Friday, 30 April 2010

To err is human, and it makes Elections interesting

Really sorry to dash in and out, but I have had a bit of a hectic day, and I want to watch the Leadership Debate at 8.30pm. Oh yes, only two weeks to go before the UK's general election, and the televised spats between the leaders of the political parties has really injected some life into the proceedings.

And it seems as though this evening's debate will be even more lively, quite simply because Gordon Brown cocked-up spectacularly yesterday.

He was on the campaign trail when he had a face-to-face encounter with a voter called Gillian Duffy. After being subjected to a barrage of difficult questions, he finally parted company with Gillian and got into his Prime Ministerial car.... and herein lies his big, fat 'DOH!'...........

Pic.No.1 Is this the most unphotogenic man in politics?

Oh yeh, once in the car, Gordon forgot that he still had a TV microphone attached to his lapel, and proceeded to launch a scathing attack on the 'bigoted' voter Gillian, going on to describe the visit as a 'a disaster'. TV and Radio stations managed to record the lot. Oh dear.

If that isn't a 'Oh crap, how the hell am I going to get out of that one?', moment, I don't know what is. 

So, one of the main reasons that I wanted to watch the Leadership Debate tonight, was to see how Gordon Brown was going to handle the situation. And if you think I am rubbernecking the car-wreck, I am.

Gotta go, the debate is starting ...........................


Update! I know that you are all sitting on the edge of your seats wondering how Gordon Brown explained his gaffe away.

I am sorry to say, it was all a bit of an anti-climax. The incident was only referred to once, in Gordon Brown's opening pitch; "There's a lot to this job [as Prime Minister]. And as you saw yesterday, I do not get all of it right. But I do know how to run the economy in the good times and in the bad."

'Surely," I thought to myself, 'that's not it. The other Party Leaders, Nick Clegg and David Cameron, are bound to grab this opportunity to belittle our beleaguered Prime Minister?'

 Pic.No.2. Ugh - don't smile Gordon - it's horrible

But bizarrely enough, neither of them decided to seize the moment to heap more sleaze on Gordon Brown. How disappointing. Politics just isn't what it used to be.

I did learn something very interesting about all this though, based on the quotation, "to err is human." The fact that Gordon Brown dropped a bollock made him more human, and therefore more interesting. It made a change from the super-polished 'all things to all people' speeches that we are normally subjected to.

So in summary, I feel a little lacklustre about the proceedings. None of the party leaders stand out as potentially iconic leaders, and I think we need someone who isn't afraid of a little controversy ... or to speak their mind ... with some charisma ... whilst tackling old establishments head-on ...

Pic.No.3. Anyone got a spare one of these that we can borrow?

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Newsflash - The Killer Cows are Back

It was a bad day in Forest Hill yesterday. As I was taking Naughty George for his daily drag in the fields behind my house, I saw a sight that struck terror in my heart...... just guess who's back? Yep, the killer cows have returned.

For those of you who aren't familiar with the killer cows, it has been an ongoing saga since I abandoned Starbucks and civilisation, for a life in the country [some previous posts: Killer Cows 1, Killer Cows 2, Killer Cows 3]. I mean, once upon a time I was sitting in cafes in London, sipping skinny lattes and quaffing hummous wraps, and then (almost without a by-your-leave) I ended up stood in a field, donning a pair of wellies, with a cow dead-eyeing me. Bad cow.

Pic.No.1. Killers cows are back...... and this time they're maaaaaaad

I digress - back to the recently reappeared cows. Oh yes, those brutal bovines spent last summer and autumn terrorising me and Naughty George. I kid you not, I have lost count of the number of times that I was nearly stampeded to death by a flock of cows. The countryside is a cruel and unforgiving place.

But just before Christmas last year - all of a sudden - all the cows disappeared from their field. It was a wondrous day, even though I did wonder where the bloody hell they had all gone [actually, if you do know where cows disappear to, can you let me know? It's been bugging me. I have some vague notion that they headed South like Geese, but I can't back that up].

But now they are back. Admittedly (as you can see from the photo above), they didn't try to storm me, but don't be lulled into a false sense of security. They are probably a bit stunned from their journey back to the killing field, and it's only a matter of time before they mount an offensive.

Once back home, I tried to put the cows out of my head, and decided to eat dinner outside with Izzy because it was a lovely warm, spring evening. As I was setting the table, I noticed movement in the corner of my garden.

It was then that I spotted Steve (Izzy's dad) in my back garden looking all shifty.

"Oi!" I cried, "What are you doing?"

"Trying to fix my tent. I haven't got enough room to lay it out at my house," he shouted back.

"Oh ok," I replied, "do you want to stay for dinner? I've got more than enough."

"Yeh, sounds good," he shouted back, even though he was stood next to me by this time.

And so, even though the mysterious re-appearance of the cows had left me a little taken aback, we had a pleasant sun-drenched meal.... it was almost like being on the French Riviera.

P.S. After our meal, Izzy brought out her toy guitar for everyone to play with. It must have been a slight of the hand, but I accidentally captured this footage of Steve jamming. But sssshhhhhh.... don't tell anyone!

