AirBlogs As Standard

Seeing as this week’s entry is something of a milestone (Blog #150, for those not keeping count – which I suspect is everyone apart from me), I thought I would treat you all to something a little different – an angry rant (yes, that was sarcasm). This week’s entry, is all about the stress of buying a new car.

Why do salesmen, dealerships and – in particular – car supermarkets, all like to pretend they are all making the purchase of your new motor as stress-free as possible, whilst actually making the process extremely stress-ful? I’m a lawyer, and even I think the constant bullshit they come out with is excessive.

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Along with moving home, changing jobs, and having a child, buying a new car is right up there on the ‘life’s most stressful experiences’ leaderboard. I have moved house and changed jobs a few times, and have gone through the ordeal of childbirth twice (yes, I know women have childbirth slightly worse than men, blah, blah, blah….); but as it is more than ten years since my last house move or job switch, and the chances of us having any more children are remote at best, the most recurrent life-stress in my foreseeable future is going to be changing cars.

Thinking about it, buying a new car is a little like having a baby:

  1. The whole process seems to take about nine months;
  2. When your bundle of joy arrives, you are overcome with love, and want to spend all your time with them;
  3. They smell really nice at first;
  4. After a few weeks, the novelty begins to wear off, they start to smell bad, and you realise how fucking expensive they are to maintain;
  5. It’ll probably be at least a couple of years before you get screwed again.

Having owned my current car for two years, and having witnessed the novelty wear off far sooner than with its predecessors (on account of the fact VWs are largely boring), I planned to upgrade once Christmas was over; but as soon as I started making enquiries, I knew the process was yet again going to be an unhappy one.

First of all, the part-exchange valuations I have been getting are disappointing to say the least (it’s like all the dealerships have met my children, and have – correctly – anticipated the damage they have caused to my car, both inside and out).

I am, however, realistic, and if all of the online valuations had been similar, I would have most likely accepted this, and adjusted my spending limit accordingly. Unfortunately, however, one particularly well-known car supermarket (for reasons which will become clear, I had better not mention Fords of Winsford by name), were quite a bit higher than everyone else, and I stupidly fell for it. What makes this even more irritating, is that it isn’t the first time this particular company have conned me, and I swore last time I would never go back there.

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Very much as a last resort, because I appeared to be getting nowhere with other car dealers locally, I searched the selection on Fords of Winsford’s website, and to my amazement the prices weren’t as ridiculous as I had found them in the past. I therefore assumed it would be the part-ex valuation for my car which would be the disappointment, but having completed their online form, I was pleasantly surprised – they were seemingly willing to offer around one thousand pounds more than anyone else.

To ensure this was completely accurate, I ‘modified’ the form, to correct some of the assumptions they had made about my VW: in particular, I told them that the bodywork was not perfect (thanks to a devious little bastard of a concrete pillar at Crewe County Court), that the MOT is due within six months, and that I do have a personalised number plate (although why this devalues my car is a mystery). I even over-inflated the current mileage, so that they couldn’t use this against me by the time I had driven the ten miles or so to their premises. In short, not a single bit of information on that form was anything other than accurate, yet the valuation was still coming out at £7,600 – £8,025. I was happy with that.

So, on Sunday, I braved the icy sleet and hailstones, and drove to Winsford, despite having more than a sneaking suspicion that it was a wasted trip. You see, I have bought two cars from Fords of Winsford in the past, neither was without its problems, and the few occasions I have been back there since, they have tried to screw me on the part-ex valuation. This time, however, I tried to convince myself that their online calculator was more detailed, and because I had been nothing but honest, there was no way they could fail to honour that bracket. Even if they offered me the lower end of the range, which they surely would (I’m not an idiot), it was still higher than every other company I had contacted.

I didn’t want to get my hopes up by looking at the range of Kugas on offer, and falling in love with one (the one advantage that car buying has over childbirth, is that you get to see what they look like before you commit to the deal), so I decided to make certain of the part-exchange before proceeding.

Having approached Grumpy Old Git at the entrance, and having been re-directed to Disinterested Young Girl at the main reception, I was told the waiting time for valuations was about twenty minutes. True to their word (the one time this happened in the entire visit), in just over fifteen minutes I was approached by Fat Salesman, who directed me to his ‘booth’ so that he could take some of my details down. I obliged, despite having already provided everything online that they needed to value my car, and I again made it clear that I had been very honest on their website, and expected the valuation to be within the quoted bracket.

If anything, I explained, their valuation did not take into account the recent improvements I had paid for (new tyres, cambelt, etc.), nor the Parrot phone system I had installed, and would gladly leave in the car (I neglected to mention that it is the single worst phone system ever invented).

Having gone through the motions, Fat Salesman took me over to my car, and explained we would now need to wait for Fat Engineer to come and give me an ‘exact’ valuation.

After another ten minute wait in the freezing cold, Fat Engineer waddled over, and spent a similar period inspecting my car, noting the scuff at the rear, reading the (full) service history, and laughing with Fat Salesman at the Stockport County sticker in the rear window (despite it being perfectly clear that neither had the first fucking clue about football).

Fat Salesman then pointed out to Fat Engineer that I had already received a valuation via their website (following which, the two shared a knowing smile, which did not go unnoticed), and Fat Engineer grimaced slightly – which I assumed was either his way of indicating I should prepare myself for disappointment, or else it was a build up of potentially fatal cholesterol – before wandering off.

Fat Salesman (who either had no concept of personal space, or was drawing me towards him by some kind of gravitational pull), then lead me back into the main showroom. After another ten minute wait for Fat Engineer to upload his valuation into their system – presumably the delay was down to his massive sausage fingers mistyping everything – Fat Salesman finally broke the news: their actual valuation was almost £1,000 lower than the bottom end of the bracket I had received online

I very politely – and slightly more eloquently – offered a ‘what the fuck?’ reaction, explaining for a third time about my honesty when filling in their online form, but all Fat Salesman could offer by way of an explanation, was that the website calculator was merely a guide, and it was Fat Engineer who provided the final figure.

