Sunday, 27 December 2009

Christmas time....

It could have been the start of a porn film...:

"I stood under the shower, the powerful stream of water pulsing over my naked body. The rivers of water washed over my chest. With a wrench in one hand and a screwdriver in the other I was ready for action."

Unfortunately it was simply a matter that the on/off lever had broken when I jumped in the shower after our morning cycle....through the icy mud of Epping Forest. There wasn't a plumber to be had, even on the 27th of December, so I took on the task myself, on the basis that if I didn't we'd use up the UK's entire water resources in 24 hours and would flood the kitchen below as well. DIY has never been a strong point (ask my old woodwork teacher), but needs must. After removing all sorts of screws and wrestling with a very reluctant cog, I managed to turn the torrent off. SO we will remain without shower for the next 'phew' days. Fortunately we have a bath so won't smell. Much.

It's been an unusual Christmas for us...normally we're in Wales with the boy's grandmother and uncle...on his mother's side. It's not something I've enjoyed for the last six years, but it's been done out of concern that Grandma in Wales should get to see her grandson if she can't have her daughter. Occasionally we've been graced by the boy's sister, but not for the last couple of years. And she wasn't going to be there this year either. Christmas Day has generally involved little more than a big lunch, and watching TV. Which to be honest isn't my idea of Christmas.

So with a heavy heart and conscience...and with the Boy's encouragement, we decided to stay in Essex - and spend Christmas Day with friends. This was in many ways a much more traditional Christmas...eighteen people, an enormous lunch (at half past four in the afternoon), lots of little children who were massively over excited, a 'magical snowman' who set them fun tasks all day long, and plenty of party games. Everyone there was required to give a performance of some kind. Which may not seem too onerous, until you realise that one person is head of music at the ENO, another was an opera singer until she became a neuro surgeon and even the six year old could play the violin. With my heavy cold (nay man flu), I'm sure my reading of a series of texts between Mr and Mrs Santa was probably a bit flat, but it was the best that as an unmusical I could manage. And it was politely received. The boy did a duet with an easy confidence. Good lad for restoring the family pride. I'd ask him whether he enjoyed himself, but he got an X-Box for Christmas, and conversation since then has been little more than grunts.....

At our own house, we had lots of visitors too. Uninvited visitors. We've just had a new boiler fitted, and it seems the works must have disturbed slleping ants. Who took it upon themselves to make their presence felt in the kitchen in our absence. They were everywhere, zig zagging around. Until I got the spray out. It was a shame to zap them, but I had little choice....I so hope they don't come back...

And now onto the that time between Christmas and the New Year, where time stands still, nothing much happens, and rest and recuperation is fully enjoyed. It's a time of the jigsaw puzzle...and I'm really pleased to have found a little app for my mobile that turns every picture into a jigsaw. So it is my full intention to spend the next week doing little more than the six hundred jigsaw puzzles that now exist on my phone...what a brilliant way of looking again at holiday photos that would otherwise just be forgotten. video

Friday, 18 December 2009

The boiler man cometh


What a thoroughly splendid time I had at the School Carol Service last night. Feel that my performance should guarantee co-option into the choir next year. Of course, this is the first time I'd been back to the church since my first year at the school. The class had been taken there in the run up to Christmas to practice for the Service at which we would all sing. I was picked out to practice singing a solo. Obviously my angelic looks, and blond wavy hair made me the ideal soloist. Barely two bars in though, it seems my voice was not quite as angelic. I was halted in my tracks and returned to the massed ranks. I can't quite remember what was said to me, but what I can say is that ever since, I've loved listening to music, but barely sing above a whisper in case I cause mass offence. Amazing how a few poorly words can affect you for the rest of your life. Thank heavens for the Mulled Wine after the service.

We left the church to a blizzard...how fabulous is that...just the perfect start to Christmas.

When we arrived home I wandered off to take a couple of photos....everyone assumed I was indoors, so the front door was slammed on me, leaving me to ring the door bell to be let in.

This morning we woke to not quite as much snow as we were expecting...but it was still lovely and white, the tubes were still running, so no need to jump in the Jeep to get to the office. As I gingerly stepped across the drive, a man with a big smile on his face opened the gate and shook my hand. Yes he has come to replace our nearly 40 year old boiler. Perfect timing. There'll be no heat in the house tonight.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Skating on thin ice



With increasingly monotonous regularity, I am abandoning the boy at home whilst I'm out gallivanting. It's only fair. He'll be doing that to me soon enough, so I might as well get my revenge in first. As I'm not returning home to he smell of cigarettes, empty vodka bottles or used condoms, I assume he's still at the stage of gluing his eyeballs to the computer screen to chat with friends on MSN. My only worry last night when I called him to check he was OK was that his response to the question about food and evening meal was "I've just had porridge". I guess that's good training for University.

Last night I was ice skating at the Tower of London. As the snow started to fall yesterday afternoon, it seemed we were going to be blessed with a skate in enchanted surroundings being gently covered in snow flakes. What a shame then that the snow turned to drizzle and we just got soggy. Also a shame that I confused the Tower of London with Tower Bridge, so arranged to meet my friends south of the river, rather than the north. They thought the pub was an odd choice, and so indeed it was. But it wasn't more than a ten minute walk across the river in the rain and bitter wind. Our only delay was Tower Bridge being raised...we gazed on like tourists, instead of the weary Londoners we are who cross it every day.

Our skating prowess was unquestionably improved by the two large glasses of red wine we had before launching on to the ice. But for some reason we were a bit wobbly. I think the wine also helped minimise the impact of noticing that everyone else was still in the twenties. Clearly this is a young persons' sport. Apologies to my fellow skaters who I barged past when I didn't know how to stop.

Tonight it's the school Carol Concert. After our office Christmas lunch. I fully intend to be joining in and bellowing out some traditional Christmas tunes. Apologies to the boy in advance.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Dennis Severs


Last night we were out on a school night....well it is the season to be jolly. As ever nothing went quite a smoothly as it should....I drove into London having driven to Cheltenham and back for a 45 minute meeting at 12. I got a coffee, but not even the hint of a sandwich let alone something more seasonal. Jeeeeeeez.

Anyway, when I found where I needed to park, it had one of those meters that you can pay by phone. As I had no coins, it was a good option. It's a bit of a phaf (faf?) as you have to keep pressing digits on your phone. Did I want to park my motor bike? No. Did I want to park my scooter? No. Did I want to park a new vehicle. Yes. Please enter pin number or last four digits of credit card (FYI, the card was replaced a couple of weeks ago). PIN not recognised, please try again. PIN not recognised. Goodbye. Repeat six times. Sh*t, damn and blast. So I turned to the concierge on the door of the restaurant that I parked outside. Could they break a £5 note for me? "I'm sorry sir we don't carry cash here. But don't worry I'll look after your car. It'll be fine" And indeed when I returned the car was still there, and no parking ticket. I felt the need to tip him. By this stage I had just a £10 note, so he got that...somewhat more than the £1.50 it would have cost if I'd had the coins!

Anyway, we went to Dennis Severs House. Which is an amazing experience. Especially in the dark. Especially at Christmas. It's hard to describe what it's like....a sort of living, breathing museum. But don't look at the objects individually. Soak up the atmosphere, start to believe in and experience the 'story' Truly amazing stuff.

If you don't know anything about Dennis Severs, it is worth reading up on him. A real character. Here is his obituary...but it misses some of the madness of the man

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Washing day blues

There are some things in life I just can't understand. Like how can a cat be alive and dead at the same time. You have to find out from Erwin Schrödinger here. Personally I'm a dog man, so prefer Pavlov's dog here

In our house we have neither cats nor dogs, but plenty of spiders to keep us company. And we've obviously done something to upset the neighbourhood fox, who insists on a daily crap right in the middle of our driveway. I don't understand why, surely he or she would prefer to do it in the woods. Like bears, or indeed Army cadets.

