Sunday, 27 September 2009

How many rolling-pins ?

It has been a few weeks since I have put fingers to laptop for a blog entry. Whilst I have all the excuses needed for not getting around to it, it also feels difficult to get back into the swing of writing something that is interesting and that I am interested in.

With all that in mind, it's now nearly the end of September and another Autumn approaches. I actually quite like September, and whilst it is not my favourite month of he year, it is a good interesting month with lots happening. This month has certainly contained a lot of interesting happenings.

After we got back from our fun packed holiday in France, I was straight into dedicating 2 weeks of my life to Jury service. Out of the 2 weeks I had to make myself available I was only actually in attendance for 1 day. That was the first day when everyone had to attend and register for expenses etc. I arrived bang on time and was ushered into a room containing all my jury peers. there were around 40 people in total. We sat there like school children and had our names called out on the register and then we spent the rest of the morning giving in our expenses forms. Ofcourse there was lots of whispered complaining about everything happening too slowly, and that the food/drink expenses were not sufficient, but I suppose that's Human nature. After the morning of paperwork and form filling, things picked up in the afternoon. There were two trials presented in the afternoon, but I was not selected at random and missed out on both of them. I left the court early at around 4pm on the first day and was told to ring the phone line at 4.30pm to see if I was needed for the next day.

I dutifully rang the phone line everyday for the next week and a bit, but was never needed back. Quite unforfilling really, but at least it meant that I could attend all my work based commitments. Work based commitments such as having my phone stolen in Manchester, when I should of been in a court room in Stafford. Curse you justice!

Other interesting things that have happened this month include:

Patrick's 1st day at school
Cocktails in Stoke on a sunny Saturday afternoon with Chris
Seeing Dave Gorman in concert
Presenting at a Power & Lifting Seminar in London
Winning a bottle of champagne at a freight forwarders event (and having someone drink it for me)
Dad's 60th brithday
Visiting Co. Wexford for the day
Attending a black tie casino event
Missing out on a golf day, but still making the evening dinner and presentation

All in all it's been a pretty busy and tiring month. I'm not complaining about it, but I suppose it's down to all things in moderation. Whilst this month has been busy for me, there has also been the sad deaths of a number of famous and interesting people. Les Paul, Keith Floyd and Patrick Swayzee. Now that would be an interesting dinner party.
Looking forward to October and my 36th birthday

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Manchester Blackberry Disaster 2009

I spent most of today in Manchester looking at canals and road signs with very nice Japanese people. We had been looking at roads and bridges, ports and street furniture, all the stuff that a man in his mid thirties normally does for money on a Monday. Then this evening I was walking along Princess Street (which doesn’t exist – so I am lead to believe) to get some money from a cash machine, and I was as per usual, on my phone, talking to someone and idly passing the early evening away, not really paying attention to anything that was going on around me.

Suddenly a deft hand grabbed at the phone and snatched it out of my unsuspecting hand. It took a moment to register what had occurred. I'd been looking at my phone and then suddenly I was looking at my hand and my glasses which had been thrown to the ground in the struggle. Though to an alien race the human hand might be the more impressive gadget, to me my own human hand was a lot less interesting than a tiny machine that could take photos of my kids and keep me up to date with emails and texts from across the globe. Or even from my wife, whose number I do not know off by heart (sorry).

I looked up and saw that a man on a bicycle was quickly cycling away with my phone, the very phone that I had dropped countless time and that did not ring properly. But the same battered phone that had lots of photos of my kids on it and also countless other important things such as photos of canals and emails from work. .

Could he not have ripped out my heart and stolen that instead? It would have caused me less pain and consternation.

I suppose I reacted within a second though it felt like it took an age for any emotional or physical response. I was surprised and disgusted, I felt despondent and foolish. Most of all though I was aware that I was watching my phone disappear into the distance.

I made a vain attempt to chase after the perpetrator. But he was on a bike and had a head start and I was on foot and haven't been going to the gym. At all. To be fair I don't think I would have been fleet of foot enough to catch him had I been twenty years younger and being trained by Olympians.

I gave it a go though, my heart already bereft, my brain already cursing me for being so foolish. But it was early evening and there were loads of people around on their phones, talking drivel to their friends and even though I am aware that such things happen, it was unlikely that I could have anticipated it. I take very good care of my phone, almost to a paranoid degree and in fact never bother with insurance as I am so convinced of my own obsessive desire to protect it. But aside from always holding on to it with a iron grip and attaching it with unbreakable wire to my wrist (which would probably have caused me to lose a hand today) there is not much you can do to stop someone coming up from behind with speed and dexterity and just grabbing the thing from you.

