Thursday, 30 April 2015

We Do Like To Stroll Upon The Prom Prom Prom...

Twelve months ago it was a fanciful suggestion from a 14 year old willing to give up is birthday party for it. Now, the reality of staging the Chapel High School after prom party at our house is becoming a nightmarish reality.

First, the ground rules. NO ONE is allowed in the house. It must all take place in the garden. I am assured that large quantities of sick buckets need to be placed around the garden. We will need at least 2 portaloos. Hmm, maybe get condom machines fitted? Hey, don't judge, have you ever seen a drunken 16 year old try to get a condom over his (or her) head?

Entertainment - we have a live band. We also have neighbours! A bouncy castle? Best make sure that there is an ambulance on hand. Foam in the bouncy castle? Best make sure that there is more than one ambulance on hand. Water guns alongside the bouncy castle? Forget the ambulances. Just set up a MASH unit.

We have gazebos, I certainly hope these will not be required for any future event - they are unlikely to be serviceable. We also have a tarpaulin - not sure what this is for, except maybe to scoop them all up at 3am and dump them somewhere else in Whaley Bridge. Anywhere will do, just as long as it is not at my house.

We are trying to source hazard tape. This was originally intended to prevent the youths from falling down the banking and potentially onto the road. I think there may be many more uses for it before the night is done!

More updates on this one soon.

I should be excited this morning. I am going to pick up my new silver car. Unfortunately it involves a drive into and out of Manchester, never a joyful experience.

I must say thanks to Lou Cooper for giving me the number of Jo Hopkins from New Mills. Jo is a seamstress. Now, there used to be one near the bus stop close to Park Cafe in Whaley Bridge. I asked on Facebook if she was still doing it, and the replies ranged from 'yes' to 'she moved to St Helens'. So, I went down myself to have a look, and her seamstress's shop looks pretty empty. Anyway, Jo took my trousers and waistcoat and promised to have them done in time for the races next week.

Zac had an asthma attack last weekend. That is a scary thing, and its the first time it has happened for quite some time. He was at Archie's  birthday party, and we still don't know what brought it on. Maybe he is allergic to magicians. Anyway, just a reminder that this can happen at any time - always be prepared.

And speaking of traumas, let's go into the kitchen. On Monday, the sink overflow was blocked. I unblocked it using boiling water, washing up liquid, bicarbonate of soda, and more boiling water. Worked a treat. Yesterday, Sally did this...


So here's a question for you...

Is it...
1. The latest pic from the Hubble telescope
2. A prop from Little Shop Of Horrors
3. Rhubarb

If you guessed 3, give yourself a prize.

I was only out of the house for 45 minutes, but that is what I came home to. Apparently she had been chatting. Remorse? No - in fact she thinks it quite nicely depicts the lost souls of the rhubarb, and she wants to enter it for the Turner prize.

All that I know is that the final Le Creuset pan has reached the end of its lifetime guarantee.

Is there a connection between Sally's cooking and the blocked sink? I will leave you to draw your own conclusion.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

A Question Of Sex

The Sapphire debate rumbles on. My sister Fiona, who used to be a nurse so she ought to know, reckons Sapphire is definitely a boy. She started to show me pics that demonstrate how to tell, but I'm not really into kitten porn so I declined. However, Jools, who used to be a midwife so she ought to know, reckons its a girl. Sapphire seems unconcerned about the debate that rages all around her, and treats with equal disdain any reference to his / her gender.

Bobby has started engaging with her / him, occasionally in an aggressive manner with a strong swipe of the paw. Sapphire still comes back for more.

We have a retired vet down our road - may have to bring him in for professional advice.

Anyway, Fiona also took Zac up to cricket practice on Friday, and pointed out that the flag was not the Whaley Bridge flag, so what was it? Zac's response was 'they probably stole it from an African country'.

Meanwhile, back to the cat. Ole is not happy with the name Sapphire whether it is a boy or a girl. He was reminded that Bobby Bob Cat is an unusual name, to which he assured us that 'I know loads of people who aren't cats that are called Bobby'.

Last week I managed to inch ever closer to bridge 19 on the Whaley Bridge to Marple towpath. This week, however, I was thwarted much earlier, at bridge 22. The barriers are back up - but I reckon by the end of the week they will have been dismantled again. If the weather picks up I'm aiming for the Ring O' Bells on Friday.

Casting for The Raven should be completed this week - then it is down to the publicity. I have also started working on next year's somewhat ambitious project. A full scale rock & roll musical about a run down diner, with hints of Macbeth and an appearance by Elvis. I did say that it was ambitious.

Its a busy time - not least with the Under 16s football. Hoping for a big crowd on Thursday night at Whaley to see if our boys can clinch second place with a win over Juno. Still waiting to pick up my car, though to be fair I'm not that bothered. Sally is though, and if it doesn't arrive soon I can see some irate calls to the dealership.

Anyway, burgers for tea. I can recommend the service at MacBurnham's butchers in Chapel, and I have had my grinder in action already. Patties waiting in the fridge, now for the bacon, mushroom, cheese, etc.

Friday, 24 April 2015

The Cold War

Its always a stressful time introducing cats to each other, and apparently it can be quite stressful for the cats too. Anyway, Sapphire and Bobby gave each other cursory glances until Sapphire aimed a playful swipe with a tiny paw at her older, stronger companion. Bobby backed off, hissed, growled, and then went on his way.