However, the thing that mystifies me most and occupies my waking day is why there is always, but always washing to do. We seem to put the machine on every night. And worse still that means there is always ironing to be done. I've mentioned that before. How can that possibly be for just 14 shirts, 28 socks and fourteen pairs of man pants a week? (Don't worry, I don't iron socks and under clothes). It completely drives me nuts...especially as we have no tumble drier, nor much space to hang the wet stuff to dry. I have tried to allay my suspicions that the boy uses the dirty clothes bin instead of putting his clean clothes on the shelves and in the drawers in his room. I'm told that's a harsh thought, but it keeps coming back. Like a bad penny. Especially because every time I put my head around his door, all I can see is clothes everywhere. Except in the wardrobe or drawer unit. The floor is the premium hanging space, with other items draped liberally over the ends and sides of the bed. I assume that when I say (shout) that I'm not cooking supper until the room is tidy, he achieves this by scooping everything into the laundry basket. Harsh but fair.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Losing my shirt



I'm never really sure about Christmas shopping. On the one hand, I love buying people presents, but on the other I'm always conscious about the budget, and on my third hand I know there are some people that should be getting presents that well just won't be....I'll run out of time energy and money, and then justify myself by saying "I won't be seeing them over Chrsitmas anyway"

This year it's been hard to get in the Christmas spirit...as much as anything because it just doesn't seem to be Christmassy. There is not a single Christmas light up on my route to work, and the part invites have been few and far between. May be I'm just a bit bah humbug.

However, this weekend was Christmas present buying weekend. So we headed for Brighton. Andd I'm delighted to say the place was festooned with Christmas lights...the most atmospheric being the ones down the North Laine, where a traditional Christmas still seems important. And not offensive.


I did quite well on the present buying in between stopping for coffee, lunch, coffeee, coffee and then coffee. Naturally I didn't feel it was right to be sepnding all this time and money on other people, without indulging myself. And I happened to spot this shirt:



The boy's response was that it was awfuland I should dress my age. Harsh. Very harsh. I called for a second opinion (how wonderful is photo messaging?!). Opinion was split 50/50, so I decided to vote again as the deciding vote. £75 later and it was in the bag. Time for another coffee. And as we emerged freshly perked, it was pouring with rain, so we grabbed a cab.

It was only as we went to bed some hours later that I realised that the shirt was missing. The only thing from the previous day's attempts to single-handedly boost the UK economy that was mine, and it had gone. We searched every nook and cranny. But it really wasn't in the flat. There were tantrums, there were tempers, there was stomping around, there was door slamming.

In the morning some frantic calls were made...to no avail. So the mystery is which lucky bstrd is going to have an early Christmas present of my completely inappropriate shirt?

Friday, 4 December 2009

It's a man's world

I'm concerned that in an all-male household, the boy is failing to grasp some of the important things in life. The things that make a man a man. Take last night, he grumbled he had a sore throat, "It's like I've got a tennis ball shoved down there" he said. He had some Benilyn and at precisely eight minutes past nine took himself to bed. Not a moan or a groan to be heard from him. Naturally I had been alll sympathy and understanding, "Oh dear" was my response. This morning he woke up and got up (before me as usual), managed to shower and fix breakfast before I could utter, "So how are you tthis morning" "Better than last night" he said.

So from this I have deduced that he has failed to grasp the concept of Man Flu. That horribly repelent illness that inflicts us men so badly. Swine Flu is as nothing by comparison. The aches, the pains, the nausea, the prospect of imminent death are all symptons,with only a long-suffering female to tend to your every need (whim) able to alleviate this marauding sickness.

I feel that the issue needs to be addressed in some way. But which way, or when I'm just not sure. After all I have no intention of taking over the role of Florence. But if he doesn't understand the rules, how on earth will he be able to grow up, marry and make someone's life entirely miserable....or at least a life of servitude and inequality?

Whilst the boy was suffering his own misery, I managed to avoid mine. Last night was ironing night. It was ironing night because the airing cupboard is full to overflowing with shirts, socks and man pants. Only the former get ironed. It is a task I loathe and despise above all others in my life. I do it as infrequently as possible, and then always under protest. Last night I incentivised myself by having a tumbler of red wine, known in our house as Vino Collapso. As it turned out that didn't motivate me. Nor did the big tub of Ben and Jerry's Pfish Food that followed. In fact I was tipsy and full, and went to bed with the entire pile left in the airing cupboard. Any volunteers?

Thursday, 3 December 2009

There was a powerful smell of eau de cologne when we walked through the doors

Yes we must have been dining out in Chigwell. At a pub restaurant that was quite close in character to a Harvester. The difference being that the people were ever so smart and the car park was full of Porsches and Range Rovers. There were plenty of perma tanned blondes (with their wives), some shirts open to their waist (almost) and even the odd gold chain. This is the land where the local clothes shop has been known to receive an order by text from Rio Ferdinand...to the value of £31,000. Mind you with jeans a thousand pounds a pop, that's not too many items is it?

The food was.....well just about the same as you get in a Harvester. That's not fair. It was slightly better. My pork kebabs were fine. The wine was a Montepulciano. Although it didn't actually say that on the label. It did on the wine list. I'm not sure if that's quite right?

The strange thing about LaLa Land is that there's so much money sploshing about that you are border line poor if you only have one Porsche and one Range Rover on your drive. By comparison we live well below the poverty line. I was once pulled over by PC Plod on London Bridge for a 'routine check'. When he saw my address, his comment was that 'Even the poor people are rich there." I'm not sure if it helped or hindered my cause.

There is no appreciation of fine food around here at all. I find that bizarre. Plenty of tacky night clubs, and chain cafes. But not a decent gastro-pub or a not-quite Michelin starred restaurant. Not even the pub at the beauty spot of High Beech serves anything better than a dried up bacon butty or sausage and eggs.

The boy was abandoned at home to play with matches and sharp knives. He had a Waitrose steak and ale pie and oodles of mash. He may well have had the better meal.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Butcher, baker and candlestick maker



I'm sitting here with a sore head. Not a bear with a sore head. But one of those fuggy, thumpy heads that sits on top of a weary, sluggish body. It's not my fault. Last night I met up for the annual reunion with my old school chums. And we had a good turn out - there was eight of us. We religiously go to the Anchor & Hope which is a fine gastro pub on The Cut by Waterloo. We consumed beer and wine.

We're a mixed bunch these days, and I remember the first time we did it, sitting there thinking "What on earth am I doing with these conservative, middle aged men?". It took a couple of goes before I got it...even though I had been the one that had encouraged the get together. Of the eight of us 4 were divorced and four still married. My guess is that of the latter four only two haven't strayed.

Our group consisted of someone who is VERY VERY SENIOR indeed in Lloyds (insurance not banking). He earns more in a week than I do in a year. Footballers wages. And one day he will be at least a Sir, and probably a Lord, chest decorated with an MBE, CBE or OBE. He was always the sensible clever one who would catch the attention of the teachers. His career choice entirely suits him. He has achieved everything you would expect.

Then we have the banker who stumbled in his career and is now a regulator...but not on the mainland. He was head of house. Three years ago, he dropped me a line to say his marriage of twenty years was over. He didn't seem to know why, which distressed me. He was nonchalant, and asked for advice on where to find 'women'. The only thing I could offer was that after a period of 'chasing tail' he would get bored and want to find someone permanent in his life again. Last night he thanked me for that advice. He has indeed found someone to settle with.

There is the GP from the home counties. Married for all his adult life and very settled where he lives. As a boy, his parents were in the forces and moved regularly. He has treasured the certainty of life as a pillar of local society. A while ago, he and I went clubbing, but the allure of dancing with girls less than half our age soon faded. Even if we thought 'We still have it'

The entrepreneur who sells medical devices. Always has has a glint in his eye, and not even a bald head can diminish that. Now on his second marriage, and to the daughter of our old physics master. But for all his spirit and charm, he's not quite as successful as I would have expected. I'm not sure why - what is it that makes some people fantastically successful, and others not. Perhaps the roving eye applies as much in business as it does at home.

The Sikh who now has to be called by his proper name, rather than Ali which we knew him as at school. That has Muslim connotations. Many a fun hour was had stretching his starched turban fabric so he could wrap it round his head. He is charming, well mannered and restrained and I would trust him with my life. And it's interesting to remember with him all the things we all did as unruly kids, and compare that to the man we see now. I like that he is very much part of the clearly defined Sikh culture, but can still seamlessly join in with us. It is how it should be.