I wasn't thinking about trying to get a description of the man and even if I had been I doubt I could come up with much. I had only really seen him once he'd gone past. I knew that he was on a black bike, dressed in black with a black hooded top. I didn’t notice the colour of his skin, and the racist me probably thought he was black, but in reality there was no way to know as I never saw his face or even the colour of his socks.

Anyway I was too shocked and too angry and already too deeply in mourning to try and get all Crimewatch on this. In any case my heavy heart knew that there was no way that I would be getting that phone back. All was lost. My phone was disappearing out of sight. If I believed in God I would have made a contract with him there and then that if he could strike down this robber and give me my phone back, I in turn would give Him my next child as recompense. How could he do this to me?
The bike was accelerating away and I was scratching around on the pavement; like Millhouse in the Simpsons; trying to pick up my glasses which were knocked off in the tussle. I wanted to cry “Stop him. Knock him off his bike! Stop that guy!" But all I heard were a few people comment that I the biked man had stolen my phone and no one would give me eye contact.

I ran for a few steps and then easily gave up, as the biked man cycled away and turned right up Clarence Street, and into the distance. His audacious and dastardly act had been a total success.
I felt sick, but had resigned myself to never seeing that phone again and decided to back to the hotel and try and ring the office to report the phone stolen. But it was 6.30pm and everyone in the office would be at home, or at the gym, so I just walked around for fifteen minutes and tried to piece together the last few minutes in my head. Whilst I may live in the heart of the country, I am not unaware of my surroundings, and actually this evening noticed the inordinate number of people haplessly wandering around the street texting on their phones. “Crazy fools” I thought as I walked down the street fully aware of my phone and talking to a friend at work.

I got back to the hotel and borrowed an identical looking phone from my work colleague and then headed out to make a few calls. The surprising thing was that after I got over the fact I had just been robbed in broad daylight by the ‘masked bike thief of old Princess Street (doesn’t exist by the way)’ the next emotion was one of being completely cut off from the outside world. I considered using a public phone for a second to phone home or the office, but quickly came to the conclusion that I didn’t have any cash and that I don’t know any numbers because they are all stored in the memory of my phone, not the memory of my brain. Damn you bike thief.

After phoning work and home, I decided to phone Greater Manchester Police and report the phone stolen. After being passed through a switchboard or two, a policeman took over the situation and asked me many questions about the incident. The policeman who had taken my initial details told me that that the crime would be followed up and CCTV footage would be checked and I'd get a call in a couple of days. Except I couldn't because I didn't have a phone and don't know my home phone number as I never use it. So I guess they'll email me.

I was also told that I would need to visit a local station and speak to an officer who would deal with the complaint. I have a feeling that this is a common crime in this part of the City, and they seemed to talk about it as if they were trying to do something to stop it.

Within minutes I had received another call to my new phone. It was a police woman asking for me. She explained that I didn’t have to go to the local station, and that I didn’t need to be inconvenienced by going to the local police station and that I would receive a call over the next few hours from an officer who would carry out a phone interview and issue me a Crime Number. This didn’t happen.

Later in the evening I saw the biked man again. I knew that this was a possibility, but I was really surprised by the fact that he cycled up to me with so much confidence. Although he was camouflaged and wore his hooded top down, had his trousers rolled up to his knees and was cycling slowly talking very loudly to himself in order to bring attention to himself. I looked at him a few times and even slightly doubted the few things I had thought I'd seen about him. I had only really seen him from the back. All I knew for sure was that I recognised the white stitching of his hooded top, with that being my only piece of definite information.

I couldn't say how tall he was, whether he was light or dark skinned, what his bike was like or even how old he was. Was he stocky or slim or athletic? I didn't know. All I knew was that he had my phone. Plus the little boy inside me was a bit excited by seeing him again. Although I felt humiliated to be defeated by this crafty stranger, I was already consoling myself with the fact that despite the inconvenience and the slight fear he might look through the contents of my phone and find my home phone number and ring him me up and tell me he had my phone. But was he really a fucking idiot (actually that would make it all worthwhile).

I feel the slightest amount of admiration for the man who has done this. It had been a skilful (!?) and risky manoeuvre. He plucked the phone from my grip like a bird diving into the sea, catching a fish and thumping me in the cheek. And there was the danger that he could have mistimed it or I could have held on too tight or managed to grab him or catch him or that someone might have sent him smashing to the ground.

If I looked at it objectively it would be hard to sympathise entirely with the ostentatious man parading around with his expensive gadget and not at least empathise with the dispossessed individual who likes a modern day Artful Dodger relieved him of some of the unfairly distributed wealth that he was displaying.

