Thursday, May 27, 2010

water torture

THERE are moments during your motoring life when you feel a bit like John Cleese in Fawlty Towers or Clockwise. I managed to combine the two on Saturday in a hectic morning that wasn't ideal preparation for the biggest day of the Welsh sporting calendar - Cardiff City in the Championship play-off final against Blackpool at Wembley.
Determined to get to work early I first decided that as my Clio Ramsey had been leaking a bit of water of late it would be best to top it up first to avoid any later catastrophes either on the way to work or on the way home to Bristol afterwards.
Having done this, I set off nice and early.
The clunk came just after leaving the Fat Kid's house but I thought nothing of it. I just assumed something was rolling around in the boot.
Then, 20 minutes later, I suddenly had a thought. I couldn't remember replacing the cap after topping up the water.
Stopping in a layby I lifted the bonnet and my worst fears were realised. Steam was coming out of a gaping hole in my radiator where the cap should have been. Oops.
Then came the dilemma. Do I drive on, find a garage, and just hope they have a cap to fit a Renault? Risky, because I imagine the water could disappear pretty damn fast, evaporating as the temperature grew.
Or do I turn around, drive all the way back and try to find the cap on a rather vast expanse of road just around the corner from my starting point, thus losing all the time gained and making it impossible for me to get to work on time.
My third option was to shout at myself "stupid! stupid! stupid!", though I must admit I did fall short of actually whipping Ramsey with a tree branch.
Eventually I chose the second option, turned the car around and headed back, mumbling under my breath at every motorist in my way, even though it was not their fault I had left my water cap lying around somewhere on the engine when I had left the house that morning.
Finally, after much cussing, I got back to the point where I thought it had fallen off. I scoured the pavements and the road for a good few hundred yards before coming to the conclusion it was a near impossible task.
But wait. Then I saw it lying in the road. Happy days. But not. Some sod had run it over and broken it. I tried to do a temporary repair job on it, then dropped half of it into my radiator. Aaargh! Cue more Fawlty impressions.
Last resort, I pulled out my mobile and dialled the AA explaining, in a frantic way, what the problem was. Bless them, they had someone with me within 15 minutes... and he had a spare water cap on his van.
Having fixed it on and also temporarily repaired a water leak, he was on his way.
Vehicle repair man... I salute you.

More Fawlty impressions followed the next day when Mrs Rippers and I decided to try to put together a chest of drawers for the new arrival. Hmm.
The "easy to assemble" (ha!) kit came from Argos.
First we had to count up whether we had all the right parts. Who puts these things together?
In a bag supposedly containing four screws there were only three. Is it a child's chest of drawers because a child put the bags together and had yet to learn to count up to four? Ridiculous.
Still, we soldiered on and were quite pleased after muscling some screws into a hard piece of wood and attaching a metal runner to it.
Then Mrs Rippers sheepish looked up from the position she had assumed as foreman. "Umm, I have just looked at the instructions again. I think it is on the wrong way around."
Still, after taking two hours to afix the first metal runner we had soon got the hang of it and the second one took 20 minutes - thanks, in no small measure, to the electric screwdriver Mrs Rippers had cunningly purchased.
I don't know about electric screwdriver, I think Dr Who's sonic one is needed here... to whisk us forward into the future when the job is finally completed.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss...

... and I've been fooled again. The mother-in-law has such a gentle way with her that you don't realise before it is too late that she has chipped away at your resistance and you suddenly find yourself painting the new chest of drawers that you have bought for the coming arrival.
Now, me doing any kind of DIY is like asking the Rev Ian Paisley to take holy communion, but there I was sat outside my back door splashing paint on various strips of wood and, it must be said, most of myself in the process.
Not only that but on Tuesday night our curtain pole in the main bedroom decided to pull itself away from the wall (thanks in no small part from the lovely Mrs Rippers managing to sit on the curtain) and suddenly it was all hands to the pump to get it fixed.
Her mum immediately took charge like some strange mixture of Lawrence Llewellyn Bowen and Field Marshall Montgomery, and was quick to provide the polyfilla which she insisted was a cure for anything.
Try as we might, though, we couldn't get the curtain pole screws to fix into the polyfilla-filled holes and it was then I decided that perhaps brain power rather than brute force was the answer. Swiftly taking control, I suggested that the screws actually needed to screw into something, rather than lamely sit in some sticky gunge until it finally set. And after much elbow grease and aching arms I managed to use Mrs R's miniature Phillips screwdriver to drill the screws into the stone wall. Magically, the curtain pole was then put back on and the screws held it in place! Great, it is still firmly afixed while we speak.
Mind you, I may have made a curtain rod for my own back. Mum in law Amanda said: "You see, you are good at this, if you try."
Oh no.
Anyway, in all seriousness she has been a great help to Mrs Rippers at a time when she was struggling to juggle house, work and a rapidly increasing bump. Amanda went back home to sunny Suffolk yesterday with our thanks ringing in our ears.
Immediately I resumed the position: Prone on the bean bag, watching my favourite DVDs...

