Monday, 31 December 2007

Elementary my dear Wattson

One of my Christmas presents this year was a Wattson.

It's really cool. I don't want you thinking I'm some kind of environmental freak, I'm not, but it's a great toy.


New Years unresolutions

If I were the sort of person that had resolve, drive, ambition and commitment then these are the resolutions I might make:
  • Get some cosmetic surgery - this won't happen because I'm a wimp.
  • Diet and exercise to lose a stone and keep the weight off - this won't happen because I like food and lack the mental energy required.
  • Don't lose my temper with anyone - no chance as this is genetically programmed in.
  • Keep the house tidy - well I would except that I know I won't.
I think you get the idea. I am open to New Year resolution suggestions though. Maybe you can think of something worthy that I might be able to achieve.

Sunday, 30 December 2007

How did this happen?

We met friends and their children in a park today. We fed the deer with carrots, stuffed the ducks with bread and walked through boggy marsh before returning by car to our place for baked spuds followed by demolishable gingerbread house and yummy chocolate biscuits, all of which was accompanied by some red wine, except for the children of course.

Our friends explained that their plan for the rest of their afternoon involved a trip to IKEA. What were they thinking? Sunday afternoon, IKEA, with children. Madness. I couldn't let it happen.

Additionally they were going to get items delivered instead of taking them home in a capacious vehicle. Frankly that's just a waste of decently earned cash.

The upshot of all of this means that their two children are staying the night and our voluminous car thing is being borrowed because it may just afford sufficient cargo space to avoid a delivery charge.

It's the first non family sleepover for their youngest, and he seems to have taken to it quite well, so far. It's the first time we've had two children here for a sleepover. As I'm not entirely sober at this point, I'm taking it quite well too.

I'm hoping that the earlier fresh air will ensure everyone gets a good sleep but I do wonder, how did this happen?

Saturday, 29 December 2007

A superpower please

I've just watched Spiderman 3. It was alright, I suppose, if you like that sort of thing. Anyway, that, combined with other events over the last few days, have made me want a superpower.

I want to be able to take things back that I've said or done.

This isn't because I've caused offence or insulted anyone deliberately. I can usually live with the consequences of that. If I regret something of that kind then I resolve it with an apology or some activity that makes amends. If I don't regret it then I let it stand.

I want to be able to retract when I've said or done something inadvertently that has messed things up. I seem to have a habit of putting my foot in it.

But this has to be a special power. It has to be anonymous and it needs to happen without the people involved knowing that something had even been said in the first place.

In the meantime, until someone grants me my desired power, I'll have to resort to verbal manoeuvring and the spoken equivalent of sleight of hand.

Friday, 28 December 2007

Hmmm

So the BT engineer has diagnosed the problem - Tiscali equipment at the exchange.

We've been minus broadband and TV (as paid for in our contract) for over a month.

We've had three engineers of various kinds trying to fix the problem.

We've spent hours on the phone, at our expense, explaining the issue over and over.

What should be the recompense? Should there be recompense?

Sunday, 23 December 2007

The guilt trip

I saw my Dad this weekend for the first time in over six months.

I popped into the house this morning, just before I made the journey home. I left a couple of answerphone messages to advise Dad I was on my way over.

When I arrived I used the entry phone which rings the telephone but there wasn't a reply. I tried again.

The house stank as I entered it using the key from the key safe outside the front door.

I walked from room to room. The sitting room confirmed he'd eaten lunch. The television was on maximum volume blaring out Who Framed Roger Rabbit. The answerphone bleeped repeatedly to draw Dad's attention to my earlier messages.

The bedroom was full of Radio 4, at full volume, competing with the sounds of Bob Hoskins next door. Dad was lying on the bed, on top of the bedclothes at 90 degrees to normal. He was half dressed, missing a shirt and he was fast asleep. He was lying on his back but his knees were bent. He was in an almost foetal position. A walking frame was in front of him. It was as though he had fallen asleep whilst getting ready.

I could have tried to wake him up, but I didn't. The noise in the place was deafening but, even so, I knew that my voice would probably cut through the background enough to rouse him. I couldn't do it.

Every time I see Dad I think that this could be the last time. If this was the last time, I didn't even wake him up to say goodbye. Guilt is a tough emotion to deal with.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Hey Fatty Fatty

I shall be eating and drinking like a complete hog over Christmas, but that's a good thing.

I have lost a tiny bit of weight recently. Not deliberately, it just happened (I put it down to stress - or something).

The upside is that my thin day trousers fit me.

The downside is that the rest of my wardrobe, especially my fat day trousers, don't fit very well.

So after Christmas at least my clothes will fit.

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Online vs offline

I buy a lot online. I buy a lot offline. I buy a lot but so does everyone these days. It's the consumer society that drives this and actually I'm at the lower end of the consumer spectrum.

I wondered if the exclusively online consumer misses out. Is there anything one cannot buy online. Let's look at the more unlikely Christmas items.

Mistletoe
Holly
Ivy


Is there anything that one can't buy online?

Monday, 17 December 2007

Conspiracy theory

No, not Diana and was it all Prince Philip's fault.

No. BT.

You see when we switched to the dastardly Tiscali, which I keep inadvertently typing as Toscali which might evolve into Tosscali which might be more appropriate, we had line rental supplied by BT.

I know, BT still supply our line as I haven't seen anyone up ladders changing the phone line into the house, but it's now Tosscali that we pay for the privilege.

Dave reckons (he always was a big fan of the X-files) that BT are mightily fed up about losing line rental customers and he thinks they have evil plans for world domination that include sabotaging the broadband connection for people that move away from them for line rental.

Interesting conspiracy theory.

Sunday, 16 December 2007

And the answer is...

I half did a Maths degree, or should that be I did a degree which was half Maths? Either way the statement probably still stands. I didn't work hard and subsequently didn't over achieve (or even achieve that much).

Anyway - I came across a mathematical problem that shouldn't trouble someone studying for their GCSE but for me it fell into the too complicated box.

