Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Izzy's Sophisticated Birthday Soiree

A couple of weeks ago, Izzy's Dad, Steve was sitting in my kitchen, blagging a free cup of coffee as he frequently does. He had gone quiet, so I knew he was about to say something.

"We need to sort out something for Izzy's birthday," he mused.

Izzy was playing nearby and her ears pricked up like heat-seeking missiles, "I want a party!" she shouted excitedly.

I turned to Steve, "Sounds reasonable to me, I've heard it's quite common for children to have birthday partys. Whaddya think?"

"Yeh, ok," he replied, which was the catalyst for Izzy to jump around the room shouting "WOO HOO."

With a plan in place, I went to get a pen and paper and sat down at the table opposite Izzy. "Right then," I said, "let's make a list of friends you would like to invite.

She reeled off some names, then some more, and yet more. After half an hour, she triumphantly stated, "that's it." That's it? She had put 26 names onto the list.

"I turned to Steve, "there is no way that I am having a party at my house for that many kids. They'd strip the place like a pack of piranhas with a cow."

"Agreed," he replied, adding "actually, there is a big children's play centre called Jambinos in Oxford. I bet they do kids parties."

"It's a bit short notice, but worth a go," I replied.

Steve picked up his phone and luckily Jambinos had a free party slot on Sunday 27th, which was the day before Izzy's birthday. Perfect.

Sunday duly arrived, and the festivities kicked off with the arrival of Izzy's Grandparents, who had driven down from Redditch to go to Izzy's party. 'Twas all terribly civilised even though I was there. Cups of tea all round whilst we watched Izzy open her birthday presents. I don't know, kids today don't know they are born. If we had laid her presents side by side, they would have probably circled the earth.

 Pic.No.1.Izzy opening presents with Nana and Grandad Fred

Once the presents were done, it was time to set off for the biggy; Izzy's 3pm party at Jambinos. Shortly after arriving at Jambinos, it became quickly clear that the party plans weren't quite as 'perfect' as we had initially thought. It was the wild-eyed looks of the Fathers dropping off their children that hinted something was awry.

And then it was pointed out to us: We had only gone and booked the party at the exact time that England were playing Germany in the World Cup 2010. Oops. Those Fathers that lived close by virtually threw their children through the doors of Jambinos in order to get back home as quickly as possible. Those that lived too far away to return home for the duration of the party, resorted to crowding round a solitary iPhone that was streaming the match. One thing was certain, Steve and I were gonna end up on a list entitled 'Britains Most Hated'.

Luckily, the children didn't share the same concern about missing the match, and it wasn't long before Jambinos was crammed full of 26 kids all doing Brownian Motion. It was absolute bloody bedlam, but it didn't matter because they were having a great time.

Pic.No.2. Izzy's soiree ......... canape anyone?

Pic.No.3. Izzy surrounded by her chums

Pic.No.4. Ever the shrinking violet, I had to work hard to draw her out of herself

Pic.No.5. The birthday cake. Isn't it nice to see a cake with so few candles that the icing sugar doesn't melt?

Pic.No.6.  A Tinkerbell cake - the 'must have' for all 5 year old fashionistas

Pic.No.7. Party games - Pass the parcel

After nibbles it was time for the children to indulge in party games, and I watched transfixed as the kids played 'pass the parcel'. Firstly I was amazed that kids these days still indulged in such traditional games. Secondly, I remembered that when I was a kid, 'pass the parcel' was the ultimate adrenalin rush. Seeing it played again, all these years later, I was shocked to discover that it is, in fact, a rubbish game.

Nevertheless, they seemed to find it mind-blowingly exciting. Ahhhhh....... how expectations change.

So all in all, Izzy had a fabulous day which was exactly the desired outcome, and she was still bouncing off the walls when it was hometime at 5.30pm.

P.S. Can you think of anything that was fabulous when you were a child and is now rubbish when you revisit it years later?

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Worried about Childhood Obesity? Get this.......

So, let's recap on last week...... I drove to my London house on Wednesday to try and fix the washing machine.... and failed. On Thursday I drove to London for dinner..... and it was great. On Friday, I drove to London again, to meet an engineer who was actually qualified to fix the washing machine.... and he did just that.

After all that driving, I was feeling pretty Londoned-out, so it was with relief that I arrived back in Oxford on Friday evening, safe in the knowledge that I could relax and wouldn't have to experience the M40 motorway for a little while. I chilled out, watched a bit of 'Big Brother' (yeh, I know it's tat, but I can't help being a voyeur), and went to bed.

Saturday morning arrived, and I had planned a leisurely weekend catching up with emails and doing odd jobs around the house.

Everything would have been hunky dorey and gone to plan if my phone hadn't beeped the arrival of a text. It was from Steve and it said: 'don't forget to get Izzy a birthday present.'

Shit. I had totally forgotten my own daughter's birthday (which is on the 28th June). It's not like we hadn't discussed it, because we had. But it had seemed a conceptual thing that was going to happen sometime in the future.  Yep, and if you hadn't guessed, diary-management isn't my strong point.

I needed a plan and fast. And like a Sherpa clamped in the jaws of a lion-trap, I came up with a cunning plan. I was going to visit a store called 'Toys R Us'. I had seen adverts for the store on TV, and it seemed the perfect place to pick up some presents for Izzy..... even better, it was only 20 minutes drive away from my house.

