Monday, 11 November 2013

For The Fallen

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.
Solemn the drums thrill: Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres.
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.
They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.
They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England's foam.
But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;
As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain,
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.
R. L. Binyon (1869-1943)

In Memory Of

Private Joseph Watt
S/4206, 1st Bn., Seaforth Highlanders who died on 10 April 1916
Aged 21
Remembered with honour on Panel 37 and 64
Basra Memorial, Iraq
Serjeant Thomas McIvor
S/8909, 9th Bn., Black Watch (Royal Highlanders) who died on 29 April 1916
Aged 30
Remembered with honour on Panel 78 to 83
Loos Memorial, Pas de Calais, France

Saturday, 21 September 2013

The future's bright? Really?

In 2003, I took out my mobile phone contract with Orange, the main reason being that they were the only mobile phone company who could guarantee that I would have a service when I deployed to Iraq. And true to their word I did indeed have a signal, via the Kuwaiti system, the whole time that I was there.

The only problem that I had was when I attempted to change my direct debit date some months into my contract. It seemed that although the original date was inconvenient for me, that didn't matter. It was inconvenient for Orange to change the direct debit date and so they were unwilling to do so. In the end I had to cancel the direct debit and just pay every month manually, which meant that I was then penalised for not paying by direct debit, resulting in me paying more for my bills. 

This went on for some time until I pointed out that it was them that refused to change my direct debit date to one that was convenient to me and that was the reason that I wasn't paying by direct debit.  In the end, they accepted that they were at fault, and I was refunded the excess that I had paid.

And so to this year, and the reason for this slight rant.

The telephone account had five separate numbers, mine, Julie's, Drew's, Maggie's and Hannah's. When Julie and I decided that we were moving, it was agreed that Julie's and Hannah's numbers would be moved into a new account that would be in the name of Julie's mum.

So in February of this year, I contacted Orange Customer Services to arrange the transfer of the numbers. The woman with whom I spoke informed me that it would not be possible to do this until after the bill date in March.

In March 2013, I again telephoned Orange to transfer the numbers and was told that it should have been done when I initially telephoned and that there would be a delay in transferring these numbers.  Not particularly efficient, and it wasn't until April that the two numbers were removed from my account.

All sorted, just three numbers for me to pay for. Or so I thought!

In May I received a letter from Orange informing me that there was an outstanding balance on my account.  As I had only just paid my bill I was a bit surprised so I telephoned the automated service and discovered that I had a nil balance. So yet again I telephoned Orange Customer Services and explained the situation to them. The guy was initially bewildered, but after investigation was able to shed some light on the matter.

He informed me that when the two numbers had been dissociated from my account, rather than being moved straight into the other account they had been moved into a temporary account which should have been closed when the new account was opened, but this hadn't happened. He also informed me that this was a mistake by Orange, apologised, and told me that I should ignore the letter. Sorted? Not quite, because that would suggest that Orange Communications were capable of communicating within their company.

A month later, I received another letter informing me that despite “the previous communication”, there was still an outstanding balance on my account. So I again telephoned Orange Customer Services. Different person, but same outcome. Orange had made a mistake, it would be sorted out; ignore the communication, end of the matter.

Then in July, I received another letter, this one from a debt collection Agency called NCO Europe, informing me that they were acting on behalf of Orange as I had ignored previous communications and demanding even more money (apparently, they had now added their administration fee onto the original sum). And it’s at this point that all pretence at competence has gone out of the window.

I called Orange, who confirmed what they'd told me before, and then I called NCO who didn't believe me. And this was how it would go for about a month. NCO would call me, I would explain the situation, whoever I spoke to would suggest that I was making it up, but would assure me that they would investigate and call me back. And then a different person would call me back, I would explain the situation, whoever I spoke to would suggest that I was making it up, but would assure me that they would investigate and call me back, and so on.

Having spoken with them several times I decided that I would only deal with them in writing, therefore leaving a paper trail. I also wrote a formal letter of complaint to Orange.

And still it goes on, and still there is no resolution. NCO had asked me to send them a copy of the letter that I have written to Orange which I did. They then denied receiving it, despite my receiving read receipts to the email that the letter was sent on. So it has been sent again, read receipts again being received.

As for Orange, they still haven't responded to my letter, so as it is now eight weeks since my original letter of complaint and I have had no response, I have now had to contact the Communications and Internet Services Adjudication Scheme (CISAS). I also informed NCO that I had done so and have now received another email from them, addressed to me but with the salutation "Good afternoon Ms Foster", Ms Foster being the person whom I had sent the email to, and who had then forwarded it to the intellectual giant of a colleague who has sent me the email.

Daniela Ferrer Francisco, Operations Team Manager at NCO Europe, assures me that she wishes to resolve this matter and just needs me to email a copy of the letter that I have sent to Orange to enable her to do so.  As this would be the third copy that I would have sent them, I have agreed to do so only on the condition that she first attempt to find one of the copies that I have already sent and, if unsuccessful, email me stating that due to her company's incompetence they have lost the previous two copies that they have been sent and wish me to furnish them with a third. Wonder if they will be honest enough to do so.

As for Orange, their slogan for many years was "The future's bright, the future's Orange". It’s a shame that their, and NCO Europe Ltd's, employees appear not very bright.

I also wonder how Orange got on in Northern Ireland with that slogan.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Catching up...

It’s been sixteen weeks since I last posted and there's no real reason for this, other than the fact that I have lacked motivation and been working loads.

