Friday 2 March 2012

Eye of the storm

Well it's been a funny old week this one has.

Even before a tenant has moved in to one of the flats they threatened legal action and demanded a 50% cut in the rent until a kitchen cabinet was replaced ( the old one is fine, but is being replaced by a new one for  aesthetic reasons, a new one is on order and will be fitted within a week)

The previous tenant has accused me of ripping them off and is also threatening legal action because I want to make deductions from their deposit.  Of course I regard them as legitimate, and the whole rental market is so highly regulated that there is no way I can rip her off.  There's an established dispute procedure through the tenancy deposit scheme, so that is where it will go.  I'm completely relaxed about fact I welcome it as it makes it all proper and above board.

It's interesting that in both cases the people involved are well-educated professionals yet their response to the situation has been aggressive, emotional and uncontrolled. I wonder if successive Government's attempts to de-humanise every aspect of our lives is creating a more basic response to modern living.

Tuesday I was out at a seminar on The BRIC countries and doing business there (sorry, I find these things fascinating even if I don't plan on venturing east of Tilbury or west of Slough).  All I will say is that China did itself justice, India did itself justice whilst Brazil exemplified every possible stereotype you can imagine.  The most oft heard thing at the drinks afterwards was 'Were they still at the Carnival?'  Russia wasn't on the agenda, but then they have an election coming up and I am sneakily pleased that my look-alike will be swept back to least you know where you stand with a former KGB officer.

On Wednesday we were due to have an old boys reunion drink...this had been postponed several times as the whole concept of making a commitment and putting a date in a diary seems to be a challenge for a bunch of middle-aged men.  The date had been in the diary for a couple of months and had been chosen to avoid family commitments, etc, etc.  Yet come the day one by one people dropped out 'Got to see my children', 'Wednesdays are always difficult for me' 'My seventeen year old has a cold and I need to look after him', 'My car had to go into the garage for repair'.  In the end four of us materialised  and had a jolly good time, helped along by a goodly portion of red wine and no food.  But it does make me wonder about the reason the others didn't make it.  Did they not want to come in the first place, but are unable just to say, 'No' all felt like the old 'The dog's eaten my homework excuse'  Sad really.

I was really sad about the death of Davy Jones.  Any death is sad.  In this case, I remember watching The Monkees as a child and always enjoyed the TV show.  They were the epitome of young and fun, and the music was brilliant too.  So it felt like a part of my childhood died with him.  The Cat's Mother was lucky enough to have seen them perform live last year.

Another truly sad death was that of PC David Rathband.  Although he killed himself, ultimately he was effectively murdered by Raoul Moat.  Since he was blinded he has gone through unimaginable emotional and physical trauma.  He had set up the charity The Blue Lamp Foundation, and I'd encourage everyone to make a donation.

Last night we went off to The Royal Opera House.  When I say we went to the RoH, what I actually mean is that we went to Grays, near Thurrock, a rather desolate town on the Thames Estuary which saw better days when the Thames was the thriving gateway for ship-borne cargo some fifty years ago.  I'm guessing that as part of the deal which secures them public funding there is an outreach programme to bring culture to the masses.  So there we were to watch an 'Insight' session about the current production of Alice In Wonderland...we got to hear the director and choreographer, the costume maker and watch the rehearsal of a couple of scenes.  The audience, which was certainly made up of people that would never go to the RoH itself and included many children who were transfixed.  As were The Cat's Mother and I.  It was truly fascinating and it has whet our appetite - we haven't been able to get tickets for this year, but it will be back next year, and will be shown live in the cinema as well...can't wait.

Glad the weekend is beckoning.....

Tuesday 28 February 2012


You know it's not good when:

1.  You finish work on Friday with a troubling e-mail arriving in your inbox.  You know you'll have to deal with it on Monday which means that it hangs over your head all weekend like the executioners axe
2.  You go out on Friday night even though you're barely speaking to each other after a squabble the day before
3.  You spend the weekend walking on eggshells hoping the atmosphere will thaw on Sunday night.  It does.
4.  You realise on Monday morning you can't find your office keys either because they're lost or you left them in the office.  Either way you can't get in until someone else arrives.
5.  Your motorbike won't start on Monday morning even though you spent several hours on Sunday getting it to fire up.  And then the garage says that they can't do anything for a week, and they suggest the same solution that they have done for the last 18 months that (clearly) hasn't worked
6.  You want to cycle to work to keep up the progress of last week only to find it's raining so it's not a sensible option
7. You pick up the wrong keys as you set the alarm on your way out of home, realising only when you're out the front door.  So you have to go back inside un-setting and resetting the alarm.  Twice.
8.  You decide you need a coffee and bun before you go into the office even though you know neither is good for you
9.  You find a virus on your computer which takes half the day to fix.
10.  You're so exhausted by the middle of the afternoon that you're being totally unproductive
11.   You get a county court summons
12.  There's a dozen other things on your plate that are troubling (and you don't think they should be shared in public) and you're not quite sure how they will get sorted

But on the other hand, when all the sh*t comes at the same time, you know there's only one way to go....UP!