A car runs more fuel efficiently when it is lighter. So a car with a near empty fuel tank runs more efficiently than one with a full tank.

A car uses, generally, an excess of fuel on start up, and less after running for a while.

So if a car weighs 1560 kg (weight is unladen and assumes 90% fluid levels) and has a 70 litre tank, and if we assume that the car is refuelled when the gauge indicates 20 kilometers of travel remaining, and we say that the fuel used on start up is x, then if y is the optimal refuelling level for maximum fuel efficiency, what is the equation that will give us y, if we have x? And what other variables or knowns have been omitted from the information provided.

Answers via comments please, or a postcard to the usual address.

Saturday, 15 December 2007

It's in the details

Ethan had his nursery Christmas party today.

The honoured guest was Father Christmas and Hannah decided that, because Ethan might be a little bit nervous, she would be there in a supporting capacity.

We had the conversation that explained that the man in the big red suit wouldn't be expecting Hannah and therefore wouldn't be prepared with a gift. I also explained that she could only stay for the Santa visit and not for the subsequent party.

She was still keen to play caring big sister and she did a fantastic job, holding her little brother's hand and helping him with the stress of a dark grotto and big bloke hiding behind lots of facial hair and red, fur trimmed clothing.

We left at the same time as another parent, Nikki, and as we walked she asked "So who was Santa?"

I looked at Hannah and then at Nikki. The last look was a look of conspiracy.

I explained, more to Hannah than Nikki, that it was so difficult to tell whether one was seeing the big FC or whether it was one of his helpers.

Nikki added that although Santa is a bit magical he still can't be everywhere so his helpers help out by turning up when he can't make it.

Hannah thought that one of the Santas that she'd seen this year was a helper, because the first one, at Kirsty's house hadn't worn glasses but the one at nursery had worn glasses.

I often don't even notice when my friends wear glasses, let alone complete strangers. It's all in the details.

Friday, 14 December 2007

Workarounds

We did have a visit from a Tiscali engineer. And nothing is better.

I sit here using a neighbour's unsecure wireless network - cheeky I know but these are desperate times. Why do people have unsecure networks?

If I want to watch TV then I can sit in the kitchen to watch the portable that works off the Freeview box.

Tiscali still plan to fix the problem but I'm no longer convinced. I'm very, very fed up and I just want everything to work. I'm holding back on the abusive e-mail that keeps creating itself in my mind:

To: mary.turner@uk.tiscali.com

Subject: Expletive deleted, expletive deleted Tiscali TV

Thursday, 13 December 2007

Going to the top

I've mentioned the problems with Tiscali.

Today I took my discontent to the level where I thought it might produce results.

To: mary.turner@uk.tiscali.com

Mary Turner is the CEO of Tiscali. I found her e-mail address on Facebook in a group of Tiscali malcontents.

Within two hours of firing an e-mail to Ms Turner I received a call. And things start to happen. I now have names and direct numbers so I don't have to go through call centre pain. I have assurances of best efforts and people calling and things getting fixed.

Time will tell but it's amazing how useful some e-mail addresses can be.

Clever clogs

Today I relied on my senses and figured getting a cab at the station was important rather than how drunk, or otherwise, I was.

I judged the train carriage to be closest to the exit.

I raced to the cab queue.

I saw there were two people in front of me and they had jumped in the first two cabs. I opened the door of the third cab because there was nobody in front of me.

The cab driver told me to join the queue. At this point I had been overtaken by about 12 people.

So I waited about five minutes for my turn. The thing is - it had been my turn.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

When is enough enough?

I've just been out for the department Christmas do. I walked into the house and Dave said "you're pissed". Thanks Dave, I thought, but I can still walk and talk - that's good for me.

But it made me think. What is it that tells me to stop drinking? and I decided that my feedback loop isn't particularly well developed.

I tend to rely in my senses. And when they start to fail I stop drinking. That's probably too late.

Any advice?

Monday, 10 December 2007

Value, not valued

When we started to have problems with Tiscali broadband and TV...

I'll say that again in case you missed it "When we started to HAVE PROBLEMS WITH TISCALI BROADBAND AND TV..."

When we first started having problems we had responsive people at the end of the phone (OK after half and hour of listening to some blasted Vivaldi or similar pacifier) who would suggest fixes and book engineers.

As we are now customers who CONTINUE TO HAVE PROBLEMS WITH TISCALI BROADBAND AND TV we are raised to the status of High Priority.

This new status means that people won't talk to us, they won't respond intelligently to any e-mails and we have to wait "up to 72 hours for 'someone' to get in touch."

I'm not feeling valued which is perhaps why I feel like shouting a lot.

Dave wants to give them one last chance and he's willing to wait the 72 hours. I tried to explain that this is a Tiscali imposed target for contact; it bears no relation to what the customer actually wants. We're being treated worse the more our service deteriorates.

I say remove their testicles.

Sunday, 9 December 2007

Winter trifle

I completely lost all sense of what is reasonable today because I'd mislaid a recipe.

I was a screaming, wailing, door slamming, cupboard-thumping banshee. I know...it's difficult to believe. Or not.

Anyway, I called the person that originally gave me the recipe and all was well with the world once more.

If you have ever made and tasted this dish, you'll understand the depth of my distress.

For those of you who would like to try it, here is Winter Trifle:

This is a very flexible recipe and all measurements are approx. It feeds six people very nicely and whilst it can be accompanied by cream, this isn't essential. It's also a great recipe to take to other people's houses as you can take the ingredients along, assemble quickly and cook it on site. This works best if the pouring liquid is whisked and then transported and the chocolate pre-chopped.

