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).
Friday, January 19, 2007 6:42:16 PM
When I moved in to the house in Hertford I considered appending to each blog update a featurew called "things I like about the new house". Thus far, the best thing about it is the fact that when I turn on the hot tap, hot water comes out; in the Enfield abode you had to run the tap for about 45 seconds before the hot water made its way through. Now I have got used to the place a bit and got over the novelty of a plumbing system in a British building that seems to work reasonably well, I am more inclined to do a feature called "things I dislike about the new house". These relate almost entirely to the location, to whit, outside London and bleeding miles from the nearest station.
I was manfully accepting the fact that I need to catch a bus to the station. I was grumbling only occasionally about the fact that local buses seem to run only every half hour or so until the shops shut, after which you are lucky if they run once an hour (not massively convenient for those of us who get home from work in London after 7pm, but no one
seems to catch a bus when they come out of Hertford North station). All that was before the mini-tornado that hit yesterday and put most of the mainline rail services in London out of action.
One of the benefits of living in Enfield was that, should push come to shove, I could get home by bus. I could get most of the way home by tube. Hell, I could probably walk it were I pissed enough. Not so, Hertford.
When I heard about the trains being up the creek, I logged on to the excellent Transport for London journey planner and plotted my journey home. The options were:
- Northern Line to Hendon. National Express bus to Hatfield. Bus to Hertford
- Metropolitan Line to somewhere called Croxley Green. Bus to Hatfield. Bus to Hertford.
- Silverlink mainline train to Tring. I stopped reading after that.
Left to my own devices, I would have got several buses to Waltham Cross and caught a 311 to Hertford; it might have been longer but at least it would have taken me to places with which I was familiar. Where the hell is Croxley Green?
So, I took the Hendon option and staggered around looking for the right bus stop. There are a hell of a lot of bus stops near Hendon Central station. Eventually I found the right bus stop and began examining the timetable when a person with a disturbing visual similarity to Pete Birks said, with an accent that also had a disturbing similarity to Peter Birks, "That's a complete work of fiction." I knew it wasn't Pete Birks because he would have added "mate" on the end of the statement in a mockney accent.
As it happens, I wasn't looking at the times of the bus, just making sure it was going to Hatfield. However, the ice had been broken and, as we Brits do in times of hardship, conversation ensued. I thought I was hard done by, getting stranded in Hendon, but the person who was not Pete Birks had spent the day travelling down from Hitchin to Waterloo, only to find out that the Eurotunnel trains were not working, thus condemning him to missing his meeting (a good thing) and spending the rest of the day struggling to get home (a bad thing).
Apparently express buses were stopping at this stop, but the last two had been full up, which suggested that the best way of getting home was to travel back into London to Victoria in order to have a fighting (literally, I expect) chance of getting a seat. The next bus had just the one seat available, but being British and therefore unable to decide who was entitled to said seat without risk of causing offence, we (well, three of us) decided to share a cab to Hatfield instead.
I rang up Mrs. Fiendish to test out the possibility of a lift home from Hatfield and she warned that the roads around Hertford had been absolutely choc-a-bloc earlier that day and a joruney that normally takes 15 minutes had taken her over an hour. See Hertford? This would not be such a problem if you had (and used) a decent bus service!
Anyway, as luck would have it my cab arrived but two minutes after Mrs. Fiendish at the Hatfield Galleria and I got home safely. Along the way I learned how number one son had arrived home to find the locks on the front door changed and nobody home. We'd had to change the lock when the barrel on the old lock broke. Number one decided to enter the house through the garage - the only problem with this being that the door from the garage to the house was locked. His response to this was to kick the door down. He later claimed that he was desperate for a "pony" but it is more likely that as he had just spent twenty quid on two new tropical fish he was anxious to get them in his tank before they died. Of course, now he is going to have to pay over £100 (estimate) to get the door fixed. It's an expensive way to "spend a penny".
