Friday, May 20, 2011

Where's Michael Winner when you need him?

Friday morning: bin collection day. The binnies can come quite early so we always put the bins out the previous night. This week, grey bin and food bin.

Except that when I left the house this morning there was no sign of the food bin. I stopped the car at the entrance to the drive to ponder its absence. Had it been abducted into the food bin slave trade? Was it an early victim of tomorrow's Rapture?

No, it was lying in two pieces on the other side of the road, and our split-open food bag was lying in the gutter. I'm sure it led to much entertainment for the rush hour traffic as I dodged cars to get across and bring back the fragments. I'm guessing someone moved it from the driveway into the centre of the road, for the lulz. The driver who hit it probably isn't accountable. Probably.

Sorting it all out meant popping back upstairs for kitchen roll and a fresh food bag, trying not to touch anything because my hands were filthy, then loading up the fresh bag with the remains of the food. Coffee grounds ... egg shells ... rotting vegetables ... lovely. At the back of my mind I was aware of a car beeping its horn but I wasn't too worried because I could see no one was trying to leave the property, so I didn't think I was blocking anyone.

Turned out I was blocking someone trying to gain access, though, to visit our neighbouring flat. Immediately I noticed the car I went over to it, filthy hands held up in explanation, but she got in first with the dialogue:

"Look, are you going to move your car?" (says the total stranger with no access rights to the person who actually lives there.)

"I will. I'm having an emergency." (Hands still up, plus she had just clearly seen me put the remains of the food bin into the grey bin.)

"What emergency?" (Explanation of emergency in rising tones of irritation.) "So is that my fault? Are you going to move your car?"

Oh, how I wish I could have that five minutes back again to be decently, properly rude instead of just blowing my top at the uncivil ungracious self-obsessed baggage, which is the easy option and loses moral authority. Suggestions from helpful colleagues when I finally got into the office were:
  • The Michael Winner option: "Calm down, dear ..."
  • (holding hands up) "Do you want me to touch you?"
  • (leaning on bonnet with dirty hand) "Now look, sweetie …"
  • "Give us a kiss and tell me your problems ..."

Sunday, May 15, 2011

In a real hurry to do some shopping

The car on the left, number plate obscured, is ours. We were there first. We came back from the shops to find the car on the right, black Citroen no. LC04AWA, had urgently parked next to us. So urgently it was choosing to ignore the niceties of white lines and other conventions like that.

Seen from the front, the artistry of their not quite hitting us becomes apparent. To get into my own car, I had to climb across from the passenger side.

Let me stress that under no circumstances should the words "learn to drive yer husband's car, luv" be used in this kind of situation, unless of course you can guarantee you're offending the right person. Just bear in mind it might have been the husband driving and have the courtesy to refine your offensive jeers accordingly.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Compliant department

Once upon a time - early to mid nineteenth century, from the available evidence - someone built a large four-storey out-of-townhouse on the far outskirts of Abingdon. It was an earlier, more innocent age. Smoke detectors and fire alarms hadn't been invented and the only noticeable fire prevention systems were the tiled floors around the fireplaces that unexpectedly come to light when inhabitants redecorate and lift up the carpets for the first time. (I said innocent, not stupid.)

In the mid 1970s, the house was converted into flats, one per floor. This was also an earlier and more innocent age, and possibly a more stupid one too, because they still didn't pay much attention to what would happen in the event of fire. The front doors off the flats were still the original doors off the hallway and landing and the only means of escape other than gravity was the central stairwell, so if that caught fire, that was your problem.

In 1991 a callow young 26-year-old moved into one of the flats, and as an owner became by default a member of the management company, but he hadn't thought much about the deeper issues of life such as dying horribly in a fire and never even raised an eyebrow at the thought that he might be living in a deathtrap. And nor did the other owners.

