Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Elvis Launched And A Case Of Mistaken Identity

I must start with the news that my latest book, Elvis Under The Covers, is now on sale. The publishing process was remarkably easy - 2 days before launch I didn't have a Kindle version - but that ended up going on sale first. If you order a printed copy it doesn't exist today but it can be delivered to your door tomorrow!

Tomorrow is the 16th August, the 40th Anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley, and the official launch of the book. I have radio interviews on Ex-Pat Radio at 8am, BBC Radio Sheffield at 1pm and Oldham Community Radio at 9pm.

The Ex-Pat session features Mindi Miller, one of Elvis's ex girlfriends, which should make it interesting. It also involves Laraine Bashford of AceClubElvis, the official European Elvis fan club, and Dave Hailwood who runs Ex-Pat Radio, and who is, coincidentally, from Sale. Laraine and Dave have been a great help with the promotion.

This is driving me nuts - the D on my keyboard only works intermittently so I have to go back and retype it. New PC on its way!

Back to the book...

You can win a signed copy here...

Win a signed copy of Elvis Under The Covers

Or you can buy a copy here

Elvis Under The Covers on Amazon.co.uk

Elvis Under The Covers on Amazon.com

It is also available on all other Amazon sites worldwide, in both printed form and on Kindle.

As a result of this publication I have developed some great email / Facebook friendships with several of the artists, including Sofai, Kenny Vance, Mary Coughlan, Jacen Bruce and, of course, Suzi Quatro.

I'll let you know if any of them come round for tea!

Ole survived his first lads holiday that incorporated his 18th birthday, though it wasn't all plain sailing when he got home. His mum opened his case and didn't recognise the contents. 'Are these Bruce's?' she asked. A bleary eyed Ole had to admit that no they were not Bruce's, and neither was anything else in the case. They belonged to some poor chap from Huddersfield, as Ole had picked up the wrong case. There then followed a hasty trek back to the airport where the right case had fortunately been left untouched. The chap from Huddersfield had clearly had the good sense to check the contents before leaving the airport.

I made Brownies - but they didn't last very long!

Have you been watching the athletics? The IAAF world championships have been compelling viewing on BBC 1, and at one point we thought that even Zac had developed an interest. No, it was a different competition. He wanted to watch one of his YouTube friends who was competing in the World Dwarf Games in Canada, and he was particularly keen on the basketball. I managed to find it on a live stream, but the quality of neither the stream nor the basketball was anything like that at the London Stadium.

World Dwarf Games

We managed to spend 3 days in Spain towards the end of July, in a beautiful villa close to Girona.

Had a very expensive lunch at a beach side restaurant and a really nice day at a vineyard and small restaurant that opened just for us.

The speciality of the restaurant was squid ink paella. It looked aweseome, but I have to say that I preferred my own! Really must get that second cookbook finished!

The vineyard was not commercial and was proud of the way it used natural resources to produce wine, honey, olive oil, etc. It even had a monument in the grounds for spiritual wellbeing,

Of course, Lady M had to give it a hug!

The highlight of our Spanish trip was undoubtedly a game of cards. Our American friends had brought along Cards Against Humanity that involved a set of situation cards and a set of answer cards. Zac quickly got the hang of it and starting making up his own questions based on the answer cards he picked up. Thoroughly recommended - though with an age advisory. Zac was particularly pleased to get answer cards stating Anal Beads and Dick Fingers.

Not thoroughly recommended is Ryanair who delayed us both ways making 3 consecutive late flights. Unfortunately neither of these was long enough for compensation.

Speaking of thoroughly recommended, I have just finished Terry Ravenscroft's 3rd edition of Stairlift To Heaven, available on Kindle. Probably not as good as the first two but still well worth a read.

The YNot festival was a well publicised disaster, and Ole was fuming when he had to return early. He compared it to last year at Leeds where conditions and weather were worse, but the festival coped much better. On the plus side he was looking forward to his 50% refund, until I pointed out that he hadn't actually paid for his ticket as yet!

Summer holidays and a commitment from Zac to get fit. He said he was going to walk to the cricket ground every day. He did it twice. We have no idea why but we suspect its not to get fit. I checked my keys to the tuck shop and they are still on my key ring. Any thoughts?

