Saturday, September 05, 2015

Dear Boots

A very good friend of mine is in the 20th week of her first pregnancy.  On meeting for lunch over the weekend her face, when we met, looked a little bit frowny.  And not the usual frown that she reserves specifically for the moment when she sees me.  It looked like a little painful frown.  Her problem was that her back was beginning to ache, her body was changing and it was really letting her know about it.  One of her friends had suggested that a maternity belt was what she needed, and that the relief she’d feel would be tantamount to being massaged by an angel.

I suggested that, as we were in Liverpool City Centre, we looked for a maternity belt there.   Over 6% of women of child bearing age become pregnant each year, that’s almost one million UK women at any one time – surely the only problems to be encountered looking for a maternity belt in the central shopping area of the 4th largest City in the UK, would either be drowning under the sheer weight of choice, or fighting other pregnant women, Black Friday style, for the last one.

So sure were we that we would find a maternity belt in Liverpool that we never even considered the possibility that we wouldn’t.  “We’ll be able to get one from Boots” we both said in unison.  And then carried on with our lunch without a second thought.

In the first Boots store we visited, on Church Street, we could buy as many ‘Soap & Glory’ products as our hearts desired, with different types of sun-faded pink displays reducing the width of every aisle.  But we couldn’t get a maternity belt.  Unfortunately, Soap & Glory don’t do maternity belts, if they did then Boots would definitely stock them.  “You could order one online” the assistant cheerily advised us when we enquired.  Which isn’t much use for someone needing something right now – when it was really wanted. That’s the problem with online; you can see things on the shiny screen, but you can’t touch them until the postman says so.  But, never fear, Liverpool has two Boots stores, only 0.2 miles apart.  It’s a bigger one too, we’re bound to get one there.

The raison d’etre of Liverpool’s bigger Boots store in Clayton Square, if you’ve never been, is to stock absolutely the same items that the smaller Church Street Boots store does, in a bigger building, with nicer lighting.  Which is precisely what you need if you’re the type of person who forgets that they’ve just been in a Boots, or if you just cant go a 5 minute walk without a Soap & Glory fix.

This store does also have however, a sea of branded make up counters that stock more items to decorate your body with than there are miles to the moon, which you have to navigate your way through to get to the all of the things that you’re sure that you’ve just seen in a store 0.2 miles away. I would guess, if you asked every person who visited both Liverpool City Centre Boots stores in one shopping trip, the main reason why would be because they were in the second one looking for something not stocked in the first one.

What this store also does have is lots of toys, games and clothes for those children who exist on the outside of a womb, but very little to ease the child bearing pain of a Mother whose child hasn’t made that journey yet.  Including a maternity belt.  If Bootea did a maternity belt then Boots would definitely range it in the space that they reserve for fads that make women feel insecure about their bodies.  But unfortunately Bootea hasn’t extended their range into things that work yet.

“Have you tried looking online?” the assistant cheerily asked us, with a sympathetic glance at my pained friend.  I wondered whether this was a generic question now.

I’d just like to make it clear that Boots isn’t the sole member of the Liverpool maternity discrimination hall of shame – after leaving Boots, we got a bit panicky, if Boots don’t do one then who will? We marched, at decreasingly slower pace, around Liverpool to pretty much any shop that looked like it might sell a maternity belt, but there isn’t a single shop in Liverpool City Centre that does. Mamas and Papas, Next, John Lewis, River Island, Top Shop, etc.  We already knew the chances were slim, these others are but mere imposters compared to Boots’ expertise in looking after women in the demographic range of 18-45.  Here come the girls and all that.  We expected those other fly by night barrow boys to not have anything, we didn’t expect it of Boots.  You can get them online though.

It was then I remembered the existence of a third Boots store in the Liverpool area – at Speke Retail Park.  Of course, this place would have one.  A retail park: those shopping oases that pop up 5 miles away from a town or city that has exactly the same roster of stores, but with the added bonus of a Frankie & Benny’s.  With car parking in close proximity and not much walking possible - even if you wanted to - a Boots on a retail park is just the place where we’d find a maternity belt, isn’t it?.  By this time my friend had baled out, her back pain too much for her to consider anymore movement.  “Go on without me” she shouted forlornly as I carried on the expedition alone.

The main difference between the retail park Boots store and the two Boots stores 6 miles away to the West, other than the convenient car parking, is that this store has lots more space devoted to the lotions and potions that Boots are now selling to easily influenced girls who they are helping to pressurise into wanting to look like the latest celebrity, neatly dovetailing into the shelves of the other quackery that they’re increasingly happy to peddle, with absolutely no responsibility for doing so.  But, still no maternity belt. 

“Have you tried looking…”  ONLINE? Yes I know how this story goes!

If there was such a thing as a homeopathic maternity belt then Boots would definitely range one, it would be in the space that they reserve for treatments that have absolutely no proven scientific benefit whatsoever. But as homeopathy hasn’t extended its reach into things that actually work yet, I wouldn’t expect it anytime soon.

Even as a mere man I find it astonishing that a pregnant woman right in the crosshairs of the Boots demographic target market, who needs some help in smoothing the peaks and troughs of her changing body throughout pregnancy, can visit 3 separate large Boots stores in a major UK City only to be told in each of them that the product she is looking for is only available online. If someone from TOWIE or Geordie Shore endorsed a maternity belt then Boots would be breaking their neck to put it in a store.  If Boots didn’t range a maternity belt at all then it would be more understandable, but to only range it online whilst being able to buy the same snake oil in every Boots store within spitting distance of each other is downright ridiculous.

I look forward to hearing your justification of this shameful situation, but without using the word ‘customers’, because it’s impossible. If there is enough space for a whole bay of knee straps, then there is definitely enough space for a maternity belt.

Boots ‘Lets feel good’ strapline should clearly come with an asterix after that denotes *excludes pregnant women, as there is clearly only profit to be had from cradle to grave service.  Boots are extremely happy to take over once the child is in view, but you’re on your own if your child hasn’t been born yet. Almost like a reverse cuckoo.  I’m presuming that your parenting club only exists to give the perception that you care, rather than the reality that you don’t.

There is a happy ending to this story though, you’ll be pleased to know, although as it involves a pregnant woman I’m guessing you couldn’t care less.   A maternity belt did arrive, 4 back aching days later, having been ordered online.  A nice lady at John Lewis had been through the same experience, couldn’t speak highly enough of maternity belts, and showed us a website that she got hers from.  It wasn’t Boots.  And you know what, apparently angels do give the best massages, and unlike a lot of things that Boots stock, they work immediately.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Atheist afterlife

The problem I have, as an atheist, is that I don't believe in an afterlife.  Unfortunately, something that I don't believe in represents the only chance I have of being with the person I want to be with.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Letter to East Midlands Trains

Dear Sir/Madam 

I usually make the weekend return journey from Liverpool to Alfreton a couple of times a month when I go home to see my family.  My preferred time of travel is usually dictated to by how many carriages are on the train.  I’ve found that a 2 carriage train doesn’t allow for much personal space, whereas a 4 carriage one is normally always fine unless there is something to do with football on, and then there isn’t a train exists that is long enough.  As is usual I check National Rail enquiries before I set off to avail myself of what new excuse for incompetence they’ve come up with, which informed me that the 16.07 from Alfreton to Liverpool on Sunday 3rd February was stopping at Manchester to be replaced by a bus.   Poor train.  

I wouldn’t say that I don’t mind bus replacements – I ‘bear’ them.  It’s the principle of the thing that offends me – I travel by train because I want to travel by train, I don’t want to travel by bus.  If I wanted to travel by bus then I would travel by bus, not train.  It’s a fairly simple process in my head: want bus, book bus, want train, book train.  I use this process for pretty much everything else in my life; tea, or coffee, or salt & vinegar or cheese & onion, or even women, or men, or anything really that involves a choice. 

But bus replacements are an occupational hazard of travelling by train though, and I consider myself fairly fortunate to have managed to avoid them mainly for the duration of my train travelling life.  I’d clearly prefer not to have to get off a train and onto a bus but this isn’t the issue here, the issue is that when I am forced to get on a bus all I ask is that the information that you give me to enable me to make my decisions is accurate, if it is then I’ve only got myself to blame when it goes wrong – but when the information that you provide is wrong and not even intended to be right, then I don’t even have a chance. 

As an aside, if you do personally know the mouth breather at Network Rail who planned engineering works on the line between Liverpool and Manchester on the day that thousands of Liverpool supporters converged on Manchester for the Manchester City v’s Liverpool fixture can you please tell them, on the assumption that they aren’t an amoeba, that they are an amoeba. 

I digress – so I checked the rail enquiries site again, which told me that my train would disintegrate before my very eyes at 17.40 and that the options from Manchester Piccadilly were:  

1)      17.46: Bus to Newton-le-Willows arriving at 18.21, then 18.28: Train to Liverpool, arriving at 18.55 

2)      17.48: Bus to Warrington, then a train to Liverpool arriving at around 19.30.    

Here is a test of your ability to function like a normal person.  Which one would you choose? 

Full marks if you chose Option 1.  If you chose Option 2 then you are clearly destined for a career as a network rail engineering works planner.   

Obviously, as a fully functioning member of the sane parallel universe not tarnished by train management operatives, I opted for the first option.  Unfortunately, this left me totally at the whim of their incompetency’s, and as a result I made my choice blissfully unaware that the bus replacement timetable was actually put together by someone travelling the routes in a helicopter, or more likely, believes that a bus goes as fast as a train. 

It very quickly became obvious, as the bus exited Manchester City Centre, that there was no chance of the bus timetable manifesting itself as reality.  And when the bus steward started looking nervously looking at his watch as the bus driver hammered the accelerator pedal to within an inch of its existence on the M62, I knew that I’d put too much trust in people that make decisions in the full knowledge that they will never have to come into contact with anyone who suffers the consequences of them. 

Even if you put ‘Manchester Piccadilly to Newton-le-Willows’ into google maps it tells you that the route takes 34 minutes to travel in a car, in no traffic.  To publish that it would only take 1 minute longer on a bus, that also has to stop at another station, is the action of someone who is a little bit too familiar with their pet, has at least 2 restraining orders and is permanently 5 seconds away from stabbing themselves in the face with a spoon. 

If you’d have been honest in your timescales then I would have caught the other bus and been home for 7.30, it wouldn’t have been great but it would have been better than catching a bus that wouldn’t have got to where it was going, at the time that you said it would, if it had wings, and as a consequence missing the connecting train that your information said I would catch. 

It’s very clear that your train delay strategy is simply not to mass communicate anything, I assume that it’s because if you don’t pro-actively communicate to a group of people then they can’t all get annoyed at the same time, and if you don’t communicate then you cant be held accountable for the information contained within the communication. It’s genius really, and totally within character. 

I entered Alfreton train station at 3.45pm and was vomited out of your system at Liverpool Lime Street at 8pm (90 minutes later than I should have been), at no point during the 4 hours I spent at your behest was I pro-actively communicated to - why would you not communicate one single word on a train when you have on it everyone that is going to be affected by the fact that it is going to be stopping an hour before it should, in another City?  It’s a good job that I happened to check the timetable on line, otherwise I’d have been waiting on a train at Manchester that had stopped and wasn’t going any further.

If you don’t mass communicate then people have to work it out for themselves individually; the 30 or so people waiting 33 patient minutes in the freezing cold on Platform 2 at Newton le Willows station at 7pm on a Sunday night didn’t know that they should be annoyed that the bus timetable was unrealistic, because they weren’t told it – all they did was follow each other like sheep on a bus to a train station and wait for the next train.  They’re all probably relieved that they got home at all, totally oblivious to the fact that it should have been an hour before they actually did. 

There is another, far more serious element to this story than simply providing inspiration for my ire, in that the bus going back to Manchester laden with its passengers was already 20 minutes late leaving the station, which means it was going to be at least 20, and more likely 40 minutes late getting back to Manchester, and as the timetable slows during the end of the evening then people could end up being trapped in stations with no trains, all because your bus replacements timetables are deliberately unrealistic.  I was lucky that there were still trains leaving Newton le Willows for Liverpool, but if I’d left Alfreton later, as I sometimes do, then I could have been struggling.  

So anyway, feel free to ignore, discard, laugh, point at, and more importantly totally disregard this customer feedback.  I’m past telling idiots that they’re idiots. 

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

The Bruno Mars question

Inspired by Mikes inability to give away his Bruno Mars Plus 1 – the Bruno Mars question:

"'Cause what you don't understand is that I'd catch a grenade for ya"

Bruno Mars has laid down his commitment to catch a grenade for you in song - well, I’d like to know who ‘you’ is exactly? Is he talking to all of us, or to one person in particular? ‘You’ has to be someone, or everyone. It’s probably in your best interests to find out whether it’s you, or not – just so that you can sleep a little easier at night. Or get cheaper life insurance.

It could even be me. If I was to listen to the song then I’d be well within my rights to think that he was talking to me and vowing a lifetime of grenade security on my behalf. It’s technically a contract. If its one person in particular then he’s literally going to have to be at the side of this person for the rest of their life, on the off chance that a grenade is dispatched in their general direction. There’s no point pledging to catching a grenade if at the precise moment you’re not looking one is launched at the person you’ve committed to catching a grenade for. But then why on Earth would you want to be with someone who has put themselves in a situation where grenades are likely to be thrown at them whilst they go about their everyday business? What have they done to get themselves into this position? There are easier relationships to be had.

Mr Mars is also very specific on the fact that it’s going to be a grenade. How does he know this? It sounds like there is something that he is not telling us. There are, according to the army study guide (I’ve done my research) 6 types of grenade, does his grenade catching obligations cover all 6, or are there loopholes and types of grenades that he wont catch? Would he be able to opt out of catching a particular type of grenade on a technicality? Is there a small print at the end of the song that I’ve not seen? *Catching grenade obligation only applies to grenades thrown between the hours of 7am and 11am and is restricted to illuminating grenades*.

Its admirable how he manages to go about his everyday business with this grenade catching vow hanging round his neck. He’s probably regretting ever saying it. It’s a modern day miracle that he’s managed to have a music career in spite of it, no wonder he’s writing songs about it – its probably all he ever thinks about, the only surprise is that there aren’t more songs about grenades – maybe there are more in the pipeline. How does he incorporate potential grenade catching into his show? It probably means that you increase your likelihood of being in the vicinity of some grenade related activity if you go to a Bruno Mars show. I only hope that the audience are aware of the dangers of the fact that there is possibly a grenade thrower in their midst. What happens if the person he is catching grenades for isn’t at his show – will he have to nip out at regular intervals if there is grenade throwing potential?

How exactly does he incorporate this grenade catching pledge with his commitment to jump in front of a train?

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Facts > Opinion

Every now and again a subject comes along on which everyone has an opinion, regardless of how well they know the subject in question. One thing is for sure; if I’ve seen and heard one opinion on the Amanda Knox story in the last 3 days then I’ve read a million - from countless multiples of 140 characters on Twitter, to diatribes on Facebook, to missives on messageboards, to rants in the office.

The problem is though, that most of these opinions make me want to cover my eyes and ears and jump out of the nearest window. Of course people are entitled to an opinion, but facts always beat opinion. Here’s a rule of thumb that you might want to incorporate into your day to day life: If you are considering formulating an opinion on a particular subject, then it’s worth checking if there’s a fact on it before you start – if there is then simply align your opinion behind that fact, even if the fact doesn’t resemble the opinion you were going to formulate.

The reason for this is very simple: If there is a fact available on the precise topic of your opinion, and that fact is different to the opinion that you have about it, then your opinion is wrong. I’m not even sorry to say it - you are wrong. An opinion isn’t even required if it is different to the fact that is available on the same subject.

If your opinion differs from the fact then you are wasting your time putting together an opinion, you are wasting your time talking to me about it, you are wasting my time in making me listen to your opinion, and you are wasting my time in making me tell you that you are wrong. “In my opinion she is guilty as hell” is a worthless opinion, because the fact at present is that she is not guilty. Whats hell got to be guilty about anyway?

Even if I didnt like what the fact was, and would prefer your opinion as the real fact, it wouldnt alter anything - all that would happen is that we would both be engaged in a even more pointless conversation, because more than one person was wrong.

God knows how I managed to get over 3 paragraphs out of Facts & Opinions, but I can go on a lot, lot longer about it.

I’m only interested in facts, is what I’m trying to say, I think, if you’re unclear on my point. I spend most of my day avoiding getting involved in discussions on current affairs with people, because it usually ends up with me wanting to kill one of us. Arguing with a fact is effectively the same is arguing that 1 + 1 = 27.

If the government really want to save money, they ought to scrap the entire criminal justice system and replace it with people, chosen at random, who declare 'guilty' or 'not guilty' based upon 3 key strands:

a) Whether the defendant looks guilty from 5 photos of the defendant selected at random, what I’m seeing is something similar to the way that they select the numbers on Countdown,

b) The headlines from a selection of newspapers,

c) a 10 minute chat with 3 acquaintances, all of whom have a combined knowledge on the subject that is less than yours.

The most important thing is that they must have no more than a basic understanding of the actual case, but are capable of formulating a deep seated view based upon this very minimal understanding. We could even turn it into prime time TV, with someone like Richard Bacon surprising people at the bus stop or somewhere and asking the big question 'Guilty or Not Guilty?', or even in front of a live studio audience who have to vote on which way the person will cast their judgement.

Maybe the whole thing could get a reality TV makeover – I’ve copywrited Judge Idol, so don’t even think about it. Saturday nights wont be the same again.

The only cases where this wouldn’t apply is in cases of alleged paedophilia or cases where the defendant has a funny name - where the verdict will always default to guilty.

What I’m not saying is that I know more than you – although 99 times out 100 I probably do. I have very little understanding of the case, other than one person was murdered, 3 people were convicted and 2 people were have had their convictions overturned. And unless you’ve spent months and months in the courtroom listening to every strand of prosecution and defence wrangling, it's probably the same understanding as you, which means that you’re just speculating.

Sometimes you have to go with it.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Boiler Issues

My boiler has been broken for some weeks now, certainly since before Christmas. As is usual with any plumbing requirements I might have, I give my mate a ring. As is usual with my plumbing mate - he has no fucking clue.

A couple of years ago I had water dripping through my kitchen ceiling - the bath and shower is directly above the leak so it was obvious that was the source - I just didnt know how. I got him out to have a look and after about an hour of umming and ahhing, he couldn't find the problem so left me with it. I rang a plumber from the yellow pages who found the problem within 2 minutes and charged me £70 for coming out and 35p for parts - a fingertip full of silicone to seal around the tap and stop the water from the shower trickling through.

Anyway, my mates esteemed conclusion was that the boiler problem could be one of 3 things - none of which he wanted to commit to because it might not actually be it - and buying parts would cost me. One of the 3 things was a new boiler.

"You might want to get someone out to have a look at it" he said as he packed his toolbox up and left.

"I thought I just fucking did" I shouted after him.

Anyway, having the boiler not working wasnt really a problem because the hot water still worked - magically I assumed, and I borrowed a couple of oil filled heaters from my brother. The house was actually warmer than it was when the heating worked. So this suited my general apathetic, 'not arsed' approach to life right down to the ground.