The biggest change that has occurred is that m'Julie is no longer m'Julie. By the end of May, I had realised that the spark that had been there between us was no longer there, and although I hope that we will remain friendly, there is no romance there. So I wrote her a letter, which was fitting as our relationship had started after she wrote a letter to me.

The downside to this was that as soon as my colleagues at the hospital found out that I was single, I then had numerous of them trying to set me up. Many of them seemed to think it odd that I was happy to be single and didn't need to be in a relationship at all times!

In June, the house became busier as Alec came home from Uni for the summer. However, because he couldn't fit everything into his car I had to drive up to Hull and back, a 450 mile round trip, to help him bring everything back.

He was quite lucky, because his brother has been working in Domino's whilst he's been at college, and managed to get Alec a job there as a delivery driver, so he has been earning all Summer. It will be strange when he goes back to Uni next week, the house being quieter, but I'm not looking forward to the 450 mile round trip again.

Drew has completed his programming course at college and is now looking for something that will utilise the skills that he has learnt over the last two years. In the meantime, he too is continuing to work at Domino's.

And me, I've been working at least one day per weekend most weekends and all bank holidays in the hospital to make sure that I can afford all the bills and have some spending money which means that I might actually be able to have a holiday next year.

I have also started the Staff Officer post in Aldershot and now commute every week for one day. The job is very different to my previous post, but it’s also challenging and interesting. It’s still early days and there is still a lot to learn, but I think that I will enjoy it.

And the last thing to say has been that, after all the talk about being happy to be single, I have now been asked out. And I thought that I would see where this goes. It's someone that I've known and worked with for the last twelve years, so I know that we get on.

Guess I'll just have to see what happens.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

All attempts to destroy democracy by terrorism will fail (Part 2)

We've been in the house now for just over 4 weeks and things are beginning to settle, although I am still working some daft hours. It is possible to now move about in the garage (where all of the excess boxes were stored) without having to climb on things. We're still not completely there, but further on than we were four weeks ago.

The biggest shock has been the fact that although the house is pretty much the same shape as the old one, it is a lot smaller, particularly the size of the rooms. This proved interesting when it came to trying to fit my bed into the bedroom, and there was a fair bit of moving about until we were able to actually fit everything in. But it does make the house quite cosy, and even though we've had a few chilly evenings, we haven't really needed to have the heating on.

Work wise I have been keeping busy working at the hospital doing extra shifts, but I have now heard and been told that I have been appointed to a Reservist Staff Officer post, so I will now get the opportunity to put the course that I attended last October into practice. Very different to being an Officer in a reserve Squadron, but I'm looking forward to the challenges that it will bring. My final function with the Squadron that I have served with and commanded since 2001 will be my formal dining out next Friday. Sadly, I did ask Julie if she would like to come with me but she declined.

It is also unfortunate that there may be a big impact on the way in which we have all served as a result of the events that happened in Woolwich on Wednesday, the reason for the title of this post.

However, I for one will not be intimidated by the actions of two sub-human pieces of shit, who deserve nothing more than to be fed to starving pigs whilst they are still alive. This pair committed this abhorrent crime in the name of a religion. But the sane, right-thinking people of this faith, the majority, join in condemning these scum. And whilst I am proud of the fact that in this country, in law, we have the presumption of innocence, surely the fact that one of these pigs was filmed, holding a meat cleaver whilst covered in the blood of his victim and confessing to having perpetrated the crime, means that they can be referred to as the murderers that they are, rather than "the alleged perpetrators".

I have to say that the Police Officers who shot them have definitely done the right thing in wounding rather than killing them. The reason that I say this is that had they been killed, they would instantly have become martyrs of the extremist Islamic cause. At least with them having survived they will eventually stand trial, and this will give other people who may have been inspired by their actions and seen them as heroes, had they died, to actually see them for the cowards that they actually are.

They are probably too stupid to realise that it is due to the actions of Drummer Lee Rigby, the man that they murdered, and other people like him who have, do and will serve in Her Majesty's Armed Forces, that they are able to hold the views that they have without being detained and tortured, as they would be in the more primitive countries that they want this country to become with their version of "law".

They cannot kill us all.

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Getting there

Like last time, the day of the move dawned bright and early, and I had collected the van by 0800. Drew and I then worked like Trojans and loaded the van with all the large stuff, before we walked down to sign the lease and take possession of the keys.

Once we had access, we drove round and got everything unloaded into the house before we drove back and left the van for Julie and Glenys to load whilst Drew and I went off to have some lunch.

We then drove round to Glenys's house, assisting with the unloading of the van, before we headed off to Big Yellow and completely emptied the storage unit that we had there.

We had decided that rather than fill the house up, we would load all of the boxes into the garage and bring them into the house as and when we had space. Doing this meant that we were finished and had the van back at the hire place whilst it was still light and got to bed at a decent hour.

Thursday was taken up with blitzing the old house from top to bottom, with it being finished on Friday morning just before the estate agent did the walk round and took the keys from us. The garden was cleared, with a couple of trips to the dump,  and I was back home early evening, in time to go and collect Maggie and have dinner ready for when Alec arrived from Hull, ready for the weekend.

Saturday was another lovely, but cold, day, and we were on the 0920 train to London, having our first pint at Waterloo by 1030, before heading to the Barmy Arms in Twickenham to meet with everyone.

My plan this year was that we would arrive at the stadium in plenty of time for the kick off, but as with just about every year, this plan went to rat shit with the introduction of beer. With the kick off at 1500, we didn't actually leave the pub until fifteen minutes before the kick-off, and by the time we'd bought food, got to the ground, found our seats, we'd missed the first twenty minutes of the game. Worse than that, the Navy were winning 19-5!