Vid.No.1. Steve jamming with a little pink guitar

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Marvellous Optical Illusions

Question: What is an optical illusion?
Answer: It is an optical phenomenon resulting in false visual impressions

Firstly, I think that the definition above doesn't even scratch the surface of the complexity of illusions, and secondly, I reckon that optical illusions are intrinsically fascinating for two reasons: (1) because they produce something that is not as it seems, which in turn makes us challenge 'face-value'; and (2) most of them are master-classes in physics and psychology (in varying degrees).

If that wasn't enough to establish the credibility of optical illusions, Bristol University actually has a 'Professor of Illusions'. Oh yeh. This is serious stuff.

"So!" I hear you cry, "what on earth has made you start banging on about optical illusions?"

Well, I was listening to the radio today when I heard a discussion on the subject, and (being the saintly soul that I am), I decided to have a scout around to find some gems to keep you entertained.

Vid.No.1. How cool is this?! Imagine the maths that went into calculating the perspective

Pic.No.1. It looks like moving waves doesn't it? I can assure you that this picture is completely still - see, just touch it (ha ha, just teasing)

Pic.No.2. This illusion is actually a chalk drawing on the pavement - a true anamorphic picture

Pic.No.3. This is what Pic.No.2 looks like when viewed at another angle (do you fancy calculating the perspective on that? Yeh, me too)

Pic.No.4. Another anamorphic picture, also drawn on the pavement. Bloody amazingly talented.

Pic.No.5. Frisbee optical illusion

The optical illusion above, apparently came about entirely by chance. Have a look at the picture, and in particular the two frisbees that you can see. Initially you might think that the picture has captured a moment when both frisbees are in the air. But that is not the case. Only one frisbee is actually airbourne.

The black frisbee is in the air, and the yellow one is on the grass. But the photographer has captured the moment when the shadow of the black frisbee is in just the right place to convince us that it is the shadow of the yellow frisbee, and that the yellow frisbee is actually in the air. How cool?

Pic.No. 6. Expanding Star

The pattern above is stationary – yet it seems to expand, especially if you don't look directly at it, for instance when reading this text. But here is a bizarre fact. There is a percentage of the population for whom these illusions don't work...... that isn't logical surely?

 Pic.No.7. Chequer Board

And now for my last offering. If you look at the chequer board above, it looks like the centre is bulging. Not so! Every single one of the large black and white squares is of the same size and proportion. At first I didn't believe it either, so I got a ruler and held the straight-edge up at the screen (that's what I call technological advancement), and lo and behold, they are all the same size.

Crikey. Isn't a bit of 'random digressing' fun? Has anyone got any interesting optical illusions to add to the melee?

If Carlsberg did gigs, they wouldn't do this one

I forgot to tell you about a gig I went to last week at the O2 Academy in Oxford.

It was all really quite exciting because my friend Sarah had got us tickets to see...... da dahhhhhh...... none other than the legendary Lou Reed.

Pic.No.1. My ticket for the Lou Reed gig

Oh yeh baby, the creator of classics such as 'Perfect Day' and 'Take a Walk on the Wildside' was coming to Oxford.

I was moderately excited about the gig, because although I like some of his stuff, I was never a die-hard fan like Sarah. Even in the olden days when we were both students at University, I remember the melancholy tones of Lou Reed's 'Heroin' blasting out from her room whilst she was writing her history essays. 

Fast forward eighteen years (bloody hell! That long?) from University ..... to Oxford last week, and Sarah and I were waiting in the queue to enter the venue.

Pic.No.2. The queue outside the O2 Academy

After studying my ticket, I turned to ask Sarah why the concert was called 'Metal Machine Trio';

"I didn't know he had ever done an album called that," I mused.

"Me neither," replied Sarah, rather worringly (hang on - she lurrrrvvvves Lou Reed, but she hadn't heard of the album).

A lady behind us in the queue - a middle-aged, eccentric looking lady wearing an Easter bonnet and sporting a folded copy of The Times under her arm - had overheard our exchange and leant forward, commenting; "I'm rather worried about the concert too. Someone told me that there is no singing, and that if the audience boo, then Lou Reed will walk out."

Oooookay. From the snippets of information I had garnered, things weren't looking too promising. But then again, quite often the best gigs can pop up when you least expect them.

Pic.No.3. We finally get to the entrance to the O2 Academy

Once inside, we surveyed our surroundings. It was an all-standing gig, and the stage was dimly lit meaning that the whole venue was very dark and only the shadowy silhouettes of other people could be made out amongst the buzz of anticipation.

After ten minutes, a ripple of applause from the front of the auditorium indicated that Lou Reed and his band (consisting of two people) had entered the stage. The ripple spread throughout the venue and was accompanied by whoops and cheers.

Then the bizarre happenings started. Lou Reed didn't speak a word. He just knelt down next to a piece of kit towards the back of the stage and after a couple of minutes of him fiddling, the auditorium was filled with a weird, repetitive sound - a bit like the blades of a helicopter rotating very slowly but continuously.

After ensuring that the drone was working properly, Lou Reed and Band then oddly departed the stage, to leave the audience listening to dull throb for the next 40 minutes (the first audience members starting leaving after only 15 minutes), but not Sarah and I. Nope, we were going to stick with it.... the tickets cost £25.00 after all.