It should be cooked in a large baking dish at 160 Celsius for 30 mins.
  • 450g brioche (often sold in 400g sizes and you can use just 400g)
  • 400-500g raspberries (fresh or frozen - just add 5 mins cooking time if using frozen)
  • 100g white chocolate (I buy the 200g bar, eat some and then add a bit extra to the dish but you could also use white chocolate buttons or white choc chips)
  • 400-500ml creme fraiche (can be half fat)
  • 100-200g caster sugar
  • 5ml vanilla extract (optional)
  • 1 egg
  • Dusting of icing sugar
Tear the brioche into rough two inch squares.
Chop the chocolate into pieces roughly the size of your little fingernail.
Put half of the brioche into the dish.
Spread half the raspberries over the brioche, together with half the chocolate.
Repeat this process with another layer of brioche, raspberries and chocolate.
Whisk together the creme fraiche, sugar, vanilla extract and egg.
Pour over the top of the brioche layers.
Bake for 30 mins or so and if desired, sprinkle with icing sugar before allowing to cool slightly for 20 mins or so.
Enjoy.

Saturday, 8 December 2007

Friday, 7 December 2007

Upsides Downsides

It wasn't true. Well in theory it's a good deal but the broadband etc. package from Tiscali has a drawback, a disadvantage; It doesn't bloody well work.

That's the downside. The upside is that all the engineers, so far, that have visited to install or fix the problem have been very nice young men. Ladies I think you know what we're talking about.

Anyway, despite this, I would still rather have a reliable internet connection. I think that's a sign of middle age.

Choice: Good looking bloke in the house or a reliable internet connection? I'll take the latter.

Thursday, 6 December 2007

I'm gonna kick your furry arse

Once upon a time Ann and Dave acquired two rescued kittens: Sydney and Darwin.

Ann and Dave treated these kittens like babies; attending to their every whim and buying them everything a kitten could want.

Two years later Ann and Dave were off to America and so were Sydney and Darwin, except that Darwin had gone missing. Two days later after much frought local door knocking we discovered that Darwin had been run over.

Sydney travelled out to Detroit and was soon joined by another rescued cat - Stanley. Ann and Dave had to lie to be able to take Stanley home with them. The American Humane Society believes cats should be kept indoors and will not allow adoptions to 'parents' who have a different philsophy.

When it was time for Ann and Dave to return to the UK, Syd and Stan went into quarantine for six months. Ann and Dave had become used to living without cats but soon fell back into the routines of pet ownership.

Two years later Ann and Dave moved house and a couple of times Stanley made the trip back to the old house and had to be retrieved. Not long after the move Ann and Dave received a telephone call early on a Saturday. Stanley had been run over and he was soon buried in the back garden.

Sydney got older, slower and more ignored as the family grew with the addition of two children. He went for his annual check ups and at the last one he had some teeth removed.

He now eats meat as well as biscuits and is very vocal when the meat supply runs dry, as it did two days ago.

Which is why, tonight, I heard a lot of miaowing followed by Dave saying "I'm gonna kick your furry arse if you don't shut up."

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Love something, hate something

I have mentioned the dear and lovely, and indeed gorgeous, Gok Wan before.

His show, together with Trinny and Susannah, What not to Wear, 10 Years Younger and all programmes in a similar genre encourage, mainly women, to disguise the negative and accentuate the positive using clothing make-up or, in some cases, where all else fails, cosmetic surgery.

I think everyone has bits of their body they love, and bits they hate. And if not then at least there will be things one likes and things one does not like.

I'm not a fan of wishy washy emotions so here goes. I have things I love and things I hate about my body. Why else would I watch Gok et al (excepting the fact he's adorable)?

I wonder though, as we appraise other people's appearance, whether the bits we admire or dislike match the individual's own preferences.

I love my lips, but hate my stomach. There, I've said it. I don't feel any different for having admitted that, but there is a change.

Normally I would just focus on the negative. Mentioning the positive provides balance and perspective, qualities I wish my tummy would possess.

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Bah bloody humbug

I do like Christmas, and for all the wrong reasons.

I like the drink, the food, the party atmosphere, the Christmas lunches, the decorations, the catching up with people I haven't seen for ages and so on.

Actually I like decorations being up. I loathe putting them up, and taking them down is even more painful. I start unfurling the tree with a great deal of enthusiasm and very soon I'm bored and wanting someone else to take over.

But the thing that has got my goat this evening is the modern version of carol singing.

I remember doing proper carol singing, in which real people actually did real singing. Admittedly this probably caused offence because I can't sing or hold any tune, even Jingle Bells.

I know I sound like a grumpy old woman. Well let's check:
  • Grumpy - yes
  • Old - ish, OK call it a yes
  • Woman - last time I checked, yes
But I don't think that riding around with a huge speaker on the back of a pick-up blaring out pre-recorded Christmas tunes at 130 decibels should be legal. In fact it probably isn't there's probably an infringement of rights associated with recorded music.

Anyway, my point is that it's not carol singing.

Monday, 3 December 2007

Successful pilot - my arse!

Today, at Liverpool Street, I found my normal route to work blocked. Something was going on underground and access to the tubes was closed.

Having encountered this before I resigned myself to the stroll through Finsbury Circus and a dip down into the depths of the Northern Line at Moorgate to emerge at Euston for the walk to Mornington Crescent.

The last time I'd done the walk from Euston I'd emerged on the wrong side of Euston. The route was lined with shopfronts obscured with brown paper, newspaper or paint hiding the porn shops and massage parlours. Today I decided to try the west side of Euston in the hopes it might be a little more pleasant and less intimidating.

It looked promising and as I walked north I spotted a park that would provide me with a cut through.

As I entered St. James' Gardens from Cardington Street I noticed there was an exit in Hampstead Road which was just perfect.

As I walked through the park I noticed it was empty and did have a flicker of worry about my safety but it was an open park and I could see my exit so I didn't worry unduly.

As I moved towards the gates at Hampstead Road they seemed to be shut, but as these were large double gates I just assumed that there was a smaller gate that would be open but that must be out of sight.

As I got close to the gates it was clear there was no other exit and that the gates were padlocked shut. I was in a dead end with no exit and I no longer felt at all safe.

There was a note on the gates. During July and August the council had conducted a successful pilot and as a result, the gates to Hampstead Road were to be closed until further notice.

What pilot? And what were the measures of success? And what was the reasoning behind the whole pilot anyway?

