Saturday, 25 November 2017

Cabbages And Kings

"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes and ships and sealing wax
Of cabbages and kings."

     "The Walrus And The Carpenter" from Through The Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll

...and there are genuinely a cabbage and a king in this edition.

First, the king. The king of New Orleans, the king of Boogie Woogie piano. Fats Domino sadly passed away recently, and I can say that I was privileged to meet the great man on one memorable occasion.

It was in Sheffield when he topped the bill that also contained Chuck Berry and Little Richard. Fats had to cut short his appearance due to ill health, and as we knew his drummer, Ernest Fontenot, we went backstage to meet the band. Fats was in his dressing room surrounded by management, but Ernest ushered us in. It was a surreal moment to meet this superstar sat in front of his star mirror and clearly ill at ease with himself. Sally, being a nurse, asked to see his medication, and there was a lot. She warned that some of what he was taking would be ineffective when taken with other stuff that he was taking. She urged him to go to the hospital. His management said he just needed a rest and would be ok in the morning. He asked my opinion, so I told him that if we left it was clear that his management company would not take him, so it was probably best that he got checked out. So, we went to Sheffield general hospital and that proved to be the end of the tour. Fats survived another 22 years, and maybe in part due to our intervention (see report below). He was really grateful that Sally took him in to the hospital and spoke in medical terms to the doctors and nurses, whilst we hung out in his stretch limo!

Fats Domino, When The Saints Go Marching In

The news story

A couple of years later we were due to meet him again, but shortly after our arrival in The Big Easy he suffered a family bereavement, so we had to content ourselves with a treasured snapshot outside his house.

RIP Fats.

Its been a busy time in the kitchen, with gingerbread biscuits, flapjacks, chocolate digestives and orange cheesecake with a pomegranate and passion fruit medley. Sally has been busily snapping these as they could all end up in the upcoming and illustrated Mmm...No2...Cookbook.

Of course, with kids about you have to take steps to hide the sweet treats. This rascal was caught red-handed!

Another great success has been sweetcorn relish. Commonly found on kebabs, this is a much healthier and very tasty version, with a bit of a chilli kick!

Ole has had a few problems at college, and it all began with a trip to Leeds.

"Dad, Bruce has paid £6 for his train ticket, but mine is, like, £14.50"
"Which website are you using?"
"I used Trainline but Bruce used Northern Rail. I'll try that."

There then followed a brief pause.

"Its still the same - but Bruce said he did it on the app. I'll download the app."

There was another brief pause.

"It's still the same. Should I ring them?"
"No. If that's the price then that's what you will have to pay."

There was another brief pause.

"Ah. Bruce now says he paid £14.50. So I'll pay that."

The transaction went through and off he went. A day or so later I checked his account (believe me, if I didn't check it he would soon be penniless). There was the Trainline transaction, but it was for £29. I realised what had happened.

"You've paid for your Leeds trip twice."
"How do you know?"
"I'm a dad. That's my job."
"What should I do?"
"Well you should go to the train station to get a refund. They might refund it as it is obvious that you did it by accident."

Fortunately, Northern Rail must be used to dealing with teenagers who really shouldn't be allowed out on their own, and they refunded the full £14.50,

Next up it was time for Ole to return home. He even managed to bring his washing with him. Bruce hadn't gone home, but he was the victim of one of Ole's pranks, as evidenced by Ole laughing down the phone at him. Ole explained what happened.

"I hid a cabbage amongst his clothes. He's just found it."
"What were you doing with a cabbage?"
"I thought it was a lettuce when I bought it. I don't like cabbages so I hid it in Bruce's clothes.

Autumn can be a miserable time, filled with wet weather, wet leaves and increasing darkness. However, there is always Halloween. Lots of people don't get it, and are even resentful of the American influence that brightens up this dire time. Well I love it. If I had time I would build my own scary maze in the garden. We've already got holograms that are projected onto the garage wall. That might explain why we don't get many visitors. Anyway, its also an excuse to roll out the pumpkins. There's the carving of course, but there's also pumpkin pie (with a new ginger biscuit base), and pumpkin soup. I tried pumpkin muffins again, and they weren't great. I remember trying them once before and they weren't great then either, Maybe its time to move on!

Another great tradition at this time of year is Bonfire Night. Ole looked at the space between the garage and the railway line, and it took him more than a moment to realise that the garden shed had gone missing. It was rotting away, so I dismantled it and made what is possibly the best bonfire ever!

Despite the rain it went up a treat.

I ran a second promotion on Elvis Under The Covers, and it made the top 100 of all free Kindle books, it hit number 4 of all free non-fiction books, and it reached number 1 in the free music books category. Taylor Swift must have been looking up enviously!

Not got yours yet? Its free for another day or so!

Incidentally, I now have a guinea pig to read The History Of Zombies. Still need a couple more - its aimed at young teens, so if you have one who likes reading, or who likes zombies, let me know and I will send you a PDF copy.

Zac had a great time with his mates at the Extreme Escape room in Disley. And it gave Sally and myself the chance to try a few cocktails at Frankie's. Very relaxing, despite a phone call in the first few minutes as one of them had been in the room before and was giving all the clues away!

Perhaps 14 is a bit too young to concentrate on a task for 90 minutes - but the pictures are well worth seeing!