Once the 40 minutes of drone had elapsed (we soon realised that this drone was actually the intro to the performance), Lou Reed and Band re-entered the stage accompanied by a smaller ripple of applause and no cheers or whoops this time. Once again, Lou Reed didn't say anything and proceeded to sit down in the centre of the dimly lit stage, whilst his other band members positioned themselves behind a computer and a saxophone, respectively.

Vid.No.1. I kid you not, this went on for hours

With the drone still going in the background, Lou Reed and his band started making out-of-tempo, shrieking noises, wailing, and squeaking with their various instruments of choice..... and so it went on..... and on. [Note to reader: I later found out that Metal Machine Trio belonged to a genre called 'Noise Music' - yep it does what it says on the tin. If you want to read more, click here].

After enduring an hour or so of this ceaseless clamor, we nipped outside for a moment of respite and a little fresh air.

As I passed one of the doorman on the way out, I commented, "oh my god, it's shite," and he laughed as though laughing at the victim of a practical joke.

Sarah turned to me,"Yep, Lou Reed's just tekking the piss," adding, "and I'm never going to buy another album of his."

At that point, an arty looking chap who had nipped outside for a (roll-up) cigarette turned to us - the two uncouth, uneducated and unwashed northern types - and derisively commented, "I think you will find that it is Avant Garde".

"Avant Garde?" I queried, "Isn't that the term you use when you want to make crap sound arty?"

Sarah starting laughing and I decided that we had better go inside before we got into trouble.

And so, after a further hour of listening to the cacophony of unbroken, grating 'noise' the concert finally came to a close. Only about a third of the initial audience still remained, and to my great surprise, there were some people at the front who clapped and cheered this pitiful excuse for a concert....... and Mr Avant Garde was probably one of them.

So, Lou Reed goes down in the annals of [my] history as the worst (by a long shot) gig I have ever been to. But in a weird kind of a way, bad gigs are just as interesting as good gigs ........ indignation can sometimes be as exciting as adrenaline.

So, I ask. What is the worst gig that you have ever been to? Can you come close (or even beat) Lou Reed's Metal Machine Trio?

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Don't you just love spontaneous village life?

Weekend sunshine. Don't you just love it? Yesterday, Izzy and I were returning from the fields after walking Naughty George, when we heard the sounds of splashing and much gaiety coming from the garden of a house belonging to some relative newcomers (like me), who lived in the village.

As we approached, we saw two of Izzy's school friends jumping around naked, in a large inflatable paddling pool. They spotted Izzy and started shouting hello, just as one of their mothers, Julia came out from the house.

"Would Izzy like to come paddling?" she shouted to me.

"Yeh, sounds great," I shouted back, joining her in the garden with her husband Will, and friend Amanda.

"The plan is," continued Julia, "that the children wear themselves out in the paddling pool whilst us adults drink gin and tonic.

"Bloody civilised," I nodded approvingly, taking my place on a sun drenched bench.

Within moments, Will had placed a large humungous gin and tonic, stacked with lime and ice in my hand. Ah, I thought. This is the life.

So for three hours, we sat under the blue sky and chatted, watched life go by, and laughed at the antics of the children in the pool.

It could have been described as idyllic if it hadn't been for Naughty George. He broke free from his lead, peed up the side of one of the chairs and then proceeded to eat from a bowl of pasta that had been served to one of the children for supper. Even worse, whilst aforementioned sobbing child was being placated, he found the grated cheese pasta-topping and ate the lot.

"I'm really sorry," I shouted, trying to pin Naughty George into a corner.

"No problem," shouted Julia, "he's probably over-excited."

"No, you misunderstand," I responded, "he is called Naughty George because he is actually a complete naus."

"Yes," mused Will, regarding Naughty George disparagingly. Then without even trying to keep up the pretence of 'oh he's a nice dog really', he added "he isn't the most endearing of mutts."

So finally, the sun started setting, and I thanked everyone for a lovely afternoon and set off, striding through the village, and back to my cottage ........ where, upon arriving, I realised that I had left NG tethered to a bench at Will and Julia's house. Doh! Too many gin and tonics.

So I had to endure the 'walk of shame' (which is generally characterised by a slightly wobbly gait), and traipse back through the village to retrieve mutt, and back again through the village again to get home.

All in all though, a very pleasant afternoon, made more so because of its impromptu-ness (yeh, yeh, I made that word up, but I can't think of a better one).

So what have you been up to this weekend?

Friday, 23 April 2010

The prodigal daughter returns as a pop star

As you might remember, last weekend I received news that my daughter Izzy was stranded in France because of the volcanic ash cloud. In an attempt to make it home, Izzy and her Dad had got on a school bus and headed for Calais in northern France.

Then the trail went cold.

"So", I hear you cry, "did you get your daughter back, or is she still missing in action?"

You will be pleased to know that last Sunday morning I received a text from Izzy's dad, Steve;

"We're back. It took nearly 23 hours. I know how the victims of torture feel. I need sleep."

I turned to my friend Sarah who was staying for the weekend, "do you fancy picking up Izzy and taking her for lunch?"

"Sounds good," she replied and so we headed off to Steve's house. I rang the doorbell and Izzy answered.