'Twas only in early 2010 that the young man, now a bit older and happily married and also the secretary of the management company, as the only owner-occupier left standing, was persuaded by his wife that installing battery powered smoke detectors from Homebase might add slightly to the overall happiness of the human race. They were duly installed. Meanwhile a new tenant had moved in to the top flat with her two daughters, and her ex-husband was a fireman. The fireman took one look at the building where his progeny were now dwelling and was ... unimpressed.

The first the company secretary knew was when he received a call from the fire department to say that in response to "a complaint from a member of the public" (whose identity wasn't too hard to guess: options, fireman ex-husband of neighbour, or casual passerby who surveyed the building from outside and thought "hmm, probably not safe"), he had been to visit the property and noticed the absence of smoke detectors. This was in June last year. As the detectors had been up since March, he either wasn't very observant or had visited at least three months earlier and only just got round to issuing his report. This was finally followed up in September by a formal visit, suggesting the fire department themselves weren't feeling the urgency. He agreed the battery smoke detectors were a good stop-gap but not enough. In November we (you'd guessed, hadn't you?) received formal notification that:
  1. A grade D, LD3 automatic fire alarm system is to be fitted in the common parts of the house. This comprises of mains powered, with battery back up supply smoke detectors on each landing and a break glass call point by the front door, these need to be interconnected by either wire or wireless means.
  2. All flats, including those to the rear of the premises are to have domestic smoke detectors fitted, these can be battery powered.
  3. An emergency lighting system conforming to BS 5266 is to be installed in the common parts of the house
  4. Water extinguishers should be available at each level of the landing
  5. The flat doors opening onto the common stairwell are to be 30 minute fire resisting, i.e. solid construction, self closing, have a 25mm stops and smoke and heat seals
  6. A suitable Fire Risk Assessment should be carried out listing,
    a) the fire hazards
    b) the people who are at risk
    c) evaluation/removal of these hazards
    d) a record of findings.
    e) a planed review date.
To be on the safe side we both planed and planned the review date and in between other items like having jobs, having a life and so on, it all got done by the agreed cut-off point of 30 April 2011. And today we had our formal inspection, which must have taken at least 2 minutes, and I can proudly report that we are compliant!

Or as Bonusbarn puts it, if we all die in a fire now, we can claim on insurance. Well, quite.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Hole in the wall

This is exactly what you want to be the first thing you see when you pop home at lunchtime on a completely unrelated errand.

A hole in the wall by the side of the carpark.

At first I thought it had just crumbled and a couple of stones had fallen out. Then I saw the distinct dent in the concrete post in front of it and had one of those Pascal-like pensées: "some bugger's rammed this."

And then I went round to the other side of the wall, which is next to someone's driveway ...

Oh, dear.

There were no eye witnesses but there were ear witnesses. It happened shortly after 11am, so was probably someone making a delivery rather than a resident. That meant it wasn't hard to pin down who it might have been and after I'd contacted his company he called me to fess up: a charming Sikh gentleman who had actually been doing a quote for work on our downstairs neighbour's flat. His foot slipped on the brake, he was going to tell us but then he got a phone call and it completely slipped his mind ...

Anyway, all's well that ends well and our insurers are on top of it. We have however indicated to the owners of the flat that we would rather this gent wasn't in any way involved in work that might affect the structure of the building. Not if he's that absent minded.

It would be quite cool if the collapsed wall had revealed some hidden treasure or a map or a dead body or ... Nah, no such luck.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Kindle egg

They're suspicious people down at Amazon. Cheryl put up Kindle versions of His Majesty's Starship and Jeapes Japes and they promptly got taken down again until Amazon could be absolutely sure she had the right to publish them. They'd noticed paper versions exist, you see. Can't be too careful.

But, we were able to convince them and the Wizard's Tower Kindle editions of said books are now available - as already were The New World Order, The Xenocide Mission and Time's Chariot. So, the entire Jeapes oeuvre is now available Kindlectronically. Buy them now. It is your destiny.