At this point, Maggie was worried! However, in the last twenty minutes of the first half, the Army scored two more tries, both of which were converted, and it was 19-19 at half time.

During the second half, the Army were completely dominant, the Navy only scoring one converted try, leaving the final score 43-26 in the Army's favour, much to Maggie's relief.

So the large group of us, with the addition of the two young ladies who adopted us, headed back to the Barmy Arms to carry on drinking, before making our way along the tow path to Richmond, via the White Swan, finishing up in The Old Ship.

I don't think that we had as much to drink as last year, and we were definitely home earlier, and again I felt surprisingly good on Sunday morning, but I think that all the alcohol must have left my body overnight on Sunday, as when I went to work on Monday, I felt rubbish, and still feel full of cold.

So stay tuned for the story of why "I think we're gonna need a bigger house" which will follow soon!

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Final stages

It's strange to look around this house and to think that it's just sixteen months since the house was in a similar state, full of boxes and no access to most of my belongings, but on that occasion it was because we had just moved in to here.

Just about all of the "small" stuff, books, CDs, DVDs etc, are now boxed and in storage, the aim being that when we move on Wednesday, only the "large" stuff, beds, wardrobes etc, will need to be loaded into the van and taken to the new house.

It will still be at least three trips, as the first trip will be to the house that me and Drew are moving to, then I will need to move Julie and Glenys's stuff to Glenys's house, and then, if time permits, Drew and I will head off to the storage and try to move as much as possible from there to our house.

There is a little bit of a time pressure but not a huge amount. We move on Wednesday, I've allocated Thursday to cleaning this house and doing the last few bits, and then we hand over the keys on Friday morning. Fortunately, I had sufficient time-owing from work to enable me to take a few days off without having to eat into any of my annual leave.

But I can't look forward to a nice chilled weekend sorting the house out, as Alec arrives from Hull on Friday evening and bright (at least I hope it'll be bright!) and early on Saturday we head up to Twickenham for a day of drinking with the annual Army v Royal Navy rugby match in the middle.

Alec has been the one who has got all of the tickets this year and there are about thirty-five of us, a combination of family, old friends, new friends and colleagues. We're even letting Maggie go this year, although it is with strict conditions.

In the last twelve years, the Navy have only won the match once, in 2010. Maggie has only been to the match once, and, you guessed it, it was 2010. So she has been told by almost everyone that if the Army lose again this year, she won't be allowed to go again.

And, as with most years, the winner of this match will be the Inter-Services champion, as both the Army and the Navy have already beaten the Royal Air Force.

So as of Wednesday, I will be Internet incommunicado until Friday, so the next update is not likely to be until at least next Sunday, as long as I'm not too hungover!

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

All attempts to destroy democracy by terrorism will fail

In 1969, the present round of what became known as "The Troubles" began in Northern Ireland. I say present because, despite the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, there are still dissidents within the Republican movement who wish to carry on this fight, and who continue to kill and maim both service personnel and civilians for their cause.

I remember the start of The Troubles well, because despite the fact that I was only two at the time, my family moved from Düsseldorf, in what was then West Germany, to Lisburn in Northern Ireland, because my father was a British Soldier serving in the Royal Military Police.

In the twenty-nine years that elapsed between 1969 and 1998, approximately 3483 people were killed, of whom the vast majority were civilians or security forces, killed either by bullet or bomb. And the attacks were not just restricted to Northern Ireland, with several bombing campaigns being carried out in mainland Britain as well as attacks on British bases and service personnel on continental Europe.

Unfortunately, due to the indiscriminate nature of these types of attack, many innocent civilians were killed. One of the most high profile of these cases was Nick Spanos and Stephen Melrose, two Australian lawyers working in London who were on a walking holiday in Europe with their partners in 1990. Having been out for a meal, they were returning to their car, which had British number plates, and were shot dead by two masked gunmen.

The Irish Republican Army (IRA) claimed responsibility, claiming that they had mistaken the two Australians for off-duty British service men and that their murders had been "a tragedy and a mistake".

And this is the major problem with indiscriminate terrorist attacks; innocent people get killed, be they Australian lawyers on holiday or eight year old boys watching their dad competing in a marathon.

But none of this could happen without funding, monies that will enable these terrorists to purchase the weapons that they use and the explosives for the bombs that they detonate. But where does this funding come from?

This is the irony in the tragic events that occurred in Boston yesterday, because yesterday, the citizens of that city became the victims of a terrorist attack, of the type that Londoners and Brummies experienced in the 1970's, of the identical type, two bombs in litter bins, that killed two children aged three and twelve in Warrington in 1993.

So why is this ironic? It is ironic because, much of the funding for the bullets and bombs used by the IRA was raised by the large Irish-American community in Boston, Massachusetts, through a front organisation called NORAID. And here, the techniques that they helped to fund, to kill innocent civilians, have been used against them.

Whilst I do not think that anyone deserves to be the victim of a terrorist attack, I think that America needs to realise that not only did terrorism exist prior to 11th September 2001, but that it is not always perpetrated by those from the middle-east. The funds that their citizens raised provided not just the raw materials for terrorists, but also funded the training and helped to develop new techniques of murder, some of which have now, forty years on, come back to haunt them.

And the quote that is the title of this entry? It was taken from a speech by Margaret Thatcher that she delivered as Prime Minister to the Conservative Party Conference in October 1984, the morning after a bomb that had been planted by the IRA in the Grand Hotel in Brighton in September 1984 had detonated, killing five people. It had been their intention to kill the Prime Minister and her Cabinet, an aim that failed.