"Izzy!" I shouted, "you're back, I missed you" and I ran to give her a hug.

She didn't seem to share my enthusiasm and answered, "I've got a new 'Hello Kitty' DVD, do you want to see it?" Oh. What an anti-climax. That's four year olds for you. With the minimum of fuss, things were back to normal.

Half an hour later, after hearing all about the horror-journey home from France (involving four coaches, a ferry, and a near-fight with a bus driver), Sarah, Izzy and I headed off to The Old Fisherman in Shabbington. The sun was out, and when we arrived, the place was heaving because it has a large beer garden beside a river.

Pic.No.1 The Old Fisherman in Shabbington

I have eaten here before and the food and service is normally impeccable. But not this time. The place seemed to have buckled under the strain of the extra crowds drawn in by the sunshine. And of course, me being a miserable old git, I take great umbrage to bad customer service.

It wasn't that they were under-staffed, the problem seemed to be more that they were badly organised. We queued for twenty minutes at the bar to try and book a table, during which time there was one person serving customers and three other people chatting, and putting away glasses and cutlery. How bloody annoying is that? It wasn't just me that found it irritating because I witnessed at least two sets of people leave altogether in exasperation.

Pic.No.2. Sarah and Izzy playing whilst waiting for the food to come

Anyway, you will be pleased to hear that we did eventually get a table, and, one a half hours after arriving at the pub, our food finally turned up. The food was ok, but the quality was down on their normal standards. 

So the moral of the story is 'avoid the Old Fisherman if the sun is out'.

After lunch, we headed home and sat in the garden in the sunshine. Izzy disappeard inside for a while and then reappeared with a guitar.

"Mama," she said (she has taken to addressing me in French), "I've written a song for you because I am glad to be back." Aaaaah, so behind all that nonchalism earlier, she was secretly pleased to see me.

Vid.No.1. The pop song that Izzy composed for me

As you can see, the result was quite amusing, although I do question the validity of some of the words she used in her lyrics........... I put it down to artistic license. 

It's good to have her back......... and I think that I am quite lucky because it is now Friday and thousands of people are still stranded abroad.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Doggy paddle

I thought that this might keep you amused on a sunny Thursday afternoon......

Courtesy of 'Nothing to Do With Abroath'.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Fancy a trip to the magnificent Blenheim Palace?

So, let's zoom back to last Saturday (yep, I have been a tardy blogger). My friend Sarah had come to stay for the weekend, and I was also desperately awaiting news about when (or if), my daughter Izzy was likely return home after being stranded in a French ski-resort because of the erupting Icelandic volcano.

After fragmented telephone conversations with Izzy's father (who was the person who took her to France) I found out that they had managed to catch a coach to take them from the south of France to the north, but beyond that, there were no confirmed travel plans.

On top of that, some experts were predicting that the volcano could erupt for years, so there was a remote possibility that she would appear back on my doorstep at an age where she could earn a wage. Result.

Just quickly, as an aside; I have a theory that the volcano was named by someone who had a violent aversion to newsreaders. Otherwise it wouldn't have been called Eyjafjallajokull. If that isn't a name designed to piss someone off, I don't know what is.

So back to Saturday (again), and Sarah and I decided to go and visit Blenheim Palace, the ancestral seat of the 11th Duke of Marlborough (one of the UK's landed gentry), and located 30 minutes drive from Oxford.

The Duke of Marlborough actually still lives there, and for six months of the year he opens both his palace and grounds to the great unwashed........... a gesture which seems to be the metaphorical equivalent of flipping the Royal bird to the commoners ......... 'look what you haven't got!'

Having said that, the palace was supposed to be a superb example of Baroque architecture, so we didn't let the fact that we were members of the proletariat (and probably a target for the Duke's shooting practice on a lazy Saturday afternoon), put us off.

Pic.No.1. Me at the entrance to the palace courtyard

Pic.No.2. The main entrance to the palace. (It got me wondering - does the size of the front door key correlate with the size of the front door? Thinking about it, either way, the result has comedy value)

Pic.No.2.5 Sarah and I had lunch on the terrace (who doesn't?) and this was our view

 Pic.No.3. The back garden of the palace. 'Weed that .... Sucker'

Pic.No.3. The view of the back garden from the palace

Pic.No.4. If ponds aren't enough, you can always commission the building of a gigantic lake in the distance ....... to improve your vista of course dahlinks

Pic.No.5. "Does my bum look big in this?" Put yer pants on ho

Pic.No.6. I am not an artist or historian, but this chap seems to be defending his genitals from aerial atack whilst pulling a Samsonite suitcase

Pic.No.7. Are you pleased to see me?