There is a garage door salesman. Never a great academic, but a good sportsman. Even thirty years later, the shortest email from him can take an hour to decipher. And his claim this year was to spend an hour on the Fourth Plinth, promoting the benefits of the Scouting movement. He has a special place in our hearts as it was he that inspired the boy to learn to swim.

And then lastly there was the boy who was rubbish at sports, rubbish at school work but remained a popular boy for his offbeat humour. All the teachers predicted he would go nowhere, and it is good that he has proved them wrong by rising to be a Director of a large insurance business. Happily married with two lovely children. And not only that, he runs, rides and swims triathlons. Which he started doing in his forties. That should be an inspiration to anyone. Good man.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Top of the class

I don't much care for school league tables in the same way I don't much care for hospital league tables, or any other league tables that the government has cobbled together in the last dozen years. Actually I don't like league tables full stop - given that my favourite football team is wallowing somewhere near the bottom of what I always used to know as Division Two. For me the Government's approach has led to box ticking, with a single-minded focus on achieving a good result irrespective of whether it achieves real quality or actually benefits the person going through the system, whether it's as a pupil or a patient. I've been told on more than one occasion by SOMEONE WHO KNOWS that actually the success or failure of a school is more to do with the number of parents who have middle-class attitudes to education and insist their children buckle down to the daily homework. Who knows, perhaps it's an urban myth....

I know at the boy's current school, they are limited in the number of GCSEs they can take because fewer A* grades is better than more subjects at a lower level of achievement...I'm not sure whether that is a good or a bad thing, but I know it meant the boy had to drop one subject he wanted to take further. In this case though, the restriction is nothing to do with government league tables, and more to do with the criteria that universities set for entry. Who knows, perhaps its just Oxford or Cambridge....

I happened to notice on the Beeb today I could check the primary school leagues...so I did, which is odd given that I have 15 hours work to do in less than eight, and I have no intention whatsoever of ever producing another mini-NB. And I can't help but admit that I was please to see that my primary school was in the Top 5 for Essex. I know you're not supposed to look at it like that. But I did. And I was pleased. This was my first primary school...the village one. The one that is now described as a 'community primary'...I don't know why they need to call it that...surely a village is a community?

I don't remember too much about it really...I think I left there for private education at about the age of 8. If I remember rightly, the termly fee was £45, and on one occasion I lost the cheque I was supposed to hand in. I think I was in a lot of trouble for that.

But back to my original school. There are only four things that come to mind. Once I left the classroom with a friend thinking it was play time. After hanging around in the playground for what seemed hours (but was probably two minutes), we decided we must be wrong and returned to the classroom, claiming we had gone to the toilet. I can't remember if we were told off for that.

Secondly I remember getting hit full in the face by a football. It stung beyond measure. I'm sure I didn't cry. Perhaps I did. I never enjoyed playing football after that. Nor rugby. Small things can be life-changing.

Thirdly I remember Mrs Newman. Or in fact Mrs Newman's classroom. Perhaps her name was Newcombe. It was a little while ago. The thing about her classroom was that it was a caravan. They call them Portakabins, but we all know that's a fancy name for a caravan. It was clean, modern and light and bright. Unlike the brick classrooms. What on earth I was taught I have no idea.

Lastly I remember during a noisy classroom session, someone put a drawing pin on my chair for me to sit on. A girl snatched it away at the last minute and saved me. I think I still love her for that. If only I could remember her name, what she looked like and her voice it would be perfect. Perhaps.

Monday, 30 November 2009

Toy Story



After weeks of procrastination and excuse-making, I finally managed to persuade my weary limbs to climb back on the bike to cycle to work. It had gone through a phase of not being quite right...not changing gear, flat tyres, broken hub, broken front cogs which gave me plenty of reason to stay on two wheels with an engine. Of course when it's a 16 mile journey, the weather has to be right too...not too much wind, or indeed rain (strangely I don't mind the rain too much, it's quite refreshing). Not that I've been entirely without cycling...in pursuit of the boy's quest for Bronze, Duke of Edinburgh Award, we have been making a weekly pilgrimage to the Redbridge Cycling Centre...but an hour round the circuit is not the same as a 32 mile round trip.

And many things have changed in the last few weeks - notably the Olympic site is going up at a pace...it's good to see. But one sad change is that they have started to knock down the old Lesney Industries factory. Lesney was, of course, the owner of Matchbox cars. And many, many a happy childhood hour was spent vroom vroom vrooming across the swirly carpet. Matchbox cars had the benefit of being pocket-money size and price, so whilst Corgi toys were bigger and better, they were reserved for Christmas and Birthdays. Hot Wheels were the great upstart...very fast when pushed hard, but most of their models bore no resemblance to any vehicle I've ever seen. So although the factory has been closed for many years, it feels that this is the passing of an era. Car games are now played on the screen with an X-Box or PlayStation - no doubt better in many ways, but I'm not sure it's quite the same experience. Perhaps it's time to pull up the arm chair and get out my pipe and slippers whilst downing a whiskey and reading The Times.

Down in Brighton, another era is about to pass. The boy's toy-room was emptied for redecoration, and now looks splendid, but rather more minimalist. The one toy that remains is the Playstation. The rest were loaded into boxes and sit forlornly in the dining room (well, there was simply no where else for them) waiting to be sorted into 'keep because it is still played with' (remote control cars, planes, boats, robots, and erm dinosaurs), 'keep because it has real sentimental value' (wooden train track), 'chuck because it's broken' (any expensive plastic must-have toy of the moment - Tracey Island) or 'give away' (everything else that's still working and in OK condition). That will be a challenge...especially not allowing sentimentality to get in the way of common sense - and I certainly don't want to be the victim of accusations when the boy is all grown up of "I can't believe you threw away that...I loved it". For the toys that are to be given away, I need to find the right charity...I already donate on a monthly basis to Save the Children, so am tempted to donate to the children of Palestine, who seem to suffer in an unreasonable and unbearable way. Any other suggestions equally welcomed.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Boys stuff



It's been a weekend of boys own stuff for us....

...in recognition of the end of summer (well it was hard to know when it started, so we've been holding on for sure recognition that it's come to an end) we put the hard top on the car. You probably won't recall, that earlier this summer we put the soft-top on. It was traumatic as I explained here May be I should have encouraged the boy to have had a healthier interest in Lego/Meccano/Airfix, but he's never shown any inclination. I think our car-building (re-building?) skills have improved, because it took us just 45 minutes to do. And we now have a roof that's good enough to keep out the Cumbrian gales. Not that we live in Cumbria, and that's fortunate at the moment.

We also managed a lot of sex this weekend. Perhaps I should re-phrase that.

Friday night saw us at Tate Modern, recalling the years when we used to live round the corner and used it as our local cafe. We wanted to see the black box...and indeed we did. But it was disapoointingly not that black really. So my suggestion to Nicholas Serota is to TURN THE LIGHTS DOWN. So we went upsatirs to see the Pop Life exhibition. Three rooms were given over to adult material, so the boy had to walk around with hands clasped firmly over his eyes. From my perspective, I've got nothing against pornography, but Mr Koons really you having sex with an italian blond is not in anyway erotic, nor is it art in anyway, sense or shape. It said nothing to me.

As the boy missed out on sex at the Tate, we went to see Breakfast at Tiffany's on Saturday (obv). All I can say is that most of the audience clearly thought they were still watching Brookside. Many arrived late, chatted through the first ten minutes and continued rustling their sweet packets throughtout the first and second halves. Nor did they laugh at any of the humourous bits....although given the quality of the acting it may be that more than just the man sitting behind me who had fallen asleep. Ms Friel did indeed appear naked as promised, so I hope that was a treat for the boy; she's certainly pert.

And on Sunday a return to yet more manly pursuits...cycling in freezing wind-blown rain. Afterwards we climbed into the car soaked through; frozen through and worn out.

Roll on a quiet weekend.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh

FRIDAY

"Have you got any homework?"

"Yes, some history, maths and geography. And I've got to revise for my French test on Monday. I'll revise in bed on Sunday"


SUNDAY

"How's the homework coming along?"

"I finished it all Saturday morning"

"Brilliant. That's good...so just the French to revise then?"

