An Englishman’s home is his castle

Bart Simpson

Bart Simpson (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I didn’t stamp my feet or hold my breath, but the petulance was unmistakable. In a way I could understand my partner’s exasperation but the terms of the accord were set earlier in the day. We could plod around estate agents until exactly 3PM when the England game started.

It was Euro ’96 and against all the odds, it looked good for the national team. Of course it all ended in tears but I wasn’t to know that at the time.

I never appreciated how many estate agents there were in Hemel Hempstead. All morning and early afternoon, we traipsed from one to the other looking at the house summaries and booking appointments for the following day. Only one remained. But we had an agreement and I was adamant I wouldn’t miss the kickoff. It was a good game. A lot of drama (as you would expect in an England game) but the boys did well and we won. I saw it as an omen.

The next day, we had just enough time to visit the sole remaining estate agent before our first appointment. We were in luck. A repossession came in as we stood in the branch. It was the right price, in the right area with the right amount of room. As it was just around the corner, we went there first.

We didn’t have a huge budget. We were not perhaps as fiscally solvent as we made out to the bank manager. The deposit consisted of a combination of a short-term loan from work coupled with a small amount of savings. The balance was made up by not paying a couple of bills that month. We certainly couldn’t afford stamp duty which kicked in at a certain threshold.

The repossession was comfortably below our ceiling but as it was the first house we saw, we were ultra critical. It was only later in the day when we plodded around some of the other horrors on our list that we realised how good that first house was. Nothing else was as big nor were they in such a good location. All of them cost a lot more money. I still have nightmares about the house with the bright green kitchen and the 10 foot Bart Simpson painted on the wall.

As we looked around at one more place that could have been the home of the Adams Family, we looked at each other and after a very short exchange we both agreed. We would rush down and put in an offer on the first house. The estate agent explained the special situation regarding repossessions in this country. Our offer had to be published in the local paper and everyone else had a week to put in a higher offer. It was a very stressful week. Luckily, the newspaper had a printing error which made it look like our offer was bigger than it really was.

And we’re still here. The wisest purchase we ever made. And if I hadn’t dug my heels in on that fateful Saturday, who knows where we would have ended up!


Camber Sands

English: Camber Sands

English: Camber Sands (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“I think I’ve found it!” she cried exultantly. When my wife looks for kind of trip or holiday, it becomes an all consuming quest. She sits with the laptop for hours searching for exactly the right deal.

The object of this particular quest was a long weekend break in order to get away from it all after sustaining a nasty injury at work.

“Great! Where are we going?”

Camber Sands.”

My heart sank. I’d been to Camber Sands a few times. The first was on a family holiday. Just before the halfway point in the holiday, myself and my brother nagged mum and dad so much, they allowed us to go home early on the train.

Subsequent visits were for a games convention. The South coast of England in January is not a very hospitable place, particularly if your accommodation is made of a material flimsier than cardboard. One year, I slept in my car. At least it had a heater that worked.

So I didn’t have high hopes for the upcoming trip. Julie’s disabled mother came with us so we put in a special request to be on the ground floor close to the main centre. When we arrived, our chalet allocation was on the other side of the park and on the first floor.

We complained and were given a different chalet, still on the other side of the park, but at least it was on the ground floor. We opened the door, to be hit by a waft of stench and a sea of filth. Back we went and swapped again. The third chalet had an ant infestation.

We agreed that I should go back to the centre this time. Julie had a murderous look in her eye, so if she went, our new accommodation would probably be at Her Majesty’s pleasure. Part of me thought the comfort level might improve.

After explaining the problem, the lady behind the counter told me with a smile on her face that I was in the wrong place. I needed to report the problem to the estates hut on the other side of the camp. Off I trudged and joined the long queue outside the aforementioned hut.

As we got closer to the front of the queue, I leaned over to see what was happening. There was a man behind the desk with an enormous ledger. There was a big list of chalet numbers and against every single one appeared the word “ants”. I looked behind me. About 50 people were in the queue

Eventually, someone turned up with a canister of ant powder. We had to laugh. There was probably one grain of ant powder for every ant in the chalet!

