Monday, 26 December 2011

Hands up all those whose Christmas involved a dead frog

Or how to deal with a demented MiL at Christmas.

Having arranged that older son (who is a chef) will cook Christmas meal and we will take it to MiL's house just leaving the parboiled potatoes to roast when we get there, we load the car up and set off down the motorway. Slightly later than I would have liked as none of the children want to get out of bed.

Tried phoning MiL throughout the 40-mile journey to tell her to put the oven on to heat up (in the full knowledge that 10 minutes later she'll go out to the kitchen and switch it off again). Constantly I get "User busy". She doesn't talk to anyone that long, ever. When we get there we discover upstairs extension has been left off the hook "so that no-one can phone me up at night", or during the day, or ever.

We arrive to find her eating soup. "What are you doing here?" We've brought your Christmas dinner. "Oh well, when you didn't come yesterday, I thought you weren't coming. It's Boxing Day now." No, it's Christmas Day, and we've brought your dinner.

Older son and I head for kitchen, and proceed to make full use of antibacterial spray, J-cloths, washing up liquid, rubber gloves, etc. before we even attempt the dinner. I ask younger son to bring me all the cutlery so I can wash that before we use it, and he comes back to say there are no forks in the sideboard drawer. The corkscrew has also disappeared.

OH goes upstairs and announces that toilet needs severe attention. Seems like having a water meter means you shouldn't use any water. We leave that area to him, whilst we battle on downstairs.

I hunt out all the so-called "clean" towels and facecloths, etc plus the dirty ones and put them all in the washing machine.

After lunch, older son takes remaining scraps out to put on lawn for seagulls to fight over, and comes back in to say drains are blocked and washing machine is discharging over the path and garden.

Whilst I'm washing up and trying to find pegs to hang washing out (Aren't they hanging up in the cupboard in the kitchen?" Er no, that's had a fridge/freezer filling that cupboard for the last 25 years. "Oh well I don't know where they are then.") OH and older son find drain rods and clear some stuff but there still seems to be a blockage at the U-bend bit. Turns out to be (quite a large) dead frog.

Add to that the fact that when we arrived she was sat watching the TV with no signal, just a large figure 1 at the top, having disconnected the set-top tuner and all its cables, who knows how long ago she'd done that. She seems to have thrown out recently: a salt and pepper set, a TV remote control (she was found recently trying to change channels with a calculator), the panic alarm in the hall - all things she saw no need for.

So you see, Tim, 24 hours and I get back to normality. Hope you all had a lovely day.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

In which my faith in the spirit of Christmas is restored

Picture the scene, dear reader(s). We are driving from Bristol to Castle Combe, a well known racing circuit, because S wants to get some jiggery pokery done with some hoses for his TR6. On the way we overtake an impossibly large "Smurf** Kappa" wagon.

We arrive at a small village in Wiltshire called Burton (according to Wikipedia, a place with only 96 households) and spy a pub that looks a possible lunching spot. S turns into the carpark but decides there is not enough space so comes out into the road to turn round. Remembering that there is this large blue Smurf due to come round the corner very shortly he smartly puts the car into reverse. Except that the gearstick broke off in his hand, right at the bottom.

We are now stuck in the road, in neutral but unable to engage any gears, with a large wagon about to come round the corner any minute.

Leap out, energetically push car on pavement, breathe.

Possibly fortuitously we discover that we are actually on the forecourt of a garage (as in mending, not as in fuel) which even has an RAC sign. Mechanic comes out, but says cost for transporting dead vehicle back to Bristol will be at least £100 and that I should phone RAC and see if they will pay.

Phone RAC who accept my call, but say it will be about 2 hours. I point out that a snapped gearstick is not really repairable roadside but I'm told that it will be up to their man to make the shout as to whether we need transporting, or not.

Things are looking rather bleak, but then the garage owner comes out (having finished his lunch) and decides that the gearstick can be taken off and welded back together again which will at least get us home (via Castle Combe, obviously).
And then, when he's finished and reassembled the car, he refuses to take any money for this - "Happy Christmas", he says.
There, see, goodwill does still survive.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Post Office 1; Amazon 0

Or should that be the other way round?