Fast forward two hours and try to envisage me in a store full of toys that were totally alien to me. I mean, I grew up playing marbles, making mud pies and building dens out of sticks. If we had toys, they were made out of wood. And, as a kid, as soon as I got home from school, I was kicked outdoors with my brothers and told to stay there until dinner was ready.

It was a very different world to the one thrust upon me by Toys R Us. It was with horror that I viewed the aisles crammed full with cheap plastic crap. Then, when I thought it couldn't get any worse, I spotted this (and yes it is for real!):

Pic.No.1. A toy 'McDonalds Drive Thru'

Ok. So let's get this straight. In a time when childhood obesity is shooting through the roof, and the National Health Service is creaking due to fat-related illnesses, a toy manufacturer came up with the idea to produce a replica 'McDonalds Drive Thru'?  Yep, you read right, it's a toy that allows kiddies to practice feeding their chums with 'Satured Fat Burgers'. Surely this is a clear case of McDonalds grooming youngsters .... or is it me being bah humbug?

Bring back the marbles and hopscotch any day. I would have added 'Ring a Ring of Roses', but even I admit that it was boring as hell.

P.S. I was just sat in the garden enjoying the warm evening sunshine, when a pissed-off looking girl ran past in pursuit of two loose dobbins galloping up the main street in Forest Hill. That doesn't happen much in London.

P.P.S. Just for the record, I did NOT buy Izzy the toy McDonalds Drive Thru. I bought her a Doctor's outfit. And a ball. And a frisbee.

Fancy a Pommes Neuf dahlink?

'Where the bloody hell have you been?' I hear you cry.

I know, I'm sorry, and you will be pleased to hear that as punishment, I have been self-flagellating with a twig I found down the bottom of the garden.

It all started going wrong last week, when if you can remember, I had to make a trip to London on Wednesday to try and fix a washing machine that preferred to eject water onto the floor rather than wash clothes with it. Essentially I lost a day, but still had the same amount of stuff to do, so everything was squeezed. It was a bit like vacuum-packing a sleeping bag.

After my unsuccessful jaunt to London, I had another trip out to fit in. On Thursday evening at 6.30pm, I had arranged to meet a friend in Cookham, Berkshire, for dinner. Cookham being, of course, just outside London. Things went swimmingly and I arrived at our rendezvous only ten minutes late, to find ......... that my friend wasn't there.I received a panicky text saying that he was stuck in traffic and was running 30 minutes late.

But for three things, that normally wouldn't have been a problem. Only this time; (1) I had no iPhone to keep me entertained because I accidentally dropped it down the toilet a couple of weeks ago, (2) it was hot. I mean 29c (84F) hot; and (3) I had no air conditioning in my shed car.

So, by the time my friend arrived, my hair had gone lank, and my make up had slid down my face. Bummer.

"You look hot," said my friend as he got out of his car, and somehow I knew he didn't mean 'hot'.

We had decided to eat at a 14th Century inn called 'Bel and the Dragon' because the food was supposed to be half decent.
Pic.No.1.  The outide of Bel and the Dragon

Once inside, I started to cool down a bit, and I took in my surroundings. It looked like a good choice. The place was brimming with original features, and the dining area was spacious and atmospheric. However, because it was so sunshiney outside, we decided to eat in the garden, with me tucked under the shade of an umbrella.

If you are getting the impression that I don't take well to being hit by direct sunlight, you are correct. In fact, some of my nicer friends have given me the nickname 'Stilton' beause I am white with blue veins. Even my own father refers to my skin tone as a 'cadaveric pallour'. 

Pic.No.2. The bar area of Bel and the Dragon

Anyway, I digress. After studying the menu, I decided to order fish and 'pommes neuf'.

"What the bloody hell are pommes neuf?" asked my friend.

"Dunno," I replied, "I think it's French. Doesn't pomme mean potato? And I think neuf is the number nine."

"Doesn't sound right to me," he said, and I had to agree that it was tenuous.

We chatted whilst waiting for the food, and I couldn't help but notice the state of the tables and chairs in the garden. The varnish was peeling off them all in big rough flakes. It was downright shabby, and I must admit, that being a bit of perfectionist, I found the lack of attention to detail a little irritating.

Come on people! Sort out your furniture! No one wants flakes of varnish garnishing their fish.

Pic.No.3. The view from the window of Bel and the Dragon

Talking of fish, mine arrived, and the Pommes Neuf issue became clear; there were nine square chips stacked up like the Jenga game on my plate.

"Bloody hell," I laughed when I saw it, "it's just a posh word for nine chips! How pretentious is that?"

Unfortunately, being distracted by the humour of the situation, I forgot to take a picture of the posh chips, but I did find a picture on the internet that gives you an idea of what they looked like.

Pic.No.4 Nice chips mate! Actually they are Pommes Neuf Dahlink

So would I recommend Bel and the Dragon? Yes I would. The menu was interesting, the food was good, and it is situated right next to the River Thames and some stunning walks.

It was just the varnish on the bloody tables that let them down. Go and buy some Ronseal!

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Ummm, I've got a good recipe for you.....

Because it was all sunshiney and lovely today, I promised that I would do a barbeque for the little Izster.

Now, when barby comes out, there is normally only one thing on the menu; Annie's super tasty Halloumi BBQ kebabs. Oh yeh, I have got hidden talents you know, and not only that, I am going to be proper saintly and share my receipe with you. I guarantee that burgers and sausages will be banned forthwith once you have tasted these kebabs. Not only that, but they are super healthy to boot, so you can scoff as many as you like without turning into a blob. Everyone's a winner!