"Yeah, I'll do that in bed"

"Erm yes, if you're sure"


MONDAY AM

"Have a great day at school. Good luck with the French test"

"See you later"



MONDAY PM

"How was school?"

"Yeah, fine. All good"

"How did the French test go?"

"I have to do it on Friday with the people who have to retake it."

"Ummm. Erm. Why?"

"Well that's what I was told"

"So why do you have to do it with the people who are retaking it?"

"Because that's on Friday and I'll do it with them."

"But I thought you were doing it today?"

"No. Friday"

"Why are you doing it on Friday and not today?"

"Because that's when the people who are retaking it are doing it"

"So you're retaking it?"

"No I'm doing it with the people on Friday who are re-taking"

"But why didn't you do it today?"

"We don't have French on a Monday"

"But you said you had to revise on Sunday for the test on Monday"

"Yes but we don't have French on Monday. So I'm taking it on Friday with the people who are retaking it"

"When was the test then?"

"Friday"

"Ths Friday? I thought you said only the people retaking it were doing it on Friday"

"No Friday."

"You mean last Friday?"

"Yesssssssssssssssss"

"Well why didn't you do it on Friday?"

"I was at guitar practice. I have to do it when everyone who is retaking it does it. ON FRIDAY"

"Oh right"

*Bangs head repeatedly on wall*

Monday, 16 November 2009

Six degrees of separation

Poor AG, she foolishly offered to be my gig buddy. On the up side, we've been to see some great bands - Manic Street Preachers, Doves and Coldplay for example. On the downside, I didn't take her to the Kings of Leon. And she's never forgiven me for it. I don't blame her. Worse still, there have been some howlers - Echo and the Bunnymen you know it was you.

On Saturday, I'd got four tickets for McIntoshRoss. I hear "who?" echoing around the blogoshere. If you have a long memory, you'll remember Deacon Blue....Dignity, Choocolate Girl, When the World knows your name...and so on. McIntoshRoss is Deacon Blue lite. Just Ricky Ross and Lorraine McIntosh...and their backing band. Four tickets bought in haste, and I'd had several months to regret the decision. And most improbable that I'd find someone to tout them to. But it's a lot to spend on tickets, so I thought we ought to go, and poor AG got dragged along...and remained her usual cheerful positive self.

If you did maths GCSE ('O' level in my case) you'll have spotted there were two unused tickets. I offered them to a friend who is/was also a mad-keen Deacon Blue afficionado. Someone I've known for twenty five years and have stayed in regular touch with since, although I've not seen her for about seventeen. There was a period...I'd guess four of five years when we didn't speak. That was after we stopped being engaged. I felt the need to explain this to Auntie Gwen as we headed to the gig. Perhaps I should have mentioned it earlier. I'm sorry. Ex-fiance was bringing a friend, and we agreed to meet in the bar at Cadogan Hall. As we walked through the door, the friend offered his hand in greeting. "Helllo Nota, last time we met it was in less happy circumstances" he said. Indeed it was. I'd met him only once before. At The Boy's Mum's funeral. He was an old friend of hers. I think I kept my cool, though I'm not sure I managed my usual witty repartee. I wished I'd seen Auntie Gwen's face at that moment.

Nearly everything else pales into insignificance. Perhaps to complete the picture I should mention we drove, and I felt the need to park a million miles away, even though it transpired that we could have parked outside the front door. Fortunately AG has a remarkable ability to walk in high heels. Or perhaps I should mention the snigger behind me in the bar when AG said she would slap me. I turned round and said, "Don't worry, she's Glaswegian". "So are we chimed the three Glaswegians behind us"

The gig? Oh brilliant...loved it.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Education is in vogue

This is the boy's school. In my day, its main claim to fame was having the longest dormitory in the country.

The school mummies are all a twitter looking at the frocks, the dads are just looking at the models and that Rolls Royce...

Yes it was just like this when I was there...including all the lovely, gorgeous mummies. I wish. As teenagers, of course, all the mummies were yummy. But I do remember that when we were in need, the parents of the boy who was driven to school in the Rolls wouldn't help us out by giving me a lift in the morning.

I'm left pondering on whether it is wise of the first ever headmistress of the school to have made two significant decisions since she started a year ago - change the school uniform and allow the photoshoot.....some degree of stereotyping seems to be coming out...

Erm








City life

Do you remember the days when the worst people in the world were estate agents, or perhaps lawyers or even PR people? Those were simple times. It was easy to know who to focus your venom on. But of course, in the last eighteen months a lot has changed. We're all unemployed, saddled with houses which are worth half of what we paid for them, and can't afford to go abroad on holiday because our £1 is worth thruppence ha'penny. And now the very worst people in the world are bankers, and everyone who works in the world of finance. High finance has become low finance, but the bankers and their supporting cohorts continue to rake in their millions. Is it any wonder we hate them. Surely though not all these people can be monsters? Or can they? I'd like to share with you some correspondence over the last 24 hours:

Dear Mr Nota Bene,

Regarding Council Tax account 12345678

I need to contact the named person below who, according to my records, was a tenant and previously lived at 'rented flat'

Mr Former Tenant

According to our records the above is liable for Council Tax from 03-NOV-2007 to 07-MAY-2008.

Please can you confirm a forwarding address and any other contact details Mr Former Tenant?

Your assistance in this matter is greatly appreciated and I thank you for your co-operation, please reply by return of this e-mail.

Best Regards

Revenues Officer

Revenues Collection Company
Lake House
Shared Service Centre
Phoenix Road
Barrow-in-Furness
Cumbria
LA14 2UG


Hello.

These are the contact detail I have, although they may now be out of date:

Former Tenant
Banking Business (UK) Inc
Paternoster Square
London
office: +44 (0)20 1234 5678
mobile: +44 (0) 7890 123 456
email: former.tenant@bankingcompany.com

kind regards


Dear Nota Bene,

Thanks very much for your help.

It’s much appreciated.

Regards


Revenues Officer


Dear Mr Former Tenant,

I am writing with regard to unpaid council tax for 'rented flat', account ref 12345678. There is an outstanding balance of £ 246.40 on your account for the period you were a tenant at the property, from 03-NOV-2007 to 07-MAY-2008.

Please telephone 020 1234 5678 to arrange payment of the outstanding balance.

When making any payment you must quote your Council Tax account reference 12345678. Failure to make contact with me and make full payment of the outstanding balance will result in me applying for an Attachment of Earnings Order where I will deduct the outstanding balance direct from your wages from your employer, Bankingcompany (Uk) Inc, to recover the outstanding balance.

Please do not hesitate to contact me should you need any further information with regard to the above.

Regards

Revenues Officer


From: Former Tenant
Sent: Wednesday, November 11, 2009 12:05 PM
To: 'Revenue Officer'
Subject: RE: Council Tax account reference 12345678

As I am no longer an employee in England, that would be challenging indeed for you to deduct wages from there!

I have the paperwork proving that I paid the full 6 months that I lived at Rented Flat. Please let me know where to fax the paperwork and I will do so within the next few days. Most of my paperwork is still in boxes from my move, so it will take me a few days to locate it.

Additionally, please send me the dates of the balance as well as an invoice for precisely what is being charged in the event that I was no longer even a tenant for the period in question.

Regards,
Former Tenant

Thanks, Nota. I’ll make sure that I have them hound you down for the 6 day gap between the time that my lease legally ended and the time the new tenants lease began.

The best part about this being that I had previously paid the full balance and have proof. But since you seem more than willing to create headaches for me, I will return the favor.

Kind regards,

Former Tenant

Former Tenant,

I'm sorry if you feel that way. I am legally obliged to give them your contact details. If you have paid there is nothing for you to worry about, merely supply the information they need. Their language can be quite aggressive, but that is the nature of English local government. I am so sorry you have reacted in this way as their [sic] was absolutely no malice on my part.

Kind regards

Nota Bene


Yes, and I'm sure the law requires you to divulge my email address. Right. Let's play ball, nota. You want trouble. Then I'll give you trouble. Now I just need to figure out new ways to screw you over. Don't worry... I'm creative!!!

And can you not use correct personal pronouns. English is YOUR language, yet you use it so poorly. That makes me sad.

-Former Tenant

Hi Former Tenant.

