Thursday 20 March 2008

Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner's Daughter

Bert is currently upsetting our younger daughter (L).

Most weekday mornings Bert starts his day with a cycle ride (of sorts: I think I may post on that next time), or a long run around the neighbourhood. He has done this for many years, and the girls have always found it highly embarrassing. We live just up the road from their old primary school, and around the corner from their current secondary school. They have had numerous comments over the years from teachers and schoolfriends along the lines of "Was that your dad I saw...?"

So what's new?

Until recently Bert set off on his run or bike ride at about 7.30, and was back home before school started. But now, in encroaching middle age (it's alright - he doesn't read this blog so I can say that), he gets going later and sets off just around the time they go to school. Now L. is finding lots of her friends saying "Is that your dad? What is he wearing?". The answer is a pair of skimpy little old-fashioned shorts, and a very raggy old triathlon top.

L. asked him if he would consider stopping, or at least changing his route and / or his shorts (it might not have been that polite - she is 13). He thought about it momentarily: "No chance!". She asked me to intervene and I said to him, "She's got a point - couldn't you go a different way, or set off a bit later?". "B*llocks," he said. "I've been doing this for years and I'm not going to change my routine now."

We argued a bit more about it. His final point was that if L's friends commented on my grey hair, would I dye it just so as not to embarrass her? I said that would be different. Well it would, wouldn't it?

(And this on a day when I've got a lovely new haircut and colour.)

The current state of play is that L. is 'ignoring' Bert. She keeps forgetting, and halfway through talking to him she suddenly shrieks "Oh Dad!" and stomps off.

I can see this one will run and run.

Monday 17 March 2008

Hot stuff

I have another course workshop coming up in May, and today I was investigating accommodation options. I was a bit horrified at how expensive everywhere seems to be. Bert's suggestions were helpful, as always:
  • Ask the barrister if she will pay half of your hotel fee. (See my previous post)
  • How about camping? That's your other option.
Bert seems to think that because the person I crashed into is a barrister with a Porsche means I (we) shouldn't have to cough up for the damage.

Anyway, in my last post I was so taken up with the Porsche incident I clean forgot to tell you about the fireman.

When I first arrived at the hotel for the last workshop, I was highly stressed because I'd got lost in the Oxford countryside and spent over one and a half hours driving around an area of about three square miles. So I quickly dumped my bags in my room and headed straight for the bar.

I soon spotted someone reading the text book for my course. I introduced myself and we had a nice chat getting to know each other. Then all of a sudden she jumped up muttering something about expecting a phone call, and left. I was really taken aback and thought I must have said something to offend her.

Then a guy who had just come in to the bar started talking to me and before I could respond he'd sat down next to me: "D'you mind if I sit here? Just say if you mind." He then regaled me with his life history, especially the fact that his wife had left him, that he had a house of his own, that he was ready to meet someone again, that he was there to learn how to drive the fire engine, what an amazing effect his uniform had on women, etc. etc. After a while, I made sure to make frequent mentions of my husband and children, my Catholic upbringing, my utter belief in monogamy, and my phobia of fire-related paraphernalia.

(I might not have tried so hard to repel him if he'd looked anything like this. But he looked more like this.)

The next day I said to my earlier companion, "I got chatted up by a fireman after you left last night." "Oh yes," she replied. "That happened to me too before you arrived!" Oh well thanks for the tip-off, I thought. Later that day it transpired that at least one of the other women on the course had also come in for the 'want to try my fireman's pole?' treatment. That we know of.

After I hurried back to my room, I texted Bert to tell him I'd been chatted up by a sad and lonely fireman. "Ah," he replied,"the perils of not having me there".

Thursday 13 March 2008

A dent in my reputation

I've just been away for a couple of days, starting a coach-mentoring course. I figure that if I can't get Bert to change his ways, I can at least do my bit to help others change theirs.

The workshop was amazing: very intensive (and exhausting), a fantastic learning experience, and an unexpectedly enjoyable social event. My fellow learners are open, friendly, relaxed and very interesting to talk with - just as you might expect from coaches and coaches-to-be. I left on a really high note.

It didn't last long. As I was leaving the hotel car park, I reversed into another car.

I was just about to turn right to get on to the main road, when I noticed a sign to the left with the name of the place I wanted to go - the 'country lane' route. Without looking or thinking (the car may have been in gear but my brain obviously wasn't), I reversed just a little teensy bit so I could change direction. CRUNCH. F*ck! B*llocks! Sh*t! etc. I got out of my car and realised that the driver was one of the women off the course.

Thankfully she was very decent about it, not aggressive or unpleasant (well, it was pretty clear-cut that it was my fault). She did say a little plaintively, "I've only just got the car." Then while I was falling over myself apologising and feeling absolutely mortified she said, "Of course it had to be a Porsche, didn't it?". I drew a sharp breath. I'd vaguely noticed that it was a nice silver sporty type of car. And new, and shiny. But why did it have to be a Porsche?