Ingredients - Annie's Super Tasty Halloumi Kebabs

Feeds 3 (just to be really awkward)

1 green pepper, or capsicum as it is know in the US (cut into large chunks)
1 medium sized onion (cut into large chunks)
3 large vine tomatoes (each cut into six segments)
3 rashers of bacon (cut into large squares)
125g mushrooms (halved)
250g Halloumi cheese (cut into 2cm slices) - this is the killer ingredient - just you wait until it's grilled!
6 plain pitta breads
9 skewers
1 glass of wine to drink whilst you are preparing the food

Chop up the ingredients as described above.

Pic.No.1.Tasty and healthy? It's gotta be a con.... but no, it's not

Then randomly feed all the ingredients onto skewers. Be careful putting the Halloumi onto the kebabs because it has a tendency to split if you aren't gentle. And trust me, you don't want to be screwing up the Halloumi because it is the best bit.

 Pic.No.2. Hang on a minute, that wine's gone down a bit.... what's going on? [uh oh, I've been sprung]

Put the kebabs onto the barbeque and cook through. 

Pic.No.3. Would you believe that it took me an hour to get the bloody thing lit?

Finally, once the kebabs are cooked, keep them warm in the oven and then heat the pitta breads on the BBQ until lightly browned.
You are now ready to serve: 3 kebabs for every two pitta breads.
Everything would have gone swimmingly if the BBQ hadn't taken so long to heat up. I kept topping up my wine glass and by the time my kebabs were ready, I couldn't see them properly. 

I think (but don't quote me), that I had two pittas, but I could equally have had four.... I dunno...... I just know it's not a good idea to kill time drinking white wine whilst you are waiting for the barby to heat up. Enjoy.

Friday, 25 June 2010

Back to London after a long time away

Wow it's been a busy week to say the least. Or, as an ex-colleague of mine used to charmingly say, "I haven't had time to fart."

It all started off with an email. But before I go into that, let me tell you about my house in London. A year and a half ago, I was forced into renting out my pride and joy; a Victorian house in London that I had spent a number of years renovating. At the time I was starting up a new business in Oxford (where I was living in a rented house), and couldn't afford the luxury of paying the mortgage in London, just to have it stand empty most of the time.

As if renting out my house to strangers wasn't bad enough, I had also just finished turning the back garden into a Mediterranean oasis, meaning that I wouldn't be able to enjoy it. Double doh!

So, back to the email. It was from the tenants of my house, telling me that the washing machine was leaking and asking if I could send someone out to fix it. At that point, I could have done one of two things; and the first was to call an Appliance Engineer in the London area. Unfortunately I chose the second option, namely I would try and fix it myself, with the help of Steve.

My reasoning went along the lines of; "I'm an Aerospace Engineer for chrissake, I make aircraft fly, surely I can't be beaten by white spinny thing that fills with water and sloshes around a bit."

"Are you sure this is a good idea?" asked Steve, "we don't really know anything about washing machines."

"Show the spirit of a lion, man!" I replied.

"Err, ok" he replied with uncertainty.

The next day we set off on the hour long drive to London, and it was with a degree of trepidation. I hadn't seen my beloved house for over a year and a half, and all kinds of images of it being trashed were filling my head.

Once we arrived, I put the key in the lock, took a deep breath, and opened the front door. I surveyed the scene. Instead of the house being in tatters, quite the opposite was true; everything was immaculate. The relief caused a big grin to spread across my face. It was like I should be paying those guys to live there, not the other way round [note to self: need to hoover house when I get back to Oxford].

 Pic.No.1. The outside of my lovely London Victorian townhouse

Once inside, there was no time to lose..... we had to do the repairs and get back to Oxford in time to pick up Izzy.

"Right, let's get to work," I said. "You do those other little jobs that the tenants mentioned, and I'll recreate the leak from the washing machine so we can locate the cause of the problem."

For two, yes TWO hours, I put on drain cycle, after spin cycle after rinse cycle. And could I make the thing leak? Nope. I had failed at the first hurdle. Not only that, but do you know how boring it is watching a washing machine go round and round and round. Let me tell you, it's as mind numbing as a dinner date with Paris Hilton.

In the end, I had to concede defeat.

"I'm gonna have to call out an Engineer," I said to Steve.

"We didn't get very far," he replied.

"No need to be negative," I responded.

"Sorry," he winced.


After an hour long journey to London, and two hours watching a washing machine cycle, we finally got back in the car and headed home.

But before I go, I thought you might like to see some photographs of the Mediterranean garden that I designed. 

 Pic.No.2. The view from the patio door

 Pic.No.3. My water feature made from a huge block of natural slate

 Pic.No.4. The view of the house from the end of the garden

It made me a bit sad that I never have the chance to enjoy it. Hey ho! who knows what the future brings.

Having said that, one thing about the future is certain, it won't be long before I am back in London with a qualified Engineer, trying to fix that bloody washing machine.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Woah! That is one helluva improvement.....

The whole of England was on tenterhooks today. For today was England's last chance (after two truly dismal performances) to get through to the last 16 countries competing in the World Cup football tournament.

