Wednesday, February 28, 2007 12:25:34 PM
In a previous blog entry I was rash enough to say that one of the things I really like about the new house is the plumbing, specifically the fact that when you turn on the hot tap, the water that comes out is hot straight away. I might even have been rash enough to wax lyrical about the stupendous water pressure we now enjoy, which means that a bath can be filled in about 3 or 4 minutes, instead of the 9 or 10 minutes it used to take at our house in Enfield or, more pertinently, the 70 or 80 minutes our sons seem to think it takes to fill a bath …
Since moving in just before Christmas, the first floor bathroom has been flooded out three times, thanks to someone running a bath and then forgetting about it. This oversight would not be so bad were it not for the aforementioned fantastic water pressure and, more crucially, the complete absence of an overflow hole in the bath. I’d like to get hold of whoever was responsible for this design flaw and wring his neck. (Do you see what I did there? Juxtaposed the image of soaking wet items with the word “wring”; God, I am so clever some times).
On the first occasion it happened, number 2 son was responsible, and the response from Mrs. Fiendish was fairly measured. It was a new house and the bath does fill up a lot quicker than in the old house and so number 2 son was merely advised to stay in the bathroom next time whilst the bath is filling.
Then number 1 son did the same thing and though I wasn’t there this time to witness Mrs. Fiendish chastise “big brother”, I’d like to think she was even-handed enough to cut him a break too, and warn him not to do it again. Last night, he did it again, and Mrs. Fiendish went thermo-nuclear. It’s odd, in situations like these, how often parents go into the good cop, bad cop routine. Had I got to number one son first, I probably would have torn him off a strip too, but as he stood there, mortified at the ankle-deep water sloshing around the first floor landing, listening to Mrs. Fiendish question the point of his very existence and threaten him with all kinds of punishment and deprivation, I could not help feel she was going a bit OTT. Of course, that was before I found out it was the second time he had done this.
I think it is common for all teenaged boys to refuse to take responsibility for their actions or inactions. The catch-phrase of Harry Enfield’s “Kevin the teenager” is funny because it is so accurate: That is so unfair!
The overflowing bath was not number one son’s fault. It was the fault of his parents. We were the ones that had moved to Hertford to a house with an unfamiliar bath. Because he spends so little time with us, preferring to spend his time in his old Enfield stomping ground, he has not become used to the house’s facilities, apparently. “I’ve only had about 3 baths in this place since we’ve been here,” he whined. And flooded the house on 2 out of those three occasions.
We are talking about a lad who is often to be found in his room with his PC on, a laptop on his knee, his stereo playing while he plays on his X-Box, so it is little surprise that he has the attention span of a mayfly. I suggested to him that next time he’ll have to stay in the bathroom whilst the bath fills but I know he is probably incapable of spending 3 or 4 minutes doing nothing more stimulating than watching a bath fill up. He’ll nip off to make a phone call or play a quick session of Call of Duty on X-Box live and will forget all about his bath until someone notices the water dripping through the smoke-alarm downstairs.
Ho-hum. My attempt at playing good cop did not last very long. The bad cop, Mrs. Fiendish, is fed up with number one son’s behaviour on a number of other fronts too, and whilst it is important as a parent to soothe one’s children’s passage through the difficult teenage years, it is also important for parents to maintain solidarity. Well, it is if you are a man who wants to retain possession of his testicles. So, it could be ultimatum time for number one son: shape up, or ship out.
Hopefully there will be no long term structural damage, and we were planning to replace the carpets anyway. It could have been worse: when I first heard my mother-in-law crying out in alarm, my first thought was that my father-in-law had snuffed it or had experienced a heart attack. Touch wood there is not much chance of that – the pair of them will probably outlive Mrs. Fiendish and me! Who do you think did the majority of mopping, scrubbing, wringing and strategic bucket placement? My major contribution to the crisis was to crawl around the floor with a Vidal Sassoon hair-dryer (no other brand of hair-dryer would do – this was, of course, number one son’s “big girl’s blouse” hair-dryer) drying out the carpet. This proved about as effective as King Canute’s famous tide repelling efforts.
Coda: That was Mrs. Fiendish on the phone. Apparently number one son has started to “shape up” on the school front. This entails Mrs. Fiendish, who is at home recuperating from a recent operation, typing up an essay for him (“You and Dad are so much faster at typing than me” – how the hell does he think we got so fast at typing? By dictating to a secretary?). Mrs. Fiendish wanted to know whether it is possible to recover an earlier copy of a Word file once it has been overwritten. It seems that after she typed up his essay and saved it, number one son then loaded up another (older) version of the essay and saved it over the top of the new file, thereby wasting all of Mrs. Fiendish’s efforts. If there is one thing above all else that Mrs. Fiendish hates doing, it is doing the same task twice. She absolutely hates it. If number one has not been decapitated as a result of this latest bone-headed transgression, I will be amazed.
Monday, February 26, 2007 11:47:03 AM
I am sure none of you are wondering what has inspired the sudden improvement in form by Tottenham Hotspur. Nevertheless, I am going to tell you. I have just started backing against them. Not against Everton, of course. Only a crazy fool would back Everton to beat Spurs, although they did win at White Hart Lane earlier this season for the first time since decimalisation was introduced in this country (spurious “fact”). No, it started with the FA Cup when Spurs, who were on a terrible run at the time, were drawn away to Fulham.
