Wednesday, 27 January 2010

In defence of customer services, well kind of.....

After last week's customer services fun *, everywhere I look at the moment there are articles and TV programs about bad customer service. Have they been there all the time and am I just noticing them because it has been on my radar recently? They all seem to have one thing in common and that is how badly the customer is treated. Well there are two sides to every coin and this is no exception, so in an effort to address the balance let me tell you how unreasonable customer can be. 

* We are still waiting for the missing feet but our supplier has a couple of weeks before I contact their customer abuse line again for another round of ritual humiliation. No sign of that horse's head either.  Shame -  McG was looking forward to a bed time snack.

During our New Year ski trip our rep was running late for his visit to our chalet. His excuse he had been corned by another guest in one of the other chalets and harangued for over an hour and a half about the poor service that the guest felt he was receiving. The reason for the customers complaint was the wireless internet in the chalet was not working. When it was pointed out to him that the chalet did not have wireless access and in fact wireless had not been offered as part of the package that the customer had booked. Far from placating him he became even incensed and demanded to know how the rep was going to sort it out for him. I wouldn't have given the bloke 30 seconds yet alone an hour and a half.....tempted as I was I decided not to spend the next two hours complaining to the rep that he was over an hour 1/2 late for his appointment with us.

This to me demonstrates the flaw in the "Customer is always right" argument that some people put forward. If I thought I could get away with it I would use the CIAR point  to complain on a number of issues in life.  For example :-

Car Ads
I'm sorry but whenever I have attempted to take a brand new car for a test drive around the ocean**  far from skimming across the waves, the car sinks to the bottom and the engine floods. Don't even get me started on trying to jump a car across the city rooftops......all you end up is having to abandon a very damaged car as you limp away from a mob of angry residents a bit miffed that you have destroyed various parts of their homes. No amount of trying to explain that you were only trying out a serving suggestions seems to calm these unreasonable individuals. While I'm at it, where in gods name in the 22nd century do city dwellers get hold of burning torches and pitch forks at such short notice.

** Just trying to replicate what they do in the adverts - surely the adverts count like the proverbial serving suggestion, or in this case surfing might be more appropriate....

Under arm pit spray
Not once in all my years of using certain brands of under arm pit spray have I been chased down the street by scantily dressed hot woman (not that I need to be, Mrs B is more than enough for me, I'm not just saying that because Mrs B reads this) not even the slightest nudged by a slight over amorous tortoise or buzzed by a love forlorn may fly. Quite frankly I feel cheated....

I would also like to complain about the BlackLOG, since I started writing the Blogt I have not once come across a Log yet alone a black one. It's outrageous and if I were you I would not stand for it, you should be bombarding the BlackLOG with complaints that it hardly does what it says on the tin.

The end of the Fireplace saga
Bad news for any fireplace saga fans out there as the story limps to a fairly unexciting conclusion. Things started out promisingly for you, as I got a phone call last Wednesday to coincide with the time the contractors were due to once again attempt to fit the correct stove....

Apparently the original fireplace that we were told was not suitable :-

"Oh, yes it is!"

"Oh no it isn't!"

"It's behind you!"

"Oh no it's not...." - What was behind us was the freezing Christmas where we could not use our fireplace...

turned out to have been delivered to them with the wrong coloured door ... They've only had six weeks to spot that one.  I just about held it together as the surveyor laughed on the other end of the line and said "It's funny how once something goes wrong it all starts to go wrong" Yeah bloody hilarious, especially when it interferes with Mrs B's idyllic Christmas

They rearranged for Friday and considering what has gone before it all went very smoothly, we now have the stove that we ordered in the first place. However I could have done without the new fitter saying

"Why didn't the other fitter put this in in the first place, it's a pretty standard fit....?"

i.e, we could have had the work complete on time and for Christmas


I'm sure it is very nice in the right environment

- Yeah, if you are blind and have no taste.

Apologies to any readers who have a similar stove but you
are obviously blind and have no taste.Well done for
finding the brail version of the blog though.

"Nice labrador what’s his name?"

"Err sorry no this is not a crossing point my watch alarm just went off....?"

After weeks of waiting and just after the cold
snap we finally got what we ordered

Delivery fun
This started off as really good service, I had a text message reminding me that a package was being delivered on Saturday

Around midday I got a phone call asking me if I was expecting a delivery.


"Well it's been delivered to mine"

it was someone from across town, other than the house number and the town name none of the details were even similar

What I don't understand was why the bloke signed for my shipment. Yes he was expecting a package, but while my package was a huge heavy wall mounting kit for our new TV*** he was expecting a small package containing a light fitting. What on earth made him sign for a huge box that did not have his name or address and hardly fitted in his living room....

***Any thoughts I had of installing the wall mounting kit myself (and saving a small fortune) went out of the window when I found I could barley lift the kit. Thankfully it’s going to be attached to one of our external walls. The combined weight of TV and the wall mounting kit means that it would take a pretty determined house thief to steal our house now.....I would have said a pretty hefty storm to blow away our house but even though I don't believe in god I saw (no not first hand, the cheek) what he did to the Titanic after man made similar style claims.....