Thursday, January 18, 2007 3:49:19 PM
Number 2 son and Mrs. Fiendish attended a tribunal meeting this morning to determine number 2 son's educational destiny. The meeting was held in the unit where he'll be taught until such time as the head of the unit deems he is ready to be assigned to a regular school. Judging by the highly distraught phone call I have just received from Mrs. Fiendish, this did not go well at all.
Talk about hard luck. The head of the unit was a teacher for 20 years at the school from which number 2 son was permanently excluded. Not much chance of an impartial interpretation of the events that led to his expulsion there, then. If number 2 son was hoping to escape from an excessively authoritarian regime dedicated to rigidly enforcing pointless rules, he had his hopes dashed right there. To make matters worse, the bloke is a former PE teacher which, as we all know, is a synonym for sadistic bully.
Frankly, we can't see any point in sending a lad who was in the top stream in all his subjects (except French) to a unit run by a cross between a sergeant-major and a League Two football manager. It's looking increasingly likely that we'll have to explore home education, which partially defeats the object of moving to Hertford, but you play the cards they deal you.
Wednesday, January 17, 2007 11:59:29 AM
2006 - A year to forget
So long, then, 2006. And good bloody riddance. It’s possible that I have had more miserable years, but I doubt it. The worrying thing is that there is a suspicion of “it all starts going a bit pear-shaped from here on in” about it, which is related to being middle-aged (there, I’ve said it). Death, dementia, disease, delinquency, redundancy and incontinence are the things to look forward to now, with this doom-laden diet only being leavened by good company, material wealth and the prospect of one of my children becoming a TV star, albeit on Crimewatch.
Lest I begin to sound like Kevin Warne, let me say that it is not all bad. I remain married to the fantastic Mrs. Fiendish, I still have a boring but tolerable job and I appear to be in reasonable health, cholesterol level notwithstanding. Most of my travails stem from a pincer movement on my stress levels by my father and my children.
Father and son
The year started with the realisation that my Dad’s mental health had deteriorated to the point where our default explanation “he’s in the early stages of dementia” was beginning to sound like an exercise in denial rather than a valid assessment of his mental faculties. Sure, he could find his way round to our house and back home again (virtually every day!) by bus, but he was beginning to do weird things and his repertoire of conversational subjects had diminished to single figures.
My brother and sister live out in the sticks so, as the nearest child, the burden of care fell largely on me. Without the stentorian assistance of Mrs. Fiendish I would have completely stressed out over the situation but somehow we managed to get power of attorney, oversee the sale of his house and put him in a care home up the road from us in Enfield. He’d still be there now, only he was being sexually harassed by a fellow inmate who was in her seventies. It sounds laughable, but it was clear that my Dad was not enjoying the situation and was increasingly spending more time in his room to avoid this woman. Given that my Dad was paying a premium for the “social activities” on offer in this care home there did not seem much point in continuing to pay a fortune to the care home when he was not taking full advantage of the facilities, so we moved him out of the care home with a view to putting him in care in a home near where my sister lives.
Least, that was what I thought the plan was. My sister, who works as a carer in retirement homes, had the notion that she would see if she and her husband could look after Dad in their house out in the sticks, even though Dad – in his more lucid moments – had expressed a strong preference for continuing to live in a town environment. Anyway, three or four months of looking after my Dad have worn her to a frazzle and it’s now got to the point where I am more worried about her than I am my Dad. Without wishing to sound callous, my Dad is now pretty much a lost cause. Not only has the short term memory and the bladder control gone, but he is getting the violent mood swings too; the other day he punched a 90 year-old woman on the chin at a Day Centre after she poured water on his head. This time next year I am expecting him to barely know who I am. So, the top priority for January 2007 is to get him in a care home, though now he is showing signs of violent behaviour, that won’t be cheap.
The kids are all right (not)
I think it is fair to say that whilst Mrs. Fiendish and I were focussed on sorting out my Dad, we took our eye off the ball a bit with regards to our parenting responsibilities. Number one son needed a lot of support and encouragement (i.e. a kick up the arse) to get through the last year of his GCSE’s, and we weren’t always around to give it to him. When he started talking about leaving school at 16 and joining the army as they would pay him wages while he studied for his “A” levels, we mounted a rescue campaign, with the result that he passed all 8 of his GCSE subjects. Imbued with a bit more belief in his academic abilities, he has since decided to forego spending time in Afghanistan and is taking “A” level Business Studies instead.