And speaking of Zac, not much to report recently, well except that one occasion when he went quiet. He was supposed to be upstairs keeping an eye on the bath that he was filling. Unfortunately his X-Box game demanded more attention, and we only suspected that something might be wrong when we saw water dripping from the ceiling downstairs. It seemed quite serious and Zac was given a stiff talking too. Sally scolded him and said that Ole had done the same thing a few years earlier. That perked him up again as he asked, 'Was my flood worse than Ole's?'

Had some fun in Manchester over the last few weeks, with three sets of students from MMU working on my projects. The first is a continuation of last year's project to build a tool that detects broken websites. The second is to rebuild the ill-fated Tideswell Male Voice Choir's website, and the third is to create an automatic cookie policy generator, a tool that will be particularly useful when the GDPR comes into force in 2018! I will let you know how they get on - it could be a busy few months.

Our latest Sunday lunch was at The Swan in Kettleshulme, and as expected it was the best yet. Roast beef that just fell apart, and a good selection of vegetables. The gravy was a little thin, but they would probably thicken it up if we had asked. Be warned, the chocolate torte is extremely intense!

Last Thursday was Thanksgiving, another great American tradition that hasn't caught on over here. However, it is an excuse to meet up with friends and catch three consecutive NFL games. So, after a business meeting in central London I checked into an Airbnb apartment in Soho. Much more spacious than an equivalent hotel room, and better value. I headed for the Haymarket and Riley's Sports Bar, and their coffee machine was broken. So, I had my first pint at 5.30pm, with 10 hours of football ahead. Nachos and wings were the order of the day, and several more beers and vodka. We finished off at the casino, having virtually missed the third game, but we watched some cricket instead. Then there was the trek through the seedier parts of Soho to get back, and it made me wonder why there are still adult video shops? They must be a front for something else! So I got to bed around 4, and was up and on my way home by 10. Am I getting too old for this? Well it only took 2 Anadin and a bottle of Lucozade to get me home, so I'm looking forward to a similar event during the play offs!

Finally, we were rudely awoken by a loud screeching the other night. Suspecting foul play or an attack on our cat, Sally leapt out of bed and went to the rear window. Nothing, She went to the front window. Still nothing. So, she closed all the doors so that if the noise continued we would not be able to hear it. An hour or so later I was half asleep when I got up for work. To be honest, I don't really wake up until I'm at least an hour into my car journey! Anyway, I was in the bathroom and there was that noise again. Only this time it was clear where it was coming from. At 6am, Sally had her laptop open playing clips of a barn owl. She conclusively decided that it was a barn owl that we had heard in the night and not, as I suspected, a screech owl. I made a mental note to try to catch up on my sleep at some point!

Friday, 20 October 2017

Mops, Strops & The NFL

So how's university going? Well three weeks in and he's been back twice! The second time was for a trip to Wembley for the American football, but he decided to come home early. His first and most pressing question was 'Is there any food in the house?' and then we went shopping. 'Can you buy me some snacks? I can't afford those,' he claimed, shortly before organising a taxi to his girfriend's house and ordering a Chinese. Anyway, we left Zac home alone whilst we headed off to The Wellington in Leek, new home of legendary ex-Whaley landlord Clive Ashton. Its a great pub, with a great new tenant back doing what he does best. He and Carol have settled in well, though Clive did escape with a week in hospital with Quincy Jones (or some such similar tale). Anyway, lets get a minibus together and pay him a visit.

The next day it was an early start as we got the train to London. Several vagabonds were sat in our seats as we boarded at Macclesfield. They were quickly moved along and we continued on to the Big Smoke with a slight delay around Watford.

The variety of Gridiron shirts was a strange one to explain, but not as difficult as the tube operation. As I have said before, the tube is now contactless, so I took three contactless cards. Handing one each to Ole and Zac I said 'pay attention' as I headed to the turnstile. I placed my card on the reader and went through, as did Ole, but Zac had clearly not 'paid attention'. 'Wait, what?' he called after us as he tried to stick his card into several non existent slots. Ole laughed, I sighed with a resigned shrug and went back to show him how to get through. A short time later we boarded a crowded tube across the city, getting off at Wembley Park within sight of the Twin Towers. Well, obviously today its the massive arch, but you know what I mean.

Two and a half hours before kick off the place was buzzing. It was a magnificent sight, Wembley is still a special place, especially for first time teenage visitors. However, we had an important job to do first. Ole was heading straight back to university after the game, so we had to drop his bag off at 'Luggage Hero'. This turned out to be a convenience store that had a nice side business going, but it was very easy to use and efficient. You get an email with a 'Check In' button. Once you click this your timer starts, and when you 'Check Out' you are charged for the time that your bag is in their possession. All good, and we headed towards the stadium and in particular the Tailgate Party. Unfortunately the queue to get in would have meant missing half the game - so we went to our entrance at Club Wembley. Security is strict, and Zac started taking off his shoes and unfastening his belt as if it was an airport, but the security guard waved him through and high fived him - clearly not a terrorist threat!

We still had 90 minutes to kick off, but food was on the agenda, and what a selection! Beer was £5.80 a pint, which compared to some other prices was quite reasonable. £6 for three donuts? I'll swap that for a pint and 20p change. We had exotic burgers, a selection of sausages, Ben & Jerry's ice cream, pick and mix (not recommended - on full display in front of the coughing and spluttering hordes), popcorn, donuts - actually it was worse than previously stated - because two of them were too sickly sweet to eat. Zac had the chocolate one. Conveniently, everything was paid for on contactless, so you don't realise how much it costs you until your battered and bruised credit cards pleads to stop.

