Like a Blog With a Bone

Those of you who attend my weekly (virtual) pub nights at Ye Olde Cock & Balls each Friday evening will be aware that, for the past couple of weeks, I have been encountering some problems with the strength of our internet connection – particularly during the picture round of my quiz.

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Well, after trying to contact our broadband provider, Sky, for a fortnight now, including one ‘online chat’ session where, having waited for two hours, our connection was lost and it kicked me out (hey, irony, fuck you), I have finally resolved the situation.

And, by that, I mean I properly resolved the situation, rather than simply ripping all of the Sky equipment from the various sockets in our lounge, dousing it in lighter fluid, and then torching the entire lot in the back garden (which, believe me, was next on my list of potential solutions). Even more amazingly, I am still a Sky customer.

Look, I know I should probably have considered switching our various packages to an alternative provider, but the truth is my wife and I really like some of the Sky-specific channels, and would hate to be without them. Plus, the boys love the wide range of children’s shows available on our additional ‘Entertainment Package’.

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Finally, above all else, I hate change, and I am inherently lazy, so I often find it preferable to stay with a company rather than shop around for a better deal. Yes, I know I negotiate for a living, but please also bear in mind that I largely dislike my chosen career, and would rather not bring that aspect of it home. Besides, do chefs walk through the door after a busy day in the kitchen and instantly want to cook for the family? No. Do cleaners come back from work and immediately make a start scrubbing the oven? Unlikely. Do strippers arrive home and promptly undress seductively for their partners?…. Well, only in my dreams. You get the idea.

My point is, for various reasons, I didn’t want to actually leave Sky, but equally we could not continue as a family with such a piss-poor broadband connection – not least because we now have two adults working remotely, two children being home-schooled on laptops, and various other essential devices (such as phones and tablets) all draining our WiFi, which only had the strength of an asthmatic pensioner atop a mountain in the first place.

So, yesterday, I put my big boy pants on, picked up the phone, and dialled the Sky complaint line. The following is an entirely accurate* account of the events which followed (apart from the fact I have made up the names of the people I spoke to, partly to protect their anonymity, but mostly because I can’t for the life of me remember what they were called)….

*sort of.

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Automated Message: “Hi. Thanks for contacting Sky. Sorry, but we’re experiencing a really high call volume at present, so we’re having to prioritise our customers and can only currently deal with customers who are aged seventy or over, suffering with ill-health, or are classified as being a ‘key worker’, which includes all medical staff and teachers. If you do not fall into any of these categories, please hang up and try again when this shit-storm is finally over….

….

Ok, before we connect you through to one of our advisers, we will need to take you through security. Do you know your Sky account password?”

Me: “No”

Automated Message: “Ok. No problem. Can we take your mother’s maiden name instead?”

Me: “ **** ”

Automated Message: “Sorry, that’s not correct either.”

Me: “It fucking is…. Oh, unless the account is in my wife’s name?”

Automated Message: “Please say your mother’s maiden name.”

Me: “ **** ”

Automated Message: “Please hold for the next adviser.”

Me: “I could’ve sworn the Sky account was in my name….”

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Adolf: “Hi, you’re through to Adolf, thanks for holding.”

Me: “No problem. It’s marginally preferable to listening to my children screaming.”

Adolf: “Ha ha! I know what you mean, mate.”

Me: “I’m not your mate. Let’s get on with this.”

Adolf: “Sure thing, buddy. Before we begin, can I just check your mother’s maiden name for security?”

Me: “Well, I just gave my mother’s maiden name and it said that was incorrect, so apparently the account is in my wife’s name and her mother’s maiden name  is ‘ **** ‘.”

Adolf: “That’s not what I’ve got down here.”

Me: “But your system just let me through with that?”

Adolf: “Weird. So, what is your mother’s maiden name?”

Me: ” **** “

Adolf: “That’s the one.”

Me: “Fuck’s sake.”

Adolf: “Ok, then. I just need to check you fit into one of the categories of customer we can deal with at the moment. Are you over seventy?”

Me: “I feel like it, but no.”

Adolf: “Are you suffering with ill-health?”

Me: “I get knackered walking up the stairs. Does that count?”

Adolf: “Not really. Ok, last category, are you or anyone in your household a medical professional?”

Me: “Well, no, but your recorded message just now mentioned teachers, and my wife is a teacher.”

