Friday, 17 March 2017

Disproving That A Dog's Bark Is Worse Than Its Bite!

Dogs – love them or hate them? For me – its hate! I’ve always resisted the temptation to get one, despite family pressure. The last one I did have was a feisty bitch called Sally. Don’t want another one of those! Anyway, Ole thought he would like to adopt a dog for a day. Sally (wife, not corgi), snuck it into the house and took it to Ole’s bedroom. Zac gave the game away. It was then let loose downstairs. First it crapped, then it peed. It jumped on Zac, it jumped on everything. ‘How cute’ said Ole. ‘I hate it’ said Zac. I had an ally, and after half an hour Ole retreated to his bedroom with the novelty clearly having worn off. We took it back to its home, and I suspect and hope that it won’t be returning.

So why do I hate them? Well, here’s an example. This morning I went to pay some football subs. The treasurer’s house is in Furness so I cycled there. His door has a low letterbox so I bent down to push the envelope through. At that point the dog inside decided to try to take my finger off. I withdrew my hand as quickly as possible, and I could actually feel the chewing. Now waiting to hear back from the doctor’s as to whether I need another tetanus. Not had one since 1995 – so my guess is I will – and you probably know how much I hate needles. Almost as much as I hate dogs!

Update - don't need a tetanus. I'm tetanused up to the max. Instead I've had the wound cleaned with iodine, I've got a large dressing on it, and I'm on antibiotics. Great!

Whilst on the subject of football, Zac has become quite the complete goalkeeper for the Under 13s. A couple of weeks ago they played Richmond Rovers and he was substituted half way through the second half having kept a clean sheet to that point. A minute later Richmond scored and he was feeling quite smug. Then, with five minute left he went on as an outfield player. Up front. The crowd were expectant, and he didn’t disappoint. As time ran out he received the ball at the edge of box, swung his leg and clipped it beyond the outstretched keeper. The goal was the last kick of the game, and it was just as well. He ran around two pitches, kicked a corner flag and eventually made it back to his own game after remonstrations by his manager. Next week – the Rene Higuita Scorpion Kick!

I remember a long, long time ago, when I was but a child, asking when the long running soap opera Coronation Street would end. Television dramas generally ran for about 6 episodes, then there may or may not have been a subsequent series. But not with a soap opera. A soap opera just runs and runs. And runs. I was a bit shocked that this could happen, I mean, what’s the point of there being no ending? Back in primary school you were always taught that a story should have a beginning, middle and end, right? Anyway, I digress. So the soap continues, and the snippets I caught recently are lacking the genuine characters like Eddie Yates, Reg Houldsworth, Fred Elliott, etc. Weatherfield now seems to be overrun with drug dealers, gangsters and crooks. Sally was watching it a couple of weeks ago, when the storyline centred around the Websters. This dysfunctional family have suffered more than most, with suicide plots, arson plots, affairs bordering on incestuous, con artists, murder, in fact the only thing they have not been involved in is high treason. Well, I’m not quite sure Sally (Madden, not Webster), got the significance that what she was seeing was a made up drama for entertainment purposes, when she said, ‘This Webster storyline is unbelievable’.

Here’s a bugbear of mine. When you pay for something on a card you expect the card statement to tell you who you’ve paid. Sometimes you might have to guess but you have got a pretty good idea, and sometimes it makes no sense at all. For instance, I needed to book flights from Orlando, Florida, US to Atlanta, Georgia, US. I used the US website of Delta Airlines and paid in dollars. I thought that maybe they would bill me through Delta, or possibly Virgin Atlantic who have a partnership alliance with their American counterparts. It took quite a bit of head scratching to figure out why Air France appeared on my bill!

Another bugbear – mobile phone apps for payment. I’m ok with contactless, but the number of times I’ve stood in line behind some idiot who can’t find the right app, then discovers he’s been logged out of the app, then can’t remember his (or her) password. Just pay for your coffee in coins and f’*ck off out of the way.

Zac decided that he wanted to make slime. ‘Can you get me some Borax?’ he asked. ‘No – you’re not allowed to buy it.’ ‘Why not?‘ ‘Its been banned by the EU. It has been linked to about a thousand ailments.’ Hopefully that will be the end of it – but I’m not so sure.

Sally has been in the kitchen again, and this time she was quite proud of her Shepherds Pie. She had made two, one with mashed potato on, and the other with an orange topping that looked a bit different. I should have suspected something when she called it Rocky Road Shepherds Pie, and she explained that the mash on the top was a mixture of sweet potato and swede. Unfortunately the sweet potato cooked far more quickly than the swede, and the swede would not go through the masher. So, she left it, hence the appearance of the orange sweet potato carpet strewn with what she liked to call boulders of swede.

Of course, things like that can be explained, and you could also just scrape off the top if boulders are not your thing. The soup, however, was another matter. It had some standard stuff in it, like leeks, bacon, etc. However, she decided to spice it up a bit with a few scotch bonnet chillies. Seeds included. Not one of her better ideas!

Speaking of cooking Zac had food technology, and Monday morning there came a familiar phone call. Zac has forgotten his food tech ingredients, can you bring them in for him? Other than the obvious answer of ‘No’, even if we had wanted to assist we didn’t know what he was supposed to be cooking or even that he was doing food tech. So the actual answer was, ‘No – he’ll have to serve a detention. Just bolt it on to the one that he is already doing tonight for losing his English homework.’

The following week Zac made chick pea, spinach and potato curry. In an unexpected twist, Sally made turkey curry at the same time. I, of course, was the judge. Nice flavour Zac, very authentic. Well I would say that because he used some of my home made curry paste. Sally’s, on the other hand, was from a jar or a tin, but still tasty. Unfortunately, the carrots were a bit ‘al dente’, which just about swung it in Zac’s favour. Next week – it’s savoury rice. Zac has all the ingredients, I suspect Sally’s will come from a packet with ‘Batchelors’ written on it.

I’ve not done much experimenting in the kitchen recently, though I did make a Brownie Pudding. This is a bit like the traditional brownie, but even more gooey and it has to be scooped out with a spoon. It didn’t last long. I also revisited a few old favourites such as Chicken Tikka Masala which gave me an opportunity to make my own chapatis. Can’t believe how easy it was – I will definitely be doing that again. Another was chicken hash. Like corned beef hash but made with, well you can probably guess. Unusual, but easy to make! Then there was Thai Red Curry. A bit of faffing but again a success.

Zac had a test at school. One of the questions was Name two Beatles songs. His answer? My dad will know.

As I’ve mentioned before there are opposing political views on the other side of the Atlantic, seemingly with no common ground. I try to watch Charles Krauthammer whenever I can, he seems to be more balanced than most, but as a piece of non political commentary Bill Bonner is my preferred scribe. He collaborated with Addison Wiggins on an excellent book Financial Reckoning Day, and he writes a daily piece for Capital & Conflict. Here is his latest article.

A couple of interesting twists in the Ole university saga. He got a letter from MMU saying that the campus was being closed and therefore the course would not be running. Now, the closure of the MMU campus would be big news, and I am sure there would have been protests and media coverage. However, it soon became clear that he had enrolled for a course on the MMU campus in Crewe! Perhaps as well he didn’t get an unconditional offer. Speaking of which, he did get an unconditional offer from his first choice, Salford. His accommodation is sorted, and all looks set, but he has also received a flattering email from Sheffield saying how impressed they were with his video, and he has discovered that he can apply for an alternative course at MMU. It’s a shame you cant arrange your future via video games – he would be great at that.

Zac decided that he wanted to resurrect the old Harry Potter PC games. These first came out about a year before he was born – and he’s 13. Unfortunately, they are not forward compatible. So any PC running in Windows 7, 8, 10, etc – forget it. I even tried compatibility mode – nope. Tried Ole’s old laptop, after first removing 2,200 ‘threats’ from it, including Trojans, spyware, malware etc. No success. Then I dug out an old laptop with Windows 98 on it. Too old. It was a bit like Goldilocks. The sweet spot was a Windows 2000, XP or Vista laptop, and I looked on eBay. These were going for upwards of £50, and many of them didn’t work properly, so I tried Gumtree. Sourced a Vista laptop for £30, picked it up, and, it didn’t work! Interesting thing is that the original games came with a key code. Turns out that the key codes are not unique, and virtually any code will work for any game. The internet is full of them, as well as dodgy copies of the games that don’t really work and infect your laptop with malware. Anyway, eventually I configured the Vista laptop as an administrator and hey presto, success. The original disc was a bit worn out, we had to treat it with toothpaste and a banana (who’d have thought?) to get it to fully load, but he was as happy as Larry. Then Sally nudged the lead, it disconnected and the laptop lost all power. Zac lost about an hour’s gaming! But, he managed to continue and has almost finished. Next up it will be Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban.

News this week that the Azure Window collapsed. The natural landmark to the west of Gozo has been used in Game Of Thrones, and is a ‘must see’ for all visitors to the small Mediterranean island. Well, except Ole and Zac, they couldn’t be bothered. Anyway, rumour has it that after Lady M was seen posing in front of the Window there was a rush to repeat her pose and that caused its demise.