Subsequent meetings have been relatively uneventful, mainly involving Bobby eating the kitten food, but after three days they were happy to stand next to each other at their bowls without actually communicating.

Day five saw another step forward as Bobby allowed Sapphire to approach him on a regular basis but with very little engagement, and that is still where we are today. Sapphire even knocked her table tennis ball towards him, hoping for some response. He looked at it in disdain!

She has also had her first foray outside. She is not keen on grass, and the sun might have been a bit too strong for her, but she eventually ventured a little further away. Finally she was beyond my reach, at which point a huge owl swooped down and took her away. Sad, but that is life.

And so on to Quinoa. According to the BBC it is packed with dietary fibre, phosphorous (isn't that the stuff that used to explode in chemistry lessons?), magnesium, and iron. It is gluten free and easy to digest. So, I gave a spoonful to Zac. He didn't spit it out, in fact he agreed to having some sprinkled on his rice. Another step forward in his dietary battle. Sally came home, thought it was couscous and had a mouthful, She did spit it out. Didn't like it at all!

I have been scanning ancient photographs this week, hoping to complete my mum's book before we head off to Ireland in May. Brought back some happy memories - and some disturbing snaps! Who would keep a picture like this?
And speaking of which, if anyone can recommend a good pub in Spiddall near Galway it would be much appreciated. Tigh Hughes seems the place to go - but if you know any different just let me know.

Ive been down the Upper Peak Forest canal (always nice to give it its proper name) towards Marple again this week - and got about an extra 100 yards. A lady walking her dog said they had never stopped her from circumnavigating the towpath works, so we set off in the hope of reaching the Ring O' Bells. Sadly, not only was the way ahead on the towpath barred, the canal itself was closed, with the banks full of irate narrowboaters wanting to be on their way. I left them to it. The smell of wet dogs and angry narrowboaters was a bit too much.

By the way, I made up the bit about the owl. She's fine!

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

The Patter Of Tiny Feet

Well, Sapphire is settling in. Bobby has not really paid much attention to his new house mate, other than the occasional hiss and a deep growl. Sapphire wants to play, Bobby wants his house back. We will see how it develops! She has taken to her wet kitten food, as has Bobby, and she has found a variety of places to rest her head. She shows all the signs of being quite a clever cat, in fact a bit of a bookworm!

In other news - my target weight has now been reached! But what next? How do I maintain it? Just put a batch of chocolate digestives in the oven - I'll have a coupe of those whilst I think about it!


Plans for The Raven are coming along nicely. This is a narration of the Edgar Allan Poe classic poem, including in depth analysis from Nosferatu, a random zombie, and, of course, The Raven! It will be staged in July at Buxton Fringe Festival. There will be four shows at the Pauper's Pit, and as this theatre only holds 40 people you may want to book tickets early! For more information visit www.tumbattle.co.uk.

The 'threat' of the end of year Prom Party gets ever more real. That's Ole's year not Zac's. Anyone got any spare sick buckets?

And so onto the patter of tiny feet, no, its not Sapphire. Gabriella and Matthew have proudly announced that they are to become parents in November. So congratulations to the pair of them. But what about me? And Zac? Zac thinks 12 is waaay to young to be an uncle, and at 53 the name Grandpops is hardly appropriate (actually I'll be 54 by November). It all seems like a twisted plot from Coronation Street.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Sapphire!

Well, the kitten saga took an unexpected turn on Friday as Sally found one in Macclesfield. Or was it Stockport? No, maybe Stretford? So on Saturday morning I set off to pick it up from Chorlton. It was a busy morning. First I had to go to Tesco to buy provisions for cricket teas, then off to Chorlton, followed by Zac's football match, then cricket.

The trip to Chorlton was uneventful, other than not knowing the actual address until we got there. I have to say that the kittens looked possibly a little too young to leave their mother, but at 7 weeks and 6 days the lady concerned assured me that they were fine, no doubt with one eye on the hundred quid I had in my hand. And having dragged Zac all that way, there was no way he was going to leave empty handed. Countless kittens roamed the living room, and she picked three up, one by one, had a quick inspection and said "boy". She knew that we wanted a female, so maybe she just guessed at the fourth and said "girl" as she was running out of options. I'm still not convinced! So we spent the next 45 minutes with the kitten miaowing in a box, en route to Whaley.

The kitten was understandably nervous, but she quickly settled in, eating wet kitten food under the watchful eye of her new owner, Zac. She was showered in blankets and warmth, and spent most of the rest of the day sleeping. Bobby Bobcat was not impressed, hissing loudly at his first sight of the new intruder. He was fussed with tuna, and then we moved him to another room. The new kitten was proving to be very popular. Several visitors came and went, and more than one remarked 'what big feet it has'.

Bobby Bobcat on the prowl

Well, the reason for that is because it is what is known as a Maine Coon cross Gold Lynx Tabby. The Maine Coon is a beast of a cat, growing almost as big as a fox. It has long hair and will rule the roost wherever it is. It was once thought that it got its name as it was a cross between a cat and a raccoon, but this is now known to be untrue. But never let the truth get in the way of a good story! It has eaten heartily for the past 24 hours, slept well overnight in Zac's room (I am surprised it could find any floor space), and seems to be in rude health today after being toilet trained by 50 year old Jools McNicholas!