Our seats were magnificent and straight away Ole started taking pictures. Pictures of the stadium, pictures of the grass, pictures of the cheerleaders, pictures of the players. Zac, meanwhile, had found the flag that the NFL had left behind each chair. One side gold for the Saints, and the other blue for the Dolphins. Zac had decided that the Dolphins were his team, but when he held the flag up it only waved on the gold side, so he re-engineered it! Ole was cheering for the Saints. As kick off time approached the atmosphere built up, with the playing of the anthems a highlight. The big screen picked out certain parts of the crowd, but even Ole paid his respects as the flags were raised. Well, that was until a kid appeared on the Jumbotron and laughed, at which point Ole got uncontrollable giggles. Fortunately, the President didn't get wind of this so we were never accused of disrespecting the flag.

We discussed bets - and Zac wanted a bet that no one would score a touchdown at 150/1. I told him that would be ridiculous - so we didn't!

The game kicked off and all was going well for Zac as Miami marched down the field. A throw into the endzone....interception, and that was about as good as it got for the Dolphins. New Orleans weren't much better and it was 3-0 at half time - with no touchdowns!

The interesting thing was that both of them were absorbed in the action. They asked lots of questions, but they understood the point of it all, and were actually quite into the array of unusual penalties. Every break, and there are a lot of breaks, was filled with entertainment. Cheerleaders, t-shirt guns, men jumping around on springs, etc. And unlike English football, they could see that every play had to aim to move forward. There was nothing to be gained by endlessly passing the ball across the back four.

Anyway, time for me to retrieve my credit card from casualty and give it another bruising.

The second half was more entertaining, as New Orleans raced into a healthy lead. Thankfully there was a touchdown, which saved me paying Zac £150. This also led to Zac switching allegiance, so they are now both Saints fans. When the second touchdown went in to make it 20-0 with about four minutes left, which is about 15 minutes in American Football, we headed for the exit. Luggage Hero was a bit chaotic, with lots of bags strewn amongst cases of baked beans and Tennants Super lager, but it was quickly located and the 6 Euro fee was very reasonable. We were soon on the tube and reached Euston with more than an hour to spare. So, more expensive burgers followed by a quick beer in the good old Doric Arch before we boarded the train. Ole was quickly asleep, amusing the carriage with his snoring! Would they go back next year? 100%. Can't wait!

Don't often see them like this!

I have taken very few courses throughout my career. The last certification I actually got was probably for Child Welfare. Anyway, I have now added to that with Level 2 Food Hygiene. I am now licensed!

So what did I cook to celebrate this new found professionalism? Chocolate muffins, at 6am. Our granddaughter came to stay, and she pays no heed to the time of day! She was up early so I was up early, and one of her favourite words is 'Cakey'. Unfortunately there are no pictures of 'Cakey' because they disappeared. Of course, the advantage of being little and getting up early is you can have a nap!

The next time she visited she realised that winter is not far away - and we would certainly need hats!

One of my favourite events of the year is York Races, and the October meeting followed by a night at Middlethorpe Hall is a particular favourite. This year we had a tip straight from the horse's mouth in the first race - so what a great way to start the day. Except that it came nowhere! Of course, a trip to the parade ring is also a must, and lo and behold Lady M bumped into Mick Easterby again. The old boy was born in the same year as her mum, so they had something to talk about, and we are getting quite a collection of photos!


Anyway, I changed tactic and started on red wine, well after the Pimms, champagne and a couple of lagers, thinking I would be able to pace myself better. Unfortunately the first bottle had disappeared quicker than that donkey in the first race!

Funny when you are going through old pics - there's always one that you have forgotten about!

Elvis Under The Covers has received another favourable review. This one is only 4 stars - but still a great testimonial.

on 17 October 2017
Format: Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Good presentation, and interesting read.

Back to university and one Sunday morning I awoke to a stream of messages from Ole that had been sent at around 5.20am.

Dad I need your help
I ordered Dominos tonight
And the guy came and gave me the pizzas
But didnt have any change
So he said he's be back in 5 minutes
With the change
45 minutes later he's still not here
I've called him and he either hasn't answered
Or said he'll be 2 minutes
And he still isn't here
I called the Dominos
And they said there's nothing we can do then started getting arsey and hung up
And I called back and they hung up
So Dominos owe me £5 and said they'd be back in 5 minutes and have been over an hour
I'm going bed now but it's a piss take
I'm fuming

I rather unhelpfully pointed out that ordering pizza at 4 or 5 am was not exactly healthy, but of course that was Sunday morning and there was no response. By Sunday afternoon, when Ole emerged from his bed, the furore was over. They guy had eventually turned up with his fiver, and also suggested that some people are quite happy to tip a fiver. Ole is not one of those people!

Zac also had a food related rant when his Wembley sausage was accompanied by a watery red liquid. He has his own favourite. 'There should only be Heinz. Everyone loves Heinz and other stuff isn't as good so why do they bother. What even is this stuff? It doesn't taste of ketchup.' Interesting that he said it doesn't taste of ketchup. I can honestly say I've never had any ketchup that tastes remotely like tomatoes! Anyway, in the kingdom of Zac watch out for the first law of ketchup.