I have to admit that I was also wishing that I had caught him and pulled him off his bike, or that someone had invented an application for the phone in which you could cause it to explode by remote control, severely injuring the thief (and I now know that if you're on mobile me you can track the phone and remotely wipe its data, but that isn't enough, I wanted him to hurt). I replayed the scenario where I got the better of my nemesis and where I humiliated him the way that he had humiliated me.

So I am torn between woolly liberalism and Daily Mail style vindictiveness. I am fully aware that stealing is wrong, try telling this to the millions of illegal music downloading that goes on every single day. Whilst I understand this, I bet the Artic Monkeys never got hit in the cheek by the last 13 year old that illegally downloaded there new album and then rode off into the dark laughing. Who are the real thieves in this so called society? So maybe this is all just karma.

It had been an exciting and upsetting day. I am ultimately sad and a bit shaken by it all. It made me nervous and suspicious for the rest of the day. It's a shitty thing to do to someone, even though in my case I can cope with the loss. It's no excuse for people behaving in this way and it's horrible that it changed my view of the world, like an evil version of art.

Good news about the Bee Gees reforming though.

Friday, 4 September 2009

Sorry, Sorry Sorry

The photo above says it all to be honest. If there was ever any doubt that Paul and Jacko were more than good friends then I think I have the evidence right there m'lud. Can you slander a dead person? Probably.

Anyhow, I am quite sorry, but I have just literally fallen over this awful Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney video (do we still call them that ?) on youtube.

this is Bad, and not in the MJ sense. This is really terrible. Start cringing now........

What does it matter to you, when you've got a job to do you got to do it well.........

In between the calamity in Paris and the car problems in Calais, it is important to remember that we had a great holiday in the South of France. The weather was pretty much blue sky perfect for the week, apart from a cloudy but warm Tuesday by the pool, followed by beers and pizza in the rain on Tuesday evening.

Luckily the downpour on Tuesday evening and the red wine paved the way for the rest of the week to return to normality of blue skies and 35 degrees. Perfect pool weather. If not a little hot for us lobster red British men.

A week on and as with all holidays the arguments and tantrums have pretty much all been forgotten and you are left with the happy memories and wealth of photos that you will probably never look at again, until maybe early December when you have to pull together the family calender for 2010. 2010? Really?

Below is a selection of my favourite photos of a really laid back holiday spent by the pool with good friends, lots of kids, and a couple of rogue pool poo's. I also wish to mention that it was the loose women that got told off for their drunken exploits (not the men), but that'll probably spoil it for everyone.....

live and let die

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

I am the real Quaid

After 13 years of safe motoring (not including wheelie bins, or other stationary objects) I have finally been involved in that unfortunate event that is an RTA. But to really compound my many years of driving without incident, this crash just happened to take place in my favourite city of Paris, France. We were travelling through France on our way to the lovely Ardeche region, on the first day of our holiday. Luckily there was no harm done as the crash was relatively low speed, but from looking at the photos you could not tell this. The SMax crumpled up, whilst the robust Peugeot 407 that was driven into hardly had a scratch on it. No one was hurt and the kids continued watching their DVD not really knowing what the fuss was about.

Why were we in Paris? I have no idea, except that the satnav decided to have a spaz attack and send us through the centre of the 'Worst city in the WORLD for driving' on what it classified as the FASTEST route to our destination. How did it ever believe that driving through the centre of Paris would provide the fastest route to anywhere, except maybe Paris. And to be perfectly honest if I wanted to go to Paris I would probably choose to drive to somewhere close to Paris (like and airport) and then decide to go somewhere else. It's not that I don't like Paris, I just don't like driving on any of the roads in Paris, when there are perfectly good toll roads that can get you to you destination faster and also potentially safer. Chris commented whilst on holiday that I had quite a few 'blond hairs' popping up at the back of my head. I put these grey, sorry blond hairs solely down to driving in Paris for 8 hours.

What is so implausible and what I do not understand about this bizarre satnav event is that last year we programmed the satnav exactly the same to go to the same destination. And it sent us on what it felt was the FASTEST route via the toll roads, without going near lovely Paris. This year we enter the same destination and it navigates us to a completely different route.

To cut a very long story short, the car was undrivable after the crash and so we had to phone the AA 'International Rescue' and ask them to make lots of arrangements for us, so that we could continue our holiday. This involved the following:

  • Tow truck for SMax and me to recovery garage
  • Taxi for kids and Chris to recovery garage
  • Hire car at Gare de Lyon station (with the help of Paula at work)
  • Taxi for me to go from garage to Gare de Lyon station
  • NO hire car at Gare de Lyon station due to Europcar screwup. But they did kindly offer me a Nissan Micra for the family
  • New superdooper Hire car at Chales de Gaule Airport (honestly)
  • Taxi for me to go from Gare de Lyon station to CdG Airport
  • 1 hour waiting around for the hire desk to confirm that they had a car, as yes it wasn't a Nissan Micra
    VW Touran for 1 week to continue our journey to Ardeche region from Paris (hurrah!)
By this time it was around 7pm on Friday evening and we had spent 6 hours stationary because of the crash. We were well behind schedule and I wasn't sure whether my wife and three kids were alive still, and if they were, whether they were still talking to me as I'd left them with no money and not really spoken to them for 4 or 5 hours whilst i was trying to sort the mess out (and getting a little stressed). Luckily for me the AA had been helping out on this side also, by giving Chris regular updates on my progress around Paris trying to find the elusive MPV hirecar.