Adolf: “But neither of you are medical professionals?”

Me: “No. We tend to find being a lawyer and a teacher keeps us busy enough. Plus, I have a rather popular online quiz I do every Friday, and-”

Adolf: “Look, I’m afraid we have to prioritise our calls…”

Me: “Yes, but I’m telling you the recorded message just now specifically stated that teachers are key workers. Which they are. Go ahead and check after this call, if you like, but if you cut me off, I will find out where your office is, drive there, and cut you. Ok?”

Adolf: “Well, I guess you’re on the line now anyway. What’s the problem?”

Me: “Our broadband is slow. Like, properly shit, and I want it improving considering how much we pay each month.”

Adolf: “Ok, well, I’ve just checked, and you do qualify for superfast broadband in your area, which we could set up for you in around a week.”

Me: “Sounds expensive.”

Adolf: “It’s £32 a month, but for an extra £5 a month you can also get the broadband boost, which guarantees fast connection throughout the house.”

Me: “Wow, imagine if we could get a connection throughout the entire house.”

Adolf: “Are you being sarcastic?”

Me: “A little. The problem is, the other reason for my call was to complain about the fact our monthly cost has just shot up, so I don’t really want to be making things more expensive.”

Adolf: “Ok, I’ll transfer you to one of my colleagues and if you mention that you want the superfast broadband with the boost, they’ll set out your options for the TV package as well.”

Me: “Fine. Put me through.”

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Genghis: “Hi, you’ve been put through to Genghis. How can I help?”

Me: [sigh] “Right, I want to add the superfast broadband with the boost that I’ve just been told about, but I also want to know why our television package went up nearly £20 last month. When I phoned a couple of years ago, I agreed to remove the sports package to save some money, but now we’re paying more than we paid before only without the sports included.”

Genghis: “Do you want to add the sport back on?”

Me: “Fuck no. I’ve just complained about how high our bill is. I want to bring it down, not increase it.”

Genghis: “What do you want to keep?

Me: “Well, mainly Sky Movies and the Entertainment package for the kids.”

Genghis: “What about the F1 channel?”

Me: “We don’t have that.”

Genghis:  “Yes, you do.”

Me: “I beg your pardon? We’ve never requested that. Have we been paying for it?”

Genghis: “Not exactly. It came free with the entertainment package as an introductory offer, but then the package changed in December and it was then additional.”

Me: “So, I’ve been paying for an F1 channel I never asked for since December?!”

Genghis: “No, we only started charging you last month.”

Me: “Bless your generosity. Take it off, now. I don’t want it, and haven’t asked for it. You can’t just force it on me and then start charging me for it. Who do you think you are, fucking U2? Besides, there’s no F1 taking place right now anyway, so what are you even showing?”

Genghis: “Old clips and stuff.”

Me: “Well, as much as ‘old clips and stuff’ sounds awesome, get rid. How much is it, anyway?”

Genghis: “£18.”

Me: “For one fucking channel?! A channel dedicated to something that isn’t even happening right now? Have you got a channel dedicated to Euro 2020 and the fucking Olympics too?”

Genghis: “There’s no need to be like that.”

Me: “Right, if we ditch the F1 we didn’t ask for, don’t want and have never once turned on, and we add in the superfast broadband with the boost thingy, how does that affect our monthly bill?

Genghis: “Erm…… it will bring it down by £31 a month.”

Me: “£31 less?! Why the hell hasn’t this been offered to us sooner?!”

Genghis: “You didn’t phone.”

Me: “So you wait for people to get pissed off and threaten to leave, then offer them a deal?”

Genghis: “Pretty much.”

Me:  “Do it.”

Genghis: “Ok…. sorted. And, since you’re now paying much less, would you like some sport back?”

Me: “Well, my son would love to watch Premier League matches, but there’s no games at the moment. How much is it, for future reference?”

Genghis: “That’s £18 a month, too.”

Me: “For how many channels?”

Genghis: “Just Sky Sports Premier League, so one.”

Me: “Jesus wept. At least Dick Turpin wore a mask when he robbed people. Besides, my son and I support a lower league side who you never feature, so it’s really not worth adding any football channels. It’d be cheaper for me to take him down the pub to watch matches. At least that way I can spend the £18 on beer.”

Genghis: “Fair enough. But, you mentioned lower league football, and we do feature some games. How low down the leagues are we talking?”

