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Testing, Testing, One, Two, Three

23rd December 2014
I love a bit of tech. Things that we only dreamt of being possible when we were kids are now commonplace and unremarkable. You know, things like changing the channel on the TV without having to actually get up and walk across the room.

Yesterday we had BBC Radio Stoke turn up to do another interview. Luckily it wasn’t TV as we’re no longer used to getting up at the crack of dawn, so still looked a bit dazed when Jody turned up to shove microphones in our faces.
The idea was to do a live interview after the news, about the sink-hole and landslide (what else). Remarkably, the whole thing was to be carried out on an iPad, with live transmission via our WiFi to the radio studio. Very cool and very techy 🙂
The only problem was – it didn’t work. Whether it was our rubbish broadband or some other glitch wasn’t clear, but after the live intro from Jody, extolling the virtues of Oakamoor, my response to her first question wasn’t received by Mission Control.

This left us with plan B – The iPhone.
With a very becoming blue BBC sock stuck over the mic, she proceeded to record our interview instead.


BBC Radio Stoke


Having quizzed us about The Idiot Builders and when things might actually get started etc, she sent the recording off to Mission Control for editing and broadcast.

We then went outside so we could be photographed looking grumpy and tired. I think you’ll agree, it’s a look we’ve managed to pull off very well.

Radio Stoke photo


Sometime later, whilst returning from the shops, we tuned into Radio Stoke to listen to our dulcet tones being broadcast across the county. We were met by a confident and authoritative voice, with a very sexy undertone, explaining how two people had been wronged by some Idiot Builders. I’m not sure which one of us recognised the speaker first, but Helen could certainly get work doing voice-overs until the B&B reopens!
I’m assuming it must have been a very busy news day though, as the rest of the interview had been left on the cutting room floor. Or more accurately, sent off to cyberspace for the rest of eternity, given the techy nature of today’s news. 

A write-up of the interview was also put on the local BBC News website.
The editorial tone is somewhat more downbeat than we’d expected, but it pretty much sums things up.

We’ll be back after Christmas with more inane updates from The Laurels, so keep checking back.
In the meantime, happy Christmas and New Year to you all and thanks for all your support through what’s been a slightly difficult period in our lives 🙂


Not If, But When

22nd December 2014
Some 20 odd years ago, when I bought my first proper PC, I read that it wasn’t a question of if your hard drive would fail, it was a question of when.
As keen photographers, we’ve always been very careful about backing up our data and digital photographs. This meant we had 46,120 photographs saved on the laptop, which is connected to two external hard drives, with copies of everything on both. At the same time, we’d invested in a large amount of ‘cloud’ storage, just to make sure.
Unfortunately, due to the unreliability of our internet, we couldn’t use the elusive cloud, so had to rely on just the three copies of our precious photos which, you’d have thought, would be plenty for anyone.

As this has been our annus horribilis (© Aunty Betty), three copies clearly weren’t going to be enough though.
Sometime in late September one of the external drives failed. We weren’t too concerned, as we still had two other copies, but made a mental note to buy another drive as soon as we could.
Of course, not leaping out to the shops, or buying it online that second gave the fickle finger of fate a nice little chance to stick that finger right where it wasn’t wanted.
Which brings us neatly on to last week, when the laptop decided it wasn’t going to play ball any more – turned up its toes and expired with a broken hard drive.


Laptop crash

Still, all our photos were still sitting safely on the backup drive, so a new hard drive was installed into the laptop and the process to restore the photos began.

Laptop harddrive

Now, in the previous 20 years, I’ve had precisely two hard drive failures. That’s one every decade – so two in two months did seem a bit unfortunate, but hey that’s statistics for you.

I nervously clicked on the ‘restore’ button and was met by the inevitable wait, whilst the progress bar (or lack of progress bar) meandered across the screen.
Imagine my joy as dozens of folders appeared, detailing the photos within – folders such as Montreal Dec 07 and Lanzarote April 04 and the slightly less helpful Misc and Pics which, in hindsight, could have been given a slightly more descriptive nomenclature.
As I reached over my shoulder and patted myself on the back for heeding that old hard drive advice, I absent-mindedly clicked on The Lakes March 14 folder to remind myself of a recent holiday with friends. Imagine my horror, when I discovered all the folders were empty. The backup had failed. All our photos were gone!

