Monday 17 December 2018

As stable as a bipolar polar bear

    What ho, everyone. Happy Festivities etc. Well, by the time this goes to print they will probably be over but hopefully you enjoyed and still are enjoying yourselves and staying optimistic about the year ahead, despite the fact that the economy is about as stable as a bipolar polar bear!
    Also, by the time this gets to hard copy, we will have moved into yet another new house, in time for Christmas. It seems to be becoming something of a habit, as that will be five Scottish houses - in five years - that we have renovated and then lived in, if only temporarily. However, this is the one we have been working towards, the one right on the beach in Cellardyke, with just seagulls and waves for company. The plan was always to be in by December but a few curve balls have held up proceedings, not least Scottish Power, a company about as useful as a chocolate colander. Finally, after digging up most of the surrounding roads and pathways, we do have mains electric into the house, but no supply yet, and are still relying on a highly dodgy extension cable from next door - our previous abode. But we do now have heating, and nice views, although as yet a little bit sparse on furniture, as all of ours is now being rented out. Of course, this house is not quite finished, as we start on a quite technical extension in the January, adding a further bedroom and south facing terrace out to the sea wall, but it is homely and air tight. Meanwhile, our two dogs are as confused as a Brexit deal, as we let them out through one door and they then sit outside the wrong house waiting to get back in. For the ‘dog of little brain’ this involves much barking to boot. At least we don’t currently have a house polluted by herds of cats, as they are all back in France, being spoilt rotten by our house sitters, who keep posting photos of them on social media sitting by the fire or enjoying a 3-course meal.
    I have spent much of the last month clearing up what was a building site, which involves trips to that place of despair, the local tip. For reasons better known to themselves, the council have changed it from an open-all-hours base to one with a strict timetable which seems to revolve every week, and hence I have to make every journey at least three times. For example, today their website says they are open but when I arrive? Nope. A sign on the gate informs me that not only is it closed, but will remain so for the next two days. On investigation, a knowledgeable man in the pub informs me that this is due to the fact that we had a frost this morning so it may be a bit icy underfoot and the power-crazed fat lazy ba*stard who works there might slip while waddling from his warm office to berate punters who put their plastic in with the cardboard. Couldn’t he put down some salt, maybe? Nope. Cut backs on salt. Cut backs on hours. Cut backs on everything. Except my council tax bill. You see, last decade’s eco-mentalist ideals have simply just imploded as the cost of recycling every ounce of household waste has spiralled so high it is no longer sustainable without a hand-out from Europe? Wasn’t it Descartes who said, ‘you cant sweep it under the carpet forever’? Well, I believe there is a simple answer? Bring back brazziers and bonfires. Or is that brasiers? I get confused.
    Carrying on with the subject of cutting back, a visit to the opticians raises yet another of my eyebrows as I am no longer allowed an eye test until I have gone completely blind. Even then, if I arrive with a white stick and Labrador I will be sent packing unless a full 2 years has gone by since my last check-up… if I haven’t walked out in front of a bus by then!
    On the good news front, we have managed to be successful in a ballot to get tickets to see Scotland playing Russia at rugby, in Japan, next October. Now I know this might sound a bit odd, especially as few folks will know that the old USSR actually play the game at national level but, you see, this is a World Cup, so anyone can join in. However, their qualification was, as is often the case with the Ruskies, surrounded with controversy as their rivals, namely Spain, Romania and Belgium, all accidentally got reported for cheating. The accusation was that a few of their players were not actually residents in their said country, thus breaking a rule which is, at best, open to interpretation, and one that has been continually ignored by home nations for a generation. Is there no stunt Putin wont pull? One has to question how he manages to sleep at night? Rumours that all the referees and linesmen are all named Karchopsky are, as yet, unfounded!
    Finally, I would like to offer some seasonal advice to Santa to bring him into the next decade. Get yourself a 3D printer, pal. They are brilliant! It can make toys, furniture, motorbikes, even houses, just at the flick of the keyboard while you sit with your size tens on the coffee table with a pint of stout. Or better still, give everybody one as a present, so we can all churn out our own stuff at will. Win win. Please, can mine be big enough knock out a small private jet so I never have to suffer the indignity of Ryanair ever again?