Pic.No.8. Moi, soaking up the ancient atmosphere and giving the statues a run for their money

Pic.No.9. We weren't allowed to take pictures inside of the palace, but I managed to get this one - it's the palace chapel .... imagine ornate, but to the power of ten

Just in case you are interested, here are some other interesting facts about Blenheim Palace:
  • The Queen commanded that the palace be built for the 1st Duke of Marlborough after he led troops to victory over France in the battle of Blenheim in the early 1700s (yep, England's entire history seems to consist of the scrapping with the French)
  • It only cost £300,000 to build the whole thing in the eighteenth century
  • The palace is set in 2100 acres of land...... hang on a minute..... isn't that most of England?
  • The land on which the palace is built is still rented from the Queen to this day, and all she requires as payment is a Blenheim flag. [note to self: approach my landlord with a new proposition]
  • Even though Sir Winston Churchill was born in the palace (he was the Duke of Marlborough's nephew), in contrary to popular belief he never lived there. The palace always gets handed down from eldest son to eldest son....... and the rest of the heirs are left to face their fate.
So, if the the excitement of Blenheim Palace wasn't enough, it would be rude not to drive to the nearby village of Bladon afterwards.

"Why?" I hear you cry.

Well, it's because Sir Winston Churchill, Britain's great World War II Prime Minister, is buried there because he was a direct descendant of the Marlborough family.

Did we go to the church? Damn right we did. And here's the proof........................

Pic.No.10. Bladon Church where Sir Winston Churchill is buried. A typical ancient Oxfordshire yellowstone church.

Pic.No.11. Winston Churchill's grave. The inscription says; "Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill 1874 - 1965" and then underneath it gives his wife's name; "Clementine Ogilvy Spencer Churchill 1885 - 1977"

Pic.No.12 A zoom-out of Winston Churchills grave with some poppies on it

So. All in all a very enjoyable day out with Sarah. Unfortunately I couldn't publish any pictures of her at Blenheim Palace because she insists on editing all pictures of her good self prior to publishing... leaving me with none. Blooming photographers!

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

More gadget shopping anyone?

What, with my daughter stranded in France because of an erupting volcano (that's not a sentence I use often), I was left to spend the weekend with a friend called Sarah who had come down from Leeds.

She rocked up on Friday afternoon, and I dragged her inside to show her my new laptop.

"Look at that! How cool is that?" I asked her.

"I'm not really into laptops," she replied, shattering my enthusiasm. People from up North just aren't normal.

"Oh," I replied dejectedly.

"But I was thinking about buying an iPod soundDock," she added.

Ah! I immediately spotted, and latched onto, the possibility of going gadget shopping.

"There is a Retail Park in South Oxford which has a number of electricals shops, we can go there and have a look if you like," I suggested.

"Yeh, ok then," she replied. "But only a look mind you, I am not buying anything until I get paid next month."

"Scouts' honour, dib dib dib, and all of that," I replied seriously, doing the scout sign with my right hand. 


Twenty minutes later, we arrived at South Oxford retail park and were faced with not one, but three huge electrical stores; Maplins, Comet and Currys. 

"Let's go," said Sarah, heading off towards Currys. 

"STOP right there." I shouted after her. "There is no way in a hundred million years that you are buying anything from that store."

"Why?" asked Sarah perplexedly. 

"Long story [which can be read here]," I replied, steering her towards Comet, "but suffice to say that Currys are the retail equivalent of sediment in a bottle of wine." [Ha ha, take that Currys! Revenge is sweet].

Once in Comet, Sarah was cooing over various iPod docks for all the wrong reasons; "I like this one, it's got a blue light-up bit at the back," or; "this one is just the right size to fit between my clock and African ornament."

"Forget them and come over here," I shouted at her, "what you need is a Bose SoundDock."

Pic.No.1. Bose SoundDock

I proudly pointed out the Bose display to Sarah, and then beckoned an assistant; "Excuse me, can we listen to one of these soundDocks in action?"

The assistant joined us and plugged in the soundDock whilst commenting; "Good choice. This small unit will fill the entire store with sound if you crank up the volume."

So Sarah did exactly that. She plopped her ipod onto the SoundDock and rather embarrassingly, filled the store with old people's music - 'Wild Horses' by the Rolling Stones. 

"It sounds amazing!" she exclaimed, gasping at the Bose in awe, "how much is it?"

"£199.99," replied the assistant. 

"Bargain!" I shouted.

"It's double my bloody budget," Sarah shouted back.

"You get what you pay for," I said, and then turned to the assistant, "what's the best price you can do it for?"

"I'll have to check with my manager," he replied and scuttled off. 

Once he was gone, I turned to Sarah and said, "come on, you and I need to quickly go to the computer section."

"Why?" she asked, as we approached a large display of laptops.

"To search the internet and found out how much the Bose SoundDock is going for next door in Maplins," I replied. 

"That's well cheeky, you can't do that!" she shouted in disbelief. 

"It's business," I replied firmly.

One Google search later and it was revealed that the minimum price of the Bose SoundDock was £199.99, so when the assistant returned and offered a 10% discount, it was a no brainer. 

"Yep," he said, "we can do it for £180.00."

"Deal," said Sarah without any persuasion, and marched off to the counter to pay. 

Once back at home, Sarah viewed me disparagingly; "I told you I only wanted to look at iPod docks, and not only have I bought one, but I've spent double my budget," she said.

"Sorry," I said hanging my head in shame, and then adding; "but it is a funky piece of kit. Why don't you get it out the box and fire it up?"

Pic.No.2 Sarah playing with her new Bose SoundDock in my living room

And so an hour passed. And I heard nothing from Sarah other the occasional loud burst of music, followed by 'ahhhh that's great,' then another burst followed by 'ooh, man alive, this thing is ace."

