Valentine’s Day has not been a big deal in our household for many years. This morning, February 14, 2018, Angela walked through the front door as I simultaneously walked down the stairs. We greeted each other for the first time today, the conversation went like this:
Me: “Good morning, wife.”
Angela: “Good morning, husband.”
Me: “Happy Valentine’s Day, wife.”
Angela: “Happy Valentine’s Day, husband.”
Me: “Is that Valentine’s Day done?”
In the top drawer of my office cabinet, I have a signed, sealed and unopened Valentine’s Day card for Angela. I fear that one day she will present me with a card and I won’t have anything in return, so I stored it away for such an event. It has been there for 15 years and will probably still be there in another 15.
Angela bought me a board game for Christmas, The Logo Game. We took it with us on a getaway week staying in a forest lodge over the holidays and became just a tiny bit addicted to it.
It’s a quiz game, in the style of Trivial Pursuit. We had an unwritten rule added to the official ones which stated that at least one alcoholic beverage must be consumed by all players prior to the first question being asked. Only Angela and I played, our three dogs tried to join in at one point but they had difficulty reading the cards, and a lack of opposable thumbs prevented them moving the counters around the board; we had to ban them.
The first couple of games could be described as mild, friendly amusement. We give each other endless clues and sometimes led the other so far down the correct road that it was akin to showing them the answer written on the card. We laughed a lot.
There was a turning point in game three. I asked the question, “What two letters of the alphabet can be found in the Volkswagen logo?” Angela replied “BMW”. Well, I laughed my head off at the utter ineptitude of this answer, “BMW, are you joking?” Angela shouted back “Vee and Double-Yoo, you deaf get!”
At that moment, the friendliness of our gameplay disappeared, and competitive instincts took over. The clues dried up and winning became everything.
Angela showed me a picture of the soft drink IRN BRU logo; question one was to identify the brand which I answered correctly, question two was to spell it. I replied “I..R..N..hyphen..B..R..U”. Angela said that was not correct because, according to the answer written on the card, there was no hyphen in it. One day earlier, she would have given that as a right answer. Now I hate to be pathetic about it, but (1) when I ask my voice recognition software to write Irn-Bru it automatically inserts a hyphen, and (2) here is a picture of an Irn-Bru can.
I asked Angela the question “Who was responsible for selling Norfolk turkeys with the phrase ‘They’re bootiful’?” I knew that Angela knew the answer, but she couldn’t transport it from her brain to her mouth. She said, “Oh, I can picture him, this is so frustrating, will you give me a clue?” I replied, “Yes, it’s two words”.
For anyone remotely interested, Angela won the series-defining play-off match on the final night of our holidays, and I was grumpy for hours.
I received a text message from my daughter who incorrectly assumed that I was at home; it read “Has a package been delivered there for me today?” I replied, “We’re in Sainsbury’s. I’ll ask at the customer service desk if you like”.
As I laughed out loud at the quality of my own ‘Dad joke’, I heard a voice to my left. “Hello, Stewart”. My eyes refocused from my cell phone to the blonde lady by my side; I didn’t recognise her. Now here is a moral dilemma, do you own up or do you play along and hope a spark ignites; I chose the latter.
I gave her a smile and said: “Oh hello, how are you doing?” She replied that she was fine and that it had been a “long time since I last saw you”. I experienced the slight glimmer of a spark of recognition; did I used to work with her?
For the next minute or so, we made small talk about being ready for Christmas and joking that we were leaving it a bit late to start our Christmas shopping. We said goodbye and headed off in opposite directions. It was only at that moment that I realised I had been married to her for 7½ years and we had a son together!
In my defence, I had never seen her with blonde hair and in fact have probably only seen her twice in the last 15 years. Even so, my dementia test is next Tuesday afternoon.
My first car was a lime-green Skoda 105, similar to the one in the picture below.
My Dad bought the car in the late 1970s. At the time, Skoda had a reputation as a car manufacturer along the same lines as £1 discount stores have today amongst high-class supermarkets. It didn’t do much for our street credibility, but it did have one thing going for it; it wasn’t a Lada! The car was a bit of a noisy “chugga-bus” but it was reliable, and it did get the family out and about safely. My Dad would never have a word said against it.
I’ve deliberately started this story in the middle; let me take you to the start. My Dad passed a motorcycle test while serving in the Army in the late 1950s. When he converted from an Army licence to a full civilian driving licence, due to an administrative error, he was given a full driving licence which entitled him to drive motor cars. In over 50 years driving, he never had an accident (to my knowledge!); these days, you hear stories of people passing their driving test and crashing within the next 24 hours. His first car was a Hillman Minx, there were probably others in between but in the 1970s he purchased a Reliant Robin 3-wheeler, or as it might be referred to today, a “Del-boy”. A few years later, the British car manufacturer, Reliant released a four-wheel version of the Robin called a Kitten. We exchanged the 3-wheeler for a 4-wheeler which ultimately was traded for the Skoda 105. It’s clear that my Dad’s motoring philosophy was more about getting from A to B than becoming a style icon.
I was fortunate, after a year of taking trains to and from University, Dad decided to buy a new mustard-yellow Skoda and gave me the lime-green one. My first significant journey in the car was the four-hour trip from home to Norwich. It involved about 20 miles on the M62 and many more down the A1. I didn’t find out until afterwards, but my Dad secretly followed me on that journey to make sure I was OK. He eventually turned round to go back home… after I reached Doncaster!!
I had many adventures in that car, many of them involving mechanical malfunctions. The Haynes manual became my best friend and ultimately my most read publication. I learned a lot about car maintenance and even changed a cam belt on my own, in the dark, in heavy rain, on a motorway hard shoulder near Swinton.
From being a little embarrassed at how uncool my car was, I grew to appreciate the advantages it gave me. If there is one thing I learned from my Dad, it is that a vehicle is designed to get you from A to B and it doesn’t matter whether it’s a Ferrari or a Skoda, whether it’s fire-engine red or lime green. This mentality has been applied to many other aspects of my life, the exception being my wife, Angela, who is, of course, the fire-engine red Ferrari!
What happened to the mustard-yellow Skoda? It was handed down to my brother when he passed his test and Dad bought another Skoda. He continued to enjoy this brand of car for the rest of his driving life. We called his last one the “big yellow taxi”.
Two weeks ago, Angela took out a lease on a new car. You guessed it; it’s another Skoda (a “Yeti”) – our first.
These days it is a highly respected brand of motor vehicle, practical, reliable and now with an acceptable level of style. Nobody we have spoken to, whether they are friends or people in the motor industry, has anything negative to say about them and we honestly couldn’t be happier. It is funny how events in your life can come full circle.
Every morning, come rain or shine, dark or light, Angela takes our three lovely Labradors out for a walk between 6:00 and 6:30 in the morning. She often claims to enjoy this thinking time, shared with her 3 best friends; other times she deserves a medal for her dedication and devotion. I occasionally think I would like to join her but the only time I go walking at 6am is in a dream. Her morning walk takes her to a big field with footpaths and a steep hill; we call it “Cow Field” for obvious reasons. Out of interest, we have names for other local dog walking landmarks such as “Cow Field 2”, “Cow Field 3”, “Shit Snicket 4”, “Mossy Snicket” & “Fleet Snicket 5”. I digress.
Last week on their morning walk, Angela endured her worst nightmare. On a wet and dark morning, she started to connect their leads ready to exit Cow Field. Olly was first, Stan was sorted out second, then, “Wait, where’s Duke? He was here a second ago.” He does have a tendency to ‘mooch around’; we sometimes call him the “Moochy Poochy”. Using a torch and attempting to backtrack to look for him, Angela became increasingly concerned. The calls grew louder before the panic set in. 15 minutes later, she took the decision to leave the field and head back home with Olly and Stan, clinging on to the faint hope that Duke would have made his own way home and he’d be sitting on the doorstep wondering what all the fuss was about.
As she reached the main road, she saw a car about 30 yards away with its hazard warning lights flashing. She feared the worst and ran to the car, only to see it drive off into the distance before she got close enough to draw any attention. They returned home, but Duke was not there on the doorstep. Utterly distraught, she burst into the house.
Meanwhile, I was still in bed. I had been awake for about 20 minutes and had been checking the BBC news website on my smartphone. About one minute before Angela came home, I had opened up my Facebook app, and there was a notification posted 22 minutes earlier from a member of a local community group. These postings usually turn out to be a complete waste of my time, but it doesn’t stop me opening them. Imagine my surprise to see Duke in his raincoat sat in the back of somebody’s car with the caption “Anybody lost a dog?” Well, that woke me up! Seconds later, Angela burst into the bedroom and before she could say anything I said “It’s OK, he’s safe”, and showed her his picture on my phone. For Angela, this was a terrifying experience. For me, I had found out he was safe before I even knew that he wasn’t!
We managed to contact the kind soul (“Bob”) who rescued him; he had taken Duke to a vet in the town centre who, in turn, scanned his chip, and the vet was also able to contact us. The power of Facebook (the post was shared over 130 times) and canine micro-chipping was more evident today to us than it ever has been. Bob told us that he had seen Duke running down the middle of the road; Duke went to meet him when he stopped and basically jumped in the back of his car, probably looking a little upset.
For the rest of the day, Duke was a little clingy, to say the least. Angela bought him a separate dog collar to use when he wears his coat, and she also purchased a bright multi-coloured beacon which can be seen from the International Space Station. Since that day, we have unintentionally met Bob walking his own dog, and Duke has taken a real liking to him.
Duke’s Version of the Story
I do like my sleep, but I also love it when my Mum takes me for a walk with my brothers first thing in the morning. One morning last week, it was chucking it down, and Mum had to put my coat on. Labs love water, but even for me, it was a bit on the damp side that day. We got to the big field, as usual, there were no cows as far as I could tell but I had to check around when I was allowed off my lead. I was investigating, partly to ensure the safety of my team, and partly to examine some of the delicious soft brown goodies which I call “Freebie Frisbees” or “Beef Patties for Dogs”. They are my breakfast supplement.
I don’t know how it happened but Mum, Olly and Stan had disappeared. I know it was dark, but they were nowhere in sight. I searched around for a little while without success; had they left me to fend for myself? Surely not. I knew Mum would be going through the main exit gate so I decided to head her off at the pass. Not counting the entrance to the field, about a third of a mile away, I remember once walking through a small alleyway as an alternative way to exit the field. I made it onto the road and gently jogged down the middle. In the map below, the red route is where we generally walk; the white route tracked my journey.
There were some headlights behind me, so I stopped, was it my Dad’s car? Unfortunately, it wasn’t, but on the plus side I made a new friend who introduced himself as “Bob”. He looked like a nice man so I figured he would probably take me home; assuming this, I jumped straight into his back seat with my wet, muddy paws and posed for him to take a photograph of me. There were some flashing lights on his dashboard, I remember thinking it was a bit early in the morning for a disco.
Bob didn’t take me home, but he looked after me and took me to a place where someone in a white coat brushed the back of my neck with some kind of magic wand. He sat with me for 20 minutes and then I saw Mum and Dad walk through the door. They seemed really pleased to see me, but I don’t honestly know what all the fuss was about. I think I received a ‘telling off’ for about 15 seconds before they took me back home and treated me like a hero. I’m not sure what I did to deserve it, but I’m not complaining!
Colin is a trained chef. He built a small but flourishing business cooking gourmet, restaurant-quality food and delivering locally to people hosting dinner parties, people trying to impress on a dinner date and, more lucratively, to small businesses attempting to dazzle potential new clients.
Colin and his friend and former customer, Andrew, came up with a great idea. They wanted to extend the business to occasionally cater for individuals who had previously enjoyed the finer things in life but were either no longer capable of cooking for themselves or led such busy lives that they had no time for anything other than fast-food. Instead of creating the food centrally and transporting it, they thought it would add to the experience if the cooking were done in the customer’s own kitchen. Andrew agreed to manage and supply these services, and although he was not directly employed by Colin, it was decided that a weekly invoice would be issued by Andrew to Colin for the services he provided. Andrew’s hourly charge was little more than ‘minimum wage’ even though Colin invoiced the customers at a much higher rate. There was no written contract; it was an arrangement that was understood by them both.
Colin found the first few customers; the word spread around the neighbourhood and beyond, this arm of the business thrived. More customers came along, and Andrew somehow found the time to satisfy them all, often at short notice and regularly over weekends. He did a great job; the customers loved him, partly due to the superb quality of his cuisine and partly for the experience, trust and companionship he provided. Keys to the customer’s properties were offered without hesitation so that he could perform his tasks when the customer couldn’t be there.
After a few months, the only involvement Colin had in this aspect of his business was to invoice the customers based on the weekly reports he received from Andrew. Customers soon began to communicate with Andrew directly. Knowing his own diary, he was able to manipulate and manage all appointments to satisfy all the customers.
Unfortunately, the workload took its toll. Andrew had absorbed an ever-increasing number of customers, and as a result, he worked very long days, spent many hours each week in-transit between customers and found that he had little time for his own family or his own interests. He often skipped lunch, he was permanently tired, and his health deteriorated as his stress and blood pressure levels hit the roof. He had stopped enjoying his job as he felt he was rushing everything and had less time to spend with his customers, many of whom had become good friends.
Andrew decided to take control of his life and terminate his working relationship with Colin. His health had to come first, so he gave notice to Colin who, as you can imagine, was disappointed. How would Colin be able to find another dedicated gourmet chef as talented as Andrew to continue those services and still pay the minimum wage? From Andrew’s perspective, he never lost his love for cooking and was prepared to set up his own business doing the same work but with a fresh set of customers. He would be able to charge the same rates that Colin billed the customers which made it possible to generate similar income by working just over half the number of hours he did for Colin. It also meant he would be able to do the job properly and avoid rushing, particularly with his lonelier customers. Andrew’s family and friends would benefit from this change of plan, and he would generally be much healthier and happier.
Colin decided to contact his old friend, Robert to see if he would be interested in taking over this branch of the business. After a little persuasion and some renegotiation of payable rates, Robert eventually agreed, so Colin sent an email to all his customers to explain that Andrew was no longer working for his company, but they should not worry because he has a perfectly adequate replacement ready to step in and carry out those same services. What happened next surprised everyone. The majority of Colin’s customers contacted Andrew directly to ask if he was still intending to provide gourmet food services. They had grown to love him and trust him; while they had no doubt that Robert would be able to cook similar quality food, many saw the risk involved in rejecting perceived perfection in the hope that the alternative would be just as perfect. As much as he knew it would disappoint Colin and Robert, Andrew decided that the “customer is king” and if they wanted to keep him and Andrew wanted to provide that service, who was he to argue? Of course, some of the original customers were friends of Colin’s, and as much as they enjoyed Andrew providing the services they ordered and were disappointed that Andrew was no longer available, they decided to stay with Colin.
After that, things became a little acrimonious. Colin accused Andrew of poaching half of his customers, Robert was a little upset that the business was not quite as big as he thought when he decided to take it on and Andrew became very upset that his formerly good friendship with Colin had come to a bitter end. The last communication was an unpleasant text message from Colin to Andrew sarcastically ending with the words “Enjoy your new job!”
So, where would your loyalties lie?
Note, this is a true story, although Colin isn’t Colin, Andrew isn’t Andrew, Robert isn’t Robert, and there was no food involved whatsoever.
Most family pets have a name; in our house, our dogs have a “main” name. Depending on whatever mood takes us, they can be referred to in a whole myriad of terms, and the beauty is that they can always tell when we’re talking about them. We have three Labradors; their given names are “Olly”, “Stan” and “Duke”, they are the best four-letter words that exist in the English language!
Olly’s full name is “Olly Bear”, I have no idea how that came to be, or indeed why we named him after Olly Murs.
Stan came to us from a foster home as a four-year-old, he was called “Ben”, but we renamed him to give the pair that Laurel and Hardy reference. He embraced the name straight away and answered to it from day one.
Duke is also a rescue dog; we didn’t change his name because it suits him very well. Stan and Duke came from the same foster home in Derbyshire; together we call them the “Bolsover Boys”.
Here are some of their alter egos:
“Oliver” – his naughty name.
“Mr Bear” – his regal name, used when we ask him to look after the house in our absence.
“Cheese” – OK, we have never called him this directly, but all you have to do is to say the word “cheese”, and he comes running!
“Heimlich” – because he sometimes greets you with an ‘eye-lick manoeuvre’.
“Stanley” – his naughty name.
“Stan the Man” – whenever he’s doing something really cool.
“Stanev” – when the weather starts to turn cold, his fur puffs up to the point where he could survive in Russia.
“Stanistan Man” – it’s possible he originated from his own Eastern bloc country.
“Satan” – for no other reason than other people misread his name on the side of his harness.
“Dooky” – his fun name, usually adopted when he goes into puppy mode even though he’s a seven-year-old, 40kg Lab.
“Pie and Chips Boy” – this came about when he went for a walk across a field covered in cowpats (which we call “Cow Pies” from old Desperate Dan references). He can’t resist helping himself when he thinks we’re not looking. That’s the “Pie” bit, but on the same walk home he found a giant splat of puked-up chips on the path and grabbed a mouthful before I’d spotted it.
“Sir Munch-a-lot” – this pretty much sums him up.
“Dukos” – we imagined him as the Greek God of mischief and gave him a name to match. We probably call him Dukos more than we call him Duke. The Roman God equivalent is “Dukio”.
“Barry White” – we rarely get a peep out of Duke, but when he does make a noise, it’s a deep baritone.
Nero and Julius
We often look after our daughter’s dogs, Nero and Julius. As a pair, we call them the “Needy Boys” or the “Reprobates”. When Nero does something good – a rare event – we call “Nero the Hero”; when he does something bad – a common event – we call him “Nero the Zero”. “Cadbury” was a favourite name for a while; as a puppy we once caught him nursing an empty bag of giant chocolate buttons. Julius has the moniker of “Dyson” because he vacuums up any scrappy old piece of food crumb from the kitchen floor, no matter how minuscule.
Another alternative name which I found funny was told to me by a fellow dog walker who called her highland terrier “Monty”. When he manically dashes around the house, she calls him “Monty-Zoomer”.