Friday, 29 March 2013

End of an era

On Wednesday 28th February 2001, I made my way from Tunbridge Wells (where I was then living) to Ditton to make enquiries about joining the Territorial Army medical unit that was based there.

I was interviewed by the then Permanent Staff Administration Officer, a Captain, who explained to me the role of the Squadron and what I could expect if I was to serve with them. One advantage that I did have was that I knew two of the Officers that were already serving with them.

At the end of the interview, and almost as an afterthought, he said to me "By the way, there is the possibility that you could be deployed, but don't worry about it too much, as it hasn't happened since the Second World War".

I left with the world's supply of paperwork and the process of joining began. This included an interview with the Commanding Officer who told me that whilst he was happy that I commission, he thought that it would do me good to do the Phase 1 training that the soldiers do.

In August of 2001 I received my 8-figure Army number and three days later, on 1st September, departed to Devon on my first Annual Camp.

And then it all changed. Ten days after arriving in Devon, a group of nineteen men hijacked four passenger aircraft, two of which were flown into the World Trade Centre in New York, one into the Pentagon in Virginia and the last of which crashed in a field in Pennsylvania, initiating the "War on Terror".

Security was immediately increased and I remember the speculation in the mess that at some point UK Armed Forces would be involved in a conflict in Afghanistan (at this point it was known that Al-Qaeda had established training camps in the country) and that there was a possibility that even Territorial units would be involved.

However, even after the British involvement commenced in November 2001, we were not called upon and carried on the usual round of training during drill nights, weekends and annual camps.

I completed my Phase 1 training in the early part of 2002, attended a Commissioning Board in the May and was Commissioned as a Captain in July of 2002, receiving my 6-figure Officer number, and was Gazetted in August of that year.

At the beginning of 2003, there was much activity due to the imminent invasion of Iraq. I received call up papers at the beginning of February, reporting to the Reserves Training and Mobilisation Centre (RTMC) eleven days later.

For various reasons, I was not deployed on Telic 1, so returned home and concentrated on preparing the Squadron for deployment on Telic 2 in the June of 2003, although I again didn't deploy. However, I remained at RTMC as a Nursing Officer in the Medical Centre, performing medicals on all those who had, or were about to, deploy.

I did get my opportunity and deployed on Telic 3, arriving in Iraq on the morning of Friday 14th November 2003, for a six month tour, returning home in April 2004 (to discover I was getting divorced) with just sixteen days of R&R in the January in the meantime.

On my return, it was back to the usual round of training, including a week's adventurous training in Canada in 2005, and medical cover for the Nijmegen Marches in 2010 as well as several courses. All in all I had an interesting, varied and enjoyable time.

But the pinnacle of all of this was when I was promoted to Major and appointed as Officer Commanding (OC) of the Squadron, as reported here in 2009, a post that I have held for more than three years and which has now come to an end, leading to this ramble.

Last Wednesday was my last drill night as OC. I relinquish command on Sunday, the new OC taking command officially on Monday and the handover/takeover happening on Tuesday. So this week has been very strange, clearing my office of all my pictures etc. And although I won't be leaving the Squadron immediately, it is likely that the twelve years that I have spent as a member of the Squadron will be over by the end of next month.

So what's next? Well, I have applied for some posts as a SO2, which my attendance at Staff College last year should help, but the boarding for this does not happen until mid-April, hence my remaining at the Squadron. If I am successful, I will carry out this role for the duration of the contract and then, hopefully, move to one of the Field Hospitals having been promoted to Lieutenant Colonel.

So whilst I do feel a certain amount of sadness to be leaving the Unit that has been my military "home" for pretty much all of my Reservist career, I look forward to facing the future challenges.

2013 is definitely proving to be a year of change!

Monday, 25 March 2013

All change...Again!

Tomorrow was the day that I was to go into the estate agents and set everything up for renting the house that we'd seen on Saturday. But that has all changed.

Firstly, this morning I received a call from the lady that I'd spoken to on Saturday with her wanting to take all my details and get the admin started. However, at the time that she called, I was just about to commence my annual manual handling training, so I told her that I would call her back at lunchtime.

Lunchtime came and went with me completely forgetting to call her, and I was busy teaching this afternoon. When we had coffee, I noticed that I had two missed calls and a voicemail. One of the calls, and the voicemail, was from the estate agent that we had seen the first house that we wanted to rent with. The voicemail was telling me that the people who were supposed to be moving into the house last Saturday hadn't actually done so and the landlady (who lives in Cyprus) had been in touch with her to tell her that she had decommissioned the other two estate agents. The house was therefore available to rent, but she needed me to call her back urgently if I still wanted it. I called straight back and she told me that she had already spoken with Julie, who had said yes on my behalf.

I then telephoned the other estate agent who had been letting the house that we saw on Saturday, and told her that having had a long discussion with my son, we felt that as it was extremely likely that the let would only be for six months, and neither of us wanted the upheaval of a second move so soon after this one, I had changed my mind and decided not to go ahead with the let. She did call me back almost straight away to ask if I would be interested if she could speak with the landlord and guarantee that the let would be for a year. 

I haven't called her back as yet, and probably won't if I'm honest. Both Drew and I felt that the house that we saw a week ago was the ideal place and both of us were disappointed when we were told that it had already been let.

Now it’s just getting everything ready to move. It’s still not a move that I particularly want to make, but at least it's the house that I wanted to move into, rather than the second choice. When I got home this evening, I wrote my notice on this property and Julie will deliver it for me tomorrow. The big advantage is that the estate agent that we rent this property through is the same one that we will be renting the next one through, so many of the admin checks etc. that increase the cost of the move won't need to be done, as they were completed a year ago.

