A practical Joke


In order to be considered a classic, a practical joke needs to be witty without being cruel, have plausibility that disguises its inherent lunacy and above all it must confront its victims with the ludicrousness of their own gullibility.

The Venus de Milo’s long lost arms, the Italian spaghetti harvest…..we all have a favorite, which (for a moment) had us under its spell, like wide eyed children gaping at a dodgy uncle’s sausage fingered magic trick.

There is one currently doing the rounds that really fooled me for a while. In fact it’s so good that there are those who are still clinging, like snot-nosed primary schoolers, to the belief that the chocolate penny really did emerge from their unwashed ear.

It is, of course the deliciously believable, yet simultaneously barmy notion that an organisation as ruthless and canny as the Conservative party would ever choose someone as eccentric, unmanageable and quintessentially human as Boris Johnson to be its figurehead.

Under the spotlight of the BBC studio cameras

Eddie Mair – “So (Uncle) Boris………. You want to be Prime Minister, don’t you?”

Boris Johnson – “Well of course…… I simply couldn’t…… I fully support David… Blah, blah….”

Meanwhile, sitting in front of the TV in No 10, David Cameron and George Osbourne giggle uncontrollably, as the tears of mirth run down their smooth pink cheeks, to drip unnoticed into the fresh glasses of Bolly in their chubby little fingers.


Dearest O2

I have just had one of the more frustrating experiences of my life at the hands of of your “customer services” department, as I will now recount.

Whilst on holiday I fell in a river (a dog related incid that both Houndle and I would prefer to gloss over) and lost my O2 contract I-phone, which is essential to my business….. in fact to my entire technogogically dominated and frustrating life.

It probably won’t come as a surprise to you to discover that trying to get through to O2 “customer services” whilst on holiday (with your O2 mobile residing at the bottom of a river) is a nightmare in itself, as your customer services numbers don’t seem to want to receive incoming calls from other mobile phone networks. Consequently I had to trudge about Northumberland looking for a public phone box.

When I did eventually find a phone box and get through to one of your highly trained “customer services” operatives, I was asked to confirm either my account password or the details of my last bill. It turns out my account doesn’t have a password, and details of my mobile phone billing is not information that I tend to carry about with me on holiday.

Fractionally before I succumbed to stress related apoplexy, your ‘customer services’ consultant relented and accessed my account anyway. He agreed to have a new SIM card sent to my billing address……..!

Why you need to go through MI6 level security questions to send a replacement SIM out to the same address you send all my bills to escapes me, but “hey ho” it’s clearly important  to keep the customer on the verge of a nervous breakdown at all times.

The following Monday, on my return to work, I again rang your helpful “customer services” people and enquired about whether the aforementioned drowned I-phone was provided as part of my contract. This seemed a difficult concept for my new “customer services” consultant to deal with. But, after some discussion, we established that it was, and that my current contract had another 6 months to run….. However, if I was to renew my contract for another 2 years, I could get a new phone and (to your credit) my monthly payments would also reduce.

“Brilliant!” I thought “How long will the phone take to get to me?” I asked.

“We’ve got them in stock I will get one dispatched today and it will be with you within 3 working days at the latest.” Was the reply.

“Phew!” I thought “Crisis averted.”

Thursday came and went……. no phone……. So back on the land-line to “customer services”.

After the usual pleasantries, I was informed that “the I-phones are now in stock, and one will be dispatched today and should arrive within three to five working days.”………

”Hang on a second” I mused “on Monday I was told that they were in stock and that I would have had it delivered by the end of this week at the latest. Now you are telling me that the phone is not going to get to me before the end of next week (given the bank holiday). Surely as you’ve messed up here, you can at least get the phone couriered over so that I can have it next day.”

“We are willing to give you a month’s free line rental.”

“This is not much use to me when I’m trying to contact, and be contacted by, my clients during the course of the next seven days… which, coincidentally represents 25% of the free line rental you have so “generously” offered. No thanks, I would much prefer to pay the line rental and get the phone please.”

“Sorry that’s impossible.”

“Do you not have a phone and a copy of the yellow pages?”

“What do you mean?”

“Armed with these, you could contact a courier and get the phone dispatched to me, probably by close of business tonight.”

“Sorry we don’t have that service available from our couriers.”

“Frankly I’m not interested in the contract you have with your couriers. Anyway, I would be very surprised if any contract you did have with your couriers specifically stated that they wouldn’t, under any circumstances, offer a “fast-track” delivery service if you paid them enough. What you appear to be saying is that you won’t ask them.”

“No, we’re not saying that.”

“Oh, then what are you saying?”

“That it is impossible to get the phone delivered.”