She recommends that we just let Bobby and the new cat meet, have a fight, and sort out their own pecking order. I will let you know what happens.

In the meantime, Zac decided on a name; Sapphire. So there you have it. She even has her own song. Expect plenty of updates over the coming weeks, unless, of course, Bobby eats her.


Sapphire settling in

Mike Sanchez - Sapphire

And in case you were wondering, Zac's team lost 5-1, and Zac scored an own goal. Probably too much excitement for one day.

Better news from the cricket, and we comprehensively beat Buxton, but more of that over at the WBCC website.

This morning saw another positive, as the Under 16s beat Inter Cheadle 4-2. Self styled "Assist Machine" Ole Madden is claiming two, although one of them he really should have scored himself as the ball ricocheted off his knee onto the post, leaving Ethan with a simple tap in.

Anyway, after a housewarming party next door last night, it's Meg's birthday party today! No rest for the wicked.

Friday, 17 April 2015

Balti Before Breakfast

Well, the cricket season starts tomorrow, but there are probably many readers who care not a jot for that most English of sports. If you are interested, then you can read my thoughts here...

WBCC Captain's Blog

And of course, cricket season coincides with takeaways! You may find this useful...

Takeaways in Whaley Bridge

Anyway, on to more mundane matters, and my cycle towards Marple yesterday (note: I still cannot say to Marple as the towpath is still closed). The geese hissed even more than usual, perhaps they are getting territorial as they await the hatching of their goslings. But there was one sight that made it worthwhile, a heron standing perfectly still on the bank of the canal. It didn't move as I cycled past, and 10 minutes later it was still there, watching and waiting for its breakfast. Maybe next time I will get some pics!

And speaking of breakfast, this morning I was up at 7.30 to make Ole and Zac their lunch for school. I then set about making a chicken and chickpea balti (yes - I did buy too many tins of chickpeas - but what a versatile pulse!). Cleaning up as I went, there wasn't too much mess by the time Sally emerged from her nocturnal dreams of horses and the like. However, she still found cause for complaint as the clean utensils were still on the side, draining themselves of excess liquid. Honestly. It wasn't even time for breakfast and the food for the day was already prepared. And the last time that she ventured into the kitchen she incinerated a supposedly everlasting pan!

But none of that could take away from the pleasant evening I spent yesterday with my good friend Clive Ashton. Clive is having trouble with his knees, an ailment that I have suffered from for years. He thinks that it is probably causeby his job that entails him going up and down ladders several times a day. I have other ideas, and think that it is down to his comedy walk. Many years ago Clive was dressed from head to toe in bandages. A Mummy, in fact, as he was the Mystery Man on one of our never to be spoken about Trips. As The Mummy walked towards the gathered group of party people in the Shepherds car park, Fid simply said, 'Alright Clive', later admitting that it was his walk that gave away his identity. So it is probably this comedy gait that has caused problems in his later life, but now he is about to go under the knife to rectify the situation. He is still in good spirits, and lagers too! But I am sure he would appreciate your best wishes. Anyway, Clive gave me a packet of Posh Pig pork scratchings. Said they reminded him of Sally. Ouch!

More intriguing news from Clive - he may be about to re-enter the licensed trade. Don't tell anyone just yet, but this would surely rate amongst the best feelgood news since those Chilean miners were rescued.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Chocolate Cup Cakes

Today I had a moment of revelation. Not a great big must go to church every Sunday from now on kind of revelation. This was of the culinary kind. You may or may not know that Zac's diet is terrible, and he's not afraid of telling people that he doesn't like their cooking. He once famously awarded the mother of one of his friends a "Come Dine With Me" zero after she foolishly gave him fish fingers. It worked, as word got around and now when he goes anywhere for tea he is assured of the finest sausages and chips! Anyway, I have been trying to find ways of making his diet more balanced. Even bought 3 different types of Quinoa today (didn't know there was that much variety), and there will no doubt be tales from the darkside of the kitchen relating to this particular grain in the coming weeks. But today I discovered a recipe for chocolate cup cakes that contains chickpeas. A whole tin of them. What's the worst that can happen? So I set about mixing the ingredients. I was a bit apprehensive as the finished batter was very runny, but I poured it into 12 cup cake cases and put it into the oven. After 20 minutes they looked like normal cupcakes, perhaps a little flat on top, but if you wanted to ice them they would be perfect. Five minutes after Zac came home from school I noticed that there were only 11 and a half left. So either Zac didn't like them (he would never eat just a half of one), or Sally had been at them. She, of course, denied it, and pointed the finger at Zac. "I said he could have a nibble of one before his tea," she explained. I then asked Zac, and he said he really liked them. Very tasty. I then broke the news to Sally that they were much higher in protein than regular cup cakes and Zac loved them. She was genuinely amazed. "I couldn't tell the difference," she said. "Aha!" said Poirot. Her confession was not difficult to extract!

After that triumph the introduction of Quinoa was too much for one day, maybe tomorrow!

And speaking of cooking, the pan was finally laid to rest today. Not even Cillit Bang! could get rid of that mess.

Elsewhere, the pirate dog came out of hibernation today, mainly to feature as Willy The Whaley Warrior, mascot for our T20 U19 team. He may also make an appearance at a certain birthday party that's not far away - no Helen, not yours, although you never know!