I'm not sure what has provoked this outburst from you. However, in the circumstances, I shall pass your threat on to my lawyer, and will also, if necessary, pass a copy of your e-mails to your employer.

Again, I can only repeat that if you have paid there is nothing for you to worry about.

Regards

Nota Bene


Lol. My threats? That is funny. I just believe in equalization.

- Former Tenant

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Unpalatable



Here is the centre piece of our back yard.

You may think it's a pallet. And a bent one at that.

But you'd be wrong. It is an amazing natural resource which offers endless raw materials for making many different things.

It comes from the boy's school, and was thrown by them into a skip ready for disposal on some landfill site. Fortunately the eco-warrior decided to rescue it and carried it home - just as the ancient Brits carried the rocks for Stonehenge from Wales to Salisbury Plain all those many centuries ago.

The boy has always picked things up and brought them home. We have lots of oversized rusty nuts and bolts to prove it; we have lots of broken bits of bumper or indicator lights to prove it; we have lots of sticks and twigs from the forest to prove it - most memorably the large stick that once it dried out released some crazed beast that had previously had a lead role in Starship Troopers before trying to find peace and quiet in the damp vegetation of Epping Forest.

He carefully placed the pallet in the middle of the yard ready for recycling into some fantastical art piece in the near future. Or perhaps it would turn into a cupboard. Or a piece of furniture.

Although my memory isn't what it was, I seem to recall this momentous event took place in the late spring, or perhaps early summer. And of course, it has lain undisturbed ever since. What was a finely crafted pallet has now developed a bit of a bow from where it has been rained on consistently throughout this year's "it's going to be a barbeque" summer. And I am sure it will stay there undisturbed for a good number of months yet.

I would hope that in his head, the boy is formulating a Grand Plan, calculating which pieces he can use whole, and which pieces he will need to cut to size to create his artwork.

But really, deep down I know differently. I know he is a boy-man. And that means he is practicing for later life. I already feel sorry for his wife. Perhaps I should warn her. I can picture his living room floor, even now. Covered in pieces from a 'soon to be' rebuilt motorcycle. I can picture his bathroom with one wall half-tiled, with pipes connected to nothing but an empty space. I can picture his bedroom, with the holes drilled (unevenly) for a shelf that will never be put up. I can picture his dining room, with the woodwork half painted, and the feature wall half finished.

Because, as you know, every man grows up knowing that it is task in life to start DIY projects and never finish them. I'm so glad he has started early.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Wallpaper*

There are some things I feel I can share with you. And some things I just can't. Today I shall share with you that there is enough dust spread around the Brighton flat to make a whole new Kalahari desert. It would be a very dark desert as the dust is black, but it would be a desert. Or perhaps I could rent the flat as a lunar landscape for the next 'fake moon landing'. Conspiracy theorists, please gather here.

The reason for the dust is that since the early part of the year, we have been rennovating and decorating. The builders claim to have taken out 60 bags of rubble. And should be admired for that given that this is a fourth floor flat. With no lift. I had planned to wait until the new carpet is laid before I shared this with you. But I'm an impatient man. So the carpet is not yet ordered, let alone down, but I feel you should see the efforts of my wallet.

The two things I am most pleasedest with are the kitchen and the stairwell. I adore the stairwell now and intend to sit there through the long lonely evenings of winter. I will sit there and stroke the flock of the wallpaper.



The kitchen is full of new gadgets and I've reached a stage where I can no longer work out how to use new gadgets. Even with the instruction book. So I am hoping the boy will develop a passionate interest in cooking. I do know that the hob is an induction hob. I didn't know when I bought it that I had to have iron saucepans for an induction hob to work. So the aluminium ones I bought six months ago will have to find a new home. I have brought out some of the things that have been hidden in the back of a cupboard for 20 years. So welcome back Maggie and Ronnie the teapots.




I may one day share with you the trauma of getting to here, but not now.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Dinner time



The night before we headed off to Cyprus was the annual Old Boys Dinner. Of course these days, as there are girls at the school its a mixed evening. But still referred to as the Old Boys Dinner. Which probably doesn't go down too well with the boys (and girls) that left only last year, let alone any Old Boys who still claim to be 37. It's exactly the sort of thing you would expect (and if you have any prejudices against Public Schools, they are all completely fulfilled at these events) - a few drinks in the bar before, a few drinks over dinner, followed by a few drinks in the bar. Usually I have a couple of friends staying over and we have a few more drinks at home afterwards. But age, the need to be sober to travel and an unfortunate incident last year resulting in one of the friends taking the bedding away to be cleaned meant that we stayed sober this year. Relatively.

To further my son's school career, I have allowed myself to be volunteered for organising the event next year. Unfortunately the person that volunteered me forgot to tell anyone else, so another person was volunteered too. She was on the same table as me at the dinner, and jolly fine company too. In common parlance, I think she would be known as a game girl. When it came to the usual table photo, one of our fellow diners (and a very senior Director of a Bank that has a white bow tie as its logo), felt it appropriate to grab her right boob. She thought it hilarious. And that on a day when I see two female city workers are suing their employers for £3 million for some inappropriate name calling. Five minutes later, another Old Boy came along told her that the zip on the back of her dress was 'provocative' and immediately unzipped it. All the way down. She laughed and fluttered her eyelids. She did re-zip it. Not much later I left.

Because she and I will work together for next year's dinner, I have sent her my contact details. The reply I got was "Yes would love to get together over dinner"

I am somewhat non-plussed.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Cypriot wildlife

In no particular order....because I'm trying to do this from my phone, and haven't a clue how this will turn out! So here is a green frog, feral homo sapiens, ex-sheep, kingfishers, green oranges (they're like that in hot countries I'm told...still orange inside though)and the board walk, just because I like it...and we saw lots of crabs on that particular beach - they're all hiding in the sand.







Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Airport

We've sneaked away this week...so this is being penned from Cyprus...and despite her protestations to the contrary, Grandma in Cyprus has done my washing. After all, what's a Mum for, if not to wash your smalls. Naturally, the boy and I have taken up residence as all male offspring should. Feet up on the sofa, demanding to be fed and attended to on a regular basis. Disappointingly, we've not been brought a cup of tea in bed to wake us up every morning. I don't know why. We are enjoying toast and coffee out on the terrace,just by the pool for breakfast and the temperatures are reported as 'unseasonably high.' So that means low to mid-thirties. But we are assured of thunderstorms for the rest of the week. That'll be a shame. We'll just have to go diving again.

The boy and I have been left home alone, whilst Grandma and step-Grandad have gone off on an adventure. They are going to test out the new airport - I think they will pretend to be travelers to Zurich. Why Zurich I just don't know. They will walk in, walk through customs, and walk back. I hope they don't get searched. For their efforts they will get a small gift. And the pleasure of knowing they were amongst the first into the airport.

For there to be a new airport terminal at Larnaca, they must be doing well I hear you say, tourism must be booming despite the recession I guess you're thinking. But no, the truth is that the original terminal, it turns out, is owned by a Turkish-Cypriot. And Larnaca is in the Greek half. So to avoid any issues, the old one is closing and a new one being put up just at the other end of the runway. It's what happens, I guess, when a small island has been divided for thirty odd years, and both sides seem pretty entrenched in their own self-righteousness.

It seems politicians are the same. Whichever country you're in.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Islington Council

Yesterday was my day in court. And as someone who doesn't frequent these places, I found it fascinating. I suppose it shouldn't have come as a surprise that the place was filled with the sort of people you wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley...or perhaps that view just comes from the prejudice of expectation. Naturally the proceedings are orchestrated by nice middle-class folks who come attired in their designer labels. The contrast with the summonsed couldn't have been greater. Nor should I have been surprised that as I chose to attend in suit and tie (oh my word it was difficult to remember how to knot one of those) I was mistaken for a solicitor. Perhaps I should have taken my chances on that score...Catch me if you can.

The outcome for me was not quite what I'd hoped, but as I had expected given my experience (mainly the divorce court) of courts to do their level best to satisfy no one. The case was adjourned until 10th November to give Islington Council time to contact the trustees and confirm that they accept they are responsible for the outstanding Council Tax. This was even though the court accepted that Islington Council had no prospectof getting a liability order against me.