Me: “Stockport County.”

Genghis: “Ouch.”

Me: “Fuck off.”

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Thanks for reading x

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Blogminton

When our eldest son, Ollie, was a baby, my wife started attending various groups and classes in and around Sandbach, to mingle with other new mums, share any tips or concerns, and generally get out of the house to prevent that post-baby ‘cabin fever’ kicking in.

She made some very good friends via those classes, and a small group eventually broke off to form their own little gang of mothers, who would meet once a week for coffee and cake.

After a while, the topic of their respective partners apparently cropped up, and one lady mentioned how her husband didn’t really know anyone locally, and didn’t socialise outside of his school and work friendship groups. From what I can gather, my darling wife took this as an invitation to emphasise my own unbearable loneliness and social anonymity within Sandbach (which I hadn’t noticed until then), whereupon a few other ladies all concurred about their own other halves.

This then developed into said harem taking it upon themselves to become social secretaries for us, and arranging that we should all get together, post-haste, to bond and make new friends. Lovely. The fact that the only two things we all had in common, were the town in which we lived, and the fact that our wives were meddling gossips, didn’t seem to deter them one iota.

Upon learning of this plan, I tried to protest that I could make friends myself, thank you very much (at which point, my wife highlighted that we had been in Sandbach for three years, and I was yet to make one), and I found the whole thing very embarrassing and awkward. Annoyingly, however, the wives were right (as, I am informed, is standard practice) and we ‘Dads’ are all now good pals. Well, I consider them to be good friends, but they probably think I’m a dick.

Anyway, one of the husbands – who I now know very well – is a keen badminton player, and has competed semi-professionally in the past. Consequently, since he was eager to get back to playing locally, his good lady wife suggested that this would be an ideal way for us to mix, enjoy some sport and exercise, and perhaps go for a beer or two later. After all, we men often find forced-social outings somewhat awkward, and sport + beer is usually a good ice-breaker.

The first I knew about this arrangement, however, was when I returned home from work one evening, to be informed that I would be playing badminton – a sport I had last participated in (only twice), nearly twenty years earlier at school – that coming Friday. No amount of ‘I haven’t played since 1994, and I was shit then’, ‘but I’m fat and out of shape’ and ‘I haven’t even got a fucking racket’, was going to persuade her otherwise. It was happening.

Of course, she quickly responded to each of my protests with ‘it’s ok, none of them have played in years’ (conveniently omitting the aforementioned semi-professional), ‘anyway, you’re not that fat’ (back-handed compliment) and ‘don’t worry, someone is bringing a spare racket for you’ (oh, so they haven’t played in years, but they have more than one racket?). As usual, she had a response for every excuse I could muster.

I was then told that ‘Mr Semi-pro’ – I shall refer to him as that for now, since it would be unfair to use Doug’s real name without his permission – would pick me up at the end of our road at 7.45pm on the Friday evening, and he would indeed bring a spare racket for me. Ok, I thought, what’s the worst that can happen?

So, having asked my wife what car he drove, and having received the very unhelpful response of ‘a red one’, I stood at the end of our road that Friday evening, and waited for Doug to arrive (fuck it, might as well call him Doug now). Sure enough, shortly before 7.45pm, a red hatchback pulled up next to me, and in I got. The conversation which ensued, went very much like this:

“Hi! You must be Doug?”

“No, I’m not. Get the fuck out of my car.”

My initial reaction to this, wavered from ‘is he joking? Because if he is, it’s not very funny’, to ‘oh no, have I got his name wrong, and he’s massively overreacted to being called Doug?’, before it eventually dawned on me that no, this chap was very much not Doug, and it was far more likely that the red Honda Civic, which had just pulled up directly behind us, was in fact the vehicle I was looking for.

Having apologised profusely to ‘Not Doug’, and having tentatively got into the car of ‘Actual Doug’ (‘please, God, let THIS be the right car’), I then had to introduce myself, again, while explaining that I am not normally the sort of gent who car-hops on street corners of a Friday evening. Fortunately, Actual Doug saw the funny side.

Since that fateful evening, when I first demonstrated how pathetically woeful my badminton was (no surprise there), I’ll admit that I have improved a great deal, but then again so has the rest of the group, so I am still one of the worst players (if not the worst). It’s just that now, as a group, we occasionally look quite good, rather than cripplingly shite – or so Doug kindly tells us.