In the end I was to grateful to get my package I decide not to question him on it.

A couple of hours later I got a phone call from the delivery guy who had just realised his mistake and was attempting to rectify the problem.

I explained that I had already retrieved it so he thanked me and apologised one again

Ok he didn't get it right but he was at least trying to sort it out....I threw away the 14 pages of vitriol I had written to the delivery firm....

I'll leave you with some pictures of the week

Say it loud I'm 50 and proud.
Our 'Old' friend Ash celebrates his half century.
More details next week....

Mrs B's parents dog Max
"What you looking at fool!!!"

Butter would not melt ....

Psst do you want to buy a bed?

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Ref order 70215 - missing chrome feet, should we now expect a horses head in the bed?

This week is all about customer service and a lot of  it wrote itself - or rather the person at the other end of the emails wrote a lot for me. I have removed names to protect the incompetent (that's probably me) and the unhelpful.

By way of background, when our sofa was delivered, before Christmas., the different feet that we had ordered and paid extra for, were missing. After leaving at least five telephone messages and with no one returning them, I was getting a bit fed up and so, in desperation, I fired off the following email -

Sent: 13 January 2010 12:13
To: mailto:sales@rather.unimpressive.Customer.service
Subject: Ref order 70215 - missing chrome feet

 Could you please tell me what is happening with the missing part of our order?

Our Sofa was delivered before Christmas but the chrome feet that we paid for were not included.
I have left a number of messages none of which anyone has had the courtesy to return.

If this continues, I will have no option but to contact my credit card company and report non- delivery of goods.


A less than impressed customer

I admit that I could have spent a bit more time and care with my email but don't think it was that hostile. So I was a little surprised to receive the following response :-

Sent: 13 January 2010 12:29 (Just 15 minutes after I sent my email, not bad considering their failure to return any of my phone calls)
To: Black, Niel
Subject: RE: Ref order 70215 - missing chrome feet

Dear Sir

Thank you for your email.

I am sorry to read that you are less than impressed but our salesman distinctly remembers advising you and your wife in store that the feet would have to be especially ordered from another supplier and may indeed arrive later than the sofas. Your wife replied that it would not be a problem as obviously you would be able to use the wood feet in the interim. (My god, did they record our conversations? I would struggle to tell you what I just wrote, let alone a conversation I was purported to have had from three months ago.)

Further, we did not ever promise delivery before Christmas of any part of the order but thought that you would have been delighted that we were indeed able to have delivered the suite earlier than we expected. Judging from the tone of your email may be we should have waited for the chrome feet to have arrived from Italy and delivered all at once but were genuinely trying to please a valued customer. (Where did that come from?  I don't remember saying that we were ungrateful about them delivering the sofa...) 

I find it quite shocking that you are intending to contact your Credit card for non delivery of goods in an effort to claim monies back from them for your beautiful sofas but should they contact us we will honestly advise of the circumstances of the delivery of your sofas. (Fat chance of the credit card company ever getting a reply from this company - unless they threaten to withhold money.) 

The chrome feet have been ordered and we expect them in the UK during the next three weeks. (That is all I wanted to know) 

Should you have any further queries please do not hesitate to contact us.

 Kind regards (That's nice - they appear to have had a sudden attack of customer services just at the end)

As a customer I felt like I had been taken back to school and hauled in front of the headmaster. Is it just me or as a customer would you be happy with a response from customer disservice?   Being me I did not let it go

From: BlackLOG
Sent: 13 January 2010 13:17

 To: sales@rather.unimpressive.Customer.service

Thank you for getting back to me

The frustration has been not knowing what is happening - let me explain.

- When we went to the design show and looked at the sofa we were approached by someone who told us that we should not deal with your company (they had had a bad experience and we were told that part of their order from the previous year was never delivered) - We liked the product and decided to take a chance, but admittedly this left us uneasy. If someone in your company had taken the time to return one of my phone calls I would not have taken the tone that I did. All I was looking for was assurances that the rest of the order had not gone astray and an indication as to when it was likely to be available. This you have now done and I am satisfied.

For the record the money that I would have claimed would have been the cost of the chrome feet not the cost of the sofa and, in my defence, it has actually produced a response.  From a customer service point of view :-
  • The phone not being answered during office hours or, when it is, someone taking a message that is never returned lets your company down badly.
  • Yes we appreciate that we got the sofa before Christmas and for that we thank you - Please note that at no time did we ever expect or demand this. However not knowing till the last moment when the product was going to be delivered was a frustrating experience. Rather than just dump our old furniture we had planned to donate it to a charity. However trying to co-ordinate the pickup by a charity of our old sofa proved too difficult, as we did not want to find that we had given our old sofa away without having a definite delivery before Christmas. In the end, the charity lost out as we did not have the room to store the items and so they ended up being dumped.
On a positive note:
  • We are delighted with the sofa - your products are excellent;
  • Your delivery men did a fantastic job, as the corner unit would not go through the front door, and they took the time and trouble to work out a route through the back of the house.  
So, 10 out of 10 for the product but poor marks for customer service.   


