Putting holes in my kids

So I missed my usual Sunday time slot.  You might have spotted that?

I am not actually on this exact one

Right now you find me on a  train, enduring the luxury of First Class, so I have the internets at my disposal, and an impending breakfast on its way.  Such madness as the expense of First Class travel to London is unusual, as quite rightly we are expected to travel cattle class at all times.  However, due to some quirk of the system, First Class was cheaper than cattle at the time I wanted to go.  Result.

So after two minutes of typing and staring at my laptop, whilst my body lurches from side to side courtesy of the Pendolino, I now feel a little queasy.  Fear not I shall soldier on, as if I don’t get this done now, the rest of the week is more than spoken for.

So as I type Emily is on her way to her final exam, and what a mighty relief that will be for all concerned.  It has been a long six week slog for her, and anyone else in our household, as you will know from my oft documented travails around the R word.  Her reaction to most exams has been favourable, so now we wait until late August to find out what lies in front of her for the next couple of years.

Whatever happens results wise, she has, to be fair, put a decent amount of work in, and I suppose that is all you can ask.  Regardless of the letters printed on her results slip, we felt that she deserved some reward.  However, Emily has been holding us to a promise made (by Louise I must add) after perhaps one glass too many of an Old English Sheepdog.  As you know, we are short of a pet or two, so this is just what we need.  I have denied all knowledge of any such promise all along.

Knowing that she had me on the back foot, recently she has been gunning for another option, which was to have her lip pierced.  Every fibre of my body rejected the very idea of defacing her face, but Louise worked on me, and when compared to the dog option it seemed fair enough.  So last Thursday she went to get done.  As holes in your face go, it looks nice, and Emily is delighted with it, which I suppose is all that really matters.  Not to be left out, Rebecca had her belly button done too, again as a reward for efforts valiant, and to cheer her up as last week saw all her friends, and boyfriend go on holiday at the same time, so she has been facius mopius around the house, clutching her phone like some sort of life support device.  Thankfully, folk return today.

Our old pal Henry, our cocker spaniel, is feeling his age a little, and at 14, it is to be expected of course, but I fear we are entering the home straight with him now.  Our friends Steve and Di are visiting this upcoming weekend, and they, as his surrogate parents, will spoil him beyond all bounds I’m sure as usual, which might perk him up a little.  It is hard when it gets to this stage, as we have had Henry as long as we have had a Rebecca, so he truly is one of the family.  True, Rebecca does not lick her backside and eat grass as far as I know, but we can’t hold that against him!

So I have two days in our London office to do, and as I can smell the breakfast, and the swaying of the train is causing me to feel like I do when I have just stepped off of Manta, I will draw this hurried entry to a close.  By the way, if anyone sees the dollar rate surge in the next few days give me a shout?

Till the next time…..

A weekend with the Rug Doctor (not a euphemism)

I have fallen out with Tesco this week.  I don’t think their CEO is losing sleep over this, but he should if he realised just how much Louise is capable of spending in one of his shops once she gets going.  When they have to announce a profits warning in the coming months he will rue the day he fell out with me I’m sure.

Soon to be bankrupt!!

The back story here concerns Rebecca’s bed, which we bought only in March, and around four weeks ago it broke.  One of the metal sides just buckled one morning as Rebecca got out of bed.  Being so new, we wrongly made the assumption that our friendly Tesco folks would arrange a replacement or credit for what was quite obviously a faulty item.

Well, after weeks of faff, involving them having to send someone out to come and look at it, and say “Yep, that metal bit has buckled” and submit his report, it eventually turns out that one side of the bed totally collapsing does not a broken bed make.  No, as none of the screws or fittings had broken, his report said that obviously a child had been jumping up and down on the bed.