Elvis Under The Covers is coming along slowly but surely, and I got a favourable response from Al Kooper this week. Al is the biggest in a growing list of people all to happy to contribute, mainly Elvis impersonators, though I have not started on the main list of celebrities yet! For those who do not know about Al Kooper, Google him. You will be impressed. I have now settled on the 10 songs that fit the bill, and I am half way through the third. Long way to go – but still optimistic that it will be done in time.

Been for a couple of Sunday lunches since the last edition, and the first of these was The Bulls Head at Foolow. Phoned ahead to book a table and service was ok. Food excellent, with the emphasis on the meat part of Sunday lunch. Worth a drive out and scored 8/10. Last week it was The Church Inn at Chelmorton. Again we booked ahead, and although the standard menu was limited there were a lot of specials. The vegetables were a bit of a let down, especially the boiled potatoes, but overall a good experience and would go again. Roast beef probably better than roast pork, though both came with a sizeable Yorkshire pudding. 7/10.

On a similar note – if you find yourself in Nottingham I recommend 4550 miles from Delhi with a banquet that just keeps coming, or Annie’s Burger Shack with an ever changing menu and loads of craft beers.

The Superbowl was one hell of a game. It was all over at half time, with Atlanta destroying New England. But Tom Brady is Tom Brady, and he broke all kinds of records as New England came back to win in overtime. Three and a half hours seemed to fly by – can’t wait for next year!

Went to see The Stranglers again last week at Rock City in Nottingham. Ruts DC were the support act, but I didn’t get to see them. However, The Stranglers were excellent, going through a variety of album tracks and singles reproducing the songs from 35-40 years ago to perfection. They are on in Manchester on 1st April – get yourself along there for some real music.

The MMU student project showcase is on next Tuesday, and we are quite excited at the prospect of seeing finished projects from Orbit and Posh Eels. Orbit are creating a framework for online courses, including COBOL. Posh Eels are providing an application to test websites, providing information on broken links, missing images, etc. More pics to come next week.

And speaking of students, Sally discovered that Zac had some online stuff to do. It was graded, and you could see your scores against other members of the class. Zac hadn’t done anything, whilst some pupils had accumulated in excess of 5,000 points. Sally doubted this, and decided to get competitive. ‘Zac’, she called. ‘Come and look at this. I’ve managed to get you 2,000 points in half an hour.’ Not quite sure that’s the point, but I look forward to next month’s competitive mums league table.

I’ve decided to add a new feature to each edition – a famous quote. First up its Sammy Davis Jr, and it seems quite appropriate with what’s going on across the pond! 

Being a star has made it possible for me to get insulted in places where the average Negro could never hope to go and get insulted.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Elvis Presley And A Horse's Arse

Regular readers will be interested to know that after another tortuous phone call I finally got a refund from Expedia. The latest phone call was with a Mr Wayarasinghe, or at least that's what it sounded like, and he wanted to know what my problem was. I told him my account details, my itinerary details, remember those, that was for the hotel only? And he asked if I wanted him to refund the hotel? Or book a flight? Or what was it? I explained the customer complaints situation, and he asked me to go over it all. Again. So I did. Patience wearing very thin. I gave him my case number. We had been on the phone for an hour when he had a Eureka moment. He said I had to wait 72 hours. I told him 72 hours had passed long ago. No, he said. I will ask for the recordings of your original conversation and then you will have to wait 72 hours. Aaaarrrrggghhh! Oh, wait a minute, he said. I see that your complaint has gone through to our finance team, and they have authorised a refund. Well why the f*ck didn't you mention that an hour ago? Anyway, four days later the refund arrived, and although I will use Expedia again, there is no way I will ever book anything through their call centre!

Zac broke the screen on his phone. It just about worked, but probably best to get it fixed. So, I went across to Sainsbury's in Nottingham where there is a Timpson stall that fix phones. iPhone 5C screen - £70, one hour turnaround. The guy in Buxton charges about the same. So, I checked online, and in the Nottingham and Derby area there's Wemendphones (catchy name!). They come to your work place, fix it in about half an hour, and charge £35. Ok, so they were a bit late, but great service. Wonder if they will expand across to the Peak District?

Sally lost her voice. Tragedy? No. Illness? Probably. Overuse? Almost certainly. I did what every self respecting father would do. I told the boys to make the most of it.

I've had a very busy time in the kitchen, with homemade pizzas, homemade doner kebab (oh yes!), and a cakefest this weekend.

The homemade pizzas are easy enough, the dough takes a bit of kneading but nothing too strenuous, and the doner kebab was a bit of an experiment after I saw a video on Facebook. And it turned out ok. A bit dangerous, but that's because we went to the pub and left the final stage, which involves searing the outside with a blow torch, until we got back (hic!). But it tasted like doner kebab, and it certainly gave you the authentic doner kebab taste in the morning! Might try again, but with beef or pork mince instead - if it works I'll post the recipe.

The cakefest started because Sally and I both love Festival gateau, and Morrison's, the last place that it was available from, stopped making it. So, for her birthday I made one. Its known as Princess cake in Sweden, and its basically a top layer of fresh whipped cream, with a very light sponge underneath, then custard, and more light sponge on the bottom, all hidden beneath a marzipan dome.

It looks a bit like this...

It actually turned out quite well, though it was a bit of a struggle getting it out of the upturned bowl that it was assembled in. Sally came up with a very good idea - so next time I will be lining the bowl with baking parchment. Now, the custard part uses egg yolks, and I had only used a bit of it so I had a lot left. What uses custard? Vanilla slices, and because I don't like to waste anything I made meringue with the discarded egg whites, and because Zac wouldn't eat any of that stuff, I made chocolate digestives. Think I might need more sugar next time I go to the shop.

I also made a whole baked celeriac. Takes a long time but very tasty. Barbeque spare ribs were another experiment that took a long time, but they were gone in seconds!

Sally made lasagne, something that she's actually quite good at. I asked Ole how it was. 'It was ok. There were some burnt bits, but that's what you get with mum.'

Zac is slowly but surely getting through his copy of The History Of Zombies. He's done 40-50 pages so far, which is 40 or 50 pages more than he would have read anyway! Anyone out there want a beta copy for an X-Box bound young teen just let me know!

My latest project is a catalogue of covers of songs originally recorded by Elvis Presley. In an act of shameless bandwagon jumping, I am anticipating a huge bandwagon in August to mark the 40th anniversary of The King's death. I thought it would be easy, but the sheer scale of the operation has meant it might have to be scaled down or it could take another five years. I started with Can't Help Falling In Love, and it turns out there are over 300 authenticated versions of this. I've logged about 230, some quite obscure, the rest - well who knows?! I've already uncovered a lot of stuff I didn't know before, for instance, Elvis Costello's dad released an album of Elvis covers, and Elvis's manager allegedly tried to persuade Dolly Parton into handing over half of the publishing rights to I Will Always Love You if Elvis covered it. She refused, and made millions by retaining the rights herself. I was originally going for 40 songs, I'm now on the second, In The Ghetto, that was recorded by Gene West, amongst others. Never heard of Gene West? Neither had I - turns out it is really Barry White. Anyway, I've trimmed down my goal to including just ten songs. If its popular I can always do a volume 2.

I've listened to lot of Elvis songs so far, including this beauty by Swedish award winning impersonator Eilart Pilarm...

Jailhouse Rock

but Zac has still to be convinced that Elvis is anywhere near the star that Justin Bieber is. Based on Youtube views he may well be right, as he compared Bieber's billions to Elvis's hundreds of thousands. He then pointed out another factor.

'Look, Elvis has 58 dislikes on Youtube,' and then with one swipe of his finger...'make that 59!'

Pixie came for her second sleepover, and although she had been poorly she seemed to enjoy herself. She was one tired little lady on the drive home.

And speaking of illness, the perils of horse ownership were highlighted when the stable got Strangles. This is some kind of horse virus, and the horses have to be quarantined. Now, Nancy has shown no signs of developing it, which is good, but she has to be regularly tested for temperature. Any idea how you test a horse's temperature? It involves a large thermometer, a horses's arse, and a lot of fortitude.

And speaking of horses, I'm not allowed to mention the horse to my friends' wives. Haha!

Ole now has two offers for university places, Sheffield and Liverpool. He's still trying to get closer to home, with Salford being his preferred choice! Mum took him to Liverpool, and for a few days before we were asking if he had done his prep. The typically teenage response of grunts or silence was not reassuring, and when the big day came he didn't even have the postcode.

'It's just Liverpool University,' said Ole as they drove towards the motorway.
'Which one?' asked mum.
'I don't know,' replied Ole.
'Well, I need a postcode, you will need to check your email,' said mum.

Ole reluctantly got his email up on his phone.

'Its John Moores university,' said Ole.
'Postcode?' asked mum.

So Ole started reading his email out loud.

'Welcome to John Moores University. Please arrive early, and bring a photograph with you. Wait. I need a photograph. Mum, have you got one?'

Fortunately mum was resourceful enough to find a Tesco with a photo booth so that Ole had a vague chance of getting through the door at Liverpool!

