  Shame on VOSA for writing a pile of poo as their formal response to my previous letter posing 10 simple questions!

"Thank you for your further email of 2 April. I note this was copied to the Secretary of State, the Minister and Alastair Peoples. Please accept this as a consolidated response.

As you are aware, reports of alleged safety defects with vehicle components are handled by the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency’s (VOSA’s) Vehicle Safety Branch (VSB) under the terms of the UK Code of Practice on Vehicle Safety Defects which implements the requirement of The General Product Safety Directive 2005.

The Code defines a safety defect as a ‘feature of design or construction liable to cause a significant risk of personal injury or death.’ Defects which are detectable by routine servicing or maintenance are not subject to the Code. The numbers of vehicles involved and their age or maintenance regime has no bearing on the matter.

VOSA will follow up defects where the safety of road users could be improved with additional advice from the manufacturer, for example with respect to maintenance or use. In this case, as discussed in my letter of 24 March, VOSA has worked with Renault whose campaign has provided positive guidance to its customers.

A bonnet catch has many moving and functioning parts and there is the potential that a failure might occur on any model of car of any age for a number of reasons not related to the vehicle’s design or construction. As the Renault campaign has highlighted, the risk can be prevented or minimised by regular servicing and maintenance.

Regarding requests made under the Freedom of Information Act, these should be addressed to VOSA’s Information Access Team at the above address or emailed to: inform@vosa.gsi.gov.uk. If a requestor is not satisfied with the outcome of the request they may write to VOSA’s Corporate Office at the above address to ask for a review of the decision. Should they remain dissatisfied they may appeal VOSA’s decision with the Information Commissioner’s Office.

As I have explained before, VOSA’s Vehicle Safety Branch has investigated this case in accordance with the Codes of Practice and determined that there is not a safety defect as defined by the Code. We will not be taking any further action in this matter.

I realise you are unhappy with this outcome but we have correctly followed our procedures and there are no plans to change the current arrangements for dealing with reports of alleged safety defects. Although I am content to correspond further on this matter, VOSA’s position will remain unchanged and supportive of the steps taken by Renault to mitigate this non-safety recall issue."

Well do you think this will be an end to the saga - what do you think - ha!

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Bloody leak - the joys of being a home owner!
(Sunday, 18 April 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well, having a had a great Friday evening, I went to bed as normal (early on Saturday morning, that is!).

What I didn't realise was that there was a leak on the in-pipe to the toilet cistern in the main bathroom, which had started to leak.  It was only a drip-leak, but it apepared that it had gone on for several hours to say the least.  Anyway, I went to the Garden centre, came back briefly to pick up something, went upstairs to spend a penny, and bang I heard a dripping sound (hence I became aware of the leak).

I thought it was just water on the floor, but when I went downstairs to the room just beneath the bathroom (the converted garage - now a Dining room), it had damp water marks over parts of the ceiling!  Oh shite!

I now have to phone the plumber on Monday to see whether someone can come around and inspect the damage.  It might be an insurance job (if the floor boards and skirting are badly damaged), else just a clean, dry and repair (repaint) jobby. 

I don't really know the scope of the damage - just hope it isn't "that bad"...crap, oh crap, oh crap!

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A fantastic but horrible feeling - arghhhhh!
(Saturday, 17 April 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Why is it that fancing someone (almost close to loving someone) is such a difficult emotion.  Especially, when the person is cute, funny, charming, and soooo caring.  (Oh, did I say she is gorgeous too?)

I really feel for this person, it's a really strong feeling, I even think it's a reciprocal thing (well kinda), but not sure if it will become anything - even though I really hope it did. 

Maybe it is simply not the right time or place...so much is happening, and maybe it is just not meant to be...

I think I just need to get over it and move on... onto the next as they say...but I really don't want too...I just wish that there was still a hope that it (the feeling/possible relationship) went somewhere...should I remain hopeful, or just distant myself?

Argh what a pickle...all I need is a "yes" to my question...!!

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Our day in court - please can common sense prevail (in our favour!)
(Monday, 12 April 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well it started with a "lack of support" shown by the retailer which I will simply label as "Mr A Retailer".  But here's the full picture.

In April 2009, I purchased a nice double bed for my mother from "Mr A Retailer", on a Finance deal (the one with the Black horse emblem).  She started to get bites all over her body, but we didn't at the time think it was an issue with the bed itself.

After a few weeks of having the bed, she went away for a trip to Scotland and the bites resided. She came back and the bites started again, so there was a 1+1=2 moment, and we realised that there was something wrong with the bed (the only thing that change in the environment)!  We googled some information, and it materialised that it could be bed bugs.  We contacted the local Trading Standards and Environmental Health who advised that we should urgently get the room and bed fumigated to avoid spreading the bugs around the house. 

In mid-July 2009, we had contacted the Silent Nights (whoops - did I slip out the manufacturer?) Customer hotline, and they advised that it can't be the bed, but advised I should contact the retailer.  In July, we contacted "Mr A Retailer" (okay it was Paul Simons) who offered a blanked denial, advising that it was bed mites, and all beds have bedmites.  We went back and advised them that bed mites (you can't see!) is not bed bugs (the one you can see with your naked eye), and advised them to replace the bed, and/or support us.  They declined to provide any support whatsoever, and even advised us that the retailer should investigate the issue and that we shouldn't contact Environmental Health/Pest Control.

We then postponed the original site visit from Pest Control to give an opportunity for the Retailer to investigate, as they declined, we had no choice but to continue the Pest Control inspection and treatment, which was completed in August 2009.

The report signified that bed-bugs was present and we submitted the claim for the reimbursement and the report to the Retailer.  They continued to say that they weren't liable advising that we had bought in the bed bugs in our own environment.  Where's the evidence.  They didn't interview us, they didn't inspect or investigate the environment or even the product - but can simply make an unfounded categoric statement and conclude their investigation.  This is imply ludicrious.

We instructed the finance company of all annoyance in the way the dealer dealt with the complaint, and I feel that they mishandled our complaint also.  The finance company simply spoke with the retailer and simply forwarded a copy of the correspondence that was previously sent to me.  Hmm...that was helpful (not!)

So we had no choice but to take them all to Court.  We advised that we wanted a full refund of the bed product (around £450) + compensation and the reimbursement of the pest control treatment (another £550) = so just over £1000 claimed.

We now have a date in Court on Tuesday, 13th April in Haywards Heath County Court.  I can't wait, but appreciate that it is our word against them.  At least we have a report which confirmed that Bed Bugs was present in the bed, just not sure how the defenders will make their stand! 

Fingers crossed.  Sounds like a Jason and Goliath moment!

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Ex-Coggies Gathering - has it been 12mths?
(Monday, 12 April 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti

I can't believe that it has been over 12mths since the last catch-up...where has the year gone?

Anyway, do we need an excuse for a catch-up... (ergh that's food, drinkies and fun and games to you and I!) ... of course we don't...

So just a blanket email and a few takers, and we will have some fun...

Likely to be the second May Bank Holiday weekend...oh yes can't wait...

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Easter Bank Holiday Weekend Fun
(Sunday, 04 April 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti

3 reasons to have fun...

  • Thursday, 1st April - some "wine-bar" fun (aka bar-crawl - how posh, hey?) in Haywards Heath.
  • Friday, 2nd April - a second reunion for the ex-Preferred Mortages folks (some really fun and genuine folks!)
  • Saturday, 3rd April - apparently another session in Oceana...and ergh...drinking again!

Hopefully Sunday and Monday is just chilling...cos I knew to also have a rest too :)  Ha! 

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Methinks a house-party is in order!
(Sunday, 04 April 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well having now been in my place for over a year, I think it is duly necessary to arrange another house-party...

Hopefully, I will get some old Uni mates, Amex folks (ex and present), friends and family and just an excuse for everyone to chill, have a good-time and chat (ergh...and eat and drink!). 

I think the second May Bank Holiday may work wonders!

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VOSA - my follow-up letter to Chief Operations Officer
(Friday, 02 April 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well my response to VOSA was short and sweet...I change tact a little bit, rather than directly responding to the points raised in their 1st April response,I decided to use a question-prompt approach. 

This should see whether VOSA's responses PROOF that there were incompetent in the way their dealt with the safety defect report!

"Thank you for your letter dated and received on 1st April. 

I would like to receive your responses on the following questions, to help me understand your department’s safety investigation procedures.  We need to discount maintenance from the responses, as the parts were designed and manufactured as maintenance-free at the time of my case:

  • Please define what is the main purpose of a bonnet safety catch mechanism?  Isn’t this a mechanism that should prevent a bonnet from releasing all the way if the main catch releases (for whatever reason)?
  • Is there a chance (no matter how small) that a safety catch may not function as designed and what is VOSA’s acceptable percentage failure-threshold for it to still be deemed “safe”?  
  • Is it acceptable that a safety catch functionality cannot prevent a bonnet releasing all the way in 100% of cases (i.e. a failure occurs)?  
  • Is a change in state from maintenance-free to maintenance-required confirmation that a change in the mechanism design and manufacturing specification exists?
  • During a VOSA investigation, would you inspect any vehicles which have experienced the actual reported defects?
  • Did VOSA inspect ANY vehicles which experienced the Clio Mark-2 bonnet catch failure? And if so, did you document your findings and why is it not published under the FoI?
  • Would a 50k+ vehicle volume of MOT failures (linked to a bonnet catch mechanism issue) indicate that a significant safety risk exists to the same mechanism?  What failure threshold would trigger a defect investigation (what risk is too great)?  Is the bonnet failures bigger than just Renault Clio’s – is it a known industry safety risk? 
  • Have you considered vehicles volumes that are not due for MOT in your statistics – and those that are on a 2yr/18k maintenance schedule – where the risks are greater?
  • During Renault’s dealership maintenance communication, what is VOSA’s position on Clio Mark-2’s not serviced by the Renault dealership network?  Same servicing notice issued?
  • Are “invitation” notification letters enforced and formally recorded in the same way as the VOSA Recall system?   Why wasn’t the formal Recall used?

I await your response as appropriate to the above points.  Thank you in advance."

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Emotive Feelings
(Friday, 02 April 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Over the past 6 months, there has been a lot of thinks that has got me thinking.  Reflecting on my work, my friends and family, those around me, and I am getting to a stage that I am now trying to work out what I want and what would make me happy in life.  After all having reached a significant milestone in my life, ergh...hitting the magic 30 that is! 

I thought something would be developing recently, but it reminds of something previously, where my shyness (and occassionally stupidity - possibly arrogance) just took the better of me.  I really don't know sometimes!!  I guess I just have to be "me" and see how things go...if it is going to be, it's going to be.  If it is not, then I just have to reflect, think, re-consider and look further ahead.

I also have to continually reflect on how could I improve and adapt to support the changing environment that I live in.

Maybe I should stop reflecting and just act?  Argh!!!!

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Crappy response from VOSA Chief Operations Officer - deserves a follow-up letter in return!
(Thursday, 01 April 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well I got a response, not from Alastair Peoples (CEO), but his deputy, Alex Fiddes (Chief Operations Officer).  Well at least it is a response.  Was I expecting anything better out of VOSA, than the same party line.  Hmmm... well there was just a small glimmer of hope that was short-lived!  Ha!

"Thank you for your letter of 28 March 2010 addressed to Mr Peoples that accompanied your email of the same date to Mr Peoples, Mr Clark and Lord Adonis concerning Renault Clio II bonnets.  As the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) Director responsible for the investigation of report of alleged safety defects by our Vehicle Safety Branch your letter and email have been passed to me for reply.

There is little I can add to our earlier letters.  In addition to writing to registered keepers offering a free inspection of the bonnet and safety catch components Renault have provided an insert for owners’ manuals on maintenance requirements, and issued an instruction to their dealerships to include bonnet and safety catches in standard servicing schedules.

You may be reassured to know that bonnet catches are checked at MOT test, and many of the vehicles we are concerned with here are of MOT testable age.  You may also be interested to know that when we last analysed MOT test fail data for bonnet catches, 11% of Clio IIs submitted for test failed due to problems with the bonnet catch as opposed to a higher average failure rate of 15% across all makes and models.

VOSA will not be carrying out any further investigation because we have already gone as far as we can with this, and like Renault, have concluded that the main cause of catch failures has been a lack of appropriate maintenance.

Yours sincerely

Alex Fiddes
Chief Operating Officer"

Another letter appears on the offering :)

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O2 Open - Can I get more cashback?
(Thursday, 01 April 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti

As O2 is the company mobile service provider, we are able to apply for personal mobiles with a discount under the O2 Open loyalty scheme.

I previously outlined what this meant in terms of savings, having made a iPhone purchase in mid-December 2009.

I've just learnt that the £75 cashback has increased by £50 to £125.  This was quite frustrating...so I am looking to request the difference to support my particular purchase.

If I knew there was a chance of more cashback, I would have deferred the purchase until Jan/Feb 2010... Grrr...

Fingers crossed!!

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VOSA letter - new CEO, new letter opportunity
(Tuesday, 30 March 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well after my mid-March forwarded note to Lord Adonis and Mr Clark from the DoT, I received a bog-standard response from VOSA.

I decided t reply to this, having just discovered that VOSA has a new CEO.  Stephen Tetlow seemed to have been moved aside to another DoT division, and Alastair Peoples has appeared on the scene taking over the CEO-realms of VOSA.  What more of an opportunity do i need to start letter writing again to these motley folks!

"I have been in contact with your predecessor, Mr Tetlow, and you colleagues since 2006 after a life-threatening incident affected my Renault Clio Mark-2, and the infamous Bonnet Catch Failure, which continues to exist in the UK market place.  Following an email addressed to the DoT Cabinet members, Lord Adonis and Mr Clark your office has responded.  I must admit I was quite expecting the standard denial by VOSA, but it was still quite a disappointing response to receive this in any case.

According to your Code of Practice, a “Safety Defect is a feature of design or construction liable to cause significant risk of personal injury or death”.   I am still confused how the Clio-2 Bonnet safety risks are not classed as defects, as your recall databases has bonnet catch failures from Mitsubishu L200, Audi 100, Leyland DAF 200, Peugeot 406/308, Renault 19 (Phase 2), Vauxhall Frontera, Mercedez-Benz C202, Mazda MX6/626 and Alfa Romeo 156/147 – all of which had issues the functionality of the bonnet catch mechanism and were deemed a safety defect and required a formal Recall under the UK VOSA Recall / EU RAPEX system.  Some of these required maintenance intervention, others required replaced parts/mechanisms – irrespective, defects were determined and recalls issued responsibly.

The formal process of notifying users of a safety risk is the VOSA Recall system and not, as you seem to imply, sending a courtesy advisory notification “inviting” owners to visit their dealership.  As you will know this contravenes your own guidelines for safety risks.

I do not agree that you and Renault have done enough.  You all keep referencing a Report which was written without any independent technical experts inputs.  Your own staff confirmed that you didn’t have the skill to complete such an investigation, so relied on Renault to supply the engineers / report inputs.   I am not sure of your internal processes, but this doesn’t appear that transparent or impartial to me, and really seems to imply we have a broken process within VOSA on how you investigate safety issues.  I am looking for the impartial VOSA evidence that no defect exists?  I have not seen this as of today, which VOSA repeatedly seem to reference exists.  You need to proof a defect doesn’t exist, not the other way around.  If there is insufficient proof, a precautionary recall should be issued without question.

“Maintenance” is being used in the wrong context; the parts were designed and manufactured as maintenance-free (where does maintenance fit in as the prevention?).  I understand that they are no longer maintenance-free (confirmed from VOSA/Renault).  This means that they have changed from the original design and construction specifications laid out by the manufacture – and as such, implies that a defect is evident in the bonnet catch specification.  There is no evidence to the contrary.  If corrosion is the root-cause behind my particular incident, then this is not owner-error (nothing to do with how I closed the bonnet) and should be nothing to do with maintenance (as this was not mandated prior to the incident); meaning the mechanism was at a safety risk at the time of my incident.  The only supporting statement is that a safety defect was present in the mechanism at the time of my incident. 

There is only one acceptable approach by VOSA to enforce a full and formal recall for the Renault Clio-2 model within the UK and Globally, and the mechanisms are replaced with a more robust mechanism (design / construction).

This is the responsible attitude I am expecting and nothing less.  I am hopeful that VOSA are in agreement with this approach as the only way to stop these risk incidents re-occurring.  Your current approach is simply not working, and it is not too late to resolve this safety risk and defect.  VOSAs and Renaults inactions are simply not honourable or responsible and put both organisations into disrepute.  I still do not know why we are still talking about this, we should be talking about an aligned resolution strategy and the required actions that Renault would need to be undertake to mitigate a defect that causes significant risk of personal injury or death.

Please do the honourably thing and work with Renault-Nissan group to fully resolve accordingly?  You should enforce the policies which you are responsible for."

Lets see what response I get from this - no expecting much movement, 'cos that would be asking a bit much.  I send this note directly to Alastair Peoples, and copied in the ministers of Lord Adonis and Paul Clark!

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Ex-Amex-UDC Graduate Catch-up - London - wahoo!
(Sunday, 28 March 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti

We had a great session in London with a couple of the ex-UDC graduates from the PM workstream.  We had a few (cough...several) drinks (aka Guinness for moi), and chatted about the times during and after the Graduate scheme.

I cannot believe that we started that almost 7 years ago (in Sept 2003).  Wow doesn't time fly. 

The chaps look great, and hopefully we will do another drink and catch-up session during the next few months.

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British Airways - Cabin Crew Strikes just feel wrong in this particular case
(Friday, 26 March 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti

I appreciate that worker's rights are important, but when a company is fighting to survive in a very challenging and tough industry and environment, which is getting worse not better, why are the worker's thinking that the company owe them more?  Other companies have made significant and fight-for-survival decisions over the past couple of years, some have been questionnable but the company survival in my opinion is more important - i.e. reducing redundancies.

You know what I am talking about British Airways Cabin crew.  Although I respect the workers and company, the workers are appearing to imply that they are bigger than the company...no one is bigger than a company that they work for.  At the end of the day, if they don't like the pay of conditions, then bugger off and for another company.  Of course, this automatically means you have to resign, you lose your perks and your stature.  Instead you all stay and just complain - via the Unions.  This is not the right way to resolve an employee issue, you must accept that significant changes are required for all paties, else there would actually be more job loses and the company might down-size (ergh, Air Lingus an easy example?).

No one respects the Cabin Crew strikes, no one accepts any comments coming from the Unite Trade Union (who are seen and renowned to be very militant) and the staff in question are not getting any respect - which detrimentally impacts their cause.  No one is starting to care about what you are complaining about any longer!

Here's an example for those who aren't close to it (including me too, I guess)...if you are warned that if you issue strike dates then a particular offer is retracted, and then your issue strike dates, then ... guess what...the offer is retracted.  It's that easy.  The union can't then complain that BA retracted an offer, 'cos BA could and should do so in this particular case.  It's the Unions fault the offer was retracted.  The irony is that the Union (Unite) wanted to put that "retracted" offer to its members for a vote, commenting that they are recommending a "no vote".  So what exactly is the point to put the offer back on the table, if we are expecting a general "no vote".  It makes no sense to me!  Can someone explain this?

Here's another example, staff perks.  If BA indicated (with lots of notice) that anyone who strikes will lose their staff perks, and those particular Cabin Crew strike, then they simply lose their perks.  They can't grumble, what has happened today is unbelievable.  The Cabin Crew and Unite are stating that BA should put the perks back on the negotiation table - ergh, why?  You lost the right for the perks as soon as your went out on strike.  You knew the risk, you accepted the risk, please deal honourably with the consequences.

In my mind, get new staff who want to work for BA in, and reduce the overhead costs.  This is the only way to get this problem resolved.  Those Cabin Crew who want to strike, go away, you are ruining a great name, a great company, and your own jobs!  You really need to wake up, smell the bacon and sense that you are in the wrong, this is not a year for strikes, it is a year of compromise and unfortunate, a fight for survival, we have ALL made sacrifices so why can't you accept that drastic changes maybe correct. 

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Follow-up to Renault France & UK - second chance for a thorough reply to my letter
(Friday, 26 March 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well as I received a pretty lame response from my letter to Renault Global HQ in France, I decided to give them another chance...

I re-sent my previous note, with a supplementary cover e-mail, as follows:

"Can I please request that your department take another look at the attached letter and respond more appropriately to the concerns.

A response from your UK division that simply stating “your comments on this are acknowledged” and “no further comments to add” is quite disappointing, and really emphasises the wrong attitude in relation to this safety risk by your corporation.     This brings your Customer Service Department into  disrepute and they are not reassuring your customers that Renault-Nissan Group are doing all that you can to resolve your customers concerns.   

As I stated in my previous letter, there remains unanswered questions on why the safety risk remains with you Clio Mark-2 vehicles (that’s over 500k vehicles in the UK alone). 

Another quote for you to review: “No design or construction defect has been found. The bonnet catch mechanism of the Clio II is safe, reliable and fit for purpose, providing the vehicle is maintained correctly and the bonnet closed as prescribed.”

            
  • If “no design or construction defect has been found”, then why are Renault replacing parts which are corroded – this was designed and manufactured as a maintenance-free part.  Therefore a fault exists. 
            
  • If it is “fit for purpose”, why did the incidents occur affecting such a volume of Clio Mark’s in the same Country where millions of other cars do not experience this issue. 
            
  • If it is “safe and reliable” then why is it that both catches can suddenly release without warning and obscuring the view of the driver.  This is extremely dangerous and endangers the lives of you customers and the road users around the vehicle. 

Customers safety MUST take precedence above all else.  The manufacture is responsible for the functionality and performance of any safety mechanism.

There are two mechanisms that are at fault:

            
  • the main catch – which should only be released from inside the passenger department (this cannot simply disengage without warning),
            
  • the safety catch – which is designed to stop this very thing happening...a bonnet cannot simply be allowed to release without engaging / triggering the safety catch mechanism. 

So both mechanisms are not fit for purpose nor safe; maintenance cannot be seen as the only cause. It is the functionality of both mechanisms that is at fault, not the maintenance of the mechanism.

The simply question that remains, if Renault and VOSA feels that risk has been fully mitigated, then why are incidents continuing to be reported? 

More action is required, a blanket denial to deal with this matter is unacceptable from a “safety-conscious” manufacture."

We'll see what they say.  Not holding up much hope for anything more constructive...but alas, I feel they still need to progress a more formal recall (not an "invitation" letter) and replace the defective mechanism to a design and manufactured to a standard that can withstand general road use!

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Renault's Letter - follow-up to Lord Andrew Adonis and Mr Paul Clark
(Tuesday, 16 March 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti

I decided to follow-up my note to Renault UK, by forwarding it to Lord Andrew Adonis and Mr Paul Clark, the Ministers in the UK Government responsible for Transportation and Road Safety respectively.

Lets see what I get in responses:

"Dear Andrew, Paul,

As the ministers of Transport for the Government, and Paul you being responsible for Road Safety, I am eager to get your formal response to the recent mails to Renault, and their continual denial in wanting to do anything more effectively as a “safety conscious” and “responsible” manufacture to resolve this bonnet catch defect.

I am interested to hear what the DoT are doing about this?  If Toyota and Honda issue recalls for a serious fault, and Alfa-Romeo did so previously for a similar “bonnet safety catch risk”, why not Renault for an equivalent well-known “safety fault”? 

In all follow-ups to the DoT and VOSA, you simply reference the report completed on my particular case – and the “spot-checks” on 3 Clio vehicles – which actually implied corrosion was present on the catch mechanism.  It went on to explain that VOSA visited Renault and saw a video and asked Renault’s engineer’s about the mechanism design and functionality, at which point VOSA basically asked Renault whether there was a failure in the mechanism.  This is not an impartially, nor comprehensive investigation.  Why didn’t you use independent engineer’s?... If you ask a manufacture whether there is a fault, their first reaction would be “no problem here guv’”.  I am sorry to say that your investigation was simply asking this from Renault, and you simply wrote a report which Renault were quite ken for you to write, to avoid a costly recall.  It is a marketing report plain and simple.  There is nothing I have seen through the FoI request of the report (which BTW VOSA were very reluctant to share to the public) that can indicate you have completed anything in addition to the above, nor looked at any additional cases reported to you by other Clio owners!  It’s simply a farce, and VOSA’s inactions simply outline the significant incompetence and impartiality of the department – one from an authority that manage Road Safety, it is extremely disappointing that VOSA has no teeth in this particular matter (even though by policy, you can enforce a recall).

This is a safety risk, it is impacting the safety functionality of the secondary (safety) catch and there is nothing that VOSA have indicated so far that can confirm that this isn’t a safety defect.  Why are Renault replacing parts in the safety catch mechanism if there are not defective?

What VOSA have basically done is given Renault carte blanche as they kept referencing the VOSA report in all customer or media follow-ups to Renault-Nissan group – quite convenient methinks, so it implies VOSA actually backs Renault’s stance.  This is ludicrous and questions remained unanswered by Renault and more importantly DoT/VOSA into why this issue occurred and why it continues to exist. 

If a comprehensive investigation has been completed, and you are happy with the limited actions of Renault, why are incidents still happening?

I look forward for your response after you have discussed with Mr Ghosn’s / Mr Bouchara’s office on why they have not issued a Global Recall on this apparent safety defect.  I am afraid Renault have gone too long with their head in the sands.  We consumers will not roll-over and accept their stance.  They need to stop issuing standard responses and deal with the matter comprehensively and fully mitigate the safety risk.

The only stance that will be accepted (don’t forget it was an incident that could have killed me, other Clio motorists and those around us when these issues occur), is for them to admit that they are responsible for the safety defect, they need to remediate all cases where the issue has been reported (including settle financially all cases), and formally instruct a UK and Global Recall to replace the mechanism in their 500,000+ UK models where this risk is present."

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Renault Group - latest correspondence to their 8th March response
(Monday, 15 March 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Another day, another Renault response.  Well at least I received a response this time.  Shame I can really tear their response to pieces (as always!):

"It is extremely disappointing that you failed to acknowledge the core context of my last few correspondences. I am not looking for repeated quotes of what previous actions you have taken, but an outline response for the action(s) you have chosen not to undertake or accept. Namely, why you feel a formal and recorded recall of your Clio-2 base is not deemed necessary by Renault-Nissan Group.

You have repeatedly referenced the Renault’s Engineer’s June 2006 report on my particular vehicle (inspected in April 2006) and the report DoT VOSA compiled on 28th April 2006 following a visit to City Motors Bristol; no other reports have been compiled by VOSA to support the Clio 2 Bonnet catch safety risk since then. VOSA had admitted that they did not have any technical experts in the field of the Bonnet Catch mechanisms and relied solely on the support and technical knowledge of Renault Engineers. Therefore, there was an apparent lack of impartiality and transparency during the VOSA and Renault investigation for the root-cause of the issue. Therefore, I do not believe it is wise to keep referencing these reports in your responses.

However, I have taken this opportunity to repeat a few elements that appeared to be omitted from the reports, and which Renault Group has a duty of care to respond to as a “safety-conscious” manufacturer.

1. The reports implied that the individual catch mechanisms were both operational, what has not been analysed is the possibility that the safety catch is disengaged at a time when the main catch is engaged. There appears to be possibility of the safety catch being disengaged with the current design and functionality of the bonnet mechanism (including the maintenance condition at the time of my particular incident), i.e. an owner cannot tell that the safety catch is “engaged” securely or not.

Q) Can you please review this and explain why there is a possibility that a secondary/safety catch can remain in a “stuck open” position irrespective of whether the main catch is engaged or not? Also, explain how a user can tell that a safety catch is not “stuck open” when the main catch is secured/engaged and the bonnet is flush.

The referenced reports do not mention this, so it is clear that this has not been investigated thoroughly. I reference a written explanation in my particular case (from a Renault Mechanic) that the secondary “safety catch had not been lubricated recently and was found to be stiff”. This infers that with the surface corrosion reported, the overall mechanism functionality was at risk on my vehicle. Such a risk is sufficient to question doubts of the quality of the mechanism featured on my vehicle and the safety catch functionality thereof. By following your “bonnet closure” guidelines, there is no guarantee that closing a bonnet can indicate that the safety catch is engaged and secured.


2. There is another element which are inferred by referencing the Renault/VOSA reports, namely that the functionality (both design and manufacturing) has changed from the original design specifications laid out by Renault Group. Something that changes from “maintenance-free”, to one that “requires maintenance”, implies that the safety mechanism has not functioned as originally conceived, due to the apparent functional risk that exists with the parts. This, as I understand it, infers that a defect is apparent with the safety mechanism; simply that a mechanism which had been designed with a particular maintenance condition but cannot not operate as such, implies a risk exists to the quality of the mechanism.

Q) Can you please advise why this change in design and manufacturing was necessary, and why Renault Group has needed to replace parts where corrosion exists in the safety mechanism, if the mechanism parts are “not defective” as designed?


3. Renault has implied that you were aware of the risk to the parts in question, and had to notify the UK owner’s of this risk caused. Doesn’t this mean that a safety risk exists if parts related to a safety mechanism have to be replaced and the owner’s notified? In notifying owners, why did Renault not used the Recall system? Isn’t this the purpose of this recall process?

For a safety conscious manufacturer, one would have advised a voluntary acceptance that the risk to your Clio-2 owners was too great, and issued a formal recall. By “inviting” customers for a free check, this does not appears to be working effectively, as issues continued to be reported over the last 4 years with recent reports being raised as of this week.

Q) Can you please advise why you have not issued (voluntary) a formal recall? Isn’t this the process for a responsible and safety conscious manufacturer to resolve a risk to your vehicles?


The liability of all cases where you have failed to notify the owners or the mechanism parts remains at risk continue to lie with the Renault Group. You have not accounted for vehicle servicing outside of the Renault servicing network, which remain at a significant safety risk.

Failing to act honourable will mean that Renault will not fully resolve this issue and the risk will still exist with your vehicles in the UK and around the world.

There are a number of questions which remain unanswered and actions which have not yet been undertaken by Renault Group. Only at this point can you consider that the Renault Group acted responsibly and will we stop seeing reports of cases occurring in the UK (and in your global markets).

I call upon the Renault Group to do the necessary actions, complete a full recall, replace all defective parts with a newly designed safety mechanism and look to fully mitigate this apparent safety risk."

What do you think?  Let me know and respond with your thoughts...

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Thai Airlines Flight Disappointment - VERY Old Plane!
(Saturday, 13 March 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well, as explained on my holiday summary, we were quite disappointed by the lack of entertainment facilities on the Thai Airlines flight (both legs were similar!).  Luckily the outward journey was a night-flight, but the return one was a day-flight, making the 12 hrs incredibly arduous and boring!

I wrote to Thai Airlines after a few days of holiday, hoping that they could change the plane for our return journey - no-joy!

"I am writing this note whilst on holiday, as wanted to pass on to you some real-time comments (feedback) that we felt had to be made regarding our outward flight on Thai Airlines.

We flew out on flight TG917 on Thursday, 25th February, however we were disappointed with the lack of in-flight entertainment and facilities provided during our flight.  As it was a night-flight and international, we expected at least some basic amenities and seat-level in-flight entertainment.  It felt that we were flying an extremely aged (old) plane which has not been upgraded or modernised, which in this modern times with a highly competitive route is unforgivable.

We are more worried that our return flight on flight TG916 on Thursday, 11th March, which incidently is a day-flight, will be very uncomfortable with very minimal entertainment facilities provided.

I hope you can review this and in the interest that we are still expecting to return on a Thai Airlines flight, do something quickly in regards to the quality of the flight and the expected service provided to your customers.

I hope my 2 week holiday will not be remembered for the poor flights by Thai Airlines."

No response so far, so we will see what they say.  If they don't respond, then I will write another formal complaints letter to them and the Star Alliance group.

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Hilton Hua Hin Resort - Luvly Hotel in a luvly Area. Marvellous Time!
(Saturday, 13 March 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well holiday-time - wahoo - 2 and a half weeks of bliss - 2 weeks of which I was in Thailand! 

The flight was long, and I would have to say if it wasn't for the fact that it was a night-flight, I would have gone crazy!  The plan (Thai Airlines) was really old and had not been modernised, so only the basic amenities (blanked and pillow) and the central big screen was provided for entertainment.  For such a long-haul flight (12hrs long), I would have expected that the individual seat-based entertainment unit was standard - but I was wrong!  Anyway, will address this under a separate blog entry!!!

We arrived at the hotel in the Hua Hin location, after a 2½ hour drive from Bangkok, and after being welcomed with a complimentary welcome drink and towel, we were quickly checked-in and taken to our room.  We were fortunate to take advantage of my HHonors Diamond VIP status, and managed to obtain an upgrade to a Suite on the 9th floor.  It was quite busy during our stay (especially the weekends, must have been something to do with the Hilton January 50% weekend Sale) so we did miss out on the upgrade to the 12th-16th Deluxe or Club floor rooms.  Then again, the Suite was fantastic and beautiful view across the Bay, fantastic in the early morning and late evening sitting on the generously-sized Balcony.  The suite was an impressive size, with a separate living room with a Sofa and TV and Bedroom.  We definitely took advantage of this space!

The hotel itself was very clean and it was a very enjoyable stay for the 10 days we were in Hua Hin.  The service was fantastic, with a turndown service each evening, and plenty of amenities provided during our stay (water, newspaper and toiletries).  In fact lets just say we maximised the ameneties throughout our stay...which were replenished twice a day.

We enjoyed the access to the Exec Club Lounge on the 17th Floor, although we decided to take advantage of a more comprehensive breakfast in the main restaurant located on the ground floor.  Great choice with Japanese Sushi, Thai/Asian fusion and Western cuisine available, there was even a smoothie bar which was a pleasant surprise.  Service was very attentive and all of the staff were very polite.  In fact, we were a little crafty (cos we were very hungry), that after we had the main Breakfast at 7am and enjoyed the morning sunshine for a few hours, we took a second late Breakfast at 10.30am in the Exec Lounge :)  It took care of lunch at least - became our Brunch of the day!

We continued to took full advantage of the Club Lounge during the day and evening, when we wanted to grab a drink and enjoy the snacks throughout the afternoon and evening.  There were a "Happy" drink (they called it a Happy Hour) period from 6pm to 8.30pm, where Alcohol and cocktails were served at the Club Lounge, which was very pleasant, with attentive table service provided.  Shame that alchohol was only served between this time.  The only issue we noted with the location of the Club Lounge is that the entrance (with the Exec Check-In desk) was shared with the entrance to the Sky Bar and White Lotus Chinese restaurant - both located on the 17th floor.  This meant jo-bloggs people sometimes entered the Club Lounge thinking it was the Sky Bar, and then realised that they weren't meant to be there, when the staff asked them for their room number or HHonor status. 

We didn't really take advantage of the other parts of the resort, so cannot really comment on the Lunch or Dinner in the main restaurant, the Pool bar or the Chay Had restaurant located between the Beach and Pool.

Even though the resort was busy throughout our stay, and full on the two weekends when we were there, there was still plenty of space on the pool-side and grounds - so finding an available sunbed wasn't an issue at all.  We had a routine that I went down around 6.30am marked our sunbeds (towel and books) and then returned to the room to freshen up and prepare for brekkie.  There was a policy that enabled the recreation staff to clear sunbeds if there weren't used for 90 minutes, but I don't think they enforced this, but this was a very welcome policy to avoid sunbed-blockers.  The recreation staff were very attentive and offered assistance with putting down the beach-towels and dealing with the Parasol.  Coming back to the Beach-Towels, there was a plentiful supply and there were provided without any significant restrictions.  This meant you could easily obtain 2 towels per person, which seemed to be the way the hotel operated by default.  This enable you to avoid getting burnt on any exposed areas of the sunbed itself.

The resort was literally "on the beach". There was a public beach in front of the resort, right on the Bay, although the part where the hotel was located was relatively small in comparison to the beach further down along the Bay.  The beach was quite intimate as the hotel was located at one of the beach, so there were very few people actually using the beach, and it felt part of the resort (although remained public).  The resort did create a "man-made beach" equivalent just up from the beach, where some sunbeds were located, where we stayed throughout.  So you could overlook the smaller public reach for the safe surroundings of the resort.  There was a wall dividing this area and the beach.

The beach itself was very long and a pleasant walk (or run) if you fancied taking in some of the sights along the beach.  You had to find your way through some of the beach-eateries / sun-beds placed further down from the resort on the beach, but once you made your way, the beach opened up with a wide-stretch to walk without being interrupted.  There were sellers on the beach, but they didn't bother you if you politely said "no" to them.  Mutual respect!

On the front side of the resort, there was a Brewery on-site and a Bar/Pub located on the main-road side of the resort.  Unfortunately, this was acquainted with an interesting "mix" of seedy clientele, similar to a number of the other bars in the side streets close to the resort, which was a bit of a turn-off.  We ended up having some evening drinks in the Club Lounge and going for a stroll through the town to "avoid" being part of this mix.  There were a number of restaurants and bars walking distance from the resort entrance, with tailors, jewellers and other shops too.  The favourite of ours were the pier restaurants, about 6 of which were located together, we tried about 2-3 of these, and the food was very good, and priced reasonably.  The atmosphere in these pier restaurants was very enjoyable too, and it was good enjoying the evening view on the bay itself.  There were a number of massage parlours close to the resort, and these were very reasonable (300bhts (~£6 GBP) for a fully body or foot massage), and we tried a couple of places which I would say were very similar in quality and price.  We enjoyed a late-afternoon massage every day!  Wonderful and very relaxing.

Further in the town, there was a couple of "Night Streets" and the main busier "Night Market", which were both walking distant (about 15mins) from the resort.  You could always catch a motorised (and reasonably priced) "Tuk Tuk" from the rank near to the front of the hotel if you fancied this, rather than the walk.  The Night Market had restaurants, clothes stands, tourist gift stands etc.  The usual stuff you would expect, but was quite relaxing to walk down and experience.  Unfortunately around the hotel resort, there was a couple of streets which lets just say I will term as the "Seedy Area", was a bit of a turn off enjoying the night scene due to the weird characters here.  Old men and young Thai gals.  This area is where a significant number of the pubs are located and a few "cheaper" massage parlours.

I think this is one of the best Hilton locations we have stayed at, and would come back here again!  All in all a nice stay in Hua Hin :)  Pleasantly surprised, thoroughly relaxing and enjoyable - and at the very least took full advantage of the Diamond VIP status which I expect I would lose at the end of March 2010!  Ba-hum-bug!

We returned to Bangkok to spend a few days being an active tourist, before returning to the UK. As I missed seeing the sights during the previous trip in December 2008 (due to the politic unrest then), we took the opportunity to see a few sights, and enjoy the stay at the Centara Grand in Central World near to Siam Square.  It was a nice area, and we had the main shopping malls on our doorstep.  Although we weren't really in Thailand for "shopping", we did but a small number of items, and just enjoyed the sights that we wanted to see.  We visited China Town, the Wat Pho (lying Buddha), the Floating Market, and a few more massages to add to the mix.

The return flight (a day-flight) was horrid.  Same type of basic entertainment facilities made it a tough and long (and uncomfortable) journey.  But we made it back safely, and now have got a few days before I go back to work.  Grrr....  Onto the planning of the next holiday! :)

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Renault will never learn
(Wednesday, 24 February 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Another opportunity to raise the same ol' issue to the Chairman and CEO of Renault-Nissan Group...will take notice this time around...well I'm not that hopeful!

"Dear Mr Ghosn,

I do believe that the timing of this letter cannot come at a better time, as we are see a spate of "high-profile" safety issues being noted around the world; with one notable exception, no formal recall has been published to resolve the Clio-2 Bonnet catch mechanism failure safety issue that are still apparent.

What is more surprising is that after 4+ years after I filed the first formal report to Renault of my Clio bonnet flying up and smashing my windscreen whilst I was driving (without warning), we still hear incidents being reported. The continuous increase of reported cases is extremely concerning, and all efforts have to remain on ensuring the root-cause of the issue is fully resolved for the sake of all Clio-2 owners.

Let’s quote an article in the recent US Congress hearings into the massive Toyota recall – there are some synergies to your own safety concerns:

• Toyota "consistently dismissed" the possibility that electronic failures could be responsible for acceleration problems

• the report that Toyota commissioned to look at potential electronic problems appeared to have "serious flaws" and the company was too slow in initiating it

• Toyota's public statements about the adequacy of its recent recalls appeared to be "misleading".

It is clear that the comments raised by the US Congress refer to the same context for Renaults own bonnet catch safety concerns. You may also realise that in the UK the DoT VOSA definition is as follows:

• the evidence indicates the existence of a safety defect in the vehicles; and

• the defect appears to be common to a number of vehicles; and

• some of the vehicles involved have already been sold for use in the UK.

What evidence would a manufacture require to confirm that an issue exists, your Engineer’s and VOSA quoted corrosion was present affecting a part that was design / manufactured as maintenance-free? If there is a chance that a mechanism that acts as a safety device that does not operate in 100% of cases, then this is a defect, the catch is simply not fit for purpose. A report which you published jointly with VOSA outlines that there are known contributable factors which can result in the mechanism failing to function effectively.

I call upon you as the Global Head of Renault Group to respond directly to the concerns raised and the risk that continues to exist with your vehicles in the UK and around the world. Your lives of your customers continued to be put at risk; surely this alone goes above all other points and policies, common-sense should prevail in this particular safety concern. Please issue a recall and replace the defective parts."

Do you think they will do anything based on the above?

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Russian Visa Fun and Games
(Wednesday, 10 February 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well it has been quite a funny start of the year, work still as challenging and busy as ever, with a few stressful moments in-between.  Not helped when I was going to Moscow for a business trip, and had a tight timeline to get a Visa...

Getting a Russian Visa involves quite abit of "administration".  It took 5 days to get a Business Invitation, plus then passing it to a Visa support company, who would work with the Russian Consulate in London to obtain the actual Visa on my behalf. 

All was well until I started to realise that it was Monday, 1st February and I was meant to leave on Wednesday, 3rd February at 9am and I still didn't have my passport or Visa yet.  The Visa was ready at COB Tuesday, but I had to ensure I got my passport and Visa back from London to Haywards Heath that evening.  Luckily a bike-courier managed to drive it down on Tuesday evening - the sort of activity one calls "Just In Time" :)  Phew!

I was then all set for the trip to Moscow!  Yay!  A fun, but extremely busy trip!

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Thailand Holiday - Feb/March 2010
(Sunday, 24 January 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Having missed out seeing Bangkok during Christmas 2008, due to the political unrest there, I decided to go and visit some family in SE-Asia and visit Thailand again. 

I was expeting a good last minute deal, so was searching extensively over the Christmas holiday, but nothing really came up in the price range I was expected.  I was after something around £700-800 for a 10 night stay.  Anyway, I tried with my Amex Staff Travel office, and they also couldn't really deal with the requirements I laid out.  I think the problems with Travel Agencies (Amex Staff Travel included) is that they just offer a basic set-up, anything slightly outside or bespoke, they can't deal with!  Grrr!  So I ended up doing an A la Carte offering.

I wanted to go at the end of February or early-March.  There was a 50% January Sale offer at the Hilton, so wanted to stay either in the Bangkok Hilton or the Hua Hin resort for part / all of the stay.  Flights were okay, with Thai Airlines proving the cheapest.  We also found details of the hotel in Bangkok recommended by my counsin and noted that they also had a price-promotion on...another 50% offer!  Looking good already hey?  We tried Trailfinders.com - and through their sales desk they managed to sort out the flights and the Bangkok part of the trip.  I then phoned Hilton Honors Reservations (to take advantage of my VIP Loyalty status) and booked the stay at Hua Hin resort.  I managed to break up the booking into 3 parts to spread over the 2 weekends - thus was able to take advantage of the 50% offer on 2 sets of 3 days.  Very nice indeed.  To top this offer, I managed to then use my Hilton Honur points for the 4 other days in between, so the Hilton part of the stay was extremely cheap.  We literally paid the quivalent 3 full nights for the whole 10 days stay!  Luvly indeed!  AND I should hopefully get an Executive Lounge upgrade by being a Hilton Honors VIP Loyalty member.  The hotel / resort looks pretty nice too!  Bonus!

 

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Proporta Complaint
(Sunday, 24 January 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well having purchased the iPhone 3GS, one must protect it, so I do what I normally do and purchase a cover (or pouch) and screen protection.  I normally either buy something from Krussell or Proporta, as I've purchased items in the past and (usually!) never have had an issue with their products.  Well until now.

I broswer Proporta's website, and noticed that there was a Mirror Screen Protector, something which I had previously used on my iTouch.  The thing was pretty good - though not brilliant when in use outside (reflects the sun - obviously, hey?), but decided for some reason to go with this.  I got the item just before Christmas and put it on my iPhone.  After a few days, I noticed that I was getting eye strain, and checked with a few friends who also said the effects on the screen was quite poor.  It made the screen look quite blurry and actually created a rainbow-effect - in short it was causing my health concerns!

I commented to Proporta stating that I wanted it to be replaced to just a standard Screen Protector.  Due to the snow, I couldn't pop the item back in the post, so I knew the replacement item would be delayed by several days.  In the interim, I had a business trip aboard, and whilst at the airport, I needed to ensure I had some protection for the phone.  I didn't receive the cover/pouch yet and had already put the previous screen protector in an jiffy bag ready to send back to Proporta.  So I went to Dixons at LHR and purchased a cheap one - better than nothing I suppose, still set me back a few quid though!

When I returned, I managed to send the item, and continued my complaint with Proporta.  They confirmed that they had received the item, but the standard Screen Protector was out of stock and asked whether I wanted to wait, or obtain a replacement Mirror Protector.  Yep, that's right, replace the item I complained about with a replacement item of the same type/kind!  Hmmm....didn't they get it yet?

Anyway, with this response, I formally complained about the (lack of) support I was receiving from Proporta, and commented that no gesture had actually been made so far.  I did ask for my whole order of about £17 (cover and screen protector) was refunded back, I also commented that I had to purchase an alternative / temporary cover in the interim.  They finally sent me the replacement screen and I also between received the cover product which had been delayed because of the snowy conditions over the last couple of weeks.  Currently, they have now provided a refund for the Mirror Screen, sent me a free replacement standard protector and offered a cut-to-size protector as well.  But this is pocket-change in comparison to the whole order.

I hope they do the honourably thing and refund the whole order.  We'll see!

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Going to be a funny year!
(Sunday, 17 January 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well it has been quite a start of the year.  I've only managed to spend 2 days in the office with the ruddy snow pretty much shutting down the Brighton office for a few days at the end of the first week, and continuing the early part of last week.

Added to this the busy week last week with a business visit, meant that my brain feels frazzled already, and it's only the middle of January :)

Right, can only mean one thing...I MUST book that holiday.  I am looking to do a trip to Thailand (if the price is okay) - for late-February / early-March.  There is a 50% weekend offer on at the Hilton so hopefully I can take advantage of this, if possible!  Hopefully I can find something this weekend.

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Continuing where last year left - weather-wise!
(Monday, 11 January 2010) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well, my last day in the Office was 18th December, and I was snowed-in, and had to work-from-home. Was an interesting way to spend the last day finalising all of my year-end bits and bobs...pretty funny actually!! We then had a nice Christmas and New Year break, and then went into January 2010 thinking it was just be Business-As-Usual. Well kinda...

It started with a great first couple of days, great catch-ups, and moving forward stuff. Then, we started to receive interesting news...well weather warnings actually that a severe snow front was heading for the SE of the UK...and, they weren't wrong. As of Tuesday, 5th January evening, a plentiful covering of snow came down from about 8pm continuously for about 5-6 hours. In fact by the time I went to bed at 11pm, there was already about 3-inches of snow on the floor (outside of course, you know what I meant!).

When I woke up, I opened the curtain and almost a foot of snow had landed (about 10 inches initially). BUT the snow hadn't stopped...it snowed continuously throughout Wednesday...and by the day had ended, there was a over a foot in the front, and slightly less at the back. Madness! I've never seen anything like it, well I've seen snow but not this much in such a short space of time, and twice in 2 weeks! I was pretty much snowed in, there was no hope to get around. I actually had to re-stock supplies (Guinness, Milk, Break, Salad etc...) and the road leading to Sainsbury's wasn't gritted or ploughed...it was that treacherous! I knew it could only get worse before it could get better...after the snow, there is the icy conditions and then the thaw. That meant we had another few days of this rubbish! Arghhh!!!

Well, work has to continue, so whilst some people were "off-work" around the UK, some of us office folk continued to work on our laptops and blackberry (in between the odd power cut, we suffered). Luckily, work was at a moderate level, so it wasn't too bad, but still unfortunate that I couldn't go out and fully enjoy it, until the late afternoon or evenings!

On Saturday, I went to my parent's place in the other side of the town and dug the car out (again, I must add)...this time there was a foot of snow ON TOP of the car, and over a foot on the ground. This time, the neighbours had already tasked themselves to dig two trenches in the road to enable us to reach the tarmac beneath the snow and ice, and actually had obtained some grit to help in the process. I then ensured that our drive way was clear and that my mum's car had enough space to manoeuvre. Hard work indeed! But actually quite good fun!

So we have survived the snow (just about), now I am just expecting the flood warnings to be announced during the big thaw - ha!

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iPhone Plunge - Purchase
(Monday, 28 December 2009) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well I've taken the plunge, and after waiting months(!) waiting for the applicability under the O2 Open Corporate loyalty scheme to come into force for the Apple iPhone 3GS, I decided to join the iPhone clan - yippee!

BUT, there is a slight bitter taste, in that the O2 Open loyalty scheme has changed though during the same time, I assume O2 were simply losing lots of revenue from the previous scheme...

Here's the O2 Open before and after outline... 

  • Under the old scheme, you would have to pay the full price of the handset, but receive a 30% line rental discount. 
  • Whilst under the new scheme you would just receive a flat rate £75 off the handset - but without any line rental discount - ho-hum!  Under

Lets talk money and in real-terms though:

  • So with th 24mth £34.26 tariff, the standard rental would be £997.43 under the contract. 
  • However, with the 30% line rental saving under the old O2 Open scheme this would bring this down to £750.76 for the contract period. 
  • Under the flat-fee new scheme, this would be £922.43. 

