Monday, April 28, 2008



We are about to enter a more testing phase of the project than any we have so far experienced.  For all its uncertainties, the journey so far has been straightforward compared to what we are about to start.  The discovery centre enters the complexities of Stage E and beyond, in which any lack of attention to detail could cost us heavily in time and money later on, neither of which we can afford.  The architects will be demanding, and our performance as clients has to be extremely disciplined in response.  We will be attending the Follow-Up Committee with all that entails in terms of steering the project. We are forming the Project Management Unit, which will be central to the effective delivery of the centre‚Äôs construction on time and on budget and to the quality we require, and which will itself require strong chairmanship, management and processes.  In July we will start the tender process for the contractor who will carry out the construction, where I envisage that Massar will need to fight hard to ensure that the technical standards essential for the capital project are applied throughout, and we end up with a contractor who is properly capable of understanding and delivering the engineering required. During this next phase we need to establish a track record of discipline, attention to detail, rigorous and speedy problem-solving, and robust processes.  In other words, how we go forward over the next few months will set the tone for the entire project.  Throughout it all, we have to create a productive relationship between the fabric of the building and the fit-out works that will take place inside, which will require close coordination between the two processes.


Saturday, April 12, 2008


Saturday afternoon

I've been working all day in the apartment. It's Saturday. The window looks out to the south east, towards Kafer Souseh, where there now stands a bright new Ministry building in the middle of all the other housing that is shooting up there. This was apparently built for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs but once completed was promptly appropriated by the Prime Minister. Certainly it's much nicer than the building he occupies at the moment.

It's overcast but bright and a perfect temperature, not cool but not hot either, so the window is open and a pleasant breeze brings in the occasional smell of baking bread. Swifts are wheeling and shrieking in the sky, the enormous hornets that are found here have appeared and are occasionally bumping against the fly screen. As usual there's lots of hooting from the street nearby, as there's a cross roads there with no signage and no right of way so it's constant negotiation by horn. Below my window there is a garden centre , and it's a marvel to me that although most of its plants are lined up completely unprotected at the back, noone steals or vandalises them, there just seems to be a readiness to let things be.

I have a can of Grolsch beside the laptop, and I must say that life could be a lot worse.

(The picture shows the view but taken on a different, rather wetter, day)


Tuesday, April 01, 2008



I'm on the third leg of a round trip from Damascus to Copenhagen via London. The first leg was very pleasant, on BMI, in a very spacious modern plane with the huge benefit of a power socket by my seat, so I was able to work most of the flight. As I had offered to do some work on a strategy document for the Trust, this was a good opportunity to break the back of it.

Then came Heathrow, and luckily no need to pass through the new and chaotic Terminal 5. As it was we arrived 50 minutes behind schedule and it takes about that time to get from Terminal 1 to Terminal 4, so it was fortunate that I had three hours in hand before the next leg, by BA, to Copenhagen. This was a much less impressive plane, absolutely full, cramped, and with fairly underwhelming food. After the last experience with BA to Copenhagen I was taking only hand luggage, and it and I both arrived safely. Likewise back to London, where I was due to spend a couple of days to celebrate Helen's 60th birthday.

Then yesterday just to be on the safe side, I called BMI to double-check which Terminal at Heathrow the flight to Damascus, scheduled to depart at 2105, was leaving from. Oh, came the reply, that flight was rescheduled and left at 1450 this afternoon. It was now about 90 minutes later than that, so I had missed my flight. Had BMI told anyone? We inform all passengers of any change to schedule. But not me. Perhaps your travel agent does not have your contact number, sir. True, but he does have the office number, and the office would most certainly have informed me if they had been told anything. But I can't find your: name, booking reference, ticket number on our system, are you sure you booked with us? I have a BMI ticket in my hand right now. Anyway, after around an hour of pointless conversation, my interest now was in getting onto another flight. I'll get back to you, sir. Unsurprisingly, noone phoned back.

So I called BA, as this was a codeshare, and spoke to a very good-humoured gentleman. Yes sir, I have your details here. It looks like BMI changed the time without informing us either, because our schedule for this flight still shows 2105. But I'll book you onto the same flight tomorrow. All done. Restored my faith in human nature.

Until the next day, when, just to check once again, I called BA back. No, you're not on our system as having been re-booked on today's flight. Oh....... Let me see what I can do. Okay, we've sorted it out with BMI and you now have a pre-assigned seat, 4A. Many thanks, that's very helpful.

Arrive at Heathrow. No record of me having a pre-assigned seat, but at leat I AM CHECKED IN now any with luck will get on the plane.

Now why does all this have to happen? Frankly it's pathetic that BMI have such a god-awful customer helpline, based in India somewhere, where they just don't know what's going on. It's pathetic that their system enables them to reschedule a plane and not get information even to the airline they code-share with. It's pathetic too that two long phone calls to BA still haven't finalised things, even though I suspect the fault lies with BMI anyway. These are not multi-disciplinary businesses, they just fly passengers from A to B. Why do they make such a pig's ear of it?

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