Our search for the perfect Sunday lunch took us to the Royal Oak at Hurdlow. We had tried to book here previously but they were full. This time we were at Hartington and decided to call in on our way back. Fortunately, after a 10 minute wait at the bar, they found us a table. Definitely the best so far, with generous portions of roast beef and all the trimmings including a sizeable Yorkshire pudding. A bit skimpy on the Horseradish, but that is being really picky. We will definitely be venturing here again. This week its The Swan at Kettleshulme - already a perennial favourite.

We seem to have found a new game. Where's My Phone? is frequently accompanied or preceded by Where's My Keys? Sally can play this game for hours, often finding the phone and then losing it again whilst looking for the keys. Its even worth hiding them just to watch the frantic confusion - but I've not actually tried that yet - honestly!

Now, I'm all for new trends and new designs, in fact I'm quite a fan of the rechargeable hoover that sits neatly on the wall charging up so its always ready for action. But one thing that I have never considered could be improved upon is the humble mop and bucket. You dip your mop in the water, squeeze it out on the handy addition to a normal bucket, then mop. As simple as it could get. How wrong I was. Now the activity of squishing your mop out in the specially designed section of a mop bucket has been replaced by a high tech squeezing mechanism meaning that your mop can now go into a regular bucket. I mean, this is hardly the stuff that we pay our scientists to do - I guess you don't go straight from innovative mop design to nuclear fission. Hang on, let me put my mop down while I think about that. Err - if I put it in the newly designed plain bucket it will have to rest in the water which will mean there was no point in rinsing it out. Back to the drawing board methinks Mr Mop Designer.

Friday, 29 September 2017

The US, student finance and Three Customer Service - the world's gone mad

Well - I am going to start by saying that the USA has officially lost it. I have been following their politics since the election, and it is clear that they just can't get on with each other. The right says one thing and the left, to a man, are up in arms, and vice versa. There is no bipartisan middle ground. The latest saga is about NFL players kneeling during the national anthem. The president said they should be fired for disrespecting the flag. He even went so far as to call them sons of bitches. Hardly presidential, but that level of entertainment is what we have come to expect from the leader of the free world. So then the Democrats went after him. First amendment, draft dodger, its their right, etc. Then the Republicans fought back. Overpaid millionaires, they should remember who pays their wages (actually those last two could equally be applied to Trump!). They cited Antonio Cromartie as proof because he got sacked for disrespecting the anthem like it just happened, but that was a year ago. Not to be outdone, the Dems photoshopped a picture of Trump not saluting the flag and the senate not standing (ok - this was real but it wasn't the actual senate - just New York). Then there are the consipracy theorists who think that every time the Russia investigation gets close the president uses diversionary tactics, and the NFL was certainly a huge diversion. In the meantime, a hurricane hit Puerto Rico with disastrous consequences for the 3.5m Americans living there and Trump has certainly paid more attention to the NFL than to that humanitarian crisis. However, that is just based on Twitter - I don't profess to know what he is doing behind the scenes! And that is kind of the point - there is so much spin from both sides that it is impossible to tell what is real. One thing is for sure, as a soap opera its much better than Corrie or Eastenders!

The junior football season has started, and it is quite a relief that there is just the one game to worry about each weekend. Of course, with Zac involved there is always entertainment, and in a recent drubbing he had two hands on the ball when the opposing striker kicked it off him and passed to a teammate who scored. Zac went into full on tantrum mode, pounding the floor and telling the referee in no uncertain terms that he had both hands on the ball. A short time later he collected the ball, held it above his head and shouted, 'Look - two hands'. Fortunately the somewhat ageing ref was looking the other way, otherwise a red card might have appeared. Afterwards Zac was unrepentant. 'How is he even allowed to ref? He is senile.' He has a lot to learn and it could be a long season!

Meanwhile, the cricket season came to a predictably damp end, though the seconds actually managed to fit a game in which kept us out of the pub until 7pm. Russell's reasonably accomplished ukele playing was rather harshly ridiculed, but I don't think that will deter him!

The first review of Elvis Under The Covers appeared on Amazon, and its quite a good one. Mr Palmer obviously has taste...Great read for anyone interested in Elvis or the history of the music business. Very thorough and great insight with the use of interviews with the people who have covered Elvis song through the years. I love this book!

The Kindle edition is on free promotion this weekend, and it has had a positive effect. It has reached number 3 on the UK free music chart and number 1 on the same chart in France where it has a certain je ne sais quoi! The US are a bit slow to respond - only at 11 over there!

Guess what? I always thought that paying extra for upper class flights was because of the service, comfort, priority, lounge, etc. Turns out its actually safer too! The seatbelt has an airbag in it! What price do you put on your safety?!

The Whaley Bridge Cricket Club trip went to Frankfurt last weekend - and it was a much smaller affair than the halcyon days of 20 plus revellers, frequent visits to the hotel manager's office, and the general chaos that ensues when trying to herd cats. Maybe they will return, but for 2017 just 5 of us set off, taking breakfast at the wonderful Cafe 110. Actually there were only 4 of us at this stage - our fifth member met us at the airport. The trip to the airport was a sober affair - as the bus driver banned alcohol. That wouldn't have gone down well in days gone by, and we wont be making that mistake again.The guessing games still work - even convincing someone that was convinced we were going to Frankfurt that we were not going to Frankfurt. As it turns out, Frankfurt is a bit smelly. Someone needs to sort the drains out. Someone also needs to sort the karaoke out! Definitely not PC!