Less litter? Maybe fewer people are now using the park.

Less crime? Ditto.

No complaints? Maybe nobody could be bothered to complain because it doesn't achieve anything or maybe it's because the first telephone number they listed doesn't work.

Sunday, 2 December 2007

Argy Bargy

Dave and I were in Stratford this weekend seeing Henry V. We had time to meander through the streets and to explore different topics of conversation. This gave Dave the opportunity to reveal his plans for retirement. This is perhaps a little premature as we're a few years away from pensionable age but it's always good to have plans (or is it, I'm not sure).

When Dave retires he wants to buy a barge and travel the waterways of Britain. I have assumed he'll want to take me with him, although there is a risk that he'll retire before me because of the fact my years of service with the company has been reduced because of years working part time. So maybe he's actually planning a solo venture.

We think we can see quite a bit of the UK and, by the time we make this epic trip, Britain's waterways should have seen even more regeneration than they have thus far.

We discussed a name for the barge and we'd both had similar thoughts. Dave thought Argy, and I'd thought Argy Bargy.

Thursday, 29 November 2007

Presents

I did some presents today.

Bought one, made one.

Bought an anniversary present for Dave. 12th anniversary. I looked it up, that's silk. That's a stupid thing to have as the basis for a present for a bloke, or at least my bloke. I mean I could buy a tie, but it's not exactly the most interesting gift. So his gift is a combination of items; one is sentimental, one is appropriate and one is something he'll like.

I made a Christmas present for my dad. My brother and I and our families are the most important thing in dad's life. The gift I made is a calendar with pictures of family for each month. It wasn't something ordered directly from Bonusprint, it was something that was made using glue. That's real craft. Actually the glue hasn't worked too well so I'll be using photo corners as back up.

It's the thought that counts.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

It can't be true

We used to have:
  • BT for line rental
  • Onetel for calls
  • Tiscali for Broadband, 2 Meg
  • Sky for TV
Total cost per month was about £50. Oh and the TV reception didn't work so we used a Freeview box instead.

Now we have Tiscali for everything including 8 Meg broadband.

Cost per month - £25.

And, into the bargain, the the guy that installed it was fit.

So we now receive our TV signal over the internet and it travels over the mains to get to the TV. This avoids the useless Sky dish and the not quite so bad aerial in the loft. I don't understand how it works, but it does so I'm happy. I don't understand how wireless works either. In fact there's a lot I don't understand.

Broadband is now 8 Meg but when TV is on up to 2.8 Meg is used for that.

I'm wondering what the catch is. Er.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

DNA can help

Another idea for the anti-smoking lobby to adopt...

The entire population should have their DNA stored and so should visitors to the UK.

Cigarette litter ought to be DNA tested when it has been discarded with disregard.

Match litter bug DNA with DNA database and then prosecute. Obviously cigarette vendors would have a "Get out of jail free" card.

A bit of bird for fag boys and girls might just teach them to drop the filthy habit and not to drop their filthy fag ends or packet wrapping and boxes.

Monday, 26 November 2007

Offensive weapon

I think I've unearthed another way to rid the land of stinking foul smoke from cigarettes.

It's unlawful to carry an offensive weapon - see the 1996 Offensive Weapons Act for details.

I think carrying a lit cigarette qualifies someone as carrying an offensive weapon. I've lost track of the times I've had to avoid a cigarette end which, in between puffs, carries a temperature of 800 degrees. If I were to carry a hot poker around with me I would be contravening the Offensive Weapons Act, so why not with a cigarette?

This of course does not even consider the poisonous toxins that are being forced upon me by proximity to the smoker.

What do you think? An idea with legs?

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Artistic talent

I dipped into IKEA on Friday and bought a couple of their gingerbread house kits, following the recommendation of a friend who'd used them last year.

The intention was that Ethan would decorate one, and Hannah the other.

The kit is less of a kit and more of a number of pieces of gingerbread in the shapes of various house components, e.g. walls, roof sides, chimney walls etc.

To 'glue' the house together, the instructions recommend melting sugar and using that as the cement. I'm no chef, and this was my first attempt at melting sugar, which actually turned out to be quite interesting, for me anyway. But I can now testify to the fact that melted sugar is a bitch to deal with and what seems like a simple process can, in reality, be very fiddly. I can also advise though, that hot water will melt the solidified remains of melted sugar that look to have ruined any saucepan or spoons used in the process.

I built two houses and then Hannah started decorating one and I started on the remaining one. I thought Ethan might start to show an interest, but his only interest was in eating it, so I did all of the decoration.

Here are the results of our efforts. I prefer Hannah's as I think it has a certain naive charm.












Saturday, 24 November 2007

Take three friends

I did a couple of different things today, each with three different friends from different social circles.

I knew it would work. What's great about my friends is that even if they've never met before they seem to get along. And that's even when alcohol isn't involved, because we all know that aids the 'getting along' process.

Maybe it's down to the friends involved. I could have had different friends that wouldn't have clicked as well. How is it that people that I like might not like one another....hmmm?

Not interested

It seems that the subject of substitute husband is irrelevant as there have been no applications, either public or private.

La de da. (I did go out this evening and consume too much vino - oops.)

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Hurried woman syndrome

Today I got up and got ready to leave the house. At the same time I also got the kids fed and ready to leave the house. I also cleaned up the mess that all of this created as well as tidying up some of the mess that had been created the night before. I tried to call a delivery company and a Christmas card shop.

I spent a mad fifteen minutes in the unsuccessful search for a Hama bead heart Hannah created for the teaching assistant.

We walked quickly to school.

Ethan and I walked to a friends house and stayed there for a coffee and a chat.

We then walked back home and I made him lunch and tidied up again. I tried to phone the delivery company and as a result of that I redialled the Christmas card shop.

I opened the mail and phoned the bank three times.

I phoned the dealer to check on progress of my car. Twice.

I got Hannah's clothes for trampolining ready together with snacks and drinks.