Having not threatened them with anything I really did not expect a second reply


Sent: 13 January 2010 13:52
To: Black, Niel
Subject: RE: Ref order 70215 - missing chrome feet

I am so sorry that you feel that way about our customer service – we try so hard to please all of our customers (I would hate to think what they would be like when they are not trying ) and it is unfortunate that you are unhappy with us because we delivered the sofas early (How many more times can I say it? I never indicated that getting the sofa early was a problem) without the extra feet.

We thought that by ringing our customers just before Christmas advising that it may be possible to deliver their sofas earlier than expected would have been a positive aspect of our service and am most upset (Excuse me, they are upset? Was I missing something?  Was I in fact providing them a service -other than paying them a fortune.) that you have implied that we as a Company has caused a worthy charity to lose out. (How do they know I was going to choose a worth charity, very presumptuous of them……I was just giving them feedback. I didn't expect the Spanish inquisition).

Indeed, other customers seemed positively elated that although we had not promised delivery before Christmas that we had managed to bring in a substantial amount of orders earlier than expected. (Yes, Yes I know you did a great job in getting the order in time for Christmas. Please just read my shoddy email.  Do I have to spell it out to them? "I Never had a problem with getting the sofa before Christmas")

We are indeed extremely honourable and trustworthy people  (I'm sorry but as soon as someone says something like this I just think "scam artist") who keep to their word (it just screams "Scam") which is why our salesman was careful to explain exactly word for word (I'm guessing this is the equivalent of spoken small print and was whispered to us once we were 100 metres up the road) what was said and agreed both at the Show and in store on the following Monday.

Unfortunately, with the volume of customers that we have served over the years by being the largest retailer of furniture at all the major shows in the UK we may have the odd ‘crank’ (Are they calling me a crank now?) who has nothing better to do than anonymously create trouble for a hard working family business (Hmm, did I mention they are an Italian family?  This is getting to sound more like the Mafia.  Am I really messing with these people?)  and it is indeed a shame that this mysterious person (Oh, so I'm not this week's crank.  That hurts. No worries I'll probably be next week's crank)  did not have the decency or the courage to discuss the alleged missing item with any members of staff face to face (I think the point was that the anonymous crank did try and discuss the problem with the company but with the customer service element also missing, they got nowhere)  because the complaint would have been able to be resolved immediately (as long as they threatened them with talking to the credit card company) because at present we have no idea who these people are (They should try answering their phone messages) – we have never not delivered goods that a customer has paid us for!! (I hope that is still their proud boast in three week's time.)

Further, as you are aware we advise all of our customers to pay by Credit Card for anything that they buy at an exhibition (If that is the case why do they offer interest free loans at their exhibitions? Anonymous crank used this facility which is probably why she remains anonymous and without her goods)  because whilst we know we as a Company always deliver (Time will tell on that one) it is reassuring that the Consumer Credit Act 1974 is there to protect consumers who have a ‘valid’ complaint regarding non delivery. (Could this be why they came back to me so quickly after I threatened to talk to my credit card company?)

However, I sincerely thank you for not taking notice of whoever these people are and for judging us on the quality of our product and the sales people that you spoke with personally. (I think it was more to do with the fact that paying on a credit card gives us a certain amount of protection from honourable Italian families)

As soon as the feet arrive from Italy we will be contacting you to arrange delivery which may indeed be easier by Interlink direct to your office to save you taking time off work. (What's this - are they starting to offer a customer service?)

Once again, thank you for your valued order and am delighted that you are pleased with the quality of the product.

kindest regards,

I thought I was making some headway with my impromptu Customer Service training so sent the following further encouragement

From: BlackLOG
Sent: 13 January 2010 14:50
To: sales@rather.unimpressive.Customer.service
Subject: RE: Ref order 70215 - missing chrome feet

I am not and never was upset that the sofa was delivered early (as you have implied) or indeed because the feet were not included - my issue is with the customer service aspect of your business, namely:

The non-response to a number of phone calls. I wanted to make sure that the additional feet order had not been forgotten or lost.  These things can happen in even the best run businesses.

Not knowing for definite when the sofa was going to be delivered (This was no free delivery we had to pay £95 for the privilege of not knowing when the sofa was going to be delivered) , was difficult to manage. When I spoke to your office, after I had been informed that there was a good chance that the sofa could be delivered before Christmas, the details of when exactly were, to say the least, sketchy. This left us with three Christmas scenarios :-

One suite - big smiles all around

Two suites - not good as we had no room to store a second suiteZero suites - If we had arranged for the charity to take the old sofa away, without the confirmation of the delivery and you had not been able to deliver, it would have made for an interesting Christmas, with guests and nowhere for them to sit (OK it's not the same as no room at the Inn but we did not have the sofa version of a stable to fall back on).
My point was that the charity lost out as we were unable to sort out a date with a reasonable time frame - that happens to be a fact - I'm sorry if that upsets you, I was just giving you feedback as a customer.  (Perhaps I should not have reminded them that I was a customer, after all dealing with "customers" other than taking our money seems to upset them more than anything.)

