Thursday, January 31, 2008

photos of our grandchildren

Here are a few photos of our grandkids as promised. The first four are
of Mini, who's just celebrated her first birthday. Mrs C and I went down
to London last weekend for the occasion ... you'll see the delicious
chocolate cake that Mrs C made, and some evidence that Mini had been
eating some (and enjoyed it too, despite being unwell with a bad cold).

The last photo is of her cousin, Shibbykins, which I took a week earlier.
Shibby is 4 months older than Mini.

A couple of funny stories to tell you about Mini ... I showed her how to
give her teddy bear a good telling off for falling off the settee
(something which that naughty teddy kept on doing). "Stay there!", I
shouted, which was of no use at all ... Teddy kept on falling off.
Anyway, Mini was really laughing away at all this, and started to call
out a version of "Stay there!" herself ... "Day dare!"
Anyway, her mum is still breastfeeding her (but less often now), and when
Mini finished, she sat up and pointed at her Ma's breast and said: "Day

We also taught Mini how to lift her arms up whenever we shouted out
"Hooray!" ... so well, that she'd lift up her arms and expect us to
respond with a "Hooray", which we did. Last night Mini had a very bad
night's sleep ... she didn't sleep much until dawn, when she nodded off
for a couple of hours. Her mum went in to check her when she was stirring
.... Mini sat up straight away, with a huge grin on her face, and lifted
her arms up sky high.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Not a good time to sell your house in the UK

I met up with a conveyancing solicitor the other day ... a friend
of a friend who works in the Midlands area. He told me that of late
his legal work has shrunk to one tenth of what it used to be ...
he used to have a caseload of 60-70 customers ... it's now 6-7, and
he's facing a corresponding drop in income. He also has to face a
lot of pressure & haggling from his clients ... haggling over his fees,
which surprised me a lot. Mrs C and I did ask for quotes in the past
from various solicitors for approximate costs, but we never haggled
with an individual solicitor over the phone, or face to face. How
times change.

As with many things in life, I believe you get what you pay for ...
if you pay well, you tend to get better than average service.

I used to feel unsympathetic to solicitors given the high hourly rates
they tend to charge ... and in the past I used to do my own conveyancing
(with the help of a building society solicitor who sorted out the
mortgage)... but I now think they're worth it, especially if there's
something a bit out of the ordinary to sort out from a legal view-point.

The people I do bear a grudge against are the estate agents and the
fees they charge ... several times more than what solicitors charge,
and for doing not a huge amount of work. Last time we moved house (five
years ago), we were charged over £5k for selling our house ... though
I have to admit they did a brilliant job selling what was a unusual

Selling your house on the internet may become an increasingly attractive
prospect, especially if the house is a bog standard 3-4 bedroomed semi or
detached ... you can price your house according to the current house
prices in the neighbourhood.

So bearing in mind the current downturn in the housing market, and the
competition from the internet , spare a thought for the poor old estate
agents, who will be falling on hard times.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Keeping up with your appearance

Hi folks! Mrs C and I got back from a short break in London earlier
today ... we've stayed in S. Wimbledon with our daughter and her fella
to celebrate our granddaughter's 1st birthday. Everything went very
well (including our car travelling ... 320 mile round trip), except
for the fact that little Mini was off-colour with a bad cold &
teething. I took lots of photos as usual, and will put up one or two
of her fairly soon.

Mini's facial appearance has changed slightly in the 4 weeks since we
saw her at Xmas ... in fact she's looking slimmer all over and a bit
taller. Thinking of some photos of me taken when I was under 5 ... I
hardly recognise myself, apart from the masses of curly hair I used to
have ... one schoolfriend (school acquaintance would be a more accurate
description of him) called me "Bird's Nest". Alas, poor Justin, look at
him now.

Thinking of funny things people say about us baldies, I recall one comic
saying his bald friend got for his Xmas pressie a tin of furniture polish
(to enhance the shine on top). One compensation for male pattern baldness
is often a profusion of body hair ... I have to say I've got a generous
amount of it (which appears to please Mrs C. though I realise a lot of
women prefer to see men with a full head of hair and none elsewhere ...
the well waxed look. What do you like?

As regards baldness in women ... I don't usually find this attractive,
though I did think Sinead O'Connor looked sexy in the early days when she
shaved it all off. As for pubic hair (should I be talking about this,
I wonder... would some of you be put off eating your cornflakes reading
this?) ... I prefer the look of it being neatly trimmed, and not bushy /
shaved right off ... the stubble left behind is very prickly don't you
think? It would be like making love to a cactus. Ouch!

How about armpit hair, folks? Left to grow bushy (shagpile) or shaved off?

Thinking about appearances, reminded me of one malapropism that my mum &
dad used to joke about: "I must keep up with my aperients!"

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

polite notice

Spotted at our local cop shop ....

Would the criminal fraternity please take note?


I'm thinking of adding a caption for another notice on this
door .... any suggestions please?

Here's a caption for you...
"Have the dream holiday of your lifetime.
Escape to distant shores by canoe.
Apply within."

Saturday, January 19, 2008


That's an interesting name, and it's the name of a very interesting
woman -- Thomasina (Tommi) Miers -- a new TV chef, who is also a
cookery writer for The Times.

She won the coveted title of TV MasterChef in 2005, and more recently
she appeared in a TV series called The Wild Gourmets, along with an
expert in the outdoors life, Guy Grieve. Basically they both foraged
for food in the great outdoors, and then cooked and ate it, al fresco.

Brilliant if you happen to own a fishing rod and a net, and a shotgun
too... and if you get on well with the local landowners.

She wrote an interesting article on shopping for food / what basics to
have in your larder, in last week's Times. Basics such as having in a
tin of anchovies and jars of capers and Dijon mustard.... not what I'd
call basics, but I would agree with her on having these in (except for
the capers which I dislike). As regards shopping, she's one of many who
now shop online for a lot of their food and household items, and who then
shop locally for fresh meat, fruit and veg.

Mrs C and I do one better, in that we shop online for a lot of our fruit
and veg ... a family box of delicious organic fruit and veg (just for
the two of us) from Abel and Cole. We get through all this in a week,
and have to shop for yet more. Our girls always have a laugh at the
amount of fruit and veg we eat ... we eat mountains of it. Abel & Cole
also supply us with veggie-burgers, fishcakes and excellent quality fish.

In her later years, my mum used to have a few lettuce leaves for her
main veg with her meals, and peas too. Not surprising then, that she
suffered badly with constipation. As you can imagine, we don't ... I'll
spare you the details of what my poos are like.

The current health advice is for everyone to eat at least 5 portions of
fruit and veg a day -- a totally arbitrary figure made up by someone, with
little scientific basis it seems. Judging by what some people eat, I think
we must get through 3-4 times that amount.

I've sometimes thought that the health promoters must be sponsored by
the toilet paper manufacturers ... as we get through a lot of it.

Coming back to the unusual name of Thomasina -- this reminded me of one
of the characters in the Beatrix Potter books -- Thomasina Tittlemouse,
who came to the aid of the six Flopsy Bunnies, who were caught by the
gardener, Mr McGregor. Did you read any of her books? I loved them
when I was little, and enjoyed reading them to our kids too.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Renewing your home insurance?

I was very pleased to get a discount of £340 off my annual home
insurance premium a few days ago, by following some simple advice
I'd read on Martin Lewis' Money Saving Expert site (and the linked
forum on home insurance).

The advice is very simple -- to get a cheaper online quote from
another insurer, and then to phone up your present insurer.

My wife and I have been valued customers with Direct Line for
8 years, and faced with losing custom, the adviser very quickly
offered to match the online quote I'd obtained from Churchill
Insurance (while retaining the higher insured sums that DL was

I was interested by the fact that the chap at DL was able to see the
online quote from Churchill I'd obtained a few minutes earlier, as
he quoted me the exact amount of the Churchill quote. The wonders
of modern technology. :)


I spent the past few days trying to download the free versions of
AVG and Avast anti-virus programs without success. In fact, when
I downloaded the latter, my Windows Vista system crashed .. completely
blank screen ... and worse still, the system recovery discs I'd
made when setting up my Sony laptop, didn't work.

I phoned up my local computer expert who suggested contacting Sony
or taking it back to the vendor, which I did late yesterday afternoon.
Luckily there was computer whiz-kid bloke on the John Lewis staff who
fixed it for me in 1-2 minutes. He took out the battery - put it back
- and pressed the start button on the machine. I was gobsmacked when
I saw it all coming back to normal (via the laptop's system restore).

He told me that what he did erased the computer's recent memory, which
was locked in by the battery ... the laptop restored itself when the
battery was removed and then put back in. Amazing. I felt enormously
relieved when my Desktop screen came back on.

This morning I had a go at installing Kapersky anti-virus software, but
Windows Vista refused to recognise the downloaded .exe file. So I've
restored my trial version of Norton (which is nearly at the end of its
three month trial period. Oh, what fun. :)

Friday, January 11, 2008

Still ...

This is based on a meme that's on Keith's site. I thought
his answers were very funny, so I thought I'd have a go
myself ... doesn't look as hard work as some memes I've
This meme is a bit like those "word association" tests that
trick cyclists use, encouraging people to say what's the
first thing that pops up in their minds ... sex, sex, and
more sex. :)

Still Loving: homebrew (and wine too)

Still Not: won a million on my Premium Bonds

Still Very Glad: I married Mrs C

Still Enjoying: blogging (occasionally)

Still Doing: crosswords & playing electric guitar

Still Proud: Of my high achievements, my brilliant personality,
my sparkling conversational skills and wit, and my modesty.

Still Amazed: that the French/Russian Revolutions didn't happen here

Still Hoping: to win £1 million on my Bonds

Still Enjoying: life in general

Still Grateful: that I don't have to work

Still Wanting: a perfect memory

Still Trying: to remember everyone's names

Still Failing: to remember everyone's names

Still Passionate About: making the UK a nuclear-free zone

Still Dating: Mrs C, when I remember to ask her out

Still Not: getting on with 101 DIY jobs around the house

Still Working: at mastering web design

Still Reading: articles on IT (rather sad, don't you think?)

Still Dreaming: about writing the next best-seller for children,
or writing a series of pop songs, in order to earn a
fortune, but then do I really need £600-700 million in the

Still Wondering: how long I'll live

Still Dressing: like a Square (who doesn't like casual wear)

Still To Do: lead a millionaire's lifestyle

Still Cherishing: the fact that I'm not impotent. I could put
this more crudely, but I might upset some of my readers.

Still Miss: the closeness I had with my sisters, and also missing my
late brother, and mum and dad

Still Will Never: deliberately hurt someone's feelings ...
someone close to me.

Still Will Aways: remember the good times (but unfortunately the
bad times too)

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Can I rip you off, Sir?

Yes, please.

I often wonder why people choose an expensive restautant
to eat in, especially in a place like London, and then
feel shocked by the size of the bill at the end of the

I've been reading Alan Giles Coren's eating out column in
yesterday's Times. He complained about being overcharged
at two posh restaurants in London recently. One was a
Japanese restaurant, where the bill for two people came to
£200, for very little food and two alcoholic drinks each.
One of the drinks was champagne, however. In another, he
and a friend had breakfast and were charged £18 for four
boiled (organic) eggs. What crazy prices!

But then I reckon London restaurants have to charge a lot
in order to stay in business... very expensive premises
and high staffing costs.

I remember the late Bob Monkhouse making a joke about a posh
hotel in Leeds, saying that he walked up to the barman and
asked for an estimate for a whisky and soda. I should have
done the same when I ordered a large glass of Australian red
wine for Mrs C and myself in a Nottingham restaurant recently.
We were given huge glasses with 750ml of wine in each glass
(half a bottle), and were charged accordingly. The wine was
not the best quality but somehow we managed to drink it all
(well I did).

Mrs C and I had a lovely vegetarian meal out last night at
our favourite local restaurant, which serves Moroccan food...
beautifully flavoured and lots of it. We shared a mushroom
pate with rosemary crackers for a starter, and then we had
different nut roasts with sweet & sour sauces plus a bean
salad and lots of veg. It's one of those restaurants where
you can take in your own wine .. so we had some lovely red
wine with the meal too. All the food is home-prepared.
We were both full after eating all that ... and the bill
came to £20.50 (we paid extra for the service). Oh, the name
of the restaurant: Cafe Nomad.

In another Times article, the columnist was putting a
postive spin on various mishaps that had occurred to her
recently, on the basis that thinking positive is good for
your morale / feeling good about yourself. Well some of
what she'd writen was "tongue-in-cheek"... as a Xmas
pressie for her husband, she'd paid £55 for him to have
colonic irrigation (to alleviate his flatulence). This
worked very well, but after 3 days the problem came back.
Surprise, surprise!

On thinking positive instead of negative, I recall listening
to an Australian self-help expert some years ago, who gave up
a well paid accountancy job, and took up counselling people
and giving talks on self-help instead. (I'll post up his name
in due course when I remember it). One of the things he
encouraged people to do when say they had something stolen
from them (or lost something valuable), was not to fret about
it or repeat the story about the loss ad infinitum to friends
and family (that just makes you feel worse)... but instead
to think about how much pleasure someone else will get from
owning your item / spending your money. Sounds odd, doesn't
it? But putting a positive spin on your loss could make you
feel better.

Similarly when paying bills - this guru advised members of
his audience to pay them straightaway and put in a thank-you
note if they've had good service ... to make both you and the
recipient feel good. He said that money can be looked at as a
form of energy -- pay your bills early, if you can afford to
do so, and spread a bit of happiness around.

"Justin Case Towers,
5 January 2008

Dear British Gas,

May I call you British as I reckon we've been corresponding
for many years now?

I enclose a cheque for your bill which arrived this morning,
and I wish to thank you for all the years you've been keeping
our house lovely and warm, for your unstinting service and for
for such a good value product.

Yours sincerely,