Now, at 14, Rebecca is well past jumping up and down on the bed.  So I challenged this theory several times, only to be told that basically I was obviously lying and that they were not prepared to do anything about it.  I was vexed, and henceforth, Tesco shall not receive one penny of my meagre earnings.  The weekly shop has transferred to Asda, the DVD club has been cancelled and the car insurance about to renew will now be “Go Compared” to find a different supplier.

So for the refusal to swap out a product that broke six weeks into its active life, they have lost a fair bit of cash, and of course I am now broadcasting the episode to the hordes of folk who come to read this stuff.  I hope both of you take heed too, and follow my one man crusade against the retail giant!!  I know I could take this further, but as Tesco know all too well, for the sake of a couple of hundred quid, not many folk are going to take on Tesco’s lawyers in court.  So I am putting the whole episode to bed, if you can pardon the pun!

Anyway, enough of that, I have calmed down now, after unleashing my contempt in the form of several emails to anyone at Tesco who dared have an email address on a website somewhere, even the CEO himself.

I had a full weekend planned.  Full of lots of tasks that had been building up on my to do list.  The first of which of course was to throw away the broken bed, and move the one from the spare room into Rebecca’s room.  That took most of Friday evening, and a lovely moist glimmer of sweat.  On Saturday, I had an appointment with the Rug Doctor.  No, I have not lost my mind in some sort of middle aged madness, and resorted to cover my shiny dome with a wig.  I had resolved to cleanse our carpets, which had been hammered by too many animals and teenagers and were looking decidedly worse for wear.

After a little internet research on these things in the week (strictly in my own time), I had selected B&Q as my retailer of choice, as  –

a) they were cheap

b) I knew where it was

rug doctor
For the cleaning of rugs!

My plan to be there for opening at 7am on Saturday drifted away as I lazed in bed till at least 8.30!!  Anywho, after a pit stop at the tip to deposit the broken bed (I had taken great delight, and some revenge when dismantling it, so it was in a fair few bits), I arrived at B&Q at around 9.15.  I needed a few bits for other random DIY tasks to be tackled this weekend (more of this later), so I wandered, lost, around the twelve acre expanse of the warehouse before somehow stumbling across what I needed eventually.

With that purchased I went to the “Service Desk” to be, well, served.  I stood watching a chap do stuff with his till, tap at his keyboard, and generally avoid eye contact with me for as long as possible for about ten minutes.  Slightly miffed, I stopped a passing member of staff to ask if I was at the right place to actually get served, and she said yes.  Sensing my disdain, she went behind the desk and said she would serve me.  “Oh good” said I.

After quite some time, she found the key to the Rug Doctor cupboard, then a bit more searching located the pad she needed to fill in, and once she’d found a pen, we were off.  As she was wrestling with the form, the phone started ringing.  “Oh shut up” she said, several times.  Several colleagues came and went as this went on, and she took the chance to moan to every single one about something or someone.

About forty minutes after arriving, I did eventually leave with the Rug Doctor, and headed home.  I would recommend one of these things, but be warned, you will feel like you have lived in squalor for months when you pour away the black water that it collects during the cleaning process.  It would appear we have been rubbing soil into our carpets on a regular basis.

Three hours of huff and puff and a lot of sweating, and our house is full of lovely looking rugs and carpets.  Satisfied and sweaty, I load the Rug Doctor back in the car (well Louise’s car as she had taken mine to go shopping, which is always a concern that she thinks she needs the bigger boot space!!) and headed back to B&Q.

I was relieved to see some actual staff on the desk this time, and I was served almost immediately.  Again, another search is undertaken for pens, the pad and the key to the cupboard.  Again, the same insular staff discussion was taking place between the staff, to my exclusion, mostly about how lazy such a colleague was, and what an idiot the manager was.  Nice!  After more endless faff, I get to sign the form that confirms I have given it back, and my lovely assistant says, “You know this should have been back a lot earlier”.  She was referring to the 10am time at the top of the form.

“No, you’ll find that is tomorrow’s date, I only picked this up earlier today”.

