Sunday, October 29, 2006


It was just another Saturday morning.

Due to an enormously complicated set of logistics, hubby and I swap cars on a Saturday morning and then swap back again on Saturday afternoon.

Get into the car. Fuel gauge empty. Decide to fill up at Ross on Wye about 20 minutes or so away, en route. Go off quite happily, checking to see how many magpies are around, to see what sort of day I can expect. See a complete flurry, so not sure what that means.

Get to petrol station. Eventually find pump on the right side for the filler cap. Open up flap. See lock on cap. Where did that come from? Look at key fob. No matching key. Call hubby to ask where lock appeared from and where matching key exists.

Disembodied voice appears from nowhere. "Turn off your mobile phone". Very irritating as can't hear what hubby is trying to say to me. "Turn off your mobile phone". Look up and see that disembodied voice belongs to someone sitting about 10 feet away from me. Guess that large disembodied voice has more dramatic impact than talking to me. Finally realise that hubby has said that he will come down to petrol station with key.

Need to make more phone calls, so move off pumps to save offending disembodied voice more.

Call drama teacher who give lift to. Mobile phone switched off. Call her partner. "Oh she always has her phone switched off. If you are really late, she'll turn it on to call me". Leave appropriate message so that when I am really late, and she does phone partner she will know to drive very quickly to final destination as no-one will be at the school to let the children in. Send text message, just in case when, being very late, she turns in phone to call partner and sees message. Then call different teacher to ask them to open up school.

Hubby arrives looking flustered. Grumbles about disembodied voice on pump. Being a government boffin type he mutters something about the fact that they hide the masts in petrols stations, so as not to deface the countryside further. "Don't they know that it is more dangerous to turn on your engine than to use a mobile phone?" Very apologetic to me. Had had to change the filler cap when he had had it serviced as last one was deemed illegal. Forgot to tell me, give me key or change keys this morning. Eldest daughter in car with hubby. Looking very serene and happy despite having by now missed first dance lesson (Eldest daughter is keen and able dancer and very anxious not to miss any lessons). Will possibly complain later. We'll see.

Fill up car. Go to kiosk to pay. "So why did you leave the other filler on the floor?" She asks. Sorry I say, slightly baffled. "Oh it's all right, we've put it back now". What other filler? I say. "Number 7" she says. But I used number 6. I say. "Yes, but number 7 was left on the ground." But that wasn't me. I say. "Oh, I see" she says, in a slightly disapproving manner, only reserved for people you really don't want to agree with, but don't want to go into full scale battle with either. Go back to car muttering about being nice to be believed.

Look at clock. Is is really only ten past nine?

Let's just hope the rest of the day bodes better!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

A fridge for an ornament? Very nice!

Is it really three days since I wrote my last blog? Time flies when you are enjoying yourself as they say. I have to say that although I haven't written for a couple of days I have at least finally found out how to work this thing properly. I couldn't understand why no-one - not even my friends who said they would, were leaving comments. And then I found out why. I went into my settings and changed them so that now anyone can leave a message. And it's great! I get to see what people think of me, which gives me such a buzz!! So if you're a new blogger, and you are not getting comments, have a look at your settings. You may find that you can fix it!

Well, as I sit here today I am waiting for a call from a certain fridge manufacturer. I won't say who - because I don't want to be sent to court for libel. But shall we just say that it is a long story about a certain manufacturer who sells fridges. We bought the said fridge in July, but for a number of reasons weren't ready to switch on the appliance until September. We turned it on and it didn't work. Called the manufacturer on the helpdesk number. They sent out an engineer. "It's got a refrigerant problem" he said. Well I think I could probably have worked that one out myself. Can you fix it I asked. "No, not today. I haven't got the supplies on the van. We'll have to come back next week." Eventually they returned, "fixed" the problem, by refilling the gas, and went away again. The fridge limped along for a short while and then died for a second time. I called again. By this time I was getting very cross. Actually I was getting EXTREMELY cross - and quoting all sorts of legal things (that I don't know really) at them, telling them that the fridge wasn't doing the thing that it was sold for: refrigerating. And it wasn't a particularly pretty ornament either. They were very sympathetic, but infuriatingly said that they couldn't write the fridge off and replace it, until another engineer had had a look.

