Thursday 30 June 2011

A pain in the forecourt, and the legs

15st 6lb, 11.5 units. Yesterday evening we finally managed to collect Mrs H’s new car from the dealership where it has allegedly been languishing for a full six weeks while they and the DVLA between them made an almost incredible meal of transferring her personalized number plate. Or, rather, my personalized XPR number plate which she is kindly fostering for me until I can resume my retirement from the public relations business and it will once again become a prime example of my wit, rather than just a random series of letters and numbers.

Oliver the salesman at the garage said the paperwork would take 30-40 minutes to complete. This proved as accurate as most estimates in the motor trade. We finally escaped after an hour, and then only because I cut short the spiel about some of the many wonderful features of our new motor car on the grounds that The Boy’s nursery was about to close for the night and he would have to be taken into local authority care if we did not get there pronto and pick him up.

Getting there pronto was not assisted by turning the engine on for the first time and finding that the fuel gauge was on zero.

“We only put five litres of fuel in,” Oliver explained. “But you’ve got plenty to get to a garage.”

So long as you go the garage half a mile up the road in completely the wrong direction, that is.

Here’s an idea: if you’re going to charge £25,000-odd for a car, why not slap another £80 on the bill and fill the bloody tank up? No one’s going to notice the extra, and it would avoid your customers driving off your forecourt with the sense that they are dealing with a bunch of twats.

It was me who did the aforementioned driving, even though it was Mrs H’s new car, on the grounds that we were in a tearing hurry. But it was just as well, as she foolishly volunteered the information that she would never have thought to look at the fuel gauge before setting off, and would therefore have ground to a halt on the dual carriageway somewhere en route to the nursery. Which would, I’ll admit, have made a good anecdote for this blog.

Later in the evening we had a vicar and a churchwarden to supper. There was a certain amount of alcohol involved. I woke in the middle of the night with terrible pains in both my legs, convinced that this was a symptom of heart failure and that I was imminently doomed to life in a wheelchair if not to death in a coffin. The worst thing about the former option, I recalled from conversations with my double amputee mother, is that you continue to suffer pains in your limbs even after they have been cut off.

Maybe I should try going a little easier on the booze and see whether that helps at all. Or should I keep on drinking in the hope that it will blot out all visions of my future?

Wednesday 29 June 2011

Full speed astern

15st 6lb, 4.4 units. I had an automated call this morning: “Hello, we have been trying to contact you about your accident.” It follows months of text messages telling me about the £3,500 I could claim for an accident I have never had. I thought these were simply spam until Jack Straw raised the whole scandal of referral fees earlier in the week. But I still don’t understand who has referred me to these sharks, given that I haven’t had a car accident since 1989. That was, I will admit, a bit of a corker: a head-on collision that put some poor sod in hospital and wrote off two cars. But it seems unlikely that I will be able to make a successful damages claim for it now, given that (a) I have allowed 22 years to elapse and (b) it was my fault.

Mrs H has had the odd accident on my insurance policy, it is true, but has suffered no personal injury as a result. Though obviously it has been a close-run thing. Luckily I have never had a suitable blunt instrument to hand when she has broken the news. My personal favourite was the time she had a minor prang in a courtesy car while her Audi was being serviced, and I found our joint credit card charged with the £500 excess on the garage’s insurance policy.

I asked how the accident had happened and she explained that she had been waiting to turn into a filling station, to replace the petrol she had used before returning the car. Her car is an automatic and the courtesy car was a manual, so she had stalled it and someone had run into the back of her.

An open and shut case, it seemed to me. You run into another car and, unless they were doing something really criminal stupid at the time, it is invariably your fault. So it was quite clearly down to the other driver to pay for all the damage. I nagged her for months about getting our £500 back.

Eventually she cracked. “You know when I told you that I was struggling to get the car back into gear?”


“Well, I couldn’t swear that I didn’t choose reverse.”

It was almost worth £500 to hear that. I did say “almost”.

It could have been worse, I suppose. At least Mrs H did not smile proudly about it afterwards.

Tuesday 28 June 2011

Ginger midget cloned shock

15st 6lb, 4.7 units. I was rather pleased with my newspaper column this morning, about the ludicrous Sharon Bowles, Lib Dem MEP and apparently the UK’s number one expert on global financial regulation. That will be why no-one has heard of her, presumably. She looks worryingly like a clone of Hazel Blears, perhaps created in an attempt to graft the midget onto sturdier stock.

One of these women in Sharon Bowles
And one of them isn't. Allegedly.

Of course it is easy to take the mickey out of supporters of the euro now, and always tempting to say “I told you so”. But the plain fact is that the system is operating exactly as its authors intended: extinguishing the ability of national governments to make any meaningful decisions for themselves, and sucking power to the centre. Either Greece will be booted out of the euro, to which it should never have been admitted in the first place on any rational assessment of its financial solidity, or rather lack of it; or Europe will move forwards onto the broad sunlit uplands of having one finance minister and one fiscal policy. But the Greeks will no doubt continue not paying their taxes, whoever submits the demands, and the poor suckers in Germany and the other more robust states of the north will end up picking their bills. In a democracy, the chances of successfully selling this concept to the electorates concerned would seem slim indeed. But when has the great and glorious goal of ever-closer European Union ever allowed mere democracy to get in its way?

Monday 27 June 2011

The balm of cold facts

15st 7lb, 7.8 units. Well, at least the weight loss plan seems to be working, albeit from a depressingly high base. This morning’s result is particularly pleasing given that I necked three bottles of Bulmer’s perry (or, as they now call it on the grounds that their customers are too dumb to know what “perry” is, “pear cider”) during the course of yesterday. Very refreshing on a hot afternoon (and they may quote me on that).

Today I have been mainly in my study at home attempting to plough through a comical accumulation of paperwork, when not dealing with the fall-out from yet another press “exclusive” about the potential sale of one of my clients. It seems strange that no-one in the City these days appears able to grasp the concept of client confidentiality. Every twist and turn of every potential deal is instantly relayed to the media, presumably by bankers or brokers beating their chests with pride at having won the business, or getting their own back for rejection. I don’t know whom this helps. But I know exactly who it doesn’t help: the staff of the company that is deemed to be “in play”, who are constantly stirred up into a state of agitation about their own job security, and the poor suckers at head office who have to try and calm them down again by pouring the cool balm of facts onto the fevered brow of wild speculation.

Sunday 26 June 2011

A bit pants

15st 8lb, 3.0 units. I was supposed to be hillwalking in Northumberland this weekend, while Mrs H helped a friend to celebrate her 40th birthday in London. But then she decided not to go.

Finding ourselves in Cheshire, this morning we went to morning service at the church where we were married, then on to Kelsall steam fair – which was, it has to be said, a bit pants. At any rate compared with the steam fairs I have previously visited in Dorset and Northumberland, where the fine old engines actually did something - like powering farm machinery or fairground attractions - rather than just sitting there gleaming and providing a place for the proud owners to sit and smoke a reflective fag.

Man with fag, generating more smoke than his engine
Hoping the other photographer is stalking the engine, not The Boy
A definite spring in our step as we head for the exit

The outdoor catering was not of the hoped-for quality, either, drawing us back home for a spot of lunch.

After which Mrs H and The Boy went off to celebrate yet another second birthday, while I lay around attempting to distract myself from the symptoms of heart failure with a copy of the Sunday Times.

An attempt to take some healthy exercise with The Dog had to be aborted after he was persecuted by two dogs running loose in a nearby field. One was large and menacing, but essentially harmless. The other was a very cute Border terrier puppy, which got right up the nose of my own Border terrier to the point where his snarls suggested that we had better clear off before he did it some serious damage. It has to be admitted that, if it had been almost any other breed of dog, I would have kicked it into next week myself. The owners whistled and called ineffectually, but were unable to intervene more energetically: in the man’s case, because he had a small child balanced on his shoulders, and in the woman’s case because she was too comically obese.

Memo to fellow dog owners: if you are too fat and / or lazy to run after your pet when it is causing a nuisance to others, don’t let it off the lead. I never do.

I had stopped swearing audibly after 100 yards or so, and had even stopped muttering under my breath by the time I encountered a large man with a large dog, properly under control on a lead, plodding along the road in the opposite direction.

“Good afternoon!” I said, in a way much cheerier than I was actually feeling.

He just stared through me, chillingly, as though I were invisible, and uttered not a word.

This is not particularly unusual behaviour in south Cheshire, it has to be said. Even so, something about him did make me wonder whether he might have been the Grim Reaper in mufti, taking a stroll between appointments? Or possibly, since he was within 50 yards of my house, simply casing the joint?

Saturday 25 June 2011

Health warning number 26

15st 10lb, 2.4 units. There was an article in this morning’s Times headlined “The 25 health warnings that you should never ignore”. Strangely it left out number 26: never, ever read articles about your health in the papers or on the internet, as they will scare the bejasus out of you.

The thing that did it for me was number three: “Aching legs. Premature furring up of the arteries dramatically increases the risk of stroke and heart attack and typically causes chest pain on exertion (angina). However, in many people it is the muscles of the legs that start complaining first. If you develop an ache (normally in the calves) brought on by walking and relieved by rest, tell your doctor.”

I’ve had aching legs for months now. Mainly at night. Sometimes they ache so much that they wake me up. During the day they don’t ache. They just feel as though they are not there. I often look down in surprise and see these boat-shaped objects conveying me forwards without any conscious direction from me. Bloody heavy my feet feel, too, as though they were shod in lead-lined deep-sea diving boots rather than traditional black brogues.

Funnily enough, I don’t remember anyone mentioning the leg thing as yet another symptom of heart failure during my various consultations earlier in the year.

Mrs H was out all day, helping her sister to choose a wedding dress, so I sat (or, to be strictly accurate, lay) at home on my own and brooded. The only positive conclusion I reached was that it would be a bloody good idea to lose some weight in order to reduce strain on the old ticker, and to help conserve wood if the worst comes to the worst and Mrs H has to splash out on a coffin.

That in turn means that it will be a good idea to revive my blog in the hope that recording my weight each morning provides some sort of incentive to keep it moving in the desired direction.

Friday 24 June 2011

I want more dinner right now

15st 11lb, 7.25 units. I have hated swimming pools since I was first introduced to one by Newcastle’s Royal Grammar School in 1962. Chlorine is one of the least appealing smells I know. Not least because of the certainty that it is only there to disguise the smell of other people’s wee.

The baths at the RGS were made all the less appealing by being presided over by an elderly gentleman who would no doubt be appalled by any suggestion that he had paedophile tendencies. But since he is safely dead, let us at least consider why else he insisted on swimming lessons being conducted in the nude. One of the less convincing explanations offered at the time was that the fluff from a thousand boys’ swimming trunks would rapidly clog the pool’s filters. Even at eight years old, I was cynical enough to wonder how they coped with the one-piece costumes worn by the girls from the two adjacent schools that also used the facility. It was a grievous blow when I discovered that the “all off” rule did not apply to them. Indeed it still stands out as one of those major turning points when one is brought up sharply against the realization that life just isn’t fair.

I have been wondering ever since why none of our parents thought to say “Hang on, this is all a bit odd” and query what was going on. I suppose blind respect for authority was greater in those days than it is now.

As a result of this unsatisfactory experience, which left me unable to swim a stroke, I did not enter a swimming baths even as a spectator for more than 40 years after 1969, when swimming lessons ceased to be a compulsory part of the curriculum. I did rather a lot of spectating in the years before that, because I eventually discovered that I could do a reasonably convincing forgery of my mother’s handwriting and signature, and came in each week with a hugely implausible excuse, which was accepted because having a large, immobile white obstacle in the pool was presumably more trouble than it was worth.

The best thing that ever happened to me (apart from meeting Mrs H, obviously) was developing a verucca, one of those ingrowing warts which were endemic in the place. I don’t think I have ever lavished more loving care on any plant, animal, girlfriend or child than I devoted to nourishing and preserving it, because participation in swimming lessons was prohibited so long as it lasted. I was gutted when the bloody thing finally dropped out as I was paddling in the sea at Druridge Bay one weekend. I searched for it with a view to gluing it back, then successfully concealed its demise for weeks afterwards.

I also did a bit of spectating during wet lunch hours in my early years at junior school. I particularly remember one older boy who had the biggest whanger I have ever seen outside the ‘special interests’ section of a porn shop. He must have thrashed himself black and blue with the thing when he was bouncing up and down on the sprung board. I also distinctly remember … no, I can’t bring myself to write it, but let us just say that it led me to believe that large sections of “The Good Ship Venus” were firmly based on fact. I hope for his sake, and that of the human race in general, that this mighty contraption shrank rather than expanding in the conventional way when aroused.

Is that really the sort of thing any parent would want their eight-year-old to see during the lunch hour? That, or an elderly gentleman casually slapping boys on their bare arses and crying “Let’s go!” – in the name of education?

Anyway, all these reminiscences came crowding back today when I went, for the second time, to observe The Boy at his weekly swimming lesson. This takes place in a pool that is, rather spookily, the only extant facility at an otherwise abandoned boarding school for needy Jewish children. The smell is not quite as awful as I remember it and there were compensations, principally sitting next to a couple of yummy mummies in swimsuits while waiting for the class to start. The yummiest mummy was pencil thin and delicate looking, but her child looked like a budding heavyweight champion. I don’t think we shall be inviting her and her partner around to dinner.

After a considerable amount of communal singing and splashing around, The Boy spotted me at the poolside and said “Ayo, Daddy. I in Puddleducks.” Accurate as usual. No wonder that the health visitor, paying her annual visit earlier this morning, pronounced him to be “very bright”. I had suggested smearing his face with chocolate and training him to scream “Please don’t hit me again, Daddy!” to see whether our friendly State monitor investigated for signs of abuse, but as usual Mrs H vetoed my fun.

Afterwards we went to a pub for lunch. The Boy claimed to be very hungry, and ordered sausages with chips, baked beans and – very importantly – gravy. All came as instructed, and he ate about a quarter of it, then lost interest. We tried to persuade him to have more, but to no avail. Finally he agreed that the waiter could take his plate away.

No sooner had we got him into the car for the journey home than he announced “I want more dinner.”

His mother explained, very reasonably, that he could not have more dinner because the man had now taken his plate away and emptied its remaining contents into the bin.

His response was instantaneous: “I want more dinner RIGHT NOW.”

Where does he learn these useful phrases? No wonder that Mrs H, asked to describe her recent beach holiday in Majorca with our son, summarized it as “a bit like being on holiday with Hitler.”

But it occurs to me that I have failed to mention the most interesting thing about The Boy’s swimming lesson. At various points the toddlers were supposed to cling to their parent’s neck while Mummy swam around or under various obstacles. The yummy mummies managed what seemed, to my far from expert idea, a rather feeble breast stroke. But I could not help noticing that Mrs H’s feet never once left the bottom of the pool. I have a growing suspicion that her swimming skills are on a par with my own, so the sooner The Boy obtains a full life-saving qualification, the better.