I questioned whether their website valuation was therefore just made-up bullshit, designed to lure poor unsuspecting bastards to their showroom (presumably in the hope that, once they had travelled all the way there, they would reluctantly accept a sizeable deduction in valuation rather than leave empty-handed), but he had no answer to that. I therefore took his silence to mean ‘yes, that’s precisely what we’re doing, I can’t believe you figured us out’.

I was about to storm out, in anger at yet another wasted trip, but decided it was still worthwhile taking a look at some of their stock, if only to narrow down exactly what I wanted for my new car, even though I had no intention of buying it from them.

Having spent a further twenty minutes looking at a few cars (and making sure I trapped a particularly pungent fart in each and every one of them), I returned the keys to Woman-With-A-Face-Like-A-Bulldog-Chewing-A-Wasp, scribbled something offensive in the Stock List handout they had given me, replaced it on the pile, and then stormed out.

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My anger hadn’t subsided by the time I got home, so I made myself feel better by leaving as many negative reviews as I could muster (how very British), and was slightly comforted by the fact most of their recent online feedback was very similar.

I have since had a response from Fords of Winsford to one of my reviews, explaining (for the benefit of any potential customers reading it), that they have had some ‘teething trouble’ with their new online valuation service, and they regret my wasted trip, as that was certainly not their intention. All of which looks very reasonable to those reading, except for the fact FOW have done this to me twice in the past, long before their ‘new’ system was introduced. To rub salt into the wound, they have also e-mailed me three times since then (in the space of fourteen minutes), with precisely the same valuation. Yes, I get it, you’re lying fuckers, you don’t need to keep reminding me.

So, now I’m back to square one, hoping that somewhere out there I can find a genuine car salesman, who isn’t trying to screw everyone. After all, I’m a genuine lawyer, so I feel certain that – whilst rare – they must exist.

Either that, or I’ll keep this car forever.

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Super Blog LII

On Sunday evening (well, it mostly the early hours of Monday morning), I watched my first ever Super Bowl – between the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles, at the rather comical looking U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

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My only previous experience of American Football, was when I collected a series of NFL key rings as a child. Our local ice cream man (who, to my knowledge, still visits the road I grew up on to this day, despite the fact he – and his van – must be older than The Queen), had packets for 10p, in which you would get a random American Football shirt on a key ring, and a bubble gum. For 10p! You can’t even get a fucking Freddo for that these days.

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To this day, trading my pristine San Diego Chargers key ring, for a tatty Miami Dolphins one (it might even be the example in the picture above) – purely because it was the late ’80’s, and the Dolphins was the team everyone at school had heard of – remains one of my biggest ever regrets.

Anyway, what’s done is done. The fact is, I’ve been meaning to stay up and watch the Super Bowl for a few years now, not through any particular love of American Football (or, as they call it over there, ‘Football’ – despite a fundamental lack of any foot-to-ball contact for the vast majority of the game); but because it feels like an important event that you should witness at least once in your lifetime (like a royal wedding, the inauguration of a President, or a ‘super blue blood moon’ – which, I have since discovered, has absolutely fuck all to do with Harry Potter).

Such is the importance of this particular event, they always get a celebrity to sing The Star-Spangled Banner at the beginning, and this year they got Eddie Izzard (or it may have been Pink, it’s getting increasingly hard to tell). This gives you some idea of the national (if not, global) significance of the Super Bowl, so you get the sense it is something worth watching.

                        Pink                                         Eddie Izzard

The difference here, of course, is that most other global events are usually capable of being viewed at a sensible hour; whereas the Super Bowl doesn’t even start until nearly midnight in the UK, so to watch it requires not only an ability to survive on very little sleep the following day, but also a complete disregard for your job (assuming you’re not one of those idiots who wastes some holiday entitlement to sleep in the next day).

Whilst I undoubtedly possess a fundamental indifference towards my job, I cannot afford to lose any more sleep than I already do (or, for that matter, a precious day of holiday), so I am ashamed to say I didn’t make it all the way to the end of the game.

In fact, I didn’t even get as far as the half-time show. Granted, had the half-time show featured Katy Perry (before the stupid hair cut) rather than Justin Timberlake, I may have been inclined to stay up (in more ways than one), but the fact of the matter is I valued my sleep more than any desire to watch the game until it’s – by all accounts – thrilling conclusion.

                 Hell, Yes                                         Hell, No

Nevertheless, I saw enough to broadly follow what was happening, form an opinion of the event (and sport) itself, and choose my favourite team (of the two on show). I also promised myself that, one year, I’ll make it all the way to the end – then again, I’ve been saying the same to my wife for several years now.

I know my lack of stamina will be disappointing to some (behave), but in my defence – or, as the Americans would say, ‘defense’ (pronounced dee-fence) – this is a game which appears to be an hour long, in that it comprises four ‘quarters’ (which is the standard quota for quarters, usually) of fifteen minutes each, yet the entire spectacle somehow drags on for nearly four times that. For those struggling with the maths (or, ‘math’), that’s four hours of sport.

Four hours. I’m pretty certain my interest would start to wane after just two hours of women’s beach volleyball; so watching four hours of over-sized jocks running into each other, grunting and high-fiving, isn’t my idea of a sporting spectacle.