I have a very middle class attitude towards the army which basically goes along the lines that it is all right for thickies, and it can be good for bright kids who never got a fair shake at a decent school, but it is no place for bright kids from middle class backgrounds. Plus I don’t like the idea of my son’s job description including the words “killing people”. Evidently there are some smart cookies in the army, however, for the lure of “being paid to study” is hard for many 16 year old boys to resist, especially in this age of student loans. Number one son has always been one for instant gratification: give him the choice of total lifetime earnings of £500,000, starting with £200 a week now, and total lifetime earnings of £2,000,000, starting with £400 a week in two years time, and he’d forego the extra £1.5m to get his hands on the £200 a week now.
School's Out - forever?
When all is said and done, though number one son may be a high maintenance, lazy, whingeing git – like his father, but with better dress sense – he remains essentially an obedient and conformist son, as is often the case with the eldest child, apparently. I don’t think anyone would call number 2 son conformist. Most of the time he is as sweet as pie, but when he comes across a pointless rule, mindlessly enforced in an authoritarian manner, he rebels, forcefully. To give a trivial example. At school, depending on whether you are doing gym or field activities, you either wear white shorts (for gym) or black (for outside). Were number one son to turn up with the wrong colour shorts, he’d shrug off the bollocking from the PE master and keep his head down. Number two son would argue “what difference does it make what bloody colour the shorts are?”. Woe betide any teacher who thinks “because I say so” or “those are the rules” is going to satisfy number two son as an acceptable answer; that just puts his back up even more.
In retrospect, sending him to an all-boys traditional (400 year old) state school might not have been the smartest move we made. I say “we”, but it was largely my choice. With its emphasis on music and sport, plus its excellent “league table” position, it looked a good choice for our sporty, musical, eldest son, but when it came to choosing a school for his two younger brothers we took the easy route of sending them to the same school as their elder brother. That goes down as one of the dumbest decisions I have made in the last 20 years.
If we had not been so preoccupied with looking after my Dad then we might have pulled him out of the school before things came to a head back in May, but we botched it totally, things went into a rapid downward spiral and so number two son was permanently excluded. Now, the law states that if I don’t provide schooling for my child, I can be prosecuted, but it seems it is perfectly OK for the education authorities to take their sweet time about finding a new school for number 2 son. It’s now been 8 months, and they have still not found him a school place, so we did what any middle-class family would do in this situation: we upped sticks and moved. Ordinarily when one moves outside of London, one can expect to get a similar sized house for less money; not so when one moves from Enfield to Hertford. We’d just got the mortgage paid off and were looking forward to a bit more flexibility in terms of the option to “downshift” when the requirement to move somewhere a bit less urban meant we are now saddled with a mortgage of £150,000. Surely it would have been cheaper to send number 2 son to public school?
He Fought The Law (and the Law Won)
Except it wasn’t just for the schooling that we moved. In 2006, number 2 son made two appearances in the magistrates’ court for criminal damage. Our friends have been very sympathetic and suggested he must have got in with bad company and that it is all down to peer pressure, but it is entirely probable that number two son is the bad company other parents warn their kids about. Still, it won’t do any harm moving him to a new town and making a fresh start. For one thing, Hertford does not appear to have scores of community policemen patrolling the streets each night, so if he continues in his stupid criminal activities, at least he will be less likely to get caught.
Paint It Black
The woman at the Youth Offenders Panel seems to think this might all be a cry for attention, and maybe she is right, but number 2 son doesn’t seem to think so. Then again, he hates all that psychological stuff anyway, which is a bit of a blow because his mother is a qualified psychologist. Mrs. Fiendish seems to think every problem must have a solution, and in number 2 son’s case she thinks there must be some magical approach we can take to cure him of his criminal tendencies. I broke a few laws in my youth, and I take the view that maybe he is just getting his kicks through being a bad boy, and there’s not much his parents can do about it, save the usual stuff about setting parameters and moral guidelines.