A whoopping difference of £171.  But alas as the new 3GS was not available under the old scheme, and since November, the old O2 Open scheme doesn't apply, didn't have much choice but just to accept this. 

At least it's a saving - better than nothing as they say! :)

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Christmas Letter 2009 - Happy Christmas to one and all!
(Friday, 25 December 2009) Written by Aaron Brigatti

I hope everyone had a magical Christmas this year.  It's been a year of ups and downs for every family - and I wouldn't be surprised that every family has been affected in some way by the financial mess that we nicknamed the Credit Crunch at the start of this year.  It's really been a year of survival!!

For most of you, I am glad that you have made it through the worst of it, and I've been fortunate enough to take some bold steps forward in a year where I didn't think it would be possible.  I completed my house purchase in March of this year, and purchased a new car in September.  This is not to say I could afford all of these luxuries at face value, but wanted to invest in both purchases at a time when I had sufficient savings that weren't really worth "saving" in the conventional way.

Hopefully over time, I hope these investments plan out.  I wanted to get rid of the Renault Clio, after the previous one almost killed me, so wanted to go with something that had a bit more reliability behind it.  German or Japenese of course topped the list!  German pipped it the post though :)

Work - well that's where the credit crunch really hit home.  After Amex made 11,000 people redundant during late 2008 and early 2009, it's been tough for everyone!  We all knew friends and colleagues who were affected, with some leaving the company for good.  For us who remained, we were just thankful that we had a job, and just kept ourselves going.  Motiviation was very difficult, but I think we stayed as cheerful and productive as we could.  Although some projects went on-hold, the irony is that we ended up focusing on more and more on the detail of the outstanding projects, so actually each project remained extremely challenging and mentally trying.  But it was a very valuable lesson on how to question every little thing and thinking of the longer term effects of a particular decision.  No doubt we will continue with the same focus in 2010 with possibly more surprises along the way.  BUT, I will continue to treat it as an enjoyable challenge if possible, and make the most of it.  We'll see what 2010 has instore for me.  I've now performed my current role for over 5 years (December 2004) and been with Amex for over 6 (September 2003), maybe 2010 is a time of change?  Who knows. 

Outside of Amex, well I'm extremely pleased to have kept in touch and socialised with a merry bunch of folks.  I've got some very good friends who I trust and respect, and value their friendship indeed!  I have also been fortunate to meet some great new friends most recently, and feel that 2010 might be the year of surprises too on this scene too, but we'll see what happens in 2010.

In short, I've had a rather "different", actually quite an "interesting" year.  I've had a couple of significant positives, but hope I can start to settle down and focus on where I want to be and do in the future.  Who knows what the futures holds.  Wish me luck...

I hope you all have a wonderful time, I trust you will spend it with you friends and family, and I look forward to see some of you during 2010!

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My last day of work in 2009...done in style...
(Friday, 18 December 2009) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Over the last 2-3 months I've been quite busy actually...inside and outside of work.  Work has been challenging at times, but I've made it through, and the last week in the office has actually been quite pleasureable.

I sense January and February is going to be a busy month already, but alas I'm prepared for that.  Business trip scheduled and booked already!  Hey-ho!

Chrimbo has come upon us all very quickly...in fact looking back at the last 11 months, each one has raised by extremely quickly.  Not that bothered really, cos it has been a topsy turvy year, and I would have hated it to drag on, so a blessing really!

Outside, well things have been a bit funny this year...I got to know a few folks quite well during the year...some the same motley crew, others some friends which I have seen for years!  Been brilliant.  Oh and on the ladies front, we'll see.  I haven't really focused on this as much as I should, although I've met some luvly people during the year.  We'll see what 2010 brings!

Today, is my last day in the office.  I was meant to be going to London for a Chrimbo party and celebrations with one of the business teams I have worked closely with over the last 6-8 months, but alas the snow arrived, and the South-East of England in classic-style is in chaos again...so the party was cancelled.  So I will be spending my last day in the office WFH - aka relaxing!

With 5 days holiday carried over into 2010 - I will make sure I use this wisely :)  Maybe a 3 week holiday?  Who knows, that's for me to decide in early 2010!  Bring it on...

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Chrimbo party after Chrimbo party
(Sunday, 13 December 2009) Written by Aaron Brigatti

This year, it's been pretty hard going on the party scene...from a joint farewell, Chrimbo and Birthday bash, to a small-team and large-team party, to another celebration party...can my body keep up!

Heck who cares...bring it on!  2009 has been an amazingly challenging, busy, fun, rewarding and for me tangible-results year...so it is definitely a great chance to raise a glass (or two) and celebrate our successes.  Here's to 2009, and hopefully more successes in 2010 and beyond!

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What is it with the Man-Cold this year?
(Monday, 07 December 2009) Written by Aaron Brigatti

I have been fortunate to miss most of the colds that seem to go around the office and town during the recent years, but this year is different.  I seemed to have come down with a cold for about 4-5 times.  What is going on?

Here's the latest ... 4 weeks ago, I was just getting over a cold, when my mother flew to Hong Kong for a holiday on 10th November - this one really knocked me for six, big-time!  She is back on 9th December, and I'm once again back with my cold...(a different one that is!).  What's going on...grrr...stress maybe? :)

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November came and went
(Saturday, 05 December 2009) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well this year November was an interesting month.  It started with me saying yes to a great charity cause - Prostate Cancer - as part of Movember...where I became a Mo Bro for 30 long days.  The most I've ever left without shaving was about 4 days, and that was bad.  At least I proved to myself that I can grow one - ha!

And work - well absolutely berserk!  Madness actually.  With presentation decks coming out of my ears, I've never had a month where it felt so stressful with the pressure truly on!  I was really only involved with 3 initiatives, but these were the biggies of the moment, and with that the busy-i-ness!!  It was one of those months that I could stay there for hours and still it wouldn't be enough hours.  At least, it appears I managed to force my way through it and out the other end. 

And what has December got in store...  Well, my looking at my work calendar "busy", and my leisure calendar...ohhh..."busy" too!  Boy, oh boy!  I am finding this life "busy" a the moment! :)

Still waiting for...well nuff said really...

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Movember - well one had too eventually
(Saturday, 21 November 2009) Written by Aaron Brigatti

I always wanted to see whether I could grow a 'tache,so took the opportunity for the annual Movember charity month to try it out.  A number of work colleagues formed an alliance to (attempt to) grow facial hair for a whole month...with the catipilla growing above the mouth slowly but surely.

I am not disappointed with my attempt, although it does make me look rather silly...but hey...charity causes are always worth some level of pain and discomfort :)

Rather than let me suffer for the full 30 days of November, give some of your generous cash to a very worth cause --> http://uk.movember.com/mospace/469287/

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Greek Wedding with my Greek Friends
(Saturday, 17 October 2009) Written by Aaron Brigatti

When I first visited Greek (as part of a 3mth work assignment), I managed to befriend a couple of Greek friends...one of which I have kept in touch with since coming back to the UK.  This must be about 3 or so years ago now - wow, hasn't time flown by!

Anyway, since this time, I have also visited Athens a few times, and met up with one of her friends and her fiancee.  I also managed to catch-up with them for lunch and coffee when they visited the UK earlier this year.  It was great catching up with some really great Greek friends!  I was touched to receive an invite from them to their pending wedding on 31st October, and I decided to take a couple of days holiday either side. 

It is the first "Greek" wedding I've been too, although I do recall attending a Greek Cypriot wedding about 9 or 10 years ago for a family friend in Brighton.  Looking forward to the wedding, and the break.  Boy I need to leverage this opportunity to re-charge the batteries.  They are quite drained!

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What an intriguing week thus far
(Wednesday, 07 October 2009) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well I knew it was going to be one of those weeks at the end of last week...having planned (maybe bad project management?? hehe!) two significant meetings on Tuesday morning (8am start - ouch!) and all-day Wednesday (double-ouch), requiring significant presentations decks to be compiled and prepared for the meetings, I had a feeling that lack of sleep was going to be an inferred factor!  I wasn't wrong.

Last week, most of my week was meetings, conference calls and more meetings and conference calls - so very little time available to do the "work"...and that was including coming home, eating and doing the output actions accordingly...this meant that on Saturday afternoon, I had to make a start and progress the decks.  I managed to start one of the decks on Thursday, Friday and complete on Saturday, without major issue, but the second one was going to be really tough going.  I started on Friday, but majority of Saturday and it was way from complete - framework but no content - grrr!

Monday came and gone, the evening then enabled to make some final tweaks the first deck that I completed...due to some good team feedback, I spent about 3 hrs in the late-night finishing it and before I realised where I was (home of course!), it was 1am!  ... and the presentation was 8am!  An early start beckoned!!  Arghhh!!! 

But, that was the end of it!

Tuesday came and gone, and I tried to continue working through the second deck obtaining the sections / inputs from others.  I looked back and realised I had some aspects covered, but still a bit of work to bring it altogether and ensure the flow was purrfect (the most tiresome bit of writing decks IMHO!).  I then finished work around 7pm, spent an hour eating, and then back on the laptop.  Lo-and-behold, I looked after and it was coming to 2am.  I sent the deck out to the team just coming to the 2am-hour.  I had to sleep - hitting about 2.30am by the time I shut-down!  The meeting was in London, so another early start beckoned...this time 6am wake-up, and journey up to check the room and that everything was in-order! 

I think I am quite committed to my job :)  No complaints about the above, but some weeks really take its toll on the mind and body...luckily it's not every week like this...well in the practical sense...ahem!

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Audi New Car Handover Day
(Saturday, 26 September 2009) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Wahoo, a week has flown by and I will hopefully soon become an owner of a nice Audi A3.  Paperwork is all in place...insurance, servicing manual, MOT certificate, road-tax, spare key, money in my account...just need to get to Crawley without any mishaps!

We decided on a cash-purchase, so I borrowed the money from my mother, and will pay her back with interest - must as well give the interest to a family member rather than Audi.  Their finance deal worked out to be around 4.3% annual interest (12.9% APR), and although it only worked out to be £384 a month repayment over 2 years...that equated to about £30 a month for the interest, I could just pay back to my mum instead!  Makes sense, so decided to do a cash-purchase and buy the car outright from Day-1. Though I would have more a financial management viewpoint cover it myself, just need to set-up the standard order to transfer the repayment each month!!

So I owe my mum a lot - to help with the house purchase and the car.  But the latter is less of an issue, as I would have to pay the money plus interest to someone, she just preferred this to be with her.

The insurance was a consideration though, increased by another 100 quid.  I think it was the name (Audi) and the model (Sports) that probably influenced this...grrr...price to pay for a car like this then!  Hopefully, it will come down over the next couple of years!!

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Audi VIP Sales Event
(Tuesday, 22 September 2009) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well I had previously been looking at Audi's, specifically the A3 model, for some time, and was keen to see whether I could find a good bargain.  This started around January time this year, just when I was getting my house purchase sorted, and when the "credit crunch" was kicking in.  As I didn't know how much money I had spare post-house-acquisition, I decided to wait a while. 

I was thinking things would settle down around June/July time, and advised Audi Crawley that I would be available to discuss then.  They contacted me around August and I knew it was still touch-and-go whether I had enough money to cover it.  Though, I was keen to get a good APR rate, possibly for a hire-purchase loan over the 2 years.  The challenge as well (that was a real put-off) was that Audi didn't seem that pushed to sell a car at that time (for March 2009' new reg).  They started talking about back-orders, and that it would be June/July before the car would be delivered etc.  Anyway, we left it there and I was considering whether to defer a new car purchase into 2010. 

Then I received a mailing in mid-August, outlining a VIP (well really just people who had left their details!) 'Sales' event with Audi Crawley.  It was a 3 day event from Friday, 18th to Sunday, 20th Sept.  I decided to go with my mother for the Saturday and booked a particular slot to discuss matters with them.

It was a good start, we relaxed, and we spoke about my situation and that I was keen to look for a new car now or soon.  They offered a test drive of the A3, cos I don't actually believe I actually went out on one.  It was a 59 demonstration car, only having about 900 miles in the clock, and actually was very nice.  Light Blue metallic paint - a nice colour for this car, and the model was really quite classy.  It was the Audi A3 1.4T S-Line.  Which is one of the highest featured range they offered - just below the Black Edition and S3.  In short, it basically had the highest features with "S-Line" printed everywhere.  Nothing to sing too much praises, but it was nice.

Anyway, we then discussed options, and the sales rep was really looking to push this car.  The Pros and Cons were going through my mind. It was a "used" car, only had 900 miles on the clock, was an ex-Demo, but the good points were that it was a pretty nice car with all of the features.  It ticked all of the boxes and more!  Considerations, considerations!!!  The challenge was the price of the it was quite pricey.  But they did offer me £5k for my car, even though six or so months ago, it was only worth £3,700.  Maybe the used car prices have gone up - who knows?

My mother then noticed another car on the forecourt, it was properly new (not used or ex-demo), was a nice Black car - and was a good price, with the Sales Event discount included.  We discussed the model and price, and it turned out to be a A3 1.4T Sports model - a model line just below the S-Line.  And it was £3k cheaper than I was outlined previously for the ex-Demo car.  Bargain - hmmm!  I think I was getting very close to a sale now - and no lead-time to physically get my hands on the car!

We discussed further and I committed to get the car.  It was a good sale, and I will sure to be happy to collect it!

Now just need to wait for the paperwork to go through the system, insurance, registration and handover.  Luvly!

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Another Business Trip
(Sunday, 13 September 2009) Written by Aaron Brigatti

One of the benefits in the division that I work in is that business travel is still possible (when justified).  Good and bad, I guess (well in the context of my sanity, that is!)

I managed to get another trip sorted to Armenia.  Manic times, as the flight is crazily long and tiring.  Leaving at 4pm, lasting 5hrs and arriving at 1.30pm - Armenia is GMT+4.  Ouch indeed! 

Anyway, this time around I managed to stay clear of a trip leaving on a Sunday, and instead took the trip between Tuesday and returned on Thursday afternoon.  Challenge was that it was a very "busy" trip, which unfortunately meant that I didn't get to sleep at all upon my arrivial on Wednesday morning.  The day was basically 37hs long without sleep - ouch (again!).

My biggest annoyance was that the Marriott Yerevan hotel did not consider my arrivial time correctly (even though I told them the details explicitely and accurately!)...meaning that that arranged a taxi pick-up for the Thursday early-morning, instead of Wednesday early-morning.  That's a bit of a difference!  So having given them a piece of my mind on the phone, they managed to sort it out and arrange a pick-up upon my arrivial - albeit meaning I had to wait about 45 mins at the airport arrivials!  Grrr!! 

They also told me that to check-in this early, meant that I had to register for "another night" at the hotel.  Awful!  I knew that they were fully booked, but methinks the Corporate Travel system would have registered that I arrived at a really-awful hour, and would therefore register the room accordingly.  What did they want me to do, stay in the lobby for 5-6 hours - ridiculous! 

I managed to get the room sorted, having waited another hour in the lobby doing some of my work, and then managed to relax and finish my presentation deck for the meeting.  Nothing like last minute tweaks :) 

The day was long, but we did manage to acquaint ourselves with Dr Alban - very weird experience indeed.  His entourage party was quite intriguing though...a nice Scandavian (Swedish) backing singer and a nice "management agent".  We managed to meet up with them at the hotel after our busy day, and they invited us to tag along to the VIP party at a new Casino - called Sun Palace, that just opened up in Yerevan.  Quite a poxy place though, and after about 30mins we were sooo bored, we ended up taking a taxi back to the hotel.  Not only was the place boring and the casino pretty shoddy at best, but we were shattered.  Anyway, least my return flight had a nice sight to keep my amused for the 5 hours or so.  Yep, the Irish purser was back - looking amazing as ever!  Hey-ho...wonder if she will make me friends again on Facebook :)

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Bit Peculiar Feeling - But Still Relaxed
(Saturday, 05 September 2009) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Over the last few weeks, I haven't felt 100% right...I think it is just the lack of motivation recently (& work), but can't really describe it.  Being involved with quite complex projects at work, and the fact that I am keen for a new opportunity, probably means these are all impacting my general thoughts.  Anyway, just decided that I need to keep my head down, and plod on!  Not much more I can do at the moment!

I also think that I need to start taking my holiday, else I will start to lose my entitlement. I have only taken 12 days with another 3 days for my Greek Wedding at the end of October.  What should I do, I wonder.  Probably some days just at home - or another week off in Europe - quite possibly!  Great idea methinks!

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Relaxing Bank Holiday
(Monday, 31 August 2009) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well I decided to take the Friday off as day-owing, for my Armenia-trip, and made the most of a nice long weekend!

I wanted to do a few things around the house and ake it easy, but my Haywards Heath mates had other ideas - aka getting me out of the house and the town!  Actually, the weekend started on Thursday evening!

I spent Thursday night with some friends, and we decided to eat out in the Broadway.  We chose Prezzo, but they were fully booked, we then walked to Zizzi's same thing - I noticed a common trend happening - and then it made sense.  GCSE results-day, so the restaurants were booked-up and full of celebrating students...grrr...sorry, that is "well done to them!!"  Anyway, we finally managed to get the last table at Pizza Express and made the most of it.  A very enjoyable meal indeed!  Definitely do it again soon - possibly not on a "significant day" though!  Credit-crunch, what credit-crunch, defo don't see it on the Broadway!!

Anyway, Friday came, and I decided to take it easy, have a nice lie-in and pottered around the house - cleaning!  Very nice indeed!  My mates had a session down Brighton-town, but that involved going to a special-place, and I wanted to take it easy (I was shattered!), so passed on this opportunity.

Saturday, and again, just took it easy, mowed the grass, did some "work-work" (grrr - had to be done!), and then spent dinner with some of my mum's friends who were done from London in the evening.  I then played on the PS3 - and watched a nice Blu-Ray (Shakira - luvly - indeed!!  The quality of the music that is - cough, cough!).

Sunday, well there was a "Making Waves in Broadway", a music-themed event from 11am to 11pm - 12-hrs of fun, so I decided to take part in this.  After meeting up with some friends, I made my way down to the Broadway around 2pm, we grabbed a nice Mexican - well 'twas okay, nothing amazingly special!  We then had a nice drink in Savannah (Guinness for me, of course!) and then headed for some pool at Evo.  It was a nice session down there, after a few of games, we made it across to Prezzo at around 6.30pm for dinner - served by some nice folks there!  After dinner, we made it back to Evo to continue where we left off - aka drink, relaxing, chatting, fun - oh of course the Guinness flowed!  We played a couple of games of pool, and then a lady decided to join us, and wanted to pair up.  I couldn't resist the fun of this notion, so accepted the challenge, and I paired up with her - she was very charming, btw!  We did pretty well together, but I started to realise that she had her b/f at the bar (who was relaxing with some friends there!).  We continued more games, and I started to chat to and get to know her.  I started to realise she was working for East Sussex Fire and Rescue in the HR department based in the Eastbourne head office, had only started working there for 2 years, was called Emma - and was actually quite a nice looking and welcoming accompliment to our game of pool!  I was pleasantly surprised that I was able to chat her up without making a complete arse of myself (for a change!).  Anyway, one thing led to another, I think I carressed her back and thigh a few times (was after a few pints after all!) and knew she noted my wee advances towards her.  She didn't do anything to discourage me, so I just continued, sometimes remembering that her b/f was still at the bar - whoops!  Anyway, she had to leave around 11pm (probably last train back to Eastbourne), and I forgot to get her number!  Hey-ho, maybe a good thing, I guess?

Monday, well was keen to do something, so decided to accept an invite for lunch down Hove-actually.  Was only intended to stay a couple of hours, but after lunch, we had a coffee down down George Street.  We headed off to Misty's for a couple of cocktails, before calling it a day about 7 hrs later.  Ouch - and this was a short session :)

Bring on Tuesday - grrr!!  Least it is only a 4-day week this week!  Haha!

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Weird few weeks of late - just plodding along!
(Sunday, 16 August 2009) Written by Aaron Brigatti

It has been a weird and relaxing few weeks - things have just been plodding along, but am keen to try to sort out my new phase of where I want to me and what I want to do!

This is tricky 'cos I can't really "force-change" at the moment, but I will start seeing what options are out there!  This is not saying I am unhappy with what I'm doing, but remarkably I've done my role for almost 5 years now (in December), and been in the company 6 years (from 1st September) - crickies!  It it starting to become funny when I bump into people I dealt / worked with when I first joined the company...we'll see how thing plan out!

Outside of work, it's same ol', same ol'...still looking for that Mrs Right (or the potential new Mrs Brigatti) - but not really found the one I like or respect at the moment...maybe my standards are too high? (ho-hum!)  Anyway, keep plodding along and we'll see where things take me...going to be an interesting rest of 2009 methinks!

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Trip to Yerevan, Armenia
(Sunday, 02 August 2009) Written by Aaron Brigatti

I came back refreshed from my Turkish holiday, and was semi-refreshed.  It was only a 1-week off, and really enabled me to "re-charge" my batteries.  That didn't last long!

Came back to work on Monday, and was requested to attend a meeting in Armenia.  Ho-hum, tough-life hey?

It was a good trip, interesting meeting - but the most challenging bit was the flight in.  Flying out on Sunday evening, meaning I left home at around 3pm, arriving in Heathrow just gone 4pm.  The flight was 4hrs 40mins, and because of the time-difference (GMT+4), we arrived at 4am...with our meeting starting at 11am.  As I was still "working", I only managed to get a couple of hours kip during the flight and another couple of hours in the hotel.  'twas a tough-day to say the least.

Anyway, it was a rewarding session, and I am glad that we split the session over two-days - gave me back some sanity at the very least!! :)

Having enjoyed a nice "eating" session on the evening of the first night, we found our way back to the hotel - and I then noticed it was about 11pm already - and I would have to admit, was tired - but funnily still wide awake.

I relaxed, caught up with some e-mails and headed for bed, quite relaxed (for a change!).  It was a fabulous evening and great company.

I woke up around 6.30am the next day, as I knew I had to finish off some other "project stuff", as I knew I wouldn't have e-mails for the most of the day (we didn't have any blackberry access in Armenia - ho-hum - good and bad, I guess!).  Made the final tweaks to the second part of the deck, and headed down for breakfast - still quite refreshed.  I have a feeling the tiredness hadn't kicked-in yet! 

The day went fine and we finished around 2pm.  When we settled back in the hotel, I tried to catch-up with my e-mails once again, and relaxed for an hour or so (should have taken the opportunity for a quick nap - but that was my blue-box work commitment - to keep going!).

The evening was nice, we met up around 5.30pm, and walked around Yerevan "as a tourist".  Because one of my work colleagues had already been in the City 4 previous times, he was a our tour-guide for the session.  It was great fun, thoroughly enjoyable, and we saw a few sights, before the heavens opened, and the torrential rain started.  We eat at a very nice restaurant, I think it was a great time to chill and chat after a busy couple of days.

We then walked back to the hotel, we had a cognac and orange juice...very nice indeed.  I got changed, and then visited Omega club, a nice night club in the centre of town.  It was a "special type" of club, but it was actually very pleasurable (for more reasons than one!).  This was only my second time in such a place, so it was a nice repeat experience!  We found out most of the gals were from Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, and the one I "noticed" had only started a few days ago - and was there for 2 mths.  I gave my 'personal contact card' (not business!), but what's the chance I get a SMS/Call?  VERY SLIM methinks!  We finally left around 5.20am.  I don't know how I stayed awake, but I managed too!  I knew it would hit home eventually :)

The next (same) day, I relaxed, spent a few hours in bed, and then got ready for the 9am pick-up to the airport.

Another trip done!  Oh...the BMi flight...that was another pleasureable experience.

I must say the other highlight was the pursue in our section of the plane.  In fact, if I recollect the outward journey first, we were in seats 14E and 14F, but we were invited to move to the Exit row on 17E and 17F, as there were young children on that row.  We didn't decline such a great offer, with the leg-room that we would receive :)  The thing that did get my attention though, was the Irish pursue in this middle section.  If I just say very cute - that would be an understatement, but I must admit she did certainly caught my attention indeed!! She certainly serviced the aisle with a nice smile throughout the trip and was very attentive indeed.  I think this was one of the main reasons that our flight went very quickly.  I enquired how long she was staying in Tbilisi (the flight went via Yerevan).  She told me that she was returning on Wednesday - guess what, that was exactly the same flight we were returning - so my mission was to sit in exactly the same exit-row seats on the return - talk about a mission!

When I checked in our bags, I enquired about the seat availability, and lo-and-behold, the same seats were free.  BONUS!!  I said yes as quickly as the check-in clerk told me that they were free!!.  Anyway, couldn't wait too board and set my eyes on the gorgeous Irish gal.  Nice indeed!    I just hope I manage to see her again, when I am back out to the market.

There are two reasons to go back - the flight attendant (Irish pursue) and the club! :)  Will fate happen for me?

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Kustur Club Holiday Village, Kusadasi, Turkish Holiday
(Friday, 17 July 2009) Written by Aaron Brigatti


I have stayed in a few resorts, in Egypt, Morocco, Bali, Thailand, Malysia and Greece - and wanted to try out Turkey for a long time!  This was my first trip to Turkey, and we booked a few weeks prior to the trip - nothing like a last minute bargain!

We haven't been too disappointed with our stay but definitely want to raise a few comments as part of this review.  We came on an all-inclusive holiday via lastminute.com...our flight was piggy-backing on the Thomson Airlines flight, we had a private shuttle added, and a private tour-rep (not the Thomson one!).  The resort was full throughout our stay!

The hotel is flagged as a 5 star, but I do feel it should be 4 - but this seems be quite common with these types of resorts (e.g. Eygpt type of resorts!), so Kustur is not alone in this context.

We arrived pretty late, had a private transfer to the place and arrived the first stop, which was very nice!  The transfer bus wasn't clearly identifable, as didn't show our name or a company we were told about, but we had to ask a few of the other drivers waiting for people and eventually located our driver!  If one is shy or shattered after the journey, you could be lost (excuse the pun) before you even started!

Anyway, coming back to the resort, here are our thoughts:

  • Reception: our late arrival was greated with a smile.  However, the receptionist wasn't that friendly and failed to really give us any useful "welcoming" information - rather than here's your key and the porter will take you to your room.  As we arrived about 00:15, he could have told us that we could still get a drink in the resort at this time, uptil 01:00 - when we asked, he said that they had all shut / chargeable.  Hmmm....strange. 
  • Rooms: We made our way to our room in the "500's" which was at the top part of the resort.  It was a walk, and we thought it was going to be quite bad, but actually we enjoyed this, as became our daily "exercise".  It was also quite quiet up there, away from all of the hustle and bustle from the main area!  Room was spacious, very clean and suited our needs to a T!  The only thing to be weary of is that the servicing of the rooms was quite sporadic, sometimes it was late-morning, other times in the afternoon - even with the "please make up room sign" out.  The TV was tuned in, so we reported this on the first morning, and it was sorted by the time we went back to the room in the mid-afternoon!
  • Restaurant: although really one restaurant, the main restaurant was "split" into 3 restaurants, two out-door areas and the main indoor part.  The service staff were very pleasing, and supportive - and the food was very nice!  A lot of choice every night, and the themed nights also made it an enjoyable experience.  There was table-service, but I think that they would have been better served just to clean-up and replace the covers - which wasn't as good as it could have been, rather than servicing some of the people (who asked for it) their drinks.
  • Pool-side/Beach: beach was okay, definitely quite private indeed, but quite cramped for our liking.  We decided pool-side for the whole week, and it certainly was lively but pleasurable.  The animators definitely did their bit to brigthen-up your stay...although language was a bit of a problem.  Mostly Turkish, they spoke bits of French and Russian - but hardly and English or German...and some also struggled with French too!  We weren't hard-sold anything, unlike some of the other comments, but they did try to sell CDs, Shirts and the private services in the resort (Turkish baths etc).  The beach/pool was VERY busy though, unless you came early, it would be a challenge to find a sunlounger ... I don't think they had enough to go around personally, but we never had an issue :)  (we arrived pool-side around 8am!!)
  • Beach Towels: One of the biggest drawbacks was the beach-towels (if you didn't bring your own, that is!) - they were like gold-dust...there were none given in the beginning as they had "run-out" on our first morning, but we managed to get some in the early afternoon (assume after the external laundry supply arrived - they told us they sent the beach-towels to be clearn outside of the resort!).  We didn't manage to get them replaced once during our stay, as every time we arrived when the new deliver was supposed to appear (> 11am), the place was locked up or they had not arrived (though as their English was very broken - it was difficult to get to the bottom of it!). 

Anyway, apart from the beach-towels, it was a great experienced.  The pool-side animators were very friendly and hospitability - and nice-looking too! - the food and general atmosphere was very pleasant, and I am glad that we stayed in one of the smaller "manageable"-sized resorts rather than those big ones located in the more popular areas of Turkey.  Would definitely recommend!

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Housewarming
(Wednesday, 01 July 2009) Written by Aaron Brigatti

The housewarming last Saturday was quite fun. It was good some really close friends meet up at my place, drink a few, have some nice home cooked food (ahem) and generally relax and chat!

I had friends from Sixth Form College (Lewes Tertiary), Bachelor's degree, Masters Degree and AmEx - fantastic!  thanks everyone.  Hope you liked the place!

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Holiday Booked - count down begins!!
(Saturday, 27 June 2009) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Count-down to the holiday, a nice break for 8 nights in Sunny Turkey. It sure will be a warm day, but I definitely need this break.  My brain is insanely telling me for a time-out!  Bring it on! 

Decided to do a Lastminute.com holiday, though I still have not found a "last minute" bargain that is as cheap as they ought to be - alas, life?  I just do not have the time and patience to keep searching and searching!

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Sony Vaio Media PC - Sound Issue
(Saturday, 20 June 2009) Written by Aaron Brigatti

I had obtained a Sony Vaio Media Centre PC (Model - VGX-XL100), but had some trouble hooking it up to my new Saumsung 40" TV.  Video worked fine, but the audio would not. Very strange indeed!! 

It was baffling me and there was no reason that I could think of causing it. 

I tried the obvious (after restarting the computer!), including installing the latest drivers, searching google, ensuring that I had not installed anything that could have conflicted with the drivers / hardware etc.  Nothing worked. 

I then had a friend around to finally help me mount the TV to the wall, and being quite good with the PC, he suggested me trying one of the other HDMI sockets on the TV, primarily the one on the side, rather than the reverse.  Et voila, it worked.  I couldn't believe it. 

Whatever caused it, seemed nothing to do with the Computer, but the actual sockets on the TV. 

Appears some are just video only, whilst the side ones allow video and audio. 

Very strange, but I know have a Media Centre PC, outputting Sound AND Video via the HDMI connection directly to my Samsung LCD :)  Puurfect!!

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House Warming - Toast the New House!!
(Sunday, 14 June 2009) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well a new house can only mean one thing.  I am trying to organise something towards the end of the month - probably the last Saturday, with some close friends, work-colleagues, family and those who have helped me along the way to celebrate and bless my new home.  For those on facebook, the invite will come through as part of a "Event Planner", for those without facebook the electronic dog and bone, or the traditional phone call approach will suffice!

Hopefully, I don't need to do these types of house-warming to often, but I felt it is good timing given the fact that everyone I have spoken too is feeling it pretty tough-going at the moment - and with morale quite low too.  So it's not really a celebration just for me, but a chance for everyone to chill, relax and enjoy the scenary!

All I need is something to "share" the space in my new home, and everything will be complete...now where can I find one of those fine ladies??? :)

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Finally house-move complete
(Wednesday, 10 June 2009) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Having waited for 7-8 weeks for the builder to complete the work, having increased the "scope" of the work involved, I am happy to say that I have finally moved into my new humble abode - and it's looking good!!

Without any immediate rush to move, i.e. I could phase it in, I wanted to ensure all of the required elements were in place to support the move.

The furniture has just been bought and arrived over the weekend - thanks to a friend with a van!! - and over the week things slotted into place.

Just need to schedule the house-warming now - ha!

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Another Renault correspondence - another arrogant stance
(Tuesday, 09 June 2009) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well I decided to send a further communication mid-May, to the CEO of Renault Group in France, having not undertaken any communications to Renault since August 2008.  The same blank stance is being observed, with the likely "deletion" of my mail and correspondence without any response whatsoever.  Ignorance is bliss in my books, so I guess they accept that the point I have made is pretty accurate.  Hey-ho, I won't take it personally!!

"Dear Mr Ghosn,

I am writing to you to express my disappointment, as there have continued to be reports whereupon the Renault Clio’s bonnet-catch mechanisms have failed – threatening the lives of the vehicle occupants.

Thus far, the reactive actions of the Renault Head Office, Renault UK and your other subsidiaries have not cured this problem in its entirety, and I do believe it’s far too little, too late, and is still not enough.

I am still at a lost why your customers are having to settle claims personally or via their Insurance company for issues whose root-cause goes back to the design and manufacturing process – a process which Renault Group are responsible for.  VOSA and Renault have accepted that the safety mechanism is being called into question, noting the need to ‘maintain’ the mechanism – identifying an issue exists.

It is very clear that a “safety catch” mechanism which fails in its primary function is a fault to the mechanism design; more notably the change in stance from a maintenance-free design to one that requires maintenance.  Renault should accept that the design of mechanism and parts used have not met your high-quality standards.   I still question why Renault has not been more open and candid about the issue, and accept to cover all of the cases where these parts have been reported as being the cause of the incidents.  Renault has been changing the mechanism, if deemed necessary, during maintenance checks, and that the liability of maintaining the parts was down to the manufacturer.  Why not cover the repairs costs for the cases where the parts have failed in their function?

It is not acceptable to simply replace the parts or notify the owner after an incident has happened – the horse has already bolted – and the damage has already been done.  Renault’s tough line and reactive stance is not honourable and shows no respect to your customers – or your safety standards, your company survives on successful custom, so why not settle all claims and cases which were subsequently filed to Renault UK for the full repair costs – and ensure the owners are not financially impacted by an issue which Renault root-caused.  Surely this is fair and an acceptable compromise and can be performed without prejudice?

I am keen to review your response to why Renault have not chosen this financial settlement route – accepting the fact the financial ramifications would have caused to your P&L initially, it would be a step to repair the damage to your brand and safety reputation that has been tarnished by this whole debacle.

Thank you for taking the time to read my grievances and I look forward to your personal response."

Your reviews welcome, as always :)


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New Front Door - but mad moment!
(Saturday, 06 June 2009) Written by Aaron Brigatti

I was able to replace the front door earlier this week, as I wanted to open it the opposite way, due to the archway now going from the hall-way to the converted garage.

Slightly delay, but the door went in on Tuesday, but there was something strange when I first looked at the door, but I couldn't put my finger on it!

When I went inside, and looked back at the door, I spotted it - no letter box - arghhhhh!! Something small, but largely important for a front-door - ha!

Alas on Friday, the builder was able to get the windows and door company to come out and fit the letter-box - phew.

It actually looks purrfect now - I am once again, a very happy bunny!!!

AND on Friday the patio windows were replaced with the French windows - and they sure look fantastic! A mark improvement indeed! Just some final touch-ups and job-done!

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Moving Day - Wahoo!
(Saturday, 30 May 2009) Written by Aaron Brigatti

After another week of waiting, D-Day has finally arrived.  I was planning to move in over one of the last 2 May Bank Holiday weekends, taking the respective previous-Friday off too on both occassions, only to find that the builder had not yet fully completed their work.

With the bathroom, Living-room floor and loft all sorted - all that remains in the new front door and replaced Patio-to-French doors in the Living-room.  All of the bedrooms are sorted - and it's nice to see everything finally slotting into place.

The big day has started, and I am working with a friend to bring across some of my stuff ready to have my first night at the new place!  Can't wait indeed.

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Bank Holiday Weekend and Moving In
(Friday, 22 May 2009) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well when I spoke to the builder after the last Bank Holiday weekend, I was told it would be a few more weeks, and thus I decided to coincide the move with the Spring (late-May) BH weekend.

I started planning around this, but knew that there was a still a few things to resolve.  I didn't imagine the weeks to have flown by so quickly.  In any case, the house-move has started, but I imagine that I would actually complete this next weekend - due to some work which is still on-going with the Living room.  I know the buildens have been very busy during the last couple of weeks, but there was a still a few loose ends to resolve.

So I did a bit of an assessment during the last week, and noted the following work that the builders are focused on:

  • Front-door - to be replaced and open the opposite away.
  • Living-room patio doors to be replaced with side-Windows and French Doors in the center.
  • Living-room "parquet" flooring to be cleaned, sanded down and finished (varnished).
  • Flooring for the garage-turn-room and hallway - was thinking of a nice vinyl flooring.
  • Kitchen to be scrubbed clean and made presentable.  I also need to look at buying a washing machine and dishwasher eventually.

Other items to buy are twin sofas, coffee table, a dining table and possibly some other bits for the living room, e.g. book case, entertainment unit / stand.

That should be in, I think.

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Another Re-Organisation - Remains Frightening Times
(Friday, 22 May 2009) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well AXP is going through another re-organisation - I don't believe it was unexpected, as companies across the world continue to face the challenge of survival and consumers holding back spending.

Just have to ensure I continue to keep working hard and remain committed to achieving results for the Blue-Box.

Full story on BBC News.

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Ready to move in now...well almost!
(Sunday, 10 May 2009) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Okay, the garage conversion is nearly completion, and I now expect I should be able to move in a weeks time.  I think I will probably arrange the move for the Bank Holiday weekend - at the end of May - which should give the builder 2 more weeks to finalise everything.

I do hope the price is still around the £13k mark  - having allocated this for the move-in, I hope it won't be much more than this - or better still less!

Anyway, I think I'm almost there - just can't wait for this big event day to happen.  Bring it on!

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Allder's Bed Delivered - finally!
(Wednesday, 06 May 2009) Written by Aaron Brigatti

The Allder's bed finally got delivered on Tuesday, having spent a couple of additional weeks chasing the store to ensure it was delivered on-time!

This already involved an additional visit to the store, and a week delay in getting the bed.  Hey-ho, I finally got it!

I've left it wrapped up in my bedroom in the new place until the builders finish.  Hopefully, I will be making the most of the bed in a couple of weeks time, when I eventually move in!  Wahoo

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What Else To Buy?
(Sunday, 03 May 2009) Written by Aaron Brigatti

All I need to get is a Sofa (or 2), a Dining Table and Chairs, and then I think I am ready to move in.  I have a few options for the latter, as I have a couple of friends who have offered to give me (free) or offer me a table and chair set. 

I need to look at both, so fingers crossed the photos live up to the outline. 

I cannot wait to see it and make my final decision soon!

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New Purchases and Deliveries Next Week
(Sunday, 03 May 2009) Written by Aaron Brigatti

I've made a few purchases which are scheduled for delivery next week...all exciting stuff...

Firstly, my Allders bed is to be delivered on Tuesday - can't wait. I will then be in a position to move-in very soon! With the headboard arriving on Friday, this means I am now expecting the key piece of the puzzle to drop into place next week! Wahoo!!

I decided to buy a telephone for my land-line too...and having looked on Argos for a few options and top reviews, I noticed that Pansonic ranges seemed to come up trumps. Argos had the KXT-7233EM Triple model, but I noticed on Amazon UK that the KXT-8023 phone (Panasonic KXTG8023 Colour DECT Trio Digital Cordless Telephone with Answer Machine Black - the full description of the phone!) seemed a slightly more modern and updated spec. So I decided to go with this.

I was keen to stick my nice shiny Samsung 40 LCD TV on the wall, and had a wall in mind already in the Sitting room. I wanted a mount that could swivel a little bit too in case a sofa was placed on one side, and face-on (gives me a couple of options to decide at least!). So, I purchased one from Amazon, it seems pretty good, labelled as a Swivel Extension Arm-Tilt wall mount for the LE40A856S1W 40 LCD flat plannel TV. It seemed to be pretty cost-efficient, though another £70 spent on this kit too! Ouch! This house-purchasing malarkey is certainly getting quite expensive!!! Ha! But all worth it in the end.

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Relaxing Bank Holiday Weekend
(Sunday, 03 May 2009) Written by Aaron Brigatti

The May-Day Bank Holiday weekend came around very quickly - just summarising the speed of this year already!  5 moonths in, 7 months to go...and I decided to take the Friday off this year - to make it a nice relaxing 4-day weekend!

With my new place taking shape, I had a few more deliveries expected on the Wednesday, the head-boards for my bed, and my nice 02 Broadband pack - nice!  So it was a nice day to catch-up on the latest happenings with Project House, whilst tidying up a few loose ends.  Certainly felt productive, at the very least!

So Friday was pretty busy, and I visited the house to see the progress - it was amazing to see how quickly the changes appeared in the "converted" garage!  Really happy with the work so far!

Saturday was an interesting day, as a couple of Greek friends made their way back to the UK, and I decided to meet up with them on Saturday afternoon.  It was a good and relaxing session...I had a nice lunch at the American BBQ place called "Big Easy Bar BQ and Crabshack" in the King's Road area of Chelsea.  VERY nice meal indeed - though they we did experience a few delays with our main course!

It was about £77 for 3 of us, and this included 12.5% service.  Was pretty good food though!

We then went on to Leicester Square for a walk round, a few photos and then a stroll down China Town.  We manage to find a pretty nice coffee place in Shaftesbury Avenue, Tabac Café-Bar, which was actually the street-level coffee shop for the Curzon Soho cinema.  I met Leontini and Alexis there for a quick catch-up.  As I was pretty knackered by then, we decided to say our farewells and I made my way back to pick-up the 38 to Victoria for my train-ride home.  It was a nice relaxing day, though I was expecting to spend a bit more time speaking with Leontini, as I wanted to talk to her about a few things.  Never seems to the right moment, based on our recent acquaintances - hey-ho, life, hey?

And Sunday, didn't do much, went to Sainsbury's for some BBQ shopping - decided to make some skewers, so bought all of the ingredients to make some...forgot to buyer the skewers themselves, but managed to find out at home...phew!

Now I am ready for a nice day tomorrow - down Brighton-town for a nice BBQ in St Anne's Wells Park, Hove - hopefully in the sunshine...fingers crossed!

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Allders - cock-up on my bed order
(Friday, 24 April 2009) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well, talk about nuisance!

I purchased a new bed just over 4 weeks ago from Allders in Croydon - and it was actually one that I really felt relaxed and suited me to a Tee - well okay, probably a bit too early to tell, but it was "nice"!

The order was placed, and all seemed well - cost just over a grand - but I didn't mind spending that little bit extra to get a good night's sleep!

As I was expecting the painter to finish the decorating over the last 1-2 weeks, I was no rush in taking delivery just yet, but had phoned to ensure it was on track for a timely delivery to coincide with my time-plans!

Low and behold! The sales representative left me a voicemail on my mobile stating that "there was a problem with my order". Oh no!!!

I phoned him back the next day, it appeared that mine was the last bed of that particular model before it was discontinued, and the last one was damaged. That's strange, because when we ordered, we were told it was being shipped down from the Liverpool store and they had about another 5-6 left. I have a feeling that they actually sold my bed to someone else. Grrr!

This now means I have to go up there tomorrow to resolve this and find an alternative! Really annoying, as I don't know when the new bed delivery will be - and this is when the house is now ready to "live-in" Argggghhhhhh!!!

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Is My Outlook 2007 a SpamBot?
(Friday, 24 April 2009) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well I had a feeling something funny was going on with Outlook 2007, as occassionally when I did a send/receive (without any mails pending to be sent), I noticed that the process would actually be triggering mails waiting in a mystery queue. This was noted by the "sending x of y" appearing in the status bar.

I didn't really think much of it, but I started become more paronoid when in my spam box, I saw spirts of spam mail appearing to be sent from my own personal e-mail account.  This could only really mean one thing, either someone was setting up accounts to "impersonate" my address - something which has long been an issue / risk, or it was actually being sent my from account.  I think it's more of the former in this case, but I also feel Outlook 2007 was being targetted to become a SpamBot - a machine taken over to send spam or come under the control of spammers. 

I don't think mine is, as there is no virus or trojans found on my computer - but I found some interesting flaws with Outlook 2007.  It appears that the spammers are exploiting a bug within Outlook (rather than using my computer!), where they set up a “acknowledge of read” flag to the mail...the one that allows the sender of an e-mail to determine whether a recipient has opened or read the mail.  This normally activates a read/not read acknowledgement back to the recipient. 

The bug relates to the “x-confirm-reading-to header” field, which then somehow triggers the spam that “appears” to originate from me when I use Outlook to clean-out the Junk e-mail box. Effectively turns my account into a "spambot" type of machine, as the response is meant to trigger an e-mail to all of the previous senders of an e-mail...i.e. for every piece of spam sent to that account with that header filled in.  Not entirely sure if this is definitely the case for me, but it could appear to be a reason - why a couple of my friends reported receiving spam mail from my personal address sent to them - i.e. possibly leveraging my address book.  Grrr!!

Anyway, I’ve tried a few workarounds to see whether it works, including putting “Sender: not read” in a filter to put these e-mails into a separate (new) Junk folder...to see if I can start seeing the trails of emails before they go out - and also making all junk "read" before I delete them!  Fingers crossed this solves the problem initially at least - as the bug remains open and probably will be exploited more often now by spammers.

A few sites to reference on the same "feature":

http://www.slipstick.com/problems/rr_ndr.asp
http://forums.techguy.org/general-security/753746-outlook-2007-sending-spam-5.html
http://blog.impactalabs.com/2008/11/05/outlook-2007-imap-spam-bug-workaround/

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Dyson DC19 from John Lewis - freebies included!
(Wednesday, 22 April 2009) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Dyson DC19Over the weekend I decided to purchase a Dyson DC19 Cylinder vacuum.  I know it's a small-capacity vacuum, but felt it should meet my requirements - and takes up very little room, as such!

I shopped around and noticed that John Lewis Direct offered this for £150 - about the going rate, similar to Comet's "limited" Easter Offer price - but offered a free 5-yr guarantee and 2 free Dyson tools / add-ons equivalent to £33.  Bargain methinks, and an easy sale to me :)  Just hope it lasts for a few years!!

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Cleaned my Blackberry 8800 trackball!
(Saturday, 18 April 2009) Written by Aaron Brigatti

After months of annoyance, with my Blackberry 8800 trackball not functioning properly, I finally managed to find a solution to clean the trackball once and for all.  The problem was that I could go up, left and right, but not down.  Grrr!!! 

I searched on Google and found a few useful references - and options to try.   Some were quite obvious - "blow hard" (into the trackball - that is!), or "use a damp cloth and scroll the wheel" to dislodge the dirt.  But neither worked.

So I decided to check whether the Blackberry was still in warranty - but according to my tech teams, it wasn't.

This weekend, I decided to sort it once and for all.  I followed the instructions on this website, which included carefully removing the casing around the trackball, and easing the mechanism out to remove the grim and dust that had built up. 

In a matter of 5-10 minutes, the problem was resolved and the trackball moved like a treat!  Wahoo!  If only all of lifes problems was as easy fixed as this...ha!

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BT Landline - still required!!
(Wednesday, 15 April 2009) Written by Aaron Brigatti

I reluctantly chose to go with a new BT landline.  The majority of the land-line Broadband service providers out they seem to require a BT landline to support their Broadband service.  I found this quite silly, but alas a landline is a landline. 

BT would charge a flat-fee of £122.50 for an line installation - which was a pretty steep service - this was undertaken via the BT OpenReach network arm.

The only other alternative was to get one from the Post Office, which seemed to be the only other provider in the area that could offer a "new landline" service.  They were cheaper but as they were still a new player in the whole arena (well they normally deal with "snail mail" rather than telephony comms!), I wasn't sure.  I rather go with a company (BT in this case), that I knew would deal with issues promptly, and had an army of engineeers that would be responsible in managing and upgrading the systems efficiently.  The Post Office was too much of a risk - even though, the PO state that they actualy resell the services of BT OpenReach.  Not sure though!

So I choice BT, and then started to see other providers offering a similar service that the Post Office, I think O2 and Sky are the most recent - and I guess more will come.  So the Line Rental is actually still paid to BT (as most of the Broadband service providers would still require this!), but the Broadband provider would cover this cost themselves, and recharge it (probably slightly cheaper than the BT costs, to the consumer (i.e. me!).  Anyway, as it was still all new and I knew if problems occurred, it is sometimes a game of finger-pointing to determine the fault when you've got multiple parties involved, I decided to stay with BT for the immediate time and see how things fair after the 12-mth contract I have with BT finishes.

Funny thing I find is that all of the Broadband services don't explicitely mention this during their price comparison, so Sky offered a bundled Broadband and Sky service - but with the BT line rental added on top, so it also proved a bit expensive.  I think the only one that really "feels" cheap, is BT's own service, but it's sooo bloated, as they are tied into Yahoo!, and resell a lot of addon services with the service.  Anyway Broadban service provider is my next challenge.  Onwards and upwards - at the least the landline is sorted now!

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A profit on shares - wow that's surprising news!
(Tuesday, 07 April 2009) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Every cloud has a silver lining, and in the beginning of January, I wanted to exploit that fact!

I had a small amount of savings set aside in January, and whilst I was waiting for my house purchase to complete, I decided to purchase a few shares...might as well try to profit from the bank's misfortunes. I decided to tread carefully and made "relatively small investments" in two key banks that I felt were more secure than most...ha - that's a general statement to summarise the current predicament the financial arena is in!

I purchased shares in Standard Charter (STAN.L) and HSBC (HSBA.L) - 100 of each - at a time when they were around £7 and £5 each per share, for the respective companies. This really amount to just over £1,200 (with commission fees and the like!). I had set my goal that this was a very short-term investment, with the aim that both banks would not be sending "bad vibes" into the marketplace.

Almost right...STAN seems to be doing pretty well, and the shares have shot up to around the £9-10 per share mark, whilst HSBC actually had a tougher time, having to report it is in "sound" shape - but this still caused ripples in the market.