Now, Fulham were unbeaten at home in the preceding 9 games, and Spurs had beaten only one Premiership team away all season (Manchester City, the north-west’s underachieving equivalent to Spurs). Spurs had just been knocked out of the Carling Cup semi-final, been thrashed 0-4 at home by Manchester United and had thrown away a 1-0 lead away to mighty Sheffield United. £50 to win £58 (plus my stake back) seemed a very sensible investment.
So I felt a bit foolish when they won 4-0. However, football is rife with superstition so I now felt compelled to bet against them at home to Bolton Wanderers. Even when they were a lower league team, Bolton used to make a habit of inflicting comprehensive defeats on Spurs. On the first day of this season I remember sitting alone in a bar in Greece watching Bolton brush Spurs aside with ease, so I thought I’d lay
Spurs to win (on Betfair) as I was only obliged to offer 5/4, which I thought was stingy (looking at it from a punter’s perspective; I was laying them, so I was looking at it from a bookmaker’s perspective). I also laid Spurs to keep a clean sheet, though I could not get much business for this, as Spurs clean sheets are as rare as a sex-crazed teenaged boy’s clean sheets.
I didn’t have as strong a feeling about this game as the Fulham bet, so I could watch the game on Match of the Day with a certain amount of sang-froid about the money lost; thanks to the clean sheet saver, I barely lost a tenner. Yet again, Spurs scored 4 in a match where I bet against them.
Coming up soon is the away game against Chelsea in the FA Cup. Chelsea ought to be about 2-5 to go through I reckon, so I’ll have to lay a large sum to derive any sort of satisfaction from winning a bet at the expense of Spurs’ cup ambitions. Not that I know yet whether I will derive any pleasure, as I have not won a bet yet betting against Spurs. Long may it continue.
Tuesday, February 20, 2007 5:34:08 PM
I sometimes think we'd have a better record at catching dangerous criminals in this country if we adopted the Scooby-Doo method of detection which is, basically, to say "the caretaker did it".
I mention this after seeing a splendidly demented picture of the cross-eyed caretaker who has been arrested in connection with the letter bomb incidents. Not that I am suggesting he is guilty - one has to wait for the trial and all that, but purely on the basis of the photo the newspapers have chosen to print, he is clearly a weirdo and therefore guilty.
Wasn't the Soham murderer a school caretaker as well?
I think my brother-in-law is having an undue influence on my anti-crime theories. He postulates that as all violent criminals have tattoos we should simply imprison anyone who has a tattoo and instantly make Britain a safer place. Sheer genius, and I am amazed the Daily Mail has not thought of this already.
Sunday, February 18, 2007 12:08:30 AM
I sent out details of my new address to the family recently and received an interesting reply from my niece, which I repeat below:
I've just fed your postcode into my marketing segmentation database and apparently you're now classed as an 'Upscale New Owner'. You like high tech gadgets, you have 'common sense values' and your neighbours are most likely to be called Graham and Alison. You also have a higher than average liking for theme parks.
Well, I like the bit about being an upscale new owner and having common sense values. So common sense are my values that I regard this as mostly bollocks. The bit about high tech gadgets and theme parks makes us sound like a pair of overgrown kids. And anyway, our neighbours spell their names Graeme and Allison...
Somewhat intrigued, I asked my niece to plug in my old Enfield postcode into her database, and this was the result:
You lived among households called ‘Original Suburbs’ – white middle aged families with children of school age, broadsheet newspaper-reading, big fans of shopping via the internet and doing lots of research before making major purchases. A good market for skiing and snowboarding holidays and your neighbours were most likely to be called Gregory and Deirdre (?)
Worryingly, this is a much closer fit to our profile if one overlooks my abhorrence of any holidays featuring snow. I wonder if Graham and Alison are secretly sneering at us behind their blinds?
Friday, February 16, 2007 4:39:57 PM
It was quite amusing to see the Conservative Party's reaction to the week-end headlines about their leader's school-days. I gather they were worried about the effect the headlines would have on their golden boy's image; apparently it has been revealed that whilst smoking dope as a teenager, he was also attending the top public school in the country ...
Meanwhile, in the USA, a Mormon has entered the Presidential race and pundits don't fancy his chances. Mrs. Fiendish remarked that the USA had already elected one Moron so she did not see what was stopping them from electing another one. At least, she would have remarked this had her lines been written by a very uninspired scriptwriter. I venture to suggest that in a country where people don't really care much about religion (e.g. Britain), the fact that he is a Mormon would not be that big an issue. However, in the USA, where lots of people take their religion very seriously indeed, his adherence to the "wrong" religion is likely to count against him. It would be like running for Mayor in Merseyside and wearing an Everton scarf for the press conference announcing your candidacy.
At least this bloke seems to have a sense of humour. Apparently in a debate about gay marriages he gently mocked his own Mormon faith by saying something to the effect that "I believe that marriage should be purely between a man and a woman ... and a woman ... and a woman ..."