So the plan is to move into the new house on the 24th April, clean this place up on 25th & 26th, handing the keys back on the 26th, and then to Twickenham for the Army v Navy rugby on the 27th.

Busy times ahead!

Saturday, 23 March 2013


Well, we've seen the house and I've said a provisional "yes", but I still have certain misgivings that I will go into shortly.

As I had said I would, I called the other agents that were advertising the house. I explained the situation to her and she said that she was happy for us to view the house with the other agents and to get back to her. She even gave me her mobile phone number to facilitate this.

Now I will go into a little bit of the background about the agents that we were seeing the house with today.

This is the same firm that let Julie's mum's house. The woman that Glenys was dealing with would regularly telephone Glenys and issue orders about what she had to do and when by. It got to the stage where I actually had to write to them to remind them that they were working for Glenys, not the other way round.

The tenants that were in the house would regularly not pay their rent, usually because they wanted something done, but when Glenys tried to organise anything or gain access to the house, they would be very awkward. And the agents always seemed to side with the tenants.

The final straw was when Glenys received a letter informing her that the tenants had given their notice, moved out and the agents had found new tenants. None of this had been discussed with Glenys.

So these were the people that I was dealing with. Drew and I arrived at the house about fifteen minutes early and I immediately noticed a "For Sale" sign outside, which caused me some concern as I didn't want to be taking on a short-term lease.

The agent arrived about five minutes after us. We got out of the car, introduced ourselves and then he handed each of us the sales literature. This set off a few alarms and I asked if he was aware that we were looking to rent the house, not buy it. He wasn't. In fact, he had nothing to do with the lettings, only the sales.

However, he let us in, informing us that the family that were living there were moving out this weekend (even though I'd been told the 8th when I telephoned).  The agent seemed very confused and asked if we were happy to show ourselves around whilst he made some phone calls. I think that he was also expecting some other people to view the property.

Drew and I walked around, and although the property was smaller than it appeared in the pictures, we both felt that it could be home. The only downside was the fact that it was for sale as well.

When I spoke with the agent, he informed me that the house had been rented for the last 5 years, but the landlord wanted to sell  and therefore was renting it out in the meantime, for a six month lease. Drew and I thanked him for his time and left.

A little later I telephoned the other agent and told her that we were interested but that I had concerns about the fact that the property was also for sale. She told me that the landlord wanted to sell the property as an investment; the person buying the property wouldn't move in, but would continue to let the property. So, yes, the initial lease would be for six months, but it would then be a rolling twelve month one. However, she couldn't guarantee this, although she was sure that this was the case.

On that basis I have said yes. She is phoning the landlord today and I will be going into her office on Tuesday to set the ball rolling.

I also telephoned the original agents to tell them that I wasn't interested and took the opportunity to point out that in future perhaps they need to communicate more, as their agent at the property was the sales agent, who had nothing to do with lettings, and that I hadn't been informed that the house was also up for sale. The person who answered phone assured me that if I had decided to take the property, it would have been taken off the market and sounded very surprised when I told him what I had been told earlier about it being a six month let.

So it looks as though Drew and I will be moving at the end of next month, all being well. I just wish I could get rid of this nagging doubt about the fact that the house is also up for sale.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

There is some hope

So, wondering if I was to have more success today, I telephoned both of the estate agents at about 10am.

I called first the one that I had called yesterday and spoke with a different person. He apologised for the fact that I hadn't had a call back and told me that he would pass on my details to the agent dealing with lettings in the Tunbridge Wells area. I explained that this was what I had been told yesterday, but I was assured that he would get back to me within the hour.

I also telephoned the agents advertising the house that I had seen yesterday, or should I say one of the agents, but more on that later.

The house is currently occupied and will be until 8th April, which is fine as we can't move until the 24th. So the woman took all my details and promised to call me back within the hour with a viewing time.

It was only after I had hung up that I realised that I had cocked up, as the agents that I had called was the one that has it advertised at £45 per month more than anyone else. So I resolved that if we do decide to take this house, we'll go through one of the cheaper agents.

I also had a discussion with one of the people with whom I share an office, who not only lives in the same town, but has just bought a house behind the one that we will be looking at. She was singing the praises of the area and I actually felt quite positive about the place, which I had not previously done.

Both having promised that they would get back to me within the hour, neither did! In fact, it wasn't until six hours later that they did call, and both called at exactly the same time, because just as I answered the lady who deals with the Tunbridge Wells lettings, my phone was beeping to let me know that the other agent was calling.

After speaking to both, there was good news and bad news. The house that I really liked the look of in Tunbridge Wells has been seen by some people who liked it, but wouldn't make their decision until tomorrow. So the lady will call me back tomorrow and let me know either way, and if they decide not to take it, she will arrange a viewing for Saturday.

Whilst this conversation was going on, the other agent was leaving me a message asking me to call her back, which I did, and then I received a text message during the conversation from her giving me the details that she was telling me. The upshot is that we will be viewing this house at 3pm on Saturday.

Hopefully, at least one of these will work out as I have just looked on the t'interweb again, and there is nothing else available.

This could take longer than I thought!

I was teaching at work today, but I did manage to make time to call about the houses that I'd seen yesterday, although only three of them as, after discussion with Drew, the house that was so close to his mother was binned as it would be awkward for him to get to work (a bus and a train, or a long walk and a train, rather than a short walk and a short train journey).