I thought Ramsey was about to pack in on me last night. I'd only just got onto the M4 on the long haul to Southend and was pushing 80 when the little Clio started jumping and juddering around like some ageing punk pogoing to the Damned.
Bugger, I thought. I am going to have to stop and call the AA.
Then I had another thought.
When I took the car out of third gear and put it into fifth instead, the rev counter came down from 80 to 30 and normal service was resumed. Doh!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Kitchen Cabinet

In the spirit of coalition government, I now find myself with two bosses. Mrs Rippers, no doubt tired of nagging me about all the things that need to be done by the time the new arrival turns up in about six weeks time(!), has called in her mum for support and I am now firmly in the minority in the House of Frenchay Commons.
Only joking, of course. Myself and Amanda get on famously, and it has to be said she has been a great help to Mrs Rippers and myself, particularly in terms of ironing all my shirts, t shirts (something I have rarely done) and even my jim jams (which NEVER used to happen). It means, though, that at least I find myself able to lie rigidly in my new fold-up bed at the Fat Kid's.
Amanda's quiet, persuasive ways have definitely kick-started me into a few other things, and I have now re-arranged the kitchen completely so that there is room for the new bottle sterilizer and all things associated with baby feeding in the kitchen.
You may recall that during the reign of Ridsdale (our rather unwanted, furry house guest) we had to move everything out of the kitchen cabinets and put them into various tins and things on the work tops. It meant there was barely room to swing a rat, let alone cat, but the disappearance of the troublesome critter has meant the plan was due a re-think.
Interestingly, though, when I went through all the various tins, plastic containers and boxes I uncovered a huge supply of biscuits. In fact, in some of them there was just one pack of biccies or a couple of bars of chocolate.
I didn't realise that Mrs R's hoarding capacity for sweet things was so great and once re-arranged I found that I now have complete access to my kitchen work surfaces without having to throw away any of my lovely wife's hidden treats.

Talking of beds, I got a wee bit distressed at turning up in Shoeburyness every week to find that the Vin Monster and Big Boy had taken to using my blow-up bed as an early morning bouncy castle. Unfortunately it meant that these handy inflatables didn't last for long, despite their cost, so Mrs Rippers decided I needed a more sturdy sleeping place.
She pointed out on the Argos website that there was a fold away chair/bed which would do the trick admirably and ordered it for me straight away. It arrived at the Fat Kid's a couple of days later and is, indeed, comfy with the added advantage that it doesn't deflate in the night, leaving you lying on a hard, uncomfortable floor.
The down side? As the Fat Kid put it last night "That is probably the smallest bed in the world". Still, as long as I lie with my legs and arms close to my sides (a position much easier to adopt with the new ironed jim jams) then I can generally manage a more comfortable night's sleep.

Bad news on the jobs front for myself and everyone who helps put together the Welsh edition at the Screws. Like elsewhere, we have been hit by cutbacks (Wow, it's only a couple of days since David Cam-moron came to power). The outcome is that the edition going to the principality has been cut and I now find myself as a minister without portfolio. Hopefully something will be sorted out to keep me in the lifestyle to which I am accustomed, and there are various irons in the fire. I wish everyone else affected the best of luck too because the last year has been a real blast, and I've loved every minute of it.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Cooking with Jean Christophe

Well, there goes the election and what a damp squib it all was. Thinking back to that glorious night in 1997 when all the bigwigs like Michael Portillo and Chris Patten were booted out of office, I was quite looking forward to sitting in front of the TV and watching the story unfold.
Unfortunately, aided by a few glasses of beer, I never really got started. In fact, the results coming in were so slow that when I dozed off after over three hours of watching the scoreline read: Labour 3 Tories 0. Imagine my surprise then when I woke up and found out that comeback kid Cameron had turned it around and was leading by a significant margin, though not significant enough to form a majority Tory government, thank goodness. I don't think I could stand the sleazy richkids in power again, and one look at that snooty toff from Richmond, who just happens to be a millionaire (or is it billionaire) thanks to Daddy's money, was enough to leave me with my head buried back under the pillow.
Still, there is lot more to come.

Talking about damp squibs, I had some fun with some damp squids on Wednesday (see what I did there?). Mrs Rippers bought me a day's course at the Jean Christophe Novelli academy and, though the big man himself failed to make an appearance, we were told the patter of tiny feet upstairs was his nipper running around.
I must admit it was a pretty fun day. Situated at a farmhouse at a place called Tea Green just outside Luton, there were 16 of us at the Novelli Academy to experience there "Beside the Seaside" course advising us on various things involving fish.
The theme seemed to be very much the same. Of the 16, 13 of us were blokes and nearly all of us had been bought the course as "presents" by a female member of the family. I guess it was a gentle hint that they are becoming sick to death of various meat-based chillis and curries (hot, extra hot, eye-wateringly hot etc).
My fellow students did a wide range of jobs - There was a policeman and a solicitor for starters.
Well, no, actually there was a very nice crab bisque for starters, but you know what I am saying.
Of course, my chosen profession created some interest, particularly when I was struggling to open up an Oyster Shell and one wag commented: "I didn't think you journalists ever had trouble sticking the knife in!"
Anyway, we went on to debone a mackerel, prepare a crab, fry said mackerel, try raw Oysters and caviar, and prepare a barbecued squid with prawn, asparagus and tomato. All through the day we snacked and I must admit by the time it was over at about 4.50pm I was pretty damn full. Still, hopefully some of the recipes will be forwarded to me and I will be able to try out my new creations on Mrs Rippers and maybe her mum Amanda, too, who is staying at our bijou cottage for a few days. I'm in desperate need of recipes at the mo, so don't be surprised to see some appearing on here, too.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

All le rage

It's difficult to believe it, but Mrs Rippers and I were celebrating our first wedding anniversary this weekend. A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since then - in fact, it has been a bit of a tidal wave.
We have been on honeymoon to Cuba, moved in together in our little country cottage in Bristol, I've started a new job on the Screws and Mrs R has somehow managed to get herself with child. Amazing.
I think it had all got to her a bit and she had to take two weeks off because she was practically exhausted, but things have improved recently and it meant we could get away for an anniversary break.
I booked us into the Savill Court Hotel near Egham, Surrey. When I mentioned the destination of our anniversary break there were a few chuckles from some of the crew at the Screws, expecting me to announce I was whisking her off to Paris or somewhere. "Egham?" asked cockney Cliff, unable to surprise the smile on his face.
I am delighted to report, however, that it was an absolutely fantastic break. The tree-lined driveway led to a very nice country house in acres of grounds, and when we went for a wander we ended up taking in the air at Windsor Great Park just down the road. We must have walked about two miles, not bad for my pregnant wife though she was struggling a bit at the end and desperate for somewhere to sit down. It was rather bracing, too, the lovely warm weather having disappeared, typically, just before we went away.
After our walk we got dressed and headed into Egham for a meal at the Brasserie Gerard. These are a French chain of restaurants and are very nice indeed in a bistro sort of way. A bit pricey maybe but we certainly enjoyed our meals. Mrs Rippers had a demi poulet (or half a chicken for those Anglophiles with little grasp of the French language) while I enjoyed boeuf bourginon.
As a starter I had some lovely battered squid with tartare sauce while Mrs R tucked into a very nice cream of mushroom soup.
A pleasant change.

The following day I suddenly became aware of a new phenomenon. Apparently pregnancy, as well as causing cravings, cramps, insomnia and other minor irritations, also causes road rage. True.
After swimming 64 lengths of the hotel pool we set off for Runnymede, which was just down the road. It seemed appropriate to visit the home of democracy in the week of the general election and we had a short walk to the place commemorating where the Magna Carta was signed.
Then, after an aborted trip to Windsor where the cars queued around the block, we decided to visit Oxford.
By this stage Mrs Rippers had control of Ramsey and it was then that the trouble ensued. We were trying to manouevre our way through a packed long-stay car park when Mrs R politely allowed a woman to pull out in front of us.
But rather than drive on she immediately reversed into the parking space we had our eye on. Well, how dare she! I saw the red mist glaze over my mild-mannered wife's eyes and then, having finally discovered where the horn was, she gave five sharp blasts and shook her fist Tim Henman style.
I was a little bit perturbed (and scared) I had to admit, and tried to talk her down. But as we drove around the corner there was another car blocking our path. Now Ramsey might be a small car, but the gap between the car and a parked van on the right was no way big enough for him to go through. But, revving her engine in the style of a female Jenson Button, she lined up the gap and started to move forward. "No, no," I screamed for dear life, "What the hell are you doing?" Fortunately she stopped just in time as my knuckles went white holding on to the handle above the passenger door.
After that little episode I needed a stiff drink. Unfortunately, I couldn't have one because I fully intended to take over behind the wheel for the rest of the journey back to Bristol. So instead I settled for an orange juice in the Morse Bar of the Randolph Hotel, so called because apparently Inspector Morse himself used to drink there (though I can't recall seeing an episode where that was the case). There were plenty of pictures of John Thaw on the walls though, and we took the chance of an impromptu photo shoot ourselves.
A splendid day, but a salient warning. Don't attempt to park in a space if the car behind you is being driven by Mrs Rippers.