My goal was to sell STAN when they went over £10 per share - and they did exactly that at the end of last week, so on Monday I sold the 100 shares - and made a nice tidy £300+ profit. Neat! The HSBC ones, I left, to wait for another recovery (!!) and hopefully those shares rebound in the black again! I aim to get HSBC to the £10 too, and then I will sell them...hopefully!

That wee little profit will do very nicely for my house upkeep!!

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Overdraft Bank Charges Refunds - what??
(Tuesday, 07 April 2009) Written by Aaron Brigatti

I know we all hate banks the majority of the time, and now is no exception, but I sometimes do have to defend them...and yes I do work in the financial arena!

During the course of 2007, a case of unfair charges made its way to the UK courts - the context of the consumer complaints is the "unfair bank charges, levered by the banks" - for something that is seen as a "nominal cost" (fee) to process by the bank.

I do have some issues with the complaint...if one is borrowing money from the bank, i.e. an overdraft, you are ultimately borrowing under the terms of a credit agreement - if you break this agreement, you should be penalised (with "fees") as a privilege in doing so. Now, I am not saying I am rich or anything, far from it, but it is hard to see why people are really complaining - and reports now say over 1m people have.

I know the fees imposed are high - but surely this is outlined to each and everyone of us quite clearly in the T&Cs?

Anyway, my moral statement is if you don't want to incur the charges, simply don't borrow more than ones means. I know it's not as easy as this, but the credit services we seem to be exploiting is really the cause of the mess we are currently in - so maybe our own financial management is really the concern here?

Saying all of that, paying something like £20-30 for a bounced cheque, which could be processed by the bank for £2 is a "bit rich", but another why to look at it, why should a bank just charge for servicing cost and nothing more. Even if it were £10 we would probably still complain! Ha

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Party time in Athens
(Wednesday, 25 March 2009) Written by Aaron Brigatti

My dearest Greek lady-friend, who made my time when I was in Athens for 3 months in 2006 really pleasurable (and overcame the home-sick feeling I had at the time!), had her 30th birthday this week - and I certainly didn't want to miss it for the world.

I managed to take a few days off work (though have been working via my blackberry, and I did also have to take my laptop, cos I had some presentations and documentations to write-up - boo-hoo!), and decided to take a nice long-weekend break in Athens!

Flight out was fine - flew BA from Heathrow T5 - though I was stupid enough to forget that it was a Heathrow flight to Athens - I kept thinking it was from Gatwick - but confused myself with my Albania project days! I just wanted to take the time to also relax too!

I was well-happy when I visited Athens this time around, as I knew that I had a great reason to come - and it wasn't linked to work - for a change!

The party was absolutely fantastic, the venue amazing - with a great look over the acropolis - a view that I come to luv! I certainly was in the party mood!!! And strangely, although I stayed on the rum and coke all night - I woke up this morning without a hangover - not even a slight headache!!! Magic! I think this is a positive sign though - must be the weather?

My Greek goddess was stunning as always - and I still feel she is an absolute darling - she has been a good buddy to discuss things when I've been with her previously.

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Wahoo - house completion this week. I'm a home-owner!
(Friday, 20 March 2009) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Round of applause for Aaron, as I've finally made the big deep plung and become a home-owner.  I've completed on Thursday this week, what was a nice little place (well 3 bedroom!), and it now starts the exciting new personal project, codename "Project New House".

I hope the project is not as eventful as some of my initiatives of late - as I couldn't hope haven't "issues" at home as well as work!  One segment is enough!  But it is going to be a bit of fun too!

My aim is to try to sort out the place to become habitable as soon as possible - the issue bit is the painting and decorating, whilst the carpets, kitchen and bathroom (and even the living/dining room) can be kept as-is for the moment.  If I sort out some nice fitted wardrobes I think the house is actually not too bad condition!

Anyway, enough wrambling - the photos are here!

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Athens Holiday - oh yes!
(Wednesday, 11 March 2009) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well, another trip to Athens, Greece, is planned and booked! Can't wait. My Greek lady-friend's birthday celebration beckons!

It certainly comes at a time when I also need a Time-Out - purrfect excuse to let my hair (what's left of my short haircut!) down for a few days!

I've booked myself on the BA Heathrow flight on Saturday, 21st March and return back on Wednesday, 25th. Back to the office on 26th in London for a colleagues' leaving drinks too!

Now just need to decide what present to get the special lady!

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T-Minus 8 Days and Counting!!! Very exciting!!
(Wednesday, 11 March 2009) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well the news that I have been after has happened this week, on Tuesday, I have finally "exchange contracts" to commit to my house purchase!

Very exciting news indeed! Now I can watch my savings reduce to almost zero to support this significant life-transaction - but it's worth every penny. More so, as my savings interest is worth squat in the current climate - it's certainly becoming a 'debt' situation at best now!

Well, t-minus 8 days and counting to completion date - which actually is quite close, next Thursday!

A couple of days, before I leave for holiday to Athens!

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Rumours of a New Rate Cut this week?
(Wednesday, 04 March 2009) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well rumours of another Interest Rate-Cut by the Bank of England are spreading again...not sure though whether it will be successful - and I will no not benefit from any subsequent cuts due to my 1% collar on my Nationwide mortgage policy!

Here's the history so far:
FALLING RATES:

  • 8 October 2008: 4.5%
  • 6 November 2008: 3.0%
  • 4 December 2008: 2.0%
  • 8 January 2009: 1.5%
  • 5 February 2009: 1.0%
Lets see what happens on Thursday!!

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House Price Re-Negotiated!!
(Saturday, 21 February 2009) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Having completed the third site visit to the new house, I reflected on the comments raised within the survey report, and we noted that there was significant damp on 2 walls of the back bedroom, which I felt would have required treatment and resultion.

This could have been caused by a tile being out of position, or a gutter or some other reason why water apparantely was penatrating the inner walls. 

Anyway, the long and short of this is I wanted to re-negotitate the price a little bit to provide me an opportunity to resolve the additional work required for this damp.  I had also noted that the vendor were looking to remove the dishwasher and washing machine/dryer - even though the sales pack had indicated that the units were "integrated" within the kitchen units.  I noted this, but wanted to ensure the price reduction reflected this too - I also stated that the vendor had to make good the unit doors when they remove the 2 units!

In any case, we have managed to reduce the selling price by £2k - so £238k is the new sales price.  I hope that this now goes through during the next week!!  Fingers crossed!

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Amex Insurance - Continous Cock-Ups!!
(Saturday, 21 February 2009) Written by Aaron Brigatti

I posted on 11th January in my blog, an outline of the 'bad' experience I received due to an auto-renewal issue with my AXP Insurance policy - which inadvertently didn't "auto-renewal".

Well I complained initially as I wanted to avoid a repetition of this issue to the other members of the public, as an AXP employee it was my duty to protect the Blue-Box (AXP brand).

I don't think the Insurance team initially thought too highly of my complaint, as they tried to brush me off with a 5% discount for a discounted-Staff premium which was originally £39.90 anyway - so the "refund" was for about £2. Hmmm a pretty insulting gesture if ever I called one! Anyway, they did also honour my claim for a refund of the roaming mobile call to get the policy force-renewed, all of £21 - ha!

Anyway, I accepted the gesture of goodwill!

On 3rd February, I called the Insurance Customer Services team and commented that I didn' receive my paperwork. They duly raised the request for the documentation to be re-sent to me - they used the words re-sent as if my original documentation had been sent (inaccurate in my opinion!)

On the same day, I dropped a quick e-mail to the representative who sent me the earlier response to my complaint - with a simple message stating that "I had experienced another experience of appalling customer service as I had not received my policy paperwork". Short and sweet. This time, I got a timely response about 3-4 days later stating that they did feel it was "unacceptable" that I had renewed and paid my policy premium on 9th December, but the renewal documentation was only sent on 3rd February. They acknowledged that "they were aware of errors occurring in relation to policy renewals and documentation being sent" - obviously, accepting that there was extraordinary problems being experienced with the whole process.

Based on this, they accepted I had been inconvenienced again, and would arrange for a delivery of wine to be sent to me - which would take 7-14 days. They then considered the matter concluded and said that this was the final response that they would send me, and I would have to take the matter forward with the Ombudsman if I was still unhappy.

A week passed and no documentation appeared, so I again responded via e-mail stating this, and said "I couldn't consider the matter concluded until I had received my paperwork" - the cause of the latter part of my complaint, and noted that I found it very frustrating that AXP Insurance would want me to escalate this to the Ombudsman for something as lame as not sending me my policy documentation!

I decided to escalate this matter to the immediate team leader, and also her Director line manager - both duly have subsequently intervened and acknowledged that the whole matter was not dealt with well at all, and common-sense had not prevailed at during the resolution of the complaint as the representative could have easily checked my level of satisfaction throughout the case, and phoned me to check that the documentation had been sent!  (She didn't by the way!)

Although the Director raised my point about how insulting I had found the initial 5% gesture, he wanted to bring into the mix the fact that I got my roaming call paid for, and the complimentary wine that was being sent to me (he also acknowledged that the Wine Supplier had also experienced some delays in fulfilling their order too! Ha!) and that they did not consider that they would need to extend the gesture further.  I confirmed that I wasn't doing it for the money, but to ensure that they act properly and supported our customers, rather than trying to brush the matter under the carpet!

I hope the necessary people have been "spoken" to about this, and in any case I've now received £18-£20 of wine for my troubles!

Just a lesson learnt on how to better deal with customer complaints and ensure the customer is satisified as part of the resolution of a complaint.  Quite important methinks!

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Getting Close to House Purchase
(Saturday, 14 February 2009) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Having now visited the property for the third time, I am ever closer to exchange contracts.

As the tenants moved out during the last week, it gave me an opportunity to bring around a builder during the visit to ascertain the potential and areas of focus. Largely the properly is structurally okay, but it does need a lick of paint and some other work to make it "customised" to my taste.

I am hopeful that everything progresses within the next week - fingers crossed!

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Snow Flurries during 1st-2nd Feb 2009
(Wednesday, 04 February 2009) Written by Aaron Brigatti

It has been quite a weird start of the week, this week.

Having heard about the snowy weather heading our way from Siberia, I didn't want to take my chances, and had looked outside at the large amounts of snow that had already settled around midnight on Sunday night. 

In April 2008, I had ventured down from Haywards Heath to Clayton (just outside of Brighton), during the snowy session then, and the roads was amazingly icy.  I knew this time around the first day would be a challenge to the large amounts of snow around the same stretches of road, and that my particular side street would not have been gritted at all!  I really had made the decision before I went to bed on the Sunday night.  Anyway, I'm glad I didn't venture in as the transport infrastructure pretty much ground to a halt across the majority of the South-East (embarassingly!) 

I had my laptop with me, as I normally do, and managed to actually achieve a lot - spending some spare time during the day outsides to enjoy the snowy weather.  With the majority of my colleagues and project teams in the same snowy predicament, I knew it wasn't going to be a very productive date - but I did a lot of "catch-up" work, and really mad significant progresses with my projects.

Then came Tuesday, and to all extents and purposes, I knew it would still be pretty bad at there on the roads.  Not because of the snow, but because of the melting snow that had turned to freezing ice!  Actually, it was very bad, as I saw cars skidding down the road when some folks tried to leave for work!  I gave in and did another session at home. I only had a few conference calls, and again managed to complete the lingering documentation tasks for my projects. 

It was a funny odd couple of days, because I actually got more done during the two days, then I guess I would have done if I were in the office - probably as there was less interruptions, and I had a relaxing work environment at home!

Anyway, back to normal today - and for the rest of this week it seems. 

Visit the Brigatti Gallery for the pics :)

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Mugging in Haywards Heath Train Station Car Park
(Saturday, 17 January 2009) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well, late in the night on last Thursday (15th January), I experienced one of those 'life experiences' that I have fortunate enough to have avoided for 29 years of my life! A mugging - well actually - a robbery - affecting myself!

I was in London for an all-day meeting and spent the evening socialising with the Business teams at the end of the long-day in the office. I took the 23:02 train from London Victoria, and arrived back to Haywards Heath at approx. 23:45. I was carrying all of my work items as well as personal artefacts, ranging from laptop, blackberry (work mobile), personal mobile phone, iPod Touch, wallet, cash and credit cards - and had just entered the main car park of the Train Station to walk to my car.

Whilst I was passing the Vallet building situated within the car park, a young man approached me from his car and shouted "Oi, where are you going". I ignored him at first, as I had thought he was talking to someone else, only when he repeated his shout and requested me to stop, did I look up and notice he was walking towards me and blocked my path between me and my car.

I didn't know what to think - as I was so tired from the a tough 2-3 days of work - I just wanted to get to my car and get home to sleep. However, he made it very clear that he was after something, as he asked me for all of my money, and commenting that he a knife. At this point, I looked down and noticed the 5-6 blade pointing downwards in the right-hand, shining in the light of this car - which noticably was pointing towards us (facing the vallet building / rail tracks) with the head-lights on and engine running.

During this time, a girl joined him - whom I presume was the muggers girlfriend. She didn't say anything, but did seem to be supporting him. There was hardly anyone around, as there was only 20-30 or so cars left in the car park, so I knew I really didn't have much choice, and didn't want to get stabbed and be left for dead for someone to find!

I stood and froze for a moment - only then did he repeat the message that he wanted all of my money. At this point, I decided that I would give him what I had, and hoped he would let me go. He started swinging the knife at which point, I took out my wallet and gave him the folded notes I had on me...beggars belief what he would have done if I didn't have any!! Fortunately, I had some on me, £50 in total (3x £10 and 1x £20)!!!

I actually withdraw the £50 from the cash machine in Victoria before I went out that evening - thinking I would need it for taxi fares etc - and didn't use any of it in the end. I had thought about slipping him a £20 only, but realised that as all of the notes were folded together, the criminal suspect would have probably noticed that I had more - and could have asked for the rest or worse the whole wallet - or even attacked me afterwards. I didn't want to risk of exacerbating the confrontation, so gave him the £50, and showed that my wallet was empty. He then took the money and calmly walked back to his car.

I didn't want to waste any more time, and I quickly continued to walk to the car which was at least another 20-30 seconds away.

I came home and reported the incident to the police - who came around to my home for a statement. When I was recounting the events, did I start feeling this coldness flow through my body. It took about an hour or so to go through the events and anything else I could think off. It wasn't pleasant to have to keep going over the events again, and again - yet alone experience it in the first place.

What a shocking event to experience and to mar what was generally a pleasant day - I certainly wasn't expecting this at the end of a long day, and more importantly, not in Haywards Heath! I feel it was simply an opportunistic person obviously looking for a mark (in this case, me!) - and I was simply in the wrong place, at the wrong time! This was an experience I never want to witness or occur to me ever again! He must have been watching people walking by late that night – but why me?

The case-file has now been transferred to the British Transport Police - as the incident occured on Network Rail's property (the Station Car Park). I just hope they catch the two of them, before they try it again. I can only imagine what they wanted to use the money for!

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Amex Insurance Claim - Due a Non-Automatic Renewal Issue
(Sunday, 11 January 2009) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Before I left for Hong Kong and Thailand, I obviously checked my Insurance Policy Paperwork - lo and behold I found that I wasn't able to locate any paperwork for the current year - so I was starting to panic.

I had thought that I would not have allowed this to happen as the policy would have automatically renewed and I would have received a policy renewal notification. It now appears that the policy had lapsed and was not renewed – as I also couldn’t find any renewal fees on my credit cards for the renewal period (Sept 2008).

I phoned the 0800-enquiry number on Sunday, 7th December, only to be informed the office by a recorded message that the office was closed – even though I had the understanding it was operational on Sunday between 10am to 4pm.

I phone the 01737-emergency assistance number, and asked the operator to check my policy details. However, the representative could not access my policy detail on the system – re-inforcing my concern that the policy had not been renewed. He explained to call the 0800-number on Monday when the relevant team would be available to assist. As I was departing early on Monday, 8th December, I had to wait until I arrived in Hong Kong to do so.

I phoned on Tuesday, 9th December to the 0800-number and got through to the representative who confirmed my policy had not been renewed and I was not eligible to renew it until I returned to the UK. I explained that I had tried to but the Insurance Teams weren’t able to support my request prior to my departure, and that it was not my fault that the renewal had not occurred. He also advised that having checked my account the automatic renewal flag was not enabled – but the representative could not tell the reason why this flag was changed to this state. I had not made any previous requests not to complete the automatic renewal on my card. I also explained to him that I never received a renewal letter nor received any premium debit on my credit card.

I asked for the matter to be escalated as I was conscious I was exposed without any Travel Insurance cover for my current trip, and the representative spoke to his supervisor who authorised the renewal from the initial renewal date and therefore allowing me to have insurance cover for my trip.

This is an important principle to comment on – the lapse in the quality of service that I received not only meant that I had initially travelled without Insurance cover – but if I had not pushed the renewal, I would have no cover at all for the duration of my trip – something which would have caused me concern and unease.

I am also expensed by the 15-minute roaming mobile phone call to push through the renewal at a cost to me of £21.00 which has now appeared on my mobile bill. Ouch!

When I returned to the UK, I documented the course of events and sent a complaint letter to Amex Insurance Services. Focusing on the issue at hand - that my policy was not automatically renewed without a plausible reason, and a request to refund my calling charge - and a request for AXP to extend the gesture to cover the year's premium - about £40.

I received the response today, and AXP advised that there did appear to be a glitch on the auto-renewal - but they couldn't find out why it didn't occur. They accepted my request to refund the roaming mobile call, but only extended the gesture of 5% of the premium. Pretty mean me thinks - I think that they should do more than that - and I feel I will ask for more!

After all, if I didn't phone and check with them before I left, I would not have any Insurance cover!

We'll see what they respond after my push for more of an explanation!

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Philips DVD Player - Region-Free Code!!
(Sunday, 11 January 2009) Written by Aaron Brigatti

When I was in Hong Kong over Christmas, I was researching the current DVD Players models that were in the shops - focusing on the fact that the UK Players were encoded to Region 2 only...

I also took some time to research on Amazon.co.uk and noticed that the price of a relatively "cheap" model was pretty similar about £40-£50 - so I decided that it wasn't worth the effort or risk of trying to purchase it in Hong Kong and taking it through Customs

Instead, by reading the reviews on Amazxon it appeared that some models were actually Region-Free by means of entering a "special code" - making these quite an attractive buy! I also though about the quality of purchase, and it appeared that a £40 DVD Player was generally similar in manufacturing quality assurance than an £80 one.

When I came back, I decided to make the purchase in prepartion for my new place - or as a back-up to my current place - whose Aiwa DVD Player was over 10 years old already - wow - and still going strong!!

The Philips models seemed pretty good - so I decided to purchase the "Philips DVP 5990" model.

To make it region-free, I followed some nice intructions I located on a forum...:

  1. Press "Setup"
  2. Select the "Preference" Tab
  3. Press 1,3,8,9,3,1
  4. Press the up / down key to select "0" and hit "Setup" to exit.
And voila!!! A region-free DVD Player for £40 from within the UK!

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Nationwide Mortgage - Tracker Mortgage
(Friday, 02 January 2009) Written by Aaron Brigatti

I've been pretty lucky, as with the recent rate cuts, I have been able to get a mortgage on the Nationwide Tracker - originally a product that was 4.99% - which was 1.99% above the BoE Base Rate. Basically, I will always be 1.99% above Base.

The only exception is if the Base Rate drops under 1% during the first 2 years, then the product rate would be 2.99% (1% + 1.99%) - therefore this is the minimum rate I Will get.

Before I took out the mortgage the Interest rate the rate was 4.5% - then the drop in early November moved the rate to 3% (so I received the 4.99% rate in the first instance). I was pretty content with this - but knew it would be good if it was reduced further! When my mortgage was being prepared in early December, the BoE reduced the rates again to 2% (so I now should receive the 3.99% rate as soon as the mortgage is activated).

This is quite a good rate, and I should be clever to try to change to a fixed rate if and when I start to see the rate rises to occur. Hopefully they will go down further still!! Maybe another 1% - and that would be fantastic!! :)

Luckily I had my deal finalised after November - as according to the BBC News website, Nationwide advised that they will end tracker rate cuts for those Tracker policies which were set-up with a 2.75% collar (lower limit). Phew, at least I am not affected by this, as such!

All good then - just need to hope that the purchase goes through without issue!!

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Got a brand new camera in Hong Kong - Canon G10
(Thursday, 01 January 2009) Written by Aaron Brigatti

During my trip to HK, I was discussing cameras with my cousins. I wanted to try to improve my photography skills and wanted to upgrade from my disappointly slow Sony DSC-D5 camera to a mid-range digital-SLR-type of camera - without getting an SLA just yet - mainly due to the cost in doing so!

They recommended the entry-level DSLR models - te Panasonic LX3 or the Canon G10. Both recent models - and both providing the functionality that I would need to improve my skills...first step is the equipment, then the training and experience follows :)

Having mulled it over, and looking at the "investment costs", I noticed that even with the crap GBP to HKD conversion rates, the Canon G10 was still £50 cheaper than Amazon.co.uk or similar on-line stores. I looked at the Canon and felt that it was a better fit for me than the Panasonic - which still appeared to be more of a "compact" camera design.

So I made the investment and purchased this for myself - my Chrimbo gift to myself!!

The review of the Canon is:


http://www.dpreview.com/news/0809/08091702canon_g10.asp

and the Panasonic is:


http://www.dpreview.com/reviews/panasonicdmclx3/

Would welcome your thoughts and comments too!

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Belated Christmas Letter 2008
(Thursday, 01 January 2009) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Greetings,

You have heard it everywhere so I might as well repeat the same message – 2008 has been pretty challenging for most – for various reasons. Firstly, this Global Financial Crisis (that some term as “Credit Crunch”) – luckily I have been sheltered from the big impact of this – as didn’t have significant loans or debts – savings mainly - and only just recently undertook my biggest move of my life and took out a mortgage for my new home (more on this later). Lets breakdown a few areas of focus during 2008

Work:
I have been keeping my head down, keeping busy – and trying to have some fun too! It hasn’t been easy. Work hasn’t really been that enjoyable during the early part of the 2008 – as I kept thinking I was never going to get my promotion that I felt I richly deserved (said by others!) But in March 2008, I was successful in attaining this – and my band level, title and money all changed for the better! I felt a lot better after this though I was trying to be realistic to myself stating that the work itself and role wouldn’t really change that much. Same crap but more money!

This is true to some extent, as the projects I was leading at the start of 2008 stayed with me to closure. However, I am meant to be and act more strategic in my thinking (mentality) and my actions – but I still think I need coaching and support to get me there (to the level expected of me!)! I need the support of my peers, friends and family as now doubt the tough journey starts now!

I’m still kinda enjoying the work – though it has had is moments this year and recently where I have not had much motivation. I have lost sight a little bit in where I want to go with my career – though with the issues affecting the AXP Corporation, I just need to keep going – as I know my job is at risk like a lot of other people.

On this point, AXP Inc. announced in October that there would be a wave of lay-offs – 10% of the global workforce – that’s 7,000 people – yes 7,000! The Corporation although remaining profitable has also experienced challenging conditions – mainly in our Proprietary Card businesses in the US and International – and the squeeze is being felt throughout. Although initially safe, the GNS Division was advised that it has to reduce 10% of its head-count too – ouch and this is also reflected in my immediate team. We will find out in mid-January how many people and at what levels (i.e. who is at risk). This is a concern to end 2008 and going into the start of 2009.

Work Secondment:
I was fortunate to experience another amazing opportunity starting from 1st Sept – using my experiences gained during my Greek Work Assignment – on the Loyalty field; I was given the chance to stay in Riga, Latvia for 8 weeks working for Parex Banka Group. It was an amazing experience – although it was a very challenging time and I needed the support of my colleagues and Directors to help me through it. I found this one tougher than the Greek experience for some reason – but I can’t seem to put my finger on why! Maybe because it was the end part of the year – or because I was generally thinking deeper into what I want to and where I want to go at the time?

Anyway, although the opportunity to finish the project was available to me – but undertaken remotely (from the UK), the project hit a huge major obstacle – that caused when there was a run on Parex Bank in Latvia – resulting in the Bank being semi-Nationalised by the Latvian Government in November. What a shock – especially as I had gotten to know a lot of people in the Bank – and those that might be a risk if the bank did go bankrupt. I hope it doesn’t!

This really was the focus during Q4 2008, as in December, I decided to take a 3-week break – taking advantage of a great BA flight offer that required me to depart by 8th December!

New Home:
The biggest achievement of my life was that I managed to get my offer accepted for a house-purchase in late November. A great way to end the year and before I started my holiday. I managed to get a mortgage sorted too with Nationwide – as I had quite a bit of deposit to put down, there was no issue in the terms of getting a mortgage!

Family:
Not much has changed really – father is still getting used to retirement, and travelling a bit to Italy and Switzerland to see friends and family. I actually visited Milan again this year – the first time for over 8 years – wow!

My mother is nearing retirement – March 2009 – and I wanted her to have a relaxing holiday to support this achievement too, so went with her to Hong Kong. She is a great mentor to help me sort out my house and all of the bits and bobs that go along with it! Thanks mum!

I have let Kieren down a wee bit during 2008 – I don’t think I’ve been there for him during the good or bad times. He was made redundant with his part-time job in Gatwick this year, when Aviance terminated their Gatwick operations in May. He remains with his other work at Edwards Group – working in the Sales and Marketing department. He seems to be enjoying it – though I do believe this is a stark change to what he was probably doing in terms of what he had studied at college and University. I hope he settles down and focuses on the role to see what areas of development or training he needs to support him further.

In closure, it’s a very different year than the previous ones. I’ve had a few highs along the way, but finishing 2008 has created mixed emotions. Happy to see the back of it, but also looking forward for the challenges of 2009 and beyond. However, my main concern is the thought-provoking “where do I want to be” and “what do I want to be doing” questions I started asking myself towards the end of the year. Still not sure on this! Any thoughts?

Anyway, lets try to remain cheerful at the end of a turbulent year. May I wish one and all my best wishes for the festive season and I do hope some light comes from the end of the tunnel during 2009! Can only get better right? 


Aaron

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Back from Holiday and Back to Work Already!
(Thursday, 01 January 2009) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well having finished work on the 7th December - quite early as you can tell - I had a great 3 week break in Asia. We visited family there, as well as spend some relaxing time trying to de-stress and enjoy ourselves a little bit.

I went with my mother - mainly due to the "language barrier" - only joking!! - it was because it was her Chrimbo before retirement - so I wanted to ensure it was special.

We visited 6 days in Phuket, and the rest of the time was in Hong Kong - with a day-trip to Macau in the middle. I wanted to have more time relaxing in Phuket - and it was a fantastic place - but we weren't able too this time around.

Anyway, we also attended a wedding - but as I had to fly back, my attendance was quite limited - to 3 courses of the 9 course meal!

As soon as I returned, early morning of Tuesday, 30th December - I had to start work - so just worked from home sorting out the mountain of e-mails, and trying to get my mind back into the work-side of things - plenty of work envisaged for the next few months indeed!

The photos are now uploaded, please find them here - enjoy at your leisure:
http://www.brigatti.co.uk/gallery/ChristmasHoliday2008.

I didn't do a festive letter this year, because I ran out of time - having done an long and early festive holiday - but I will draft a related one shortly and publish to the website - so keep an eye out for a new blog posting soon

Lastly, I wish you all a Happy New Year for 2009 - I know last year has been genuinely tough for the large majority of us - I've had a few highs and lows too during 2008 - but I think it is going to be an interesting time during 2009 - plenty of fun and games to keep us busy!!

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House Offer -- Interesting Turn of Events
(Tuesday, 02 December 2008) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well although I had placed an original offer on a property in Haywards Heath about 8 weeks ago - it was rejected by the seller.

I had a second visit, and then put in a second offer - and this too was rejected. The seller than advised that there were intent on removing it from the market and continue to rent it out.

I then received a call last week stating that the seller had found a place and was keen in selling the place. I was a bit annoyed as I felt I was being played, so was quite firm to the vendor. I advised that I was willing to progress the offer (second reject price) on the understanding that the sellers come back to the negotiation table.

Lo and behold - I received a surprising call today to say that the offer was accepted! Wahoo!!

As you can tell I was really happy - but the challenge starts now, as I now need to get everything sorted for a mid-February signing - and hopefully ensure everything is set in stone! I just hope all of the surveys come back positive - and that my mortgage application goes through without issue!!

The long journey starts now!! Wish me luck!!

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Christmas Party 2008 - Surreal Feeling
(Sunday, 30 November 2008) Written by Aaron Brigatti

This Christmas, there is a weird feeling as we approach the festive season. With the "credit crunch", and the announcement last month that all work-doos were cancelled - bar-humbug - I knew it would a different feel this year!

Most people at work don't seem to be in the Chrimbo spirit yet - probably because there is still uncertainty as to who are the unlucky 5%-10% that will be out of a job early in 2009! Hopefully not me!

I also think that having the party in late-November probably has something to do with it too - as the work has not really "slowed down" yet...in fact it's manic for loads of people - and I am only fortunate based on the fact that I have an early holiday this year - and one of my most significant initiatives has been put "on-hold".

This year, we went to the Open House pub in Springfield Road, Brighton - mainly focused to have a few drinks, DJ-music and chilled evening. I certainly let my hair down, and it was a well-earned rest from work...

A few photos were taken - whilst I remained sober - though some of them didn't come out that well! But see for yourself - pop across to http://www.brigatti.co.uk/gallery/GBSChristmas2008 Enjoy!!

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Been a weird week! Intriguing though!
(Sunday, 30 November 2008) Written by Aaron Brigatti

It has been busy, but manageable over the last few weeks, as we move closer to the festive break - well at least for work.

Outside of work, been nothing but MANIC! Looking for a new house is tiring and challenging work - but I am actually enjoying it - hmmm...maybe "enjoyable" is not the right word - but alas, I still have a bit of hope that something happens soon - or early in the new year!

Drinking and having fun (at pool) has progressed well over the last few weeks. Must have been all of that practice in Riga :)

...ladies - well, managed to talk to a few during my recent Brighton outings - but didn't manage to pluck up the right courage to take it to the next step. Gave my business cards though - which did "seem" to have gone down well, but alas they are probably in the bin somewhere now :-( - they never called!! Boo-hoo!!!!

BUT, I am looking forward for everything calming down in preparation for my 3-Week holiday from 8th December. Can't wait.

BRING IT ON!!!!

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My Broadband Speed Test - 22 Nov 2008
(Saturday, 22 November 2008) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well I've performed another Broadband speed test, and I am still struggling to get any speeds in excess of 2.0mbps - but kinda starting to accept this rate now...gone slightly down since I previously attempted a similar test in January 2008.

I performed two impartial tests. Here are the results:


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AXP Share Prices Decimated over a period of a few weeks! No company is risk-free!
(Saturday, 15 November 2008) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well with the share price being decimated - and following on from the recent job cuts announcement by AXP, it was clear that things were absolutely rosey with AXP - even though our business results were fairing up okay over the last few years! Thanks largely to the division I am in - GNS!

But share price still has plummeted from highs of USD $60, to what is around a 65% drop - currently touching $20!!

This is absolutely a dismal share price - though there is always an opportunity in the midst of turmoil - buy the shares if you have got the spare cash :) !! My spare investment capital is reserved for a big investment (house-purchase) - but I might still buy some shares if it dropped to the $12-14 range - it's too good to miss this!

Anyway, AXP this week has also had a bit of a bumpy ride, dropping to $16 dollar during Wednesday's trading, and luckily making up some ground towards the end of the week to head back up to $21 again! I have a feeling that there may be more turmoil ahead of us! Worrying news indeed, hey?

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Placed an offer for a property - fingers crossed!!
(Wednesday, 12 November 2008) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well it's my third time I've put an offer into (different) properties - but I have a feeling about this one! -- But I won't tempt fate just yet!

The house is for £250k, and I put down an offer for £240k. I still think it's a buyer's market - especially with the fact that we are pretty much in a recession now - meaning it is possible that the house-market (and prices) but adjust further. Therefore, if they want to sell, I am really helping them to sell quickly - without waiting any longer.

I hope they see this and accept this offer - they have already rejected my £235k offer. I just hope things do plan out as I want!

Wish me luck!

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Did I bring down Parex?
(Tuesday, 11 November 2008) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well having been working for Parex Banka in Latvia for 8 weeks, I came back, made a good impression, remained cheerful etc - and then a week later the bank announced that it had to be semi-nationalised! Whoops!

But I would like to make it clear - it wasn't me guv' - honest!

Anyway, not sure what happens to the project that I was working on, but on the positive I enjoyed the 8 weeks in the market!! :)

Hopefully, I am able to develop a similar SME role and take this forward into another exciting new initiative with another AXP Partner in another market - but with the current climate - I doubt anything will happen soon!

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AXP Announces 10% Job-Cull! Ouch!
(Sunday, 02 November 2008) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well a number of people were told about their future with AXP on Tuesday, 28th October...with the main company-wide and public announcement published on on Thursday, 30th October.

URL - BBC News -- Amex to cut costs and 7,000 jobs.

Shocking news for all concerned - but at the moment I seem to have been lucky and avoided any immediate impact! Touch wood...I just need to keep my head down, and keep working hard!!!! - although the media did imply most of the cuts were at middle-management - it actually seemed to affect all levels - crickies! I've never experienced anything like this before, so was quite a shock to read the news in the media and internally...

But I still see the effects in any case:

  • Frozen merit increases in 2009 (and this was when the appraisal period was upon us!)
  • No bonuses next year (ditto above comment!)
  • Freeze of development
  • Travel & Expenditure - not too much of an impact to my role, so just need to make do with the "new technology" (Video-Conferencing / WebEx / Conference Calls etc!)
  • Hiring freeze - makes sense to me
  • And confirmation that all year-end Festive celebrations (parties) are cancelled for this year. Boo-ho!

I guess something had to be done - but does start making us all worry about the financial stability of the company - could this just be a phase-one and more culling is required in 2009! Lets hope not!

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Birthday Weekend in Tallinn, Estonia
(Saturday, 01 November 2008) Written by Aaron Brigatti

This year, I decided to spend the weekend in Tallinn. Well actually it wasn't due to advance planning or anything, mainly because I was located in Riga, and I knew Tallinn was just a stone-throw away!

I went with the AXP person who was on the Global Rotation Programme in Riga too - and we managed to get a bargain price for the Air Baltic flight. It was a €50 return journey - wow! Bargain indeed.

The trip was very pleasant. We arrived early on Saturday - in what appeared to be a very overcast start of the day. We were concerned that it was going to be dreadful weather across both days, but it appeared to brighten very quickly. Saturday turned out to be okay - and we managed to see the Old Town of Tallinn in bright sunshine - albeit cold and blustery.

The Sunday was wet, drizzly all day. Luckily we took advantage of a great Saturday - weather-wise.

We eat pretty well - having being recommended some nice places to eat. On the Saturday, we went to Bocca - a nice mediterranean place. In the evening we went to Chedi (same owner as Bocca) - but this was an Asian-Western fusion meal. Very nice indeed. We went clubbing at Club Hollywood - which was a nice place - albeit a bit dirty and dingy inside. It was okay. We had a nice Russian meal on Sunday lunch, before returning to Riga on Sunday evening.

It was an interesting return flight - as there were only 7 passengers on the flight - definitely a lost-making service that day!

All in all - a nice relaxing birthday break - for a change!

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Finished My Work Assignment - What Next?
(Thursday, 30 October 2008) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well 8 weeks of fun ended last week, with the completion of the work assignment in Riga, Latvia.

I don't believe it was as much fun as Greece, but it was still an interesting experience.

I will look back and say I got something out of it - though I was still annoyed the structure of my placement was not as good as it could have been - i.e. having to fork out a relatively large amount of "cash expenses", rather than receiving a per diem allowance. Ho-well!

...and going forward, well the Bank Partner liked what I was achieving, but I knew it was unlikely to be a full-time presence in the market - shame really, I guess I have to do what I normally do, and manage the work remotely. Not sure if it will remain as productive - but alas, not much I can do about it really!

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Latvian Work Assignment - Second Stint
(Saturday, 11 October 2008) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well having come back from my Greek break at the end of September, I spent a few days in the Brighton-office, preparing myself for the next phase of my Latvian assignment.

I flew out on 29th September, intending to spend 2 weeks in Riga, finalising the definition reports and project plan, and looking to complete my role in the assignment.

I think the project was taking shape, but challenging to say the least. I was intending to spend a week between 13th-17th October in the UK, and then one final week in Riga, before the end of my assignment on 27th October. I still do not know what the plan is AFTER this time - but we'll see!

Hopefully I end up making a good impression and doing my duties before I leave.

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Amex 5 Year - UDC Reunion
(Wednesday, 01 October 2008) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Having survived (and it was survival!) 5-years with the Blue-Box that is known outside as American Express Inc., the unit where I came into the company - the University Development Centre (UDC) held a 5-yr celebration. Bringing in people from the current, past alumni, and those who have left the company to discuss and catch-up on all of the goss.

A few boring presentations - but the gist was - it was a "success". I hate this word, cos you can always interpret success in soooo many different ways - in some cases a failure is a success too! Ha!

My view - a waste of a programme, a programme without any purpose or direction - and apart from having a Masters (MSc) element - not much more extra than any other University Graduate programme. Even the real estate on the Sussex University campus is being utilised now - as is being downsized, cos the whole notion of the UDC acting as an outside vendor for Technologies resources just didn't stake up. One word - experience - or the lack thereof. This type of "vendor" approach can only work with skilled personnel - not trainees! Bring back the ol' model that still lives and works - a few graduates coming into AXP Technologies on the standard graduate scheme - nothing too fancy, but still serves as a talent pipeline. Cynical - nope, just practical thoughts!

Then again, without the UDC, I might never have thought about working at AXP - so shouldn't comment really, hey!?

Bring on the next 5 years - well okay maybe 1, 2 or 3 years is more realistic!!

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American Express - Five Year Anniversary
(Sunday, 28 September 2008) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Believe it or not, but I've now been officially with American Express Services Europe Ltd (AESEL) for 5 years on 1st September. Having joined the University of Sussex / Amex IT Graduate Scheme on 1st Sept 2003. Feels like a life-time ago!

I thought I'd get my Masters (sponsored by Amex), get a few years of experience (2 at most!), and venture elsewhere, I didn't think I wanted to stay for this length of time. Thought, to be more pragmatic - 5 years is really nothing! But feels like a hell of a long time to stay with one company!

Anyway, it's had a few ups and downs, fortunately I've now got my first promotion - receiving my Senior PM position on 1st March this year - although I felt I could have got this last year already! Pay and conditions is not too bad, and I've managed to save a lot of money during the last 2 years to fortunate be in a good position to look for my own bachelor pad now!

I think the statistics were quite interesting, over the 5 years, the Amex UDC has had over 100 students come through (including this years new in-take), over 50 have stayed within Amex and 10 have got promotions during the 5 years, and 5 have jumped ship to the 'Amex Business' (rather than stay within Amex Technologies).

Looking back, I've learnt, developed and experienced a lot during this past few years - probably the last 2-3 have been the ones where I've gotten the most out of my job, and as most people tell me, there is still a lot to learn - so head down, keep busy and hopefully a couple more years will pass quickly. I am keen to get a different perspective, and definitely looking for another opportunity when I can start applying again! Have to wait for September 2009 to past, then will be within the 18mth threshold that applies for internal applications!

Oh, just need to work out how will I spend the £80 that I received for the 5 years tenure.

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Irisitis - Eye Inflammation
(Saturday, 27 September 2008) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Feeling a bit tired and stressed (normal in the current climate!), I didn't think too much of my reddy-eye. I just thought it was lack of sleep or stress-related. Only when it didn't seem to get any better (the red-eye!) that is, and when the aching pain started did I decide to take some action!

It is more because I was due to fly back from Latvia to the UK and then off to Greece for my holiday did I really start to worry, as if I was not able to get back, my whole 'week-off' would never happen!

I saw a Latvian Eye Specialists (commonly known as Orthoptists). I went to ARS Clinic in central Riga, had to apply which costs me 22Lts. She had a look at the eye and responded with her findings. The key thing that was ruled out was an eye infection (bacterial) - which could have cause me to cancel my travel plans! Luckily this was one piece of good news - my holiday was still on. But what was causing the eye inflammation and what could I do to reduce it. There was no known cause of it, she mentioned it was Irisitis - which in basically saying it's an Iris Inflammation - but doesn't give much help on the cause...I was told lifestyle, stress, health etc etc - nothing that has caused a problem previously. Anyway she prescribed me two eye-drops, one Maxidex (steriods) which I had to take 6 times a day, and another (Mydriacyl) to take before I go to bed. Both set me back another 6.70Lts. But the key message was I could fly and continue on my way! Yah!

When I returned to the UK, I visited my GP to register the issue with them too. She didn't want to change my medication, but I was expecting to be referred to someone to get a more detailed examination. But nope - this didn't happen. At least I could fly, as she also gave me to the green-light to continue with my holiday.

I came back from Greece, and although I had been using the eye-drops for over a week now (about 9-10days), I noticed the redness had gone down tremendously, but the blurry vision remained. I knew it was 100% healed yet, so decided to visit the Eye Hospital A&E in the Sussex County Hospital in Brighton to see what could do.

I visited them on Friday, 26th September about 4.20pm, and after the looked at the eye, they noted that it was indeed Irisitis - they too couldn't confirm the cause, as there were too many factors, and sometimes "it just happens". They gave me another dose of eye-drops, and advised me to continue using for another month - slowly reducing from 6x a day, to 4x a day, to 3x a day, to twice a day, over a period of a month. More worryingly, they noticed the onset of Cataracts in my right-eye (the one causing the problem). So it looks like once I am off the medication, I would need to have my eyes tested, and possibly a change in my prescriptions. Grrrr - this means I will likely suffer this when I get older! Could have been worse, I guess!

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Long Over-Due Holiday Time!
(Friday, 12 September 2008) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Having spent just over a week in Latvia - on my work assignment, I've had to move and shorten my holiday plans to support the assignment! That's commitment, right?

Anyway, having now agreed upon my plan and checked with the folks in Athens, I've managed to get a holiday plan confirmed! My Greek lady-friend confirmed a few Islands that I could visit whilst I was there. So here is the confirmed plan: - wahoo!!!

  • Thurs, 18th Sept -- EasyJet flight to Athens - arrives at 20:50, with a one-night stay in Hilton Athens (1-night).
  • Fri, 19th Sept -- Check-out of Hotel and Boat from Pireaus to Tinos at 07:15 - ouch!
  • Fri, 19th Sept through to Mon, 22nd Sept - Stay in Tinos - at Porto Raphael Tinos hotel.
  • Mon, 22nd Sept -- Check-out of Hotel and Boat from Tinos to Pireaus at 17:30.
  • Mon, 22nd Sept -- Stay in Athens for the one-night stay back in Athens.
  • Tues, 23rd Sept -- Prepare for my return Easyjet flight to UK - which departs at 12:35.

I was recommended to visit Tinos, Kythnos, Serifos or Andros - so decided on Tinos.

I can't wait - as need this well overdue break away from home, work and the ruddy horrid weather of late!

Bring it on!!!

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Renault Clio Bonnets - Incidents Still Being Reported!!
(Tuesday, 02 September 2008) Written by Aaron Brigatti

My latest letter to the Renault-Nissan Group President and CEO, Mr Carlos Ghosn...

Dear Mr Ghosn,

Over 30 months has passed since I reported the life-threatening safety risk to VOSA, Renault UK and Renault France, I am disappointed to continue to hear of Clio bonnet faults happening on the UK roads.

Due to these ongoing occurrences, you needs to continue to press for a longer-team remedial solution to risk-mitigate the concerns raised towards the safety functionality of the Clio Mark-2/Campus main and secondary 1 (safety) bonnet-catch mechanism.

Although Renault has been reluctant to share any mechanical or scientific evidence on the cause of this issue through the internal investigations (with alignment with VOSA), the apparent failings in the performance of the mechanisms can create a dangerous state which can cause a sudden and spontaneous release. Thus, continues to pose a life-threatening safety risk to your customers.

I am pleased that Renault has provided remedial direction to Clio owners and the dealership network. Namely; 1) replacing the corroded parts, and 2) ensuring the mechanism is maintained during servicing at your dealerships. Your servicing schedule is currently a 2-year programme, meaning that the safety risk remains for this period of time when the mechanism may not be fully checked by a Renault mechanic. Therefore, continues to poses a dangerous state of condition for the safety-mechanism, even after Renault’s Head-Office directions are adhered too.

Irrespective of whether the bonnet is closed properly, the “safety” catch should prevent a bonnet from flying up and causing a safety risk to the occupants of Renault’s vehicles. To this day, the secondary catch does not perform this “safety” function effectively.

The correct cause of action is for a more impartial approach, and technical/mechanical solution to ensure that the catch mechanism is designed to something that can withstand more of the environmental conditions that it is expected to experience. The current mechanism design is not fool-proof and the safety mechanism functionality has failed.

I await your response and hope Renault can support a more thorough investigation and longer term resolution, to ensure these incidents never ever happen again. Thank you for your time and support.

I also put this footnote:

“Secondary” catch is used to reference your “safety” catch, as the safety functionality continues to be called into question, and therefore cannot categorically act with this safety function in mind, throughout all states of the mechanism.

I wonder if I get a response to this...the last 3 communications have fallen on death-ears! And this is from a manufacture who notes themselves as "safety-conscious"!!

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Off to Latvia for several weeks
(Saturday, 30 August 2008) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well, I was discussing my current project closures with my VP at a meeting a couple of weeks ago, and he mentioned another interesting "opportunity" development that was on the horizon.

I was very keen to hear more...so was listening attentively.

It involved doing some 'strategy consultancy' work for a Bank Partner in Latvia - something that sounded quite exciting but definitely seen as a stretch opportunity for me!

Again, without over committing, I decided to give it some thought during the two weeks he was away - on the understanding all of the preparation work would be undertaken in the backdrop.

Last week I heard news that it was all confirming from my Director, and although I was very much convinced it was something I could do well in, at the same time as see what I've learnt from the previous secondment, I wanted to ensure it was going to work well for all concerned.

I just hoped the lessons learnt from the previous debacle from the Greece trip was resolved this time around. Fingers crossed.

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Zizzi 2-4-1 Offer
(Saturday, 23 August 2008) Written by Aaron Brigatti
Zizzi - 2 for 1 Voucher

You can tell retailers are trying to fight for business, when several 2 for 1 offers start appearing - either that, or it is due to limited business due to the holiday season!!

Either way, an offer is available for all at Zizzi! Thought I don't really like the place, I thought I'd post the voucher to share around!!

It's only valid between 11th August - 10th September, so you've gotta be quick!

Click on the thumbnail on the left for your voucher. Enjoy and Buon Appetito!

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Visiting Emsworth
(Saturday, 23 August 2008) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Since involved in this ITS-Rewards Loyalty ("BonuS") Programme with our Partner-Bank in Greece, I have not found the right opportunity to visit the team hosting and managing the solution - in their offices in Emworth.

This time as I was involved in a different project, I decided to take the opportunity to join a couple of my colleagues visited for that project, and meet-up with the ITS-Rewards team myself.

I had a couple of projects which I wanted to ensure was well-managed to closure, and also meet face-to-face with the folks who I had been in dialogue with via e-mails/phone-calls for many months - in fact looking back, it has been over 2 years now! Wow!

I also intended to take the opportunity to meet-up with the Business Development and Head of Operations, but I was advised that they were out of the office on a business trip or on holiday (latter I knew, but I only knew about the former a day before!)

Anyway, I still feel it was a good opportunity to meet-up with the team, and got a lot out of the trip as well as ensuring that I continue to build the relationship with that team.

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Week-Off Holiday to Athens!
(Saturday, 16 August 2008) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Having reviewed my spent-holiday this year, I calculated that I only spent a small percentage of my allowance thus far - and I knew I could only take across to 2009 a maximum of 5 days!

So I started looking what I needed to do (book up!) to resolve this.

I have spent 5 days in Egypt, 1 day in Las Vegas (counted as holiday), and 1 day in Milan (as part of a long weekend). This left about 22 odd days free.

I wanted to visit my lady-friend in Athens, and she was intent in taking me over to her home-place of Crete! Heard a lot about this Island, so was keen to visit it! Always better with someone who knows the place well too!

Anyway, I've now booked my EasyJet flights fr the 9th-16th September period, plus left a reservation request for the Hilton Athens for the 9th-11th Sept - enough to find my feet and determine what to do after this!

Can't wait for the week off!

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Georgia - what on earth is going on?
(Thursday, 14 August 2008) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well having been on a trip to visit Tbilisi for a work trip during the first week of July, it became a real shock to me to see the turmoil that engulfed the Country!

This happened about 3-4 weeks after we returned from Georgia (on the 7th August) - so definitely peace of mind that we weren't there with all of that fighting! I just hope the people we met weren't suffering that much!

It all seemed to start with an increase level of tension between Georgia and the infamous break-away region of South Ossetia. But I wasn't expected a full out conflict to erupt. I must say that I do blame Georgia for causing the start of the conflict, after all it was the aggressor, but it was just an unfortunate start of events that simply spiralled out of control - against Georgia!

Russia - who had a peace-keeping force in South Ossetia - simply reacted in response to the surprise onslaught by the Georgian military. The answer in most of this is tit-for-tat military action, so Russia simply responded with their military might. This was simply a no-brainer, Georgia would lose such a conflict - and ultimately, the Georgian military had to retreat. After days of conflict, this retreat went from South Ossetia to the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, so much so, the Russian military was at the leisure in control of significant portions of the country! What a mess this was ...

Not sure why the UN or NATO didn't intervene as quickly as they should, my hat goes off to the French who had to mediate a truce between the two parties.

Here's hoping for a peaceful resolution - but what will the picture be of this post-conflict resolution. Would there be a significant change in attitudes between the two parties, and can they ever trust each other again - I hope so!

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Work Expectations
(Thursday, 14 August 2008) Written by Aaron Brigatti

At the moment, I have a very weird feeling with my work...

