Monday, 30 December 2013

Interviewing Neil Kokemuller

Hello Neil!

Question:  What prompted you to write "Marketing as a Business System?"
Answer: I have been a regular freelance writer since 2007 and most of my writing has centred on business and marketing topics. Essentially, I took my background and experience shared in many articles and compiled them into a concise "marketing guide." I also have an entrepreneurial spirit and wanted the challenge of trying to market my own eBook.

Question: What is your background in business and marketing?
Answer: I am in my 10th year as a college marketing professor. In addition to teaching and freelance writing, I have background in retail management and marketing for a start-up technology company. I also have an MBA from Iowa State University.

Question: What is the basic message of the book?
Answer: Despite the fact it is a short guide book, I really think "Marketing as a Business System" offers enough marketing insights that most people should learn something new from it. More than that... the book is intended to promote a systematic, company-wide approach to marketing that supports development and maintenance of ongoing customer relationships.

Question: Who would benefit from reading your book?
Answer: I'll answer that from a "target marketing" perspective. Primarily, I think this eBook can help business owners, entrepreneurs, marketing professionals and people looking for marketing education. The nature of the book as a brief overview of marketing as a system, though, really makes it useful for anyone wanting to understand the entire marketing process -- even website owners and operators.

Question: What are the key features of the book that provide value to someone that purchases it for download?
Answer: I really think the answer to that is best summed up by the first customer review posted right after the eBook was initially published. It read:  A great short overview of marketing. Thus the book is a quick read. I found myself highlighting some passages and will use this book as a reference for my businesses.  This is really what I was hoping to provide. It isn't a "how-to," it is more of an overview for reference that offers various marketing elements that you can dig deeper into with follow-up reading.

Question: How has marketing changed over time?
Answer: As a college instructor, I can tell you that marketing is one of the most dynamic fields you can be involved with. It changes constantly, especially with technology. Many people think of marketing as a "creative" process. What has taken marketing to the next level is the technology that allows companies to integrate their research and analytics with focused messages targeted to clearly identified target customers.

Question: What are your goals with the eBook?
Answer: Naturally, I'd like to generate sales and gain satisfaction from hundreds or thousands of people benefiting from its insights. I also see it as a tool for me to enhance interaction and social engagement, and to network with others in the marketing field.

Question: What other writing do you have planned for the future?
Answer: I don't have specifics, but I generally intend to publish similar types of marketing "guide" books. Many of the topics covered in "Marketing as a Business System" can be delved further into a niche book of a similar length.

Question: What has been the most enjoyable aspect of writing and publishing your eBook?
Answer: As a college instructor, I have a great opportunity to get to know students and share my knowledge and experience in a class setting. Going through the writing, publishing and self-marketing process with an eBook gives me a chance to engage my own entrepreneurial spirit. I really enjoy the challenge of researching and trying to implement an effective marketing strategy with a self-published book.

Question: What should readers do after downloading and reading "Marketing as a Business System?"
Answer: Enjoy and use the information in whatever way benefits them.

Thank you, Neil.  If you would like to contact Neil directly, then go to his website,, tweet @NeilKokemuller, or post questions/reviews on the book via author profiles at

Click here to download Neil's book.

