More on Customer Service

follow link Having had a right royal moan last week, about customer service, and how it is lacking, I do need to put the other side of the case this week.

follow site I had a new boiler fitted this week.   It necessitated having scaffolding (so that the builder could get over my conservatory), a builder to fill in the outside space where the flue went, and plaster inside, and an electrician for the other bits.  British Gas organised it all, and it was they with whom I had my contract.  I had been told to expect a day and a half. The only hiccup was when they left the boiler in the hallway overnight on Monday (leaving me with the grand total of 15¾ inches space to walk past it).  However, move on. The fitter, Martin, rang me on Tuesday to confirm everything was ok for Wednesday.  The scaffolders arrived at 07:30 Wednesday morning.  They sat in the lorry, so I went to them – “We were going to leave it until 8 o’clock as planned.”  No need for that, crack on.  Two more charming chaps you could not wished to have met.  Particularly as some of it had to go through the bathroom window and they couldn’t fit the scaffolding in the way they had planned, there wasn’t enough space. The builder did the best piece of plastering I’ve seen in a long time, and actually managed to repair the mess left by the previous incumbents.  And Tom, the sparks, was really helpful and did a very good job.  Then Martin, the fitter, had a great sense of humour and worked tirelessly, and fitted the boiler within the day.  All in all, a very good day.

Thank you all, gentlemen.


©Susan Shirley 2013

Customer Services…. Or lack of it….

I hadn’t ever intended this blog to be a moan about things but I do feel the need to share my frustration about customer services in this country at the moment.  Or, the lack of them.

It’s been a year of things going wrong for me.  Earlier in the year, my broadband started playing up.  I’m with BT, and it took them a good while to sort it all out.  They sent an engineer and then wanted to charge me for the privilege.  Except that they hadn’t told me that they intended to charge me, and it didn’t solve the problem, so they backed down on that one.

Then, a month or so ago, they e-mailed me (and subsequently wrote to me) to tell me that they were closing Digital Vault (I’ve been with BT for about a million years, so that was part of my deal).  Without wishing to bore you all, I couldn’t access it.  BT told me that it was a fault with my [new] filters, and that I would have to pay for an engineer to come to fix it (oh really?), then they told me that Digital Vault had already closed (I’m actually beginning to think that is the case).  They keep telling me that they will ring me, so I rush home and then, when they ring, they tell me nothing.  I have now written an extremely stroppy letter to Warren Buckley, so we will see, but honestly, I shouldn’t need to go to these lengths.  I may be changing my ISP very soon.

I had Sky TV for a few years.  When they fitted my second Sky box, their engineer very kindly tacked the cable to my wall, rather than my skirting board.  Despite my complaints, not only did they do nothing about it, but they clearly didn’t even make a record of my complaint.  The second box kept going wrong, and they didn’t record that either, and were then somewhat surprised when I decided to take my custom elsewhere.

Then there is my mobile ‘phone.  I have two numbers, on different networks.  One is my personal ‘phone, the other is my business ‘phone.  I have them on different networks because, my thinking is, if I have a problem with coverage on one network, hopefully, I will get coverage on the other.  Not for the first time, I am having a problem with coverage from Orange.  There are rooms in my house where I cannot get a signal at all.  I can’t send any e-mails from that ‘phone at the moment, but, apparently, e-mail is nothing to do with Orange…  The fact that I received 8 text messages on Thursday morning, all in one go, that had been sent on Wednesday evening, is presumably nothing to do with them either…  They are going to have to go some when my contract is up to keep my custom.

To counter this, there are some companies that are very easy to do business with – First Direct, Vodafone (most of the time, and certainly, recently), British Gas (I know they don’t have a great reputation, but I must speak as I find).

So come on UK businesses – we don’t need to have brand loyalty anymore, you need to compete for our custom.  I work very hard for my money and I am only prepared to spend it where I get good value.

Feng Shui and Clutter

I’ve been interested in Feng Shui for a long time, over 20 years.  I even got into practising it in my home at one point in my life, but somehow, when I moved house (now almost 11 years ago) that all went by the wayside.  Feng Shui was pushed to one side whilst I was decorating and renovating and now, I am ashamed to admit, my house is a mess.  Not the way the people on the television programmes’ houses are – I can sleep in my bed and there is space on the floor, but I am not naturally tidy and I have too much “stuff.”