The THIRD engineer finally turned up yesterday to tell us that the compressor wasn't working and that the sytem was contaminated with oil............ "So what happens now" I asked. "Well" he said. I can't tell you what to do." "But I'm asking you what I should do" I said. "You have to tell me what you want done" he said. "Meanwhile, I will recommend to the manufacturer that it is fixed". "But I'm not happy with that" I said. "No", he said. "So you tell me what you would like have done instead." took a while, but eventually the coin dropped and I cottoned on to the rules of the game that we were playing.

"So", I said. "I tell you that I am not happy with your decision, and that I want a new fridge?" "Well, I can't tell you what to do, but if you want to write it on the comment slip, I will pass that back.......".

It was surreal. But I did it. And now we are waiting - we hope - for a new fridge. It has meanwhile cost the manufacurer three engineer visits (all of whom have come from 40 or 50 miles away), a new bottle of refrigerant gas and dozens of time on the phone. The fridge cost £195. So far it must have cost the manufacturer at least £300 to try to salvage something which would probably have cost them less than £50 to manufacture in the first place. It would have been so much cheaper to simply replace the item when it first went wrong. Where is the logic please?

When the doorbell went this morning, the hubby looked out and saw a delivery van. "Wow". He said. "It's a new fridge!" No, I thought. Don't be silly. Sadly, he was wrong. Instead they had knocked on the door to tell us that our dog, a collie puppy was trying to knock on the door to get in. Clearly she had managed to slip out earlier when he was putting the rubbish out for collection. "She wasn't tall enough to reach the door knocker" they said. Thank God we've got an intelligent dog I thought. A stupid one just wouldn't survive with us lot.

(p.s. Before any animal lovers write and tell me that we are being negligent, please do rest assured that we are very conscious of all our duties: five children, a cat and a dog, and it really was by accident that she slipped out!. Phew... thought I'd better get that one in............)

Monday, October 23, 2006

The Dark Room aka The lazy housewife's guide to survival

The "Dark Room" sounds as if I am about to develop some photos, but today's blog is actually entitled so because, when I finally wrenched the computer off my Bebo/ MSN mad children (who, being on half term, are suffering serious social withdrawal symptoms and need desperately to make up for all lost time from their friends by spending at least 12 waking hours a day online), I found that three out of five of our candle bulbs in our light fitting in the dining room/office have blown. Of course we have no replacements because every time one of us goes to the shops we buy bulbs (or lamps as an electrician once told me they should be called), but given that there must be a dozen different varieties scattered around the house, we manage one way or another to always forget the ones that we actually need.

So, here I sit in "The Dark Room" writing my blog!

It wasn't a straightforward start with the computer either. Since we changed our much loved archaic version of a pc to a new fangled one, we all have different log ons now. That's great, except of course that no-one thinks that it may be beneficial to actually log off as they leave the computer. Instead they leave all programmes up and running and simply switch user. The computer struggles on, but didn't bargain for family of seven when it came to join our mad household. My log in therefore was the straw to break the camel's back so to speak. By loading on my identity I think I placed the final thing in the camel's panier and at that point he shrieked loudly and refused to move another inch. I tried all the tricks. I even tried using the switch on the front of the box. Then finally I did what I tell the children never to do - I turned it off at the wall. And hey! It now works. And how much quicker it is without all the overload on its back. It's amazing. I can now see what they mean when they say that Broadband is quick.

Well I am glad to be writing this evening though. I needed to get a way from "The Washing". I write it like a major title to a book, because to be honest, in our house it is just that. It dominates us. Swamps us. Takes up an enormous amount of time and keeps regenerating itself, on and on. Not helped of course by teenage daughters wearing one jumper for five minutes and then putting it in the washing. Well actually, putting it in the washing means that it is usually dumped at the top of the stairs to be collected by their faithful chamber maid, scullery maid or drudge maid - otherwise known as parents. Now to be fair, the hubby takes on much of the washing drudge. He considers it to be his job and he's exceptionally good at it, I have to say. But, this weekend we had guests, and we are both far too polite (or sociable? One of those) to do "The Washing" in front of guests. And so it sat there all weekend, growing like a triffid. Added to the normal load we also had the extra sheets and towels, and a whole week's worth of my son's clothes, because he has just got back from a German school trip. (Thankfully we did manage to extract "the dirties" before they escaped upstairs to join the other dirties on his bedroom floor. At least the girls get it as far as the top of the landing, but, our son on the other hand is a 14 year old boy, and so he is naturally very conscious of the planet, and wouldn't want to waste any energy by walking a few steps too far.) So, I am in full washing mode this evening, with just a little break to write to you. (Please do leave a comment at the bottom by the way if you should be reading this, otherwise it might look as if no-one loves me, which actually isn't true, because several of you have written to me by email to tell me that you like what I write. I just want to LOOK good, like other bloggers!)