On the other hand, maybe the Youth Offenders woman has a point. In the new home we are experimenting with having a family meal every evening, where we sit round the table and bicker, just like families do on TV shows and in films. I don’t know if it is having an effect on the kids, but I am certainly enjoying it. We've also bought numnber 2 son some paints and canvases and introduced him to the novel concept of painting on something that isn't made of brick or concrete, and he's already done one (very good) painting since Christmas. For a child with no real household hobby (other than staying in bed until 3pm) this is a bit of a breakthrough. Maybe he'll grow out of the "graffing" habit and realise that a criminal activity where you leave your signature at the scene of the crime is a daft pursuit.
High School Confidential
And number 3 son? Touch wood, he’s turning out OK, but he’s only just hit puberty, so who knows what will happen when the hormones kick in?
Today he has just started at his new school. So far as we can tell, it is the best school in the area in terms of academic achievement, and I think he will do all right there, as he is generally a compliant type who likes to fit in. I am not sure if this is the right school for the free-thinking number 2 son, however, and from the induction interview we had for number 3 son it is pretty clear the school don’t think number 2 son wil fit either – though what they were doing discussing number 2 son when we were supposed to be there to discuss number 3, I don’t know. Their whole attitude was a bit arrogant, to be honest. Their first question to number 3 son was “why do you want to join our school?”
The honest answer was “because this is the school I have been allocated by the local education authority” but clearly he was expected to say what a wonderful institution it is, and how he was looking forward to learning to play the nose flute or find a cure for herpes.
What really got my back up was when they asked him what he did of an evening or week-end. Not unreasonably he replied that he goes to the park most evenings to play football, and at the week-ends he likes to go to the cinema. The teacher in charge of integration said, “Well, you won’t be doing any of that when you come to our school.”
Who the fuck is he to tell my kid how to spend his leisure time out of school? If the intention was to highlight the vast array of after-school activities on offer at the school or to emphasise the importance of homework, then he made a pretty cack-handed job of it.
Mrs. Fiendish said that had I been a cat, the fur on my back would have been standing on end at this point. However, I bit my lip. No point getting off on the wrong foot, and it does look like an excellent school. Going to the right school, or living in the right area can make such a difference. My junior school years were mainly spent in Ilford, a very “townie” environment. I suppose I was a bit of a tearaway with no real interest in school, but it seemed pretty normal to me - Nasser Hussein went to my junior school and looked what a violent thug he turned out to be! When I moved to Hornchurch – now a chav haven but in those days a town with pretensions of being a village – I got in with a smarter crowd; passing the 11+ probably helped. I retained a few rough edges – still have many of them, I expect, though I have managed to give up the shoplifting, the smoking and the spitting – but a good school knocked me in to decent shape. Or so I think; I’m seeing four of my old class-mates tonight, perhaps I’ll ask them if my presence in the group damanged their reputation! Anyway, the new school and new area, plus a few lifestyle changes on the part of Mrs. Fiendish and myself, are our great hope for 2007. I’ll let you know how it turns out.
Meanwhile, let me wish you a belated happy new year.
Monday, December 11, 2006 6:06:53 PM
I suppose I had better write a bit about MidCon before I forget it all. As some of you may know, Paul Oakes and I have been engaged in some promotional efforts to restore this con to something approaching its former glory. I am happy to report that this year attendance was up from the mid-nineties, where it has been for the last six or seven years, to 124, so whilst Paul and I don’t want to claim all the credit, it is at least nice to be able to say to ourselves that our efforts were not in vain. As a reward we were invited to join the MidCon committee and we accepted this offer. That makes John Dodds, Chris Tringham, Paul Oakes and myself from the South London Mafia who have served on the MidCon committee now.