Lately however, I've been getting a bit bored with the freezing kitchen so I decided to get it sorted. I rang a guy from the Yellow Pages and he was actually very good. Well, when I say good - what I mean is that he was a nice man.

He came round, ummed and ahhed for a bit and narrowed the problem down to one of 2 things. He decided to go with the problem which required the cheapest spare part, and then went away, came back a couple of days later and fitted it. The boiler still didnt work.

Because the other option he'd narrowed it down to meant an expensive spare part, he suggested giving a business who carried out fixed cost repairs a call because they would do it for cheaper than it would cost him to get the part. Sounded like a good idea to me and to his credit he didnt charge me a penny for anything.

I rang someone else up yesterday, who sent someone straight out to have a look at it. He narrowed it down to one thing:

"You need a new gas valve" he said

This wasn't one of the thing that the previous guy had narrowed it down to when he had his 2 goes at it, or one of the things my mate narrowed it down to when he had his 3 goes at it. So lets hope we've finally got it sorted after 6 goes at it.

He's coming back today to fit it. You'll be able to tell if it does work because the polar icecaps will be half their usual size by the end of the day and there'll probably be a cyclone in Australia or something, as its going on maximum power for the full duration.

I saw my mate last night at football:

"Got someone in to sort the boiler, he's had a look at it today and is coming back tomorrow to fit the part..." I said

"Gas valve" my mate replied before I had chance to say what it was.

"Err...yes, how..?" I stammered, shocked.

"Thought it was" said my mate, confidently.

"Then why the fuck didnt you fucking fix it then you tit??"

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Dangerously Curious

We've all done it haven't we? Yes, you have. Haven't you? Just me then.

A week or so ago, being bored - and dangerously curious, I put my car registration number in to see what they would value my car at. This moment marks a change in my life - a few years ago being 'dangerously curious' in front of a laptop would have taken to me to a much more different site than a car valuation one.

Anyway, they came back with an expectedly low amount - any car company who is going to be selling on your car in the future will never give you the true valuation of it, as they have a profit to make. And, I've also discovered that there is a different downside to being 'dangerously curious' than there used to be, as I am now faced with a picture of my car with their value in large figures next to it on one of their adverts, on a lot of websites I now go into. I've seen it that much that I'm half expecting their adverts to be transposed into my dreams now.

Yesterday, I received another email from them entitled 'Great news, your car has increased in valuation'. 'Brilliant' I thought - 'my car has increased in value without me actually doing a single thing' other than being exposed to a zillion adverts. I checked. It was about £300.

Maybe if I leave it another 3 years, they might get a bit closer to what the value of the car actually is.

Car Crash Gym

Monday night at the gym was a nightmare. The gym is a 15 minute walk from my house, but it took me that long to park the car, yeah I know I should be walking but it was cold and wet and the last thing I want to do is extend an hour session at the gym - that I don’t want to do in the first place - by another 30 minutes of exercise. That’s the kind of complication that would just make me not bother at all, so basically knackers to that. Although I can officially confirm to all media outlets that I will be journeying by bike from now on (weather/being arsed dependent).

The 2nd Monday of the year will now forever be known as ‘Car Crash Monday’. The exact moment in time when this years New Years Resolutioners meet last years New Years Resolutioners - who came for 4 weeks but paid for the whole year, and think they’d better at least show the effort - and collide with the regulars who haven’t been since New Year for fear of it being packed, in a perect storm of sweat, lycra and odd smells that you never actually smell anywhere else.

In the week between Christmas and New Year I was actually the only person in the gym at one stage, this either makes me very sad or very dedicated - or a high octane mixture of both. I did allow myself to dream that it was my own private gym occasionally – except that I probably wouldn’t need 12 running machines. On Monday night, I wasnt even the only person in the square foot that I was standing, let alone the only person in the gym.

By the way, if a smell that you smell in the gym all year round is also there when you’re the only one in the gym, does it mean that its you?