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Monday, 24 April 2017

“This Beard Is for Siobhan”



Walthamstow log: 24th April 2017:16:00hrs

We'd been told that the hipster tide had peaked and now was receding: leaving the flotsam and jetsam of funny beards, tweed waistcoats and brown brogues stranded on the High Street. In our Post Brexit, Pre Teresa Tyranny world we thought we were safe from newly opened artisan pizza parlours, craft beer outlets and hand baked slow raised rye and  bacterial leavening breads.

It was a false dawn; that hipster tide was simply taking a breather. It has found renewed vigour and is this very instant lapping against the portals of the Coidan household. I'm talking beards. I'm talking many beards, beards of all shapes and sizes. Fool that I was to believe that Good Ole King Gillette had vanquished the hirsute visages that had populated every TV screen, every style mag and high end hang out. Not at all.

In the good old days you were able to go into your local and find a place to lean against the bar and sup your pint with ample breathing space between you and the next imbiber. Not anymore. Now entering your local is like discovering that your horse hair mattress has sprung a leak. You can't turn around without finding yourself with a face full of someone else's beard. Our pub has banned frothy beer and the wringing out of beards more than once of an evening. Some evenings you'd be forgiven for thinking you'd happened upon a ZZTops' or Demon Hunter's Beard convention.

This beardiness is contagious: even those of us used to a regular wet shave with brush and soap bowl have been struck down by the beardy lurgy. I...have...grown...face fungus. I know, it took a lot to spit out that. I have a beard! It was an accident - honest. At the time I switched to a new shaving cream my face became sore. I thought it might be the change in routine so I stopped shaving and continued stopping until I had quite a face full of hair. I rather liked the badger white stripe down the middle of my chin - made me look grizzled but in a nice way.

The beard kept growing and I liked the extra 20 minutes in bed not shaving every morning gave me. The missus was quite restrained, only infrequently commenting on the remains of meals stuck in my beard or my passing resemblance to a walrus. I think it was last Friday at a neighbour's wedding reception at our local - the one infested with beards - I decided that something had to be done with my bewhiskered phizog. The bridegroom had had his brush trimmed and it looked quite fetching.

So this morning saw me popping along to Walthamstow's own "man shop" - The Cove to have a beard trimming. The missus thinks I now look quite respectable - which can't be bad can it?

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

"Jumpin' Jack Flash, It's a Gas, Gas, Gas."


I'm not very good with reality. I'm pretty hopeless when it comes to material, hard, physical things - like gas boilers. Or more precisely our combi boiler.

It was installed when combinations were all the rage. Bit like ceramic washers and electric car windows. You had to have them if you were middle class and pensionable. Our boiler has done us well for...we don't exactly remember when we bought it. If I had my old Quicken money management software I could tell you - except moving to a new computer and new Windows put an end to that.

Anyway we have it annually serviced - recently by British Gas (BG). I can't say they're the best. You see three years ago we had our kitchen "refreshed", that is we kept the carcases and replaced the doors etc: as well as replacing all the failing appliances. We decided to hide our combi boiler behind an attractive cupboard.

The BG service took place just after the boiler was boxed in. The engineer checked out the boiler and gave it a clean bill of health. It went wrong the next day.  The next engineer said he couldn't do anything because he couldn't get to the boiler because of its covering. I explained that it had been checked and cleared by a colleague from the self same firm. I produced the pro-forma I had been handed by the previous engineer. Everything ticked as it should be.

I can't recall exactly what the engineer said about his work mate's competence and knowledge of boilers. We had to dismantle the boiler's covering. The engineer came back and gave the old boiler a thorough going over and a clean bill of health. We reinstated the boiler's modesty.

This year it hasn't been well. First, it got the wind. Regularly the pressure gauge swung into the "if you don't let me fart I'm going to explode" range. With an Allan key I slowly release the pressure and all was well until the next time. Then, it began to suffer from pressure starvation. The hot water system would register zero pressure. There was no pressure where there ought to be some. Initially the loss of pressure was gradual but lately it would go from hero to zero in no time at all. Something was wrong.

I always think the worst of any situation. It's my defence mechanism.  I figure out what the worse that can happen and convince myself that's what will happen. When, inevitably, it does I've been forearmed. A propos the boiler I imagined we'd a major leak somewhere in the house, probably the upstairs bedroom and water had soaked the joists and what with wet rot and condensation the bed would plummet into the living room. Then my brain kicked in. Previously, the pressure reading had increased, now it had decreased - leaks don't act like that. There must be something wrong with a valve - or we'd need a new boiler. I instantly wrote down the Coidan's assets by three grand - the price of fitting a new boiler.

I called out BG, but not before the boiler's cupboard has been dismantled. They could come out the next day between 8 am and noon. The engineer arrived at 10:35, spent 10 minutes going between his van and the house and finished the work in under 2 hours but over half and hour which cost £240 - with parts and a year's guarantee.

