Monthly Archives: May 2009

Wedding and Handfasting

Good evening. This is a very brief post – what would be called a trail on BBC local radio –  for a new series of posts that will start here in the next couple of days.

Mr and Mrs Chuffing Hog have just spent the weekend at the most amazing wedding and the most dreadful Travelodge.

As they say, stay tuned for more news. (Or as I might well have once said on the radio, “Tune in and rip the knob off!”)

Ride Safe

Test Driving A Roller Skate

I confess that I have never been a big fan of small cars, so when the Smart car appeared a few years ago, I rather dismissed it as a motorised “roller skate”. Certainly I would never have dreamed that I would, one day, be driving one and even discussing how we might be able to buy one.

It took a casual encounter in Nottingham’s Victoria Centre a few weeks ago where an outrageous claim on one of those pull-up banners stopped me in my tracks.

It said 88 mpg.

The banner was next to a diesel Smart For2 car – one of those squat little things with only two seats and, so I thought, space for one Tesco carrier bag as luggage.

That 88 mpg claim made me look a little more closely, otherwise I am sure that I would have walked straight past the company’s display stand.

I actually sat in one and discovered that it very surprisingly roomy and when I opened the boot (for I was getting into the spirit if things by then) I was amazed at the amount of space. I later learned, enough space to fit a tumble drier.

A fat bloke in a small car

A fat bloke in a small car

I’m not sure whether you have to supply your own tumble drier to verify this claim.

Another of my preconceptions was that the Smart is a purely city car – incapable of venturing beyond 30mph signs. I was assured that this was another error in my education and that it could hold its own in the motorway grand prix.

With no opportunity to actually drive the thing around the shopping centre, we settled for giving our address and other details with a promise that we would be sent a brochure and be contacted to arrange a test drive.

Sure enough, the brochure pack arrived within a couple of days and after several phone calls from the company HQ and from the local dealer, our test drive was arranged for last Saturday.

Along the way, I also picked up on the fact that the diesel Smart had only been launched a few days before my initial encounter in the shopping centre.

At the appointed hour, Sue and I made our way to the Mercedes-Benz dealership (for Smart is their brand). We walked past all the huge, shiny luxury mercs to the Smart showroom area where we were welcomed with a cup of coffee.

The car that we were to take was out with another customer, so we completed the necessary paperwork while we waited for its return. We were given the car for an hour and a half, the keys were handed over and I was introduced to the slightly alien automatic gearbox.

Our first impressions of the car were quite positive, although the demonstrator had been wrapped in some kind of white vinyl and previous customers had been encouraged to write or draw on it. This was a little strange and certainly drew some glances while we were out.

The Graffitti Special Smart and Chuffing Hog

The Graffiti Special Smart and Chuffing Hog

My initial reversing was somewhat tentative, but once on the road, we headed out of Nottingham towards Melton Mowbray. It was while we were on the way out of Nottingham that I spotted that the fuel gauge was showing 3.5 litres of fuel left.

Fair enough, I thought, but when this had dropped to 0.5 litres as we approached Melton Mowbray, about 20 miles from Nottingham, I started to worry a little. So we pulled into a petrol station and put £5 worth of fuel (about 5 litres). We then went out of Melton towards Loughborough and eventually got onto the A46 and headed north as far as Saxondale island at Bingham, before returning to Nottingham along the A52.

This much longer distance was achieved on about 2 litres of fuel and when we got back to the showrooom, we were told that there is a 3 litre reserve once the display hits zero, so we need not have worried. Anyway, they are going to refund our fiver.

The drive itself proved that everything we had been told about the ride, the handling and its ability to cope with dual carriageway and open roads.

The view from the front seat (because there isn't a back seat)

The view from the front seat (because there isn't a back seat)

We both loved the car and on our return to the dealership, we started talking about payment methods and finance deals.

There is no great urgency on our part to get one until towards the end of the year. But we would like to have a more economical vehicle to take me to work in Swadlincote each day. Our Ford Galaxy is rather too big and thirsty to do this in the long term.