Looking forward to the completion of the order
I feel like I've been called before a judge and reprimanded for unreasonable behaviour....

The two written responses that I received make it clear that as a company they have absolutely no understanding of "Customer Service".  They seem to employ a more, "let's get all uppity with anyone who contacts us" rather than listen to the issue and see if they can give better service in the future.

After my last email I got a phone call from the sales guy (It was some relief to me to discover that their phones did actually work, I was feeling a bit guilty that perhaps thay had been cut off) which started off on the same tact that we were being unreasonable and questioning the integrity of their family and business. They should employ me for their customer service as I had to calm him down and explain once again the issue is to do with the customer service aspect of the company (hmmm, phoning up and having a pop at your customer hardly improves your customer service rating).
I fear they are so full of themselves and think they are so wonderful that they are unable to see the problems that they cause for their customers. They are the sort of company who would be much happier if they did not have to deal with the horrible public.  This might leave a bit of a issue as to how they would make any money. Perhaps people would be willing to just send them cash not to have to deal with them (actually better make that a credit card donation just in case the firm accidently call someone who donated.....)
I did discover that as a company they give a lot to charity and the sales guy is in fact running a marathon for zzzzzzzzzz......... On balance I decided not to sponsor him.....I'm sorry to say going on about charity and saying how honourable and trustworthy they are has the opposite effect on me - what an old cynic I am...

Mrs B said that we would probably find a horse's head  in our bed tonight (the firm is Italian and clearly has connections. We did actually find McG's head in the bed but the rest of him was still attached and fortunately he was just sleeping) My response - I don't mind as long as it is delivered with 4 silver feet.....

Would I recommend them?  Yes but only to people who have a good sense of humour, who can cope with what they laughably call a customer service and who uses a credit card....
Good Customer serviceFor those of you who think that all I can do is complain, we had our shutters fitted this week by the New England Shutter Company.

The fitter came over and spent a whole day measuring and working out the angles etc. He took his time to explain where he thought there might be problems with the look and gave us options.

We had a phone call a couple of days before the fitting date saying that they were a bit concerned about the bad weather conditions and so had booked us in for some provisional dates the following week in case they could not make the agreed day. As it was the fitter braved the conditions and arrived on the agreed day.

Not only did he do a great job fitting the shutters, he spent an hour longer than I would have expected going around making sure they were all clean and working properly. He even fixed a couple of our doors that were not shutting properly.

My only complaint is that such good service makes for pretty dull reading in a blog but sure is a nice to experience …

Our latest remodelling of the house is almost complete .

The huge TV, 58" (my contribution to the whole refit) has arrived – and it almost fits (the stand extends a couple of inches over the unit we had built*. Aaaarrrggghhh!!!! So I will have to get a wall bracket for it). Obviously Mrs. B much preferred the loan set 46" that they provided while we waited for our TV to be delivered. Perhaps I should have refused the option of a loan set and stuck with our old cathode ray. (See? I am an ungrateful git when it comes down to it.)
We now just have the whole fire stove fiasco to be resolved. They are due this week and seem confident that they can resolve the issue.

* None of the documentation that we could find or even Panasonic, the makers of the TV, were able to let us know the footprint of the stand. If the stand had been oval, like the pictures in the brochures, everything would have been OK, but the oval stands only seem to be supplied with the smaller sets…..Doh!

I'll leave you with this weeks photo's including shots from our trip to the Natural History Museum,.  Have a good week.

The new sofa, not to everyone's taste but we like it

Natural History Museum - I think this fellow's
diet may have gone a bit far....

More proof of the deepening recession in the UK. The Natural
History Museum can't afford a Zaboni Machine for their
Ice Rink and so have to rely on a  manual approach .

Mala, Kirsty & Mrs. B
The last time I saw balance this bad
was just before the last bank crash

So that's how Kirsty does her Ice-skating - the old
 invisible partner trick....

Mrs B goes for a more conventional skating approach...

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

New Years resolutions and the strange case of the day glow underpants

This year's New Year's resolution

Not to have a New Year's resolution....

Which as it is in itself a resolution, meant that I immediately broke it as soon as I made it. Doh! Less than a nano second, is that a record for breaking a resolution?

Condiments of the season

New Year Ski holiday
No problems with the taxi driver failing to arrive this time. No strip searches at the airport (OK, that's not happened in the past either but as this is BlackLOG it is surely just a question of time), although I did manage to fox the Stansted Airport security system. Having to take my boots and belt off for the security check, I put my belt into one of my boots, which looked a bit odd on the security scanner. It would not have been too difficult to work out except while they continued to look at the item on the scanner they insisted on examining my nephews' boots which popped out of the system ahead of mine and which did not contain a belt.

Do they do this sort of thing to entertain us?

It was about five minutes before the security team twigged that the boot on screen i.e. the one still in the machine was not the one they were holding in their sweaty little paws ..