Ethan and I walked quickly to Tumble Tots and I phoned the dealer again to check on progress on the car. Getting voicemail, I phoned again.

I walked home quickly to meet the driver from the dealership. He wasn't there. I waited as long as I possibly could (10 minutes) and then started walking to school with Ethan. On the way to school I get a call from the driver. He's driven straight past my house and just parked in a resident's only bay. I see him and cut the phone call, talk to him, grab my keys and rush on to school thinking that if I get a parking ticket it will be sent straight to the dealer who had exact instructions on where we lived. (Idiot!)

After picking Hannah up we all rush back to the car. Because of where it's parked I need to do a circuit to get back home and collect Hannah's clothes and drinks and snacks. We drive on to trampolining.

We just make it in time and I get Hannah changed and take both children's shoes off.

Half way though the trampolining class I get a call from the boss.

After the class I drive to Mel's house and Mel feeds my children while we chat and do a few pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.

I drive home and the children are processed for bedtime. As soon as the children are in bed I change for the gym.

I get to the gym and about an hour and forty minutes later I drive home.

When I get in at half past nine, I eat.

I then go online to do my dad's grocery shopping. Then I do our grocery shopping.

It's twenty to eleven and I need to shower and go to bed. I think I'm suffering from Hurried Woman Syndrome.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Call me Tiger

I have always agreed with Mr Twain that the game of golf is a good walk ruined.

This view is wholly based on supposition. I have never played a serious, or even semi serious game of golf. I have wandered around a course sipping gin and tonics and that was very pleasant, for a corporate hospitality event. Side issue but why does golf have to be one of the main corporate hospitality destinations? But I have never swung a golf stick in anger.

Anyway, Dave has offered to buy me some lessons.

Ah, I hear you cry, he just wants her to learn so that she can share the great game with him and they can play together. Well you'd be wrong. Dave has been to driving ranges and aimed balls at the golf cart that collects the balls. He's also played a couple of rounds of golf a long time ago. He has even fallen asleep in a bunker when drunk taking a shortcut home. I probably shouldn't be telling you that but hey ho. But playing golf regularly he doesn't do.

I think he can see the benefit of having me out of the house for a couple of hours every week. I can see his point of view.

Initially I was apprehensive, but I'm coming round to the idea. Do you think I should accept the offer (gift horse, mouth and all that)?

Apply here

Interested in the role of substitute husband? Then apply here.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Substitute husband

I have been invited, with my partner, to an agency evening of food and drink. If you're reading this and you're part of my work world you probably know which one I'm talking about.

I've been to a couple before, once with Dave, once without. It is pretty much guaranteed to be a good evening. It has history (same thing every year, maybe a few venue changes), a small and friendly group, good food, great entertainment and copious alcohol. I have a feeling it's the last of these ingredients that makes the evening but I could be persuaded to argue that it's the combination of all of these factors that produces success year after year.

Unfortunately for me this event always seems to clash with a Christmas do that Dave is invited to attend with his work colleagues. But the clash is minor in time terms.

Dave starts drinking at lunchtime and by about eight o'clock the rest of the crowd disappear into London, at which point Dave usually calls it a night (I'm guessing he doesn't want to get in the way of people enjoying themselves).

My evening starts at eight o'clock. So if travel time is considered then there's about an hour when we clash.

Time, however, is not the reason that Dave is unable to attend my evening. It has more to do with the fact that he would have had enough to drink that he would struggle to hold a conversation.

The question is: Dave has decided not to support me and be my husband for the evening. Should I invite a substitute husband? And if the answer to this is yes, then who should that husband be?

Monday, 19 November 2007

Trust me I'm interactive

I love what's possible with the web. I love widgets but also some of the simple things like Flickr photo sharing.

I say simple but I'm sure Flickr is very complex. It allows me to share my photos with different degrees of access. There's public access, and two levels of private access: family or friend and there is also the option not to share at all.

In fact my plan is to add a widget thing to this blog that shows some of my Flickr pics.

The great thing about Flickr is that anyone with access can download the pics for free, at their original resolution. In theory that means people can Photoshop my pics so that they are in a format that is worthy of printing (or even loading into Facebook).

Of course that requires an element of skill, and that's where it can fall down. You see the skill required to view pictures on a website is a step below the skill and experience necessary to download, save and then order prints.

For people who grow up with the Internet this is incomprehensible, but if you see someone who's only become web savvy in the last few years attempt all of this you'll see a gulf of inexperience open up before your very eyes.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Life over death

My car's a bit poorly. The power steering's a bit off colour. During parking manoeuvres it grinds and groans like someone in a torture chamber. While being driven sometimes the power steering fails leaving me to steer a beast weighing one and half tonnes. The lay diagnosis is air in the system combined with a potential leak of fluid.

My journeys are generally short: to the station and back, to work and back, the Brentwood centre and back, to local friends and back. Most of my journey time is solo, just me in the car. Until this weekend I hadn't really considered the consequences of driving a car that doesn't always operate as predicted.

This weekend we took both cars to Dave's parents and we had to drive both cars back. We had to decide who travelled in the dodgy car.

It was clear that the children should travel in safety. Dave offered to drive my car, and I considered the offer.

I didn't think I'd want to be left as a middle-aged widow with two young children. Plus I knew how the car felt when the steering went so I felt that I was better prepared than Dave might be.

I should point out that intensive car care has been booked for Wednesday.

Friday, 16 November 2007

Message in a box

At school Hannah is being encouraged to participate in a charitable endeavour organised by the Samaritan's Purse.

Last year we joined almost everyone else at the school and packed a shoe box with gifts for a needy child.

It seemed like a good idea. Children around the world who don't have a lot would receive a gift which would bring some joy and happiness Christmas time.

This year I was given reason to doubt the intention behind "Operation Christmas Child." You see the thing that is only understood when the literature is read thoroughly is that it's a method for converting children to Christianity.

I'm not comfortable with evangelical messages being tied to gifts. I think that help, support and gifts can be given with love but they should be free of any obligation and propaganda.