Job done. All that was needed was a meal out to celebrate. I prised Sarah from her SoundDock and we headed out to my local, the White Horse Inn.

Pic.No.3. Sarah. She bloody loves Thai food she does

Pic.No.4 Sarah is good at picking super tasty Thai currys from the menu

So, a day fulll of gadgets and eating out. It doesn't get much better than that.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

The real face of the Volcanic Ash saga

So, a natural phenomena has caused more disruption to European travel than any of the recent industrial action. Yep, I have watched in amazement as an erupting volcano in Iceland has engulfed European airspace in clouds of ash, grounding every single plane in the UK and most of Europe.

Pic.No.1. Look at the size of that ash cloud

It is absolutely unbelievable. For four days now, not a single aircraft in England has taken off or landed. Normally this would just constitute an interesting news item, but this time I have a vested interest in the story. Yep, Izzy my daughter was skiing with her dad, Steve, in Serre Chevalier, France, and was due to fly back into Gatwick yesterday.

Pic.No.2. The gigantic ash cloud that is causing mayhem (who took this picture if all flights are grounded? Surely it's suicide)

There was most definitely a flaw in the plan. As flaws go, it wasn't a major one; being stranded on holiday would give Izzy more time to practice her skiiing, and I would save on food. Nevertheless, I thought it my duty to try and found out when I would get my daughter back. 

I picked up the phone and telephoned Izzy's dad, "what's happening?" I asked him.

"It's a nightmare," he replied, "the holiday rep has said that we are going to have to make it home by catching a coach to Calais Port at 5am tomorrow morning."

"Errrr, isn't Serre Chevalier in the south of France, and Calais in the North?" I said slowly.

"Yep, the coach trip is twelve bloody hours, then we have to catch the ferry to England, then another coach trip to Gatwick airport, then we need to get the final coach to Oxford." he answered despondantly.

"Ouch. Total bummer," I replied sympathetically.  

"I know," he answered miserably, "look, I gotta go, I need to pack."

"No problem, I will contact you to find out how you are getting on." I replied.


It was ten and a half hours into Steve and Izzy's horror journey when I texted them, innocuously asking:

"How is the coach journey going?"

 After a couple of minutes I recieved the reply: 

"Got put on a coach with a school trip. We are now 270km from Calais and the traffic is building up and the coach slowing down. The schoolkids stink. Six of them have now thrown up and the rest are sparring with each other. The teachers have sat at the front and left us as a barrier. To top it all off, its like a f***ing sauna in here and Izzy has just said she needs a poo. HELP!"

Wow! the real face of the air traffic disruption. It's hard to believe that Oxford is only a hour away from Heathrow and mega-mayhem as I look up at the clear blue sky. 

Anyway, keep your fingers crossed...... today is the day that I find out if I have got my daughter back.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Jesus feeds five thousand? That's nothing.....

Do you know that parable when Jesus fed thousands of people with only a loaf of bread and a couple of fishes? Yep? Well, something almost as improbable happened in deepest, darkest Oxfordshire yesterday.

I know you are doubting me, and probably shaking your head in disbelief, but hear me out......... finally, after nearly three weeks of scrapping with Currys Electricals, I got a call from my local store to say that my laptop was ready to collect. Just in case you are thinking that I'm losing the plot, catch up with story by clicking here.

I excitedly announced the news on my Facebook account, only to have a friend, Pete Docker reply; "When you get there, open the box to check that there isn't a sandwich-maker inside." Ummmm, methinks he has also dealt with Currys in the past.

To prevent further mishap, and without further ado, I jumped into my car and raced to Currys, skidding into a parking space outside the front door.

I rushed inside and accosted a member of staff clad in a red polyester shirt; "Hi, I've come to pick up my laptop." [note to self: I hope he dons an earthing strap before handling my laptop.]

"Ahh," he replied, "you must be Dr Dickens."

Blimey, my laptop antics had made me famous in Currys.

He disappeared out the back and reappeared with my laptop, "here you go", he said, handing me a box with a handle.

I looked at it in awe, and sighed, "I never thought in a million years that I would receive this before it was obsolete."

He frowned and replied, "would you like to purchase 3 years insurance to keep your laptop protected?"


"It was hard enough to actually get the laptop that I purchased, without entertaining the thought of filing an insurance claim with yourselves," I answered tersely.

"No problem Dr Dickens, enjoy your laptop," he said............ but I was already out the door and hot-footing it to the car.

Once home, I put the laptop on the table and admired...................

  Pic.No.1. My new Sony Vaio VPCF11Z1E

Then Pete's voice drifted into my head...... "make sure there isn't a sandwich-maker inside the box"

so, it was with trepidation that I cut the seal and opened the lid...............

Pic.No.2. Inside the box..... so far it was looking good

Pic.No.3. All the bits appeared to be there...... but what was the laptop like?

Pic.No.4. AAAAHHHHH .......... she is beautiful ........ all black and shiney and smooth

So, after weeks of pain and frustration, I was finally clutching my new laptop in my sweaty mitts, and I could feel the pain slowly ebbing away.

I bundled up all the bits and took them to work to commence the lengthy process of configuring the laptop and loading up all the software.