Apart from being ridiculously expensive (ie £11 for two hot chocolates. I thought we were buying a drink not making a offer for the bar), Val d'Isere was great. We had an entertaining mix of people in our chalet :-

  • A couple from London: Bridget and Rowan - Rowan was the life and soul - a great orator, which was almost enough to forgive him for being a snow border. Bridget was also good value as long as you didn't want to converse with her after 8:30pm, which was bed time.(She likes her sleep) - New Year was going to be a very interesting challenge for her. 

Bridget suddenly a member of the wide awake club

Did I mention that Rowan looked like David Beckham,
if Posh had knitted his latest hairstyle....

Three lads from Hull (collectively now known as Hull Boy III) - in their early 20's and keen on hard drinking and hard skiing - They were not bad for a couple of weeks on planks with no lessons - I think the vast quantities of alcohol consumed helped to confuse their bodies into thinking they could ski. Going down was not the problem. The stopping on the other hand was a much more interesting proposition. I think it could be best described as sprawling to a halt. There are too many stories to do justice to their antics during the holiday but a couple of my favourites:-

Hull Boy III had some two way radios and while on a chairlift picked up a message between an unknown husband and wife:

unknown husband :- "Where are you now? Over"

unknown wife :- "On the blue run above the last chair lift we took."

unknown husband :- "Go left at the bottom and I'll meet you at the restaurant, Over."

unknown wife :- "OK"

Hull Boy III :- "Change of plan, go right, go right, meet at the lift."

unknown wife :- "OK, will go right."

A little while later they overheard:

unknown wife :- Sounding a bit frantic "Where are you?"

unknown husband :- "I'm in the restaurant, where are you? "

unknown wife :- "I'm at the chairlift."

unknown husband :- "I told you to go left."

unknown wife :- "No, you told me to go right."

unknown husband :- "I clearly told you left....."

Lets hope that got resolved quickly otherwise sod left or right they were straight towards divorce....

Skiing down on New Year's day in just Day Glow underpants. I'm guessing they were still very drunk and since they had already purchased the underpants and built up the idea that they were going to ski on New Year's day in just their pants they were duty bound to do it. They had the chalet entourage with them, with me as official photographer and the rest of the group acting as clothes carriers and chief encouragers....I'm not sure if this was good or not for Hull Boy III but from the moment that they started to strip off the clouds cleared and the sun came out giving everyone watching a clear view. Magically as they stopped and started to get dressed the clouds moved back in.

Hull Boy I - Josh
( Is that a ski pass in his underwear
 or is he just pleased to see us....?)

Hull Boy II - Darren
(Just when you thought it was
safe to go back onto the slopes)

Hull Boy III - Josh, Alex & Darren
(The one you wish they had never made,
Available in 3D in all bad cinemas)

  • There was also an Australian family, very quiet and nice but seemed to exist in a parallel universe. I don't think they ever got over their jet lag.

  • The Chalet girls - Natalie &Tessa were great and did a marvellous job knocking together breakfast, afternoon tea and dinner and would have got 10 out of 10 if they hadn't had a refusal at almost the last fence when they didn't quite make it for New Year's breakfast and were a bit subdued for the rest of the day - I'm not sure it was such a good idea for them to go to bed for "just an hour" when they got in at 6am....

Tessa & Natalie in happier times before Alcohol cruelly
robbed them  of the power to get up and make our breakfast..

Still they did better than most of us :-

The Australian family crashed and burned hours before midnight(I guess they can use the excuse that they were celebrating in a different time zone).

Bridget lasted till around 11pm which was a fantastic effort with her holiday track record.

My sister fell 20 minutes short - pretty poor show big sis

Hull Boy III were out till about 4am, so not as impressive as Natalie and Tessa although they impressively dragged themselves up in time for what turned out to be a non-breakfast. They faded fast though and had to go back to bed in order to summon enough strength to make the pants run.

Leaving Mrs B, Alex our 12 year old nephew, Rowan and myself playing cards till about 12.15 - not very hard core but at least we made it.

We could not ask for better snow, visibility was another thing though however. Most of the week was spent in a state of near blindness. I was getting quite adept at using my feet to get me down, going with the roll and bumps of the slopes..... Almost like a form of Jedi "use the force" style skiing. I got so good I think I got a bit cocky and on the last day I managed to use my new found powers to ski off a 20ft drop. One minute I was skiing along happily on what looked like flat safe snow, the next I found my self dropping at high velocity and with no attachment to any snow. I did not have enough time to think anything other than:

This is not right!

Why is the ground now rushing towards me?

In case any of you are optimistically(And I would also like to add very supportively of you) harboring thoughts  that I managed to back flip spin 4 times and make a stylish landing

it was a full face plant in lots of soft snow - I was fairly confident that I was not going to die as my life did not flash before me, either that or my life is so dull I didn't notice it.....

As there are no pictures of my accident you will
have to make do with this pre-crash shot

I had found a nice little ravine - In the circumstances I count myself lucky that I got away with being just winded, having a slightly sore right shoulder (I had the beast in my rucksack, the weight of which probably accounts for my acceleration and my GPS registering 80mph - my true record is 64mph but that was on a good slope with good visibility) and a bit of bruising on my right ankle and much more bruising to my ego and almost forgot broke an of my Sunglasses .