But for me there was a bigger issue, which entirely hardened my view that Islington Council is incompetent and spiteful. As part of the procedings yesterday, the council was asking the court to agree to something approaching 6000 liability orders. As theses sessions are monthly, I understand, that makes roughly 72,000 orders a year. I find that figure mind boggling, and in itself implies something fundamentally wrong with the council's approach to taxation and the collection there of. But, and this is really what got me going..... the council has to prove that they have sent the demands and the summonses. They do this by having a post book in which they record what has been despatched. The problem yesterday was that the figures in the post book didn't match the number of summonses the Council claimed to have issued. As the court pointed out, that meant that if the liability orders were issued, then some people could receive an order when they haven't received a summons...and if it was an elderly person the shock could be fatal. The council didn't have an answer for that and the whole lot got thrown out. All 6000 of them. The council charges £120 per summons, a cost of £720,000. Plus the loss of revenue...say at a modest of £200/summons...that's £1,200,000. A rough total of £2million. Now call me prejudiced, but that strikes me as grossly incompetent and suggests a completely cavalier attitude to the legal system and to the general public and public funds. I hope the council officials are contrite, but somehow I doubt it judging by their response. And don't forget we pay for this with our taxes - all of us - because the bulk of council revenue comes from central government.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Rules are meant to be broken

In recent weeks you will have spotted a thread of anarchy beginning to spread through the Nota Bene household. First the ticket for stopping in the bus lane, then for disobeying a red traffic light, followed by The Boy's violent affray on the rugby pitch. To be sure, we are not a law-abiding lot, although we have not yet plumbed the depths of Ronald Biggs misdemeanour, nor the Kray twins - although there is a passing resemblence between the boy and myself.

So you will not be surprised to learn that I have taken my cocking a snoot at authority to new levels. There are reasons for this, of course. I feel the heavy hand of authoritarianism of our New Labour master ever more heavily on my wallet and my very being. It is time for rebellion and revolution. I have been boning up on my Che to help me on my way.

Last night I was at the heart of our democracy and I took my opportunity. It was just one small step on the road to revolution, although I'm not sure I am yet a Bolshevik icon, but it's the small things that make a difference.

Here are a couple of pictures from inside the House of Commons. The policeman was not best pleased, and I was expecting to be marched down to the cells. And I don't think it'll give much away to Al Qaeda. The flock wallpaper in committee room 10 was very nice, but I was disappointed there was no chicken balti on the menu.


Monday, 19 October 2009

His Royal Highness


Winter has arrived. I don't need to read the weather forecasts to know this. I feel it in my bones. In my finger bones in particular. That's not some strange physical quirk on my part, and I don't get cold feet in the night either. It's just that when I'm on the motorbike, the cold gets through. Doesn't matter what I do, I freeze. And the leaves haven't even fallen yet. In most places they're still green, although Epping Forest is beginning to turn brown, orange and golden yellow. It's a beautiful place to walk your dog. I wish I had a dog.

But at least it's warm in the cottage (inspite of British Gas declaring war on my boiler and decreeing it defunct and the sole cause of global warming). For the boy, though, he's not had that warmth this weekend. He's been away on is Duke of Edinburgh Award hike, sleeping under canvas. He's back tonight, and hopefully not encased in a block of ice, like Scrat. I'm looking forward to it in eager anticipation of being subjected to a non-stop barrage of tales of daring and adventure from arrival until bedtime, and then again at breakfast tomorrow...and for the following days, weeks and months thereafter.

This weekend appears to be the weekend for everyone to do their DoE...I've seen numerous bedraggled pictures of friends' offspring on Facebook. In my day, it was the few and not the many that made the sacrifice. But these days, it seems a basic qualification for life. The boy appears to enjoy it - he's also doing cycling down at the local club, and helping out at the Drama Club. So his evenings and weekends are pretty full, even before the rigours of homework, and putting his socks in the wash basket.

I hope the Duke is proud of what the youth do in his name.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

James Bond arrives



After a period of being a company of 'no fixed abode' due to my failure to organise us when the lease of our old office came to an end, we moved to Bermondsey St...half way between Tower Bridge and London Bridge three years ago. To be entirely fair to me, we had started the process of buying the office six m months before...but evidently that wasn't long enough. It clearly wasn't helped by my solicitor asking four months into the process "Do you want a break clause?". On a 999 year lease. Yes I think so, about year 423 please. We found a new solicitor.

Anyhoos, we moved in having furbished an empty shell which was a modern addition to the old London warehouses that are a feature of the neighbourhood. I'm sure that at the height of the Port of London's success, the whole area must have been an amazing hive of hustle and bustle. Surprisingly there are very many old buildings which still exist and exude charm on the neighbourhood. I love it, and so do most people when they come visit - it's one of the least recognised places in London. There are old windy streets, a village hall, scruffy pubs, the antiques market, restaurants, real, local people and a sense of community, Bermondsey food market, parks and well anything you want in life. Apart from Marks and Spencer.

And that may be why our new neighbours have chosen to occupy the office opposite, which has been empty for the entire time we've been here. When we met the guys on their first visit there was a certain 'air' about them. Ever so slightly intimidating, but not in anyway unfriendly. A certain unexpected calmness. They exude confidence and they look extremely fit. There's a slightly militaristic way to the way the walk, speak and hold themselves.

We swapped cards, as you do. And I checked them out. They are a specialist security consultancy. They provide 'protection teams'. They provided a security cordon after the Baltic Exchange bombing. A foreign government employed them for surveillance of an arms dealer. They find corrupt South American government officials. They trace 'assets'. They seize counterfeit goods. And these are just examples from their website. I suspect that Mud is part of their team given all her foreign travels off the beaten track.

Their office is currently being fitted out. I probably shouldn't mention the floor which is being installed. It's made of one and a half inch thick steel plates. They've mentioned they are lining the ceiling as well. I wonder with what?

Never one to let my imagination run away with me, I expect to be reporting back shortly with tales of balaclava-clad soldiers abseiling in through the windows. Of local power outages as their complex systems for monitoring every radio message broadcast around the world drain the electricity grid. Burly blokes with holdalls casually thrown over their back delivering bags of used notes. And of suave agents arriving to collect details of their latest mission. Perhaps I could volunteer. After all there's nothing wrong with a bit of action and adventure, eh? See you in the Congo. "Call me Bene. Nota Bene."

Monday, 12 October 2009

Not guilty as charged

Has anyone got a good word to say about Islington Council? My encounters with them have never been good.

When we lived in central London Town, I rented a car parking space in an underground car park. It cost a lot to rent. I had to pay Council Tax on it too. To Islington Council. To the tune of £800 a year. Yes that is indeed more than many people pay for a whole house. When we moved to our cottage in the Forest (I think Little Red Riding Hood lives close) we got our own garage. In fact it's part of the cottage. Some people would turn it into a living room. We haven't becasue we like to fill it with Boy things. As we have this garage, we didn't need the one in London Town. So I wrote to Islington Council and told them we didn't use it anymore. They sent me a Tax Demand. Over the course of several months I wrote again and again, I telephoned them and I even went to visit them. Same story every time: I don't use this parking space anymore. That didn't stop them issuing a court summons. And refusing to withdrawing it. So I went to court. On the day I was supposed to be going to a friend's wedding. When I stood up in court the judge asked why I was pleading not guilty. I produced the letters, the dates of correspondence and the dates I had visited Islington Council. The judge asked Islington Council why they had issued the summons. They explained that they hadn't had time to check the space was not occupied. The judge dismissed the case. The court made the Council pay the costs and refund the Tax they had made me pay. If you live in Islington you paid for that.

When the boy's Mum died, he inherited, with his sister, a nice house in Finsbury Park. Finsbury Park is in Islington. Council Tax has to be paid on the house. When it is occupied by tenants, the tenants pay the tax. When it's vacant, the Trustees are responsible for the Council Tax. Not me. I don't own the house, I simply find tenants for it. The Trustees live in Wales; its a long way away so I help them out - why wouldn't I? It's my son's inheritance. I have explained that to Islington Council many times over the last several months. By phone, e-mail and by letter. I even have a letter from them telling me that they have removed my name from their records and I am no longer associated with the house. I've got e-mail apologies from them. But that hasn't stopped them issuing a Court Summons for next Thursday. This time I shall ask for compensation. This time I will ask the Court to make them stop harassing me. This time I expect the Court will make Islington Council pay the costs. If you live in Islington you will pay for that.