Although, I must stop being such a wimp because every time it looks like rain, or Carol Kirkwood forecasts showers across the midlands (most days), the bike stays in the garage and I reach for the Galaxy’s keys.

The Smart has already banished my prejudice about “roller skates” and I reckon it would pay for itself in lower fuel bills.

Ride (or drive) safe

Snouts In The Trough

There must have been several million words written in the last fortnight about the expenses claims of Members of Parliament. Until now, I have not really had anything to add to the clamour that has been going on. However, I will declare an interest. I used to be a district councillor (a long time ago) and I did claim some expenses. I also claim expenses from my present employer and have claimed them from my previous employers as well.

Over the past couple of weeks, I have been an avid listener to the Radio 4 Today programme, hearing the news unfold with increasing disbelief. So much so, I have been using the car to go to work on days that, frankly, I should have used the bike simply so I don’t miss the latest instalment.

Perhaps those MPs that have been caught out by the investigative media are the unlucky ones taking the fall for an entire corrupt culture. 

I am not going to pontificate about whether the actions that have been revealed have or have not broken any rules. I am not even going to concern myself about whether the rules were fair and reasonable way – although I am positive that they were not. I am going to comment on the way that those rules have been made.

The expenses that I am able to claim from my place of work are clearly set out and based on decisions taken by our board of trustees.  I wonder whether, if I had been able to decide the rules for myself, would I have been tempted, over a period of years, to push the system as far as I could. I would like to be able to say that I would always stick to the moral high ground, but really, which of us hasn’t pushed the envelope a little. I think most of us will make the odd personal phone call from work, most of us will bring home an occasional pen and who hasn’t spent at least a little time at work avoiding doing what we are paid to do.

Is there any difference in principle between our own actions and what has apparently been happening at Westminster?

Well actually, yes there is. We could be disciplined by our employers for making that personal phone call, stealing that pen or wasting work time. If our misdemeanours at work went beyond the trivial, we would soon feel the heavy hand of the local constabulary.

Isn’t the scandal with the MPs’ fictitious mortgages, duck islands and moat clearance a result the self-regulation that has long been exercised by parliament? The constitutional wisdom is that no parliament can bind its successors, but this has put too much temptation in the way of people who have been quick to remind us, are only human.

I find the spectacle of political parties and their leaders ganging up to force a few scapegoats to throw themselves onto their swords to be an unedifying one. If the system is fundamentally flawed, which it is, a few sacrifices will do nothing to clean it up.

If I fiddle my expenses, my employer would take quick and decisive action. We are the employers of our elected representatives. It is our money that that they are salting away for themselves. We should be able to take some decisive action in the form of either endorsing our local representative, or removing him or her from the gravy train. The only way that we can do this is by a General Election in which each MP and candidate will have to come very clean about their conduct. 

I really believe that the next General Election will be fought on the most local and personal set of issues of any election in my memory. And I welcome this. Maybe I will even re-engage in the political process.

Along the way, the gravy train must be shunted into a siding, derailed and sent for scrap. The MPs’ expenses system must be taken out of their control completely, handed over to an independent, external body with no vested interest, if such a paragon can be found.

The new, strictly applied rules should allow only for reasonable expenses incurred as part of their work. I can’t claim for journeys between home and work, nor can I claim for a second home (or a first one, for that matter). Why should our servants?

Ride Safe

Sue’s Left Her Old Job

Whose blog is this anyway?

Today saw the end of an era. Sue has now left the Volunteer Centre Nottingham and is, at least for the rest of Bank Holiday weekend, an unemployed layabout. She starts her new job at Victim Support on Tuesday.

Anyway, she invited some of her ex-colleagues to join her for lunch at the Big Wok which is a Chinese Buffet restaurant on Upper Parliament Street in Nottingham. Of course, I was there, although with food on offer, you would expect nothing less.

Sue also made a card which she has left for her team of volunteers. I thought I’d like to share her craft skill and the really nice thought for her former team with you.

