5 December 2010

SnowGood morning from the frigid tundra of the United Kingdom. We’re into our second week of freezing Arctic conditions and snow which, as I wrote last week, is the earliest the UK has experienced weather conditions of this sort for at least seventeen years. We’ve had the lowest temperatures for early December since record keepers started keeping records of these record-breaking events. Never happened under Labour!

Given the frigid conditions, on Wednesday evening, while Ms Playchute was out at the gym, I decided that I would accede to her numerous requests to put the electric blanket on the bed. As I’ve written in the past, Pen likes the electric blanket on the bed and turned up to the maximum from about late August through until the end of May. I would quite happily do without it altogether and have the bedroom window open most of the year. Still, the weather was freezing and I thought (a) it might be quite nice to climb into a pre-warmed bed and (b) Ms Playchute would think I was an absolute star and perhaps even reward me in the nicest possible way (cook me a full English breakfast the next morning, of course. What were you imagining?)

So, I rummaged around the dressing room and found the blanket and controls. A cursory inspection showed no damage from mice and so I spent the next fifteen minutes or so taking great care to make the bed, plug the blanket all together and switching it on so that it would be nice and warm when Pen got home. Imagine my disappointment, (not to mention Penelope’s), when I discovered that alas, after probably about fifteen years of faithful and dependable service, the electric blanket is no more. I had originally thought that this was the first electric blanket we purchased in 1975 but Penelope assures me that this one was purchased to replace that one which died about fifteen years ago. Still, fifteen to twenty years of service is pretty good value, I guess. The new one is on order as we speak.

And then, to add insult to injury, why does one’s central heating boiler always choose the coldest day in the coldest week to cease functioning? And, as it happens, that day is always a Friday, just before the weekend when one won’t be able to secure the services of a plumber for love nor money. Yes, we awoke on Friday morning to a distinctly frosty morning, both inside and out. The boiler had apparently decided it was simply too f**king cold and although it was quietly ticking over and circulating water throughout the radiators, that water was slightly above freezing and none of my inducements could persuade it to fire up and actually produce some heat. So, on the phone to our usual plumbers – they are run off their feet and might be able to get to us next Wednesday. They very kindly gave me the contact details for another firm which was similarly run off their feet but they promised to get back to us later in the day to see how they were fixed.

So, off to the garage to dig out the two portable gas heaters; back to the garage to dig out the two gas cylinders for the heaters only to discover that, of course, both cylinders are almost empty. Still, we managed to get them set up and, with a fire in the wood-burning stove and seven layers of clothing we just about survived.

Oh, did I mention that we had a guest arriving for lunch?

Finally, about three-thirty we had a phone call from the plumber who was on his way! Naturally, I assumed that this would be the first of seventeen visits as he would surely not have the requisite equipment or parts but he turned out to be a gem and we had heat again soon after his arrival. He also very kindly explained and showed me where the issue was and how to rectify it should it occur again so, in spite of shivering and struggling with a gas-fume induced headache most of the day, by the time it came to go to bed the house was feeling very comfortable again.

If that’s the one boiler breakdown we have to put up with this winter I can live with it. Knowing, however, the experiences we’ve had with our boiler over the last couple of winter, I doubt it. We’ll let you know how we get on.

The saga of the Members of Parliament fiddling their expenses reached another landmark this week – the first conviction (punishable by up to seven years in prison – ha, ha!) This “honourable gentleman” as they refer to one another, no longer an MP, of course, had fiddled his expenses claiming just over £20,000 over a four year period. He claimed £12,925 for rent on his apartment in Westminster (London) which is actually fair enough, according to the rules. This was his “second” home enabling him to stay in London for parliamentary business. The only slight problem with his expense claim is that he actually owned the apartment outright. So, he had to produce a fake tenancy agreement to submit with his claim. Now, does that strike anyone as being just a tad on the shady side?

He also claimed expenses of £5,425 for renting a home in his constituency. No problem with that. However, the rules do say that one cannot rent a property from a relative and, unfortunately, the owner of the house was his mother. So, he ought to have known the rules and should have known that what he was claiming was not allowed. Still, that might have been a genuine mistake or oversight. One small problem: it turns out he never paid his mother anything, again inventing a false tenancy agreement to submit with the claim. Finally, not content with that, he submitted two invoices totalling £1,950 for “IT Services”. Yes, you’ve guessed it. The invoices were fake and the work had never been carried out nor paid for.

At the time he was charged he pledged that he would vigorously defend the case and clear his name. However, he then went on to try and claim that these actions were covered by parliamentary privilege and that therefore he shouldn’t be facing criminal charges at all. He took that case all the way to the British equivalent of the Supreme Court which, sadly, ruled against him, poor chap. So, when all his legal challenges had run their course, as an “honourable gentleman” he did the honourable thing and pleaded guilty. Nice to have one’s perception of the ethics and honesty of those in politics affirmed – are politicians the new lawyers? The good news? There are five more former MPs waiting their turn in the dock.

I’m sure you’re all as excited as we are over the announcement of the royal engagement (yawn). I spotted the first set of commemorative coffee mugs in Tesco the other week. What happens if it all goes pear-shaped and they call it off? The boys might have been too young to remember but I guess Mom and Dad will as they were in the UK with us at the time. I can’t remember whether it was the marriage of Prince Charles and Diana or the Queen’s Golden Jubilee but all the children in the village were given a commemorative mug. Very nice they were too apart from the one small “mistake” of having the wrong date. I wonder what they would fetch on e-Bay?

Love to you all,