By all accounts polygamy is now specifically outlawed by the Mormon church but they are having a hard time shaking off the reputation as polygamists. Anyway, the Mormons (aka "The Church of the Latter Day Saints") are regarded as a bunch of weirdos by other Christian religions, thanks to the odd origins of the religion which started in the early 1800's when some bloke claimed to have discovered secret records of the "Book of Mormon" which gave details of the life of the early pre-Columbus Christian inhabitants of the Americas. "Preposterous", cry the followers of other religions, in between reading about Moses parting the Red Sea or some old fart fitting at least 2 of every species on the planet on to a boat built by his son and himself.
All of which gives me an excuse to reprint this routine from Emo Phillips:
I was walking across a bridge one day, and I saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump off. So I ran over and said "Stop! don't do it!"
"Why shouldn't I?" he said.
I said, "Well, there's so much to live for!"
He said, "Like what?"
I said, "Well...are you religious or atheist?"
He said, "Religious."
I said, "Me too! Are you Christian or Buddhist?"
He said, "Christian."
I said, "Me too! Are you Catholic or Protestant?"
He said, "Protestant."
I said, "Me too! Are you Episcopalian or Baptist?"
He said, "Baptist!"
I said,"Wow! Me too! Are you Baptist Church of God or Baptist Cchurch of the Lord?"
He said, "Baptist Church of God!"
I said, "Me too! Are you original Baptist Church of God, or are you Reformed Baptist Church of God?"
He said,"Reformed Baptist Church of God!"
I said, "Me too! Are you Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1879, or Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1915?"
He said, "Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1915!"
I said, "Die, heretic scum", and pushed him off the bridge. -- Emo Phillips
Over on the Democratic side of the line, the press seems to be getting excited about a black geezer called Barack Obama. With a name like that he can count himself fortunate that he is not a British politician; the papers would be waiting on his first moral transgression, desperate to print the following headline:
OBAMA SIN LADEN!
Notwithstanding his Arabic sounding name and his black skin, I can't see him getting close to the White House this time round. The man has barely two years experience as a Senator. I think he is just flavour of the month and will go the way of Gary Hart and Howard Dean, to become an interesting but small footnote in Presidential Election history.
What we really need to liven up the race is for Al Gore to declare himself as a candidate. Clinton v Gore would make for an interesting story, don't you think? OK, he's the most boring man on the planet but he seems to have captured something of the spirit of the age with his campaigning on Green issues. Perhaps David "Dave" Cameron could take a green leaf out of his book. Oh, hang on, he already has.
Thursday, February 8, 2007 2:29:13 PM
Let’s hear it for the weather forecasters. They certainly got it right this morning. I awoke to find a thick layer of snow over the back garden. A quick check on number 3 son’s school web-site elicited the information that there was no school for him today. Minutes later, a personal phone call from the head teacher of number 2 son’s Education Support Centre confirmed there was no school for him either. Minutes later, another phone call from the Education Support Centre reconfirmed there was no school for number 2 son. Well, you can afford to ring up pupils individually when there are only 18 pupils in the entire school.
By this time both of the aforementioned sons were already up, and when I emerged from the bathroom it was to find them lying on the bed having a cuddle with Mrs. Fiendish. Now they are teenagers, we don’t get a lot of opportunity for family hug sessions like we used to, so I took the opportunity to squeeze on to the bed for a bit of family bonding. Aaah, bliss.
For someone who was not convinced of the idea of having children, I sure do enjoy these family moments. Before long we could hear Scratch, our dog, outside in the back garden, enjoying her first experience of snow. As one, except lazy old me, the family leapt out of bed to peer through the window at the dog gambolling around the garden like the Fool on the Hill. Magic stuff.
Mrs. Fiendish wandered off downstairs to make some coffee, while I checked out the web site of the railway operator for the Hertford North line. Disappointingly, they had been remarkably efficient, running empty trains throughout the night to prevent the track freezing over, and gritting the platforms. As a result, they promised a full service but with some delays. Oh well.
The promised cup of coffee never made its way back to the bedroom so I went downstairs to put my boots on and to check out whether it was viable to cycle to the station. The snow was so thick down our street that it was impossible to cycle on it, but I was hopeful that the main roads would be OK, though I did not fancy cycling down the steep hill at the end of our road.
I moved to the kitchen and there was another memorable family scene. Mrs. Fiendish, her parents, sons 2 and 3, sitting around discussing Christmasses past. The kids had already been in the back garden and made a 4’ high snowman, though it was lacking features (carrot, buttons, hat, scarf and so on). Some of the most memorable photos from my youth are of the big freeze of 1963, with my brother and sister posing in front of a rather spending snowman they had built and I advised Mrs. Fiendish to dig out the video camera. Meanwhile, Granddad and Grandma were laying it on thick with the memories of playing in the snow when they were young. "When we were young, snow were red! Much better than t' snow you get these days. Our Margaret kept some in her scrap book for twenty years."
Outside in the street there were fathers shovelling snow off driveways, mothers dragging children in sleds, kids bombarding each other with snowballs. Had I just walked on to the set of a film? I must have done, as people were actually talking to each other – something that rarely happens in Britain in real life, although to be fair, they are a friendly bunch down my street. I introduced myself to Maurice, across the way. He’s a bluff and hearty Irishman whose parents were flying in to Stansted to visit him.
