Friday, July 30, 2010

Royal Fail

THE fat kid has had a problem ever since she moved into a relatively new house in Shoeburyness. The story goes like this...
Whenever she tries to get things delivered to the house, or tries to take out some kind of HP agreement on a purchase, the assistant sorting out the order tells her that her house doesn't exist. Strange really, because I've stayed there every week for a year and I am sure it is not a figment of my imagination.
However much she insists that the address is a real one, the person serving her will reply in the time honoured fashion "computer says no".
The situation reached a critical level this week because the Fat Kid has sold her car and is eager to replace it with a newer one, a sparkly VW Beetle, but may need finance to complete her purchase. The trouble is as her house doesn't exist, no one will provide her with the loan she requires.
I decided I would try to sort the problem out today, and my first port of call was the Royal Mail website. Fine, there is a form to fill out if your house isn't recognised and I sent that off straight away, but as yet have had no reply.
Next option, then, was to ring and actually try to speak to a person. And here, dear reader, is where my normal placid demeanour was somewhat shaken.
Having rung the number for personal inquiries on the website I was presented with four options, the first one being to press 1 if I had a query involving the address.
This I did, and was then given another two options, neither of which involved speaking to a Customer Services Adviser.
Retracing my steps I then listened to the full list of options available to me and, again, none of them involved speaking to an adviser.
Finally in frustration I threw the phone down and ranted at it for a few seconds, bringing a number of wry comments from my colleagues.
Never mind, there was another option on the website. It was to consult Sarah, the online assistant, who, I was assured, could handle any query I might have.
So I typed my question into the window. "Why, when I ring the help line, am I unable to speak to a PERSON?" I asked.
And very promptly online assistant Sarah responded.
"Do you mean: Can you tell me more about ordinary Second Class mail?" she said.
Followed by: "My answer is: Second Class mail is normally delivered 2/3 working days after posting, to any address in the country."
Well, thanks Sarah, that certainly clears it up.
I took a different tack.
"How do I speak to a customer service adviser?" I requested.
She replied: "Do you mean: I have a problem with my Online Business Account. What should I do?"
I swore rather loudly at the screen. "No, no, no!"
By this stage I had totally lost it. I wondered what other completely unrelated answers I might get if I tried some rather more obscure questions.
So I asked Sarah: "Do you wear frilly panties?"
To which she replied: "Do you mean: What's the minimum I need to spend with my postage account?"
Of course, THAT'S what I meant. I had obviously just phrased the questions badly.
My God, I thought the Royal Mail was supposed to be at the hub of our communications network. It appears lack of communication is more their bag.

I love listening to audio books to help me wile away the time on my journey back from the smoke.
Imagine my frustration last Saturday when I realised the discs I had brought with me were ones I had already heard.
There was no option than to stop at the nearest service station and forked out my hard earned £15 for a replacement.
Getting back to the car I opened the box in eager anticipation of listening to the latest thriller from Sam Bourne.
To find? Nothing. It was empty.
I stormed back to the WH Smith's counter and explained to the shop assistant: "You've just sold me an empty box for 15 bloody quid!"
I think it was her first day. She hadn't realised that once the box was brought to the counter she actually had to fill it with the cd's you were purchasing.
It could have been worse, though. I might have been just outside Newbury by the time I discovered the error. Phew!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Been stalking