I made a decision at the end of last year to do something about it and since December, I have been trying to de-clutter, without much success, if I’m honest.

One of the things I’d known intuitively was that, in order to clear up my mess, I needed more storage space.  The only way I was going to get more storage space was to clear out my cupboards…  I started but then realised that although all my hard work was good, I still had a mess in my “high traffic areas.”  So I started on the mess in the high traffic areas, and, in fact, by the time my friend, Kate, came to stay in April, the house looked pretty good. But then real life took over again and things started getting messy again.  So I decided I needed help and have, so far, read three books on the subject and am halfway through a fourth.  (I wholeheartedly recommend all of them; they are all useful in different ways.)

The one I’m reading at the moment, by Sheila Chandra, agrees with me that I need to make space first of all and the high traffic areas might have to stay a mess for a bit longer.  Sheila also says that it didn’t get like this overnight so I have to learn patience.

They all make it clear that I have to actually go to link part with some of my possessions.  What?  Get rid of some of my beautiful (and expensive!) shoes?  So what if I can’t wear them anymore because they are no longer comfortable?  The clothes that don’t suit me or don’t fit me anymore?  Or I just don’t wear them, but there is nothing wrong with them?  What about my books?  How can I possibly part with any of the books that my Mum owned?  Forget the fact that I can give the British Library a run for its money…

It is hard for an inveterate hoarder like me to come to terms with clearing out, but reading these books has started to make it easier, and to understand why I’ve hoarded so much (poverty consciousness, the Second World War attitude that you might need it someday, how can you throw away something that is perfectly serviceable, etc, etc).

I made a HUGE breakthrough last week – I gave away some books (ones that I’d already read) including one that had been my Mum’s.  (What you have to understand about my Mum is that she didn’t start reading books until she was over 50 years old.  Magazines, yes.  Books, no.  So the ones she did read are special.)  What I am coming to terms with is that the things that belonged to my Mum (or my Dad) are not them.  And I can’t possibly keep everything that they owned and my own things as well.

Declutter Extreme says only do 15 minutes a day, and an hour one day a week, broken down into 15 minute chunks.  That is just about do-able during the week, as I work full-time and just about do-able at the weekend.  (Actually, I do try to do a bit more at weekends, but realistically, not much more.  I plan on doing more when I have a week off the week after next, though.)  The week before last, my recycling bin (the one that the council collects) was full for the first time ever!

I’m not following the instructions in any of the books slavishly at the moment so it is slow going, but my pact with myself at the moment is that I will get rid of at least one item every day.  (And I don’t mean normal household waste; I mean something that has been sorted out, in addition to any household waste or recycling.)  It doesn’t matter whether it goes in the bin or in the recycling bag or is given to someone else, as long as I don’t have it any longer.

I have agreed with myself that I will read all the books I haven’t read before I part with them, and have started doing this.  (It’s a good job I enjoy reading and have a train journey to and from work every day!)  I have signed up for one of Karen Kingston’s online courses – Taming the Paper Tiger – because one of my big problems is all the paperwork (letters, magazines, etc) even though my banking is done on line and signed up for all manner of Feng Shui newsletters, etc.

It will be many months before my decluttering is anywhere near completion, and before I am in a position to start on any Feng Shui cures, but I will update you as I go.  Wish me luck!

In the meantime, these are the books that I have read so far:

Banish Clutter Forever by Sheila Chandra

Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui by Karen Kingston

Declutter Extreme by

Your Space for Success by Stephanie McWilliams

©Susan Shirley 2013

Eltham Palace

Last weekend, I went to Eltham Palace.  I’ve lived in London for the majority of my life, and didn’t know this place existed until a friend mentioned it a few months ago.  I don’t know how I missed it, it’s a fabulous building, and I would commend everyone to visit.

The original palace was given to King Edward II in 1305 by Anthony Bek, the Bishop of Durham, so obviously Tudor design.  The palace was used as a royal residence form the 14th to the 16th century, and was home to King Henry VIII for some of his childhood.  Henry was the last monarch to spend much of his time here.  When Greenwich Palace was rebuilt, probably because it was more easily accessible by river, Eltham became a less popular destination.  From the 17th century, for about 200 years, Eltham Palace was used as a farm.  Sad demise.

In 1933, Stephen Courtauld, one of the textile Courtaulds and his wife Virginia, purchased the lease and, as well as restoring the Great Hall, did some serious building work.  It is an amazing mix of old and new, with a dome in the entrance hall that is small glass orbs inlaid into concrete.  In certain parts of the building, it’s difficult to imagine that there was ever the Tudor part, and in others, you look out of the window and you almost feel the Tudor festivities and dancing taking place.

The Courtaulds, however, clearly weren’t short of a few bob, because what they did to the house is amazing.  They had internal telephones throughout the house, as well as an outside line that was hidden away in a little telephone kiosk.  They had beautifully fitted guest rooms, and Mrs C’s bathroom is something else.  They had a pet ring-tailed lemur, named Mah Jongg, who had his own (centrally heated) room.  There is a beautiful dining room, with an aluminium-leaf ceiling, with spotlights inset so that they reflect off the beautiful ceiling and illuminate the room at the same time.  Amazing!

Stephen Courtauld fought in the army during World War I, so it’s no surprise that some of the palace contains references to the army and other related memorabilia.

Not everything in the house is original, much has been faithfully reproduced, but you still get the feel for what it was like…  I’m getting delusions of grandeur just thinking about it.  To cap it all, the palace is surrounded by a moat, which has carp swimming in it, and big lily pads floating upon it.  It’s set in 19 acres of gardens…. I haven’t begun to describe it fully; you really do need to see it to get the full effect.  I have to go back to take more in, although it’s not the biggest stately home in the world, there is just too much to take in on one visit.

Many films, TV programmes and even commercials have been filmed at Eltham Palace, and, it is on English Heritage’s list of most haunted places!

English Heritage manages the palace now (and they very subtly persuaded me to join!) so there is an entrance fee of £9.90 for adults (less for children and concessions) but I wholeheartedly recommend it.

get link  

©Susan Shirley 2013

Skittles Three

So, we know it was the nickname for a famous courtesan and we know it is the name of a game that is similar to ten pin bowling.  But there is a third item in the Skittles series…  What we here in the UK call sweets, and what people in the US call candies.

So here are some Skittles facts that you may not have known:

1.  Skittles are made by Wrigley, an American company, now part of Mars.

2.  Skittles were launched in the US in 1979 (although not made there until 1982).

3.  The original flavours were Orange, Lemon, Lime, Grape and Strawberry.

4.  In the UK, bags of Skittles come in three flavours: Fruits, Crazy Sours and Confused.  The packs are either Fruits or Crazy Sours.

5.  There are 404kcal per 100g of Skittles.  Oops!

6.  In the States there are oodles more flavours available, including Tropical, Wild Berry and Sour.

7.  More than 200 million Skittles are manufactured on a daily basis.

8.  New varieties of Skittles were introduced in the US – Tropical Skittles (eg Banana, Kiwi, Mango) and Wild Berry (Raspberry, Strawberry and Wild Cherry).

9.  In 2004 in the States, Skittles Bubble Gum was launched.

10.  If you want more flavours, best you go to the States!

Happy eating!

©Susan Shirley 2013

Beer and Skittles (Skittles Two)

Sorry the blog is late this week – busy week.

I have been known to say “That won’t keep me in beer and skittles,” but I have no idea where the saying came from, so I thought I’d try to find out.

The refers to “life isn’t all beer and skittles” as not being able to have fun all the time.  Most of the references I found said just this.  Apparently, it was a phrase coined in the 19th century.  It’s quoted in comprare viagra generico 200 mg a Verona Tom Brown’s Schooldays, and Charles Dickens used a variation of it in cialis generico 20 mg preço The Pickwick Papers, “They don’t mind it; it’s a regular holiday to them – all porter and skittles.”

The game of Skittles, by the way, has been around since the nineteenth century and is similar to ten-pin bowling.  (Funnily enough, it was also known as Ninepins.)  Apparently, it’s still played.  It was a pub game, with the pins set up in a kind of square pattern and the players were supposed to knock the pins down with a ball.  There is also a table version of the game (and I think I have seen that one on my travels).

Porter is a type of ale – if you see the old pubs with the glazed tiles, you’ll often see a reference to porter imprinted in the tiles.

I was beginning to think I’d made up my expression until I came across a website called  There is a 2010 entry that says, “Sam’s parking fine payments keep the city in beer and skittles.” is a US website, so maybe the original English phrase changed a bit due to the water in between the two countries?  Anyway, I’m happy now that I know roughly how it originated and that I didn’t imagine hearing it somewhere.

Have a good week.

©Susan Shirley 2013

Coronation Festival

I was lucky enough to have been invited to the Coronation Festival at Buckingham Palace today (and huge thanks to both my escorts).  Today was the Royal Preview Day – and yes, I did manage to catch a glimpse of Prince Edward and Princess Anne.  There were other members of the Royal Family there, but I didn’t see them.

Quite aside from the fact that it was the most beautiful summer’s day, with just a slight breeze to take the edge off the heat of the day, it was absolutely fantastic.

The first thing I noticed was the gardens.  They are beautiful.  A variety of different colours and flowers (no, I don’t know the names, I’m not that good).  I was told that they are 46 acres in size (Wikipedia says 42, but let’s not argue about a mere 4 acres in the centre of London).  Honestly, you wouldn’t know that you are in the centre of London, it is so peaceful.  The garden keepers use the minimum of pesticides, to encourage wildlife, and, of course, they compost regularly.  We weren’t there for the gardens though, and, naturally, we found somewhere to buy champagne and sat under a huge tree to drink the first bottle.  It was lovely to just sit there and watch the world go by for a while.

The event itself was hosted by the Royal Warrant Holders Association, each with a stand exhibiting their goods.  There were some absolutely fabulous items on sale – my absolute favourite was The General Trading Company, I’ll be placing an order there – and huge thanks to Clarins for the goody bags they gave to all the ladies.  And Gordon’s Gin, with their two new flavours, one infused with cucumber, the other with elderflower…  (No, I don’t get commission for any of this; I just had a wonderful time and have to tell you what I enjoyed.)

Jaguar Land Rover was there, along with its F-type sports car – it was beautiful; and matched my lipstick perfectly!  The Bentley’s were beautiful too, but I couldn’t persuade them to give me one just because it had finger marks on it.

And, I have to say, all the exhibitors I met were absolutely charming and great fun too.  Thank you to everyone for a fantastic time.


©Susan Shirley 2013

Skittles – One – Catherine Walters

A few weeks ago, my brother, his wife and I went on an organised London Walk, led by a tour guide.  We all like walking, and I am interested in history, so it ticked a few boxes and was actually good fun, so I’ll be doing more of those.

Whilst on the walk, we passed the house where a woman known as Skittles used to live.  Skittles, aka Catherine Walters, who was one of the last great courtesans of the Victorian Era.

Maybe it’s because I’ve met a few over the years, but I find the whole prostitution thing quite interesting.  I don’t mean the ones who are sold into slavery and forced to perform, or the drug addicts that sell their bodies as a means to fund their habit.  No, not them, I mean the ones, like Skittles, who made money and kept it.

Skittles herself (believed to have been given that nickname because she once worked in a bowling alley) moved to London just before she was 20.  By all accounts, she was great beauty, and a skilled horsewoman – Sir Edwin Landseer’s painting enter site The Shrew Tamed depicts her lying down with a horse.

Catherine counted among her lovers the Prince of Wales (who went on to become Edward VII), Napoleon III, the 8th Duke of Devonshire (although he didn’t have this title at the time, he was the Marquess of Huntingdon) and Achille Fould (the French Finance Minister).  She was rumoured to be involved with a number of wealthy men, but she would never confirm or deny the rumours, but, because she would never confirm or deny, her “currency” as a courtesan increased.

Skittles retired from society in 1890, a wealthy woman, and she died at the grand old age of 81.  Not bad for a girl who was one of five children, born in Liverpool, daughter of a customs official!

©Susan Shirley 2013


I didn’t write my blog last week, and I apologise for that.  I didn’t plan it that way, but I’d had a tough week at work, had guests staying and it just didn’t happen.  I hate missing deadlines, even self-imposed ones; I think it’s sloppy.  So I really do apologise, but onwards and upwards.

I have a friend who is Italian.  She was born in the UK, has lived here all her life, but her parents are Italian and she is fluent in both English and Italian.  (She also speaks French, which is giving me cause to hate her, quite frankly.  I can get by in French, but am by no means fluent, although it’s been on my “to-do” list for some time.)  Anyway, I digress…

My friend and I were out having a meal the other day, and we got onto the subject of languages.  Probably because we were in an Italian restaurant.  To cut a long story short, she has persuaded me that I should learn Italian.

To be fair, I didn’t need much persuading.  I think it sounds wonderful when to hear people speak Italian, and French, and I really hate being one of those English people who doesn’t speak any of the language when I go abroad.  I want to perfect my French, because I already know quite a lot, but I would like to be able to converse with my friend, and her mother, in Italian.  Besides, I think learning one of those Latin languages helps with the others.  The problem is, I didn’t want to start anything else until I had finished my writing course (which, hopefully, will be June of next year.  I have to finish it by September anyway.)  I have done this before and ended up paying for courses twice because I’ve got “hooked in” to something else.

But start I have.  Only vocabulary at the moment because I downloaded three vocabulary books when I first got my Kindle – French, Italian and Spanish – but hadn’t used them.  So, of course, as I’ve got three books, so I have to learn the same word in all three languages.  The books have all the same words, in the same order.  They start with animals, and then move onto fruit, vegetables, parts of the human body, colours and numbers.

So far, I’ve only had to learn one new French word (all that school-girl French came flooding back), I knew all the others.  I’m only learning one or two words a day, and then I’ll go back and learn some of the phrases in the books in two or three month’s time when I’ve learned all the words.  (That may prove more difficult, although the word in each chapter is the same in all three languages but the phrases are sometimes different…)

Interestingly, my friend and I both said that, when we learned English at school, we didn’t really learn all the grammar in the same way that you are taught it when you learn a foreign language; so hopefully, learning Italian and French will improve my English too.  (I think it’s pretty good, but there is always room for improvement…)

So, for the next year, it will be me reading and learning on my own, until I am ready to knuckle down properly and start in earnest.  How long will it take for me to become fluent in Italian, and French?  Absolutely no idea, so wish me luck, I’m not very patient.

Love and light


©Susan Shirley 2013

The Secret Life of Cats

The BBC is screening “The Secret Life of Cats” tonight on BBC2.  The scientists doing the research say that we know more about the big cats than we do our domestic cats, although it seems, from the trailers, that some of the cat owners don’t agree with that.  One owner says he can tell what his cat wants from the purr.

I have four cats and I think I know a bit about them, so it comes as no surprise to me to learn that they are opportunistic, manipulative, devious thieves.  And adorable.   Don’t forget adorable.  I’ve owned dogs as well as cats, and I love them both, but they are very, very different.  Cats aren’t necessarily less loving, they just don’t cialis generico principio attivo need the same kind of approbation that dogs do.  (But they do need love and attention, and my four are testament to that.  More jealousy than in a sophomore’s dorm.)  They are far more self-sufficient than dogs, and don’t ever want anyone to think they make a mistake.

Only today, my little Telesto was playing Mad Hatters (that’s the game when she chases some imaginary creature and then kills it), and then caught herself up in the duvet as I was trying to change the bed linen.  She ended up falling off the bed, still caught up in the duvet and scared herself half to death because she struggled to get out.  She ran and hid for hours after that little turn out.

Then, because my friend Kate had come to stay, she and her sister showed off and wouldn’t come into the house for several hours – and several treats.  Well, why not manipulate the situation a bit more?  Funny how once the food came out, they were over us like a rash.

They all have their own little characters, and their own funny little ways, but never doubt that they want love and affection because they do, and it isn’t all cupboard love.  I’m sure they do line up a second home in case they need to move out – actually, I don’t blame them for that.  I’ve done the same myself in the past.  They are special little creatures who have their own particular needs, and if we humans can’t fulfil them, they’ll go elsewhere.

I’d love to get my girls wearing those mice-cams, but I know they’d only last a couple of hours.  I might not be able to follow them everywhere, but I do know a bit about the way they live their lives, and how they know exactly which side their bread is buttered.


©Susan Shirley 2013