I dare say some people out there are wondering why I so rarely post blogs these days, is he just a lazy bugger who can’t be bothered any more?
Well, Yes…. and No.
I’ve started writing a plumbing blog on www.yell.com! So, if you want to read about the trials and misfortunes of my plumbing career go to: http://www.yell.com/plumbers/blog/author/andyblackwell/
I’ve also just become a dad for the first time. So for tales of my adventures in fatherhood (and lots of photo’s of young Marty) go here:
I’ll still update this blog from time to time but time does seem in short supply these days
Here’s a little ditty that recently popped into my head.
To the tune of “Golden Brown” by the Stranglers:
I’m Gordon Brown so vote for me Son
This election’s there to be won
If Campbell has his way
There’s be cuts straight away
So don’t vote for that clown, vote for me Gordon Brown
Boom to bust, happened so fast.
Bloody banks, run by bloody prats
Where does the blame land?
Do the banks raise their hands?
No they keep their heads down, it lands on me, Gordon Brown.
I’m Gordon Brown and I’d just like to stress
I saved the world from this terrible mess
Yes, I led the way,
Though I don’t like to say
So don’t you feel down, vote for me Gordon Brown
You’ll never feel down if you vote Gordon Brown
Yes I’ll wear this frown till you vote Gordon Brown
Sit back, grab a beer and relax whilst I tell you of our wild adventures in South East Asia.
We have a great number of OAP’s in our customer base and, whilst they are without exception extremely hospitable and genial folk, I can’t help thinking that they are a very odd bunch.
Last week we were doing some work for a very elderly couple. As we wandered the house checking the radiators I couldn’t help but notice little yellow post-it notes stuck to virtually everything. I initially assumed that they were learning a foreign language: that little trick were you stick a post-it note on everyday objects around the house: “La fenetre”, “La porte” and (if you’ve very quick with the post-it pad) “La chat”.
I felt it was possibly a tad ambitious to be learning a new language at 88 so I had a look to see which one they were learning; sadly horizons were contracting rather than expanding:
Most of them said things like:
Then you entered the realms of the bizarre:
And finally, just too really confuse nosy plumbers, there was a note stuck to the middle of the bath that just read, “radiator”.
Corgi are no longer responsible for Gas safety in Great Britain! Of course you know all about this as you have been bombarded by the “Gas Safe Register’s” ‘high profile’ advertising campaign over the last few months.
No? You mean you haven’t seen the full page newspaper spreads? You don’t mean to tell me that you missed the prime-time TV adverts? Did you somehow fail to hear the regular radio slots proclaiming the change to one and all?
Yup, me too!
On the 1st of April 2009 Corgi finally lost their monopoly for gas safety in England, Scotland and Wales. To the vast majority of Gas installers this news was greeted with cheering in the streets.
As a relative new boy to the gas industry I didn’t really understand the level of animosity towards Corgi but just a few minutes with some established gas engineers set me straight.
One of the main issues was Corgi’s rapacious attitude to payment: they wanted paying for absolutely anything and everything. For example, if you have worked with gas for 10 years under the name of “The Gas Geezers” and now want to change your name to “It’s a Gas Ltd” you had to pay a fee to Corgi. Fair enough if it was just £20 to cover a bit of admin, but no, Corgi demanded your full registration fee all over again, together with a fee to cover the cost of someone coming out to check that you still understood gas safety despite the trauma of changing your company name. Having paid your membership fee you’d imagine that they’d give you a few Corgi logo’s to put on your van, wouldn’t you? Not a bit of it, if you want a sticky logo you have to send them another £20 odd quid, for each logo.
It was these little things that pissed people off. This is a government monopoly, a supposedly non profit making organisation set up for the sole purpose of making gas work safer, yet at every opportunity they would be sneaking a little bit more money off you. ‘Comic relief” can run up van stickers for £2 and make a handsome profit for charity, yet when Corgi charge 10 times the price it somehow only covers “admin”. As a result, most gas engineers were left with the impression that the Corgi Admin staff sat at solid teak desks, in diamond encrusted offices, dining off fois gras and ambrosia.
What made matters worse was the contrast between the lightening reflexes shown when it came to relieving qualified gas engineers of their hard earned money and the somnambulant approach to the news that an unqualified plumber was undertaking gas work.
A few years ago a number of local plumbers called Corgi to report exactly this. As a blatant breach of gas safety they naively assumed that Corgi would be down on the guy like a ton of bricks, but the weeks went past and nothing happened. So they rang them up again.
“Well what are we supposed to do?” Corgi replied. “The guy is not a member of Corgi so we have no jurisdiction over him.”
“But he’s breaking the law and will end up killing people sooner or later” The plumbers replied.
“Mmm, yes not good news.” Said Corgi, “You need to report them to the Health and Safety Executive”
“But we tried this and they said it was your responsibility as you’re in charge of gas safety.”
“But we can only act against plumbers who are members of Corgi.”
And so it went on. The net result of all this was that the unqualified plumber continued to work, whilst the qualified engineers sat and wondered why on earth they were paying to be members of Corgi.
However, this is all old news. Corgi are no more, the ‘Gas Safe register’ is here, the king is dead, long live the king. Well, yes…. and no.
A few years ago there was a long debate on the suitability of a single organisation in charge of gas safety. Most plumbers were all for a little competition: it was clear to all that Corgi was making money off the backs of gas installers and a bit of healthy competition might make them rein in their more extreme pricing attitudes: make them forgo the lunchtime fois gras in favour of a nice block of Tesco’s-own duck pate.
Alas, the powers-that-be, decided that having more than one organisation in charge of gas safety was going to cause untold confusion in the minds of the general public: the seas would rise, the mountains would fall and great would be the tumult therein.
Instead, they opted to do a review and let a number of companies tender for the position of ‘gas guru’. I dare say the Corgi boys were trying to hide a smug grin at this news; after all they had been in control of the industry for decades and had been working hand-in-hand with the government’s HSE all this time – the body that was to undertake the review. What Corgi hadn’t realised was that they were to be up against Capita.
Capita, as any reader of Private Eye will tell you, win almost every government tender; a fact that has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with their generous and regular donations to the Labour Party coffers. Whilst Corgi might be on first name terms with most of the HSE, they were now up against a company that had (allegedly), turned brown-nosing government officials into an art form. So, much to the surprise of everyone except ‘Private Eye’ aficionados, Capita won and Corgi were out.
Now, bearing in mind the confusion that we’d been warned about if two gas registration companies were on the scene, I assumed that this would be the end of Corgi…. but no! Corgi are still here, the Corgi logo will still be seen affixed to many a plumbing van and, in typical Corgi fashion, they are still charging almost twice as much for membership as Capita’s new company “The Gas Safe Register”. The only thing that’s changed is that Corgi now have absolutely nothing to do with Gas Safety in England, Scotland and Wales.
“But surely this must be confusing to the general public?” I hear you ask. After all, as Corgi are so proud to proclaim, over 90% of the general public have heard of Corgi or, more to the point, over 90% of the general public associate Corgi with safe gas installations.
To be fair to Corgi, they did offer the new company their orange shield logo, in order to maintain some degree of continuity. However, Capita are first and foremost a ‘business management’ company. As a general rule this means that, whilst they might know nothing about your business, they are very good at managing your ‘bottom-line’ and sorting out your ‘image’. As such they were more concerned with the “out-dated” look of the Corgi logo and were never going to miss the opportunity to sit down at a long table and undertake a 110%, paradigm shift, holistic, cradle to grave approach to the gas industry. Especially if there was a chance to do a bit of “blue sky thinking” and have a brief “Ideas shower”. In short, we were all going to get a new gas logo whether we liked it or not, regardless of the confusion it might generate.
But how do you overcome the fact that Corgi are so well known? Well obviously you’re going to need to advertise the change, and advertise it quite a lot, if not a bit more. So when I went on-line to sign-up with the “Gas Safe Register” (their website is down at the minute!!!) I was not surprised to read that they planned a “High profile advertising campaign”. This campaign was to begin in March and run through April… and so far I’ve seen precisely bugger all! Lord Lucan has put more effort into advertising his existence than the Gas Safe Register ever has.
But why? Is it just that the new company are incompetent? Is this all to do with the old-school-network; letting the board of Corgi establish their new position without too much interference from Capita? Or does the new company just not feel that they need to tell the general public about gas safety?
The fact that Corgi are now advertising a new “voluntary scheme” for gas engineers might offer some clue. It seems that if you want to be recognised as a qualified gas engineer by the gas industry you’ll need to pay your money to the Gas Safe Register, but if you want the general public to know that you’re good for gas, you’ll have to pay Corgi as well.
I am left with the feeling that, as a plumber, I’ve been stitched up. What annoys me even more is that Corgi are now crowing about the fact that they “… developed the brand to become the de facto name for gas safety, with an incredible 93% awareness.” This would be impressive if it wasn’t for the fact that since 1991 they WERE the de facto name for gas safety by virtue of the fact that they were the ONLY name for gas safety! As for the 93% awareness, when your competition includes ‘no one’ and his mate ‘sod-all’, I want to know what happened to the other 7%.
Continuing the theme of piss poor names… Rumour has it that in Fort William, Scotland, they decided to build a new medical centre. It was to be a lovely building, a monument to medical care, a veritable surgical shrine. Naturally enough, the council decided that the erection of such an edifice should not pass unnoticed and so they organised a competition to come up with a name for the building.
So what was the winning entry? Yup, after much debate and soul searching they opted for the whimsical, yet romantic “Fort William Medical Centre” – Robbie Burns eat ya heart out!
Now I dare say you can blame the judges for this astonishing lack of imagination but the fact remains that somewhere in the Fort William area there was at least one person who thought that a brilliantly innovative name for a medical centre in Fort William was the “Fort William Medical Centre”, in fact they thought this was such a great idea that they actually went to the bother of entering it into the competition!
From this we can deduce that either Fort William suffers from incredibly long, cold, dark, winter nights or that most of the competition entrants were Astronomers.
A total lack of any and all imagination is a prerequisite for a career in astronomy; this is a plain and simple fact. Astronomers build a very large telescope in the Atacama desert in Chile. Is it called the “Atacama”? Is it called “The Big Chill”? Nope, it’s called “The Very Large Telescope” and when this sounds too exciting and imaginative, they have a calming cup of camomile and call it the “VLT” instead.
They build a load of telescopes in an array which has a very long baseline between them. It’s enourmous, it’s huge, it’s the biggest yet. Now what are you going to call this? An array of telescopes with a very long baseline… Mmm. Let’s have a ponder… What about “Magnus 1”? Or maybe “The Super Scope”? “Gargantua”? “Stargazer”?
Nope, they call it the “Very Long Base Line Array” or, when they are feeling particularly risqué, the “VLBA”.
Ar, but what about the Hubble Telescope, I hear you ask. Well, I will bet large sums of money (not my own money you understand, but lots and lots of someone else’s money) that the Hubble telescope was called the “Large Space Telescope” by every astronomer who worked on it and was only named “Hubble” when the politicians got involved towards the end.
So are astronomers born without an imagination or do they have it surgically removed when they decide to pursue a star gazing career? I believe it is the latter and I firmly believe it is caused by Astrologers.
An astronomer is a highly educated scientist who has dedicated his/her life to resolving the deepest mysteries of the universe, whilst an Astrologer… isn’t. I would bet money (and much of it mine this time) that every Astronomer has been to a party and endured the following conversation:
Britney: “Hi, you’re Greg yes? Great party eh. So what do you do for a living?”
Greg: “I’m an astronomer.”
Britney: “Oh Wow! I’m a Piscean. Where and when will I to find Mr Right?”
Greg: “Not here and not now!”
Gritted teeth must be another feature of Astronomers: you dedicate your life to science and 90% of the people you meet want you to read their tea leaves!
As a result the astronomer learns to distance him/herself from anything that looks or sounds vaguely like astrology. If you want to see how quickly someone can be kicked out of an Observatory just look through the telescope and say “Wow! Look at those stars! They’re in the shape of a cow!”
When an astronomer finds a new star she has to fight her natural urges: it’s beautiful, it’s fantastic, it’s crying out to be called “Bethlehem” or “Decorus Astrum” but no! She takes a deep breath, picks up her pen and writes down the new name… “2455678945”
Of course early astronomers had no such restrictions, in fact the ancient names of the constellations is categorical proof, if proof were needed, that Class A drugs have been around for quite some time. On a clear night I can just about see how Orion could be a bloke with a belt but as for the rest of them!
Ancient astronomer 1: “Wow! Look at those shtars!”
Ancient astronomer 2: “Hic! Yer, those shtars over there look like a.. whatyacallit… little thing.. jumps alot..”
Ancient astronomer 1: “Hic.. A flea?”
Ancient astronomer 2:” Nar.. Hic.. fluffy little thing.”
Ancient astronomer 1:”Rabbit?”
Ancient astronomer 2:”Yer thatsh the one. A Rabbit. Thosh shtars look jusht like a wabbit”
Ancient astronomer 1: “Hic, nar.. it’sh a bull”
Ancient astronomer 2:”A bull? Give over!Hic!”
Ancient astronomer 1:”Yer a bull, look ya can shee it’s ‘ead and itsh horns.”
Ancient astronomer 2:”Hic! Bollocksh.”
Ancient astronomer 1:” Nar, thatsh itsh other horn.”
Ancient astronomer 2:”I can’t shee it!”
Ancient astronomer 1:”No? ‘Ere take a puff of thish.”
Ancient astronomer 2:”Oh wow! Yesh itsh a bull And look over there! Thatsh an Aadvark with a moushtash!.”
Ancient astronomer 1:”??? Give ush back that shmoke!”
Happy Christmas and a Prosperous New Year to everyone… or failing that Happy Christmas and avoid bankruptcy in 2009.
Well we’ve finished our fourth year in business and we’re still here! Yee har!
We’ve come a long way in four years: four years ago we’d just finished an intensive plumbing course, now we’ve got our NVQ3’s, four years ago it took us a week to tile a kitchen, these days it would take a day, four years ago we could just about tackle a bathroom, now we’re Corgi and Oftec registered, four years ago we had one clapped out old van, now we have a fleet of sparkling new vans, four years ago we were the new kids on the block, now we’re one of the largest plumbing companies in the area.
Sadly, some things are a constant: I still have a tool bag filled with thingies, whatnots, do-dars and whatyamacallits, I still refuse to pay £300 for a drill and our profit margin is still firmly stuck circa 2004.
In terms of stuff to write about, I’m not sure if the work’s become duller or if I’m just too busy to notice the interesting bits.
Although I have noticed waist lines….
When we went to college we found ourselves surrounded by young lads who felt that the best way to attract females was to waddle around with your trousers clinging on desperately to the back of your knees. I have no idea what the logic is behind this fashion trend: are women innately attracted to penguins? Does having the waistband of your trousers hovering forlornly 3 feet below your waist cool your balls and therefore improve virility? Does showing off your shreddies to all and sundry indicate your state of hygiene and therefore your suitability as a future house husband?
Whatever the reasons, they only seem to last until about the age of 19, after which your trouser waistband migrates steadily north. By your mid twenties it finally reaches your waist and celebrates this achievement by staying there or thereabouts for a good decade. Then, its wanderlust restored, the Simon Cowell look emerges and your navel becomes snugly ensconced within the confines of your trousers. By the time you reach 70 your waistband is conveniently tucked just under your armpits and, whilst your inside leg measurement is still 31 inches, your outside leg measurement is about 5ft 8”.
I think the phenomenon of the migrating waistband might explain why men die younger than women: when a woman reaches 90 she has a wispy beard akin to that of a 17 year old boy and is no doubt contemplating wearing her trousers around her knees, meanwhile her husband is looking out at the world through the fly of his trousers, with all the hazards that accompany such a restricted view.
Trousers aside, the other thing I’ve noticed is how little thought people put into naming their businesses and frankly I find this disappointing. The amount of times you see vans with “Dave’s Plumbing” or “Ian’s Driving school” or “Fred’s Joinery”. With luck you’ll trade under this name for the next 25 years and that’s the best you can come up with?
I can understand why some people don’t bother though: one of the best names I’ve found is a tiler who called his company “Canterbury Tiles”. I’ll grant you that the name would have worked best in Kent but you will not believe how many people I’ve met who think he’s from Canterbury. I’ve started to attempt an explanation on a number of occasions but frankly it’s seldom worth the effort – the last time I tried I left the builder under the impression that there was a bloke called Chaucer who was a pretty mean tiler.
One of the worst names I’ve seen is the “OK American diner”. I’ve only ever seen this on the A1 but by all accounts there are hundreds of these places. I find it incredible that people throughout the world have bought into a franchise that doesn’t describe itself as “Best” or “Great” or “Top” but as “OK”… the “Not bad diner”.. “The mediocre restaurant”. Who the hell came up with this name and what were his other businesses? The “Crappy Coffee House”, the “Piss-Poor Pastry palace”, the “Buggered Burger Bar”?
I’m tempted to try the place out just to see what the company motto is. I suspect it will be something along the lines of:
“Welcome to the OK Diner: You know you’ve eaten worse.”
Perhaps it’s because of the credit crunch that I have developed a greater interest in what I buy, or rather don’t buy. I am constantly amazed at the nonsense that is being flogged out there, some of it is sheer madness, some inspired genius.
Definitely in the latter group is the small paper packet on sale in my local garden centre for 99p. It contains an acorn, a sycamore seed and the contents of a shaken pine cone i.e. all the things you could pick up from the ground during a 5 minute stroll in your local wood. So how do you take a small number of extremely common seeds and get away with charging 99p for them? Simple, you put them into a little packet and then write “Bonsai starter kit” on it! I must confess that I actually gasped at the sheer audaciousness of this sales ploy before deciding that it was actually the work of a true marketing genius.
I was less impressed when my mate insisted on stopping off to buy a big bag of dried dog food because it was specific for the breed of dog he owned. I tried to point out to him that a dog was a dog; big or small, fat or thin, fluffy or short haired they were all essentially the bloody same.
Not at all, he replied. He had tried the cheaper ‘one food suits all’ brands but unfortunately these caused his dog to fart, and not just a little but a great deal. I have never actually been in the same room when his dog has farted, but the fact that my mate would part with an extra tenner just to live the fart-free life suggests that they are quite something.
We were still discussing this when we reached the check-out. Lined up behind the till was a huge, and carefully arranged, stack of bottles all containing a greeny-blue liquid. The design on the bottles looked a little like that on those Lucozade high energy drinks, so I asked the sales girl what they were.
“It’s a high energy drink for dogs!” She replied, obviously delighted that we’d asked.
Quite rightly I replied, “A what?”
This seemed a step too far. Ok, on further reflection, I can see the market for a dog food containing a special fart-free-formula but why the hell would you want to feed your dog a high energy drink? What are you going to buy it next, a little head band and towelling wrist bands for each paw? A leotard? Two pairs of Nike’s and a copy of Davina’s Work-out DVD? And anyway, my mate owns a Springer Spaniel: it needs more energy in much the same way as a fish needs more gears on its bike!
The only redeeming feature of this product is its name: “Pow-wow”, which I think is quite neat and which got me thinking about a new product: a canine hang-over cure for those people that like to take their dogs’ to the pub. I figure it’s as useful as a high-energy drink and, more importantly, I’ve got a great name for it: “Ruff-Woof”. Gotta to be a seller
Another thing that I’ve managed to avoid buying is the “Air Spray” on sale at my local Plumb centre. It’s a tin that contains air! They’ve taken the stuff that’s all around us…. and put it in a tin! Isn’t this like trying to sell bottled water to a goldfish? Yet, they seem to sell it! I can only assume that there are a lot of plumbers out there who have completely run out of puff.
I’ve never really understood why people pay good money for personalized number plates, possibly because I’m not into cars, but probably because I haven’t got any money to buy one. However, if I was going to buy one, I would at least hold out for a ‘proper’ one. Sadly, I seem to be in a minority.
Yesterday I saw a car with the number plate “79B”. What’s that all about? You’re 79 and your name’s Brian? You’re very fat with a relatively small cup size? It means nothing! Why waste your money? Fair enough, if you’re a curvaceous young lady, buy the number plate “34DD”. But, if you’re only buying it to impress your friends, you might be better off just showing them your tits.
I once knew a bloke who had a car with the number plate “M1″. I admit that it did look distinctive, but his name was James G*****. To me this just suggested that he was either severely dyslexic or had just nicked the car.
It gets worse; you see ‘personalized’ number plates like “N992 MTR”. The only reason you even think it might be ‘personalized’ is because the car is patently new. When you ask about the plate (though God knows why you would), the owner proudly explanations that his name is Norman, he got married in 1999 to his wife Marie in a Church on Tottenham Road, Godalming.
I’m sorry, but that’s not a personalised number plate, it’s a short story – if it’s anything at all
What’s more bizarre is that people buy and sell these things. If you go to the DVLA website you see exciting number plates like: “S2 LAA”! What the f*ck does that mean? Your name’s Stoolar? And what about “K999 ETH”? You have a dog, who’s 99 in dog years and answers to the name of “Eth”? You have 3 dogs called Eric, Terrance and Harold? You’re myopic, have a bad stutter and are called Beth, or Geth, or Deth?
What confuses me the most are those plate’s where you’re supposed to read the number as a letter. I can understand the obvious ones like “M1KE”, which is clearly a car owned by a bloke called Mike who has more money than sense and an ego problem. It’s ones like, “BI6 YOU” that confuse me. I saw this on a stretched Limo and I read it as “Bi-Six-you”. I asked my wife why would a company want to intimate that its clients are “Bisexual”? She replied that it was supposed to be read as “Big You”. To which I asked, why would a company want to intimate that its clients are fat? Had the plate “L4RD AR5E” already been taken?
Then they have ones that do seem to say something, but it doesn’t actually mean anything. For example, this same website is offering “WHO5 AYS”. Ok, even I can see that is says “Who Says”, but why would you want to have that written on your car? If you want to say something meaningless, then save some money and just stick a sheet of A4 in your back window with the words “Rubber Budgie” written on it.
If you are one of these odd fish that really does have his, or her, heart set on a personalized plate, save some money and just change your name by deed poll to “KA51 TWX”. Or save even more cash and just make up a story to explain the number plate your car came with. If it is “KA5I TWX” then tell everyone that, if you were a girl, your mum was going to call you Kate, as it was you were a boy, so she called you Anton, one day you’ll be 51 and you once stopped off in Tunbridge Wells to by a Xylophone.
You could even write this explanation down and stick it in your back window, and to make a real statement add the words “Rubber Budgie” underneath. Alternatively, you could always be really radical and ‘6ET A L1FE’.
So if Christmas is busy, then straight after Christmas is bound to be slow? Not a bit of it! Not only do you have all those people who didn’t realise what a state their bathroom was in until AFTER a busload of critical relatives arrived, but you also have those sorry souls who actually give and receive new bathrooms as Christmas presents! Now is it just me, or do you suspect that the romance has gone out of the relationship when the parties involved choose to show how they feel by buying the apple of their eye a close-coupled toilet? I can just see the card: “Dearest darling one, I saw this bidet and thought of you.”