As I have explained before, I am not normally a football fan, but experiencing the World Cup is something else... it has the power to change the whole mood of our nation..... and that makes it exciting. Woo hoo! In fact businesses all over the country had either let staff finish early, or rigged up screens in the workplace to make sure that everyone was able to watch the game.

The England versus Slovenia match was due to start at 3pm, so after spending the day in London (more on that later), I hotfooted it back up the motorway, and arrived at home in time for kick-off.

Pic.No.1. Blimey, can England do it this time?

For the first ten minutes of the match, England looked shaky, and I couldn't help but think 'here we go again', after remembering the fact that England were booed off the pitch following their last performance.

But after ten minutes, things changed, and all of a sudden, England looked like they knew what they were doing. Instead of being a living example of Chaos Theory, they appeared to have a plan. Cool, that's certainly an exciting development in any sport.

Pic.No.2. Come on England! Play as best you can, and don't relax, not even for a moment!

England continued to hot up and take command of the game, and before I could say 'Naughty George, stop bloody woofing', a magnificent sequence of passes led to England's first goal of the tournament.

Pic.No.3. Jermain Defoe - Well done sir, I say ..... well done to you

Needless to say, the England crowd went beserk, and augmenting that, I could hear the sound of people in my village cheering... it wafted in through my open windows and made the atmosphere truly electric.

I won't go into too much detail, but suffice to say that England lived up to their reputation as Lions, even though they did keep their fans on the edge of their seats for the remainder of the game. It was a truly marvellous performance, and even though the final score was 1-0, they could have easily scored another three goals.

 Pic.No.4. How sweet does the score look?

England were through to the final sixteen, and the whole country was going ballistic with joy. Every TV station was broadcasting clips of fans dancing, crying, partying, celebrating, and loads of other things ending in 'ing'. It's been a veritable roller-coaster.

Another thing I thought was quite interesting, was that for three hours this afternoon, roads were deserted, emails stopped, and the phone didn't ring....... long may the World Cup continue!

Monday, 21 June 2010

We reclaimed Father's Day from the Marketeers

I have to admit that I think events like Mothers' Day and Fathers' Day are commercial bollocks.... yeh, yeh, I know it's bah humbug. But exactly what is their purpose? For a child to show appreciation for their parents? Izzy does that anyway, so why should she feel obliged to buy her father a crap sweater and golf-set on Father's day just to prove it? Exactly - it's just gratuitous commercialism.

"You're just being a miserable git!" I hear you cry.

Yes I am. Izzy's dad doesn't even play golf for chrissake.

Unfortunately for me, Izzy didn't quite share my point of view (that'll be the school brainwashing her). As we were sitting on the kitchen floor one day, picking bits of play doh out of Naughty George's ear, she turned to me and said: "I want to give Daddy a present for Father's Day."

 I was just about to embark upon a lecture about rampant marketeering and the shameless peddling of sentiment as a commercial prospect, when I noticed her expression. She was genuinely excited at the thought of giving something to someone else.

"Awww, man.... you don't half put me in some situations sometimes," I sighed to her.

"So, can we give him a present?" she asked again, enthusiastically.

I pondered the situation...."Ok," I said to her slowly, "but we are going to make something special, not buy it."

Izzy started clapping, and I realised that I would have to muster the meagre crumbs of my creative ability in order to produce the goods.

And then I had a brainwave, "Izzy, we are going to make your Dad a picture, made from flowers."

Great, the idea went down well, and all we had to do was gather the raw materials. That afternoon in fact, we set upon a long walk in the countryside around our house, and Izzy had been set the task of collecting as many different flowers and leaves as she could find.

For two hours we hunted down the tracks, trails and fields for all manner of flora, until finally, we concluded that we had enough for our 'creation'. Once home, Izzy painstakingly laid all the flowers and leaves in the pages of a book, so that they could be 'pressed' ready to go into the frame. The book was placed under a mattress, and all we had to do was wait a week until the flowers were ready.

A week passed, and it was the day before Father's Day. Izzy was nearly puking with the anticipation of seeing her 'pressed' flowers for the first time. I was nearly puking with trepidation because I didn't have an arty bone in my body and the situation could easily go horribly wrong.

I retrieved the book from under the mattress, and slowly opened the pages to find this.........

  Pic.No.1. Izzy's pressed flowers and leaves

It has worked! Not only that, they looked superb. They had maintained all their colour and even though they were flat, they looked almost three dimensional. Flippin' hek, I'm like Leonardo Da Vinci.

"Who's ya daddy?" I hollered at Izzy as she looked blankly at me, before answering, "Steve?"

"Never mind that," I sighed, changing the subject, after being beaten again by Izzy's stark literalism; "let's get this picture underway."

She must have sat there for a full hour and a half, painstakingly glueing all the flowers and leaves on the backing sheet, carefully placing each one for maximum effect. Then, when she had finished, she insisted on writing a note to put inside the back of the frame; 'I love you daddy, From Izzy xxxxx'

Not only that, with meticulous attention to detail (that's my girl), she also insisted on choosing the wrapping paper, and circling it with a ribbon that she had kept safe all week for this very purpose.

Finally, we had the finished article..... and boy, was she proud of what she had done. I didn't have the heart to tell her it looked a bit haphazard and lopsided, simply for the reason that she had given 100% effort to the cause. But was that an end to it? Nope. She wanted to hide the present for her Father to find as part of a Treasure Hunt. So with the present finally secreted in a location chosen by Izzy, we were all done.

The next day, Izzy jumped out of bed with excitement; "I want to ring Dad and tell him to come and get his present," she said.

"No problem kiddo," I said handing her the phone.

An hour later, Steve turned up and Izzy was pogoing around the kitchen.

"Daddy, I've made you a Treasure Hunt," she shouted, "you've got to find your present, but don't look in the wicker basket first ok?"

Over Izzy's head, Steve mouthed at me "is it hidden in the basket?" I nodded as he started laughing.

Pic.No.2. The masterpiece in all its glory

Finally, the present was unearthed from its location in the wicker basket, and Izzy was bursting with pride as her Father opened it, gushing with admiration about marvellous it was.

So Mr Commercial Marketeer, I think that's 1 - 0 to me!

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Silence of the pheasants

I've been feeling a bit sorry for the Oxfordshire pheasants this weekend. From the sound of things, there has been a nearby shooting party going on over the weekend, which no doubt made the pheasant population gulp with trepidation.

Pic.No.1. A hapless pheasant

I feel sorry for pheasants at the best of times. They epitomise stupidity in that they have a acute lack of awareness with regards to what will kill them. If you were to plonk one of them in the middle of a road, and then drive a juggernaut at it really slowly (giving it plenty of time to escape), it would just stay put and get run over.

The stupidity of pheasants got me thinking about shooting parties. Surely choosing a bird that stupid as your prey, doesn't require much skill? I mean it would just sit staring at you whilst you shot it point blank. Why not choose something a bit more challenging, like a humming bird, to really demonstrate your gun skills? [Note to reader: I'm not advocating the mass killing of humming birds, merely using the subject as a discussion point. In fact, if the truth be known, I am completely against the killing of any animals in the name of 'sport'. It always seems to be terribly biased in favour of the person hiding in a tree with a gun, as opposed to the unsuspecting prey in their sights.].

Anyway, back to the shooting party. I had no idea what they are shooting the pheasants with, but it sounded like they were using missiles. The whole weekend has been interspersed with god almighty bangs, and unfortunately, Naughty George doesn't like sound of explosions one bit. I don't know whether he had a bad experience with a Surface-to-Air when he was a puppy, but I did know that louds bangs terrified him.

Pic.No.2. Naughty George was not happy at all

So, it's not just the pheasants who were having a bad day; Naughty George was panting and shaking like the Queen on a walkabout, refusing to leave my side. It was like bonfire night, except this time it went on for two days. Ahhh..... the joys of living in the countryside.

You will be pleased to know that the bangs have now stopped, and peace has resumed once more. I can hear the birds singing and the sun is out. And more importantly, I am really glad I'm not a pheasant because it would take have taken me ages to type this post.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

World Cup 2010 fever sweeps Britain

Britain are a nation of football-obsessed devotees. So much so, that it is not uncommon to encounter invisible demographic boundaries, which are solely determined by which team you support. When I was young and growing up in Burnley, Lancashire, fans of Burnley football club would never, ever be friends with fans of Blackburn Rovers. In fact, by nature of the fact they supported different clubs, they would instantly be sworn enemies.

To demonstrate the point, I remember a particularly enchanting sonnet that Burnley fans would sing whenever faced with a Blackburn supporter:

"If I had the wings of a sparrow,
And the dirty, great a**e of a crow,
I'd fly over Ewood  tomorrow [Ewood Park is Blackburn Rover's football ground]
and crap on the b******s below....."

Aww, warms the cockles of your heart doesn't it? Rogers and Hammerstein could only dream of such talent.

So, I think by now, you are getting the picture about how BIG football is in the UK. And let's add to that a World Cup 2010 tournament ...... and what do you get? Yep, a country that has gone completely bonkers with football mania.

There are England flags draped on people houses, cars have England flags flying from their windows, everywhere you look people are wearing England shirts... crikey, they are even dressing their dogs up in England outfits.

Pic.No.1. England fans are amongst the most enthusiastic in the world

With the advent of their first match with the USA looming, the build-up reached fever pitch... with pundits claiming that England had the potential to make it to grand final.

I must admit that I am not normally a football supporter, but even I was enticed by the buzz, and resolved to watch the England matches [yeh, yeh, I know. I am the type of fan despised by the die-harders!].

So it was with great anticipation, it must be said, that I sat down to watch England's opening match with the USA. I watched and watched..... and thought to myself, "ummm England don't appear to be very good." I quickly dismissed the thought as being that of a rookie football fan.

And then disaster struck....... the England goalkeeper fumbled a save which meant that the match ultimately ended in a draw..... don't forget that it was predicted that England would walk a win. 

Pic.No.2. Oops, England fumbled a goal

Pic.No.3. The England goalkeeper, Robert Green, looks dejected

In a post-match analysis, the England performance was completely panned by pundits, whilst the England Manager put it down to first-match nerves, assuring the nation that the second match against Algeria would see a vast improvement.

So last night, I again sat down with anticipation that England would drag themselves up from the doldrums. I mean, Algeria were completely the underdogs according to the Bookies odds.

Oh and the Goalie who fumbled the goal.... he was dropped from the team. I actually felt really sorry for him... he made a mistake (everyone does), and got dropped before he had chance to redeem himself. Man... that has got to knock his self-confidence (look at me, I am like a psychologist). 

So the match commenced, and without going into too much detail, suffice to say that the England performance was diabolical and shambolic.... even worse than their first match. So much so, that (horror of horrors), the England fans booed the team as they left the pitch after the final whistle signalled a 0 - 0 draw.

The booing prompted the leading England scorer, Wayne Rooney to make this comment to the camera:

Vid.No.1. Wayne Rooney complaining about being booed by England fans

Now I have a question for you...... "is it ever acceptable to boo the team that you support?" Ummm, I have pondered this one for quite a while and it isn't as straightforward a question as it first appears. What do you think?

P.S. At the moment, the whole of England is alternating between despondancy and anger over the latest World Cup performance. The news is completely full of it....... and eek, it is with trepidation that I anticipate England's next match with Slovenia on Wednesday.

Friday, 18 June 2010

Is my humiliation complete yet?

So as you know, my iPhone met it's maker after being dropped down the toilet, and I am currently borrowing a brick temporary mobile phone from a friend.

Pic.No.1. My borrowed P900 Sony Ericsson

I have been lugging the thing around all week (it won't fit in my pocket), getting sympathetic looks from people who were thinking that maybe I should have bought a trolley for it.

It's got my street-cred in tatters. The phone rings, I pick it up to answer it, and people gasp in horror. And their eyes widen. It was when I started receiving texts that I realised how archaic the phone actually was. This was because the date on the texts reflected the date the phone was last used...... February 2005!

Bloody Nora! That's before Izzy was born and it was a year before the last World Cup. Tony Blair was still Prime Minister. But hey, I have got to remain positive; at least I don't have to carry the battery around in a suitcase - that would make my humiliation complete.

Pic.No.2. 'Excuse me missus, can I borrow your phone?'

Anyway, today my mobile phone started playing up. When I answered calls, it seemed to connect ok, but I couldn't hear the other person. Same when I dialled out - connected, but no sound. It was infuriating.

Following a day of being incommunicado, I decided to contact my Network Provider, O2 to see if they could shed light on the issue. I had to use my landline obviously, because my mobile wouldn't connect, and after navigating automated bloody menus for 3 minutes (I have a timer on my display), I finally got through to a chap in a foreign call center with a barely understandable accent. Grrrrrrr.

I explained the problem, and after listening to him tap his keyboard for a few minutes, he authoritatively declared that 'the antenna in the Oxfordshire area was down'.

"Well when is it coming back up?" I asked him in disbelief. My disbelief stemmed from the fact that my TV service has also been down since February because the engineers accidentally set fire to the TV antenna. It was like a comedy sketch ..... a band of hapless, semi-skilled engineers terrorising Oxfordshire inhabitants with their exploits. 

"Probably next week some time," he replied. Next week?! .........  Probably?! Sacre Bleu!

I hung up and sat at my desk for five minutes with steam coming out my ears, when I heard my front door knocker sound.

It was Steve, coming round to drop some stuff off that I needed. We were chatting when all of a sudden, his mobile phone rung and he answered it....... hang on a minute, I thought the Oxfordshire antenna was 'down' - how can he take calls when he uses the same O2 network?

In a flash I was back on the phone to O2, I navigated the 3 minutes of auto-menus and finally got through to another call centre worker.

"What can we help you with today Dr Dickens?" he asked.

"Well, my mobile phone doesn't work and I was told it was because the Oxfordshire antenna was 'down', but I know other people are making and receiving calls with no problem." I replied.

"Let me have a look," the chap said, and I heard the keyboard tip-tapping. "No, there is nothing wrong with the Oxfordshire antenna," he concluded.

"So why was I told there was a problem?" I queried.

"He probably didn't know what else to say," replied the call centre worker cheerily. What kind of an answer is that? Are you kidding me? I would have sat there for a week waiting for my phone to work after a non-existent problem was fixed, only to find out that the problem was something else entirely different. Grrrrrrr.

I contained myself.... it wasn't this poor chap's fault that I had been fed a load of baloney.

"So," I asked evenly, "what do you think might be the solution to the fact that my phone doesn't work?"

Still cheery (don't be cheery goddamit!), he answered, "I think your handset is knackered. What make is it?"

"A P900 Sony Ericsson," I replied, ashamedly, my cheeks burning.

Call centre man gasped, "blimey, have you been breaking into museums?" then added, "is it powered by a hamster's wheel?" before dissolving into laughter at his own joke.

I remained stony-faced, but the impact was lost on call centre man because he couldn't see me. I reiterated, "so what might be the problem?"

"The hamster has probably died of old age," he guffawed heartily before realising that I wasn't laughing with him. The laughter slowed, and then ground to a halt with a small clearing of his throat. "Erm, have you tried turning the handset on and off?" he asked sheepishly.

"Ermmm no, actually I haven't," I answered with embarrassment.... it seemed such an obvious thing to do, and I had overlooked it.

"Well, give it a go now and let's see what happens," said call centre man.

I turned the brick off. Waited a moment. Then turned it back on.

"Try and ring someone, so I can see if the problem is fixed," call centre man responded after I told him the phone was now rebooted.

Somewhat tentatively, I dialled my landline..... it rang..... it connected to the voicemail..... it bloody worked!

How stupid did I feel? ..... "it works now," I whispered with humiliation.

The feeling of humiliation didn't last long after call centre man said; "Great! so the hamster wasn't dead, just in a coma," renewing his hilarity.

"Look. I normally have an iPhone," I snapped.

"Of course you do," he said, making me sound like a wannabe. Grrrrrrr.

The call ended, and I concluded that I seriously needed to get a new phone. A new iPhone..... all shiney and lovely, and skinny and light.

Right, that's my first job next week.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

The Big Sleepover

Last weekend was a time of great excitement in my household. Izzy was going to have her friend, Honey, round for..... a sleepover! Woo hoo. She got so excited about it, that I thought at one point she was going to vomit. Good job she didn't, because the only thing worse than an over-excited kid, is an over-excited kid jumping around dripping with puke.

Honey arrived at lunchtime on Saturday, by which time I had come up with a master plan. The plan revolved around the formula that 'kids sleepover = probably not much sleep for lil ol' me', and taking into account this principle, I decided that we were going to spend the day doing tons of fun things, in the hope that they would conk out later in the evening [note to reader: you have probably already seen through my thinly-veiled ruse - yep, I enjoy days out like this just as much as they do. Beats doing the housework any day.]

Once we had finished lunch, I bundled them into the car, and we made our merry way to Blenheim Palace, a true Shangri-La for kids.

Pic.No.1. Ready to go? Sparkly wand ..... check. Stuffed Angelina...... check. Play Doh Pizza.... check. Half-eaten chewy bar.... check.

Once we had arrived at Blenheim, I had a choice. The grounds were split into two: 1. The palace itself; and 2. The Pleasure Gardens, where all the fun stuff for kids was, and where we were headed. There was parking at both sites.... but if I had parked at the Pleasure Gardens, it would have taken all the fun out of getting there - on the miniature train that connected both sites.

Pic.No.2. The miniature railway. It's a bit like an Orient Express for kids.... but without the luxury... or the exotic destinations.... or the murders

Vid.No.1.Oh man, kids are great - they are so easy to amuse

Once we had disembarked, we headed for the Butterfly House, a place if you remember, Izzy and I visited a couple of weeks ago. Inside the Butterfly House, it was hot and humid in order to replicate the natural habitat of the species contained within. As we were wondering around, I noticed a sign; 'Please do not handle or feed the butterflies. It is extremely dangerous for them.'

Is it me? But what on earth would I try to feed a butterfly anyway? Chocolate chip cookies? Would the butterflies actually go for it..... resulting in an obesity crisis in the Butterfly House?

 Pic.No.3 Chairman Honey strides authoritatively through the Butterfly House .... I love this picture, she looks like a visiting diginatory

 Pic.No.4. Still in the Butterfly House, Honey and Izzy chucked my hard-earned cash into a wishing well. Which incidentally had large fish in it.... which in turn must get pissed off with coins boucing off their heads every couple of minutes

"So," I asked them both, "what did you wish for?" expecting answers along the lines of; 'an end to world poverty', or 'a stop to climate change'.

"A pair of rollerskates," replied Honey.

"A Barbie doll," added Izzy.

"Oh," I answered, "the pair of you are hardly Joan of Arc are you?"

"Who?" the both questioned simultaneously.

"Never mind," I said, "let's go to the park," and stood and watched as the pair of them hollered and jumped up and down with excitement. In fact they resembled little pink pogo-sticks.

 Pic.No.5 Ahhh. This is the life. I like the Park section. It means I can sit in the sunshine watching Honey and Izzy wear themselves out

 Pic.No.6. Izzy and Honey battle altitude sickness to scale Mount Blenheim.... maybe they should set up Base Camp and continue in the morning?

Pic.No.7. One of the giant board games set into the ground. I had no idea what the rules of the game were, but that didn't perturb Iz or Honey. They made up their own rules, which were double-dutch to me, but which they seemed to understand perfectly. 

  Pic.No.8 Me wiv one of me homeys..... Yo sister

After the park, next up was the maze. The maze at Blenheim Palace is truly a magnificent thing. I think that the best way to sum it up is by the fact that grown adults can get lost in there for easily 45 minutes before they find their way out. It is enormous.

I turned to Izzy and Honey, "so chaps, you have got to find your way to the tall wooden castles in the middle."

The pogo-ing started again, this time accompanied by excited hand-clapping and random whooping.

"I'll be right behind you, but you've got to be the leaders," I added, immediately regretting my decision as they darted off in the myriad of turns, twists and dead ends.

Pic.No.9 Honey and Izzy darted off into the maze like those small fishy things.... is they called Guppies?

Pic.No.10 The intrepid explorers negotiating the intricacies of the Blenheim maze... at full pelt.... with me trying to keep up..... slow down chaps! I'm old

We weren't long into the maze when I realised that I needed to demonstrate extreme vigilance. They both had tendencies to arrive at an intersection and run in different directions. If I didn't gain control, it could end up in a bad place. In my mind's eye, I imagined Honey's mum coming to pick her up on Sunday and me being unable to produce aforementioned child.... 'she's in a maze, but looking on the bright side, I'm sure she'll find her way out soon.'

Nah, that wouldn't be a good conversation, so I decided that they were going to take it in turns to be the leader, which worked out rather well. Hang on a minute! Have I just inadvertantly made an effective parenting decision? Dear Diary.....

Anyway, suffice to say the 'leaders' ran the legs off me, and they managed to find the tower in the centre of the maze with absolutely no intervention.

 Pic.No.11 Honey surveys the scene that she has conquered

 Pic.No.12 It looks like someone has scattered bullets into the crowd, but in reality they were just tired after getting to the middle of the maze

So it looked like my cunning plan of 'doing fun stuff until they wore themselves out' was working. Except for one flaw...... after following the pair of them through the maze at full pelt, I was started to feel a bit jaded. my legs are nearly 40 years old for god's sake! Only one thing for it! An ice-cream. 

