Friday 24 July 2009

RIP Captain Pugwash

Well this is a shame.

Of course, amongst schoolboys Captain Pugwash was most famous and popular for having a shipmate called Master Bates. And like many of the best stories, complete rubbish, but it still makes me titter.

Children's programmes are not what they used to be

Tuesday 21 July 2009

Goodbye Weird John

We have one fewer people in the office, and there weren't many to start with. Nothing to do with the economy - we've had a lodger, for nigh on a dozen years and he is now departed.

John was a strange man who I met when I first set up in business. My first client had spare space...the top floor of a building in very fashionable Clerkenwell, and they let me occupy it. 2000sq' for one person. I bet even Alan Sugar would be jealous. It was beautiful, with a glass roof opening to a terrace, and wood beams all over the place. A little grubby perhaps, but you couldn't ask for better. And it was free, and that's important when you're just starting out. It also had a rather fantastic plant that had been allowed to grow and grow; it was a bit of an Audrey II and was draped fairly elegantly all around the rafters. I tried to remember to water it once a week.

I arrived in September.

Three months later John arrived. He sat at the other end of the room, was pleasant enough, not particularly chatty, but it was definitely good to have another person to keep me company.

I came in one day and John had decided to cut back Audrey II. To its roots. Evidently it was untidy. It had taken the owners some 25 years to grow. I hid under my desk when they found out.

John had the same thing for lunch everyday. A pot of cottage cheese, bag of crisps and an apple. Everyday the same thing. Day in day out.

We had a coffee shop opposite, and would take it in turns to buy the coffee. Mostly John would take his back for being too cold/too hot/too milky/not milky enough/too foamy/why's there no foam? and so on. In two years, I doubt the shop managed to make a single penny out of selling us three coffees each a day.

In the morning we would meet for coffee at Pret a Manger and put the world to rights. Not bad considering he bought the Daily Mail everyday, and I'm a confirmed Guardian reader.

John had been married for some twenty odd years. And in his household he was master of the universe. His wife would ring at least half a dozen times a day for guidance and help. If one of his daughters had done something wrong, he would tell her off from the office...or she would have to wait 'til he got home. If anything went wrong, he would sort it out from the office or would go home to resolve it. In twelve years my favourite was "I'm going home because Jane's washing machine has broken".

His youngest daughter was born when we was in his mid-fifties. "If you don't use it, you lose it." He quoted me...and not just about the reason for having more children late in life. He will never willingly retire.

He has a dog. An alsation. Which had a kennel outside and slept there spring, summer, autumn and winter. It was never allowed to cross the threshold.

When I (now we) moved to a new office John came with us. It was the first time I noticed that his desk was always immaculately tidy. Nothing on top that needn't be. Everything in perfect order. Everything placed to within a millimtre of where it should be. You could eat your baby's lunch off it. Even when he was busy, not a thing out of place.

John built his own house. Or rather he project managed the building of his house. The battles with builders, plumbers. electricians and decorators were legendary. He bought 20,000 second hand tlles for the roof and scrubbed everyone clean. The roofer said he'd never seen tiles as clean. Sadly, when the house was complete, there were a succession of leaks as the plumber hadn't been supervised quite enough. A bit like the chickens in Sainsbury's that have been reared under the safe watch of the RSPCA...for some of the time.

And then we moved again (seven years later) and John came with us. And then we moved again to where we are now. And John came with us. His desk remained tidy throughout.

John always arrived early at the office. By 7. To do that he rose at 4 and caught a train an hour later from mid-Kent. I don't know what he did when he got to the office, but I do know he had his music on loudly. Gilrs Aloud, Ah Ha, and the like. When we arrived he turned it off. So we put the radio on. He didn't like it - "the sound quality is awful" he said. When we got a new computer with a hi-fi sound system, "It's the music, it's awful, it's not good music." We kept the radio on.

At our new office, the top step of the stairs was slightly smaller (about half an inch in width) than the rest. For six months John tripped over this whenever he came up the stairs. He couldn't cope with variation.

He didn't make tea once in seven years at our old office, but in our new office we would share the tea making. But we had to ask John to stop. Whenever he squeezed the tea bags, he bent the spoon. "But they're not as good as the ones we have at home."