Having had a Skip-Level meeting with my VP, I was advised of a potential opportunity in Latvia - but nothing concrete had been provided...

I didn't take much notice of this, and continued to do my normal work...things were definitely calmer now, as the pressures had reduced following the Albania Partner launch, new Product launch in Belgium, and another new Product launch in Greece - meaning that I was just tying off some loose ends for these projects, including some intensive Post-Implementation Review (PIR) sessions.

However, even with these mini-activities, and with most of Europe away, my other Greece projects weren't moving at all (expected!), this just left two "meaty" projects remaining. And I just ploughed on with these as my key areas of focus during the last few weeks.

I also took an opportunity to focus on my development too - as I knew this lull period won't last - and it was only a matter of days/weeks before new work came my way! I booked myself to attend a "Situational Leadership 2" course, and also started to read-up on some of the mandatory training that we must completed before year-end. I also managed to finalise my Mid-Year Appraisal and took some of the Director's feedback on board during the review sessions. I think the balance of the Mid-Year was just right - but my biggest concern was that if I didn't get anything significant (project-wise) to start soon, I wouldn't be able to add much more at year-end. I was thinking Partner launches, or Premium-Product launches were just around the corner - especially with concerns being raised of "more work than resources" - whoops! I hate those words. Then again jumping to the other side of the scale isn't brilliant either - the "too little work for the current resources" - which would have meant one of two things, either getting bored, or worst-still getting pushed out ("re-engineering", I think the current term is!)

All I can say is make the most of this, ensure my other work is progressing well - the "do what I can" philosophy - and ensure that I focus on my development during this period of time! Something which had lapsed during the first 6 months of the year!

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Visit to Switzerland!! Work-related!!
(Saturday, 02 August 2008) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well this week, I visited the AXP Joint-Venture in Switzerland, Swisscard AG - on Tues, 29th - Wed, 30th July. It was part of a Pricing Workshop, and although my role was more-related to aligning on the technical and operational deliverable dates, and status update, it was useful to align with the wider project strategy.

I was fortunate to meet up with some of the other AXP Team who were visiting at the same time - and the 4 of us managed to visit a nice Tapas Bar in town for the evening meal and drinks - not a bad place.

The hotel was pretty good too - very modern look and feel, and it served its purpose well.

I stayed at the Best Western Glockenhorf on Sihlstrasse street, in Central Zurich. I knew some people in Zurich and was trying to meet-up with them, but they were out during the time I was visiting. Such a shame, as haven't seen them for a couple of years (at least!).

I managed to take the BA flight from Heathrow - and of course visited the swanking Terminal 5 - and I actually felt everything was fine when I went, all of those initial teething issues have long-disappeared. Luckily...but I didn't want to bank on my bag disappearing, so didn't check-in any luggage!! I think I did a wrong flight choice though, as I was trying to get the Gatwick one - but I think I must have chosen the wrong time, and therefore the flight departed from Heathrow instead - whoops!

Less haste, more speed next time! Lesson learnt!

Overall, it was a good trip, I would have liked to have spent a bit more time in Zurich, maybe when I come back on my own (away from business!). I think it must have been over 10-12 years since I last visited Zurich - I cannot believe it was this long, but feel it was around this timeline, if not more! Shock horror, hey?

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Swanking New Samsung HD-LCD 40" TV!
(Wednesday, 30 July 2008) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Having spent about 6 years with the old-style TV (CRT), we decided to buy a new one. Well okay, the old one gave up the ghost - I think the tube blew!

Was keen to get a Samsung mainly due to the quality, integrity and overall look and feel of the TVs, and having done a lot of research, I decided that the Samsung 5-Series LCD TVs were good enough for me. The newer 6-Series were just that more expensive for more liking, and I knew that they would eventually come down in price, and I would kick-myself for buying it at the higher price!

It was either going to be Curry's, John Lewis or Argos - though the retailer's seemed to stock "Exclusive" models - all within the 5-Series round. The Curry's stores couldn't match the sort of price I was willing to pay, nor the John Lewis' pledge which was for a free 5-yr warranty. So I decided to purchase it on-line. John Lewis was about £200 more (although they had this 'extended' warranty coverage to compensate), but we decided to go with the cheaper Curry's version - but the website didn't seem to have any stock left, and when I phoned it was simply a matter of days - but they couldn't guarantee the supplies would be enough to meet expectations. Curry did have a special web-only offer for the LE40A559P model which reduced the price down to £599.99 - so this was just up my street.

However, Argos had the LE40A558P3 model (cat no. 5366206) which was the same price and WAS available for quick delivery - so I decided to go with this.

I didn't know how long this price would last, so purchased it on the day, luckily I did, as a few days later both Curry and Argos raised the prices - i.e. removed the web-only discount price! Amazing hey, I made the right decision this time!

A very happy chap, with a brand-new swanking TV! And just in times for the Olympics too!

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Another Trip - to Intriguing Kiev, Ukraine
(Saturday, 26 July 2008) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Another set of business meetings were scheduled for this week, and I was requested by my Director to participate...sounded like another good development (and fun!) opportunity, so jumped at the chance!

This time to sunny and warm Kiev, in the Ukraine. Having only previously visited the International airport during my transit to Georgia a few weeks back, I knew the airport was quite poor in comparison, but didn't know much else about the rest of the City or Country!

I must say, I wasn't disappointed at all...and it certainly met my expectations for an upcoming and fast-Westernising city indeed!

We had received a few recommendations of places to visit and eat. We were accompanied by a couple of colleagues who were well-rehearsed in what to see and where to eat in Kiev, having been several times previously - this certainly helped take advantage of some of the fine dining venues that the city could muster!

We stayed at the Hyatt Kiev - a very nice, and recently opened 5-star hotel, which was a short distance from some of the greatest views of the city and the infamous Independence Square (Maidan Nezalezhnosti).

We visited a number of nice bars and restaurants during the few days we stayed in Kiev, but I must admit that the highlight session was when we visited the great place called "Buddha-Bar Kiev". We witness some great entertainment (the resident DJ was pretty good!), and the atmosphere was very good indeed at this recently-opened establishment (opened on July 11th), this is the 8th Buddha-Bar around the world. But the highlight was the bar upstairs, which we acquainted ourselves to a nice cute bar-maid, Marsha, who made us feel very welcome. Though my colleagues were obviously teasing her and me in Russian - and made me only guess what they could be talking to her about - anyway 'twas a very nice experience to enjoy the atmosphere of this great place!

I've also uploaded the main photos for the trip, visit the Brigatti Gallery to see how we also made the most of the trip and ensured we had some "fun" whilst we were there! Four days of hard work, has to provide some enjoyment advantages too!! Haha!

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Lenovo X60s Wireless Enablement
(Saturday, 19 July 2008) Written by Aaron Brigatti

I have had my new work laptop - the Lenovo X60S for just over 2 years, and I have had loads of difficulty in getting the wireless enabled - arghhhh!!!! But I have finally managed to get it working...read on to find out more...

Searching in Google has been fruitless, until I managed to come across a support forum which explained the reason!

I checked the obvious points...check that the Wireless settings on the BIOS was enabled...yes it was. I then checked all of the Windows XP Pro settings, and there was nothing obvious preventing the Wireless connection working.

My wireless adaptor was "Intel® PRO/Wireless 3945ABG Network Connection" - so I had a thought that somehow they had disabled this from a hardware setting preventing me ever being able to use this great functionality, not necessarily at home - but when I am travelling on business. I located to the IntelPro Wireless utility (on the taskbar), I right-clicked on the antenna icon, clicked "Wireless On", and got the message: "The Intel(R) PRO/Wireless is still disabled. Use your hardware switch to enable it." What on earth? This kept making me think it was the BIOS setting, but I had repeatedly checked and nothing seemed none-towards with the BIOS setting - as it was "enabled".

Then Google became the saviour, once again...I located this forum --> http://forum.tabletpcreview.com/showthread.php?t=11821 and the response from my participant saved the day --> "it's (the hardware switch) on the front edge on the bottom half of the clamshell. It's to the right of centre and facing somewhat downward as the bezel is beveled there.".

And I looked carefully, flipped the switch, et voila - wireless enabled!

Why on earth was this "switch" where it was - almost hidden from view! I never even noticed it was there - for almost 2+ years!!

Intel's own support website, explained other potential factors, but didn't detail the location of this ruddy switch... http://support.intel.com/support/wireless/wlan/sb/cs-020275.htm...it went on to explain:

This hardware switch can be implemented in many ways, but the most frequent implementations are as follows:
  • Hardware switch at the side of the laptop;
  • Button around the keyboard area;
  • Key combination such as pressing SHIFT and F2 at the same time."
That first one was the answer - but side of laptop - c'mon explain it was "hidden"!!!! :-)

Anyway, I am one happy bunny once again!

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Andrea and Phillip's Wedding - great fun!
(Saturday, 12 July 2008) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Today was the day of Andrea's and Phillip's wedding - in Pulborough.

Wonderful occasion, and was a great turn-out - with several of my work colleagues, both past and present. Great seeing several of the folks outside of work too!

Bride looked absolutely amazing - really stunning dress, and the groom looked quite immaculate in his formal-ware.

A luvly couple - and they are lucky enough to be going to Mauritius for their honeymoon.

Congratulations to the lovely couple! Wish many years of happiness together!

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Recent Gallery Additions
(Saturday, 12 July 2008) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Been a busy bee over the last week or so, and managed to get the gallery of my site updated, with some latest editions...

Firstly, my Milano trip during the 5-7th July weekend.

Then the Work Colleagues BBQ that was held at an place in Patcham, Brighton on 10th July.

...and finally, the Business trip to Georgia during the first week of July...where I managed to collate some great photographs from a work colleagues camera - 'cos I forgot my darn camera - doh!

All great memories :)

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Over ONE MILLION Visitors to Brigatti Online - wow!!
(Tuesday, 08 July 2008) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well I've finally done it!

After this new site was launched in 2004, I've welcomed over 1-million visitors to the Brigatti On-line website over the last week it seems.

The website has shown many guises over the years, from a basic website, to adding my CV, to making it more interactive, to what became a Content-Management system - and then finally adding my (weB)log and Gallery.

The site was originally launched on 2000 - when the web was in its infancy.

What a story hey? Thanks for being part of the evolution!!

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Extended Weekend Break to Milano
(Monday, 07 July 2008) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well many years long-overdue, I decided to take an opportunity I had to visit some family in Milano, Italy.

I managed to bag some reasonable EasyJet flights - yes I know, not really star-comfort, but it was a seat on a plane going southwards!!

I also and managed to use 70k of my 360k Hilton Honors Points for the Hilton Milan. It was bad at all - in fact, it was a great place; full of atmosphere, and my father and I certainly enjoyed the privilege being there! I still managed to get the exclusive upgrade to the Executive Floor (all for free, hey?) - which was great - the lounge itself was very nice. Great breakfast, great snacks during the day - and of course, bottomless drinks-galore - more specifically Peroni-galore!

...and we got chatting to a darling representative from the Hilton - certainly very charming indeed! Anyway, another opportunity to give my business card to her!!

We were quite fortunate with the weather - it was approx 26-30oC - nice a warm, in fact, muggy warm. It was a quite horrible at times, and as we were seeing family, I wasn't really there to enjoy the weather...In fact it was soooo muggy we experienced a sharp thunderstorm on the Sunday evening, but certainly made it a refreshing Monday in any case.

We managed to take the opportunity to see around on the Sunday morning - although majority of places were closed, we visited the centre of Milan - the main shopping areas - plus La Scala Theatre, and the main Cathedral and Castle - very nice indeed! Photos will be on the site soon (I hope!)

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Lovely Trip to Georgia
(Thursday, 03 July 2008) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well late last week, I was asked whether I was able to visit Georgia for a Prospect Partner review. Always keen to broaden my horizons and experience other cultures, so I was able to workaround my meeting schedules and agree on my availability to attend - no doubts whatsoever!

It was an interesting experience - though extremely long indeed!

We travelled on Monday morning to Gatwick - which wasn't too bad at all. Managed to get a good nights sleep in any case, though had to do quite a bit of work on Saturday and Sunday - bang went the idea for a "relaxing" weekend - but had to be done!! Still wasn't able to do EVERYTHING I wanted - but hey, wanted to try to keep sane!

The Ukraine International flight wasn't too bad; although we had to have a short stop-over in Kiev airport. Unfortunately, we got stuck there for about 3 hours, due to some weird reason - weird in the sense, that no one really knew what was going on in the airport. There was a funny moment, when we tried to locate the "transfer" area, rather than going through immigration and customs etc, but it was like you had to have a special password, as there was a secure door preventing the access. There must have been a very interesting reason for this (though we didn't dare ask!)

We met a nice bunch of ladies and a few gents from across US - who had almost completed 20mths of volunteering work in the Peace Corp in Ukraine - teaching.

We arrived around 2am in Tblisi in the end, though we didn't have much time to sort ourselves out, as the meeting was meant to start around 9.30am - it seemed it was going to be one of those trips!! Ha!

The first day was pretty good - though I had not previously undertaken a PDS-Session, it didn't seem to go too badly at all. Had a good mentor / role-model helping me along the way, a seasoned Technologist! :) - the write-up afterwards is going to be tough though (trying to read all of my paper-notes - haha!)

The second day was slightly different, but same type of work involved. Definitely been an interesting insight - and good for my development, I guess.

What made these 4 days special - was that there was no BlackBerry roaming service (well with my UK "O2" business service provider!) - and I couldn't get my wireless on my laptop to work at the Sheraton where we were staying. I guess this is where AXP Security Policies conflict with practicality - i.e. most hotels are moving to wireless as it is cheaper to install and maintain, but we are not "in theory" meant to use it, and in my particular case, I can't find a way around the blocked settings on my laptop anyway! So live without e-mail for 4 days - bliss indeed!! Though the Friday catch-up is going to be interesting...but alas that's Friday's problem!

Regarding dining-out, we were taken out for both evenings, and we certainly got a nice treat across the two days - very nice local food indeed, and was no issue at all.

We did take a few moments to walk and visit some of the main areas of the Tbilisi - though we had to do with the time we had available - as there really wasn't much time available to do anything more significant - maybe next time (if I am fortunate to get the project??? Never say never!) - though I did forget my digital camera which was a real bummer - hopefully my colleagues photos come out well!

Anyway, as our flight back left at 4.10am on Thursday morning, we decided to forget the sleep part and go straight to the airport after picking up our cases from the hotel. It was shattering indeed, and we finally arrived back to Gatwick at around 10.30am UK-Time...managed to get some well-earned rest during Thursday, and will hit the decks (work) later on in Thursday evening, to catch-up with bits and bobs following the trip.

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Las Vegas - Fun but a Grueling Start!
(Wednesday, 11 June 2008) Written by Aaron Brigatti
Day 1 - Monday:

Well the first part of the visit to Las Vegas involved a conference lasting almost 3 and a half days. Having taken the Virgin Atlantic flight (luckily it was direct and from Gatwick Airport - nice!), a 10-hour flight journey to Las Vegas. I was keen to try to get an upgrade, as my mother knew the Booking Manager at Gatwick. Unfortunately, the request wasn't registered, might I did manage to get a seat towards the front of Economy, so I could be a bit unsocial to my work colleagues and simply sleep and relax, without having to Chit-Chat! We were able to disembark and check-in to our rooms at the Mandalay Bay, on the southern tip of the Las Vegas Boulevard (more commonly known as "the Strip") .

We then enjoyed a 2-hour break to relax, pamper ourselves, and get set for the 'Welcome Drinks and Evening Meal' in the complex...the indirect flights arrived a few minutes before the start of the Drinks - so wasn't really a good start for those folks!

Finally managed to meet a lot of folks, and started to savour the moment in the Sin City! I took a relatively early-night - we ended around midnight local-time (that's 8 hours behind the UK!). Definitely needed this sleep, as would probably be the most sleep I get during the conference event!


Day 2 - Tuesday:

The second day started with a rather annoying 5am call - due to experiencing some "challenges" with one of my projects. That was definitely a painful start of the day!

I couldn't get back to sleep so made my way down at around 6am to have some caffeine (aka Starbucks!), followed by the an adequate breakfast (when the room opened at 7am!).

We then started the conference with the morning session, followed by lunch. We the settled back into an afternoon session.

The session ended around 2.30pm, and we then had free-time to either visit a Shopping Mall towards the North of the Strip, take a Tour of the Strip, or at leisure - meaning spend time soaking up the Desert sunshine. I was keen to do some shopping, but was absolutely shattered, and decided to just lie by the "Pool". I say "Pool" because, it was actually a 'Replicate-Beach' - no kidding - yes a beach in the desert. With a second wave-pool, and a lazy-pool. Unfortunately, I lost my ruddy specs during that 'relaxation' period - very annoying; the rest of the conference was going to be quite interesting, if I couldn't actual 'view' the presentations!! Or possibly better? Ha!

During the evening, I made my way to the Club that we were scheduled to attend around 5.30pm - it was called "Club LAX", and was a fantastic venue - located inside a neighbouring hotel complex, "The Luxor".

The ladies certainly dressed to impress!! It was another socialising and networking opportunity, though after a few, I wasn't really in the mood for talking. I lasted to just past midnight, and then made my way back to the Mandalay Bay hotel. I spent some time at the Casino, and played a couple of games of roulette - losing $20 in the process. Ho-well! Called it a night around 1.30am.


Day 3 - Wednesday:

I was starting to struggle getting up now, especially, since I had to have my second 5am conference call for the same project that experienced the "opportunities"!

We had the morning session again, followed by a nice lunch. The afternoon session was actually a GNS Trade Show, where the different regions presented their "latest and greatest" happenings t othe wider Global Team. Definitely a lot of fun, China's stall won the 'Greatest Stall' prize, having had some Chinese Lion Dancing, and some great effects. There was the Brazilian dancing stand as well, followed by the Centurion stall where Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt lookalikes were present to allow us to take some photos. There was some Samba dancing tool. All fantastically receiving indeed.

The evening was a Former Gala dinner, "black and white" style. It was okay, nothing special. Food was okay, a bit bland in my opinion, but I was pretty hungry so couldn't grumble!

This lasted to about midnight again, and this time I really need to relax a bit, cos I was struggling to stay awake during the afternoon - losing my glasses didn't help, as I had to concentrate and focus more during the sessions!!


Day 4 - Thursday:

Another 5am call - getting to become far too regular in my opinion - and more painfal as time went on.

We had another set of presentations in the morning, but the late-morning session involved break-out function groups, where I was part of the Implementations, Operations and Technologies group. It was okay, a bit boring as it wasn't really as interactive as I had anticipated. We were simply presented from the VP-leads from the different function groups. Bit of a missed opportunity in my opinion!!

The there was some further "fun and entertainment" - where we played Samba with a selection of instruments - and plenty of practise. Again, was okay - but would have rather spent the last moments socialising, as I had some 'tasks' I set myself in terms of meeting up with contacts to discuss project-matters. Again, another missed opportunity in my opinion!!

We then re-grouped as a Global-Team and then combined all of our practise to play the Samba tune together. A bit of a racket - but was quite fun actually. An interesting way of finishing the event!

We then disembarked, picked up our suitcases and went our separate ways. People leaving for the return flight, boarded the coaches to the airport, whilst me and a few others made our way to our new hotel, in my case the "Monty Carlo", just a few blocks away!

We ate lunch at the hotel, and sorted ourselves out for the rest of the stay. I was staying with a work colleague, a good opportunity to know each other a bit better too!

In the evening, I wanted to venture to the shops, having no had an opportunity earlier on in the week. We visited the Town Square Mall, located on the Southern side of the Strip. Had a few nice places, and I noticed an iPod Touch (aka iTouch) which I was keen to purchase - as well as some other bits and bobs (clothes). After viewing various placs, I made a decision to purchase the iTouch - was $499 + 7.5% Sales Tax - so the total was approx $536

. Wasn't as cheap as I had expected, but was keen to try to claim the Sales Tax back at the airport!!

We decided to grab a bite to eat at the Shopping village at an Italian place, some nice "ladies" were present, so we enjoyed the atmosphere. We then returned to the hotel, and spent the last elements of the evening at the casino. We then went for a walk along the strip to take in the Strip at night, meeting up with a couple of other colleagues, we took some photos, had a nice drink at a couple of nice bars, enjoyed the views, and then called it a night.


Day 5 - Friday:

I had a good relaxing start of Friday, grabbing a Starbucks brekkie. Another work colleague then phone stating that he had managed to reserve some half-price tickets to see David Copperfield at the MGM Grand for Friday night. Was definitely up for this, so grabbed at the chance to be part of this.

We then visited the Town Square shopping mall again, and this time I decided to make some significant clothes purchases - considering the space I had available in my suitcase that is!

At around lunchtime, we returned back to the hotel, I grabbed something quick to eat, and decided to venture to the pool on my own to relax and spend some quality time soaking up the sun. Was extremely nice, and the folks pool-side definitely were the best noted thus far!! After a couple of hours, I wanted to go back to the Southern side of the strip, take some photos in the day-time of the casinos and outside of the places. Certainly a different view during the day-time though!

I then made my way to the MGM Grand to meet-up with my colleagues for the evening entertainment. It was a great show - though a bit blurry. David was absolutely amazing, he managed to flow through metal, he made a car appear on stage from no-where, he made some embarrassing reverlations about some of the audience members (selected at random!), and made a rose appear out of paper!! Amazing stuff and a great show - sure worth the money.

We then made our way back to the Strip, took some further shots of the Strip at night - was really relaxing actually, and we could see a lot more people starting to appear. The atmosphere seemed so much better than I had experienced earlier on in the week!!

We then made our way to a nice bar, meeting up a couple of other colleagues again, for another set of drinks. We relaxed, chatted and simply enjoyed the moment. I preferred this type of thing as I knew other colleagues were out clubbing, and get hammered - what a waste of time in my opinion!

After a couple more hours, it would have been around 1am, we decided to take a taxi back to our hotel for some well deserved sleep! Luckily no one more early-hour calls for me!! Haha!


Day 6 - Saturday:

Today was my Grand Canyon trip. I couldn't wait and was really looking forward to the Helicopter view of one of the Greatest Wonders of the World!

I made my way to the New York, New York hotel, and joined up with a couple of other folks who had decided to join me with this trip. 6 of us in total.

We took the pick-up bus to Boulder City, approx 20miles (40mins away) to the East of Las vegas. From here, we listened to the safety briefing and browsed the shop.

We then took the Helicopter ride to the Hoover Dam, viewed Lake Mead, and then entered the Grand Canyon West Rim. This journed lasted about 30mins, we then landed on the banks of the Colorado River, and eat our meal and sipped champagne. We only had 30mins so we took some photographs to savour and remember the moment. We then returned back to Boulder City, another 30min journey back to the Airport. I decided to buy a few sourveniors and we then took the bus back to the hotel.

We arrived back around 2.30-3pm, and I refreshed myself and made my way back to the Pool for some afternoon sun and relaxation! Was really nice indeed.

I decided to go for another walk on my own and take some further photos of the Casinos in the other Casino establishments, during this session, I noticed a huge slot machine - and put in a $1 note - for a nice photo-moment...only to win $20 in the process. Not bad at all! Made my break even at least! Haha!

I did some more photographs of the Strip at Dusk, and managed to finally see the Bellagio Musical Fountain - outstanding spectacle indeed! The water danced to the Shirly Basey, Hey Big Spender - really was that good!!

A few of us then met-up again, and made our way back out onto the Strip, more photographs, and more drinks at a couple of places. We actually stayed in a nice place at the MGM Grand - where the bar staff at certain times (maybe every 30mins or so), danced on the bar itself - like Coyoto Ugly - but mixture of chaps and chappettes - certainly fun to watch, though we did only have a barman on our section - grrrr!!! :)

We met up with some of our Technologies colleagues who coincidently saw us at the same bar - of all of the bars, they met us in this one - spooky indeed!

We had another couple of drinks, before we hit the Casino and I watched as one of my colleagues lost $100 playing BlackJack at a $10 table. Grrr....easy game to play and understand, but the dealer kept getting 21!

It was then almost Sunday already, and I knew we should get some rest!!


Day 7 - Sunday:

I had a nice brekkie, and took my time to relax and savour the last day in Las Vegas. I don't feel I would be coming back, as felt that I actually saw everything I wanted to see. I had a checklist of things to do, as follows:

  • Shopping - DONE
  • Gambling - DONE
  • Strip at Night - DONE
  • Bellagio Fountain at Night - DONE
  • Strip during the Day - DONE
  • Different Casinos - DONE
  • Clubbing - DONE
  • Grand Canyon Trip - DONE

...and felt that I had achieved everything I had set-out to do over the last few days.

I really enjoyed the session here! And prepared to leave for the airport around midday. I managed to grab another hour or so at the pool, before I checked out and made my way to the airport with a colleague of mine. We relaxed at the airport, before catching the returned flight back to the UK. Just whilst I was waiting, I chatted to a nice German lady who was Waiting for her Frankfurt flight, very charming indeed. We exchanged business cards, and hoped that we would stay in touch!

Return flight was okay, again managed to get a seat further in front of the plane - just so I could sleep and be a bit "unsocial" to my other work colleagues!

Before I realised it, it was 10am on Monday morning, and we had arrived back to Gatwick. This flight actully went very quickly - but I knew I was going to suffer later on in the day, as I only managed to get a couple of hours kip on the flight. Ho-well! Bring on the jet-lag, and more importantly, the challenges of work for the rest of the week. Things are going to go back to normal very quickly - methinks! Luckily the weekend was only a few days away! Oh boy, couldn't come soon enough!

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Fun (ahem!) Week Ahead!!
(Sunday, 01 June 2008) Written by Aaron Brigatti

This week is going to be an interesting week ahead! Off for a few days at a Global conference in Las Vegas - it is work-related unfortunately, but no doubt some elements of fun (ahem!) included as well!

Afterwards (post-Thursday afternoon), I will be spending some relaxation times seeing some of the other parts of the great City of Las Vegas - I think that means shopping, visiting some intriguing sites including the Grand Canyon on the Saturday. Then aiming to head back home on Sunday evening.

I just hope I can muster a Premium Economy upgrade!!!! Here's hoping - on the positive, luckily it is a Gatwick flight, saves the trek to Heathrow!!

Now I either come back as an Millionaire or no better-off than before - not ending up broke is my main aim!! Ha!

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My Current Life-Journey Map
(Sunday, 18 May 2008) Written by Aaron Brigatti
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Aviance to Close its Gatwick Operations
(Friday, 16 May 2008) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well it's official, Aviance (formerly Gatwick Handling Ltd) is closing it's Gatwick operations following a 'Business Review'

According to the BBC News website, this is due to occur from 31st August 2008.

Looks like 308 people are going to lose their job, following this announcement, including my brother's Girl-friend, and his weekend work...

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Opticians - and new Glasses
(Saturday, 10 May 2008) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well it's been over 3-years since I bought my curreny spectacles, so I decided that in addition of checking my eye sight, I would upgrade my glasses too!

Specsavers - staffed with some luvly ladies - still had the 2-for-1 promotion, so I decided to take advantage of this offer. This seemed a good bargain - & decided to concentrate on the £125 designer frame selection.

Specsavers - Jasper Conran 21I was keen to have reaction sunglasses (chosing the Jasper Conran 21 pair of glasses), as I had grown fond of this through the last 3 years.

The other one was going to be straightforward sunglasses (chosing the Titan 272 pair), as the reactions wouldn't work in the car.

Specsavers - Titan 272This was the aim anyway! I ended up just getting non-reaction glasses, plus the free pair of sunglasses, as the reaction would have cost £49 extra. I might change afterwards - as they told me I have a month after getting the new pair of glasses, to consider the inclusion and they can change this afterwards. 

I also upgraded them to the UltraClear and Dark Grey colour tint (for the sunglasses of course!).  Grand total of £165!  That's not too bad, considering I had two pairs.  I am still considering the extra costs for having "Reactions" added though!  We'll see!!

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Las Vegas Business Conference - June 2008
(Sunday, 04 May 2008) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well when I first joined my current AXP division / team, Global Network Services (GNS), in Dec 2004, I was lucky enough to partake in the Miami Employee Conference scheduled for Jan/Feb 2005.

Since then, we were advised that the Division's Global Employee Conference would be held every other year - proof that this was an entirely true statement in that in 2006 an Partner Bank conference was held in the US, and then nothing was held in 2007. So we were surprised and very happy to hear that investment was secured for a 2008 conference - in LAS VEGAS - scheduled now confirmed for the first week of June. So it will be a scotcher of a trip!

In 2005, we had just over 300 employees turn up at Miami...this year, this has exceeded 700 employees - so our Global team has grown 100+% in 3 years - not bad going, hey?

Now also like Miami, we had the choice to stay over. I didn't do so in Miami, as didn't fancied doing so - I think I should have done - but can't look back...best way to overcome a bad decision is to not make a similar one again! So this time I took the advantage quickly of the offer on the table, which was to extend the conference trip from 2-5th June, with the extended (personal) stay-over between 5th June to 8th June.

This is a personal expense (unfortunately), but at least I could use my Hilton Honoirs Points that I collected whilst part of my Secondment in Greece last year - I believe it equates to approx 100k of my 380k for this stay. Slightly disappointed that I could benefit of only using a smaller percentage - but might as well use them, whilst I got them! Anyway, this also restricts me where I can stay - but the Hilton Las Vegas, seems okay. Las Vegas Hilton is located on 3000 Paradise Road, Las Vegas, Nevada 89109, one-block away from the Strip. But I don't really care much about this. Key thing is to enjoy the moment.

My work colleagues were staying at the Monte Carlo and the Paris hotels - both of which pretty centred on the Strip. I am still deciding whether to ignore the points piece, and book up closer to them. I don't think I will as I know there is a shuttle bus going between Las Vegas Hilton and the Strip - nearby to where the other hotels are. After all, the hotel is really just for a base - don't believe I will use it much more than this!

I will sort the booking this weekend - thus, making a decision one way or 'nother!


Events outside of Vegas:

With one being so closed to the Grand Canyon, and the Hoover Dam, and as one of the things I wanted to see / visit before I die, I couldn't resist doing it in style. I think, if I plan it well, I can hire a helicopter flight over the Canyon, land on the Grand Canyon West ridge, have lunch here, fly back over the Hoover Dam, Lake Mead, and also (possibly) see the Vegas Strip at night. If I sort this well, I would be dead chufted!!! Again, this weekend to sort out the details - just need to check who else is up for it!

Here's one of the iternaries I've located - sounds exciting, hey? :-

  • Complimentary hotel pick up and return (optional Limo Service)
  • New Euro copter jet helicopter with all forward facing deluxe seating, more cabin room, better visibility and large custom windows
  • All flights depart from Las Vegas McCarran Airport; just minutes away from your strip hotel
  • Deluxe air tour including Hoover Dam, Black Mountains (Watch for the old lava flows.), Grape Vine Mesa, Grand Wash Cliffs and Lake Mead before entering the Grand Canyon
  • A light snack and Champagne (other beverages are available)
  • As you near the canyon you will fly over the Black Mountains which are volcanic in origin and lava flows can be seen.
  • Return flight includes an exciting flight over the World Famous Las Vegas Strip. (not available with most companies)

All for $289.99 per person. That's equiv. to approx £140 per person. Not too bad, but hopefully I can get a few others to do this too - not fun on my own!! Haha!

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Telegraph Subscription
(Sunday, 04 May 2008) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well I remember the time when I initially took up an invitation to try to Telegraph newspaper for £1 a week!

I recalled they asked me how long I wanted to the subscription for, so I though about 2 years should adequate - so I told them 24 months. They said fine, and that was it. This must have been some time in the 1990's, as I was still in Lewes College.

I then remember it went up to £1.50 a week for a year, and increasing ever since...

Anyway, about 4-5 years ago, instead of an annual or similar time-bound subscription, it became opened-ended - meaning I just simply paid a Direct Debit (Quarterly) amount, and I get the vouchers delivered for a similar period of time (3-months worth). I recognised that the prices have slowly increased, and towards the end of last month, I was advised that the subscription will now be £4.90 a week - versus a cover price of £7.40. Okay, that's still a saving of £2.50 a week - so it's not that bad, and I guess the subscription does stay static even if the cover price may increase. Currently, this equates to £63.70 a quarter...that's now broken over the £60 barrier. When you see it like this, it indicates how much newspapers costs these days.

The history was as follows (all per quarter):

  • Some time earlier - it was £13.00 (£1 / wk)
  • in Dec 1999 - it was £19.50 (£1.50 / wk)
  • in May 2000 - it became £26.00 (£2 / wk)
  • in June 2001 - it became £32.50 (£2.50 / wk)
  • in May 2002 - it became £34.45 (£2.65 / wk) (then stayed for a few years)
  • in May 2005 - it became £43.55 (£3.35 / wk)
  • in May 2006 - it became £48.75 (£3.75 / wk)
  • in May 2007 - it became £55.25 (£4.25 / wk)
  • and in April 2008 - it became £63.70 (£4.90 / wk).

I wonder how long before it goes through the £70 / quarter barrier! Probably within the year!

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Plus.Net - Increase in Bandwidth Limits
(Sunday, 04 May 2008) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well I was just checking my Plus.Net Broadband usage today, after checking it during the last weekend, and I just noticed that instead of a 20Mb limit - which I knew I was fast approaching, it appeared as 30Mb.

I then reviewed the new accounts details, and it was correct, as they had just raised the upper caps from 8-15Mb for the Option 2 and 20Mb to 30Mb for Option 1 - the service type that I was on!

This is most welcome - as the last month, I did just pop over the 20Mb capacity - and was hit by a £1 charge (£1 per Mb over capacity fee). Most of the Broadband is the BBC iPlayer - not my downloads, but the upload traffic - when it runs in the background - grrr!

Anyway, luckily an extra 10Mb capacity will help me keep well within the limit - I seem to average approx 15-18Mb each month!

Thanks Plus.net in any case!!

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AC Beat Inter in the Milan Derby!
(Sunday, 04 May 2008) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well my team as done it again, although Inter are topping the Serie A league in Italy, AC aren't going to disappear without a fight...

Inzaghi and Kaka managed to grab two goals during by the middle of the second half, but an Inter free-kick towards the end of the game gave Inter a consolation goal!

But 2-1 was the final score at Full-Time in AC Milan's favour - phew!!!

The table as of today, 4th May, is hopeful for AC Milan - who jumped up a place to potentially secure the last Champions League position in Europe...fingers crossed they remain here!

          Home   Away      
  Team   P   W D L F A   W D L F A   GD Pts
1 Inter Milan   36   15 2 1 39 12   9 7 2 26 12   41 81
2 Roma   36   14 3 1 41 19   9 6 3 28 16   34 78
3 Juventus   36   12 4 2 38 11   8 6 4 30 22   35 70
4 AC Milan   36   7 7 4 27 17   10 3 5 34 17   27 61

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Boris for Mayor
(Friday, 02 May 2008) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Although I am not legible to vote in London's Mayoral Election - quite obvious, as I am don't live in London - I still believe Boris is the right candidate for the job. I hope he makes it.

I hated it when Ken Livingstone got it - he just sounded and is too common - people mock Boris - but he is actually a well educated man - and actually, did very well in "Business". Don't forget he was the Editor of a highly successful publication - "The Spectator" - you don't get to be Editor that easily, I believe!! And of course, he was a MP previously too - and a Shadow Minister - so he is actually an impressive candidate, compared with the other useful candidates!

Okay, he may appear brash, and may trip over his words - but he makes things "fun"! - something which Ken always tried to do and failed miserably. That said, Ken might have come up with some good ideas during his mayoral tenure - but anyone is that level of power would have done so. After all, Ken was the first mayor and was given a lot of powers to exploit - so it was easy!

It was like saying, "He is £20m - spend it as you wish - just create some level of justification and it will be approved!". So Boris is going to have a harder time of it...we'll see. I have every faith that Boris will succeed, and it will actually be entertaining indeed!!

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Have I Got News For You - Show 3 Recording
(Friday, 02 May 2008) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well having survived the majority of my first week back from holiday, May-Day was the D-Day for the third show of the current 35th series of 'Have I Got News For You' - a highly entertaining topical news quiz on BBC1 Prime-Time.

I had 4 tickets, and invited a few friends, unfortunately only one of them was able to attend in the end - but it was still okay. I managed to locate the place, as managed to use my GPS device on my Blackberry - at least I made some sort of use of this feature... Located at the London Studios (where GMTV is recorded) - SE1 9LT - it is still a difficult place to find - but I managed to get queued up about 1hr 20 mins before the studio doors opened.

The guest lead-chair was Brian Blessed - a fantastic character - and really made the shore recording enjoyable.

I think the only damp squid was this moroon sitting in front of us - who had such an annoying laugh - it was unbearable at times...I think the mature gentlemen let out the screams just so he could say "that noise was me" when the show went out. Prat! In fact, a few people around him were laughing AT him - if only he realised. Anyway, I guess that was part of the "fun" of these types of recordings - there is always one!

Anyway, having been a few times now (believe this was my forth time!), I still kept forgetting how long the recording lasted - I think we started around 7.30pm - and we got out around 9.45pm pm - that's a long time!

Took the train back from Waterloo to Clapham, and then onwards to Haywards Heath. Shame I had to work today! Ho-hum!!

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Back from holiday
(Tuesday, 29 April 2008) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Boy - I needed a time-out from work, life and everything else, so decided to spend a week on a Sharm El-Sheikh beach relaxing...

Knowing May was fast approaching, and not being quick enough to schedule any holiday's during the first quarter of 2008 (was aiming to take 3 weeks off somewhere nice!), I decided to simply go away, recharge my batteries and hit May hard!!

I also knew a couple of new projects could be headed my way during the next few months, and being more established now in my recent promotion, I knew I really had to have my brain in gear ready for anything that is thrown my way - AND that Las Vegas trip in early-June is just around the corner too - scary-thought, hey?

Anyway, didn't do anything strenuous, just eat, drank and relaxed on the nice warm shores, and obviously build a tan!

Bring on the next holiday - oh that's Vegas too - for the few days I am staying on after the Employee Conference. Maybe a trip to another Greek island or two is in store over the summer months - or maybe Croatia - or possibly Cyprus? Who knows...

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Holiday - Time-Out Week in Sharm, Egypt
(Monday, 07 April 2008) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well having had a busy few weeks - although not over-worked, it's incredibly busy, as spread thinly over various initiatives, I took the opportunity to have a time-out break with a family friend - as both us needed a time-out!!

We decided to go to Egypt for a week, just to catch some sun, sea, sand and enjoy the views!! Ho-hum...

We decided to go to Sharm El-Sheikh, as I've never been (although my friend has), and we wanted to go somewhere where there were things to go and do - if you fancied it, or alternatively a resort which had everything we needed. Sharm in Egypt was the ideal venue!

I booked through AXP Staff Travel - to get a nice discount (saves on the commission at least!), and we booked up a 7-day break in the Maritim (formerly Movenpick) Jolie Ville Sharm el Sheikh Beach and Casino Resort!! The Tour Operator for our Half-Board package was Longwood Holidays - they seemed okay.

I must say the only flaw was really the flight - some many common-folk ascended to Sharm - I guess this sums up the popularity of the location. At least, there were only a few folks present at our resort, the rest probably went to the cheaper locations etc. In fact, the nationalities that were heaving at our resort were the Russians, Ukranians, and Italians - many were very nice to see indeed.

Anyway, 7-days in the sun - just what the doctor ordered!!

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Snow storm time lapse
(Monday, 24 March 2008) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Seeing a time-lapse of a sunny day suddenly turning into a snow storm in a second in Newcastle, during our recent spell of wintry weather.

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Lufthansa A320 Cross-Wind Video, approaching Hamburg
(Wednesday, 12 March 2008) Written by Aaron Brigatti

This is the full video from LiveLeak.com which shows a Lufthansa A320 plane trying to land in Hamburg during the storms across most of Europe on 1st March 2008. The plane experienced extremely high Cross-Wind (gusts) and made the plane abort the landing - only after it's left wing-tip touches the runway.

Luckily, it managed to take-off and take a second shot of the landing. I wouldn't have like to have been on that plane that day!!

A rather stunning photograph of a the port-tip being dragged for those few seconds across the runway, is below, courtesy of airliners.net.

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Got my Promotion! Very happy!
(Sunday, 24 February 2008) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well the time has finally come, and I've now managed to succeed in my quest to get a Senior Project Manager promotion in my current team, with American Express.

It's been 3 years in the making (working in my current team); I was expecting this position about 8-12 months ago, but I am still very happy and chuffed to bits to finally have been offered the opportunity.

I feel I am ready for the challenge, and can certainly progress successfully at this level - well, lets hope I just continue my hard work and continue to push myself forwards...

I now get the car allowance as well as take advantage of the annual bonus allowance, an increased holiday entitlement and other development perks as well... I should hopefully find out early next week WHEN I become the new Senior position.

Lets all raise a glass to the one and only - oh that's me!!!

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New Phone - T-Mobile Touch Plus
(Sunday, 17 February 2008) Written by Aaron Brigatti

I sent a message to the T-Mobile Upgrades department to enquire about upgrading my mobile to the T-Mobile MDA Touch Plus. Was quite impressed with a demo I received in an O2 shop earlier today, and was actually contemplating moving to them to get this phone!

T-Mobile were initially going to charge be over £70 for the phone (plus delivery), only when I indicated I was considering moving to O2 did they then tweak my package slightly, and managed to get my the phone for free (well okay for £5.99 delivery). I think the only slight price tweak of my package was that I had a minimum of 1-minute per call, i.e. if my call lasted only 30 seconds, this would be classed as 1-minute in my call allowance. As I knew I never fully used my call allowance, this really isn't a major issue at all!

So if you want to see what the phone has to offer, view this clip from Expansys.com...

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Great New Guinness TVAdvert - Hands
(Saturday, 16 February 2008) Written by Aaron Brigatti

I found this quite an interesting new advert which I recently located on youtube.com. It is one of those adds that it is difficult to tell what it is for, but you get hooked when you watch it. Amazing editing too - must have taken ages to create!

Mine's a Guinness please!!! Enjoy.

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Kieren's Birthday - Purchased a Gift
(Saturday, 16 February 2008) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Although we don't normally purchase extravagant gifts for family and friends, I wanted to mark my brother's 30th birthday with a nice litle gift.

TomTom Go 520

I know he was travelling more and more by car now, with his girlfriend, so decided to purchase him a TomTom GPS too. Having been quite pleased with the model I got, I purchased the UK-map version only - which was the TomTom 520. Seems quite nice too. Hope he will like it!

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T-Mobile Contract Up for Renewal - New Phone!!!
(Saturday, 16 February 2008) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well I just popped onto my T-Mobile account to realise that my current 18-month contract is up for renewal meaning that I am now able to apply for a new phone upgrade.

I have been using my T-Mobile Vario 2 for a while, and although it supports e-mail and calendar functionality - which syncs with my MS Outlook at home, it's not a slick phone at all - pretty bulky and slow!!

So what am I after now. Well I was keen to move to o2, since I get a 30% discount and also due to limitations at my current work location, it's the only network which has a good reception inside the building (for some strange reason they need to be signal booster on the roof - and only o2 was allowed to do this!). I am keen to get an Apple iPhone - but wasn't keen on the price nor monthly charge for this. Thought it would allow me to combine my iPod with the mobile phone, along as having the MDA functionality I have recently became accustom too! But what else is out there?

Well, here's my preferences in order of interest:

  • T-Mobile Touch Plus ("Pocket PC-turned Phone") - having been a bit yet down by these rebranded models (HTC is the actual manufacturer brand!), I know it would be another big risk to go with another HTC-type of model again (just too slow in my opinion) - and Windows based!! But this was does feature the touch-screen technology that is a strong contender to the iPhone. Not 100% convinced yet either on this though. Shame about only having a 2 mega-pixel camera again though.
  • LG Viewty ("Camera-turned Phone") - a very nice slick phone which is very stylish and "very me"!! I've not had a LG phone before, and although it looks very appealing, I am not 100% convinced just yet (about 90%!) - though the 5 mega-pixel camera is a good selling point! It does seem to have all of the main features I would like to have from a phone!
  • Nokia 95 ("Game/Music Player-turned Phone") - this seems a great and feature-cramped phone, but the design is a bit of a "hmmmm" design, in my opinion.
  • Nokia N81 ("Game/Music Player-turned Phone") - this is quite a nice looking phone - with all of the functions I need, and is quite a strong contender to me. The only weakness is that it only has a 2-megapixel camera.

Probably won't commit yet, because a large number will tie me up to another 18 months! So I have to get the one that I will be able to use efficiently. Probably have to visit the appropriate stores..or just go with the iPhone??? Grrr....if only it was cheaper!!!

T-Mobile MDA Touch Plus LG Viewty Nokia N95 Nokia N81

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Senior Project Manager - Second Interview
(Friday, 15 February 2008) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well last Friday, I received news that I had secured a place at the second round of interviews - for the Senior PM position in my team. I was very pleased indeed, and also shows that my answers were remarkably better than used in my last interview (for a similar position about 12 months ago!).

I think my "questions" that I provided at the end of the interview were very poor though - this because I wanted to ask a few questions about where the role was going to lead into, but instead got a bit tongue-tied in the actual question I raised - grrr....I knew this will be back as "feedback" after the process has been completed.

Anyway, unlike last time which was only a one-stage interview, this required a second interview to present how I would implement a new strategy to secure USD $500k investment. I presented on Contactless Smart Payments and how this would be deployed in the 3 markets...

I just hope the presentation was focused on the right area.

I think I did okay, and this time I played it save with the interview questions. I knew the question about "how I be perceived by my peers differently from being a Band 35 versus a B30", and "How I would act differently myself", and "what differences I noted being a B35 versus B30". Basically, the standard type of "why should I give you this promotion" question. Luckily I did some research prior to the interview and really focused upon the presentation and checked with other people. I missed one area though - and this is "profitability" - a possibly major no-no - so I am not sure whether this will definitely mark my cards. I do hope not!! Only time will tell - the hiring-leader and HR person will be de-briefed next week, after which a decision will be made!!!!

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St Valentine's Day - 14th February 2008
(Thursday, 14 February 2008) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well progressing into another year as swiftly as ending the last, the 14th February came upon me very quickly this year! But what did I do this year?

As you will know I have taken the "good approach" for the last 2 years, making significant purchases for those I would deem as very special to me (nothing came out of these unfortunately!) - but this year was slightly different.

14th February 2008 - Valentine CardI wanted to mark the occasion by taking a more subtle and less obvious approach - without going OTT. So I simply purchased a nice card yesterday, and hand-delivered this when the lady-in-question was away from her desk - yes it's someone close to where I work!!

I simply located a subtle message in the card stating "I am so happy we met, will you be my Valentine, x". Now I recognised she opened it, as I caught up with her for a chit chat towards the end of the day, and she had nicely located the card on her desk. At this stage, I wanted her to guess who it was from, so left our chat without giving anything away - yet!

What will happen - I dunno really. I already learnt that she has a boyfriend (ho-hum!!), as she had just come back from her holiday week-off in Barcelona. But alas I don't believe there was any harm in what I did. She seems genuinely very pleasant, and remarkably matches my age to the year - I am not that good in guessing ages, so was very happy that I had thought it to be pretty close to my age (that's the magic 29 to you and I!). I found her very attractive and if only something happened, then I would be REALLY happy!

I guess we will have to wait and see...

A shot to nothing maybe?

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TomTom 720 - Finally Committed Myself to Get One!
(Sunday, 10 February 2008) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Having had the "TomTom Navigator 6" for my T-Mobile Vario 2 (MDA Mobile Phone) for a while, and previously having the TomTom Navigator 5 on my Pocket PC (HP iPAQ), I was keen to get more of a specific model.

TomTom Go 720 So I went across to Amazon.co.uk and purchased the TomTom 720. Seems a good model, and will definitely last me a few years at least. It features not only the UK maps, but those for Western Europe. Very useful indeed when I hope to increase my travel to Europe - possibly by car.

This also coincided with my Mobile Phone contract renewal, so in case I don't purchase a phone where TomTom Navigator 6 is compatible with, at least I know I have a separate utility to act as my GPS mapping guide.

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Las Vegas Business Conference - June 2008
(Sunday, 10 February 2008) Written by Aaron Brigatti

A week ago we received confirmation that we will be off to Las Vegas for our Division's global conference in 2008. Last time we had one, I had just joined the Global Network Service (GNS) division - this was in December 2004, with the conference held in late January 2005. That time, we held the conference in Miami, Florida and was termed as "Imagine the Opportunities".

I am not entirely sure what is in store for us, but no doubt day-length conferences and events, followed by plenty of drink and fun in the evenings. In short, a busy week. And when is this conference? Well it's between the 2nd to 5th June 2008. Talk about being a "hot" conference!!! Hohoho!

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New Opportunity within the Current Team
(Friday, 08 February 2008) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well two opportunities have simultaneously appeared in my current team - both will be for Band 35 Senior Project Manager positions.

Before the Christmas and New Year break, the VP of the team confirmed that after a resource and team strategy meeting, a new Senior PM position in Project Delivery had been approved by the "powers to be". All sounded promising, and the position was finally open on our internal job noticeboard in early January 2008.

I wasn't sure whether to apply at first, so gave it some thought, and knew that even if I was keen to get another internal (to AXP) or position outside of AXP, this might simply be a good opportunity to get some "interview practice" regardless!

I applied, and had my interview last Thursday, 31st January 2008. I did a lot of more planning and work for this interview, versus the one I attended (for a similar Senior PM position about 12 mths back - in January 2007).

Anyway, I today got the good news that I got through to the second round - very pleased. And just need to do some preparation work this weekend for this interview, scheduled for the end of next week.

Pretty nervous, but excited too!! Will keep you posted...if it's to be, it's to be...we'll see...

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Am I falling for someone?
(Friday, 08 February 2008) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well having been single for a while now, I'm definitely getting interested in finding that special someone...

Am I In Love?

Being at work, it's hard to not notice when there are "nice" people around, and one has caught my attention.