Of course, once his A Levels are over there will be a huge sigh of relief, and he intends to celebrate with a lads holiday to Zante. Mum is not too happy, as he will be away for his 18th birthday, and the threat to fly over for the occasion has not gone down too well. The funny thing is, it appears to be mainly Whaley lads who are going, and Whaley lads who have been friends since the early days of Taxal School. One of the mums works in a travel agent, so she has booked it all, ensuring that the little darlings are in an apartment complex that has a 24 hour warden on site! It will be a bit like a care home.

We may well be planning a trip to Washington and New York in the autumn, but Zac would prefer Los Angeles. 'I know L.A. like the back of my hand,' he said. 'I could get you from the airport to downtown no problem. And, I know where there are at least three strip clubs.' So you see, GTA is not all bad!

How much do we really need the weather forecast? I mean, its absolute rubbish. If we didn't produce all of this incorrect data and didn't spend time talking about what the incorrect data was telling us we would be so much better off. We would only be able to talk about what is actually happening and we wouldn't have a largely inaccurate view of what the coming days will be like.

A recent spate of bad weather was forecast as follows. At 7 it said it would start snowing at 8. At 8 it was 9, at 9 it was 10 and at 10 it was 11. This is hardly long range stuff. In the same period of time it forecast that there would be snow for 4 consecutive days, three hours later they decided it wouldn't even snow tomorrow. Might as well rely on the weather girls to just make it up.

They have been forecasting weather for years and they are not getting any better. So let's just cut it out. Spend the money on the NHS, or a ladder to the moon. We could remove the weather app from our phones, we could remove the forecast from media such as television and newspapers. Scrap the weather satellites and close down the Met Office. Anyone against? Its a difficult thing to do, they say. Well yes. Clearly too difficult. It could be argued that people need to know what the weather will be, well that might be true but our current situation gives them nothing, causing unnecessary disruption and wrong decisions. We might as well rely on Bill's Bunions!

Friday, 6 January 2017

Leave The Cooking To Dad

We are just 6 days into 2017 and Expedia have already made an outstanding case for the worst customer service of the year.

The start of the new year is always a good time to plan ahead, so I decided to look for a short break for the May half term, which happens to be the only school holiday where the kids are off at the same time. They do have an overlapping week at Easter, but firstly Europe is not that warm in April, and secondly the travel companies do like to pull your pants down and have their way with you as a kind of addendum to the traditionally religious festival.

So, I found 4 nights at a rather nice hotel flying with Ryanair to Brindisi. I looked it up, and it turns out to be in Southern Italy, so what could possibly go wrong. I sat on it for a couple of days, and then decided that the time was right. So, on Tuesday, I went on to the Expedia website armed with a credit card, and the confidence that I had used the site so many times that I had now reached gold status. The cost was around £1300 for four of us, so imagine my surprise when the minimum amount rose to over £1800. I did a bit of digging and it transpired that Expedia no longer offered the Ryanair flights. I then discovered that I could get the same package, with the Ryanair flights, for around £1500 on Opodo. I then discovered that I could get flight only on Expedia with Ryanair for just under £400. So I wondered why they wouldn't offer the flights as part of a package.

Still with it?

Well, I decided to call Expedia to find out, and that was when things started to go wrong. Fortunately iPhones log all of your calls, including duration, and that is how I know that the first call lasted precisely 49 minutes. During thus time I was told that my original package was indeed available for around £1300 plus a £7 credit card charge. I gave all of the passenger details, confirmed the dates and the hotel, and went on hold. After several minutes the customer services lady, cant remember her name but let's call her Mrs Singh, came back on the line.

Mrs Singh: I'm sorry Mr Madden it is taking a long time to go through, are you still ok to hold?
Me: Yes thats fine.

Several more minutes silence.

Mrs Singh: It is still not going through. I will ask my supervisor why. Are you still ok to hold?
Me: Yes thats fine.

Several more minutes silence.

Mrs Singh: Do you have another card? It is not accepting this one?
Me: Is it declining?
Mrs Singh: No, it just doesn't seem to be going through. But the price has come down to £1258. I will try again...No it is still not accepting it. Do you have another card?
Me: No. Don't worry. I will book it through Opodo.
Mrs Singh: Let me try one last time. Are you ok to hold?
Me: Yes that's fine.

Several more minutes silence.

Mrs Singh: It won't let me book it because of the flight. I don't know why. Should I look for another flight?
Me: No thanks.
Mrs Singh: What if I got you another flight at the same price?
Me: No thanks. The flight with Ryanair goes direct from Manchester to Brindisi. Alternative flights go half way around Europe to get to the same destination.
Mrs Singh: What if I guaranteed the same price?
Me: No thanks. If that flight is not available I will go somewhere else.
Mrs Singh: What if I tried to book the flights and hotel separately?
Me: That is usually more expensive.
Mrs Singh: What if I guaranteed the same price?
Me: That would be fine. Go for it.
Mrs Singh: Are you ok to hold?
Me: Yes that's fine.

Several more minutes silence.

After 49 minutes the phone went dead. I was cut off, which was unfortunate, but not the end of world. I seriously doubted Mrs Singh's ability to do what she had promised, but then I thought what if she actually had done it? So I called back. Obviously I didn't get Mrs Singh, so let's call the new chap Mr Patel.

I explained the situation to Mr Patel and he tried to resolve it.

Mr Patel: I have your details Mr Madden, are you ok to hold?
Me: Yes thats fine.

Several minutes silence.

Mr Patel: It says I can't book it because of the flights.
Me: Yes, that's what happened before.
Mr Patel: Should I try to book it separately?
Me: That's what your previous agent tried to do but we got cut off.
Mr Patel: Are you ok to hold?
Me: Yes that's fine.

Several more minutes silence.

Mr Patel: What price were you quoted?
Me: Anything from £1258 to £1306.
Mr Patel: The cost of the flights is £383 and the cost of the hotel is £1032.
Me: Thats a total of over £1400. I am not prepared to pay that.
Mr Patel: Ok what shall I do then?
Me: Nothing thanks. Goodbye.

I decided that I would check online later.

Next I received an email. Not from Expedia, but from Ryanair. Interestingly, it was timed 26 minutes into my 49 minute conversation with Mrs Singh. It confirmed my booking for 4 flights for £432.40. That's £50 more than Expedia's Mr Patel quoted just minutes earlier. I quickly went to the Ryanair and Expedia websites and found the same flights still available for under £400. I rang Expedia again. This time I was put through to customer service rather than bookings. Now I realise that you think that me calling the Expedia representatives Mrs Singh and Mr Patel could be construed as being racist, but that is not the case. They are actually very common British names! However, I do have an aversion to non British call centres where the operatives can barely string two coherent English words together. So, now that I have cleared that one up, I spoke to the customer service chap. Let's call him Mr Smith. Unfortunately Mr Smith had what appeared to be a very strong Mumbai accent.

Mr Smith: Hello Mr Madden. What appears to be the problem?
I explained my previous two conversations and the email.
Mr Smith: So you didn't want the flight only booking?
Me: No. I specifically told 'Mrs Singh' that I would accept separate bookings only if she could guarantee the same price as a package booking. Go back to your call recording and check.
Mr Smith: So what about the flight only booking?
Me: Well unless you can add on the hotel I suggest you cancel it as I have no intention of paying the hotel only price.
Mr Smith: It is with Ryanair. They wont let us cancel it.
Me: That is your problem, not mine. I did not authorise that booking so I expect a full refund or a hotel.
Mr Smith: I will look into it. Are you ok to hold?
Me: Yes.

Several minutes of hold music - interestingly I got music when on to customer service but silence in bookings!

Mr Smith: We can't cancel the flight booking. Can you book a hotel?
Me: What?
Mr Smith? Can you book a hotel?
Me: Yes. I could book a hotel. Bit I have already apparently paid £50 more than quoted for flights and if I book the hotel separately I will end up paying another £200 extra.
Mr Smith: Can you book the hotel and we will look into it?
Me: Your customer service is shocking. I have gold status, I wonder what it would be like if I was entry level? Anyway, I will book the hotel at a cost of £1032 if you guarantee to refund the difference.
Mr Smith: We will need to listen to the calls. That will take 48 hours.
Me: That's fine. So how will you get back to me?
Mr Smith: We will email you or call you. But it will take 72 hours.
Me: Can we just end this now before it takes any longer?
Mr Smith: I'm sorry?
Me: So am I. Goodbye. (51 minutes later)

So, I booked the hotel, and it was indeed £1032. I then decided to back up my claim by contacting Expedia via email, which is a lot harder to do than you might imagine. I stumbled upon their price match guarantee page, so I filled in the form, and used the comments section to elaborate on why Expedia owed me around £250.

Yesterday was interesting. I received two different flight confirmations from Expedia, and an email from their price match team stating that my claim was not valid as I had booked hotel only, Aaaaargh!! I then emailed them back to tell them to read the comments section (I was amazingly polite), and they did actually reply saying they apologise for the miscommunication and they would look into it. I would have to wait.

I am still waiting - approximately 70 hours into their 72 hour promise....