Pic.No.13 After finding their way out of the maze, Izzy and Honey scoff their ice-creams ...... a treat for making it to the middle

Ok... I know that you are probably regarding me with awe, and muttering under your breath, 'she won't be able to stand any more'. Wrong! Next up was the adventure playground, and whilst on our way, Honey and Izzy managed to invent the most bizarre game I have ever seen, involving two twigs they had found and a wall that we happened to walk past. 

Pic.No.14. Honey and Izzy putting twigs into holes in the wall. They were pretending that the twigs were screwdrivers and that they were 'fixing' the wall

Now is it me? But what kind of a crap game is fixing a wall with twigs? But they loved it. I mean totally loved it. In fact, I spent 30 minutes watching them 'fix' the wall, before I couldn't stand the boredom any longer.

"Come on," I begged, "we've got to get to the Adventure Playground."

"We haven't finished yet," Honey replied. At which point my heart sank. The wall was huge and there were tens of thousands of holes within their reach.

"We've just got to fix that bit over there," Izzy added, moving along to another bit of wall.

Kids are weird.

After a further 15 minutes, Izzy and Honey finally relinquished their screwdrivers and I grasped them by the hands and dragged them off to the Adventure Playground before they changed their minds and wanted their 'screwdrivers' back. Phew! I was saved.

Pic.No.15. Honey in the Adventure Playground, taking on the 'high slide'

Pic.No.16. This picture looks strangely un-dynamic (is that a word?), and as such does not reflect the fact that in actuality, they were swinging and spinning really high 

So, with the Adventure Park completed, it was time to take the train back. And on the 'kids looking tired' front, it was promising.  Izzy nearly fell asleep in Honey's lap, but then had to be woken up after the 2 minute journey ended.

Pic.No.17 Izzy and Honey cuddling on the train home

So, after an absolutely brilliant day out with Honey and Izzy (thanx to me homeys!), I drove them back home to get ready for bed.

I had an ulterior motive for getting them to bed early - namely that England were playing the USA in their first World Cup match, and I wanted to watch it. So after bathing them and putting on their nightdresses, I was hoping and praying that the busy day had worn them out.

Had it? Nope. Ha ha! That's egg on my face. The match started at 7.30pm, and at 8pm I could still hear Izzy and Honey bouncing on the beds, giggling and running around (interspersed with the odd, mysterious bump, generally followed by an even more mysterious silence).

My chances of watching the match were looking slim, until I had a brainwave.

I took my laptop up into the bedroom and put on 'Cinderella' for them to watch. I pressed 'play' and sneaked slowly out of the room, shutting the door gently. Then I listened...... could I hear anything? Nope the bumps, giggles and bouncing had stopped.

And that, my friend, is why I should be awarded 'Parent of the Year' ..... I managed to watch the rest of the match uninterrupted...... and the outcome of that is a different story altogether.

Monday, 14 June 2010

My blog has moved to a new pad.......

Guess what? I've got me a new domain name! Yep, I did an internet search and I managed not only to find, but to register this: How cool? Uber cool, that's what. I've gotten myself my own pad.

But then it hit me. I had no idea whatsoever about how to put my blog into that domain. I mean, it's not like moving house - you can't just pick up a blog and shove it into it's new location. Darn, I appeared to have fallen at the second hurdle.

'No worries,' I thought to myself, 'I'll Google it.'

I typed 'how do I move my blog somewhere else?' into the search engine. The top ranking result was this article:

I Should Really Move Somewhere Else

This is what happens when you let your 14 year-old son name the new neighborhood you designed. Now all the other neighborhoods laugh at your awkward mornings. Why Do I Live Here?

It wasn't going well. In terms of relevancy, the article above was not helping me solve my problem of how to get my blog into my brand spanking new, sparkly domain.

I decided to search 'Blogger help' for a solution to my problem, and voila! it did indeed have a section on 'posting your blog to your own domain'.

'That'll be the puppy', I thought to myself, and clicked on the link.

After my initial high hopes, things deteriorated quickly..... the posting was entirely constructed of 'IT speak', i.e. baffling acronyms telling me to reconfigure my DNS, modify my CNAMES and update my IP. WTF? (look at me getting into the spirit of things).

The situation was looking dire, but just before I concluded that it was 'game over', I had a brainwave......... my friend Dave owns a successful 'Hosting and Domain Name' company, and he has looked after every website I have ever set-up. I decided to give him a call, and less than 20 minutes later, he had moved my blog over to the new domain, with no downtime at all. What a star! Dave, I love you more than Pizza Express!

In fact (even though I don't normally like doing plugs on my blog), I am going to make an exception today, and highly recommend Dave's company, Apex Hosting....... because yet again they have bailed me out of the brown stuff with excellent customer support. So if you fancy getting your own domain like me, you know where to go....... actually, I might try and negotiate commission!

Not everything was plain sailing though, a problem with meant that I lost my 'Blogroll' in the process...... that is, the list of blogs that I read on a regular basis. I have tried to resinstate them from memory, but still have a nagging doubt that I have forgotten some.

So I would like to leave you with two things:

1. If I have missed your blog off my blogroll, please contact me and let me know because you will be missed

2. Welcome to my blog's new home!

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