Just learnt that she has a b/f so I guess nothing majorly will happen now (or ever), slight shame. She's pleasant, seems quite genuine, and having spoken to her a few times, she seems pretty down-to-earth (my type of girl!)...and similar ages too.

Hmmm....what should I do, hey? Yes probably forget about her and move on, but if only...

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Renault Clio and Bonnet Release - Another Incident Report
(Friday, 08 February 2008) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well I keep hearing of more horror stories - and located another blog listing featuring the same type of incident.

http://sallyinnorfolk.com/2007/12/20/a-lucky-escape-2/

C'mon Renault, enough is enough - stop this happening now!!

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Gong Xi Fa Cai 2008 - Year of the Rat
(Monday, 04 February 2008) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Gong Xi Fa Cai 2008 (think I've spelt it right!)
Well a translation of "Happy Chinese New Year 2008" to my Chinese friends out there!!!

Hope the Year of the Rat is good for you!

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Number 10's Response on VOSA's Actions RE Clio Bonnets
(Saturday, 02 February 2008) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Another 'victim' of the infamous Renault Clio sudden bonnet release syndrome, raised a new Petition to the UK Prime Minister @ 10 Downing Street, asking for an independent review of the functions and processes of VOSA.

We all have felt that we have been "let down" by VOSA's inactions regarding their investigations into the Bonnet releases reports. VOSA have "taken the side" of the manufacture, rather than actually being stronger and ensuring firm action is taken to resolve the root-cause of the issue (rather than some lame attempt of preventive actions).

http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/VOSAactivities/

This closed on 3rd Jan 2008, as after 237 signatories were received was submitted to the UK Government for review, here it is -

http://www.pm.gov.uk/output/Page14284.asp:

My comments in blue. Not really anything openly different that any previous discussions on the same. VOSA have pretty much been defended by Number 10 and the DoT. As if we were expecting any different.

So no changes at VOSA - and no independent MP investigation into VOSA's activities! Shame!

"The Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) is an executive agency of the Department for Transport. Over the last year VOSA has successfully managed nearly 300 safety recall campaigns."

>> Yes but failing to act on just ONE potential life-threatening and safety-related issue is a failure in my book!

"VOSA has worked closely with Renault since the bonnet opening incidents were first reported and has had numerous face-to-face meetings and telephone contacts with Renault UK and Renault Headquarters in France on this matter during the last two years."

>> Okay I can sleep easier now just because I am reassured that VOSA have been talking to Renault - their point being????

"Whilst the issue with Renault bonnet catches was not specifically classified as a recall - because there was not judged to be a design or manufacturing issue involved - VOSA has nevertheless continued to work with the manufacturer to ensure that owners with any concerns about Clio Mark II models can be fully reassured by the offer of free servicing attention to the bonnet catch."

>> Am I further reassured by this statement - of course NOT. Prevention is not cure!

"Parliament already has in place a cross-party committee of MPs whose role is to examine the expenditure, administration and policy of DfT and its associated public bodies- the Transport Select Committee. The Committee has considered various aspects of vehicle safety recall procedure in the past and has not expressed any concerns about VOSA's performance in this respect, or made any recommendations for change. The Government does not, therefore, consider that it is necessary to Commission an independent committee of MPs to look into the activities of the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency."

>> Yes but we have clearly highlighted that there maybe some politic interference in the process VOSA undertakes during such safety-investigation - too MUCH liaison and reliance on the vehicle manufacture in question...oh, I'm sorry I forgot that this "committee" is represented by politicians! My mistake totally!

"VOSA (and its predecessor, the Vehicle Inspectorate) have been managing vehicle recall procedure since the introduction of a voluntary Code of Practice jointly agreed with the vehicle manufacturing industry in 1979. Over the past three decades many millions of vehicles have been subject to recalls under the Code."

>> Maybe they should stop talking statistics here. Statistics can easily be "implied". If they want some more, lets be a bit more specific. We have 500,000 potential death-traps on the road, and this is just counting the Clio-Mk2 models in the UK only! We've heard that other models of Renault's have the same mechanism design (Laguna's, Scenic's etc), and what about other Countries!!!???

"As producers of the product, the manufacturing industry inevitably takes a keen interest in all cases to ensure that any instances of potential design and manufacturing defects are thoroughly investigated, and they have a legal responsibility to do so. VOSA's role is to ensure that automotive manufacturers consider such matters in a reasonable way and that they respond to any concerns in an appropriate manner. "

>> Isn't this the issue though, just being a "relationship manager" is simply not good enough, they need to enforce and penalise those manufactures who DO NOT take their own responsibility seriously enough, ughhh isn' this Renault?

"This relationship has been elaborated and supported under the provisions of the General Product Safety Regulations 2005 - which apply to a wide range of consumer products. However - to-date - VOSA has not needed to invoke any of the provisions of Regulations in order to secure necessary co-operation from the manufacturing industry (as it would equally hope not to have to do in the future)."

>> Safety Regulations Act - how about people's lives being in danger?

Your thoughts are welcome on this UK Government statement into an incident which could have killed or injured me!
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More Rings of Reward - Work Bonus!!
(Monday, 28 January 2008) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well having been missing a few of the team meetings, I received a belated-Bonus (which we call Rings of Rewards and Recognition) marking my commitment to complete the Merchant Business Transfer in Albania from UK Proprietary to Alpha Bank Albania - which launched in November 2007.

It was £150 worth of Traveller Cheques (TCs) - so a very nice gesture indeed. Very nice indeed. This on top of £250 TCs which I received in January 2008 for my Consultancy Training to the JAPA region for how to deploy EMV solutions (Chip Card, Terminal Device Certification, and Network Certification). So a very nice start of 2008 already!

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Renault Clio - Another Letter to Renault UK MD
(Saturday, 19 January 2008) Written by Aaron Brigatti

In addition to my letter to the Customer Services Department of Renault UK, I wanted to continue my dialogue with the top-cheese of Renault UK - Roland Bouchara - the Managing Director.

I refer to Mr Phelan’s letter dated 28th November 2007 sent on your behalf.

Renault has implied that there are two causes behind Clio bonnets releasing themselves without warning; lack of maintenance and incorrect closure of the bonnet.

Lets go with some implied statements made by your customer service department:

  • Closing a bonnet does not rely on any particular level of maintenance:
    • This implies that lack of maintenance should not prevent a bonnet being closed correctly.
    • We need to understand whether a mechanism with lack of maintenance, can result in the two-catch mechanism to fail to fully apply, even though the bonnet is closed in the prescribed manner outlined in your handbook. Can checking bonnet closures (based on your owner manual guidelines) prove that the secondary catch is applied?
  • Catches do not have to be broken to signify an issue with the mechanisms:
    • Lack of maintenance may cause the bonnet catches, specifically the secondary (what you term ‘safety’) catch, to not engage fully.
  • Secondary catch should be engaged in all cases:
    • We now understand this to not be the case – there is a possibility that only main catch is engaged, without any confirmation that safety it not engaged.

The incident timings are not instantaneous, i.e. they could happen after a period of time (days, weeks); can the technical explanations fit these timelines facts? By communicating to your customer base now, Renault has admitted that the closure or maintenance process creates a risk to the performance of the bonnet catch maintenance. As you have clearly identified “maintenance” as a possible cause, this cannot be used as a rationale behind the cause of my incident, without accepting liability. There were no notices to warn owners published before April/May 2007, or your dealerships until January 2007.

Renault’s report on my vehicle does not indicate that I had not closed the bonnet correctly contrary to the prescribed approach. Nor does the report indicate what could have caused the bonnet to release without warning. It doesn’t confirm whether the secondary catch was engaged at the time of the incident, or that the catch had been engaged, but released itself. Nor does not it identify whether alternative parts that could have used in the manufacturing of the mechanism may have prevented the issue?

If the safety catch was functioning as designed (as noted in your report) – why didn’t it prevent the bonnet releasing itself all the way? This could occur if it was not engaged. There is nothing that has explained this point – the investigation is far from closed.

Could a bonnet be closed without the secondary catch engaging? Can the secondary catch stick? The very possibility identifies that there is a risk caused by the design of the mechanism which could risk injury or death. The current design is not a fool-proof safety mechanism.

Is there a possibility that the secondary catch was not engaged, even though the main catch was?

"Renault Commitment 2009" emphasises quality and reliability, two important factors we can question during the whole bonnet catch safety issue. I would welcome Mr Ghosn’s views on this matter, as he communicated these values, which seemingly contradicts the state of your bonnet safety mechanism on your vehicles.

We'll see what they have to say for themselves!!
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Renault Clio - Another Letter to Renault UK Cust Serv
(Saturday, 19 January 2008) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well having received a reply to my letter to the Renault UK Managing Director, I knew I had to continue the dialogue with them. Ultimately, my aim is to get them to resolve the root-cause of the bonnet catch mechanism (both the main and safety mechanism) and ensure no other Clio road user is put at risk by this re-occurring safety defect!

"I refer to Mr Phelan’s letter dated 28th November 2007 sent on the behalf of Mr Roland Bouchara, your Managing Director.

A few facts for you to consider:

  • Renault confirmed that the catch-mechanisms suffered corrosion, and the mechanisms had been designed to be maintenance-free.
  • My vehicle experiencing the incident had been inspected less than 3 months prior to the incident, by a Renault dealership, a number of reported cases, the last person who closed the bonnet was a Renault representative.
  • Secondary catch appeared stiff and may not have engaged securely when the bonnet was closed (comment made by a Renault technical engineer).

VOSA commented that they do not have the technical expertise to indicate anything other that maintenance as a contributable factor, advising that although they remain uncertain of the specific cause, it is likely to be caused by maintenance. Note a level of uncertainty here, so no actual determination of the root-cause was identified by VOSA.

The evidence shown to VOSA signifies that if a secondary catch operates, it would prevent a bonnet to release fully. There were no confirmed discussions on the possibility of a catch releasing when a secondary catch is not engaged. Therefore the tests that were completed by VOSA / Renault weren’t indicative to support any of the claims reported – behind the likely issues of the bonnet mechanism. No thorough analysis has been completed on any damage cars during the investigation (VOSA did not inspect my vehicle – only reviewed a report completed by Renault in my absence – on a dismembered bonnet mechanism). No scientific tests completed on my vehicle which was central to the VOSA investigation. No basis to any VOSA conclusions reported to Renault or the public.

One fact we can confirm is that a secondary catch that is designed to be “maintenance free” but does not perform effectively without maintenance, means it’s not performing as designed – illustrating an apparent failing in your design and testing procedures.

Are you in agreement that the expected performance of the safety (secondary) mechanism and parts have changed from those originally identified by Renault UK during the design / manufacturing process?

The importance of this statement implies that regardless what actions are undertaken now, the historic position is that there was a potential failure in the secondary mechanism (the safety catch) on your vehicles (regardless of what causes you believe you have identified) – one that could endanger lives of your customers. We have confirmed a possibility that a safety mechanism has severe shortcomings. This is a safety-standard defect. A safety mechanism should only be termed “safety” if it acts this function without question. If a mechanism cannot perform this function for whatever reason, then it’s a part-failure somewhere in one of your design or testing process. This is something Renault should act upon responsibly, regardless of any discussions or reports completed thus far.

An acceptable approach would be a full recall and replacement activity for the models affected, involving a throughout and complete investigation into the root-cause and ensure full resolution of the issue with a better-designed part. If you have to advise to your customers a “risk”, then this signifies something is wrong.

Lack of transparency and integrity means the issues will continue to occur. I have not witnessed a suitable reassurance or risk mitigation approach undertaken by Renault.

"Renault Commitment 2009" emphasises quality and reliability, two important factors we can question during the whole bonnet catch safety issue. I would welcome Mr Ghosn’s views on this matter, as he communicated these values, which seemingly contradicts the state of your bonnet safety mechanism on your vehicles."

But will they listen - well they haven't thus far! More discerning is the government body which manages the UK Recall and Safety Programme - VOSA - who actually side on the manufacturer, even though they have really completed a complete and impartial investigation.

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Speed Test
(Saturday, 12 January 2008) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well I wanted to check my Plus.Net Broadband services - according to their website, my account was set-up to receive up to 4MBs (although it was meant to be up to 8MB - looks like I am just too far away from the exchange to receive this!).

So what speeds am I actually receiving? Just 2Mbs! Grrrr!!

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Guinness Tipping Point Domino advert
(Friday, 11 January 2008) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well does this advert remind you of the Classic Hondo Accord advert last year.

What a marvel, hey?
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Renault Clio Bonnet Catches - Updated Comms
(Friday, 04 January 2008) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Before Christmas, I received a further response from Renault UK, on behalf of the Renault UK Managing Director, in response to my letter sent in late-November 2007.

I've updated my communication archive to share the latest on this matter:

http://www.brigatti.co.uk/BackgroundOfRenaultIncidentV7.pdf

Ultimately, Renault have not budged one-bit, and this is winding me up more and more. I consider that anything that has a risk of causing serious injury or death (regardless deemed as a "safety defect"!) should be dealt with by any safety concious manufacturer!

Obviously, Renault don't share this sentiment!

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BBC New Year's Eve Celebrations
(Tuesday, 01 January 2008) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Watch this and be in awe regarding the fireworks pyrotecnics!  Amazing stuff and a great way to start 2008!

We were thinking of celebrating this in London for NYE, but we had to sort out a few things at home, and decided against it in the end. 

Maybe next year - only 365 more days to arrange it, hey?

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Happy New Year 2008
(Tuesday, 01 January 2008) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Happy New Year 2008 everone!!!

I hope you all had a great 2007, and hope you have many future successes in 2008 and beyond!  May it prosperous, fun, and more importantly - a safe one!

Happy New Year 2008 

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Christmas with Family 2007
(Sunday, 30 December 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti

This year, my mother was working over Christmas, namely Christmas Day. This would be her last time that she would be doing this, so she felt it only fair to those around her (her colleagues) who had family commitments for her to spend her final Christmas at work. That's my mother for you!

Pre-Christmas Relaxation:
So we spent the first few days relaxing and enjoying family life. Having finished work this year right up to the last minute, finishing on Friday, 21st December, it seemed quite surreal that it was Christmas time after the first weekend. Normally, we have a couple of days off and then Christmas. This year seems sooooo strange, and when Christmas was fast approaching, it didn't feel right at all.

Though I was really grateful for the time off work, after a few hard weeks ... or is that months at work!

We relaxed, and I helped mother prepare for the Christmas day meal. We got some great bargains in Sainsbury's - but it would appear that we could have saved even more if we had waited 24 hours. We could have bagged a half-price Turkey if we got it on Christmas Eve, rather than on the Saturday, 22nd December. Ho-well.

Christmas Presents:
Got my mother several DVD's as I knew she was keen to watch some of her programmes of interest when they were on TV - namely House (Series 2 and 3), and CSI:NY (Series 3).

I also got my dad some more James Bond DVD's - having done this, I started to realise it might have been better for me and my brother to consolidate and maybe have brought the whole box-set - hmmm, maybe still an option for us. We could always sell the sole DVDs on ebay or something.

Christmas Meal:
As my mother was working evenings, we decided to spare the Christmas Lunch, and actually have the Christmas meal in the evening - around 7pm. We did all of the preparations, and when we were ready, made our way to the Princess Royal Hospital, and managed to have several of the staff who were working the night-shift join us.

We did a similar thing about 3-years ago, and that time was quite fun. This time round, it was slightly quieter than usual, but it was still different and fun.

Boxing Day:
I spent Boxing Day with my brother and dad, in his place. Again, quite nice and was good to see them both.

Repeated our "Christmas" meal once again, and just spent time talking after the meal.

Post-Christmas Sales:
This year was definitely very strange. Not only did it feel Christmas landed on on a weird day of the week this year, but the normal January Sales started a lot earlier. There was a lot of buzz in the media of the sales starting on Christmas Day (on-line) and Boxing Day (in stores) - and all of the major store chains certainly appeared to have done this. I don't believe it right, but I guess it is the psychology of retail shopping and this time of year. Maybe they felt if they didn't do this, people would flock to the stores in January, as everyone would be back at work? Who knows. Either way, we did go to the shops on the 27th December and 29th December so see whether we could get some nice stuff. We managed to get a few bits and bobs, but nothing exciting.

What's 2008 got in store?
Well, talking about shopping, I think it's time to get all hi-tech. I think a new High-Dev TV, recordable DVD player and the Pause-TV kit is required - all Digital and HD, but this would be a sizeable investment methinks! But definitely a thing to enjoy.

I also think this will be the year of starting my property investment - aka buying my own place. I've been watching the markets, and the prices aren't increasing that fast now, and I think I can bag a really nice place down in Brighton or Hove. We will see. Maybe Lewes or Ringmer is the way to go?

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AXP GNS Brighton Christmas Party
(Sunday, 09 December 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well another year and another December can only mean one thing - another Christmas Party! 

This year I could have gone to the AXP London as well as AXP GNS Brighton Christmas Party.  As I've been pretty shattered with many late days / nights of recent weeks, I decided to just go with the Brighton doo!

It was held at the Hanbury Ballrooms, 83 St Georges Road, Kemp Town in Brighton. This year I chose the correct approach - of getting a taxi there and back - luckily all paid by the company.  It wasn't a bad event, it was themed as a black and white night, and certainly everyone made a good effort - especially some of the ladies. 

The venue wasn't bad at all - quite quaint and intimate.  I've not been to the place before, and fell it was okay, seemed to cover the basic requirements.  The food was a bit on the "lacking" side, only one round of finger food - which weren't that good! Still was given advanced warning, but forgot to grab a bite before I left home!  Shame, as its the food that also makes a Christmas Party special.  Quite disappointed really on this point.  Still it's over and done with now.

Last year, another work colleague did very well in comparison - though there were some tiny flaws, but was pleased with the food offering at that venue.  It's almost making it worth doing it myself to show whether I could do a better (or worse!) job? 

Anyway apart from the food and my mixed thoughts of the venue, it was a good night.  Plenty of bubbly flowed all night, and I had my supplies of the black stuff (Guinness) to support my drinking efforts.  Actually, although I felt pretty rough by the end of the day, I was still able to make sense of everything and walk around (so wasn't totally wasted!).  I didn't actually have a bad head the next day.  Only really felt "tired" rather than hungover.  I was VERY surprised!  Hmmm....shouldn't really complain :)

Guess I only end with the classic line - here are the photos.  Enjoy!

 

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Christmas Letter 2007
(Sunday, 09 December 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well it's coming to the end of 2007, so here's my annual Christmas Letter which I sent out to a fair number of friends and folks.  Enjoy.

"Greetings,

Well 2007 started as a year with mixed expectations, some unknowns, some goals / targets, and in the end – well mixed too, and by March – I got a huge surprise to really confuse matters.

Work:
I joined AXP in Sept 2003, so now have been here over 4 years, with 3 of them being in my current team, Global Network Services (GNS).

There have been a few plus points over the last 12 months, namely in March being offered a chance to take up a work secondment with Alpha Bank Greece – based in Athens for 3 months between March to late-June 2007.

I’ve always been attempting to position myself for the next level, after a period of time where I feel I have shown my abilities and skills required to be at that position, and I felt this secondment could give me a clear indication whether I was up for the task or not. After all, they wouldn’t offer it to someone not deemed to be ready, or would they?

Alas, I am not the ones in control regarding the direction in my team, even though I attempted to control my destiny for when I returned, nothing was guaranteed, so I still feel that if I really want to get to that position it would have to be in another team. There’s always the Tech option again, and maybe some other options outside of GNS.

I’ve had a few other non-AXP opportunities this year, unfortunately, nothing that really turned to anything, but I definitely have a feeling that something will happen quite soon!

Greek Secondment:
During the 3months I was based in Athens – noting that I stayed in the Hilton Athens for the duration of the trip – I definitely manage to make the most of the secondment – work-related, building a good working relationship with a fair number of the folks based in the Partner bank.

I was able to take advantage of being in Athens, by visiting a number of the several thousands of islands that litter the Greek seas. I managed to visit 7 of them in total – over the various weekends I remained in Greece. I visited Poros, Hydra and Aegina, Skiathos, Santorini, Syros, and Sifnos. My favourite, well I actually really enjoyed Stros and Sifnos, but I must say I thoroughly enjoyed Santorini. There were just the charms about the place that made it special, and I got to know one of the Tavena owner’s quite well.

Social-Life:
I am also finally joined facebook about 3 months ago, after not really realising the true benefits of the social site.

I’ve found it amazing, and manage to get in contact with a number of school, college, university and work colleagues who I thought I’d lost contact. If you haven’t joined, it’s really worthwhile!  It’s great getting back into the contact with so many of you, and I feel 2008 is going to be year full of catch-ups and reunions to really reap the benefits of our renewed contact! Amazing.

Whilst in Greece, I also took advantage of the fabulous experiences in and around Athens, and managed to acquaint myself with a great native lady-friend, whom I’ve kept in contact since returning back to the UK. Luckily, I’ve managed to experience some further trips outwards to Greece, of course catching up with her – expecting this to continue until at least April next year.

I always wanted to go back to Egypt, and managed to do in style this year. I took a 2-week holiday to Cairo and down (or is it up) the Nile along a River Cruise Ship. Amazing stuff – really fun and enjoyable and managed to take all of the sights and sounds in. Then again, with such a busy schedule, I came back wanting another break!

Family:
Well, my brother has finally moved in with his girl-friend in Crawley, so still very local to the rest of the family – he also changed jobs a few months ago, in the Sales and Marketing teams of Edwards Vacuums (formerly part of the BOC group).

My father is trying to enjoy his retirement – but still finding it tough going at times, he probably needs to get a dog or something (don’t ask!)?

My mother is looking forward to retirement, with the magic year coming up in 2008 – it’s now a question of March or October – dependent on what seems better. NHS is in such a complicated situation at the moment, with the threat of closure remaining over the Princess Royal Hospital in Haywards Heath – which consequently hits morale in all aspects! I’m an avid believer and follower in the Support the PRH campaign.

I didn’t managed to visit Hong Kong or Milan, Italy this year, but hopefully will do so in 2008, where I’ve been saving my holiday days for maybe a month-off somewhere nice!  Then again, my aunt and cousin did visit from Hong Kong about 3-4 weeks back - so it wasn't all bad!

I think the only aspect which I personally fell short in 2007, is finding my own place. It’s a bit of a daft rationale, but I was waiting for the market to “adjust” with more places coming onto the market, allowing me to choose a nice place at a price I could afford. But it’s a stupid waiting game with the classic paradox of the supply and demand model. With the HIPS coming in, and the dire ‘Credit-Crunch’ situation, I am also expecting Q1 2008 being the best-time for me to make a significant investment – if my prediction of the housing market works out to be true.

Then again, it leads me back to my employment position, if I stay in Brighton, it makes sense to find somewhere in the City, if I turn out to find something in London, then who knows?

In closure, it’s been a topsy-turvey year, there have been plenty of highs, a few areas of uncertainty, and annoyances, but I think I’m on the right track onwards and upwards into 2008 and beyond.

Keep visiting www.brigatti.co.uk to keep in touch and find out my latest adventures!

Many best wishes for the festive season and I hope you’ll all have a prosperous 2008! :o)"

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Great advert - Givenchy Christmas 2007
(Sunday, 09 December 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti

This advert is called "Nuevo Givenchy Ange ou Demon" - and is currently out on our screens. Ironically, we just had our Christmas party that was a themed Black and White Masquerade party - so how suitable it was to view this on the TV!!

Amazing video, and it is probably an amazing fragrance!!!

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Strictly Come Dancing - Still Very Addictive
(Sunday, 09 December 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti
Well this year has been a roller coaster show, with the current progress being difficult to separate - unlike previous shows.

During the last 2-3 years, there were definite clear indications as to who would be in the final and who should win the show overall, but this year is pretty neck and neck on both counts. Not really sure.

Flavia Cacace and Vincent SimoneActually thinking of the show generally, one star that is standing out in my book, is not the celebrity, but the professional dancer, Flavia Cacace. I noticed her last year when she partnered with the legendary Jimmy Tarbuck, but her progress was cut-shot when Jimmy had to pull out for health reasons (I think it was in week 2!). But she is definitely one of the most attractive - if not THE best female dancer left on the show.

Just a shame she is professionally and personally partnered with another dancer (who also appears on the programme) - Vincent Simone.

Anyway, I've been voting for her...I mean Matt and Flavia each week, so fingers cross she can survive another week...there website is located at http://www.vincentandflavia.com!!

And here is a small video extract from one of the professional dance routines on the BBC Strictly Come Dancing programme - aired in 2006 - featuring the duo in all of their glory, dancing an Argentine Tango. Truly breathtaking and beautifully choreographed!

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Renault, Renault, Renault will you ever learn?
(Saturday, 08 December 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Interesting response I received in the post last week, a letter from Renault UK in response to my previous letter, advising them that I still feel the are not providing full remedial support to prevent the incidents of bonnet catch failures occurring in the future.

The first extract is my original letter to Renault, followed by their response - and finally my commentary on their response - enjoy:

MY LETTER:

"The occurrences of the bonnet catch failures affecting Renault Clio's are still happening, Renault's remedy of preventive notification is simply not working.

What are the facts that has led Renault to believe it is 'lack of maintenance' that is the cause of the incidents? Is it because you were unable to identify the actual causes, which Renault has highlighted to me? Surely this goes against the grain for an organisation which promotes vehicle safety and respects its customers? There is nothing in Renault's or VOSA reports that indicates maintenance being the only cause of the issue; implying that even with a full investigation, uncertainty remains within Renault and
VOSA.

Renault's analysis based on the fact that a two-catch system cannot fail together, longing the bonnet is closed correctly and checked. The issue that we have is that even after a bonnet is closed correctly and checked, does not always means the catches are fully engaged, which, with evidence, has shown can result in bonnets flying up during
transit.

A mechanism doesn't have to be broken to indicate a design flaw. If the catches failed to engage following the normal closure procedure, in adherence to your bonnet closure and maintenance instructions, then this indicates an apparent failing in the operation of the mechanism.
Any device that was designed and manufactured as "maintenance-free" and later turns out to require maintenance indicates a flaw in your design and testing process.

What is Renault going to do to stop these occurrences happening? Is your safety recall process and notification process failing?"


Renault UK's response from Alex Phelan:

"We have never stated that the issue is solely down to maintenance. Our position after investigating the matter is that the two reasons [that the] bonnet can open unexpectedly are if the vehicle has not been maintained and if the bonnet has not been closed as prescribed. VOSA, using their own qualified vehicle examiners, have investigated the matter and reached the same conclusion. Renault UK and VOSA are not confused about the conclusions which have been reached by our respective organisations.

VOSA have no commercial or organisational links to Renault UK. We have gone to great lengths to remind customers to maintain their vehicles and to ensure they are familiar with the method we prescribe for closing the bonnet. VOSA have set criteria for the type of incidents which should be the subject of a recall. They are clear that this is not such an incident. However, Renault UK went beyond our obligations in writing to the owners of Clio II in the UK to remind them of the procedure for closing the bonnet and to invite them
into their nearest dealer to check the condition of the bonnet mechanisms."

Hmmm...My comments are:

1. I accept that the implied maintenance and bonnet closure as to separate "actions". However, they are linked, because regardless how one closes the bonnet (the mechanism is straightforward after all), there is a link caused by lack of maintenance which can mean the
bonnet is not actually "closed properly". Direct link to cause and effect.

2. Renault were actually liable for any maintenance faults - as not outlined in their servicing programme prior to January 2007 - therefore any such incidents should be the responsibility of Renault UK - i.e. to cover all damage costs.

3. Linking to point 1) above, the bonnet was closed as prescribed, in a number of cases (okay maybe not 100% of reported cases - but large majority!), but this point I don't think comes into play, as it appears to just be Renault Clio owners who can't close the bonnet properly. What evidence do they have to indicate the bonnet was not
closed as prescribed? There is none - this is the same as evidence to prove the bonnet was closed properly - there is no evidence on this either.

4. VOSA has qualified examiners. They do, but rely on the evidence from the manufactures own technical expertise / personnsel. VOSA openly admit that they didn't have the knowledge on bonnet catches and turned to Renault UK and Renault France to advise them. Confusion between VOSA and Renault UK on roles and responsibilities then?

5. VOSA have simply implied they see no evidence of a defect - this is not saying that there isn't a defect either.

6. Great lengths to communicate to customers? But this process is generally failing - why separate mailshots - why not all in one go?

7. Set criteria set by VOSA for a recall. VOSA advised this was not an incident requiring a recall. However, VOSA implied what Renault UK did was a recall, even though Renault UK don't commit that this was the case.

In short, nothing new from Renault - as if I were expecting anything different!

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Darran Jordan - Legend TV Moment!
(Sunday, 02 December 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti

This is a classic!

Making the most of two of the funniest moments of modern day BBC TV - one when Connie Fishes was named the winner of the BBC programme "How Do I Solve a Problem Like Maria", and Darran Jordan - the X-BBC News Presenter waiting for bated breathe for the results, or was that waiting for the show to FINISH!

Hahahaha, hilarious!!! Wonderful and great editing to see both programmes side by side!

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Sussex Uni - Coggies 2002 Group
(Friday, 30 November 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti
Well I totally forgot that the 2002 Coggies folks had a Yahoo Group set-up, here it is: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/coggies/
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The run-down of the Mario's Party weekend
(Sunday, 18 November 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Mario's weekend of Birthday celebations was a lot of fun.  We ended up participating in a number of fun events, some of which I attended, and unfortunately, some of which I couldn't attend - my visit to Athens was work-related after all!

on Friday, 9th November, We started with Dinner at Kouzina - Cine Psiri, a nice restaurant with a definite atmosphere.  It had an underground cellar and a nice elegant menu. Was approx €32 per head (we decided to cover the costs of Mario's meal too) - and there were 10 of us - so not bad at all.

After dinner, we visited Bar Guru - a nice place.  We then made our exit at about 1-2am.  Nice!

The next day (Saturday, 10th November), the main group did a "Tour of Athens", but I had to excuse myself as I had a lot of work to catch-up on - including my appraisal which was overdue - whoops!  I then decide to join them for the dinner and clubbing event in the evening.

The Dinner was at a place called Baraonda - which was behind the Panathinaikos Stadium - an area I've heard a lot about but never previously ventured.  It was a very slick and trendy place - the "place to be seen".  Very nice restaurant, and delicious cuscine.  I made one boo-boo though.  Having checked about the formality of the place, I was told it was smart-casual - I should have placed safe, as I had to go back and return with a suite and jacket - whoops!  Lesson learnt - if unsure, better over-dress then under-dress (in more ways than one!).

Anyway, after the dinner - which worked out to be over €75 - well it was a great meal - and we did go through the wine pretty impressively!!!  I think there were over 20 of us at the meal.  We then made our way to the top dance floor (the restaurant area did turn into a dance floor for those that were eating in the place).  A nice up-beat array and mix of music!  Just what I needed to chill.  I stayed to the end, and left around 4.30am.  I knew I had an early morning flight so had to make my move - a couple of hours sleep is better than none!!

What a relaxing (okay "busy") weekend it was!!  AND I managed to do some work too!

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Paint Shop Pro X (v10) doesn't load on Vista?
(Sunday, 18 November 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well this is strange.

Initially, all seemed well with the installation - when I installed Corels' PSP-X about 7-8 weeks back - now, it doesn't seem to load!

What is the problem I hear you ask?
Well, when you click the programme to load, or want to open an existing image into PSP-X, the app loads in the background but that's it - almost as if there is a memory failure or similar.

Having googled it, it appears to be a known issue, but haven't had a chance to check out or act on the advise yet! We'll see if it helps to solve the problem - or not!

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Finally - Dec 2006 Hong Kong Photos Uploaded
(Sunday, 18 November 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well better late then never, I've finally gotten around the sort out the lingering photos from our last HK trip, where we visited Bali, Jakatta (Indonesia) as well as HK. 

The missing photos which I didn't sort out and upload until this weekend was the HK Island Tour, here's the link ... soooo enjoy!

http://www.brigatti.co.uk/gallery/Dec2006-HKPart3-Tour

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Lewes Bonfire Night 2007 - Close Call
(Saturday, 17 November 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well talk about a close call. After enjoying the bonfire night celebrations and paying for the first time to enter a bonfire site (Cliffe), we witnessed what appeared to be a very bad and unlucky incident.

During the final stages of the bonfire site celebration, the effigies were blown up.  All seemed well, until we saw towards our right blood gushing down a ladies face - following a head-wound.  Moments prior to this we noticed a shard of wood with nails flying through the air and landing near by, what we didn't notice was that it hit this lady on the face!

Having now read some press reports, the woman had suffered what was reported to be 'life-threatening' injuries due the incident.  Here's the report:

"A woman suffered a life threatening injury in an horrific accident at the Cliffe Bonfire site in Lewes.

At around midnight the woman, aged in her 20s, was hit by a piece of wood, believed to be bonfire debris .

She suffered serious head injuries. Police said a nail was sticking out of the wood.

The woman was rushed to the Royal Sussex County Hospital were she was treated for a suspected fractured skull.

She was later transferred to the Hurstwood Park Neurological Centre for further treatment.

Her injuries were described as life-threatening.
At 3pm today (Tuesday) a spokesman for Hurstwood Park described her condition as stable.

The Sussex Express contacted the Cliffe Bonfire Society but its secretary declined to comment."

Source: Sussex Express, 6 Nov 2007

Shocking - more so as it could have been us.  I wish the lady a full and speedy recovery!

 

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Visit to Athens - Mario's Birthday Celebrations
(Sunday, 11 November 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well, I had decided to come out to Athens on Friday, as there are no direct flights on our internal Staff Business Travel system to go to Tirana.

Coincidently, my good friend, Mario, an Athenian native, and who is on a work secondment in Greece, invited me to his weekend of Birthday celebrations.

Sure was fun!! Loads of activities planned, starting from Friday night, throughout Saturday (though I missed the morning events due to my work commitments), and ending on Sunday lunch (I was meeting another Greek friend, so couldn't attend this either).

Managed to do a lot of things over the weekend, and wake up with a pretty bad headache on Sunday. Well Friday I came back to the Hilton at 2am (Saturday morning), and on Sunday at 4.30am (Sunday morning). Well I definitely had a lie in on both days to recover :o)

The full run-down will follow when I return to the UK - and catch up with other bits and bobs on the website!

Bring on the challenges of next week - fingers cross everything flows smoothly with my beta-testing!!

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Greek Trip and off to Albania
(Thursday, 08 November 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti
I can't wait, as the 14th November d-day approaches for my biggy project of 2007.

All things seem to be going fine, but I am weary of the last minute rush to get everything right.

Well I am in Greece and then soon after flying to Albania - we'll see how things go!
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Bonfire Night 2007
(Thursday, 08 November 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti
Another year, another bonfire night.

With the same ex-Sussex University crew, I made a night of it - certainly was extremely good fun, and it was good seeing a lot of familiar faces in and around Lewes!

Joined my mum, aunt and cousin who went to Lewes early on, and then went off around 8pm to meet-up with the Uni-Crew...

Photographs will be here soon :)
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New Possible Opportunity
(Monday, 22 October 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti
Well I've received some interesting news today, I've been looking external to "see my options", and now a 'actively' looking at opportunities.

Something may be on the offering soon, so watch this space.

Definitely interesting, and specifically linked to what I am currently doing in my current role!!

More news to follow!
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Renault Clios - 10 Downing Street Statement
(Monday, 22 October 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti

During the last 5-6 months, there has been a petition on the 10 Downing Street website:

http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/FaultyClioBonnet

This closed on 7th Sept, as after 284 signatories were received was submitted to the UK Government for review, here it is -

http://www.pm.gov.uk/output/Page13532.asp:

My comments in blue. I think this is just a regurgitation of the same statement VOSA made, just coming from 10-Downing Street, instead!

"The Government is aware of the concerns that have been raised in relation to bonnet main latches and safety catches on the Renault Clio Mark II. Reports of alleged safety defects relating to vehicles and components are handled by the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA), an executive agency of the Department for Transport."

>> If only VOSA had accepted ALL reports filed to it!

"A thorough investigation was carried out by VOSA in collaboration with the vehicle manufacturer. "

>> Hmmm....clarify "thorough"?

"The purpose of the investigation was to establish the existence or otherwise of a design or construction defect that would render the vehicle unsafe, as defined by the UK Code of Practice on Vehicle Safety Defects. Had a safety defect been identified a recall of the vehicles could have been instigated under the Code of Practice."

>> But VOSA advised Renault to notify all owners - so is this a recall or not?

"The investigation indicated that the most likely cause of the incidents was a combination of inadequate maintenance and incorrect closure of the bonnet. "

>> Based on what evidence, an investigation by Renault on my vehicle, and 6 spot-checks of other vehicles - and some "undocumented" discussions between VOSA and Renault! Hmmm...farse!

"It is the owner's responsibility to ensure adequate maintenance but given the apparent risk and the level of public concern, VOSA's Vehicle Safety Branch strongly recommended that Renault should take follow-up action with their customers. "

>> Strongly recommends, hey! Hmmm....

"Renault readily agreed and Renault UK started contacting around half a million owners of 1998-2007 Renault Clio's in April 2007. Owners were invited to go their local dealership to have the bonnet and safety catch components checked, and if necessary, serviced or replaced free of charge. The letter also included an insert for the owners to update their manual on maintenance requirements. All owners have now been contacted."

>> What evidence is there that all notifications were sent / received!

"The case has been kept open whilst discussions continue with the manufacturer about maintenance and service regimes. The annual MOT test for vehicles over three years old already includes inspection and reasons for rejection of bonnet retaining devices. "

>> Except there has been reports that this is not being undertaken! Is this a Renault or VOSA "guideline"?

"This issue was highlighted in the July/August edition of a publication that the Government circulates to all MOT garages."

>> Okay, so if a car passes the MOT and then experiences the issue - what then?

Your thoughts are welcome on this UK Government statement into an incident which could have killed or injured me!
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Facebook - finally!
(Tuesday, 16 October 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well I've taken the plunge and finally added myself to Facebook - it's actually highly addictive, and although I do share the privacy concerns shared in the media on these social-networking sites, I felt it was worth the while!

My profile link is below: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=688326783

Amazingly, all of my "lost-friends" of the school and college days were all listed, so it was a breeze to locate them and add them to my profile!

Powerful stuff, this social-networking malarkey!

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Splendour of Egypt: Feedback for Recent Bales Trip to Egypt – 22nd Sept to 4th Oct
(Monday, 15 October 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti

I was a little disappointed by some aspects of our trip to Egypt, so I wrote a letter to Bales Worldwide for their comments and feedback:

"We would like to take this opportunity to summarise a few comments following our recent trip with Bales Worldwide to Egypt.

We must acknowledge a number of special touches that seemed to make our trip special compared to other tour operators. Examples include: taking responsibility of our luggage as soon as we arrived, and taking care of our tipping. This ensured we could relax and unwind fully during the trip.

We would also like to pass on our thanks to your local Bales Operator, our Egyptologist (Neveen el Desouky), EastMar Travel, and also the staff and crew of the Nile Beauty Cruise Ship who all provided an excellent level of service to us during our holiday trip.

There are a few comments which we felt we should pass onto you to further improve the experience:

  1. Flight Transfer: Attention to Detail – Our tour guide kept close to the group during the majority of the tour. During our transit flight arrival between Cairo to Aswan, our tour guide failed to ensure that we departed the plane and arrived at the terminal building (she went on ahead of us). This is more significant as two members of the tour group were expected to stay on board the plane for the Abu Simbel excursion extension.
  2. Health and Safety – during two parts of our trip, we boarded a separate transfer boat to support our tour activities. I understand that in your overview, life-jackets are not provided, but I feel Bales should be responsible in reminding tour groups on whether the members wish to take the cruise ship’s life-jackets with them. We noted that other tour operators ensured that their tour party took their life jackets with them.
  3. Touring: Attention to Details – during a few visits to a number of tourist sites, we felt that only 80% of the effort was provided by our tour guide, which seemingly did not exceed our expectation of Bales. We experienced a number of "passing comments" regarding exhibits or specific sites of interest, rather than a more explicit presentation – which we observed had been the case with other tour operators who had visited the same sites at the same time. Examples: Crocodile Pit (Kom Ombo) and Perfume Room (Temple of Horus). During the trip to the Granite Quarry in Aswan and Queen Hatshepsut Temple, we weren’t supported around the site like numerous other tour groups; instead we were left to our own devices. Although, we were initially explained things to note at the start of the visits.
  4. Bus Transfer: Inadvertent Wait – during a visit to the Temple of Philae, we were left waiting for 30-minutes for our mini-bus transportation to arrive to return us to the waiting boat.

Again, although the overall trip was enjoyable, we just felt that these few points made us feel that we were not having an extraordinary experience as we were expecting from Bales Worldwide. We felt slightly let down by these incidents.

We hope you can reflect on the above comments, and welcome your views in response, in the near future. We hope we are not deterred from using Bales Worldwide again in the future.

Many thanks for your time. "

Our touring colleagues, weren't that attentive to these points - and it was only after we flagged them, did a couple of them acknowledge and agree that these shortcomings did exist.  It's amazing how some people don't notice things that were so blantantly obvious!

We'll wait and see Bale's response!

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Egypt Holiday: Cairo and Nile Cruise
(Sunday, 07 October 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti

We have just come back from our Nile Cruise in Egypt, and we certainly can say it was a thoroughly enjoyable – albeit tiring at times – holiday. 

 

I wouldn’t really call it a break as such – okay, maybe a “break” from work, but it was a busy time away.  We certainly toured the sights of Egypt – with a mix of sightseeing, sunbathing and relaxation during a 13-day trip!

 

Our holiday itinerary and summary of what we experienced, is outlined below:

 

Day 1 – Saturday, 22nd September

We took the mid-afternoon EgyptAir flight from London Heathrow (I’m getting to “love” Heathrow – NOT!), to arrive in Cairo at around 20:50.  Not a bad flight and the planes were pretty modern, clean and efficient.  Cabin Crew were okay, service seemed quite good, better than some of the other National Carriers that I’ve recently been with, so a nice way to start the holiday.  As Ramadan had already started, the hours in Egypt had already sprung back an hour – so the time difference was only an hour ahead of the UK – until UK BST finishes at the end of October.

 

The tour group consisted of 3 other couples, a couple of the West Midlands, 1 from Cumbria and 1 from Dorset – 8 people in total, with me being the youngest of all. 

 

Upon arrival in Cairo Airport, we were met by the Tour Manager, Mohamed Sorrour, and the local Egyptologist, Neveen el Desouky.  Bales were working closely with Eastmar Travel – the local Travel Office in Cairo – who were managing our tour whilst we were in Egypt.  They seemed very methodical and took care of all of the duties.  Some small additional touches included, managing our luggage from receipt through to delivery to our hotel room (we didn’t need to lift a finger!).  They also arranged and managed all of the transportation and more importantly the “tipping” throughout out trip – something which is always a nightmare when visiting a Country on holiday from the outset!  There were also a talk about additional tours, in Cairo on during our stops along the Nile; however, we didn’t want to do this, as we also wanted to relax rather than being “on the go” all the time.

 

We were transferred across the City to the Nile Hilton – which took about 40-45 minutes from the airport – in the madness that they call traffic in Cairo.  Even though 2 lanes were set-up on the carriageway, there was nothing stopping the creation of 1 if not 2 more lanes by the drivers.  Hmmm . slightly different from our UK roads!

 

We were welcomed into the Hilton, and as I was a Hilton VIP member, I decided to leverage my privileges by getting an upgrade to the Nile balcony-view room.  It certainly was a great sight.

 

We were a little peckish, so had a meal in the Restaurant Café, nothing special but did the job.

 

 

Day 2 – Sunday, 23rd September

As we were visiting Egypt during the Ramadan month, we were expecting to visit the majority of the tourist sights during our tour during the morning, as most places would close by mid-afternoon.  This wasn’t too bad, but obviously meant early starts were expected!!

 

Our first morning trip involved a visit the Egyptian Museum, which was actually located a stone-throw from the Nile Hilton, so we were able to walk there.  Unfortunately, we were unable to take any photographs during our trip to the museum, but the historic value was very impressive indeed, especially seeing the Tutankhamen tomb and various artefacts – a whole exhibit dedicated to this find. 

 

We then spend the afternoon relaxing back at the hotel, and looking around the area to see if there were any nice authentic places to eat.  We didn’t find any, although we did notice a fair number of river boats on the opposite side of the Nile which we discovered included floating restaurants. 

 

In the evening, Neveen (our Egyptologist) took us to one of the Floating Restaurants, called La Pacha 1901, where we went to “Le Tarbouche”.  Was pretty good, and this was our first “authentic” Egyptian meal – and we thoroughly enjoyed it!  We couldn’t wait for more!!

 

We returned to the hotel, where we just relaxed on the balcony and watched Cairo life pass us by for the next couple of hours, before we retired for the night.

 

 

Day 3 – Monday, 24th September

After a breakfast buffet in the Hilton, we set off for a mini-bus ride to the infamous Pyramids and Sphinx at Giza.  The Pyramids are the only remaining monuments of the original Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and now part of New Seven Wonders of the World – announced on 7th July 2007.

 

Reading and viewing the images previously on websites and books, it was hard to imagine the sheer size of these pyramids, until visiting them in person. They certainly were vast in size and scale – with what appeared to be 3 main temples in decreasing sizes, accompanied by two sets of 3 queen pyramids.  So it appeared that there were 9 main pyramids as part of the main Giza complex.

 

I also visited the main the Great Pyramid – spending £100LE (approx £10GBP), to crawl through the entrance to see one of the tomb rooms inside.  I think this was a bit of a rip-off, but at least I ‘experienced’ it!

 

One of the special benefits of a Bales tour was the inclusion of a visit to the Solar Boat Museum, which was a nice bonus.  This was unearthed during the 1950’s when Kamal el-Mallakh an architect and archaeologist, was working as an Antiquities Inspector at Giza.  Further inspection uncovered a cedarwood boat neatly disassembled and packed into a air-tight pit.  Seeing the work painstakingly assembled was amazing, and the final assembled “product” was on display in this museum.

 

After this visit, we went to another vantage point to take some further backdrop photos of the 3 main pyramids.  I opted for a Camel ride in the desert from here, at a cost of 20LE (plus 5LE tips).  Not too bad, and certainly was a fun ride!  I was the only one in the tour group that opted for this “ride”.

 

We then went off to visit the Sphinx which was an interesting site to visit.  A monument that resembled a head of a human, the body of a lion and the wings of a bird.

 

We returned back to the main City, and opted to eat at a nice Eatery near our hotel.  I cannot recall the name of the place, but it was meant to have been part of a small restaurant chain in Egypt, and the one we went too was meant to be the best of all of them.  The restaurant had a fish-tank above our table, as well as bird cages towards our side – certainly interesting decor to say the least.

 

We returned to the hotel and decided to spend further time relaxing on the balcony.  We decided to go to the Food Court of the Nile Hilton, where we had a take-away Thai meal.  Nothing too special, and it wasn’t as cheap we would have thought, but we just wanted a quick and easy meal.

 

 

Day 4 – Tuesday, 25th September

We had a late breakfast, and simply relaxed in the room and on bathed on the balcony.  We did a bit more window shopping at the shops within the Hilton, nothing too special, and quite pricey really.  We ventured outside, and when we were walking, what appeared to be a friendly local advised us to cross the road as it was easier and better to view the area.  Uncertain, we obliged this suggestion, on to find out that he was actually suggesting (recommending) that we visit “a Papyrus shop” – hmmm, we were certainly caught by this trap, hook, line and sinker, we managed to exit the shop and we decided to return to the  hotel – having had enough of this “experience”.

 

We skipped lunch and rested in the hotel – we watched the Cairo life flow by from the balcony.

 

We opted to go for an evening meal on the Blue Nile, we opted for the Al-Amar Lebanese restaurant.  The meal at Al-Amar was very nice.  We weren’t sure what to eat so became quite noisy with what our neighbouring table were eating.  We decided to enquire with the waiter on the name of the dishes, and he indicated that it was a “Ramadan Special” set-menu, so we told him that we would have two of them instead.  Talk about the easy option!  We certainly weren’t disappointed, and there was a lot of variety, dishes and more!  It cost £125LE per person – which although a bit expensive, seemed pretty good compared to what we ate.  The dessert was extremely delicious where we were introduced to the “Om Ali” desert – a very nice, but quite sweet pudding seemingly similar to the bread and butter consistency, topped off with some traditional Egyptian Baklavas.   What a night and what an experience that was!

 

We returned to the hotel and retired for the night, as we had an early start in the morning.

 

 

Day 5 – Wednesday, 26th September

Well we were warned of an early-morning flight, and it certainly was quite an early start.  We woke up at 01:30, as we had to eat breakfast, check-out and catch the tour bus for the airport for the 04:15 flight.  As our tour group had implied (continuous reminders) that they were going to “tip” the mini-bus driver (who took us around Cairo), we weren’t keen to give the amount that they had quoted.  We also didn’t like the approach a couple members were using.  I think tipping is at our own discretion and there should never be a mention of “how much” a particular couple gives.  Although, the one “co-ordinating” the tipping was using an envelope to give the collective tip, I think there should have been less pressure to “match” his tip.  The other 3 couples gave £50 LE (£5 GBP), in my opinion this was way too much, as our tipping was already covered by Bales for all elements of the trip.  In fact the tipping we were expecting to give the driver via Bales was £120 LE (£12 GBP), so we were adding almost 40% on top.  This was wrong for just a driver.  We decided to only give £20 LE, knowing that even this was too much - £10 LE would have been sufficient.  We were advised that the approach on tipping in Egypt (like anyway really!) is little but often!  Silly people.  What we would find is that we would actually be giving 40-50% premium on top of the tipping we were expecting Bales to provide, and would mean we would be spending way too much on tipping alone.  We stepped away from falling down this track, and left the other couples do what they wanted, simply commenting that we would just give £20 LE.