The extra people did make a difference. There was a bit more of a buzz about the place and the bar area was not the tumbleweed domain it has turned into in recent years, which meant that bar staff were more inclined to man the bar at all times instead of popping off somewhere to perform some other essential duty, such as polishing the bath-towels, or whatever it is hotels do to justify their room rates.Crutchless panting
One of the people I managed to lure back to the con was Tony Wheatley who, regrettably, is now wheelchair bound. “Don’t worry, Tony,” said I. “They have a chair lift at the Angus now,” and this is indeed true, but it seems to have last been used when Thora Hird was still alive – although not by the doyenne of chair-lifts, I hasten to add. Thus Tony’s arrival sparked a 20 minute hunt for the key to start the chair-lift, during which time Tony staggered up the stairs on his crutches. On the positive side, Tony said the room he was assigned, which has been specially adapted for disabled people, was very good.
Now I am on the committee, I suppose I had better sort this out in advance next year.
This year there was an almost complete absence of Diplomacy and this was something I stressed in my promotional efforts. I am not sure whether people did
still have the idea that MidCon is full of Diplomacy nerds – many of the people I gave flyers to had never even heard of the con – but I had a suspicion that the Diplomacy element might have put some people off, hence I stressed that the con is now more about getting the chance to play the new games released at Essen. In fact, aside from the MidCon quiz and the music quiz, MidCon is noticeable for an almost complete absence of tournaments. The committee is happy for people who want to run a tournament to volunteer to do so but are equally sanguine about the convention not having any. I think the absence of tournaments makes a nice contrast to ManorCon and BayCon, both of which feature a plethora of tournaments.Quizlings
Having mentioned the quiz, I suppose I should observe that this was an enjoyable event organised in traditional shambolic style. Let me explain. Up until two years ago, I had set and compèred the MidCon quiz for several years but in 2004 I was remiss in informing the committee that I was available to run the quiz and so they got Dan Lester to devise one. I then turned up with 80 quiz questions whilst Dan turned up with his interesting assortment of questions, puzzles and mystery sound clips. In the end we did a joint-effort and then agreed that the following year he would do the MidCon quiz and I would do the music quiz. This year I volunteered to do the Bring & Buy stall and fobbed off music quiz duties to Paul Oakes, and assumed that Dan Lester would once again be running the MidCon quiz. Well, you know the old adage about ASSuME making an “ass of U and ME”, don’t you? Dan had not been asked to run the quiz and so it looked as if we would have no MidCon quiz, thus ending a tradition of some 25 years. However, Jon Gilbert stepped into the breach with “some questions I prepared earlier”. Luckily for us, Jon sets quizzes as a hobby and happened to have some question sheets with him. The questions seemed to hit the right level; I think that the difficulty level of quizzes should be such that all teams should be able to get at least 60% of the questions. I try to make the next 30% a bit tougher and the remaining 10% as real bastards to separate the men from the boys – which is particularly useful in the pædophilia round, I find.
Of course, I would say the quiz was good, because I was on the winning team with Peter Berlin and Richard Beattie. I must say my contribution was minimal. Peter’s job as a sports journo was particularly useful. It’s a tough job Peter’s got there, covering the Five Nations rugby, reporting on European football and all that, but at least it stands him in good stead on a quiz night, which I am sure makes it all worthwhile for him.
Modesty does not forbid me from mentioning that I was on the winning team in the Music Quiz too, though to be frank, I would have wanted shooting had we not won it, what with Paul Oakes setting the quiz. Over a period of 20 years Paul and I have conversed a lot about music and I know a lot about his music tastes, which are pretty similar to mine. Luckily Paul had a novel element to his quiz that forced each team to “void” one round. A team’s score in its voided round would not count except in the event of a tie-breaker. Almost every single team present voided the REM round, which I presume came as a shock to Paul, who must be under the impression that REM are an essential part of everyone’s record collection. Brian Walker once memorably described REM’s sound as “music for hairdressers” and whilst I like most of their stuff in moderation, I find Michael Stipe’s whining vocal style wearing after a short while.
Some other novel features of Paul’s quiz included allowing an unlimited number of team members, albeit with a rising points penalty scale the more players a team had, and a penalty for every team member with the surname Harrington. Flattery indeed.