Fortunately though, because I have five children, and I run a stage school and broadcast every Friday and stuff, I did quite a long time ago (before number four and five were born I have to confess) pass "The lazy housewife's guide to survival". No, I know you haven't heard of it. That's because it's written and published by me, entirely in my head of course, but I know every chapter verbatim, and follow it very carefully. It involves simple things like emptying the dishwasher very quickly by balancing at least fifteen things at once and running to the cupboard, (it takes a bit of practice but before long you can be a dab hand); using the tumble dryer in place of an iron and getting it folded while still warm so that by the time the item is worn it could easily have been badly ironed and put in the drawer; speaking to the bank (or whoever needs your attention) with your phone squeezed between ear and shoulder while cooking the dinner; shaking French beans together and cutting all the ends in one go while they are still in the packaging and you are still on the phone. It goes on, and it works. The only problem with it is that my standards possibly aren't as high as some.....

One day I had done what I considered to be a monumental clean and tidy up, because we had a children's party about to happen (you have to tidy up so that the toddlers can wreck a clean house don't you?), and was telling one of the Mum's who stayed behind that it's no mean feat getting the house clean when you have five children. "Never mind" she said, "I like this loved in look". Lived in?? That was CLEAN!!!

And another day I went on a parenting course. One of the mothers there was clearly tired and run down, and completely overwhelmed by her ironing pile. "Don't iron" I said. Fold it, and put it in the draw and iron it on an as needed basis. WELL!!!!!!!!!!!! The look that went round the room. You would think that I had just committed a mortal sin. The course facilitator (who had been suggesting that "we should all do things for ourselves") was clearly quite shocked and told us how she had reclaimed some time for herself by initially taking two full minutes to clean her teeth each day. I think that she genuinely believed that our overloaded and stressed mother on the course would have sufficient "time out" by cleaning her teeth for two minutes before returning to the fray. Well excuse me, I am often stressed. I clean my teeth MANY times a day because I hate having a stale mouth, but I do need more than that to keep me sane! So, the poor woman was given advice by all the other mothers as to how cleaning her teeth would lighten her burden and as far as I know, to this day she still irons as religiously as ever.............

Well on that note, I think I may leave the washing in the machine for tonight (no-one can see it if it's in there at least!) have a cup of tea and go to bed.

Personally I think that sleep is actually a vital part of parenting!

Sunday, October 22, 2006

How private should private be?

Well, here I am blogging on the back of an envelope. How can that be you ask? Well, the truth is that I will of course type it in later, but as I am at work today I am just snatching a moment here and there to write down thoughts.

Today though I have a question for you readers, and that is: how private do you think should private be? Should there be any privacy in marriage for instance, and if so, how much is reasonable?

Of course, there is a story behind this, because this morning, my dear hubby took a phonecall for me while I was, in the bathroom. The call was on my mobile, and so I got slightly concerned when I heard him, still talking to the person on the other end of the line, walking towards me. All of a sudden he walked in and handed me the phone. As I was at the time sitting in a place where I would rather not take phonecalls (work ones especially!) I gesticulated wildly to TAKE A MESSAGE!! He did take the hint and managed quite successfully, after a little prompt, to deal with the matter himself. Naturally it did then prompt a big conversation between myself, my husband and my eldest daughter. Both of the other two saw no problem at all in talking to people while, shall we say "indisposed". Now call me prudish if you wish, but surely there are times when there is a need to be completely on ones own is there not? Or tell me, do you all take calls while sitting on the loo? Could it be that I call you one day and find that I am speaking to you in the bathroom? And if that is the case, where do you put the phone while you wash your hands? No wonder my eldest daughter gets through so many mobile phones. The last one was definitely written off to water damage. Now I'm beginning to understand. There must be phones sitting on washbasins around the County and soap bars in the pockets of my daughter's coats.

Phones are a complicated part of life though aren't they? And there is so much choice involved now. Do I answer the call? Can I see who's calling? , which (home, business , mobile) phone is ringing. And most of all - am I engaged, or am I here?

