Good news week

Just been reviewing the blog and conscious that there is much bleating – although much to bleat about in the UK – so decided a bit of good news was timely.

My new wine racks were delivered to the farm yesterday – only about 3 days after ordering them. So, someone understands about service then. Looking forward to filling them up and even more to emptying them. Bowes Wine kindly arranged things for me – pic attached.

Le French Excursion is set for the weekend of Saturday 17th and 18th of September leaving from Dover. Our plan is to drive from Calais along the Belgian border to Reims and indulge in some of the finest products of the Champagne region. Clerk of the Course Big Mike is recceing the route this weekend and promises great roads, beautiful scenery and fine weather. OK, I lied a bit about the weather. Cars are already being prepped and with luck we will have at least 2 of our fleet traveling.. question is which ones?

Automotive purchases continue with the acquisition of a tidy Citroen AX Echo Plus for Bennet to trundle about in. Only dampener being the cost of insurance representing nearly 70% of the purchase price of the car …

Our pheasant pen is nearing completion, but a list from Shoot Captain Mike reminded us that there is still much to do, so a busy weekend beckons… let’s just hope this miserable weather improves…

I’ll finish now, before I start to bleat about the climate in the UK….

The Congestion Charge Rip Off

Top of the list of people I find it impossible to trust is London’s Major Ken. Never mind the patronising ‘I know what’s best attitude’, or the ‘the congestion charge won’t be increased from 5 pounds’, when it is subsequently increased to 8; I just find his whole persona really creepy.

How on earth was he elected? They do say people get the government they deserve, not necessarily what they want.

Anyway, the point of this rant is the shameless way we are ripped off by the Congestion Charge – the architect of which is one Major Ken. I’m not going to bleat about not wanting to pay it, or the fact that the money just goes to fund more useless local authority jobs rather than proper alternative infrastructure. No, my rant today concerns the way you pay – or rather can’t.

In all the hoo-ha on Friday – I joined the mass exodus from the City at around 3.45 and didn’t get to Wiltshire until nearly 7.00pm – I forgot to ring up and pay the Charge. So, like an honest citizen I called on Saturday to pay up. Except you can’t. If you don’t pay on the day, you cannot pay. Crazy? Sure, because they will now send me a fixed penalty notice and I will have to pay 50 quid – if they caught me.

This is just criminal. By all means, make me pay a late penalty, but with the current system there is no option for me to pay a day late – I am forced to wait until I get a fine and then pay or to hope they did not catch me and I get away with it.

Well, I’m not going to take the chance. I am going to send them a cheque. The way I see it I owe them 8 quid and if they deny me a reasonable mechanism of paying it then it is not my problem. I’m not going to wait and see if I get away with it for the simple reason that I am honest.

It is a shame that Transport for London are not.

The English

This poem was posted on a friends website after the London bombings on July 7th.

It was not part of their blood,
It came to them very late
With long arrears to make good,
When the English began to hate.

They were not easily moved,
They were icy-willing to wait
Till every count should be proved,
Ere the English began to hate.

Their voices were even and low,
Their eyes were level and straight.
There was neither sign nor show,
When the English began to hate.

It was not preached to the crowd,
It was not taught by the state.
No man spoke it aloud,
When the English began to hate.

It was not suddenly bread,
It will not switftly abate,
Through the chill years ahead,
When Time shall count from the date
That the English began to hate.

– Kipling 1914

Service? What service?

Hot on the heels of the aggressive letters from the charming folks at the TV Licencing Authorities comes the latest beaurocratic stuff up from your friends at BT.

Our friends may have wondered why it took so long for us to communicate our new phone number – after all we applied over 5 weeks ago. Well the reason is because we were only finally connected on Saturday. On applying, BT asked all sorts of questions and did seem to struggle with our address and whether there had been a phone there before – there had. Eventually we were told the line was fine and we were connected.

Then they said we weren’t and that they would need to send an engineer down so could we please wait at the house. Not entirely convenient with Shivs in HK and me in London, but we arranged for someone to be there. She waited 5 hours and they didn’t show. Then they called to say they did not need to visit. Thanks. So all was OK.

No it wasn’t, as when we moved in on Wednesday there was no connection. I called the ubiquitous computerized helpline (one for the top ten list of things I really dislike) and eventually an apologetic but resolutely unhelpful lady said an engineer would be out on Saturday. I related our experiences to-date but she remained unmoved and unhelpful. Her manager took the same line so I gave up and hung up.

The repair engineer turned up late on Friday and was very helpful. He was searching for a break in the cable as he had been advised that was the problem. He came back on Saturday and after much searching found no break, only that the wires had not been joined at some junction box down the road… i.e. we simply had not been connected. Five minutes later and we were sorted.

So, what was a simple 5 minute connection job was screwed up so much that it took us 5 weeks and a day of an engineer and his mates time to fix – a job should have been done by the ordinary connection engineer.


The Last Weekend

Well, this is it. July 12th is our last day in Hong Kong. We have a final weekend of packing – or at least watching the packers pack – and we play this sort of game which according to Shivs goes something like this.

We put a bag down with clothes we will need. They pack it. We ask for it to be unpacked and then move it somewhere else thinking they won’t pack it again. Five minutes later we look for the bag. It’s packed. They search, unpack it, we move it, they find it, pack it etc. etc. etc.

By now our house has been packed and unpacked about 3 times.

No wonder it takes 3 days…..

Well, after 3 days we’re all boxed. 416 boxes to be precise. One 40ft container, plus 1,130lbs of air freight. And to think I came out here with a suitcase. Hope I’m at work the week it all arrives!

On the boat again

We’ve finally resolved the car issues. Vectra sold. 911 arrives UK on monday. 323 sold to our estate agent (justice?) and the MX-5 was loaded yesterday. Looking forward very much to driving her in Wiltshire.

Have been impressed with the shipping agent in Hong Kong; Barwill. They’ve been on top of the documentation all the time and even sent me pictures of the cars loaded on board.

The MX-5 is sitting in front of a bus and a lorry. Hope it’s a smooth ride to Yokohama!

Terror comes to Town

The events of yesterday unfolded before me as I watched the stream of ambulances and police vehilces from my vantage point near Tower Bridge.

First, we heard of a ‘power surge’ on the underground. We made sure all our buildings were not affected. Then someone said that London Underground makes its’ own power: its’ not on the national grid so it wouldn’t have affected us. Then a rumour went round about an explosion. Then another. Then one on a bus. By now we knew it was no power surge. We had a terrorist attack.

Our first crisis call was probably like most other firms in London: we were struggling to get good information as to what was happening. We seem to have good contacts though and – for all the wrong reasons – London is quite good at these sort of incidents. Practice has made, if not perfect, certainly quite efficient. During the day we ensured our staff were safe. We made arrangements to ensure business could continue and then that people could leave London safely.

By the end of the day we all knew what had happened and people made their way either home, or to the pub, or off to stay with friends to avoid the convoluted commute as services were reduced across the network.

But for hundreds there was no home but a hospital bed. For 37 others they did not have such luxury.

Today, as I sit in the BA Terraces lounge on my way to Hong Kong, that 37 is now over 50 and once again I just can’t understand why and what was acheived. I suppose a normal rational mind just can’t get its’ head around what would make some people do such a terrible thing to others.

But I suppose that’s terror: we really are dealing with the unknown.

London 1 Paris 0

Well, who would’ve thought it? London wins the 2012 Olympics. This has of course been hot news in London for a while now and a couple of things strike me. First, I haven’t met anyone who actually wants them here and second I haven’t met anyone who thought London would win.

So I’m not sure who all the folks are in Trafalgar Square who are celebrating tonight. Perhaps they think they are in Edinburgh at the G8 summit.

Anyway, I honestly thought Madrid would sneak in as an outsider and claim victory, but for some reason we pipped them all. A colleague of mine put Paris’ loss down to the presence in Singapore of Le President Churlish. For the IOC, the very thought of having to deal with such an awful man for the next 10 years finally made up the minds of any floating voters.

So, what will happen here. Here’s my predictions:

1. Major Ken will increase every charge he can to fund building the facilities he wants. He won’t build anything London actually needs.
2. The contracts to build all said facilities will be won by the French.
3. Once completed the facilities will be as useful as the Millenium Dome and that wobbling Bridge thing.
4. Nobody here will make any money as the profits from licenced goods will either be made overseas or the T shirst will be counterfeited in China.
5. Tickets to anything but the underwater tiddlywinks will cost more than your car. If you can get any.
6. We won’t win many medals.

Just wait, see if I’m right.

Retail Automotive Therapy

I hate to admit it, but the girls are right. There is nothing like a bit of retail therapy to put a smile on your face. Even better when indulgence is with the support of ones spouse. Better still when it involves motor cars.

And so it was that yours truly was able to purchase not one, but two cars this weekend. Pure hedonism.

So, what did I buy? Well, one at least ticks the ‘sensible’ box, so it almost doesn’t count, as one of the pre-requisities of pure retail therapy is the purchase of the frivolous… so that was the Second purchase.

First, the new family wagon. We’ve been agonising over this for ages – and for once had a purpose in browsing the automotive weeklies – and we’re settled on a mid sized MPV that drives like a car, has 7 seats when you need them and a decent boot when you don’t. Diesel is a must and the two top contenders are the new Mazda5 and the new Vauxhall Zafira. Both have been well recieved by the press, but just try and get one.

Both are launched in July, but when could I get my mits on either? September. At the earliest, as I want a ‘special factory order’. Apparently a ‘special factory order’ constitues any car other than what they have in stock. So, what will they have in stock? ‘Don’t know it depends on what the factory send’…. which sort of begs the question of ‘Why don’t you tell them what you can sell…?’ Don’t start me – it’s all too hard. And by the way, if you are thinking I want zebra covered seats and pink paint with yellow spots, then you’re wrong. My ‘special order’ amounts to metallic paint, leather seats, climate control and parking sensors… hardly the stuff of dreams.

Sorry for the digression, but it does lead to the logic behind the sensible acquisition. One of our other requirements is a vehicle with off road ability… but we don’t want this to be the main transport so we were thinking of getting a Land Rover Defender for the mucky stuff and the family bus would tackle the school run and longer trips. Sound logic. So, in the short term I’ve plumped for a Land Rover Discovery 300 tdi. Epsom Green with tan trim, 7 seats, a/c and very tidy it is too. But I’ve always been so rude about 4WD cars?? Sure, in the urban jungle of Hong Kong I still am. Or in London. But not when you live on a farm in Wiltshire: so there.

Now, what of the frivolous? Well, with the long term plan of entering the odd classic rally and the Midget ruled out on the basis of too small and too fragile if we stack it, an MGB GT was on my shopping list. Big Mike sent me a contact for one in Swindon and after a bit of haggling, an inspection by a local garage that provided a few more bargaining points (OK and some bills in the near future too) a deal was done and LWD 359E was mine. It’s a 1967 BGT in British Racing Green with black interior. It’s tax exempt and has a fitted trip meter for rallies as well as harnesses and other than that is unmolested.

And I’m a happy camper. Or recently recovered retail therapy patient, take your pick.

A good read

Picked up an excellent book at the airport the other day. Very timely for us I have to say. The book, by Martin Booth, is called ‘Gweilo’ and is the story of his childhood in Hong Kong in the fifties. Martin became a respected journalist writing a number of fictional titles and some notable books on Hong Kong, including Opium: A History and The Triads.

I’m only about 50 pages in but it is a wonderful read – particularly poingnant for someone who also ‘grew up’ in Hong Kong.

Pick up a copy and enjoy – whether or not you’ve been to Hong Kong it is a fascinating insight and jogs many memories for me.