On Saturday I decided to grab the bull by the horns and do something about Christmas presents for my children. Older son said clothes - "Go to TKMaxx", he said. Given that he only wears clothes for a few months and then discards them in favour of newer, less sweat-ridden clothes, that's probably about right.

Daughter was mostly sorted - renewal of 16-25 Railcard (already arrived, probably lost somewhere by now), paid for her Race Licence (should arrive within next couple of weeks), and then I mail-ordered her a new sports bra (it's complicated).

So then whittled younger son's Amazon wishlist down to manageable proportions, found one game cheaper elsewhere and ordered these. The one from elsewhere they quite openly said could take 3-5 working days. Amazon said they would be delivered today (Tuesday). By Royal Mail.

Now there are some particularly fine posties. I'm assured there's a good one in Norfolk called Al, and we used to have a really good one called Malcolm. He always had the week off when there was racing at Cheltenham, but he knew everyone and would never put the wrong post through your letterbox. Sad to say, they've moved him elsewhere.

So at midday, when I heard the letterbox go, I went to the front door expectantly. I was rather miffed to find two letters for next door (no 24, I'm at no 22) and another letter for no 24, but another road entirely.

Not wishing to be left with everyone else's post, I hotfooted it up the road and caught up with the postie. I said I was quite happy to post next door's mail through their letterbox, but that he could have the one for another street back. He apologised and said that was because we didn't have any post today, so he hadn't realised he'd put the wrong post through our door. I left it at that. Big mistake.

At 7pm our neighbours at no 20 came home, and posted all our mail (which they'd received) through our letterbox. This included a "Something for you" card because they couldn't deliver said item as it was too large. At this point I will say that 25-odd years ago we swapped our Victorian painfully small letterbox for one that would take A4 sized envelopes (or indeed Amazon DVD sized packages). Next door still have the quaint "handwritten note" size. No wonder it wouldn't fit.

So now I have a card which says I have to go to the local sorting office to collect my package (not that far away, but a completely unnecessary journey in my eyes) and that I have to leave 48 hours before I can go there.

All this because a postie cannot read the numbers on the mail (even when he is spending time writing out a card for an item he is going to have to carry for the rest of the round). So most probably everyone in our road has next door's mail.

This has happened before. No wonder Royal Mail is in dire straits. At this rate I shall be wrapping pictures of the gifts I was intending to give but which haven't actually arrived yet.

It's arrived!

Yes, indeed. Only - what three months after I ordered it - my green bin has finally arrived. Already I am busily filling it.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

This is NOT the spirit of Christmas

One of our local shopkeepers has been burgled. Happened on Thursday night/Friday morning. We only heard about it on Saturday. They took 10K worth of stock and money.

Seems the flat above the shop was being renovated - police say that building sites, of whatever nature, are the hottest spots for burglaries. The builders had been very careful to lock all their power tools in a massive safe that is in the flat (left over from the days when there was a bank there, must have been a long time ago, I don't remember it). But they'd left the cheap tools unlocked. Including a crowbar and a jemmy.

So burglars broke in. How? Front doors, back doors of the shop all alarmed. Motion sensors within shopfront. Yes, they broke in through the roof. Not to the shop, but to the flat - perhaps to steal the power tools. Ah, you say, but they're all locked in the safe.

So they use the tools they do have to break into the shop (which has large open area upstairs, and an office, as well as the shop proper downstairs).
And how do they do this? Well, they break the wall down. After all, it's only a stud partition wall so really not much of a challenge, it would seem.

And then, because there are flats out the back which overlook the upstairs, they whitewash the windows (with paint rollers which they take away with them, why?)
So now they have the shop to themselves for several hours. They use the crowbar and the jemmy to open the safe, and remove a few thousand pounds in there. They take £5k worth of scooters from upstairs. They remove a few thousand pounds more worth of stock from the shop downstairs.

They are only disturbed when they inadvertently move too far over the shopfloor and hit a motion sensor ray. At which point they scarper.

And what were the goods they were taking? Well, Sylvanian Families, Playmobil, Lego..... All goods which would have been sold within hours for a fraction of their retail price, and which would have gone in no time.