Up to that point I had managed a couple of tired sit downs, which hardly count as falls at all, in the entire week. I put these down to burning out my legs on the second day. I'm not sure what happens but whenever I ski with a guide something primeval kicks in and I become like a dog chasing a car down the street.  I find myself skiing out of my skin and way beyond my ability in order to keep up. This generally drives the guide to go faster to throw the idiot off, which in turn encourages me to go faster to keep up (This is how speed record and or bones are broken). The result, after any reasonably length tour, is that my legs can hardly move fore the next few days.

Mrs B whacks me across the nose with a rolled up newspaper and tells me I'm a bad boy but I still don't seem to learn ....

Leaving lots of snow only to come home to lots of snow
No sooner had we returned from the most snow we have ever seen in Europe than the snow returned to Bishops Stortford and, for once, stayed. I had not appreciated before the different snow we usually get in southern Britain. Normally it's so wet, that even if it does settle, within a few hours it has turned to horrible slush. With a much colder snap than usual the snow has been much crisper, much prettier but like an unwelcome guest has stayed around eating all the leftovers and helping themselves to a liberal use of the heating system - Please note not the wood-burning stove though, as that saga drags on. Our fitter has fled to Australia for the rest of the winter. I spoke to the firm, who we laughingly contracted to install the stove in time for Christmas, who asked me if I wanted to wait for his return (What when the cold weather is over) or use one of their other fitters? Let's think this through, do we want to wait for a month for the fitter who managed to install the wrong appliance or give someone else a crack at messing things up...?

Sofa saga
Many thanks to Craig who came to our rescue and brought his Mercedes tank around to take the old Sofa and chairs to the dump. Despite it being a huge vehicle it still took a number of trips to clear the garage. Mrs B had visions of the Sofa and chairs being snapped up by desperate individuals hanging around the tip looking for a half decent sofa. This vision came to nothing - it went straight into the crusher and, within seconds, eight years of good service was rewarded with a ripping and shredding noise that sounded like the death screams of the poor thing. I was sad to see that amongst the wood and foam interior there was a fair bit of cardboard that made up way too much of our old pride and joy for my liking....

This finally allowed us to put Mrs B's station run car into the garage just in time for the snow to start clearing away. This concludes the Sofa Saga apart from the small question of the wrong feet that came with the new sofa. Mrs B had ordered the chrome finish feet, at extra cost, so I guess it should be no surprise that the new sofa arrived with the wood finish feet.

Will we never learn?

Needless to say a number of phone calls have already been made and it will no doubt take a number more before this gets rectified.

Wild Life photography exhibition
We visited the Natural History Museum this weekend to see the Wild Life photography of the year exhibition. I found myself inspired and intimidated in equal measures. Having an interest in photography I was fascinated to read what camera, lens and settings the photographers used to capture the shots.

While reading how long some people took to get a particular shot I realised that I would never have the patience. As I have said before I'm a snapper looking for opportunities of the moment rather than setting up for that killer shot.

"After 3 months of staking out the bird bath at the bottom of my garden a bear came along and ripped my leg off. But it was worth it to get this rather impressive picture of the pigeon's expression of shock just before the bear attacked me."

My attempts at a similar venture failed after McG (currently an even fatter cat and enjoying his new nickname Mr Hovis) snuck out of the house and ate the bread (for those not in the UK the brand of bread we used was Hovis) that Mrs B had put out to lure the bears - not that there have been any reports of bears in the Bishops Stortford area for at least three thousand years, so perhaps I got it wrong and it was to feed the birds.

The closest I came to properly setting up a photo shot was while skiing. We had passed my sister's ski class and so decided to wait at the bottom of the slope to capture her in full flow (please note the analogy is to-do with the actual waiting to take a shot rather than the actual wildness of my sister). Half an hour later her group finally appeared over the ridge, working their way slowly from side to side as the instructor sent them across the slope one at a time. It was as if her instructor knew that I was waiting.

My reward for this waiting and risking the wrath of Mrs B (she had gone off to get a warm drink and found out that I had all the money on me) was for one of the members of my sister's class to ski right in front of her for the entire length of the slope, thus obliterating my carefully crafted shot of her....Arrrrrgggghhhh

Catch you next week - I'll leave you with some snaps to enjoy

The veiw from the front door of our chalet

Me and my Big Sister

My nephew little Alex on a chair lift

Big Alex  1/3 of Hull boy III


another way of


Almost like a Christmas card - infact if you don't
get one from me next year this is what you would
probably have got.

Church Tower - incase you
did not recognise it

Trees huddling together for warmth.

Mrs B enjoying the powder

Josh - demonstrates the art of sprawling to a halt

Josh, like A Bat out of Hull!!!!

Rowan and his board sinking with all hands

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Celebrating blog number 100 without the aid of a safety drink

So I now reach Blog 100 – it has taken me two years, which means that I’m clearly not as prolific as some of the Blog sites out there who reach the century mark in just months. The question is what should I do to mark this momentous occasion???