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Beware Geese On Bikes

Not everyone was pleased to hear about the Monte Carlo adventure. Clayton warned that, "You are creating a monster!" Maybe we should rename her Lady F.

Anyway, no sign of a kitten yet, but the car moved a step closer when I filled in some papers. Still not seen one yet, but if its silver I am sure it will be fine.

And if its not...I got a new bike. Well, not really new. Second hand, and only £70. Just need to transfer my Mr Bump bell from my old bike and I'm good to go. Now to find out if the towpath is open towards Marple.


Well, the towpath is open as far as bridge 20 (Hill Top Footbridge). That's an agonising 4.5 furlongs from Marple (What's a furlong? Look it up!) Apparently the towpath could be shut until July but may open sooner. It was a pleasant ride, with lots of birds, ducks, and rather aggressive, hissing geese. There's something quite intimidating about approaching a goose on a bike. I don't know how they reach the pedals.

In other news the kitten situation remains unresolved, though we now have Fiona scouring the land as well. The car situation took a giant leap forward as the forms have been processed and it has been ordered. Mine got MOTed yesterday, so just need to avoid writing it off in the next two weeks! I told Zac I was getting a new car, and he said 'Does that mean you will be driving me to school like a Boss?' Hmmm!

Written the next few hundred words on my novel aimed at getting kids off their X-Boxes and into books. "The History Of Zombies" is being test driven by Zac, but if anyone else wants a look just let me know.

Disappointing evening on the football pitch as the Under 16s went down 3-1 at Marple Athletic. Didn't play well, but we weren't helped when ref sent off our centre half.

And guess what? I tipped the scales at 13 stone 0 pounds today. That's almost 2 stone lighter than September. Time for a celebratory cake!

Monday, 13 April 2015

Pretty Maids All In A Row

It was a quieter weekend than expected. Sherry Friday went off without too much incident, and then Saturday saw a mammoth shopping trip to Tesco.

The "Big Pan" was getting its first outing of the year - with chilli on the menu. Having spent almost entire afternoons chopping vegetables in the past, I opted for the frozen variety - so there was only the chillies themselves that needed any prep, and I was done in time to watch Zac's under 11s suffer a routine 5-0 defeat.

Grand National time, and to be honest it doesn't excite me as much as it used to back in the days of Corbiere, West Tip, and Red Rum. Sally was expecting a houseful of friends round to watch the race before Jools' 50th birthday celebrations, but it didn't really happen, so after watching The Druids Nephew fall when leading and Soll run out of steam, I loaded up the car and headed for The Shepherds.

The Big Pan has not been seen since October, but it has been safely stored in a shed along with some fragile bay trees, but there did appear to be a small area of a clear sticky substance, that I can only assume is the sap from one of the bay trees, trickling down the surface. Anyway, some scaldingly hot water cleared that up, and I set to work.

Mince, chilli powder, fresh chillies, garlic, onions, seasoning, peppers, carrots, and then copious amounts of kidney beans, baked beans and tinned tomatoes. It was an hour in the making, and about half an hour in the selling. the boys from Hawksbury Upton showed their appreciation, and then moved on. In a magazine entitled 'How to feed a hungry cricket team after making them wait until they would eat a scabby horse' it got five star reviews!

I declined a trip to The Cock where the 50th birthday was in full swing, and headed home to watch The Masters.

The following day started with a cycle to Tesco along a path normally reserved for walkers. Two piles of horseshit blocked the way - what do horseriders think is going to happen to that? Fortunately I steered around it - perhaps they should think about carrying bags in the same way that dog owners have to. Horses are not bears, that quite commonly and famously shit in the woods. They are essentially domesticated animals, and if they shit in public places their rider / owner should clean up after them. Next time I see one crapping in the road I will give it a nice loud beep of the horn to remind them.

Anyway, I got back safely and made another pot of chilli, this one with chicken. Really must get around to penning Mmm...No2...Cookbook.

Nerves were jangling - it was time to head off to Old Trafford for the Derby. We travelled in comfort in Sally's Range Rover Sport, mine is still poorly in the clutch area, and of course the result put us in a happy mood for the return journey. But this blog is not about football - so let's get to the Pretty Maids (see title).

I got home to find the stove laden with pans, Sally had been making Sunday dinner. Just what the doctor ordered, but then I smelled a rat. Not literally, I mean, her cooking's not that bad, well actually I will let you be the judge of that. There was a tray of sausages and roast potatoes cooked from the freezer, and the frozen theme continued with sprouts and green beans. The carrots may well have been done from fresh, but the piece de resistance, the centrepiece of this traditional mouthwatering gastronomic occasion, was a frozen Holland's steak & kidney pudding. I'm not keen on them, and I wondered what the dark liquid was that it was sitting in - but more of that later. For now I assembled a plate of cooked chicken, reheated the veg and tucked in. Ole had started his new job washing up at the Beehive, so I had to clear up, and then I made an interesting discovery. Le Creuset proudly offer a lifetime guarantee on their cookware, but they had obviously not encountered a culinary disaster zone like Sally.

This is the pan that contained the pudding...



The black bit is burnt enamel, Have you any idea how hot the pan has to get to make it that colour? No? Neither have I. But it certainly has to have been left unattended for quite some time.

