Monday, 29 June 2009

Killer bees and suicide squirrels

Typical. The BlackLOG that gets the most comments is based around toilet usage (there was me thinking I had a more sophisticated readership). Checking around the web it would appear that sex is the only subject that draws in more followers and comments than toilets. I'm sure you will be delighted to hear that I'm not desperate enough to attempt to grow my readership via the sex route... Imagine the anxiety caused if I did and my readership fell rather than grew? I might end up with premature blogging issues or, even worse, become an impotent blogger. Is there the equivalent of a little blue pill for bloggers who are unable to get a post up?

Killer bees and suicide squirrels
Recently I have been reading the horror stories surrounding the plight of bees in the UK and how they are being mysteriously wiped out. Up to now I have been sympathetic to their cause (even going so far as to eat more honey as a show of solidarity with the buzzy brethren). Well that's come to an abrupt end I can assure you. I was cycling along, minding my own business, when I felt an excruciating pain in my right hand. It was so painful it almost made me crash my bike. I also managed to rake the back of my calf with my pedal as I slid to an abrupt halt, causing myself even more pain. I looked down to find a bee spending its last moments on earth attacking my hand though my cycle glove. So that's it. No more support for them pesky bees. No more extra jars of honey snuck into the shopping basket, they are now on their own. Good luck and one word of advice - wiping yourself out on innocent cyclists, at a time when your species is facing oblivion is worthy of the animal equivalent of a Darwin Award.... Which brings me onto squirrels. Not sure what's going on with them. A couple of weeks ago one shot out in front of Mrs B on her bike and missed being crushed by inches. Well this week a squirrel went one better when it ran in-between my front and back wheels, which was most impressive as I was doing around 15 mph (it was on a hill) at the time. Is there some bizarre
squirrel right of passage thing going on....

Special mention goes to our friend Kirsty who somehow managed to flip over her own handlebars on our ride yesterday, very impressive on a straight bit of road. I was not actually looking at the time, so only saw the resulting crumpled remains. Without any other evidence I strongly suspect another daredevil squirrel manoeuvre, albeit one which went wrong. Either that or are these possibly Al Qaeda trained squirrels whose mission is to bring down infidel cyclists.

Is this the mystery face behind the Al Qaeda
squirrel plot to bring down cyclists?

I can't believe I didn't see it, for once I was behind as the little scamp had taken advantage of my ailing bike - I think I managed to bend my derailer (the bit of metal at the back of the bike which changes the rear gears) the result was that it was like riding my bike in top gear through treacle, especially tricky on uphill sections. Even Mrs B, a steady but hardly lighting quick cyclist took advantage and rubbed it in by coming back to see where I had got to. Oh the shame....

With my bike ailing Mrs B & kirsty
take the opportunity to leave me in
their dust....Thanks guys.

Bee attack update - Three days after the the attack my hand is still sore
- I hope that it's not going to end up like a Spider-man scenario, after he got bitten. I can't see special bee like powers being of much use - The ability to cover people in honey and dying when you attack anyone, hardly seem like sexy superpowers to me....

quote of the week
My sister had just returned home from Holiday and had been burgled. I went over so that she did not have to face it alone.

As she stood in her ransacked living room with loads of spaces where her TV and other electrical items used to be, she reached into a recess and pulled out her iPod........

Sister - "Thank god they didn't find this!"

I looked at her and asked "Why on earth did you not take it on holiday with you?"

Her reply "I was frightened I might lose it...."

Me - "You do realise that as you say that you are standing in your burgled house surrounded by none of the items you used to own......"

L2B Training update - A second go at the Flitch Way
Continuing a nostalgic view of our 2006 London to Brighton bike ride

Having convinced some friends that they should join Mrs B and myself for a L2B training session, I spent the week monitoring the weather forecast for the Bishops Stortford area. With increasing despair, I had seen Sunday's forecast on the BBC web page build up from light drizzle, progressing through full drizzle, light rain and finally to heavy rain. I had bribed our friends with the prospect of burnt offerings after the bike ride and, surprisingly, some of them actually fell for it, although the semi-sensible people managed to come up with excuses. Alison had a Doctor's Certificate, Deirdre had a sick note from her mum, excusing her from all forms of exercise while John claimed that he had washed his bike's wheels and could not do a thing with them. They did however volunteer to put their stomachs through the arduous work out, that is one of my BBQs.

Typical Black Household BBQ
1) Mrs B buys the food.
2) Mrs B makes the salad, prepares the vegetables, and makes dessert.
3) Mrs B prepares the meat for cooking, places it on a tray along
with the necessary cooking utensils and sauces, and takes it to Mr B who is
lounging beside the grill - Coke in hand.

Here comes the important part:


More routine....

5) Mrs B goes inside to organize the plates and cutlery.
6) Mrs B comes out to tell Mr B that the meat is burning. Mr B
thanks her and asks if she will bring another coke while he deals with
the situation.

Important again:


More routine.....

8) Mrs B prepares the plates, salad, bread, utensils, napkins, and sauces
and brings them to the table.
9) After eating, Mrs B clears the table and does the dishes.
And most important of all:
10) Everyone PRAISES Mr B and THANKS HIM for his cooking efforts.
11) Mr B asks Mrs B how she enjoyed "her night off."

For those of you who have seen a similar BBQ article before, I am claiming that I have not stolen it, but I’m doing my bit for the environment and I am in fact recycling it.

In an attempt to save more lives, Mischief
attempts to takes possession of my BBQ.

Mrs B's clicking pedal, a left over from last week's ride, appeared to have gone on vacation(1) and my trip computer functioned like it always does, when not actually required (naturally it went blank as soon as we set off for the ride proper, and only started up again after much hitting and swearing). As a precaution I got up early Sunday morning and set up the gazebo for the BBQ and then prepared our bikes. Every time I wheeled one of them out of the garage it would start to spit with rain, only to stop when I wheeled it back in again - one of those days, ha! - Once again the weather forecasters covered themselves in glory and the heavy rain turned out to be a couple of drops, for encouragement purposes only.

(1) It had only been with us for a week, I thought you had to have worked a couple of months before taking up holiday entitlement, shows how much I know...