So this shop is.....?

Yes, it's our local toy shop. And disappointed children have not been able to get the presents they wanted for Christmas. This has happened to a genuine sole trader, who is in competition with the likes of Argos, Toys'R'Us, etc. And now some of his customers are having to go to Argos, Toys'R'Us, Asda,etc to get the presents they want because there's no way he can restock between now and Christmas.

He's been in business now for about 24 years (a couple of years longer than my eldest son's been alive). He has a son who is the youngest (and fastest) person to swim the Bristol Channel (and for why? Because he was raising money - over £50k so far - for local children's hospice). And Paul has been re-selling VHS and DVDs in his shop, also to raise money for the hospice.

And although regulars will still support him, and the insurance will pay out (but not in time to make any impact on this Christmas's sales) he's still left with children who are disappointed because he hasn't got xyz (because it's been stolen) and parents who are wondering whether perhaps they should have gone to *insert name of superstore here*.

Bah, humbug, eh?

Updates & apologies

Sorry for lack of posting - I was really meaning to get more done but, as happens every year but is forever taking all my customers by surprise, it's nearly Christmas. So all those jobs that could have been done gradually over the last few months - especially in October when we had f*** all in the way of work - have now got to be done by (probably last Friday) but certainly by about Wednesday.

Because everyone else wants to stop work for Christmas.

And they all think of this in the first week of December. And then they all need someone higher up than them to sign off artwork/provide additional pictures/no, that's not quite right but no-one will be in till Tuesday to approve it and then we need the finished goods by Wednesday/no, we can't get the tape to you till Monday (if it passes its Tech Review)/oh and can we also have ....

And in the meantime I try to pretend that I am ready for Christmas. No, I haven't got any presents yet - because you haven't given me the jobs, and thereby the purchase orders which enable me to get the money.

And I am not bitter.

In other news - younger son came back from Germany, completely sick free on return trip, although I suspect he was dosed up by the teachers. Apparently they served up his birthday cake on the coach on the way back, after the ferry - ie on the way back from Dover "to make sure that no-one was sick after it". Well thanks, folks, much appreciated.

He also got a certificate - for special mention "Vom-cano" and an award (of a Germanic key ring) for the most tacky souvenir (a snowglobe thing which broke on the way home!). Still, he enjoyed it. 'Cos he got to haggle and to spend all my money.

Friday, 9 December 2011

How (not) to sell your house

I don't know about you, but I thought there were various rules you followed when you want to sell your house. Not that I am any sort of an expert as I have only ever sold one house, and I can't remember but I probably wasn't even around to sell it at the time (being as how I was living elsewhere and the selling of the house was part of the divorce settlement business).

Anyway I thought that part of the deal was that you made your house look as attractive as possible, etc, etc - which used to include roasting a single coffee bean under your grill to make the house smell inviting, but that may have gone by the board now, Terence Conran having moved on, as t'were.

The point is that 'the Americans who live over the road' are trying to sell their house, having found another one that they think they like better.

Well, good. Eighteen months ago the man of the house (lecturer at University) had scaffolding erected in front of their house and spent several months renovating the front. This didn't include the month of August when they go back to the States to visit family, but he renewed the soffits, painted the whole of the front, window frames, etc ... except for the front door surround. This stayed resolutely unpainted, even after the scaffolding had been removed.

And then the house was put on the market. I should say, at this point, that not only did the front door surround remain unpainted but the front garden dividing wall was also unpainted. This wall is in extremely bad condition. It is a brick wall with painted render. Except that all the render has either fallen off or is threatening to do so. This makes the wall look mega-crap.

Last week a "builder" turned up and started work on the front door surround. It has now been taken back and re-rendered and is clearly waiting for it to dry. But nothing has been done about the wall, which is in all honesty a bit of an eyesore.

The other strange thing, to my eyes at least, is that the toilet overflow (which discharges to the front of the property, roughly over where the bin is, which accentuates any noise made) - well if no-one has used the toilet in the last (I haven't measured the time needed, I'm not that much of a nerd), but if they haven't used it recently then it drips - quite loudly.