Ah, the luck of the Irish, eh?
“They were going to get the coach but I’ll probably have to go and pick them up,” he said. Well, best of luck mate, because the hill that forms the only exit from our street was closed to traffic when I trudged down it this morning.
As hoped, it was possible to cycle on the main road. Two grooves had been worn in the road by the wheels of cars but of course the gap between the grooves was pure slush. Not a problem for the car drivers, but every time one of them pulled out to overtake me on my bike, they showered my right trouser leg with slush. To avoid this hazard I took to one of the back streets, pausing only to watch a bloke in a Jag make a hash of a left turn, his expensive car drifting to the right as his wheels lost grip. Luckily there was no parked car where he slid into the kerb. I began to understand why the hill near our road had been closed.
At the station I rang Mrs. Fiendish to suggest the boys take the opportunity to make friends with the other kids down the street, all of whom seemed to be out throwing snowballs at each other. She said that some lads had already called at the door to invite them out. Number 2 son was dithering over whether to accept, as his best mate from Enfield had invited him over to Enfield, and said mate is a right persistent little nag who would probably ring number 2 son every 5 minutes until he agreed to go to Enfield. So, I happily told Mrs. Fiendish that they were trapped and that if number 2 son wanted to travel to Enfield, he’d have to walk to the station; I’d be surprised if that was not enough to deter him.
I think I was probably the last person in my office to arrive. Just about everyone had made it in, but then the team does consist entirely of old lags who have been with the company for donkey’s years and who would probably regard a thermo-nuclear strike on the building as a minor inconvenience, so long as the coffee machine still worked.
I’ve just come back from a girly lunch with the members of my old team – practically everyone in my old department was female – and they’d all made it in too. Morale can’t be that bad then, if people are rejecting a cast iron excuse not to turn up for work.
Or maybe it is just that snow, as opposed to ice or sleet, is just fun. It applies a magical coating to the landscape, and gives us a chance to have a good natured moan, and to speculate about global warming.
Pity the snow could not have fallen last night on Old Trafford.
Wednesday, February 7, 2007 2:46:41 PM
Having grumbled about the lousy bus service in Hertford I swung into action and got my old bike serviced. This bike was a Christmas present back in about 2003, since when I have ridden it about 3 times. The first time I tried to ride it I wheeled the bike through the house, got as far as the front door, whereupon everyone in the house said “Where are you going?” in a tone that suggested I was not to go anywhere without their permission. It was a very odd feeling; they were just curious as to where I was going (Mrs. Fiendish was more concerned with how long I’d be) but I felt a bit sheepish replying I was just going out for a ride, to enjoy my Christmas present – as if this was a stupid thing for a 40-something man to do.
For some reason this put me off using the bike for a while, during which time number one son trashed his own bike and started using mine for his paper round. I am pleased to say he took slightly more care of his bike than he did of his own but the thing still needed a service when I dug it out a few weeks back, so I took it down to the local bike shop. They put a new rear wheel on, oiled up the chain, sorted out the brakes and I was ready to go.
Or so I thought.
However, it soon became evident that although my bike was purportedly an 18-speed bike, 12 of the gear settings were unavailable to me. Twiddling of the left-hand gear switch did nothing; I was resolutely stuck on the smallest cog on the front set of gears, which basically meant that about 40% of each revolution of my pedal was wasted energy unless I really wanted to start pedalling like someone out of a silent movie.
I was reluctant to take it back to the bike shop to get them to look at it. What if it was something really trivial, like me moving the switch up instead of down? There was nothing for it but to actually get my hands dirty and attempt a genuine bit of bike repair, so I stuck the thing upside down on the garage floor and proceeded to try and work out how the gears work. I grabbed the feeder bracket thingie (the thing through which the chain goes and which moves horizontally in line with the relevant gear cog when you want to change gear) and established that it was capable of moving from side to side, so the problem lay with the wire from the gear changer to the bracket thingie. After much tentative pratting about I moved the bracket thingie with my right hand into line with the largest gear cog and yanked the gear switch with my left hand and, hey presto, the bracket thingie moved over into line and stayed there. I could now take my right hand off the bracket thingie and rotate the pedals and, wonder of wonders, the chain moved over to the largest gear cog.
So, not for the first time, a good hard yank was all that was required. I seem to be far too timid to opt for the good hard yank option until all else fails; this is a feature of my pratting about with the insides of computers where I’ll spend 20 minutes trying to loosen a hard drive free of its rails and then number one son comes along and wrenches it out inside 5 seconds. OK, there is a risk of him ruining the hard disk, but I’ve been through this once before when Mrs. Fiendish used a hammer and chisel to remove a hard drive which was secured by a screw which had lost its thread. I can tell you, I was really upset at the ruination of that 20 megabyte hard drive. 20 megabytes!
I was unduly pleased with my maintenance work. Anyone would have thought I had brought the warp reactor back on line after a particularly vicious attack from the Borg, but I can’t tell you how much easier it is cycling in this gear than it is in the other one. Notice how I am avoiding the use of terms such as high gear or low gear, as I don’t know which is which?