“Right” she says snatching the form away from me and turning her back.  I assume we are done, and I leave glowing from the exceptional retail experience I have just endured.

So that’s two major retailers who have covered themselves in all sorts of glory this week.  Still, I have clean carpets.

From my list of other tasks, the lawn remains untackled, as things are still just too moist out there.  I may get to it next May!!  However, to end on a high note, the other DIY task I alluded to earlier was the repair of a broken kitchen cupboard.  The screws holding the hinges in place had become loose, and the door was hanging off a little.  So, I procured some wood filler, filled the now too large holes, waited for that to dry, and acquired some suitable new screws to use.

I had intended to return to B&Q to get these, but –

a) I forgot to call in on our shopping outing today

b) I resent giving the buggers any more of my hard earned

So I did what all sons do.  We called in to my Dad’s to give him his Father’s Day gifts, and I nipped down to the cellar to raid the thirty year old Nescafe coffee jar which is full of every size screw ever produced.  Ten minutes of rummaging and I had enough likely sized screws to complete my task.

On my return home, the task was completed with zero expletives, and relative ease.  I emerged from the kitchen, hands aloft, with a self-satisfied glow.  Unfortunately no-one was there to see it, so I had to walk upstairs and tell Rebecca, who you can imagine was massively impressed, and replied with a confused “Oh…right”.

I am not a DIY kind of guy, and most of my attempts end in disaster, swearing and getting my Dad or neighbour in to sort it.  I was happy with myself anyway.

So, I mentioned a shopping trip earlier.  This is another sign of our impending jaunt over the Atlantic.  We were clothes shopping for the girls.  They are total opposites on a clothes shopping trip, with Emily reluctant to look, try on or unplug the iPod from her head, whereas Rebecca is a whirling dervish of clothes being ripped from the rails and tried on.  It is safe to say, Rebecca came home with more, but only down to the fact that she could be bothered to look.  Emily only “does” clothes shopping proper, in Hot Topic, and the fact that we start our holiday the day after her birthday means she will be investing most of her gifts in that retail outlet once we get there!!

So having conquered the carpets, clothes shopping and a cupboard this weekend, I hope to spend the rest of Father’s Day watching the golf, dreaming of sunnier weather and decent customer service in a far away land.  Tomorrow, the diet starts in earnest.  A pound or two has been shed over the last few weeks, despite the criminal excesses at the cinema on some occasions, but now I need to make a serious dent in the flab so that I can replace it whilst away.  Those with any sort of knowledge of me will know that refraining from food is not my forte.  Wish me luck!!

Till the next time…..

Juxta another blog post.

I have felt tired recently.  It turns out that I was much more tired than I thought, as I went to bed last night and it was early June.  Today I woke up and it appears to be November.  No wonder I was bursting for the loo this morning!!

An oft visited theme by me is the absolute and undeniable influence the weather has on the nation’s mood.  I admit that I am perhaps a more severe example of this than most, but today’s endless torrential rain and overcast gloom has not enticed me to dance around the house with joyous delight.  How can this be when I had the delights of the big shop this morning, followed by a longer than usual taxi run to get Emily to a choir practice session?  Asda and Atherton respectively failed to enhance my Sunday.

So the week prior to this weekend saw me busy.  With new stuff to do at work, I no longer exist outside of meeting rooms it seems, and I have inherited a fair few folk who fall into the categories of drama queen and terrorist, and dealing with their behaviour, nonsense and hissy fits has merely meant I have had less time to do any actual work that has a significance to it.

I don’t do work stuff here really, as five days a week is plenty thanks, but maybe my malaise is half weather, half weariness.

Emily completed the last of her dreaded Maths papers this week, and if all has gone to plan she will never need to darken its door again.  Maths and The Williams family do not get on.  I kicked, bollocked and scraped my way to a GCSE (well an O Level, but that may make me look old), and it seems my numerical genius has been passed to both offspring.  Emily was fairly positive in her overly verbose response to my text asking how it went.