Did anyone else watch Jeremy Paxman's pseudo heavyweight history documentary Empire last night?  On the up side it provoked plenty of discussion at home during and afterwards, on the downside it was quite appallingly bad.  I'm not sure whether it was interviewing the equivalent of the 'bloke down the pub' in Egypt and India about whether they thought the Brits having conquered their countries was a good thing, or the lack of context, or the strange way he started in the middle, or whether it was the lack of context or his smug sneer or the simple bittiness of the whole thing that made it so bad, or the complete lack of research beyond anything that I knew from my second year at senior school.  But bad it was.  Next week he looks at how we became rich on the drug and slave trades.  I'll be watching intently to see if there is anything that vaguely resembles historical context there.

I'm troubled by the etiquette of electronic communication.  I know I'm not alone.  Even when I started the business, we wrote letters to people and that was simple.  Dear Mr Smith, or Dear John worked very nicely.  These days it's all e-mails and I'm troubled about how to start the damned things.  Dear Mr Smith is wrong for sure, 'Hi' is crass, 'Hello'...I don't think much time is wasted working out how to  start the things.  Not that the end is any better.  'Yours sincerely' way.  'Kind regards'...usually but isn't that a bit formal when the start is so relaxed?  And then there's women...they tend to put a X after their name...when I reply should I also put an X (yes because it's polite, or no because it seems flirtatious)  I just don't know.  I'm going back to letters.  Or telegrams.

Sunday 26 February 2012

Once you go black

We were in Oxford yesterday which made an interesting contrast to our recent trip up to Cambridge.  Though both cities are steeped in academia, Cambridge continues to feel small and rural, whilst Oxford is more bustling and urban.  We had travelled west because The Boy was attending an open day at one of the colleges to find out more about studying German at Oxford University.  Whilst he went off and spent the day in lectures, debates and such like, The Cat's Mother and I explored the city.

It's not a place I am entirely unfamiliar with as I spent three months there during my gap year.  It wasn't a happy time as I worked at a firm of accountants to find out if it was a career I wanted to follow.  It decidedly was not. The lingering legacy of that time is that my bank continues to be based there....and that's not a happy relationship either.

Anyway, we found ourselves in the Ashmolean Museum, which claims to be the oldest in the country.  That doesn't mean it isn't modern... certainly a lot of money has been invested in modernising it.  Most of the building seems brand new.  Bizarrely, who ever designed the thing decided that the best way for visitors to enjoy the contents is to make it as complicated as possible to navigate even with the museum map, and then to further complicate it by not bothering to put up the gallery numbers.  I've never seen so many people asking how to get to a gallery as I did yesterday, which proves, to me at least, that I wasn't being stupid.  Perhaps the powers that be had decided this was the best way to encourage people to explore.  Anyway, we looked at Howard Hodgkins' collection of Mughal art (pretty dull really - sorry) and not much else, as the whole place was a bit dense and difficult to get enthusiastic about.  They did at least have an excellent section on Cyprus, so we studied that at length in readiness for our next trip to see Grandma in Cyprus.

We headed off to Carfax to get a birds' eye view of the city roof tops, and were sold our tickets by a man who really was the spitting image of a ventriloquist's dummy, even down to the rosy cheeks.  He was very happy and friendly, but I didn't see anyone sitting behind him with their hand up his posterior.  The view was fine, and we were able to spot the Bodleian Library, which we didn't go in as visitors are discouraged.  I bet most city libraries would be pleased to be able to do that.  Instead we went in the souvenir shop where I was given a sound ticking off for trying to take a photo out the window.

We'd arrived early so had gone for a coffee in the Randolph Hotel, which we noted was a Macdonald group hotel.  Disappointingly there were no burgers to be had, and we had to twist their arm to let us have breakfast as we'd arrived at 10.05.  Breakfast stops at 10.00.  Burgers or not, there were a couple of very well-spoken and loud gentlemen in the lounge with us.  They were like the arguing professors in Newman and Baddiel...except they weren't arguing, they were just talking extremely loudly in very affected accents.  I recorded some of it on my mobile phone, but I assume publishing it would be illegal.  Shame.  One had bug eyes and a bowler hat, the other was portly and wore slacks, sports jacket and a waistcoat..  You couldn't avoid hearing them; in fact it was hard to hear each other speak such was the volume of their conversation.  Their views were somewhat conservative.  They were clearly men who thought the world had gone rapidly downhill since their youth, and probably bringing back the birch and national Service would solve all our problems.  One of them I suspect was an academic, but without too much up top, and the other it transpired was a priest.  And it was he that was heard to say, "Well as they say once you've had black you never go back".

We spluttered into our coffee cups and left shortly afterwards.