Property No. 1 had been let. Property No. 3 had been let. So why the hell don't they update their websites!

Property No. 2, on the other hand, was still available. However, the fact that I couldn't see it until Saturday didn't seem to impress the agent. What do they want? If I wasn't employed, they probably wouldn't want to know, but because I am and can't just turn up when it’s convenient to them, they seem unhappy. I bet if I wanted to see it when I finished work, which would be when they had also finished work, the answer would be no.

The other matter that the agent with whom I spoke seemed unhappy about was that not only could I not move in until next month as I have to give a month's notice where I am, but also the fact that I hadn't already given notice. He did, in fact, ask why I hadn't and I explained, in my best "talking to a moron" voice, that I wanted to wait until I had somewhere to move to, rather than make myself and my son homeless.

I was then told that he would speak with the agent that deals with the Tunbridge Wells lettings and have her call me. I explained that I was teaching all day but that she could call and leave a message. Still waiting.

Having looked this evening, there is one other "spacious 3 bed semi-detached house, within walking distance of both the town center and the mainline station" which sounds a little like yesterday's property 1, which it is quite close to, but at least the agent marketing that property could spell centre!

So another call to make tomorrow, and I may have to call the other agent back.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Sod it!

Looks as though I may have spoken too soon about how painless the house hunting was. The reason that I say this is that I had a telephone call from the estate agents this afternoon to tell me that the house that we had said that we would take, which was also being marketed by two other agents, had been seen by people last Saturday, who said that they would take it and are moving in next Saturday.

Back to the drawing board, or rather back to the "property to let" sites on the Internet.

So I have widened the search a little to include Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells, and now have four potential properties that I need to speak to the various estate agents about tomorrow. Unfortunately, even if I call tomorrow, the earliest that I will be able to visit anywhere is on Saturday.

Property 1 is a "a three bedroom semi-detached house, which is situated within a short walk of the town centre & mainline station". The house looks quite nice from the outside, but there are no other pictures of the interior, which always makes me a little dubious.

Property 2 is a "charming, newly refurbished, 3 bedroom semi-detached family home". This looks the nicest of the lot, particularly the internal photos, and I think is definitely worth a look.

Property 3 is the cheapest of the lot, £100 cheaper than the others and is "An older style end terrace house with really good size garden to the rear". It is in one of the less salubrious areas, and looks it. Sadly, beggars can't be choosers!

The last property is one that would have an upside and a downside. It is "a well presented three bedroom semi-detached house". The upside is that Maggie would be able to walk round and visit whenever she wanted, but the downside is that this would be possible because the house is approximately 1/2 mile from where my ex-wife lives. Perhaps not, then.

So its back on the phone tomorrow to arrange viewings, whilst keeping looking. Watch this space.

Monday, 18 March 2013

House Hunting

Despite the fact that the title of this is usually sufficient to strike fear into the stoutest of hearts, it’s actually been a relatively painless process and it looks as though the right place has been found, less than two weeks after deciding that I needed to find somewhere.

At first, it looked as though it was going to be a long, hard struggle, as there seemed to be nowhere appropriate. I needed to find a property with at least three bedrooms, one for me, one for Drew and one for Maggie when she stays, and for visitors when she isn't staying. A search of the Internet produced just four suitable results.

The first house that we visited was described as a "spacious three bedroom terraced house", which I have to say was not strictly true. The house was situated on the main road through Paddock Wood, opposite a pub. Granted, the downstairs rooms were reasonably spacious, but the kitchen was tiny, as was the back yard (note the use of the word yard rather than garden).

Getting upstairs was interesting, as the staircase was not exactly wide, and whilst I'm a bit lardy, even Drew had some difficulties. The two double bedrooms were a reasonable size, but one had clearly been the bedroom of a teenage girl, as it was a purple and mauve shrine to Robert Pattinson and Twilight, complete with an oversized R painted on one wall.

However, there was a third double bedroom, although this was an attic bedroom, accessed by an equally narrow staircase. The problem with this room was that neither Drew, at 6'0", nor I, at 6'2", could actually stand upright in the room. Needless to say, we made the decision there and then that it wasn't for us.

The next house that I tried to see was a "recently repainted three bedroom semi-detached house with a nice size garden" for £875.00 per month. The earliest day that I could see it was last Tuesday as they were unwilling to let me see it on the Saturday. I left my details and was expecting a call from the estate agents to confirm the viewing time. Having heard nothing on the Tuesday, I telephoned and was told that because of the weather (it snowed again last Tuesday) no-one would be able to get out of the office (even though all of the snow had almost thawed by the time that I called them). An appointment for 10.00 today was therefore made.

The next house that I saw was described as a "3 bedroom semi-detached house. Well-presented throughout". It looked very promising, but was about £50.00 a month more than I really wanted to pay. However, I telephoned the estate agents to arrange a viewing.

I was surprised to actually speak with a very honest agent. She informed me that whilst the house would probably be suitable, the people who were letting it ultimately wanted to sell the house and for that reason, the let was only for six months. Definitely not suitable!

This left just one house, described as a "spacious 3 bedroom terrace house recently redecorated throughout with new carpets". There was a little confusion about this, as this house had been discussed when we had looked at the first house, but the agent said that the family were unsure whether or not to let or sell, as the person living in it was now in a home. But when I saw that it was still on the Internet, I telephoned and spoke to the other agent at the same estate agents, who told me that the family had never intended to sell. So I made arrangements to view it at 2.00 this afternoon.

