Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Cooking up a storm

Blimey O’Reilly I hadn’t realised that I had not updated my blog for so long! My mother always says that time flies as you get older (along with the fact that policemen begin to look young enough to be your son) and I tend to – correction, firmly - agree with her.

However, enough with the excuses.

The main news from the CFZ is that the expedition to South America is now afoot. As I write this, the intrepid team are battling their way under unbearable conditions and we do wish them all the best. We have had spasmodic contact from them, and you can keep up to date with events as they unfold by checking out the dedicated site Guyana Expedition blog.... so I won't repeat it here. They do seem to be having an awful time with the relentless heat, dryness and lack of shade though - sitting here typing this as it rains outside, it is hard to believe that it can be so hot somewhere else. You quickly forget the discomfort caused by our own muggy summer days, and it has to be said that the conditions they are under are obviously far worse being so near to the Equator.

So to other news, albeit not nearly as important.

It seems that I may have a working cooker before Christmas – I was beginning to despair on this front. I have basically been on strike from cooking these past months – there had been one cake too many burnt in the contraption that calls itself an oven, one roast potato too many that had crisped so much that it threatened to break teeth, and one occasion too many that facilitated having to squeeze a meal for seven into a space that was really designed for two. So … I had donned my ‘Citizen Smith’ beret a month or so ago and became militant and downed tools, apart from anything that could be made in the slow-cooker that is. You can age a year cooking a meal here – the two free standing electric rings take four times as long as they should to boil vegetables and timing simultaneous readiness had become a logistical nightmare. So – enough was enough.

I love cooking, especially baking – it is very therapeutic. I also have the added bonus that living here with all these blokes means that I can bake to my heart’s content and know that it will actually get eaten. I also don’t even have to partake of any myself (oh well, alright maybe a smidgeon to taste it) as I don’t really like sweet things as much as I used to.

Now you may think that this is a cover up for being a shoddy cook – but I never had these problems with my old cooker back in Lincolnshire, or any complaints, and as one of my fridge magnets states: ‘Many people have eaten in this kitchen and gone on to lead normal healthy lives.

However, the cooker is being delivered tomorrow and, barring any unfortunate hidden hiccups, all should be well.

Since last posting, Jon and I have written a letter of complaint to the Chief Superintendent at Welwyn Garden Police Station due to the appalling situation we find ourselves in with the belongings we had to leave in the Jag after the accident a couple of months ago. We had no choice but to leave some possessions in the car and had to bully our way into getting our suitcases, my laptop, and Jon's jacket and wallet from it before we were taken to hospital. Yes, to be fair, it was not exactly the time or place to go rummaging amongst broken glass in the dark, whilst in the middle of the M25, but we had no idea, then, that it would be so difficult to reclaim possession of our belongings. The letter was a ranting four pages long, so I won’t bore you with it all, but here are some prĂ©cised paragraphs from which you will glean the gist of the situation, and I hope you will agree that we have cause for disgruntlement under the circumstances:

‘However, in the meantime, on the Friday after the incident, we telephoned Kartec to arrange pick up of the remaining items that we had no choice but to leave in the vehicle. We were told that it was not worth us going that day, and that they would post on the items and send us an invoice for the carriage costs. This seemed perfectly reasonable to us, and as they are police approved we assumed that all would be in order.

Hence, we sent them a letter under recorded delivery which itemised the items. This was not responded to. We then received a recorded delivery letter from Kartec saying that we needed to pay them £195 + vat, together with £12 per day for removal and storage of the vehicle, and explained that we had until 13th December to pick up our belongings. Upon telephoning them to query this, they then said that they could not post the items on to us. If we had known this, then we would have insisted that we went along to pick them up on the Friday after the incident.

As you can see from the letter heading, we live in North Devon and it is not such an easy journey to make to pick up our things. One of our colleagues was visiting family, near the area, last week and I wrote the required letter of authorisation for him to collect them on our behalf, and he also had the registration document in his possession, plus the original letter from Kartec.

As it has taken so long for us to get hold of insurer’s details, the bill for removal and storage has escalated considerably as you can imagine. The assessment has now been carried out on the vehicle and we are awaiting their decision – they have also said that they will cover the cost of storage from the time we managed to contact them and, hopefully, will be able to pay recovery and earlier storage costs too. Kartec knew this.

Despite this, Kartec demanded that I pay £870.75 before they would release our things. Surely, under the circumstances, this is nothing short of being held to ransom? Our belongings are not connected with the basic insurance claim on the car, and the reason that they have them is due to the fact that we could not get them out at the scene of the accident. This payment could not just be made over the telephone either, and had to be accompanied by a fax authorising the payment on my card.

I then had to rush around to find someone to send this fax for me, as we do not have one (as, indeed, many people do not). Payment was made. You can imagine my horror, therefore, to be told that they would still not release our things as our colleague did not have any photo ID with him.

I can understand that there are rules and regulations in place to protect peoples’ belongings, but surely the fact that he had all the paperwork with him, I had spoken to him in front of them and obviously knew him, and the fact that we live so far away would have enabled them to overlook this one slight formality? Their letter to me, in fact, was poorly written and grammatically incorrect. The paragraph they seemed to enjoy quoting stated: ‘On collection of property Proof of Ownership (V5 Registration Document) or new keeper slip with receipt and Identification (Driving Licence/Passport) must be produced.’ An absence of any correct punctuation lends the paragraph to read that the V5 Registration Document is needed or the slip with identification – not, as they insisted, V5 Registration Document with identification.

I do feel, also, as I am sure you can appreciate from where I stand, that the large amount of money has actually been taken from me under false pretences – Kartec veiling receipt of it as a promise of the release of our property. Is this not tantamount to extortion?

As I have written, my husband is severely disabled, and one of the items in the car that had to be left was his disabled parking permit, which has meant that, ever since the accident, he has not been able to park in designated spots for his disability. I really do not see any reason why these people can withhold our property like this.

They have known that we have been in contact with the insurance company, yet a very rude woman – I believe her name is Tanya – has, on more than one occasion, telephoned in a very bullish manner demanding to know when the car is going to be removed. Are you aware of just how rude this woman is I wonder? In a time of stress, such as a car accident like this can produce, I have been shocked at her bullying and extremely unpleasant manner. I used to work as a Headmaster’s Secretary in a public school, and I can assure you that if I spoke to parents in such a manner, I would have been severely reprimanded. Civility is not too much to ask for is it?

You may like to know, also, that a gentleman at another car recovery company which we contacted with a view of moving the vehicle, to avoid such unsympathetic behaviour, actually groaned when I mentioned Kartec – he said that I was not the first person to have been a victim of such unpleasant people, and he also intimated that they often charge more than the standard recovery price (hiding the excess in some excuse of extra work needed for such action).

I have managed to get to my age abiding by rules and regulations - however petty some are fast becoming. I will no longer, however, tolerate abhorrent behaviour from others. Perhaps Kartec believe they are empowered by having your approval to act this way - I cannot say - but as an organisation that is there to protect the public, I would hope that you may be able to help us reclaim what is rightfully ours, especially due to the circumstances noted above – primarily the distance involved and the underhand treatment we have, and are still, experiencing from one of your approved car recovery centres.’

That was posted at the end of last week, and to date we have heard nothing. I wonder if we ever will? However, if we do not, we shall take the bit firmly between our aged teeth and take it further.

On a sadder note, one of my youngest daughter's degus died last week. We have no idea what caused his demise as he was happily gnawing away at the bars of his cage one day and the next was curled up in his nest, having passed away. We now have one very forlorn looking degu and are wondering what to do next, as they do really need to be kept in pairs or groups.

Thursday, 1 November 2007


Or.... as Dr. Frankenstein could well have announced at some time during his dubious career, "The experiment is nearly complete" (well the 'nuts and bolts' of it anyway, I have to add with a wry smile). I am not referring to some experiment of my own with bloodied, dismembered body parts of the lads here at CFZHQ (although that is rather a thought-provoking concept of delicious proportions) - I am referring to the rainfall experiment mentioned in a previous blog. Yes, I can report that the tank is still in situ in front of the office window, smack bang in front of the gate and in full view of any passerby who may turn their head in the garden's direction as they amble down the road. (Well Jon has always said he wanted something big and eye-catching as visitors arrived). Furthermore, no, it has not been emptied. So, after recent rainfall - as you can see - the tank is now almost full! I suppose, on the face of it, this was rather a pointless exercise - little things please little minds -but to conclude - since 15th June the precipitation in these parts measures 17 inches. I have no idea whatsoever whether this is below, above or just average for the period of time in question. Anyone out there know of such facts?

Perhaps, however, it was not such a pointless experiment, for, as Oll pointed out, it will be interesting to see what, if any, lifeforms have taken up residence in the tank's murky waters.

As for an update into things here in North Devon:
It took me a day to fold, stuff, seal and frank all the envelopes, but Issue 41 of Animals & Men was sent out last week to all our members - with only one paper cut inflicted! Don't you just hate those darn things?! However, this was nothing compared to how many days it took valiant Oll to photocopy, collate, staple and guillotine them all in the days beforehand!

Jon has been busy with the second of the new monthly films about what's going on in our world and this has now been uploaded to YouTube. Take a look here: On the Track and let us know what you think. Jon has used some of his own music as an accompaniment this time round. He has just finished recording his new album and I must say that it comprises a pretty darn good selection of tracks. Well done sweetie - I know it has taken you a long time to finish, but it was worth it in the end.

Things have been gathering pace in readiness for the imminent expedition to South America and you can read all about that on the dedicated Guyana Expedition blog.... I guess you could say that it looks like it is going to be an exciting and interesting month.

I have been having fun (did I actually say 'fun'?) with Excel spreadsheets these past couple of days trying to make some sense of our book-keeping. All very complicated and I won't bore you with the details, except to add that by the time I had downed tools on Wednesday night I was seeing double, and my brain felt like it was oozing from out of my ears.

Well I am off now, back to columns A, B, C ............