Wednesday 30 March 2011

A stiff one in the morning

15st 6lb, 6.0 units. I had a stiff letter from my cardiologist in the post this morning. Well, I say, ‘my’ cardiologist, but in fact I’ve only met the man twice, and I didn’t much enjoy either encounter, so it seems a bit like talking about ‘my stalker’ or ‘my burglar’.

For clarity, I should perhaps add that the stiffness was in the content rather than the quality of the writing paper, though it was a reasonably heavy yellowish cream stock. It bore a perhaps slightly grandiose letterhead (printed, not engraved) proclaiming the writer to be an ‘Honorary Professor in Cardiovascular, Sports and Exercise Medicine’, which seemed to cover just about everything in life that I can’t stand, apart from socialism.

Actually, it was really a letter to my GP, copied to me either (a) to put the fear of God into me, or (b) on the grounds that the best way to get my GP to read it was to bring it to my attention so that I would then pester him on the subject. If so, it was 100% successful on both counts.

The Professor was writing to say that he was concerned about my ‘probable angina pectoris’ and the fact that I am not taking ‘either a betablocker or a rate limiting calcium channel blocker’ as he feels that I ‘may well have silent ischaemia’. He prescribed me something of the sort after my last consultation with him, but I fell ill shortly afterwards and my commonsense GP told me to stop taking the pills, whereupon I got better. Either or both the feeling ill and the getting better could, of course, be complete coincidences. But I don’t like taking pills so any excuse will do.

Just like this, it was: only with more rolls of fat and fewer smiles

The Prof was also banging on about the fact that I ‘should undergo cardiac catheterisation’ on the grounds that it is the only way of ‘ruling out significant coronary disease’. His own website proclaims that the death rate from angiograms is only 1 in 1,000, which I can see are pretty good odds, but the procedure sounds uncomfortable, I loathe hospitals and fundamentally I’d rather not know what is going on inside me. A nice, quick, clean, fatal heart attack would do me nicely. Selfish, I know, now that I have a wife and child, but I have never pretended to be anything other than thoroughly selfish.

Mrs H keep saying ‘Yes, but what if you have a nasty, slow, excruciatingly painful heart attack that just leaves you in pain and disabled?’ Fair point. But why is it that I am the one who is always painted as the pessimist in our relationship?

Tuesday 29 March 2011

Serve the child first, for the love of God

15st 6lb, 8.0 units. The Boy discovered religion on Sunday. Not when we took him to morning service at the church where he was christened, though he did behave surprisingly well throughout. He did not even pass comment on the fact that Rick the Vic was robed entirely in sackcloth, as I’m afraid his father did. But in the pub afterwards it seemed as though he experienced some sort of epiphany because he suddenly announced “Love God, love God!” to all in the vicinity.

Rick the Vic minus sackcloth, plus poppy: in christening mode, October 2009

It wasn’t easy to tell whether this was an assertion of his own faith, or an instruction to the rest of us as we consulted our watches and drummed our fingers on the tables, waiting for our Sunday roasts to arrive. Then Mrs H pointed out that it was actually an abbreviated version of my own popular phrase or saying, “Charlie, for the love of God leave that thing alone!” Which is, to be honest, one of the milder things I tend to say in such circumstances as when, say, attempts to distract a hungry 21-month-old with a 3D crossword puzzle have resulted in him flinging the little wooden balls over the floor, where they seem highly likely to result in a Chaplinesque disaster involving a charming young waitress going arse over tits and hot gravy ruining a sweet old lady’s perm.

I would be the worst person in the world to run a pub. Well, unless you have a fancy to experience a less witty version of the sort of grumpy landlord persona brought to complete perfection by my dear and late friend Ray Matthewman of the Warenford Lodge in Northumberland (and before that of the Plough and Fleece at Horningsea, near Cambridge). Or perhaps a distinctly less gay and somewhat less outrageous variant on the late Kim de la Taste Tickell from Whittlesford, almost certainly also with poorer catering.

But one thing I have learned about running a pub and am happy to share with the licensed trade in general. When someone orders a meal from the kiddies’ menu, bring that out first. And not last, as every pub in England seems determined to do. Every time we go out with The Boy, his face lights up at the approach of a member of staff and he proclaims “Charlie dinner!” as a steaming plate approaches the table, only to find it plonked in front of someone else. The other day in Tarporley this happened a full six times before he finally got lucky.

Incidentally, every meal is “Charlie dinner” so far as The Boy is concerned, including breakfast, so I don’t feel that I need to worry yet about his place in society, and the fact that People Like Us eat luncheon in the middle of the day.

Last Sunday Mrs H and I had ordered starters, in an attempt to test the capabilities of a pub we had not visited before. And also, to be honest, because we were a bit greedy. It turned out to be a pretty good move because they were actually a damn sight nicer than the subsequent Sunday roast.

Yet even though I had taken care to specify that the plate of sausage and mash from the kiddies’ menu should arrive with our starters rather than our main courses, it still took its time, allowing the entire pub to be entertained for a while by cries of “Charlie dinner!” and increasingly frantic hand gestures as he tried to catch the attention of a passing waitress.

And when it finally did arrive – well, here is the second lesson that I can share with the great British pub trade this Tuesday Spring morning: it is not actually necessary to heat up items from the children’s menu in an attempt to replicate conditions in the melting core of the Fukushima nuclear reactor. In fact, it is positively counter-productive, because all it does is replace the cries of “Charlie dinner!” with ones of “Charlie dinner too hot!” The caring adult at the table then has to let her own remarkably tepid food grow stone cold as she chops the aforementioned sausages into tiny pieces, and frantically blows on them to cool them down.

This has the slightly unfortunate side effect that, after a year or so, it becomes such a habit that one may take one’s partner to a smart London restaurant like The Ivy and look on in pained horror as she sits blowing on each forkful of food before she consumes it.

At least the sausages passed muster when they were finally cool enough to be eaten, and the accompanying gravy was apparently positively delicious. But it seemed that the mashed potatoes weren’t quite right. At any rate The Boy shook his head when he was asked if they were nice, so I made the fatal mistake of trying to find out what was wrong with them. “No, Daddy, no!” he shrieked as I advanced with my fork. “Naughty Daddy! Not Daddy dinner! Charlie dinner!” These are words we have heard many times before, albeit normally substituting “Goggie” for “Daddy” as they tend to be directed at The Dog. Which used to be called “Goggie” because for some reason he could not pronounce the “D” in “Dog”, though he could manage it just fine in “Daddy”.

Just who is in charge here?
And who will sort out the inevitable tangle? (Mummy, who sorts out everything else.)

Then came the glorious moment in Northumberland a couple of weeks ago, on 14 March to be precise, when he went for a walk and suddenly found that he could call The Dog “Craster” rather than “Goggie”. Each day now brings another little landmark of this sort, and I would not miss them for the world. It doesn’t make Craster any more inclined to obey him, but at least he is mercifully gentle and tolerant, and happy enough to play along with the illusion that The Boy is taking him for a walk, as we did after lunch, rather than the other way around.

Monday 21 March 2011

I'm not a violent man, but ...

15st 9lb, 4.7 units. It has been two months since I found a spare moment to add to this blog, and one might get the impression from my opening statistics that my diet has made no progress at all. Which would obviously be correct overall, though in the interim my weight has been up and down like a polite old gentleman on a particularly busy Underground train, or (if you must) the proverbial whore’s drawers. I have also been unusually busy writing things in return for ready money. Because, like the founders of Twitter, I have yet to find a way of converting the massive popularity of this marvellous Internet vehicle into the folding stuff required to meet The Boy’s growing demand for food.

I was reminded of this blog partly because yesterday we took him back to the miniature railway I was writing about when this page was last updated. It is conveniently located slap bang next to a cracking pub, where we went with my in-laws to celebrate the Iranian New Year. Which falls on the Spring equinox, apparently. And is out of step with the Islamic New Year because that follows a lunar calendar while the Iranians have stuck to a solar one. Hence today in Tehran is the start of 1390, while the rest of the Muslim world has been in 1432 since 7 December.

Naturally I marked the occasion by drinking a lot of beer and buying The Boy a packet of pork scratchings, which he guarded jealously. Indeed, when someone said “Are you going to share those with Daddy and Grandpa?” he assumed an expression that I have only previously seen with the aid of a mirror.

Washing down the pork scratchings

After that he ate a plate of pork sausages with mash and gravy, just to get into the authentic Persian spirit. Then he went for a ride on the trains, still looking bloody nervous if I am honest but at least not burying his head in his mother’s shoulder and calling “Oh God!” in a pitiful sort of way, as he did last time.

The Boy's second train ride of the day
Whoo! Whoo!
The Boy learns the mysteries of coaling and watering

There is more about the Persian New Year in my newspaper column of tomorrow, to which I will remember to post a link when it is published.

But that is not what I set out to write about. No, for the past month or so I have had an urgent need to get something off my chest. And it is this. I am not a violent man, but …

All right, I recognize that that is a phrase that usually means the precise opposite of what it claims, like its blood brother “I am not a racist, but …”

However, anyone who knows me will surely testify that I am not given to violence, at any rate towards people. Telephones, yes, I’ll give you that. Plus the occasional coffee pot. But I don’t think I have actually hit another human being since I thumped Martin Hamilton-Farrell in the playground at junior school when I was about eight, and frankly it was the sort of place where anyone with a double-barrelled name was basically asking for it.

Yet here I am, aged 56, filled with an urgent and almost overpowering desire to punch two people in the face.

One is the Scotchwoman who plays the leading role on the CD from “Rhythm Time”, where The Boy goes every Friday to bang a drum. I’ve asked why on earth he needs to learn the rhythm method when his mother is nominally Muslim and I am a High Anglican atheist, but it seems to be wrongly assumed that I am being facetious. This woman (the “recording artist”, not Mrs H), who cannot sing for toffee and has a particularly irritating Scottish lilt, features in more than half the so-called songs, all of which we have now heard many, many, many times. The only saving grace is that she is not the performer of The Boy’s all-time favourite, Bobby Shafto (or, as he puts it, “Bobby Shadow”) which we sometimes have to hear over and over again for as many as ten miles in the car. Ten miles, but it seems more like a thousand. Even for a Geordie fan of traditional Northumbrian folk tunes.

I have given long consideration as to when I would most like to deliver the nose-flattening, silencing blow, and concluded that it is a toss-up between about ten bars into her rendition of “Knickerbocker Number Nine” or the second time that she enjoins her little audience to “put on their special listening ears”.

Thwack. And the sound of teeth falling onto a hard surface. That is what is needed here.

Then there is Dave, for whom a punch in the face is coming to seem scarcely adequate retribution. Dave is a purveyor of heating oil and bottled gas. Only he isn’t. Because the word “purveyor” implies that he actually delivers the stuff. And Dave has come up with this great wheeze where he takes the money but then does not bother to supply the goods. You have to wonder why any retailer ever thinks to do anything else.

I was first introduced to Dave’s firm by the agent who let us our house, who recommended them. Hard to think why, since this is probably the most graceless branch of a service industry on the planet. Ring up and say “Hello, I’d like to order some heating oil” and their instant response is “You can’t have it before a week on Thursday.” Never having lived in an oil- (or, to be accurate, paraffin-)heated house before, I assumed that this level of rudeness was the norm in the sector, and have only latterly discovered that there are other firms in the area which make some attempt to be pleasant and actually give their customers a service that meets their needs, rather than those of their supplier.

But it was the bottled gas that really did for me. We have a couple of those red 47kg cylinders of propane hiding behind a wall in the garden, supplying a rather feeble coal-effect fire in the sitting room that we only use on very slightly chilly evenings. Dave, no doubt having spotted that I was a bit of a novice when it came to heating oil, evidently decided that he could easily leg me over in the matter of propane, overlooking the fact that I have been using the stuff in my Northumberland homes for 25 years, and have a pretty good idea how long it lasts.

In November I spotted that one of the cylinders was empty, and stupidly asked Mrs H to ring Dave’s firm to order another. They charged 10% more than my supplier in Northumberland for an identical product, which is pretty annoying for a start. Though not half as annoying as inspecting the cylinders a month later and finding that one of them was still empty. We had been charged for the replacement, but never received a delivery note, so I naturally assumed that they had made an error. But, no, I got Dave himself on the line asserting that he had delivered it personally and we must simply have got through a whole cylinder of gas in a month, even though it had taken eleven months to exhaust the previous one.

Well, I felt 90% sure he had never brought the thing, but I could not prove it and he had taken the money, so I decided to let it go, merely pointing out that we were still in need of a 47kg cylinder of Calor gas.

He never brought it. I know he never brought it because every time I passed the bloody cylinders I gave the empty one a little shake, and it remained resolutely gas-free. Added to which, we haven’t needed to use the gas fire because we have had the central heating running 24/7 since the onset of the really cold weather in November.

But then we received a bill claiming that a replacement cylinder of gas had been delivered on 16 December. Well, Dave seems to me to have over-reached himself here because not only were Mrs H and I both at home more or less continually on the day in question, but there was also a good covering of snow on the ground. So one would notice the marks left by someone in a lorry delivering a heavy cylinder of gas, in much the same way that even our marvellous police force occasionally manages to apprehend a criminal or two on one of those Shameless-style estates, when they break into a house and the rozzers are able to follow their footprints in the snow all the way back to their own home, where they are happily sitting with their feet up in front of their newly stolen plasma TV.

I wrote Dave a polite letter pointing this out, and inviting him to cancel the charge, but all I have had in return is a couple of reminders to pay and a vaguely menacing phone call asserting once again that he had personally delivered the goods and threatening to pay us a little visit.

Usually, in these circumstances, I end up paying the crook to get him off my back. Brinkmanship over threatened County Court actions has already made it nearly impossible for me to obtain a credit card, let alone a mortgage. But in this instance I feel minded to take a stand on the principle of the thing, and let the loathsome Dave take it all the way. If I can’t convince a court that I am telling the truth and he is lying, I might as well pack in any pretence of being a communicator.

In fact, I can only think of one possibly better alternative. Dave is based at a fuel depot that combines a retail petrol station with some fairly extensive storage facilities for kerosene and Calor gas. It would go up a treat if someone were to drop a missile on it, and surely right now there must be people in Tripoli positively lusting for revenge. Drop me a line and I will gladly send you the co-ordinates, subject to suitable reassurance that you are not going to use one of those inaccurate old Soviet devices that stands every chance of landing on my house instead.