In the meantime, whilst looking, I had noticed that the house that was on the market that I was supposed to be seeing at 10.00 today was also on the market with another agent, but £25.00 per month cheaper.

Having had a busy weekend teaching on a course, I had taken a day's leave today, but was up early so as to be at the house we were due to see. But at 9.00 I received a phone call informing me that they were unable to make the appointment time and could they delay it until 4.30. As it worked out, it was quite fortuitous.

Drew, Alec (who is on Easter leave from Uni), Julie and I walked round to have a look at the house, which is just round the corner from where Julie will be moving to.

The house was OK, but did need some modernisation. In fact, it was pretty much identical to Julie's mum's house, but a mirror image. It did have a nice conservatory, or at least it would be nice once the smell of cat piss was gone, but I didn't get a warm fuzzy feeling, and neither did Drew.

I said to the agent that we had one more house to see this afternoon and I would get back to her. She then informed us that she had a house that hadn't even been advertised yet, the agency only receiving a call from the owner today, and that it was in the same road as the one that I was seeing this afternoon.

Drew, Alec and I decided to go and see it straight away and were surprised to discover that not only was it in the same road as the house we were due to see this afternoon, but it was actually the same house!

Pretty much as soon as we walked in, Drew and I had a good feeling. The house is almost identical in layout to the one that we are currently in, although it doesn't have an extension like this one and has one less bedroom. The rooms are all a little smaller than the current house, but they are big enough for the pair of us.

So we have told the agent that we would like to rent it. It just needs a little more work done, but we won't be looking at moving before the end of April, so it should all work out.

So, I had to telephone the agent who I was due to meet at 4.30 and tell them that I wanted to cancel the viewing as I had found a house and no longer needed to see the one that they were showing.

Just after this, I received a panicked call from the agents that we are going to use, asking me not to mention that I had seen the house via another agents. I might use this as leverage to make sure that the rent is decent!

Still not looking forward to the actual packing and moving, though!

Saturday, 9 March 2013


A little over a year after the chaos of the move to the house that we are now in, it looks, barring a small miracle, that we will be facing the chaos again. Sadly, it is not a move that I ever wanted to make, but it has become necessary. It may also mean another major change in my life, but I really hope not.

Just before we moved into this house, the job that m'Julie was expecting to start shortly after our move fell through, and unfortunately she has not been able to find a full-time, reasonably well-paid, job since then. As a result, the burden of the financial outlay has fallen on me, with her mum also contributing.

As a result of this, I have been extremely stressed for the majority of the last year, trying desperately to ensure that we had somewhere to live and food to eat, in an effort to keep us together, but it appears that what I have actually achieved is to push us further, much further, apart. So when this move takes place, it will see me and Andrew move into one house and Julie and Hannah move into her mother's house. And whilst that doesn't necessarily mean the end of the relationship, it certainly feels like it at the moment.

Inevitably, there has been reflection, certainly on my part although I can't speak for Julie, on the almost eight years since we met, and apart from the last year, almost every memory is a happy one.

When my ex-wife and I parted, it was no real surprise. Our relationship had been in the doldrums with a unending round of almost constant arguments for a number of years. If I'm honest, I had only carried on for the sake of our children, who at the time we parted were 12, 8 and 6. Definitely the wrong reason for staying with someone! Her timing of presenting me with divorce papers four hours after I returned from Iraq wasn't the best timing, but that sums her up really.

However, that hasn't been the case with Julie and I. Yes, we've had our difficulties, but we have always been able to sort things out and look back and laugh, even when I was ill. We have no "mutual" children, but my children, particularly Drew, have more affinity with Julie than their own mother, and Hannah has called me "Dad" since about a year after I met her.

In fact, before we moved into this house, we never really had any significant problems, lived a reasonably good life and had no real financial worries. But all of this changed after the move and we haven't had the disposable income that we had previously, which has meant that we haven't done half of the things that we did previously. On reflection I can say that often it was a case of my not wanting to "in case" we couldn't afford it rather than because we actually couldn't. I have also been very tired as I have been working at least fifty hours per week and sometimes as many as seventy.

Inevitably this has resulted in my being more irritable and less forgiving, which has clearly impacted on the way in which Julie and I have been with each other.

So that's the current situation. Perhaps, as Julie says, having semi-separate lives will result in us re-discovering the spark that we have had for the last eight years, ignited in May 2005 when I received a letter from a Dental Nurse whom I had recently trained asking me to "Please excuse the familiarity". I hope so, because it’s pointless being financially better off if the person that you love isn't there to help you spend it.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Crime and Punishment

All over the UK news at the moment is the fact that a former cabinet minister, Chris Huhne, is looking at some prison time after committing a criminal act.

What I can't understand is why this is so newsworthy. That fact that a politician has committed a criminal act surely cannot be that newsworthy, and the fact that he then went on to lie about also cannot be that newsworthy. Isn't that what politicians do? Break the law and tell lies?

In one respect I feel a little sorry for the manner in which Huhne has met his end, because it’s all down to his embittered ex-wife, Vicky Pryce. As a man who also has an embittered, and verging on the psychotic, ex-wife I can empathise. However, the fact that the accusations that Ms Pryce has made have turned out to be true, as opposed to my ex-wife's crazed nonsense, limits my empathy.

Huhne's problems began in 2003 when he was caught by a speed camera on a motorway. He would have incurred a fine and three penalty points on his driving licence. In the UK, if a driver amasses 12 points during a three-year period, they will be disqualified from driving for about 6 months. Penalty points also stay on the licence for four years.

It appears that he then convinced his wife, Ms Pryce, to claim that she was driving and have the points on her licence instead. By doing this, both have committed the offence of perverting the course of justice. And no doubt, no-one would have been any the wiser, had Huhne then not had an affair and decided to leave his wife.

In an obvious fit of pique, Ms Pryce then contacted a journalist and informed them of her husband pressurising people into taking his penalty points for him. When this claim was published, the Police investigated and the result was that both were charged with perverting the course of justice, and faced the possibility of several months in prison if convicted, despite both pleading not guilty.

Huhne then spent months categorically denying any wrongdoing and accusing his ex-wife of lying. Until yesterday, when, after thousands had been spent investigating and bringing the trial to court, he changed his plea to guilty and admitted everything. So it now looks likely that a custodial sentence is a lot more than a possibility.

As for his ex, she is still pleading not guilty on the grounds of marital coercion, but will probably face a similar sentence if convicted. Perhaps the best punishment for them both would be that they have to serve their sentences as cell mates!

However, compared to the sentence that  Lindsay Sandiford is facing, a few months in prison will be nothing. This British woman is currently in prison in Bali and facing execution for attempting to smuggle 4.8kg of cocaine into the country.

The biggest surprise about this is that there can be very few people who are unaware of this region's strict anti-drug laws, and the fact that the maximum sentence is death. There have even been films made, Bangkok Hilton and Dadah Is Death being just two, although only the latter was based on fact.

Although she claimed that she had been coerced and had expressed remorse, she was tried and convicted of drug smuggling. The surprise was that despite the prosecution recommending a sentence of 15 years the judges have sentenced her to face a firing squad.

Of course there has been an outcry by some in this country about the death sentence, but whether or not you agree with capital punishment, this is a woman who attempted to commit a crime in a country where the death sentence is carried out. She must accept that if you commit a crime in any country, you are subject to that country's laws and punishments.

I also find it somewhat ironic that this woman has people trying to sue the British Government for not providing her the funds to hire an "adequate" lawyer in Bali. Had she not committed the crime in the first place there would be no need for any lawyer, "adequate" or not, but that appears to be lost on these people. I bet that if she hadn't been caught, her cut of the £1.7m (€1.95m, $2.66m) wouldn't have benefited the British Government in any way, so why should they help her out.

Although it can be argued that these two stories are extremes, they both feature people who have been reluctant to accept the consequences of their actions, although in the first case, at least he's now admitted his wrongdoing. As the old saying goes, "If you can't do the time don't do the crime".

Thursday, 17 January 2013

It's Happening Again!

As I write this I sit wondering if this will be the last communication that I will have with the rest of the world for some time, or possibly ever. I am preparing myself and my family for the possibility that things may never be the same again and we may be reduced to surviving by our wits alone. The reason? Apparently it will snow in the UK tonight and may do so for a couple of days over the weekend and next week. As we know, as the first flake falls from the sky, the country will grind to a halt.

If you Google "Why is Britain so unprepared for snow", there are pages and pages of discussions and suggestions as to why we don't cope, dating back, in some cases, for years. And yet, despite the fact that there has been all this discussion, everybody knows that when the snow does start, it will be the same old story. Why do we never learn?

I accept that by comparison with other countries, we have less and more infrequent snowfall, but it has snowed every year for at least the last four years. But the argument is still put forward that we do not have sufficient snowfall to justify the outlay on things such as snowploughs. But clearly we do. If we had snowploughs, roads would be cleared much more easily. Even the measures that are allegedly in place are sadly missing. There has been the threat of snow for more than a week, and yet the last time I saw a gritter on any of our local roads was more than two months ago.

The other thing that weather like this causes is panic buying. As soon as there is a severe weather warning, the supermarket shelves are emptied of such staples as bread and milk. I've never understood why. In all the times that we have had snow, not once have the shops been closed and not once have we even contemplated slaughtering our neighbours in order to provide a square meal. Generally the employees will live locally and walk to work. The wages that they receive generally mean that they can't live further away as they can't afford to run cars or pay the extortionate train fares.

The only conclusion that I can draw is that these people that do the panic buying are concerned as the only way that they would be able to get to the supermarket would be to walk, like the employees, as the roads would be unsuitable for driving, and god forbid that they should have to actually walk! The irony of this is that so many of them will have 4 x 4's that they have no idea how to drive in this situation, as they have only been bought as a status symbol to be shown off on the school run.

At least I know that should most of the food go there are likely to be plenty of burgers, due to the revelation that there has been horse DNA found in Tesco, Lidl, Aldi and Iceland beef burgers.

Personally, I can't see what all the fuss is about. Firstly, two of these companies are originally German, so based in a country where the consumption of horses is not uncommon. I wouldn't be surprised to find out that it’s not just the burgers that are "contaminated".

My second reason is a little more personal. I was taught to ride when I was a child. When I say "ride", I mean that in the loosest possible sense. What generally happened was that I would get onto the horses back, get comfortable in the saddle and then find myself flying through the air at high speed as the horse/pony decided that it didn't feel like giving me a trip around the paddock on that day. So I would not be at all averse to my only dealings with horses being with them smothered in burger relish and cheese and between two halves of a burger bun and I actually quite like horsemeat. I would be far more concerned if they had found human DNA rather than equine in this meat.

I suppose the fact that there is no mention of there being meat other than dead cow in the product is why these companies are getting into trouble, although I have seen a joke about the fact that a burger was found to contain 29% horse meat. One wag tweeted that he hadn't realised that there was actually that much meat of any kind in the product.

My favourite joke? Is it coincidence that that "hamburgers" is an anagram of "Shergar bum"?