Luckily by 8pm or so we were the proud temporary owners of a VW Touran. A 7 seater MPV that would be our car and overnight accommodation for some of the holiday at least.

I actually picked he hire car up at CdG airport at 6.30pm, but due to another satnav disaster it sent me to the wrong part of Paris, when I was trying to navigate back to the garage to pick up the family and all our luggage. Damn you satnav, I am the real Quaid.

By 8pm on the Friday evening I could have been happy to ride a camel to the south of France, but didn't have to as we had our trusty German VW. So after a 7 hour pit stop we started off on our journey once again. A little frayed around the edges, but still just about happy to be on holiday. I think that this was mainly helped by the fact that we knew what lay ahead of us was a week of relaxing by the pool, getting a healthy tan, whilst eating a mainly cheese, ice cream and wine based diet. To be honest it was that thought that spurred me on. Mainly the ice-cream I think, and the triple espresso I had at a service station around Dijon.
The VW Touran, whilst our trusty German friend for the week, it did throw us a little problem at about 11.30pm when we stopped at the first service station. We pulled up to the pump and I jumped out to fill up with Diesel, as you expect to do in these circumstances. Only problem was that I couldn't open the filler flap on the car. I pressed it in and it wouldn't open. I then went back to the driver' seat and looked for a handle or a release mechanism. Couldn't find one. I went back outside the car and gave the filler flap another press just to make sure that I hadn't done it wrong in the first place. I hadn't. I then went back inside the car again and put the interior lights on a looked around the seat, on the door, on the dash, on the passenger seat or door. Nothing. By this time I was a little nervous and concerned. I think I actually might have even gone back outside and given the filler flap another little press just to make sure that my previous two attempts hadn't accidentally been a bit shit, and that the third one was going to sort the problem out. It didn't. I returned to the inside of the car again and decided to drive off and worry about it later.
I started the car and drove forward about 2m. But, to be honest, I was worrying about it then and I couldn't put it off till later, so I stopped the car and had another look around the dashboard and under the seats and the centre of the console. Still nothing. By this time a French lorry driver was asking if we needed help. We did, we needed a miracle.

Then we opened the glove box and pulled out the instruction manual looking for clue. OK, I wasn't holding out too much hope, as my French is awful (D at GCSE, although this probably equates to an A these days) and my German is worse. Luckily for us the instructions were written in Spanish?!? This didn't help either, but eventually we found a diagram pointing to the release for the filler flap being at the bottom of the drivers door storage compartment at back. Result! By this time it was midnight and we'd been on the road for only 19 hours.

At 2AM or so we were south of Lyon and we parked up at a parking area for some sleep. The kids were already asleep and had been for some time, so we woke them up, put them in the front with the adults and tried to get back to sleep. It was hit and miss for a couple of hours until the camper van next to us started up at about 4am. About 7 or 8 people, plus a dog emptied out, had a pee and whatever, and then they drove off. Finally got to sleep after that.

We woke at around 6am and had a quick snack in the car before leaving our overnight parking spot. You would be surprised how busing it was at 6am. I would be lying if I said it was the best nights sleep I'd every had.
Then after another 2 hours driving we arrived at the resort in Ardeche. The sun came up, the views over the hills and valleys were stunning and it was 20 degrees centigrade by breakfast time. We were in for a hot week away. And it was hot and a little wet, but we had fun and I'll go into that another time.

The trip back through France was OK, we diverted away from Paris and were involved in no road incidents. The only part of the journey that got a little hairy was when we tried to fit all our kids and luggage from the VW Touran into a Vauxhall Corsa. This didn't work. Although the AA came up trumps again and sorted us out with a hatchback each for Chris and I. So we split the kids in two and made a made dash back from Calais to Home. I think Chris rather enjoyed the trip back, probably because of the way we split up the luggage and kids, rather than the fact we had matching Chevrolet Auras.

Anyway, once we got back and unpacked it didn't take long for the talk to turn to next years trip. Although I did hear Chris say she would quite like to fly............ God bless the AA

Thanks also to Chris and the Kids for not losing it, because we've all seen National Lampoons European Vacation and we got very close to it. XXXX