Sally lost her iPhone. She knew approximately where, but not exactly. In fact, she had a choice of three places. So, she quite sensibly logged on to the findmyiphone app. Sure enough, there it was, in Drinkwater's where she had left it. Unfortunately it was Saturday afternoon, and it was closed. And we didn't have the number. This revealed a flaw in the app, that would be really useful if it was called findthenumberoftheguywhoownstheshopwhereileftmyiphone rather than just findmyiphone. Undeterred, she put a request out on Facebook for the number of Jim from Drinkwater's. Half an hour later she was getting impatient. 'I thought it was supposed to be quick this social media,' she complained, so I pointed out that if she wanted to find something out about Kanye it would probably come back a lot quicker than the contact details of the owner of a plumber's merchant in Whaley Bridge! Anyway, all's well that ends well, and my thanks to Jim for opening up on a Saturday afternoon so that we could retrieve the phone.

So, it's Christmas, and there was a lot of festive baking going on. I used Rachel Allen's toasted almond paste recipe to cover my Creole Cake, and it looked and tasted really good, even if it was a bit fiddly. And speaking of fiddly, I made a chocolate log. Well, I actually made two chocolate logs, filled with Nutella buttercream. The first disappeared rather quickly, and when I asked Zac how much he had eaten he simply said 'loads'!

Another messy one was Christmas Gingerbread Biscuits. I made two batches of these - the second with considerably more ginger. Icing these has always been a pain, but rather than use the tiny tubes from Tesco, I got large ones from Sainsbury's and the result was much better.

I also made strawberry cheesecake, which was ok, but didn't quite set properly. The problem was solved by the freezer, but I might just try a baked one next time.

Creole Cake with Toasted Almond Paste

Chocolate Log with Nutella Buttercream

Christmas Gingerbread Biscuits

The run up to Christmas was fraught, as Ole finished off the chocolate in his Advent calendar before the 10th. The chocolates on the Christmas tree didn't last much longer either. Ole had zero, Zac had two, I had zero, and Sally may have had one. The remainder must have been stolen by the cats. Sally was at the end of her tether and she announced that she was not buying any of these treats next year, at around the same time as she reached the bottom of her giant tube of Smarties.

The big day itself is always an adventure, and this year was no exception. Sally was awake at 5.30am, though even she didn't expect what was about to happen. I had kept it a secret since October, and on the day itself a text message at 8.30am almost gave the game away, but we survived. At 9.30am Santa knocked on the door, and Lady M, who was just about to head upstairs to get ready for the day, had to go outside to get her Christmas present...

That awkward moment when your Christmas present is dressed better than you

There were tears, and I was feeling quite smug. Brownie points earned for the year, and lots of time spent at the stable for Lady M. Not so. The following day I had to go to Bakewell for the hunt (before you get upset its a drag hunt, and not a very successful one at that). The streets of Bakewell were packed awaiting the spectacular departure of hounds and horses and riders, but the day almost came to a premature end when 'Nancy' spooked at a bicycle. Lady M kept her together well, and off they went.

On Boxing Day I had to go to watch the Christmas present run around

By Tuesday I expected things to go back to normal, but no. My duty now was to ride up and down on my bike at the stable to ensure that Nancy got used to bikes for further excursions. I was quite relieved to get back to work this week.

Back to the big day, and Zac managed to conquer his annual Christmas lego challenge single handedly which saved me a job. However, I didn't escape the construction phases of Zac's workbench and rollercoaster kits. I finally managed to get The History Of Zombies finished in time for Santa;s delivery, at least good enough to proof. So Zac and Ole have both got a copy, and Zac has actually been reading it. Can't wait for his critique!

I tend to stay over a couple of days a week, and first week back in the New Year I forgot my razor. I could have just grown stubble, but I thought no, I'll make an effort and get some disposables. A pack of Bic for £2, that will do the job. How wrong I was. At first I thought it was a very smooth shave, but then realised I still had the safety cover on. When I removed this it was like rubbing my face with very coarse sandpaper infused with sharp gravel. Never again. So if anyone wants the remains of a pack of Bic razors just let me know.

I got back into the habit of watching movies over Christmas, including Concussion and John Wick. When I arrived home last night Sally and I decided to watch another. Its never easy to decide, and she couldn't remember watching Deja Vu (no, seriously), so although I had already seen it a couple of times we sat down to watch that. I did warn her that its a bit of a complicated tale, and she replied that it is only a '12', how complex could it be? Well, she never got to find out. She fell asleep after five minutes, and woke up half an hour later. She asked the inevitable question, 'what's happened up to now?', so I told her there was only five minutes left and she might as well go to bed. It seemed to work!

A  couple of work items - and people often wonder what I do! So, here's an article I wrote on Linkedin (you can also find it on my website

Also, if you're after any makeup please check out Gabi's website. Don't know much about this one - but I am sure she will fill you in on the details.

On the writing front, I will be aiming to get The History Of Zombies on the virtual shelves of Amazon before Easter, but I will need a cover image first! I continue to add to Mmm...No2...Cookbook, but that will be at least summer before it is complete, and I have a new project detailing the history of cover versions of Elvis Presley songs, hoping to exploit the 40th anniversary of his death in August!

Finally, Lady M may have manipulated her way to a kitchen free life. Ole took her to one side and said, 'Sally, can you leave the cooking to dad in future?' He explained his reasoning to me...'she made this chicken by just smothering it in pesto, and she made a vegetable curry that was disgusting'.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

So, how was it for you?

Regular readers will no doubt be pleased to learn that that both of my complaints have been resolved. KLM paid £503 into my bank account mid November (for the flight chaos from July), whilst Virgin Trains, well, let's just say they have paid compensation. Ok, since you asked, how much do you think they paid for the ordeal of standing nose to nose with the great unwashed for just under 2 hours on a train to London, where seat reservations were 'out of the window' (not literally of course)? The grand total of £5! A whole fiver, including the animal fat. Now before you get all giddy and put in a compensation claim of your own, that was between us. So, £2.50 each. That makes me feel a lot less guilty about blagging first class!

I've been in festive mood in the kitchen, I guess its all that Christmas Food channel on Sky. Anyway, my Creole Cake is steeping nicely, having been fed with rum, brandy and port. A drop of sherry before icing will just about do it. And thanks to Rachel Allen I now have a good idea of the 'icing' I am going to put on it. Speaking of the lovely Rachel (always had a thing for the Irish accent - southern of course), I used her recipe to make these interesting mince pie muffins with egg nog icing. I quite like them, Sally definitely does not. Helen does, but she seems to like everything I cook. Might put more mincemeat in them next time.

I also made piri piri chicken, which was fiery hot, and Bakewell tart. This will definitely be made again, though with a bit more Bakewell and bit less tart. The picture doesn't really do it justice, but that's because it disappeared rather quickly.

The egg nog icing used a lot of egg yolks, and as I don't like wasting stuff I had to do something with the egg whites. Hence, chocolate meringue which was very rich and gooey. Another one that will be made again.

Finally, in the culinary section, I decided to make ricotta chicken. This is just chicken stuffed with spinach and ricotta, topped with cheddar cheese and baked. Sally was a little confused. Is that the white stuff with bits in we've been having? No, that's carbonara.

It was the Autumn Statement delivered by the Chancellor in November, and through High Peak Business Club (well more likely to be Freedom Financial Planning via Andy Nevett via Nick Heys), a journalist from The Times wanted to know my opinion, as an IT Consultant, on the detail. I was happy to oblige, and after the initial interview he followed up with a second one immediately after the event. In between, he sent a photographer to chez Madden, and of course Lady M was only too pleased to be involved. The article was ok, understandably cut down due to space, but the soft focus picture could not have turned out better. See below for the reaction!

We had a very exciting weekend last month, with Nixie's first sleepover. And boy can she sleep! She had heavy eyes from the start, and almost slept through the entire night. The next morning, after a brief spurt of activity following breakfast, she fell asleep again. Mind you, we did have to rescue her from a wild dog!

Its always nice to get requests for cooking, and recently I've made paella for a lovely lady from Chinley (or was it really for Helen?), and I've a Christmas order in from my Nottingham office for chocolate digestives. I suspect Bakewell tart will be making another appearance soon too.

For the first time in a long time we had a family trip to the cinema. Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them was the choice, and although I'm not a Harry Potter fan this was quite entertaining. Rumour has it they are making another four or five of them - hmmm...not sure about that. Popcorn, drinks and sweets are just as expensive as I remember them!

And whilst on the subject of movies, the remake of the Rocky Horror Picture Show - errr no! Shouldn't have done it, and the result is amazingly poor. Worst of all is the part played by Tim Curry; he's gone from the lead role to a poor man's Charles Gray. The original was and still is a classic. It should be placed on the same pedestal as The Sound Of Music and Gone With The Wind. Leave it alone and just enjoy it. Do not sully its memory with a pale imitation.

I met some very clever students recently, and they will hopefully help me to get my online course business off the ground. I recommend the 'Live Project' initiative to anyone who is interested in working with young adults, as in return for some business mentoring you get free resource for your project! Its run by MMU, which came as a bit of a surprise as I was expecting to have to travel to Salford like last time.

Had an emergency dash to Liverpool in November when Ole and his friend were at a gig. Emmy rang and said he was ill, throwing up and shivering whilst in the club. So, I drew the short straw due to the fact that it was Thursday. So what happens on a Thursday? Not much, except Sally had had a drink! It was inevitable, so I raced over there and picked the two of them up. On the way home it transpired that they had been to a fried chicken outlet where they had purchased something like four wings, four breasts and a drink for a couple of quid. The salmonella sauce came free. It took Ole a couple of days to recover, and the flapjacks took a hammering in the process!

