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The collected opinions of an august and aristocratic personage who, despite her body having succumbed to the ravages of time, yet retains the keen intellect, mordant wit and utter want of tact for which she was so universally lauded in her younger days. Being of a generation unequal to the mysterious demands of the computing device, Lady Bracknell relies on the good offices of her Editor for assistance with the technological aspects of her journal.

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Location: Bracknell Towers

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

At last! A cure!

Regular readers possessed of impressively long memories may recall Lady Bracknell bemoaning the decrepitude of her kitchen appliances as long ago as October 2005.

The dishwasher, which was of a venerable age, retained its willingness to slosh water noisily around its innards for some months after Lady Bracknell reported the problem with its "on" button: however, it recently grew unequal to the task of actually using said water to clean the dishes which were stacked inside it, choosing instead merely to rinse them in an apathetic manner.

Lady Bracknell eventually concluded that washing dishes by hand used less energy than washing dishes by hand after they had been feebly sprayed with water by the ailing dishwasher. For some months, therefore, her ladyship has been reduced to washing her own dishes at the kitchen sink. Quite apart from the question of the propriety of an elderly aristocrat having been brought down to the status of a mere kitchen skivvy, Lady Bracknell has better - not to mention more seemly - uses for her severely limited capacity to stand upright. A replacement must be sought.

The Editor was therefore instructed to scour the interwebnet for suppliers. To Lady Bracknell's dismay, no supplier could be found who was willing to unplumb the existing machine on the day of delivery of a new one. Not even for ready money. The Editor consulted Mr Larkin.

Mr Larkin recommended that the Editor identify the supplier closest to Bracknell Towers from the Euronics website. "But the nearest shop is 7.6 miles from here", she wailed, piteously. Mr Larkin sighed deeply. (Lady Bracknell is given to understand that Mr Larkin is often reduced to sighing deeply when in conversation with the Editor.) "You don't have to actually go to the shop!", he replied, through gritted teeth. "A dishwasher is a dishwasher is a dishwasher. You could just ring them up".

Suitably chastened (albeit only temporarily), the Editor telephoned Lunt's Domestic Appliances and explained that none of the residents of Bracknell Towers is physically capable of manhandling large, heavy pieces of kitchen equipment, but that Lady Bracknell would be happy to pay whatever was required for all the heavy work to be done for her. This being found to be satisfactory all round, an order was taken. It then occurred to Lady Bracknell that she might just as well have her equally elderly cooker replaced at the same time, with the result that the order was amended, and a generous discount offered.

Lady Bracknell has long yearned for a stylish cooker with many useful features. However, when she first began to research the subject some five years ago, she soon realised why the lady from whom she bought Bracknell Towers had been so keen for her to pay a little extra on top of the buying price so that the cooker which was in situ might pass into her ownership. The gap for the cooker is 46 cm wide. There is but one cooker on the market of such narrow dimensions. Whilst it may well be perfectly serviceable (indeed, Lady Bracknell hopes very much that it is), a thing of beauty it is not. Nevertheless, it has four working rings: this fact alone is a cause of considerable excitement to a household which has been working on only two rings for the better part of the last four years, and on only three for at least six years prior to that.

Both devices arrived yesterday afternoon. Lady Bracknell can not speak highly enough of the professionalism and speed with which Angus and his youthful but anonymous sidekick removed the existing, elderly appliances and replaced them with the bright, shiny new ones. Nothing was required of her ladyship save an initial opening of the front door, and the removal of the ever-helpful Young Master Bertram from the field of combat. (He was not amused.) The whole operation - which Lady Bracknell is not ashamed to admit she had been dreading - was over in less than forty minutes.

Left alone with her new toys, Lady Bracknell's parsimonious nature soon overcame her initial urge to test the dishwasher on the three plates and a teaspoon which were available to be washed, so she is not yet in a position to report on the standard of its performance. The cooker has so far been used to cook one pan of pasta, and to grill three slices of toast: hardly a thorough test of its capabilities, but there is nothing to complain of as yet.

As an added bonus, Lady Bracknell has now been made privy to the secret of the cure for back pain: according to Angus, he cured his own "bad back" by running the New York marathon. He is clearly of the opinion that this miraculous cure would work for all instances of back pain. Given the service which he had but lately performed for her, Lady Bracknell overcame her impulse to point out to him in no uncertain terms that back pain which responds positively to the impact of pounding the pavements for twenty seven miles is back pain of a rank amateur level and, frankly, back pain of a type for which she would be only too pleased to exchange her own, and merely smiled and nodded politely as Angus skipped lightly down the stairs on his way to lift some more heavy appliances for another customer.

Mr Larkin requested that, should Lady Bracknell act on Angus's advice and enter herself into the next New York marathon, she purchase an extra air ticket so that he might observe her performance. Via the good offices of the Editor, Lady Bracknell advised Mr Larkin that he might wish to choose his location along the route with care, suggesting that less than a hundred yards from the starting line might prove to offer the best opportunity for catching a glimpse of her ladyship prior to her being stretchered off the course.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

The wonders of technology. Or not.

Being a rant penned by Lady Bracknell's Editor in response to particularly trying circumstances. Readers who are offended by strong language are advised to refrain from reading this post and to look instead at pictures of kittens.

Ok, I have really, really had enough now. On Saturday I will be able to "celebrate" the first anniversary of the order for my latest reasonable adjustment under the DDA. I am considering throwing a small party with cake and balloons. And possibly a magician. Except I'm not, actually. It is considerably more likely that I will be spending the day in a towering rage.

Why the uncharacteristic snarliness? Gather round....

The summary

Back in the halcyon days of January 2006, neither my line manager (the estimable Mr K) nor I could possibly have anticipated the catalogue of delays, disasters and downright bloody ineptitude which would leave me - twelve months on - still unable to do my effing job properly.

It sounded like a relatively straightforward request on the face of things. Since November 2004 (2004 was a bad, bad year for me from an impairment point of view), part of my reasonable adjustment has been to work from home on alternate days. To which end, I was provided with a laptop with "RAS capability". (RAS = Remote Access System. Capability = a massive exaggeration.)

RAS, strangely incapable of piggy-backing itself onto my broadband connection, accesses my work IT systems on a dial-up connection through my phone line. The connection is tricksy, and has to be coddled by expedients such as unplugging my phone before I even attempt to log in. Logging in takes upwards of ten minutes, as does logging off. The connection shuts itself down after two hours. So we're already down to periods of one hour and forty minutes, and that's without the virtually-mandatory connection crashes. (I have known it crash as many as six times in a two hour period.) I have learned to save my work at a feverishly repetitive pace.

However, up until December 2005, the situation was just about tolerable. I had two entirely separate jobs, and one of them (the one which disappeared) lent itself to being mostly accomplished from my own personal PC. I only needed to fire up the laptop once a day to deal with emails. Anything requiring sustained access to documents on shared drives could be left until I was in the office. But things are no longer like that, and I really do need access to those drives now. I need it all the time, and I need it to be reliable.

So, having taken advice on the available alternatives, Mr K and I ordered a desktop computer. Said desktop to have its very own ISDN line. Easy, right? Wrong.

Over the months, it's become apparent that much of the problem lies with the fact that I don't fall into any of the regular boxes which our IT providers feel comfortable with. I have lost count of the number of times I have had to explain to IT people that I have a laptop at home and a desktop in the office. To them, a laptop user carries the laptop into work and plugs it into a docking station at the desk. That is The Law, and their brains just can't process any deviation from that norm.

Am I a "particular needs user"? Well, you'd think so, under any normal definition. Apparently not, though. In our IT provider's eyes, you're only a particular needs user if you need adaptive software or hardware. I don't: I just need not to have to trek into the office every day. Weeks were lost to internal email wranglings over who should "own" my case. I don't fit the standard definition of "homeworker", either. I'm someone who works at home twice a week, not someone who works from home. My capacity to fall between several stools is the stuff of legend....

Anyway, the first job was to get the ISDN line installed. My front door bell rang early one Wednesday morning last April when I was off sick with a particularly disgusting cold in the head. A bright and chirpy BT engineer said he had come to fit a new phone line. I sent him away because I was too ill to deal with him. I don't work at home on a Wednesday, but this issue seemed not to have occurred to the IT bods: they merrily booked him at their own convenience without ever thinking that I might not have been in on the date they chose. And they didn't even think to let me know he was coming. You would not believe the degree of military planning, and the volume of email correspondence, needed to ensure that I was kept informed about the repeat performance.

Another cheery BT chap arrived in May. Apart from the fact that he had to phone a friend because my external walls are made of brick so solid that it blunted his drill, the installation went off without incident. I had an ISDN socket. I still have an ISDN socket. It blinks its little green light at me every day in what I can only interpret as a mocking fashion. It clearly doesn't anticipate that I will ever have anything to plug into it.

Some weeks went by without a peep from our Premises people. I was eventually reduced to sending them a polite reminder. At which point they confessed that they had lost the order, and suggested we might want to submit a new one. Mr K and I began to fashion waxen dolls. We also said that no, thanks, we would really rather not submit a new order, but would they like the copy of the original order which we had cynically hung on to against just such an eventuality? There then ensued a dispiriting and lengthy session of email tag in which they tried to convince us that the work had moved to Telford, and the people from Telford (when eventually goaded into a response) denied all responsibility for my case. Mr K set his jaw, and threatened formal complaints in the Highest Places if Something Was Not Done. Nothing was done.


As if the whole scenario wasn't already complicated enough, LEAP hove into view. LEAP (or something very similar) is an acronym for a rolling programme across my employer's entire estate to upgrade all computers from NT to XP. When we started to receive emails warning that LEAP was imminent, it occurred to me that it wouldn't perhaps be a terribly good idea for me to be provided with an NT desktop to replace the laptop just days before my office desktop was to be LEAPED. On an impulse which I have since had the time and the opportunity to regret very bitterly, I raised the question with the Premises people that it might be wise to delay installing the new desktop at home until I could have a LEAP one. And the corollary question of whether my being LEAPED at work needed to be delayed until I had two machines functioning on the same system.

This generated another enormous flurry of emails, many written in IT jargon which I haven't got a hope in hell of understanding. I was soothed and patronised. (Anyone who knows me even in passing will know that I don't respond well to being either soothed or patronised.) I spent countless hours on the phone (hours that I couldn't spare, of course) relating my circumstances to people whose job titles were incomprehensible to me, none of whom seemed to be capable of passing accurate information amongst themselves. Everything would be ok, they said. I'd be able to use the desktop and the laptop, they said. There was nothing to worry about, they said. What an unreasonably cynical woman you are, they implied. They were wrong. On all counts.

My desktop was LEAPED. It promptly sulked and lost the ability to receive emails. My laptop remained on NT. It came out in sympathy with the desktop and also lost the ability to receive emails. Over a four week period, there were only two days on which I was able to access emails received any later than mid-December. I worked on documents in a vacuum, with almost no way of knowing whether my instructions had changed in the interim.

I phoned the IT helpdesk. I got to know several charming young men from Birmingham rather well. They scratched their heads. They said things like, "I'll just try this one last thing". They took remote control of my machine and subjected me to classical music played on a Stylophone, recorded in the same room as somebody frying bacon whilst simultaneously hoovering. That should work now, they said. It didn't.

Modified Rapture

Eventually, one of them had the nous to contact the right man for the job. He did something called regressing my email account to the NT servers. It took him five minutes. I love him. I'm considering having his name and contact number tattooed onto my arm.

By this time, I also had two further allies progressing the desktop order. They are doughty and honourable and they are doing their best against almost insuperable odds. I love them too. One of them managed to establish that my new desktop is in the building. This would be quite exciting, were it not for the fact that it doesn't seem to have occurred to the person who ordered it that a modem to connect it to the ISDN line (yup, still flashing) might also have been in order. Plus, of course, it transpires that the desktop is an NT build. So it has to be re-built to LEAP specifications.

But, you know, I was coping. After a truly ghastly month, I found myself no worse off than I had been in January 2006. (Remember? The point at which it was recognised that I couldn't do my job properly under the existing set up?) My desktop was functioning within normal parameters in the office, and my laptop was continuing in its playful attempts to delete my work before I could save it at home. Sometimes it even stayed connected for the full two hours. I was ever so Zen and calm. Even when a nice young chap came to see me yesterday; told me that the suppliers have never heard of the part number for the modem; but explained that there is a member of staff in Scotland who is giving up homeworking, so I'll be able to have her modem. It's on its way. Honest. Would I lie to you? Etc. (Scotland? Scotland???)

Complacency goeth before a fall

Ok, I admit it: I wasn't concentrating. I took my eye off the ball for a moment. I had allowed myself to be lulled into a false sense of security. I really should have been Deeply Suspicious about the announcement that something unintelligible was going to be done to my email account last night. Something to do with servers. Something entirely standard and natural and which wouldn't cause any problems. To anyone. At all. Perish the thought.

Care to hazard a guess as to whether I can receive emails today on the laptop? Can I bollocks. Am I still Zen and calm? No, I'm bloody not. I'm absolutely pigging furious. Abject sodding failure to make reasonable adjustment? Oh, yes. Without question. Average life expectancy of any member of IT staff, no matter how senior, foolish enough to imply, however vaguely, that this might, in any way, shape or form, be My Own Fault? Is there a shorter unit of time measurement than the nanosecond?

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Dear Tony...

Mr Larkin having left his mobile phone at the office, the Editor is deprived of her usual entertainment for the evening and may – wonder of wonders – be available to her employer for the purposes of taking dictation.

For some time, Lady Bracknell has been intending to bring to the attention of her loyal readers the existence of this section of the 10 Downing St website. Citizens of the United Kingdom may utilise the site to importune the Prime Minister with petitions on any subject about which they feel impassioned. Whilst many of the petitions deal with entirely worthy subjects of considerable national import, others present living proof that the British reputation for eccentricity is well-earned.

For the most part, the more entertaining petitions are those which have the fewest signatories, although Tim Ireland’s petition that Mr Blair stand on his head and juggle ice-cream is a shining exception to that rule. Generally speaking, though, the greatest entertainment can be had by subverting the natural presentation of the site and browsing from the smallest petitions to the largest, or allowing the last to be first. Here at the tail end is where one can find petitions submitted by persons who, whilst clearly enthusiastic, have sometimes failed to think through the ramifications of their fondly-held ideals.

Sometimes statistics of anonymous provenance are quoted as in this instance: Lady Bracknell would like to see proof that twenty six persons a year meet their untimely ends as the result of trying to open a package containing scissors with a knife. She also suspects that there are few, if any, households who, having struggled for years in an impoverished scissor-free existence, suddenly make the plunge (so to speak) and invest in a pair. At a conservative estimate, Bracknell Towers is home to at least seven pairs of scissors. In any event, what does death by inadvertent knife thrust have to do with the title of the petition? (Not that this is an inherently bad idea, of course. Modern forms of packaging are indeed a menace. But it does demonstrate the damage one can do to the credibility of one’s petition if one does not think it through.)

Some are barely comprehensible: Lady Bracknell offers a small prize to any reader who can confidently assure her that he or she has understood what it is that this gentleman is demanding.

Some may not be entirely serious. Others contain spelling errors which render them unintentionally humorous.

This is the sort of petition which greatly appeals to Lady Bracknell.

However, Lady Bracknell reserves her highest accolade for the twelve year old boy who wants children to be permitted to keep elephants as pets in converted sheds. She is only disappointed to see that the author's name is not Wilf.

(On a more serious note, the list of petitions contains several to which disabled persons - or, at least, those who are UK citizens - may wish to add their support. Lady Bracknell is confident that her readers are more than capable of devising suitable search terms should they not wish to plough through screen after screen of irrelevancies.)

Saturday, January 20, 2007

In which Lady Bracknell repents of her rash behaviour

It has been brought to Lady Bracknell's attention that a comment (since deleted) she made on her own last post caused considerable offence to its object.

The object in question being a certain Mr P Larkin, and he being a Very Great Friend of this blog's Editor, Lady Bracknell, in direct contravention of the habits long ingrained in her by virtue of her position in society, has decided to offer a public apology for what was, she now understands, deemed to be a vile calumny against a wholly innocent - nay, positively saintly - man.

When Lady Bracknell ventured to mention that Mr Larkin has a predilection for the demon drink, she did not intend to imply that he is, by any stretch of the imagination, alcohol-dependent. She now understands that, while by no means a total abstainer, Mr Larkin drinks only socially and never to excess. Indeed, so casual is Mr Larkin's affection for alcoholic beverages that he would certainly never be tempted to succumb to their lure when, for example, taking a course of anti-biotics. Neither, apparently, would he be so reckless of another's health as to press alcohol on someone with a medical condition which renders its consumption inadvisable.

Lady Bracknell is assured by her Editor that one would be hard-pressed to find a finer and more responsible gentleman than Mr Larkin regardless of how diligently, or how widely, one searched. Mr Larkin would appear, from all accounts, to be a veritable paragon of virtue of a calibre rarely encountered in these parlous times. Lady Bracknell, now lost in admiration for the gentleman in question's moral rectitude, is ashamed of having thoughtlessly maligned his character and reputation in the name of entertainment.


Any parallels which may be drawn between the degree of genuine and heartfelt sincerity demonstrated in the above paragraphs and that evinced yesterday by a certain contestant of a reality television show are entirely in the minds of Lady Bracknell's readers.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Babbling, but not in the manner of a brook

Lady Bracknell, having made a firm promise to herself that she would desist from writing anything cat-related for a short while in these pages, must break her vow. To the eternal gratitude of her cat-indifferent readers, however, she will at least resist the urge to illustrate this particular entry with further photographs of her own feline companions.

The weather having been inclement last weekend, the Editor kept herself amused by browsing eBay* for cat toys. Despite misgivings about the potential of the item in question to be irritating beyond measure, she ordered a Kitty Babble Ball from this seller.

The postman has but lately delivered said item, and it has proved to be an immediate and irresistible draw to both Caspar and Bertie. That its squeaky voice is at least as irritating as anticipated is undeniable, as is the fact that it will need to be put away in a drawer at night if the entire household is not to be woken in an untimely fashion by its chirpy persona. Nevertheless, it exerts such a compelling fascination over Caspar and Bertie that Lady Bracknell wished to lose no time in recommending it to her readers. Its full repertoire of phrases can be "enjoyed" at the PetKwerks site.

*Lady Bracknell wishes to reassure any of her readers who, like Mr Larkin, have an irrational fear of discovering that they have accidentally sold their trousers as a result of merely visiting the eBay home page, that the risk of inadvertently selling everything one owns is infinitesimal. The Editor has made a great many purchases from eBay over the last five years or so, and is still in possession of all her trousers.

Monday, January 15, 2007

The handbag and the glad rag

Never let it be said that Site Meter is not worth the effort of installing. Not so much for the statistics it supplies on the number of what Lady Bracknell believes are termed "hits", as for the fascinating insight it provides into the circuitous routes via which readers have been led to the pages of her blog.

Earlier today, the Dude expressed his gratification that a search for "Rolls Canardly" drew one inquisitive soul to his own comments on his Sisyphean labours as her ladyship's chauffeur. It would, perhaps, not be stretching the truth too far to state that the Dude for once feels appreciated.

Were it not for Site Meter, Lady Bracknell would never have experienced that fluttering of authorial pride in her capacious bosom which comes from knowing that her words have been chosen by the prolific Mr Worstall for inclusion in his Britblog Roundup. (Admittedly, on this most recent occasion it was the Editor's words which were chosen: still, Lady Bracknell supposes that one cannot have everything. We cannot all have the great good fortune to witness eel-torturing first hand.)

Be that as it may, what has motivated Lady Bracknell to indulge this evening in what might otherwise have appeared to be an activity dangerously close to bragging, is the apparently random link to her Perorations from this site. Bracknell, if her ladyship is not very much mistaken, is in the county of Berkshire. Lady Bracknell, who has precious little knowledge of Buckinghamshire (despite having been incarcerated for some years in Milton Keynes), can state firmly and without fear of contradiction that she knows nothing at all of Berkshire. It is not that Lady Bracknell is ungrateful for the link: far from it. It is just that she suspects that such readers of the Buckinghamshire Advertiser as click on it may find themselves sorely disappointed at the lack of local information herein contained.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

To allay concerns...

Some of the readers of this blog have asked that a photograph of Caspar be posted, presumably so that they may be confident that she has not been trampled to death by an exuberant Bertie.

Caspar, as can be seen from the deep suspicion on her face on this photograph, is much less tolerant of being photographed than Bertie. Being considerably fleeter of paw and feistier of temperament than he is, once she has realised that a photography session is imminent she takes herself swiftly off to somewhere so dark that the camera can not make her out.

In any event, cats who are black, or mainly so, quickly exceed Lady Bracknell's skills as a photographer, tending to result in slightly disturbing images of a pair of glowing eyes surrounded by an amorphous black mass.

Bertie (despite his size) is still growing up and his appearance is constantly changing. That fact, combined with his willingness to pose, and the impact of his youth on his behaviour, renders him subject to very frequent sessions with the camera. That Caspar is above such things should not lead anyone to suspect that her presence in Bracknell Towers is not greatly valued.

Lady Bracknell has hopes of one day managing to photograph Caspar holding Bertie down and forcibly washing his ears. However, given that
  • Lady Bracknell does not herself move very fast; and
  • Bertie's tolerance of said imposed ablutions is distinctly finite

readers would be well-advised not to hold their breath, entertaining though the spectacle undoubtedly is.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Yet another pictorial interlude

Lady Bracknell suspects that her predilection for posting photographic images of Young Master Bertram on these pages will soon become wearisome to her readers if, indeed, it has not become so already.

She will do her best to restrain her impulses in future, but hopes that this particular picture has sufficient charm not to drive any readers away in despair just yet.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Eel meat again....

Working in (or, at the very least, attending) an office which is right next to the river Mersey isn't all wine and roses, by any stretch of the imagination. As anyone who has stood waiting for a bus for forty minutes in a howling gale in the middle of winter will confirm. It's not just that the waterfront has its own micro-climate: it's also so far from the centre of town that it is served by very few buses and is well off the trundling-around-touting-for-business route of the city's legions of black cabs. I know someone who had his glasses blown off his face into the dock. I have known of people actually being blown off their feet. Even I have had recourse, on occasion, to clinging to lamp posts. And, if you've seen my MBE photographs, you'll appreciate that I'm no lightweight.

On the other hand, because it's built over a dock, we do get to see a bit of wildlife. On a summer evening, there's something very relaxing about watching swarms of jellyfish drifting gently about in a sheltered corner. On a sunny day, if you squint, you can also often make out shoals of tiny fish fry, huddling together for safety. And the seagulls have learned how to open mussels by dropping them onto the concrete from a great height. (I gather this is rather less entertaining for people who have nabbed one of the increasingly rare parking spaces when a seagull misjudges the wind speed and a mussel plummets with devastating effect onto a car bonnet.) I'm told by the security staff that there's even a visiting fox, but he or she is never seen during most people's working hours.

Anyway, I wandered outside today for my afternoon breath of fresh air to see a fairly small cormorant wrestling with an enormous eel. As a larger cormorant with a rapacious glint in its eye hove into view, our hero dove under water to protect its prize. This was an effective strategy in the short term, but the villain of the piece loitered with intent on the surface, waiting for our hero to run out of oxygen and be forced to re-emerge. As soon as the eel was once again in play, it was snatched untimely from the beak of its captor, and juggled until it was facing the right way to be swallowed whole.

The eel, being still very much alive, objected - as one would - to being swallowed, and wriggled its way back into the water with all possible speed. The local seagulls, all of whom have made an art form out of being able to spot a potential light snack from a great distance, were by this time baying for blood. A short skirmish ensued, after which the larger cormorant managed once again to swallow the eel whole.

The eel being of considerably greater length than the available eel-storage capacity inside a cormorant, our villain struggled mightily to keep his lunch down. As his gullet bulged bizarrely with writhing sections of furious eel, he sank ever lower in the water.

Did the eel make a second and successful bid for freedom? I'm afraid I can't say. I had to go back inside before the drama was completely unfolded. Why, then, am I tormenting you with an irritatingly incomplete anecdote of nature red in tooth and claw? Because I thought of the title of this post on the bus on the way home and it amused me. Sorry.

The Editor

Thursday, January 11, 2007

In which Young Master Bertram has a rather trying day

Young Master Bertram has but lately returned from the veterinary surgery where he was subjected to that minor surgical procedure to the nether regions which all male kittens are fated to endure if they have responsible owners and are not destined for a life at stud.

He is decidedly groggy and a little wobbly on his back legs, but he is continuing to purr. This is surely strongly indicative, under the circumstances, of his capacity for unfailing good humour at all times. He has had a big kiss from his Aunty Caspar, and fell asleep on Lady Bracknell's bed shortly after the photograph to the right was taken. (Lady Bracknell felt it was necessary to photograph Bertie in this slightly somnambulant state because his Uncle Larkin has been fretting about the operation. She would like to point out that Bertie's mouth is open for the purposes of purring loudly enough to shake the foundations of Bracknell Towers: he is most assuredly not whimpering.)

Whilst under the anaesthetic, Bertie also had a microchip inserted in case he should at some point in the future wander off and become lost. He was a popular young chap at the surgery, with neither the vet nor the nurse having previously encountered a Selkirk Rex in the flesh. Nor, indeed, any cat with such a consistent purr. Lady Bracknell is told that Bertie purred even while being injected with the anaesthetic. Apparently, he already weighs 4 kilograms at just over seven months old, so he is set fair - as Lady Bracknell has always known - to be a very substantial cat indeed.

On equability of temperament alone, quite apart from any aesthetic considerations, Lady Bracknell has no hesitation whatsoever in wholeheartedly recommending the Selkirk Rex breed to her feline-fancying readers. Bertie is sweet-natured and affable but by no means a boring companion.

In other news, Lady Bracknell is proud to report that she has successfully removed from her handsome blue walking stick the rubber ferrule which had worn through, and fitted a replacement. The task was very much easier than she had anticipated. The new ferrule contains a metal washer, which should increase its useful life, and comes complete with rubber nodules, which should improve its grip on wet pavements. (This achievement might not strike most of her readers as being something of which they would themselves be proud, but Lady Bracknell, whilst having been blessed with not inconsiderable academic intelligence, was at the back of the queue when practical intelligence was being handed out.)

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

In which Lady Bracknell is decidedly unamused

Is there any greater scourge of modern life than parcel carrier firms? Are there any which are capable of delivering to the address on the parcel on an agreed date? Do any of their drivers have the first idea of how to find a particular house when it is situated on a street which has an even slightly unusual numbering system?

One firm from which Lady Bracknell will never again place an order employed a driver who claimed to have left the parcel in question in her shed, thereby indicating that he had made no attempt whatsoever to track down Bracknell Towers: had he done so, he would have realised that Lady Bracknell has no shed.

Before Christmas, Lady Bracknell received a telephone conversation from an honest and decent young chap further up the street who had returned home to find two parcels addressed to her ladyship on his doorstep. He was kind enough to deliver said parcels in person, for which service Lady Bracknell was extremely grateful. She then dictated to the Editor an email communication to the firm from which she had ordered the goods, expressing her disappointment that, despite the quality of the items sold by them, she would not be able to place any further orders given the unreliability of their chosen carrier. Part of the purchase price for the goods was immediately and cheerfully refunded. Whilst in some ways a gratifying result, this signally failed to resolve the underlying problem.

Some days ago, Lady Bracknell (again, via the good offices of her Editor) placed an order with a certain online domestic pet requisites store for, amongst other things, two very heavy bags of The World's Best Cat Litter*. The online store sent her an email when the goods had been despatched. This email contained both the parcel reference number and the carrier's website address. It explained that, were one to enter the reference number into the appropriate box on the website, one would be able to track the progress of the parcel. Despite the Editor's best efforts, the website stubbornly and persistently refused to recognise the parcel reference number.

Lady Bracknell returned home from her various external obligations at about 4.15 on Monday afternoon to discover a note from the carrier to indicate that an attempt had been made to deliver her parcel. She phoned the automated "helpline" to hear that she could arrange for redelivery for the following day if she did so before 5pm. She followed all the necessary voice prompts, and spoke clearly (as is her wont) and slowly (which she finds rather more difficult) at all times. Having at no point spoken to a real person, Lady Bracknell was by no means sanguine that all would go as planned.

Nevertheless, she remained at home between the hours of 9.00 and 5.30 yesterday in constant expectation of a ring on the doorbell. Readers will not be surprised to learn that no attempt at delivery was made.

Having once again had obligations outside Bracknell Towers today, Lady Bracknell arrived home to find - wonder of wonders! - a note from the carrier. This one told her that her parcel would be retained for collection at a depot several miles away for seven days, and then returned to the sender.

If Lady Bracknell were capable of driving herself several miles, and of lifting heavy items into (and back out of) the boot of a car, she would not pay through her aristocratic nose for delivery. Girding her metaphorical loins, she telephoned the "helpline" once more, this time refusing all options which seemed likely to lead to an unproductive conversation with a recorded voice.

The upshot of her frustrating conversation with a woman who did not even bother to apologise for the failure of the automated "helpline" is that the parcel is promised to be redelivered Thursday next (the next weekday on which Lady Bracknell can guarantee to be at home constantly between 9.00 and 5.30). It would be ill-advised of the carrier to attempt to levy an extra fee for this "service".

In the intervening period, either Caspar and Bertie will have to keep their legs crossed, or Lady Bracknell will have to impose on the good nature of Dude the chauffeur, as she is entirely incapable of carrying even a small bag of cat litter home from the nearest supermarket.

*The claims made for this product by its manufacturers may strike Lady Bracknell's readers as being exaggerated, if not downright misleading. They are not. The product is not cheap but, as with so many things, one gets what one pays for. Neither is it as expensive as it might initially seem, for it is extremely economical in use. Lady Bracknell wholeheartedly recommends its purchase to those of her readers who share their homes with feline companions.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Fair enough...

For many years, Lady Bracknell's feline companions have all had fur which was either wholly, or at the very least mainly, black in colour.

For a similar span of years Lady Bracknell herself, as befits her age, social standing and (if she is being entirely honest) girth, has been in possession of many black garments.

This may explain why Lady Bracknell has never previously been unduly disturbed by the presence of cat hairs on her clothing.

With the exception of a pair of highly inelegant (but comfortable) carpet slippers, however, not a single garment owned by Lady Bracknell is of a comparable hue to the fur of Young Master Bertram. One might think that, having observed this fact, Bertie would have the consideration not to shed fur on to her ladyship's apparel. Unfortunately, he demonstrates no such self-restraint and sheds fur with abandon wherever he goes. Plus, of course, he is an inquisitive young chap and therefore often has to be clasped firmly to Lady Bracknell's capacious bosom to prevent him from, for example, going for an exciting ride in the washing machine. On such occasions, he appears to co-ordinate his rate of shedding with his degree of displeasure at having had a particular plan thwarted.

The fact that Young Master Bertram's fur is curly does not really help matters. Without wishing to appear uncharacteristically vulgar, Lady Bracknell now lives in constant fear of being accused by some low-bred person of having engaged in what her esteemed mother (who has long been a mistress of the euphemism) once described as "sportive" pursuits with a sandy-haired gentleman.

This would never do. Lady Bracknell is therefore giving serious consideration to updating her entire wardrobe to match Bertie's fur. And possibly submitting to a permanent wave. The colour will not be at all becoming on her, but needs must when the alternative is to be suspected of low morals.

On the other hand, she could, of course, just invest in an effective clothes brush...

Thursday, January 04, 2007

The cat's pyjamas. Nearly.

As regular readers will have gathered long ago, Lady Bracknell's editor is a slave to the Interwebnet, and is frequently (and all too easily) drawn into its stranger highways and byways. Lady Bracknell's severest reprimands have no effect. The woman knows no shame.

The Editor's relentless Google searching drew her earlier today to a site the existence of which she was previously entirely unaware.

Not On The High Street dot com offers many beautiful things, particularly in its jewellery pages.

However, enticing though many of the earrings on offer are, the site only really comes into its own for entertainment purposes in the pet section. The photograph to the right is not, readers may be surprised to learn, one of an inordinately large domestic cat. The cat in question - let us call him Oscar - is of a standard size. He is reclining (albeit in a somewhat grumpy posture) on a comfy cotton pet bed.

A bed which "stands on wooden Queen Anne Legs which will keep your pet out of the draft and off your furniture!". Allegedly.

In a long life replete with feline company, Lady Bracknell has yet to meet a cat who shows a marked predilection for a Queen Anne Leg. In fact, all cats of Lady Bracknell's acquaintance have, when asked to express a preference, always chosen upholstered furniture legs over wooden ones, no matter how classical the style, on the grounds that upholstery is far more satisfying under the claws than varnished wood.

It is also Lady Bracknell's experience that nothing is more likely to ensure that a cat will choose to settle down on its people's furniture than the generous provision of a special cat bed of its very own.

Inexperienced cat owners who consider the prospect of their dear little furry bundle reposing on a miniature sofa to be endearing beyond words may purchase the bed (in pink, or blue) for a mere £235. Although they ought, perhaps, not to be surprised if they are accused by less extravagant persons of having more money than sense.