Cycling can still be hard work, but it’s not so much the effort required that I am finding trouble with as the constant cramping up of my left thigh. To release the pain I have to freewheel for a bit with my left leg held straight and at a slight tangent to the bike. It must look very odd to anyone behind me. The action is somewhat similar to the one gentleman have to perform discreetly when one of their testicles has become fused to their inner thigh. Come on, don’t pretend it is just me that has sticky bollock syndrome.
I was hoping that 40 minutes cycling a day might lead to a bit of weight loss, but I have not noticed any benefit in that area yet. If anything my stomach has expanded. One positive side effect of 3 weeks of daily cycling is improved fitness levels. I played 6-a-side footie last night with a bunch of blokes most of whom are two decades younger than I, and was noticeably more energetic. Normally I volunteer to go in goal after about 10 minutes of running about as I am knackered and I probably spend about half of the 45 minutes session between the posts, ducking out of the way of 60 mph shots. Last night, however, I lasted 30 minutes before it was my turn to go in goal, and I wasn’t feeling particularly tired. Mind you, I wasn’t exactly doing an Alan Ball impersonation on the pitch – more like Bobby Ball, actually.
I am also taking driving lessons for the first time in my life and have now clocked up about 20 hours behind the wheel. I’ve not killed anyone yet or crashed into anything, though I did once go up the kerb when taking a corner. My Achilles Heel seems to be reversing round a corner, where I just can’t work out when to start turning the wheel. The instructor goes on about an imaginary line jutting out from the corner of the kerb, but as the corner is rounded rather than right-angled, where exactly is the “corner”? How can you tell without a camera back there?
Having spent several decades as a pedestrian and public transport user, it will be interesting to see whether my travelling habits will change if I pass my test. I’d like to think they won’t change that much; I like travelling on the train up to cons in Brum, for instance, but I also like getting a lift back to avoid the dreaded Sunday service. Lots of drivers say to me I’ll love it when I learn to drive, and I probably will love the convenience, but I can’t say I am enamoured of the driving experience itself, as some people are. I quite enjoy driving when I am behind the wheel but I don’t look forward to it; quite the reverse (handbrake on, switch it into reverse, handbrake off, check mirrors, proceed backwards) – I’d happily cancel the damn lessons and never take another one in my life, but I’ve come this far, and it would be damn useful at times if I could drive. If nothing else I owe it to Mrs. Fiendish and all the other people who have chaufferred me about over the years. Whether they’ll want to get in a car I am driving is another matter but they should be all right so long as I don’t have to reverse round a curved corner.
Wednesday, January 31, 2007 11:32:19 AM
Americans are different
I may have touched on this subject before, with my examples of hyper-excited “management speak”, but I am always suspicious when I read a missive from a nerdy management big-shot in a suit claiming to be “really excited” about some reorganisation or release of some deadly dull accounting software or similar. So it was today, when I read that Bill Gates said: “I am so excited to see what people will do with this new software.” – the new software in question being Microsoft’s new operating system and their new offfice suite.
Well, I can tell you what people will do with this new software, Bill. They’ll hack it and pirate it, if they can. They’ll install it and grumble at all its new features and how things aren’t where they used to be. They will moan that, whilst 98% of the people they know would be perfectly happy to use Office 97 for their general word processing and spreadsheet duties, the fact that 25% of the people they do business with will immediately upgrade to Office 2007 makes it inevitable that the remaining 75% will be forced to upgrade before long.
I think very few of them will get “excited” about using it, but I could be wrong. By and large Microsoft has thrived by successfully incorporating other people’s ideas into their software; who can now imagine a spreadsheet (OK, a “workbook”) without the tabbed interface introduced by Quattro Pro? Are users amazed at the Zoom feature in Internet Explorer 7, unaware that Opera had this feature in the last millennium? Ditto tabbed browsing?
No, I don’t think people get excited by Microsoft software. In fact, if they are wrestling with the concept of streaming files via the network from their PC to their X-Box 360 they get very, very annoyed by Microsoft’s software [/FONT] (or is that just me?); I suppose that is a form of excitement. They’ll just get used to its quirks, take for granted the many amazing things it can do (it’s incredible how much my typing has improved since the introduction of “correct as you type”) and, if they have to pay for it themselves, grumble at the cost of it.
So, will I be upgrading? Probably. To Windows XP. The bottom of the XP resale market should just about be ready to fall.
Good things/bad things about the new house
2a: Things I like about the new house: As I lie abed on a Sunday morning – the only morning when I really have a lie-in – I can gaze out of the bedroom window at a number of tall, thin, tree trunks waving gently from side to side. I don’t know why this gives me a feeling of well-being, but it does. It’s like having a gigantic executive toy in the back garden – you know, those things with the swinging balls that bang together and bounce off each other.
I can get a good view of birds roosting, and squirrels performing gymnastic feats, all whilst lying in my bed, propped up on one of those V-shaped pillows, the name for which I do not know (V-shaped pillows, perhaps? Or bolsters?)