Finally, I have brought my website up to some sort of date spurred on by an interview with Kirk Fletcher for Leek Blues & Moorlands Americana Festival. Interesting chap is Kirk, he recently played with Joe Bonamassa. Looking forward to catching up with him at Leek at the end of September.

Oh, one more thing - good luck to Clive Ashton and his new venture at The Wellington Inn in Leek. Look forward to catching up with him soon too.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Me and Suzi Quatro!

Just a quick update for now as I'm very busy with the launch of Elvis Under The Covers in August to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley.

Well, we might as well start there. The big news is that the foreword is being written by Suzi Quatro. Yes I know, unbelievable isn't it? I emailed her for a quote, and she kindly responded saying if there was anything else she would be happy to help. So I asked, and she provided. She also wants a copy of the book, naturally enough, so she sent me her address too. Having watched her perform 48 Crash, Can The Can and Devil Gate Drive when I was an impressionable boy in the 1970s, I hope she wears that black leather suit when I deliver her copy!

Of course, Mike Sanchez is still playing a prominent role, and he has provided his rock and roll reflections that have been included in full.

However, I was delighted by the range of artists who have also sent their quotes for the book. These include Queen Of Rockabilly Wanda Jackson, Country Music star Tanya Tucker, Eddi Reader, Chris Spedding, Danny B. Harvey, Stella Parton (Dolly's sister), and loads more. Last Sunday I did an interview with Kenny Vance whose band opened the first American shows for The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.

But it's not all rock and roll! Today I have been working with my very talented artist and cover designer Hollie Crankshaw.

The first physical copy of the book arrived earlier this week - containing a stock photo. Hollie is working on her own design with the names of some of the artists involved written across the image.

The original

The new artwork

Release date is set for 16th August - though there may be a copy or two available in advance if anyone wants to review it!

Staying with the musical theme I am heading to Manchester later today for a Suits & Vinyl networking session. You are encouraged to take vinyl records along to this, so I have dug out my Eddie & The Falcons LP along with my Penetration luminous disc!

Sometimes I don't think Sally gets my sense of humour, as I have probably said before. A few days ago she called out from the bathroom, 'What's that ugly thing hanging up in here?' Knowing full well that it was my toiletry bag that doesn't match the curtains, tiles, toothbrushes or toilet seat, and that it certainly doesn't have the words Jo Malone emblazoned expensively on the side, I said, 'Its the mirror.' That didn't end well!

Which brings me on to a bugbear of mine - cushions. Not settee cushions or seat cushions. I mean bedroom cushions. I sometimes have to remove as many as ten of them before getting in bed, and the next night there they are again. Even the cat won't sit on them! So what are they for? Generally speaking there's only Sally and myself that venture into the bedroom, unless Ole decides to hoover the whole house (only joking!), and as 50% of us find them a huge inconvenience I really don't see the point. I've taken to throwing them as far away from the bed as possible, but like a malevolent soft furnished boomerang they inevitably return. Any ideas lads?

Zac is counting down the days until the summer holidays, and he now has a new way of evaluating how good a day or a lesson will be. Its all about the position and situation. The best position is the back row and the best situation is in the far corner!

Apparently I am being lined up for some kind of food exchange. Louise sent Sally home with a baked egg custard last week, with the unspoken understanding that I would provide something in return! Sally could have made something, but Louise said no. She wanted paella or some such dish. Anyway, I made a syrup sponge pudding but it all got eaten!

Ole has gone to Zante with his mates. The day before departure he insisted on a trip to Tesco, and here he is later on packing for the trip.

Yes - that is Pot Noodle that he is packing! He also stashed biscuits and pasta (including sauce), saving all of his hard earned cash for alcohol. He is away for his 18th birthday, which saves us a party, but not to worry as the mums have created their own Messenger group to ensure they keep each other up to date with any shenanigans. And here's a word of warning - check the small print on your holiday insurance. Some insurers are now invalidating medical cover if you do not have an EH1C card. These are free - so if you haven't got one or it has expired I would strongly advise getting an up to date one. Another word of warning - use the official site. These are FREE. Do NOT pay. A lot of scam sites will get you an EH1C, but they will charge you more than £30 for the privilege.