And speaking of Ole, he always says that the cycle to Chapel is a challenge, particularly the uphill bend past the Hanging Gate. Anyway, I've tried it a couple of times, as a drier alternative to the muddy path to Marple, and its not too bad at all. So, now my trips to MacBurnhams are almost all on two wheels. 

You may have noticed that Donald Trump won the recent US election, or did he? Actually, no! It's a bit like Brexit, which was advisory, and which has been through at least two courts already with no sign of it actually happening. The US electorate voted for the electoral college voters to cast their votes for Trump, and although this is mandatory in many states, there are 21 states where they are allowed to vote for whoever they want. There's also the small matter of recounts in three states, with legal challenges in Florida as well. In this year of weird politics I would not be too surprised if Trump was not actually confirmed as president, although the bookies think he is an absolute certainty. But they have thought this before! One elector who should vote for Trump has already stated he will not, for many reasons, including this...

Mr. Trump goes out of his way to attack the cast of “Saturday Night Live” for bias. He tweets day and night, but waited two days to offer sympathy to the Ohio State community after an attack there.

With rumours of vote rigging, deliberate miscounting and hacking this could still have twists and turns! Watch this space...

Had another trip to London a couple of weeks ago, and this time Virgin Trains were on time and seats were properly reserved. I have to admit that I nearly wasn't, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, Zac threw up at school. All over his science book apparently, and whilst normally I would suspect that he had done that deliberately, when I picked him up he was definitely unwell! However, I made sure that he had everything he needed and then set off in plenty of time for my train. Not sure if you are aware, but parking at Macclesfield station is becoming a nightmare. I had resigned myself to missing the train when I found the last space in the Virgin car park, although I had to drive right up against the metal chain barrier and climb out of the back door. £28 for 2 and a bit days! Of course, it being Virgin Trains something had to go wrong, and this was no exception.

Originally I was coming back on Friday, but plans changed so I had to contact the Virgin Trains call centre to get my ticket changed accordingly. Now, originally I had a mobile ticket, meaning it was only accessible on my mobile phone. That's why I had to contact the call centre, which kind of goes against the principle of an m-ticket as it should be as easy to change as it is to use. I don't think its just me, but whenever I call customer services and the call is answered by a girl who sounds as if she grew up on the streets of Mumbai, and not too long ago, my heart tends to sink and my confidence in the service I am about to receive diminishes. Experience tells me that this is with good reason. I explained the need to change the return part of the ticket to Saturday from Friday, and she helpfully explained that this could only be done by the call centre, which was fortunate as that was exactly the reason I was calling the call centre. Once the initial exchanges were out of the way she got to work, and surprisingly quickly she cancelled my return ticket and issued a brand new one for Saturday. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, I got on the train and tried to activate my outward and untouched ticket, but it wouldn't activate. When I looked closer it was in my virtual ticket wallet, but it didn't have a mobile symbol next to it, and neither did it have a collect symbol next to it. So, whilst on the train I contacted the call centre again. This time I got a gentleman, also from Mumbai or surrounding districts, and I explained my problem. He was puzzled, but not for long as the train went through deepest darkest Staffordshire where it lost signal. I called back, and got a girl on the other end. Despite perhaps taking a break from her GCSEs she sounded knowledgeable, and understood my problem. She said she would reset my ticket, and it would be done within seconds. Should I wait on the line? No - it would be fine. So I hung up and checked my phone. And guess what? It would still not activate. So I called again. I could have sworn it was the same girl, but she had no recollection of our conversation just moments earlier. She told me to exit the Virgin Trains app and go back into it, and the problem would be resolved. So I did. And it wasn't. Still, at least she was still on the line. Are you sure? Yes - are you sure you reset it properly? Of course Mr Michael (now there's a bit of a giveaway). Perhaps if you switch your phone off and on again? So I did. And guess what? It didn't work. She then said I should uninstall the app and reinstall it. That would definitely work as it would effectively pick up a new ticket off their system which was definitely mobile. So I did, and it didn't. She had no other ideas, and nowhere else to go.

At that point the ticket collector arrived, so I explained the situation. She took my mobile and said, 'you should have printed the ticket at home.' So, I showed her my ticket receipt email which clearly states that it is a mobile ticket and can only be used on a mobile phone. 'How odd,' she remarked. 'Have you contacted customer services?' Fortunately she saw sense and agreed that it was Virgin Trains that screwed up and not me! I would have complained but based on previous experience (see above) I don't think that the estimated compensation of four and a half pence would be worth it.

Anyway, I arrived at Euston and strolled to my hotel, then got a cab to the Savoy for a bit of business. £21 may seem a bit steep for three coffees, but they did come with mini mince pies, a nice ambience, and a wonderful Christmas tree!

Next up it was a short walk to Riley's Sports Bar where a marathon NFL session was about to commence. Armed with nachos, hot wings and beers we had a whale of a time, but we were still hungry when it came time to leave. Being London the streets were still buzzing at 2.30 in the morning, and we were offered girls, both naked and clothed (well I presume they were clothed at the start as they were strippers), drugs, and generally 'a good time'. I just wanted to find Burger King that we had been directed to when we left Riley's, but which was not immediately apparent. In the grand old tradition of a sleazy News Of The World journalist, I made my excuses and left. The next morning it was the tube to Covent Garden for breakfast ( I do like Cafe Nero, much nicer than Costa and don't even mention Starbucks), followed by a chat over drinks in Philomena's Irish Kitchen (where the accents were disappointingly Cockney).

From there it was the tube back to Euston where the second half of my weekend was about to begin. Our American friends were over, so I met Sally and we headed on another tube to London Bridge. A few beers in the Banker & Barrowboy (really?!), and it was off to their apartment right underneath the Shard. I mean right underneath it.

Its a famous landmark, but actually I think its quite ugly! After champagne at the apartment we headed for ice skating in the moat of the tower - cool in more ways than one, but not for me. I settled for hot chocolate and whisky in the bar! Tower Bridge looked amazing lit up, but it was getting very cold so we headed for food at a local pub.

The next morning Sally was very excited. The Times photo should have been published (unsurprisingly she wasn't bothered about the article), so we bought a couple of copies and headed for Roast, a great breakfast restaurant in the Borough Market area. Borough Market is a fabulous place, highly recommended on your next trip to the big city. The Roast offering was fantastic, as I'm sure you will agree.

Not a scrap was left, but then again, the girls didn't leave any of their Bucks Fizz either. Over breakfast Sally casually turned the newspaper to page 64. No one took any notice so she started waving her finger at the photo. Still nothing, so she had to physically point it out herself. Cue a very excited American reaction along the lines of 'Oh my god, we're dining with celebrities'. Anyway, the other diners seemed unconcerned so I continued to tuck in whilst Sally regaled our guests with tales of the photo shoot. Now, the photo shoot took around 90 minutes, and this is just one picture. Never mind! Sally has emailed the photographer and there are more on the way!

So, we headed for home, and on a fairly empty train we sat at a table. Two women appeared and occupied the other two seats at the table, which was cosy! However, it also gave Lady M another chance to reveal Page 64 and the photo that was unmistakeably us two. There was no reaction, so Sally nudged the paper across the table. Still nothing, so she decided to pick it up and actually read it. Bizarrely, the woman next to her was also in the paper, on Page 19. What are the chances of that? Anyway, Lady M said, 'Excuse me, I have to ask, is that you in The Times?' The woman, with a bit of fake embarrassment replied, 'oh, yes it is'. At that point it would be fair for her to assume that Sally would be asking for the full details, and maybe an autograph, but no. Sally swiftly turned back to Page 64 and said, 'so are we!' The conversation marvelled at the coincidence and they swapped stories, but I am fairly sure that Lady M's tale got far more exposure than our poor unsuspecting fellow traveller.

Zac had his bank account hacked! Well, what I think happened is that he lost his debit card and some kid picked it up. They purchased Microsoft points and lots of things using Paypal, but it only amounted to around £50. HSBC responded immediately, issuing a new card, cancelling the old one, and refunding £70. Zac is not complaining about the difference, but I dread to think what will happen if he ever finds out who did it! That's if he wasn't in cahoots with the fraudster in the first place!

Ole is taking driving lessons at the moment, but he has not yet booked his theory test. That is probably just as well based on a little quiz I gave him last weekend. 'What follows red in a traffic light sequence?' After adamantly stating it was amber, and then possibly green, he admitted defeat. No, wait, I know, its little green man! When I told him it was red amber he said that that is what he meant! So what does red amber mean? Go. No. Well you always go on red amber. No I don't! Next question, what follows green? Red? No. Yes it is! He could be a while with his L plates!

Zac also had a challenge on the driving front. He wanted to be dropped off at his mate's house in Chapel. So, Sally set off with him in the passenger seat.
Mum: Where does he live?
Zac: You know. You picked me up from his party.
Mum: That was ages ago. I can't remember where that was.
Zac: Just drive. I'll recognise it when we get there.
The reason they were going there was so that he and his mate could go to the gym.
Mum: Call me when you are ready to come home.
Zac: I've not got my phone with me.
Mum: Well what time do you want picking up.
Zac: Don't worry, I will get the centre to call you.
And you know what? They did call. And they did it more than once! And my bet is that Zac will get them to do it again and again. They are at his beck and call, and that's before he persuades them to make him chips!