We spent a pleasant afternoon in Waxy's Irish Bar (when in Rome...) discussing the merits of Chesters not being able to charge his phone because he hadn't left the room key in the electric slot, and discovering the phrase 'unsolicited back story' which completely replaces the concept of body language! Perhaps the funniest item occurred when we were sat on the plane ready to return. Chesters, again, asked when it was that the 4pm Sunday kick offs had been changed to 5pm? I will let you work that one out.

Next year - who knows - but there is sufficient interest to mark the end of the cricket season with a regular excursion abroad - watch this space.

I'm working on GDPR at the moment - the data protection regulations. I would have thought that most big companies would be well on the way to compliance by now (the deadline is May 2018). Well, I got a marketing SMS from EE this week - telling me to text STOP to 1234 to opt out. I was sure I had already done this - and sure enough I had done the very same thing in February.

The conversation went like this...

Why are you sending me SMS messages when I opted out?
Because you upgraded your contract.
I didn't opt in to marketing so why are you doing it?
I am sorry sir, I will make sure you are opted out.
That's not the point - why did you opt me in?
Very sorry sir, I have put a note on your account and you will not receive any more marketing from us.
If I do I will go straight to the ICO.
Very good sir.

Was that the end of it? Not at all. The next day I got a marketing email. Seems that was automatic too. Honestly, these firms are in for a real shock. It would be remiss of me to let this kind of thing slip by unnoticed, after all, whats an occasional text or email? The point is that they have my data. They are using it for a purpose that I haven't agreed to. Today marketing, tomorrow - identity theft. Can't wait for May. I will be going after all of them!

Ole has ventured off to Salford University, and honestly, in the last 2 weeks I have spoken to him more than in the past 5 years! First of all he set off with a car load of stuff on a Saturday morning. And of course I went the following day with a car load of stuff that he had forgotten. He needed a book that arrived by post, so I posted it on to him. Took him 4 days to figure out where the university post box is. Then there was the bank account conversations! Ole's grant is around £1296 per term - a little over £100 per week. We said he could have £80 and the rest would be for accommodation. But, he wanted the £80 to be paid weekly rather than in one lump sum. I thought that this would be because he didn't want to overspend - but no. Quite the opposite. He didn't want to underspend and get to the end of term with £500 in his account.

His first lecture was last Monday. He missed his first lecture on Tuesday, and then he moaned that he has at least one lecture every day so he couldn't possibly get a job. His mum cancelled his driving test for him, and he still cant budget.

How much have I got in my account?
About £27
I thought I had £57 - where has the rest gone?
New Look, Peachy Keens and Spotify

Then it went quiet.

All quiet on the Zac front? Not really - he has been at the physio as he seems to have inherited my dodgy knees! A bit of strapping and some exercise seems to have done the trick, and he is enjoying the peace and quiet without his older brother. However, the opportunity to clean came with the departure of Ole, and of course Zac's room got swept up into the process. It is clear that Zac has become quite creative in his hiding places for unwanted fruit. We found some raisins in Ole's room. We never give Zac raisins. These would have been grapes at one time that he secreted away in Ole's drawers. Then there was this...

The label kind of gives it away - this was slowly turning into cider under a pile of sheets and blankets! Its not that he doesn't like the fruit - its just that he can't be bothered eating it. If only fries and chocolate cake were fruit!

In my own kitchen we have had a bountiful harvest of plums. The trees were so heavily laden that one of the branches snapped under the weight. Makes you wonder how Barbara Windsor didn't constantly fall over. Anyway, there have been two varieties of plum jam made, plum cobbler and some gin. My contribution was autumn crumble with the plums complemented by apples and pears. I arrived home last night to find three pumpkins at the door - pumpkin pie anyone?

I stay at quite a few hotels, and when in Nottingham the DeVere Orchard is one of my favourites. I might have to review that! Last week I arrived and there was a sizeable queue for check in. It took at least 20 minutes, and I was told that the computer system had broken down. Then they charged me twice. This was quickly rectified as I sat waiting for dinner. Just as I ordered, a fire alarm went off. Well, I presume it was a fire alarm. There was no urgency from the staff and no announcement. Everyone just stayed put. The alarm continued to ring, and the waiters wandered about like lost souls. They then announced that it was not a real fire alarm - though that was difficult to hear over the sound of the alarm, and when they finally got it switched off, after about half an hour, they said there would be a delay to the food. Well, there wasn't just a delay - they forgot about my order altogether! Shocking! The manager has been in touch via Tripadvisor - expecting big improvements next time I visit!

Not had one of these for a while - a run in with Customer Service! This time Three were the culprits, as I requested a PAC to switch Ole's phone to EE. Now, I had previously requested one some time ago, but the switch had failed at EE and Ole had not contacted them in time so that one was cancelled. This time I was determined to see it through myself. Also bear in mind that the previous PAC was issued within 15 minutes of the call. So, I called, and they wanted details of my Sim. Sadly, Ole lost this before or during his trip to Zante.

Conversation number 1 proceeded as follows-

Never mind sir, perhaps you could answer some security questions
What was the last number called on the phone?
No idea. Perhaps it was my number?
No - that's not correct
My wife's number?
No - that is not it either.
Well, it was last used in July - two months ago - cant you ask me something else?
What are the last 6 digits on the Sim?
We've been through this - I don't have the Sim.
I could order you a Sim.
Ok - could you do that then please?
Ok- that has been done - it will be with you in 5 working days.