So It was 6 brave souls (or 12 soles if you like, none of our friends being deficient in the leg department) for the ride:-

• Mrs B of course, up for any challenge as long as it does not involve mushrooms, dried fruit or Daddy longlegs' and preferably not early in the morning. You may recall that she fell off her bike a couple of weeks ago when she got her feet trapped in the pedal straps, she admitted to me on the way home from the ride that she had almost done the same again, some excuse about seeing a mini tornado or something. A couple of minutes later and Mrs B was down again, not particularly funny in itself except Mrs B thought she had got away with it. She was up so quickly it was like she had bounced, but I just managed to see it out of the corner of an eye. I'm kind of an expert on this type of behaviour, since I've been using the same technique for years when skiing. Inevitably Mrs B knows, but it never stops me trying to get away with it.

• Ash, our team leader for the L2B ride, and still responsible for a ridiculously early start of 4am (he certainly won't be Mrs B's favourite person on the 18th June) likes to talk to anyone and everyone and enjoyed himself by frightening fellow travellers of the Flitch Way by saying a cheery hello as he passed. This is guaranteed to frighten the average Sunday stroller. I've tried the same tactic myself and can confirm it's great fun, especially if you follow it up with a big manic grin.

• Mitch a friend from our local Gym. Mitch managed to avoid signing up for the L2B so I'm doing my best to make him suffer along with us. He might be older but is much fitter then me, so I'm not entirely sure how I'm going to achieve this. I probably should have just let his tyres down and dropped his saddle but technically that's like undoing his laces during Body Combat, he's got a bad habit of doing it back.

• Stephanie, our Picture Pimp(2)(PP). For some reason PP's saddle was set very low, giving her the appearance of a Praying Mantis. Since her bike had been purchased from the same shop as ours it did not have a quick release mechanism for fixing the saddle height or any standard sized bolts for that matter. Unfortunately none of the tons of bike tools I carry with me fitted the bolt securing the seat bolt. PP may have survived the bike ride and burnt offerings but I suspect she may have been suffering the next morning. The effort she had to put in was probably twice everyone else's and having not ridden for a while there is a strong possibility she may never talk to me again. I did however come through with my promise that she would not get wet. I feel any mud that she received from Rob's bike bouncing antics can hardly be deemed to be my responsibility (see below).

(2) Purveyor of fine art to the Black household

• Rob, PP's new man(3). We discovered more about Rob halfway along the route, at a point where you briefly leave the Flitch Way, because of a blocked tunnel. You get to make a tight right hand turn and ride up a fairly steep bank, cross a quiet country road and then scramble down an almost vertical slope on the other side. This comprises a narrow path with steps on the right and hawthorn bushes to the left. To top it all, a branch stretches itself invitingly across the path, about halfway down and deliciously at head height. Last week Mrs B and I struggled down using the steps and wheeling our bike beside us. Jokingly I said to Rob "You going for it then?", next thing he was off sliding and pitching dangerously from side to side, until he safely reached the bottom. I merely mentioned that he had lost marks for putting his foot down, he was up the slope again and this time did a clean run. The rest of us sheepishly trudged down using the steps. Turns out our Rob is an ex-Marine, stunt man and part time film extra(4) so all this stuff was probably a bit tame for him.

(3) I can't quite decide whether to call Rob Tigger or Zebadee. Rob did not so much as ride his bike but bounce it along the route, it was only after I had a quick go on his bike, that the reason become clear. It had more springs on it then an average divan bed and was lighter then a walnut whip, it was just not built to stay on the ground. I was quite enjoying myself until I touched the brakes and almost catapulted myself over the bar. My brakes work on the "sound" principle, -I touch them, nothing happens so I scream and hope that everything gets out of the way, quite effective on living objects but not so on inanimate ones or deaf people. I don't think Rob missed a puddle on the road back from the Flitch Way to Bishops Stortford. The rest of us were waiting for that comedy moment when he would launch into a puddle and vanish up to his arm pits.

(4) He even had a nodding part in the Oliver Stone film, Alexander. I'm sure he would have got a speaking part if only he could have carried off the requisite Irish accent. Somehow Angelina Jolie was exempt from the accent rule. Rob lost a bit of kudos when it turns out he failed to meet up with the luscious lipped beauty.

• I made up the sixth and final place and managed to embarrass myself as ever. I was so busy advising people on gear selection, that when it came to the right turn followed by the steep section I was not ready for it and failed to change down in time. Inevitably I ground to a halt and tipped gently sideways, causing a 5 bike pile up behind me.

After our initial conversation Rob had thought I was some sort of bike expert, I had read a bluffers guide to cycling and managed to drop some jargon into our talk. He later confided that he was suspicious when he saw our bikes, but thought we might have been riding them for a bet. Oh the shame of it all.

As a post script and probably to get his revenge for being bored, Rob threatened to take Mrs B and I rock climbing. The first thing Mrs B did when she heard this was double my life insurance policy and then went off to sharpen some knives?

Post post script - Rob and PP never did take us climbing

Have a good week; hope you feel better than me. I'm suffering from man flu(5), so don't get too close to the page.

(5) Basically a heavy cold but when introduced to a man's finely balanced constitution, comes across like the end of the world as mankind knows it.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Why Mrs B takes so long in the toilet.

This weeks BlackLOG has been put on hold after I discovered why Mrs B takes so long in the toilet (restroom, for those of you on the wrong side of the Atlantic):-

When women have to visit a public toilet, they usually find a line of women, so smile politely and take their place.

Once it's their turn, they check for feet under the cubicle doors.

Every cubicle is occupied.

Finally, a door opens and they dash in, nearly knocking down the woman leaving the cubicle.

They get in to find the door won't latch.

It doesn't matter, the wait has been so long they are about to wet their pants!

The dispenser for the modern 'seat covers' (invented by someones Mum, no
doubt) is handy, but empty.

They would hang their bag on the door hook, if there was one, so they carefully, but quickly drape it around their neck, (Their mum would turn over in her grave if they put it on the FLOOR!) its down with their pants and assume 'The Stance'.

In this position, their aging, toneless, thigh muscles begin to shake. They'd love to sit down, but having not taken time to wipe the seat or to lay toilet paper on it, they hold 'The Stance.'

To take their mind off their trembling thighs, they reach for what they discover to be the empty toilet paper dispenser.