Zac has been watching I'm A Celebrity... One of the questions revolved around whether sex was better or worse after childbirth. Zac turned to Sally and asked, 'so how was it for you and dad?' Ole almost choked on his cup of tea, whilst mum, in the grand old tradition of a sleazy News Of The World journalist, made her excuses and left the room!

Got to love a deadline, and Christmas brings its own assortment! I decided to give the boys a proof copy of The History Of Zombies (that way I get it proof read for free), so naturally I had to finish it! The cover and cover notes will be changed as I near production, but the story is broadly complete. Chapter I is featured below. Message me if you would like the rest of it for free (on the basis that you too will proof read it!)


Zombies. Flesh eating crazed monsters. Bloodthirsty, vicious cannibals. Your worst nightmare. Right? Well actually…no. I mean, I wouldn’t exactly want one living next door, but the truth is very different to what you probably believe.
Ok, let’s start at the beginning. I am guessing that you picked up this book because your mum and dad said you were spending too much time on your X-Box or Playstation and not enough time reading. And I’m also guessing that you’ve played a lot of Nazi Zombies. Right so far? Well, if that’s the case you should prepare to forget everything you’ve learnt about those particular zombies, and listen to a lesson that might just save your life.
So, who am I to be able to provide this lesson? I’m Zak, 12 years old, and an expert on FIFA and Minecraft. I used to be an expert on zombies, but after the last few days…I don’t think I could ever play that game again. My brother, Ollie, still plays it, but he’s a dumb kid who won’t listen. And then there’s my best friend Jimmy Gibson. Jimmy loves zombies. I mean really loves them. Zombies playing cricket, zombies playing baseball, zombies with guns, everything. And I guess that helped when we first met a genuine, real life, scary zombie.
Jimmy’s mum just loves her sayings. ‘You’ll be stuck like that if the wind changes’, ‘Better to have no shoes than to have no feet’ duh, and ‘A thousand miles from home can still be home’. I never really got that last one, until we stumbled across the crypt in the graveyard, but more of that later.
So let’s go back a few weeks. It was May, two days after Jimmy’s birthday, and we were at Jimmy’s house planning our school trip to Windy Ridge. Three days of no parents, no school, no rules, well actually there are rules, but no important ones, and no one checking if you’ve eaten your peas and carrots. Ollie went to Windy Ridge four years ago and said it was the best trip he ever went on. Now, I don’t usually listen to what my brother says, but I remembered that, and we couldn’t wait. Jimmy was writing a list of who we should allow in our room. Six to a dormitory, and if you were in a gang of six they would almost certainly put you together. Less than that, and you could end up spending three days with a cry baby or a teacher’s pet. We had Alex, who always had loads of chocolate, Daniel and Robert, identical twins who used their appearance for lots of jokes, and Nathan, the only person I ever met who was better than me on FIFA, though I would never tell him that!
          Jimmy’s mum was worried that Jimmy would get homesick. ‘A thousand miles from home can still be home,’ she said about twenty times. And Windy Ridge was about five miles away, not a thousand. Well maybe a bit more, but we could still walk there from school in less than a morning.
We’d had biscuits and crisps whilst Barcelona were playing Bayern Munich on Jimmy’s X-Box, but then Mrs. Gibson started getting heavy; talking about my mum and dad, asking how I was doing at school, and all that kind of stuff. She even made me miss a penalty. As soon as she left I suggested we went to St Michael’s graveyard, a favourite hang-out of ours.
We turned out of Beech Lane, where Jimmy lived, onto the wide St. Michael’s Avenue. It was lined with huge trees, a great place to play Hide And Seek, and at the far end it led to the ancient St. Michael’s church with its spooky graveyard. We walked in front of the old wooden church door and closed our eyes. We always did this, me on the left and Jimmy on the right, as we walked two steps at a time and shouted out the names on the graves that we passed. At first, it was just the names, but then we started to make up little stories.
I began. ‘Old Martin Sykes, murdered in his bed,’ then I stopped and it was Jimmy’s turn.
‘Sarah Jennings, drowned in her own bath.’
I took another two steps then, ‘William Turner, riddled with measles.’
We continued with four graves each which took us to the place where the path split to the left and right, and where straight ahead was the scariest grave of them all. It was a huge angel on a plinth, with green and blue marble chippings surrounding the statue. It looked as though it used to be white, but it was now a faded grey, making the marble chippings stand out vividly. On still days it loomed menacingly, and when the wind blew it seemed to call to us.
‘Zak, Zak, Zak,’ it whispered in staccato, or ‘Jimmeeee,’ as I swirled around the bushes and long grass.
The words on the plinth were memorable. ‘Mary Head. 1647-1675. Brought home in 1720. Mother of Sarah, James and Peter.
Every word held its own puzzle. Mary Head; my mum said this was an Irish name, so why was she buried here in northern England?  1647-1675; just 28 years old. Jimmy thought that she must have been murdered, I think it was probably an incurable disease. My mum said that people died a lot earlier in those days. And most diseases had no cure. Brought home in 1720; this was the biggest puzzle. Brought home from where? The thought A thousand miles from home can still be home, seemed to shout at me. And why did it take 45 years to bring her home? And who brought her home?
Jimmy said she probably died on holiday abroad, until I pointed out that people didn’t go on holiday abroad in the 1600s. Mother of Sarah, James and Peter; there was no mention of a husband, as there was on most of the other women’s graves, and this one had three kids. Was she a witch? Was she ever married? And what happened to the children? There was no mention of any of them on the grave. She was buried alone, and it looked like she remained that way in her lonely grave. So, why such a grand monument for someone of such strange circumstances? It always sent shivers down my spine, and we always hurried by it.
We carried on past gravestones and small memorials; tiny areas that we used to think were the burial places of children and babies until we found out that they were for cremated remains. Eventually we came to an old yew tree, apparently they are very popular in graveyards, and to an open space that was waiting for more deaths, and more burials. The graveyard had plenty of room, both on the surface and down below!
We sat on the wall marking the boundary of the church. Beyond were farm fields, often filled with sheep, but not today. Today they were empty. Inside the wall the strange silence of the dead was everywhere. Jimmy picked up a wide piece of grass, pinched it between his thumbs and blew into his cupped hands. Phweeee, the sound broke the stillness and we laughed. We heard footsteps, and saw a figure walking past Martin Sykes and Sarah Jennings.
It was Adrian Smith, Schmitty, as we all called him. He was a year older than us, and he was a bit of a loner. He was tall, thin and geeky, but not in an X-Box kind of way. No, Schmitty loved computers, gadgets and other electronics. Not X-Boxes and Playstations.  I don’t think he’s ever played a game in his life. He walked straight past the graves and didn’t even look up at Mary Head’s angel. He continued towards us without even noticing that we were there.
‘Hey Schmitty, what’s up?’ Jimmy called out to the startled kid.
‘Hi Jimmy. Hi Zak. Just heading to town. Need a new motherboard.’
He stood with his hands in his pockets, almost frozen, waiting for us to say something else so that he could continue on his way, but then a very strange thing happened. Schmitty looked directly at us. He was about 4 or 5 metres away, close enough for us to see every movement of his face. He blinked, and then he shuddered. As if he had suddenly gone very cold. His eyes closed for a moment, and when they opened they were totally red. I don’t mean bloodshot, I mean red. He didn’t have pupils, or any other colour. It was as though his eyeballs had turned completely around, and they were red.
I looked at Jimmy, both of us open mouthed and unable to speak. A second or two later Schmitty closed his eyes again, and this time when he opened them they were back to normal. It seemed that the shudder and the red eye trick had broken into Schmitty’s trance and he was ready to move on. He took a step towards us, and we instinctively swung our legs up onto the wall, away from him, but he changed direction.
‘See ya,’ he said, and walked on towards the far end of the graveyard, beyond which was the road into town.
The silence returned as we stared at each other, and we both jumped to the ground and started running. Past Mary Head where we took a sharp right turn. Past our friends at the entrance to the cemetery, and out onto St Michael’s Avenue. We ran together, as fast as we could, until eventually we could run no more. We stooped, hands on knees, gasping for breath, with one of the huge trees between us and St Michael’s church, ensuring that whatever was in the graveyard could no longer see us.
‘Wh..wh..what the heck was that?’ I asked an equally breathless Jimmy.
His only reply was the sound of huge gulps of air filling his lungs. He slumped down with his back to the tree and looked up at me.
‘Dunno, but I’m not going back to St. Michael’s. C’mon. Let’s go to mine.’

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Slimline or Full Fat? Cucumber or Lemon? Lady M Insists!

After the disasters of the Battenberg and cupcakes, one sharp eyed colleague questioned whether Sally really was that bad at cooking. Referring to Mmm…No1…Cookbook on Amazon she said, ‘Didn’t Sally help you to write your [best selling] cookbook?’ Of course she did, she took the photo for the front cover!

Ole has a new job at PaperEscape in Chinley. It was not a great beginning as he rose bright and early for a 9am start. Unfortunately he was supposed to there at 8!