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Christmas Posh Nosh

Phew, another Christmas is over.  And now that it is, I can relax and reflect back on the day of festivity without feeling flustered.
          It was the first Christmas in our new abode.  Eleanor was adamant that everybody come to us.
          ‘This house is a clean canvass.  It needs to gather memories.  And what better way to start than by having the entire family here for Christmas dinner?’
          Amen to that.  Except we’d downsized and I was a bit twitchy about how we’d fit everybody around the dining table.
          ‘Why don’t you come to me?’ suggested my sister during a phone call.  ‘My dining table extends.  Also, I’d like to host Christmas for once.’
          ‘But Eleanor is insisting everybody comes here.  It’s important to her,’ I hissed into the mouthpiece.
          ‘I’ve lived in my house for eight years and nobody has ever come to me for Christmas Day,’ said my sister, sounding peeved.  ‘Boxing Day, yes, but not Christmas Day.  I think you should assert yourself as a parent and tell Eleanor she’s going to do as she’s told and everybody is coming to me.’
          ‘Are you mad?’ I gripped the handset.  ‘She’s a teenager.  You try going head to head with a sixteen year old.’
          You see!  Arguments already, and the big day hadn’t even started.
          ‘Oh, for heaven’s sake,’ my sister snapped. ‘Okay, we’ll come to you.  What are you cooking?’
          ‘What do you mean what am I cooking?  Turkey, obviously, for the meat eaters.’
          ‘Yes, yes, yes, what I mean is, where are you buying the turkey?’
          Ah!  I had an idea what direction this conversation might be going in.
          ‘Asda,’ I whispered.
          ‘What?  I can’t hear you!  Please don’t tell me you’re buying it from a supermarket.  I really can’t face sitting down to a flavourless piece of meat that’s spent several days in a foil tray on a refrigerated shelf.’
          ‘What’s wrong with–?’
          I’ll buy the turkey,’ my sister interrupted.  It’s a shame she never had children.  They’d have been incredibly obedient.  Perhaps she could have Eleanor for a while?  Sort her out for me.
          ‘There’s a farm down the road which sells free range turkeys that have been raised with love and slaughtered humanely.  Eighty-five quid, but worth every penny.  Now, what about veg?’
          ‘Well, I thought sprouts, carrots, roast potatoes and–’
          ‘That’s not what I mean, Debbie. Will your vegetables be organic?’
          I gulped.  And then decided to take a leaf out of my sister’s book and assert myself.  ‘No.  They’ll be bought from Asda and covered in pesticides.’
          A sigh of annoyance whistled down the handset.  ‘I’ll buy the veg from the farm shop.  It’s organic and absolutely beautiful.’
          I resisted the urge to ask if the carrots and swede had been plucked from the soil with love and placed in paper rather than polythene bags.
          ‘What size is your new oven?’ my sister asked.
          ‘Well, you know, it’s just a regular sort of size.’ I wandered over to the oven and peered within its depths.  We’d yet to bond as such.
          ‘Now you see if you asserted yourself to that daughter of yours and came to me for Christmas Day, it would be so much easier.  My cooking range has three ovens and five gas rings.’  Three ovens?  I had enough trouble dealing with the one.  I heard her sigh into the phone.  ‘I’ll cook the turkey here and then wrap it in foil and towels and bring it over in a big bag.’
          ‘Okay,’ I said.
          ‘You do the roast potatoes and parsnips, and I’ll bring the rest of the veg.’
          ‘Okay,’ I said again. That would be easy-peasy.  Aunt Bessie’s did a cracking range of tatties and honey parsnips.  Ooh, and Yorkshires too.
          ‘And no Aunt Bessie’s crap,’ my sister cut across my thoughts, ‘I don’t eat factory prepared food, and neither should you.’
          And so it was on Christmas Day that I found myself peeling a mountain of parsnips and potatoes, manhandling a vast vat of water for par-boiling, heating up oil in my immaculate oven and trying not to cry as it spat everywhere, and getting incredibly red in the face as I alternated between steam from the hob and furnace-like blasts from the oven.  On the worktop, in a slow cooker, was a real Christmas pudding.  I couldn’t help but weep at the hours and hours of cooking it required compared to a Tesco’s Luxury jobbie which needed only three minutes in the microwave.
          When my sister arrived she dragged into the hallway what can only be described as a body bag.
          ‘The turkey is in here,’ she nodded.
          I shuddered and crossed myself.  One of the many reasons I was a vegetarian.  My brother-in-law followed my sister into the hallway.
          ‘I was up at seven o’clock this morning,’ he said, ‘and outside in the garden with a torch picking herbs to stuff this with.’
          More fool him.
          My sister strode into the kitchen.  I scuttled after her.  ‘The Christmas pudding is coming along, and the roast potatoes are perfect,’ I assured, ‘as are the roast parsnips.’
          ‘And the Yorkshires?’
          ‘Sorry, I ran out of time,’ I lied.  I rummaged in the fridge and produced – defiantly it has to be said – a bag of Aunt Bessie’s finest battered puddings.  My sister rolled her eyes.
          ‘Right.  Let’s get this veg on.’  She plonked Tupperware containers onto my worktops.  There were six different varieties of peeled vegetables.  ‘Where are your saucepans?’
          ‘In the cupboard to your left.’
          She bent down.  ‘There’s only one saucepan in here.’
          ‘Well I didn’t know you were going to bring so much veg!’
          ‘How do you manage to cook anything, Debbie, with one saucepan?  It’s just as well I brought my steamer along.  Now pay attention,’ she waggled her finger at me, ‘watch and learn.’
          In no time at all a tottering pagoda of stainless steel was erected on one of the hobs and bubbling away.  Delicious smells abounded, apart from the sprouts which, it has to be said, smelt a bit farty.
          But for all my sister’s bossiness, she turned out a cracking Christmas dinner.  And Eleanor had her wish that memories have now been made in our new house.  Not to mention my oven, which needs a professional clean.  Which reminds me.  Here is a tried and tested recipe on how to cook a turkey:

Step 1: Go buy a turkey
Step 2: Take a drink of whiskey
Step 3: Put turkey in the oven
Step 4: Take another two drinks of whiskey
Step 5: Set the degree at 375 ovens
Step 6: Take three more whiskeys of drink
Step 7: Turn oven the on
Step 8: Take four whisks of drinkey
Step 9: Turk the bastey
Step 10: Whiskey another bottle of get
Step 11: Stick a turkey in the thermometer
Step 12: Glass yourself another pour of whiskey
Step 13: Bake the whiskey for four hours
Step 14: Take the oven out of the turkey
Step 15: Floor the turkey up off the pick
Step 16: Turk the carvey
Step 17: Get yourself another scottle of botch
Step 18: Tet the sable
Step 19: Pour yourself a glass of turkey
Step 20: Bless the saying, pass and eat out