It actually arrived much earlier - but that was just the start of my problems.

I'm ringing to request a PAC
Ah yes sir I will send it straight away.

(PAC arrived but failed at EE)

The PAC doesn't work.
Let me check that for you...Ah yes - I see that PAC was cancelled when you ordered a new Sim.
Ok - I have the new Sim - can you give me a PAC.
Certainly - I will order that for you now. Ok all done. (reads Ts & Cs for the umpteenth time)

An hour later I rang again.

My PAC has not arrived.
Oh, sorry about that - let me check that. It appears to have got stuck. Let me see what I can do.
{long silence}
Ok sir, it should be with you in one hour at the most
What did you do?
It was stuck in our system so we have released it
Ok (sceptical tone n my voice)

Two hours later

My PAC has not arrived
Very sorry about that sir, let me look into it.
Yes - I don't know why you haven't received it, If you can answer some security questions I can read it to you.
What was the last number you dialled on the Sim?
(I felt confident about this one)
It was you - I rang Three on this Sim
No sir, that's not the right answer
I did - two hours ago. I was speaking to you.
Ah yes sir, I see now. I will read out your PAC.

Unbelievably I got cut off - but I was so close so I called them straight back

I was just talking to your colleague about my PAC - he was about to read it out but we got cur off. Can you get it for me
Certainly sir, let me just check.
{worryingly long silence)
Sorry to keep you waiting sir, I have ordered a PAC but it will take 48 hours
No - the guy told me a few minutes ago that he had it. He was about to read it to me
Sorry sir, not sure what he was going to read...
No - sorry sir, that could not have been your PAC - it will take 48 hours
Last time it took 15 minutes
Sorry sir, there is nothing I can do
Well you can stop saying sorry and get me a PAC
Sorry sir, would you like me to escalate to customer service?
Well who are you?
I am customer service but I can escalate to my manager
Will they get me a PAC
Sorry sir, I cannot get you a PAC but I can escalate it
Can you escalate it to Ofcom because that what I will do?
I will get my manager
(very brief silence)
Ah Mr Madden, so sorry for the delay
The delay hasn't ended yet - wheres my PAC?
So sorry sir, the PAC will take 48 hours.
Hang on, your colleague said he would escalate it to you. Are you just sat next to him?
No sir, I am in customer service
So was he
Sorry for the confusion sir
Stop saying sorry and get me the PAC
Sorry sir
If you say sorry once more I will go straight to Ofcom
Sorry sir, but there is nothing else I can do.
(another pause)
I will give you £10 credit on the Sim so that you can use it until you get the PAC
I don't want to use it - I am already using the EE number I just want to transfer my Three number
Sorry sir it will take 48 hours

At this point I was losing the will to live and the football was about to start. The PAC arrived around 40 hours later and the transfer has been completed. Three rapidly rose to number 1 on my list of crappy customer service departments - I will let you know if anyone manages to top them!

Friday, 8 September 2017

The Ups & Downs Of Rollercoasters

The big news for this update is that Elvis Under The Covers hit the virtual shelves in time for the 40th anniversary of the death of The King. I have undertaken some memorable promotional activities, including interviews on BBC Radio York and Sheffield, as well as Oldham Community Radio and Ex-Pat Radio where I shared airtime with Mindi Miller, one of Elvis Presley's ex-girlfriends! Its all rock and roll. The guy who runs Ex-Pat Radio is actually from Sale, the same town as me, and we had some fun discussing our old stomping ground. Turns out we have many pubs in common!

Anyway, he has now offered me the chance to broadcast on Ex-Pat Radio every week - so I look forward to starting that in September.

Back to the book, and it has been selling reasonably well without breaking records. Sales have been recorded across all four major channels, (Kindle / Paperback in the US and UK), and it has reached the top 200 in Kindle musical categories on both sides of the pond.

Elvis Under The Covers on Amazon

Incidentally, Stags! still breaks into the top 100 whenever it is promoted on Kindle - not bad after all these years!

Sticking with music I interviewed Kirk Fletcher and produced an article on him for the Leek Blues & Moorlands Americana Festival. And now that Clive Ashton has taken up residence in The Wellington Inn no more excuse is need to visit the Staffordshire town for the event at the end of September.

The article can be found here

Kirk Fletcher

I had a bit of a flurry in the kitchen, making Bakewell Tart, brownies, Key Lime Pie and a seemingly endless supply of chilli. The brownies were the gooey, nutty variety, and I'm not expecting many to be left when we get back from Florida (seriously, help yourself Hell Dog!).

Some of the brownies, together with the Bakewell Tart, went with us to the Twinwood Vintage Festival in Clapham. Zac came too, and wasted no time in heading for the sausage stall. On the way back we ventured into the Moonshine Glade where a fiddler and a banjo player were warming up on a small stage. After a lot of tuning and several soundchecks they began to play, but Zac was not impressed. 'Is that it? Where's the singing?' he asked. I pointed out that this was an instrumental tune. 'Let's get out of here,' he replied.

The weather was a lot kinder this year, leading to a lot of people putting up parasols and umbrellas to protect them from the sun. Security then came round telling everyone to put them back down again as they were blocking the view, which was perfectly true. Anyway, there's always one, and a couple in front of us seemed to think that the rule didn't apply to them. The security man put them straight on that, and the next ten minutes were a great source of amusement as they tried to garner support from all and sundry to no avail.