Pic.No.5. Moi at work playing with my new gadget


Thursday, 15 April 2010

Naughty George is blanking me

Oh dear. It appears as though Naughty George holds me personally responsible for the discomfort that he suffered during his operation yesterday.

At first I thought he was being stand-offish because he was groggy from the General Anaesthetic, but as time wore on it has turned into something more sinister than that.

He is doing the doggy equivalent of not talking to me. Here's the evidence:

  • He always like sitting with me on the sofa in the evenings. He refused.
  • I put his dog basket in my bedroom so that I could keep an eye on him during the night, but he left and went downstairs.
  • When I got back from work today he just looked up and then put his head back down. Not a wag in sight.
  • And the conclusive proof - I offered him some ham today and he refused it...... WHAT?
How do I win him round again? It's not like we can talk it through. Has anyone else experienced being blanked by their mutt?

It's a bad day for Naughty George

Poor Naughty George, my faithful yet recalcitrant mutt. A couple of weeks ago I took him to a Vetinarian because he kept randomly gasping for breath, which didn't bode well for a dog that is 16 years old (or thereabouts). He was diagnosed with a throat infection (which was treated successfully with anti-biotics), but whilst he was being examined, the Vet noticed that Naughty George needed some work doing on his teeth.

The trouble was that the work would require a General Anaesthetic, which is always a big thing for an old dog,...........and today was the day of his operation.

Pic.No.1. Naughty George in the back of the car

I bundled him into the back of the car and set off for the Vetinary Surgery on Iffley Road, in Oxford. I always drive carefully with Naughty George in the car because dogs have a design flaw which makes car travel hazardous; in the event of any hard braking, dogs don't have anything to prevent forward momentum other than their face. 

We finally arrived at the Vetinary Surgery and I sensed some resistance from Naughty George who was dragged into the reception area / waiting room without taking a single step. 

Pic.No.2. The waiting room of doom containing lots of pet accessories, and pet owners wondering what the hell I was doing taking photographs (a blogging hazard)

The Receptionist behind the desk looked up at me; "Can I help?" 

"Yes," I replied, "I have an appointment this morning for my dog."

"What's his name?" asked the Receptionist, consulting her diary. 

"Naughty George," I replied, and a ripple of laughter went round the waiting room. 

The other pet owners decided to take advantage of the joie de vivre, starting with a woman who held her rabbit aloft and joked, 'you're safe Robin! I have rescued you from Naughty Geroge.' [A rabbit called Robin? I ask you]. A couple of other people joined in the comedy 'saving' of their pets from Naughty George, even though the whole time NG had been steadfastly beside me with his tail between his legs, looking distinctly pissed off by the proceedings. 

After a few minutes in the waiting room, the Vet appeared and beckoned me into the consulting room. 

Pic.No.3. The consulting room of doom

"Ok," she said, "I just have to do a final health check on Naughty George to make sure he is fit enough to have the anaesthetic."

She listened to his heart, had a look in his mouth, weighed him, and consulted the results of a blood test that had been taken during the last visit.

"Yes," she nodded, "he should be fine." Then as an aside she added; "he's not naughty."

"Don't let him lull you into a false sense of security," I said, "everyone always says that when they first meet him."

She looked at me disbelievingly with an expression that hinted .......  'it must be you'. [just you wait, I thought to myself.]

"Anyway," she said, changing the subject; "you can leave Naughty George with us, and come and pick him up at 4pm."

I drove back to work feeling sad that I had left poor Naughty George to his fate, and worrying whether or not he would be ok.

I returned to the Vets at 4pm and approached the receptionist with trepidation.

"Did everything go ok?" I asked her nervously.

"Absolutely fine," she said, then added, "he's the only dog that we've ever known wake up from a General Anaesthetic barking."

That's my mutt!

The Receptionist continued, "and he's the only dog we've ever known to continue barking all afternoon."

"Can I see him?" I asked.

"Yes, no problem. Could you settle the bill so that we can release him from care," she replied, printing off a invoice and handing it to me.

I looked at the total and reeled ...... £361.86 ($558.63)!

"Bloody hell!" I exclaimed, " I could raise a herd of dogs for five years for that price."

The Receptionist remained unmoved, and I handed over my Debit Card making her pull it from my grasp.


Naughty George was subsequently returned to me, unsteady on his feet and looking a bit zonked, so I lifted him gently into the car so that we could go home.

Pic.No.4. Forlorn George in the back of the car, spreading his paws to try and steady himself

Poor Naughty George, he hasn't been himself since we got back ..... he has looked understandably wobbly and miserable. Give him a couple of weeks and he will have that California smile back.....................

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

One of those weeks?

Having spent the last two weeks almost permanently on the phone to Curry's Electricals, listening to the latest excuse as to why I can't have got my new laptop..... I had taken to wincing every time it rang.

This time was no different.... ring ring [wince], ring ring [wince].

I tentatively picked up the handset; "What?" I asked.

"It's me Sam," came the voice. Phew, it was my chum from the village, not one of those inept, unfacile, maladroit Customer disService people from Currys.

"Hi Sam, how are you doing?" I asked.

"Great, I just wondered whether you fancied going out for a drink this evening?"