In their mind, they can hear their mother's voice saying, 'Dear, if you had tried to clean the seat, you would have KNOWN there was no toilet paper!'
their thighs shake more.

They remember the tiny tissue that they blew their nose on yesterday - the one that's still in their bag (the bag around their neck, that they now have to hold up trying not to strangle themselves at the same time).

That would have to do, so they crumple it in the puffiest way possible. It's still smaller than a thumbnail.

Someone pushes the door open because the latch doesn't work.

The door hits the bag, which is hanging around their neck in front of their chest and they and their bag topple backward against the tank of the toilet.

'Occupied!' they scream, as they reach for the door, dropping their precious, tiny, crumpled tissue in a puddle on the floor, while losing their footing altogether and slid down directly onto the TOILET SEAT.

It is wet of course. They bolt up, knowing all too well that it's too late.

Their bare bottom has made contact with every imaginable germ and life form on the uncovered seat because they never laid down toilet paper - not that there was any, even if they had taken time to try.

They know that there mother would be utterly appalled if she knew, because they're certain her bare bottom never touched a public toilet seat because, frankly, dear, 'You just don't KNOW what kind of diseases you could get.'

By this time, the automatic sensor on the back of the toilet is so confused that it flushes, propelling a stream of water like a fire hose against the inside of the bowl and spraying a fine mist of water that covers their bum and runs down their legs and into their shoes.

The flush somehow sucks everything down with such force and they grab onto the empty toilet paper dispenser for fear of being dragged in too.

At this point, they give up. They're soaked by the spewing water and the wet toilet seat.

Exhausted, they try to wipe with a sweet wrapper they found in their pocket and then slink out inconspicuously to the sinks.

As they can't figure out how to operate the taps with the automatic sensors, they wipe their hands with spit and a dry paper towel and walk past the line of women still waiting, no longer able to smile politely to them.

A kind soul at the very end of the line points out a piece of toilet paper trailing from their shoe. (Where was that when they NEEDED it?)

They yank the paper from their shoe, plunk it in the woman's hand and tell her warmly, 'Here, you just might need this.

As they exit, they spot their hubby, who has long since entered, used and left the men's toilet.

Annoyed, he asks, 'What took you so long and why is your bag hanging around your neck?'

This is dedicated to women everywhere who deal with any public rest rooms/toilets (rest??? you've GOT to be kidding!!).

It finally explains to the men what really does take women so long. It also answers that other commonly asked question about why women go to the toilets in pairs.

It's so the other gal can hold the door, hang onto the bags and hand Kleenex under the door.

I would love to credit the person who wrote this but as I don't know who it was, so I will pass the credit onto Mrs B for forwarding it to me. I think you will agree that this is brilliant, giving us men an insight as to why women take so long and also why you attend in gangs.

I can say that as a man I have on the odd occasion had to adopted the hover position and will be ever grateful that I don't have a handbag to deal with (my father occasionally would use a man-bag when we went on our almost annual trips to Portugal. As a young teenager I was so traumatised and embarrassed by this, there was never any chance that I would follow on the tradition. Besides with the amount of rubbish I carry around with me, nothing short of a large rucksack will do). I guess for men the equivalent problem, in a particularly rank toilet, is how do you stop your trousers from mopping up the content of the floor? As a final note it never fails to amaze me that whenever we go to V or any large event with Porto-loo's, Mrs B seems to have the magical ability to suspend her bodily functions for the duration. Much respect, I can tell you as a man, when you gotta go, there is very little in the world will prevent us.
Not sure why you women have a problem with
putting things down on the floor in a public toilets

L2B -2006 Training on the Flitch Way,
Including news of fine dining in Essex

Continuing a nostalgic view of our 2006 London to Brighton bike ride

Having run out of excuses, Mrs. B and I hit the training schedule hard. Not only did I do 3 spinning classes in 7 days, Mrs B and I did a short ride along the river Stort, this was fairly uneventful although I could not get my pedal-ometer (bike trip computer) to work, so I can't report the actual distance. I did however notice that the damn thing started to work while I was putting the bikes away.

Monday morning we had earmarked as the "Ride the Flitch Way" day. The Flitch Way is an old abandoned railway, which has been turned into a cycle path between Bishops Stortford and Braintree. The forecast was wet and miserable, but as I often say to Mrs B, the weather office in this country would have difficulty predicting the result of a one horse race, even after the event. Typically as I got the bikes out, the trip computer stopped working, deep joy. After fiddling about with it for about 20 minutes and getting absolutely nowhere, I ripped the computer off the handlebars and hurdled it down the drive way.

"Make you feel better?" chirped in a less than impressed Mrs B.

"It does actually" I replied and stomped off to get some more therapy by jumping up and down on the cheap plastic pile of rubbish.

At the last moment I changed my mind and fitted the computer back onto the bike. To my amazement* it worked perfectly, although some mysterious scratches had appeared on the outer casing (I bet it was those bloody cats, I thought to myself).

* And just goes to prove that, sometimes, mindless violence is just what is needed**

** Despite the success of this experiment, I would not recommend hurling electrical or other products around in an attempt to fix them. Unless you really have been severely provoked by said electrical goods or you think you can live without your TV, expensive watch, Ipod, toaster, car etc

A quick check behind the cushions on the chesterfield, to make sure no cats had stowed on board, before Mrs B and I navigated our way across town to the start point of the Flitch Way (imaginatively called Start Hill). I was initially disappointed that most of the outward leg of the journey appeared to be against a slight rise, but this was soon replaced by the optimistic view that we would be able to roll back with hardly any effort on the return leg of the journey, marvellous! Apart from a few navigational problems - yes I know railway lines are relatively straight but when tunnels have been filled in and towns have been allowed to develop over parts of them, it makes for some interesting diversions*** - we reached Braintree with only a slight 'clicking' that Mrs B had developed. On further investigation I discovered it was not, in fact, Mrs B but her left pedal crankshaft (which did not bode well, as it was a similar type of clicking that my bike had developed during the bike ride from hell, a couple of weeks back - the one just before my pedal fell off).