Sunday, 22 December 2013

Trigeminal Neuralgia – belief in relief

This week has been hairy.  And I don’t mean in a need-to-exfoliate way.  Although a quick peek at the legs has reminded me that exfoliation is overdue.  No, it was hairy for very different reasons.  Last Monday my son, Robbie, had brain surgery in an attempt to ‘cure’ his Trigeminal Neuralgia.  To say he was nervous was an understatement.  As his mother, it would be fair to say that my own anxiety levels were on red alert.
          We were up and out of the house at 4.30 a.m., arriving at London’s Wellington Hospital by 6.30 a.m.  A kindly nurse checked us in.  The anesthetist visited and discussed his part, and finally the surgeon took us through the operation.
          ‘Are you sure you want to do this?’ he asked.  ‘This is brain surgery, after all.’
          Robbie has had almost a year of back to back attacks with pain that is meant to be worse than childbirth.  He’s been taking sixteen different drugs a day, suffered allergic reactions that have put him in hospital, adverse effects that have left him collapsed in the street with passers-by stepping over him and assuming he was a druggie, and on another occasion suffered a reaction leaving him drug-drunk and unable to cross a road.  When he asked a stranger, in a slurring voice, for assistance in crossing a road, he was given the sort of look that conveyed he should be ashamed of himself.  Was he sure about this operation?  Definitely!
          After being told a list of potential complications that included deafness, numbness, facial palsy, and death, he signed the consent form.  My son might be twenty years old, but he wanted his mum nearby.  Together we walked with the medical team to the lifts, descended down to the bowels of the hospital and found ourselves in an artificially lit corridor.  A powerful antiseptic smell instantly hit our nostrils.  Doors led off to left and right, each being a theatre.
          ‘You’re in Theatre 5,’ said a nurse and led us into the anesthetic room.  A man walked through a set of double doors.
          ‘Hello, you’ll soon be asleep,’ he reassured.
          I stared at him.  Who was he?  Rob and I exchanged glances as the anesthetist leant close to the nurse and whispered.  I couldn’t help but hear.
          ‘I don’t recognize this young man.  Where are his notes?’
          ‘Oh, so sorry,’ said the nurse to Robbie, ‘you are in the wrong theatre!’
          ‘Ha ha!’ the anesthetist laughed, ‘bit of a mix up, eh?’
          Er, quite.  Nothing like awakening from your drug-induced sleep to be told your Trigeminal Neuralgia hasn’t been cured, but you’re heart transplant was a total success.
          We joined in the polite laughter, but in a shrill and rather demented way you understand.  As we moved into Theatre 6, our stomachs were churning like washing machines in overdrive.  Rob grabbed my hand as the anesthetist inserted a cannula into his other hand.  I averted my eyes and concentrated on not fainting.  The smells of gas and general sterility were almost nauseating.  And suddenly my son was asleep and being trolleyed off through doors which swung back in my face.  I did what all mums do and burst into tears.
          Needless to say the operation was a total success.  Thank heavens for the marvels of modern medicine and skilled surgeons.  A couple of days later, family took place.
          ‘I’ve got a board game for us all to play,’ Robbie beamed as we walked in.
          ‘Oh no.  Please don’t tell me it’s Monopoly,’ Eleanor groaned.
          ‘It’s called The London Board Game,’ Rob said to his sister, ‘and it’s based on the tube system.’
          As we’d just spent an hour battling our way around the underground, staring at a board map and its criss-crossing lines and where to change, this was a game we weren’t really keen to play.  However, patients have perks.  Doing their bidding is one of them.  So there we sat, throwing the dice, picking up our plastic train marker and moving it forward one, two, three stops before collecting a Hazard Card which then gleefully informed we had to return to Liverpool Street on the other side of the board due to engineering works.  It was all rather too life like for our liking.  We were saved by a uniformed man sweeping in holding a tea tray aloft which he then set down on our board game thus scattering counters and cards in all directions.
          My son is now home and recuperating.  All that remains is for us to enjoy Christmas.  I know it will involve more board games!  Which reminds me.  Parker Brothers have brought out a political version of Monopoly.  Apparently all Members of Parliament get an instant ‘Get out of Jail’ card…

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Another tale of insomnia woe

Trying to get a good night’s sleep is leaving me exhausted.  Where am I going wrong?  Well, I’ve only got to look a few inches to my right, and there lays the answer.  Literally.  Now please don’t think that I’m about to write a blue blog because I’m not!  Erotic writing is not my talent.  Plus I’m the wrong side of 50.  Think slipper socks, PJ’s and bobbly cardigans.  The only time I get remotely hot and bothered is when I’m having a hot flush.  But I’m getting ahead of myself here.
          I’ve always found it hard to get to sleep at night.  Ever since I was a little girl I’d lie in bed at night hearing the sounds of the television as my parents watched Van der Valk, humming along to the opening bars of that catchy tune as the titles went up.  I’d still be singing away to myself when my parents came up the stairs to go to bed themselves. I look back at school snaps in horror.  I was the only kid in the class photo with bags under her eyes.
          ‘Read a book before you turn out the light,’ a friend advised.  So I do.  But it’s not easy concentrating on the plot when your husband is lying flat on his back impersonating a farrowing pig.  This invariably leads to gentle prodding in an effort to get said husband to turn onto his side thus bringing about a temporary halt to the snoring.  However, when I do finally get to sleep I’m invariably awoken at some point by the deafening noise Mr V is once again making.  This time politeness is abandoned in favour of a shove and a yelled request.  ‘For God’s sake man!  You’re driving me crazy!’  But for all the wrong reasons.
          ‘The secret of a good night’s rest,’ said another well-meaning friend, ‘is to get to sleep before your husband.
          ‘Yes, but how?  I’m not one of those people who crash out as soon as their head hits the pillow.’
          ‘Have a mug of hot milk before bedtime.  It releases dopamine and makes you sleepy.’
          So I tried it.  And it works!  The drawback is that an hour or two later you need to get up and empty your bladder.  Whereupon you get back into bed and stare at the ceiling as you once again listen to your husband imitating that farrowing pig.
          ‘Ear plugs,’ said yet another friend.  Sorry, they’re not comfortable.
          ‘Listen to music.’  Er, no, music keeps me awake.
          ‘Count sheep.’  Yes, been there and done that.  I got bored after 1,624.
          Even when I’m being anaesthetised, I seem to take longer to knock out than the average person.  I can still remember one blue-gowned chap sticking a needle in my hand and leaning over me.
          ‘Count backwards from ten.’
          So I did.  ‘Now what?’ I asked. I remember him looking startled before the drugs finally kicked in.
          And why is it that when I do manage to get to sleep for a straight run of three hours without a hot flush or having the duvet pulled off me or receiving a prod in my back to stop me snoring, then the pair of us are hauled out of sleep by the dog creeping in and gassing us out?
          Actually the only true way to get a decent night’s sleep is separate beds and preferably in separate bedrooms.  Unfortunately, having downsized house, there is no longer a spare room to escape to. Which reminds me.
          A man went to the doctor complaining of insomnia. The doctor gave him a thorough examination.  After finding absolutely nothing physically wrong with the man, the doctor said, ‘Now listen to me.  If you ever expect to cure your insomnia, you must stop taking your troubles to bed with you.’  ‘I know,’ said the man, ‘but I can`t. My wife refuses to sleep alone.’

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Bah Humbug!

On Friday night, my daughter roped the family into ‘supporting’ the theatre where she studies Performing Arts.  The Christmas show was about to kick off.
          Eleanor wasn’t in the show, so I will confess that none of us were chomping at the bit to sit and watch a bit of am-dram.  However, she gave a rousing speech about the theatre struggling for funds and that we should all do our bit for the community.  In other words she bullied us.  So like all good victims, we drooped off to watch the Christmas show.
          For the purposes of this blog, both her theatre and the show shall remain nameless!
          Six of us went.  And at ten pounds a ticket you don’t have to be a mathematical genius to work out that the sum of sixty quid was spent.  That’s quite a lot of money, especially at this time of year.
          My mother is disabled.  As we filed into the dark auditorium, I was unimpressed at the lack of disabled seating.  I looked at my daughter, aghast.
          ‘Where are we sitting?’ I asked.
          ‘Er,’ she paused to study the tickets, ‘Row J.  That’s–’
          ‘Right at the top!  Didn’t you tell them your grandmother was disabled?’
          ‘Yes, but they said there was nothing they could do about it.’
          ‘Oh for heaven’s sake,’ I chuntered. ‘What sort of a theatre is this?’
          As my mother gazed up the flight of stairs before her, she looked like a woman about to climb Everest.
          ‘Don’t worry,’ Father Bryant assured Mother Bryant, ‘we will help you.’
          With that he took my mother’s left hand while I held her right.  And off we set.  One step.  Two step.  But as we went up the third step, my mother stumbled in the dimly lit auditorium.  She knocked into my father who lost his balance, toppled sideways and ended up nose-diving into somebody’s lap.  Mother Bryant tottered precariously but I grabbed hold of her fleecy top to save her.  Regrettably it wasn’t zipped up and I was left holding a fluffy garment while my mother landed softly on my father.  Who was still nose down in a member of the audience’s crotch.  Not a good start.
          By the time we’d re-assembled and limped to our seats, the show had kicked off.  Eleanor was sitting there paying attention to every detail.  She had to review the performance as part of her coursework.
          ‘I hope you’re going to complain about your grandparents falling over,’ I hissed.
          ‘I can’t. The director will get the hump.’
          ‘Oh will he now?’ my voice rose an octave.
          ‘Shh!’ said a person in front of me.
          ‘Sorry,’ I whispered, ‘but we had a bit of an accident and–’
          ‘I’m only explain–’
          ‘Mum!’ Eleanor implored.  ‘I have to review this.  Can I watch it, please?’
          ‘Yes, of course, I’m not stopping you from watching it, all I’m saying–’
          So I shushed.  And thought dark thoughts.  Like the theatre director one day needing a Stannah stair lift and that the person in front of me wouldn’t get an ice-cream in the interval.  Because I’d bought it all.  Ha!
          Fifteen minutes later I was sitting in my seat completely bewildered.  I glanced at my parents.  Their expressions were glazed.  I nudged Eleanor.
          ‘What’s going on?’
          ‘What do you mean, what’s going on?’
          ‘Exactly that!  What’s going on?  What the hell are the Three Bears doing in Fagin’s School?  And how does a bunch of pickpockets stack up with Christmas elves?’
          ‘It’s a spoof,’ Eleanor whispered.
          ‘It’s rubbish,’ I hissed.
          ‘Shh!’ said the person in front.
          I narrowed my eyes and adopted a menacing tone.  ‘Ice-cream.’
          The person visibly jumped and looked away.
          The show went on.  And on, and on.  I closed my eyes and awoke half an hour later to the only bit of the show that was actually funny.  The two main characters had got stuck in their flying harnesses and were spinning helplessly in the air while the Three Bears signalled frantically to the wings for somebody to come and help.  Next year I won’t be going. Sorry.  You can boo and hiss all you like, but give me a decent British panto next time.  Which reminds me.
          Cinderella was very upset.  ‘The chemist has lost my photographs,’ she cried to her fairy godmother.  ‘Ah, there, don’t cry Cinders,’ said the fairy godmother, ‘some day your prints will come…’

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Let's Get Dirty

I’ve now lived in my new home for one calendar month.  It’s been challenging to say the least.  The most traumatic bit was three floods in as many days, a split water tank, and a squashed soil pipe.  I pitied the poor young man sent in to deal with the latter.  Somebody had parked their car over the drain that needed lifting, and gone off to work, so the problem couldn’t be resolved until that person was home again and able to move their car.  By this point it was 8 o’clock at night and bitterly cold.
          The young man, collar turned up and head wrapped in a balaclava, got to work.   He wasn’t much older than my son.  He was unable to wear cumbersome gloves and I kept worrying about his hands being frozen. 
          ‘Offer him a cup of tea,’ said Mr V.
          ‘Good idea,’ I replied.
          We then ate our dinner while the young man laboured away outside.  Every now and again I’d glance at the window and see, on the other side of the glass, small pockets of mist.  It was the young man’s hot breath on the cold night air.  My heart squeezed with concern.
          ‘I’ll offer him some dinner,’ I told Mr V.
          ‘Yes, he must be starving.’
          We then spent the next half hour interrupting the young man’s work with various offerings of egg and chips, a chip buttie, toast, crumpets, you name it.  Eventually the young man said, ‘Um, I’m dealing with a soil pipe and to be perfectly honest I have no appetite right now.’
          Somewhere in the depths of our brains, a light bulb went on.
          ‘But I’ll have another cup of tea,’ he smiled wanly.
          Since then, the young man has had a few other drains to contend with.  It would seem that somewhere along the way there was a workman with a grudge making mischief.  Certainly it has been too coincidental that a number of other neighbours have also had problems with their soil pipes.  We were lucky.  Mr V emptied his bath and the whole lot came out of the downstairs toilet.  Clean water.  One of our neighbour’s wasn’t so lucky.  With much joyful anticipation, she’d stepped into her brand new double rainfall shower while her husband locked himself into another bathroom elsewhere in the house.  While she spun dials and reached for her foaming shower gel, her husband contentedly parked his bottom anticipating an uninterrupted ten minutes with his newspaper.  The screams that followed from his wife were akin to Tippi Hedren’s shower scene in The Birds.  Except in this case the film was The Turds.  Yes, the toilet had backed up into the shower.
          Anyway, that’s enough of that.  Suffice to say I met another new neighbour yesterday who moved in on Friday.
          ‘Hello!’ he smiled, although his smiled was tinged with anxiety.  ‘Can I ask if you’ve had any problems since moving in?’
          Shall I tell him or will you?
          Which reminds me.  Somebody broke into our local police station and stole every single toilet.  The cops are working on the case, but right now have nothing to go on…


Sunday, 17 November 2013

Let’s Get Shirty

As a teenager I used to be a bit of a hot head.  You know...strop about if I couldn’t get my own way over something.  Get a bit shouty.  Pout a lot – sulkily, not seductively.  And if a temper tantrum reached boiling point, I’d wave my arms around like windmills to emphasise my anger.  My parents lost count how many times I’d yell, ‘It’s not fair.’  Those words are a teenager’s catchphrase.
          As the years pass and we walk through life, inevitably we grow out of saying, ‘It’s not fair.’  We also find our tolerance grows and we react differently to the way we used to as a teen.  I remember reaching a defining point somewhere in my forties where I was only a fraction of the hot head I’d been in my teens.  But this was also helped by the fact that I now had two teenagers of my own frequently yelling, ‘It’s not fair,’ whilst windmilling their arms about.  Also I was too knackered and browbeaten to retaliate.
          ‘Aren’t you calm,’ my mother said last week.  ‘You’re nothing like the feisty woman you used to be.’
          Actually that’s not true.  Deep down I am still feisty, it’s just that I’ve put a lid on it.  After my spell in hospital this summer, everything was put in perspective.  If a day is full of sh*t hitting fans, rather than retaliate I've simply learnt to duck.  Avoiding cr*p may be tedious, but it’s still more preferable to bone marrow tests and hospital food.  Anyway, I digress.
          ‘Aren’t you calm,’ said my father, when the boiler in our new house keeled over 24 hours before moving in.
          ‘Aren’t you calm,’ said my husband when his bathwater failed to flow out of the main drain and instead erupted out of the downstairs loo and flooded the hallway and kitchen.
          ‘Aren’t you calm,’ said my daughter when a painter misread his address sheet and painted our brand new shed bright green.  And the kerb on my parking space collapsed damaging my car.  And I put my shoulder out wrestling with a back door that refused to lock.  And so on.  Calmness reigned.  Serenity was my middle name.
          I suppose everybody has a line that they are finally pushed up to.  Mine came last Tuesday when a well known bedroom company were due to fit my bespoke wardrobes.  Oh how I’d waited for this moment!  I could now satisfy the deep craving to unpack boxes and put clothes away!  I’d paid a lot of money for these wardrobes.  The designer and I had spent hours poring over graph paper.  The surveyor had checked and double checked the measurements.  There was then a two week pause or everything to be made at the factory.  And then the fitter turned up to put it all together.  Yessssss!
          ‘Hello,’ said Mr Fitter.
          ‘Good morning!’ I said crisply.  No beaming or smiling.  Didn’t want him thinking I was flirting.  Too many misunderstandings have occurred over harmless smiles in the last few weeks.
          ‘Where are we doing it?’
          ‘In the bedroom.’  There was an uneasy silence as we both contemplated our respective choices of words.  ‘Follow me,’ I snapped, desperate to regain employer/employee status.
          I have two flights of stairs in my new house.  By the time we’d reached my bedroom, the fitter was panting for all the wrong reasons.
          ‘I smoke forty a day,’ he wheezed.  ‘I can’t say I’m too happy about having to lug all the material stored in your lounge up to the top floor.’
          ‘I did explain to your company that I didn’t have anywhere to properly store the materials,’ I waved a hand at the box towers all around, ‘but they were most adamant that I had to make space somewhere.  The lounge was the only feasible place.’
          ‘Well you’re going to have to clear this bedroom somehow,’ Mr Fitter said as he planted his feet wide and stuck a pencil behind his ear, ‘because I have no room to get my big tool out.’
          There was another weighty silence as we both digested his unfortunate phrase.
          ‘How big,’ I croaked, before clearing my throat, ‘exactly what size is this tool?’
          ‘Vast.  It’s my workbench.’
          ‘Yes.  I use it to jigsaw.’
          I gathered we weren’t talking about the toyshop variety.  ‘You’re not cutting materials in here!’
          ‘I will be if you want me to make your wardrobes,’ said Mr Fitter looking mutinous.
          ‘Make my wardrobes?  What do you mean make my wardrobes?  My wardrobes have already been made!  They just need putting together!’
          ‘No.  They need making. And I’m making them.’
          ‘I’m terribly sorry,’ I said, squaring my shoulders, ‘but there seems to have been some monumental understanding.  My daughter is asthmatic.  No way would I have signed a contract with your company if your designer had explained you’d be making wardrobes in my house!  I can’t possibly have wood dust filling the air.’
          There then followed an awful lot of chuntering.  Mr Fitter was mightily upset at having his job cancelled.  Time was money, didn’t I understand?  He had a wife and family to feed.  And a forty a day cigarette habit to fund.
          Minutes later the designer was on the phone full of apologies at forgetting to mention that the wardrobes weren’t cut to size at the factory.
          ‘Are you sure we can’t cut them in your house?’ he wheedled. ‘What if we put a dust sheet down?’
          ‘A dust sheet,’ I repeated, calmly.  Oh yes I was oh-so-calm.  The sort of calm where you enunciate everything slowly and quietly before spectacularly losing the plot.  And suddenly I was whizzing backwards in time to my sixteen year old self fighting the tremendous urge not to turn my arms into high speed windmills and shriek, ‘It’s not fair!’
          To cut this tale short, Mr Fitter has gone and Mr Designer has – with a bit of luck – had his knuckles rapped.  Meanwhile I’ve appropriated a number of portable hanging rails, unpacked the clothes and binned all the boxes.  And a new wardrobe fitter has been employed.  One who makes the wardrobes in a factory and then sends over a fitter to put them together like a jigsaw, rather than actually using a jigsaw.  And I’m almost back to feeling calm.  Which reminds me.
          A woman waiting to have her new wardrobes, no, no...let’s change it.  Two hunters were out in the jungle, when an elephant appeared from nowhere and squashed flat one of the hunters.  The remaining hunter was horrified.  He whipped out his mobile phone and called the Emergency Services.  ‘Help,’ he gasped, ‘my friend is dead. What can I do?’  The operator said, ‘Calm down!  I can help, but you must keep calm.  First, let’s make sure he’s definitely dead.’  There was silence then a gunshot was heard.  Back on the phone, the hunter said, ‘Okay, now what?’

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Let’s Get Flirty

I like to think of myself as a friendly sort of person.  So it’s not unheard of for me to strike up conversation with, say, another shopper standing in the same check-out queue as me.
          ‘Oh dear.  Looks like somebody has lost their purse,’ I might respond to the woman in front of me who, exasperated with the woman in front of her has turned to me to roll her eyes.
          ‘Yes, but I just wish she wasn’t in my queue, I’m in such a rush.’
          ‘Ah well, these things happen.  Are you rushing off anywhere nice?’
          ‘I’m babysitting my little grand-daughter.’
          And so on.  My daughter has always been somewhat embarrassed at my talking to strangers.  I don’t know why.  Maybe it’s an age thing.  I’m at an age where I don’t care who I talk to, and my daughter – sixteen – is at an age where paranoia is normal and of the opinion parents should be seen and not heard.  I find most women in the same age category as myself to be exactly the same as me.  One minute you are strangers, the next you’re discussing the most intimate details.
          For example, earlier this week I had a lady visit from a well known curtain company.  She staggered into the hallway with five heavy swatch books and, pushing her specs up her nose, sat down to do business with me.  Mulling over fabrics needs a cup of tea.  Ten minutes later we were settled, at the table, as I pored over textiles.  Somewhere along the way our conversation strayed from thread counts and prices to the menopause, the pros and cons of HRT, and whether to have a boob job.  All deeply personal and private stuff.  However, whilst it is marvellous to hit it off with someone, sometimes I suppose I do need reminding of who precisely I’m striking up conversation with.  Like the time I was with Eleanor, in River Island, paying for shopping.
          Young Man:  ‘That will be umpteen pounds and twenty-two pence.’  Broad grin.
          Me: ‘Thank you.’  Proffers MasterCard and returns smile.
          Eleanor:  Scowls.  Her mother is in the shop to pay for goods, not indulge in making smiley faces.
          Young Man:  Takes MasterCard and shoves it in machine.  ‘Very nice weather we’re enjoying at the moment.’
          Me:  ‘And I see you’re dressed accordingly.’  Gives another smile whilst waiting for terminal to prompt for pin number.  ‘That’s a lovely t-shirt you’re wearing.  Looks nice and cool.’
          Eleanor:  Rolls eyes at me for making embarrassing parent chitchat with young man.
          Young Man:  Beams.  ‘Thanks.  It’s my favourite.’
          Me:  ‘It showcases your wonderful biceps.’
          Eleanor:  Looks astonished.
          Young Man:  Looks astonished.
          Me:  Enters pin number blissfully oblivious to the fact that this is not my son I’m talking to.
          Young Man:  Leans across counter.  ‘I’m very proud of my muscles.’ Lowers voice.  ‘I’m a gym addict.’  Waggles eyebrows.
          Me:  ‘I always admire anybody who has the dedication to work out.’  Waggles eyebrows back, just to show there is a bit of me that can work out without breaking into a sweat.
          Eleanor:  Mouth drops open.
          Young Man:  ‘Do you want to feel them?’
          Me:  Retrieves MasterCard.  ‘Okay.’  Snaps purse shut with a flourish and leans across counter.
          Eleanor:  Mouth so wide there is danger of treading on bottom lip.
          Young Man:  ‘Rock hard.’
          Me:  ‘Gosh, yes you are, aren’t you!’
          Eleanor:  Eyes flicking backward and forward from Young Man to Mother.
          Young Man:  Whispering.  ‘I could take you to the gym.’
          Me:  ‘Do you think?’
          Eleanor:  Eyes in danger of crossing.
          Young Man:  ‘Have a think about it.’
          Me:  ‘I will.’  Picks up packed shopping.  ‘That’s awfully kind.’
          Eleanor:  Snatches shopping from me and flounces off.
          Young Man:  ‘Bye for now.’
          Me:  ‘Thanks again.’  Dashes off after daughter.
          Eleanor:  ‘Oh my God, Mum!’ Strops at high speed through other shoppers.  ‘I’ve never been so embarrassed in my life.’
          Me:  ‘What?  Why?’
          Eleanor:  ‘You were giving him the come on.’
          Me:  Spluttering.  ‘Don’t be ridiculous.’
          Eleanor:  ‘And then he flirted with you.  With you!  You’re old enough to be his mother.’
          Me:  ‘He was just being friendly.’
          Eleanor:  Doing a silly voice.  ‘Oooh, do you like my muscles?  Oooh, yes I’d love to feel them.’  Dropping the silly voice.  ‘It was outrageous.’
          Me:  ‘Oh don’t be so absurd.’
          However, being friendly – or as my daughter thinks – over friendly, could indeed be misconstrued as flirting.  Earlier on this week there was possibly such a misunderstanding by a man living a few doors down from me.  I was sitting in my car, having just pulled into my parking bay.  There was a knock on the driver’s window.  Accordingly, I buzzed it down.
          Another Young Man:  ‘Er, hi.  You’re in my parking bay.’
          Me:  Produces dazzling smile to diffuse a potentially iffy situation.  ‘I believe it’s my parking bay.’
          Another Young Man:  ‘It’s definitely mine.’
          Me:  Smiling so widely my lips are in danger of meeting at the back of my head.  ‘No, it’s definitely mine.  The Marketing Suite showed me a map and this bay belongs to Plot 129.  That’s me.’
          Another Young Man:  ‘I’ll go check with the Marketing Suite myself.’
          Me:  ‘Sure,’ getting out of car, ‘I’ll come with you.’
          Another Young Man:  Looking alarmed.  ‘I’m fine, I can go by myself.’
          Me:  ‘It’s no problem.  Let me join you.’
          Another Young Man:  Backing away.  ‘Really, there’s no need.’
          Me:  ‘Truly, I insist.’  All set to be jolly good neighbours.  ‘I’m Debbie by the way.’
          Another Young Man:  Gone in a cloud of dust.
          So, did that particular young man get the wrong end of the stick and, far from thinking I was just being a friendly neighbour, think that I know...after him?  Surely not.  Which reminds me.  My next writing project is a telephone book.  So can I have your number?

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Waste Not, Want Not

In the days leading up to moving into a brand new house, I’ve had a desire to buy brand new things.  For example, now that I’ve left behind kitchen units that look not so much ‘tired’ as exhausted, I didn’t think it right to pack up a plastic toaster that cost £4.99 from Asda or twenty mismatched tumblers.  I wanted a bit of boast to my toast and class to my glass.  And following the glow of buying new things, it’s even nicer to extend that glow by telling your friends and family what you’ve been buying.  Although, perhaps not in the case of my mother.
          My mother is a bit like a female version of Uncle Albert from Fools and Horses.  She begins a lot of sentences with, ‘When I was in the war.’  Let me assure I have nothing but admiration for war babies, my mother in particular, for not just surviving horrendous circumstances but also enduring the poverty and hardship that went with it.  I totally understand where my mother is coming from when she berates modern society for ‘waste’.  We are fortunate not to live in a war zone.  We are blessed not to know famine.  We are lucky to have jobs and to be able to treat ourselves to things.  However, a line has to be drawn somewhere underneath the subject, especially when the joy of buying something new is soured by another lecture on ‘waste’.
          Last Sunday I had my parents over for Sunday lunch – the last Sunday lunch in our old house.  As I dished up the dinner I was fizzing with excitement.  Why?  Because I’d bought a new cutlery set.  And no, it wasn’t a boxed set from John Lewis reduced from £399 to £99 in the sale – although I confess I was tempted – it was a trendy set from Next and cost twelve quid.  Actually, I lie.  It cost £24 because I bought two sets!
          ‘Enjoy eating off this cutlery for the last time,’ I trilled as everybody picked up their knives and forks, ‘because I’ve bought a new set!’
          My mother’s fork, en-route to her mouth, froze mid-air.  It wobbled alarmingly as her head swivelled 180 degrees towards me.  Suddenly I was caught in the glare of two blue headlamps.
          ‘You’ve bought new cutlery?’
          ‘But there’s nothing wrong with this cutlery!’
          There then followed a need to justify oneself.  To explain, with excuses and great power of reasoning, the need to buy new cutlery.
          ‘I’ve had this particular set for twenty years and much of the silver has spoilt.  I mean, look at this,’ I picked up a dessert spoon and showed her the underside.  ‘It’s tarnished!’
          ‘There’s nothing wrong with this cutlery, my girl, other than the fact that it needs a damn good clean.’
          ‘It is clean, Mum.  It gets cleaned every day.’
          ‘In the dishwasher,’ I said calmly.  ‘Anybody want another potato?’  This last bit designed to get off the subject of cutlery and talk about something more topical.  The latest Government disaster.  The increase in the cost of fuel.  Even the weather.  Anything.
          ‘I’m not talking about cleaning cutlery in a dishwasher!’ My mother had downed her fork and knife and was clearly intent on making a speech.  ‘I’m talking about cleaning it properly.  With a bit of elbow grease.’
          My father was then dispatched to the sink, dinner abandoned, holding aloft the blackened spoon, to demonstrate to us all – and more particularly me – the art of cleaning twenty year old cutlery.  Five minutes later he’d scoured the dessert spoon half to death before finishing off with a full minute’s worth of polishing with a dry tea towel.  He held it up proudly.
          ‘Look at that!’ my mother crowed triumphantly.  ‘You can see your face in it.’
          Marvellous.  Except I haven’t the time or the inclination to spend five minutes apiece on my canteen of cutlery.
          ‘Well I’ve bought new cutlery now,’ I said, somewhat defiantly.  ‘I shall put this old set into the charity shop and let somebody else have the pleasure of cleaning it.’
          ‘What a waste.  When I was in the war we were lucky to have utensils.  But then again we were lucky to even have enough food to sit down and eat.’  My mother turned to her grand-daughter sitting opposite.  ‘Are you going to waste those carrots?’
          ‘Nothing will go to waste,’ I sighed, ‘because the dog will have the leftovers.’
          ‘What else have you bought?’ my mother asked.
          I considered.  Should I tell her or not?  She smiled encouragingly at me.  Oh, thank goodness.  A truce.
          ‘Well,’ I beamed, ‘I’ve also bought new bedding.’
          The smile instantly vanished.
          ‘You’ve bought new bedding?’  This, you understand, was said in the same shocked tone as if saying, ‘You’ve robbed a bank?’
          ‘Yes,’ I quaked.  ‘New bedding.’
          ‘And what is wrong with the old bedding?’
          ‘Well, exactly that.  It’s old.’
          ‘It’s not old!’ my mother exclaimed.  ‘Your bedding isn’t as old as my bedding and we’ve had ours for years, haven’t we, Tony?  Decades!’
          For a moment I had a an overwhelming urge to excuse myself from the dinner table and scurry off to the local church, find a confessional box and lock myself in.
          ‘Forgive me Father, for I have sinned.  I’ve bought new bedding.’
          ‘This is terrible, child.  You must confess to the Lord to be forgiven.  Is there anything else you’ve bought?’
          ‘Yes.  I’ve splurged on new cutlery, table mats, scatter cushions, a state of the art toaster, a matching kettle and (sounding hysterical now) an entire range of fitted wardrobes by Sharps.’
          ‘This is outrageous.  Do you know how wasteful you are?’
          ‘Yes.  My mother tells me every week.  Especially when I burn food, knacker saucepans and end up going to the local chippie for emergency sustenance for my family.’
          ‘You are sinner.  You must say umpteen Hail Mary’s and buy me a piece of crispy cod for my tea this evening.’
          ‘Yes, Father.’
          Much as I love my mum, she has a knack of taking the joy out of things.  I hope I never turn into my mother, although I fear it may be too late.  Which reminds me.  Once, on our way to my parents’ house, I glanced at my 16 year old daughter and said, ‘Isn’t that skirt a bit short?’  She rolled her eyes and gave me one of those Oh, Mum! looks.  When we arrived at my folks’ place, my mother greeted us at the door.  ‘Debbie!  Don’t you think your top is awfully low cut?’  H-e-l-p...