As I eventually drove off (in the wrong direction as it happens), I felt sick. How was I going to tell Bert? I realised I was actually quite shaken, so after a few miles I pulled into a service station. I knew that I had to tell Bert before I could start to feel better, so I took my courage into my hands and ... texted him: 'I'm afraid I just reversed into a Porsche'.

My phone rang instantly. "That's a joke, right?" (Sadly that is the sort of thing I do. There's probably a moral there somewhere.) I assured him it wasn't a joke but Bert surprised me by being more like this than this. Even though - I forgot to mention this little detail - I was driving his car at the time. Well, mine is in a bit of a state after being off the road so long. (Maybe there's a moral in that too.)


Later in the evening I got a text from my pal H congratulating me on my bump. I texted back saying I was surprised she'd heard so quickly, and how amazed I was at Bert's (lack of) reaction. She responded: 'Yep. Think he quite proud actually. Be diff if you'd pranged a mini'. Then she sent me another text: 'He mentioned had thirty years no claims but he impressed no damage to his car'. Ah. I gave him a story.

Sunday 9 March 2008

Really small talk

I often complain that Bert doesn't have the knack of pleasant chit-chat. It is my belief that he only speaks when necessary (and that's according to his definition of necessary, not anyone else's). Yesterday I decided to prove this, and started to record everything he said to me. This is a complete transcript of the first couple of hours (after that I told him what I was doing and then we had an argument about whether he'd said these things quite like this - reader, he did).

1. You needed to get that Magpie [recycling] box out earlier.

2. You should have opened this [steamy bathroom] window.

3. We need to go, like now.

4. Do you know how much electricity your PC uses per year, being on standby?

5. You need to book a day to cut down brambles with me.

6. You need to set time aside for pointing, and it needs to be at 5 o'clock.

In that last one, Bert didn't mean that I would be pointing at him, saying "You never say anything nice!" or something like that. No, he meant cleaning up the pointing on his brickwork that he was about to do. You have to clean it up before it sets hard, otherwise it looks messy. He couldn't do it himself, because after laying the bricks he was off out for an all-day bender.

Later today we are off for a naming ceremony for our friends' new baby Grover. I am deeply honoured to have been asked to be her guide parent (hey - I'm a GP!). I'm almost certain they're not following the trend to acquire 'trophy' god/guide parents.

In the meantime Bert has just gone out to retrieve his mobile phone that he left in the pub last night. As he set off he was moaning that what with that and the baby naming, he wasn't going to get any bricklaying done today.

Wednesday 5 March 2008

Stamp of (dis)approval

Bert had an altercation with the Post Office today. He has sent a number of recorded delivery letters recently, all of which have failed to arrive.

I hardly need tell you that these are letters of complaint. He is writing to the electricity board to complain about them digging up his (our) garden to lay their cables without consent.

Hmmm - maybe he sent my Valentine card by recorded delivery, as that failed to arrive too.

Anyway, today he phoned up to complain about the non-arrival of his mail. They said there is nothing they can do to trace the letters. "But what about using the tracking numbers I was given when I sent the letters recorded delivery?" he asked. "No. Tracking numbers are no good. We can only track a letter using its tracking number once it has been received and signed for."

"Hang on," Bert said. "What, then, is the point of a tracking number?" "Well sir, once a letter has been signed for, we use the tracking number to ascertain whether the letter was delivered late or not. But until it has been signed for, the tracking number has no significance whatsoever. Indeed, it does not even appear in our system. We keep no record of tracking numbers."

"Okay," said Bert. "So what about my letters which appear to have disappeared? Do I get compensation for those?" "Well that depends," they replied. "We offer £10 compensation for letters that are delivered, i.e. signed for, more than 15 days late. But if the letter is lost, i.e. never signed for, then we offer a book of stamps in compensation. To claim this, you need to send in the original ticket with the tracking number." "So hang on," said Bert, "I send in the original ticket - using a stamp - and then you send me a book of stamps in return?" "Exactly." "So when is a letter lost, and when is it late?" asked Bert. "A letter is lost if it is not delivered, i.e. signed for, within 30 days," replied the Post Office.

They went on to explain that recorded delivery letters are far more likely to end up 'lost' than your average first or second class letter. This is because recorded delivery letters are sent in batches, and big companies receive a batch but do not sign for the individual letters. Often the letters do arrive, but the Post Office doesn't know about it.

The long and short of it was that the PO was prepared to compensate Bert for his last letter, which was officially late (i.e. more than 15 but less than 30 days late). "But what about my earlier letters?" "No, they're not late any more. They're missing. We don't compensate for missing letters." Which takes us back to the book of stamps. "A book of stamps? Is that it?" Bert asked incredulously. "Well, they are first class," pointed out the PO. "Oh come on," he remonstrated. "Would you consider - instead - compensating me with the monetary value of a book of stamps? I can at least go out for a pint then and feel like I've achieved something with this phone call." They laughed. But no, stamps were as far as they were prepared to go.

As Bert pointed out, a book of stamps represented twelve more opportunities for the Post Office to lose his mail.