 

The flight was okay; although we sat towards the back of the plane again.  One of the comments upon arrival at Aswan is that we would have thought our tour-guide would “meet” or “check” that we left the plane okay, she jumped straight on the bus and waited for us at the terminal building.  As we had two people that weren’t expected to depart, as they had opted for the additional excursion to Abu Simbel, we felt this was a slip-up, as if those two had departed the plane, it might have been difficult for them to re-board again!  Alas, the couple did stay on the plane, so I guess there was no harm done!

 

We were greeted by another mini-bus, who took us to the waiting boat, the Flotel Nile Beauty (Floating Hotel – “Flotel”, get it!?).  It was a pretty nice boat, slightly aged and not as modern as we would have expected – and later based on what we saw of some of the other boats, but it was going to be our “hotel” for the next week, so I guess we had to accept it. 

 

So about the cruise boat (or ship), well it was really a floating hotel, it had 52 outward facing and quite comfortable and spacious cabins – spread over 3 decks (we were on the second – and Bales only booked cabins on the 2nd and 3rd deck).  It had air-conditioning throughout the boat; it had private en suite facilities which marvelled some of the hotels I’ve seen before, fridge, TV and an internal telephone.  There was a nicely furnished bar and lounge on the 4th deck.  It had an open area on the 4th deck – with a plunge pool, with an owning offering shade and fresh air whilst watching the world go by.  There is a further open sundeck too.  All-in-all, a pretty nice setting for the 7 days that we would be on the Nile.

 

Our itinerary was meant to include a tour of Aswan during Wednesday afternoon, but instead we had a relaxing day acclimatising ourselves on the boat.  We finished the remainder of the “Hilton-packed” breakfast, and waited almost 2 and a half hours before our cabins were ready.  This was also one of the negatives of the trip, but we were advised that this was down to the EgyptAir early-morning flight schedules and nothing Bales or EastMar (Tour Operator) could do.  Once our cabins were ready, we freshened-up and then simply relaxed in the warm sunshine overlooking Aswan (including catching up with some well-earned sleep!). 

 

Lunch and dinner was pretty good, although nothing extremely special – but we didn’t expect the Ritz-quality on board such a boat.   We then had a relaxing evening watching the sun-set on the Nile, walked into the main part of Aswan – where we visited the Spice Markets, and the various shops along the main area of Aswan.  Was a very interesting experience although our group weren't being that adventurous.  We decided to haggle for some seeds (for mother), we managed to get 2 types of seeds for 200grams in total (100grams each) at £50LE each, with a free 100gram bag of another type of seed.  Not too bad you see, we showed our fellow travel companions how to do it (they were terrible at haggling!).  We then returned to the ship to retire for an early night.

 

 

Day 6 – Thursday, 27th September

We woke up pretty early (circa. 06:30) and munched our way through the buffet breakfast.  After refreshing ourselves, we left the boat and took a mini-bus to visit the Aswan tourist sites.  Firstly, we visited the Ancient Granite Quarries.  Again, we felt our tour-guide slipped up a little bit again, as unlike other tour parties, we were left to our own devices once we arrived at the quarry site, whilst the guide briefly explained the value of the site (noting the “unfinished obelisk” attraction), and then advised us where she would be waiting for us.  Ho-well, maybe we need to summarise our thoughts directly to Bales when we settle back into the UK.

 

We then went on to visit another engineering marvel, the Aswan High Dam – this was paid by a loan provided by the Soviet Union, which was repaid by Egypt with “goods” in return (cotton, gold etc).  We also visited the Small Dam, which was designed by a British Architect.

 

Our mini-bus then took us to another site, that of the “Temple of Philae”, but we had to take a boat to arrive here, as it was located on an island.  One of the things we also noticed upon leaving our cruise boat; is that all the other tour groups were taking their life-jackets, but we didn’t.   The site was pretty amazing, especially the quality of the structures. 

 

We left the island by the small boat again, and arrived back on the mainland, and had to walk through the parade of shops again – this is seemingly a common approach during each tourist visit. 

 

It was an Egyptian Themed-Night accompanied by an Oriental Buffet (weird that it wasn’t Egyptian cuisine too, but alas!).  We didn’t really feel like taking part, but as all of our travelling companions were aiming to take part, and had already made purchases, we had to get (buy!) something (garments, that is!).  Having spoken to one particular companion, we knew she didn’t really want to dress up too, and indicated she was going too, we indicated the same, but we thought that we didn’t want to be the only two fools not dressing up.  We decided to haggle for a couple of garments.  We got two nice Egyptian shirts for £60 LE (approx £6 GBP).  Another couple managed to get one for £50 LE – so we certainly showed them a thing or two on how to haggle to get a bargain!

 

Anyway, another thing we noticed was that our tour guide had not prepared the return that well, as we were waiting for over 30-minutes for the mini-bus to arrive.  Definitely no additional tipping would be given by us!

 

When we re-boarded the cruise boat, it then set sail northwards (“down the Nile”) to Kom Ombo, where we made a stop.  We disembarked to visit the Temple of Kom Ombo, which was about 5 minute walking distant from where we moored the boat. 

 

Another fault we picked up from our tour guide was that she started to make a couple of “passing comments” about some of the important points of interest, such as a Crocodile Pit – which was significant because the site included two mummified crocodiles, the Temple had been shared by the two Gods, Sobek & Haroeies, the crocodile god of Nubian.

 

After about an hour, we rejoined the boat, and we set sail for Edfu, where we were mooring overnight. 

 

During the evening, the Egyptian-theme night (Galabia Party) took full swing.  We weren’t actively participating, but enjoyed the fun of the fools playing silly games.  Not really our cup of tea.  Give me a pool table any day.

 

Anyway, after an hour or so watching, we decided to go into the town and walk around.  We felt pretty save, although we were still getting slightly harassed by the stall sellers as well as taxi/horse-and-cart owners.  Just a way of life, I guess.  Someone did advise us not to even acknowledge them, just to keep walking.  Seemed rude, but I guess it might work.  We didn’t want to try it just yet, in any case.

 

Having returned from our trek, we retired for the night.

 

 

Day 7 – Friday, 28th September

Today was rest-day, where we simply expected to sail throughout the day.

 

We set-sail soon after mid-morning; we had already gone for an early-morning stroll in Edfu, which surprisingly meant we weren’t harassed by many sellers.  We seemed to have got it right! 

 

The sailing was very smooth, and we simply relaxed, and watched the world go by.  Certainly amazing and changing landscapes along this stretch of the Nile.

 

We reached the Esna Lock around mid-afternoon.  We were pre-warned that we could be delayed for several hours here depending on the “traffic” (boat traffic – that is!)  We were delayed slightly, but it was just over an hour – so didn’t seem too bad at all! 

 

We were also pre-warned by our tour guide, that seller’s in small boats or on the quay side would try to sell garments during the time we were travelling in the lock.  She wasn’t wrong!  In fact, the sellers would “throw” (yes throw!) samples onto the boat, that’s throwing upwards about 2-3 stories high from the water-level.  In fact one of the fellow passengers tried to throw one of the garments back, but it fell way short and fell into water – by the look on the seller’s face, he wasn’t best pleased!

 

After what appeared to be another 30minutes or so, we made it through the second lock; we continued our journey sailing towards Luxor, arriving during our dinner.

 

The evening entertainment included a Belly Dancer and a male dancer doing some amazing colourful routines.  Amazing stuff!

 

 

Day 8 – Saturday, 29th September

We woke up pretty early again, another 6am start.  Whilst we waited for the breakbast buffet to open on board the boat, we watched some hot-air balloons lift up into the sky on the West Bank of the Nile (opposite side of where we were moored).  Was an amazing sight and we were definitely looking forward to do the same on Day 9 – Sunday.  It was good to prepare ourselves and marvel at the amazing sight from a distance.

 

After breakfast, we visited the Colossus Memnon in Luxor.  They are two massive stone statues of Pharaoh Amenhotep III, and are known to locals as el-Colossat, or es-Salamat.    They originally stood guard of the Amenhotep's memorial temple.  Following a quick photo-stop, we jumped back onto the mini-bus, and visited our next sightseeing stop, that of the Valley of the Queens.

 

The Valley of the Queens was really fascinating, the tombs amazingly intricate.  There were only two tombs open to us; we visited Tomb of Amenhikhopeshef (Tomb QV55) and the Tomb of Queent Titi (Tomb QV52).  Amenhikhopeshef’s Tomb was probably the most significant of the site.  Amenhikhopeshef was a son of Ramesses III and scenes show him with his father and the gods Thoth, Ptah and others. He was probably about nine years old when he died.  The reason of the significance is that a mummified premature baby was also found in to tomb. This belonged to this mother, who aborted upon learning of Amenhikhopeshef's death.  Chill went down my spine, but it was an intriguing to view.

 

We then headed off to the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut at Deir el-Bahari, again after been given a brief overview, we were left to our own devices again.  Not necessarily a bad thing, but not good either, especially as we couldn’t remember all of the specific significances of the site.   Upon arrival, we had to go by a choo choo train (my words not the guides!) to access the Temple itself.  Very much a desert landscape around, and the temple was build within the mountainside.

 

The famous Punt relief is engraved on the southern side of the 2nd colonnade. The journey to Punt (now called Somalia) was the first pictorial documentation of a trade expedition recorded, and discovered, in ancient Egypt; until now. The scenes depict in great detail, the maritime expedition that Queen Hatshepsut sent, via the Red Sea, to Punt, just before the 9th year of her reign (1482 B.C) This famous expedition was headed by her high official, Pa-nahsy, and lasted for 3 years. His mission was to exchange Egyptian merchandise for the products of Punt, especially gold, incense and tropical trees.

 

We then returned by the short mini-train transportation, we noticed another Tomb, the Tomb of Monthemhat (TT34), although it was not open for visitors.  We then header back to the waiting bus.

 

We header of to the Valley of the Kings, something which we were keen to view; at the entrance museum we noted that there were actually 62 tombs, but unfortunately only 4-5 were actually open to the public, alas “business”.   Again, another site we couldn’t take any photos on the inside of the Tombs, but the outside was still amazing.  The site was seemingly located due to a Pyramid shape mound on one of the overlying mountains.  Quite interesting!

 

Our ticket only included 3 tombs, so we decided to visit the tombs of Tuthmosis IV (KV 43), Rameses IV (KV 2) and Rameses IX (KV 6).  We noticed the difference on some of the tombs, as were we advised that during the lifetime of the kings, the Tombs were stated to be ready for their respective death, however, you can tell some were rushed (depending on WHEN the deaths happened), where the detailed inscriptions on the lower chambers weren’t as detailed as the more meticulous carvings on the entrance chamber.

 

Access to the Tuthmosis IV tomb was quite interesting; it involved climbing up a metal stair case (obviously added years later from the origins of the tombs) and then a climb down to the tomb chamber.  It was the only tomb that involved a change in direction, mainly as during excavation it was discovered that another tomb wall was on the other side, so the tomb corridor had to be positioned at a different angle than originally intended.

 

Anyway, once we completed our visited we made our way back to the bus and back to the boat, for a relaxing afternoon.  We stayed moored overnight at Luxor.

 

 

Day 9 – Sunday, 30th September

We were expecting a very early and entertaining morning, and it was certainly fun!  An early start with a different – our first Hot Air Balloon experience. 

 

We had at take a short mini-bus journey down the East-Bank (a few hundred yards), where we joined a boat which took us across the Nile to the West-Bank, where we were intending to enter the Hot Air Balloon.  Normal health and safety brief, I didn’t know that there was a special way of landing, not just for the balloon but for those in the basket too.  You are meant to face the OPPOSITE direction of where you are landing, so you are looking away from the landing direction.  You then need to grab the rope handles within the basket and crouch down a little bit so your knees are bent but back is straight.  Weird feeling, but it was all to do if the basket toppled over and you were bumped along the ground!

 

Once we climbed into the basket, we slowly took off.  We had approx 32 people in our basket (full capacity), some were relatively large, so for balance were situated in the centre.

We had a slow start, as seemingly we weren’t very lucky with the jet up-streams.  But our patience was well-rewarded, with a flight that slowly rose and took us above the West-Bank landscape.  We could see the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut in the near distance.  What we witnessed next was breathtaking, the sun-rise from over the Nile – starting around 05:40 – lasting about 5-10 minutes before it rose above the horizon.

 

We then descended a bit and we started to worry that we were going to have an abrupt end to our journey.  We were quite close and could see some of the homes of people – a mix of homes for humans and animals alike.

 

We then went over another Temple, and then slowly but surely header towards the Nile.  The landscape was amazing and views below more so.  We went closer to the River, and we could see the Ships moored along the East-Bank, ours was recognisable, being on the outside, and in front the “6 ships” parallel parked behind it.   Down below were some fields still on the West-Bank, where there were clear imprints of what would appear to be other “balloon” landings.  As we glided over but very low across the Nile, we started seeing the East-Bank sites of interest.  We went over the Temple of Luxor, we saw a cub of foxes run around some of the monuments.  We also saw what appeared to be a Total Eclipse by a neighbouring Balloon across the Sun. 

 

After this part of the journey, we slowly descended into one of the fields, neighbouring someone’s home – which included a pet-camel!  The total journey lasting just over an hour!  Wow!

 

We made it back to the boat, and freshened up; as we had to have breakfast and then make our way to the last two visits in Luxor; the Temple of Karnak and the Temple of Luxor.

The Temple of Karnak is the largest temple complex ever built by man, and represents the combined achievement of many generations of ancient builders. The Temple of Karnak is actually three main temples, smaller enclosed temples, and several outer temples located about three kilometres north of Luxor, situated on 100 ha (247 acres) of land.  Karnak is actually the sites modern name.  Its ancient name was Ipet-isut, meaning "The Most Select (or Sacred) of Places".

The entrance to the first Pylon is lined with an Avenue of Rams leading to the West gate of the Karnak Temple complex.

There are two standing obelisks located within the Temple complex, both by Hatshepsut, there is also an unfinished one now resting on its side in the complex.

There is also a Colossus measuring 45 feet high, representing a king with several cartouches.

The Precinct of Amon-Re (the only section opened to the public) consists of many pillars.  The most significant being a depiction of what is termed as the “one arm, one leg man” (he was called “Min”).   The Myth is that Min stayed behind to watch the City whilst the other men went out to war, in doing so; he impregnated the ladies of the City.  The result the menu returned, and made him a god, and this chap is shown with one arm, one leg, and an erect, large penis.  I don’t actually believe this version of events, and feel it is a less sinister story.

The other part of the site we visited was the Sacred Lake, used in ancient times by priests to purify themselves before a service.  Also next to the Sacred Lake is a giant scarab, dedicated by Amenophsis III to the God Khepri. The Egyptians believed that the Sun was pushed by a scarab on its daily crossing of the sky. It came to symbolise eternity. One unusual feature of this specific scarab: it is said that if you walk around the scarab seven times, you will never again have love problems, and if you go around it twice, your get blessed with good luck.  I did the 2-round option – we’ll see what happens.

We then moved onto the Temple of Luxor.  The Temple was dedicated to the Theban Triad of Amun-Re, his wife Mut, and his son Khonsu.

It was called "Ipet resyt" which means the Southern Opet or the Place of the Seclusion of Amun-Re. It was directly connected to the temple of Karnak, the main cult center of Amun-Re or Amun-Min, the sky god or the ithyphallic fertility god.

The temple had another group of divinities that included Iunet, Hathor, and Atum, whose statues were discovered in a hidden storage pit.

On the Colonnade Hall: East Wall, during excavation, they noticed that the Pillars starting leaning inwards – it looked like the excavation on the hidden pit was causing some foundation issues to the pillars.  They were creating the ‘Leaning Towers of Luxor’, so it was decided to re-enforce the pillar’s foundation and there were painstakingly disassembled and reassembled during many years of restoration.

One of the other Walls on the complex reviewed an interesting find, the historic depictions were located on the wall, but it would appear that during the Roman occupation, the walls were covered over with frescoes.  Amazing hey?

Anyway, we made it back to the boat but our returned journey towards Aswan.  A new group of travellers had joined the ship, as the two Kuoni UK groups had disembarked after arriving at Luxor.  Our new group were 70-odd Polish people. 

During the afternoon, journey we noticed another cruise ship was moored in one of the marshland areas, with the upper decks burnt out.  It would seem that a fire must have broken out on the second deck resulting a war that destroyer the back and upper decks of the ship.  I wouldn’t have liked being on that boat during the incident, not a good way to end the holiday, hey?

We had a relaxing journey back to Esna Lock; we were hoping that we would make it through the lock relatively quickly to enable us to moor at Edfu for a nice evening walk.  I took some nice photos of the sunset as we approached Esna Lock, after which I noticed that there were at least a dozen ships waiting to go through the Lock.  So it would seem we had a multi-hour wait at Esna, temporarily moored to the quayside.

It actually took us over 7 hours to get through.  We had dinner, settled in our cabin, and had an early night. 


Day 10 – Monday, 1st October
We woke up and realised that we had made it to Edfu and had moored successfully.  We must have arrived in the early hours, but better late than never.

We were getting towards the end of our holiday, and today we visited the Temple of Edfu (aka Ptolemaic Temple of Horus).  It was a nice place, but we were getting pretty Temple-out, this was our seventh temple in as many days.  But the Pylons were again a fantastic site, and really made one wonder how the ancient Egyptians managed to build such structures so many years ago.

The pylons of the main Temple are about 118 feet high with typical scenes of the pharaoh in battle with his enemies. Within the pylons is the colonnaded courtyard with distinctive, pared columns, which leads into the great hypostyle hall. But on either side of the courtyard there are gates which lead to an area behind the temple and inside the bounding walls. Here, there are inscriptions recording donations of land which were probably transferred from demotic documents. There are also dramatic images depicting the defeat of Seth by Horus. There was an annual ritual called the known as the Triumph of Horus (10 harpoons) which ended in the slaying of a hippopotamus, the symbol of Seth.

The carvings inside the temple were very intricate and detailed.  This is not only the best preserved ancient temple in Egypt, but the second largest after Karnak.  There are numerous reliefs, including a depiction of the Feast of the Beautiful Meeting, the annual reunion between Horus and his wife Hathor. The reliefs are mostly situated on the inside of the first pylon, and spiritually connect this temple with Hathor’s Temple at the Dendera complex.

The facade of the first hypostyle hall has images honoring Horus and Hathor, and there is an immaculate ten foot tall colossi of Horus as the falcon god here (a matching colossi was destroyed).

Our guide did another little blunder by making another passing comment about one the rooms inside the Temple, the ‘Perfume Room’ – where the perfume formulas in the form of hieroglyphics are inscribed on its walls, which hold the key to some of the mystical perfumes of the past.

We even saw an interesting site; Horse and Carriages were seemingly the transport of choice here, rather than Taxi’s.  So just outside the Temple site was what I would term the Horse and Carriage Rank (equivalent to the “Taxi-Rank” term).

We returned to the boat, and continued our journey back to Kom Kombo.  Whilst the other (Polish) Tour Group disembarked to visit the Temple of Kom Ombo, we stayed on the boat to simply ‘chill’  We were sitting in front of the boat, and had just moored, when an really scary sight occurred.  A ship that was moored in front of the us, was reversing our of its space pretty fast, we had a feeling it was going to quickly, but we thought it would slow down as soon as it manoeuvred itself away from the quay side.  It didn’t stop.  Too our right we could see two ships, one after each other, travelling at a slow speed to prepare themselves to moor alongside.  You can imagine what happened the next step, the one ‘reversing’ slammed into the side and T-Boned one of the other ships, even though both ships slammed on the brakes (whatever they are called in the boat-world!), it was too late.  There was an almighty crunch, and the one that was reversing then shot forward and moved alongside ours before going right around the one it had T-boned and continued on its way.  We were expecting to see a large amount of damage to the side of the one that got hit, but remarkable it was just the gang-plank that got the full force of the collision – and a little bit of damage to the walkway along the side of the ship.  And the other boat (where the life-boats were located), didn’t seem to get a scratch.  Remarkably to see something we see only happening to cars, happening to Cruise Ships too.  What an eventful “relaxing” period this was.

Anyway, our Tour Guide took us to drinks at Kom Ombo in the evening, where we tried a new drink – something called “Dom Drink”.  It was a very “rooty-drink, but quite pleasant.

We then relaxed for the evening, whilst we left Kom Ombo for our final leg of the journey back to Aswan.

It was the Egyptian Theme night again, and we again didn’t fancy dressing up again – also as it was largely the Polish group’s night, we believed it was for them to enjoy it, as we already had the entertainment last time.  Anyway, two parts of our group dressed up again – both looking like folks really, and we could see they felt very uncomfortable – but alas its there embarrassment, not ours.


Day 11 – Tuesday, 2nd October
Having arrived back in Aswan, it was a chill-out day.  We ended up just relaxing on the boat, doing some more sun-bathing and reading, and watching the world go by. 

We really didn’t do that much today, apart from relaxing and reading,

We ventured back to the Spice Market, was we were keen to get some genuine and reasonable saffron.  We didn’t in the end, but we did get 1kilo of Dates for £10LE.  Very nice indeed and all of a £1GBP!!

The evening involved a Nubian Show, was quite entertaining.  Certainly fun and a nice relaxing way to spend the last evening on the boat.


Day 12 – Wednesday, 3rd October
This was our full day in Aswan, and on the boat, we did the normal breakfast routine.

We then took a small-Boat to visit the Botanical Gardens on Kitchener Island.  We noticed that there were a lot of cats present, very cute – obviously didn’t want to get too close to them as they didn’t look that humanised. 

As our Tour Guide didn’t show us around, we simply walked around the Gardens and viewed some Mint, Citrus and other plants and trees in the Gardens – very quaint atmosphere.

We returned to the boat, and finished packing.  We decided not to have lunch, as felt we had enough to eat until we arrived back I Cairo.  Our flight was early afternoon, so we said our farewells to those (half of the group – 2 couples) that were leaving the main Tour Group and heading off to their Resort break for the additional 3 days of their holiday.

Whilst the other 50% of the group (us included) went to Aswan Airport to catch our flight back to Cairo – it would have been nice if we could fly back to the UK from Aswan, rather than spending an overnight stay in Cairo – but alas, that’s the itinerary.

We wrote a thank you letter to the Boat Manager, as felt although the boat itself was slightly aged, the staff and crew treated us very well.  We also wrote a letter to Neveen, thanking her for her efforts during our trip – although we did advise we were aiming to pass some general feedback back to Bales when we returned to the UK.

We arrived back to Cairo, and our mini-bus took us the short distance to the Le Passage Heliopolis Hotel, located at the Airport site.  We were keen to find a nice Egyptian Restaurant – for the Ramadan Special again – but as there were none in or near hotel; we decided to take the courtesy mini-bus to Khan al Khalili – where we were recommended we would find some nice restaurants by the Concierge.   In fact, we didn’t find anything that we were rally after, I think it was an incorrect recommendation, so we were aiming to go back to the Blue Nile, where we had an enjoyable meal last time. 

We asked a Tourist Policeman for assistance; and soon after, some other locals came to try to help – I think they were after our “business”, and sure thing they were.  They ‘managed’ the Taxi’s, so suggested to take us to another place where they suggested were meet our dinner needs.  We declined, but requested that they take us to the Blue Nile.  As the Concierge advised us that it would cost approx £50LE to return from Khan to the Le Passage Heliopolis Hotel, we asked the Taxi ‘co-ordinator’ how much it would be for the returned trip.  He indicated £100LE.  We said no way, and managed to haggled the price down to £70LE to the Blue Nile and back to the Hotel afterwards, including a 2-hr stay for our meal.  What bargaining power, hey?

We had a nice meal at the Blue Nile; the meal worked out to be approx £120 LE per person, inc drinks.  So wasn’t too bad at all.  We managed to survive the Taxi Journey too – it was sure a journey.  It was absolute madness, he drove without lights, and he swerved in and out.  God my heart did jump a couple of beats!  We arrived back to hotel, relaxed, readied ourselves for our return flight tomorrow morning.


Day 13 – Thursday, 4th October
We had a nice morning breakfast in the hotel, we freshened ourselves for the trip home, and we caught the short mini-bus ride to the Airport.  Having checked in, we then relaxed ready for the journey home.

On board, the flight crew were very nice (in fact, one of the crew was VERY attractive – made it a pleasurable journey at least.

During our journey, we flew by Greece, and as the weather was very clear, I could make out some of the Greek Islands.  Santorini was there, and no doubt some of the others I had previously visited (Syros, Sifnos etc) – but couldn’t recall the shape of those islands respectively.  We then could see Athens in the distance, remarkable seeing the City from such a distance.  Look stunning.  We could also see some of the charred landscapes, following the recent Forest Fires that hit Greece; was an amazing sight, even now!

Towards London, we had an amazing view too, we reached London, and then swung around to then flow from the Millennium Dome and Canary Wharf area, and travelled along the Thames westward, seeing the City of London, the London Gerkin, Houses of Parliament, London Eye, Tower Bridge, Wembley Stadium and then finally descending towards Heathrow airport.  Wow that was a thrilling view to say the least.

We arrived at Heathrow around 14:00, and collected our luggage.  We didn’t have to wait too long which was a slight shock to me.  We were booked for the 14:35 coach heading to Brighton.  We were actually spot-on time-wise, and caught to National Express coach for Gatwick and Brighton.  We requested a stop over at Hickstead, and got my father to pick us up and bring us back home.

Well, what an interesting 13-14 days, shame it’s over and I have to go back to work on Monday, but at least it was an memorable and existing trip!  Bring on the next one!

 

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Holiday Time (again!?)
(Saturday, 15 September 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well this year, I wanted to treat my mother. My mother always wanted to go for a Nile Cruise in Egypt, so this year I decided to go for it.

Again, like most years, I decided on a last-minute scramble to get everything sorted - committing the order in mid-August (that's pretty early compared to my previous holiday plans!).  Managed to use my AXP Staff Travel Office services again - saving £290 in the process - the 10% staff discount - which roughly equates to receiving back the VAT on the trip. 

Booked a tour with Bales Worldwide, something which has been highly recommended a few times by the AXP Travel Office as well as my mother's work colleagues.  Can't wait. 

We are leaving on Saturday, 22nd September and returned on Thursday, 4th October - a nice 13 day break!  Definitely can't wait for this, although it's not necessarily a break as such - a working holiday to some extent, as definitely a lot to squeeze into the 13 days!!

No doubt, more news to follow, including the tons of photos and video clips I am expecting to take during the trip!

This is my second holiday of 2007 - my first visiting Santorini in May 2007 - during the time I was in Greece.

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Busy few weeks
(Saturday, 08 September 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Although I have been doing a fair number of European projects - meaning that the core project teams have been largely on holiday during the month of August - this didn't mean work stopped for me!

In fact quite the opposite, I found myself as busy as ever - I kept saying to folks it was "manageable busy".

Either way, am still doing quite a lot of Greek-related projects, and still finding myself scheduling a few trips to Greece.

In fact, since coming back from my 3-months stint - which ended in end of June 2007, I've been back to GREECE at the end of July, the end of August and now a further trip scheduled for next week.

I'm now getting very used to this trip, but this also means it's getting to be quite tiring too. It's not all its cracked out to, this travelling malarkey!! But I do spend time visiting some Greek friends whilst I am in the market - well might as well make the most of it!

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Greek Forest Fires
(Thursday, 30 August 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Every year, Greece and several other southern European countries experience wild forest fires, some are started deliberately, others accidentally.  Either way they all prove challenging during the hot dry summer months in these Countries.

Whilst experiencing the usual set of fires in recent months, many went unreported, a very dry and hot summer season - where temperatures remained over 40oC continuously (hitting 46oC and 47oC at times), for several days if not weeks on end.  This meant the whole country was tinder-dry, and combine this with the August holiday month, meant it was inevitable that something tragic was going to happen one day - and it certainly did for Greece this year (with dire consequences)!!

This year, I felt the true effects of these wild fires, as I've stayed in the areas recently affected. You may recall I stayed on the island of Skiathos, part of the Sporades islands, in May 2007. Only the find that in July 2007, raging fires engulfed part of the island.

This year the media reports started to embrace these environmental disasters even more than usual, concentrating at the beginning of August on Croatia, and the infamous city of Dubrovnik.

Things then went wild in the media (no pun intended), with the reports focusing on what was happening in Greece. There were forest reports in various areas of the Country, several in the northern suburbs of Athens, but it was the mainland area of Peloponnese that was worst affected.

The fires raged on from 22nd August through to 29th August - with many smaller fires occurring during the earlier weeks of August, and some continuing until now.  They were very tragic - with 64 people dying, as they tried to escape the fires! 

From speaking with the friends and work colleagues located in Athens, the Greeks were classing this as being "under attack" and "at war" with the elements.  They were scared, worried and angry at what has happened.

I was more concerned about some close friends, who's relatives were based on the Messina area of the Peloponnese area - in fact the very area where I stayed over the during one of the weekend breaks in the first weekend of August.

Luckily after several days if not weeks of experiencing these wild fires, the fires were eventually brought under control - with the great assistance from the other European countries. This brings out the best of the European Union - at times of urgent need and help! Good on us! The death-toll appears to stay at 64 and not increase further - it's now the aftermath and clean-up that now needs to progress. Homes, businesses, lives and lifelihoods are all affected - both with economical and envrionmental effects! What a shame. My wishes are with those affected by this disaster!


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Clio Bonnets - VOSA Meeting
(Tuesday, 07 August 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well I've scheduled a meeting with the Head of the Vehicle Safety Branch in Bristol on Thursday, 9th August, to ascertain why VOSA feels a safety recall is not deemed necessary for the Renault Clio Mark-2s.

Numerous cases of the sudden "bonnet releases" when a car is in motion have been reported since themy case was experienced in March 2006 - I believe BBC Watchdog (now off-air until the Autumn 2007) reportedly had ~1,500 cases! That's an awful lot for something which Renault classed as a "unique" incident!

More news to follow after the meeting on Thursday!

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Weekend in Messinia, Peloponnese Greece
(Thursday, 02 August 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well another weekend, another visit to Greece!!

I had two project meetings which "unfortunately" spanned across the last week of July. I had a meeting on Thurs, 26th July and one on the Tues, 31st July. With the flights out, it would take me Wednesday "flying out", and Friday "flying back", and then having to spend the following Monday "flying out" again, followed by a the return on Tuesday evening "flying back" to end the two trips.

Not very good from a carbon footprint methinks!

So I decided to get approval and provide business justification (focused on "cost benefits" mainly) to stay over the weekend in Greece.

OPTION A:
Project Meeting 1:
Wed 25th July to Thurs 26th July
Olympic (12:20 / 19:15) - £287.80
IC - €200.00 (Total: €200.00) £136.00
Taxi - £200.00
TOTAL: £623.80

Project Meeting 2:
Mon 30th July to Tues 31st July
Olympic (12:20 / 19:15) - £287.80
IC - €200.00 (Total: €200.00) £136.00
Taxi - £200.00
TOTAL: £623.80
GRAND TOTAL: £1,247.60

OPTION B:
Extended Trip:
Wed 25th July through to Tues 31st July
Extra Days:
Thurs 26th July to Mon 30th July

Olympic (12:20 / 19:15) - £258.80
IC - €200.00 (Total: €1,200.00) £816.00
Taxi - £200.00
TOTAL: £1,274.80
GRAND TOTAL: £1,274.80

Initially, the additional stay was only ~£30 more expensive, and because I had not classed "food" costs, my Corporate Global Expense group did not permit me to stay over - believing the costs including food would not be justifiable for the additional days in the market!  Grrr!!

I then went back explaining that I was able to have further meetings for some of the other Greece projects I was involved in on the Friday and Monday, and that I would personally fund the meal costs during the weekend. This then got approved! Wahoo!

So I stayed in the InterContinental Athens, slightly cheaper than the Hilton Athens, for the 6 nights.

I was looking forward to spend some time with my delightful lady friend that I had recently acquainted during my recent 12-week work assignment in Greece.

Anyway, she invited me to come along with her to visit a village in the Messinia County in the, Peloponnese region of mainland Greece. A delightful area and I was able to finally see true "village-life". Amazing!

We arrived on Friday evening, and had a "family meal" with her grandma, cousins and friends on the Friday. We spent Saturday at a nice secluded beach area, and a Taverna meal on the evening. On Sunday, we spent a further session on another nearby beach. We then refreshed ourselves, and made our way back to Athens (approx 4 hour journey) returning late on Sunday evening.

Very enjoyable and I certainly had a lot of fun spending time away from Athens for a change! Here's the gallery link --> Photo Gallery!

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Black Google - Carbon Footprint
(Thursday, 02 August 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Blackle was created by Heap Media to remind us all of the need to take small steps in our everyday lives to save energy. Blackle searches are powered by Google Custom Search.

Blackle saves energy because the screen is predominantly black. "Image displayed is primarily a function of the user's color settings and desktop graphics, as well as the color and size of open application windows; a given monitor requires more power to display a white (or light) screen than a black (or dark) screen." Roberson et al, 2002.

In January 2007, a blog post titled "Black Google Would Save 750 Megawatt-hours a Year" proposed the theory that a black version of the Google search engine would save a fair bit of energy due to the popularity of the search engine. Since then there has been skepticism about the significance of the energy savings that can be achieved and the cost in terms of readability of black web pages.

How can you help?
I encourage you to set "Blackle" as your home page. This way every time you load your Internet browser you will save a little bit of energy. Remember every bit counts! You will also be reminded about the need to save energy each time you see the Blackle page load.

There are a lot of great web sites about saving energy and being more environmentally friendly. They are full of great tips covering the little things that we can all do to make a difference today. Try Blackling "energy saving tips" or visit treehugger.com a great blog dedicated to environmental awareness.

Although seemingly a small thing, we can all make an effort to reduce our "carbon footprint", something I am definitely keen to do...yes this is probably just a buzzword of recent times - but we should consider all we can, to help save our green planet and its ecosystems that we sooo rely on - every little helps, as they say!  (Where have I heard this motto before - ahhhh "Tesco's"!!)

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Clios are unsafe! But lack of Interest by Renault!?
(Wednesday, 01 August 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Still no joy with Renault (UK or France HQ), so decided that another letter correspondence was in order - address to the Chairman and CEO of Renault Group (France).

"Your UK Executive teams have failed to respond to my earlier communications dated 2nd March and 6th April 2007 – which you have also been copied into.

Renault’s current stance signifies its reluctance to deal with this safety matter. It doesn’t seem satisfactory for Renault to imply that it has nothing to do with the incidents – as it “manufactures” and “designs” the parts in question. Renault has implied the incidents are caused by lack of care on the owner’s part – relating to the closure and maintenance of the bonnet – which Renault believes is “resolved” by issuing the directive to the UK Renault dealerships to check and maintain (and replace) parts during servicing. Incidentally, you should note that incidents continue to occur up to this day. 

  1. Maintenance does not seem to be the root-cause – Renault believes it is; Renault has also admitted that the closure of the bonnet does not rely on any particular level of maintenance. Isn’t this a clear contradiction by Renault? 
  2. The Bonnet Closure for any vehicle is fool-proof – you close the bonnet and tug it to confirm that the bonnet catches are engaged and secure. This is the standard approach for any bonnet. Even so, the Clio’s bonnets do not seem to engage properly on the primary and secondary (safety) catches, although they appear secure when tugged by the owner – in the first instance. Any resulting “bonnet release” in motion, signifies an apparent failing in both catch mechanisms (more notably the safety catch). You cannot categorically accuse 1,000+ owners that they cannot close a bonnet correctly without firm evidence backing up your statement –this is a slanderous statement that Renault has made to your customers whom could have had a fatal road-traffic accident in your vehicles.

An incident which has detrimental effects to the vehicle occupants and the other road users means this is a safety issue – requiring immediate redress. Neither Renault nor VOSA have completed a transparent, complete or thorough investigation, therefore this discredits any statements made by both organisations thus far. You should consider a settlement for all cases experienced, including providing more support to your customers. These are the basis for someone that deems themselves a ‘responsible manufacture’ and one that considers ‘safety of paramount importance’. I await your department’s response with interest."

We'll see what they have to say in response (if anything!) 

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Renault and VOSA - Lack of Focus
(Monday, 23 July 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well I am getting quite peed off with both organisations! (No change really!)

Having finally received an initial acknowledgement response to my correspondence with VOSA, I am now looking to meet-up with the head of the Vehicle Safety Branch (VSB) - who "completed" the investigation relating to Renault Clio Bonnet Safety Catches. Thanks to my Mid-Sussex Conservative MP, Nicolas Soames.

Regarding Renault - well no replies to my previous two letters. Not a happy bunny!

Looks like another letter to Renault is required, so watch this space.

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"Act Naturally" Course
(Tuesday, 17 July 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti

This week (on Monday and Tuesday) I attended an interesting course called "Act Naturally" - which seemingly focused on how we perform in presentations and any other formal gathering.

It gave us an opportunity to identify our "tension point" and gauge our traits which seemingly hold us back when presenting to a wider audience.

It was an interrogation and didn't feel uncomfortable - and I got a lot of it.

In short, I need to focus on the following points:

  • Looking up as I enter a room.
  • Find my "placing" before I begin speaking - ensure I am "well-grounded" to the floor!
  • Pause during my sentences, and ensure I have a good introduction - e.g. calm, easy statements or questions to begin with.
  • I also have the tendency to think and progress quicker than the audience - i.e. not give time for a response or the thought to sink in within the audience, so I must SLOW down my performance and even my thoughts, I guess.
  • Need to identify and emphasise the key points within my presentation - less is more, and focus upon these at specific destination points (people, focal points within the room) - to reinforce the importance of the points noted.

I believe there were a few others, but these were the key ones I captured!

All in all, a great "feedback" gathering opportunity - something I don't normally get a lot of (constructively) within AXP. You get feedback - but it's normally criticism - and not really formatted in a way to help you resolve the said points. But this particular course, was presented at the right level and with the right subject material - related to my role / job!

It was also good to see how others do it, and even try to learn the tips of the trade - from real-life actors etc.

Well I know I need to present to GNS Partner's soon, so will hopefully have a great opportunity to test some of these theories!!

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Clio Action Group
(Wednesday, 11 July 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti

If you are interested to find out more about the Clio Sudden Bonnet Release Syndrome - a new Google group has been set-up!!

Here's the link:

http://groups.google.co.uk/group/clio-action-group

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Gallery Comment Bug - Fixed!!
(Sunday, 08 July 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Hooray! I've located the bug that persisted for a number of months, preventing anyone from adding a comment to my gallery pictures / images.

Amazing what a fresh look at a piece of code does to one!!! So comment away - click the link below to jump straight to it!!:

Brigatti Online Gallery

Enjoy!

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VOSA's Response to My MPs Enquiries
(Tuesday, 03 July 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti
Here's the letter I received from Stephen Tetlow - the CEO of the VOSA organisation.

"Dear Mr Soames,

Thank you for your letter of 1st May on behalf of your constituent Aaron Brigatti, [address removed], about the Vehicle and Operator Service Agency (VOSA) investigation of Renault Clio II bonnet and safety catches. I am sorr for the extended time it has taken to respond.

I have reviewed the investigation undertaken by my Vehicle Safety Branch (VSB) over the last 12 months. I can confirm that it has been robus and that without our remit, under the Code of Practice on Vehicle Safety Defects, the decision not to impose a safety recall was correct.

In April 2007, Renault UK began contacting circa 500,000 1998-2007 Renault Clio II Phase 1, Phase II and Clio II Campus customers to invite them to their local dealership to have the bonnet and safety catch components checked and, if necessary, serviced or replaced free of charge.

Unfortunately, I did not receive Mr Brigatti's earlier e-mails. We believe the e-mail address he used was incomplete. For further reference our email contact details are: [blah].

However, Mr Brigatti has been kept informed of the investigation progress through correspondence with my VSB and Hugh Edwards, Director of Goods Vehicles. It maybe easier to discuss questions and theories face-to-face. Jeff Sweeting, Head of VSB, would be happy to meet with Mr Brigatti and can be contacted on [blah].

I trust this addresses your concerns.

Yours sincerely,


Stephen Tetlow"


My comments below:

  1. The VSB investigation has not lasted "12 months" as implied - they received my filed case in April 2006, and only reviewed my report (and that of another "victim" (see second point regarding my comments on this)) and inspected 3 other unaffected vehicles in April 2006 - and submitted a conclusion response to me in January 2007. Firstly, to be correct this is not 12 months, and secondly it would appear that they made their decision within the first few months of the investigation, as I have received indication that in October and November 2006, the VSB declined to file or respond to any further cases filed to it - why? Is this a "complete" investigation? If anything, this should obtain details from ANY incidents that occurred related to the "sudden bonnet release syndrome" or see any commonality in the part mechanism / performance. Reviewing two REPORTS and spot-checking 3 undamaged cars is not a (thorough) investigation!
  2. Regarding the "second report" they reviewed. Under a FoI request, this report has not come to light - therefore I am questioning it's existence. At this stage, there is nothing that indicates a second report was reviewed. Also reviewing two "reports" completed by the garage / manufacture in question does raise the question of their reliability and independence. I reiterate that the VSB investigation was based solely on these two reports!
  3. The VOSA Code of Practice indicates that a defect has to appear on a "common number of units", which are "available in the UK" - and with "evidence that a safety defect exists in the affected unit". 1,000+ cases in the UK alone covers the initial points. I would question how they have come to the conclusion that there is no evidence indicating that a "safety defect" exists in the related part. Note: that the part in question that keeps a bonnet secure - is a two-part bonnet catch mechanism - which incorporates a safety catch. My understanding is safety relates to anything that endangers the life of the occupants or those that are around the vehicle. This is a very basic viewpoint of what I deem as "safety". Quoting verbatim your policy - a safety defect is "a feature of design or construction liable to cause a significant risk of personal injury or death" - ....I questioned to VOSA to confirm which bit doesn't apply in the Renault Case? And confirm to me the VOSA/VSB definition of a safety defect as apparently they are contradicting their own policies here?
  4. Please consider this - a bonnet catch failure that removes ALL visibility for the driver - resulting in potentially a fatal "life-threatening" RTA (endangering lives!) - is what we would deem as a evidence of a potential safety defect (many people in the industry agrees to this very point!).
  5. To bring them closer to a similar scenario, the VSB deemed a previous Alfa Romeo 147 & 156 "bonnet catch failure" as a safety defect - resulting in a manufacturer's recall of the affected vehicles. What makes the Renault case different?
  6. They were correct in that Renault have "invited" owners of the affected vehicles for a free safety inspection (12+mths after early reports) - however, this doesn't address the root-cause of why it happened (maintenance is one small aspect of a bigger issue - which is likely to re-occur in the future - and cases continue to be reported!) - but importantly, comes too late relating to the 1,000+ cases (where people have had to claim via their insurance). It's a matter of a gesture which is "too little, too late", and still fails far short from a total UK and, in theory, a global recall. This was only due to the persistence of members of the public, like myself, and the media. If it weren't for us, Renault would have sweep this matter under the carpet - like they initially tried to do for all reported cases filed to them. This is not a "unique" incident as they implied.

What are the results of these points?

Well we are potentially questioning the role of VOSA, the VSB and the ambiguity and interpretation of their own policies - if they can easily contradict these - the vehicle manufacturer would be in a clear position to do the exact same thing! This should not happen.

Apparently, the organisation does not have any powers to force a recall (more of an advisory role!?) nor deal with these matters independently - i.e. they become reliant on anything that the manufacture advises / communicates to them - and they accept their findings in such cases. Is this a role of a safety agency - one that I believe was meant to be impartial?

More news to follow...and hopefully I will schedule this "meeting" at some point soon - depends on my work commitments etc...
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Glyndebourne Tickets - St Matthew Passion
(Monday, 02 July 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti

A colleague at work is on a mailing list for Glyndebourne tickets, but due to his family commitments he was unable to attend a performance for which he had obtained the tickets for.

Glyndebourne is an opera theatre located in Glynde, near Ringmer - where we used to live. It's normally quite difficult to get on the mailing list and obtain tickets so my colleague does the correct thing and accepts them and he is unable to attend a particular performance, he offers them up to his friends and colleagues - at face value.

The Glyndebourne performance was of St Matthew Passion, and it's scheduled for Thursday, 5th July at 17:15. I haven't hear much about this particular performance, but I've been told that it's the first year that they have performed it at Glyndebourne!

I decided to take my mother, and we were aiming o be at Glyndebourne at around 15:30 - allowing us time to enjoy the atmosphere and enjoy the "picnic" which is something Glyndebourne is renowned for. I just hope the weather holds out for us.

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Greece Assignment - My Last Day
(Thursday, 28 June 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Thursday, 28th June:

Well after 12 long weeks, today was my last day of the work secondment.  I was flying back later today.  Mixed emotions, sad to leave but also happy to see my friends and family again.  Haven’t been back for almost 5 weeks so it was definitely a long overdue return!

Work-wise, my achievements have been mixed and varied.  But I have definitely achieved a lot, and the reason I came out here for, to ensure the stability of the system (operationally and technically) has been achieved.  I have also kicked off all of the projects I intended to kick-off.  I just hope my role going forward is also resolved pretty soon!  I definitely want to keep those projects and want to ensure I run them successfully to closure (implementation).

in any case I will be back soon, as I know the new project would involve more face-to-face meetings etc.  We will see how things turn out.  I did receive a gift from the Partner bank, a nice Tie and Cufflinks – what a very nice gesture this was.  I wasn’t expecting anything!  I must have done well if this is what they think of me!  Must be my personality? 

Anyway, personally, I’ve learnt so much, too much to really explain here, but I definitely have achieved my one of my life ambitions to work and live in another Country – albeit only for a short period.  I just hope something similar is offered or available to me again in the future.  Who knows!

and my lady friend, well last night, I did meet up with her pretty late in the evening.  I wanted to ensure we said our short farewells.  I did explain that I was planning to come back, just hope she will be around when I do.  I think it would be mid-July.  We’ll see how things plan out.  Never say never!

I returned to the hotel, after checking our in the morning, to pick-up my suitcase, and spend some time with my mother who was waiting for me to finish work.  We left for the airport only to find that the BA plane, which was scheduled to leave at 19:05 was delayed by 1 and a half hours.  Grrr!  Anyway, we grabbed a bite to eat and eventually left at around 20:45.  Having arrived back in Heathrow, we were met by our taxi and after about an hour made our way to our home.  Boy was I glad to get some well-earned rest.

Tomorrow, I will work from home, and simply catch-up with e-mails, phone calls, and start doing some of the reports I have still to compile.  What fun this will be! 

What a wonderful 12 weeks it has been – a mix of highs, lows (many highs and only a few low points), but largely I have enjoyed every moment of the work assignment, and value being offered this life experience! 

Back to the old routine from Monday!  Including the wet, windy and cooler British weather!

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Greece Assignment - New Project PDP Session
(Wednesday, 27 June 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Wednesday, 27th June:

Days full of project meetings and separate discussions. 

New project kick-off session held today, pretty challenging project, but seems a lot of fun, and definitely a high-profile project.  Okay, maybe “fun” is not the right word maybe it should be “intriguing”, or “interesting”, either way it’s going to be a busy few months ahead.  Oh boy!

Wasn’t really a productive day, as the PDP session for this new project was delayed by about a 1hr and a half.  We finished around mid-afternoon, and I just tried to play catch-up with e-mails and the like.  Before I realised it was 17:30 so I had to leave – I was absolutely exhausted today!

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Greece Assignment - New Project, Hottest Place on Earth Today!
(Tuesday, 26 June 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Tuesday, 26th June:

I started work on my new Greek project – on top of trying to finalise the bits and bobs related to my Greece Assignment too. 

My EBT was still a bit up in the air, and I also had to try to deal with this – all I wanted to ensure is that I don’t get screwed by my team in terms of “money” that was rightfully mine.  I had to calculate all of my cash expenses versus what the per diem monthly allowance should be, and see whether I am under or over my allowance!  Under would be my aim, as I wanted to also profit from the work secondment – I didn’t want to be over, and then simply receive the cash difference!  Although this would be mean I have “broken even”, I would feel I wasn’t in control of the expenses, and would have lose out on any potential profit!  Apparently, my leader could be in trouble because of this – as has severe tax / liability implications to the company.   If I had a VISA, I could have been told to come back on the next available flight – yes this cocked up!  How embarrassing this would have been/

Athens was the hottest place on earth today – today, we reached 46oC – yes not a typo – 46oc (that’s 115oF!!).  This beat the Middle-East's, Sahara's and mainland Africa's hottest temperatures today!! Wow!  It sure was a struggle to keep my mental and physical (mind, body and soul) together! 

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Greece Assignment - Return to Athens and Gazi Dinner
(Monday, 25 June 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Monday, 25th June:

Another get-up early episode, we decided to go for a walk in the early morning sunshine to the “market” – discovering it was really just a small supermarket – anyway it was closed as we were too early (before 08:00) but it was a nice walk.  We went up to “Artemonas”, basically another small village. 

Actually, I am so pleased we decided to stay in Apollonia, as it seemed to be the place with the happenings.  I had to do some work, as I wanted to start the week on top of things, so just drafted some e-mails and prepared some documents, and then relaxed in the warm sunshine.  At 11:00 we waited for the bus stop to go to the Port.  We saw the local “market” – in the form of a van and donkey selling fresh produce (fish, fruit and veg) – this is what a local market is meant to be about – oh what fun!    The bus arrived in the port town at around 11.30 – it was too early for lunch, so we ate a late breakfast on the portside and after which, we took the Flying Dolphin back to Athens at around 12:45. 

‘twas a pleasant journey, and we arrived in Athens about 2.5hrs later, mid-afternoon.  We had a manic attempt to get taxi in the sweltering heat – there was none available on the port side, and as the heat was very strong, we knew it would probably take an hour to get one, so we decided to walk outside of the port and try to hail one down from the street.  We eventually managed to get one, and we arrived back at the Hilton at around 16:00.  Phew!

I was out tonight for a Partner work dinner “on me”, we went to a place in Gazi – an area which I didn’t realise was where I had been previously.  I was taken here by my lady friend for some drinks in some of the trendy bars around this area.  Neat hey?  Anyway, dinner was actually very nice – in a place called “Mamacas”.  We had a nice chat about things in general, and then around 01:00 we said our farewells and I managed to get a lift back to the hotel for some well-earned rest – in preparation for work tomorrow.