Now I don't know about you, but if I was looking for a property to buy (and I look in the estate agents' windows on the way to the shops most days, and it is noticeable that certain properties, at least, haven't moved for months) then there are certain things that would put me off. What do you think?

Thursday, 8 December 2011

I am officially the world's worst mother

Yes, I am. Yesterday, younger son went off on school trip to Cologne at 6am. Yes, that's right 6am. We were just about awake. And then we went back to bed.

Woke at 10am. Crawled downstairs. Phone rang. It was school. Could Mr N ring us back re younger son who was being travel sick and they wanted to buy him some travel sickness pills. Yes, of course he could.

Phone rang. Mr N less than happy. Younger son had been sick five times between Bristol and Dover, first time less than half an hour after they'd left school. AND HE HAD NO TRAVEL SICKNESS MEDICATION.

This was bad for him, bad for the staff and bad for the other kids who were sitting near him. Could they buy him some stuff? AND I AM CLEARLY A BAD MOTHER.

It was only later that I realised that Mr N had rung the home phone 3 times (and left a message) and rung my mobile twice (and left a message) and that he was probably slightly desparate by now as I hadn't answered any calls - 'cos I hadn't heard the home phone ringing and my mobile was switched off.

By now, I realise I am the world's worst mum. I have sent my son off on a trip (which included a ferry crossing), having ticked the "I suffer from travel sickness" box and I haven't given him anything to counteract this. What was I thinking of?

Well, to be honest, quite a lot of things. Firstly I spent part of the day before making a pair of comfy joggers which said son was hugely appreciative of. And then, I made him a birthday cake. This actually turned out to be the crappest birthday cake I have ever made, by quite a long shot, and at the risk of being severely ridiculed I post a picture here:

Well, at least I tried to, but all I've managed to do is post said awful picture at the top of this blog, and to be honest, that's probably scared most readers off. I need to get on top of this posting lark, and sooner rather than later.

And secondly - I post this in mitigation (yes, I know, there are no excuses) but .... said son wasn't at all sick on coaches going to year 5 camp, year 6 camp, year 7 camp. Nor on the train going to Manchester for a tournament. He's only ever sick in the car going to Grandma's (40 minutes down the motorway). And, to be honest, he doesn't ever go anywhere else (bed - Xbox- bed).

And also I thought that as they were going at 6am in the morning, and he'd asked to take a pillow with him, that there was a strong chance that he'd just be asleep anyway.

And I have been replying to their Twitters - yes, I even signed up to Twitter for this trip - but still I know - I AM A BAD MOTHER.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Sorry about previous post. I was trying to insert a picture (of the aforementioned trampoline) and not only could I only post it at the top of the post, but then it put in ridiculous paragraph spacing. How come you can never do these things easily?

Anyhow, I was trying to tell you that I've sold the trampoline via Trade-It and I got £15 for it. It's actually been advertised for over a year now, because most of the Yummy Mummies (or Daddies) want to buy one of those circular trampolines with a net all the way round, in case precious Tarquin (actually they're not quite that bad round here) falls off and bumps his head. So the market for a trampoline (or I'm sure this used to be called a trampet) is limited. Fortunately the buyer had already experience of this kind of thing, and this was exactly what he wanted. Phew!

I remember buying that trampoline. I paid £5 for it, in a secondhand kids stuff shop on Worrall Road - I wonder if it's still there. And I bought it when oldest son (now 22) was in nursery, so aged rising 4. I remember we loaned it to the school in the summer term as they were raising funds to pay for some new playground equipment and they had a sponsored jump-off - how many jumps can you do in a minute - and I remember lending our trampoline so they could get through it quicker.

Sad to say, the playground equipment that we went to such trouble to raise money for was removed about seven years later because it wasn't deemed fit for health and safety purposes and a completely new set of (completely bland) equipment was installed.

Still, at least we've had at least 18 years worth of use of that trampoline (okay it has had big fallow periods between the children) and I've got back more for it than I paid. Although you'll probably tell me about the difference in what money's worth.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

So, yesterday I had to take daughter down to Taunton to buy new hiking boots. We had to go to a certain store which has by far the best selection, and also are specialist fitters. From experience I know that if you don't buy the ideal pair of boots from the start, then you're just throwing money away.