2b: Things I don’t like about the new house: The drainage in Hertford is generally appalling. Is it fen territory? When it rains, the lawn in our back garden takes forever to dry out. This is not a problem for me, as I only tend to go into the back garden two or three times a year, but our dog regards the lawn as her own personal fiefdom and loves to bound out to scare off the squirrels. Whilst it is amusing to see her gallop back and forth like Alexander inspecting his troops, as she barks her head off (was Alexander barking too?), it is less amusing when she re-enters the house with muddy paw prints.
Those of you who know Mrs. Fiendish well will realise that there must be at least one major improvement project in the offing this year and paving over the lawn is certainly one of the contenders, but so is converting the loft and converting half of the double-garage into a study. Which one makes it to the top of the list could all be a matter of random timing: has the dog just pissed her off by traipsing mud all through the house, or is she vexed by the lack of storage space for her massive collection of fantasy books? She intends to re-read all of these one day, even though reading a new one must be like re-reading the previous one (“Our hero goes on a fantastic quest with a band of dwarfs, elfs and other legendary creatures, to do battle with the evil overlord, Bill the Warlock.”) So says the man who reads nothing but first-person hard-boiled private eye novels.
Tuesday, January 30, 2007 4:16:32 PM
Our wonderful new house is high on a very steep hill. I know it is steep because I have to cycle it every workday and I normally give up and walk the last two thirds, and even that gives me a pain in the back of my calves.
You’d think that being in such a high location we’d get a decent TV signal, but this is not the case. It was not a problem for the previous occupant of the house; he had his Sky TV in the main lounge and that was probably good enough for him. In our family the score is TVs 6 PCs 7 (Laptop, the Polish international, got a hat-trick), so the ability to pick up Freeview ranks fairly high on our list of wants, especially as Mrs. Fiendish is going to be bed-ridden for a number of weeks after her forthcoming operation. So we got in an aerial man, and he ran cables to all the habitable rooms (if my network cables had arrived 3 hours earlier, I could have asked him to run those round the outside of the house too), all for a measly £500. <Choke.>
One of the things I still find odd about Freeview is listening to radio through the TV set, though I am getting used to the idea thanks to my rediscovery of Radio Caroline
, which is now broadcasting over the net and via Sky on channel 0199 (199 metres medium wave being the station’s old frequency in its pomp). If you had told me back in the mid-seventies, when I was listening to Caroline broadcasting album tracks from its rustbucket vessel on the North Sea, that I would end up spending several hours a week listening to Radio Two, I’d have thought you were mad. However, like a lot of my generation, I have moved over to the easy listening channel – strange though it is to think of Black Sabbath and Iggy Pop as easy listening.
The week-end before last I was listening to Jonathan Ross chatting to Paul Whitehouse and Charlie Higson, and was delighted to hear that they are working together again, only this time it is on a radio show called Down the Line
. In essence the idea behind the show is to take the piss out of radio phone-in shows – a form of entertainment that you would have thought was beyond parody. It gives Whitehouse and Higson the chance to try out lots of new characters and feature them in even shorter bursts than they did on The Fast Show
I am a big fan of Higson and Whitehouse and I suppose now I am going to have to start listening to bloody Radio 4 in order to hear their show. What next? A bath chair and a tartan blanket?
I was also pleased to hear that Whitehouse is back working with Harry Enfield. The fact that Enfield’s career went down the toilet and Whitehouse’s went moon-bound when the two split does not disguise the fact that Enfield is good value as this generation’s Dick Emery. Having realised that he needs the right scriptwriters behind him there is a chance he won’t end up as this generation’s Tony Hancock.
My only regret about the success of The Fast Show
is that it seems to have paved the way for the likes of Little Britain
, which I cannot warm to, for some reason. It’s the same character based catch-phrase comedy style as The Fast Show
, and clearly Lucas and Walliams are capable of some inspired moments of lunacy, but for me it is all either a bit too camp or a bit too grotesque.
So, assuming someone is out there reading this damn thing, what are you watching these days? I need you to tell me what to watch otherwise I miss out on things like Grey’s Anatomy
because I incorrectly deduce from the title that it is a documentary programme about surgery.
Monday, January 29, 2007 5:45:58 PM
It was about 2 months after we had moved my Dad into a care home in Enfield to be nearer us that we decided we wanted to leave Enfield. Ah well, forward planning has never been my forte. Obviously, number 2 son being expelled from school had a lot to do with the decision. In an ideal world we’d have yanked him out of his school before he got expelled and transferred him to another school, except that thanks to chronic overcrowding in schools in Enfield, there are no free places available. I can’t say we were surprised when it emerged that the government had underestimated the population of Enfield by 30,000; nor were we surprised when Enfield council claimed that the figure was larger than 30,000. What with the overcrowding, the swarms of police on the street, the remodelling of the shopping centre, the exit from the M25 being closed for almost two years and that bloody stalker who lived round the corner from me, it was time to move.
It's all Ken Livingstone's fault
Which is not to say that Enfield is a total hell-hole. There are some very nice parts, and the bit we lived in was pleasant, but we felt the atmosphere had changed in recent years. Mrs. Fiendish’s theory is that Ken Livngstone’s decision to make bus travel free to everybody under sixteen years of age, whilst admirable as a way of imbuing the next generation with the public transport habit, made it easy for unsociable elements to travel from their normal stomping grounds to shit on somebody else’s doorstep. As I typed that, I realised how horribly NIMBY it sounds; “Yes, I’m all for social mobility, Letitia, but I always thought I would be the one moving on to better places, not gangs of yobs coming to Enfield Cineworld to harvest mobile phones from the indiegenous pre-pubescent population.”