All of which brings me back to the internet.
A quick search on Google and a plea on Facebook for some help elicited a magic bit of software that revived the broken hard drive and returned the once-lost photos back to rude health. Yippee!

Perhaps as an omen of future good luck, we were treated to a new garden visitor. Some kind of blue pheasant. It’s probably not rare, or anything, but we’ve never seen one before. He seems more than happy to strut around picking up the seeds fallen from the bird feeders above.

Laptop harddrive

Having said that, he’s not nearly as brave as the other pheasants and duly legged it when we opened the window to take some photos. That’s 46,122 now 🙂 


The Book of Job

18th December 2014
As if my fully paid-up membership of the Philistines’ Club wasn’t evident enough, I found myself wondering today why Job, which is pronounced Jobe, isn’t spelt, Jobe.

Job was an unlucky chap, in some ways. He was apparently a good and prosperous family man who was beset with horrendous disasters that took away all that he held dear, including his offspring, his health, and his property. He somewhat understandably struggled to understand his situation (courtesy of The Devil) and so began a search for the answers to his difficulties. Evidently God rewarded Job’s fortitude during his trials and restored his health and doubled his original riches. Although he was later to sire seven sons and three daughters, his previous children remained dead – which would have been a bit of a bummer.

Whilst we don’t consider our lives to have been beset by the horrors suffered by Job, we have been feeling a wee bit picked on recently.
Despite us having raised the issue of the sinking sinkhole months ago, the Drain Man arrived only this morning to poke his camera down our drains. Try not to feel sorry for him though – he gets paid a packet.
Anyway, our temporary main drain, which was put in place on 6th April, after the original had travelled slightly nearer to Australia than it should when the sinkhole opened up, has now fractured completely.
The Drain Man informed us that the repair work would take about two days, which is fair enough, but when asked when he was going to start the repair, he informed us, “We stop work tomorrow for Christmas. It’ll have to be after The New Year now”!

As you can image, that didn’t go down too well at Chez Laurels. We may not be as regular as the Doctor would like, but waiting two weeks to go to the loo isn’t something we’re willing to try.
This led to several phone calls to various insurance and engineering bods – well their answer machines actually. These people rarely answer the phone as they’re too busy insuring and engineering things.
Luckily we had the number of another Drain Man (called Graham) who we rang just to see if he could turn up tomorrow and fix things for us. Although he said he could, we’re still waiting for confirmation. Fingers (and legs) crossed.

Another startling and somewhat unexpected piece of news arrived today from the office of the CEO of our insurers.
Despite his previous message (see 8th December) we’re now told they’ve changed their minds and will insure us from April 2015 to March 2016. This sounds fantastic – and in a way it is. The trouble is, the restrictions placed upon the policy are somewhat draconian, meaning we’re not insured for any kind of landslip and the policy excess is so large it means there’s no point in claiming on our contents policy unless the whole place goes up on flames.

Still, you’ve got to be grateful for small mercies. Haven’t you?


Can I speak to your boss, please?

8th December 2014
In the blog of 3rd November, we suggested that our insurers may not be playing nicely, as they wanted us to spend rather a lot of money (approx £100,000) to stabilise our rear bank before they would even consider reinsuring us.
Tired of trying (and failing) to get answers from various low-level employees of huge corporations, we thought we’d target those in more lofty positions, in the hope that we’d have more luck.

I sense some of you will already be mentally deciding on the merit of this approach, so no skipping to the end to find out if you were right.

We’ve never written to our Member of Parliament before – in fact, we rarely even know who they are. Still, they’re there to represent their constituents, so we thought we’d give it a try.
Our local MP was suitably outraged by our situation, the way in which we’d been treated by all concerned, and promised to do everything she could to help us. This led her to write, on very impressive House of Commons headed paper, to our insurers, the local council, the Idiot Builders and their insurers.

