Wednesday 10th December
I work in Accounts – I know, it’s boring – but then most jobs are. I make the best of it though and try to do the best I can, but of course even I make mistakes. I have taught myself to always check my own work first before e-mailing or phoning other companies up, quite often this saves embarrassment and it is far better to discover your own mistakes than to be tripped up by someone else.
I am currently working three days a week, Monday to Wednesday and leave clear instructions to the office girl that any queries I will deal with next week, or in an emergency to text me. Last Friday when I was not at work a supplier rung the Managing Director about an outstanding invoice from August which they claimed was unpaid. The complication was that this was for a personal delivery of wine to the MD herself and she was annoyed that this had not been paid. When I came in on Monday she had a row with me because she had told me about this smallish invoice back in August. I checked on my spreadsheet and saw that we had had no statement for a few months from this little used supplier and there were no old unpaid invoices on our system. I assumed I had mislaid the invoice in question and apologized. The old maxim of “kick someone when they are down” kicked in and the MD carried on saying how she had never been so embarrassed in her life etc: etc: She had immediately written a cheque on Friday and sent it to the wine supplier.
Later that day I was entering the cheque and a copy she had had e-mailed to her onto the Accounts system when I spotted that the original invoice had actually been posted and paid. How come they were insisting it was unpaid? I dug out the last statement from them and they had an unallocated payment of the amount of the invoice but no invoice shown. I rung them and the answer was that because the order had been for the MD herself they had created another account for that and the invoice was showing unpaid there, but with a corresponding credit on the main company account. I told you Accounts were boring, didn’t I. I explained their error and they will return the cheque (paid by my MD) as soon as possible.
Of course when I tried to explain this to my MD, and point out that in fact it was the supplier’s error not ours, she wasn’t interested. “Oh, well how was I to know?” she said. No sorry. No apology for the row she had given me, and you can bet that when she next speaks to that supplier she won’t mention it, it will all be chummy-chummy and even if they say that another invoice remains unpaid she will send them another cheque, never questioning that it might be their mistake. Which of course I should have done before taking the blame myself.
Tuesday 9th December
Sunday saw a titanic struggle between the Master and the Apprentice. Ronnie just seems to get better and better, there are no real weaknesses in his game. A few years ago one watched Ronnie half hoping and half dreading a breakdown; he was impetuous and troubled and would often throw away matches needlessly, and we were never sure if he would simply toss in his snooker cue and call it a day. But he has had a renaissance of late and seems to have his demons under control at last. Approaching forty he has simply become the most accomplished snooker player on the circuit, some would even say the best ever.
Judd Trump bounced onto the scene a few years ago with an energy and brilliance that was shocking. He was flash and brash and played snooker in a reckless cavalier style, reminiscent of Alex Higgins and Jimmy White at their best. He didn’t really bother with safety play; he didn’t need to. Just as Stephen Hendry had taught all the younger players, if you could see the potting angle of a red you had to go for it, regardless of how the balls were situated or even if there was a colour available afterwards.
The UK Championship is the second most important Snooker Tournament and both Ronnie and Judd had sailed through the early rounds but both had had to dig deep to win their respective Semis. Ronnie sailed through the opening frames of the final and at 9-4 Judd looked out of it. The next frame was key, Ronnie only needed to win this to be Champion and Judd looked out of it, holding his head in his hands as he missed easy red after easy red. Somehow Judd scraped through this very scrappy frame. But still the pundits all expected an easy win for the master Ronnie. But the Apprentice came out and stunned us all with three frames of immaculate snooker; three massive breaks and two centuries later and the score was 9-8, Ronnie hardly playing a shot. A scrappy frame followed but somehow Judd won that too. 9-all and it was down to the last frame. Ronnie had an early break but didn’t score heavily, then Judd stroked in a few balls. But Ronnie laid a brilliant snooker and Judd left a red half on. Hesitantly with all his former confidence in tatters Ronnie limped over the line. Ronnie said after that he was completely out of it and sure he was going to lose and playing on auto-pilot the last few shots. It won’t be long one feels before the Apprentice becomes the Master.
Monday 8th December
I am not known as “The Soul of Indiscretion” for nothing. I have spectacularly put my foot in it for decades, though I must say that today I surpassed myself. Times without number I have said the words no-one would dare to. When all the office was sworn to secrecy, guess who would be the one to blurt it out. At one famous meeting our Managing Director looked ferociously around the assembled and shamefaced Department Heads and said, wagging his finger at us all. “I don’t want anybody here taking me for a cunt.” Silence, not only at the expletive but at the implied threat. Then I quietly spoke, “But Peter, it’s an easy mistake to make.”
But back to today (Sunday morning), early morning and I got up to make tea and feed the dogs. I let them out but it was very cold and they quickly nipped out and back in again. A few minutes later and we were sitting in bed drinking our tea and Polly, a soppy dog at the best of times, crawled up the bed and insisted on being stroked, even extending her paw time and time again. What was she up to, why this need for affection all of a sudden. Slowly my suspicions were roused, uh-oh – maybe she needs to go out again. “Come on” I called to the dogs and took them down the two flights of stairs again. They still didn’t really want to be out and hung around looking as puzzled as I was. But as I closed the door and turned around, barefoot and crossed the tiled floor to the stairs I felt the unmistakeable squelchiness of a fresh dog poo between my toes. So, I had really out my foot in it this time….
Sunday 7th December
Gordon Brown invented the Autumn Statement and it has grown in stature and now rivals the actual budget. Not that that many changes usually happen then, but it is a great announcer of policy and direction, and to be fair the latest one by Gideon did just that. How he quite got away with announcing he had broken his promise (Judge us on this – Cameron had said) of eliminating the deficit and in fact extending that deadline yet one more year into the long grass I don’t quite know. He actually bragged about how much (or little if you like) he had achieved even though this year he will again miss the target set by the OBR only 8 months ago.
Then he pulled the rabbit of a major stamp reform out of the hat, and it was as if all had been forgiven. Everyone was a winner, well almost everyone. But in reality it will make no difference, prices will move to close down any nominal advantage a house purchaser might have gained in a very short while. Also, and far more importantly, nothing he announced will change people’s minds come May. The vast majority of us will have made up our minds already and nothing short of a disaster will make us change. Even though Ed is pretty hopeless most Labour voters will still vote Labour, who else is there for them. True some may be tempted by UKIP but they will have made their minds up already I think. The Tories will also mostly revert to type and though they may despise Cameron they will not be able to bring themselves to vote for UKIP either. The Lib-Dems will recover slightly and will hold on to slightly more than half their seats but where they have no sitting MP their vote will collapse and go to the Greens or Labour. That leaves UKIP, and I really wonder how many people professing now that they will vote for them will do so come May. They may well win a handful of seats and affect the result in a few more, but I suspect the Election result will be much as the polls are now. A slight lead for Labour which given the way the one-part system works will make them the largest party. A Lib, Lab and maybe even SNP Coalition looks likely.
Saturday 6th December
Well, even taking into account that I was a complete idiot and ran away from home at 17, became a dad at 18 and a single parent at 20, young people do have it remarkably easy these days. So, I didn’t have to leave home. But even had I stayed I would have been expected to get a job and pay rent. Even the idea of me staying on in the sixth form was met with some incredulity. Now that a ridiculously high proportion of youngsters go to Uni or some dubious college or other in order to gain qualifications so that they can get jobs we once walked into without even experience let alone a bit of paper they never quite leave home. In Suffolk if you weren’t out of the house and married by the time you were 21 you were either Gay or had stupidly buggered up your life chances by being left on the shelf.
My dear sister has two girls who seem to be taking most of their adult life to actually complete their education and intern-ships and get “proper” jobs. And when we put an advert in for the most lowly of Accounts jobs we get 25 year olds who are just finishing the last of a long line of courses and who have never worked a day in their lives. Co-incidentally these same hopefuls expect to be able to retire by the time they are 50 and buy a house and have kids….hahaha.
We have a lodger from China who is mid-twenties and has done two University courses, paid for by Mum and Dad back in Yangste province. They are still supporting her to the tune of about £1000 per month while she tries (not very hard) to get a job and someone to sponsor her after her Student Visa runs out in February. She does nothing all day, except pamper herself with face masks, lotions and potions and spends hours in the bathroom doing I know not what. Her only other occupation is preparing her food, which also takes hours every day and watching stuff on her laptop.
In a way I almost feel sorry for them, these perpetual children – as one day they will have to face the World on their own, and learn that difficult task of actually working for a living and paying your own way. So, I am not jealous, simply amazed that an existence can be so utterly pointless.
Friday 5th December
I know what the popular consensus is – he is boring, one of the pop aristocracy and an old grump. All too true, but remember he once was part of Genesis, who were one of the most brilliant progressive bands of the early seventies. When Peter Gabriel (who many think was THE creative genius of the band) and Steve Hackett (guitarist extraordinaire) left the band Phil stepped off the drum stool and took on lead vocals and took Genesis to new and far more popular heights. Genesis were (and still are) a unique band in that there have never been any real spats between them; even when Peter and Steve left it was on the most cordial of terms and not because of “musical differences”.
For me, Phil’s reputation relies more than anything else on one album, his first solo effort “Face Value” which is incredible. It was a break-up album and featured some heart-rending songs like “If Leaving Me is Easy” but it is the incredible production which really sets it apart. The drums have never sounded so good, especially on “In The Air” where, when they come in, it takes your breath away. Phil went on to a brilliant solo career, while still managing to carry on in Genesis. I bought a few of his albums hoping that he would re-create the feel of “Face Value” but he never quite achieved it again. He did produce a very good album “Going Back” a few years ago, where he faithfully recreates a whole batch of sixties Motown classics such as “Papa was a Rolling Stone” and “Jimmy Mack” but honestly what was the point – the originals did the job brilliantly and he adds nothing original to them. So, a guarded welcome into Catherine’s Hall of Fame for the Artful Dodger himself.
Thursday 4th December
I have read most of his books and enjoyed them all, some more than others. He does seem to have a knack of getting to the nub of things, the very core of what it is to be a person. This book is one of his very best. It is centred on a high court judge Fiona Maye who presides over cases in the Family Division. Her own comfortable settled life has just received a jolt and she has to deal with an emergency hearing of a complex and heart-rending nature. I won’t tell you any more of the story except to say that she makes an error of judgement, her own not in a legal sense and gets involved too personally in a case before her.
The book is wonderful and full of compassion and understanding. It very cleverly too points up the different lifestyles and moral values of those who sit in judgement and those they hand down judgements to. McEwan does nothing spectacular with his writing, no clever phrases, no witty word-play, but somehow he pulls you in, and most importantly he makes you care. There was a time when I scoured the Sunday papers for new “Literature”, attempting in my own way to read everything of value. I rarely buy “best-sellers” now, even from the most lauded and prize-winning of authors. I am slowly making my way through Anthony Trollope’s 57 novels, most of which are very good reads and intersperse these with detective books featuring Wallander or the novels of Elizabeth Von Arnim (I know, no-one has heard of her either). But occasionally I am seduced by my old friends like Ian McEwan. Nine out of ten I would say.
Wednesday 3rd December
Is it only me, or is this a shared phenomenon; I suspect and am fairly sure of the latter, else there wouldn’t be so many. Sad songs and stories, I mean. Maybe leavened by a glimmer of mild happiness at the end, but essentially miserable, often heartbreakingly sad. Like most people, when the mood takes me I like an upbeat number, something to dance to, or at least tap ones feet to, but give me a slow sad song and I am at my happiest. For me, I think, it is the shared experience I am longing for. For all our community, our living with people, our shared lives in public – we are still essentially alone. We are taught from an early age not to relate all of our thoughts, that which is inappropriate, not for common consumption and we keep those thoughts inside. When we cry, we are shushed better and told we are all right now; the pain not addressed but brushed aside, and so we continue to function as reasonable adults. Men especially, learn early on, that no-one is actually interested in your deeper sadder thoughts and so we keep them to ourselves or maybe consign them to poems written late at night and never shown to anyone.