I had a bit of a chastening experience in the quiz. The aforementioned Jon Gilbert, he of the emergency quiz questions, remarked at the end of the quiz that I certainly knew my music. It wasn’t until the following evening when Jon volunteered to run the MidCon general knowledge quiz that it dawned on me that as a person who sets quizzes, he is probably pretty good at pop music himself, but old big head here (me) had selfishly whacked the answers down in double quick time without giving anyone else a chance. It can’t be much fun being on a pop quiz team with a know it all, though I stress (and numerous ManorCon pop quiz competitions have proved it) that although I have a very deep knowledge of music trivia, it only covers certain eras and certain genres. Give me an alt-country round in a pop quiz and I’d not only be useless but I’d probably slip my headphones on and listen to my own MP3 player during the alt-country round rather than listen to some of the pre-menstrual caterwauling I heard from some girlie-singer fixated quizmaster at ManorCon a few years back.Bring & Buy stall
At the beginning of the year the news emerged that ManorCon would not be having a Bring & Buy Games Sale this year, as Alan Parr and Mike Taylor had stepped down from running it after several years of sterling (silver-haired) service. In the event, ManorCon did have a Bring & Buy stall but by then I had already committed to running one at MidCon. This turned out to be a bit of a last minute effort, as the period immediately before the con was a busy time for me, what with the house move and various family crises. I managed to send the details of the Bring & Buy to Jeremy Tullet (MidCon committee chairman) on the very day he posted the last update before the con itself, but thanks to the wonders of the internet and e-mail, I managed to get the existence of the stand publicised well enough for there to be 70 or so games up for sale.
The stall was open for two sessions on the Saturday in the Wroxton suite. We took about £600 and amazingly all of this found its way to the satisfied sellers. I am indebted to the assistance of Keith Thomasson, Nick Kinzett and Richard Clyne, who helped with the book-keeping and table-laying. The Bring & Buy stall was non-profit making for MidCon (and non-loss making too) but it served its purpose in encouraging a few more attendees, most notably Alan Parr and Richard Bass (who I don’t think took too kindly to my commenting on his hopeless optimism in expecting anyone to pay money for Westminster
). The two session format works fairly well, as it gives the sellers a chance to revise their sale prices for the second session.
There were some new games on sale and there was a concern that the official board games stall at the con (run by Jeff and Hazel Hawking) might be miffed at this, but the sellers of new stuff were very assiduous in ensuring that none of their games for sale were also being sold by the Hawkings. Road planning in Birmingham: the shortest book in the world?
I can’t believe I have got this far into the con report without mentioning that Richard Beattie and I got lost on the way to the hotel. It’s normal for us to get lost on the way out
of Brum but this time the route we normally take into Brum was closed and so we had to improvise. We ended up crawling through the centre twice before finally reaching the hotel. It doesn’t help that some of the landmarks have disappeared, now that the city centre has been redeveloped. Nevertheless, after 25 years of attending this con it is still a fantastic achievement of Birmingham’s road designers that they can make it so difficult for us to find our way to the hotel by car. I-talian, U-talian, We-talian
Saturday night was spent, as is now traditional, in our favourite Italian restaurant in town. If memory serves, it is called San Marco. The food is good, especially for the price; the service is attentive and the ambience excellent. This year we were blessed with the presence of Julie Challinger, who seemed to be enjoying being in the company of a dozen or so middle-aged board-game nerds. You need to get out more, girl! Mind you, she is married to an accountant
Apparently there was some poker this year, but I missed that. It’s not the same unless Geoff Brown is playing. There was no surprise appearance from Pete Birks but we did get unexpected visits from Martin Wallace and Malcolm Cornelius, both of whom turned up “on spec”. Malc has all but withdrawn from the gaming scene so his attendance was a real shock, but luckily he is still into drinking, eating and talking bollocks, so I suspect he had a good time. Next year, let’s see if we can lure Johnny Dodds, Birks and Malc Smith back, shall we?
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