He has started going to the gym regularly, and eating healthily, at least whilst he is at home. However, it seems that once he is out of reach of home cooking the Whaley Kebab House is his favourite haunt. So much so that they even let him run up a tab until his pocket money got paid into his bank.

Zac, meanwhile, has also started going to the gym.
Me: What have you been doing?
Zac: Cardio
Me: What’s cardio?
Zac: No idea.

One thing I am sure of is that he will be disappearing for the next few weeks as the Beta edition of his new game morphs into the full blown version. I suppose I should get my own Xbox account to keep in touch with him.

There have been a few experiments in the kitchen, including chicken, pasta, bacon and spinach in a creamy sauce, and praline cake which is very, very hazelnutty. At first I thought that this was a healthy alternative to other chocolate cakes, but it isn’t really! Although it contains no flour or butter, it does contain whipped cream, dark chocolate, and rather a lot of Nutella. I also started Christmas preparations with Creole cake. The fruit was steeped in alcohol for week and then the cake was baked. This week I gave it its first feed, with numerous injections of brandy. Next week it will be port, then rum, then whatever comes to hand!

Dizzy Praline Cake

Drunken Creole Fruit 

Another successful experiment came in the shape of pumpkin pancakes. It always amuses me that people get excited by Halloween and pumpkin season, then post recipes stipulating canned pumpkin. These were definitely made with fresh pumpkin, and they were delicious.

Had an interesting trip to London last weekend to see Bill Wyman’s 80th birthday concert at the Indigo Theatre in the O2. We waited for the train at Macclesfield, and there was an announcement saying that seat reservations did not apply. That seemed a bit strange, but we soon found out why as the previous train had been cancelled and this one had to accommodate twice as many passengers. When the doors opened there was simply no room to get on. Undeterred, Lady M headed straight for first class. We got on there quite easily, then she proceeded to rearrange a few passengers so that we could sit together. Quite nice in there, particularly when the free drinks came along. Anyway, the train announcer kept saying that everyone should complain to get their due compensation, which seemed a bit harsh as we appeared to have gained a free upgrade. But, in for a penny, as they say, so I got on the Virgin Trains website and soon realised what I would be up against.

My message went to Virgin Trains Customer Support, and I got a helpful email stating that I should contact Virgin Trains Customer Relations.

My response was…

That's great thanks.

Would have been really helpful if you could have passed on my complaint to the relevant people, but maybe that is indicative of the very poor customer service that I am coming to expect from Virgin trains.

So, Virgin Trains Customer Relations, (as opposed to Virgin Trains Customer Support) do you need me to email you separately or are you bright enough to be able to extract the info from this email?

The same guy in customer support then sent me this…

Thank you for your response.

I would like to inform you that I have forward your request to our Customer Relation Department, they will investigate and will revert to you.

I hope this information is helpful, If you have any further queries, kindly do not hesitate to contact us.

I then got an automated response telling me that someone from Customer Relations would be in touch. That was over a week ago. This could run and run, just like KLM (see below!)

Anyway, at this point I had not touched a drop. We disembarked at Euston, and after a pitstop for Prosecco and nibbles at M & S we hit the tube to North Greenwich. I’ve never particularly liked the tube, but at least now it is Contactless which makes it easier. We followed the crowds, then realised they probably weren’t all going to the O2 so we checked a map. We boarded a tube for Tower Bridge, where we changed to the Jubilee Line. We arrived at North Greenwich having shared public transport with a totally miserable set of travellers. Its as if everyone is scared to smile on the underground, but we had a much more pleasant journey on the return.

We walked around the O2 to our hotel, which was very nice, but there was something about the service that wasn’t quite right. Check in took about 15 minutes. That’s a long time. Something to do with my loyalty card, and they wanted to ensure we were in a double rather than a twin room. After our ordeals to that point we headed across the reception to the nearest bar, and although there were a lot of staff milling around, none of them actually seemed to be serving. Eventually we got a bottle of Peroni and a large G & Slimline T, complete with a huge slice of cucumber. I don’t mean a horizontal slice. This was a vertical 4-5 inch slice, and Lady M was not impressed. She went in search of our waitress and insisted on lemon. The waitress remarked that cucumber was the more traditional accompaniment, but Lady M responded in a ‘Do you know who I am?’ kind of way, and the lemon was provided. We decided to head for the first floor where they had draught lager, and this time the waitress made the fatal mistake of pouring full fat tonic into the G & T! A very expensive mistake at London hotel prices, as Lady M insisted on a replacement.

We eventually reached our room, a twin as it turned out, but we were too pissed to complain! We had a quick turnaround and then we headed for the Sky Bar on the 18th floor. Very nice, but again service was a bit slow.

Next stop was the Indigo, which was a short walk from the hotel. This is a great theatre with spacious seating, generous walkways without bouncers telling you to sit down, and an expansive bar at the back that was open throughout the show. The backdrop to the stage showed pictures of Bill Wyman throughout his childhood and his career. As showtime approached this was replaced by a huge white screen containing a quote on rock and roll and music in general from Brian Jones. ‘Do you think he will be appearing?’ Sally asked. ‘I wouldn’t have thought so,’ I replied. ‘He died in 1969.’ The show itself was fabulous, except for Mark Knopfler. I’ve never been his biggest fan, and when he launched into a 5 minute dirge at the start of the evening it didn’t augur well for the rest of the event. However, I needn’t have been concerned. Van Morrison was brilliant, as were Martin Taylor, Andy Fairweather-Low, Robert Plant and, surprisingly, Mick Hucknall and Bob Geldof. For me the star of the show was Imelda May who belted out a couple of numbers before joining Robert Plant for the finale. 
Van Morrison

Bob Geldof with Andy Fairweather-Low in the background

Imelda May - with Andy again

Bill Wyman and Robert Plan discuss retirement homes

Roll Out The Barrel...

Apparently Harry Styles walked past us as we watched the show, but I didn’t recognise him and he didn’t recognise me. We staggered back to the hotel and hit the bar for a nightcap and a burger. It was a bit odd that all of the restaurants around the O2 shut as the shows finished, but the Clipper Bar came to the rescue. The burgers arrived, and were delicious, but would have been enhanced by a bit of ketchup for the chips. We asked, and we waited, and we waited. We asked again, and the bar man reached under his bar for a couple of pots of the red stuff. Why the waitress couldn’t have done that I have no idea. Anyway, the next morning we ventured out to get Sally some headache tablets, and after a gentle stroll along the Thames we boarded a Thames Clipper to take us back to the city centre. It was refreshing and blew the cobwebs away as we passed the Globe, the Houses Of Parliament, The Shard and many other famous landmarks before getting off at the London Eye. A quick cab ride took us to Euston where Gino D’Acampo served up a lovely bacon butty and coffee.
The view from the Thames

There's always someone who wants to photobomb

The return train journey was much less of an adventure than the outward one.

And its always nice to return home, unless Sapphire decides to leave you a little present on the doormat...

Ahhh, KLM! You may recall that I had a cancelled flight back in July, and because of the unholy alliance between Delta, Virgin and the Royal Dutch carrier it was down to KLM to sort out the refund. I had the option of a £670 voucher or £503 cash. I opted for the cash. And submitted my details on the unintelligible KLM website. I wasn’t overly concerned as they stated that all refunds would be paid back to the card that paid for the original flight. That was on 15th September, and it would be paid within 20 days. On 27th I was assured that the refund would be processed in good time. On 10th October I was sent confirmation that they would transfer the money to my account. On 19th they informed me that they had completed the transfer but it hadn't gone through because the IBAN was incorrect. I told them that the IBAN code was for my credit card account and that the credit card number should be used as the reference, otherwise it would not be recognised. It then went a bit strange!

On 25th October I got this…

Thank you for your email.

Due to unforeseen circumstances, we were unable to answer your inquiry in time. Please accept our apologies.

Your refund is on its final stage of being wired to your account, it took a longer period to refund due to the high volume of refunds to be handled.

Yours sincerely,

KLM Refund Team

2 days later I got this…

Thank you for your e-mail.

I took a look at the request and noticed that it was already handled on 10th October, but the payment was rejected by your bank. Could you maybe check with your bank why the payment was rejected, please? I will also check with our payment department here for clarification, and will let you know as soon as I receive their answer.

I apologize for the inconvenience and hope for your patience.