Nixie came to stay for a night, and she decided that the garden needed watering!

However, her favourite pastime is spending time with uncle Zac! This is a worry!

There was time for a quick visit to the ducks before it was time to go home - and we saw this by the canal in Whaley Bridge...

It appears to be a barnacle goose, and if that is true it is probably lost.

Travelling can be stressful experience, but flying to Florida in Virgin's Upper Class should reduce this. Right? Well not exactly. I generally take care of all documents that are needed to get us to where we want to go. So I had the passports, the travel tickets, insurance documentation, my driving licence, car park voucher, villa address and access details, rental car details etc. We sat in the car ready to head for the airport and I asked Sally, 'Have you got your driving licence?' I certainly wasn't expecting the answer, 'No,' but that's what I got. To cut a long story short, and thereby omitting a lot of expletives and a good deal of denial as she vowed to rearrange the whole house when she got back as that was obviously why she could not locate her licence, it turned out that when we dropped her car off for a service the previous day she had left her licence safely tucked into her log book that was in the glove compartment of her vehicle that was at the garage in Buxton, which would not open for another couple of hours!

I would have pointed out that rearranging all of the drawers would not have solved this little dilemma, but I thought better of it as the windows had already frosted over! Anyway, we hatched a plan that would take advantage of the privilege of the Escape Lounge at Manchester.

Check-In was quick and smooth, though as usual Zac got held up at security. I really don't know how he does it! We made our way to the lounge and put our plan into action. Sally attempted to get a copy of her licence from the DVLA whilst I set about changing the Rentalcars booking so that I was the lead driver. I did my bit fairly easily, and as Rentalcars do some sort of a price match, I got a refund of £35 as the potential price of the rental had dropped. Sally, meanwhile, had three or four airport staff running around looking for a fax machine. 'Have you tried a museum?' I somewhat unhelpfully suggested, but really, who uses faxes these days? Apparently they are not easy to amend, so they are the preferred method of the DVLA. Anyway, Sally received an email with a licence summary on which she duly printed, then she got another with her full licence including eligibility, convictions, etc.

We boarded the flight with the knowledge that we had done as much as we could, and the rest would be down to the rental car people in Florida. Upper Class was a dream, with even more space than usual. There were a couple of empty seats, and for some reason the cabin was configured with just the window seats meaning the whole of the middle part was empty. You could have jived there! Champagne was offered and accepted, even by Ole, whilst Zac was determined to try everything that he was given. Toothpaste, ear plugs, blindfold, everything. He still struggled with the food, rejecting the sausages that were covered in gravy, and he was positively outraged that anyone could consider chia and coconut as an acceptable flavour for popcorn.

Zac tried everything in Upper Class

Another advantage of Upper Class is that you are one of the first off the plane and so are your bags. This also means that you are one of the first through immigration, and within an hour of landing we were on our way to the villa, having convinced the car hire people that the second email was valid as a full licence (ok, they insisted they it was printed off which meant a detour to the third floor and the Orlando Airport Marriott hotel).

We shopped at the local supermarket and settled in for a few days R & R. The boys sleeping patterns had already been adjusted back in the UK, due to them staying in bed until lunchtime, but Sally and myself were asleep by 10pm and awake at around 5am.

We had already decided that Wednesday would be a good day to visit Universal, and we rather ambitiously opted for a 1 day park to park ticket, basically taking in 2 parks at the same time. After a quick breakfast at Denny's (where else? and the woman said that I was not eligible for  the 55+ menu which is another tick) we reached Universal for opening time, and went to the Studios first. The Rock-It rollercoaster was empty so we walked on to that, and then ignored Minions, Shrek and Transformers as we headed to The Mummy. Again there was no queue, so 2 rides done by 9.30. The Harry Potter area is light on rides, so we did Escape From Gringotts which was another that we walked straight on to. Next up it was the Harry Potter themed train to Islands Of Adventure, with the five minute wait spent just watching for the train to arrive, so no queue as such. Duelling Dragons was our first ride in Islands, after which the boys went on the ride in the castle that makes us oldies feel sick, so we stocked up on expensive drinks and waited for their return. The Jurassic Park ride was next, followed by the new Skull Island adventure. This is ok, but not worth the 20-30 minute queue that we waited in. A highlight of Islands should always be the Dudley Do-Right Ripsaw Falls, and although the queue said 30 minutes it actually took us about 40 to get through it. It was well worth it, especially as a short time later the ride closed for repairs. We were wet, so we went on the Bilge Rat Barges to complete our soaking, with the queue a more manageable 10 minutes. Queues were starting to grow, so we went to The Hulk, another 'must do' that had no wait time, and then we returned to the Studios via the return train journey. This time almost every ride had a queue, so we decided that we should head for home. 12 rides plus lunch and we were done for 3, which was a relief as the heat was becoming unbearable!

The next day was quieter, with the boys shopping in Target which seems to be de rigeur over in Florida. Zac bought some Nerf guns that needed batteries, but not the thin ones. these required the fat stubby ones. 'They are not fat, they are just big-boned,' said Zac showing a bizarre sensitivity. Anyway, there's a different standard of wildlife around the villa - here's an example...

This bird of prey lives in a tree just outside the villa

Then came our first food challenge at the Ovation Bistro. This is very close to the junction of I4 and US27, and is the number 1 rated restaurant in Davenport on Tripadvisor. We weren't disappointed but still managed to fit in dessert!