But the hour or so that I did watch was quite enjoyable, and by the time I retired to bed, I had a slightly better knowledge of how the game works. Until the weekend, for example, I wasn’t aware that only half of each team takes to the field at any one time (one side fields their offense against the other’s defense, and then they swap over), and I also learned more about the quarters and ‘downs’ that had previously baffled me. Admittedly, most of this knowledge came from a quick scan though a ‘Beginners Guide to American Football’, which was primarily aimed at children, but I figured that was pretty much my level.

Previously, I had assumed that when the commentators referred to the ‘3rd down’, that was the number of casualties currently lying on the field at the time. I would find myself thinking of course he’s fucking down, he’s just taken a direct impact to the skull, from a man who appears to be the same size and weight (and speed) as a Range Rover. He should be grateful he’s only down, and not deceased.

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In actual fact, a ‘down’ refers to the attacking team’s opportunity to try and advance ten yards further up the field, towards their opponent’s goal line. If they fail to achieve that ten yards, they relinquish possession of the ball to the defending team. Quite why they chose to call this a ‘down’, rather than perhaps an ‘attack’ or an ‘advance’, is beyond me.

It doesn’t stop there, either. Rather than have a Captain, or even a ‘Main Thrower’, they have a ‘Quarterback’. Then, if someone makes it all the way to the opposition’s goal line with the ball, they score a ‘touchdown’, even though they don’t have to physically touch the ball down in order to collect the requisite points.

Frankly, aside from the fact the zone at the end of the pitch is sensibly called the ‘End Zone’, the rest of American Football is just jargon that bears no resemblance to the player, act, or area of the pitch involved.

It’s not often it’s the Americans using overly complicated and inappropriate words to describe something – their vocabulary is usually far more straight-forward and logical than ours. How dare they steal our thing?

Still, despite the confusing terminology (which, I’ll admit, was rather fun to try and decipher), and the excessive number of ‘time-outs’ – which seemed to result in no player having to exert himself for more than thirty seconds before getting a well-earned break – I consider my inaugural Super Bowl something of a success.

Admittedly, I didn’t even make it until the half time show, which is supposedly a highlight (although, to be honest, I had heard rumours than Janet Jackson might join Justin Timberlake on stage again, in a repeat of the ‘nipplegate’ atrocity of Super Bowl XXXVIII from 2004, and the last thing I wanted to see at 1.30am was a 51-year-old woman’s ‘spaniel ears’ flopping around on stage), but I’ve given myself a firm basis for trying to make it to at least the half-time show next year, and perhaps even all the way to the end the year after that.

File photo of Janet Jackson during Super Bowl halftime performance with Justin Timberlake.

Awkward tit….. exposes Janet Jackson’s breast

Best of all, my team won! Ok, I based my support partly on the fact the Philadelphia Eagles were considered massive underdogs (and being a Stockport County fan means I will always back the underdog), and partly on the fact I preferred their jersey (it was a delightful teal colour, which, after several rum and cokes, I even contemplated buying – if it weren’t £62) but my first ever Super Bowl ended in success.

Shame I slept through most of it.

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The Knee Blog’s Connected To The Hip Blog

On Wednesday evening, I had my first ever physiotherapy appointment.

I know what you’re thinking – how can a man on the very precipice of turning thirty-eight, who has tried his damnedest to fill those thirty-eight years with as many ridiculous accidents as possible, avoid physiotherapy until now? Amazing as it may seem, it’s true.

I suspect the main reason for my impressive track record, is that – by some miracle – I have never broken a bone, or suffered any serious injury, which required rehabilitation.

Ok, I’ve bent my finger back playing football; I’ve snapped a metal crossbar from its supporting goalposts and down onto my head; I’ve sledged at speed (and out of control) into a different goalpost, with my legs – and, from painful recollection, my individual testicles – going their separate ways either side….

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What’s worse, that’s only the injuries sustained on the playing fields adjacent to where I grew up. One specific location, in one comparatively short period of my life, resulted in three potentially serious injuries (that I can remember – there may have been more, but the fucking crossbar really did a job on my memory).

The fact is, when we add up all the injuries I have sustained throughout my lifetime, it’s a wonder at least a dozen of them didn’t kill me, let alone result in prolonged treatment.

Then, in the latter stages of last year, a chance encounter between my right hip and a rogue door handle brought my impressive record to an end. At the time, the initial impact seemed relatively innocuous – I mean, it hurt like hell, and our house was instantly filled with the sort of violent expletives that would make a Tourette’s sufferer blush; but as far as injuries go, I’ve had worse.

It’s usually my outer extremities which are the most prone to harm (my head on door frames, my feet on sharp toys, my scrotum on Isaac’s foot, etc.), so once the pain in my hip had subsided, I thought nothing more of it. In fact, aside from some delightful bruising, which closely resembled Van Gogh’s The Starry Night (bit of culture for you), the side effects appeared to be relatively short-lived.

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However, soon after the bruising faded, I noticed that my hip was clicking when I went up and down stairs, and, after a few weeks, this developed into a disturbing crunching sound.

I therefore made an appointment to see my GP, and having examined and ‘manipulated’ my hip, he told me it was nothing to be too worried about, but suggested I still get some physiotherapy.

Unfortunately, the physiotherapist associated with my GP surgery (which had a surprisingly short waiting time for the NHS), does not offer evening and weekend appointments, so I opted instead to pay for private treatment.

A friend recommended a sports injury osteopath in Sandbach, and, having e-mailed an enquiry to them around 8:00pm last Monday evening, they had impressively responded by 9:00pm, with a few different appointment options for me.

My friend had suggested that I try to see the main doctor (whose practice it is), since, although his two colleagues – one male, one female – are no doubt very well qualified, he had no personal experience of either, and so he could only recommend the osteopath who had always ‘fixed’ him in the past.