I managed to find a bike shop, who were not able to service the bike, but they did sell me a new tool for taking the crank shaft off the bike****. Before I made my purchase of the shiny new gadget, the spotty little Herbert serving me promised to give me some advice on using it. I noticed he waited until completion of the sale before gleefully informing me "Be really careful with that, if you don't use it properly, you'll cross thread the bike frame and bugger up the bike completely". I must say that little bit of advice made me feel so much more confident about using the device. We then went off in search of a Tea room. Apparently Braintree doesn't do Tea rooms so we retired to a Weatherspoons pub. All I can say is it was not a pleasant experience, I shall expand no further, other than to say I will not be returning to a Weatherspoons pub in the foreseeable future.

***The Essex Rangers, custodians of the Flitch Way, while managing to do a fantastic job of maintaining the route itself, are absolute rubbish when it comes to the matter of directing you between sections that have become separated. It's a bit like when you are driving through London and you hit those diversion signs - the ones that take you into previously unexplored parts of the metropolis and then abandon you with no clues to your whereabouts. Fortunately we had come prepared with an Ordinance Survey map, you just can't trust those straight routes.

**** No I'm not sure what I am meant to do after I have removed the crank shaft, but that's not the point, it was a NEW Gadget.

I was looking forward to the return journey, all that lovely downhill coasting........ except it wasn't, once again it all appeared to be uphill. What was going on? We managed to make it back to Start Hill despite small kids who insisted on littering the way with their bikes, dogs on leads who would run across our path as soon as we got near and the headless body of a rat falling from the sky in front of Mrs B*****. As we rode down the slope that led back to the public highway, a police car drove up. I was about to report the theft of the downhill section of the Flitch Way, but I noted the officers were far too busy eating Fruit 'n Fibre breakfast cereal, to be bothered with such issues.

***** no word of a lie, but this was deepest Essex after all. It's probably the sort of thing you get on a local restaurant menu "Fricasseed headless rat, double tenderised by first being dropped delicately from 24 feet, by unseen assailant, onto the Flitch Way, before being further tenderised with fresh bicycle tread, served on a bed of saffron suffused****** rice and seasonal vegetables". Sounds almost tempting if it wasn't for those damned seasonal vegetables....

****** i.e. less than a pin heads worth

The final count was 50.7 bum-numbing miles, and I thank the lord for the chesterfield and padded cycling shorts, otherwise I don't think I would have been able to sit down for the rest of this week. I was also impressed that I had broken the 20 mile barrier previously imposed by my leg muscles. All I need do now is work out what got me through the extra 30 miles. Was it the banana I consumed before I set out, the Kool 'n Fit pain relieving spray, cycling in much lower gears, the Ribena drink in my Camel pack or the revenge of the Pedal-ometer under which we had probably only covered 18 miles rather then the more impressive 50.7 stated? I can't believe it is the latter, as neither of us could move once we got home. Climbing into bed became more of a full out expedition than a daily activity, involving ropes, crampons and short periods of rest. We were starting to regret the purchase of a new mattress a few weeks ago, which was approximately twice the depth of the old one, but once we reached the summit it was quickly off to ZZZZZZZZ.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Colour problems and the inflexibility of procedures

Recently we have been in a battle of wills with John Lewis online. This was thanks to a rash decision to purchased some replacement bar stools for our kitchen. For some reason we had decided to opt for the ridiculously embarrassingly over priced original Bombo stools. The JL web site only gave an option for a 5 day turn-a-round service, which basically means that they will deliver in any one of the the next 5 working days but won't tell which. It ends up being a bit like a lottery, albeit a fixed one, as I'm sure the Delivery Drivers are instructed to wait around the corner till you pop out for 10 seconds and then stuff a "failure to deliver" note through your letterbox..... This is fine if you are at home all day and can sit by the door but not so good if you happen to have to work for a living in order to pay for over-priced stools. On the balance of things I decided it was easier to have them delivered to my work address. All good so far. They delivered on the day I was out of the office but I collected them the following day, so not the end of the world. It was only when I got them home and opened them that the fun started.

Now correct me if I'm wrong, when you pay top dollar for a product you expect to get what you pay for. So when you purchase said product in black you expect not just black but jet black - in fact a midnight black, a black so pure that when you look at it, all hope of ever seeing colour again is lost (Did I mention that these were ridiculously overpriced?). The sort of black that makes other blacks feel so inferior that they slink off and change their whole colour perspective, perhaps relaunching themselves as off-white. When I unpacked them and installed them in the kitchen I was gob smacked. These were not the "so far beyond black that light tried to take a restraining order out on them" as was displayed on the John Lewis website. These were a horrible light grey, the sort of grey that you wouldn't accept even if it was offered for free. I left them for Mrs B to see and hoped that I would get used to them. Mrs B was not impressed and her initial reaction was that her dimwit of a husband had ordered the wrong colour. I dug out the order confirmation and started proceedings to clear my name. While I might be a dimwit at times, this was not one of them.

What is says on the box is not
always what you find in the box

In what universe is that black

We decided to sleep on it and left the stools in place overnight (noticing that even the cats, who normally gravitate towards anything new, like moths to a flame, were giving them a wide birth). The pure new light of a beautiful summer's morning brought home to us that while time might be a great healer, a thousand years would not improve the colour of these babies. It was time to take drastic action - the return of the product. Now I hate returning things - what should be a simple matter always ends up being such a palaver. I called JL and explained that they had delivered the wrong colour. I also felt that as it was their error they should make life easier for us with the replacement. Not a bit of it.
They had standard operating procedures and they were going to stick to them. They did agree to pick the stools up from home but would not deliver the replacements there at the same time as they had to be sent to the original address. I tried to explain that it would be easier and cheaper for them to pick up and deliver at the same time. The problem was the conversation we were now having had gone off the standard call centre script and since redelivery to a different address was not in the delivery procedures I was getting nowhere.

At about the same time that the stools were being picked up from me at home the replacement stools were being delivered to work. Imagine my delight, but not my surprise, when I picked them up the following day and found we had just replaced one set of dull grey stools for another.
Yippee. Another call to JL's call centre.

Basically the same phone conversation as before, only this time with me interjecting "This is the second time that you have sent us the wrong order!"

Call centre woman - "We can offer the 5 day guarantee to be as inconvenient to the customer as possible delivery service."