“Surely you can conceive of a scenario, involving an Iphone, a competent courier and an adequate payment that would result in me getting a phone before the end of next week?”

“Yes, I can conceive of that scenario.”

“So, as I mentioned before, what you’re actually saying is that you refuse to send me out a phone on a next day delivery.”


“What are you saying?”

“We don’t have the tools available to do that.” (that’s a verbatim quote).

“So, O2, a multi-billion pound turnover company, is incapable of getting a courier to deliver something at short notice, in order to rectify the fact that you have, during the course of making a sale to a customer lied and, as a consequence, severely inconvenienced them?”


“No what?”

“We did not lie to you and we are not refusing to get the phone delivered tomorrow.”

“How did you not lie to me?”

“The stock levels quoted by our system when the previous “customer services” consultant was speaking to you may have shown Iphones being in stock. Therefore he was not lying.”

“But there wasn’t a phone in stock at the time.”


“Consequently, the statement he made that “we have an Iphone in stock for delivery today.” was not a true statement.”

…..long pause….. “Yes.”

“And saying something that isn’t true is lying, is it not?”

“But he didn’t know it wasn’t true at the time.”

“But it was still factually incorrect and therefore a lie. The fact that he believed the words as they came out of his mouth is irrelevant. Your system was conspiring to put him in the position of giving a false statement, i.e. lying. As a result of that lie, I have entered into a contract with your organisation and been waiting four days for a phone that has not yet been despatched and that you are now refusing to send by courier.”

“No, we’re not refusing.”

“You can, by your own admission, imagine a scenario, involving resources, readily available to all of us at a reasonable price, which would result in the phone being delivered to me. But you are choosing not to use those resources to achieve, what for me would be, a positive outcome.

In my universe that constitutes a refusal.”


“No what?”

“We are not refusing.”

“Yes you are.”

“We don’t have the tools available. If we don’t have the tools available then we can’t do it.”

“If you had promised the CEO of O2 that you would get a phone over to him by Thursday and he rang you up on Friday wondering where it was. I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t tell him that you “didn’t have the tools available” to get said phone to him for another seven days.

It is possible for you to get the phone to me. You are simply choosing not to. To choose not to do something is to refuse to do it.”

“No it isn’t.”

……. At this point I realised I had been beaten. As a last, impotent, act of defiance I asked for the email address for customer complaints (only to be given a PO Box address in Dunstable!!!!!!!) and, with that, I wished my victorious adversary “bon voyage”.

If this constitutes good customer services then  I’m Usain Bolt.

Yours with no shred of dignity intact

Oundle Underpants

“There is no Plan ‘B’


With stress cracks starting to appear in the coalition, and his economic strategy under attack from many quarters, I understand that the Chancellor has been putting in a lot of hard work on the presentation of the Conservative vision of what’s best for the economy in the run up to the (imminent?) general election.

In Mensch Sana

Oi Prescott!…… Not so big now are you!

Louise Mench… I love to be proved wrong! I previously referred to her as “a vapid piece of Tory window dressing”. Which shows just how little I know about politics.

My relationship with Louise is principally through twitter. We’re not close you understand, but I feel that I now know her (slightly better no doubt than she knows me) and if there’s one thing she ain’t it’s vapid… There are a couple of alternative adjectives that end in id that might apply, but vapid could not be further from accurate.

As the more perceptive of you will have established, I stand so close to the political centre ground that, a certain critical part of my anatomy could be accurately described as the quintessential swingometer. Consequently, from my equivocal standpoint, our Louise, as I hope we are all coming to think of her, is a modern Boudicca….female, fearless, photogenic (have googled images of Boudicca… Can’t find any photos of her in the flesh so the above will have to do) and fairly right wing.

Conservative means deliver Liberal ends… is her wonderfully ambiguous strapline. I’d like to believe that “means” and “end” are both being employed as nouns… However, there may be those (further from the centre ground in either direction) who would definitely prefer to read them as doing rather than being words….. Such an enigma!

Wife, Mother, Local MP, Tory Tweeter extraordiare… @louisemensch 20,900 tweets and counting… If you don’t recognise her from the photo, you cant miss her, she’s the only blonde fortysomething wandering around Oundle with steam constantly rising off her thumbs.

As if being all that wasn’t interesting enough, she has recently outed an Internet Troll (like the scene from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone… Rewritten to cast Hermione as felling the inarticulate beast). The fact that the monster in question turned out to be a 60 year old agrophobe from Gloucester (the phrase “needs to get out more” springs immediately to mind) doesn’t detract from her heroism. When she took on this hate fuelled inadequate she knew nothing about him. He was a creature of anyone’s nightmares, an anonymous lunatic threatening her and her children with a violent death. I for one would have turned off the computer and hidden under the duvet (Louise doesn’t even have the indefatigable bulwark of Mrs U to hide behind).

