More Tales of TechNOlogy

The engineer from Openreach made his way to our main entrance at Randall Towers and rang the doorbell. Lady Barton St Mary greeted him as he entered and looked in my direction.

“What do you want me to do?” he asked.

I thought for a moment.

“I’m awfully sorry, I don’t work for Openreach,” I explained.

He looked confused.

“Do you know Dave in Belfast?*” I enquired…

(see ‘Hello, it’s not you I’m looking for)*



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Who’s the ******* in the black?

For the past few years, I’ve been turning out on the occasional Saturday morning to referee youth matches for our local village football team. In addition, I have refereed a few of the games where my son Master Johnny’s team have needed an official, as well as regularly running the line as what is now known as an assistant referee.

His team now disbanded now they are adults, Master Johnny is dedicated to collecting money by working all the hours he can to afford to take off for Australia, unable to commit to regular training or playing for the local adult football club. This means my officiating duties have dropped off considerably and I’m spending more time at home at the weekend.

“I think I’d like to train as a qualified football referee,” I told Lady Barton St Mary, expecting her to arch one of her beautiful eyebrows and enquire as to why I would want to do such a thing.


“What a good idea!” she beamed, delighted that I may once more be out of the house and out of her way for part of Saturday/Sunday.

“You don’t mind?” I asked, seeking confirmation.

“Of course not, you like doing it,” she said, before returning to her Homes and Gardens magazines and making plans for the relaxing weekends without me ahead of her, giving a huge sigh of satisfaction through her broad grin.

So, thanks to Keith, the chairman of the football club, I managed to book a place on a referee’s beginners’ course in Bristol, paying up the required £130. On Friday, I attended the induction session, starting at 6.30pm.

The training room was a brightly lit affair. I was quite early, but a few other candidates were in the room, silent but alert. They all stared as I entered the room.

“Hello!” I chirped.

“Alright,” said one rather large man, shaven headed and straight faced. The rest continued to stare.

It was an interesting group of people, about 8 or 9 adult men; sulky looking, either with lots of hair or no hair, except on their faces, with a selection of beards and heavy stubble. I realised that maybe you needed to look intimidating if you were going to be taken seriously as a ref. They looked like the type of blokes who were used to dishing out pain and discomfort, rather than somebody punishing such indiscretions, like a group of former bank robbers turning up to become chief superintendents. I’d practised my tough look in the mirror at home, but felt that the expression I adopted always made me appear to be pushing out a fart.

As well as the scary men, there were a lot of children who seemed to think they were doing the course as well. It turned out that they were, since schoolboys could take the referee training as part of their GCSEs.

In addition to the intimidating men and schoolboys, there was another group of people sitting in a line at the back of the room; men, women, some suited, others in baggy track suits, others in casual clothes.

These people turned out to be the parents of the children and officials of different leagues, referee associations and football organisations from the Bristol area.

The session was hosted by Steve Tanner, the referee development officer and former Premiership and FIFA referee. The main objective of the evening was to make sure we were aware that we were embarking on a career which made us the target of abuse and dislike with constant questioning of our judgements, scrutinising every decision with disdain. Having already been through this experience, I was undeterred. Everybody else seemed to be like minded. I explained this to Lady Barton St Mary the next day.

“There’s a special counsellor you can call if you have a particularly bad experience,” I explained.

“Oh, you won’t need that, will you?” she said, “You don’t care what people think.”

I decided to take this as the faintest of praise.

Steve started a question and answer session. Most of the questions came from a 14 year old, which he handled expertly:

How much are we paid? (yes, we are paid!)

What if a referee punches a player?

What happens if I get sent off playing football?

Steve explained that the system of training had changed.

“It took me 20 years to become a Premiership referee,” he explained, “but with the changes in training, some of you in this room could make it in ten.”

The youngsters looked suitably impressed. Having realised I was the oldest trainee on the course, I was hoping that in ten years I would still be alive with functioning knees. Or at least one functioning knee.

The assembled league and referee association representatives gave short talks, all of them from the Bristol area, which was no use to me, but highly entertaining.