As it happens, my own kids routinely used to take advantage of free bus travel, trekking all the way to Camden market to get aerosol cans of paint and then, no doubt, discharging said paint on somebody else’s doorstep (Barnet man: “It’s those bloody yobs from Enfield again, I tell you.”) It’s quite scary when you ring them up as their curfew time approaches and ask where they are and back comes the reply “Ealing” or some God-forsaken place.
Having gone through the enormous hassle of selling my Dad’s house earlier in 2006, I can’t say I was enthused by the prospect of moving house, but we bit the bullet and started looking for places to live. In the main, we checked out St. Albans, Ware and Hertford. St. Albans was very nice but presented difficulties for our progeny who maintained that they would never ever ever ever make new friends and would be constantly travelling back to Enfield to stand on street corners and participate in gobbing contests. Hertford and Ware, however, are just a dozen or so miles up the A10 from Enfield; Hertford even has two rail lines both of which run through Enfield (or near enough).
I want a new new house
Mrs. Fiendish had had enough of tarting up houses and wanted to move into a new house where everything worked. This presented a difficulty, as there are not that many new houses in and around Hertford. In order to get a new build, you have to move a bit further out into something which I understand is known as “the country”. This, we decided, would be too much of a culture shock for our street-rat sons, and we were resigned to settling for an older house when we spotted a house for sale that was only 4 years old. It was right at the top end of our budget range but had been reduced in price for a quick sale.
We arranged a viewing and, unusually, took the boys with us. This we did because my brother was visiting with his two sons and we wanted to go out for Sunday lunch to bid farewell to his eldest son who was scheduled to leave the next day to spend a year in Australia. So, we dined in Hertford and after the meal was over we visited the house and, despite themselves, the boys took a shine to it. First, it was new. Second, all the bed-rooms were double-sized. Third, it had a double-garage which we speculated could become a den for the lads when they had their friends round (so much for buying a house that did not require anything doing to it). Fourth, it was a town house, which made it easy for people to get a bit of privacy – not easy in our old open plan house.
The people selling this 4-bedroom townhouse were about 30, I would guess, with only one child, and a dog. I could not for the life of me work out why they needed such a big house or, for that matter, how they could afford it. He was a manager of a car radio shop in Ponders End (a suburb of Enfield) and she, so far as I could tell, was a lady of leisure.
The bloke seemed very chatty, a bit spivvy and indiscreet (“You say you are from Enfield? I am not surprised you are moving; I work in Enfield, and it is a shit-hole”) and we later found out that, at 3pm in the afternoon, he was still pissed from the night before when his neighbours had thrown him a birthday party.
My other car's a Porsche
Mrs. Fiendish asked him if it was possible to fit 3 cars on the forecourt and he replied that it definitely was “Because last year I had a Porsche as a little runabout and we used to park all three cards in front of the garage.” I can’t say I was warming to the bloke but I liked the house a lot, as did Mrs. Fiendish and, with some reservations, the little Fiends.
So, we returned home and put in an offer. We liked the house so much, we didn’t even offer the standard £5k below the asking price. A couple of days later we got a phone call from the owner (let’s call him Darrrell, because that’s what his amazingly appropriate name is – and, yes, he did move to Essex). Would we mind popping up one evening for a chat about our offer?
This was decidedly unconventional and I began to suspect that as he had dropped the price of the house below a critical stamp duty threshold, he was going to suggest that we make an ex-gratia payment to secure the house. All night long I sat there with my stern face on as he and Mrs. Fiendish chatted away until it slowly dawned on me that he wasn’t after a bung at all and that when he said he wanted a chat in order to gauge how serious we were about the offer, he was being sincere. It was then that he made a startling pledge, of the sort that Pete Birks is inclined to make during a board game (“I’m gonna do you a favour here”) except that it genuinely did seem to be a good deal for us, unlike some of Pete’s favours.
Darrell’s situation was that he had put a deposit on a new house that had just been recently completed. He needed to move in to that house by the end of November, otherwise he would not be able to take advantage of the constructor’s offer to pay his stamp duty; furthermore, there was a risk that someone else could come along and buy it if they had the cash available. So, whilst he would have liked to have accepted our offer, he explained that he could not do so, as we had not sold our own house. He did, however, pledge that should he receive an acceptable offer from someone else he would hold off for two weeks from accepting it in order to give us a fortnight in which to sell our house.
Seems like I had misjudged the guy. Far from being spivvy, he seemed a man of honour. Though, as we were to find out, a pragmatic man of honour.
This just in: Estate agents are crap
So, we went away, cut the asking price on our house, bought a new stair carpet, tarted the place up a bit, all to no avail. A few weeks went by and we got a phone call from Darrell. “How’s it going then?” he asked. We mentioned all the efforts we were making to sell the house but confessed that a sale was not imminent. “Do you think you will get an offer before the two weeks is up?” he asked.
“What two weeks?”
This confused Darrell. “Didn’t the estate agent get in touch with you and tell you we had an offer on the house last week?”