Emily texts
Words don't come easy....

If it were possible to text a shrug of the shoulders she would have!!

Tomorrow sees Emily tackle her final Media Studies paper, which is much more up her street.  She has more or less already passed this one it seems, due to course work and all that, and so she is looking forward to this final bit, which is all about an original idea for a film.

Whilst we are on an education theme, Louise and I spent most of Saturday at a UCLAN open day.  This is not, as it might sound, some sort of science fiction conference.  UCLAN is the University of Central Lancashire.  Louise is considering going to Uni next year to train as a nurse.  Having taken photographs of boobs for a while now, she is considering undertaking the Nursing course at UCLAN as a change in direction.

The Uni is in Preston which is about a thirty minute drive from us, and the buildings themselves are all new and shiny.  They look odd against the juxtaposition of the absolute hole that the surrounding parts of Preston City Centre look like.  I am sure like any town or city that there are nice and nasty parts, but my God, the part we walked through was the pits!!  Nearly every shop was either boarded up or involved in something illegal (allegedly).

The course and facilities look good, but the intake doesn’t happen until next April so applications will happen and then we’ll see if we can afford the lack of Louise’s wages!!  So we are just three years away from Louise being a qualified nurse and us being welcomed into Florida with open arms on a full time basis!!  There is the small matter of me finding a job, paying for healthcare, uprooting the girls at crucial points of education, leaving all our family behind and rehousing several animals, but these are trifling issues when compared to how close to Disney I can find a house, and how quickly we can secure Florida residents annual passes.

Camel Toe

After what felt like a long day at “school”, Louise and I settled down last night to watch Despicable Me.  There was a time when we watched films like this for the girl’s benefit, however, both of them were busy elsewhere so we enjoyed it regardless.  It was good fun, if a little formulaic, but hey, it is a kid’s film!!  Then, having enjoyed the blood and boobs fest that is Game of Thrones recently, we thought we’d give Camelot a go on Channel 4.  It was more Camel Toe to be honest, with the sexual content being so high.

Apparently there were no ugly folk in the olden days, and despite no toothpaste, razors, soap or shampoo, everyone looked like a model from a perfume ad.  Suspending that belief though, it was entertaining enough, and when compared to the absolute dross that clogs up Saturday night TV most weeks it will be welcome relief from the ominous approach of the X Factor.  It draws ever nearer, in depressing style, and will hold the country in its vice like grip all the way to Christmas.  What a thought!  Damn it, we almost got through an entire post without me whinging about Cowell and his mind numbing distraction of the masses.  Maybe next week?

Speaking of juxtapositions.  What do you mean I wasn’t?  I used that word earlier…keep up!!  Louise was out and about buying essential stuff (apparently) and happened across a deal for sun tan lotion, on a BOGOF deal.  We HAVE TO have a certain make as it is the only one that stops heat rash for Louise.  I suspect all these are exactly the same in different coloured tubes, but that’s just me.

Anyway, back to juxtapositions……I spotted these purchases, along with Louise’s sunglasses on the kitchen table, with the monsoon like conditions happening outside in the background.  That right there is a juxtaposition!!

Sun Cream
Juxta couple of tubes of sun cream

Did I mention that this weather is a bit depressing?  Still it means I still can’t mow the back lawn, which is not a euphemism in any way.  The grass is so long out back (I promise you I mean the back garden!) that there are small tribes living in it, none of which look anything like the characters in Camelot.

Till the next time….

A bit of blue for the Dads!

So this week brought news that Britain’s Got Talent is a fix.  In other shocking news, I enjoy going to Florida, I am ever so slightly over my ideal weight and grass is green.

For anyone who missed the revelations this week, here are some snippets.

