Monday, 16 March 2009

Dark, dark days

I've just got a 'phone call from my brothers saying that my Dad had suffered a heart attack.

He's in hospital and I'm going down to London tonight.

No idea other than that. He hasn't been very well anyway so this is going to hit him very hard.

Wish us luck.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Okay now, just breathe

I've just had the crappiest two days that I've ever had in a very long time.

It started yesterday with smart clothes and a pretty bad interview.

One of the interviewers brought me up from Reception and I was brought up two floors (no lift) to a conference room.

She was a very small, thin and very quietly spoken girl who I assumed was the HR body.

He was brasher and did most of the talking. I addressed most of the answers to him until after I found out that the quiet shy girl was in fact the line manager for the post I had applied for.

After a long interview with the warning that I'd hear about second interviews some time next week (translation "don't call us, we'll call you"), I was taken back to Reception.

I went back to work.

After a long day, I went to the ATM at HSBC for a ministatement. Where I found this
Mar11 O2(UK)LTD PREPAY 30.00-
I'm with Orange PAYG?
I went home in a strop and called HSBC telephone banking system. Where I had to stay silent and not type any details into the handset in order to get through to a customer services advisor.
Then I had to set up my telephone banking security stuff as I was a "heavy user" of the ATM and in-branch services.
Then I was "helpfully" told that as all my card security details (including the little 3 digit security code on the signature strip) had been used to perform the transaction at 3:18pm on Tuesday 10th March 2009, I was automatically a suspect.
I was then given the third degree.
Where did I usually keep my card? Did I live with anybody? Did they know where I kept my card? What internet sites did I use? Did I ever lose sight of my card when paying for anything in person? Did any of my colleagues at work know where I kept my card? Had I given my card to anybody to use?
After answering these and many, many other questions, I cancelled and cut up my own card, reported the fraudulent activity and was told that if I could bring two forms of photo ID, proof of address and my cheque book then I could withdraw my money from the counter.
So not on Saturdays then.
Today, I woke up and called my boss. I was going to be in late as someone had done some identity theft thing on me and I had to sort it out.
I gathered everything together and marched out to the bank.
The customer services guy was not very helpful, but he was a bit more sympathetic that the advisor in the 'phone. Strangely, he told me not to go to the police as that was HSBC's job once the fraudulent transaction was investigated.
I went to the counter and withdrew cash and went on to the O2 shop.
Who were no help at all.
As far as they were concerned it was just my say so and until HSBC notified them of the transaction they weren't going to do anything.
Well, why would they?
Their 'phones are being paid for, they're making a healthy profit and the fact that at least one of their customers is a thieving scumbag is neither here nor there, really.
They also told me not to bother calling the police.
Why? Would that mean that you'd have to justify your salaries?
Then I went to work, arriving at 11:30.
And it was a pitifully bad day. I was fuming all the while, my boss had told people that I was going to be late and why so everyone was interested in knowing what had happened and telling me what had happened to them and no noe could explain why HSBC told me not to go to the police.
I went straight home and used my newly set up telephone banking details to find out my current balance. Nope. No more thefts. Still there.
I'm now twice as paranoid about security than I was before and I still have no idea how the thieving scumbag managed to get my card details.
The £30 to O2 was a test purchase to see if the card was live, according to the trawl through the forums and none of the posters has a clue about how it was done either.
Very reassuring.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009


I've got a job interview.

The people I applied to on Friday have just rung me up and wanted to know if I could be available next week.

I tried not to shriek and hop up and down, you know, I did my best to sound cool.

"Oh, I can be."

Then the guy said he'd send a formal letter.

Whoo Hoo!

There's next to no DIY being done - I'm still stuck on the door, almost literally, but this has been a good week so far.

!I'm so excited and I just can't hide it!

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

I come here too often

After the furniture arrived, I tried to get the drawer to fit into the chest, washed the drop leaf table and wrapped my lock with a small screwdriver into a plastic bag and took it with me to Wolverhampton Antiques Market.

Going to the Indoor Market is like going back in time. The Indoor Market was built in the 1960s and even though there is now a snazzy new entrance way, it's still the same old building behind it. The terrazzo floor, the typeface on the signs, the woodwork, the door handles around the place all remind me of when I was growing up. Nothing has changed since the 1970s at least.

The Antiques Market had been situated in the basement. However, as the years went on, the traffic systems changed and became one way, the market was rebuilt and "improved" and finally the car park was removed. Eventually, there were so few customers that businesses started to move out. Leaving so many empty stalls upstairs that the Antiques Market was moved to the ground floor and now occupies Avenue Six. Antiques Avenue.

All I was looking for was a junk shop. What I was looking for (small cottage rim knob imperial size) was the kind of thing that ends up in house clearance places. There was a guy who had a small chest of display drawers with different knobs and handles in them - "brass knobs", glass knobs", "ceramic knobs" and so on.

After about ten minutes of looking, he found one near perfect match. The only problem was that someone had drilled another hole into the collar of the knob to fit a different screw (the original was lost more than likely).

I had an original screw so both could be fitted and there will be no hole visible once it all comes together. And I could have the spindle as well. £1.

I handed him a fiver.

He didn't have any change. Did I have a pound?

I fished around in my pocket and found enough small change to makes the total. Then I started browsing and spent £1.25 on records.

Then I went to The Lunch Box and had an omelette, chips, salad and a can of Diet Coke for £3.20. It wasn't a restaurant so much, as a, well as a greasy spoon with pretensions. The decor was tired old 1970s coffee bar and the windows were steamed up.

I handed the ginormous plate back to the cook and braced myself to go out into the worsening weather.

I thought about "pudding". There was only one place to go. Baskin Robbins. I love ice cream. I have a fiendish sweet tooth. It's expensive so that always makes me think twice about going. I don't have a freezer, so if I bought a tub of ice cream I'd eat the entire lot or else it would go to waste.

So, I've always kidded myself, as an occasional treat, I go to Baskin Robbins in the Mander Centre.

I took out another £10 and went to the counter. The girl behind grabbed a cup straight away and said

"Is that 2 or 3 scoops today, then?"

I stood. Trying to work out what promotion this was. I hadn't even decided what flavour/flavours to have.

My confusion must have been pretty evident.

"You usually have 2 scoops, don't you?"

Oh. My. God.

So much for occasional treats. I've been there so often, she recognised me.

The embarrassment.

The shame.

The calories.

The wake up call!

I was too embarrassed to mumble and walk away so I said "Er, yeah, two scoops."

A few moments later, I still had trouble deciding. She asked if I wanted to taste some praline cheesecake number. I said no. And suddenly, there was nothing there that looked appetising any more.

There was a boysenberry mix that had greasy looking colourless lumps that look like the gristly bits in processed ham and a purple and blue swirly one that looked like a kid had swirled two pots of paint together.

I went for the two white ones that had no lumps or swirly bits. Vanilla and coconut. And a little reminder to myself, not to go there again for a loooooooong while.

The coconut tasted as if someone had put dessicated coconut in there. I don't like dessicated coconut.

It wasn't very nice at all. Suddenly, ice cream isn't all that nice.

I'm not done yet, not by a long chalk, but I'm happy

I went to bed at 4am.

I have tried to strip the door in the middle bedroom and I'm getting fed up.

It's the door which is on the cupboard which allows access to the loft. There is a thumb latch lock which is activated from the outside of the door. The thinking behind that was security obviously.

The lock on the outside of the door prevented someone accessing the house from the roof which is part of a long terrace. Anyone could up into the loft and get into anyone else's house in the terrace through these loft hatches.

The thick loads of paint that stretch back nearly 120 years is clinging to the door by its fingernails. I know, paint doesn't have fingernails, it's a figure of speech.

Heat gunning it reduces the older layers to a kind of tar that sticks to any scraper I'm using.

Heat gunning the lock did nothing. The paint refused to budge.

So, I used paint stripper on the lock which was completely seized with paint. The paint was larded on so thickly, that I couldn't even see the slots on the screwheads.

Hours later, after gassing myself with huge amounts of paint stripper and then scraping, poking and worrying at the lock and screws with scalpels, bradawls, scrapers and screwdrivers - I was able to unscrew the lock from the door.

Then, after more paint stripper, I was able to take the lock apart to give it a really good clean. That's right. I took the entire lock apart.

Living in the Black Country where people are so proud of their manufacturing heritage, you very quickly learn that lock making played a huge part in the local economy of the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries.

From metal production, manufacturing the parts, coating the exposed metal (japanning) and assembling the finished locks, there are books, museum exhibits, statues and newspaper articles about how important lock making was to the Black Country and Wolverhampton and Willenhall in particular.

The locals' capacity for maudlin nostalgia extends to a local history weekly newspaper called The Bugle which routinely shows sepia printed photos on its cover every issue. Poor people outside their homes in the street, women in crinolines, men at work in dreadful looking workshops, shopkeepers posing outside their shops which has all manner of meat and poultry hooked up in the open air and posed studio photographs usually with an appeal for information on who the photograph is of.

Google a guy called Carl Chinn. Every Thursday (jobs day), he has a two page article in the Express and Star usually including the reminiscences of some old pensioner biddy who remembers horse and carts, how they went on the tram on special occasions, the name of some local shopkeeper and how life was so hard but everyone was poor and happy. Every. Bloody. Week.

He also has a series of columns in the Mail newspapers, The Birmingham Post and is a massively popular local speaker. Carl Chinn, the professional Brummie who is trying to preserve the local accents. Jeebus.

Anyway, back to the lock. The mechanism is so simple it's genius. That was the whole point. The simple mechanism meant anyone could put the lock together as quickly and cheaply as possible. Any uneducated chimp could put the lock together in a matter of minutes. Hundreds could be assembled by one person in a day.

The layers of paint had built up and the thumb latch was completely seized with paint. I took it apart, cleaned everything with paintstripper and Brasso, thoroughly dried all the pieces and drenched everything in WD40. After reassembling the lock, I tried it and it worked. It. Worked. IT WORKED. Whoo hoo.

The paint seized thumb latch meant the door knobs on either side of the door worked, but the lock couldn't be, well, locked.

So some bright spark unscrewed the knob on the inside of the door - putting it's little screw back into the spindle to stop the spindle being pulled free of the door every time someone opened it. So the door was effectively locked for anyone inside the cupboard.

Of course, that could have been decades ago and there is no sign of any door knob lying around the house anywhere.

I need one small brass cottage rim knob and a washer. Imperial measure.

And hey, guess what, they come in pairs. And metric.

But, I'm happy. I've got the last original feature in my house working.

And the furniture has arrived.