And speaking of travel, Ryanair paid their compensation promptly after our Italy trip. Not so Expedia. Their refund hadn't appeared so I contacted them. They rang me back and said due to a technical fault the payment had not gone through but they would see to it immediately. Two weeks later I called again. They said there had been a technical fault so the payment had not gone through but they would sort it out immediately. I then got an email stating it would take up to 15 days to process the payment. 15 DAYS! It took less time than that when we had to process cheques.

Timberrrrrrrr could be heard in our garden after recent storms, with almost disastrous consequences. Sally called me out one evening to hold on to a tree whilst she chopped it down. It was about 20 feet high, and dangerously close to the fence which is about 10 feet from the railway line. She had already sawed quite a way through it, arguing that the storm damage would soon fell it anyway. I grabbed a rope to try to pull it back to our side of the fence, but to no avail. she sawed a bit more, and a loud crack was followed by the tree crashing onto the fence and beyond. I ran around the trampoline and climbed over the fence where the tree was across both rails of the adjacent Buxton to Manchester line. I pulled it back, but it would only bend rather than breaking, so I shouted to Sally. At that moment I was effectively holding a huge catapult a couple of feet away from a railway track. Sally climbed over the fence to finish her sawing at just the same moment that a train went past. Literally 30 seconds earlier and I would have had to ensure that the railway police knew that it was Sally that caused the derailment and not me!

'Gary's got a great big horn,' Sally said one day as we were driving to Macclesfield. There was no lead up to this, in fact very little conversation at all up to that point. I looked at her in puzzlement. She pointed out of the window. 'That house over there looks like the one that Gary is doing up at the moment, and I remember speaking to him the other day. He told me he'd got a great big horn that cost £15,000.' These unspoken connections rattled around her head in perfect and full conversation, unfortunately it was only the last sentence that I received and yet I was fully expected to respond and join in. Anyone else get this?

Sunday lunch at the Bull I Thorn last weekend - only because the Royal Oak was full. We didn't know there was a VW rally on at the time, and they didn't tell us when we rang to book the table, but no matter! We walked in and there was a queue a the bar which is not surprising as everything is done through the bar. We were pointed at a table and in the direction of the menus, then I ordered drinks. These were served in plastic glasses because of the festival, even though we were clearly sitting down at a pre-booked table. After two requests Sally got hers transferred to a proper glass, much to the embarrassment of Ole and Zac, and when the queue at the bar finally died down I ordered food. Zac's sausage and chips were ok, nothing better than that. Ole loved his Steak & Ale pie with chips and peas. Sally and I both ordered roast beef dinners and they were great. Plenty of meat, new and roast potatoes, and vegetables served separately. A Yorkshire pudding was included, as was stuffing, something I wouldn't normally associate with beef! Anyway, the stuffing wasn't that good so we left it, but the rest of the meal was certainly worth an 8 out of 10. Probably won't go back, especially if there is a festival on!

An odd conversation occurred the other night when we talking about horseshit. Apparently there's no law for horse owners to pick up their horses's crap as there is for dogs. One horse owner sat looking at her steed's steaming pile and said, 'It won't do you any harm. Horses are vegetarians.' Anyway, Amanda, a vegetarian friend, replied, 'Just like me!' in answer to the horse poo problem. I am not quite sure what she was suggesting! Having fallen in a slurry pit as a kid I can assure you that the vegetarian nature of the beast does not make an experience like this any more pleasant! And whilst on the subject of horses, apparently horse air bags are a thing. The rider connects them up when they get on, and must remember to disconnect them before they get off, otherwise....

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Teenage Depression And The Best Burgers In The World

Financial choices can be difficult within families - do you put it aside for university? Do you try to get the best interest rate? There are countless options, but I didn't really expect Sally's question when she asked, 'Should I put Zac's money into ISIS?'

Speaking of Sally, after almost 23 years of marriage I still don't think she quite gets my sense of humour. She was watching a documentary about the ill-fated dodo on tv. 'When did the dodo become extinct?' she asked. 'Dodo,' I replied. The withering look of disdain told me she didn't find it funny!

Elvis Under The Covers is going well as the deadline approaches - including quotes from Louise Hoffsten and Mary Coughlan. I read Mary's autobiography last week - and it was superb. Baring her soul about growing up in Ireland and making it, losing it and making it again in the music industry. Thoroughly recommend you check her out.

Mary Coughlan's website


Cricket took a turn for the better at the beginning of the month, with a knock of 162no. And I was still able to walk the day after. Now, I have had big scores before, two over 100, but apparently this broke records for Whaley Bridge second team, and at my age there is probably an even greater sense of pride than if I had done it 20 years ago. Unfortunately I have been consigned to the first team ever since!

Right - I'm going to put this in print so that it doesn't get forgotten. Russ Wild and I are starting a band - him on ukelele and me on bass guitar. It will be an unusual and perhaps unique sound, to say the least, and we are currently working on parodies. We have no name for the band as yet - but the working titles of a couple of songs are Menopausal Man Blues and My Wife Is A Serial Killer.

Zac, as ever, seems hard done to. 'I'm this close to depression,' he declared one evening, going on to explain, 'do you know what the single biggest cause of teenage depression is?' The swiftness of his reply told us that the question had been rhetorical. 'Homework,' he confirmed. So what mountain of homework had brought on this state of melancholy? His English teacher had asked him to complete 3 sheets of A4 paper. Including pictures!

We had a visit from Nixie a couple of weeks ago. It was only supposed to be for a day, then overnight. Then another night. And another. It was joyous to see her, and she had a great time on the trampoline with the boys, but three days with a 1 year old can be quite tiring! Something that we had long since forgotten. We are stocking up on espresso and Sanatogen ready for her next visit!

My sister has taken to riding horses. Or more accurately, she has taken to falling off horses. She is a bit younger than me, but she doesn't bounce as well as she once might have done! Any suggestions?

Zac had to bake a cake for school. Well that's not strictly true. He had to make a guillotine, and apparently Minecraft was a suitable medium to use. Anyway, Zac found that too hard, so he decided to bake a cake and then ice a picture of a guillotine on to the cake. With it so far? So, it was the night before the guillotine project was due in, and I was blissfully unaware of all this. I was at Old Trafford, and the game finished around 9.45pm. I was walking back to the car and I got a phone call. It was Zac, explaining the Minecraft situation and asking if I would bake a cake when I got in. He then said that he had made the cake, it just needed cooking. He had got a recipe from Youtube, and the time for baking was somewhere between 20 and 50 minutes, and that would be beyond his bedtime. The icing would be done in the morning. So, an hour later I poured his cake batter into a tin and put it in the oven. I tasted the batter, and it seemed to have something missing, but it was 11pm so I left it! It came out quite well, and the following morning he managed this design.

It looked good, so he took it in and it got shared about. How was it? Zac was non committal, which was strange as it was chocolate cake! I asked him what sugar he had put in it, and he said, 'what do you mean?' I clarified my question. 'Did you put granulated, or brown, or caster sugar in?' He thought for a moment, then explained, 'the recipe said granulated, but I couldn't find any of that so I just left it out'. Straight out of the Sally Madden school of cookery!

Two days after the Nixie mini holiday Ole took it upon himself to visit The Shepherds, and then he came home with a friend who was staying over. It was around 10.30 when I locked up and went to bed, and it was a bit of a shock when we were woken at 4 by Ole and his mate banging on the door. It transpired that he had gone to Manchester on the last train and partied until the early hours. He was very much the worse for wear, though to be fair he did get up to go to his last day of college, albeit briefly! So when the situation was dissected he asked why we had locked the door. 'I thought you were in bed,' I explained. 'You didn't even know I wasn't in the house?' the astonished 17 year old replied. 'That's just bad parenting!'

Despite our obvious lack of parenting skills the two boys decided to accompany us on a 5 day break to Italy. We flew to Brindisi, somewhere near the heel, and the cock ups started at the airport. With the heightened security Zac got the full patting down treatment as he had left his inhaler in his pocket going through the metal detector, and then both he and Ole had their bags searched as they had left spare inhalers inside. We eventually landed at our destination to find a cock up with the car, but it was probably a blessing in disguise that we got a taxi to our hotel as Sally's navigational skills leave a lot to be desired. The hotel was lovely.

Tenuta Moreno

We arrived late at night and had a plate of bread, fruit and cheese waiting for us, as well as four large glasses of red wine! The next day we went back to the airport to pick up the car, and were told that as we wanted the car for one less day we would have to pay an extra 94 Euros, which is more than what it cost in the first place. That puzzled the lady at Budget as well as ourselves. Fortunately the rental company agreed to repay this, so we returned to the hotel and for once Sally navigated us right to the door. Now, we know that Italians can make pizza, pasta, ice cream and coffee, well in the small town of Mesagne I can confirm that they make quite possibly the best burgers on the planet - and I have tried a few! Burger Eat Gourmet is the top rated restaurant in the town on Tripadvisor, so we gave it a whirl. Three 200 gram burgers, all excellently prepared and presented on a bun that was sturdy enough to not fall apart, together with chips and a bacon baguette for Zac. This wasn't on the menu but they made it anyway, and seemed happy to oblige! Beer, wine, water and Sprite all accompanied the burgers, and the cost came to an unbelievable 48 Euros.

Would you? This one's a New Yorker!

The next day we took advice from our cabbie and headed for the beach. It was half an hour away, but well worth the journey as we rented four sun beds and two umbrellas for 24 Euros. The man on the beach said that in August the same furniture would cost 8-10 times that! The locals claimed that this was their Caribbean, which is stretching it a bit, but the sea was clear, shallow and completely free of rocks for miles. An excellent pizzeria bordered the beach, and we spent a marvellously lazy day throwing a tennis ball and a frisbee until some pesky kids got in the way!

The view from the beach

Apparently the Manchester to Brindisi flights are quite new - but well worth checking out. Message me if you want any more details. Anyway, all good things must come to an end and we dropped off the car in good time and waited at the airport. Its a small airport with very little to do, but we only had to wait until 9.25pm and then we would be on our way home. Then came an hour's delay. Then we got a text message from Ryanair stating it would be 3 hours. Questions were asked about compensation. Is it 3 hours? Is it 4 hours? The kids were getting grumpy! A very helpful Ryanair lady handed out leaflets and transit cards. The transit cards allowed us to go back outside the departure gate and pick up vouchers worth £3.50 each to spend in the airport. By this time there was only 1 shop open and his sandwiches looked sad, dry and old. We were also allowed to go back outside beyond security, but the only cafe open would not accept the vouchers. They did, however, serve excellent coffee. We examined the small print, and there was good news. If our flight exceeded 1500km and it was delayed more than 3 hours, we would be entitled to 400 Euros in compensation. Each. The word 'each' suddenly brought big smiles to the faces of the kids as they planned to spend their share. The addition of another hour to the delay confirmed the 3 hour mark, and a routefinder showed the distance at 2,500km. Even allowing for 'as the crow flies' we were confident that it would exceed the statutory minimum. I did a bit of searching and eventually found Ryanair's online form. I filled it in and hit submit....watch this space!

We went to see Imelda May at the Bridgewater Hall a couple of weeks ago, and what a star she is turning into. I pre-ordered her CD which gave me access to advanced tickets, so we ended up on the front row. Ms May really engaged with the audience and went through a stunning repertoire of old and new stuff with a band of superbly talented musicians. If you ever get the chance to see her I would strongly recommend it!. 

Anyway, back to reality and this week sees a meeting with KPMG and treks down to Gloucester and Newport. Its not all rock and roll!

Monday, 1 May 2017

The Fraudster Revealed - That's Just Bad Parenting

Well, some ups and some very big downs in this edition.

