Dad diary - Multi fuel burners, tradesmen, time off and a health visitor

We have had the pleasureable company of the better half for the last two weeks, so of course the number of jobs that "can" be done has increased.
I struggle to finish one job at a time, so don't take any more on, until what I get the job in hand finished. With the rendering completed three days into her summer break, there's lots of mess, cement on windows, scaffolding, stones all over the back, etc.
Upstairs windows have been scrubbed (four times on the outside) to return them to some kind of normality. The scaffolding is only this weekend coming down and finally being taken away, which leaves just one other major job to be worked on, fitting our multi fuel burner.

To the untrained eye, it is relatively easy:
* Take out the old back boiler and fire
* Smash the brick out to make the hole big enough
* Clean up the remaining brickwork
* Fit the retainer tray for the flue to go through
* Lift burner into place then start small fires

If only it were that simple...
The boiler, fire and upstairs tank have all been removed, along with old unused pipework, which also involved pulling out the airing cupboard that was nailed into the walls back in 1972. Draining off all the water from pipework and tank in the process.
Next I had to remove the plaster from the wall to find where the lintel is in the existing brickwork - this is vital, as the whole burner project will need to be signed off for the building regs, or it would invalidate the home insurance. There has to be minimum gaps in width and height from top of burner to retainer tray.
This done, we could now start knocking out the brickwork around the old gas fire, taking it back to the red brick pillars where a coal fire was fitted pre 1972.
Of course, the brickwork then needed repointing as chunks came out during removal.
Weeks of waiting (and grief from the better half) finally our friend came to sort it out.
In the meantime, plonkhead here had the brainwave to look for alternatives to pointing the red brick, which involved picking up some glasroc boarding - as advised by the company that sold us the burner (Google "Natural heating" very efficient and way cheaper than the local showroom prices round here).

I ordered the boarding in at £70 for two 8 foot sheets, it doesn't come cheap. As my friends will know, not all goes well for me, so once the side panels were cut, the Mrs Frugal advised me that if fitted the boarding would make the width to small for the building regs. (Why I wasn't told of this before I cut them, you tell me!)
I measured it all up and sure enough, it would be too small a gap, so that option was done with. It didn't help that none of the red bricks were level.
After tracking down two alluminium strips - to hold the retainer tray in place - these were drilled into the red brick (took ages) and we were ready for the rendering.
Five buckets of render later, and the base coat is on, it must be mixed with lime I am told to prevent cracking - which it has already done just whilst drying out. The red brick walls have had to be PVA'd in prep for the sand, cement and lime mix to go on.
As it stands now, I am weeks behind schedule fitting it in, I've wasted £70 trying to speed things up, got a bag of metal rawl plugs that did not fit the hole size advised by the engineering firm that sold them to me.
However, I am hoping that said tradesman will land tomorrow and skim the finish and place a stone flag in the base. After that all that remains is for a cardboard cut out to be used and then a template made so we can cut out the retainer plate that's been sat in the kitchen for weeks, along with bags of sand, sharpsand, cement and lime.
Things obviously take time and I know it's a constant frustration, but I want the job doing right as it's got to last. No good rushing a job then having to take the burner back out and fix shortcuts made. By the end of August we should be just about ready for winter, meaning work can start on the inside.
I've already been sounded out by Mrs F, that the wiring hanging down from the ceiling "can be moved no problem" *sigh*

Despite ranting about all and sundry on here, I do have a lot of time for tradesmen.
If they offer good value, I will first take them on and secondly, pay them a healthy tip.
Just because I am frugal/thrifty, does not mean I don't recognise good value when I come across it. Good value for money goes hand in hand with trust, the local tradesmen will be rewarded with a decent tip and follow on work.
Tradesmen are useful to know - not least as they can give free advice, but also they can be trusted. The stories I hear about people paying thousands for a tradesman to do two/three days work would make your ears curl.

Time off?
Whilst many of you have been taking your well earned summer breaks, here at the building site, we have been getting things in order for the winter ahead. Yes it has involved long hours - plastering up until 11.30pm is no fun - but the money I have saved has been substantial.
For example, the cheapest relatively local quote for fitting the burner came in at £650 - when I broke it down wages were way in excess of £25 per hour. Who do you know gets paid that?