To be fair we have had the pans for quite some time, though certainly not a lifetime, and this is not the first one that Sally has ruined. I suppose the question is 'How long is a lifetime?' If you are one of Sally's pans then not very long at all! Now, we are not exactly short of pans. In fact we bought these beauties quite recently.



You will have noticed the pristine condition, and that is because these are just for show, certainly not to be cooked in. And whilst we are on the subject of kitchenware, over the years we have collected an assortment of glasses. What I didn't realise was that there is a glass hierarchy. There are big chunky ones that get rolled out when the kids have got friends round. These are for water, juice, lemonade, etc. Then there are the fancy kind. These are sometimes tinted, sometimes patterned, sometimes plain but regal, and these are frequently used for lemonade, juice, water etc. There are two main shelves in the cupboard for glasses. The lower class ones sit subserviently at the bottom, waiting for a grubby little hand to lift them out and fill them with a brightly coloured liquid no doubt laden with E numbers. The ones above sit proudly awaiting a genteel set of fingers to caress them and place them on the table , where a darker coloured cordial laden with possibly more E numbers will be splashed over their insides. And as of yesterday, whilst the hoi palloi of the bottom shelf can muster in any old ramshackle way, I was unequivocally informed that those on the top must now be displayed in neat little rows. Mary, Mary, quite contrary, FFS!

Friday, 10 April 2015

What's In A Name?

A quiet day started in whimsical fashion, as our attention turned to kittens. I recalled two white cats from childhood. One was called Susie, and the other Gemima. Sally looked surprised. "Gemima's a duck's name," she argued as we continued our search for Zac's future feline companion.

I got an email from Easyjet, apologising for the delay caused by the French Air Traffic Control strike, They failed to apologise for the first two hours of that delay that was caused by their own planes, and they also failed to apologise for the inability of their own staff to read simple documentation (see earlier entries). I really must write that letter!

Time to go out, with Sally heading for the stables and me to HSBC bank. I did not want to go to the bank - they said I had to. I wanted to open a Euro account, so that my Dutch colleagues could pay me in their native currency, and as I already have a US dollar account I thought it would be very straightforward. A couple of weeks ago I turned up at Buxton expecting it all to be sorted. But no, Buxton is now the banking equivalent of a corner shop, and does not do anything so grand as account opening. My business adviser is now based in Birmingham. "That will be a long trip up for him," I told the po faced teller. She didn't see the funny side, and came close to suggesting that I would have to got to the midlands to meet him, until I pointed out that NatWest was just across the way. So, she gave me a number to ring, and when I got home I rang it. In the short space of time that elapsed between Buxton and Whaley Bridge the number had changed, and so had the service. I would have to go to my branch. I pointed out that it was my branch that gave me the number that I was now on the phone to, but they uttered the word "Buxton" with a contempt matched only by the reaction of the staff in the Canal Street Post Office when a customer requests a first class stamp.

However, there was hope. They would set up an appointment at Macclesfield, much closer than Birmingham. So yesterday I got an email from Macclesfield asking me to bring photo id and proof of address, preferably a utility bill. I explained that I do not do utility bills, and that my HSBC bank account statements (which you used to send to me at my address), were all online. I do, however, get my business bank account statements sent to my home address. Could I bring one of those as proof, or could you just look on your computer system so that you can verify that that is where you send them? Or how about a mortgage statement? Sorry, that's in joint names? Tufty club annual membership? Just bring your photo id, was the rather terse reply!

So I made it to Macclesfield, and two signatures later my application was complete. The man explained that it is much easier to do it in branch than online. I explained that I do not normally sit for 20 minutes burning fuel before and after using my online banking. The humour was lost on him, then I remembered Zac's online account. Can you set it up for online banking? Last time I asked they said he had to ring up - and he's only 11. Of course, the man replied. He took down the details and said he would deal with it immediately.

You could not make this next bit up! Sure enough he dealt with it immediately. By the time I got home he had emailed me to tell me that Zac would have to go into branch to set up a telephone banking number before he could use online banking. WTF?

Sad news that Richie Benaud has died. Nothing remarkable about that, he was a ripe old age and got unlucky with the big C, which is sad in itself, and its another link with my childhood broken. A link that the dreadful remake of Thunderbirds so spectacularly failed to establish. But I digress!

Back at home the search for the kitten continued, including calls to Macclesfield and Dove Holes (again), but to no avail. I decided to go for a ride on my bike, so I took my rucksack and headed for Tesco. I usually plan the shopping so I don't overfill the rucksack, a great way to limit spending. But then Tesco have a 2 for 1 offer on crisps and the sack is bulging. Those bananas may well be a bit bruised by the time I get back home. A quick stop off at the vet's to check for a kitten, not yet, try again in a few weeks, and its back to Walter's Wood, where the last weekday of the school holiday is in full flow. "Zac's on his X-Box," called 'Supergrass' Ole. "Zac - come off there now. You're not allowed it until 4 o'clock," wailed the banshee that used to be Sally. "You might as well play football with me," reasoned Ole, but a slam of Zac's door indicated his refusal. I got them together and it seemed that Zac only wanted to play on the trampoline, but Ole only wanted to play on the grass. Ole had previously played on the trampoline with Zac in return to some mutual grass time, but then something had happened (it usually does) and Zac quite literally wouldn't play ball. Ole told me to make him, then Zac played his trump card, pulling up his sleeve to reveal a round bruise inflicted upon him by Ole some weeks ago. Ole was shocked that he still brought that bruise up, and I'm not convinced that Zac is not deliberately inflaming the bruise to keep it, shall we say, up his sleeve. Anyway, the arguments continued until I got them to agree to 15 minute slots, starting with  some one on one football on the grass, and followed by another 15 minutes on the trampoline. Approximately 38 seconds later the game had stopped as Zac had been fouled by Ole, but the referee (Ole) had not given it. In situations like these its only the threat of the complete removal of the X-Box that ever comes close to working, so that's what happened and the arguments eventually subsided. Watching on from a safe distance away from the boys was Sally, whose eyes were gradually glazing over as she watched the station clock tick ever so slowly towards 4pm on Sherry Friday.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Searching!

