30 Mo-Vember 2009 (Monday) - Stuff

A couple of weeks ago I sent a letter of complaint to the prison governor because some “little Hitler” mis-read the prison rules and wouldn’t let us take in the amount of cash we were allowed to. I’ve still to receive a response to that letter. But today I phoned the chokey to book another visit, and whilst I was on the phone I asked the nice lady about the amount of money that can be taken in. She was quite clear that it was fifteen quid by each visitor, not fifteen quid per group of visitors. I wonder if I’ll ever get an apology from the Governor. Somehow, I doubt it.

It’s now six months since I moved my on-line diary over to this blogger web site, and I must admit I’ve been very happy with it. Easier to use than my old Yahoo site, it has all sorts of add-ons like the picture show, the calendar, diary dates and links to other web sites and blogs. My blog has averaged one thousand visits per month, which is just over thirty hits a day. With regular readers all over the UK, to say nothing of my American, Canadian, Australian and Japanese followers, it never fails to amaze me how so many people want to know what a fat bald middle-aged twit is getting up to.

As my face-fur enters its last few hours, I’m making the most of it. But with all respect to my bearded readers, I *really* can’t see the attraction of having a beard or tash. I quite like the look of the photos of myself with the “chops”. But actually sporting the things isn’t something I could do permanently.

Last year’s moustache eventually raised £262.52 for research into prostate cancer. Today was the last day of this year’s moustache, and so far we’ve got twenty one quid in cash, fifteen quid in on-line donations, and promises of a further one hundred and eighty quid from the sponsor sheet at work. If any of my loyal readers would like to sponsor the thing (or its memory), please feel free. After all, this might be the last time you’ll have the chance – I’m not keen on doing it a third time.

Meanwhile, aliens have landed. Really! Apparently they have chosen Bulgaria of all places to make themselves known, via the medium of crop circles. The deputy director of the Space Research Institute of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences has confirmed their discussions with these extra-terrestrials. That’s nice – it will do wonders for Bulgaria’s tourism trade, if nothing else….

29 Mo-Vember 2009 (Sunday) - Another Rainy Sunday

Daddies Little Angel TM ” wasn’t happy today. “Spider-Pig” (one of her guinea pigs) had tiddled on her pyjamas. Oh, how I laughed.

Some time ago I bought some stuff for waterproofing the flat bit of roof above our bedroom. It would be nice to get a bit of time when it’s dry enough to borrow a ladder to actually put the stuff into place. I was again woken by the noise of the rain, and I then lay awake listening to the church bell clanging away.

I then continued with my PowerPoint presentation on Saturn for the astro club. I say “my” presentation. Over the years I’ve lectured on all sorts of subjects: Saturn, Mars, human blood and malaria to name but a few. And in every case, someone else has not only done it first, but also put a PowerPoint presentation in the Internet. So, rather than making myself a presentation from scratch, I just blag what’s already available. By the time I’ve replaced the posh words with knob jokes and changed the font, no one would ever know the difference. It still needs some fancy text effects to be added, but I’ve got three months to do that.

I also had a look on Beer in the Evening’s website. I haven’t been there for a while because of the annoying pop-ups that occur every time you click on anything. They’ve now gone, and I’ve wondering just how they work out their top twenty list of pubs. I’ve been watching it over the last week or so. The FILO (good pub!!) is currently in the number two position, but in the last few days it’s been up and down the top twenty. Starting in twelfth place, it dropped to eighteenth. Now it’s second, and no one has actually posted reviews or scored it to make it go up or down. What’s that all about?

And then, together with “Daddies Little Angel TM ” I went back to the seaside to carry on with painting a friend’s house. I originally intended to do garden stuff there today, but once again rain stopped play. So I gave the bathroom a second coat of paint. On reflection, using a paint roller for the first coat last Thursday was a mistake. Paint rollers suck fish. They might do the job quicker, but they actually use so little paint, you need to do the job so many times. With a brush, two coats and you’re done. I shall try to get back mid-week to do a second coat of paint in the bathroom. With a brush. The banister needs varnishing, the ceilings need a lick of white emulsion, and the skirtings, door frames and doors could do with some gloss. But those are all jobs to keep me out of mischief whilst the weather is grotty. Once those are done, I’ll be looking to start painting my garden fences.

I then had a fight with my printer. Trying to print twelve pages of “letter to the chokey #45” was too much for the poor thing. It was trying to feed a dozen pages through at once and kept jamming. I could be wrong, but I suspect this is a result of buying cheap paper from the cheap paper shop. Perhaps I should nick decent printer paper from work like everyone else does.

And with only one day to go, I’ve had a bit of a shave. The “chops” have gone, to be refashioned into a “zappa”-styple moustache. After all, Mo-Vember is all about moustaches, not chops or beards. I’ll stick this out for a day, and then tomorrow night I’ll have a proper shave. It can’t come quick enough…

28 Mo-Vember 2009 (Saturday) - Mending Gate Posts

A few weeks ago there was an accident on a certain farm involving a tractor and a fence post. Today I offered to help to repair the damage. Well, not so much repair as rebuild from scratch.

Up with the lark, and off to the farm with Batty at 8am. We exchanged insults with the turkeys and the geese, then fed the ducks. And then we adjourned to get some brekky from the local roadside café. You can’t beat a steak baguette first thing in the morning. And then, suitably fed, we got on with the job in hand. The gate post had been snapped off at ground level, so the job was straight-forward. Get the stump out of the ground, replace it with a new pole. Remove the metal fencing and barbed wire from the old broken post and attach it to the new one. How hard could it be?

The first task was to remove the old stump that was left in the ground from when the post broke. We had this idea to drill into the stump, screw in a fairly substantial spike, then hoik the thing out of the ground. Easier said than done, as the top part of the spike was rotten, and was falling apart. So we decided to dig the post stump out. Two feet down we reached the water table, and from that point onwards we were mucking about under water. We then had an plan to clove-hitch a rope around the thing and pull it out. It wouldn’t budge. We went and got a tractor to do the pulling. The rope kept slipping off the stump. Eventually we had the idea to replace the rope with a metal hawser. That worked – how we cheered when it came out of the hole.

Having been heaving on the thing for over an hour, there was a sense of “job done” at this point. Oh, silly us…. We then put the replacement gate post in place. Oh, how I laughed. For the thing to do its job, we needed about five feet of post above ground level. We had eighteen inches. The old post was somewhat longer than we’d thought. So we adjourned to rummage around the barns to see if we couldn’t find a longer bit of wood somewhere that we might bodge into fencepost shape.

We then had a spell of some twenty minutes when everything went alarmingly to plan. Not good, so in order to return us to a sense of normality I managed to seriously lacerate my finger with a pair of mole grips and cover absolutely everything with a generous coating of blood.

The job eventually took us three hours. I’m rather amazed with the finished product. I like helping on the farm – I wonder what needs doing next.

Having done such sterling work we thought we deserved a treat, so we set off to Staplehurst for an impromptu pub crawl. We started off in the Bell hotel. Two ales on – Westerham’s “Finchcock” (rather obscure), and “Falcon” (very obscure). We were offered tasters of each, which is something you don’t often get, and then we were taken to our table where the waitress took our orders, and then dropped the beer all over the floor. Two pints went everywhere. She was mortified; I thought it was hysterical. The food arrived, taking a little longer than I would have liked, but it was worth the wait. How would I rate the pub? I can’t help but feel that were we sitting in the cosy bar near the open fire I would have liked it better. But the restaurant bit was rather clinical, and very cold.

Rather than having a second pint, we walked over the road to the Kings Head and sat by their fire enjoying a pint of the “Late Red”. Whilst a Shepherd Neame pub, it was OK. There was a telly for those who feel the need to shout at sport whilst having a pint, and whilst the telly was tucked away round the corner, after a few minutes the noise of the three telly-watching thugs rather spoiled the ambience for the two dozen people who chose to be away from the telly.

We finished up in the Pride of Kent. Let’s just say that if Kent is proud of this grot-hole, I’d hate to see something of which Kent is ashamed. I then slept most of the way home…

And then some research. Some time ago I offered to give a talk to the astro club, and I started working on something about the planet Saturn. And then forgot every word about it. I’m down to be speaking in three months’ time. So I spent a while trying to find what I’d started, and then spent some time working on it. I’ve also said that I will try to scare up some display boards. eBay has failed me. If any of my loyal readers know of a supply of cheap display boards….