First of all Sapphire sadly fell victim to an accident, probably a collision with a car. He was taken to the vet where he passed away, aged just over two years old. Now, that is bad enough, but then there are choices. Do you want the body back (don't worry, its been kept in cold storage), or do you want the pet crematorium to take him away and cremate him, and if that is your choice do you want the ashes back? A simple cremation is £42, the return of the ashes takes that up to £113. Well you can call me a sceptic but for an extra £71 I'm not convinced the pet crematorium will take the trouble of separating Sapphire for an individual cremation - it would seem more likely that all of the unfortunate cats, dogs, mice, goldfish, etc that have met an untimely end that week will be torched together, and for anyone who wants some, here's a tube of ashes! The kids have dealt with the tragedy in opposite ways. Zac was distraught, wanting to know where it happened, who took him to the vet, and more importantly, whose car did the damage? Ole, however, admitted that he hated that cat. Its aggressive nature was a constant source of irritation to Ole's gentle natured Bobby who remains bemused at the added attention that he has received!

Now its one thing when a family pet suddenly passes away, its another when a close work colleague does the same. Unfortunately a chap that I had known for around five years and worked closely with for the last 18 months suddenly died last week. I got the message in a phone call from our mutual friend on Saturday, and it was a bit of a shock. He actually left a voicemail first, but I didn't pick that up until later, and it kind of reminded me of a joke about a couple who went on holiday and left a housekeeper in charge of the cat and the ageing gran. On their return they asked the housekeeper how the cat was. 'Oh it died,' said the housekeeper. 'Well that's a bit of a shock,' said the woman, you could have broken it to me gently, like you could have said he was chasing birds on the shed roof and fell off and unfortunately passed away'. 'Oh yes, sorry, I didn't think,' said the housekeeper. Anyway, 'how's gran?' The housekeeper thought for a moment, then said, 'Well she was chasing birds on the shed roof...' I'm sure Steve would have approved.

On a spooky note, I went to see the Stranglers at Rock City in March last year with four seemingly healthy guys, and within a few months one had passed away. In March this year I went to see the Stranglers at Rock City with three seemingly healthy guys, and Steve was one of those!

Speaking of which, I also went to see The Stranglers at The Apollo in Manchester. What a gig. It started with very polite bar staff in a posh looking bar, immaculate toilets, and bouncers who were incredibly helpful. Not quite like it was forty years ago! Anyway, the band started and the crowd went wild. Honestly, they did. Shirts were off, fifty year old men were crowd surfing, and the bouncers politely reached out for them, helped them to their feet, and assisted them to get to the back of the crowd so that they could do it all again! Can't wait for next year!

You may recall from a few editions ago that Zac had his debit card hacked - or so it seemed. It now transpires that the fraudster was none other than his mum! She had somehow managed to link his debit card to her Paypal account! He's not happy, and she has no idea how she did it, but ignorance is no defence. When he worked out that he had effectively paid for his own Christmas presents he had just one sentence. 'That's just not good parenting.'

The cricket season started last week, and I've managed two fifties in consecutive weeks. Can't remember the last time that happened, but my ageing body is telling me not to do it again!

I don't seem to have been particularly busy in the kitchen, though I did make flapjacks, orange rocky road and biscuits for Gabi's Beauty Bash in Stalybridge. And, I must confess I kept a few biccies back for dunking!

We also had a very nice afternoon tea, which can often be more work than anything else. The chocolate cake was especially popular!

Of course the afternoon tea was for a family gathering - and that has its own set of challenges. Getting everyone together from great grandmother to the newest member of our family...

...and then there's the problem of trying to avoid the selfie queen!

You're not even safe on the trampoline!

Elvis Under The Covers is progressing slowly but surely, and I have gently started the social media campaign. Mike Sanchez has agreed to write the foreword, and there will be many quotes from musicians and singers such as Al Kooper and Mary Coughlan.

The Facebook page is here...

Elvis Under The Covers On Facebook

...and the Michael Madden web page is here...

Elvis Under The Covers


The MMU expo was a frenetic affair, with my groups of students looking splendid in their Legacy IT t-shirts. I will now be continuing the projects (one dealing with broken websites and the other online courses including legacy languages such as COBOL) through to production.

I went shopping with Zac last week. Thankfully he hates shopping as much as me, so we went to two shops, got everything we needed, and were back in the car within 40 minutes. There was a small distraction for a hat, but we decided against it!

Zac has started to take a pride in his own appearance, unlike his brother who will wear anything!

One thing that Zac did show an interest in was a watch. So, we acquired one and he put it on, but it had stopped. I told him it had to be wound up, and that's when the trouble started. 'How often do you have to wind it up?' he asked. 'Every day.' 'Every day? That's just too much effort!'

The Christmas present seemed to have been going well, until a traumatic day in March!

It all started as I set off early one Monday for a conference in London. I was in a session debating the merits of data protection when I got a call from Louise at the stable. I assumed that Sally's phone had died, so I sent a message 'in a conference - call you in 20 minutes'. A few minutes later I got another call, this time from Sally. The text exchange went like this...

Me 'in a conference - call you in 20 minutes - anything urgent?'
Sally 'going for a scan';
Me 'are you pregnant?'
Sally 'brain scan'

I rang quite quickly after that to find that Nancy had decided to set off and turn right at full pace. Her legs had gone from under her and Sally had come off, briefly losing consciousness. She couldn't remember where she was and what she was supposed to be doing later, which seemed normal to me, but they decided to take her to hospital for a brain scan. She was given the all clear, but probably only because they didn't ask her 'where did you move my stuff to?' or 'why are the noodles now in a separate cupboard away from the rest of the food?' or 'why do we need 27 tins of lentil soup?'

I sometimes wonder if Zac is growing up too fast! I dropped a crepe in front of him as he sat playing on his X-Box, and his response was 'Ohh - you cheeky bugger', meanwhile his conversations with mum seem to centre around what she would do in the event of a wet dream.

I had my ears syringed this week, for the first time ever. Not a painful or even unpleasant experience, until they show you what they have removed. Ugh!

Had another Sunday lunch a couple of weeks ago, this time at the Wanted Inn at Sparrowpit. The welcome was extremely friendly, even going so far as to ensure they had the right sausages in for Zac. The food was plentiful and reasonably priced, and you could tell that the gravy was made with the meat juices. The vegetables were a bit school dinner like, but the meat and potatoes were excellent. As were the home made puddings. Not had spotted dick for ages! Overall a 

We took the opportunity to visit Chester Zoo with grand daughter and nana on a cold week day - in fact it was so cold that my mum had to become a Green Bay Packers fan for the day.

Nixie loved it, and although there was a new born giraffe and some baby elephants her favourite animal seemed to be the tapir!

He seemed a bit aloof, and if Johnny Morris was around the tapir would have said something like..'Hey - of course a you wanna come see me I'm Brazilian. Like Neymar. They call a me Tostao The Tapir, but my real name is Kaka. I have sexi football. Don go to za giraffe. He look a like Peter Crouch. And the buffalo from Congo - ha - no footballers come from there. Da zebra - ee av a nice kit - but I av a nice tongue! Za elephants come out in trunks - must be freezin! Haha - zat ees my joke!'

Anyway, turned out he was lying all along - he was Malaysian!

Mothers Day was hilarious. Ole was very much the worse for wear after a heavy night, and it was late afternoon when he got around to giving mum her present. He had clearly been to Tesco and bought some chocolates and a book. The book was supposed to be about horse riding, according to him! Turned out it was a steamy Jilly Cooper novel! He was a tad embarrassed.

The snap General Election has caused a bit of a stir, with Zac wanting to know why Theresa May has called it. He would vote for David Cameron as Theresa May has messed things up. I look forward to the television debates!

A couple of football stories to finish, and Ole played his last ever official game of junior football this weekend, The 5-1 victory over Juno was well deserved, and was a fitting tribute to the hard work put in by Ben Williams, the manager, since he first got them all together at under 7s! As you can see - its not always been easy to get them organised, but last year's league championship and third this year is a great achievement.

Zac, meanwhile, got asked to play for the school team again. Unfortunately he forgot his kit. However, with his network of contacts this wasn't a problem. He got his mate Alex to ring home so that Alex's mum could ring Sally who would then turn up with the aforementioned kit Worked like a dream.

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 www.legacyit.co.uk).

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'.