Me - "Yes, yes, the same service you offered for the previous two deliveries. Don't you think you should make an effort since you have already inconvenienced us twice?"

Call centre woman - "That's the only delivery service we offer."

Me - "So despite the fact that you have sent us the wrong delivery twice, you can't do anything for us?"

Call centre woman - "We have to go through the 5 day service."

Me - "Well you can hardly call it a 5 day service, it's been over two weeks since we first put our order in."

Call centre woman - "Would you like to speak to my supervisor?"

Me - "Sounds like a plan."

Call centre woman - "I'm afraid he's on a break at the moment."

Me - "Sigh...."

Call centre woman - "He will call you as soon as he gets back."

Four hours later and no phone call, around 2pm
Me - "Hi, I was told that your supervisor was going to call me back"

Call centre woman - "I'm sorry he's on his lunch break. I can assure you that he will call you back as soon as he returns"

Me - "Please make sure he does."

Another three hours later, still no phone call
Me - "Could you put me through to the call centre manager?"

Call centre woman - "My supervisor is available."

Me - "No thanks he had his chance."

I get through to the Call centre manager (it was probably the same guy using a different name) He obviously had a slightly extended script as he was going to arrange to have the stools swapped over from the same address and on a day that suited us. Unfortunately he needed to bring in the "Sorry we inconvenienced you twice, investigation team" before he could do anything. Aaaarrrrgggghhhh!!!!!!!!!!

Three days later and they were still investigating, only now they were the "Sorry to inconvenience you three times, extra special investigation team". I decided it was probably time to cancel the order.

All we need is for the stools to be picked up and we can get our money back. We shall instead be getting some cheap knock-off Bombos. They might not last as long but at least we will get the colour we ordered.....
well, fingers crossed anyway.

L2B 2006 (Part two) – You’ll like this, but not a lot…
The lovely Mrs B does an impression of Debbie McGee

The training for the London to Brighton started to go a bit Jade Goody. I was eating all the wrong foods and doing everything to avoid any of that tedious exercise stuff. I devised a scam, to avoid actual riding, which was to spend valuable time tinkering with the bikes. I invested in more comfortable saddles for us both. Mine looked a little like a Chesterfield sofa * (If I hadn't made it to Brighton I could have always slept on it, while I waited to be rescued). The next stalling procedure was to add some toe clips. Now, for most people, this would be a simple case of adding them to the existing pedals. Not for me, however. Our bikes seemed to have had the only pedals in existence that had no holes to attach the clips. Ok, fine. New pedals it was. Couldn't be that hard could it?. Two hours, two cans of WD40, two sets of spanners and loads of cursing later, and I had managed to slightly shift one of the bolts holding one of the pedals. Another half an hour, a hammer, various chisels and lots more cursing and I had two pedal free bikes. This was much more like it. No chance of any of that irritating riding malarkey. My fears that I had failed to break the bikes with all that hammering and cursing proved true and two "35% new" bikes emerged from the garage -like Frankenstein's monsters. It was just lacking thunder and lightening to make it a truly dramatic moment.

* I have to check, before we set off for each ride that the cats aren't hiding behind the cushions I'd probably be able to work it out if McG has stowed away (large heavy, been on a diet since he was six months old, ginger moggy), but I'd hardly notice Mischief (small black, nondescript moggy) .

My bike, with the heaviest aluminium frame
known to man. Not so much a cross bike more
of a bloody furious one……

Having run out of excuses, but not having enough time for a longer ride, Mrs B and I set out to explore some of Bishops Stortford's murkier corners. We enjoyed ourselves, connecting up parts of the town that we did not know existed and having a good old look at houses that we'd only seen for sale in the local paper, when disaster struck. After stopping outside a huge house in a leafy avenue, Mrs B made the fateful mistake, as she prepared to cycle off, of saying "This is fun, I'm really enjoying this." I turned around and Mrs B had vanished, I looked up and down the road, nothing. It was only when I glanced towards the pavement, that I spied, amongst a sprawl of frame, saddle, wheels, pedals (with shoes and feet still attached) and other odd bits of metal that passed for our bikes, was the missing Mrs B. She gave me a stare that said "laugh and you're dead chummy" I swallowed hard and just about managed to keep a straight face. Fortunately, 20 minutes later Mrs B looked across with a huge grin and said "That was funny; I'm surprised you didn't crack up". But even I have a in-built survival instinct**.

** Besides, I was still on parole from the time when we were riding horses in the Cotswolds. Mrs B got the top of her riding boot caught on a gate post. As her horse moved on, she gently slid down its flank and ended up hanging upside down from the post. Our friend Diane was off her horse and helping her down within seconds, while Andy (Diane's husband) and I were rolling around on our horses, with tears streaming down our cheeks***. And that was over 10 years ago.....

*** To this day, I swear, we were crying because we were upset, and those laughing sounds were gasps of fear****

**** And no, Mrs B doesn't buy it

The off road wheels that were
clearly holding us back – Yes
that is real mud, purchased
from a local farmer to give
them that almost used look

My New bike Computer –A rather
handy function tells me when it
needs to go to bed ….

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Is that a pension book in your pocket or are you just pleased to see me?

The recent demise of David Carradine , in mysterious circumstances, leaves a huge question mark as to what occurred in that hotel closet in Thailand. I thought the BlackLOG should go interactive this week and provide you an exciting opportunity to use your skill and judgment to decide what occurred. Was it :-

- A) David and his aging scrawny neck, were attempting to do turtle impressions. While pushing his head through a crack in the closet door he over stretched, Touched Cloth which all proved too much for him....

- B) David got gender confused and once in the closet had second thoughts and refused to come out....

- C) In an attempt to re-live his Kung Fu days David overshot with his Chinese impression and ended up ‘Turning Japanese’.

- D) His legendary love of Blue Smarties ended up in a fatal mix up with an Internet order for pills and he was only hiding in the closet till its effects wore off. Unfortunately there was yet another mix up in the dark and he managed to get his belt tangled around his neck. This would also explain why his trousers were around his ankles.....

- E) He affectionately named his one-eyed trouser snake, Bill - A row with Bill worked its way to a massive falling out, the subsequent deterioration in relations led to David attempting to "Kill Bill". Both parties ended up choked to death in the closet......

- F) None of the above. Please supply your own version of what happened in the closet......

Feel free to use the ‘Have your say’ section below or send an Email BlackLOG, especially if you are going down the F) route.

The one thing that is known for certain is that Sharon, my Spin instructress, reported that her aging father got very excited about the thought of a 72 year old getting some 'action'. Sharon refused to elaborate on how this excitement manifested itself. I have my suspicions but they are just too horrific to print.....

More gigs update
Florence and the Machine and Golden Silvers at the Bloomsbury Ballroom
The venue was part Art Deco and part village hall with its tattered bunting. It was a strange audience, despite the energetic nature of the music there was just a gentle bobbing from the crowd rather than the frantic mosh pit action that this type of music generally attracts. I think they were mesmerised by Florence who not only has a powerful voice but an impressive stage presence. If transported into the audience you get the feeling that Florence would instantly become a one person mosh pit. The only question is will Florence and the Machine make it as big as the critics anticipate or will she shine brightly but briefly before burning out quickly? She has such a great voice I really hope it does not turn out to be the latter….

Florence a one woman mosh pit

The pounding music was too much for my Brazilian friend Eddian and her Italian Husband Costas, who retreated towards the back of the hall. My friend, and cat sitter, Kirsty braved it out with me, although she has threatened to sue me if she gets tinnitus .

On the way home I threatened to have the roof down but even I was reluctant as it started to spit just as we made it back to the car. Kirsty looked so disappointed I decided to risk it. With all the talk about suing I should have got Kirsty to sign a disclaimer in case she got a cold or even drowned. As it was, the only time we got wet was when I used the windscreen washer while we were travelling too slowly……

Starsailor & Bombay Bicycle Club Union Chapel

The Bombay Bicycle Club

Another day, another interesting venue. This time an active church in Islington. This was another Crisis gig in aid of the homeless. Same scenario as the Bluetones/Dodgy gig a few weeks ago i.e. a text message 24 hours before the gig takes place, giving details of where to go. It was also a first for me - sitting in pews at a gig and not one person dared swear, although the Starsailor drummer risked the wrath of the Almighty by sneaking a beer on stage.... I must admit sitting at gigs is not generally my thing but as this was an acoustic gig, it actually worked and was the perfect setting.

The one downer for the evening (It's the BlackLOG, so there was always going to be something). I had checked out the web site for the venue. It mentioned that there was a full cafe service, brilliant. Mrs B likes to eat proper food i.e not fast food, so won’t touch McDonald's etc. with a barge pole. This makes life particularly difficult when combined with the fact that she is often struggling for time, so looking for a restaurant and then waiting half the night for the bill means you don’t get to see much of the concert, play, film or whatever you came out to see. I’m sure the waiters can sense when you are in a hurry and manage to vanish for long periods of time. However, my delight was short lived. The ‘full cafĂ©’ service turned out to be an open door which served:
- Crisps
- Nuts
- Ice-cream
- Kit kat
- Teas & Coffees
and, and well nothing really, that was it.

Just as well this was not our first date, although if memory serves me, I forgot to feed Mrs B on that occasion as well, with almost fatal consequences for our relationship....A hungry Mrs B is not a happy Mrs B and I could tell that she was not impressed and in truth I can't really blame her. To make matters worse, one of the support groups appeared to be rubbing the lack of food in our faces by playing upside-down woks, now that's just cruel.

Wok Rock, it might feed my music addiction but does very little for a hungery Mrs B

Late breaking news: - apparently the open door cafe was just an alternative cafe, the main cafe being upstairs next to the bar. Doh! In my defence when I asked the man who was serving through the open door, whether this was the only food available he failed to mention the main cafe.....No doubt, in addition to the selection I have listed above, the main cafe probably included a comprehensive selection of Pork Scratchings, the Body of Christ served on a bed of couscous and pepper plus the ever popular Mary Magdalene's toenails on toast.
Fun in the country
It was off to see our friends Hugh and Cathryn (Teach, to regular readers of the BlackLOG). Mrs B decided that as she does not get to drive ElleGee very much she would drive the 130 or so miles to Wainfleet in Lincolnshire. I plugged the details into the TOM-TOM (which up to now has had a much better record than our previous in-car navigation system, Nafman). While Mrs B drove, I spent the time reading the newspaper and snoozing. I was disturbed by Mrs B chuntering at TOM-TOM and looked up to find us driving along what I can only describe as a farm track. The strip of long grass growing down the middle, with two tracks for the tyres, was the giveaway. On a positive note, at least the underside of the car was going to get a good cleaning. I was a bit concerned when I discovered that we were only halfway to our destination but told Mrs B to have faith. When we reached Wainfleet, Mrs B complained that the journey seemed to take much longer than usual. I had to point out that as she is normally a passenger and spends most of the time zzzzzz other than the 10 minutes or so at the start of each journey, no wonder it appear to have taken much longer. Still, 130 miles in just over 2 hours, most of which appeared to be on farm tracks is, in my opinion, quite good going. So well done to TOM-TOM and Mrs B.
We always have an interesting time in Wainfleet. From the early days when it was a working dairy farm and we got to help milk the cows (typical town folks, we used to get over-excited, would get up early and become the source of free farm labour. To be honest, we were probably more of a hindrance than a help and should have paid for the privilege). Mrs B waited about 5 years before she got to see the birth of a calf. It had always happened either the day before we arrived or about an hour after we left. With the cows now gone we had to find new sources of entertainment and what could be better than seeing wild life? The old cow barns now house lots of interesting variations of it, including owls.
When Mrs B found this out she got very excited and was determined to see an owl in the wild. A quick search around the barn showed that they were out hunting. Hugh thought he could spy them across one of the fields and so we jumped in the car and drove around the lanes until we reached where he thought they were. Sadly, they turned out to be Seagulls. Mrs B and Hugh decided to make their way back across the fields on foot, still hopeful of seeing an owl, which left me to drive the car back. As I got back before them, I made my way back to the barn and ran inside as it was starting to rain heavily. I then saw a movement out of the corner of my eye. Fortunately, I had the camera out ready and managed to take a couple of shots. A few minutes later a drenched Mrs B and Hugh arrived. Mrs B was not impressed, that once again, she had missed the owl. Only another four years and I’m sure she will see one.
The Magic world of wainfleet

The Wainfleet Flasher is caught on camera.

Mrs B and Hugh searching for the legendary underwater owl....

Ooops, Sorry Mrs B, I seem to
have found the Owl

Baby Swifts, a bit like Mrs B, not
happy until they have been fed.

Mrs B riding Skipper. One of them has thier own
Blog and it's not Mrs B.

The embarrassment when you turn up at a
function in the same dress.

There is currently an on going investigation into
rumours of magic taking place in Wainfleet? Teach
that pose is really not helping the rumours....

Nor is that, the old levitating boy trick.....

More proof, isn't that Headwig?

Our L2B Experience 2006
June always reminds me of the London to Brighton charity bike ride. What follows is one of the blogs that got sent to friends via email at the time - It is split in a number of parts which will unfold over the next few weeks, where it will be tagged on the end of more up to date material.
The bike ride from hell (part 1)
So it came to this, after 40 years of successfully avoiding something called exercise, I accidentally sign up for a 56 mile charity event (I thought the London to Brighton was a classic car race, all ladies in big hats, large picnic baskets strapped to the rear of open top cars, and mechanics for getting dirty when the blasted thing breaks down every 5 miles).

As it was going to involve actual physical effort, eeekkk, we thought it would be advisable to put in some training. So we invited our team leader for the event, Ash (Aside 1), as well as rounding up Sophie (Aside 2) from my firms company car scheme, who has also entered. Sophie had a far more reasonable start time of 8.30am (Ash has signed us up for the 6am start, which means getting into London about 4 hours earlier than most sensible people would normally be going to bed on a Saturday night).

I may have mentioned in a previous blog that my legs seem to have a 20 mile cycling range, before the muscles above both knees lock up. What I did not know before the weekend was my bike has a similar range, before it, too, starts falling apart (What can I say? We're both British made). The front brakes failed before I had left the driveway and the left pedal broke at about the 20 mile marker (Aside 3)(leaving me with an entertaining 5 miles to wobble home). I was having to make two pedal rotations followed by a quick side kick, with my left foot, to stop the pedal falling off the crank shaft. It must have looked like something out of a Monty Python sketch. I would have asked one of the others what I looked like but they were far too busy cracking up to reply.

My bike eventually came out of intensive care and headed for full recovery (i.e. wouldn't break down until the next time I tried and use it for any great distance). I had a quick release mechanism added to the wheels and just need to find the same for my knees. Mrs B and I went for a test run to check out some new road tyres (replacing the cross country ones that were evidently holding us back on the roads. I'm sure it improved our performance by 0.00000001%, so well worth the money), we took the back route into Bishops Stortford town centre and discovered the whole of the towns ASBO population were hanging around castle park. Mrs B did her best to antagonise them by riding straight through groups of them, but failed to get any reaction, other then the odd grunt (it was about 4pm so they were not properly awake yet). This was a relief to me, as I was in Mrs B's wake and in prime position to pick up any flack that might have been going.

As we got home, our friend Paul cycled up and we swapped stories of teenage goading. Paul won easily, getting verbally abused when he asked a girl to stop vandalising a flower display in Bishops Stortford town centre (Aside 4) - he was called an old pervert for his troubles. He also seemed to attract abuse just cycling through the town, I think it was his luminous yellow day-glow cycle clips that might have been responsible. Bright colours, loud noise and movement are about the only things that seem to get through to the average muddled ASBOs brain cells these days. This theory also accounts for the recent success of some of the most horrible music outside of a country and western gig and the rise in reality TV programs. All that bling that pop stars wear today is not just for show, it serves to hypnotise the ASBOs into purchasing any old crud that can put out accompanied by a bright and noisy video.

Tune in next week for the next instalment of the road to the L2B

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Featuring beavers, camping,re-encatment and tears

I see that Beavers have been re-introduced to Scotland. Is just me or does anyone else want to know:-

- Did anyone ask the Beavers if they wanted to go back to live in Scotland? They probably left for a good reason and 400 years is a long time without a visit.

- How long before deep fried Beavers appear on the menu in the local restaurants?

Gig updates - Bluetones/Dodgy
I was a bit worried the other day when I picked up our friends Joe & Kirsty on the way to the Bluetones/Dodgy gig. Kirsty was clutching a floral thermos flask, which is frankly not very rock'n' roll. I had a bit of a panic attack as Kirsty is directly related to the 'Soup Nazi'. My big fear was that it would contain soup. As it was it contained scalding hot tea. I know this because Kirsty told me it was tea (I threatened to ban her from the car if she was in possession of soup, even just for personal use). As for the scalding element I worked this out when Joe managed to spill most of it down his crotch. His primeval scream was not the sound caused by luke warm tea.

The concert had quite an interesting twist. As it was in aid of raising awareness for the homeless, the venue was kept secret until 24 hours before the gig. This was to represent the fact that the homeless often never know where they will sleep from day to day. A great idea but just a word of advice for the organisers - next time don't use homeless people to collect the tickets, not unless they have had a very good wash beforehand. Being aware of the homelessness issue is one thing, having your nostrils assaulted in the process is quite another matter.....

As for the music The Bluetones were, as ever, fantastic. It's strange - Mrs B can never remember who they are or what they have done but has really enjoyed the three gigs she's attended. The lead singer Mark Morris managed to embarrass Mrs B though. She had just finished telling J & K how refreshing it was that the lead singer never swears on stage. Within a nanosecond he did and shortly afterwards followed it with a second. I think we can forgive him though, Two "f**cks" in three concerts is hardly hard core. Neither J or K had heard much of them before but really seemed to enjoy their performance.

The disappointment of the evening was the guest DJ Mathew Horne, of Gavin & Stacey fame, who was used to link the two groups. While he played some great music that was all he did. I don't know what I expected but it was not seeing someone come on stage, say hello, put on a CD and then promptly talk to the compere for the rest of the set. The only reason I knew he was the DJ was because he had a pair of white headphones around his neck. Correct me if I'm wrong but aren't DJ's meant to jiggle around a bit and intersperse statements of god-like proportions between tracks like "This next song goes out to the Harlow Crew. Unfortunately they can't be here tonight as they are all under house arrest for crimes against fashion. You guys really rock....." Well my opinion "you DJ really sucked...."

To round things off It was the first time I had seen 'Dodgy'. They were certainly 'Good enough' ,for me but I'm not sure that Mrs B will stand for me 'Staying out for the summer'...........OK, OK you can stop laughing now. It wasn't that funny and all that rolling around clutching your sides saying "Wow that was funny" is undignified and only serves to highlight the fact.

We took the opportunity to go camping in Suffolk for the Bank Holiday weekend, which was great fun but not particularly bloggable other than:

Out of the four kids (hell on earth for a childaphobe such as myself) that were there, three managed to cry just the once. Mostly through falling off bikes into nettles. I would like to point out that I was not near any of them when these 'accidents' occurred. I did manage to make the fourth cry after he hit me on the head with a stick. While there was no blood or concussion it damn well hurt and, unexpected as it was, I think I did quite well not to shout.

Mrs B - "But you did shout - very loudly!"

Mr B - "No, I spoke firmly and fairly, if you want to hear me shout it can be arranged!"

or even retaliate. All I did was point out firmly (Mrs B "or shout loudly") the error of his ways, which prompted water works and a severe telling off from Mrs B. (For me not him! "It's so unfair, sniff, sniff, sulk, sulk...").

So that's 4 kids in tears and an almost adult, 40+, on the verge. I thought Mrs B was going to slap me on the back of the legs (Where is does not show so much, she's a proffesional and knows what she's doing) and send me off to bed. I was only allowed to stay up as I was cooking the BBQ. Thinking about it I probably would have got more kudos for producing the tears if the water works had not been such a regular occurrence for him and he had been a little older than 5.
Another contestant auditions
for Britain's got talent...

WWII enactment at Kentwell

We went to a Tudor re-enactment, at Kentwell Hall, some years back. Mrs B had just paid the entrance fee and stepped into the grounds when she was accused of being a strumpet by the lady of the house. I'm assuming it was because she was wearing a very un-Tudor like halter-neck dress which stopped about knee length (very daring). This incident was worth the price of admission on its own. This year's WWII enactment 'Kentwell during the war' was on the other hand a bit creepy. The 'dress up crew' either looked like they were resting in between jobs at Christmas Grotto's, (I guess even Santa needs to eat in the summer).
Your fooling no one Santa,
put on your red jacket and
get back to your toy shop.

The rest looked like they should have been in the
'Nicole Kidman'
film 'The Others' all very creepy.
I can just about recognise Nicole Kidman,
but was Odd Job in the Others?

The weekend did bring back memories of a previous camping trip to the same site, where things did not go all that well, as Mrs B and I had the camping equivalent of a tyre blow out. We were part way through the erection (ooh err, Mrs. I’ll be in trouble from Mrs B for that one) when "Bang!" one of the main poles holding up the tent snapped. Despite all efforts to repair the pole with copious amounts of Elephant tape (like Duck tape, only larger, greyer and probably more endangered) it was having none of it (I shall refrain from mentioning limp poles, I’m already in enough trouble). Fortunately I had press-ganged my sister and her family into coming camping with us and like the immortal words of the Rolf Harris song "Two Little Boys" (yes I do know my sister is not a boy, it’s just we have not told her yet) she stepped into the breach singing "Do you think we would leave you crying outside our tent you two, step inside you’ll soon be drying*, as our tent holds lots more than you". I now feel ashamed, not that I remember a 'Rolf Harris' song (let's face it, the man is a living Rock Legend**), it's that I have played around with the rock god lyrics. I’m also slightly afraid that he might repay my rudeness by dropping around to visit the cats, ‘cause let's face it a visit from Animal Hospital is the equivalent to a death warrant to even the hardiest of family pets. (Who will ever forget Rolf's trembling voice explaining "Despite the success of the operation for an in-growing claw, little Fluffy died in recovery***, poor little fellow").

* This line would have worked so much better if it has actually been raining, but you can’t have everything

** Who as a child was not left traumatised as Rolf fiddled with his Didgeridoo on prime time TV, or been reduced to tears as Rolf pulverised "Stairway to heaven" into oblivion?

*** I’m not sure if there has been a redefinition of the word "success", or one of the cameramen stepped on Fluffy while filming yet another tragic story. You can just imagine Rolf helping scrape Fluffy's earthly remains from the cameraman’s shoe exclaiming, "Can you tell what it is yet?"

Tips for camping
While I know the majority of you are far too sensible to ever go camping, but just in case you ever find yourself trapped under canvas here are some survival tips for taking a shower while camping:

• Get up at about three in the morning; this will reduce the average shower queue from around 5 hours down to about 2.

• Don’t be tempted to separately shampoo and condition your hair, as the water will inevitably run out just as you lather up for the second time.

• If it’s a choice between the shower that takes 20 minutes to kick in, once you have put in your money in, but gives good pressure and lashings of hot water and the one that dribbles a small amount of cold water down the wall, take the one that dribbles cold water. It’s not worth the risk of being beaten to death by a group of unwashed campers, irate at being kept waiting.

Road Kill in Suffolk
I’m not sure what is going on with the roads in Suffolk, but it appears to be the equivalent of the Northern line in rush hour. The distance between Road kill was down to about 20 feet in some places with squirrels, mice, rabbits, ducks and hedgehogs lining themselves up like Lemming Pies, throwing themselves into the faces of hungry motor vehicles.

Who needs Notting Hill…
When you have the Lavenham annual carnival, with its Rainbow Princess (complete with sharp teeth. I’m not sure if they had run out of candidates or she had simply threatened to bite the judges if she did not win), followed by a couple of men dressed as women, a clown and someone in a badger suit, with a slightly squashed looking head (probably representing Suffolk Road Kill) and …….that was about it. We had guessed it was going to be a big event when we overheard one of the local Bobbies telling a motorist, trying to turn on to the main road, that he’d better switch his engine off or find an alternative route as he might be there for some time. Personally I think the Bobby should have added some bunting to the car and insisted the gentlemen follow on behind, at least padding out the parade.

There have been allegations that the rainbow
princess used threats of violence to secure
this years title. Check out those teeth, it
must be a requirement

OK, Ok, I might have shouted a bit,
just step away from the Santa...

So that's it for another BlackLOG see you soon....