I will think back to the past few weeks when I can sit on the toilet or in the bath, without a force ten gale blowing through the unprotected breeze blocks. At minus 5, this experience was no fun.
It should be noted though, that despite giving the appearance of being a workshy lazy twonk, I do actually need to have a break, even if only for a few hours, to catch up on sleep or spend sometime with the family.
It has been more than five years, plus one new sprog, house building and renovations inside and out, etc, since our last holiday. I am hoping with this multi fuel burner in place that now the choice is there to go for either the gas boiler or the burner, we shall have enough of a saving (which I estimate) will be in the region £500 by the end of winter. This would buy a flight to the sun!

Health visitor:
I end my wittering with a note about our health visitor. We are very lucky, in that A, Our health visitor is younger than most and has been there before with her own children, and B, We don't see her very often!
Today was sprog2's two year check up. Conveniently taking place at the building site.
Arranged for 9am (Who's idea was that??) we had to wake up sprog2, which made her tired and grumpy. Although Mrs F didn't care, wasn't bothered, the house was semi scrubbed from top to bottom the previous day. Mrs F was hoovering at 8am this morning!
I came downstairs and thought I had walked into someone else's home or a timewarp..... washing out on the line? Both settees were hoovered, toys tidied away neatly, etc. Very efficient!

Who was this mysterious cleaner? Henry the mild mannered janitor?

I am not a fan of health visitors. Don't get me wrong, they are needed I think, but the information that the NHS gave my mum when she had me back in the 1960's I think has changed very little ever since. They just dress it up differently in todays world.
The one over riding factor - from my experience of them - is that they are menhaters!

No matter how many jokes you try to crack to lighten the mood, they don't even titter (maybe my jokes I'll grant you) they cannot seem to get their heads around mum working and dad taking care of the sprog full time.
We were then told about how sprog2 should be feeding herself with a fork and a spoon by now, she should be able to throw without falling over - three witnesses that she can do this we have, lucky to avoid serious injury as she threw a large plastic musical television at my mum's bonce - how is she doing with her writing? Can she drawer circles?
Yes, she can write with both hands, has been able to hold a pen/pencil correctly since she was 8 months old, she recognises animals, etc.
I know that the manhater wasn't taking a blind bit of notice of what I was saying, as despite three warnings about how much the sprog loves bags, especially bags with zips on, whilst firing general questions and going through her rehearsed patter, promoting the local drop in centre, which I find a pointless place, sprg2 was opening her bags (all three of them) and taking things out.

"Do you understand how to deal with her refusal to do things when she has been asked?"
Now this could go two ways, I could appear thick and play along, so that the manhater could reel off another 10 minutes of rehearsed mantra, or I could answer in a way that would prove once and for all, if they were listening to a word I was saying... I went for the latter...
"Yes, it's ok, I have a big stick and if that doesn't work, we've built a cellar!"

All I got back was, "In that case I shall be making a phone call to children's social services" with a sarcastic grin.

I know I shouldn't antagonise people and often, I am my own worst enemy,  but it should be remembered that it is my home, my child, who is my responsibility until she is leaving home.
I must be getting old, as I somehow managed to keep my gob shut just long enough for her to go... I obviously have not built a cellar, nor would I put sprog2 in one had I got one, it would cost me too much in electric and I'd have to buy a bulb!

I know health visitors, you are not all like this, but it has to be said, that many of the ones whom I have had visit, do not take much notice of fathers. Fathers have some important things to say and viewpoints on bringing up a child and should be taken seriously at all times.

Blackpool pleasure beach rip off

Sprog2 (under two years old), mum and dad, thought we would have a look at Blackpool pleasure beach this afternoon.
We looked at it, from outside, that was it.

It was mid afternoon, we were greeted by a Blackpool pleasure beach "ambassador" - a 16 year old young man with a big blazer on - nice enough he was, but lacking in knowledge of rides at the park.