Kind regards,

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines

Meanwhile, my Twitter communication with them was completely ignored so I tried live chat. They then pointed me in the direction of their Facebook page. This is what followed…

·        Could you look into the following CHAT and provide the payment reference number? Regards. Mike Madden
·       Rogier R: Hi there!
·       Me: Hello. I have submitted a request online but had no response. I would like to know when my refund Ticket / PNR number 8214752101 will be paid. Regards. Mike Madden
·       Rogier R: Hello Mike Madden
·       Rogier R: Did you also receive a refund request ID?
·       Me: I received that on 15th September. 29 days ago!
·       Rogier R: Alright
·       Rogier R: One moment please
·       Rogier R: It seems that an amount of GBP503 has been transferred to your bank account
·       Rogier R: You didn't receive this yet?
·       Me: No - it should have been transferred to my credit card account but I have not received it
·       Rogier R: I see that it was transferred to your bank account and not credit card account
·       Me: I understood you would only transfer it to the account from where the original payment was made. The IBAN code for this is probably that of my credit card provider - not my personal bank account. Any suggestions what to do next?
·       Rogier R: GB77MIDL40025031316044
·       Rogier R: Is the above correct?
·       Me: That is the bank account for my credit card provider (Tesco). Without a reference they would not be able to direct it to my account. The reference would be my credit card number (used at the time of payment).
·       Rogier R: I see that you've selected bank transfer as how the EMD was paid with
·       Rogier R: That clarifies the confusion
·       Rogier R: I kindly advise you to call your credit card provider in order to see what they can do
·       Me: Ok - do you have a payment reference?
·       Rogier R: One moment, please
·       Rogier R: I am not sure about the payment reference, we have to forward this internally
·       Rogier R: Would you be able to send us a message via Facebook?
·       Rogier R: Please copy this chat and request them to look into this and provide you the payment reference so you can contact your credit card provider
·       Me: Yes - I tried yesterday via Twitter and got no response!
·       Rogier R: That's strange. May I have your Twitter name?
·       Me: Tumbattle

   The response was received via Messenger...

10/14, 5:32pm
We will investigate this further and revert shortly, Mike.We have read through your conversation and are apologize for not being to pick your message from our twitter account. Stay put, we will be contacting you soon.
·         October 15
10/15, 12:50pm
Still here and still waiting....
·         October 15
10/15, 5:30pm
Mike, your file is currently under review and we appreciate your patience in the mean time. Rest assured we'll get back to you when we have more information and should you have any other questions, please don't hesitate contacting us again.
·         October 18
10/18, 1:32pm
Any update?
10/18, 2:40pm

Nothing as of now, Mike. Please be assured that we will be in touch with you as soon as we know of any new updates.

10/18, 2:49pm
What is your estimated completion? Or do I need to escalate?

10/18, 3:54pm
We can see that GBP 503 are approved to be refunded to your account. It's the matter of transferring the money.

10/18, 4:31pm
That is what happened previously. The account you have is my credit card providers bank account so you need my credit card number as reference. The choices are...1. Pay it back to the account used to make payment which is my credit card, and according to your website the only way you can make a refund. If you want to do this I am happy to supply my CC details again. 2. Pay it to my personal bank account - happy to provide details

10/18, 5:43pm
Please feel free to send us the details and we can check if we have the right ones on hand in the file.

10/18, 6:04pm
To pay to my credit card the IBAN is GB77MIDL40025031316044 and the reference is 111111111111111 To pay to my bank account (preferred) the IBAN is GB32MIDL404012111111111
10/18, 7:12pm
Your information is well received, Mike. We have forwarded it to the concerned department and they will do the needful. Should you have any further concerns or queries, just let us know, as we're more than happy to assist.
10/18, 7:13pm
Great thanks - just ask them to keep me informed!
10/18, 7:51pm
We will keep you posted.
·         October 25
10/25, 9:58am
Hmmm - nothing yet - and not much communication. Your customer service rating drops by the day!
10/25, 11:31am
As soon as we will have news, we will get back to you.
10/25, 12:07pm
Hello, Mike. We will immediately check this for you and get back to you at the earliest. We appreciate your time and patience.
·         October 26
10/26, 8:07am
Please allow this a bit more time, Mike. As we are awaiting a reply from our refunds department and this can take some time. We thank you once more for your patience and kind understanding with this. In the meantime, should you have any further inquires, please do not hesitate in reaching out to us. We're always here to help. :)
10/26, 8:10am
I will be escalating this through management and social media. You are an absolute shambles. Your website clearly states 20 days. My 'patience and kind understanding' has now run out. My next step is to file a legal claim which will incur interest and expenses on your part.
10/26, 8:44am
We are sorry you feel this way, Mike. Please keep in mind that we are doing our best to resolve this issue for you at the earliest.
Your utmost patience is very much appreciated.
10/26, 8:53am
Frankly, your best is proving to be not good enough. Look back at all of the messages you have sent me (Messenger and email) including the assertion that it is ready to go it just needs to be transferred. Remember, this is for a flight that was cancelled! So you (or Delta) have already screwed me once! This is compensation for that and you cant even get that right. I will give you 3 more hours (until 12 noon UK time) before I file a legal document. Then you will incur charges and interest.
10/26, 11:43am
We have spoken personally to our Refunds Department, Mike. We immediately sent a follow-up and we have been informed that they are all looking into this. We'll get back to you proactively about this. We would like to humbly seek for more patience.
10/26, 12:01pm
Same old story! Patience expired.
10/26, 12:17pm
Haha - now your Twitter team have responded. Shame your accounts team havent sprung into action. My legal counsel is standing by. Would you like her contact details? BTW - she is expensive!
10/26, 12:39pm
We certainly understand the situation, Mike. Rest assured, our Refunds Department is currently working on this. We will get back with an update as soon as possible.

My patience was wearing thin, so I emailed them this…
For your information this was emailed to me and submitted on 19th October!

Can someone just give me a call to discuss how we can get around your 'issues'?

Your customer service is appalling. I have been told that the delay is because there are a lot of refunds to process, the IBAN was incorrect (which I corrected), and now you tell me that my payment was rejected 17 days ago. That's hardly news!

Meanwhile, over on Twitter the following was happening…
@klm_uk How come you say allow up to 20 days for a refund but really you seem to take as long as you want?
@Tumbattle We apologize for the following delay for the refund, Micheal. Please help us with the refund request number for us to look >>
@Tumbattle >> into this and provide you with proper information. We remain at your disposal
@KLM_UK I have been personally assured that you are doing everything - but its simply not good enough.
@KLM_UK BTW - the fact that you spelt my name incorrectly does not exactly inspire me with confidence! .....
@Tumbattle We apologize for spelling your name incorrectly, Michael. We had no such intention to misspell your name incorrectly. We would >>
@Tumbattle >> request you to delete the tweet in which you have mentioned your refund request as it is confidential. Upon checking the >>
@Tumbattle >> request we see that you would still need to wait for some more time as the file is still in process.
@KLM_UK ...I will ensure that I spell 'KLM' correctly on the small claims forms
@KLM_UK finally, whilst I applaud comms via social media when is someone going to pick up the phone and tell me exactly what the problem is?
@Tumbattle We wish we could inform you of a specific time frame for the approval. However, we are only able to tell you that the request >>
@Tumbattle >> has been marked for approval. So, its at the final stage of the processing. Thank you for understanding.
@KLM_UK ...pardon my scepticism!
@Tumbattle We truly understand where you're coming from, Michael. Please know that the status of your refund is validated and it should >>
@Tumbattle << only be a matter of time until our Refund Team will contact you. Please bear with us a little bit more. Thank you.
@KLM_UK We can see that GBP 503 are approved to be refunded to your account. It's the matter of transferring the money. Received 18/10...
Meanwhile, back on email, on Halloween I got this…
Thank you for your e-mail.

I am sorry that it is taking so long to get your voucher refunded to you.

Could you confirm if the below details are correct, please?

- Name of the account holder: MICHAEL MADDEN
- IBAN code: GB32MIDL40401211111111
- City of account holder: HIGH PEAK

These are the details our refund department is using now that they try to process the payment again.

Once again, I apologize for all the inconvenience and look forward to your reply.

Yours sincerely,

KLM Refund Team
On 3rd November I got a familiar email telling me that £503 would be refunded to my bank account.
A day later I got this…
Thank you for your email.

We have reviewed your refund request and see that we transferred a refund of GBP 503 today the 3rd
of November. Due to the processing time at banks, it may take up to 10 banking days before the money
is in your account.

We recommend that you check your statements for this period.

Should you have any queries, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Yours sincerely,

Maria Elena
KLM Refund Team

Ten days! WTF? Do they have to print the money?
Finally, also on the 4th, I got this…

I just wanted to let you know that our refund department has processed the payment (again) yesterday
for your request BEF-4DE674B2E186. They confirmed that everything should go fine this time.

I hope to have informed you sufficiently and I am really sorry that it has taken so long time. If you have any questions, feel free to reply to this e-mail.

Yours sincerely,

KLM Refund Team

Well, I thought it was ‘finally’, but on 6th I got this…

This is an automatic generated e-mail. Reactions to this e-mail  will be deleted
automatically. Please forward your questions / reactions to the relevant
Accounting Office in your city / country. Contact details in the footer below.

Payment id: 001000019421
Vendor id : 20031 - 000X902GQ4GH, MICHAEL MADDEN

We have instructed our bank to remit on the 9th of November 2016
by bank transfer the amount of 503,00 GBP on bank account
GB32MIDL40401211111111 according following specification.

Invoice-number           Invoice-date                   Invoice-amount
---------------------    ------------                   --------------
BEF-4DE674B2E186          19-10-2016                            503,00
                                                                503,00 GBP

Accounts Payable
So is that as well as the previous correspondence? I hope so. If they pay me twice I’m really going to have some fun!

I guess it’s a good thing for KLM that I am not a hormonal woman. As Zac rather plainly put it, ‘Yeah that’s why I sometimes get sent out of class for no reason, because the teacher’s having a period’.