Today started off in a much more sedate way than the earlier ones this week. But after yesterday's disasters on the motorway Sally decided that a new car was the priority. Now - I have no interest in cars. To me they are just like any other appliance. If I want toast, I put bread in a toaster. If I want to heat stuff up, I put it in the microwave. If I want to get from A to B, I use a car. And just like the microwave I don't clean my car very often either. If you asked me what type of car I had I would probably say a blue one. Its actually a Chevrolet Lacetti Estate, a model I had never heard of before that fateful day in 2009 when I forked out for a new one. In blue. Now I need a 4x4. I don't want a basic model - I need one with a few more gadgets. But not top of the range. I don't need top of the range gadgets. Apparently. Apparently you can't get new ones that play tapes any more. So, Sally thinks the Dacia Duster fits the bill. A silver one (or electric blue) would cost about £13k. And I might get as much as £2500 for mine (there must be one born every minute). Then there was one with just 3200 miles on it, for 11k, just 2 owners. I may know nothing about cars, but 2 owners in 3200 miles? Suspicious. We (she) eventually settled for a new model from Manchester, with a 2 week lead time. So I will continue to get my blue one serviced and MOTed on Monday, if it survives that long. She then said that I should feel honoured as she had never had a new car before, so I offered to take her Range Rover Sport off her and she could have the new Duster. They are both silver after all. She declined my offer. I drove my car up and down the drive to make sure the gears worked after yesterday - and they did. Job done.

Meanwhile, Zac wants a kitten. Dove Holes don't have kittens, just cats, and it seems that only Facebook can help. The question is, how long before a kitten can be separated from its mum? 6 weeks, no, way too short. 12 weeks seems the recommended time, but there are a lot trying to get them out of the door after 8. The next question was, how would Bobby feel about it? Bobby is a rescue cat picked up from Dove Holes several years ago. Bobby is (technically) Ole's cat, and Gabi had Blackie before him. But this would be Zac's cat. And I will remind him of that when the litter tray needs emptying. The internet (where else?) is full of advice as to how to integrate a kitten with an older cat, including cages, enforced separation, and rubbing socks onto each cat so that they could get each other's scent without actually meeting. You have to be careful not to get the cat stressed. Well if Bobby gets stressed I would see it as revenge for all of the 4am miaowing when he wanted to be let out. I have tried, not always successfully, to ensure he is outside before I go to bed, but he is a cat. And cats are cunning. He actually hides away about an hour before bedtime. Seriously. He will be lying peacefully on the settee, taking little or no notice of the occasional stroke. Then when he senses that bedtime is approaching he will amble off to the kitchen for food, have a shifty look around, and then slope off into his latest hidey hole. It used to be on a cushion on a chair tucked under the table in the dining room, then when I discovered that he went behind the angled bookcase on the landing. His most cunning was behind the mattress that is on the floor under the bed in the spare room. I only spotted him when I saw his whiskers sticking out. Then there is the struggle as he digs his claws into the carpet, but if I want a peaceful night's sleep he has to go!

Whilst these searches were going on Ole stumbled home from his camping expedition, and deposited two bedraggled friends in the play room with brioche buns for breakfast, whilst he went to get changed. His lift arrived 20 minutes later, at which point the Bank of Dad had to open unusually early.

Several kittens emerged as potential company for Bobby and Zac (thanks Rob), but none could be delivered today, so Zac prepared for a strenuous time on the X-Box. It was then that I discovered the Easyjet document that said the vouchers given yesterday could be used on board the aircraft. I thought Sally was going to have a fit. I must get around to writing that letter.

We got a new fridge recently, and it broke. It didn't break badly, just the dairy tray. That's the one at the top where we keep cheese. So Sally ordered a spare that arrived in a small box. A suspiciously small box. I could see straight away that Sally had ordered the wrong part, but she still unwrapped it, opened the fridge and tried to fit it. "It doesn't fit" was her predictable response, but this morning she rang the parts company to rectify the situation. She admitted that she was at fault. I realise at this point that many of you will be laughing out loud at that notion, Sally admitting a fault, but she must have had an ulterior motive. Anyway, the spares company customer service agent asked her for the model number. She came into my office and asked me to read it out, as even with her antique magnifying glass in hand she could not make out the digits. I read out the serial number, but that was not what was required. It was the model number. We located this and it appeared to be in even smaller print. I called for the magnifier but still couldn't read it. Then I wiped a thick layer of chocolate off it and it was as clear as day. We should have another part quite soon, which will end the irritating phenomenon of Babybel and that funny shaped smoked cheese rolling on the floor every time the fridge door opens.