Having thought long and hard (or, to be more precise, around 10 seconds, which is long and hard for me) I decided I would tell you the story as to how I stopped drinking a week before my 18th Birthday, with the result that I have never had a legal drink (I did a fair bit of drinking from 15 to 17, it was in the days when you got your pint and sat in a corner of the pub trying not to be noticed). I have chosen this as a subject as it has had a huge impact on my life, not least because there is a huge social pressure to drink in the UK. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a problem with people who drink sensibly i.e. who don’t start throwing punches after a couple of drinks (not that I’m saying it is in anyway acceptable to throw punches after loads of drinks) or who decide it is perfectly alright to drive home after they have been drinking because they “Drive better after they have had a few”….If that really is the case I would advise that they do society a big favour and either learn to walk everywhere or stay at home permanently.

As this is in general a "what actually happens (or in this case happened) in life" blog, I have to start with the sad part. My father died shortly after my 17th birthday, after a long battle against cancer.  This left me at a cross roads. From the time of his death to the week before my 18th birthday I managed to drink myself into an uncontrollable state just once.  This resulted in me locking myself in a toilet at a party and shouting "I want to die, I want to die" at the top of my lungs. I guess this was not a particularly happy time of my life. The result was that they had to break the door down. Hmmm that made me popular.  No wonder people avoid grieving people.

This experience left me associating drink with bad times but at that age the peer pressure to drink is strong. I carried on drinking, but the seeds were set. The decision to book a holiday to Ibiza with friends was the next step. I had a poorly paid job and so could not afford to drink very much as I saved for my first holiday away from my family. I set off to Gatwick airport with great excitement. My friends and I did the normal thing and purchased Duty Free (not sure how, I guess they didn’t check the age on your passport in those days).  Things probably would have been OK, except our plane was delayed by four hours and so to relieve the boredom we opened up the duty free. The rest of it all became a blur and I had to rely on my friends to fill in the details.

Having not drunk very much for the previous six months it did not take very much to turn me from wild party animal to unconscious dribbling idiot. In between these states my friends attempted to sober me up by dragging me around the Satellite lounge while I did very little but puke and drag my feet. They tell me that they were being trailed by a little cleaner who had a very busy evening - nice. The next thing I knew I woke up the other side of passport control with a stewardess handing me a plane ticket and telling me I was a complete bastard. (One of my friends had burst into tears when they attempted to carry me onto the plane and were informed by the pilot that I was too drunk to fly. It’s not like I expected to be at the controls or anything).  I should count myself lucky that they did not charge me for the ticket, in fact it probably makes me sound a little ungrateful when I pointed out to them that while my holiday was in Ibiza the ticket was to Menorca.  It was frostily pointed out to me that there were no more flights to Ibiza until later in the week.

During the flight I looked down and noticed that my T-shirt was in less than pristine condition (a little more chunky than I last remembered) so decided to ditch it – which left me with a thin pale weedy chest encased in just a sleeveless denim jacket – it is hard to believe just what a fashion god I was back then…..Hmmm, moving swiftly on…. I managed to purchase a ticket (fortunately being a fashion god I was sporting a trendy money belt, move along nothing to see here - just another fashion disaster) and made it to Ibiza. It was at this point that I realised that having not booked the holiday and expecting to be dropped off at the hotel I did not really know what the hotel was called. Eeeek – remember this was in the days before mobile phones so it was not just a case of calling my friends and finding out the name. I managed to use a bit of initiative and got hold of a list of hotels and as I went through them one name stuck out like a sore thumb -the hotel Pooshit – the actual spelling was Pushett but I recalled the banter we had had around the name. To be honest, when I finally arrived Pooshit was an accurate description.

I’m afraid I was a bit ungrateful again when I pointed out to my friends that since they had carried my cases all the way from the UK they might as well have put them in the correct room …. The rest of the holiday was a hoot and I had no pressure from my friends to drink, not even on my 18th Birthday (which was celebrated in the middle of the holiday). A number of incidents stick out in my memory:-

“A constant game of - Hi! who are you?”
I met an endless stream of people who clearly knew me but I did not have a clue who they were. These turned out to be people I had encountered at Gatwick but who I did not recognise without my beer goggles on...

The incident of the broken stool
My friend Rob stood on a wooden stool as he tried to get glimpse of the topless girls on the balcony next door. As he stretched forward the stool collapsed and Rob hid the remains in the cupboard. A couple of days later we received a bill from the manager for about £50.  Incensed we marched down to his office, protested about the danger that the stool had put us in and then took the stool into the hotel lobby and attempted to mend it in full view of the other guests.  After 20 minutes of BlueTac* and brute force the manager caved and let us off the over the top charge.  During our Blue Peter assembly attempt (except we did not have a stool that we made earlier) our Rep walked in. So we took the opportunity to ask for his assistance with talking to the manager,  his helpful response was to vanish. Thanks for nothing....

*I firmly believed during this time that BlueTac, despite all evidence to the contrary, could mend everything.