If you want to know more then here's an article by the Guardian. If you want an alternative that doesn't preach, then 21st Century child does the same but without the child having to buy into a 'foreign' religion.

The agreement I have with Hannah is that we'll wrap a present and take it into work where, every year, presents are collected and shared with those who have very little.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Be prepared

On days when I work I get home at about ten to five and need to have prepared or very nearly prepared for Hannah to eat quickly before bath and bedtime. Ethan has an evening meal at nursery but Hannah's after school club doesn't do a nutritious meal and she is only able to have a packed lunch in the middle of the day.

On Wednesday night Hannah and Ethan were being collected by Dave because I was caught in a meeting.

I'd got fish fingers in the oven with the oven timer set and some mash prepared in the fridge ready to be heated up quickly. This was to be supplemented by either peas, sweetcorn or baked beans; whatever took Hannah's fancy. All very quick and easy.

Dave got in, threw the mash in the microwave and started to serve up the fish fingers. A couple of minutes later everything was on the plate ready to eat.

It was only when Hannah started to eat some mash that everyone realised I'd got a container of cheese sauce out of the freezer, instead of mash. Not surprisingly Hannah didn't fancy that combination; fish fingers and cheese sauce.

Dave sorted something out but I made a mental note to label things I put in the freezer.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Appropriate conduct

Today I was excited and delighted to receive in my inbox at work, a new Code of Conduct Handbook. I haven't read it yet. But just before I read it I sent the following e-mail to the team:

Hi guys

A few of us were chatting about the need to get horribly drunk and
embarrass ourselves. We idly thought about this Fri night.

I recognise this isn't everyone's cup of tea but you're all welcome to join the fun.

The hazy and somewhat ill-considered plan is as follows:

7:30 Slug and Lettuce
And maybe a few other hostelries
Then probably a curry somewhere
Then staggering into a nightclub
Carriages when you can't walk anymore

Dress code: Anything. Fancy dress will be accepted (it is Children in Need night after all and you don't need a better excuse to be away from the telly).


I think the new Handbook may be aimed at people like me.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Multi tasking

I was tired today, and I mean really tired. I was almost falling asleep at my desk.

This evening I went to the gym even though it was the last thing I wanted to do.

I stepped up onto the treadmill and started walking fast (I don't do running because too many things wobble). I then wondered if I could multi task. I thought I could close my eyes while I was on the treadmill and hold on the the bar so I didn't fall off. Maybe I could do a sort of sleep walking, killing two birds with one stone; exercise and sleep.

I know it's a daft idea now but when you're that tired you're not thinking straight.

The surprising thing is that I didn't fall over. It was a bit of a weird experience. I partially lost my sense of balance. It was like being a little bit drunk. It felt quite good but that might have been the having my eyes closed bit and relaxing.

I had to open my eyes in the end because I thought people would think I was strange, but I can recommend the experience. Just don't sue if you hurt yourself.

Monday, 12 November 2007

Winning a woman's heart

I have been asked for advice, and I'm not entirely sure I'm the best person to ask.

Someone wants to know how to win a woman's heart. He wants to know how to persuade a woman to leave her current partner and move in with him.

He knows she's unhappy in her current relationship and he knows she's interested in him.

I had lots of ideas about what might work but they aren't tried and tested ideas. I can't say, from experience, that I've seen them work. I did suggest I give the woman in question a call but he thought that might be a bad idea. ;)

Do you have a strategy that is proven, something that has worked?

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Another recipe

It has been well documented, mostly by me, that I am an eejit.

My latest act of stupidity was to order five 1.25kg bags of organic carrots when I actually wanted five carrots.

So I made some soup, and I thought I'd share a recipe for carrot and coriander soup should you ever find yourself in the same predicament, unlikely I know.

Preparation and cooking time: 40 mins
Serves: 6

25g (1oz) butter
1 medium onion
1 garlic clove, crushed
550g (1 1/4 lb) carrots, of which 450g (1 lb) roughly chopped and 110g (4 oz) coarsely grated
1 litre (1 3/4 pints) vegetable or chicken stock
a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
1 tablespoon chopped fresh coriander
150ml (1/4 pint) single cream
salt and freshly ground black pepper

To garnish:
150 ml (1/4 pint) yoghurt
2 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander

Melt the butter and cook the onion and garlic gently until soft in a covered saucepan, without colouring. Add the roughly chopped carrots, stock and nutmeg. Cover, bring to the boil and simmer gently until the vegetables are tender. Cool a little and puree in a liquidiser. Return soup to a clean saucepan and stir in the grated carrots, coriander and cream. Taste for seasoning. Serve garnished with a swirl of yoghurt and a sprinkling of the fresh coriander.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Givers and takers

Some people buy Christmas cards at this time of year and many people choose cards that promise that a charity will benefit from the purchase.

Here's an old article from the Guardian about the mean spirited nature of some High Street stores.

To ensure that, if you're buying charity cards, your money is, for the most part, going to the charity and not a retailer you may want to look at the following.

Cards for Good Causes
Combined Charities Christmas Shops
Card Aid

These sites have details about buying online, or buying in stores. But all promise that profits or at least 80% of the retail price goes to the charity. That has to be better than the worst case quoted in the Guardian article in which just one penny from the pack of cards went to the charity.

Friday, 9 November 2007

My lesbian lover

Last year when Mel and I sorted out our Costco membership Mel bought a card and added me as an additional card holder. As we were doing this the person serving us explained that if we were 'partners' then I could have a card for free. We couldn't start any such deceit as we were part way through the process and, as we had four children milling about, it was obvious we weren't a couple.

This year we thought we'd see if we could get away with it. Mel said that I'd have to do the talking because if she tried to explain anything, or got challenged, she'd be doubled up with laughter and wetting herself. She also thought that the fact we were both wearing wedding rings and surrounded by children might give the game away.

I explained that if anyone doubted we were a couple I could pretend to be injured by the suggestion that Mel wasn't attractive enough for anyone to want to have her as a partner. Alternatively I thought I could just ask "Are you dissing my girl?"