We were overjoyed. I awoke the next day to be told by the missus that we had no hot water and the central heating was roaring away despite being switched off. I contacted BG to report this slight failure in their service standard. I recall expressly stressing that I wanted the same engineer back.

We had an afternoon window 1pm to 6 pm that day. The same engineer returned and quickly identified the fault. When you turned on the hot tap that fired up the boiler! Wires crossed or something similar. He spent considerably more time testing the system after that repair than on the first occasion.

Brilliant. Except later that evening when I turned on the hot tap there was no hot water. I was onto BG so fast. I explained the history, two call outs and still it's fucked. The Scottish sounding assistant offered me a two hour slot for Thursday - two days away. Screw the two hour slot I want someone here pronto. After being told that that was impossible and all she could offer was a two hour slot two days away, I demanded to speak to her supervisor.

I was incandescent, unlike our boiler. I again explain my gripe. I'd paid £240 and after two attempts the boiler wasn't right. What training do you give your engineers I enquired, why take money for work not done? When did you last beat your wife?  The supervisor listened patiently, explained that he couldn't give me an earlier slot. He would do if he could, but it wasn't in his gift. He'd ensure that the visits team were informed of our situation, stressing my near suicidal state and he'd ensure they'd phone me the next day (today) before nine am. I pulled myself off the ceiling, thanked him and reported the outcome to the missus. She was duly impressed by my forceful but calm insistence.I believed a small battle had been won. I mentally drafted a letter to "You and Yours" as I went into the kitchen to put the dirty plates etc in the dishwasher.

As I was pre-washing the plates I noticed that the water out of the hot water tap was getting hotter. I rushed upstairs to the bathroom. Turning on the sink and bath taps produced the same result - hot water! I went downstairs again, messed around with all the on/off combinations on the boiler. Hot water and a well tempered heating system every time.

Oh shit! I had insulted BG, their engineers, threatened to get "You and Yours" onto their case and they were going to phone me before nine in the morning to arrange an appointment. I slept surprisingly well. I woke early and watched as the clock moved towards nine. Nine came and went and no call from BG. Phew! My wife, however, pointed out that not withstanding the non call they might send out a special team to deal with our "broken" boiler.

I phoned BG, explained that the previous night I'd calmly but forcefully complained about the shoddiest workmanship I have had the misfortune to experience...and actually...I'm so sorry I was wrong...the boiler is working as it should. Hot water has never been so hot or watery. I apologised to BG, the calm and calming supervisor, the lovely young? woman who took my call and most of all to the engineer who I branded as incompetent and witless. "That alright Sir, I've looked on your record there's nothing there about you being called this morning. Have a good day. Is there anything else  I can help you with?"

My mate's advice. "I'd use a local bloke" !!!

Friday, 31 March 2017

"The Kids are Alright"



I was disappointed to discover that the actor Bill Maynard didn't have a brother, because when I turned up yesterday at the Henry Maynard Primary School and Nursery, I was convinced it was named after him

I was outside the school gate at 9 o'clock along with disgustingly young teachers and parents. Having been let into the reception area I explained to the school administor that I was a Dragon. One of a number of Dragons who were to interrogate groups of 9 year olds in "Junior Dragons' Den". I and my fellow dragons, 6 fiery characters, were greeted by the class teacher who'd recruited us and taken to the staff room - something that hadn't happened to me for well over 50 years. There we were given details of the competition. 

There would be two dens with 3 dragons: each den would evaluate inventions created by teams of kids. In my den there was a lecturer in Drama Studies from Birmingham University and a recently retired teacher. The other den was made up of two parents and a local Councillor. The kids had produced inventions based on a dishwasher, microwave oven,  phone, camera and the electric toothbrush. Each team had five minutes to pitch their ideas. They had to produce a mock up of their invention, detailed specification, a national advertising campaign, packaging and a radio advert. We were told all this had been done in a week - in between their other class work.

From the moment the first team entered our den to sell us their improved version of a microwave oven we were enthralled. All the teams came up with great radio ads. Some were jingles and others mini-plays. The mock ups were extremely impressive: a special mention to the team that produced a dishwasher - it was so detailed, and the new improved camera. The care that went into their advertising - and the really creative names they came up with for the products was brilliant. 

But it was the children themselves that impressed us the most. They came in all shapes and sizes and colours. Some were adults in miniature, some so delicious you had to stop yourselves from staring at them. And their enthusiasm: with one team we thought we were in danger of being blown out of the Dragon's Den such was the energy and excitement generated in selling us their product. 

It was exhausting, even though we had a 20 minute break. Almost 3 hours of creativity, inventiveness and sheer delight. We were asked to write something good about each team. That was so difficult. There was so much to say  about these brilliant kids. We reluctantly chose a winner. 

We were all winners. I was impressed not only with the kids - they were astounding - but also with the teachers involved who must have worked their socks off to pull off such a well organised and enjoyable event. 

It was a privilege to be involved. I so hope all that energy, creativity, and sheer fun is not dissipated as the kids grow older.