With that, Steve wished us luck when we returned next week for training proper. I walked back to my car with my training folder, FA directory and the FA Law book. Next Friday I get my whistle, book and cards. To be continued…


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Hello. It’s not you I’m looking for…

I was called on my mobile phone the other day by the company who will be supplying our super fast fibre optic broadband.

Broadband Supplier: Hello, I’m David and I’m calling from Belfast.

Me (tempted to say ‘and here are the points from Northern Ireland): Hello.

BS: Pardon?

Me: Hello.

BS: Oh. Hello. May I speak to the account holder, please?


Me: Who is the account holder?


BS: I’m not able to supply that information.

Posted in blog, blogging, broadband, comedy, comic characters, digital age, freshly pressed, humor, humour, life observations, mobile phone, wordpress | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“3rd and 14th Letter, please,”

Some of you may remember the days when watching TV meant only 3 channels, on a set that took 5 minutes to ‘warm up’ and when it turned off, the screen turned black with a bright little dot of light fading rapidly away in the middle. Of course, if you were not fortunate enough to have an arial installed on the roof, much of the evening’s entertainment involved one member of the household wandering around the room holding an indoor arial aloft with people shouting instructions at them, as the picture varied from snow to ghostly images of Eamonn Andrews or Michael Miles, sometimes rotating around as if the image had been replicated on a rolling drum…

This is why TVs had a knob called ‘picture hold’ and another entitled ‘contrast’. It was a real effort to watch anything without compromising picture quality. Of course, come midnight, the telly closed down and told everybody to go to bed. There wasn’t any telly during the day, oh no, only an hour for young children (Watch With Mother) and then off it went again until 4pm.

Similarly, shops closed for lunch and didn’t open on a Sunday. At all. If you wanted to buy something, you had to wait for it. What’s more, you would have to trail around several shops in order to make your purchases.

Amazing, eh kids? By kids, I mean anybody born before Sega and Nintendo. The glorious birth of the digital age, when an incredible thing called ‘the internet’ revolutionised all our lives. Satellite and cables allowed us to watch hundreds of television channels, all airing programmes, day and night. We don’t have to wait to buy the latest record, no, we just ‘go online’ and ‘download’ it. Banks used to be stuffy old buildings where people who left school with more than 5 ‘O’ levels worked. They didn’t open on Saturdays, closed for lunch and all the staff went home at 3.30pm. Now you can access your account or take money out of a hole in the wall at 4 o’clock in the morning, if you want.

Our lives are complete; we are masters of life with a vast army of digital slaves.

Well, we nearly are, I just don’t think we’re quite there yet. But we I mean, of course, me.


Wait. No hang on, wait, it’ll be on in a minute…

Let’s consider the obvious advantages I now have. Yes, my TV no longer makes me dizzy as I wrestle with the picture hold or lose my balance holding the arial above my head on one leg whilst standing on a chair. But when I watch a TV programme on Netflix, I do have to wait to be connected, or, wait for Netflix to ‘warm up’ if you like. I also have to sometimes contend with a frozen picture and a swirly circle (Netflix has considerately introduced a swirly set of coloured balls) which may or may not return to action after a couple of seconds. Waiting for Walter White to finish a line on a particularly slow internet night can be quite frustrating. Digital’s answer to picture hold, as much as fuzziness is the new ‘ghosting’.

Let’s consider the revolution that is shopping online. Imagine that, instead of being on a computer or device, you shopped IRL (In Real Life) in the same way. Here’s a little scenario – I’m entering a shop to buy a product. Let’s pretend it’s a fruit shop, one that specialises in, say, apples. On this particular visit, I’ve been informed I can get a part of an apple for free. Let’s call this an ‘app’.

I open the door.

Ding! (that’s the shop doorbell).

“Hello, I’ve come to get one of your free apps.”

Apple shop assistant: “Certainly sir.”

“Good. Where are they?”

“Just over there,” says the shop assistant, pointing to a large wooden crate full of apps. As I take a step towards the crate, the assistant raises his arm to indicate that I shouldn’t go any further.

“Yes?” I enquire.

“I need your name and password,” he says, smiling.

“But aren’t those apps free? Why do you need my name and password?”

He shrugs, smiles and waits for my details.

I supply him with both. He checks a big black book. A frown passes across his face.

“I’m sorry, that isn’t the password I have,” he explains.

There’s an awkward silence.

“What do I do now?”

He points to a door at the end of the shop. It has ‘forgotten password?’ printed on it. I enter the door to find another apple store salesman standing behind a counter.

“I’ve forgotten my password,” I explain.

“No problem, just give me your user name and I’ll supply you with another. Just go through that door to collect your new password,” he explains helpfully.

I do so and go through the door marked ‘password reset’. Another apple store assistant asks for my new password and I give it to her. She points at another door marked ‘Apple Store’.

I find myself back where I started.

I supply my new password. The apple store assistant frowns again and sends me back to ‘forgotten password’, who send me to ‘password reset’.

‘No. Sorry, that’s not the password that goes with your username,” he explains a second time, guiding me back to ‘forgotten password’.

Frazzled, I stagger out of ‘password reset’ and into the app shop again.

The front of shop assistant smiles at me, but doesn’t appear to recognise me at all.

“Hello. I would like one of those free apps over there,” I explain, pointing at the big wooden crate.

“Certainly sir, can I have your name and password?”

I tell him. He looks in his big book. He frowns.

“I’m sorry, that’s not the password that goes with your username,” he explains.


He stares at me blankly for a couple of seconds.

“Goodbye, sir,” he says.


“You’ve given me the incorrect password three times, which means I can’t serve you for at least 15 minutes,” he tells me, escorting me out of the shop and back onto the street.

With 15 minutes to kill, I decide to go to the new digital bank; all the old ones have been turned into Costa Coffee shops, bars and trendy restaurants.

I enter and approach the teller.

“Hello. I’d just like to check my balance,” I explain.

“No problem,” she tells me, “what’s your username and password?”

I take a deep breath, close my eyes and recite both pieces of information. She checks her big black book before closing it gently.

“Thank you,” she says.

I give her a broad grin, which she returns. She taps her chin with a pencil thoughtfully and looks at me.

“All I need now is the 3rd and 14th letter of your memorable statement…”









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Laid back in Ludlow

As you may have realised, Wordpretzels, I am fairly renowned as a globe trotter and I took the opportunity this week to add to my experiences by taking a trip to Ludlow, Shropshire, with Lady Barton St Mary, The Sexton and Pen.

Fortunately, The Sexton and Pen had been to Ludlow before, so any issues with the locals concerning currency and language barriers were pretty well covered. The journey wasn’t too onerous, although I was gracious enough to give up the front seat to Pen for the journey and sat in the back with The Sexton.

“Looks like the weather will be fine today,” I commented.

The Sexton sucked thoughtful tooth.

“Arr. But remember, the sun never shines in the pub,” he replied knowingly.

Ludlow has a Castle, rather grandly referred to as a ‘Norman Citadel’.

We paid a fiver each to have a look at it. It was built during the 11th century  by Walter de Lacy, who must have been a hell of a bricklayer, since there’s loads of it. It was then owned by the Mortimer family, who came over with William the Conqueror. By the 13th century they had quite a reputation for killing royalty and even had a stab at getting the throne themselves.

“I know the Mortimer family, “ said The Sexton, peering at an information board.

“How the mighty have fallen,” he continued, “they live in a council house in Newent now.”

It became apparent fairly quickly that the castle had seen better days. To be fair, it had seen better days in 1689. Put it this way, the dodgiest estate agent would struggle to put a positive spin on this place. ‘Has potential’ doesn’t even cover it. The leaflets claim that it has been renovated, but I must admit the builders haven’t done much. There’s a few roofs missing, and no glass in any of the windows, let alone low maintenance uPVC frames.

IMG_2567Ludlow Castle (left)

This is one of the big halls of Ludlow Castle, where people gathered in the 12th century to watch battles on the big screen hanging over the enormous fireplace.



IMG_2562(Right) As you enter Ludlow Castle across the drawbridge, your eyes are drawn to the medieval basketball hoop that has managed to survive the centuries. Many of the soldiers involved in the civil war enjoyed playing a few hoops before going into battle. Basketball was invented in Ludlow in 1254 by Lord Meadowlark; his descendants went on to form The Harlem Globetrotters in America.




IMG_2566(Left) The Judges’ Lodgings

As you can see, Judges in the olden days were much hardier than they are now, preferring gravel to shag pile carpet. Providing they made it through the auditions, this is where hopeful minstrels stayed for their ‘boot camp’ trials in the 13th century, before either going through to the live finals or being ‘voted off’ (beheaded).

IMG_2564(Right) A well preserved example of an individual prison cell, probably built around the time of the birth of Bruce Forsyth in 1418. Food and water was posted through the large slot in the front, whilst a small hole in the back allowed the prisoner to take his ease. Probably.





The castle experience was a fun filled 45 minutes, including walking across wet grass in my brown leather shoes and a quick look around the gift shop, where Pen resisted buying some medieval plastic jewellery for Christmas.

By this time, The Sexton was ready for a coffee, or as he likes to call it, a beer. Lady Barton St Mary, something of a culinary bloodhound, led us to The Green Café, where we decided to have a simple drink and perhaps a slice of cake before heading into downtown Ludlow.

The simple drink included a salt beef sandwich, a beer and some cake. Very nice it was too, sitting by the river, filling our faces with delicious food and willing the children skipping across the rocks in the water to fall in.

Sated, we headed for the action. Ludlow, it appears, is famous for eating and charity shops. Lots of them. So many, that heady, musty smell associated with such establishments is almost tangible. There is also a proliferation of clothes shops, all selling jackets, shirts and trousers which can only be described as “Young Country Tory Chic.” The sort of stuff you either see worn by old Etonians in Cirencester or by farmers’ sons and rural workers in the village pub.

Visitors to downtown Ludlow seem to fit a certain demographic in age terms. Certainly, they travelled with their children, but in this case their children were all in their sixties. Observing the residents of The Feathers Hotel, their ages ranged between 84 to 145 years old. The Feathers also displayed full Christmas decorations in October, much to the amusement of Lady BSM. I can only surmise that time passes so quickly for the typical guest that the hotel had decided to keep the decorations up all year around. However, despite their seniority, the ladies seemed to like the sporty look which usually encompassed running tights, a pink/purple lycra top, trail shoes and a walking stick. One lady had a pair of running shoes that were far better than mine.

On our final shopping trip for the ladies, The Sexton asked the assistants their recommendations for dinner. Bistro 7 was the place, they explained, which it certainly was, since the rather surly maître de told us they were full up when we arrived there.

Whilst considering our gastronomic options, we had a quick drink in The Bull Hotel, where we were greeted with silence and a stare upon entry. I half expected a pianist in the corner to stop playing and painted ladies to gather their skirts and head for upstairs. However, we were served without having to send The Sexton out for a duel, getting the hotel special, which was a quick rub round the top of your glass with a damp, ancient tea towel to ensure that special musty smell when you took a sip. We didn’t complain, just in case the sheriff turned up, took our guns and shoved us in the cells for the night.

We made a wise decision and enjoyed a very nice meal at The French Pantry, where we found out what a civet was and shared a joke with the other diners who were regular visitors to Ludlow. In fact, they’d been coming since the castle stopped taking guests in 1612.

With full bellies and warm hearts, we spilled out onto the deserted streets of Ludlow; it was nearly half past nine, which is the middle of the night in Ludlow. The Sexton thought it wasn’t that unusual when you considered it; most visitors and hotel residents would have settled by 6pm and been in bed by 7.30pm.

So, with Ludlow now officially closed for the night, we joined the small crowd of middle aged people back to the car park and headed for home, The Sexton explaining he’d have to prepare for the following day’s work.

“What do you have to prepare to dig a grave?” asked Pen.

“Well, I have to sharpen my spade,” replied The Sexton.

Posted in age, ageing, blog, blogging, blogs, Christmas, comedy, comic characters, friends, humor, humour, Lady Barton St Mary, life observations, Ludlow, Pubs, The French Pantry Ludlow, wordpress | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lost in Translation

Wordpretzels, this is a tale of how easy it is to assume that everybody knows what you’re talking about and the nature of global humour.

It happened on our holiday in Portugal with Lady Barton St Mary’s extended family, including all three of her brothers, heirs to the Marquess of Prestberries, their spouses and children.

DaveJohnDaveJohnDave, Lady Barton St Mary’s youngest brother, married a beautiful French lady called Mathilde, who is an intelligent, independent woman. Being French with Moroccan ancestry, she is very direct, passionate and demonstrative.

So, picture the scene one evening in the kitchen of the Portuguese house that we’d rented for the week. Mathilde, the mother of 9 month old twins, appears in the doorway, ready for bed. Running her hand through her dark black hair, she sighed.

“There are lots of moths tonight, don’t you think?” she asked me.

Of course, because of her wonderful French accent, moths sounded like ‘merths’.

I giggled.

“What is so funny?” she asked.

“Merths,” I explained, “ like The Pink Panther. It eez a merth,” I continued.

She stared at me, straight faced.


“You know,” I continued, “ like in The Pink Panther. A merth.”


I considered the situation for a moment.

“Erm.. well, what about the scene in the film where Clouseau is holding an explosive and calls it a bermb…”

“What?” she exclaimed, brown eyes widening.

I tried my best Clouseau impression, holding an imaginary panther

“A bermb… a bermb…,” I repeated.

Her eyes stopped widening and rapidly narrowed.

“We don’t have this in France,” she explained.

I quickly realised that jokes making fun of the French accent probably wouldn’t translate well in a French version of The Pink Panther. In fact, it may appear slightly rude.

“Oh. So you don’t have this in French versions of The Pink Panther?” was the only stupid question I could think of asking.

Mathilde shook her head.

I wondered where to go next.

Mathilde put a glass in my hand and filled it with red wine.

“This is good,” she explained, “old country,” she said, pointing to the French label.

We both took a sip and stood looking at each other in silence for a moment.

“Pink Panther films are funny,” she said, touching my wine glass with hers, “Salute. Now shutzer ferkup…”



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Rural Spaceman, Nigella, Master Chef, miserable people, etc…

Wordpretzels, I have been revelling in the Cheltenham Literature Festival and the rugby world cup in equal measure.

As you probably know, the Cheltenham Literature Festival is on our doorstep and appears to be the new tradition in our social calendar, when Gerald, my old fag from school, and his wife Sarah, who won’t use her title for political reasons, join us for a weekend to attend.

Lady Barton St Mary and I had started early with a visit to Cheltenham Town Hall to listen to Steve Hilton, author of ‘More Human’, former adviser to shiny faced prime minister David Cameron and famous for being scruffy and shoeless. He’s also a professor at Stanford University and satirised in the TV programme ‘The Thick of It’ as herbal tea drinking philosopher Stewart Pearson.

Now, Cheltenham Town Hall is a not a good venue when sitting downstairs. With no elevation to the seating, I volunteered to swap seats with Lady BSM to sit behind a tallish man with a massive head, which, due to its size, he had to move about a lot to stop it breaking his neck. Hence I had to watch Steve on the big screen. He was compassionate, in favour of making things smaller, liked people. I was confused. Why was he with the Tories? The smug interviewer felt the same way – why are you working for Cameron? she asked. Apparently they’re friends, although a man who likes to take his shoes off at any given moment and comes up with another idea every five minutes doesn’t sound like Dave’s type of guy. He wanted Tesco to be broken into smaller components, he wanted schools that didn’t teach subjects, in fact he wanted schools that didn’t have teachers, he wanted … to be honest, he wanted lots of things, but he was obviously one of those people who was far, far cleverer than me. But still my mind reeled. If he was that clever, why was he friends with David Cameron? Did he need reassurance that he was so much cleverer than the leader of our government?

