Wednesday, 26 September 2012

The Birthday

It was my Father's 75th birthday last weekend. As a family, we traditionally celebrate this special day with a trip to the coast. Never mind that his birthday is at the end of September and the weather is transient... we go to the beach, picnic in hand, rain or shine.

The last few years have been verging on a Ray Mears survival expedition. Trying to keep hold of your sandwich in gale force winds whilst balancing a scorching cup of tea between your knees is challenging to say the least. Sand blowing into open mouths with every bite just adds to the flavour and so many additional layers of clothing makes moving impossible so we all just sit there, hunkered down in a sand dune, looking like we are having fun. No matter what the weather is doing, a birthday cake will appear from one of Mother's baskets and we all sing happy birthday as enthusiastically as possible until hysteria and tears of laughter ensue as my mother tries to light an indoor firework (on Dads birthday cake) outside... whilst a hideous "singing" candle whines out a tinny high-pitched rendition of "happy birthday" and we all look at each other with the same thought of accidentally burying that appalling "singing" candle so we will never have to hear it again! 

This year, however, my Mother decided it would be "such fun" for the whole family to learn how to fish. Groans of negativity from my sister and I as we imagined a freezing, wet day out in a tiny boat in a small pond, bludgeoning fish to death as they pile up in the boat next to our pork pies. We also asked the pertinent question that surely if Daddy wanted to take up fishing, he would have done it before now. But my Mother reassured us that Daddy seemed quite keen because we were to be 'fly' fishing, not just 'fishing' fishing, on the banks of a gorgeous fresh water lake in Hampshire and the weather forecast was quite good. Well that didn't sound too bad at all. I did have visions of getting a few unwanted piercings from errants fish hooks or being dragged under the water by an over zealous trout. I imagined sighs of boredom from my nephews or disputes over fish size. A sudden downpour would certainly dampen spirits and ruin our picnic... but I can honestly and surprisingly say that there was not one mishap, one arguement, one accident or one drop of rain the entire day. The sun shone for 6 beautiful hours, our wonderful teacher Steve was kind and patient and encouraging, we all quickly got the hang of casting and within a few hours had all caught a fish or two (except my poor brother in law who only had an hour after lunch and the fish had gone to sleep). We had an amazing picnic in the sunshine and it was well... just wonderful. We all fell in love with fly fishing and I take my hat off to my Mother who came up with what we thought was a ludicrous idea but resulted in one of the best birthdays ever. 

Just one thing to add... as we finished our lunch and sat back in the sun, happy and full, and took in the peaceful surroundings of the beautiful fishing lake in the middle of nowhere, listening to the distant cries of a Kestrel and the occasional sound of a jumping fish, my Mother started rifling around in a basket and the silence was suddenly and hideously broken by the bloody "singing" candle! 

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Mattress Saga - Part 3

The Final Hurdle

Many of you have been asking what is happening with my mattress. Frankly I'm flattered you care... I thought I might be banging on about it a bit much but it seems my bed drama is fascinating, so here is the latest.

I left off my last mattress blog with a visit from the mattress inspector imminent. The mattress inspector came, he saw, he bounced. He was very serious about his inspection... measuring, prodding and poking. He concluded that my mattress definitely did have an indentation and also crackled in a bizarre manner. I offered him a cup of tea in gratitude as he wrote up his report. He then gave me the report to read and sign. I thought this was perfunctory because he had pretty much admitted I was right and it was faulty but as I read down the paragraph I dribbled out a bit of tea, suddenly aghast! Nice, Mr Inspector had written that although my mattress had an indentation and a crackle, it was possible this could have been caused by wear and tear by the owner. “WHAT???” I said. He explained that because he was only inspecting the mattress after I had already been in possession of it for 25 day, it could be a natural compression caused by me sleeping on it. “WHAT????” I said again, incredulous, “But that's impossible... I called the shop after sleeping on the damn thing for only 2 nights, it couldn't have been caused by me.” He said he had been given no past details, that he was giving his inspection based on how the mattress was now... today. Now I hate to admit this because it's such a low blow, but I burst into tears. Spluttering and gasping I said, “But that's so unfair, it was faulty before I even slept on it. I sent all the dates of my complaints to head office already and Derrane at the bed shop already agreed there was a problem so how can you say I caused it??” I'm not actually sure I said that with a degree of clarity because I was smothering my face in a tissue. The mattress inspector was terribly embarrassed and couldn't meet my eye. He coughed gently and proffered the clip board again, “So I take it Miss Sellars, you are refusing to sign?” I wailed dramatically, “Of course I'm not signing, it's all so unfair!” He looked at me with resignation, apologised that there was nothing more he could do and promptly left. I threw myself onto my bed, sobbing hysterically, until I realised it was so damn uncomfortable that I had to get up and throw myself on my sofa, sobbing hysterically.

The next few weeks passed in a haze of frenzied email writing, angry phone calls and threats of involving my non-existent solicitor if the matter was not sorted out to my satisfaction. Over this period, I got quite attached to my imaginary solicitor who I named James. Indeed, James was very good at his job and basically scared the bed shop silly when he mentioned the evil words ‘Consumer Rights’ and ‘Compensation’. I obviously did a ridiculous amount of research on James' behalf and now know everything there is to know about beds and what the customer can and cannot expect. James was so successful in his negotiations that the Regional Manager (no less) finally offered his most sincere apologies for everything I had been through and said he would happily let me have any mattress in the shop (within reason) whenever it was convenient for me to pop to Croydon again. Oh God!

So six weeks ago, I popped down to Croydon and was greeted by a very happy Derrane. He was beaming from ear to ear, almost went in for a hug and said how thrilled he was that it had all worked out for me. He said he was so very happy to show me all the new Sealy models. “Oh no,” I said, “No more Sealy beds for me. I want an old fashioned mattress... a semi-firm pocket sprung. No latex toppers, no memory foam, no bells and whistles, no nothing”. He looked terribly disappointed and shrugged, rubbing his chin. He then grinned and took my arm, leading me to the back of the shop. He stopped in front of a plain mattress and did a ‘ta dah’ gesture with his hand.

"This mattress, Miss Sillas, is perfeck for you. It's got 1700 pocket springs right, it's hand crafted in engerland innit and lots of famous have it so it's gotta be good right?" he said. I leapt onto the mattress with eager enthusiasm. It was firm and comfortable and just... normal. Derrane hovered over me expectantly. "You know sum fink Miss Sellar, this mattress is wot we sell in fousands to the harmed services. All de hofficers have dem". Well, that can't be a bad thing I thought. "Derrane I think I've found my mattress." He grinned. "So who else have you sold this mattress to... You said famous people?" I wanted to be in good company you understand. "Oh yes, Mrs Sella, lots of famous people. The harshbiship of cantbry has one and that bloke who lives at number 10." He frowned. "You mean David Cameron, our Prime Minister?" I asked agog. He did that snapping thing with his fingers and laughed. "Yeah man, that's him. David Camroon". Ha ha, so I potentially have a mattress that our PM sleeps on, our armed forces sleep on and the head of the church of England. Not bad. I shook his hand vigorously and Derrane put the order in, saying the mattress would be delivered in six weeks (handmade again you see). I thanked Derrane again for all his help and headed for the door, relieved that I would never set foot in the place again! "You'll stay in touch though innit Miss Sellar?" That stumped me. "Well I don't think so Derrane, this whole thing has been a truly hideous nightmare." He did that sucking teeth thing and shook his head, "But if you need anover mattress then you'll come back right?" and he laughed a sort of evil villain laugh. That must be mattress manager humour because it certainly didn't tickle my funny bone!

I then went on holiday and when I came back, I rang Derrane at the bed shop to see when the mattresses would be delivered. A strange voice answered the phone. "Is Derrane there please?" I asked. "This is Winston, the bed department manager, how can I help?" Another Jamaican accent. I honestly think Paul Simon bed shops single-handedly recruit all the bed managers in Jamaica. I personally have met 3 in 4 months! "Um, is it possible to speak to Derrane?" "Yes, this is Winston." Oh no. Try a different tack. "Hi Winston, is Derrane in the shop today?" "No, Derrane doesn't work here anymore, can I hep you?" Oh dear. So, first Stan and now Derrane. Do I have a curse on all these poor men losing their jobs? I tried asking what had happened to Derrane but Winston was having none of it so I finally just asked about my mattress and he said I would have it by the end of the week. Wooohhhoooo.

My mattress arrived on a sunny Friday afternoon and I jumped on it with wild abandon. I almost broke my back, my God it was hard. I'm talking, slab of concrete hard, not just a bit firm. I checked the order and it was absolutely correct... semi firm 1700 pocket sprung. I lay there for a moment and thought, well... better firm than soft eh? Maybe it's like a pair of shoes or a horse and just needs breaking in a bit? Possibly the one in the bed shop had been compressed a bit by all the bodies testing it. My first night was not good though, I spent hours rolling around trying to get comfortable to no avail. I then thought, I'm creative, I can customise my own damn mattress. I stripped the bed, unzipped a lovely squidgy sleeping bag and put that on top of the mattress. On top of that I put a quilted mattress protector. On top of that I put a thick goose down duvet and on top of that my fitted sheet. It looked like something out of the Princess and the Pea, but ahhhh, much better. I think a few years of bouncing around and it'll be perfect!

I collected all the paperwork together to file away and guess what... this whole ordeal started on April 1st, with the first mattress order. I couldn't belive it. Ha-bloody-ha!!

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Is it safe to go back in the water?

Dur Dum Dur Dum...

Two weeks ago I was staying at a friends’ farm in Connecticut. We were reminiscing about being at Uni together and the weekends we spent away at the beach, surfing and partying and so on. I asked him where he surfed now and he told me that he usually drives 45 minutes to the nearest beach but unfortunately they were all closed right now due to sightings of Great White sharks. Oh, what a shame! WHAT? Apparently, he calmly told me, the sharks had been spotted in Cape Cod and Massachusetts too and all the beaches had to be closed due to the sharks swimming too close to shore... only 3-4 feet deep! Blimey. My friend showed me a photo that had been taken a few days before.

Oh my god! The poor man in the kayak was totally unaware of what was 6 feet behind him until people started screaming “shark, shark” at him from the beach. I would have simply poo’d myself, then fainted, fallen into the water and been eaten. But it actually makes you think... what would you really do in that situation, how would you react? 

It then reminded me of a time in Australia, when I was on a road trip with my Mother (I know that sounds a bit dull but if you know my Mother you would certainly know the trip was ‘such fun’!) We had walked along the coast path from Manly (a boat ride from Sydney Harbour), to a sweet little cove where only a few people were on the beach. I decided to go for a swim and was probably about 12 feet deep when I heard my Mother shouting at me from the beach. She was waving frantically and shouting something. I couldn't hear her and she continued screaming something at me and then started pointing towards the open water behind me. I honestly froze. I thought there was a shark behind me and from watching ‘Jaws’ numerous times, knew that splashing was bad. So I was trying to tread water without actually moving... trĂ©s difficile! I was only just keeping my head above water but I daren't turn around. I then realised my Mother was smiling whilst screaming and not actually screaming in abject terror. I slowly turned around, praying all the while to God, and saw..... a penguin. Not a killer shark but a small sweet penguin, swimming in tiny circles around and around, having a lovely time. I was so relived I think I peed myself... that, or I swam through a bizarre warm current. I searched for the American shark story a few days later on the internet. The sightings are quite terrifying. Dozens of beaches have been closed, not only because of the actual danger of being eaten by a shark but also, and this is a bit gruesome.... of coming into contact with dismembered seals! Yuck! They are asking the public to stand 300 feet back from the shoreline so as not to walk into a seal massacre! Yuck! One spokesman added: “If you are going out in the water (as if), be aware of seals while swimming. If the seals scatter from an area then it is likely that a shark is present”. No... really?? Then I remembered an article I was was reading last year about all the basking sharks in Cornwall. Now they aren't killers because they are plankton eaters not human eaters but they are huge!!! Again, other than having an accident in the downstairs department... what would you do if you saw one?

And then, in yesterdays morning newspaper I read what I most feared... ‘Killer sharks found in English waters’. These are blue sharks, seen in the last few weeks off the north coast of Cornwall. This is not that unusual I think, they have been spotted before, far out in deep water. In fact, crazies pay loads of money to go and dive with them but then I read these new beauties were seen in shallow waters! Nooo! Blue sharks are one of the most vicious breeds, smaller than great whites but they will still chew your limbs off in seconds. I haven't got a photo of the actual ones seen but this scary little bugger is bad enough!