So I arrived before Mel, acquired my card and completed the spouse card info with Melanie's name although, for the purposes of deception, I used the contracted name Mel.

Mel arrived later, and queued to have her photo added to her card. No questions were asked.

And if you think this deception is improper then let me persuade you otherwise. Mel and I are like a married couple.

We're not jumping into bed with one another at every opportunity, our busy lives mean we don't see each other as much as we should, our children get in the way of the relationship, we get ridiculously drunk together, we confide in one another, we provide one another with emotional help and support, we're always there for one another and togather we spend too much in Costco.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Magic carpets

We bought a rug when we were on holiday.

You know how it goes. You're on holiday, you're relaxed, you go on a day trip, you look around a carpet co-operative and let me stop there.

They are rugs, not carpets. Why do people 'abroad' insist on calling them carpets? Is it part of the sales pitch to make them seem bigger than they are? Why carpet? Size for size carpets cost less than rugs, generally speaking, so why?

Anyway, we visited a carpet co-operative which was educational (and painful to the purse). We learned about how rugs, sorry carpets, are knotted. We discovered that the Turkish double knot technique is superior to the Chinese single knot method. We saw the silk worm cocoon after it had been steamed and as the silk was being extracted. In fact the cocoon that was opened for us to see the silk worm contained twins, which is rare.


We were told about the Turkish government's great initiative to set up co-operatives to keep the art of carpet making alive. Young women are brought in and trained and then given a loom and sent home.


Carpets they produce of a high enough standard can then be sold to the co-operative at a guaranteed price. Different carpets from different areas are then traded between co-operatives meaning each has a broad display on offer to the likes of me.

And Dave and I saw a rug we liked and of course it had to be silk and of course that meant it was expensive. I don't do expensive so even after about half an hour of haggling Dave and I got on the bus. It was then that the final offer was produced and we bit and bought a Turkish magic carpet. Other benefits of the Turkish Government initiative meant import duty was paid and so was delivery home. We also paid a deposit with the promise of cash on delivery.

About five weeks later our lovely rug was delivered but there was a problem. The certificate of authenticity had a stamp but no details, and the ticket attached to the rug said "Made in China".

I fell out of love. I wanted a magic Turkish carpet, not a cheap Chinese imitation.

To cut a very long story short, I complained because it seemed that a Turkish Govenment co-operative had sold me a Chinese carpet on the pretext that it was Turkish. So today, at home, I was visited by the gentleman who had shown us around the Turkish carpet co-operative. He bought his chequebook and offered me a refund. He brought with him a Chinese rug for comparison so I could feel the difference between the two methods of manufacture and he offered to give me the larger Chinese silk rug and £500 in exchange for my rug.
But he misunderstood. I like my carpet and I now know that my carpet is magic, and it is Turkish. The magic has been restored by some customer service that went the extra mile or, in this case, the extra few thousand miles.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Love songs

A friend of mine has been flirting outrageously with a girl he's very interested in and she's been reciprocating.

He's thinking of creating a CD of music for her and he was asking me for ideas for music to include. He was also asking me for feedback on the tracks he'd already selected.

I don't really do music. I listen to the radio but I rarely buy music and I'm usually useless at remembering which artists and which songs are ones I like. Three tracks did come to mind though, and I wondered if together we could create the perfect CD for wooing.

So let me kick things off:

Elvis Costello: I want you (sorry - Fiona Apple clip is not as good as the original)
Snow Patrol: Chasing cars
Eric Clapton: You look wonderful tonight

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Delinquent mother

I had a trip to Germany today. It's a tiring day; up early, back late-ish. It means I don't see my children at all. It also means that Dave is in charge for the day, at least as far as the children are concerned.

This morning Dave hit the snooze button on the alarm clock. This morning there was no wife downstairs getting his breakfast ready and preparing to wake the children up. He left the house late, with the children but without breakfast.

I checked with Dave when I got in to find out whether to tooth fairy had deigned to visit and discovered she had. Just my luck, on the day Hannah does have a gift from the tooth fairy, I'm not around to share in her excitement. I guess she has 18 other teeth that will fall out (I think).

Monday, 5 November 2007

Delinquent fairy

Hannah's second baby tooth fell out yesterday. We made sure, or Hannah made sure, that as soon as we got home the tooth was placed in the special tooth fairy pot and then under her pillow. All of this preparation was for the tooth fairy and then subsequently Hannah's benefit.

Hannah and I had a chat about the tooth fairy. We decided that she checks pillows every night but only for five, six, seven and eight year olds. I wondered about raising the whole issue of grown ups losing teeth but thought better of it.

Anyway last night the tooth fairy failed to check under Hannah's pillow. This kind of thing never happened when I was a child. Hannah and I went through the possible reasons for this delinquent behaviour.

Perhaps the tooth fairy didn't work weekends. Maybe she just forgot to check Hannah's bed last night. Maybe it was a bank holiday in Fairyland. Maybe she was poorly.

Whatever the reason we're pretty sure she'll visit tonight.

Sunday, 4 November 2007

Change or die

We went to a wedding this weekend, hence blog gap. Anyway it prompted a thought. Wedding photographers have a very old fashioned view of the world and they must change.

Most have switched to the digital technology, which must save them time and money and provide more opportunity to provide 'good' pictures, but they seem to be stuck with the old pricing model.

There's the agreed price for the basic package for the photographer to turn up, do his job and then provide proofs, from which a pre-agreed number will be chosen. More can be ordered but at an expensive rate per picture. I don't believe that many people opt for the extra pictures which means that result of a lot of time and energy, to compose and shoot images, is lost.

One of the reasons that not that many people will opt for the extras is that all of the guests will have their own digital cameras, many providing excellent quality, and these are all readily shared with the bride, groom and other guests. Why pay a fee when they are available for free?