THERE is an addictive and worrying new trend growing among the young ladies of Southend. It is slowly replacing nightclubbing, pubbing, ice skating, dogging and any other activity which ends with "ing" you care to mention.
I know this because I believe it was invented by the Fat Kid and her bezzie (that means best friend, if you're down with the kids like me).
What you do is this: Get dressed up in your best bib and tucker, chuck on the slap, fill your best handbag with fags, make up and anything else young girls carry in their handbags, gather all your friends then chose a designated driver (preferrably one with a non-descript car).
Once the clan is gathered you jump into the car and head off in the direction of one of your ex-boyfriends' houses.
The official name for this activity? Stalking.
Now, we have all heard of stalking. Normally it involves some rich celebrity having their every move scrutinised by some nutter who believes they have a bond with their target. Generally it ends in tears, restraining orders and, in the most severe cases, a jail term.
But in this case the stalkee is blissfully unaware they are being stalked. There is no direct contact, molotov cocktails aren't thrown through windows and there is no breaking and entering or hiding in attics. Certainly no bunnies are hurt in the course of this trivial pursuit.
I am not really sure of the merits of this activity, but as far as I can see it provides an endless source of banter, laughter and fun for the stalkers. And the only cost is a small amount of petrol.
As for the stalkee? Well, generally, they remain blissfully unaware of what is going on outside their front door.
What doesn't quite fit is the dress code. I am not sure why the stalkers have to dress up as if they are attending the hottest nightclub in town when, as I hear it, they end up having to jump into bushes or crawl along muddy ground to conceal their presence in the vicinity of said ex-boyfriend's home.
With the Fat Kid I am still trying to work out what she is hoping to achieve. My recollection of one of the stalkees is that all the time she knew him he sat in the house either glued to some boring cop chase show on tv, smoked the odd spliff, played computer games against his mates who were rooted to their own couches, dozed off and complained at any faint hint that they should maybe go out and find something interesting to do. But hey, that's me.
It's the Fat Kid's way of enjoying a cheap night out... and it is spreading rapidly.
So, boys of Southend, if you notice a slight movement in the bush across the road, or hear a faint giggle, or notice an unfamiliar car pass your house for the third time, don't worry... just sit back down, light up your doobie and continue your quest to pimp out another prostitute in the latest version of Grand Theft Auto.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Lite bytes

Standing around enjoying a few lunchtime shandies in the Batman, the subject turned to the history of computer games. My esteemed colleagues Leethal, Adders, Critch and Barry the (page) Builder were all quick to extole the virtues of those wonderful early days when you could gun down advancing space invaders or gobble up luminous pacmen.
In fact Leethal, a tyrant for the trivial, informed us that Pacmen had made so much for its inventors that they actually bought a Las Vegas Casino with the proceeds.
Then the subject turned to the consoles themselves, and which ones they had owned during their early days of geekdom. Words like Sega Megadrive, Atari and Commadore 64 were bandied about with gay abandon as our competitive clique tried to outdo each other.
I, on the other hand, fell into a sullen silence, realising that at no stage had I EVER owned a computer or games console of my own. In fact, I don't now. The laptop I use at home is one I bought for Mrs Rippers on her birthday a few years ago.
When I revealed this to the gathered crew it was greeted with a stunned silence.
Tumbleweeds rolled through the bar area until Critch broke the awkward moment.
"Luddite!" he declared.
No arguments there... but I won't be promoting this dubious claim to fame in any interview for online jobs that might arise.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Daube Provencal

I'VE seen a glimpse into my future - and it's quite an amusing sight.
Travelling into work on the Shoeburyness Flyer this morning, my perusal of the Metro was interrupted by the arrival in the seats opposite of two young boys, aged about 5 and 3, closely followed by their mum.
As the journey progressed she warned them that the train was designated a "quiet one" and people were only allowed to whisper on it. Amusing, and the youngest lad lapped it up, speaking in hushed tones for the next 50 minutes.
Mum was certainly going to have her work cut out. She had a journey all the way to Doncaster and would have to keep her two boys amused for several hours. There would also be a lot of to'ing and fro'ing from seat to pushchair to retrieve various drinks, snacks and toys. But judging by her efforts on the way to Fenchurch Street I imagine she was going to sail through it.
Why my optimism? Because this lady was able to give her kids a full and comprehensive analysis of Star Wars.
Having mentioned the films the eldest boy began to ask questions and mum had the answer to everything. Good knowledge for a girl, I thought.
In fact, even my own, rather piecemeal recollections on the subject were put into context. I reckon she would have got big marks if she had adopted it as specialist subject on Mastermind.
This clever lady gave fine descriptions of the main characters, remembered which one was R2D2 and which one was C3PO, explained the battles between the good forces and the evil ones, and gave a pretty good description of Wookies, the Force, the Millennium Falcon and the Death Star.
Here's an example...
SON: So Luke Skywalker has the force, is he like Dr Who?
MUM: No because the force is like magical powers. Dr Who doesn't have those, he's not magic. He just has a sonic screwdriver."
My favourite moment, though, was when mum actually got stuck over one of the army of villains. She knew of Imperial stormtroopers and the like, but this one fact evaded her.
Suddenly, the dry looking businessman opposite folded his Times under his arm, removed his glasses and looked across earnestly.
"I think you will find they are called X-Fighters," he said.
I guess being a parent you need to be the fount of all knowledge.