The card that Sue made for her volunteer team on leaving the Volunteer Centre Nottingham

The card that Sue made for her volunteer team on leaving the Volunteer Centre Nottingham

The wording on the card reads “To The most wonderful bunch of people I have ever worked with.”

Inside Sue used a quote from Confucius, “Choose a job you love and you will never work a day in your life.”

Inside Sue's Card

Inside Sue's Card

Good, isn’t it?
Ride Safe

My Favourite Picture of Sue

A promise is a promise. Here it is.

Sue and the lilac bush outside our room at Thoresby Hall - my faovourite picute of Sue (so far)
Sue and the lilac bush outside our room at Thoresby Hall – my favourite picture of Sue (so far)

Ride Safe

Thoresby Hall Weekend – Part 4

This will, I hope be the final episode in this tale. A tale that Sue is very keen to repeat as soon as possible and one that I finish in the certainty that we would both be very good at being extremely rich.

However since we both work in voluntary sector, we both know that being extremely rich will remain some way off for the time being.

But I’m jumping ahead again. The story isn’t quite finished yet.

Saturday evening saw us dining in the Blue Room at Thoresby Hall. This a la carte restaurant is marketed as the pinnacle of the Thoresby Hall experience and I can assure you that it lives up the marketing. The surroundings are pure Victorian splendour.

Blue Room Restaurant at Thoresby Hall. This picture was not taken by us, but comes from

Blue Room Restaurant at Thoresby Hall.

This picture was not taken by us, but comes from here. In fact, we didn’t take any photograhs of the interior of the hotel, so maybe Sue is right – we do need to go back.

Perhaps the uninterrupted luxury of the weekend had made me a little blase by the time it came to dinner, but I wasn’t as impressed with the food as I had been the previous evening. It seemed to be lacking a little of the “wow factor” that I had felt before.

Don’t get me wrong, the meal was fantastic, from the immaculately presented starter to my perfectly cooked beef and on to a fantastic dessert, the meal was amazing. The wine was another really good one, chosen by me almost at random from their large wine list. The service was professional and unobtrusive, although they were a little slow getting the dessert menus to us after our main course had been cleared away. We even ended the meal with coffee and, in my case brandy and in Sue’s case the coffee liqueur, Baileys.

We decided not to repeat the previous evenings visit to the Late Lounge and the entertainment, but briefly enjoyed the big band swing sounds that were coming out of the entertainment room as we headed back to the room.

Although Sunday was our last day and we had to be out of the room by 10:00am, it was no anti-climax to the weekend. We had decided that we would stay in the hotel and go home later in the day, so it was off to the Pierrepont Restaurant for another excellent breakfast. Afterwards, we checked out of the hotel and loaded our bags and coats into the car before plunging back into the building and settling down with our books. Where else could this have been but in the Library.

Thoresby Hall Library

Thoresby Hall Library

This image is from here

In fact, this is almost exactly the view of the library from the chair that I occupied for the rest of Sunday morning.

While we were sitting there, the Thoresby Players, the hotel’s resident actors, arrived an performed a short play about one of the estate’s former the gamekeepers right in front of us in the library. This would have been a great ending to our weekend, but an hour or so later, they returned and performed a different playlet that told the story of the magnificently carved oak plaque above the library fireplace.

I will not recount either story here, but would encourage you to go and see and hear them for yourself.

With a great finale to our weekend, we went back to the Pavilion Bar where we indulged ourselves in lunch, I had a cheese melt hot baguette and Sue enjoyed a jacket potato with prawns. After this, it really was time for us to take our leave of Thoresby Hall.

The journey back to Nottingham took just over half and hour, but brought us a couple of centuries forward into the world that we really inhabit.

Yes, it was a great weekend and this concludes the story. However, there is one more Thoresby post to come on this blog with what I think is the best photo of Sue that I have ever taken. See you tomorrow.