The battle for laughs
My friend Mick – started it off by getting hold off my money tube (yet another fashion statement) and had a dump in it. Fortunately he gave the game away by looking shifty anytime I went near it, I guessed what he had done and threw it away before I opened it. I then countered by waiting until he fell asleep face down by the pool and put a bar of chocolate down the back of his trunks. A couple of hours later he woke and went for a swim and fished out the brown sludge in front of the other guests. He never really forgave me for this and has not spoken to me since…..In truth I do regret the end of the friendship but if you dish it out you have to be able to take it.

Little old ladies and the naughty playing cards
I purchased a set of playing cards sporting naked ladies, it's the soret of edgy thing you do as a teenager.  However, as the time to go home came ever closer, I lost my bottle and decided not to risk taking them through Customs. Opposite our hotel room was another hotel which we had spotted a couple of old ladies staying in one of the rooms. I threw the cards at their balcony and, through shear luck, not only did the cards land on their balcony I had a bonus of seeing them shoot through their open door and into their bedroom. To this day I still imagine one of them finding the cards in the room and suspecting the other old lady of having purchased them…..Perhaps I even started a couple of old ladies on the path to a full blown lesbian relationship…

How to get on with your rep
The battle with the Rep started my life long hatred for summer holiday Reps . He was being a bit cute about giving me my ticket home. (I lost my original  ticket when I failed to fly out in the first place. I bet Peter pan never had these problems) – I suspect he thought he was being funny. This, combined with his total lack of support over the stool incident, convinced me to declare all out war on him (possibly not the best thing to do when I was depending on him for my return ticket).  On a trip to Ibiza Town, which was the gay capital of the island, the Rep was on the coach lecturing everyone about the dangers of men dressed as women luring unsuspecting tourists into compromising positions.  I shouted from the back off the coach “Shut up and get your balls out” which for some reason really upset him and made the incident (in adolescent eyes at least) far funnier than it should have been. When I got to the airport on the way home, the Rep had still not given me my ticket and said, I guess in response to the Ibiza town incident :-

Rep – “You think I’m gay don’t you?”

Me – “Yep!”

Fishing around in his wallet he produced a picture of his girlfriend

Rep – “So what do you make of her then?”

Me – “I’ve seen better sex changes”

Rep – burst into tears and ran off

Half an hour later the Rep's manager came up to me, thrust a ticket in my hand :-

Rep manager – "I don’t know what you said to your rep but he really is not happy – he didn’t want you to have this."

Me – attempting, and failing, to look like butter would not melt in my mouth.

It was a few months before my friends started asking me if I was going to drink again. By then I had decided that I had had a great time on holiday and really didn’t need a drink to enjoy myself. At this point my stubborn streak kicked in and the more pressure they put me under to drink the more determined was I that I would not. That was almost 27 years ago and I can remember the holiday like it was yesterday.  The conversations I have reported are almost word for word accurate – now don’t tell me I would have remembered any of that if I had been having a skinful every night…So I think you will agree, I’m probably obnoxious enough sober and don’t need the encouragement of drink….

Over the years I have run into the odd individual who objected and on a few occasions felt slighted that I did not have a drink with them. Since I didn’t drink on my 18th, 21st or at my wedding I don’t see why they expected me to have a drink just to keep them happy.

I upset a barman one New Year when a so-called friend tried to spike my coke. I asked the so called “friend” if he was going to replace my drink, he just laughed, so I dumped the spiked coke in his pint. The barman saw me and replaced his pint and told me to clear off, not interested in my explanation. How fair is that?

Not drinking gives me the advantage of not having to worry about driving – I am therefore a permanent taxi driver for Mrs B.

I now return you to the present with catch-up corner

The photo of last year
The clear winner is McG – thanks to everyone who took the time to vote

Sofa saga
We ended up with the two sets of sofas. The charity that was picking up the old one waited till I popped out to drop Mrs B at the station before slipping in the card saying – failed to pickup as no-one in – Sod them I say.

At one point it looked like the new Sofa was not going to fit
through the door. Thankfully while it would not go through
our front door, we managed to get it through the garage, via
the conservatory through the dining room into the hall and
finally into the living room. phew...

They managed to install the wrong wood burning stove. We (i.e. Mrs B) ordered a modern flush jobbie while they fitted an old fashioned stick out half into the room model, claiming afterwards that the original one that we ordered was not suitable… Hmmm, this statement made even though they had surveyed the chimney and previously found it suitable. They had already told us that we could not have a wall mounted version that Mrs B's original vision called for, so we trusted their judgement .  Only they did not actually check that the stove that they agreed to supply was suitable.  (and that’s our fault because?.......) I’m currently refusing to pay for the work until they manage to find a way of fitting what was agreed. Did they think we were born yesterday???? So Mrs B did not get her cosy Christmas fire after all but she did manage to hide the monstrosity with candles and our old fire guard…..

As a teaser I have included some photos from our New Year Ski trip.  I hope you enjoy them and don’t forget to tune in next week for the full story including my unintentional attempt to kill myself or at least leave me badly maimed…

Mrs B, the Snow Queen

Mrs B demonstrates Karma Sutra position No.76

Me knee deep in snow....

I know the recession is bad but this is just ridiculous. It
looks like this guy not only lost his shirt but almost
everything else. Find out what this was all about
next week...