I have one friend who NEVER answers the phone. To say that I find that irritating would be an understatement - but then there are days when I am tied up on one phone and another one rings - giving me a complicated set of choices. Do I ring off? Do I answer the other phone and keep my current call dangling? Do I ignore the dulcet tones of the other caller, and let the caller that I am talking to think that I must be a very busy and important person as it rings in the background? The possibilities are endless.

Perhaps in my machine free society of the future we shall simply live near those that we want to know and that way we can talk to each other! Hey hasn't that been done before somewhere in history?

Who knows? That might just be the answer!

Friday, October 20, 2006

I haven't got technophobia, but I just liked the old days, because I am possibly a little older than those who don't remember the old days!

When I was 6 years old, every Wednesday we used to go on a sweetie walk. It was supposed to be a "nature" walk, but as we were allowed to bring 6d with us to buy sweeties on our return, we all knew that really it was the sweetie walk. In fact, the only time that we ever remotely got close to learning about nature was when one girl, named Jennifer, decided to eat some "peas" growing on a tree. So enthusiastic was she, that she was trying to get all of us to join in with her new found love of vegetables. Being 6 year olds we all preferred to keep our appetite for our 6d's worth of sweets. Fortunate for us, and unfortunate for her, as later she was rushed into hospital to have her stomach pumped and the contents of the laburnam pods removed! Next day the teacher, absolving herself of all responsiblity of course, gave us a long lecture about not eating from the bushes and the danger that could be caused by doing such!! This could perhaps explain my subsequent lifelong addiction to chocolate. Far safer clearly...........

Anyway the point of this particular ramble is that it was a REAL sweetie shop. Do you remember the sort? Old fashioned jars filled with sweets and most importantly a real person serving those sweets. The lady in question probably had no idea that she would have a lasting impression on my life, and that age 44, I would reminisce of the good old days...

Today though I had another technological scare. Now don't get me wrong, I do actually consider myself to be reasonably computer literate and quite able to use technology when needed, but, and this is a big BUT, it's just that I prefer dealing with people. So, when after my radio show today (accompanied by my six and eight year old little broadcast assistants who are on half term), I went into my local supermarket to buy a few bits for lunch, I was slightly stunned to find that instead of a friendly checkout person, I was confronted by a computer, a scanner and a disembodied voice giving me instructions. It seemed to know which items I had put through the scanner, which ones needed packing and even which ones I was waving in the air wondering where the bar code was. When I had finished scanning everything I then had to make decisions. What type of card was I paying with, which side down to put the chip and how much cashback I needed the disembodied voice to throw back at me. I had intended to pay by cash, there only being a few bits in my basket, but the disembodied voice seemed a bit impatient with me, so it was easier to increase my overdraft a little more than to risk offending her. As I completed my transaction I commented to the lady next to me that I was glad that I didn't have a full weekly shop, and that I preferred human contact. She agreed with me, just as the disembodied voice got a little upset once more because my shopping was still on the counter.

Now, I can't help thinking that sooner or later all these things will come to an end. My one sin in life is that I watch Neighbours on a daily basis. It's my chill out time for 25 minutes a day. And if any of you have ever watched a soap on a regular basis you too will know that feeling that the storyline goes so far, goes a little further to the point of the ridiculous, and then eventually the scriptwriters realise that this is a nonsense, and it stops.

Perhaps, in the same way, our techno era will similarly come to an end. The Ice Age came to an end, the Bronze Age came to an end, The Roman Empire came to an end, and even the abolutely ridiculous Cam and Rob Robinson storyline came to an end. I just can't wait therefore for the day when all the unwanted machines in our lives will take the hint and leave our planet for good. (I would of course like to keep some of them, my computer and my car for instance). We could just do with disposing of all machines to do with monetary transactions please, and then we could be really radical and replace all cyber controlled shops with good old fashioned people

- which, let's face it, most of us actually prefer to CHIPS!!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

What is normal?

I think I've got brain freeze today.

Every day I have tons of "stuff" going through my head, and so I decided a few days ago to write a blog.

Great idea my hubby said. It's a sort of way of keeping a diary, when in normal life you probably wouldn't bother, and as the hope of publishing a best selling novel, becoming a famous presenter or Oscar winning actress dwindles with every year that passes I guess I just have to admit that perhaps it's time for me to do what normal people do. And perhaps one of those normal things is to write those rambling things in a blog..........