Followers of this blog know that if it is not chocolate cake or chips Zac doesn't really like it. However, he agreed to try BBQ wings because he liked the look of them. 'Do you like BBQ sauce?' I asked, to which he replied, 'I like BBQ crisps.' Turns out he doesn't like BBQ sauce, but he didn't mind the wings without the sauce. 'They aren't horrible,' was his considered opinion. The ride home was interesting too, as a green critter decided to hitch a lift. He lasted all the way to the villa, but after a violent storm later that night he was nowhere to be seen!

Seaworld is an old favourite but we've not been there for 4 years. The shows aren't as good since the killer whale killed its trainer! Anyway, once again there were no queues as we took in Manta, Kraken and Zac's nemesis Journey To Atlantis. They were all good, but then there was Mako. This claims to be the highest, longest and fastest ride in Orlando, and it is a fantastic experience. There is just a lap bar keeping you in your seat, and that does a barely adequate job as the ride takes you up and down steep slopes at great speed, and without the need to flip you upside down. Its the new favourite ride in Orlando. So much so that we went straight back on and rode it again!

Manta was interesting because there was a man in front of us who clearly could not fit into his seat. No matter how hard the attendant pushed and shoved, the safety harness would just not close. Eventually he had to take the walk of shame past the queue as there was no way he could ride!

Applebees was our next dining experience, a full 17 places below Ovation on Tripadvisor. However, we have been there before and its just around the corner! The food wasn't as good, but the service was second to none, and they seemed to want to give food away. We tucked into appetizers whilst ordering our mains, and they had an 'offer' on which meant we got a plate of mozzarella sticks for free. Drinks were 2 for 1, so when you ordered a beer 2 arrived, and of course you had to drink them quickly before they went warm and flat. The menu also contained a calorie guide against each dish. One of the desserts was well over 1700 calories. Interestingly there was a sentence on the bottom of the menu stating that the 2,000 calorie per day guideline is only indicative and calorie requirements differ. It might as well have had a heart attack likelihood monitor! The waiter left an electronic gadget on the table which logged the bill. It also had a series of games on it, including a trivia game that had a high score of about 200. Zac watched us play one game and then took control, notching up around 1400 points. His technique was simple, he ignored the wrong answers and just kept pressing, and his mum just had to tell the waiter. Ole found this highly amusing, and impersonated the conversation.

Ole as mum, 'He found an error in your program'
Ole as the waiter, 'I'm sorry ma'am, I just serve food'
Ole as mum, 'He beat your high score by 7 times'
Ole as the waiter, 'Err, do you want me to bring my manager?'

Shopping is an experience in the US, and a very confusing one. There are Labor Day sales, on top of normal discounts and VIP discounts, its amazing that anyone pays anything for anything. However, this is all a con. You get to the checkout and suddenly the 75% discount becomes around 5%. Sorry, that item is not in the Labor Day sale, or no, your coupon does not apply to that style. I guess they rely on the British sense of embarrassment whereby they purchase the item anyway! It certainly works.

Back at the ranch Ole struggled to cut up a melon. This lack of culinary expertise does not bode well for his impending University adventure.

Labor Day has a big tick against all the theme parks on the Busy Days calendar, suggesting they would all be free from visitors. As we had a Seaworld combined ticket with free parking we headed for Aquatica, and after about 90 minutes we headed home again! Standing in line to hurtle down a plastic tube is not my idea of fun, and I guess I should have trusted my UK instinct not to go to a theme park on a Bank Holiday Monday!

Monday was certainly redeemed by a trip to Manny's Chop House - the number 1 rated restaurant in Haines City. We arrived around 6.30pm and with a 25 minute wait we sat at the bar that would not have looked out of place in Road House. Again, drinks were 2 for 1, so both Sally and I were approaching the legal limit before we had even reached our table. Starters were plentiful without being overpowering, but I'm not sure how healthy deep fried breaded mozzarella sticks are, and then came the steaks. The filet mignon was like velvet and the sirloin melted under the knife. We even had to take some home in a box. Desserts were calorie laden, Manny's didn't bother with calorie counts - they would rather the diners just enjoy themselves, possibly because the restaurant is in a district seemingly filled with doctors and hospitals. Zac had his usual chocolate cake, and he even left some. I had the second best key lime pie that I had ever tasted, for the first see Mmm...No1...Cookbook! Ole went a bit over the top - see below.

The following day we drove to Tampa for Busch Gardens, and not surprisingly after Manny's feast we didn't need breakfast until after 11am. By this time we had experienced Cheetah Hunt, arguably the best ride in the park, Montu, and Cobra's Curse. Queues were again non-existent as we took in every big ride in the park, except for Falcon's Fury as we had just eaten, and Phoenix as there was lightning in the air! Sadly, there were no kangaroos on show, but we got very close to a cheetah, separated by a pane of glass, and fed Lories. I also got groomed by a flamingo, which is definitely a first!

Some birds are more responsive than others

Our return was eventful in that we got delayed at Orlando due to lightning, but we arrived in Atlanta in time to make our connection ensuring Zac wouldn't be too late for his first day back at school. So how was it? Well he moaned about a lot of things, and in particular having bad teachers. I told him he needed to try to get along with them to which he replied, 'that's like you trying to get along with Hitler.' Its not started well!