I explained that it would be more than likely that sprog2 (under two years old don't forget), would go on 2-3 rides only, but because of her age, mum or dad would have to go on the rides with her.
The ambassador then went on one about height restrictions and how some didn't have them??
He continued for about 5 minutes, dropping in all the "exciting" rides in nickelodeon whenever he could. I stopped him.

Well for mum, "only £5" - but mum wouldn't be going on any rides? - £5 for a "park pass" was still required.
Well for sprog2, "with nickelodeon?" - "yes" - £18
WHAT? HOW MUCH? (the queue behind us was taking more notice and mum was squirming with embarassment) - but my daughter is not even two years old yet and would go on 2-3 rides at most, plus it is 2.30 in the afternoon?
"It is £18, but for that you get access to all the nickelodeon rides!"
"Mind you, I would be able to go on with her as she is obviously not old enough to go on a fair ride unaccompanied..."
"You would also have to have a wrist band sir"
"Not just the five pound park pass?"
"No sir, you would have unlimited access to the nickelodeon rides for £18"

So to take our daughter around Blackpool pleasure beach - going on 2-3 rides, if any - in the afternoon, it would cost a total of £41?
"Yes sir."

Off we went, we had more fun walking on the sands and playing on the cranes on the south and central piers. Sprog2 would only go on one ride all day, her first, the teacups on the pier. They did try to charge me 4 tokens (£4.80) for me and a child under two to ride on them for 3 minutes - it would be cheaper to ring the USA on a mobile - but managed to persuade the ride operator to let us on for just two tokens.

As for Blackpool pleasure beach, you are having a laugh, a blatant rip off, which will only damage your business in the long run and damage the reputation of one of the UK's more popular resorts for holidays and days out!
I for one, will not be spending one penny at the pleasure beach, until they sort it out.

Company fail - Churchill car insurance

Churchill car insurance take a bow, you are the latest company to fail when trying to sort out a customer account. To put it bluntly, you just don't get it!

Simple issue, car insurance renewal, big increase (to be expected from all companies), on the new schedule, it has included "Guaranteed car hire" - instead of the "Legal protection" that should have been on there, both last year and for the next year.
A quick call to sort out I thought.

I rang Churchill's customer service department for their car insurance renewals.
The legal cover I wanted adds just £6.20 extra to the policy.
The lady stated that it was ok, the new monthly premium would be just £3.20 a month more than the one proposed.
12 times £3.20 = £38.40 minus the £6.20 difference between hire car cover and legal cover, leaves a total extra of £32.20 that has magically appeared via my new monthly premiums!

When I questioned why I would be £32 out of pocket for a £6.20 change in policy for churchill's mistake, I got a variety of excuses;
- You have to add on 10% tax for anything added to your policy - but it was churchill's mistake?
- You have not been charged extra for it - add up the monthly premiums and I am paying £32 more
- I'll just speak to a manager - came back ten minutes later, repeating the 10% tax excuse
- The guaranteed hire car was free last year
- what's that got to do with charging me £32 extra this year?
- The "system" will let me take off the guaranteed hire car but won't issue a refund at the moment, it will be corrected when you receive your new policy document
The lady just didn't seem to get it at all, I got the clear impression that her department did not want to issue a refund on any policy. I was just fobbed off.

The new schedule arrived and sure enough my impression was correct, the policy had been changed to legal cover from guaranteed hire car, but the monthly payments had not.
It remained an extra £32 cost to myself for a change that should have cost me an extra £6.20

Back on to the phone I went.
The customer service department person agreed with me completely, except that they were "not authorised to issue refunds on an account" - so that's a fob off so your department's figures don't look bad again.
I got through to yet another customer service department, who were exactly the same as the department I'd just been talking to. One good thing, the advisor had placed on the notes that a refund should be issued so that I was only left with the actual extra £6.20 - what could possibly go wrong?

The advisor started telling me that I had not been charged for the hire car which is why the installments would remain the same - WRONG!
They then told me that the car hire was never added to the policy - WRONG!
Next, I was told the legal cover was not added to the policy - WRONG!
Just issue a refund of £32 to the policy as instructed to by the previous advisor will you?