P.S. I've learnt through experience that Courts have a habit of making sure they upset everyone, so disregard the bravado above....I'm not counting my chickens, yet

Plastic surgery

I've never really understood the appeal of cosmetic surgery... especially when applied to parts of the body that seem perfectly fine to me anyway. I have chortled away at the idea of men having 'six-pack' inserts, and buttock inserts for both sexes. Be happy with what you've got, or you'll end up looking like Michael (RIP) Jackson's nose. For anyone who's suffered a misfortune, well, that's a different matter. Still we're a free country and we should be able to treat our bodies as we like - it's one area that the government hasn't though fit to delve into yet. For me, my body is a temple at which I worship with frequent offerings of food and drink.

So it came as a mild shock to find that without my knowledge, behind my back and without any care or concern for my feelings, a friend has surgically enhanced me, and pasted the results on Facebook. I hope you like NB version 2.0.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Guilty as charged



The boy and I are a pair of criminals; we've taken to walking around in stripy shirts carrying swag bags.

After my stopping in the bus lane incident, I've now been caught driving through a red traffic light. No excuse, I was lost in Chelmsford...trying to find a game of rugby...and after missing a good chunk of it was not concentrating as much as I should have been. When I rang the police to check on the photo evidence, I had to end the conversation with 'Fair cop'. He nearly laughed.

The boy has also had to face the consequences of the ruckus on the rugby field. A disciplinary committee was convened in line with RFU rules. And the result is....
....a three week ban. "It's the rules" he says. Stiff upper lip, gritted teeth whilst churning internally (I suspect). He's man enough to take his punishment, understands why and will have learnt from it. He'll get over it and then onwards and upwards to bigger and better things.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Fight Club (2)



The boy is a mild-mannered lad. Always has been. He gets by with easy-going charm, and a smile that makes the opposite sex swoon. Instead of competitive, he has a steely determination to succeed on his own terms. He's happy to see and help others succeed, confident that he will too. I've always thought that his lack of competitiveness was down to spending his first few years at a primary school in Finsbury Park where the word 'competitive' had been deleted from the dictionary; for Islington Council, it always seemed that taking part was good enough, and then only if you really, truly wanted to. And winning was shameful unless you were disadvantaged in some way.

Rugby has become one of the boy's great loves, and he has worked damned hard to get into the first team and stay there. Over the last four years he has focused on improving his skills, and this year he has been rewarded by a permanent place in the U15 squad. Second Row. And in return, I have been going to watch not just the home games, but the away ones as well. Although sometimes not knowing that the away game was being played on fields away from the school has made actually seeing the game a tad tricky.

What I have noticed, has been a revolution in the boy's performance. And more importantly a noticeable change in approach and attitude. In going for the ball, tackling and driving forwards, he has a look of absolute determination. Adrenalin has been pumping and you know he wants to WIN. It is a look to be admired and respected.

Saturday's game followed on from a hard fought and close win the week before, and a thumping victory (61-0 with the match abandoned twenty minutes early to save the other team's blushes) on Thursday. So their tales were up.

Within a couple of minutes of the start, I mentioned to a fellow parent that the game seemed different, and I even suggested that it would end in a bundle. My view appeared to be shared by everyone around. Including the medic. Which is strange because the opposition claim a distinguished alumni of 20 canonised saints and 133 martyrs. I'm sure they feel that God is on their side.

Fred's team played well, and took a good lead into the second half, complaining over the break about the cheating and provocation from the other team. And as the final whistle got closer, so did the tension rise. It finally erupted and much to my surprise, it was my boy that landed the first visible punch. His reasoning that he was having his eyes gouged and hair pulled may, or may not, seem reason enough. In the mayhem, fists flew, teachers got stuck in to pull youths apart, and floor (by tackling) the ones that were going to add to the chaos. It was a scene and a half. The receiver of the punch was carted off to A&E (martyr 134?).

The boy was distraught and contrite at being sent off, and I hope I rallied round well enough for him. He knows when he's in the wrong and is admirable at accepting fault.

It helped that with one man down, they held onto their victory.

Afterwards it transpired there has been a long history of over-competitiveness.

Amongst his peers, he currently has no equal. It was a good punch, well-landed with good reason. Amongst the teachers? Well it would be unfair to say. Of course he was given a dressing down. But I don't expect there to be any lasting damage to his career prospects. In fact the unusual show of aggression is to be admired amongst the rugby-playing fraternity. But do it out of sight.

So perhaps this is the day my boy grew up in a less than saintly way. But please. NO MORE FIGHTING.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Fight club (1)


This week has been House Play competition week. And for the first time the boy had landed a plum part. He's enjoyed dramatics throughout his school life, but this was a real opportunity to shine. His House is unlike the others in that they have a tradition of writing their own play. Quite an achievement in itself. And this year they were competing against Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead, Arsenic and Old Lace and an episode of Black Adder. The play was called The Script, and involved a clever conceit about a school where life was ruled by a Script, which accidently falls into the hands of the pupils, who then start altering it to suit themselves. It was, like all the plays, vetted by the head of drama who saw it twice before the performance. At the end of the play, the judges were due to give their verdict, and indeed they did. The play was disqualified for being inappropriate...one too many close resemblences to school masters and the head of drama was piqued. The decision has caused uproar...and not just amongst the pupils. You should see the Facebook page...it's blue. Staff walked out of the judging, and the general view is that the decision was unreasonable. I bet the staff room was a fun place to be the day after. I got my chance to see a 'modified' (censored) version on Friday. It was fall off your seat funny...and everyone gave a performance they should be proud of. But there's a lasting sense of injustice....although I suspect this particular play will be talked about long after the winning performance of Arsenic is long forgotten. And as a final note, it would have been better if the external judge hadn't talked about Rosencrantz and Guildenstein.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Ding Dong...I'm getting married in the morning

Sorry Grandma in Cyprus if that comes as a shock (again) - I know you met my first (and only, so far) wife only after we'd tied the knot. But I like to keep you on your toes.

I was much pleased when a rather attractive young woman asked me to marry her yesterday. She is, as I say, young and attractive. More than that she knows what I like, and feeds me fine food. So I feel it is the right thing to do. Her head has no doubt been turned by my charm, my good looks, my simple being. And tush to any of you who suggest for one moment it's because she works in the local sandwich bar and is struggling to get a visa. I'm sure we will live happily ever after. And I'm sure the boy will like his new step-mum, who is at least five years older than him.

This is the first time someone has asked me to marry them, but I have been asked out on several occasions. It's always good for me. I'm not sure it's good for them.

I was once the lucky owner of a rather gorgeous soft-top sports car (one of the first Audi TTs in Britain - it always turned heads) and once when driving back to town from a weekend at the beach, a car with two women pulled alongside. Remarkably as we cruised along the motorway at speeds likely to incur the wrath of the local constabulary, one of them reached out of her window and passed me a note with her phone number on. We did indeed meet up, and that's when I discovered that you can't tell how tall someone is when they're sitting in a car. I looked up to her six foot from my five foot eight and admired her blond locks.

On our recent trip to the Fatherland, the boy and I chatted to a couple of women as we climbed one of the mountains. When we came down to breakfast the next day, there was a note for me that had been left at reception. The waiter said he had no idea what it said, which I took as meaning he had devoured every bit of it. And so he should. It was a name, a number and the suggestion of some nocturnal activity. I've kept the note for posterity.

And earlier this year as I dropped the boy off for a school friend's party, the mum came across and suggested it would be fun to go out for a drink. I ran away giggling.