We also penned a comprehensive email to the CEO of our insurers, outlining our situation and asking the same list of questions we’d been trying to get the answers to, for some time now.
This was responded to, impressively quickly, by a phone call from his PA. We’re not that green behind the ears to expect him to respond personally – after all, neither of us is a member of a gentleman’s club, or even a golf club, for that matter.
She was suitably outraged by our situation, the way in which we’d been treated by all concerned, and promised to do everything she could to help us. A glitch in The Matrix perhaps? (or deja vu as we used to call it).
She also informed us that our email would be treated as an official complaint, which meant we’d receive a formal reply by 10th December.

Feeling somewhat buoyed by all this positivity, we congratulated ourselves on this new top-down approach. We looked forward to receiving the answers to some of our most complex, intricate, involved, convoluted, tangled, elaborate and impenetrable questions like, “Can you tell us when you’re actually going to start doing some work?” and “When can we reopen for business?”

Whilst we were waiting for this we received a letter, on very impressive House of Commons headed paper, which included the response from The Idiot Builders’ insurers. 
Amongst all the half-truths of their version of events, they said they sympathised with our situation and stated the sinkhole would be grouted (that’s filled with concrete to you and me) by Christmas. They also let slip that the repair scheme to fix the landslip is going to cost around £1.5 million!

Still, for the first time in over 12 months, a promise of action by a certain date actually came to fruition. Some three days early, the promised response to our ‘official complaint’ arrived on the doormat.
The letter alleged to be from the CEO of our insurers. Given the plethora of grammatical errors in it (even more than in this literary garbage), it can only be assumed he just stamped the bottom without bothering to even read it.
Anyway, the thrust of the reply was to inform us, without answering a single one of our questions, that we must replace the original wall and stabilise the bank behind it, just in case there’s a landslide in the future, however, remote the chance.
The extra observant of our readers will notice this is a direct copy and paste from the 3rd November blog, where they first told us of their decision. In addition to this stunning ‘news’, they also told us not to ask them what work needed doing to the rear bank, as they wouldn’t tell us. However, if we did decide to carry out the work (whatever that may be) we were informed they may consider reviewing the decision not to reinsure us.
So much for our top-down approach!

Just to add insult to injury the sinkhole is now, well sinking.
Over the last two days, cracks have started appearing around the edge, some 2ft from the original temporary repair. Our main sewer is also descending under the unerring force of gravity.

Sinkhole and sewer

Sinkhole at B&B

Still, they said it would be properly repaired before Christmas, so nothing to worry about – unless of course, they misspoke to our MP.
Those of you unfamiliar with Hillary Clinton’s body of work misspoke is a euphemism for making things up (or lying as we would call it).

Christmas Cheer

3rd December 2014
The kids are barely back to school after their Summer Hols, when the shops start bombarding us with the next opportunity to spend our hard-earned cash. Namely Christmas – or Xmas as I like to call it, as I know it irritates Helen more than a little.
Surprisingly, the X is not some sloppy shorthand devised by 30 something advertising executives but actually dates back to the mid 16th century.
In fact, it’s the Greek letter chi, the initial letter of the word Χριστός (Christos), or Christ.

To beat the inevitable rush, we decided to visit the Manchester Christmas market – billed as one of the biggest in the UK.
There certainly seemed to be a lot of stalls, subdivided into French, Dutch and German markets, selling all sorts of guff, the majority of which was clearly manufactured in China.
Still, the food on offer seemed genuine, allowing us to sample various strudels, cheeses, mulled wine and gluhwein.

Manchester Christmas Market

Our hotel, reserved for that night, was positioned very close to the markets, which was great, although the view out of our fourth-floor window, could have been better.
What we did spot though, was the very large boring machine positioned in the building plot next to the canal. This is exactly the type of vertical drill, boring machine we will have to accommodate to construct the planned piling scheme.

Manchester boring machine

I’m led to believe this 30 tonne, 15-meter high leviathan can only operate on level ground, so our drive, garden and borders will have to be levelled first. Not that there’s any rush – we’re now told not to expect any work to start until after Xmas.