Normal though? Well as a doctor once said to me, what's normal for me isn't necessarily normal for everyone else. What I have always had difficulty in knowing is what IS normal for me. I mean, normal people probably don't have five children, run a stage school and still be looking for alternative forms of income because the huge mortgage for the huge house for the huge family still needs paying.

Normal people probably aren't still chasing their youth and youthful ambitions aged forty something (and heading towards the middle of forty something...)

And normal people probably don't spend their life wondering where they are going to be living in ten years time, and what's more, wondering where home is because having never lived in one place for more than 8 years (and we're coming up to 7 1/2 years now in the good old Forest of Dean), I really don't know what it's like to have a normal life and live in one place for most of it!

Meanwhile I went to the dentist today and whilst sitting in the dreaded chair I became aware of a little trickling noise going in to plastic containers. Then I heard " Mum is it ok if we go to the loo?" Not being in a position to speak at the time, I simply put up my thumb as a sign of approval. The dentist (fortunately one with a sense of humour and children) chuckled: "No wonder they need to go to the loo with the amount of water that they have been drinking". I just lay there thinking, "thank God they don't charge for the water." On the way back home, I needed to call in at the post office, whereupon while paying at the counter I heard a scream, "Mum, Quick, I need the loo again......" Quick beseeching look to the shop owner. "Please may she...........?" Clearly afraid that she was about to wet the floor and not relishing the thought of that from a child obviously not quite so young - being 8 - she consented to my pleading look, but not without that slightly withering look that people seem to reserve for times when they wish to remind you that it's probably because you are not quite such a perfect parent as they themselves are/ were/ would be that you have got yourself into the situation that you are in now........................

So much for the brain freeze! Got to go though because daughter number two/ child number three has just come in with a teenage trauma. (Well nearly teenage anyway, she's 12!) I tried to help, but as a clearly useless member of society I was told in no uncertain terms that I was only making matters worse!!!!!!!!!!!!! Better go and make some tea and biscuits and try again..........

Oh well, c'est la vie normale pour moi I guess!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Please bring back human beings!

Will someone please tell me where how and why someone in a big institutional building decided one day that person to person contact would be better replaced by big large buildings full of non identifiable telephone operators?

If you happened to be in Gloucester a couple of weeks ago, you may have seen a woman in the middle of a well known high street bank screaming at a telephone. She was screaming in a very loud voice "I just want to talk to a human being".

Well yes, that person was me. It was provoked after several attempts to pay in money through the "machine only facility" (failed miserably four times), and several requests to talk to a member of the management team on duty about a very pressing matter on my business account, that had I was told, to be dealt with in the "Branch". By branch I assume that they meant a building on a high street, and not one of the wood varieties in the forest.

My extremely sane 12 year old daughter looked at the techno mad Room 101 and made reference to its similarities to scenes experienced on Doctor Who. Finally one of the cyber controlled assistants who were to be found wandering around the ground floor, (identifiable by an earpiece and a vacant look on their face) directed me to a telephone, told me to dial "3" and talk to the person on the end of the line. The person on the end of the line was in, not Gloucester, but Swansea. Two hours down the road and not in any position to help me.............. "I'm sorry Madam, but that is a branch decision. You will have to speak to a manager in the branch".

It was at this point, that regardless of the fact hat I had a member of the next generation in tow with me. Regardless of the fact that there were at least twenty other people in the bank, and regardless of the fact that this was a high street bank in a town, I completely lost my rag, threw a wobbly, went wild........... and screamed very loudly.

The response was amazing. Suddenly, people emerged from out of the woodwork. I was whisked into a room quicker than you could say "excuse me please", and all of a sudden, hey presto, I was speaking to "a person". The person, it has to be said was still vaguely of the cyber controlled variety, and I didn't entirely feel comfortable with her somewhat patronising manner. She told me that if such a behaviour pattern were repeated then I may be asked to take my (very large overdraft) business elsewhere, because there were elderly people who like to come to the bank and sit and have coffee, and such a scene may upset them.

Well I'm very sorry all elderly people for my outburst, and please feel free to come round to my house any time, and I will personally make you a cup of coffee, and promise not to increase your bank charges, and .......I'll even provide human contact and conversation for you.

I pointed out to the somewhat patronising manager that I had simply voiced what others were feeling, and that the frustrations of their cyber based - but nonetheless free coffee - system were likely to cause more than one upset before the year is out..................

In the meantime I shall look and wait and look forward to the day when real machines are replaced by real people, and conversations replace emails. OH PLEASE!!!!!!!!!!!!