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.

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