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» Public Transport Trauma

Didn't happen to me personally, but I can feel the pain.
When my dad was a student he had a summer job checking tickets at Newcastle Central Station. Now, there was in those days a train service that ran direct between Edinburgh and Newcastle, and another train that ran the same route but stopped at Berwick upon Tweed and various other local stations. You can judge the age of this story by the fact that they actually ran more than one train a day.

Anyway, one morning a chap arrived on the Edinburgh train absolutely enraged because he had actually wanted to go to Berwick, and had been assured that the train he'd got on would stop there. And he'd stood at the door of the carriage with a dismayed expression as the train cruised happily (this was the 1950s, trains were happy in those days) straight through Berwick, with only time for a quick wave to his wife waiting on the platform. And he wanted to know What Would Be Done About It.

Well, these days the railway staff would just laugh at you and tell you to be more careful next time, but this was age of the New Elizabethan, so they apologised nicely and put him onto the correct train back towards Edinburgh. The one that would stop at Berwick Upon Tweed.

Towards the end of the shift, the very same bloke appears. He's now beyond rage and well on the way to having a heart attack, by the look of things.

Yes, my dad and his mate had put him back on the direct Newcastle to Edinburgh train by mistake. Once more he had stood at the door as the train trundled past his sadly waving wife at the station, this time in the other direction.

He'd arrived at Edinburgh fit to kill someone.

The Edinburgh station staff had apologised nicely and calmed him down a bit.

And then put him straight back onto the direct Edinburgh to Newcastle train again.
(Thu 29th May 2008, 17:57, More)

» Siblings

"And you can forget about Christmas too"
Ah, time for some bitterness to start the New Year. Actually I wouldn't mind some second opinions on this, because I'm pretty sure I'm not to blame for this one, but I do wonder, sometimes. The way you do.

I've always thought that my older sister got the better end of any deal going. I wouldn't say that I was deprived, exactly, but if there was leeway to be won, she would invariably get it.

Here's a short list of things that have rankled over the years. I'd better keep it short because this is a work keyboard and if I begin pounding it with my fists they might object.

When I was six, I had a plastic sword, complete with plastic sheath. The sword was blue, with a basket hilt and everything. The sheath was bright yellow and most unswordly. Nevertheless, whenever swordplay was required, the princess would get to use the Blue Rapier, and I'd be stuck flailing around with the yellow sheath.

I wanted a Land Rover for my Action Man. My sister wanted a car for her Sindy. Apparently we "didn't need two cars and could share" (actually I think my dad was deeply suspicious of me wanting to play with dolls in the first place, whether they had manly scars and gripping hands or not). Two years later I got my Land Rover anyway. My sister broke the tailgate on it while Sindy and Action Man were out on a date (which I did not sanction I might add)

Speaking of cars, she refused to go back to university because she hated it. "Would it be better if you had a car, darling?" "mm. Yes." When I was at university it was Shanks' Pony all the way. When I got my first job, though, I got my mum's old car because she'd stopped driving altogether, which was nice. Until she decided to sell it six months later and I had to go and buy my own. Ho hum.

Parties, clothes, holidays, you name it, the litany of disparity goes on. Small stuff, mostly, but you notice. You might think, then, that having had her own way all through childhood, now that we're in our mid 30s things might be settling down into a bit of a balance. It's not such a big deal, really, just little things. And I daresay she remembers times when I got the better part of the deal. I'm sure there were some. Mind you my mother does still do all her washing for her, and if the house needs redecorating they'll be there with the paintbrushes while she goes shopping, and so on.

But she *is* my sister, after all. We're on the same side. No need to make a big deal out of things.

So, as the years went by she'd got married, got divorced, found someone else, got settled, decided to remarry, all of that sort of thing. And I'd found someone that I was engaged to, and all was nice and friendly between us all.

Then - bad news. The worst kind: my fiancee's brother from Australia was diagnosed with what looked like it would be a terminal cancer. He announced that he was coming over to visit us while he still could. He was going to have some initial treatment to try to arrest the cancer, then travel. This would be about six months hence, arriving the week before my sister's wedding, and going back a few weeks later. So we hatched a cunning plan that we would bring our wedding forward a few months so that it would be when he could be there to share it.

Well, you're limited in choice for booking registrars and things, but this would put our wedding three weeks after my sister's second wedding.

Not a problem, I thought. That's her remarried, honeymooned and back with a week to spare before we start the parties again.

But apparently this was a problem. "You've been living together for years. Why have you chosen that date to get married?" she asked. I explained, and that was the last anyone saw of her for days. She just buggered off. Bear in mind that my parents would normally see her several times a week, and then she suddenly cut off communication. Rather alarming for them. Eventually a meeting was arranged between her fiance and my father at a neutral pub (oh the drama!).

The gist of the problem was that we'd be taking the spotlight away too soon. "She will", it was claimed "still be in her post-wedding glow, looking through photographs and things. Those two [that's us!] will be detracting from that".

Baffled, I rang her up (I live hundreds of miles away) - of course she wouldn't speak to me. I spoke to her other half, who didn't want to discuss it because - and I quote - "Talking about things just makes them more confusing" (At this point I began to suspect that he wasn't helping matters).

What to do? Tough one. It was important for my girlfriend that her big brother would be there for her wedding. We couldn't ask the Australian Sibling to cancel his flights and rebook. We offered to arrange to move it forward to the week before her wedding, but apparently that was even worse, and if my parents went to my wedding before hers then she would get married in private and not invite anyone at all. After years of pandering to her every whim, this must have seemed like a real kick in the teeth for my poor parents.

I did consider suggesting a joint ceremony, but my own fiancee started making snarling noises at that point so I hastily moved on to plan D, which was to sit tight, do nothing and let things calm down.

And Lo, the Lord moveth in mysterious ways, because it turned out that my sister couldn't get married on the arranged date, because her fiancee was already married to someone else and hadn't bothered to mention it. So that was suddenly all off - and how! - and we were able to press ahead, and she even came to our wedding and we all pretended that none of the previous unpleasantness (only some of which I have itemised in the interests of keeping you awake until the end) had happened.

That was all 5 years ago. My wife and I are still happily married, and we've all agreed between us that it was all stupid and let's all be friends and forget about it.

Except I can't, quite. It was so aggressive and unpleasant and unecessary, it's hard to put it aside completely. Sometimes when I'm sitting with my sister I look at her and remember those phone calls and think "You selfish cow". And I haven't forgotten about the blue plastic sword either.
(Mon 5th Jan 2009, 18:05, More)

» The Dark

On a visit to London Zoo
I was heading into the Nocturnal House, and had the pleasure of overhearing the discussion between the young boy and his father following behind:

"'ere, Dad, why's it so dark in 'ere?"

Dad considered this difficult question. It certainly was dark in there. But it seemed that Dad was a man who didn't like to admit ignorance, and was certainly not going to admit to not knowing why a Nocturnal House might be dark. Sure enough, after a moment of thought he had the answer.

"It's dark in 'ere" he explained confidently, "because the animals wot live in 'ere ain't got no eyes."

I suppose all of us have a moment, growing up, when we realise that our parents aren't really the perfect godlike creatures we assumed them to be; they can't do everything and don't know everything, and they don't get everything right.

The kid didn't say anything, but as we wandered round the crepuscular enclosures looking at the Bush Babies, Slow Lorises and Possums - all with eyes like dinner plates - I thought that for that kid the first chink in Dad's Armour of Genius just might have opened up.
(Tue 28th Jul 2009, 17:01, More)

» Dumb things you've done

There's a lot to be said for Hellman's
Well, it wasn't physically painful, but it sure as hell was embarrassing.

My girlfriend and I had just moved into a new house, and after a busy morning moving boxes around and cleaning the place we decided to break for lunch. We were a bit limited in terms of what we had to eat in the place, having mainly breakfast stuff - eggs, sausage and suchlike. We settled on a sausage and egg mayonnaise sandwich. This was all well and good, except that of course we didn't have any mayonnaise. Now, I could have hopped into the car and driven down to the shop to buy some, but with visions of Ready Steady Cook flashing before my eyes I elected to make some.
Second problem - no whisk. But I had a plan for that as well. Because the house needed some work doing, I'd brought my tools with me and amongst them was a rechargeable drill - one of those where the harder you squeeze the trigger the faster it goes. I bent a coathanger into a suitable shape, attached it to the drill, cracked an egg into a bowl and set the drill whirring away, drizzling oil as I went and feeling pretty good about my "Man against the Elements" improvisation.

Except it didn't work. I ended up with an eggy, oily mass that was distinctly unmayonnaisy. I thought about going to the shop for a moment, then thought again that actually what I needed to do was to whisk it harder to get the emulsion started.

So I took my bent coathanger off the rechargeable drill and put it into my mains hammer drill.

Now, the little drill has a controllable speed, and goes up to about 350 RPM flat out. My mains hammer drill has two speeds; ON and OFF, and goes up to 5000 RPM. Coathanger goes in the mixture and - click. Suddenly the world went white as the entire contents of the bowl energetically leapt clear of the whirring wire and redistributed themselves liberally over the whole just-cleaned kitchen: walls, floor, windows, cupboards, ceiling, me. I thought I'd broken the drill as well because I could hear a loud screeching noise, but that turned out to be coming from my girlfriend.
(Fri 21st Dec 2007, 11:14, More)

» War

My Grandfather was in the Home Guard
He had a few interesting stories. One of my favourites apparently ended up - at least in part - on television, and regards two blokes who were manning a roadblock late at night. One of them got caught short and nipped behind a bush. As he disappeared, a man in a Major's uniform appeared in the road.

He was challenged by the other sentry in classic "Halt! Who goes there?" style, with threatening rifle-pointing and bristling moustache.

"Friend." drawls the Major.

"Advance and be recognised!" squawks the sentry in correct Military style.

So the Major advances, and presents his papers.

Now since it was night-time it was dark, so the sentry needed his torch to read the papers, but couldn't hold his torch and his rifle and his papers at the same time, so he shoulders his rifle to take the identification off the Major.

So far, so Dad's Army. But at this point Dad's Army diverges into an "amusing" skit with Jonesy getting all tangled up with the Major.

In reality, what happened was that the Major pulled out his Webley revolver with a chuckle, and said "You know, that was really stupid. If I was a Hun you'd be a dead man."

It was at about this point that Sentry #1, who had nipped behind the bush earlier, returned from his toilet break and found his startled-looking friend being confronted by a stranger who was pointing a revolver at him.

Concluding that this was suspicious behaviour he acted quickly and smashed the Major in the back of the head with his rifle butt.

Apparently the Major didn't wake up for two days and was presumably lucky to wake up at all. Turns out that not only do they not like it up 'em they don't like being belted across the skull either, because he wanted to court-martial them, but apparently the CO gave this idea short shrift.
(Thu 31st May 2012, 17:13, More)
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