For reasons which will become obvious, I can’t reveal my full identity. But let me just say that, I am an executive with Sony Music UK with many years experience in music management. My work involves close liaison with Simon Cowell’s SYCO company (specifically SYCO Music and SYCO TV) and, as a result, I have seen what goes on from the inside and this has left me increasingly uncomfortable about the integrity of Britain’s Got Talent and particularly the workings of SYCO.

It’s long been known that there is a quite a degree of “fixing” in BGT. ( Daily Mail http://bit.ly/fxkWne ) But press reports on “fixing” are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to SYCO’s manipulation of, not only the show and the contestants, but also the viewing public and hopefully, in this email, I can shine some light on the smoke and mirrors trickery of SYCO.

Take BGT 2011 for example. Scouts working for SYCO first saw Ronan Parke (the 12 year old singer) some two years ago when he was just 10 and was singing at a birthday party for former Norwich City goal-keeper, Bryan Gunn. Following that, Ronan was privately auditioned by SYCO scouts on two more occasions and, as is usual practice on BGT, he was “invited” to audition for the show as a “preferred” contestant. At the same time, Ronan and his parents were “required” to enter into a contract with SYCO. Like all SYCO contracts, it is heavily weighted in favour of the label and are notoriously bad, even in the cut-throat world of the music industry. Simon effectively signed Ronan for life and he’s got little or no chance of ever getting out of it…unless Simon decides to terminate. Recording contracts are legally extremely complex and usually require input and advice from very expensive, specialist contract lawyers. SYCO knows that such legal advice goes well beyond the means of most contestants. As one senior SYCO executive said to me recently. “These people are mugs. They’ll sign away their own mother just to get on tv. It’s a f****** turkey-shoot and then we own their arses!”

Smugness be thy name

It goes on at length, and whether everything is true or not, surely, this is the Great Rock n Roll Swindle of this century.  I use Rock n Roll loosely of course.  There is simply too much at stake money wise to leave the outcome of these things to chance.

The ability to manipulate viewers opinion is vital if you are to control telephone voting and indeed get the required result. SYCO see this as essential to the success of the show and are very open about fact; planning and delivering live shows of quality is impossible if it was purely left to the public vote. As Simon said in a meeting once. “The public NEED to be told who to vote for.” Everything on BGT is geared towards telling you who you should for, particularly on the production side. It’s an art really, which Simon has honed to perfection and SYCO are now world leaders at.

Clever editing, highlighting  of certain hopefuls at key stages, and scripted judges comments make the outcome inevitable.  Whether it be BGT or X Factor, every year, about half way through the finals there is a “shock” elimination to ramp up the press coverage and re-engage the public.  Laura White a few years back, and those singing Glee type blokes from Cambridge this series are two examples I can think of from the top of my head.  I am pretty sure the actual phone votes are not fixed (anymore, but remember the Ant n Dec scandal a few years back when the phone vote system was found to be “suspect”?) but they are clearly manipulated.  It only needs Simon to say the usual “I think you are in trouble tonight” and oops out they go.

Why do I care?  I don’t really, as I don’t watch these things if I can help it.  I guess I am more insulted than anything else, at the presumption that they can get away with this nonsense.  In the early days of this genre (Pop Idol etc) I found the shows enjoyable, but they have since morphed into smaltz ridden, sob story based soap operas that merely serve to allow Cowell to sack all of his A&R men, as these shows take care of all that, and he makes millions from the votes and adverts!

The whole thing is an insult to the country’s intelligence, which I fear for, judging by the hook line and sinker response to these shows all over Twitter and Facebook when they are on.

The power of social media is strong, and Cowell knows it, hence things like this….

It was also interesting to see that even before the final credits rolled on Ronan’s audition show, SYCO TV had uploaded the offical video of Ronan onto YouTube. Today, that particular video has been viewed over 2.5 million times and growing. SYCO don’t do that for other contestants, so why Ronan? The gaying-up Ronan plan slightly backfired on SYCO when lots of negative comments were being posted on YouTube and Twitter about Ronan’s image and the supposed sexuality that represents. Things got so bad on YouTube that the posting of comments had to be suspended. But SYCO learned from this and dressed Ronan more appropriately for his semi-final show; preferring a much more Bieber inspired look to the ‘gay- kid’ image presented in the audition.