And then you hear a song of loneliness or longing or unrequited love and the heart opens and a flood of emotion is released, your eyes moisten and you revel in a communion of shared feeling. This is what it means to be a person, to be able to empathise, to understand that actually you are not alone. In our selfish self-obsessed lives we need to stop and listen to each other a bit more. Humans are really loving caring animals – under all the bullshit. And sad songs and words of sorrow allow us to feel human, to be ourselves, to understand each other, to share a moment of togetherness.
Tuesday 2nd December
I have lived my whole life slowly understanding, but never becoming reconciled to, an inherent unfairness. We get most of our information from the Press, or TV, or possibly nowadays by quite openly biased alternative websites which do at least offer a different if still skewed vision of the World. The Labour party are at the very difficult point of presenting their prospective policies ahead of the General Election and are coming under scrutiny, which is quite right and proper. They are proposing two things – one, that they will, at least to begin with, stick to Tory spending plans. But they are proposing spending an extra 2.5 billion (peanuts actually) on the NHS. All the commentators are now questioning exactly how they will pay for this, almost gleefully. The accepted wisdom of the right-wing press is that Labour spend and tax recklessly, and so even when Ed Balls meticulously explains their costed spending plans which include a mansion tax they are mocked, their calculations rubbished and their arguments ignored.
Yesterday George Osborne in well orchestrated leaks announced an extra 2 billion for the NHS. When asked politely how the country could afford this he smiled and repeated the mantra that now that the economy was fixed it was time to spend this money, even though over 3 billion has just been wasted on yet another pointless re-organisation, to say nothing of the billions the introduction of Universal Credit is costing. So, the economy is fixed. So, that’s alright then. And nobody questions this statement. The truth us that the deficit, the difference between what is raised in taxes and how much we spend is still over 100 billion a year. And rising. It had been steadily but slowly falling but this year it has increased again. It is in fact in proportion to our GDP higher than the deficit in France, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece. Yes, Greece, you remember them – the basket case of Europe. Well, their public finances are actually in better shape than ours.
In 2010 Osborne proudly announced that the cuts he was making would wipe the deficit out by 2015. In 2013 he extended this deadline to 2018. Any guesses when it might be now?
So, Labour are mauled by the press when they propose spending 2.5 billion (and raising money to pay for it) and yet the Tories are praised for spending 2 billion with no extra revenue. Incredible. Oh, by the way Cameron also promised (unspecified) tax cuts if he is re-elected and was applauded for this. Unfairness, yes we expect a degree of that, but this is ridiculous and it makes my blood boil.
Monday 1st December
It seems that on Sunday nights we are usually a magnet for visitors. We have usually come back from Walton about lunchtime and no sooner have we unpacked the car and thought about making a meal than we have friends popping round. In fact I cannot quite remember the last time that nobody came round. I strongly suspect that it is for the Nespresso Latte coffee that I always make people and I have gotten into the habit of buying extra milk on a Sunday to make sure we don’t disappoint people.
We left Walton at 10 and got back to London at 12. I checked my phone and e-mails, no messages. But that doesn’t at all mean we wouldn’t be invaded. I decided to just see how much (if any) painting I could get done before people arrived. Last weekend I painted the living room, but as we have an open staircase (strangely in all three houses) the paint on the staircase is boring old Magnolia and the rest of the room is new Egyptian Cotton. Also all the paintwork is still Magnolia.
Anyway I got the ceiling and walls painted and it was 3.30 – still no visitors. Now a sure way to make them knock on the door is to start cooking lunch. I peeled the potatoes and parsnips and started. I decided that while they were roasting I would just start the stair banister and spindles in Brilliant White eggshell, which we thought had been discontinued but we managed to get a large 2.5 litre tin last week. I got about a third finished before lunch was ready. By five-thirty we had eaten it. Still no visitors – strange, but at least I could resume painting. Finished it all by seven and it looks great.
To our amazement we have still had no visitors. So, a quiet evening for a change. I know that in the scheme of things this little tale is a bit insignificant but I cannot write about such grand themes as the nature of the Universe itself every day, now can I?