I had a week to recover before Gerald and Sarah visited to see Nigella Lawson. She’s pretty and has long hair that she constantly brushes out of her eyes. She’s very posh, with a deep voice. As the interview progressed, it became clear that she was, in fact, another version of Lady BSM. I relaxed, safe in the knowledge that I no longer had to adore Nigella. I’d already married her. Fortunately, they didn’t read out my question, sent electronically and too late : “Nigella, we have friends staying who are eating beef bourguignon, but we don’t have dessert. Could you pop round and make one for us? I’m happy to help. We have plenty of beef and wine if you want to stay…”

Saturday, we managed to watch the Scotland v Tonga match in the pub before setting off to see Louis de Bernieres, author of ‘Captain Corelli’s Mandolin’. He told incredible stories about his family, including a grandfather who was discovered in Canada after being presumed dead for many years. Sarah decided that he was just telling lies. We agreed, but decided that the lies were so good, we could forgive him. He was a great storyteller, after all, so inevitably would be a fantastic liar.

Saturday night we spent in a circus tent, eating a meal cooked by John Torode, the star of Master Chef. I don’t watch Master Chef, but Lady BSM, Sarah and Gerald do. I didn’t know he was Australian, but he is. The accent is terrible, though. He’s spent so long in England, his Australian accent is about as convincing as Dick Van Dyke’s cockney accent. He was fun, the food was good and people drank too much. A man left his table at the end of the evening only to fall on his knees in front of me in a pose of reverence and a shocked look on his face. I didn’t know how to react, so, simply placed my hand on his head and said ‘bless you my son.’ He looked even more confused. Meanwhile, the three drunk middle aged women who had tried to ingratiate themselves with John Torode continued to throw napkins rolled into balls at Gerald’s head, due to the fact he’d shushed them for talking loudly during Torode’s interview. A funny end to the evening, returning home to watch more rugby.

Sunday, we smoozed into Cheltenham to watch Robert Peston give a talk on the economic state of the world. To cut a long story short, we’re doomed, although to be fair, economists have been saying this for years and they can’t quite decide how we’re doomed, which means that until they do, we’re not doomed, just in the same state as we’ve always been. If that helps. He had lots of graphs and charts and I tried my best to understand. Lady BSM was in her element.

A long luxurious lunch at Hotel Du Vin and Sarah and Gerald set off back to their suburban pile to drink more wine. I prepared for my visit to Kingsholm to see Japan play USA.

It was a strange atmosphere at Castle Grim, as though other forces had possessed it, which, in truth, they had. We were prevented from walking from one end of the ground to the other, due to visiting dignitaries. We did manage to find our seats, with a limited view. You had to stand up to see any action on one wing, so people did. Behind Master Johnny and myself sat three individuals, arms crossed, unsmiling, who shouted, ‘Sit down!’ every time people leapt to their feet during an exciting passage of play. After experiencing five occasions of ‘Sit down’, I decided it was time to question their motives.

“Sorry, but it’s exciting and as you can see, it’s impossible not to stand up,” I explained, pointing at the 15 rows of people on their feet in front of me.

“Fuck off!” said the man on the left with his arms folded, glaring at me aggressively.

I decided that this gave me the right of reply. I explained that he might find it more enjoyable if he embraced the spirit of watching an exciting game and joined the rest of us in our celebration of sport rather than be so churlish. I may not have used these exact words, but I hoped they conveyed a similar sentiment.

Anyway, overall, a fantastic weekend, with another to follow, as Master Johnny and I embark on our trip to Cardiff for more World Cup jolly japes…


Posted in blogging, blogs, Cheltenham Literary Festival, Cheltenham Town Hall, freshly pressed, Gloucester, gloucester rugby, humor, humour, John Toroe, Lady Barton St Mary, Louis du bernieres, nigella lawson | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments