Friday, 17 March 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Elvis Presley And A Horse's Arse

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

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

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

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

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

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

It looks a bit like this...

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jailhouse Rock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ole reluctantly got his email up on his phone.

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

So Ole started reading his email out loud.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 6 January 2017

Leave The Cooking To Dad

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

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

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

Still with it?

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

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

Several more minutes silence.

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

Several more minutes silence.

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

Several more minutes silence.

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

Several more minutes silence.

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

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

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

Several minutes silence.

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

Several more minutes silence.

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

I decided that I would check online later.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Creole Cake with Toasted Almond Paste

Chocolate Log with Nutella Buttercream

Christmas Gingerbread Biscuits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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