Other than that its been quite mundane. The first entry in the blog was well received, and I made a to do list. I got through quite a lot of it in between work commitments, but did not manage to get round to any creative writing. Maybe tomorrow. Oh hang on, tomorrow is Sherry Friday, and worse than that, its that start of a weekend that includes the Grand National, the Manchester Derby and a certain lady's 50th birthday. And a friendly cricket match that I promised to get the big pan out for.

One other thing. Have you ever tried pumping up a bicycle tyre with a pump designed for footballs? No? Well don't. I was busy wasting my time doing that this morning, cursing the new pump that was bought just a few weeks ago, and that had gone missing (aka Sally had moved it), when Zac handed over the aforementioned pump with the words "Bet you've been looking for this". If it wasn't for Esther Rantzen that pump would have never been seen again, and Zac would be walking rather funny.

What's It All About?

Paradise is an interesting concept. Not so much a place as a state of mind. If I ever found it I don't think I'd be as careless as Milton!

So today seems like a good day to start a new blog. It started with me feeling like crap and having to get up at 4.40am - but with good cause. We hit the road at 5.15 for Liverpool airport, which is almost like a real airport, and a 2 hour flight to Nice. Parking in the multi storey has become an essential rather than a luxury - as has a fast track through security. I selected extra legroom seats - and these came with free Speedy Boarding access (wow - thanks Easyjet). Sadly, Speedy Boarding only applied to the bus to take you to the plane, and not onto the plane itself! And here's an odd thing. We sat on row 1. Right at the front. And by the time we got off my feet were freezing. Now, I'm sure there can't be a gap under the door - but it was definitely cold. I flicked through the magazine. Some guy is making a fortune on Youtube - just by being himself. Ole and Zac may have a new career when I get back.

Anyway, we landed in Nice, and then the fun started! A quick transfer to Heliair Monaco and we soared above the southern French coastline for all of 7 minutes before the chopper landed in Monte Carlo. We were supposed to be on the 12.15 copter ride but we were early and got on the 11.45. No hassle - and though we had a bottle of champagne in hand luggage the Heliar people just took the hand luggage and put it in the back. Free shuttle to Hermitage hotel, and by 12.30 we were checked in to a very nice room in a fabulous atmospheric hotel. Not the most personable - it's too big for that. But definitely grandiose. Anyway, we were accompanied to our room by a young girl (the hotel seemed keen on employing young French girls, but more of that later), and she explained that the mini bar was "automatique", meaning that if you touched anything you were charged for it. This next bit is very important if you intend to read much more of this blog - as it shows something of the character of my wife. She was intent on putting the bottle of Piper Heidsieck champagne in there to chill - but clearly could not. Without batting an eyelid she said 'Could you remove everything so that there is enough room for my husbands insulin? Its his medicine.' The girl said she would get housekeeping to make enough space, and we thought we had hatched a cunning plan. I was a little concerned that my wife would confer a diabetic condition on me so easily, (has she never read a Stephen King novel?) but there was no more time to waste.

We didn't have long, less than 24 hours, but Monte Carlo is not that big. We wandered past Porsches and Ferraris and settled for a front row table at Cafe de Paris. It was great fun people watching, drinking coffee, mojitos and beer, then back to the hotel for a pedicure at the attached Thermes Marins spa. This was a very complicated place to get in and around, and it was a bit of a surprise when another young French girl accompanied me into the men's changing room to explain the lockers, as most other occupants of that overcrowded room were happily naked men.

My wife enjoyed the pedicure whilst I soaked up some rays on the deck overlooking the harbour. The pedicurist was very brave, advising her how much better she would look with botox, acid and some medieval 'threading' procedure on her neck. She also advised the use of factor 50 suncream, and I suspect that will be ignored too.

Lunch had been light, and I was now hungry, so we stopped off at the hotel's quaint Lemon bar for a very expensive panini. I have to say that the rumours of how expensive Monaco is are all true - but then again the Caffe Ritazza at Liverpool Airport should have given away their coffee as it was not really fit to be sold, and the Piper Heidsieck champagne, although reduced to twenty quid in duty free, was not really fit to drink, especially warm as the cunning plan failed quite comically. You have to pay for quality.

Anyway, back to the cunning plan. We got back to the room and opened the fridge. True to her word, the French maid had moved just enough expensive mini bar bottles to fit in a small bottle of Calpol, not a 70cl bottle of champers. My psychosomatic diabetes would have to go untreated, whilst my wife filled the sink with the coldest water she could get out of the tap. Ultimately it failed, and most of the plonk got poured down the sink.

We headed for the exclusive Casino Monte Carlo that was not as exclusive as it probably once was. The dress code was very relaxed, and the roulette was very expensive. 5 Euro minimum bet, but it was popular and the one open table was fully occupied. Sally played and won and lost on some very complex fruit machines, and occasionally she was not really sure whether she had won, lost or simply hit the wrong button and cashed out. Dinner seemed a reasonable price in the fine old casino, but there was a reason for that too. Steak that would not even be served as such in England, and a mountain of lettuce leaves. Shocking really, but we were hungry! We called in to the other casino around the square, but this was just a collection of slot machines, so it was time for bed.