 

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Greece Assignment - Sifnos Adventures
(Sunday, 24 June 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Sunday, 24th June:

We had already noted times for buses to the other key parts of the island we wanted to explore.  We woke up early as we knew it was going to be a hot day and we wanted to relax in a different part of island.  We intended to catch an early bus to south of island, in a place called “Chrysopigi”, we walked down to bus stop and asked the local Greek who was waiting, whether the bus was coming.  She didn’t seem to understand and told us to wait for the bus in the centre of town, so we decided to walk up the steps away from the road-side. 

Whilst walking up the steps, we turned out and saw the bus appear – realising that it was the one we wanted to catch, again, how annoying.  We knew we couldn’t run to catch it – after all, it was pretty warm already! We decided to go back to the main town centre in any case and review the bus times again, and made sure we were clear as to which ones we had to catch there and back.

We then went back to the room, waited in the comfort of the cool air-conditioned room, as we could see bus come down from “Artemonas” from our room.  We saw it and managed to catch it this time, again the journey was only €2.40 in total – so pretty reasonable indeed.  Apparently children are the “conductors”, whilst the mother/father drive – very family orientated, hey?

We arrived at Chrysopigi, and walked down the steps for about 20 minutes to the church which was on a overlying piece of land – very good view, clear water and beach around the corner.  We took some photos, relaxed, and then decided to go to the beach.  Found a nice spot to enjoy the sunshine.  We went into the water for a swim but realised it was very stoney!  So instead of diving in, and potentially injuring ourselves, we decided just to relax on beach sands instead.  Wise-choice!!  We had a couple of frappes in Taverna – only €2 per frappe – so even cheaper than the town. 

We then returned back to hotel, rested (napped), then decided to got to Kastro – by bus.  We left at 15.00 for the 10 minute journey, and arrived at Kastro.  Big mistake – very surprised as nothing really to see or do.  Bus was infrequent, so had to wait around in café for 2hrs 30mins.  One of studio options was to stay at Kastro – luckily we didn’t do so.  The only thing to do in Kastro was to visit the Ancient Wall, which was simply involved a 20-25minute walk around the site, and back to where we started again.  Hmmm . There was a beach further down, but it certainly was too far to really be worth it – especially in the sweltering heat that we found ourselves in.  So we decided to just relax in the café just near to the bus-top and wait for the bus to appear in 2hrs time!

Having returned around 17.30 in Apollonia, we refreshed ourselves and rested again.  We decided to locate the other Taverna that we had been recommended to visit, and finally located it.  Was pretty good, pretty reasonable again – can’t complain.  We then went for our usual frappe coffee and freshly squeezed orange juice in the café/bar we visited yesterday – and then after an hour or so, we returned back to apartment to enjoy the rest of the evening.

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Greece Assignment - Sifnos Trip
(Saturday, 23 June 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Saturday, 23rd June:

Early wake-up, plus quick breakfast, before we made our way to Piraeus Port for a 07.30 – again, another rushed journey.  I learnt my lesson from last time – but instead of leaving with an hour to go, we still left quite late.  We left at 06.50, and we got there at 07.15 – I though this was plenty of time, but the taxi driver indicated that the ferry leaves very promptly, and actually we should still leave a minimum of an hour before the departure time - not sure of the reason for his concern – but at least he put his foot down! :o)

Arrived at the first island, we dropped off, but then when we were asking for the taxi, we were told it was the next Island, so we had to jump quickly back on the boat and pretend we knew what we were doing.  I thought I heard the name “Sifnos” mentioned on the loud speaker – but obviously, it was not (subsequently learnt it was "Serifos" - close? Okay, maybe not!!!  What is it with me recently!?!?  Grrr!!!  Can I blame the heat or stress from work?

We arrived 11.15, a really long journey, seemed a lot longer than the one I took to Syros or Santorini, even though I know it was shorter – must be a psychological thing!  I noticed that our return ticket was time-stamped for the 18:30 ferry, but I had requested AXP Travel to book me on the 12:45 one, as I had to be in Athens for a 21:30 dinner.  Must be a slight mis-communication or mis-understanding.  Anyway, visited the Hellenic Seaways ticket office and managed (luckily) to change our return ticket to the earlier Flying Dolphin (the 12.45 one). 

We went back to the Taxi rank and asked for a lift to the Apartment, for some reason the taxi opted not to take us, recommending us to catch the bus.  Hmmm .very confusing, I’ve never seen a taxi turn away business before.  But alas, we obliged and waited for the bus.  It was another 20mins away, so we just had to wait patiently in the warm sunshine – and boy was is it warm – definitely into the 40oC’s again! 

Having caught the bus, we arrived in Apollonia, the capital of the Island.  Our first impressions was that it was a very quaint and sedated place.  We went to tourist office – asked directions to the Studio Apartment, very helpful indeed – also gave us recommendations for Tavernas and the main areas of the town and locations of the bus stops for trips around the island.  Maybe we should have hired a car, but the buses seemed to be frequent and an easy way to get around, not to mention cheap; €1.20 per person, per journey.

We were quite hungry by this point, coming onto midday, so we decided to visit one of the Taverna’s that were open.  Several others were closed up – probably as there weren’t a lot of people (tourists and locals alike) around.  We had two coffees (yes Frappe’s again!) and a nice Greek salad to share – we found this ot be very expensive – €10 for 2x Frappe plus €5 for a Greek Salad (inc cover charge) – doesn’t make sense.  We think we were conned here!!  We will explain the reasons later on!

We then relaxed back in the Apartment, napped, and enjoyed the sunshine (aka sunbathing) – very warm indeed – probably into the mid 40oC’s by now, we then ventured out later for dinner.  The Tourist Office provided us two recommendations, “Adi Exodo” and “Tou Apostoli”.  We located the first and decided to eat here for dinner, a very quiet and away from main hustle and bustle (sits back from street) but quiet a little oasis – it seemed to be a family-run place – with the son and daughter working hard, as the father running around too.  It wasn’t too expensive either. 

We then strolled back to the main street, and decided to go to one of the bars there for our evening Frappes.  Very friendly folks, and we just drank, relaxed, talked and watched the world go by – two Frappe’s €6.  Now you see why I felt we were conned the first place we visited!!  How annoying, hey!?

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Greece Assignment - Last Weekend Trip and still Hot, Hot, Hot!
(Friday, 22 June 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Friday, 22nd June:

Okay day, nothing major, just preparing myself for the weekend.  Very hot again, think it was early 40oC’s again, but not as hot as in previous days (I think it hit 113oF yesterday!!).

My ticket for the weekend trip came through today – VIP on the way out, and Business class on way back – well I have to travel in comfort :o)    Still end up dealing with the knock-on effect of the EBT fiasco – this is taking hours of my day and week to sort out!  Really could do without this, as I should be preparing to come home – not sort out someone else’s cock-up!  You can sense my level of frustration here with my leadership team!

Meant to be continually high over the weekend, I think it was meant to remain in the early to mid 40oC’s throughout!  Wow!!  Least I will be in Sifnos to enjoy this!! 

Mother arrived late evening today, was nice to see her for it was over 5 weeks since I last been home!!  She had a good EasyJet flight over, and we just stayed in the Executive Lounge for most of the evening.

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Greece Assignment - Hottest Day Yet and MusicDay Festival
(Thursday, 21 June 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Thursday, 21st June:

Well I predicted it to be a “hot” day, boy was this an understatement.  Today reached a record 45oC today – in central Athens.  Wow!  AND yes the air conditioning in the office was starting to suffer in this heat.  It packed up for the early parts of the day – and boy was it unbearable!!  Even with the windows open fully, the warm heat was just flooding in!  I shouldn’t complain though, as I understood it was raining cats and dogs in the UK!  Hehe!

Anyway, I skipped breakfast today, as I wanted to get stuck into work early on.  Am I mad?  Yep probably!  It certainly was a pretty tiring day, just the usual challenges to deal with.  Tried to coast along today as I didn’t want to strain myself too much in this heat!

I spoke with my nice lady friend, and we decided to catch-up later in the evening and attend one of the music concerts that were being held in Athens.  “Music-Day” was meant to be a large-scale European music festival, this year being held in Athens.  Several stages in and around the main City squares with other events scheduled for the 3-day music festival, starting today and ending on Saturday!

I went to Monastiraki Metro station around 9.30pm, and walked along to Kotzia Square and we met-up and watched the performances on stage.  Very “interesting” music – not my cup of tea, but the act was meant to be a big well-known act in Greece.  Anyway, we meant on to Klafhmonos Square for some other hits.  I could see we were both suffering a bit – both looked absolutely drained (tired), but alas it was good company.  We then went to the bar we visited on a previous occasion, and met-up with her brother, and some of the other friends that she was intending to meet-up.  Great bunch of folks – and certainly was a great evening! 

Another late and warm night, and made my way back to the hotel after dropping her off around 2.30am.

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Greece Assignment - EBT Follow-Up and Oceans 13
(Wednesday, 20 June 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Wednesday, 20th June:

Today, I decided to make it a better day.  I didn’t expect to be overly busy, but I knew it would still be a tiring day – well mainly due to the weather.  During the last week the temperature had been rising steadily upwards.  It was expected to be into early 40oC’s – ouch!  I still wanted to walk to work, as wanted to use this opportunity to “keep fit”!!!

I had the standard few meetings and conference calls throughout the day, still following up with my Brighton teams to deal with my EBT “mess” I had come across yesterday.  Not sure how it is going to sort itself out, but hopefully I can get my team assistant to do a lot of the leg-work for me.  All I want is to ensure I am not “out of pocket” because of the balls up by the GBS team, and that my expenses get processed – more importantly, I receive my personal expenses, as this would be my biggest annoyance.  Thus far, I have spent over £1,000 of my personal expenses, with some of it being reimbursed during the last two months expenses settlements.  Just hope this month’s about £500 comes my way soon!  Grrr!!

My AXP work colleague who was also on a work secondment with Alpha Bank too until the end of 2007, suggested we catch a movie later in the evening.  Quite a nice chap and I couldn’t certainly do with the company.  Actually, there were 3 AXP folks in town this week, myself, Marios and Maria from GNS Marketing.  We managed to see Ocean’s 13 in another open-air cinema in Kifissias with a 2am return back to the hotel.  The temperature was still around 28oC even at this time of the day!!  I can only predict tomorrow being even hotter!

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Greece Assignment - My Greek Role Going Forward and EBT Mess-Up
(Tuesday, 19 June 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti
Tuesday, 19th June:

Well usual day really, get-up, get dressed, eat breakfast, walk to the office, and work! Nuff said?

I had a Cyprus project review meeting with one of my Team Directors during the middle of the afternoon, and we got chatting about the status of the Cyprus project and my other work commitments. More specifically, about the plan when I return in a couple of weeks time. He indicated that I was going to be given a new project today – related to our Greek partner – which sounded very intriguing. Maybe another excuse to come out more often to visit the market - to see you know who!!

We then went on to the programme of projects that I was currently kicking off here, as part of my work assignment. My team in Brighton view was that I would still be part of those projects when I return – but take a more “holistic” PM role – i.e. support role, rather than lead each projects. Now I understand this in terms of we would slowly take a more back-seat co-ordination role, but is this realistically going to happen here and now. I don’t think so.

Firstly, the Greek partner doesn’t have the resources or those with the necessary skill-set to actively lead them – in the way we do. But you could say the same on the resource-front with my team in Brighton too!

Secondly, the platform has just come through a very challenging period of time, where we had to overcome a fair number of issues. A lot of which could arguably been due to lack of overall ownership or management. So if were aiming to do the same for these “new enhancements” (projects) then aren’t we just going back to the same ol’ problem again? i.e. there is too much risk for things going wrong again in the next few months!

Thirdly, each of these new projects have very tight business timelines – to be deployed in Greece. For this to happen, not only does one have to have build up the relationships with GSS, ITS, WRT and Alpha Bank – but also drive them to completion. How is this going to happen if I were to take a more “relaxed” role?

Lastly, I think new “bigger” projects are meant to come my way when I return to Brighton. Personally, I rather concentrate and become very skilful on a specific “product” or “service”, and this loyalty think but be the thing to focus on!  Specifically, since I do not think I am going to get my promotion in my current team as-is, so feel its time to jump ship and get a promotion elsewhere!  If it (the loyalty programme) succeeds (and I think it will) there is soooo much potential in other markets.

Anyway, I took this on the chin, and decided to flag my concerns to the team who was sponsoring my work secondment. Because, ultimately, it is that team’s responsibility to drive the success of the scheme here in Greece, and they might be an opportunity on the offering – if they really want me to be continue to be part of it!!!

Whilst I was checking my e-mail, I received a note from my Expense Review Unit (ERU) – who normally process and reconcile my business expenses - who advised me that my latest expenses would not be processed without an EBT approval form. Hmmmm this may be a HUGE problem!

Lets take a review of the events leading up to my work secondment. In early-March, I was offered to take up this work secondment (still working on a number of “other” partner projects – but that’s a separate comment!!)  In accordance to AXP travel policies, if I were working on a business trip that lasts over 30 days but no more than 183 days, then this falls under something called an “Extended Business Trip” (EBT). This involves a vendor called Priceo which would process my EBT application, provide me the support I need to go to the market etc etc (involving agreeing a monthly “per diem” allowance, ensure I “settle” in, ensure HR, Tax, Compliance and all the other aspects are resolved or aligned as part of the trip). Well I raised this to my boss – VP, and my other Director, who both indicated that I should just go out there and not to worry about processing it as an EBT. BIG mistake. It’s the role of my leader to process the EBT application and oversee the process, ensuring I receive the support I require as part of the trip. Because of his crap attitude towards it, I instead went out with NO support – NOTHING! And now I’m left picking up the pieces of the huge mess.

I am losing out, because I have to use my personal money to cover the costs of my expenses (including taxis and other cash expenses – which I couldn’t use my corporate card for), and no one made sure I was settled in.

The effects? Well if my expenses are processed before the “cut”, I am going to incur Late Payment Charges (LPCs) and then have to deal with the hassle of sorting this all out. What an utter (but avoidable) mess! Who’s fault is this? Hmmmm .not mine! We’ll see, I’ve now escalated this to my new director, who became my direct boss during the first few weeks I was out in the market – I almost feel sorry for her too, as she now has to deal with the mess, retrospectively!!

I was meant to go out this evening, but I simply was snowed under. I left the office at 4.30pm, and still ended up working until 8pm (e-mails, reports etc). I decided to get room-service, as I couldn’t be bothered to go out for food, and continued working until 11.30pm. What a tough day this was – and I didn’t see my lady-friend today, sob, sob!!
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Greece Assignment - Funny Ol' Day
(Monday, 18 June 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti
Monday, 18th June:

It’s been one of those funny days. Didn’t seem to achieve a lot, but as a team we managed to complete one of the lingering work challenges that existed – that of Loyalty Statements. Very pleased, as been the key bode of contention for a while. But alas we are getting there. It’s good to see progress being made whilst I’ve been out here!

My other task for today was to book-up one last trip. I was recommended by a work colleague to visit Sifnos – another one of the Cyclades Islands. Wasn’t sure what to expect, but I haven’t seem to have made a bad choice yet, Island-related that is! I can’t wait to go. My mother was planning to come to visit me on Friday – and we were aiming to return on Thursday, 28th June together – and this was my little treat for her!

Anyway, I spoke to my contact within AXP Business Travel in Greece – who has already assisted in a number of previous Island-hops – and she is now going to look up some of the options and I will finalise the trip in a couple of days time.

Regarding the “fun” aspect, well I have still been in touch with that special Greek lady that I met after I returned from Syros. Tonight, we didn’t want to go too far from Pangrati, so I suggested we meet up in the hotel and then go up to the Hilton Galaxy Bar on the top floor of the hotel. Was a nice relaxing time, although it was very difficult to hear each other over the loud music being played. It was also spoilt somewhat as there appeared to have been a convention in the lobby, and a lot of those present had gone up to the Galaxy Bar together. So one moment it was relaxing and we could chat away, and the next moment we were overwhelmed by the crowds of people swarming all around us. Grrrrr .. Neither of us was very comfortable, so we ended up calling it an early night. Ho-well!
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Greece Assignment - Delphi and Meteora Weekend Trip
(Sunday, 17 June 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Saturday, 16th June - Sunday, 17th June:

I was initially planning to spend this week simply relaxing around Athens. I decided to actually take a further trip - to two places on the mainland, for this weekend.

I only managed to get a couple of hours sleep due to my last Friday night’s drink session – I got back to the hotel around 4am. Whoops! Anyway, got up at 6.30am so I could freshen myself in time for the coach.

I decided it was easier to take an arranged Coach Tour, was about €161 (coach ride, plus hotel accommodation and entry fees to the various sites) - not too bad at all. Everything would be arranged for me for the weekend at least - I was being lazy!!

We visited Delphi first, and visit the archaeological site and the Museum at Delphi - amazing landscape on the way to Delphi and around the site. Relaxing afternoon and certainly was great to spend time wandering around the site.

We then left for Kalambaka for an overnight stay - and where we were based we had views overlooking the breathtaking Meteora rocks - and landscape (Meteora means "hovering in the air") and the rocks, and monasteries located on the top of some of the rocks certainly make Meteora one of the most spectacular places to visit in Greece!

The next day, we had an early start on the coach to visit the Meteora - managing to visit two of the 8 or so monasteries that existed. We visited Megalo Meteoro (Metamorphisis) Monastery and then Agios Stephanos (St. Stephen) Monastery - both were active monasteries - and I was in awe on the sights in front of me, truly amazing!! You will probably feel the same if you look at the photos I managed to take.

I did miss the company of a special person, but did phone her a couple of times over the weekend. It sounded like she missed me too! I still do not what will happen – probably just end up as close friends.

Anyway, this was an absolutely great trip, albeit slightly tiring!!!

As I arrived back at the hotel, I decided to go to the main restaurant for a quick meal, so I could return to my room, check my e-mails and updates on any events during the weekend (the UK teams were expected to progress one of the issues this weekend!).

Anyway, I ordered my food and wine, I got the wine, but was left waiting for about 25-30mins. After I complained to the restaurant manager, he returned and indicated that there was some kind of “mix-up” in the Kitchen, in short I think this meant that they probably had not received my order!! I was frustrated and annoyed by this!

As I was tied, and had emails to catch-up, I told them I was going back to my room, and wanted them to bring it up. Was told it was no charge – but this means nothing to me when I am on a business trip – with all of my expenses covered! Grrr!! Not a nice way to end the Sunday!

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Greece Assignment - Glad it's Friday: Tough Week and Fantastic Friday Night!!
(Friday, 15 June 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Friday, 15th June:

Boy am I glad it’s Friday. Every time we looked like we had resolved an issue, it remained kinda like going forward one place and jumping back two! Ho-well.

I did quite a poor thing today, and sent quite a stern note regarding a matter on another opportunity I faced totally separate from my work assignment here in Greece - I felt like I was being taken advantage off, so took it out on the 4 people who were seemingly "hounding" me to action. Looking back I think it was too strong a tone – I was calling people “unprofessional”. What I was implying is that we “look” unprofessional when 4-5 people hound the same person on the same subject. I still stand by this point, as its looks very disorganised, but alas I got my knuckles wrapped and had to send a clear follow-up note apologising. This is how annoying e-mail could be!

I still also believe that the team in Brighton were still “using” me, just because they weren’t able to make progress. Well maybe I would have done the same, but it seemed a wrong mannerism to me personally! Anyway, that’s learnings and experience, hey?

Friday evening was actually very nice. I met up with my lady friend, and she took me on a nice tour of various bars in the down-town area – where all the local Athenians hang-out. She definitely knows a lot of people and a lot of nice places to visit!

We went back to Kinky’s bar for the last few drinks before we took a taxi home. I think she is truly amazing – very pleasant, genuine and lovely to be around!

And tomorrow? Well I managed to book up a nice tour before I left for the Friday evening drinks. Visiting Delphi and Meteroa. Two places on the mainland which are meant to be absolutely amazing to places to visit! Well must push myself to the max during the last couple of weeks! :o)

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Greece Assignment - More Issues and Vouliagmeni Dinner
(Thursday, 14 June 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Thursday, 14th June:

Two issues still remain, but now with an additional other tasks to my list. Challenge I found is that some of the items weren’t related to my assignment work. Instead they related to separate activities related to the Partner Bank, and I was simply seen as the “man on the ground” to fix them. I wasn’t sure what people were expecting – maybe a contact or people were just trying to persuade me to solve their problems? I still believe it was the latter, but I should not be sceptical and maybe it’s just useful to utilise a resource whose face-to-face on the ground.

For the evening, I had arranged a dinner with my Partner Bank contacts who I previously met-up as part of a project I completed at the end of last year. We visited a fish-restaurant called “Akti” located in Vouliagmeni. A fantastic beach area overlooking the bay – and so tranquil – great to get away from it all, although I did miss that special lady!

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Greece Assignment - Still Two Work-Issues and Open Air Movie
(Thursday, 14 June 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Wednesday, 13th June:

Same two issues remain work-wise, boy will this week ever end? I must say though if it wasn’t for the nice company last night, it would have been a really bad week.

I was attempting to lead one of the issues, but it has proved challenging because of my remoteness and virtual contact with the core team back in the UK. Another example of logistically constraints – linking back to the e-mail challenges I have faced during the 10 odd weeks!

After chatting via text, we decided to meet again for Monastiraki, and then was invited to attend an open-air movie. Very different and unique – never been to such a movie screening before, but with the summer evening warmth still remaining in the air, it was truly a great evening. I really enjoyed myself and felt at ease – without thinking of work once!!

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Greece Assignment - Two Major Challenges, But Nice and Memorable Evening as a Reward!!
(Tuesday, 12 June 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Tuesday, 12th June:

Some major challenges at work – boy this week is going to be one of “those”!! Won’t go into the details here, but let’s just say I had two major headaches to deal with. Both “hot topics” and both had business impacts if they weren’t resolved as a matter of urgency. Grrr!!

I still really need to progress the projects that we had just kicked-off last week, not sure how much I am going to be able to shape up till the end of my assignment in a couple of weeks. Well we will soon see how things progress!

Anyway, the evening was very special and intimate. I very much enjoyed it with a special lady in a place where we stayed to have a few drinks (cocktails). Very “Kinky” – and this was just the name of the place!

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Greece Assignment - Going to be a busy week!
(Monday, 11 June 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Monday, 11th June:

A few work “opportunities” today – the usual story; several meetings, offline and on-line e-mail checks and replies, lots of phone calls – ahhhh!!! Still believe that the communication logistical constraints hasn’t been easy – especially since everyone seems to be relying on e-mail these days, and being “offline” for the majority of the time means I can’t keep up to date in real-time.

Anyway, for dinner, decided to go to the Prytanion Restaurant in Kolonaki again. I decided to drop a text to the special lady, with hopefully the aim to meet up for drinks tomorrow. We’ll see.

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Greece Assignment - 2nd Day of Syros Trip and Return Journey to Athens
(Sunday, 10 June 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Sunday, 10th June:

I went down to breakfast after freshening up (usual start of the day), and again the children were back. I didn’t mind that much, as I was on “holiday”, but I guess if you wanted a quiet breakfast, it wasn’t the place to get it.

After breakfast, I had a couple of options, I could travel around Galissas village, or back to the pool and stroll along the beach again. Well as I was intending just to get some relaxation, I decided just to have an easy day and relax pool-side.

Had my usual Frappe during mid-morning, and just listened to my iPod and watched the world go by. The weather was very warm, so it was a nice relaxing episode.

I did my usual strolls along the beach, admiring the views across the bay; with the sun shining of the landscape it was actually very picturesque. The beach appeared to be less busy that yesterday, but there was a moment between 11:30-12:30 where all the kids that were staying in the resort all went down to the beach. Hmmmm then it was very noisy! But it went back to some sense of normality when the children left.

I went for a walk up to see the church on the resort, and got chatting to two Danish sisters. I noticed them whilst I was on the pool-side, as they actually had quite a nice figure. Anyway, it was pleasant talking to them, I got to know them well during the few hours I was talking with them. Very interesting background, one was a teacher another worked for the Danish government on Corporate Social Responsibility – both interesting jobs. I brought them both a drink, and after some time talking by the poolside. Anyway, they kindly invited me for dinner with them, but I explained that I was leaving via the High-Speed ferry, so couldn’t make it. I indicate that if I was staying I would have definitely accepted the offer. Very nice gesture in any case.

Anyway, I said my farewell, as I had to go back to my room to get ready to leave, as it was coming onto 5.30pm. At around 6.30pm I got a taxi to return to the main port, and just enjoyed the time around there. My boat-trip was leaving at 8.30pm, so I grabbed a bite to eat and relaxed for a couple of hours and then made my way to the port-side.

Boat journey was pretty good, although I was tied and was pleased to get to my sleep for a few winks (cat nap). I was just playing with my iPod (#1 gadget), then playing Suduko on my MDA (#2 gadget), then sending a few texts on my work mobile (#3 gadget). The lady next to me was apparently quite intrigued with my array of gadgets – what an image to have, hey? In comparison, I noticed that she had a nice Samsung “minute” (small) MP3 device – versus my chunky iPod. Anyway, we got chatting, and talking about our musical tastes, and seem to bond well. Certainly made it a pleasant journey! Hopefully we are able to catch-up when I get back to Athens for the next couple of (and last) weeks of my work assignment. We exchanged phone numbers, and we will see what happens, certainly felt connected during our brief encounter. What a charming lady!

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Greece Assignment - Start of Syros Weekend
(Saturday, 09 June 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Saturday, 9th June:

I went to breakfast at around 8.30am, and I heard a lot of nice coming from the breakfast restaurant, whilst I was walking towards it. Apparently, a group of school children were staying at the Dolphin Bay resort – didn’t appear to be that noisy last night, but the restaurant definitely was ‘interesting’ (noisy that is!).

I didn’t really want to do too much “venturing” around Syros, so instead just decided to relax at the pool-side, although it wasn’t that busy, it was very nice and definitely a great place to chill – after a hard week’s work.

I decided to take a few strolls along the beach, definitely a nice bay. It was interesting to see how popular this bay was, a lot of Greek tourists (probably from the main land) frequented this beach and bay area – but you can see why, with the glorious fine sand, and landscape views. Definitely nice views to free my mind.

I wasn’t think particular “well” during the day, I think I was just pretty tied with everything that was going on, so didn’t have a huge appetite during the day. On Saturday evening, I decided to venture and have a “pizza” in town – very Greek, hey? Well it was a Greek Italian pizza!! Hmmm ..

When I got back to my room, I noticed that there was a couple on the next balcony, so got chatting to them. They were a nice mature couple from Merseyside, so I chatted with them for about an hr. They had been here for a week with another week to go.

I strolled back to the resort, and nice sat at the bar for a few drinks before getting some rest (that’s “sleep”). Till tomorrow!

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Greece Assignment - Office Move and Taxi Trip to Port
(Friday, 08 June 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Friday, 8th June:

Well I was prepared for a bit of a chaotic day, and it certainly ended as such. Firstly, came to the office aiming to catch-up on the backlog of e-mails and correspondence following the two-days I was at the PDP’s.

Then there was the AB Office Move, we were moving from the 2nd floor to the 5th floor (and some of 5th floor to the 2nd floor) – so pretty manic after around 12:00EEST to COB. Was kinda “organised chao’s” in a Greek way – with lots happening all around, lots of boxes, lots of removal men, and somehow someone was “managing” it all! Crickies! Then again, I’ve got all of this to endure again back in Brighton when we move from 154 Edward Street to Telecoms House in Preston Park!!

After about 15:00EEST, I decided to go back to the Hilton, as I wanted some sanity back. Did some work, after which I went back to the room to get ready for my weekend trip to Syros. The problem I almost forgot was that it was Friday afternoon – hitting Rush-Hour, so I took a taxi at 16:30EEST (I was left waiting for a taxi for about 10 minutes, rather to my annoyance), and the boat was scheduled to leave at 17:00EEST. Talk about cutting it fine!

I only started to realise that I was really pushing it to get to the ferry when we were near to the port stuck at the (RED!) traffic lights, with about 4-5 minutes to go. I told the taxi driver of the 17:00EEST deadline; and she indicated it would take another 6-7 minutes to get to the port. Now I was starting to worry, as I didn’t have any other plans for the weekend – this would certainly waste time, money and the trip if I didn’t make the boat – and be pretty embarrassing, and more importantly, I “needed” the time-out!! Well she put her foot down, hooted her way through the traffic, and came straight into the Port in record time, then that’s what I call amazing service!! She pulled up to the boat, hooting at the chaps who were preparing the boat to leave, at 17:00EEST exactly, I paid her €20 (€5 tip!) for the trouble. I grabbed my bags, legged it onto the boat just about 30seconds before it started to leave! Boy this was cutting it fine! It’s amazing how every second and minute counts in these situations!

So any lessons learnt today?

  1. Office moves are a pain in the arse, even if it doesn’t directly impact you (my office move involved packing my laptop and hovering around!!)!
  2. Never forget the rush-hour traffic in a foreign city and that every minute counts!
  3. Greek Taxi’s can work miracles and get you to your destination in a sense of urgency!
  4. Flying Dolphins turnaround at the port in record time, so if you are a minute late, you can easily miss the boat, but more importantly is all you need to jump onto the boat!

Well I arrived in the late evening on Friday, and took a taxi to the Dolphin Bay hotel resort in Galissas, which is a nice seaside village on the west-coast of Syros.

As it was getting late, I decided to have a Taverna meal – ‘twas pretty good, did the job, went to one of thje bars in the town, had a few then headed back to the resort for some well-earned rest!

Phew, what a way to end the week, hey?

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Greece Assignment - Project Planning Sessions
(Thursday, 07 June 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Wednesday, 6th – Thursday, 7th June:

A two-day intensive planning (Project Definition and Planning (PDP)) session was held during Wednesday and Thursday, we started to map out the projects that I am intending to shape into some sort of meaningful form during the next 2-3 weeks (i.e. to the end of my work assignment).

Managed to do this pretty well, just requiring me to finalise the implementation plan for the outstanding weeks and months of 2007. Sure going to be a busy period!

Anyway, Mark and Darran were out here, so it was good some friendly AXP faces during the week.

Personally: I felt a bit down this week, I think I have had a lot of pressure on my shoulders recently, both for my personal life as well as professional aims/ambitions, and I think it started to dawn on me that the work assignment is intending to end, and will go back to the UK in about 3 weeks time.

Actually, this was probably my lowest points since being out here – not sure if it was because of the time being away from family and friends (although I did have a couple of trips back during the early stages – so “broke” up the 3mths somewhat), and maybe it’s because I am “thinking” too much about where I am, where I want to be. Have had a lot of time to “think” during the week I was in Santorini and during the last week too at work. Tough one, really!

I was also in reflecting mode in terms of what I’ve got out of and also “achieved” during the last 9 weeks, project-wise, not much – as only just “starting” to kick-off these projects. This was the purpose of the PDPs, but the other activities I have been involved in are seemingly “operational” related – which isn’t my strongest interest, really!

Anyway, must keep positive onwards and upwards, here’s to the weekend and the Island hop.

Football: Anyway, Mark, Darran and I went to Glyfada for the evening meal and England Football match on Wednesday night. Actually, a good opportunity to socialise and chat informally with both – great company and great chaps!

Game was okay, not an amazing performance, but it was a “win” regardless, it is the end-score that makes the difference.

This was my first time to Glyfada, not a bad area at all – certainly different than down-time Athens – and good to spend it away from the hotel vicinity.

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Greece Assignment - Mediocre Day Really!
(Wednesday, 06 June 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Tuesday, 5th June

Well it was a generally mediocre day. I’ve finalised the agenda and submitted this out to the team – for the planning session during the next 2 days. Nothing like last-minute preparation.

Several project calls during the yesterday and today made both days a “mixed” day in terms of productivity.

Generally, just monitoring lots of little actions, so just tried to relax a little bit in preparation to what I feel will be quite a tough two-day session. Anyway, good to see some of the other AXP folks as well, had 4 other people in town today, and another one scheduled to come out tomorrow.

Still not in the mood to finalise my 2007 goals and development plans following the review session last week – but I know I must do so, to ensure everything is fresh in my mind, and ahead of the Friday 1-2-1 I’ve got scheduled with my Director.

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Greece Assignment - Trip to Syros (Confirmed!)
(Tuesday, 05 June 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Monday, 4th June

Well my tickets have arrived, after I confirmed my final (scheduled) Island-hop to Syros!

Want to simply relax after a tough two weeks in the office, and mentally and physically I am absolutely knackered. Could do with the break - even just to get away from Athens for a couple of days.

So I'm leaving Athens on Friday afternoon (17:00EEST High-Speed boat) and coming back on Sunday evening (21:35EEST High-Speed boat), so probably return around midnight.

But on the positive, I can't wait; it's something to look forward to this weekend!

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Greece Assignment - Relaxing Weekend: Pool-Side
(Monday, 04 June 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Saturday, 2nd and Sunday, 3rd June:

The weekend I just wanted to relax after such a tough week, so just woke up, freshened up, and just decided to relax in the sunshine, pool-side - and enjoy the sights and sounds of the sunny weekend.

Weather was reported to be pretty warm at around 27-28oC, and it certainly felt around this, especially in the glaring sun! Glad to see my tan is glowing all the time :o)

Pool-side: well it was nice seeing the lovely ladies out to play, fantastic viewing, of course I mean "relaxing" in the sunshine! Anyway, enough of this, I just chilled, and had a few Frappa’s a the poolside, listened to my iPod and then tried to start thinking about the key decisions I intend to make upon my return. Whilst "relaxing" in the sunshine...!!

Not much news apart from this really.

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Greece Assignment - Piccies
(Sunday, 03 June 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti
Even though I am still in Greece, I am slowly managing to upload the photos of my previous "trips" (aka 'Island Hops').

Start visiting the Brigatti Gallery to see the chosen selection of photos of my trip.

I've categorised the photographs in 5 core sections (sub-galleries), as follows:
  1. Athens Tourist Sites
  2. Island Hop 1 - Poros, Hydra and Aegina
  3. Island Hop 2 - Skiathos
  4. Island Hop 3 - Santorini
  5. Island Hop 4 - Syros

The direct link for visiting the gallery is as follows:
Greece Assignment Photographs
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Natwest ATM, Online and Telephone Services Crash
(Saturday, 02 June 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti
Well, I thought it was just me, but when I tried to withdraw cash at an ATM here in Greece, I couldn't.

I came back to the hotel, was just checking the BBC News website, and bang, came across the reason why...and no wasn't because of me or my credit line, it was the whole of the RBS/Natwest banking systems!!!

Bank says sorry for cash problems

Grrr... so there is no backup system? Very strange, so the cards, the infrastructure, ATMs and services were all affected? Wonder if it was because someone was attempting (or successful) in hacking the back office systems? So they had to bring the systems off-line? Hmmm....You never know!?

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Greece Assignment - Final Stretch Beckons
(Saturday, 02 June 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Tuesday, 29th May – Friday, 1st June:

Bit of a manic work-week, with some major issues on one of my Chip Card projects, so really had to focus on some alternative approaches and plans for this. My energy has been mainly on this for a couple of days.

I had to swing back to one of the other projects which went live during mid-March; but had a lingering Membership Rewards element to be “implemented” on 31st May – 1st June in the Middle East market – got there in the end. Very nice to see! Had a few challenges a long the way which is why I was very nervously monitoring the progress during the last week. Luckily all went okay in terms of the MR launch! Phew!

...and at the same time trying to co-ordinate resolving some of the Greece work assignment issues – several of those during the last week.

All of this is pretty tough going, as you can imagine.

I had to also finalise the plans for next week’s planning sessions on the new enhancements – kinda what I was meant to be out here for, and kinda what I was meant to focus on for the last 8-9 weeks. Finally, seeing some significant and well-deserved traction here, my aim and hope is that this continues going into next week, so I can finalise the overall implementation plan (e.g. timelines) when all of these “projects” go-live. A bit of a tough cookie at the moment without having the “specific requirements” drilled down. Life hey?

By Friday, I was absolutely exhausted, and a bit down. I think I was starting to thing of the end of the assignment – with only 27 more days to go (that’s about 4 weeks). On the positive, I’ve made the 2/3 mark!! Still smiling, you've be glad to hear!

So all-in-all, I’m glad that this week was over!!

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Greece Assignment - Late May-Day Bank Holiday
(Tuesday, 29 May 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Monday, 28th May:

Thank goodness it’s a Bank Holiday in the UK and Greece – can get back my sanity for another day, been a bit of a manic few weeks personally, emotionally and professionally. Lots of things going through my mind, so a chance to relax, chill and get ready for the next “big thing”!!

Weather-wise a bit of a wash-out in the morning, so I just sat around in the Executive Lounge and finalised my “goals” and “development plan” (well they had to be done, and I was the best frame of mind to achieve this on the BH Monday!), but in the mid-afternoon it became brighter do just chilled and relaxed by the pool side.

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Renault Announces Clio-II Recall
(Monday, 28 May 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well, methinks a small victory beckons!

Renault UK has announced during the last week in the National Press that they are now officially recalling all Clio Mark-IIs for a safety inspection to reassure the public on the potential safety issue!  Personally, there is no "potential" issue, it IS AN ISSUE!

This is over 12months overdue having experienced the issue myself (scenario of a bonnet releasing itself without warning is not a pleasant experienced, especially whilst you are in motion!).  Question is, is whether this approach is their way to slowly admit that they are aware of the issue (we know they are unofficially!), and that they are therefore needing to prevent any further incidents occurring?  Personally, I feel this is a start but doesn't go far enough, as they should settle ALL CASES of the bonnet-release incidents - not just mine!  That's 1,000+ cases (probably more as this statistic was based in April 2007 to BBC Watchdog alone!).

I also feel that they should do a more formal recall, as I am aware that this recall doesn't sit under the VOSA Code of Practise, as the recall is not listed on their website Recall database.  So a "fudged" way of doing a recall at the manufacture's discretion?

Anyway, I will take this is a slight victory, but c'mon Renault the UK is just one market, you've got the global market to be concerned about!  At least, this will cost them millions of pounds alone!  Small penalty for something that they could have prevented all those months ago!

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Santorini Holiday - Day 8 and 9
(Monday, 28 May 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti
Saturday, 26th and Sunday, 27th May:

Well, the last two days were upon me, so I just simply relaxed in the sun. Had the usual early breakfast start, and then made my way to the balcony for the early morning sun. Pretty warm on both days and after the skies cleared (was a bit cloudy first thing on both days), the sun turned out to be pretty nice and strong!!

After refreshing myself again, I decided to have my usual trek down to the main Town square, and head for my usual Frappa, and get served by the lovely lady again! C’mon might as well make the most of it!

I said my farewells to the friendly folks at the Kinos taverna, where I had a quick Greek salad on the Saturday. I then decided to acquaint some of the other Taverna’s that I had yet to visit – for dinner on Saturday, I visited Stani Taverna. Actually was quite reasonable, as for €8.95, I had a Pork or Chicken Gyros meal, Myros beer and fries. So yeah decided to go with that – nice, quick and easy!

On Sunday, I managed to get an extended “late check-out”, normally 11:30EEST, but managed to stay in my room until 18:30EEST – must have made a good impression, and I think they didn’t need me to vacant the room that night. Anyway, useful as I wanted to refresh myself before leaving for the airport. Had a boring Italian / Greek lunch – Spaghetti Napoletana (Greek-style) and a Greek Salad (definitely Greek-style!). wasn’t bad at all. Did the job. Another (and last) Frappa at the usual Café / Bar place, said my farewell’s to the nice ladies and mad e my way back to the hotel for the transit to the Airport.

My Aegean Airlines flight was scheduled for 22:40EEST, but as I wanted to see if I could get the earlier flight, I turned up at the airport at 19:00EEST, the earlier flight was scheduled to depart at 20:20EEST. Unfortunately, it was full but I managed to get onto the stand-by list – just in case! Unfortunately to no avail, so I had to wait around for another 2 hours and then make my scheduled flight at 22:40EEST.

 Was quite pleasant, nice and quick – just what I like to see for a late-night flight. I then made it back to the hotel to catch-up and relax tomorrow! Luckily, it is Bank Holiday Monday, hey?
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Santorini Holiday - Day 6 and 7
(Friday, 25 May 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti
Thursday, 24th – Friday, 25th May:

Well I wanted to chill and relax for the last two week days I am here in Santorini, so I really just had lie-ins, late(ish) breakfasts, and simply laid out in the sun listening to music. Hard life I know!

When I got peckish, I simply walked into town, had my usual Frappa in the Café I have become a “regular” frequenter, and getting served by a very nice lady – although she could seem slightly happier to see me after the 7th or 8th time I’ve been there (she knew my drink, and the way I like it, just didn’t seem to smile at all)!! Seriously, I’ve noticed she doesn’t really smile that much too any customer at all. Hmmm but she was pretty 'charming' all the same!! :o)

Anyway, usually managed to grab a quick bite to eat at some of the Taverna’s in town, okay not really a quick lunch, but good quality and reasonably priced lunch. Also, gave me a chance to sit down and watch the world go by from the roof terraces – always interesting to get a different viewpoint on what goes on in the streets beneath you!

I then got chatting to some US tourists (yes ladies) in one of the Bars in the town, nothing too special to note, just was interested to find out more about them - yes nothing more than this!!

Went back to the hotel, and finished writing the postcards that I started a few days back, and then finally got round  to sending them!
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Santorini Holiday - Day 5
(Wednesday, 23 May 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti
Wednesday, 23rd May:

Well, I had visited the northern half of the island now, so I decided to venture south from the hotel. I decided to try to visit a couple of the outlying towns and villages located nearby. After starting my journey, I passed by “Karterados”, and then decided to take a slight detour and visit another Eastern-most beach location, I didn’t realise it but the area I found myself called “Monolithos”, was actually next to the airport. Hmmm the airport looked much further on the map than in reality. Anyway, least I knew the time it would take to arrive at the airport for my return flight “home” to Athens. I had a couple of Frappas on one of the Taverna’s located on the beach-front, and decided to stay for a Greek Salad too – after all, it was just coming to midday!

Having relaxed for about an hour or so, I decided to continue my trek, this time heading to “Messaria” (the town I missed after my slight “beach-detour”. It took another hour or so, then I visited another Bar / Café and had another Frappa.

Anyway, one of the places I visited in Fira, recommended to visit “Pyrgos” as it was meant to have Panoramic views of the whole island – it certainly seemed to be located quite high-up and was seemingly in the middle of the island. Since I was so close to it, I decided to give it ago. Another 20-30mins or so I arrived, and I started to notice that it certainly, at first-glance, had a good vantage point, I could see the east and west coastline already. There was another pathway upwards (steps again) to the older part of the town, and once I reached the “summit”, I looked around, and one could only gasp at the views. You could see the north, east, south and west of the Island – wow! I say again, “WOW”!! But don’t just take my word for it, I will shortly post the photographs to help you visualise what I saw. It was breathtaking. I also decided to take a photo with one of the donkey’s, well I had too, I couldn’t come this far in the holiday and not ride one (well okay maybe not literally, but it was a “photo moment”!!).

I then headed back along the main road towards Fira. The sign-post had 3km, gosh I was starting to feel this now. Anyway, I arrived back about 45 minutes later and returned to the hotel to freshen up. I then had dinner back at the friendly “Kinos” place again. Went back to the hotel to relax for a couple of hours, to prepare for the big footie match – yep the Champions League Final between AC Milan and Liverpool – boy was I hoping Milan was going to make it, and kick Liverpool in the mouth for the way Milan got defeated by the same match two years back (remember the penalty shootout, grrr – that was a shocking defeat!).

I decided to go to the Irish Bar (Murphy’s) to watch it, and have a few bevvies at the same time. Game was amazing entertainment, neither team played extremely well, but Italy did appear to have the upper hand at times. Then again, Liverpool were attacking aggressively, and it just needed for one of these shots to be on target or deflect into the goal, so Milan had to beware. Towards the end of the first half, it looked like it was going to be even score, but Milan out of no-where attached hard and a shot to nothing deflected by Inzaghi, went straight into the back of the Liverpool net. Yes, we had ended the half on a real high >> 1-0 to Milan at half time. I was estactic, at the expense to the large Aussie, Yank and English supported based within the bar (whoops – apparently, I was immensely outnumbered, but I couldn’t help myself!). At least, a couple of the bar staff were on my side, I got a free pint in any case – hehe!

I must say thought that there was a northern couple behind me where the guy obviously had a few drinks already and was talking to another couple from New Zealand, and was showing off about his impersonating of the New Zealand Haka – with an English and Aussie version of the verse line. It was actually pretty pitiful, and a poor attempt of humour. In short, he was talking the piss! And I could tell that several people around him weren’t that amused about his “loud” antics (god knows what the New Zealand couple thought - probably laughing at  "him" rather than with him). The wife seemed to be more down-to-earth, but just him get on with it. Hmmm

Anyway, the game returned as the second half started, and the atmosphere was pretty tense. The goal-line remained with the advantage to Milan, until about 35mins into the second half, Italy managed to get a clear-run at goal, and Inzaghi finished it over nicely – for this second goal in what had been a tightly thought match. But Milan couldn’t lie on their laurels like 2 years back when Liverpool came from 3-0 to equalise during the latter part of the game. So although Milan remained strong at the back, Liverpool managed to have a good chance shot which was headed into the Milan net. Oh dear, was this going to be a repeat. We only had about 5 minutes left on the clock plus stoppage time. Milan held Liverpool and you could see the anguish starting to appear on the Liverpool teams’ supporters. The Ref’s final whistle went and Milan had done it, they had taught Liverpool an invaluable lesson, you can hit at Milan once, but Milan will fight back stronger. Yes well done chaps; 2-1 final score. Close but no cigar Liverpool, not this year at least.

Just a shame I couldn’t get tickets and a room for the night for the actual game in Athens – would have been a fantastic (but very crowded) atmosphere!
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Santorini Holiday - Day 4
(Tuesday, 22 May 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Tuesday, 22nd May:

Decided on yet another trek – I must be mad having a holiday doing nothing but walking, but this gave me some time during the walks to really think about life, what I want and where am I going (career wise) and whether I should consider my options (change).

Anyway, I headed northwards out of the town and this time chose to go along one of the smaller side roads, and without realising was heading towards the east-coast. By the time I realised (as I saw that I was approaching the sea on the opposite side of the Island) I decided to continue – could be seen as another conquest! I arrived in a village called “Vourvoulos”, quite a tranquil place, not many people (tourists and locals alike) were around, saw a sign to the beach and Fish Taverna, so decided to head that way.

Having walked for another 15-20 minutes or so, I reached the Vourvoulos beach. After eating at the Taverna I headed back, so the whole journey had taken about 2-3 hours. Very nice!

I was thinking of going to the north-west part of the Island, to a town called “Oia” (aka Ia) – the famous location for the amazing sunsets on the island. So I decided to take the 15:15EEST bus (coach) at a cost of just €1.20. Not bad at all. I knew it would be a very busy location, and it certainly was, swarming of people – and this was mid-afternoon, so I could only imagine it was going to get busier once the late evening appeared.

I took the opportunity of a slight lull and walk around the lanes of Oia, I also took the advise of a family friend who recently visited – to visit the “Amoudi Bay” area, which was slightly outside of Oia, but meant to be a better and less crowded area. Another “walk down” was required to the Port area. Very nice, but my concern was that it was a walk “back up” that would be the worst part of the trek here.

Anyway, managed to get back up, but was sweating away in the late afternoon sunshine and warmth. I also knew that there would be quite a few of the “tourist” Tavernas and bars around the place, so tried to stay clear of this pricy places, and attempted to locate another recommended place, called “Skiza”. It was allegedly slightly away from the main touristy places to eat, but had an upstairs terrace which had an amazing view – it was meant to be a Crepes and Pies places (interesting combination!). I went up, and had a Greek salad, followed by a Santorini Pie (house special) – certainly was very enjoyable. After finishing my Mythos, I headed back towards the western edge of the area, overlooking the sea. The sunset was truly amazing, and very surreal. Definitely worth the visit; the sunset was a sight to remember, especially with such an amazing backdrop. Again, the photos to appear on the Brigatti Gallery shortly (hopefully).

There was then a mad rush to get back to the buses and hire cars for the return journey, I decided to walk slightly faster than most as I didn’t want to wait another 30-45 minutes for the next bus. Managed to get to the “bus terminal”, and jump aboard the bus that was waiting to depart. Great timing, hey?

Arrived back to Fira in good time, and then returned to the hotel to freshen up and get some well-earned rest. I just watched the news about the forthcoming battle of the pitch – that’s the football pitch, and the battle between AC Milan and Liverpool for the European Champions League Final – going to be a great and entertaining game to watch on Wednesday! Can’t wait! Here's hoping that you know who wins (that's Milan, silly!)

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Santorini Holiday - Day 3
(Monday, 21 May 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti
Monday, 21st May:

Well another day, another breakfast – actually I just had Greek yogurt with some fresh fruit – nice way to start the day. I still had managed to stay clear from hiring any forms of transport, by little legs were holding up well, and I actually felt initially “refreshed” after the walk (albeit a bit tied late in the days).

Today, I just wanted to sunbathe, so after breakfast and freshening up, I located myself next to the pool of the hotel, was only a couple of other people there, wasn’t a huge pool or pool-side area, but enough to relax and enjoy the moment.

It was pretty sunny and dry, although a bit breezy, we still had the remnants of the cold front which brought the rain over the weekend, and this ensured the temperature was slightly lower than I would have expected. But when the wind held back for a time, it was quite warm, probably in the mid 20’s (ºc).