So I drove down there knowing that I would be spending at least £150 and maybe up to £200. But at least we wouldn't be spending the money unless the boots were the right ones. And Ken was brilliant. He took on board everything we said, and having measured said feet both sitting and standing (which spread the size from 7 to 8), and taken into account the growing bunions (courtesy of paternal grandmother, I hasten to add) and the tendency to sweaty feet (so we don't really want leather boots) he produced a couple of pairs for trial. The first pair were the latest incarnation of the previous boots (which she said were perfect until her feet grew) so that was always going to be the favourite.

They were judged to be okay, but then we tried just about everything else available. Slight problem in that size 8 is on the limit for ladies' boots, which have a different shape to men's boots, and it would be nice if manufacturers took on board the fact that youngsters these days have bigger feet. (My 22 year old son has size 14 ish feet and usually buys his shoes online as local shops just don't have shoes big enough)

Anyhow, having tried on every potential pair of boots, we ended up with the original pair. But we were sufficiently pleased we ended up also buying about eight other items (socks, gas, Wayfarers, wax, etc) and Ken was brilliant again. Firstly he produced a coupon which gave us £10 off, and then he gave us the Ten Tors discount, even though we had no actual proof for this. (Daughter is doing 55 miles this year, having already done the 35 and the 45, so I think she'd probably said enough to convince him she was genuine - although he did ask who she was doing it with, but we had a real answer for that, too) So we ended up with a 25% discount on everything we bought.

And fortunately I didn't discover until we got outside (at least an hour later) that the parking bays outside said "30 minutes only, no return within 30 minutes"!

And then today, I had to get in supplies of Snickers (what you have to do is tape together a bag containing 4 Snickers bars and one Options hot chocolate sachet and that is your emergency rations). Honest, as specified by the army, who scrutineer these things.

And then this evening someone rang up who'd seen my advert in Trade-It for a child's trampoline.

Friday, 2 December 2011

So, went up last Sunday, found trowel, dug over area where last set of raspberries should be planted, but too many of those nasty big white roots to remove, so a rough dig and maybe I'll get those canes in soon.

In other news, I ordered a green bin about two months ago. To those of you not in my local area, a green bin is a full sized dustbin in which you can deposit garden waste (even including those tomato plants which succumbed to blight) and cardboard and food waste (which to me means cooked stuff, bread, eggshells, etc), in other words the food waste which I didn't want to put into the compost bin. I know some of you might think that eggshells could also go into the compost bin, but experience tells me that rats are partial to egg shells and I now have distinct attitudes to wasps (which I will tell you about sometime) and to rats (

So - I ordered said green bin about two months ago. I know, that's a bit vague but then they were a bit vague as to when it might be delivered, but hey, green-ness,that's not overly precise, is it?

Waited - because these things don't get delivered overnight, and I just have to wait until the next delivery of said bins in my area.

Okaaaaaay. Rang to ask where said bin might be. Initial phone answer (and I am on the rubbish/recycling - well I would say hotline, but that's a bit....) line, and before I can even choose any options I'm told that since [new company] have officially taken over from [old company] this week, that they've had "issues" with distribution of green bins and there's a backlog. So I start my conversation with (a real person!) to say that I appreciate there are issues, etc, but where am I on the waiting list for green bins????

She looks up my account and says she can see my request (yay! - but shortlived) and that I've had my request for a green bin cancelled. Because .....? Because I live in a block of flats so therefore I can't have one. (Erm, I live in a road of 52 Victorian terraced houses, and I live half way down the road.....)

Okaaaaay. "I've had my request cancelled because I'm already organic." WTF does this mean? "Because you've already got a green bin." But I've lived here since 1983 (which is probably before.... - you don't need me to carry on here) and we've never had a green bin. We are quite organic, because I've got an allotment, but ..... that's a reason for not delivering a bin ...................?

Anway, two weeks ago they promised to deliver green bin, and that I was now a priority ........

Just watch this space.