The next day there was talk of an air traffic controller strike (the French just love their ATC strikes), so I checked the internet and found that our flight was ok, unlike over 100 others that had been cancelled, but it was delayed by two hours due to an issue with a previous flight. No worries - but both of our phones were low on battery so we hastily sent messages to say we would be back by 5pm rather than 3. We got a very nice limo transfer back to the heliport, then Heliar once again whisked us across the Med and back to the airport. Nice airport actually looks quite good from the check in area, with cafes and restaurants all around. However, we are British and have bad experiences with security - so we rushed straight through. If you are in this situation - just don't! Once inside, all that was available was a Costa Coffee and a newsagent, or the option to head through passport control into the gate B section where our flight would be leaving from.

A slice of apple tart staved off hunger, then we proceeded through passport control. The bar there was little more than a cafe, and it didn't look too well prepared for a day that was about to get a whole lot worse (though quite predictably so). Time passed, and we were called forward for boarding, then a strange thing happened. Boarding stopped and an announcement was made, informing us that there was now a significant delay due to the air traffic control strike. We groaned and one by one passengers pleaded at the desk for more information. The Easyjet pilot, Mark Richardson, actually came to the desk, took over the mic, and explained that he had no more information and he would come back in an hour and say more. That quelled the crowd, and we headed back to the bar area. There was an internet station where we tried to charge our phones, but to no avail, and we were just about to buy a charger from a tiny duty free shop when a very nice Welsh lady offered the use of hers. My wife could be described as 'chatty', and so she learnt all about the merits of whisky from this lady who apparently worked in the Welsh whisky industry. Whilst this was going on I paid 5 Euros for half an hour of internet, and told all who needed to know of our predicament. This took a lot longer than expected, due to the nuances of a French keyboard. In particular, the m, a, z and w are in different places, and when you already use a standard keyboard a lot, this drives you nuts. For instance, the q and a have been transposed. My fingers know where 'a' is instinctively. They certainly don't expect to find a 'q' there. And to move 'm' from its rightful place beside 'n' is just irritating.

I would have posted on Linkedin, but it would have taken ages, so I contented myself in reading the increasingly aggressive responses on a particular thread. I always find that if a thread generates more than about ten responses, the tone and relevancy of those responses generally degenerates! I did get a message on LinkedIn - from an agent that has now set up his own agency. 'Not been in touch for ages - give me a call'. No I haven't been in touch, but then neither have you. But now you want something. Funny that, isn't it?

More news from the desk - they were now giving out vouchers for food. Unfortunately the bar had long since sold out! The  pilot returned with no more news but the promise of another hourly update, and then my wife and the Welsh woman negotiated their way back through passport control to Costa where the paninis were going fast. Actually, it was my wife who did the negotiating. The Welsh woman just meekly followed, as people are wont to do when my wife gets involved. So, they then returned through passport control without passports (I was safeguarding them - they only had to ask) but with hot paninis to the envy of other passengers.

The next announcement was more promising - we would be boarding at 5 and leaving at 5.30, and the mood cheered. When the time came we flew through the boarding process but had an agonising 20 minute wait before finally pulling back and taking off. A six hour delay could have been a whole lot worse, and a big thanks to the pilot for keeping us informed. Not so the Easyjet stewardesses who refused to allow us to spend our vouchers on board, despite their own documentation clearly stating that this is acceptable. I feel a letter coming on....

I read a lot of Stephen King books, and on this occasion I was reading his short story collection 'Everything's Eventual'. Now, I should explain that I read EVERYTHING. The prologue, the epilogue, etc. I don't want to miss the fright of my life or the swish of a switchblade. Well, after every story in this collection there's a little passage from King explaining why he wrote this particular story. It's a bit too much, and frankly a bit arrogant. It's a bit like the makers of The Simpson's writing a book describing each episode and all of the funny bits that you might have missed as you are clearly not as bright as them (yes, such a book does exist). So, Mr King, I don't mind reading your thank yous, but spare me your inspiration! And whilst on the subject of Stephen King, I am thinking of putting together my own collection of short stories. Oddities and horror and scifi. 'A Tribute To The King'. What do you think?

'Welcome To Liverpool Airport' the sign reads as half of the planeload of passengers are forced to stand outside because the immigration area is simply not big enough. It never has been - and I don't see any sign of improvement soon. Then there was the car park. An additional charge of £35 had been triggered because of our six hour delay (nice work if you can get it), but this was quickly waived at the gate (not bad, especially for Scousers).

The journey home was not exactly uneventful either. Ole decided he was camping with some mates - so we had to persuade him not to set up his tent in a random farmer's field but to instead head for the cricket ground car park, then my car broke down. Its fine, its done it before, but it is still a bit disconcerting when it won't go into gear on a motorway. Two minutes on the hard shoulder and it was fine to get on our way, but the same thing happened twenty minutes later at Cheadle! Finally, we arrived home. Ole has lit a barbeque visible across half of the High Peak, Zac wants a new kitten so countless hours of research into how to integrate it with Bobby our existing cat, and there's an Alton Towers trip in the morning...

Last few minutes before sleep spent trying to decipher the meaning behind the minutes of Whaley Bridge Cricket Club Executive meeting. Were the words 'closed system of chauvinistic paternalism' really uttered in such a meeting within the confines of Whaley Bridge Bowling Club? I think not, but I would be very amused to find that they were!