Meanwhile, Livvy continues to grow. She is now pretty snug in the Big Boy's old Winnie the Pooh pyjamas, which were hanging off her a few weeks ago.
And she is advancing in other ways, too. She managed to roll over on her own the other day, and punched her little soft toy Mr Cow off the changing table this morning.
Don't know where she gets her temper from.

Newsflash: I am applying for a job online. Oh yeah, it's a happening thing this new web thingy. Apparently it could be the future...

The other day I did a great Anthony Bourdain recipe called Daube Provencale. I borrowed it from one of his books and fed it to wife and mum in law, who loved it (or so they tell me)...

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
Boneless lamb shoulder joint, cut into 2-inch pieces (had to use my electric knife for this because wanted to keep the bone)
A packet of cubed pancetta (or bacon cut into lardons)
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 celery rib, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon flour
1 cup white wine
1 cup strong, dark stock
1 small carrot, coarsely chopped
1 bouquet garni
Zest of 1 orange
2 potatoes, peeled and cut into large dice
4 sprigs of flat parsley

Salt and pepper the lamb
Heat olive oil in a large, heavy saucepan (or dutch oven) and add the butter.
Let the butter bubble then die down and add the lamb in pieces (you may wish to do this a batch at a time so they cook better).
Cook on high heat until the lamb is all deep, dark brown. Do this with the bone and any meat left on it, too.
Remove meat from pan and set aside.
Add the pancetta or bacon to the pan and cook until crisp, then set aside.
Pour away some of the oil, then add onion, celery and garlic and cook over medium heat until it softens.
Stir in the tomato paste and cook, stirring, for a minute.
Stir in the flour and cook for another minute, then add the white wine, scraping up the brown stuff from around the pan.
Bring to the boil, reduce the wine by half then add the stock.
Bring back to the boil, reduce to a simmer then return all the meat and bacon to the pan, together with the bouquet garni, carrots and orange zest.
Season with salt and pepper, cover the pot and simmer low over 90 minutes, occasionally skimming the fat from the surface of the stew.
After 90 minutes add the potatoes.
Cook for another 15 minutes, skim any oil from top, then add parsley at the end and serve.
I steamed some broccoli with this and added chunks of bread but it can be served as it is in big bowls.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Cold Chinese