I believe that, in addition to the basic package, photographers would do well to offer a disc of all the unprinted images for an additional fee. It gives them an opportunity to earn more money and it means that pictures that would have been stored and never seen, would actually have an audience.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Public service blog

I went for my first 'wrap' tonight. I'm not talking food, I'm talking beauty.

The plan was to lose a few inches. For those of you that have yet to experience a wrap, but wonder what happens, let me tell you.

First task is to remove all clothes and don paper knickers. Actually paper knickers is a kind description, a combination of string and tissue is more accurate.

I was then measured; about 20 measures all over the body.

Then I was painted in algae seaweed stuff, which stank.

Then a bucket appeared containing murky muddy water and rolled up cloth. The cloth could have been old oily rags from a garage of old sheets, they were so dirty one couldn't tell. And the mud stank too, and it was cold.

I then stood on a towel while i was wrapped, mummy-like, in cold muddy cloths.

Once wrapped, and looking just like the perfect Halloween party guest, I had to lie on some tin foil.

I was then wrapped in the foil and covered with a towel.

An hour later, yes, an hour later, I was liberated from my warm itchy prison. The foil was removed and, after I manouvered myself to a standing position, I was unwrapped. It was cold and I was shivering.

Before I could warm up I had to be remeasured. Now doesn't science say that cold things are smaller than warm ones?

I lost eight inches, apparently.

I had been expecting the opportunity of a shower, but, instead, I was told to put paper knickers in the bin and pop my clothes back on.

I'm not sure I felt more beautiful as a result, but I am poorer.

Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Trick, no treat

Trick or treating in our street tends to be restricted to teenage kids wearing masks. Most residents are scared to answer their door and even though Hannah and Ethan look more cute than scary I didn't think it was worth bothering here.

A friend told me that in her street a pumpkin outside the house indicates the houses that play the trick or treat game, and most do. She invited us over to join the gang that meet at her house and knock on doors for sweets.
This is what the children looked like before they left the house:


This was Hannah towards the end of the evening:



She'd been chewing the top of her witches hat and the dye had stuck fast to her mouth and hands. Whilst the dye clearly wasn't fixed to the hat, it did seem to be permanently fixed to her skin. I haven't resorted to bleach or Brillo pads, yet.

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

No fault found

Took the motor into the dealership yesterday and gave them four hours to play with it.

Andy, the rather good looking technician, failed to find the source of the problem and I agreed to book it for a whole day of playing today.

The dealer gave me a lift to work and I had the pleasure of intelligent conversation with an Essex Ford driver. OK I lied, conversation was very limited.

In the afternoon I had a call from the lovely Andy who had had six and a half hours to tinker with my automobile.

My opinion of Andy changed. He might be easy on the eye but he was dim. He explained that most new cars take about 15 minutes to shutdown completely after locking, but Mondeos take 45 minutes. I failed to see how this was relevant given the car had lain idle for two days before we discovered the flat battery. It wasn't as though I'd been constantly locking and unlocking the car. "Ah," thought Andy "time for a new tack."

He told me that there was "no fault found" and that the current drain was negligible. Something that contradicted the comedy AA man.

I asked him why I had a flat battery on Sunday if there was nothing wrong. He explained that sometimes during the pre-delivery inspection batteries can have little charge. I failed to understand how this could be relevant as I'd been driving the vehicle for two weeks without any issue.

Andy started to run out of explanations and he resorted to the "If you have the problem again, and I recognise that isn't ideal, give us a call and ask for me, Andy"

As for Andy, I can't say 'no fault found'.

Monday, 29 October 2007

Eejit

Last night I left my phone at the gym. They called ten minutes after they closed to tell me and advised me to collect once they'd reopened.

I did wonder about the good old fashioned customer service model to which I subscribe under which the caller would have asked where I lived and discovering it was a few minutes away they would have offered to pop it round on their way home. I know. What planet do I live on? But if I had been that employee that is what I would have done - honestly, it is.

As my ideal response was not forthcoming I waited until this morning and hauled my derriere out of the door at 6:30am to retrieve my mobile.

I walked up to main reception and it was deserted - all positions closed.

I huffed and puffed and walked to the gym reception where there were two men chatting. In my best haughty voice (I do a good line in haughty voices) I asked "Are there any staff around?"

It transpired that one of the men I addressed was a member of staff but not wearing the usual uniform.

I explained my situation and said he couldn't help. Apparently he'd need access to the safe and the only people with that power were main reception staff who didn't start work until 7:30am.

I stormed off with steam coming out of my ears and venom from my mouth.

I went home, showered, had breakfast, dressed and prepared to leave the house again. I should point out I was wearing some clothes when I'd left the house previously.

On my second visit I was not greeted by Madame Stroppy with whom I've had previous unsatisfactory encounters. I explained my situation and she retrieved a plastic box with a lid and started rummaging. I explained what sort of phone it was and she checked her book to make sure I wasn't trying my luck. I also explained I had been told it was in the safe and she ignored me and continued to rummage. I offered to look through the plastic container but was told that "nobody is allowed to look in there." "Get her. Stroppy Cow." I thought.

Eventually she decided she needed to look in the safe. And she couldn't do this herself, she needed Steve. Steve arrived fairly quickly after the failed radio call and more successful tannoy announcement.

My phone was returned after I left a signature. I'm sure this process could be improved.

Sunday, 28 October 2007

That'll be the er...

You may remember I fell out of love with my new car and then, when I realised its faults were due to human error, I fell back in love.

This relationship qualifies as rocky, although at the moment I'm probably more amused and slightly irritated, than annoyed.

My car wouldn't start this evening. It didn't even do a good job of trying. More of a whirr, tick, tick than a grunt and a rev. You can probably tell I'm not overly technical.

Fortunately Dave dealt with the comedy AA man. Where do they find these people? But I guess if your job involves dealing with problems all day everyday you have to be chirpy and cheerful.

Anyway - net result is an unidentified 2.5amp drain. The performing AA man wanted to tell me what was causing the problem, and he'd have loved to fix it, but all he could do was say "That'll be your er...dunno actually, er, the something that's causing that."

The prescription - a dealer visit.