After about 2 hours of relaxation I was again getting quite peckish, so freshened up again and ventured into the Town. There were a few places where you could get a quick snack to take-away, like a kebab-type place, but far better quality than in the UK. So had a Pork Savlaki in Pitta, and again did some further drifting around the lanes. I noticed a nice place (called “Corner”) serving what appeared to be a nice selection of Crepes and Waffles, so stopped off for “dessert”. I sat outside the place and watched the world go by for an hour or so.

I went back to the hotel, watched some TV, listened to my music and relaxed for a couple of hours; I then made my way back into town to find a nice place for Dinner. I located another place called “Elia”, and had the Fried Tomato Balls, followed by Greek Salad and Gyros (mixed meat), accompanied by a nice Red wine – yummy! Was okay, nothing special, the service was a bit hit and miss, but the meal did the job.

Anyway, more walking around the town, and during the evening sunset, I took some more snaps at different vantage points in the town.
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Santorini Holiday - Day 2
(Sunday, 20 May 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Sunday, 20th May:

Today, I decided to venture to some of the surrounding towns around Fira. After breakfast and refreshing myself, I started my trek, with wallet, camera, phone and water in hand (okay in my bag as too many items to carry with just a pair of hands). I ventured northwards out of Fira and towards the two called “Firostefani” – more of a small town, but didn’t really have much of interest, so I continued walking. I came to another town called “Imerovigli”, and this one seemed quite intriguing. I remembered the name of this town as several hotels on my Internet search came up here. I could see why as it was also overlooking the Volcano but also was less busy compared with Fira (still preferred Fira personally).

In the middle of the town, there was a Taverna called “Vegera”, so as it was around 11:30EEST, I decided to stop for a coffee. Again, very friendly place, especially since I was the only patron at this time of day. They told me that they started serving food (lunch) at 12:30EEST, so this gave me an hour to venture around the town – not entirely sure what it had in store. So I went northward initially, but as the road was leaving the town I decided to return back and headed westwards instead. I then became to realise why Imerovigli was also proving popular. The various Hotels, Apartments and Villas were located cascading down the hillside overlooking the Caldera (that’s Volcano to you and I), and more importantly, there appeared to be a big rock just away from the coast, but joined by a narrow path – I could see people on the path and on the top of the rock, so decided to give it a go.

Boy what a journey, not only did it became very precarious and rocky (well it was a “rock” after all), it also involve some rock-climbing to reach the “summit”, and it was certainly worth the challenge. The panaromic views across the top was breathtaking, you could see various parts of Santorini from the north-east part of the Island, to the south-east, and to Fira southwards. More importantly, you could have an unobstructed view of the Caldera island – truly amazing! A photographer’s paradise – well they (photo’s) will appear here in due course too.

I managed to locate the windy path back to the main part of the town and as it was coming onto 13:00EEST, I decided to go back to the Taverna for lunch. I decided to give the Fava a go (the infamous Santorini appetizer – of mashed Chick-peas – very nice! Followed by a Greek Salad (very Greek, hey?) – topped off with a Mythos beer (of course), and then a couple of Espresso’s to end the meal. Boy were there some nice tourists around, especially the US-crew, some of the ladies were finely attractive – but I wasn’t after any holiday romance, so just “reviewed and admired” instead!!

By the time I had finished my lunch it was getting to be mid-afternoon, so I decided to trek back to Fira. The sunshine was pleasantly warm with a nice breeze to keep me cool on the journey back. I decided to venture around Fira Town again, doing some browsing in the many “tourist” shops and the eating establishments mingled in and around the lanes of the town.

I had been recommended to visit the “Old Port” area of the Town, so I headed that way. I was pre-warned of the “donkey trail” on the pathway, and this was no joke. I could have been knocked-over by a donkey or two – about 3-4 times during my walk down alone. You heard of a taxi lane, but there were donkey-lanes on this particular path. After safely meandering by way through the donkeys and reaching the bottom, the area was actually very nice. There weren’t a lot of people around which was pretty good, and the views looking back up was pretty neat, especially the rocky landscape.

Well I had come down and had to then head back up, and this was a challenge, or 500+ steps. I had actually built up quite a sweat, and was pretty hot in the warm afternoon sunshine. I managed to get back to the hotel, and freshen up again.

It was getting to be early-evening, and I had build up quite an appetite – walking does this to me!! I located what appeared to be another quite nice place, called the “Roof Garden”, the terrace area was pleasantly nice, with great views of the surrounding areas, and overlooking the lanes – not too expensive too.

I then did some more browsing (just window shopping mind you!), and after a Frappa (or two – can’t remember exactly), I was actually getting quite tied so decided to retire for the night – yes I know it was only about 20:30EEST but a long trek throughout the day.

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Santorini Holiday (Wahoo!) - Day 1
(Saturday, 19 May 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Saturday, 19th May:

Well today is the start of my week long holiday (actually 8 days). It started with an early start with a boat depart at 07:30EEST from Piraeus, yes another Highspeed Flying Dolphin ride to the “island hop” (returning next Sunday, 27th May by Aegean Airlines back to Athens). I arrived at the port around 07:00EEST, with enough time to get myself a Cappuccino to make good my start of the day. Weather forecast was mixed for the first couple of days – it was actually expected to rain for the next 1-2 days of my holiday – grrrr!!!

Journey was meant to be 5 hours long, with stops at Paros and Naxos. We actually arrived about 45mins later than planned – due to the poor weather and a delay in departing Naxos. My hotel-transfer awaited my arrival, and we made our way to the hotel, a nice family-run hotel located just on the outskirts of “Fira”. The hotel was called “Astir Thira”, and I located it on the Internet, on Santorini-Hotels.info – was pretty reasonable, at approx €70 per night for a volcano view. Not too bad in comparison to some of the other hotel prices listed.

I wanted to stay in Fira, as was advised that this was the main hub of the island. I wanted to enjoy the hustle and bustle and as I was staying for the week, wanted a choice of places to eat, drink and enjoy myself during my stay – which I’ve got to expect is based mainly around the main Town.

It was quite busy already when I went, and can imagine it being very crowded in the peak season...some areas were already quite crowded at this time of year....god knows what it is like later in the year!

Santorini is really split into 3-core areas of interest, the area around Fira (aka Thira) - the capital of Santorini - which is infamous for overlooking the Caldera (Volcano). The north-west area - with the main town called Oia (aka Ia). The south-east which is the beach resort area (Kamari or Perissa are the two other main towns on the Island). Another positive reason for staying in Fira is that the Town was pretty central to the remainder of the island. One could take a tour to the Volcano island (Nea Kameni island), the hot-springs (Palea Kameni island), Thirassia Island (another island), and Oia (sunsets). One can also hire a car, quad-bike or moped - all are very popular and seemingly safe (but buses are very frequent and very reasonable and go to various areas of the island - north, east and south). I decided to take the opportunity to venture around by “Number-11”, yes my two little leggies. Well after 6-weeks I have yet to visit the Hilton Gym so there was no excuse to make worst my exercise routine. Anyway, let’s see how long it will take me before I give up and hire a car, moped, bicycle or quad.

After checking in, refreshing myself, I decided to venture in the Fira Town, and found a nice Taverna to eat lunch, called “Kinos”. Friendly folks, and they liked my smile (seems most people do, especially the nice Greek ladies (boy aren’t some pleasing to the eye!!). Lunch was pretty reasonable and very nice, had Fried Aubergine (eggplant) followed by a Santorini Salad – similar to Greek, with a few additional extras, they gave me a complimentary glass of Santorini White wine. Anyway, as the owners were very friendly and we got chatting during lunch, I decided to go back for Dinner, likewise they gave me a complimentary glass of Santorini wine, Red wine this time. Very nice folks, very hospitable, will probably go back at some point during the week.

Having had a Murphy at the local “Irish bar” (no Guinness thou’), I decided to return to the hotel for an early night, was pretty tied after a long-ish journey during the day.

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Greek Assignment - Busy Week Back
(Friday, 18 May 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Tuesday, 15th May – Friday, 18th May

The challenge I am facing is that having been here just almost 6 weeks now, I feel I am still fire-fighting rather than proactively managing the new projects that I was meant to be doing. Having now created and finalised the Project Agreement and Scope, and also with the Milestone Project Plan last week, it became clear that there were still a few challenges out there in the near future. The next 6 weeks is going to be quite interesting. I actually can’t wait to really get stuck into the new projects now.

I now need to progress these new projects to allow me to “illustrate” some key success factors of my work assignment. I knew my assignment would go very quickly, and there were a lot of projects that “had to happen”, but on what has to happen in theory and what will happen in practise was always going to be difficult – especially since 12 weeks is not really that long in project terms!

Separately, I booked my journey to Santorini. I can’t wait, next week will be a sure pleasurably and well-deserved break. Off on Saturday, 19th May for a boat trip to Santorini, and then 8 nights away before I return to Athens on Sunday, 27th May. I managed to book my hotel directly – staying at Astir Thira – not too bad, and seems okay for my stay. Was trying to save some money to allow me to “eat” properly.

I failed to get any Champions League Final tickets – apparently, the locals were spending €144+ obtaining a ticket. Hmmm . should have made more effort, but I knew I couldn’t get a hotel place, so not really that bothered.

I also was advised that my 02 Corporate Mobile Telephone bill was £937.56 for last month – whoops. But without the tools to do my job (no way of ‘proactively’ communicating via e-mail by means of a Blackberry and no “always-on” Internet connection) meant that I had to use my mobile as my number one communicating tool. Add to this, that only a few phones in the Partner bank can dial internationally, and I also have to make “project” calls for 3 non-Greece “projects”, means it’s mobile or mobile as my options!

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Greek Assignment - Return to Greece for Final Session (Almost)
(Friday, 18 May 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Monday, 14th May

Well have to get back to Athens again, after spending the weekend break back in the UK. Was actually great being back – albeit only mild, and pretty wet and windy during most of the weekend.

Anyway, an example of my mad logic, for a change I wanted to take a later flight (instead of the standard 08:20BST flight). As previously mentioned, I had taken the Olympic flight, as the BA flight was charging me 3x the normal cost for this return (UK to Greece) leg of the journey, probably because the flight was almost full? Either way at over £400 this was not justified, so Olympic it was.

So I decided to take the 12:20BST flight as I wanted a lie-you. Nah seriously, the reason for the latter flight was that it would land at a good “evening” time in Athens, I could then go to the hotel and grab some dinner and have a nice evening relaxing. What I forgot was that the time taken to get to Heathrow would have made this plan worthless, as I would have had to still take an early taxi up to Heathrow, due to the rush-hour and potential risk of delays. So I left at around 07.30BST – some lie-in, right!! Whoops, that’s poor planning, but lesson learnt!

To add to this, I had to drop my mother and aunt to Gatwick Airport at around 03:30BST as they were taken a 06:00BST flight to Corfu for a short break. So also ruined my plans for a lie-in. Oh boy, best laid plans and all that!

Anyway, having arrived at a pretty good evening time in Athens – at approx 18:30 – not bad, had a nice journey and caught up on some work as well as some well-earned sleep! Monday was over as quickly as it started.

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Reena's and Vish's Big-Day (Number 1 of 2!)
(Sunday, 13 May 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti
I couldn't wait for this weekend. We (mum, aunt and I) had to drive up to Dudley (near Birmingham) for a Wedding (Civil Ceremony) for one of my close friends of mine from University (in fact I knew both bride and groom).

This will be my first Indian (Hindu) wedding so wasn't sure what to expect - in terms of the details behind the event, but it didn't disappoint one bit!!

I knew that this weekend's was just the formal 'Western' wedding ceremony, with the main event in August (Indian wedding) - I can't wait to attend that 'BIG' one.

Was slightly worried about the weather, it was driving rain during several parts of the journey up to Birmingham, and I was worried it was going to be a wash-out on the big-day, but the weather held-out (just!). Someone was definitely watching out for the lovely couple.

Anyway, the journey up was kinda the worst-part (as always) - was expecting to last about 3 hours - ended just over 4 and a quarter - then again, it was Friday rush-hour traffic on the M23, M25, M40, M42 and M5 - oh-boy! But we made it in one piece.

Also, saw some of my other AXP friends who also attended from the AXP-end, our ex-leader for the Graduate Scheme was there, so were a couple of other graduate folks and Partners. So a great get-together too!

And yes the wedding dresses (both of them!) were amazing! The bride looked stunning (as ever) and the event was a huge success and went without a glitch. Truly wonderful

Plenty of photos, but unfortunately no time to upload them to this site yet; hopefully I will get them up on the site in the next few weeks! (When I am back basking in the warm 30C Athen's Sunshine!! (Sorry!))

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Greek Assignment - Weekend Break Beckons
(Sunday, 13 May 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Tuesday, 8th May - Thursday, 10th May:

Well, a manic week this week! Yes another one of those!

This time, I returned to the office on Tuesday, and mainly played catch-up - having spent Bank Holiday Monday off, and then had to react to 2-days worth of events (and unfortunate system challenges!). Oh boy, not a great start of the week, but alas, a short week, this week!

Just got on with it, plenty of conference calls. One of my other projects (Cyprus) also had some challenges this week, card artwork design still not signed-off. Not that good if you have to coincide a 6-week lead time (plus an extra week for shipping) for card manufacturing, and we only have 4-5 weeks to go for the project. Hmmm....that's a tough one! Risks all-around really!

Wednesday and Thursday this week was also quite intriguing, as the AXP and Partner Bank (Alpha Bank) teams had a strategy session. Really interesting, learnt a lot and definitely a fair bit of team bonding too!

Had a scheduled flight back on Olympic on Thursday evening at 19:15EEST. Another late-night journey in store, but alas I could spend tomorrow "working from home" doing my e-mails, calls and documents - and recuperate!!

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Greek Assignment - Skiathos Island Hop
(Tuesday, 08 May 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Saturday, 5th May – Monday, 7th May:
Based on my work assignment, I have to work based on my home country holiday schedule, meaning I have to work on the host-Countries Bank Holiday’s (e.g. Tuesday, 1st May), but take off the UK May-Day Bank Holiday, Monday, 7th May.  Well the UK has to be different, never have a Bank Holiday on any day apart from a Monday (and apart from Good Friday – for obvious reasons!).

About my plans, was aiming to go for a long weekend away in one of the ‘further afield’ Greek Islands.  I was recommended for about 5-6 folks to visit Skiathos – and so as this was towards the North-East of Greece, I decided that this opportunity was as good as any, and makes the best use of the ‘extra’ day off too.

I knew you had to take a Coach & Boat-ride (yes another one!) or Plane-ride from Athens, as I actually enjoyed the boat journey last-time, and you can see the landscapes around the other islands on-route, I decided that the boat-ride was the best way to relax and be “part of the break”.  Coach ride was €13 and the Boat ride was €26 (for each leg – journey leg that is) – not bad at all.  This was via the Alkyon Travel Agency, which I was advised to use to book the trip.

One of the Alpha Bank work colleagues, managed to book me on the Hellenic Seaways Flying Dolphin to Skiathos Town Port (from Agios Konstantinos).  It was only about 5 hours in total (including the 2 hr coach ride) – arriving in Skiathos Town @ 12:30EEST.  I did try to book a Hotel – initially a place just outside of Skiathos Town called Eye-Q.  Had a few reviews from people at work and also by the looks of the website looked pretty good.  However, having booked via booking.com, I received a call noting that they were closed for maintenance (probably preparing for the long Summer period), so I had to book somewhere else.  As I was already en-route, I decided to gamble and go to the island and then find some accommodation once there.

Once I arrived, I visited the Flying Dolphin booking office and arranged for a journey back on Monday @ 08:00EEST, I also asked for recommendations on a couple of places to stay, and I visited the first one, called Hotel Akti, and decided it was suitable for me.  Only cost me for €39 per night.  It was quite a nice location, slightly outside of the main part of the town, but walking distance from the hustle and bustle. 

And the Island itself?  Well it was quite surreal, very quiet and relaxing.  I can, however, imagine it being incredibly busy during the busy summer months, but it seemed to be a great time to go now in my opinion! 

I spent the first half-day (Saturday afternoon/evening), simply walking around Skiathos Town and finding my way around (aided by a map of course!).  Actually, by the time I found of the nice Greek Tavenas, I actually had walked around pretty much the majority of the town.  At the eating establishment, well it turned out to be really nice.  Again, not too busy, but very friendly staff and pleasant food (decided for the mixed Appetizers to start with (bit of everything Greek) and then decided to go with well that was the problem I didn’t really know, so told the Manager/Owner that I would leave it to his recommendation.  Had lamb in the end, and it wasn’t bad at all – actually very appetizing and palatable!!

I then went to one of the cafés / bars near the hotel and stay for a couple of hours watching the sun set and the world go by.  People watching is the most enjoyable part of my type of holiday.  Actually, as I was walking along the main shopping roads, I noticed that the eating establishments were definitely tailored for the “English” crowd, hmmmm .slightly disappointing, but alas that’s tourism for you!  With flights coming from Gatwick directly to Skiathos Airport, it’s no surprise really, hey?

I decided to go with an Italian dinner (okay very boring, but wanted to try something ‘ordinary’ for a changed) – overlooking the “New Port”.  Was pretty good, although the portions appeared to be relatively smaller than my liking – but good quality all the same.  Service a bit hit and miss, but it was getting busier by the time I had finished my meal – but at least it was pretty reasonable (albeit they didn’t accept AXP – hmmm ).

I had a nice night’s sleep, and already thought of hiring a car in the morning.  I knew I couldn’t stay a whole day in Skiathos Town, as I already saw everything that it had to offer, so decided to hire a car and follow some recommendations to visit the West and North of the Island.  (Skiathos Town was located on the South-East corner of the Island).

A little bit apprehensive, as it would be my first time driving a left-hand car, in my 10 years of driving – quite daunting and exciting at the same time.  I knew that apart from the gears and handbrakes, it shouldn’t be “too bad” (assumption, maybe?)  I had a nice breakfast, Waffles and Cappuccino, lovely.  I then got the car for €25 – they originally wanted to charge me €30 for the day, but having checked a couple of other places, €25 was the going rate, so decided to haggle.  I guess, I would have pushed it down a bit further, but decided against it, what’s €5, hey?  It was a Kia Piccanto – not a bad “small car”, but I think it hindsight I should have got a Jeep – will explain the reasons why a bit further down.

Well, as I was on the East-side of the town, it was easy to get out of the main part of the town.  I put €10 of fuel (petrol) which I was told would last me the whole day – it certainly did!  I wanted to try to visit the Evagelistrias monastery, which was meant to be the one to visit on the Island; I missed the junction for it (whoops) so decided to continue driving and whilst attempting to find my bearings head for the West coast of the Island.  This was where the nicest of the beaches were located.  I found one called Ag. Eleni Beach, and it was amazingly quiet but pleasantly attractive and peaceful.  There was a Café / Bar there, so I grabbed a coffee (I was driving, remember).  I then went out to sit in the Sun to soak up the rays of sunshine – the whole purpose of being out here.  There was an English couple also doing the same thing, so after introducing myself, we ended up chatting.  We bought each other a couple of beers, and just talked about the island, a bit about Politics, environment, holiday’s, the way of life in general,  upbringing, generation gaps and normal day-to-day issues, and I talked a bit about the challenges I was having in work – in recent years.  Very nice.  Without realising, about 2½–3 hours had gone by, so I said by farewells and decided to trek back and try to find the Monastery that I missed the first time. 

and I wasn’t disappointed one bit.  Really was a nice location, nice buildings and location – and totally a contrast to the rest of the Island and the bustle of Skiathos Town and the beach areas.    Interesting journey though, as the Asphalt quickly turned into stones into muddy (chalky) roads.  I had to drive carefully, to avoid causing chips or damage to the hire car.

I wanted to also visit the Cape Kastro area, which was meant to be where the Island Dwellers would flee too when the Island was invaded.  It was also the most Northern point of the Island.  Found it after missing the turning a couple of times, but the road turned out to be ever worst then the one to the Monastery.  Firstly, it was full of ups and downs (literally), a few parts the car struggled to get the momentum and traction (c’mon it was a “Kia” after all).  Finally got there, and decided to abandon the car on the side of the road for the last 10-15 minutes of the journey to the village area.  Was certainly worth the walk (and exercise)!! On a sunny late-afternoon, it was a fantastic landscape and environment, right up to the northern tip.

Then I made my way back to Skiathos Town and decided to go for an Greek Tavana meal, again wasn’t bad, and they had the footie in the background, Arsenal against Chelsea, the one Chelsea had to win to remain still in the chance for the trophy (they didn’t though – they just drew the game 1-1 (whoops).  I then headed back to the hotel for an early sleep and got back for an early start in the morning.  The boat left at 08:00EEST, so I had to get ready, grab some breakfast, wake-up and be at the quay-side before then.

Had a nice toastie breakfast and cappuccino in one of the Cafés overlooking the “New Port” again.  Was good as I knew I was only 1-2 minutes away and could see when the boat was about to dock.  Once I had my caffeine-fix, I made my way to the boat and settled in for a pleasant boat-ride back to the main-land.  Just a shame that the coach journey coincided with lunch-time traffic, got to Athens in pretty good time, and then took another 40mins to get to the end destination. 

So in total, my personal (“leisure”) spend was €78 for the boat ride, €78 for the accommodation, €25 for the hire car, plus €10 fuel.  Not too bad, it could have been at least double or triple this in the high-season.

Onwards and upwards to my next “Island hop”!  Keep reading in the next few weeks for the next episode of my adventures in Greece.

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Greek Assignment - Friday Catch-Up
(Monday, 07 May 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Friday 4th May:
On Friday, I finally managed to meet-up with some of the other folks in the International Card Division, whom I worked with for the previous FYROM Partner launch – for a team lunch.   Fantastic meeting up with them.  Cannot believe that the project went live on the 12th December 2006 – that’s almost 5 months ago now.  Blimey, guv!   But I always wanted to meet-up with them, and it certainly was worthwhile, they were very hospitable and we had a great talk, about work, life and everything in-between (without giving all my darkest secrets – I save those for that “special lady”, you see!!)

Anyway, great lunch – plenty of grub, and then back to work for an afternoon recovering.

Had a pretty manic afternoon, in fact for the last 2-3 days, it’s been plenty of meetings and calls – for all of my “activities” (projects), and the rest of the time was dealing with the follow-up discussions and issue-management – but alas week is over – and more importantly, I’ve got something fantastic to look forward to for this weekend.

Well, I will tell you more shortly...

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Greek Assignment - Possible Vibes and Other Commitments
(Friday, 04 May 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Wednesday, 2nd – Thursday, 3rd May:
Challenging few days, got some positive vibes from the teams back home which is good, but being on the ground is proving quite challenging – full of “opportunities”.  Don’t feel like I am making progress in doing what I was assigned to do on the ground here (managed the new enhancements etc), but getting tied into more of a fire-fighting and issue management activity.  Alas, this is not necessarily a bad thing, as you can keep creating new things, if the basics don’t function effectively.

Anyway, the long and short of it, is that I’ve been very busy – albeit feeling I have not achieved much this week.  It’s just been meetings, calls, problem resolution, discussions on issues and next steps. 

More importantly, managed to make some progress on a few other non-Greece projects – although this did switch my focus somewhat on these inadvertently away from BonuS (is that a good or bad thing, I don’t know!).  I do feel bad working in the Partner Bank office and doing work for other Partner Banks, just doesn’t feel right, but alas I have to do it like this!  Not even sure if the Bank knows I am assigned on other bits and bobs (projects), I guess they must do by now!  So Airlines, Cyprus and Middle-East work all undertaken this week.

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Greek Assignment - May-Day Bank Holiday (for some!)
(Thursday, 03 May 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Tuesday, 1st May:
Well I am in European, so have to adapt to the culture of having the May-Day bank holiday on the actual (and correct) 1st day of the month (as in most of Europe), rather than the 1st Monday of the month (as in the UK).  Anyway, according to my companies policy, I am not entitled for a Bank Holiday in my “host Country”, so have had to work throughout today. – although I did try to take it “easy” in the hotel executive lounge!!

Then again, I must remember to tell the Partner Bank that I am off next Monday, as I am not going to be working on my entitled ‘day-off’.  This actually makes me think I should do a three-day trek somewhere!!! There’s an idea!  Maybe another Island hopping expedition?  Oh boy, I can’t wait!

Anyway, a national strike today, means hardly anything is happening in town, most places are closed, transport pretty much shuts-down.  They call it “Labour May-Day”.  Actually, there were demonstrations on the main streets of Athens from midday through to 2pm, photo’s of this will appear here shortly!

Apart from that, nothing special today, just managing to update my development plan, goals and the other ‘chasers’ (project work) that I should completed.

Just contemplating that I have now spent 4 weeks on this work assignment, another 8 more weeks to go (yep 1/3 of the way through!!).  Blimey, it’s gone quickly.

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Greek Assignment - Tourist Day
(Sunday, 29 April 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Saturday, 28th April:

Time for another "Tourist Day" today!!

Decided to visit the infamous Acropolis today - it's only been about 3 weeks in Athens, so not too bad going!

Anyway, was as good as I could have imagine.  The only slight flaw is that they are currently doing quite a bit of extensive restoration work on the main monument, which meant I wasn't really able to take "proper" photographs of the monument, without them being ruined by scaffolding or the crane.  But managed to talk some of the Acropolis monument in any case, and more importantly, the panoromic views around the Acropolis.  Absolutely awe-insipiring, definitely made me feel at ease!  Viewings of the Plaka area underneath of the Acropolis area is an amazing view - the view of hustle and bustle from above.

The €12 was a bargain, as it also enabled you to visit 5 other tourist areas within Athens:

  1. Ancient Agora
  2. Theatre of Dionysos
  3. Romain Agora
  4. Kerameikos
  5. Template of Olympian Zeus

I managed to use the opportunity to also visit the "Temple of Dionysos" on the East Slope of the Acropolis, the "Ancient Agora" towards the Northern area plus the "Temple of Olympian Zeus" which is towards the Eastern area - a short walking distance from the Acropolis, actually I walked passed this several times without realising it was there!

Whilst visiting the Temple of Olympian Zeus, I also Panathenaic Stadium.  I visited the Stadium during my first weekend in Athens, but it was so crowded I couldn't take any "good" photos, so decided to come back some other time.  For some strange reason about 6pm on a Saturday, it was deserted.  I managed to take some really nice shots of the stadium arena, plus managed to get my 'relaxing' photo taken by some kind visitors too. 

Again, these will appear on the Gallery page shortly!

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Greek Assignment - Challenging But Sporadic Week
(Saturday, 28 April 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Monday, 23rd – Friday 27th  April:
Actually, this week was very challenging.  A lot of key targets to meet – meaning crucial delivery of activities / tasks that had to be completed before month-end.  Boy no pressure!

I think we are getting there, if we make it through to the end of this month (well we have too!), we should be on the home straight okay I am joking we should be in a good position going into May and June and onwards.

There are still a lot of challenges ahead of us, every time we feel we are making progress and we move around the corner towards a new set of opportunities (remember they are not “issues”).

Anyway, finding it difficult to keep everyone updated apparently, I need to report to folks in 3 departments on where things are at – hmmm doesn’t seem right, but alas that’s the emphasis on this programme. 

Also experienced a cold throughout most of the week – horrible feeling, must have been “chilling” too much over the weekend.  It has it’s knock-on effects, I guess!  Too much fun has this type of reaction!

Apart from that small thing, and the other multi-tasking activities I am actively progressing, things are okay.  Busy but still smiling!!

Decided to do another spare of the moment things this week too, brought some nice small gifts for a special lady.  Well it was her birthday, and she deserved to be treated well on that special day!  I didn’t do anything outrageous – okay maybe it was – bouquet of spring flowers, chocolates and to top that off, a happy birthday balloon.  Hmmm .what a gentlemen, hey?  Must remember to not do this too often, but alas I’m that sort of chap, spend on a small gesture every so often.

Also heard that my team in Brighton are moving to a “nicer” building / area, just outside of the main Brighton City area.  We are moving to an area called Preston Park, just on the outskirts, and I actually far prefer this.  Parking is still a challenge – but better than now, but more importantly, we are going to get refurbished buildings – wahoo!  Only 2 years of our team pushing for this “refurbishment” has this finally started to materialise. 

That’s enough of an update for now, more to follow

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Renault - My AutoExpress Interview
(Saturday, 28 April 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti
I had decided to send a blanket e-mail to a number of publications which had published statements and responses to the BBC Watchdog and Bonnet Clio issues. Ultimately, I didn't want these publications to simply re-publish statements from either Watchdog or Renault - without getting a more "detailed account" from someone who has experienced the dreaded incidents.

A reported from AutoExpress contacted me and I agreed to provide my account of events to her, clearly articulating the details, Renault's stance (and that's their "changing stance" throughout), and also my correspondence trail during the last 12mths.

A photographer came out (just before I left for Athens for my second session) and took several shots of me pointing to the bonnet catches and I now am a famous (for about 5-minutes).

Again, not doing it because I want too, but because I felt there was a need for a more varied viewpoint to be published in the media!

Just a shame it didn't appear on their website.

Note: the publication went to press for the week commencing, 30th April.
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Greek Assignment - Island Hopping
(Tuesday, 24 April 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Sunday, 22nd April:

Didn’t really get up to much on the Saturday (had a lie in and just wondering around Athens – chilling day really ,after a hectic week gone by).  As I indicated in my previous blog entry, I decided to take a 3-way Island Hopping excursion on Sunday, and boy was it interesting! 

I didn’t believe that the Greek Islands could be so different from one another, but they certainly were.

Early 7.30am pick-up, so managed to grab some breakfast and coffee in the hotel before I left, coach headed off to the Piraeus Port just outside of Athens, about 15-20-minutes away.  Bit of a run-down area, but you could see a lot of development was being made, new train terminal, and some other buildings were being demolished too. 

We jumped onboard the Cruise ship at around 8am, I would really call it a Ferry, but alas call it as you wish, it’s aim was to safely get me across the waters to the islands and back again, anyway for all intents and purposes lets just call it a “Boat”!  The boat seemed safe and very hospitable staff and hosts.

Left the Port and headed off to our first island and it was actually a very smooth journey.  I managed to be-friend a couple who came from one of the South Pacific islands.  A very nice and sincere couple and very chatty – which is good to see (he says also being known as a ‘chatty’ person)!

Anyway, after about the first hour, I decided to lounge about on the one of the open decks to savour the sunshine, and it certainly was pretty nice and mild.  Not necessarily warm, especially first thing in the morning but pleasant enough!  Also, another good way to get some sun, without it being too strong.

During the first leg of the trip, there was some Greek dancing lessons and explanations of the steps – interesting viewing, then it was the time for the some of the Passengers to take part was I game enough – don’t be daft, of course not.  Have you seen my dance attempts, hmmm obviously not!  Anyway, I could have plucked up the courage and strut my stuff in front off a bunch of strangers I would probably never see again, but decided against this – had some pride - watching was better!

Another hour or so went by (or thereabouts), and we arrived at our first destination, Poros.  I very nice and “quaint” Island, if it weren’t for the tourists boats, I could see being a very quiet and chilled island.  But anyway, we had about an hour to walk around visit the area.  A very picturesque and great panoramic views of the surrounding landscapes.  Many of the island buildings are of beautiful neoclassical architecture.

I also took the opportunity to purchase some nice little gifts for some family and friends back home (I will eventually photograph and upload them here).

Having jumped back on the boat, we set sail for the next island destination.  We ate our lunch on the boat, Smoked Salmon to start with and Pork with Creamy Mash to follow.  Very appetising, although not the best cuisine I have had, it did the job!

Arriving at Hydra, I was already advised it to be a very different but ‘commercial’ island.   Much more cosmopolitan than Poros, but still a very nice atmosphere.  It had different areas, so at one side (towards the Port area), you were part of the hub of the bars, restaurants, tourists shops etc, then you walked away from this and you saw the real Hydra, the lovely architecture and then you can go either side of the Port area and go for a tranquil walk to unwind.  Very nice indeed; especially with my iPod and a way to relax my mind, after such a challenging couple of weeks at work.  It was meant to have a pretty good entertainment and night-life, but as I was only here for one day, I didn’t have the opportunity to experience it.  During the walk the views of the surrounding landscape was amazing, and the water was so aqua blue – really nice and clear.  Anyway, after 2½ hours relaxing on Hydra, we had to return to the boat for the third and last island hop.

The third island was the historic island of Aegina; earlier on in the day, whilst on ferry, we were given an explanation and itinerary of the day’s events, including an explanation of the tours of the Aegina island.  There was either the “Classical” (about an hour long and €20) or the “Archaeological” Excursions (for the full 2 hours and €30).  I wanted to spend some time walking about the island so had initially chosen the “Classical” tour, but on the second link heading towards Aegina, the English speaking tour were advised that as there were only 6 of us down for the “Classical” tour, we either had an option to join one of the other language speaking “Classical” tours or upgrade to the “Archaeological” tour.  I decided to upgrade and paid the difference.

Aegina is famous for its Pistachio nuts, and there Pistachio trees were found everywhere – definitely interesting, especially as I’ve never seen a Pistachio tree before (well I don’t think I have!).

Having arrived at the main Aegina Harbour, we had another coach ride, and went across the island to visit “Afaia Temple” – very beautiful and a great look over Aghia Marina.  The views of the surrounding areas were magnificent!

We then went back towards the Aegina Harbour and visited the “Aghios Nektarios Monastery”; another building of magnificent design and architecture. 

We then made it back to the boat and headed back to Piraeus port, and onwards back to the hotel, arriving at 7.30pm.  A long day, but very much enjoyable, and 3 islands off my list now!  Only another dozen or so to go (not that I really know the true number if Greek islands that exist).  Onwards to the next island hop!

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Greek Assignment - Start of Second Session
(Saturday, 21 April 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Tuesday, 17th April - Saturday, 21st April:

Well my second session has started.  My BA Flight on Tuesday, 17th April was relatively uneventful, pleasant sailing (well "flight")!  Decided to stay in the UK for the week after the Easter-break, as I had to meet up some folks (work-folks), and also had to attend a Mandatory 'Brand' Training session on Monday, 16th April. 

Hope everyone is fantastically well and keeping busy! (Life would be boring if we weren't busy, so think of this as a plus point!)..certainly been incredibly busy this end....but still very much smiling and having fun, fun, fun! (Well it's me you are talking about here!).

Aaron as the BonuS Platform 'Frontman'

To start with the fun-element, the photo on the right was one of "me-at-work"....and was not planned or intentional....I am out here in Greece to support the BonuS platform, and I apparently was based at a desk under a BonuS poster....(it was early morning, and I didn't even realise the poster was on the pillar!!). So I was, apparently, becoming the "front man" of the programme in the office :) Notice my Starbuck's sponsorship in the photo too! I was working, honest!

Anyway, greetings from sunny Greece from a view overlooking the Acropolis, it's only 22C, so I believe it's warmer in the UK at the moment - ho well, life hey? Can't have it all!

Work....well definitely very busy, but I don't want to go into detail here....lets talk about the most important aspect of the trip, the "fun-part"! Already, starting to be seen as a "regular" within the Hilton Athens for some weird reason...managed to get a bargain rate @ only €195 per night (rather than €270+) for an Exec Room - not bad...so plus, plus and plus! And the rooms are pretty cool, definitely lounging around pretty comfortably here...I am sure going to enjoy every minute of my time here!! Fantastic opportunity!

Trying to 'obtain' a Championship League final ticket - we'll see if anything happens, would be fantastic...esp. if AC Milan make it to the finals - c'mon there's 3 UK teams left, so it's only fair that it's a UK/Italy final!!! Actually talking about Championship League, means there are no hotels in Athens at all....hmm....not a bad reason to stay around and suck up the atmosphere for free, but decided to take a holiday to visit one of the surrounding Greek Island(s) - probably Santorini - which has been recommended to me on several occasions. C'mon any excuse to enjoy the sun, sand, Ouzo, and more!

Talking about Greek Islands, started to visit them this week, visiting a 3-Island spree over the two days - what fun, more news to follow. Can't wait, all of have been highly recommended, so it will certainly be very relaxing! Hydra, Poros, Aegina are on my list to visit this weekend....all meant to be very different...will let you know!!

One of the downfalls is that I've already got my Corporate Card skimmed this week, I was warned that this might happen here in Athens, but I didn't imagine it would happen so quickly to me! Apparently I have "purchased" a mobile phone contract from a Netherlands merchant, payment processed via BIBIT Payment Application (i.e. Online). Luckily, I've been monitoring my Corporate statement periodically since being out here....and yes it was a "keyed" transaction on my Chip and PIN Card!! and NO it definitely wasn't me!

Anyway, lets end this update with the trip's challenges:

  1. Will I see the Acropolis and Athen's sights before I leave?
  2. Which Greek island to visit next?
  3. Which restaurant to visit next?
  4. Which drink to order next? Plenty of Ouzo involved thus far! Hmmm...well c'mon gotta make the most of it!
  5. Will all of the places I visit take AXP?
  6. How many times will be Corp Card get skimmed?
  7. Which ladies to chat up next? (Hmmm....okay may not be appropriate for the target audience of this blog entry - whoops). But have you seen the Greek ladies? Okay, I should really keep this to myself :)

Till the next time, have fun all, I certainly will be, within the mix of work, fun and play! I will raise an Ouzo to you all! Ciao for now...

 

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Renault: VOSA -- Freedom of Information Act
(Monday, 09 April 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well, having pushed to get the report which Renault completed on my vehicle - Renault refused to release it to me directly or via VOSA - so I decided to try to obtain as much information as I could via a FoI request to VOSA.

After about 5 weeks of tooing and froing, I managed to obtain two additional documents:

The actual Renault Engineer's report which VOSA released to me, and a subsequent copy of the City Motors inspection which VOSA completed - spot-check on 3 other Clio vehicles (none of which experienced the bonnet issue). They are attached in the zip file, downloadable from this site:

http://www.brigatti.co.uk/vosa_foi/VOSA_FOI.zip

Pleasant reading!!  I've summarised my thoughts in the return letter to VOSA, but a few things don't tally...the date of the report for one thing, as the FoI request indicates a report in June (which is enclosed in the above zip file), but the report completed by Renault was compiled on 13th April, and published to VOSA on 22nd May 2007.  So are we talking about the same report here?

Secondly, the only reason I can see Renault wanting to bury this report, is the comment about corrosion - meaning a part could fail to function due to this!  Maybe they didn't coat the part with enough anti-corrosion stuff?  Cutting corners.  If so, it has come back to haunt them!

Anyway, also take the opportunity to share the link to the updated correspondence trail - below:

http://www.brigatti.co.uk/BackgroundOfRenaultIncidentV6.pdf

 

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Renault Clio Issue - 10 Downing Street - Petition
(Monday, 09 April 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti

You might be interested to hear that a Petition has started on the "Number 10" PMs website: 
 
http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/FaultyClioBonnet/ 
 
Please support all of those folks who experienced a life-threatening incident, and ensure our right-honourable PM directs those who can "make a difference" to act, appropriately!

Thanks.

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Renault Clio - VOSA CEO Lack of Response
(Monday, 09 April 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well it's not just Renault UK that are playing silly buggers, apparently it has spread to VOSA too.  

They are actually playing a very dangerous game - as they are dicing with people's lives...and they are meant to represent the public - not the vehicle manufactures!

Anyway, a null reply to my previous letter which I had addressed to Stephen Tetlow, the VOSA CEO on 11th March 2007.

So a further letter sent to Mr Tetlow

"Unfortunately, it would appear that you have not responded to my earlier letter dated 11th March 2007.  I re-enclose the letter again for your review and urgent response.  This matter has gone on far too long for VOSA to stick its head in the sand, believing it will resolve itself.

VOSA’s inability to complete a more comprehensive and impartial investigation, with the public’s interest and safety as the number one priority, has simply meant that Renault has chosen to quote your organisation’s position as a way to “make their case” to the media and motoring industry.  This simply implies your organisation is not impartial and questions your professionalism in dealing with any safety-related cases filed to it.

I have recently obtained a copy of the report completed on my vehicle by a Renault Engineer, as part of the Freedom of Information (FoI) request, even though you and Renault failed to originally honour my request to provide this to me. 

Ironically, according to Renault, their Engineer’s report was formally compiled on 13th April 2006, and Mr Jenkin’s confirmed he was in sight of this same report on 22nd May 2006.  According to the information obtained under the FoI you have quoted a report published on 20th June 2006.  The timelines do not tally, and I am questioning the validity of the information referenced. 

By referencing the report dated 20th June 2006, the information within this report indicates that corrosion was evident within the main and safety catch mechanism.  Renault Baldock’s own engineer noted, during an initial inspection on 27th March 2006 (the day of the incident), that the “safety catch had not been lubricated recently and was found to be stiff”.  Together, questions the performance of the safety catch mechanism.  The report has neither proved why the bonnet released itself without any intervention or confirming that the bonnet had not been not closed properly.  Renault indicated that they were “unable to confirm the exact cause” but were able to confirm it was due to “bonnet not being closed properly”; maintenance has now also been raised as possible factor.  Although, I am still adamant this all relates to the way the 2-catch mechanism has been designed to operate.  Such a mechanism should be “designed” to withstand common amounts of corrosion during daily use, and the safety engaged in ALL cases.  Thus, a bonnet should be unable to release itself entirely.  If one has to question the performance of the safety catch “as designed”, then this means that an apparent safety issue (defect) exists.  There should NEVER be a question raised on a safety catch mechanism, regardless of the circumstances. 

More worryingly, a report published by VOSA from Mr Jenkins on 28th April 2006, actually appears to have doctored, as I have two versions of the same report, as provided by two separate FoI requests.  This also makes me question whether any other information provided by VOSA has been subsequently doctored before being shared to the public – which is a very serious matter for which I am extremely concerned to see.  I will look to raise this to the Information Commissioner, as this contravenes the various Laws and Acts which your organisation must adhere too.

I look forward for your reply to this and my earlier correspondence shortly."


Again, we will see what response I get in return - if any!!

 

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Renault UK MD and SQD - No Reply!
(Monday, 09 April 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Well, my letter 2nd March to the Managing Director (MD) and Servicing & Quality Director (SQD) of Renault UK - resulted in a blank response - blank in terms of zero!  Incidently, my communications have continued to be cc'd to Carlos Ghosn the Chairman and CEO of Renault Group in France!

So without giving up hope, here comes another letter sent to the MD and SQD - again cc'd the President and CEO.

I wanted to change my tactics slightly, as I wanted to respond to something I picked up on the Renault UK press release - which they sent out to the Media and Motoring press on 15th March (after that week's showing on the BBC Watchdog programme).

Here's the letter, short and sweet this time:

"Your apparent failure to respond to my 2nd March letter signifies your reluctance to deal with this ‘safety’ issue, which impacts some 400,000+ vehicles on the UK roads. 

I do not wish to comment on the whistleblower claims made by BBC Watchdog’s 28th March 2007 broadcast; I would like to draw you back to the clear facts of the incidents.

You have admitted poor maintenance impacts the performance of the main and safety catch mechanism.  You also implied that poor maintenance could result in damage to the catch mechanism (which incorporates a safety catch mechanism).

By admitting that you are replacing parts in some cases (your 15th March statement), means that you were aware that in some cases the part is prone to failure, and requires replacing.  If this failure happens within the 18,000 / 2 year maintenance window (the maintenance schedule of the Renault vehicles), this could cause a failure that results in a bonnet releasing itself.

Renault’s statement implies Renault had historic evidence prior to the reported cases, and more importantly, Renault could have prevented all of the 1000+ cases ever happening.  Thus, your inaction in informing your dealerships of this apparent part-failure, confirms Renault are liable for all of the reported and subsequent cases.

A failure which requires the reliance on a safety catch that Renault is unable to categorically confirm will perform as it should in ALL cases, means Renault are not satisfied with the way the mechanism operates in daily usage.  All of which confirms an apparent “safety defect” exists with the mechanism.

None reply confirms that you accept liability on all cases reported."

Interesting hey?  We'll see what materialises following this latest twist!  Hehe!

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Greek Assignment - Last Day of First Session
(Friday, 06 April 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Thursday, 5th April:

Well had a nice relaxing breakfast, few more e-mails / work done, and then I finalised what I had to leave and what I had to take back with me.  Such a chore this check-out / check-in malarkey, anyway, left some of items in storage upon my return. 

 

My return flight was at 19:20 in the evening, allowing me to spend Good Friday and Bank Holiday Monday off, and then spend the next week in the UK (working from home or in London). 

 

I was also working out how best to sort myself out for the next “long-stay”.  Having discounted the self-contained apartment option, there appeared to be no one willing to accommodate my short term status (3-months requirement), this meant I had no option but to stay at the Hilton for this period of time.  I booked the Flight via CTO, and also tentatively put down the hotel option as well.  Having spoken to the Head of Reservations / Sales, it transpired that I could get a deal, but had to book direct.  No major issues in my opinion, so will sort this out on Tuesday, next week.  This should address my immediate concerns, apart from the fact that 21st to 24th May was unavailable – something about a Champions League final (hmmm – that’s going to be a interesting period of time!), and limited availability for the end of April, so I better sort these dates out soonest too!

 

Work was okay, just tried to finalise as much as I can before leaving.  Few more conference calls and face-to-face meetings, some more intensive than others, and then I did a fond farewell around 16:30.  Well I will be back, on 17th April.  I had a mandatory AXP Brand training which I had to attend on 16th April, which meant I had to stay back for an extra day – c’est la vie, hey?

 

Return flight was interesting.  Firstly, having asked whether it was full, I was told yes it was, only to find out it was actually ¾ empty!  Must the fact everyone is going outwards not inwards to the UK – due to Easter Bank Holiday weekend.  Anyway, we were delayed by 40minutes due to a delayed inwards journey.  Having finally taken off, the flight managed to make-up the lost time so rapidly, that we actually arrived 5-10minutes earlier than the intended arrival time.  Not all good; lovely Heathrow did not have any stands for us, so we had to wait a further 20-25minutes on the taxi-way.  Grrrrr!!  Then we made it to the gate, and when we eventually made our way out, we had to wait another 20-25minutes for our damn luggage.  Further grrrrr!!!  No wonder no one likes Heathrow, it really is creaken at the seams at the moment. 

 

Taxi journey back was pretty quick, and a nice sleep was due!

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Greek Assignment - Almost the end of First Session
(Wednesday, 04 April 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Wednesday, 4th April:

Well, one could tell it was getting towards the Easter weekend; things were starting to settle into the holiday mood.  However, this didn’t include work, as losing a day simply meant double work for the next two days.  Plenty of issues still remained, but we were getting there.  Sure was getting more intense, having finally gotten my head around what was happening. 

 

More conference calls and follow-up discussions/activities required, and before I realised it, the day had flown by!

 

Decided to call it a day just gone 17:00, so made my way back to the hotel, for a couple of drinks in the Exec Lounge.  This week was already a very tiring week, that and I was still catching up with all the issues and “opportunities” that we needed to resolve, whilst I was here. 

 

Anyway, didn’t want to venture too far from the hotel for dinner, so decided to go to the lobby, and try out the hotel’s own restaurant, the Byzantine restaurant, it had a buffet offering but at €37 I decide to go à la carte, as I wasn’t that hungry to make the buffet worth having.  Settle with Tomato Sauce (which was quite refreshing) and a nice Fillet Steak to follow!  Had to make a few work calls as well, but had to be done!

 

Spent the next 1-2 hours just relaxing at the Exec Lounge; next time I will try some of the other bars in the hotel, but plenty of chance for this!

 

Had to start packing and arranging myself for my check-out on Thursday too.

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Greek Assignment - Wahoo, survived the first week!
(Tuesday, 03 April 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Tuesday, 3rd April:

Another standard day, just ploughed on, few more catch-up meetings, some back to base in London, others with the Partner, nothing special really.

 

Went to the gym again when I returned home – definitely started to need this work-out! 

 

Mark and I decided to go for Agora Ilision Restaurant option again, after first checking out to see if any sports were on at the local bar around the corner – it was just basketball, so we decided against it (it was dead empty too!).  We relaxed in Agora for the evening meal and just did a bit of chit-chat about everything really, work, leisure, non-work stuff (my background etc).

 

Continued working when I went back to the room, few more e-mails sent, and then that was that!

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Greek Assignment - Start of Week 2
(Tuesday, 03 April 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Monday, 2nd April:

Decided to walk to the office today, and enjoy the fresh air.  I’ve done this for the last few trips, and it was actually a nice way of getting to work – cheap, fresh and actually wakes me up, oh and good exercise!

 

I just ploughed straight into work, a few more meetings and so forth, daily issue-update calls etc.  One of the AXP GSS members then appeared, apparently he is out for the next few days.  Currently, I’ve only really been on my “own” for about 4 days in total, thus far.  Not bad going, actually I am looking forward for a few days of company, and then hopefully I can slowly acquaint myself with the other Partner bank staff, so I can start to know them further too!

 

Anyway, one of the common things is that everyone starts early (approx 08:30) and leaves around mid-afternoon (15:30).  There are a few whom actually stay-back and continue to work; they end up leaving around 18:00-18:30 most-days.

 

I am getting to be one of those, as although I try to leave work around 17:00 (starting at around 09:30); I continue to do my other work in the Hotel for the next 2 hours, so in reality work from 09:30 to about 19:30 most days.  Actually, I start earlier than this as after refreshing myself, I start checking my e-mails around 08:30 in the morning already!  (Note: this is not a complaint, it’s just the way I do things – else I will be behind before I even start my day!  Remember the challenges of e-mail access, I’ve mentioned in one of my earlier posts!?).

 

Mark and I were invited out for dinner, as Mark was presenting on Tuesday, it was more of a social gathering (bit of work, bit of social-chat).  We went to a nice Cretan-Greek restaurant, just behind the Hilton, called Alatsi.  Neither Mark or I knew it was here, so it was good to try it out.  Only slight issue is that they don’t accept AXP – whoops.  Well, I guess it’s something the bank needs to address!

 

Few Ouzo’s later, I knew it was getting late :)

 

Probably, just gone midnight by the time we got back to the hotel.  Good food, good company, good night!

 

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Greek Assignment - Relaxing Sunday
(Sunday, 01 April 2007) Written by Aaron Brigatti

Sunday, 1st April: