Thursday, 29 December 2011

So That's Christmas Over

Well not quite. We've still got all these unopened presents and tomorrow we're off to St Andrews to play Father Christmas and deliver them to our super daughter Sarah, her partner Duncan and our lovely little Granddaughter Rose.

It's difficult to celebrate the big day as one big family now that our kids have their own partners and live at opposite ends of the country. And that's sad in one way but on the positive side we've been able to celebrate twice as we spent Boxing Day and Tuesday visiting Paul and Josephine in London when Josephine's mum Jenny cooked us a fantastic Boxing Day dinner. Although we only had a few days in E14 we crammed a lot into our time and managed to walk from the East End to the South Bank along the Thames Path on Tuesday morning and we enjoyed a meal at Gordon Ramsay's Limehouse pub in the evening.

We had some super Christmas presents. We've got a gift token that will let us see ten films in 2012 before we start paying again and we've a nice selection of wines and some great books too. Perhaps the most fascinating gift is Josephine's. She has treated Paul and me to a weekend of golf tuition in Sussex. It includes an overnight stay and it will be great to spend some time with my son as, living so far apart, I miss him very much. I'm sure that the world of golf will have seen nothing like it before as, other than a few school summer holidays working on the Arnold Palmer crazy golf in Southport I have never picked up a golf club in my life. I'm pretty sure that Paul is equally inexperienced although I doubt that he will be quite as inept as his dad. Fortunately I think that we are only going to be let loose on the golf course for a couple of hours so we won't be able to do too much damage to the immaculate greens and fairways. Who knows, if I find a hidden talent I may be able to book a round next time I'm in Fife.

Marion and I went to Peacehaven on Roe Lane for Christmas dinner. We ate in the dining room with Flo and about forty other old people. We thought that other non-residents might be there but we were the only ones. The staff put in a huge effort and dressed as elves and snowmen and we enjoyed a pleasant meal. It's the first time since our daughter arrived 31 years ago that Marion has not cooked a Christmas dinner and it was certainly a very different Christmas day.

We're not going to stay in the caravan in Scotland this time as we've only got three days in St Andrews and it's not worth setting up the heating and reconnecting the water, gas and electricity for such a short time but we do hope to get back there again before the site closes for February.

Friday, 23 December 2011

The King Of The Swingers

It's Thursday morning and Marion is at the hairdressers so I decide to spend a couple of hours at the gym. I finish my routine and head down to the changing room. As I go in, I'm aware of a conversation going on in the communal shower. I glance in that direction. It's two oldish blokes. The first is showering conventionally facing the jets of hot water. His companion has his back to the water and, in even the briefest of glances, it's impossible not to notice that he's endowed with the most unfeasibly oversized meat and two veg since the Great British Bake Off's squirrel. His Cumberland sausage almost brushes his knees. The shower stands like a stage a foot or so above the changing room floor and I half expect him to fling out his arms and regale us with a chorus of "I've got a lovely bunch of coconuts". In true gym tradition I avert my eyes.

I head for my locker and can hear them droning on about Council employees and local politics. I get out of my sweaty gym stuff and hear the shower stop running. The first man drapes himself in a towel and walks modestly to his locker; not so our Alpha male; he strides manfully across the floor and ends up at the locker next to mine.

I'm about to head into the shower when my phone goes. I reach into my gym bag and fish it out. It's Flo's care home enquiring about a doctor's appointment. I sit down to take the call only to find his tackle an inch away from my ear (and my elbow). I feel like I'm being eavesdropped by an albino python.

I end my call and go to the shower. As I shower the blah, blah, blah of council, golf club and Christmas continues behind me. As I finish I see that the friend has had time to dry, dress, tidy his hair and put on his coat as well as run through the minutes of the Golf Club AGM. But our king of the swingers has obviously decided to drip dry.

As the friend takes his leave he wishes everyone a Merry Christmas. I, together with the other members in various states of undress attempt to ignore the elephant in the room. He moves to centre stage and starts doing some sort of stretching exercises. It could not be more obvious that he is staking his claim to the territory if he went and peed in every corner. The look on his face says it all. "I'm the cock of the walk". "I'm the dog's bollocks". I'm surprised that he hasn't an arrow tattooed above his groin along with the message "LOOK WHAT I'VE GOT". I wonder if I should ask him if he'd like me to head for reception and ask Lisa to put out an announcement on the Tannoy "Ladies and gentlemen please roll up, roll up to the gentlemen's changing room where Mr Ivor Biggun is displaying his GINORMOUS testacles.

By now, I'm almost dressed and there's a palpable air of relief in the room as he heads to the locker and reaches for some clothes. He pulls out a shirt. I'm probably not alone in thinking "Bloody hell. He'll have his jacket and tie on before the crown jewels get put away."

As I comb my hair he reaches into his bag and pulls out a huge pot of E45 cream. On taking a big dollop and starting to massage it into his buttocks he sparks a mass exodus of disheveled members stumbling to tie up laces and straighten hair. An instructor passes us on the stairs. "Where's the fire?"

I head back to the car and the phone rings. It's Marion. I refrain from telling her that I've spent the last ten minutes as an unwilling spectator to an audition for King Dong. "I'm ready" she says "will you be long?"

"Don't worry" I say. "I'll be with you shortly."

Happy Christmas and thanks for reading my blog.

I'll leave you with a link to my usual favourite Xmas video click here. (I can't find an embed code anwhere)

And here's a  cheesy feel good one for the season of good will.  

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Shirley No Mates

I'm sure that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would be turning in his grave if he knew that's how his classic detective is referred to in the latest Guy Ritchie interpretation of his work. Along with all sorts of modern anachronisms such as a parkouring Cossack, a tribute to Liu Bolin and a Victorian stag party, this is a film that makes no attempt at creating any semblance of a Victorian atmosphere although, unlike Benedict Cumberbatch's current TV offering, the story is notionally set in 1891. As long as you go to see it forewarned and don't expect any brilliant deduction or hope to guess whodunnit , sit back and enjoy a very enjoyable couple of hours escapism. Jude Law plays straight man Watson to Robert Downey Jnr's manic Holmes in a plot that echoes some of the wilder Bond movies with megalomaniac Professor Moriarty planning to take over the world's weapons supply. It's daft, but visually stunning, with great use of stop motion sequences and a performance from Downey Jnr (with a twinkle in his eye reminiscent of Lovejoy in his prime) that oozes charm. If you've been reading this blog recently, you will know that we've had a fair few problems of late. This piece of pure escapism was the perfect antidote. One negative; the stereotypical depiction of gypsies may have been done for laughs but it was cheap laughs like these that got Jimmy Carr in trouble a couple of years ago and I could have done without it.

It's things like that that get people in trouble nowadays as Liverpool's Luis Suarez found out yesterday. I still have two season tickets at Anfield although my disillusionment with the game is such that I no longer go to matches. I'm divided on the Suarez case. I'm glad that the Football Association took his alleged racism seriously and imposed a swingeing penalty to go with their verdict.  If John Terry is also found guilty, I assume that he will get the same sort of punishment. Was he guilty? Suarez and his supporters argue that  calling someone Negrito is commonplace in Uruguay where it is just a bit of friendly banter. But we are not in Uruguay and it's pretty obvious that when he and Evra were arguing they were not exactly being pally so it's clear that when Suarez used the term he wasn't intending it as a term of endearment. Perhaps an expensive lesson for Liverpool and the role of sacrificial lamb for their player but hopefully a warning for every footballer in the country. Now they just have to sort out the fans who make going to football such a pleasurable event.

I hope you followed my advice and watched the Christmas edition of Rev. It surpassed all expectations with a beautiful study of the trials and tribulations that were Reverend Adam Smallbone's Christmas. This is one of the few comedies that can bring as many tears as it can laughs and, like my other favorite, Modern Family, has a fabulous cast and no weak links. If you missed this make sure that you catch it on BBC iplayer while you can  click here . Adam's Twelve Days Of Christmas should become a future Christmas staple.    

We've just booked our Christmas dinner. For the first time since we can remember, Marion's not going to be cooking a turkey this year and we're off to join Flo at her care home. The food there is very good. It will certainly be different.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

You know you're getting old......

...when one of your son's old school friends turns up on Merseyside's biggest commercial talk radio station City Talk (105.9FM) and he's reviewing the day's papers! Yes, we got up early to listen to Jamie Gavin who not only got ten minutes prime time but also a big opportunity to plug his business InPress Online. His earlier claim to fame was as the bridegroom in the long running Daily Express TV ad campaign with its catch phrase "We stand for family values" but today was far more serious stuff with Jamie commenting on Kim Jong Il and showing a degree of empathy with his successor Kim Jong Un, who, like Jamie, is 28 but, unlike Jamie, has to run a whole country and not just a thriving internet business. He also found time to review the back pages and may have alienated some of his fellow Evertonians with his "if the price is right" attitude to the sale of the team's star players. So well done Jamie, hats off to your performance. We'll let you off your failure to get in the Alan Partridge quotes that your friends requested and applaud you for the professional way that you approached the task. Who knows, my anecdotes about my meetings with Robert Maxwell, Kenneth Clark and James Corden's dad may soon be usurped by my one day being able to name drop you.

Marion's feeling a lot better today and in an hour or two hopes to eat her first meal of any significance since Saturday. I've built a nice log fire and it's blazing away as I write and she's snuggled by it under a blanket reading her Kindle. We've a bit of a break from the routine of visiting Flo tomorrow when we hope to get to Vue to see the new Sherlock Holmes movie. I know that Holmes purists will be apoplectic with the transformation of the cerebral Holmes into a sort of Victorian James Bond but we could do with a bit of escapism and we're off to the 11.20 am performance. I'll let you know what we think.

I've lost contact with almost everyone and everything to do with work in the twelve months since we retired. But I'm pleased to say that we're still in touch with the lovely Mark and Nita Jones from Workhouse Marketing in Ribchester who did so much fabulous work for our business in the short time that we used their creative services. Workhouse have made it a seasonal tradition to produce a short Christmas film and this year's (another cracker) arrived in my mailbox today. Do you have a Secret Santa?

Secret Santa from Workhouse on Vimeo.

Before I go, just a quick reminder that it's Rev on telly tonight. If you only watch one thing, watch this. It's been a fabulous series and I'll be sorry to see it end. I've been amazed that some Christians are up in arms about the show but I think that forward thinking churchmen such as the Rev Richard Coles would find it difficult to take offence. Coles tweeted this morning with a word which my computer Scrabble wouldn't allow when I used it. He said that his dogs had been playing up and he'd found a big shit under his piano.  I tweeted back asking what Piers Morgan was doing under his piano. Others asked if it was Jeremy Clarkson whilst one,  (a vicar perhaps) suggested it was his archdeacon.That's the sort of vicar who might get a few more bums on seats.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Living With Alzheimer's

Apologies if it isn't exactly the most cheerful subject for today's blog but we took Marion's mum Flo to the local NHS memory clinic today to hear the verdict on the comprehensive tests that she has undergone recently. She's had a brain scan, blood tests and has answered a nurse's extremely thorough questionnaire. Although the nurse had already told us her opinion - she stressed that she is not qualified to diagnose - we had to wait for the consultant to break the news. An extremely kind, friendly and patient consultant (call me Derek) spoke to Flo for almost an hour and told her that her brain scan shows that her brain is atrophying and she has a mixture of mostly Alzheimer's and a little dementia related to blood flow in the brain. Fortunately, Derek speaks with a very strong accent and Alzheimer's sounded like Alzharmers and the diagnosis didn't sink in with Flo. And I honestly think that that was no bad thing as she now thinks that her brain is shrinking a little and the pills that he prescribed for her will help. "I'm going to have my brain sorted" she says. In reality Derek put great emphasis on the fact that things will only get worse but the drugs may help her to calm down.

It's now a matter of trying to make her as happy as we can as this ghastly affliction runs its course over the next few years. It has seemed a very rapid decline over the last couple of months and it is hard to believe that just five weeks ago she was (albeit with a great deal of difficulty) living on her own in her own flat. We put her flat for sale as she will eventually need the proceeds to pay for her care but the estate agent is not exactly enthusiastic about the chances of a quick sale despite it being put on the market at just a fraction above the price she paid for it in 1996 and the fact that it is in immaculate decorative order. We'll just have to keep our fingers crossed for her.

Marion was struck down by a mystery bug yesterday. I had a horrible feeling that it was the curry that I made on Saturday night from the leftover turkey we had in the freezer but I ate more than she did and was perfectly well. She had a crippling headache, shivering and stomach cramp and stayed in bed for the whole day and that's something I can't remember her doing since she had pneumonia in 1985. I'm happy to say that she's a lot better today and has managed to eat a poached egg and a bit of toast. I hope that the trip to the memory clinic didn't take too much out of her.

On a more positive note I found a £10 book token today. It was in a card that my mum sent me absolutely ages ago and I somehow didn't spend it. I'm trying to support our local bookshop so went in and treated myself to "I Partridge" the autobiography of the great man himself. Mind you, it's little wonder that local bookshops are struggling. Although the fixed price agreement no longer exists the shop sold it at full list price (£20) whereas I could have popped into Tesco and bought it for just over a tenner. It's a wonderful bookshop and I don't begrudge them a penny but how can any small retailer survive with competition like this? I just dipped into the book; can't wait to read chapters like "My Drink And Drugs Heck".

Thursday, 15 December 2011

It's Her Party She Can Cry If She Wants To

Today was taken up with a Christmas tea party for Marion's mum Flo (2nd right). We had six guests in total and Marion was worried that we wouldn't have enough food so she sent me to the supermarket this morning to top up with just a bit more.

She needn't have worried as, apart from enough cold turkey to provide us with at least two hearty meals,  we had this left. And this is just the savoury stuff; we've also got enough Stollen and Mince pies  to feed a small army. On the plus side we've also got a few bottles of decent wine that were surplus to requirements.

Here's the Christmas cake Marion made for the celebration. It's not quite up to our friend Jan's standard on the decoration front but everyone agreed that it was absolutely delicious and when I was making up three doggy bags (or should I say grannie bags) at the end of the day I was a bit stingy with the cake and we've got half of it left for just the two of us - so that's another diet on the horizon for 2012.

Flo seemed to enjoy herself very much while things were in full swing but when it came to going back to the rest home she wasn't happy and we had a lot of  tears both here and at the home. I sometimes wonder if visiting and taking her out so much may be counterproductive to her settling into her new environment. It's really not the easiest thing to balance properly. We're taking her to the Memory Clinic on Monday for the results of her recent brain scan and dementia tests. Perhaps if the specialist prescribes some medication, she may settle down more easily. We hope so.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

In Praise Of Modern Family (Again)

We sat down in front of the telly last night to catch up with the stuff we’ve got on the SkyPlus which is almost full of things we’d love to have seen and will probably never get around to. One that most definitely doesn’t fall into that category is Sky1’s Modern Family, which has been amongst our favourites since it launched. We’re now into Series 3. By this time even the greatest sitcoms have usually started to flag; not Modern Family. Episode 10 of the series is the family’s Christmas which is being celebrated a week early due to problems getting everyone together on the big day. From the opening pre credit scene around the swimming pool to the final post credit scene at home, this was perfect television. I can’t reveal the plot for fear of spoiling it for others who have it saved. All I can say is that Christmas came early for us too and I can’t remember watching anything with so many laugh out loud moments; the writers crammed in more in thirty minutes than many Hollywood blockbuster comedies achieve in two hours.

And it’s not even as if the show has one stand out star like Bill Cosby, Bob Newhart or  Will Smith; even the smallest character got at least one big laugh in this episode and the rest got plenty. And it’s also not even as if all the comedy is the same. There are elements of slapstick and farce as well as great lines and brilliantly observed situations. The actors are universally excellent from the patriarch Jay (Ed O’Neill), his glorious Latino wife Gloria (Sofia Vergera), very gay son Michael (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) and his even gayer partner Cam (Eric Stonestreet) but my favourite is the hapless Phil (Ty Burrell) an eternal optimist who always does everything to make things right and inevitably makes everything anything but – a bit like me really. “Down with the kids” Phil’s classic interpretation of WTF (Why The Face) sums him up in a nutshell – wonderful. The kids are all outstanding too. If you haven’t seen Modern Family, treat yourself to a box set for Christmas and lift your family out of the great depression that was 2011.

No Orange Wednesday for us this week; just not enough time week as we’re preparing a tea party for Marion’s mum and we’ve got four old ladies and old man coming round to join us. We’ve just roasted this turkey crown and we’re going to use it to make turkey sandwiches, (which are always the best food bit about Christmas for me). The fridge is absolutely packed so I imagine that our guests will be going home with their usual goody bags that will do them for another couple of meals as they don’t tend to have enormous appetites at 80 plus.

I hope that we will get to the pictures again before Christmas as I quite fancy the new Sherlock Holmes. I loved the last one and the new one has got even better reviews from the critics so I hope that it gets to FACT or Vue next week. We’ve seen so many films this year that it’s hard to say which was my favourite. If pushed I would probably have to go for Submarine – one of the few feel good movies of the year, although A Separation, Of Gods And Men and Cave Of Forgotten Dreams were all memorable.

I’m struggling to read The Slap. I usually fly through novels in a couple of days but this one has really slowed me down. I don’t know if it is all the different characters or the Australian slang that’s making me struggle but I’m persevering as Marion’s got it saved on the SkyPlus and doesn’t want to watch it while I’m still reading the book (Kindle says I’ve got 50% left). Books that were a pleasure to read this year were The White Woman On The Green Bicycle and Florence And Giles both of which I strongly recommend.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Yes Sir That's My Babies

For me, parenthood is the best thing in the world: it's better than all those other things we think are important like careers, homes and pastimes. So last weekend was a very special one as we were not only able to spend it with our lovely daughter Sarah but also with our equally lovely granddaughter Rose who braved the worst that Scotland could throw at them to make it to Southport in one piece on Thursday. We didn't do a lot but being together was very special.

We were able to get out and about with the baby thanks to our wonderful cake making friend Jan Harbon who loaned us this magnificent baby carriage allowing us to take Rose on the dog muck avoiding exercise that is a walk in the local park (aren't they supposed to pick it up - the owners that is not the dogs). It seems that despite the dogs on a lead signs the done thing is to let the dogs off the lead and then carefully inspect a couple of manky rose bushes whilst, to their complete ignorance, Rover and Lassie do their own thing - slap bang in the middle of the path. We'll miss seeing the big old pram in the hall, it has such a homely feel to it.

The log fire came in handy as Sarah and Duncan are keen on being green and Rose has real nappies and not disposables. They're nothing like the nappies our kids had. They're very swish and come complete with fancy pants. They seem to be good for the baby as she's very comfortable in them and Sarah says she's had virtually no nappy rash at all.

You'll have to indulge me now as I upload some photos I promised to post here so my mum can copy them.

Happy Granddad

Happy Nanny

Happy Great Grannies

And Little Miss Sunshine

Thank you.

It's back to reality now and the business of helping Flo sort out her Christmas presents today. We're having a little party for her friends on Thursday so it's off to the supermarket for plenty of Sherry and Turkey.

As little Rose disappears like the Cheshire Cat back to Scotland.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Home For The Holidays

Sarah braved everything the weather threw at her yesterday and managed to get Rose down from Scotland to see us despite her train being cancelled and Duncan having to drive them to Inverkeithing to find one that was running. They did well to beat the storm that rapidly became  known as Hurricane Bawbag on Twitter and then on the BBC and in other media until someone pointed out that Hurricane Scrotum didn't have quite the same cachet as Irene, Katia or Andrew. They arrived in Preston almost four hours late but we made the most of the delay by taking in the town's delights - we spent the afternoon enjoying a cup of tea in Morrisons.

We are so pleased that they made it as it gave Marion's mum Flo the chance to see her great granddaughter for the very first time. Flo has been in a rest home for three or four weeks now. It hasn't been easy for her but she finally seems to be starting to settle there and she was thrilled to meet Rose. 

Sarah's a great mum and Rose is coming on in leaps and bounds and can do so many more things than she could the last time we saw her. They have so much more for babies than they did when Paul and Sarah were infants and Sarah tells us that before they learn to talk lots of kids are learning to sign so she has enrolled Rose for signing classes.

I'll reserve judgement on that one.

Staying with the home for the holidays theme, I realise that the following is probably an exploitative piece of cynical manipulation by one of the world's largest companies. But cynical or not, I challenge you to watch it with a dry eye.

And on a more blatantly commercial level here's another that's nonetheless a joyful representation of having family home is all about. 

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

So Sad

I knew that there was a double murder in Southport this week but the victims' names meant nothing to me and I paid little attention to the story. But when I opened the local free newspaper that dropped through the letterbox today I immediately recognised the younger woman as Angela, one of the checkout operators at the local Tesco. It's a very big store and has scores of men and women who operate the checkouts but we always look for a familiar face and are prepared to wait for an operator who we know will guarantee a friendly smile and a few minutes' conversation over the tedium of packing the groceries. There are perhaps four or five on the checkouts who are always worth an extra few minutes queueing and Angela Holgate was one of them. Always polite, efficient and friendly and prepared to say 'hello' when we passed in the street, she was a person at the periphery of our lives. We didn't know her in any capacity other than someone who scanned our shopping. But she was someone who made that weekly chore a pleasant and friendly experience and treated us as customers rather than just another trolley to scan. Her premature and violent death is a very sad and tragic reminder of the fragility of life.

We can't wait to see our granddaughter Rose tomorrow. Fortunately she has yet to encounter the horrible world that can snuff life out so needlessly and hopefully it will be many years before she understands such horrors of 21st century living. Our daughter Sarah is travelling down from Leuchars to Preston and we've got a whole four days with them before they have to head back to Scotland. Sadly Duncan can't make it this time but we hope to see him in the New Year.

I see the payroll loan companies are in the news again today. There was a bloke on Radio 4 this morning attempting to justify their enormous interest rates. But there is no way that you can justify charging somebody £50 to borrow £100 for two months. It means that if the lender started with £100 and lent it out on 1st Jan, on 1st March they would have £150. If they continued to roll up the loan (or lend it to another borrower), on 1st June they would have £225, on 1st August they would have £337.50, on 1st November £506.25 and at the end of the year £759.37. This is an annual interest rate of 659%. Now I don't know about you but if I could get 5% interest on our savings at the moment I would be quite happy. That means that my £100 would be worth £105 on 31st December compared to £759.37 "earned" by the payroll loan company. So are the payroll loan companies respectable or are they simply loan sharks under another name? I'll let you decide.

 We saw Hugo on our Orange Wednesday trip to Vue today. Although it's classified U, this is not a childrens' film. Filmed in (for once) spectacular 3D it is a magical story of a young orphan who lives amongst a labyrinth of clocks in a Paris railway station. It is very much a film buff's film with director Martin Scorcese playing homage to the early days of moving pictures in a whimsical tale of a boy, a girl, an old man and the boy's father who are all connected to a wonderful mechanical automaton. Sacha Baron Cohen adds a touch of comedy as a Railway Inspector cum child catcher and Chloe Moretz adds yet another fine performance to her already impressive CV. She's only fourteen but has already stolen three big films. As I said on an earlier blog, the most impressive child actor since Jodie Foster.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Not Our Best Week With Tesco

As I wrote yesterday, we returned from last week's Tesco visit with minor, but very expensive, damage to the car. We go there a lot and it's the first mishap we've had there in years of shopping. So I wasn't expecting any further incident on our next trip. 

With our granddaughter Rose coming on Thursday we wanted things to look seasonal for her so I went out to get a small Xmas tree. They were all wrapped in that plastic mesh stuff so choosing one was a bit of pot luck. And my luck was certainly out as, when I got home and Marion unwrapped it, it turned out to be the most pathetic specimen you could wish to see. I know that Rose is only five months old but even she would think she was visiting Uncle Scrooge not her granddad if she'd seen it. I only wish I had taken a snap as it would have raised some smiles for my readers.

So back it went and, after twenty minutes waiting at the service desk, the woman in charge shared our amusement and arranged someone from "produce" to assist. He disappeared only to return ten minutes later and tell us he couldn't remove the plastic from a couple for us to check so we had to accept a refund and buy a lovely (unwrapped) one from Dobbies down the road. 

'So he bought a duff Xmas tree" you say? Hardly worth blogging about. I would agree if we hadn't returned to the store today to stock up for Sarah and Rose's visit. Ten minutes into the shop I heard an almighty crash and turned to find poor Marion sprawled flat out on the floor. We were in the milk aisle and the floor was wet through from a spillage. Marion was in agony having taken a heavy fall and really was crying over spilt milk. A Tesco employee ineffectually offered token sympathy and pointed out that just ahead was one of those signs that warn of "Wet floor. Cleaning in progress". A cleaner came by and Marion complained only to be told "you should have seen the sign". Unhappy with this attitude she sought out the manager who, unbelievably, explained that they don't employ the cleaners. I would argue that, even if the cleaner is not on the Tesco payroll, they do employ the cleaners. The manager was OK and took down all the details and asked if she could do anything further but when Marion said she was feeling a bit better, she took her leave. If I had been the manager I would have gone straight to the flower, chocolate or wine department and while Marion was recovering, selected a small gift by way of apology. Every little helps they say. Not from our experience.

It's exactly a year ago today that I had my new hip fitted. It's a good job I didn't take that fall and end up with a dislocation.

We're eating very little meat at the moment. Here's tonight's tea. Chick pea and sweet potato stew with brown basmati rice. It was delicious, nutritious and extremely cheap. We're not vegetarians and we're not on a budget but it's certainly a very enjoyable diet and one that I recommend.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Honesty Is The Best Policy

It's a subject that provoked plenty of lively debate and discussions with colleagues in the past. When our Sales Co-Ordinator said that he had handed the waitress some gift tokens that she had absent mindedly not kept when he used them to settle his bill, some in the office thought him daft and implied that he should have booked another table and returned next week. Others like me and Marion applauded him for his honesty. When our then very young son Paul carelessly opened our car door in high winds and it slammed into an extremely expensive 4 x 4 we left a note on the windscreen and duly sorted out the damage via our insurers at the cost of an expensive excess. The office debate was divided on this one too with some saying that they would have driven away whilst others took the line that we took. But honesty is the best policy. Do as you would be done by. You reap what you sow. What goes around comes around and all that. 

So when we got back home and unpacked our shopping after a trip to Tesco the other day and found this damage to the rear bumper it was clear that not everybody lives up to the same maxims and those who surprised me in in our office debates were clearly not alone in their way of thinking. OK it doesn't look a great deal of damage in the photo. The bumper was dirty after a trip down a muddy farm track when visiting some friends but there are two distinctive bumps surrounded by star cracks in the paintwork and there is no way that the perpetrator could have been ignorant of the damage. The only way to return it to how it looked would be a whole new bumper protector which, with fitting, will be several hundred pounds. So you reap what you sow? I'll let you make your mind up on that one.

Copyright The Times. Sorry Mr Murdoch. 
On a happier note, one of our guilty pleasures is the weekend papers. We buy The Times and Guardian on Saturday and the Sunday Times on Sunday. We used to have The Observer too but it went downhill when Kate Flett left and we gave up on it recently. Spending a few hours with such great writing is a luxury. This week The Times had a fabulous Paul McCartney interview by the brilliant Caitlin Moran which ended with her genuinely urging Macca to add The Frog Chorus to his future sets on tour. This photo which accompanied the piece, captures the essence of Moran so beautifully and cheered me up for the day.

I don't know what it is about the women writers of the quality press but, whilst I read this morning that 80% of newspaper columnists are men I find myself enjoying women's writing far more. I follow my favourites on Twitter and I have just noticed that whilst I follow Caitlin Moran, Grace Dent, India Knight, Suzanne Moore, Kate Flett, Marina Hyde and Janice Turner the only blokes on my list are Barney Ronay and Tim Dowling. Perhaps I just don't have time for the alpha male pontifications of the likes of Clarkson and Rod Liddle or maybe Im just lacking in testosterone.

We are excitedly waiting to welcome our daughter Sarah and our granddaughter Rose on Thursday. Rose hasn't been to our house before so Marion has been busily babyfying the guest bedroom. And she's done a lovely job.

Her addition of Snoopy in the moon to the seascape above the bed was an inspiration. It's such a pity that it will be just four days before they head back to St Andrews but we hope to be in Scotland not long after Hogmanay.

And, if you aren't familiar with that Paul McCartney classic I mentioned, here it is. Tesco shoppers please take note.


Friday, 2 December 2011

An Open Letter To The Today Programme

Dear Today

This morning you featured an interview with seventy nine year old Miss Debbie Reynolds. What a breath of fresh air it was. Listening to someone with such joie de vivre was uplifting - inspiring even.

I've been a loyal listener for years but I can't be alone in feeling ground down every day by your constant drip drip drip of doom, gloom and misery that must send many of the country's movers and shakers off to work with a black cloud over their heads. Hardly the stuff to stimulate creativity.

OK you've got a duty to tell things as they are but there must surely be room in your schedule for a Miss Reynolds type character to appear on a more frequent basis. I know that you had a similar interview with the equally upbeat Doris Day some time ago and I felt very much the same then.

Does it have to take septuagenarian and octogenarian American film stars to provide the only infrequent oasis of positives in your Sahara of negatives? Or could you find another antidote to Robert Peston et al on a more regular basis?

I don't want you to patronise your audience and turn Today into Jackanory but I can't have been alone in feeling good listening to Debbie today and that has to be a good thing.

More like it please.

Yours etc


Thursday, 1 December 2011


You've got to laugh at all the hoo hah about Jeremy Clarkson and his now infamous comments on The One Show. OK so Clarkson made a joke that was not very funny but from all the ridiculous posturing on Twitter and the BBC's complaints line, you would think that some people really thought that he was advocating the execution of the public sector strikers. Some people (like Clarkson) get a kick out of winding people up and like nothing better than seeing their wind ups take root. It used to happen at work. Someone would find a chink in a colleague's armour and then work away at it until, to their great amusement, their victim reached boiling point. It might be a football team or a difference of opinion on politics but with the right comments and the right colleague the wind up merchant would go home happy.  

It was easy to avoid the wind up by simply ignoring the comments and if everyone had ignored Jeremy Clarkson last night he would not have achieved the notoriety that he enjoys. If you read his weekly column in the Sunday Times you would hardly be surprised at him spouting this sort of stuff. Every week his (very readable, I'm afraid to say) quarter page contains some outrageous comment or other that is clearly intended to shock but equally clearly written with tongue firmly in cheek. When the poor bloke who tweeted that he was going to blow up Robin Hood airport if they didn't clear the snow ended up being arrested everyone (except the police) knew it was a joke. So it is surprising that today, those very same people (the sort of people he LOVES to upset) fell for it hook line and sinker.   

Here's a tweet from popular comic Jimmy Carr. As someone from near Liverpool should I be complaining about this outrageous stereotyping? Ah no. It's a joke. Like Clarkson's it's not one of the funniest but I know he's not being serious. Or is he? Anybody want to write to the Liverpool Empire and get his show cancelled in April 2013?

And talking of jokes, the internet has been going bananas in the last seven days over Benton or Fenton the deer chasing dog in Richmond Park. It's a good little viral video and, like all good things there are all sorts of spin offs on YouTube. This one is better than the original. But if you are one of the two people on the planet who haven't seen the original watch it at the bottom before clicking on this or it won't mean a thing.


Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Our Orange Wednesday With Marilyn

We're back into Orange Wednesday. We've been using the Orange phone more since we've had the caravan (it's all about signals - they aren't very strong in St Andrews on any networks) so, once again, Orange are texting us our free ticket every week. This afternoon it was the excellent My Week With Marilyn. It's a gentle story about a young cinema runner's week long association with mega star Marilyn Monroe when she visits England to film at Pinewood with Sir Larry Olivier. Kenneth Branagh steals the show as the actorly actorrr Olivier with his wonderfully theatrical enunciation feebly attempting to win over the young, talented and extremely vulnerable Munroe (another fine performance from Michelle Williams, so impressive in Blue Valentine and a safe bet for another Academy Award Nomination in this role). Olivier's attempt at movie success depends upon Monroe but her erratic and unmanageable behaviour threatens to wreck the production. Bullying Sir Laurence can't handle her and she is frightened of him. Step in twenty three year old Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne) the 3rd assistant director or "gopher" as he calls himself . Marilyn seems to like him and the film chronicles his increasingly love struck efforts to keep Olivier's movie afloat. It's a very enjoyable film based on a real life story. Now we will have to see The Prince And The Showgirl - the real 1957 film in the story.

I'm not going to get political again and go on about today's strike but the local Vue must have been over the moon as the place was packed with families with kids and teenagers going to see Arthur Christmas, Tin Tin, Immortals and that Twilight film. It was as busy as a typical weekend. The local shops were pretty busy too. Maybe Vue and the retailers will be asking for another strike next week.

A few weeks ago I mentioned on the blog that I'd downloaded a selection of books for the Kindle in an attempt to find a good comic novel. To date the covers misled as neither The Rotters' Club nor Skippy Dies were exactly a barrel of laughs and I don't know where on earth I got the impression that Rabbit Run was humorous. However, unlike the other books I mentioned which, though entertaining enough, were not particularly thought provoking, Rabbit Run really is a classic deserving of its place in the stratosphere of American fiction. It's hard going. Not an easy read and, I worry, somewhat misogonist but what a piece of writing! Updike's prose is both lyrical and poetical and gives this aspiring writer one hell of an inferiority complex. There are another three Rabbit books written at around ten year intervals. I won't be waiting ten years to read the next.

We've got friends coming on Saturday to celebrate Josephine's success in developing Sorority Girls and Holding Out For A Hero. We've got an episode of each to watch as well as fitting in drinks and a three course meal. So our guests are arriving at 5.30. It promises to be a good night.


Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Eat Drink And Be Merry

For tomorrow you pay your care home fees.

I don't want to sound like a cynical, grasping relative watching an inheritance go down the plug hole but if we've learnt one lesson about growing old and needing care in the last few months it's that the state doesn't reward the thrifty. If you are into old age and you have saved a few quid instead of spending it on booze, cigarettes and holidays in the sun, you aren't going to get any help with your care home fees. The only benefit Flo has from squirreling away her pension week after week is that she at least has the opportunity to choose where she stays rather than take what the local authority gives her and I suppose that we should be grateful for that small mercy as she is in a place with a nice atmosphere.

But it won't take long to erode away her small nest egg. You are allowed to have £23,000 left when the state steps in. Anybody who owns a house or flat is likely to have more than that but you've got to sell that to get the cash to pay the fees and it's not exactly a sellers' market at the moment is it? So you sell at a knock down price with the attitude that it doesn't really matter as it's all going to go until that £23k figure is reached. And it won't take that long. Care home fees around here start at about £400 per week and go up so that a bill of £25,000 a year is not unusual. If Flo went back to her roots in Richmond (which she would like) that would escalate to almost £50,000 so it would not be very long before she called on the state for help and (after watching some TV news items recently) God knows what sort of place they might find for her down there.

So if you are getting on in years it makes sense to start getting rid of your savings now if you have any. Treat yourself to that car or holiday you always promised yourself but didn't get around to. Splash out on the family Christmas presents and support your favourite charity. Give money to your grandchildren or put it in trust for them to have when they go to university. All those bequests in your will? Give them now. It's just not worth keeping it. 

OK so that may be a jaundiced view and you may well think that everyone should pay for their own care if they need it. And I would agree with you to a point but it just seems that if two pensioners start at exactly the same financial position and one blows the lot and the other is very careful it seems unfair that the profligate is rewarded whilst the careful pays the price.

And yes I will be putting my money where my mouth is. The give away will start next year.

Monday, 28 November 2011

One Year Down How Many More To Come?

If retirees like us knew the answer to that question we might well solve the current economic crisis at a stroke. We could live like there's no tomorrow and spend,spend, spend if we knew that there wasn't one or at least knew how many there were. For now we'll have to keep an eye on the cash and live within a budget that should give us a comfortable lifestyle without being overly extravagant. 

We'll have been retired for a whole year on Wednesday. We've had a great year in very many ways with the wonderful arrival of our first granddaughter Rose, our new caravan in St Andrews and the new found freedom that retirement has brought. But sadly our happiness in the past few months has been overshadowed by Marion's mum's relentless fall into Alzheimer's which has turned her into a Jeckyll and Hyde character who one day hasn't got a clue where she is and another will correctly tell you that there's eighteen minutes to go in the football and seem quite her old self before bursting into tears and asking what is happening to her brain.

So, apart from that struggle, and it is a struggle that occupies us on some level almost every waking minute now, what has retirement been like? It got off to a fantastic start with a brilliant Madness concert in Manchester just a few hours after leaving the office. Then, within a week of clearing my desk, I was in hospital having a new hip. That wrote off December although Marion looked after me brilliantly and I quite enjoyed being nursed and loved passing the time watching the new 3D telly and reading a big pile of novels.

I was up and about by the end of December when we had a memorable new year at The Old Course Hotel in St Andrews where we watched the most amazing firework display courtesy of the wedding celebrations of Di Stewart and Nick Dougherty. Since then we've got into a routine that revolves around the gym, cinema, reading, cycling, blogging, metal detecting and writing and rewriting my novel. I'm on the second rewrite now and maybe one day I'll be happy enough with it to try and publish. We've also managed to take a few holidays after going through 2009 and 2010 with none and enjoyed breaks in Cockermouth, Kirkby Lonsdale, Feizor, Isle De Re and Italy. Next year we'll probably spend all our holidays in St Andrews.

It's been a good year for cinema for us. We've seen about 37 films at either FACT in Liverpool or Vue in Southport with just one visit to the St Andrews Picture House. There's nothing wrong with the local Vue which is fine for a multiplex but we love going to FACT in Liverpool which has a much more interesting film selection and a great little cafe. I wouldn't say that there have been any classic movies this year but there have been plenty of very good ones. My favourites include A Separation, Midnight in Paris, Of Gods And Men and We Need To Talk About Kevin. Our worst experience was The Tree Of Life. Some that were undeservedly panned by the critics in my opinion were The Eagle and The Lincoln Lawyer.

We've only managed five theatre trips but two of those, One Man Two Guvnors and The Ladykillers were comedy classics.  Concerts have been fewer still with Dolly Parton, Glen Campbell and Madness all that we saw. 

All in all a good year. I hope that there will be many more to come. I read an article in the weekend papers about longevity. The writer reckoned that, although I can hope to live for up to another twenty years, the rot sets in at around 63 and most men will encounter some sort of functional deterioration or illness that will restrict them from then onwards. So we had better make the most of the next four or five years. Get the cruise brochures out Marion.