"Damn right I do! I have had a right old week of it .... I've been trying to deal with Curry's Electricals," I replied.

"Oh your poor thing, that's awful," she said sympathetically.

"Yes it bloody is. But ignore that, do you want to meet at the Talkhouse Inn at 8pm?"

"Sounds like a plan - see you there," she said and hung up.

Pic.No.1. Sam in the Talkhouse

After hooking up at the Talkhouse, I went to the bar and turned to Sam, "what would you like to drink?" I asked.

"A bottle of wine please, and a gin-and-tonic," she answered.

"So you're having one of those weeks too then, I take it?" I said.

"Oh yeh, I am looking at moving house and it is mayhem," she replied (I can't give you details because it is all secret squirrel at the moment).

I turned to the bemused Barman; "Two bottles of wine, and two gin-and-tonics please."

How bad were we? That's what a combination of moving house and Curry's Electricals does to you!

Update 4: I think I have a gadget delivery malfunction

So, as you already know from Update 1, Update 2 and Update 3, nearly two weeks ago (the anniversary is tomorrow and I am going to buy a cake to commiserate), I had the gross misfortune to purchase a laptop from Currys Electricals. As you also know, I paid for it because they told me item was in stock, albeit at another store.

Since that time, I have locked horns with Currys on a daily basis to try and get the bloody laptop, and my last posting on the subject ended with the fact that the laptop couldn't be released from the store holding the stock, because the General Manager was on holiday.

Never fear troopers, today the General Manager was back from holiday, and apparently, all that Jon (the manager of my local store) needed to do, was give him a call and ask him to release the laptop from stock. 

Pic.No.1. Ummmmm I wonder why that is?

So he did give him a call, but the person answering the phone told Jon, "sorry, he is in a meeting and can't come to the phone." God forbid that he should leave a meeting to try and help one of those pesky customers (the manager who is too important to deal with customers is called Pete Emmerson, and his store is PC World - part of the Currys group - off Junction 9 of the M6).

Jon then tried three more times to contact the elusive, and incredibly important General Manager, but unfortunately the store had stopped answering the phone .......................... which meant that he had to resort to email. An email marked 'urgent' was sent to Mr Incredibly Important General Manager, but of course, he was too busy in important meetings to answer it. [crikey, wasn't that last sentence is dripping with sarcasm? I can't help it. Currys has transformed me into a bitter and twisted spinster, who will live to a ripe old age, hating everyone and shouting, "I know your game," and "you pesky kids" at random intervals.]

Vid.No.1. A Currys employee being interviewed about customer service

So what now? Well, after spending a day feeding his communication into a black hole, Jon finally decided to go ahead and book a courier from DHL to go and pick the laptop up from the store run by Mr IIGM......... Not knowing of course whether or not the store will actually release the laptop. He is also going to contact his regional Manager in order to get Mr IIGM to play ball. And that is the situation as of 6pm yesterday..... I wonder what is coming next as I prepare to celebrate the end of the second week of 'trying to find out when I will get my laptop.' I shall endeavour to keep you updated.

Ooh look, a funny article about the worst companies in Britain

P.S. The good news is that I have made a good friend from this from our regular daily chats....... Jon. If I wasn't going to end up as a bitter spinster I would invite him to my wedding.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Monday, 12 April 2010

Spring and hard labour

The first flushes of Spring breathe a new vitality into everyone, and it is a bloody good job as well. Without that extra vitality I would have quite simply perished after spending most of the weekend doing jobs in the garden.

After just two weeks of sunshine, the greenery has burst forth, typically in the form of weeds. Oh and the grass in my garden decided to go jungle as well.

All of which meant a weekend of hard labour for me.

Pic.No.1.The lawn needed cutting in the back garden

First off, I had to cut the lawn. It took two and a half palm-blistering hours, and now I have arms like a Russian shot-putter.

Pic.No.2. The front flower bed needed weeding

Then I needed to weed the front flowerbed, and man was this one was a pig of a job? The weeds had broken the boundary of the flower bed and had started growing up through the gravel driveway. I spent three hours kneeling on the stones trying to pull up the hideous, patulous and invasive weeds. You know the type - the ones with fragile greenery but strong roots, so you had to literally dig them out with a trowel because if you try to pull them up, the stalks just break. Grrrrrrrr. I still have the indents from the stones on my knees.

Pic.No.3. A horribly weathered patio set

As if that wasn't enough, I had to treat my patio set with Teak Oil. A year of being exposed to the elements had left the wood bleached and cracked, meaning that some form of renovation was essential. Bummer.

Pic.No.4. Patio set treated with Teak Oil

I set about the task on Sunday lunchtime and it took me four and a half bloody hours. The worst bit was trying to get the oil into the slats on the chair seats and backs. It was fiddly, messy and time-consuming - a bit like trying to extract a laptop from Currys actually.

So, all in all, I worked my butt off trying to get the garden ready for summer. I am aching, blistered, stiff, and bruised. Ah, the joys of Spring!

Pic.No.5. The Spring sun sets

I am not really complaining of course..... Spring is one of my favourite times of year, and it is great being able to spend most of the time outside. But I wouldn't mind a holiday...... CLARE! where are you?

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