THERE was always a little niggle in the back of my brain that returning to London might not be quite the sunshine and roses it appeared to be. There was something I had forgotten about when taking the dramatic step of moving back to the smoke for work, but I couldn't put my finger on it...
Last night, it hit me with full force. Bloody London transport. Or, for that matter, any mode of transport in and around the nation's capital.
After an enjoyable few hours spent in the Batman with Adam "webmaster" Marshall and Critch I started to make my return journey to the delights of Shoeburyness, hoping to get in just after the Fat Kid had taken delivery of our eagerly anticipated supper from the local chinese.
I got on the Docklands Light Railway at Shadwell, one quick stop away from Limehouse and the main line train that would whiz me back East. Trotting down the steps from the DLR I had no inkling of the saga that was to follow. Then I was confronted with a padlocked gate where the entrance to the mainline station should have been. Hmm.
No message of explanation, no one to advise you on how to continue your journey, nothing but a sheet of impenetrable steel secured by a bloody great lock. Joy.
Retracing my steps I reckoned I would have to take a bit of an unwanted detour but figured if I could get to West Ham I could catch my train from there. This involved getting back on the DLR, travelling to Canary Wharf, then jumping aboard a Jubilee Line tube.
The first part of the plan went ok, until I realised I had dropped my return ticket during the shenanighans. I had the receipt, though, so went to the ticket counter where a very unhelpful assistant told me it was no good... I would have to buy another.
Humphing rather loudly I then spent another £9.50 on a single to Shoeburyness and then jumped on the next available tube heading East.
It went one stop and then ejected me unceremoniously at north Greenwich. I waited to see if the train would move on and another one replace it so that I could get to West Ham. It didn't move.
Finally, I asked another helpful assistant where I would be able to get a tube to my destination. "Oh, you want platform 3," he said.
So I changed platforms and jumped on the next available tube.
Result, it got me to West Ham. Shouldn't be long now before I could settle into a comfy seat and wile away the next hour on route to the Fat Kid's.
I found the entrance to the mainline station at West Ham. It was blocked off with tape. A message read that no trains were stopping at the station. Then I heard my first announcement. "Due to overhead branches falling onto power lines, mainline trains are out of action between Fenchurch Street and Barking." B@ll*cks".
I thought maybe I should get a taxi to Barking so exited the station. Then had second thoughts. I could get a District Line train to Barking instead.
Yeah, but my newly purchased ticket wouldn't let me back into the station. Fellow travellers passing me as I stood there couldn't fail to notice the steam coming out of my ears. I was about to explode in full Rippers mode, fuelled by four pints of Carling.
Sod this, I thought, and barged my way through the barriers, charged onto the platform and boarded a district line train.
Finally, getting to Barking there were signs I might actually be able to get my train. I climbed aboard one which was helpfully labelled Shoeburyness. I sat there, among other people, for a good 10 minutes. Nothing happened.
Then the driver came into the carriage and helpfully informed us the next Eastbound train would be leaving from the platform opposite. "When?" I asked.
"In three minutes."
Gathering my bag and other junk I raced up the stairs, across the bridge, and down the other side, charged into the first carriage and found myself a seat. And waited. And waited. And waited.
Then saw a train labelled Shoeburyness depart from a platform next to us. "AAAAAAARGH!"
Our train did finally pull out another 15 minutes later, and I eventually got back to the Fat Kid's just before midnight.
And, yes, the Chinese was cold.
Bloody London transport.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Wetting the baby's head

AFTER two and a half weeks of putting my feet up (... hold on that should be up and down the stairs about 30 times a day) I have finally returned to the relative comfort of work.
My colleagues on the Screws have been immensely supportive during the period since Olivia was born and we have had loads of congratulations cards and prezzies for the new arrival. Thanks to everyone for being so kind.
The charity doesn't extend to the office environment, however. Some people, in particular, can be exceptionally cruel.
Take one of our design experts, Adders. During the serious business of conference the other day he interrupted talks of World Cup finals, Liverpool future signings and the like to pipe up: "I bet Rippers is going to save a lot of money with this baby."
Everyone looked at him rather perplexed, and the boss asked him for an explanation. "Well, she can wear all Rippers' hand-me-downs," he replied, a rather crude jibe over my stature.
Rather than sympathy from my colleagues, however, the whole office fell about laughing, leaving me to consider my options. After all it was a particularly heightest remark.