It's nice to feel wanted.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Anish Kapoor

You may have to wait for up to 20 minutes to see anything happen, but well worth it:

Click here

I went to a lunch time lecture today - skiving off work - to hear words of wisdom from the curator. And I highly recommend everyone pays a visit at least once before December

Saturday, 26 September 2009

It wasn't me




Once upon a time, I worked in the car industry. It was glitzy, it was glamorous. Especially as I was a PR man. A master of spin. I'd got in by default - on the milk round, I'd simply wanted a job with a big company who could train me. I ended up at Rover, in the days just after Red Robbo. It was more peaceful than it had been, but there were still strikes, and when there was a strike, and you had to visit one of the other sites, you always make sure you took a company car, as you were likely to have a brick hurled at you. As I was a snotty, just out of university, the world owes me a living graduate, that was probably not unreasonable. Apart from those exciting days, generally the best parts of the job were the motor show and car launches. I moved to Nissan at the time they were building their factory ooop north, so when we had a launch we did it in style. A week in the south of France, staying in a hotel where every room had its own swimming pool; it was frequented by Kings, Queens and Presidents. But even I blushed when I was tasked with finding a laid of he night for our one of our journalist guests. I loved it.

But not as much as I enjoyed the press trips when we were showing off our 4x4s. A couple of days driving through the mud and ruts in an enormous Japanese tank was my idea of heaven. We used Shugborough in Staffordshire - the home of Lord Litchfield if I remember rightly. It's a beautiful place to visit.

After I left the car industry, I carried on with the 4x4 thing driving a hairdresser's car - a white soft top Suzuki Vitara. The car was fabulous. It was a company car, and I didn't much care if it got damaged. My best and worst moment was getting stuck in the middle of a lake when the whole of the underneath got clogged with mud. The AA towed me out, and there was some explaining to do at the office on the Monday. Most of the other people doing it used Land Rovers and always looked down on my pretty little car.

This year with the purchase of the Tonka Toy, and with the enthusiastic support of the boy, we decided to go to an event and christen the car...another friend with a big 4x4 decided to come too. An off road event near Abingdon, which promised thrills and spills on a 'non-damaging' course. But as the date neared, the boy's commitments at school increased, and for some reason my enthusiasm lessened. It was going to be difficult to fit it in, so I decided that we would give it a miss. Perhaps it was the thought of expensive potential garage bills. So what was planned to be a weekend of camping and mud crawling (and as it turns out, in perfect conditions), has ended up with me watching the boy play rugby, and him rehearsing for the school drama competition. We could have just about squeezed in a trip to the event - a dash round the M25 and along the M40, but we didn't. Perhaps it wouldn't have been wise to have tackled the mud under pressure, but truth is I think I wimped out. So I'm a little annoyed and disappointed with myself. The boy is a little disappointed too. My friend still went and he texted the picture above. He had a brilliant time. Today is a glass half-empty day. Damn it Janet.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

The Scottish question. A rant - please feel free to ignore

I've long been known to rant about the state of the UK and I've been known to rant long about this government's interferance in the minutae of our daily lives.

Once upon a time it was quite difficult to break the law, so you could be sure that if you did, you were a signed up member of the criminal fraternity. Ignorance was no excuse. However, these days it is often easier to break the laws of the land than stay within them. There are so many rules and regulations to bind us that I'm sure soon none will have gold stars for behavious, we'll all just have black marks. I've lost count of the rules I've broken by mistake, and fines I've paid as a result...and it starts to make you feel you're a seasoned law-breaker...

My instinct is that our beloved, upright, honest politicians are driving towards a totalitarian state, with each citizen monitored 24 hours a day for their entire life. Fear has been a political tool in this coun try for a dozen or so years, and shows no sign of abating - even for serious issues such as swine flu, the information coming out of the government was designed to cause panic and fear. And most issues, Joe and Joanne Public are treated as guilty until proved innocent. And in case we think we're right, it's only because they know something we don't, so we're wrong and they're right

So I laughed until I fell off my chair at the problems of our Attorney General. I've nothing against Baroness Scotland herself, but as part of the Government she got nothing more than she deserved. I took the opportunity to try and find out what you need to do if you employ a foreign national, and not surprisingly it was a herculean task to work it out. I'm not Hercules, so am still not entirely sure. But what I did find was the documents I was supposed to read. And the nearest I got was List A and List B of documents which 'Provide an excuse'...which to me is the language of "guilty, but you can get away with it", rather than if you want to employ someone these are the documents you should have.

To me it feels that this isn't the country I was brought up to believe in. I wonder if the boy will be feeling the same in 34 years time.

End of rant. Normal service resumed soon.

Monday, 21 September 2009

What shall I buy?

I have a rule...in fact I have many rules. But the one that's important here is that if I ever get a parking ticket or something of that ilk, whatever the fine, then I will spend the same amount on a treat. I think it's the ideal solution to combat the immeasurable depression that's brought on by the thought of having to donate yet more money to the wasters that occupy many a town hall - with immediate and abject apologies to the public sector staff that do provide a genuine service to the community.

I think I mentioned a fortnight ago, a tenant managed to get himself from here to the States without a valid passport, meaning I spent my Saturday finding a key so his sister could get into the flat and FedEx his passport to him. On my return journey, my phone went, and I pulled over thinking it was the sister who had a problem. And therein lies the problem. I hadn't realised I stopped in an empty bus lane. As evidenced below.

It's cost me £60 (reduced from £120 for good behaviour), so I need to find a £60 treat. And convince myself that in future I should do anyone any favours. At all.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

My hero

We live at the top of a hill. Quite a high hill actually. And the tube station is a at the bottom of it, about twenty minutes walk away.

Last night I had to take the tube home because SOMEONE had broken my scooter so it's spending a few days at the garage. I didn't want to go hime in my biker gear, so changed into the linen suit I keep at the office. As the tube got closer and closer to home, the rain got heavier and heavier. Monsoon is an understatement. I had no umbrella, and taxis are few and far between in our neck of the woods.

The boy rang (our tube line is above ground) to see how I was getting on....and without hesitation offered to walk down to the station with an umbrella for me.

How cool is that? He is my superhero.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Crash bang wallop

I've always puzzled at why people smoke, in the full knowledge that it's likely to finish you off early in a nasty way. I guess that at heart we're all gamblers. But I don't smoke.

On the road, I ride either my gorgeous Vespa or my staggeringly scary KTM (MLC - AG). I love the freedom and fresh air and seeing the tarmac disappear beneath the bike. In London, the Vespa is really the only way to get around - I can weave in and out of traffic jams and get from a to b in half the time of any other mode of transport...apart from the cycle. It's a lot of fun, but I'm pretty careful and get left in the dust by teenage tearaways who've just discovered the freedom that two wheels bolted to an engine can give you.

But there is an inevitability with bikes. At some stage, sooner or later you will come off. No matter how careful you are, it's as certain as bears pooing in the woods...

So I've never understood why anyone would ride without appropriate protective clothing. I suspect for boys/men a scar is proof positive of their manhood...like a big tattoo, but more painful to acquire. But it quite breaks my heart to see women/girls on the back of their boyfriend's bike with nothing more than a t-shirt and short-skirt to protect their modesty. I have a pair of motorcycle trousers and the label says, "Helps prevent muscle stripping." That's a powerful visual phrase. A friend told me that if you come off at 30 mph, it takes 0.3 seconds to go from skin to bone. Ouch, ouch, ouch. Sheer agony. And effectively irreperable. Not a good look in a bikini.

I've had three significant tumbles on the Vespa in the last seven years - the first was when I used to take the boy to school on the back. We skidded on gravel at the traffic lights and both tumbled off. I was completely unscathed, he broke his foot. He's forgiven me; I haven't. The second was at the bottom of the Lane, a car hurtled round the corner leaving me to slip on a wet drain cover into the bushes. I carried on to work, had lunch with a client and then went to hospital...and got my broken arm strapped up. No wonder I'd been sweating all morning. Today, I rounded a bend I've been on a thousand times. The wheels just skipped away from me as I crossed some gravel and I tumbled to the floor. I've severely broken my over-inflated ego, but apart from that the only injury is a bruised thigh. The bike is scratched and dented; it'll cost a pretty penny to fix (but not worth claiming on the insurance). My kevlar-reinforced jeans are scuffed, but fine. Hurrah. And the little widget for my phone is dented....deeply upsetting as I dislike my phone, so it would have been a good thing for it to have been flattened. The real peculiarity is that my shirt is ripped to shreds on the left shoulder, even though the jacket was unscathed. Odd.

Oh and sorry, Grandma in Cyprus, I know you don't like reading about these things