In another unusual move for BGT contestants, SYCO created Ronan’s Official Facebook Fan Page and Twitter account. Both these services are managed from within SYCO and they post messages and pictures, not Ronan. This is because they don’t want Ronan posting anything controversial and is standard practice for current artists signed to SYCO.

So please let’s not believe the nonsense that the likes of Susan Boyle, and this young kid just wandered into an open audition, happened to luckily get in front of the judges, rather than the production runners, and happened to take the country by storm.

Enough soap box?  I think so…..and I apologise for becoming boring on the subject.  Onto other stuff…

With the advent of June this week, the holiday excitement was raised a notch.  Having paid all the final balances on cars and villas, we’re now just waiting for the day to come.  We did have some tentative plans (who am I kidding, it was added to my spreadsheet in a special highlighted colour to denote that it was not yet booked) to add a one night stay at Universal into our five days in Orlando, so I did a little bit of research into that this week, only to be put off by the cost of staying on site and the tickets.  At north of £500, I had to question the value for money, and started to evaluate other options.

Even as I type this, I am doubting my own logic, as we all love the Hard Rock, and I would really like to have another go at Harry Potter, well probably more Hermione, but that’s a whole different post.  We’ll see what happens.  I have requested a full family meeting over tea this evening to discuss in detail, and come to a final conclusion, as long as I agree with it of course.  Whose credit card is it anyway??

Blue Man Group
Bit of blue for the Dads

After a week and a bit of beaches and stuff, the girls (who am I kidding) will be gagging for a little bit of theme park action.  So if it isn’t Universal we’ll be getting a two day ticket for Sea World and Busch Gardens instead, for £70 each.  Aquatica may replace Busch, after the meeting, but I suspect the coaster draw will be too strong.  On Friday evening, whilst browsing ticket options, Louise asked if we were able to fit in a visit to Blue Man or Cirque.  In the past I have always been put off by the expense of these shows, but I had a look nonetheless.

A few brief moments of keyboard action saw me satisfied, not for the first time!!  I also had procured four tickets, six rows from the front, for Blue Man Group on our first night in Orlando.  This is to be a trip of different stuff, so it is fitting and good that we finally do one of these things.  I always seem unable to comprehend the word budget when a price is in dollars!!!

I do know (due to threads such as this) that there is a high degree of scepticism that I will be able to resist the tractor beam draw of a Disney theme park.  It is not so much my ability to resist, more my inability to afford it, and Louise’s promise to separate me from dangly bits should I even think about it.  Of course, whilst in Orlando it is very difficult to avoid Disney altogether, as he built the place (didn’t he?), so we will dabble with Disney.  Of course, we are staying at Vero, which is Disney, we’ll probably wander through Downtown Disney (purely for gift and souveneir shopping of course), and our annual meet up with Jakki, Steve and the kids means we simply HAVE TO go to Bay Lake Towers and take advantage of their rock star lifestyle, and watch Wishes from the viewing deck in their posh resort.  The price for doing so is to feed Jakki’s cocktail addiction for the duration of our visit.

So we continue to countdown, with real life stretching out between us and the holiday.  Speaking of real life, Emily resumes examination tomorrow after a week off for half term.  Business Studies on Monday and the dreaded Maths on Tuesday.  I continue to encourage her to work hard, as clearly the better job she eventually gets, the more she can afford to take her doddery old Dad to Florida every year so I can continue the tradition of embarrassing Williams Grandads in the sunshine state.  I am preparing my neb already.

So leave me to my neb, family meeting and six pack development (not so much the last one) and…

Till the next time…..