I therefore took a more detailed look at their website, because the thought of having osteopathy for the first time was somewhat daunting, and I wanted to have a better idea of what to expect. After all, no word ending in ‘-path’ is ever good news: psychopath, sociopath, warpath, towpath, etc., so I was understandably apprehensive of osteopaths  in general (without checking the definition, I assume ‘osteo-path’ means  something like ‘destroyer of bones’).

Of the available appointments, I had the choice of waiting until this Wednesday to see the main doctor, or alternatively I could see his female colleague even sooner (last Wednesday), and at a more convenient time.

This presented me with a dilemma. Not only had my friend specifically recommended the main practitioner, but I had also noticed on their website a section entitled ‘what to expect on your first visit’, and the point which immediately jumped out at me, was that you would be expected to undergo an examination in your underwear. By that, I don’t mean they would examine inside your underwear, more that you would be expected to undress for the assessment.

The website went on to explain that the alternative was to wear ‘cycling shorts and a sports bra’ (I assume the latter being primarily for ladies), but since I don’t even own a bicycle, possessing cycling shorts has never seemed appropriate (albeit marginally more appropriate than, say, buying a sports bra). Boxers it would have to be.

Now, for some reason (and I accept this is entirely irrational), I didn’t fancy stripping down to my underwear for any woman other than my wife, even if said female happened to be a trained physician. Aside from the fact that even my wife appears to be repulsed by the sight of me in boxer shorts – so I would like to preserve what is left of my already fragile ego – my main issue was that, whilst the osteopath would be nothing but professional, I would inevitably make things awkward and inappropriate. I can’t help it, it’s what I do.

At the mere thought of being manipulated (in a physical sense) by a female professional – whilst  semi-naked – my brain immediately began conjuring scenarios in which I would surely make things horrendously uncomfortable (in a non-physical sense) for the both of us. As someone who loves nothing more than a bit of innuendo (‘in your endo’), I don’t think I would be able to resist certain opportunities. For example:

“Ok, do you want to take your clothes off?”

“Can you feel that muscle start to stretch?”

“Let me know when it starts to go stiff”

You get the general idea.

So, bearing in mind the potential for embarrassment, and the fact that – whilst not exactly my type – the lady osteopath happened to be young and somewhat attractive, I opted to wait the extra week and see the main doctor.

I have to say, when I arrived on Wednesday evening for my appointment, he was warm (both in terms of his manner, and – thankfully – his hands), and patient. He took my medical history, a brief description of the pain I have been having, and then asked me to take my clothes off for a physical assessment.

I briefly flirted (no, not like that), with the idea of saying something inappropriate like ‘don’t you want to buy me dinner first?’, but my internal ‘don’t try to be funny’ sensor went off just in time, and I held it in – along with my stomach, which I was instantly conscious of as I undressed, even though I was not trying to attract this man in any way whatsoever.

In the hour-long physical assessment which followed, a number of interesting developments occurred:

Firstly, my collision with the door handle – whilst undoubtedly the trigger for me noticing the clicking, and for seeking treatment – is not the cause of my problem, and it is far more likely that my return to running last year has aggravated an underlying condition.

Secondly, that underlying condition has materialised because my posture, spine, and general skeletal structure is, in medical terms, ‘a bit shit’. Obviously the osteopath was far too professional to use that exact phrase, but it’s clearly what he meant.

Thirdly, I am apparently a fucking wimp when it comes to the infliction of pain, and I wouldn’t last thirty seconds were I to be captured and tortured by the Taliban or ISIS (which is admittedly unlikely, when my travels rarely see me venturing anywhere further afield than Spain).

At one point during the assessment, he folded me into a sort of foetal position, as if he intended to squeeze me into a suitcase, and then the conversation went a little like this:

“Right, what I’m going to do now, is gently apply pressure to your hip with my elbow. I want you to start counting upwards to ten, describing the level of pain, and when we get to about seven, we’ll pause there for ninety seconds, ok?”

“Erm, ok”

“Right, so I’ll start to apply gentle pressure n-“

“ARRRRRRGGGHHHH! EIGHT! EIGHT! EIIIIGGGHHHHT, YOU SADISTIC DEVIANT BASTARD. GET OFF ME!”

Ok, I may have use artistic licence to embellish my reaction slightly (but only slightly).

What-is-Osteopathy

In the end, however, I was very impressed with his manner, diagnosis, treatment plan and easy-to-understand descriptions (I’d mentioned my A-level in Biology from twenty years ago, but he rightly assumed that I remembered none of it, and described everything as if my knowledge of anatomy lay somewhere between toddler and GCSE level).

Then, just as things were going so well, came the crushing blow. He informed me that my next appointment (and first proper session of treatment) should ideally be before I run the Oulton Park 10k at the end of February, but he could not offer any evening appointments with him until the end of March.

As such, he confirmed that my next session will have to be with his female colleague.

On Valentine’s Day.

So, now I have to find a way to explain to my wife, that I shall be spending the most romantic night of the calendar year getting undressed in front of an attractive female, before allowing her to place me in all sorts of compromising positions, and pressing herself up against me until I feel less stiff.

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Actually, she’s bound to read this at some point, so that ought to do the trick.

Sorry, dear.

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Sunday Bloggy Sunday

Or “The 10k Race That Never Was”.

I’ll pre-empt this week’s entry, by admitting that it is technically about running, but I don’t want that to put you off reading. I am well aware that running blogs are often very dull (because, well, people who run regularly – and like to write about it – are themselves sinfully boring), but I wish to distinguish this entry in one important respect: no actual running took place.

Regular readers (God bless you both), or those who know me in ‘real life’, will be aware that I have set myself a challenge for 2018: to run ten 10k races for my chosen charity, Kidscan. Kidscan are based in Salford (but don’t hold that against them), and they carry out vital research into childhood cancer, so a worthier cause you could not hope to find.

You will also be aware that, until last Easter, I had not run in several years, and despite having the sort of slender physique that might lend itself to distance running (certainly more so than to, say, bodybuilding, manual labour, or attracting the opposite sex), I am definitely not a runner. In fact, it would be fair to conclude that I am to running, what Verne Troyer is to basketball. What Kim Jong-un is to haircuts. What Donald Trump is to…. well, anything really. You get the gist.

Having registered for nine of my ten races, with plenty of options for the final one later this year, the inaugural event was intended to be the Kidsgrove 10k last Sunday. Some of you will already be aware that this did not exactly go according to plan, in that it didn’t ‘go’ at all.

Booking a running race for January is risky, as the weather at the start of the year is always likely to pose a threat to the event taking place, but the organisers had cautiously set aside two ‘reserve’ dates for February, in case the conditions became too treacherous for the run to proceed as planned. Unfortunately, however, last Sunday Mother Nature decided to (literally) piss on everyone’s parade, with very little warning whatsoever.

Towards the end of last week, it became clear to all involved, that the Kidsgrove 10k was likely to take place in somewhat Baltic conditions, as temperatures were dropping faster than a hooker’s underwear, but a little cold never hurt anyone (apart from elderly people with no winter fuel allowance), so the event was certainly not in any doubt.

Furthermore, my preparations were going quite well, in that I had done a couple of practice runs around my home town of Sandbach, and could seemingly manage five miles (roughly 8k) without needing medical attention. Ok, I wasn’t going to break any records, but I was on target to finish in under fifty minutes, which is the threshold I have set myself for these ten races. In short, I was quietly confident of at the very least not dying.

Then, on Sunday morning, as my family and I set off towards Kidsgrove (which is about ten miles away), the weather quickly progressed from ‘cold drizzle’, to ‘blizzard’, to ‘fuck me’, in the space of a few minutes. And, whilst my inner nerd is always secretly delighted at the prospect of driving in sleet and snow (so I can pretend to be Han Solo, piloting the Millennium Falcon through hyperspace), on this occasion my inner nerd was firmly cocooned within the outer-shell of someone who had to go for a run, and it would be fair to say my outer shell was thoroughly pissed off with this meteorological turn of events.

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I turned to Chewbacca (my wife – although I must say that she bears no resemblance to the famous wookie, even when she hasn’t shaved her legs in a few days), and expressed my dissatisfaction with the deteriorating weather; but all I gained in response, was the fact she was going to have to stand in the sleet with our two boys, whilst I at least got to run around in it to keep warm.

I thought about arguing back, along the lines that she was wearing a coat, while I was in a running top and shorts (and therefore in grave danger of losing my genitals to frostbite), but thought better of it – over the years, I have realised it is always best to let the Wookie win. I therefore apologised, wholeheartedly, for dragging her and the boys out in such terrible weather, and I promised to run my (soon to be frozen solid) arse off, so we could get back home as quickly as possible.

When we arrived at the school which had been turned into ‘Race HQ’ for the morning, it seemed most of my fellow runners were in good spirits despite the weather, which only added fuel to my argument that regular runners are, by and large, utter wankers.

I collected my race number and electronic timing chip, the latter of which I had to securely fasten to my running shoes, and began to warm up in my brand new, bespoke, charity running shirt:

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I should explain, at this stage, that the organisers had decided to split the event into two start times: 10am for the ‘elite’ runners who were expecting to finish in under fifty minutes, and 11am for everyone else. Now, even though my only prior 10k had resulted in a time of 49:12, and I have set myself the unofficial target of running these ten races in under fifty minutes, I still opted to enter the 11am race to be on the safe side.

My reasoning for this, was that it would be far better to take part in the slower race, and then hopefully surprise everyone by finishing in under fifty minutes and somewhere near the front, than pushing myself to compete in the elite race, finishing stone cold last, and crying as I vomited into a bush. Besides, if I ever get to the stage of thinking I am an ‘elite’ runner, I will have become one of them: I will be a running wanker.

Anyway, at approximately 10:45am, someone with a megaphone stood on a chair, and shouted that, for safety reasons, the organisers had decided to change the course at the last minute. Essentially, the unexpected – and seemingly relentless – downpour of snow, had made some of the country paths very slippery, so the route was altered to stick to roads and pavements instead.

This didn’t really bother me. I mean, sure, I might have stayed up late the night before, memorising the intended route so that I didn’t get lost and look a complete tit, but I wasn’t going to let a last minute change of plan panic me. Nope. Not me.

Ok, maybe a little.

Then, as if I wasn’t nervous enough, I suddenly realised I had left my mp3 player in the car, and had a little under eight minutes to ‘run’ back and get it.

In jogging/skating/sliding back to the car, I suddenly realised how dangerous even the roads were, and how there was not a cat in hell’s chance of me finishing the race in under fifty minutes. In fact, if I arrived back to ‘Race HQ’ by nightfall, I’d consider that a fucking win. The weather was frankly ridiculous.

Evidently, the organisers were quickly forming the same opinion, because at precisely 11am, as we all lined up ready to start the race, megaphone man re-appeared and informed us all that the event had been cancelled. He explained that the elite wankers had just finished their 10am race, and the conditions had become so treacherous that a number had fallen (cue smug smile crossing my lips, at the mental image of some dipshit in running tights skidding face first into a wheelie bin). So, for safety reasons, they couldn’t possibly let us run.

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The start line

Amazingly, despite it being cold, wet, and hazardous – not to mention the fact I really dislike running – I was honestly gutted. As well as having mentally prepared myself, I’m doing these ten races for charity, and I (rather sadistically) felt that if my first race was in shitty conditions, I was earning every donation just that little bit more. The whole point of doing this, is that it is genuinely challenging. If I was going to try and raise money by doing something I actually enjoy, I’d get people to sponsor me to eat chocolate hobnobs in my underwear.

What I will say, in hindsight, is that it was absolutely the right decision. All joking aside, one of the elite runners did require an ambulance, and although I was disappointed to go all that way in terrible weather for nothing, that was infinitely preferable to running, breaking something (and I would break something), and jeopardising the entire challenge. Plus, these guys really weren’t in the mood to stand in the snow for an hour while I ran:

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So, my first race will now be at Oulton Park on 25th February, and if anyone would like to come along to support me, or better still donate to my challenge, you’ll find all the details here:

http://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/greg10x10k

Thanks for reading.

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Goldiblogs and the Three Bears

Once-upon-a-time-2

there was a little boy called Goldiblogs.

Well, his real name was Isaac, but he had such long hair (on account of the fact he would scream like a fucking banshee if he was placed within thirty feet of a barber’s chair), he was often mistaken for a little girl. So, for one week in January 2018, purely because his father needed material for a blog entry, together with a *clever* title involving the word ‘blog’, he became known as Goldiblogs. If you don’t like it, then tough shit.

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Anyway, Goldiblogs lived in Sandbach, with his family – Daddy Bear, Mummy Bear and his elder brother, Ollie Bear.

One Saturday morning, Goldiblogs woke at his usual weekend time of 6am, a full hour before he would ever open his eyes during the week (when his parents actually needed him to get out of bed and ready for nursery), and he immediately began demanding to watch Youtube. Despite her sleep deprivation, Mummy Bear was able to find a suitable video on her phone in a little under ten seconds (she had considerable experience of searching Youtube quickly whilst semi-conscious), and immediately handed it over to Goldiblogs, so that he might ‘shut the hell up’. As Mummy Bear drifted back off, she reflected that such inadvisable parenting methods were fully justified, if it meant a few more minutes of blissful slumber.

Unlike most children his age, Goldiblogs didn’t want to watch Youtube clips of Disney characters, or CBeebies cartoons, and instead preferred to savour wildlife documentaries of small, innocent animals being ripped apart by savage predators (*this is a joke, in case anyone considers notifying the authorities about our questionable parenting. If you really want to report us, it would be far better to tell them about the cage we keep our children in sometimes).

Despite getting precisely what he wanted, Goldiblogs still decided to scream loudly for no apparent reason; and, when chastised by Daddy Bear, he retaliated with a swift kick to the testicles – his signature move. Daddy Bear knew this was likely to happen when the screaming started, and even began to take counter-measures to protect his teddy junk, but he was not yet fully awake, and his reactions were too slow. The kick found it’s mark, and Daddy Bear made a sound not dissimilar to a donkey giving birth.

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Goldiblogs’ scream then woke his brother, Ollie Bear, who immediately wanted to go downstairs to play games on the laptop. Daddy Bear tried to persuade both of his children to go back to sleep for a bit, but he knew this was fruitless, and he was destined to now get up and make breakfast for them both.

This was the usual weekend routine for the Bear family. Daddy Bear would get up early with the children, while Mummy Bear had a lie-in, and in return they would swap later in the morning, so that Daddy Bear could go back to bed for a much-needed nap. Daddy Bear loved his naps, and his record was five in a day.

So, Daddy Bear reluctantly hauled his tired (and bruised) body out of bed, and dragged both of his children downstairs for breakfast.

He offered Goldiblogs a bowl of cereal, which Goldiblogs initially agreed to, but having taken just one bite, he decided it was ‘too crunchy’.

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He then offered Goldiblogs some toast, which was again readily accepted, but after the briefest of tastes, it was ‘too chewy’. In the end, Daddy Bear gave up trying to placate Goldiblogs, and pretended to be asleep on the sofa, while Goldiblogs searched for his own breakfast. He soon returned from the kitchen, with a bowl of own-brand jaffa cakes, and they turned out to be just right.

Now, due to the fact the weather outside was horrible – because this story takes place in January, the worst of all the months – the Bear family decided to have a relaxed Saturday at home, without leaving the house. This turned out to be something of a mistake, however, because Goldiblogs was feral by nature, and belonged outdoors (presumably hunting for squirrels, and other woodland creatures to feed on).

As a result, within the first hour of their relaxing Saturday, Goldiblogs was climbing the walls. Normally, this is a figure of speech, to express one’s feelings of nervousness or frustration, however, on this occasion, Goldiblogs actually attempted to climb one of the walls in the living room, and nearly destroyed a cabinet of DVDs.

What made the situation worse, was that this was the cabinet on the left-hand side of the Bear Family’s fireplace, which was the one containing Daddy Bear’s prized collection of Bond films. Had it been the cabinet on the right-hand side of the fireplace, Daddy Bear said he would not have given a ‘flying fuck’ about the Home Alone and Scooby Doo DVDs taking a beating, but he was very protective of his Bond box set, and slightly over-reacted as a result. Fortunately, soon after Daddy Bear had shouted at Goldiblogs, Mummy Bear got out of bed, muttering something about all the noise, and Daddy Bear was allowed to go for his nap. This pleased Daddy Bear immeasurably.

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Unfortunately, Goldiblogs was no quieter during Daddy Bear’s nap, as he decided to play with ALL THE TOYS IN THE HOUSE simultaneously; and, having surrounded himself with all the toys, he set about searching for the absolute noisiest.

Following what appeared to be several hours of thorough investigation, Goldiblogs determined that the toy keyboard was too quiet, the toy guitar was too broken (thanks, in no small part, to Daddy Bear removing the batteries earlier in the week – something he chuckled to himself about at the time), but the toy drum kit, which Goldiblogs’ uncle had bought him for Christmas just two weeks earlier, was just right.

So, having located a device with which to re-create the precise thumping monotony and decibel level of a pneumatic jack hammer, Goldiblogs set about beating the living crap out of it for the next hour.

When Daddy Bear eventually gave up on trying to nap, and arrived back in the living room with every intention of launching said drum kit over the fence in the back garden (whilst simultaneously making a mental note to buy his ten-month old niece an air horn next Christmas, to enact sweet revenge on his evil sibling), the decision was made to get the family out of the house before someone fully lost their shit. That someone was highly likely to be Daddy Bear.

Sadly, the brief trip to Crewe, to buy new shoes for everyone apart from Mummy Bear – who, Daddy Bear remarked, already had enough pairs of shoes to wear different ones each day for at least two months – did little to raise everyone’s spirits, and so Mummy and Daddy Bear eventually gave in to Ollie Bear’s pleas to have lunch at Nando’s.

Once Goldiblogs had been provided with a packet of crayons, and something to scribble on, he was much quieter (if not particularly well-behaved), and eventually agreed to some chicken strips, garlic bread and chips for his lunch. Whilst not the healthiest of options, Mummy and Daddy Bear had long since given up hope of having a nice family meal out together, and so they chose their battles carefully. For a while, Goldiblogs seemed almost happy, and even posed for a photo.

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Naturally, when the food arrived, Goldiblogs wanted lashings of ketchup over EVERYTHING. Ketchup was Goldiblogs’ favourite food of all time, even above jaffa cakes, and he bloody loved jaffa cakes. It did not matter to Goldiblogs that ketchup is nothing more than a condiment; because, to him, it was the very centre of the culinary world. In fact, if Goldiblogs could smother jaffa cakes with ketchup, then he most certainly would – although the idea had not yet occurred to him, and if anyone were to mention it in his presence, Daddy Bear would surely hurt them. No, seriously, don’t even think about it.

In order to keep Goldiblogs happy / sedated, Mummy Bear applied a large dollop of ketchup to his plate. Goldiblogs was displeased with the quantity, however, and cried for more. Mummy Bear therefore glanced at Daddy Bear, who was in turn glaring at his youngest child (whilst chewing angrily), and she allowed Goldiblogs a little more sauce to keep the peace. This was still not enough, however, and so Goldiblogs grabbed the bottle from his mother, and promptly emptied the contents over his food, until it was almost entirely coated. This, to Goldiblogs, was just right.

That evening, following his bath, it was time for Goldiblogs to go to bed. Goldiblogs hated going to bed, and loudly screamed that he wanted to stay up late, but all of the day’s bad behaviour had taken it’s toll, and soon his eyes began to drop – although not before he had loudly announced that his bed had ‘Pooh in it’ (which caused Daddy Bear to come sprinting up the stairs in a blind panic, fearing the worst).

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Once Goldiblogs was asleep, Mummy Bear crept downstairs, so that she and Daddy Bear could have their evening meal, and regain some normality.

But, before long, it was Daddy Bear who began to feel sleepy, and he decided to head to bed himself. He crept carefully up the stairs, so as to not wake either of the children, but unbeknownst to him, Goldiblogs had already woken up, and had decided that his own bed was too small. He had then tried to climb up the ladders to his brother’s bed, but it was too high. So, in the end, he had walked into Mummy and Daddy Bear’s room, and got into the middle of their bed.

And it was just right.

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Bloggy Useless

I don’t like January.

I don’t think anyone has ever rated the months of the year before (admittedly, it does sound like something I might have done, during my rather unpopular run of ‘chart’ blogs in 2016, but the closest I ever came was placing the four seasons in order – and I don’t mean Frankie Valli et al.).

Anyway, if someone were to ever rate the months of the year, from best to worst (don’t worry, I won’t), then there is no doubt which would feature as the despised little runt of the litter: January. We all hate January. If January were a person, it would be Piers Morgan.

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“Hands up if you’re a dickhead”

I suppose, in hindsight, I didn’t need to write an entire blog entry explaining why January is so terrible, because everyone knows it’s the worst month by some margin; however a simple tweet or Facebook status, along the lines of ‘January is shit’, wouldn’t really do my hatred justice. I need you to fully appreciate the extent of my loathing, and the reasoning behind it. Besides, I’ve started writing now, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to start the new year off as a quitter.

The thing is, we all know the usual reasons for January being so insufferably crap:

  1. Bleak (but not festive) weather;
  2. The disappointment that Christmas is now a distant memory, and it will be at least another 2-3 months before the next one (the wait for Christmas shortens as you get older);
  3. The utter pointlessness of New Year’s Resolutions;
  4. The fact you are expected to start exercising and eating healthily again, after a few weeks of revolting gluttony and borderline alcoholism (for which you feel absolutely no remorse whatsoever);
  5. Friends and colleagues giving up alcohol for the month, and encouraging you to join them, even though alcohol is the only thing likely to see everyone’s safe passage through to February, then onwards to the blissful haven of March;
  6. You’re skint, fat, cold, and wet. Or, at least, that’s how you (I) feel.

However, in recent years, thanks to the childcare scheme rolled out in this fine country of ours, I now have a whole new reason to detest the first calendar month of the year: the self-assessment tax return. Or, as I like to call it, the ‘soul-destroying-questionnaire-of-impossible-fucking-questions’.

In theory, my tax-return should not be overly complicated, because I am neither self-employed, nor in receipt of any benefits, but the sadistic folks at HMRC like to make even simple questions appear difficult, so that you feel stupid, inferior and, worst of all, a fraudster.

I consider myself to be a moderately well-educated man, but for some reason my brain freezes when interrogated (for there can be no other description) by the tyrants at HMRC. Whether it be the overly-complicated language they use (and I say this as a lawyer), or the intimidating threats of JAIL FOR THE REST OF YOUR PITIFULLY INFERIOR LIFE if you answer any question even slightly incorrectly, suddenly even simple queries pose a problem.

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That said, each year – this will be my fourth – the completion of the tax return itself is relatively easy, when compared to the virtual gauntlet you must complete to actually access their stupidly over-complicated system in the first place. As I type these words, during the second week of January, I am still yet to start this year’s tax return (which is due by the end of the month), because I cannot successfully circumnavigate the log-in page – and I’ve been trying since the start of the year.

Unlike nearly every other online system in the world, which relies on asking you basic stuff you already know (such as your name, e-mail address, date of birth, etc.), the HMRC log-in page asks you for your ‘User ID’, followed by your password.

I am normally quite confident of knowing my password, as it is usually a variation on a similar theme (apart from one of the websites we use at work, which has now asked me to update my password so many times – without using any of the previous five hundred – that I recently lost my patience, and changed it to ‘fuckyouandyourfuckingsystem123@’. Unfortunately, it transpires I’d already used ‘fuckyouandyourfuckingsystem123’ previously).

It’s the UserID which is the problem. Every year, I promise myself that I will write it down and keep it safe somewhere, and whilst I have no doubt that I did this last January, that was one whole year ago, and these days I can barely remember what I ate for dinner the night before.

I’ve naturally checked my ‘things to keep safe’ drawer, but all I found was a plug adaptor for a mobile phone I stopped using four years ago, a match programme from when Stockport County won the play-off final in 2008, and the Christmas card I bought for the boys to give my wife last Christmas (2016). That final discovery was met with much swearing, not least because I spotted the fucking thing in November, and promised myself I’d remember it this year.

Anyway, the bottom line is, I don’t have the first clue what my UserID might be. I’ve checked, and it’s apparently twelve (random) digits long, which means I have a 1 in 479,001,600 chance of successfully guessing it. Aside from Donald Trump securing a second term as President, I can’t think of anything with such pitifully miniscule odds.

Fortunately, the good people at HMRC anticipated such a scenario, and under the log-in section, there is a handy list of links to help you if you are having problems. Simply by clicking ‘Forgotten Your User ID?’, you are immediately taken to another page, where you are re-assured that this can easily be sent to you, so long as you answer a couple of security questions. ‘Excellent’, I thought, ‘Mother’s maiden name? First pet? Favourite member of Girls Aloud? Hit me, HMRC, I’m ready’.

What follows, is a dramatised account of my exchanges with the log-in page thereafter…

HMRC:  Firstly, all you need to do, is enter your name and e-mail address.

Me: Not a problem, HMRC, I know this shit like the back of my hand. Then you’ll send me the UserID, right?

HMRC: Actually, no, we then need to know your date of birth and National Insurance number.

Me: Oh, ok, fair enough. I definitely know the former, and can make a pretty confident stab at the latter. Now can I have my UserID?

HMRC: Soon. Just one more bit of information, then we’ll confirm it for you. We just need your Unique Taxpayer Reference.

Me: My what?

HMRC: Your Unique Taxpayer Reference.

Me: Where would I find that?

HMRC: It’s on last year’s Tax Return.

Me: Let’s assume I didn’t print off a copy. Where would I locate last year’s Tax Return?

HMRC: No problem, just log-in and there’s a copy saved for you.

Me: But I can’t log-in without the UserID, can I?

HMRC: No.

Me: And you won’t give me the UserID without the Unique Taxpayer Reference?

HMRC: No.

Me: Do you see the problem here?

HMRC: Ok, look, we like you. We really do. So, here’s a hint: the Unique Taxpayer Reference is usually nine digits long, and sometimes ends with a K.

Me: That’s not very helpful.

HMRC: Why not?

Me: Because I don’t know the eight remaining digits, do I? It’s not like telling me it ends with a K is suddenly going to jog my memory, and I’ll go ‘ohhhh, that Unique Taxpayer Reference.’

HMRC: Go on, have a guess.

Me: Are you taking the piss now?

HMRC: A little. Ok, seeing as everything else hasn’t worked, how about we post it to you?

Me: Well, what if – wait, what? You can do that?

HMRC: Sure.

Me: But I’ve given you none of the additional security details you’ve asked for. I’ve not even told you my favourite member of Girls Aloud.

HMRC: It’s ok, we trust you, so we’ll post the UserID out as soon as possible. After all, you’ll still need the password to log in, and that’s the important bit anyway, so it’s all perfectly secure.

Me: Well, if that’s the case, how about you just tell me the UserID now, to save time?

HMRC: Oh no, we can’t do that. It’s ok, we’ll post it out to you. You’ve still got three weeks or so before the deadline to complete your tax return anyway, so it should be fine.

Me: Should? How long does it usually take for the UserID to arrive?

HMRC: About three weeks.

Me:

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***

If it does arrive in time, I’m going to change my password to ‘fuckyouandyourfuckingsystem123@’, just to make a point.

Then, I’m going to get my UserID tattooed onto my body (or, at the very least, one of the children), to avoid this farce happening again next January.

Oh, and it’s Kimberley, in case you were wondering.

Thanks for reading.

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The Twelve Blogs of Christmas

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me:

drummersblog

Twelve Drummers Drumming

pipersblog

Eleven Pipers Piping

lordblog

Ten Lords a Leaping

ladiesblog

Nine Ladies Dancing

maidsblog

Eight Maids a Milking

swansblog

Seven Swans a Swimming

geeseblog

Six Geese a Laying

ringsblog

Five GOLDEN Rings

birdsblog

Four Calling Birds

hensblog

Three French Hens

dovesblog

Two Turtle Doves

partridgeblog

… Alan Partridge in a Pear Tree

Happy New Year, folks. Normal blogging will be resumed next week.

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