Even though I’m certain he will be embarrassed by the moniker of ‘Mr Semi-Pro’ which I have thrust upon him, the truth is, Doug’s miles better than the rest of us, and clearly has the ability to win a game in a matter of minutes, if he so chooses.

But, to his credit, he rarely does. He is incredibly patient, especially with me, and will often smile politely, while I make countless childish references to the ‘cock’ (to the uninitiated, that’s the thing with feathers you’re supposed to hit), in order to try and disguise my inadequacy at his chosen sport.

I have no doubt that, while I’m larking around, a small part of him is dying inside, but he’d never let on. Every so often, you can see the precise moment when his brain thinks ‘right, fuck this’, shortly before he destroys the opposition, but it’s then out of his system, and he’s back to playing more at our level.

There have been times, when I have naively convinced myself I have him beaten, with a particularly clever shot (these are, of course, rarer than unicorn shit), only for him to somehow contort his body and win the point. I barely have time to think ‘he’ll never get to that’, before the cock is whizzing back past me. *sniggers*

This sort of Jedi shit

As for the rest of the core group (as there have been a few others who have played a handful of times over the past few years), there is a good range of ability.

I don’t think anyone would mind me saying that Richard and Chris (whose names have been swapped around, to preserve their anonymity) are two of the better players, and Richard’s (well, Chris’) determination to throw himself at every shot is commendable.

Honestly, he dives more than Tom Daley and Cristiano Ronaldo put together, and spends a good half of each session leaping through the air like a salmon. I tried this once, when a particularly low shot was creeping away from my (admittedly considerable) wingspan, and I completely knackered my knee. I now leave the diving to Richard (Chris).

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Not actually Chris. Chris isn’t even remotely Chinese

We have another Richard too (I know what you’re thinking, two dicks!) and, again, I don’t think he would mind me saying he’s more at my level. In his defence, he only joined us a few months ago, so to think he’s already caught up with (and probably surpassed) my abilities, says a great deal about either my slow progress, or his quick advancement.

Rich is also, like me, partial to a bit of double entendre (which is French for ‘two entendres’), and in a sport where there is a very real chance of getting ‘a cock in the face’, this is often too good for us to resist.

Finally, Rich has one secret weapon, which none of us can possibly match. He is, without doubt, the owner of the most disturbed digestive system of any man I have ever known. I’m not sure what he generally eats (decomposing road-kill, presumably), but there is not a week goes by, when he doesn’t clear the court with an air biscuit of catastrophic proportions.

Naturally (although there is nothing natural about it), he can be a useful ally with this weapon up his sleeve – or shorts – but such is the potency of his rectal turbulence, even his own teammate at the time (and, indeed, anyone within a half-mile radius) is exposed to the chemical warfare, and usually ends up with their eyes stinging to the point they cannot focus.

All in all, we now have a weekly excuse to get out of the house, enjoy some good-humoured sport, and then put back on whatever calories we may have burned, by going to the pub afterwards.

And, rather annoyingly, it’s all thanks to our interfering wives.

Damn. I hate it when she’s right.

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Blog And Ball Games

Next Wednesday, I will be playing… wait for it…. Rounders.

Yes, you read that correctly, Rounders.

You remember, the sport that everyone played at primary school in the 1980s, but then immediately forgot about the day they left? The one that’s a bit like baseball, only the shit English version where you have to bowl underarm and can only hold the bat with one hand?

Hang on, let me see if I can find some pictures online to jog your memory:

Got it now? Yes, that Rounders.

There is a very good reason all these pictures look dated, and that’s because they were taken more than thirty bloody years ago.

Look, if this were a charity event, or something organised for the kids at Ollie’s school, I could perhaps excuse such an abominable sporting resurgence from my youth, but the fact of the matter is this: I’m going to be playing it (semi) competitively, with grown men and women, and it’s not even in aid of anything.

I’m not entirely sure whose idea the event was, and therefore who to blame, but it seems the firm I work for have been ‘challenged’ by another business from the same village, and for some inexplicable reason, their sporting contest of choice is one that – until now –  vanished shortly after Lord Lucan and Shergar.

Apparently, depending on the success of the match, this may well pave the way for future sporting competitions between our two firms (I can only assume that quoits, tig and kiss-chase are on the cards).