Obviously not. So, Darrell – bless him – gave us another two weeks to sell the house. Unfortunately, we had no joy, and so he accepted the other offer.
Just after the nick of time, Mrs. Fiendish had the brilliant idea of putting some fencing along the wall that separated our house from next door’s dilapidated death trap of a garage. We knew from the number of questions we had received from viewers along the lines of “Is that your garage next door?” that this crumbling eyesore looked like it belonged to our house, and so it probably was not creating a very good first impression. The first week-end after we put the fence up, we received three offers for the house. OK, they were all well below the asking price but one was from a chain-free buyer, so we accepted that offer and returned to house hunting with renewed vigour.
As luck had it, another newish house on the same estate as Darrell’s house came up for sale. We went to visit it. A number of things put us off, not least the attitude of the seller, who gave every impression that she was heartily pissed off with the whole house-selling process. “We’re moving out at the end of this month. My husband’s got a job in South Africa – he’s already over there …” (no wonder she was pissed off) “so feel free to wander around while I sit here on the sofa and have a glass of wine.”
The house was £25,000 more expensive than Darrell’s and whereas Dazza’s back windows had a nice view of some woods, this house’s back view was of other people’s washing lines. It just didn’t feel as big, either, despite being more or less the same design as Darrell’s house.
We came out of that viewing feeling depressed. “I really want that other house,” said Mrs. Fiendish. “Shall we go round there now and tell him we’ve got a buyer? Maybe offer him more than the other buyer is offering?” she asked. Why, that’s gazumping! A disgraceful and dishonourable practice.
On the other hand, with Christmas approaching and the housing market as flat as the proverbial road-kill hedgehog, we were looking at another 3 months of life in Enfield. Neither of us thought that would be beneficial to number 2 son.
So, we did it.
This just in: Estate agents are crap
Not right there and then. We went home, slept on it, and then contacted the estate agent to ask them to inform Darrell we now had a buyer and would he consider selling to us. Disappointingly, the estate agent informed us a little while later that Darrell was proceeding with the sale to the other buyer. About two days later Darrell rang to see how our sale was progressing, which naturally confused us. Seems like the estate agent had cocked it up again, and Darrell was interested in our offer, not least because his buyer was dragging her feet; his deadline for moving into his new house was approaching fast. “She’s had three weeks to get a surveyor over here to get a survey done and she still ain’t done it. To be honest, she’s pissing me off.”
A glimmer of an opening. Mrs. Fiendish had an idea which she discussed with me. It involved punting £700 (the cost of a survey) on changing Darrell’s mind.
We called back Darrell. “We can have a surveyor round there next Monday, and we’ll pay you your original asking price” (which was £5,000 higher than his other offer.
We could tell Darrell was itching to accept but he was, you remember, an honourable man, and said he’d like to think about it. We still went ahead with the survey and after it was completed, we didn’t exactly wave freshly printed fivers under his nose, but we did contact him to see whether he had made a decision. After about three days of vacillating and hyperventilating he said he’d give the other buyer two days to get in touch with him (she was not returning his calls) and if she didn’t do so, he’d accept our offer.
Two days passed, the other buyer carried on doing a fantastic impersonation of Greta Garbo, and the house was ours!
Get in there, my sons
Now all we had to do was get the mortgage sorted out, sort out the legal stuff and exchange contracts within 3 weeks to protect Darrell’s investment on his new house. Three weeks! Not even Anneka Rice could have helped us hit that deadline and it turned out even tougher than that; after Darrell had read the small print on his house purchase, it turns out that he needed to move in by the deadline, not just exchange contracts. The poor guy was apoplectic with stress but we made sure we communicated regularly with him to keep him in the picture.
Inevitably we missed the deadline, after which Darrell’s stress levels dropped off. We managed to move in before Christmas, having employed some wonderfully relaxed (read: slow) removal men. You know that advert for Lilt, where the gag is that Caribbean people start acting like hurrying-scurrying Anglo-Saxons? Well, if Red Bull ever need a marketing campaign for the Caribbean, they could feature our removal company in it. We were supposed to be out of our house by 11:00am; we finally left at 6:00pm, and when the guv’nor turned up to collect the money we weren’t entirely surprised that he was Jamaican.
The aforementioned stalker (see paragraph one) has mentioned that he is still waiting to see pictures of the house; his stalking abilities must be slipping, as by now I’d have expected him to have done his own home video of the place and cracked my network encryption key to boot, but suffice to say that as soon as I find out where we packed the digital camera I will take some photos and you can all start wondering what all the fuss was about.
I have previously threatened to keep track of things I like and dislike about having moved to Hertford, so here goes
1a. Things I like about having moved: The plumbing. What a pleasure to not have to wait 40 seconds for hot water to emerge from the hot tap, and what a joy it is not to need the hands of a safe-cracker to get the shower temperature right.
1b. Things I don't like about having moved: The bloody buses. Timetables and routes seem to be virtually random. Take the 395, for instance, which runs one route on a school day and another on a non-school day. After 8pm the route runs up the hill at the bottom of the road, but prior to that it goes to Ware. All the buses are request stops (a good idea) but none of them have arrival indicators on them (a bad idea).
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