Another rather cruel demand came from sports editor Macca, who ordered me to the pub in his dulcet east end tones. "Right, Rippers, down the pub. We have to wet the baby's head."
No arguments about having things to sub or e mails to catch up with would be entertained.
So, with heavy heart, we headed off in baking London temperatures to a pub which Macca assured us was a really good East End boozer, having a landlord with a heart of gold and a beautiful beer garden in which to soak up the rays. No doubt it sold jellied eels too.
No doubt I say because we reached the boozer only to find it was shut. No matter, we moved on to another very nice pub called the Town of Ramsgate. A bit of a walk from the office and when Critch followed on later, dodgy knees and all, he insisted that he would probably need a taxi back.
Still, it was a fun afternoon with much conversation surrounding the fact that one of our happy band, design guru Jim'll fix it, had spent the previous week in Berlin pestering the locals dressed in a giant Lion suit. He had become so enraptured with the Screws' website cartoon character Leo the Lion that he had "volunteered" to travel to the Brandenberg gate to "scare" the locals before England's last 16 World Cup tie against Germany.
Taking his role extremely seriously, it appears that at one stage Jim actually texted the editor at 10 at night, communicating AS LEO. The message infered that he was "one chimpanzee short of a gorilla". None of us would argue.
The heat obviously got the better of him, too, because there is one picture doing the rounds of Jim, prone on the floor, apparently asleep in Lion costume minus head, which is lovingly tucked under his arm. Disney wouldn't do it justice.
As for the scaring, it must have worked. The Germans were so petrified they ran, very fast, towards the England goal, depositing four goals into our net into the bargain.
That was the end of the Capello challenge, and last night the World Cup came to an end for another four years with Spain beating Holland 1-0 in extra time to become the new champions.
Well deserved, too.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Milk monitor

I am writing this at just gone 6am in the morning having had to take my little treasure Olivia Jasmine for a walk in the buggy. Not my preferred time for a walk I must admit, but it's actually quite refreshing with the birds singing and the cool air.
Parents always tell you about sleepless nights when you have a child but you never quite realise how little sleep you get until it comes to you. Having dozed off for a good, solid four hours in the evening when the Fat Kid turned up to see her new sis and the Vin Monster his auntie ("What, how can she be? She's a baby", he cried), Olivia decided that the night is her time and that she would not settle for mum and dad to get some rest.
After a number of feeds that turned mum into a walking zombie, and more nappy changes than you can shake a pooh stick at, the only solution in the end was the fresh air. Already, I have the feeling Livvy will be a country girl. The first breath of a breeze on her face, and the first sound of birds tweeting, sends her into an almost serene calm which, having wailed off and on for the previous four hours, is a blessing, I can tell you. Mind you, my pecs are beginning to resemble those of Geoff Capes having had to lug the car seat from pillar to post over these last few days.
On Thursday we registered Livvy for her birth certificate, so she can now get a passport if she wants which, knowing the meagre state of my finances, won't be any time soon.
She has already made a starring appearance in the Bristol Evening Post, too, so is showing a hankering for picture bylines. The reporter rang up and asked what we wanted her to be and I couldn't help thinking, "Anything but a journalist. Get a proper job that actually pays proper money." Then, hopefully, she will be able to look after me in my old age - though by the time she is 30 I'll be 80 and I can't honestly envisage getting there.

Of course, normally in a World Cup year I would be watching every single moment of football on the tv but, what with running around after Mrs Rippers, who still has a way to go on her rehab and can't overdo it after the major surgery she has undergone, and working my magic as the sleep inducer for Little Liv, I have barely seen a moment in the last two weeks.
Must admit, though, I wish I hadn't seen England's dreadful demise. It reminds me of three days before the birth when the sports desk of the Screws descended on Batman (Cape, remember?) to watch the Algeria game.
All the other lads were ordering the beer in bulk but I had to cry off because I feared Mrs R could go into labour and I would have to make the three-hour trip back to Bristol to be there in time for the birth.
Half way through the second half, with everyone's pre-game optimism sinking with the realisation Capello's brave boys were going to be held to a 0-0 draw, boss Macca jabbed me in the shoulder and said: "Hey Rippers, if your wife goes into labour, can I go instead?"

Yeah, British sporting disappointment abounds. England crushed 4-1 by Germany and denied a goal that landed about two feet over the line (the ultimate irony after 1966), though their so-called superstars deserved nothing else, and Andy Murray out of Wimbledon in straight sets. Ever felt it was groundhog day?
Still, pleased with the Gas who have actually made three impressive signings. They are all relatively young and have lots to prove.
I was actually fearing our manager Paul Trollope was going to go and pay out for ageing, lacklustre, care-less players who would just drain our meagre wage bill and show no passion in return... like Lampard, Terry and Gerrard, for instance.