27 Mo-Vember 2009 (Friday) - Astro Club

With a car full to the gunnels with rubbish, I found myself forming a queue at the municipal tip this morning. Being first person into the tip in the morning is probably the best way to do the tip; the “normal people” aren’t there. But the roads are rather busy that time of day. Busy enogh to put me off making a regular thing of early morning tip runs.

Work was work, and then to the astronomy club. As always, I was the first one there, and laid out the chairs. I see Woodchurch hall has bought some new chairs. Forty seven new chairs. Forty seven. A strange number to buy? But I put out the new chairs, and we waited for the punters to arrive. Not many punters tonight – attendance was noticeably down. I counted – only thirty five people along tonight. Mind you, if you were to trawl through my blog archives of eighteen months ago, you’d realise that an attendance of thirty five is still four times what we were getting in the “Stanhope days” of the astro club.

Perhaps I’m getting a tad repetitive about the astro club, but the thing has improved so much over the last year. The introductions are done so professionally, the talks are excellent; the raffles are such fun to do (that’s my bit!).

Which is why I spat my dummy out tonight – normally we blu-tack loads of posters around the room, and them everyone chuckles as they fall down. Well, I’m not having that any more. Having posters continually falling down all over the place undermines the feel of the club. So we didn’t put them up, and over the next month I shall be seeing if I can’t scare up some display boards.

And then back to Folkestone for coffee – where I totally forgot to thank Trudy for the decanter. So I shall say it here – many thanks – I’m really grateful, and shall put it to good use. We shall both use it for port in two months time…..

26 Mo-Vember 2009 (Thursday) - A Successful Day (For Once)

To work, where I parked in a flood. I was in especially early today as an inspector was coming to assess one of my trainees, and see if he was suitable for state registration. Whilst it’s nerve-wracking for the trainees, I find I am every bit as worried myself. Even though I never have any cause for concern, I am always a bag of nerves with them. In the event, he passed (with flying colours) – that now makes seventeen trainees for whom I’ve overseen their qualification. Bearing in mind it can take up to five years to qualify, that’s not bad going. (And I’m still in touch with all but three of them). The current plan is to have another five qualify some time during the current year (or so).

It’s as well “Daddies Little Angel TM ” is studying art at college. She came with me to the coast this evening where we made a start on decorating a friend’s house. While the kettle boiled, I filled my car boot with garden rubbish, and then after a cuppa, I made a start in the bathroom whilst art students got busy in the kitchen. There was a minor hiccup with a cat and several gallons of magnolia, but (as I said at the time), I wasn’t overly worried. After all, it was neither my house, nor my cat. Apart from a minor incident where we paused briefly to remove litres of gloss paint from carpets, I think we did well in the couple of hours we had. It now remains to allow the paint to dry, get rid of the garden rubbish, and give the kitchen and bathroom another coat of magnolia. Then we can get rid of more garden rubbish and start on the glossing in earnest. And when the rain finally stops I can make a start outside. I do like decorating.

Mind you, isn’t magnolia a rubbish colour…..?

25 Mo-Vember 2009 (Wednesday) - Wasting Time (?)

One of the fonts of all knowledge these days is Wikipedia. Strange that it should be so, because it’s written (on the whole) by “Joe Public”, and not by any particular expert. And should there be any articles written by an expert, any fool can replace wisdom with tripe. Over the years I’ve put some tripe on Wikipedia myself. You can see that I corrected an article on the marital status of Mrs Bridges (from “Upstairs Downstairs”). I amended the spelling of the article on the Hargreaves rule (from “The Adventure Game”). I re-wrote the information on my home village of Ore. I corrected the directions from the M20 to the local hospital. (Sad, I know…)

However, you can’t see that I put up the corrected lyrics to the Treacle People theme tune, because some do-gooder removed them. Neither can you see anything at all about the British Kite Flying Association, because another do-gooder deleted the entire article that I wrote. It’s primarily for this reason that I don’t bother with Wikipedia any more. Which is a shame. Without wishing to boast, but with graduate qualifications in three completely different subjects, it’s no secret that in my more lucid moments, I’m actually something of a genius. A modest genius, but a genius nonetheless. I could contribute quite a bit to the Wikipedia project. But why should I bother, when any fool can come round after me and amend, change or delete my efforts.

It would seem I’m not alone in feeling this way. Wikipedia would seem to be losing contributors hand-over-fist. I’m not surprised.

And being the last Wednesday of the month, it was arky-ologee club. Tonight’s talk was about the river Wensome. Now silted up, in years gone by it was a thriving hive of industry, as evidenced by a few manky old bits of broken pot that have been found in the vicinity. From these manky old bits of broken pot, those with little better to do with their time try to work out what life was like back in those days. Well, for the benefit of future generations, I’ve taken to writing this blog so grandchildren yet unborn can read it and find out first hand what they missed in the early twenty first century. I’m hoping this would be marginally less painful than having to sit through the torture I sat through tonight.

And then in “show and tell”, one of the biddies brought out some rusty lumps of metal which may once have been something agricultural, something lethal, or both. A scary looking individual brandished “Dick Turpin” style hand guns. And I don’t even get a pint afterwards for being good any more. I must admit I am beginning to question why I go…

24 Mo-Vember 2009 (Tuesday) - The Meaning of Life (Part Five)

I spent a little time last night updating my diary dates for the next year. I’ve managed to get confirmed dates for the beer festivals in Canterbury & Dover. And it would seem that I had the date of the Canterbury one wrong. It’s a week later than I originally thought. Which is good – coming so soon after the kite festival in Brighton does make for a very busy week.

And then a phone call from the dentist. My normal dentist is back, and wasn’t happy with his “stunt double” referring me to the hospital (see last Wednesday’s blog entry). They can do wisdom teeth in the surgery, and offer “sedation therapy”. Working on the principal that, if nothing else, it might make for an interesting blog entry, I’ve signed up to get sedated in a fortnight’s time. I wonder if I get to keep my tooth?

There was an interesting article on the radio this morning. Recipients of organ transplants are up in arms because of the sub-standard quality of the organs they are getting. Apparently a few years ago there was a decent amount of healthy people getting splattered in road traffic accidents to provide a constant supply of spare parts. But an unexpected side-effect of improved road safety, roll-bars and air bags is that people tend to survive serious road traffic accidents these days. Which is all very well for those having the accidents, but rather thoughtless for those hankering over their innards. (Or so the vulture on this morning’s Radio 4 would have me believe). Such people now have to rough it with sub-standard transplants from people who haven’t met their end quite so cleanly.

I dare say I might be a tad more sympathetic should I need a replacement kidney, but I can only see one solution to the problem. In the way that people donate blood, people might consider giving up some of their spare offal before they die. After all, we can manage on just one kidney, and if you lose a lump of liver, it grows back quickly. I will concede that it’s a tad tricky to muddle along without a heart or lungs. I can’t claim to be original on the concept of compulsory organ donation – I got the idea from the second film I took my darling wife to see. She was only fourteen at the time.

The post brought a letter from the chokey. Following “Norman Stanley’s” mishap with a plastic fork, he was unable to play basketball with the team. Is this why they have suffered their most humiliating defeat so far? – 112 – 2. And then he phoned - he seems pleased with my plans to “pimp his house”, and so it was off to B&Q to buy more D-I-Y things including ten litres of magnolia emulsion. You can’t go wrong with magnolia.

I like painting – both pictures and walls. I just hope he’ll be happy with the finished result. If he is, then all is fine. If he’s not, I’ll give him a bill for my time….

23 Mo-Vember 2009 (Monday) - Facebook "Friends"

I noticed that a very good friend of mine added someone to his Facebook friends list yesterday. That someone being “Alexei Beetroot”. From watching the “recent activity” bit on Facebook, I suspect that Alexei Beetroot has got himself listed on one or two people’s friends’ lists purely because those people have seen he’s on my list, and have assumed that any friend of mine is mostly harmless.