But, as far as I’m concerned, her crowning achievement was to the put-down delivered to an adolescent Twitter sparring partner, who, on the 28th of May, she described as “… the arse-crack of society who views the public as a piece of gum on your shoe.” I knew that Louise is a widely published author, and now I can see why… That’s one convoluted simile. The bit I am struggling with is this, what exactly does the “arse-crack of society” use to view the aforementioned piece of gum on it’s shoe? The inner eye I presume.

So, what does the future hold for Ms Mensch ne: Bagshott and by association Oundle and Corby? My prediction is that she will fight one more election, with her eye on a ministerial post; something like Secretary of State for PR and social networking. She will be touted as potentially the next leader of the Tory Party (a rumour she will evasively deny) and she will stand down at the following election to “spend more time with her family”….. at which point her career will really take off.

In the meantime, we’re in for an entertaining ride. Because, whatever you think about her various antics, you can’t accuse her of being dull.

Oh and by the way Louise, if you want to follow me on @oundleunderpan1, I’ll show you how PR and social media should really be done.

Oh My God – What’s happening to Oundle? We are at the centre of a current event storm!!

  • Waitrose to build new convenient town centre – about 1/2 a mile from the existing inconvenient town centre
  • Talbot re-opening after 40 year absence
  • Mrs McMurdo to take over the running of all schools in the Developed World
  • Local Politician refers (perfectly reasonably) to 15 year-old boy as “the arse-crack of society”

My considered opinion on each of the above will follow. But initially, here’s my thoughts (without recourse to metaphor for Dizzy’s benefit) on “the Waitrose Question”.

It would appear that Oundle residents are divided into three camps

1) Bourgeoisie – Wandering around in a state of smug arousal at the thought of having a Waitrose on their doorstep. No need now to trek out to the equally dreadful Peterborough or Rushden to purchase their Olives, Prosciutto and Cognac Frapin…… “Darling – the effect on property prices?”…..”Oh Ya!”.

2) The Traders – Wandering around in a state of dazed horror at the prospect of having a Waitrose close enough to compete, but not so close that it will provide any spin-off passing trade whatsoever….. Well if you didn’t block the Market Square up with your ruddy great delivery juggernauts dropping off two bunches of flowers we might have a bit more sympathy!…… (Sorry, sore point).

3) The Agnostics (Mr & Mrs U included) – Would quite like convenient Olives and (decent) Prosecco at a price that won’t break the bank, but rather worried that all this adjacent cost-effectiveness might have a rather disastrous effect on the real town centre and destroy one of the principal things that makes Oundle such a lovely place to be… a thriving Market Town based around it’s …….err…… Market.

My solution would be this. On the one hand, for the traders to take a long hard look at what many of them have been doing for the last 4000 years…. i.e. treating their customer base with a degree of contempt by providing them with a fairly poor service and significantly over-priced goods. Simultaneously I would suggest that the residents ask themselves the following question. Do you really want to risk kissing the thriving vibrant market square goodbye just so that you can brag to your equally repellent smug middle-class friends?  “Oundle’s such a lovely place to live….. We’ve got a Waitrose less than two minutes in the Audi from the front door”…….. “Market Square? Oh I don’t really know. It looks rather nice and quite as we drive through. We tend to avoid it though. The traffic’s absolutely dreadful at the bottom of North St.”

But on balance I think there are enough Waitroses within convenient striking distance as it is.

Thoughts on the other items to follow………


If you feed me, I promise to act normally.

The Underpants household has recently taken delivery of a new dog. He is a medium sized, off-white creature of indeterminate genetic heritage, but definitely slightly gun-doggish. For the want of anything better, we’ve decided to call him Houndle.

He is less than a year old and is currently programmed for not much other than voracious consumption, wanton destruction and sleep (there are certain other side effects of his existence, on the subject of which I shall remain silent).

Having named him after our fair town I was struck by the extent to which he resembles it.

Take, as an example, the principal route through each, In Oundle’s case from the Benefield Road in the west to Station Road in the East. In Houndle’s case from the end that barks to the end that doesn’t. How like my boisterous little pooches’ gastro-intestinal tract the A427 is (the A standing, I assume, for Alimentary).

Now whether Station Road or Benefield Road is the esophagus, I will leave the residents of Laxton Drive and Wakerley close to argue over, being at either end of the principal route through our urban anatomy. But whichever way the current is flowing, I think that there can be little doubt that the Market square has its canine equivalent in Houndle’s portly and indiscriminate stomach. Basically, goodies flow in where they are processed and distributed quickly and efficiently to those places where they will do the most good.

Around this smugly rounded belly the other vitals sit; The heart (Schools), The Liver (Commerce), The Lungs (Churches (no doubt Dizz will object)), The Brain (Town Hall…. (Yeah right!)). Whichever aspect of the town you would wish to twin with its respective part of the dogs anatomy (suggestions on a postcard please) they all benefit from the various nutrients carried there by the carriageway in question.

In Houdle’s case, these nutrients consist of a varied diet of Doggo economy biscuits, administered twice daily by Mrs U and Self, together an assortment of sweets, unwanted vegetables,  peanut butter, chili peppers , beer and a dead spider (all provided at various times by one or other of the Nappies). Finally of course there are the self administered nutrients that, amongst other things, include horse poo, Lucretia’s discarded underwear, the contents of Mrs U’s flower bed and my new I-phone.

About eight weeks ago despite this varied and eclectic diet, Houndle began to lose weight quite rapidly. It wasn’t for the want of food; he was a four-legged vacuum cleaner, hoovering up anything vaguely edible that came within three feet of his little wet nose. But, to Mrs U’s increasing concern, his nose became drier and his erstwhile shiny yellow coat became more and more lackluster hanging off his poor little emaciated frame.

Finally, Mrs U took him down South Road to the Vets. She returned much relieved. After a small amount of probing, the vet had announced that Houndle had a nasty little parasitic worm, Tinea Waitrosea.

Apparently what this unpleasant and highly invasive parasite does is lodge itself in the intestine of its victim, upstream of the stomach, and intercepts all of the goodness flowing into organism into whose body it has trespassed. Of course there is no symbiosis in its relationship with the body in which it lives. It doesn’t redistribute any of the goodness it extracts, it just keeps it for itself; growing bloated at the expense of its increasingly unhealthy host.

You will be relieved to note that one large orange pill, two days, an incredibly unpleasant episode in the back garden and a vast amount of Doggo economy biscuits later Houndle was back to his previous bouncy and flatulent self.

It’s such a relief that, by contrast, our town can’t, unwittingly, ingest a similar malign parasite that will suck the goodness out of its poor little system and leave it a weakened and unhealthy shadow of its former self.

Are we there yet?

David Milliband’s tweet

“UK jumped into rowing boat with Hungary next to 25 nation supertanker. That is weakness not strength”

shows how dangerous a metaphor can be in the wrong hands. To compare the Euro with a supertanker is naive at best and foolish at worst.

So many other nautical metaphors leap to mind to help make sense of the madness that is the euro debate. But the one that I favour is the “Ship of fools”. The disparate medieval mob of the deranged, frivolous and oblivious, aboard a ship without a pilot and seemingly ignorant of their own direction.

Clearly several members of the “crew” have a strong sense of where they think they’re heading but I’m not sure that everybody aboard is fully aware of just how choppy the waters and how meagre the rations will be.

My view is that “Captain” Merkel and “First mate” Sarkozy are currently united by a desperate desire to avoid the economic Maelstrom of the disintegration of the single currency. However, I also think that their course is being subtly effected by the undercurrents of political vanity, given the massive loss of face that will result in the falure to launch of the economic vessel for which their two nations were the principal architects.

If the good ship Euro, with it’s motley regular crew and eight pressganged landlubbers, gets through the storm, then that will be the time that the wisdom, or otherwise, of Cameron’s unwillingness to jump aboard will become apparent.

As the boat, low on provisions and morale drifts into the Sargasso and the underlying tensions between those on board surfaces, then we will see whether our government has made the right call. At present it is convenient for those who don’t share Cameron’s view to cast him as the villain. But as he (and we) sink below the western horizon we will quickly be forgotten and any tension on board will turn inward.

How Germany and France will deal with their fundamental political and economic differences and how this will effect the politics/economics of the Eurozone will be the real story.

In truth, I think that all the seafaring talk is part of the problem. Whatever it is that we are all aboard (or not as the case may be), the fundamental question should be not “Where is it hoping to go?” but “is it capable of setting off?”

My issue with the enthusiasm of the Euromariners is that, despie the fact that their vessel is wallowing in heavy seas and holed dangerously close to the waterline, they appear to be intent on plotting a course on an exciting new  voyage, and like all inveterate travellers, they are utterly contemptuous of those who would stop awhile and think.

 I sincerely wish them well. But, like the coalition leadership, I’m niether brave enough to climb on board nor willing to pay the fare demanded.

 If that’s weakness the let’s all sit around the fireside and wait to inherit the earth.