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Red Tape

British Summer Time is officially over and we are now into Daylight Savings Time, the UK thus reverting to Greenwich Mean Time.  So thanks to this fabulous bright idea (no pun intended) we all get a bit of extra light plus an extra hour today.  How will you spend yours?
          I know what I’ll be doing.  I have an extra hour to pack boxes.  Moving Day is next Thursday.  Halloween.  So potentially there is a risk of double the amount of trick and treaters ringing the doorbell.
          Our home is no longer looking like a place where the heart is.  Instead it is simply a house.  A number of bare rooms devoid of personal belongings.  There is something very forlorn about it all, as if the house is saying, ‘What are you doing stripping me naked?’  It’s quite sad really.
          Yesterday was a day of marathon telephone calls trying to contact everybody before they all naffed off home to enjoy the rest of their weekend.  EDF Energy had such a long telephone wait time (fifty minutes) that the battery on my handset died.  On the third attempt – ringing from an old fashioned phone with a twirl cord – contact was finally made.  Currently it is only the Halifax bank who remain officially uninformed about our new address.
          ‘Hello? Hello!  I’d like to notify you of my change of address.’
          ‘Yes.  I’ll just get your details on my screen.  Ah, I see you have a joint account.’
          ‘Yes.  The account is in the name of me and my husband.’
          ‘Is your husband there?’
          ‘No. He’s been dispatched to do some chores relating to the house move. Although I suspect he’s standing inside a television shop watching Manchester United.’
          ‘Right.  The thing is, I need to speak to him too.’
          ‘Shall I get him on his mobile?  Perhaps I could press my mobile to this handset and you can speak to each other?’
          ‘That might be difficult.  I know!  Tell me your pin number and I’ll override my computer security.’
          ‘What pin number?’
          ‘You should have a six digit security number.’
          ‘No, sorry I don’t.’
          ‘Okay.  No worries.  I’ll send you one in the post.’
          ‘Fine.  But I’m moving.  So you’ll need my new address.’
          ‘Ah.  We’re not allowed to send it to the new address.  It has to go to the old address.’
          ‘Okay.  Well I’m at the old address until next Thursday.’
          ‘Oh dear.  The pin number will take seven working days to get to you.’
          ‘By which point we won’t be here.’
          ‘Yes.  I quite understand.  Um, what about you pop into the Halifax in person?’
          ‘Yes, I could come in on Monday.’
          ‘With your husband?’
          ‘Er, no.  He’ll be at his office.’
          ‘That won’t work either then.’
          ‘What about you ask me a million security questions.  You know, my mother’s maiden name and what colour toilet paper I use.’
          ‘I could in normal circumstances, but not for an address change.’
          I mean, seriously, who invented so much red tape that you can’t even update your new address?  Meanwhile I’ve resorted to the good old fashioned fallback of getting the Post Office to redirect all our mail.  Which reminds me.
          Last week God visited Noah, now living in the North of England.  God said, ‘Once again, mankind has become wicked.  Build an ark.  Save two of every living thing along with a few good humans.  You have six months before I start torrential rain for 40 days and 40 nights.’  Six months later God returned.  He saw Noah weeping, and absolutely no sign of an ark.  ‘Noah!  I’m about to start the torrential rain. Where is the ark?’  ‘Forgive me,’ Noah begged, ‘but things have changed.  I needed Building Regulations approval and I’ve been arguing with the Fire Brigade about a sprinkler system.  Getting the wood was a problem because all the trees have Preservation Orders on them, and I live in an area of Outstanding Natural Beauty owned by The Woodland Trust which was set up to protect the spotted owl.  And when I started gathering the animals together, the RSPCA sued me for confining wild animals against their will. And then the County Council, the Environment Agency and the Rivers Authority ruled that I couldn’t build an ark until they’d conducted an Environmental Impact Study on your flood proposal.  The Trade Union said I couldn’t employ my sons and that I could only hire accredited workers with ark building experience.  And to make matters worse, Customs & Excise seized all my assets claiming I was trying to leave the country illegally with endangered species.  So forgive me, Lord, but it’s going to take at least ten years to build this ark.’  Suddenly the skies cleared and the sun shone down.  A vast rainbow stretched across the sky. Noah looked up in wonder.  ‘Does this mean you are no longer going to destroy the world?’  ‘No,’ boomed God, ‘it seems the Government have beaten me to it.’