We still had a good time, but I am never, ever going there again!


Lies, damn lies

statistics often lie

statistics often lie (Photo credit: mac steve)

According to Reuters, approximately, we produce 14 billion bullets annually. That’s enough to kill everyone on the planet twice over. Seeing as we are all still here, a statistician might tell you that bullets are a woefully inefficient way to kill someone.

According to the World Health Organisation, 1.2 million people are killed annually on the world’s roads. Seeing as there are a mere 60 million cars produced a year, choose a car if you want to off someone. Or you could just leave them be. They are 1,500x more likely to die from cancer or 3000x more likely to die from heart disease.

Every time my Grandad saw statistics on accidents caused by drunk drivers, he used to make a quip that all drivers should be drunk whilst behind the wheel. After all, if 20% of accidents are caused by drivers who are under the influence, we could eliminate the other 80% if everyone was drunk. I think even a statistician would spot the error in that analysis. Every day, newspapers are full of stories backed up by statistics but how do we know they haven’t just done the same analysis as my Grandad and got the complete wrong end of the stick?

Everyone fills in surveys. In the UK, we are required to fill one in by law every 10 years – the census. I’m always amazed at how banal the questions seem. As I think it’s important for the government to have good information about the population, I take it quite seriously. I take care over my answers to make sure they are correct. Many people don’t. Everyone should, as there are harsh penalties for those who provide incorrect information and yet the 4th most popular religion in England and Wales in the 2001 census was Jedi.

If I fill in surveys other than the census, I tend to start with good intentions but then halfway through, there will be a question that seems utterly ridiculous or invasive and from that point on I either give up, or it becomes a box ticking exercise that I don’t take much care over. And yet, it is precisely these surveys that form the bedrock of many of the statistics we are bombarded with. It’s worth remembering that when you read some exhaustive analysis on why people who play Angry Birds are more likely to drink strawberry milkshakes.

After all, 78.4% of statistics are made up on the spot.

Here we go, here we go, here we go

World cup England

World cup England (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

No-one really knows agony like an England football supporter. The last time the country won a major international football tournament was 46 years ago, before I was even born. On the eve of their first group match for Euro 2012, for the fans, it’s time to take a big deep breath and brace ourselves for what’s to come.

I’ve seen enough tournaments now to know how the story goes. In the build up to a major tournament, there will usually be some kind of managerial crisis. Invariably a foreign man who gets paid more in a year than most people earn in a lifetime suddenly decides that it’s all been too much and they would rather go and do something easier. Then a pause whilst FIFA contemplates its navel for a while before the announcement of the next high-profile name to bring glory to England. I certainly don’t envy them the task. Nor do I envy them the inevitable attention of the tabloid media.

The qualification process usually goes fairly well. Many teams would be highly envious of England’s record in the games leading up to the Euro or the World cup. As we get closer to the main event, things start to unravel. There will be at least one dressing room scandal. One player or another will succumb to “dodgy ball control” and end up sleeping with another player’s wife / girlfriend / sister / mother and the whole team will be thrown into disarray.

Just before squad gets announced, there will be a flurry of injuries. At least one of them will be a broken metatarsal. All of them will be players seen as crucial to England’s chances in the tournament. The England team have always been a bit asymmetrical and the manager will come up with some new wacky and zany formation just so he can accommodate the plethora of talent in the middle.

The group stages will be agonising. Somehow the team will limp through but not without another injury and the star player earning a red card. Inevitably, they will finish in the wrong place in the group meaning that they face the strongest teams in succession in the knockout stages. This is when we all start to feel false hope. We dismiss the poor performance so far as nerves and the team getting used to a new formation. We start to think we are only a handful of games away from glory. Surely it must be our turn this time?

Then the real agony begins. We come out in red strips for the first game – always a good sign. Our hopes soar with an early goal putting us into the lead which is good because we kid ourselves that we always win if we score first. If the other team scores first, that’s OK too. Some of our greatest victories have suffered the odd hiccup – remember Dunkirk?

But before too long the inevitable happens. We crash out of the tournament and all the fans sink into the pits of despair. Only to do it all again next time.

Come on England!