It may come as a surprise, but it’s safe to say my initial response to the e-mail ‘invitation’ (as if we had any choice in the matter) was not overly enthusiastic, as it was along the lines of:

“Yeah, ok, I think I can play. But it does mean missing ‘Neighbours’, and Mum wants me home by 7pm anyway, as I have school the next day and haven’t done my homework yet. Oh no, wait, it’s not 1987 anymore, is it?”

Unfortunately, my sarcastic reply was completely ignored beyond the first seven words, and the next I knew, I was signed up to play. “Go on,” my boss said “it’ll be fun.”

Fun? We’re a firm of solicitors, and they’re a firm of accountants – not two areas of business typically known for their ‘fun’ side. Also, I haven’t yet got around to creating my ‘fun things to do before I die’ bucket list, but I suspect ‘play Rounders again one last time’ will feature somewhere between ‘go on holiday to Burnley’ and ‘have colonic irrigation’.

Then, just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse… it did.

Firstly, it was decided that we should all wear matching t-shirts with our company logo on. Awesome. Just when I was starting to get worried that we might come across as complete and utter losers, for playing a sport generally associated with teenage girls, we get a uniform to make us look even more cool.

Secondly, we were told to come up with a team name, and whilst our eventual choice (‘The Panthers’) is embarrassing to say the least, I refuse to have it criticised because, well, it was my idea. I’m not quite sure what possessed me to get involved in the name-selecting process, and I am even less certain as to why I thought this name would be suitable for our team (panthers are sleek, agile and black – three things that myself and my colleagues are most certainly not), but involved I got, and my suggestion ended up being the preferred choice.

As I began to grow concerned about how seriously we were perhaps taking the event, we received communication from our opponents, via Twitter. It transpires they have chosen to call themselves ‘The Jedi’, and they had tweeted a picture of two of their staff, fighting with Rounders bats like they were lightsabers, accompanied by the caption “Are you ready to feel our force?”

I laughed so hard, I swear a little wee came out.

Smack talk? For a Rounders match between a firm of Solicitors and a firm of Accountants in Cheshire? Are you fucking kidding me? Ok, it was camp Star Wars-based smack talk (yeah, that’ll dispel the rumours that lawyers and accountants are all nerds, well played chaps), but it was still clearly provoking a response. Naturally, I felt that we should rise above it, ignore the tweet, and let our Rounders do the talking.

 “We need to respond with something” my boss said.

Great.

Apparently, “What’s the matter with you people?” wasn’t entirely appropriate, and might upset the friendly nature of the contest, but by this point I felt all bets were off. If they wanted to start with the childish taunts, like we really were still in the playground, then it was fair game as far as I was concerned. My subsequent suggestions therefore included:

You guys are going down faster than your sisters

The last time we got to third base, it was with your mums

And, quite simply:

We’re gonna fuck you right up

None of which were approved. I have no idea why.

So, I will have to resort to Plan B: destroying them. I don’t care if we lose, but I’m going out there with the full intention of taking no prisoners. If I end up physically hurting someone, then so be it.

Prior to ‘kick off’ (or whatever the hell you call the start of a Rounders match), I will channel the spirit of Vinnie Jones – who, the last time I checked, isn’t actually dead yet, but all bets are off this year, aren’t they? – and the red mist will descend over me.

I won’t speak to any of my own team mates, let alone their players, in case I risk unbalancing my focus. I will simply step up to the plate – or the more British ‘overturned saucer with a hole in it’ – grip the bat so hard my knuckles turn white (and with both hands, screw the rules), and stare the bowler firmly in the eye. I will then maintain eye contact, without blinking, while beginning to emit a low, deep roar.

Unaware of my team mates, what ‘bases are loaded’ (look, I haven’t played this in nearly thirty years, so I’m not familiar with all the terms, ok?) or any sounds from the screaming fans around me, I will remain focused on just one thing: smashing the ball so hard, and so far, that whoever retrieves it will need to take a rest break half-way there.

Either that, or I’ll miss the ball entirely, cry, and run home to mum to complain about the big boys being nasty to me in the park. Then she’ll make me chicken dippers, potato waffles and spaghetti hoops, and we’ll sit down to watch Neighbours before I do my homework

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Wildly unrealistic photo, of some laughably over-enthusiastic women playing Rounders. This has never actually happened. Ever.

 

 

 

 

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