I'll just have to clear it with my supervisor - another 10 minutes on hold - a complaint has been raised for you with our complaints department and I'll issue the refund for you now.
Only it wasn't "now" was it... the system won't let me issue a refund at the moment?
Like I was responsible and advising churchill's staff on how their system should be working!
Don't worry sir, I've issued the refund and it will show on your new documents.
Finally at last!

I have received three (that's 3) complaint department letters telling me how seriously they are taking my complaint, but not actually sorting anything out about it!
Yesterday I received a message from a complaints advisor on the phone saying don't worry I shall ring you back later today..... no call came.
This morning I received a new monthly policy statement to take into account my refund, sadly, the refund was for £22 only and after my monthly payments have been made, I will still be £8 out of pocket more than I should be.

It really is a simple process churchill - I took off a guaranteed hire car policy (pointless as I drive a van) and changed it for legal protection, the price difference was just £6.20 more.
As it stands now after all the messing around I will be paying £14 more to correct churchill's own mistake.
Is it really that difficult to put right?
Churchill have had numerous opportunities to charge the correct price, but instead all I get are excuses and buck passing by incompetant staff.
It really is not good enough!

Retailers get your clothing and shoe sizes in order!

Retailers get your clothing and shoe sizes in order!
Is there any point to having clothing sizes?

The whole purpose of having a scale for clothing and shoes is to make things easier for shops/stores and customers to select goods to purchase.
When I buy a 16 inch collared shirt, wether it be from Burtons or Asda, the collar should be 16 inches.
If I purchase a pair of trousers, a 32 inch waist should be the same as a 32 inch in a different design or from a different company.
The simple fact is, what used to be common practice and scale, is no longer the case. It's costing customers time and money they simply don't have, forcing them to return goods, where had the simple sizing clothing scale been adhered to, they would be satisfied customers who would return to buy again.

Two 16 inch collared plain white shirts bought from two retailers, should be standard in size you would think;
Shirt one (A - in this example) purchased from Asda
Shirt two (B - in this example) purchased from Burtons

Collar size - A is tight and can only just fasten the top button, B is comfortable and can be fastened easily.
Sleeve length - The sleeves on A, are more than an inch shorter than the sleeves on B
Shirt length - The body length on B is clearly longer than the body of A

Next example is trousers or jeans;
How is it that I can buy a pair of jeans and a pair of trousers from Asda and the 32 inch waist size is totally different?
The jeans (for lifting heavy things) I need to wear a belt or they are baggy and they fall down, the trousers (pants) I can only just fasten using the button on the pants. Both are 32 inch waist.

The size scale is there to help customers, is should be adhered to!
How many miles have customers travelled to return YOUR goods that are not upto sizes? Each mile is extra carbon emissions, it takes YOUR customers extra time and turns this customer against shopping with you in the future.
It will often cost YOUR customers more money - car parking fees, etc.
The more synical amongst us would suggest that by the frequency that clothing has to be returned and the constant stream of credit notes given out instead of cash or card refunds, it was as if clothing retailers were using this as a way to entice people back into their stores?

Next up... Shoes.

"They are a wide fitting" - "We have our own size scale" - "They are a narrow fitting" are just three of the excuses I have been given, for bad products and poor service on returning shoes.

The shoe size scale is there for all customers to avoid confusion and be able to pick a product with ease based on the size of their own feet.
It is not and should not be used as a vehicle for increasing prices via the back door.
Never was this more apparent than when buying  shoes for sprog2.

Being classed as a toddler, buying clothes and shoes are hit and miss at best, but when a shoe company (we were told) mislead on shoe sizes to obtain a higher price, official action needs to be taken.
Being measured as a size 2, the sproglette was in the cheaper range of sizes, so a basic pair of shoes was picked up and tried on. They fitted so they were purchased.
On inspecting clark's shoes however, were a different story.
At the same shop, we picked up a pair of clarks shoes in a size 2, hopeless, sprog2 couldn't get them on her feet, strange I thought, so I asked the assistant for some help.
The £10 pair of toddler shoes in the correct size wouldn't fit?
"This is because sizes are different in the clark's range!" Said the assistant.
Different sizes? Why and how is this the case?
Surely a size 2 is a size 2? What other size could sprog2's feet be?
"In a clark's shoe, they would be a clark's size 4!"

Puzzled me this did at first, until that is, I spotted the price...

The £10 for shoes the store was advertising, only applied up to size 2, the clarks shoes were size 4 and were more than double the price.
I launched into the staff at the checkout, told them in no uncertain terms, making sure all the other customers nearby heard me, that the store was clearly ripping people off.
Size 2 feet should require size 2 shoes, international scale that it was. A shoe manufacturer should not be making it up as it goes along for financial gain at the expense of the customer!

And finally..... The humble bra!

I can sympathise a great deal with the plight of women. The sheer volume of marketing thrown at you every single day is horrific. Good quality and value for money is like looking for a needle in a haystack.
Your world consists of being marketed at about anything and everything, from the latest thing to exaggerated problems and buying any given company's solution for it.
This marketing pushes up prices so when you girls finally do select something from the sea of claims and counter claims, until you try the product, you still cannot be sure it will 100% do, what its marketing campaign advertising says it will do and all the testing doesn't come cheap!

The average bra is a fine example of the complete bull you ladies are fed by shops, stores and marketing.
I think even the non breasted amongst us would agree that being measured up properly for a bra is the best place to start when buying one.
You are measured up by a "professional" who is really just a sales person for a shop/store, then flogged one from their range.
Upon buying two with the wife recently, we left the store with all the right sizes and a couple of their products. All was well.
Until that is, we happened to come across another store that offered measuring and "professional fitting" - throw in a couple of catchy designs and the wife took the bait.

In we went, oblivious (regardless of gender), to the con trick that is buying a bra.
Instantly a shop assistant approached and advised that a measuring be done. Despite informing them that one had just been done, it was insisted upon, as "not all makes of bra are the same sizes, they can vary and a bad fitting bra is no good to any girl!"
To my surprise, after ages standing awkwardly around an underwear store trying not to look at the stock and innocent at the same time, out came the wife with a completely different measurement size and was directed towards the collection/range she liked.
We ended up purchasing another two bras, different in size to the first two!

If bra manufacturers and shops/stores selling bras don't stick to the basic scale of bra sizes and technique of measuring, how the hell is the customer supposed to work out what's correct and what isn't and select a bra to wear?
Or is the confusion created deliberately to sell more product?
What use is a scale if no company sticks to it?
Where is the customer protection?

We haven't mentioned the sheer lack of quality in clothing and shoe sales out in consumer world. The expensive ranges trading on name alone, whilst quality is cut back on.
Transparently thin clothing imported and sold for big profits under an expensive brand name which trades on its reputation of quality is for another post.
If the UK has a scale for clothing and shoe sizes, then all industry companies, wether manufacturing the goods or selling them, should be forced to stick to it.

Dad diary - The terrible twos, barriers and digging out footings...

As is our luck, it seems with sprog2, we have hit the "terrible twos."
Previously we have seen the odd tantrum, the odd comical bottle/cup throwing in the face, the screaming abdabs over a pencil or random piece of paper that was being stuffed in the gob - prized from a grasping baby hand like I was stealing a mouse from a kestrel's claw - but nothing on the scale that was experienced in Asda this weekend.

At just turned 18 months old, I was hoping we would have a bit more time before the terrible twos landed upon us, in the same way I hoped we would land five numbers on the lottery (you know the score, just enough numbers to make us comfortable, we are not greedy), no such luck!
Whilst checking prices in Asda on the new printer I'd just picked up in Lidl (of all places), like a fool I'd assumed that allowing sprog2 to walk down the escalator would have calmed her sudden phobia of sitting in the trolley, I was wrong.
As we walked towards the very quiet electrical aisles, I tried again to place her in the trolley, a fit of hysterics erupted like an Icelandic volcano, so to appease our little cherub, I sat her on my shoulders. This did the trick for about 20 seconds, before pulling out clumps of my wig became the new game.
Next came the whiplash in my neck as an agile sprog2 decided she her first taste of riding a bull (read: my head) at a rodeo, after 5 minutes of having my ears used as FA cup handles, I went for the trolley again... not a chance.
With the rigidity and strength of an 18 foot python, her legs would just not go in. I looked for assistance to the better half, as TV screens on the shelf rattled under the weight of her screaming, but to no avail. The better half was now texting herself with model numbers and prices of the same make of printer we'd just got from lidl.
"Could you hurry up please love?" I said in a trying not to shout mode, If I tried to describe the look I got back, it would include some of the cast's expressions from Wacko's thriller video.

Back to the escalator to go up and return to normal shopping... once again the trolley dash failed, so she stood on the escaltor shouting "Bye bye" to everyone.
At the top, another half hearted attempt for the trolley failed, before I went for the sitting on my shoulders routine again, only to receive a heel in the mush for my efforts.
Spinning her around did not work, so when we landed in the pasta/tuna aisle, I was assisted by the better half, in a "you don't know anything" manner. (Women don't need to put you down by saying anything, they just give you the look that says you are thick)

After wrestling for 5 minutes her legs were in, the screams started like I was pulling her teeth out, we had tears, we had an audience, then from being as stiff as a board she turned into a sidewinder trying to get out of a trap, wriggle city!
Luckily for me Asda trolleys have a harness thingy to strap kids in, I always thought it was there to stop falling out accidents, it's not, it's a restraining bolt because health and safety laws prevent the use of cattle prods on children!

5 more minutes of screaming then we got the "butter wouldn't melt" child back again as she regally waved and said "Hi hi" to every single person we passed, as if nothing had happened at all *sigh*

Baby barriers - Baby gates and wedged chairs, etc, are in place to stop baby from hurting themselves. There comes a time when they are no longer for this purpose, without warning they become, give mum and dad reassurance fences, so that sprogs can have more room to play and you won't escape to where they shouldn't be, like computer desks, on the piano, in cupboards where we have stashed things you shouldn't play with, etc.
Everything that shouldn't be touched, is stored/pushed out to the edge of rooms... so what happens when sprog starts to climb?
We have wedged the old baby walker between table and settee, this can now be bypassed with ease, either climbed over or bypassed around the sides by forcing the table away from the gap with her backside.

For two days I've had a battle of wills, after removing the baby walker [read: barrier] leaving just a line where two carpets meet.
Raised voices failed - picking her up and moving her away failed - in the end, out staring her did the job, who'd have thought it!

Digging out footings - When I set out to do a job, it always seems to contain heavy lifting/digging in some way. I maybe slow, but I "plod on" doing a bit at a time. This has benefits, in that I don't get fed up with doing it, I don't end up buying materials that I don't need or use and of course the job gets done for free.
We want an angled wall joining a backdoor step using a piece of stone, about 3 coarses of stone high. It will look good, I can bank soil upto the wall to give me another growing area for veg and it allows me to fill in the opposite side of the wall so we can put a bench on it or barbeque, etc.
Of coarse, to have this small wall and solid stone step will require concrete footings, otherwise it will look good for about an hour, then sink the first sight of rain we get and need redoing.

The footings involved digging out about a foot down - half a foot wide, then mixing the concrete and sand and filling it all in again - an unrewarding experience, but I was able to do it for a couple of hours a day, until today when they were all in place.

I have saved at least two days work from a builder (£220 at the going rate) plus I have spent just £26 for sand and cement and have enough left over to brick up the hole in the fireplace/pointing, ready for the multi fuel burner that's waiting on delivery, to go in.
I've also saved god knows how much on hiring a cement mixer, by mixing a tub load of compo (I'm told that's the term to use for it) each time and pouring it in.
It feels ace to know that I have done it myself, saving a bundle of hard earned cash just by getting off my backside and putting the effort in.
The only problem is, now my arms feel as though they are going to drop off, I'm sure this will pass...