Well, I don’t think for one minute there’s anything harmful about this bloke. But if any of my loyal readers have added this bloke on that assumption, can I just point out that I have no idea who he is. I don’t know him from Adam. I added him to my list because he asked me, and because other good friends of mine had him on their lists. And I made the assumption that any friend of one of my friends was mostly harmless. I wonder if my real friends actually know this bloke Alexei Beetroot? Or did they add him because he asked, and they saw he was on the lists of other people that they trusted?

This is certainly the case for one Henry Dougal, who I added to my list a while ago. All of our mutual friends were kite fliers. I’ve since found that although the chap is a bona-fido kite flier, he’s now adding himself to people from my list that I know from the astro club. He’s commenting on their posts and activities as though he’s their best pal in the world. And (as with the comments he puts on my Facebook page) it’s painfully obvious he doesn’t know the people he’s commenting on. At all. All he has in common with them is that they are a friend of a friend of someone he once met on a kite field. A rather tenuous connection, wouldn’t you agree?

I’m assuming (hoping) there is nothing sinister about having an epic list of friends on Facebook.? I’m hoping that such a web of people can’t be used for nefarious purposes? Whilst I’m rather sure it can’t, it’s made me look at my own list of Facebook friends.

I have one hundred and eighty eight “friends” on Facebook. Many are actual “friends” that I see at least once a week (if not more). There are people from work on my list who I also see daily. There’s a lot of “old friends” who I’ve known for years, but due to circumstances, these days I see very infrequently. Some maybe only once a year, but Facebook enables us to keep in touch. There’s a load of people I know through kite flying. Not a hobby I do very much these days, but it’s good to keep up with people I’ve met on the flying fields. There are a respectable number of people I know through the astro club. Swapping on-line insults makes the monthly astro club meetings that bit more fun. There’s a selection of various cousins, nephews, aunts, uncles and various in-laws on my list too. Which is a great thing. Rather than trying to catch up with everyone at one at all-too-infrequent family reunions, Facebook allows us to keep in touch daily.

And then there are the last fourteen people. I have absolutely no idea who these people are. Who are Alexei Beetroot, Henry Dougal, Mark Gary, Barrington Priest and Alistair Greenway? Nearly ten per cent of the people on my list are people that I don’t think I’ve ever met, either in person or on-line. Should I take them off my list…?

And a reminder to my loyal readers that as the beard enters it’s last week, you can sponsor the thing either with cash straight to “Yours Truly”, or on-line here.

22 Mo-Vember 2009 (Sunday) - Another Lazy Sunday

I fancied a lie-in this morning, but had the most awful back ache, so I got up and did the monthly accounts instead. Last month I realised that a purchase made in Tesco in August still hadn’t appeared on my statement. It still hasn’t. On August 19 I spent £16.20 in Tesco, It would seem I got my bread, muesli and plum jam for free. Which is a bonus.

I then spent ten minutes raking up next door’s leaves from my garden. Every year his chestnut tree sheds its leaves all over the place. My natural instinct would be to let them bio-degrade (I’m eco-friendly, me!), but these leaves don’t. They are indestructible, and just lay there and make dead patches in the lawn. Whilst I was sweeping up, the chap next door told me the rat problem in the gardens is getting worse, and now there are foxes too. Apparently he videos them on CCTV. I don’t doubt there are rats out there. The neighbours on either side assure me there are. It’s just that I’m still to see one. I wonder if it’s all the flowers and shrubs and greenery that attract the rats? My garden has a “minimalist” theme with scant shelter or pickings for wildlife. I shall keep it that way.

The original plan for today was a trip to Decathlon at Lakeside to get new “slobbing about” trousers, but whilst rummaging about I found a few pairs that I’d forgotten about. So rather than braving Lakeside, we thought we’d have a look round Tenterden instead. Tenterden is one of those places we always drive though, but never visit. Just as we paid for the car park, the heavens opened, so we ran into The Vine and had a crafty pint whist waiting for the rains to ease off. It’s good to have a fall-back plan for when it rains.

And when it eventually stopped raining, Tenterden was such a disappointment. There were two types of shop – chain stores that you get everywhere, and vastly overpriced pretentious shops. We soon lost interest and drove round to Swallow Aquatics to look at the aminals instead.

And then home to print off “letter to the chokey #44” and “rude crossword #27” (Phrase used by schoolboys to describe talcum powder in the days before there was such a thing as diversity training. (4,4) – any guesses?). It’s become something of a tradition that every letter I write to the chokey has a rude crossword with it. Devising the clues is becoming increasingly more difficult. If any of my loyal readers have any ideas, please don’t hesitate in letting me know….

21 Mo-Vember 2009 (Saturday) - D.I.Y. and Booze

To Folkestone to help a mate with a spot of D.I.Y.ing, painting, tidying, gardening and general maintenance (I knew him when he was only corporal maintenance, you know!). Stevey had the kettle on, and after a cuppa we started by gently hammering the front door hinge back together. Before doing much more, we gave the house and garden a “once over” to see what needed doing. Even though we had a list, it never hurts to suss the lie of the land for yourself. Chip & Matt were soon dispatched to B&Q for “D.I.Y-things” whist Stevey and the most recent fruit of my loin attacked the garden. The ivy was overgrowing the wall from next door, so we gave that a haircut, and had a serious sweep around before spraying the patio with dangerous chemicals to (hopefully) get rid of the weeds.

Norman Stanley” phoned whilst we were having a second cuppa, and insults were exchanged before we then fixed loose bath panels and shower curtains. We then made a start on the banister. This will be a job to finish later, as our driver had to be home for midday.

I then wasted an hour or so in NeverWinter whilst the household women went shopping, then me & the ”main squeeze” set off for Xmas booze. Firstly to Biddenden Vineyard to pick up a crate of “Blues” that I’d ordered yesterday. They also had Gadd’s Oyster Stout and the Dark Star Imperial Russian Stout (10.5%), so I got a few bottles of those too. And a bottle of Biddenden’s special reserve cider. Then to Sedlescombe organic vineyard. This is somewhere I’ve driven past so many times, and today we finally popped in. The place was staffed by an incredibly foxy bird of eastern European extraction who was offering us tasters of her goodies (!) The wines were good, but not seventeen quid per bottle good, but we bought a bottle of their blackberry liqueur. It will be a treat for a party we are planning in late January. I also bought some bottled lagers whilst I was at it (for those who like that sort of thing).

The plan was to drop off the lagers, the Blues and the cider at my brother’s house where I will reacquaint myself with them on Xmas day. I hadn’t warned him we were coming. I thought that our arriving unannounced would be a nice surprise for him. So I shouldn’t really have been surprised to find that he was out. Fortunately his brother-in-law lives just around the corner, so I left all the booze with Roy, and we went off to see my mum instead. On the way to mum’s house my mobile rang. My brother had found the beer. Whilst parking at mum’s I saw the first house of the year to have put up its Xmas decorations. Too early!!! We then spent half an hour with mother (who loves my beard) before coming home via Farm Foods for the shopping (dull, so dull!).

With all of the family out for the evening, I settled down to NeverWinter. These orcs and goblins don’t kill themselves, you know…

20 Mo-Vember 2009 (Friday) - Assorted Ramblings

The sky was especially pretty this morning, so I took a photo. I don’t think it’s come out as well as I was hoping. They say “red sky in morning, shepherd’s warning”. The sky wasn’t so much red as pink, but it poured hard either way. I got very wet taking my letter of complaint to the letter box (see yesterday’s blog entry). I doubt the prison governor will care in the slightest, let alone do anything. If it were me receiving a letter of complaint, I’d never hear the last of it. Mind you, I wonder how many compliments they get at the chokey? Last month the people I work for received six formal compliments for every complaint.

I may well be writing another letter of complaint in a few days time. This time to a brewery. If I had to choose my favourite beer of all time, I couldn’t. But Shepherd Neame’s Porter would be in my top half-dozen. I’ve been looking forward to December, because the Porter is only available from December to February. Yesterday I heard a nasty rumour that Shepherd Neame weren’t going to do the Porter this year. Today I heard the same thing from another source. On checking their website, the Porter is conspicuous by its absence. And this year they are doing a “Christmas Ale”, which is new.

My beard is now two thirds of the way through its life. I am so looking forward to scraping the thing off. I *really* don’t see how my bearded friends can put up with it. Mind you, the thing has attracted one or two admirers. I’m reliably informed it makes me look distinguished. Personally I can’t help but feel that with the lower part of my bonce awash with fur, it merely points out how bald the top part is.

Meanwhile, Facebook would seem to have had a re-vamp. Another re-vamp. I wish they’d leave it alone. This time they would seem to have lost the forty-eight photo albums I’ve put up over the last year or so. I’m not overly happy about that….

19 Mo-Vember 2009 (Thursday) - Leccie Bills, Holiday, and a Prison Visit

I spent a bit of time going through my post this morning. I hadn’t done that for some time – among other goodies, I found vouchers for free visits to Howlett’s & Port Lympne which expire tomorrow. Following some not inconsiderable effort on my part over the last few weeks, I went to check my leccie and gas bills on-line this morning. I was prompted to do so by a letter from the leccie company who had written to tell me they had changed my login details. So neither what was originally set up, nor what they sent me worked. I’m rather unimpressed with this, but after the obligatory to-ing and fro-ing on the phone, I got into the account. I was still over three hundred pounds in credit with them, and after another bit of to-ing and fro-ing I got some of the money refunded. I’ve left a hundred quid in each account for the winter, but I’ve got some cash back to help cover the costs of the coming few weeks. Xmas doesn’t come cheap, you know.
I also have 9700 nectar points between my gas and leccie accounts. I naively thought this was a substantial amount of nectar points, but on further research I found out it’s enough to buy a new kettle, or a set of kitchen scales. Still, it’s better than nothing.

I found a rather worrying bit of news.... which I shall relate in the future...

Our long weekend camping sessions work best for me if I take from the Thursday to the Tuesday as leave. So there’s half of my year’s holiday alllowance gone straight away. I’m really looking forward to another week in Auntie’s caravan next year, and in a novel break with tradition, I’ve booked a week off work for Xmas 2010. Not forgetting Canterbury Beer Festival, or the week in February I always have (I’ve not worked on my birthday for twenty six years!). So, I’ve already booked twenty nine days leave. Which leaves four days, plus however much lieu time I accrue. Not much slack for visiting the prison next year. Just as well I’m not planning to go up there for much longer. Perhaps I won’t sell any leave next year as I’ve allowed nothing for kite festivals in Milwaukee or Dieppe, to say nothing of long weekends at Sumner’s Ponds. I would be *so* good at being retired.

And, talking of prison visits, off to the chokey. There was a minor delay whilst we woke up one of our party who has slept through his alarm call, but eventually three of us got on the train, and soon were scoffing McDinner. For once there were no photo opportunities for “CrackWatch” at McD’s, which was a disappointment, and following a rather relaxed bit of scoff, we found ourselves in the “Dinsdale Piranha” centre where we sat and waited with “the Great Unwashed”. (For the uninitiated, the “Dinsdale Piranha” centre is the foyer to the prison). Whilst we were quite happy to sit with “the Great Unwashed”, one of our fellow visitors wasn’t. She made a great fuss about having to go into the prison with everyone else. Surely there must be another entrance where she wouldn’t have to mingle with the hoi-polloi?
Eventually we were allowed in, but not without incident. I was fully expecting to get turned away because of my beard, but that wasn’t a problem at all. The trouble was that for no adequately explained reason one of our party wasn’t allowed to take in any money. The written instructions said that he could, but because I had some, he wasn’t allowed any. The third member of our party was allowed to take in as much as he liked, and no one else was challenged in any way. I asked the “helpful member of staff” why they had changed the rules. He grunted that it has always been this way. In the past everyone in our group has taken in fifteen quid each, despite what “Mr Mackay” says. I have written to the governor to complain. I’ll be interested to see if he replies.

Today we seemed to take an age to get into the chokey, but eventually we found “Norman Stanley” who was in good spirits, despite having lacerated his thumb with a plastic knife. Silly beggar! We fed him up as well as we could. The “do-gooding old biddies” who rather incompetently ran a tea shop have long since packed up and have been replaced by vending machines. Whilst the cake selection isn’t what it might have been, the machines are a bit cheaper to use. Because “the Great Unwashed” are clearly far too dumb to use vending machines; every machine I used was filled with unclaimed change from the person who’d last used it.
As always, two hours passed far too fast, and all too soon we were unceremoniously sent out of the prison. And so over the road to the Swan for a couple of beers before getting the train home.

I wonder how many more times I will be back to the chokey before he’s released?

18 Mo-Vember 2009 (Wednesday) - Dentists and Laundry

Regular readers may recall I visited the dentist a fortnight ago, only to be brushed off with “come back if it don’t get better”. I went back today. The chap I usually see was on holiday, and so I explained the problem to his stand-in. To be fair to the chap, his spoken English was (probably) better than my spoken Urdu, but there was still just the teensiest problem with communication. His immediate reaction was to refer me to the hospital to have the problem wisdom tooth removed. Which was my plan, too. But then he had a change of heart. He announced it would be foolish to remove it if it wasn’t being troublesome. I reminded him that the thing regularly swells so much that I can’t close my jaws. He wasn’t convinced. I also pointed out that I’d been to the dentist twice in two weeks about it. How troublesome did the tooth have to be? He conceded defeat, and said that if the hospital hasn’t contacted my by Xmas, I should chase things up.

And I found out today that I am “trailer trash”. During the summer months I stick my laundry outside on the line to dry it after the wash. Despite the environmentally friendliness of it, did you know that six U.S. states have banned the use of clothes lines, and another five states are considering doing so. You can get a fine of $100 dollars for airing your smalls in public, which is about the cost of drying a month’s worth of washing.

And we get asked to cut down on the amount of energy we use…

17 Mo-Vember 2009 (Tuesday) - The Shops

I’d arranged to be on a late start today – my new specs were ready for collection, so I was up the town by 8.30am. There’s something very unfriendly about the shops in Ashford at the moment. They’ve all got heavy-duty security shutters. Or, that is, the ones in the precincts (mall to my American readers!) have. The ones up the high street (open to the public 24/7) don’t seem to need them, but the shops in a secure locked up area have them. Odd how the security of the mall isn’t enough, but there’s no problems up the High Street (!) And I find these shutters really off-putting. Perhaps I’m just a sensitive soul.

Whilst waiting for the opticians to unbolt their portcullis, I thought I’d do a spot of Xmas shopping. “Thought” being the operative word. What are billed as “Xmas ideas” are a con. “A nice pen for Xmas” – what a rip-off. Everyone’s already got hundreds of biros. Why shell out good money for a poncy pen you’re only going to lose. Or jewellery. Overpriced tat !! Or books. I see there’s a new “Adrian Mole” book. For twenty quid. Or a “River Cottage” book for twenty two quid. I’m not paying that. At the other end of the scale Woolworths (or the building that was once Woolworths) have re-opened with the gimmick of “everything’s 99p”. And, in all honesty, that’s a rip-off too. I don’t think the Pound Shop (everything’s a quid) has much to worry about.

I eventually got my new specs. It’s amazing how much clearer everything is – especially the close up stuff. I just need to remember to see how much of the cost I can get refunded from work.

And then some shopping on the way to work – B&Q for some proofing jollop for the roof. The tills at B&Q were fun. The “normal people” really couldn’t cope with the self-service tills. One pair of pensioners were nearly in tears being utterly unable to scan any barcodes, and another retard just held up his purchase to the machine and was hoping for the best. In the end, a whole load of store staff came and worked the checkouts for them. It was rather pitiful to watch, and I must admit to a sly smile when the chap in front of me refused help with the till – declaring loudly that he wasn’t a total pillock.

Tesco had much the same self-service arrangement, but the “normal people” there have figured out how to work the checkouts - to the disgust of the Tesco staff who were itching to help. I got some new green tea – there was a two for the price of one deal. And I’ve found a tea which isn’t utterly disgusting: “Fresh & Fruity” (!) with cranberry, raspberry and elderflower is actually rather drinkable.

Home to an empty house. As ‘er indoors TM was flogging candles and I was on a late finish, we didn’t have the usual Tuesday night houseful. I quite missed it…