Suicidal rodents

     This month I pen this column from both sides of the channel. At present we are frantically packing our things into the car, in order to head north for the winter, as usual. And, as usual, new house-sitters are arriving any minute, the house is getting its annual clean, and a year's worth of junk gets tidied away. This, of course, takes far longer than it should: because for 'junk' read 'things that we didn’t want to throwaway until we had studied them in more detail'. 3 days later, old photos, letters, brochures and tax bills have all found a place, primarily in the bin but it did make for an interesting time, apart from the tax bill which I had hidden from myself in an out sight, out of pocket, sort of way. And now, it's all panic stations.
     Also causing minor stress-balls was a new mobile phone, after dropping mine in the toilet a few weeks back. This new spangly one actually came direct from China at a reasonable price, on recommendation from a friend. Except, it didn’t, as we got a message saying our package contained explosive goods or liquids such as, and I quote, a “lithium battery”. Hmm, yes, it's a phone, and they do.  So, delivery re-routed via sea and land, it arrived, today. And now I need to set it up, which is a job for experts, not numpty technophobes such as I.
     Another simple task which also needed undertaking prior to winter is the usual vermin control, despite us having a house full of useless cats. But this year, it appears the wee timorous beasties have taken it upon themselves to form a suicide pact, as my box of poison in the cupboard was completely empty. A tell-tale hole in the bottom led us to the fact that this stuff must be really really tasty, as they had actually helped themselves. Result!
    Anyway, car loaded up with wine, dogs and wife, we are off, hoping to exit France before the militants takeover, enforcing road blocks throughout the country. The exact reason for this month’s solidarity is a little unclear, but word on the street is that it is in protest of the latest tax imposed on garlic and other basic French necessities. My my, UK thought it has problems with a few minor squabbles in its ranks of power? Incidentally, does anyone else find it quite uncanny that it was actually the prime minister who put the Gove in Government, and possibly the May in maybe we’re all  f++ked?
     So, an over night ferry later and we are back on mainland Britain again, just in time to board a another ferry, this time to the Isle of Wight in time for a fine lobster  lunch. It has been thirty-odd years since I was last on this island and I have to admit it has changed somewhat. Gone is the quaint and ancientness of a by gone seafront era and, in its place, pure unadulterated shameless opulence, yacht optional.  
     The visit is only flying one, by sea, to catch up with some good buddies who have moved here from France to pursue their passion for sailing. Then its on the road again, this time to see yet another old friend, one who goes back much further. A few of you may remember the rotund figure of a young chap named Milo, as we frequented the Rock Cross and other establishments in our late teens. Our adventures back then were rarely without incident and often involved trips to casualty for one reason or another. I am not only going to reunite with my old school pal but with the school itself. 41 years have passed since I left Lucton boarding school for boys, aged just 15. My years there were not all happy ones but life improved a little when they – heaven forbid – allowed girls into the fray. They didn’t play rugger with us lads, obviously, but some of the pioneering ones did make games a bit more exciting. Now we are all more or less grown up, it will be great to review all those memories we all hold from way back when, if only to establish if they were factually correct. Did Milo really eat 100 pickled eggs and then throw up all over matron? Or one of the prefects run off with the French mistress 5 years his senior? A few stories have recently made the press, sadly involving my housemaster and despicable acts. And another declaring that one of my classmates was actually the son of Pablo Escabar, the worlds most notorious drug dealer. The only thing I can really guarantee as true is one spotty youth still has his initials carved on the sandstone archway by the main door in 1977.
     Next up, yet more nostalgia, this time of a bovine source. Exactly 42 years ago I walked through the doors into Bingley Hall, Stafford, towing an unwieldy Friesian steer behind me. My father had phoned my headmaster suggesting that a couple of days at a cattle show would be marginally more beneficial to my education than double maths and getting the stuffing kicked out of me on the rugby pitch. And so it was, that night sleeping on a straw bed amongst those well groomed beasts, that set me off on a career in cattle and sheep showing that spanned over 3 decades. For much of that time I enjoyed the pinnacle of success, hauling in the silverware as well as meeting some clever and capable people, many of whom I still consider as friends. So after a 15 year absence it was nice to once again wander amongst the familiar surroundings, watching and chatting. The cattle seemed much the same, although some of the older  handlers may have spent a bit too much time at the feed trough, this author included!