Ride Safe

Thoresby Hall Weekend – Part 3

Yesterday’s episode of this story was cut a little shorter than I had intended because supper and wine beckoned. With no real likelihood of this happening this evening, let’s settle down and continue the story.

We are up to the morning of Sue’s Birthday, which was Saturday and it was breakfast time. We set out on the long walk to the restaurant area and by the time we eventually arrived it was getting close to 10am, when breakfast is no longer served. Initially we were directed into Fenocchi’s restaurant where we had enjoyed last night’s fabulous meal. However, all was not well. The dishes for cereal and yogurt had all gone and there were no glasses for fruit juice. It also seems that the calm efficiency of the previous night’s service had taken a break because we waited for a while, waiting to see a waiter so that we could order our breakfast.

Eventually, Sue disappeared, returning a few minutes later with the news that we were to move to the Pierrepont restaurant where breakfast was available at the self-service buffet. This proved to be a good move because we were welcomed by quickly welcomed by a young lady who took our order for tea and directed us to the food. And what food. My breakfast included egg, bacon, sausages, mushrooms, beans, black pudding, hash browns and bread. It was a great sufficiency that certainly set me up for the day. We resolved on the spot that we would return to the Pierrepont restaurant for the following day’s breakfast.

But hey, let’s not jump too far ahead, there’s a lot still to tell about Saturday.

After a laid back breakfast, it was time to explore the grounds and gardens of the magnificent building. We started with a visit to the courtyard which must have been the hall’s original stable block, but we were a little early because most of the shops had not yet opened. So we wandered out to an amazing old circular building that is now used as a plant sales centre, but must have had an original function to do with horses. We don’t have a photograph, but this building was like a donut. It had a circular open space in the centre with a series of doors that opened into the building which had corresponding doors on its outside wall. The only online factsabout it I can discover from a cursory google are that it is a unique 17th century roundhouse.

I took the photo of Sue at the bottom of Part 1 of this tale just outside the courtyard area.

After exploring this area, we off set out around the outside of the hotel and arrived at the main gates to what would have been the main entrance to the house.

Sue at Thoresby Hall's gate - looking away from the house

Sue at Thoresby Hall's gate - looking away from the house

We then set off up a mysterious stone staircase that emerged into the terrace gardens. This took us around the side of the old building where we discovered a matched pair of old stone gazebos.

Sue in a Thoresby Hall stone gazebo

Sue in a Thoresby Hall stone gazebo

 Perhaps I should have included the photo of the fountain, but you get the idea,  all-round opulence.

We retraced our steps to the courtyard for an excellent lunch at the Bay Tree Cafe.

After lunch came another of the high spots of our weekend. My first ever Spa experience. You can consider yourself fortunate that there are no pictures of Chuffing Hog in swimming shorts or wrapped in a fluffy white  dressing gown, wearing a pair of white fluffy slippers.

The experience itself was probably the most chilled-out I have ever been. We spent a fair amount of time being gently massaged by the bubbles of the hydrotherapy pool before a spell in a hot steam room. After a quick shower, it was time to for the ice cave where I went for the full experience and rubbed handfuls of ice over myself.

After some more bubble battering, we made our way, via an aromatherapy steam room, to the relaxation area where I stretched out on a convenient bed and went to sleep for an hour or so. Sue wandered off and visited some more steam and went for a swim, but I was quite happy on the bed for the rest of the afternoon.

I would just add a word of warning to future users of the hydrotherapy pool at Thoresby Hall. Beware of the effect of the bubble streams. I had my shorts inflated many times and Sue’s bathing costume also trapped some air at one point. It wasn’t so much the air being trapped, but the impact of releasing it in a large bubble whilst underwater.

To anyone who witnessed these eruptions in the pool, I can promise you that this is all it was.

After the Spa experience, it was time to return to our room, via a latte in the Pavilion bar, to make ourselves beautiful for the evening meal. From the various photos that I have posted with this story, it will be clear that Sue succeeded at this rather well.

In part 4, we experience the Blue Room Restaurant.

Ride Safe