Monday, May 02, 2011


So, Dr Who is off with a swing. It took its time, though. It's good to be thrown into the middle of the action ... but it helps to know why we're meant to care first. Last week's episode wasn't really the start to a series; it should have been about three quarters of the way through, having previously introduced Amy + Rory + River to any new viewers. It's nice to have my intelligence respected by a TV producer who expects me to work it out, but if I was a new viewer starting from scratch, I expect I'd have got about halfway through "The impossible astronaut" before turning off out of irritation. Hey look, they're all upset that their friend's dead. But he's not! Oh, he's a younger version. So why not tell him what happened anyway? Since when did this guy, of all guys, pay close attention to the sacrosanctity of the timelines?

But that was a blip. Last week was worth persevering with and this week we strike gold, with creepy tensions and some laugh-out-loud moments, the first of which was River's means of not dying by falling from the fiftieth floor of a building. And the mystery of finding out who the little girl is will keep me more hooked than the weird crack in the wall from last year.

The Moff does have a few leitmotifs up his sleeve that he likes to reuse, doesn't he? Decaying, creepy locations, possibly with cryptic messages scrawled on the wall. Inscrutable aliens who are nasty because they're scary and inscrutable but not very good at explaining their motives. Small children in danger. The inability of two people to have a simple conversation going: "look, please can you explain what's going on?" / "Why, certainly. As you can see, I'm in this spacesuit ..." He's good at juggling them but he doesn't have that many opportunities to use them left before they start being boring ...

So, as the late Nicholas Courtney's most famous character would have said, onwards!

Sunday, May 01, 2011

On abbreviations alone we have a clear winner

I've not yet seen last night's Dr Who so I'll talk about the other burning issue on everyone's mind.

I haven't decided how I'll vote in the referendum on how to vote. Both sides make some good cases. Both also make bad ones. Nothing winds me up more than people I agree with using bad logic to support their argument; because if you can't find good logic to support it, what exactly does that say about your case?

Sad fact about FPTP: it does not guarantee the winner is the guy with the majority vote, whatever nice Mr Cameron might say. Not if they got 40% and their two opponents got 30% each. Do the sums. You can probably do that even if you are a Tory. You will get a guaranteed majority winner only if there are two candidates - and, nationally, if all constituencies are approximately equal. Which they are not.

Sad fact about AV: the most popular candidate is not the guaranteed winner - it may well be everyone's second or third choice who gets in. But (and it's a big but) the policies that candidate represents are most likely the policies of interest to the majority of voters. There's a subtle difference but it's an important one. Suddenly no seat is a safe seat; no candidate can just cruise in because they're representing a constituency that has voted the same way since 1066 and the opposition needn't bother turning up.

A strong argument against FPTP is that twice in my lifetime now it has delivered prime ministers with such a landslide majority, and the personal conviction to back it up, that they can and did do pretty well what they wanted, unopposed; and yet they did not represent anything like the majority of the country. If I knew AV would never deliver another Thatcher or Blair, that would count very heavily in its favour

A strong argument for FPTP is that contrary to popular belief, it can even cope when you get a logjam in the political process and no one wins. Like, a year ago. Given that it still works in that regard, why change it? What is beyond dispute to me that FPTP has always, always delivered the government that was needed on election day. I will say that for Thatcher and I will say it for Blair, because in both cases the opposition was so untenable. And I say election day. It may well be that within a few years, months or even weeks it is no longer the government we need; but on election day, it always has been.

Meanwhile, there are more burning issues to tackle which will go a long way to making our parliamentary system fairer. Boundary reform so that every MP represents approximately the same proportion of the population. Sorting out once and for all the present cludge that gives some citizens of the UK two parliaments and some only one. Things like that. I have a sneaking suspicion AV is just paint on the cracks. FPTP is unfair. So's life.

So, how will I vote on Thursday? Haven't decided. AV has the better publicity but it will take more than clever cat videos to win me over completely and they have four days in which to do it.