When we were broken into, I gave him the money for a new computer in advance of the insurance paying out. I gave him the money on the day of our Christmas lunch; Not a word of thanks. I had to wait a couple of months for the money. It was unusual of him to come along - he always said he would, but then would find a last minute excuse not to. In twelve years, I think he came along twice. They were quite calm, relaxed and pleasant affairs. This was the nicest place.

In our office bathroom, the light was always left on inspite of a sign saying "Save the world. Switch off a light". And there were skid marks in the loo. Evidently there was no one here to run around and clear up after him. In the bathroom, the flusher was broken several times. Too much force used to push down on the mechanism.

And one day, I arrived to find the door handle for our hardwood security door in the middle of the floor. He had forgotten to unlock the double lock and used so much force on the door he broke the handle. I was not best pleased. And that provoked him into saying he was moving out inspite of my protestations to the contrary. I suggested he thought about it over the Christmas break and let me know in the new year. He never spoke to me again, but returned everyday until he left last week. Still owing me three months rent.

And this is how he returned the office keys. Yes that's gaffer tape.

Goodbye Weird John. Don't come back.

Monday 20 July 2009

IKEA for beginners

When I was a little wee boy I used to love making models (I'd love to make a model now, but that's a poor joke in poor taste), and spent many an hour with boxes from Airfix or Revell. My favourites were a model of the Saturn V rocket...that's the one that sent Neil Armstrong to the moon, and back, a giant Hawker Hurricane - so much better that the Spitfire I thought, a Centurian tank, and a glow in the dark Phantom of the Opera. I'm not sure I was that good at it, especially the painting bit, and surprisingly my little fingers struggled with the littler pieces. But generally I thought they looked ok and were well played with. My brother, I seem to remember used to bomb his and blow them up and burn them. We were suitably encouraged by our father who used to come home with very extravagant Japanese Tamiya ones. These were excessively complicated, came with little electric motors and should never be given to anyone under the age of 45. Like trainsets, I suspect they were more for Dad than Son.

When I grew up, my poor poor girlfriend of the time had to put up with me making model 1/18th scale model classic cars. Our domestic bliss involved me making cars and her making frocks...she was a dab hand with cotton and fabric. I built loads, and they're now all stuffed in numerous drawers, dusty and probably broken.

My building skills then progressed to Ikea furniture - and being a landlord I have become a dab-hand at putting up flat-pack furniture in no longer than it takes you to sneeze and spread your swine flu to all around you. If everything goes wrong, I feel I have a career as a cabinet maker. Of the 21st Century variety rather than the 19th century.

I hope you're still following me here.

You will recall I recently got a new Jeep. It came with a hard top, but I bought a soft top as well because I love the country breeze blowing through my hair. And now that we have summer, it has become time to put it on. I gave it about an hour perhaps ninety minutes to do.

It came in a big brown cardboard box with the instructions inside on top. We followed step one: remove hard top by removing eight bolts. We did that and lifted it into the garage. Leaving us with a topless car. Which is nice in the sun.

The we read stage two, at which point we realised there were 30 steps to complete. And the roof came in 89 parts. Yes this was a kit - designed for a dealer to fit.

And the instructions were fabulous:

"Place the lower header on the side bows. Orient the side bows with the brackets up. Install two (2) #8 x 1/2" Pan Head Washer Screws to secure the lower header to each side bow. Use a Pivot Knuckle to install the #3 Bow to the side bow/header assembly"

It probably would have helped if all the parts had been correctly labelled.

It definitely would have helped if it hadn't started to rain when there was no roof of any sort on the car. We sort of managed to get it under the garage door...with the boy pushing up with all his strength.

Six hours and many tears later(mostly mine)we had a new roof.

By this stage, I'd managed to jam the steering lock on, and no matter how much I huffed and I puffed I couldn't unlock the wheels or turn the ignition on. We called out the nice man from the AA, who jumped out of his shiny van with lots of flashing lights that woke up all the neighbours. He jumped in, yanked hard on the steering wheel and freed it up. He was here and gone in less than 30 seconds, with a glance back which said, "Tosser".

It was coming up to midnight when we sat down for supper.

And I'm pretty confident that my kit building days are over. Completely.