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Fanatically Financial

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I had a date with London yesterday. It’s a rare week when I visit London anyway, but doubly rare when I visit twice inside 6 days. However, these were visits that would warm the cockles of my bank manager uncontrollably. Ladies and Gentleman, I – as someone who regularly has a loose grasp on my current financial matters – now have the enviable services of a financial advisor. Not just a financial advisor, either – a mortgage advisor, a sharedealing advisor, a loans advisor, a pensions advisor – in fact, everything relating to my financial matters now has the benefit of a host of learned folk eager to please.
Now, just a few weeks ago, I wouldn’t have said I needed one. I’m paying off my loans through my salary, paying Gordon Brown through the nose, and things were trotting along. However, an old university friend Paul emailed me a few weeks ago with an offer – go and see his financial advisor, see what you think, and report back. There’s no charge, there’s no compulsion to take them on – in short, there was nothing to lose. So off I trotted, and learned an awful lot of things about my finances. Financial holes have now been plugged, and I’m now actually saving for a pension rather than ploughing it all into loans and pub tills. I’m even thinking of branching out into sharedealing – something I’ve always wanted to do – and I can leave it up to them!
So, who are these people? They’re called Perfect Day, they’re based in Farringdon, London, and they appear to know their onions. If you want more information, email me

A Secret Trip to Bath

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The plan was going better than I had hoped. I surged off the M25 slip road and coasted into 6th gear, sweeping past the slow-moving lorry as the rain pattered more and more urgently on the windscreen.
I decided to chance it. “Wouldn’t it be nice if we went away right now for the weekend?” I remarked nonchalantly.
“Yes, it would,” Michelle agreed, looking confusingly at the big navigation screen in front of her, “but we’re going to Paul’s barbeque – he wouldn’t be too happy!”
A mischievous grin spread across my face. “He won’t know.”
“What? Why?”
“Because we’re not going to Paul’s.”
And so it was that for the first time in three and a half years I had managed to put the wind up Michelle, as it were. For the only time in memory, I have been able to keep something a secret from her for a month and a half, and I was proud. As I detailed the lengths I had gone to, and how everyone knew but her, my mind strayed to poor Paul and his girlfriend Liz. Paul and I had planned this event for the last month, only for Paul to have to pull out at the last moment. Never mind – we were off for a lazy weekend hotel stay in Bath, and nothing could stop us.
There is a curious certainty about travelling west of London – that the closer you get to Wales, the more rain you’ll find. This was our 3rd visit to Dorian House in the heart of Bath and my ninth visit to that area of the country – and without exception every trip has been marred by storms, wind and rain. Undaunted, we ploughed on.
We arrived at nine in the evening, and immediately set about ordering a taxi to the nearest Indian. The Eastern Eye, an enormous place in an old Roman banqueting hall, calmed our troubled stomachs and thoughts turned to the next couple of days. Paul, an event manager through and through, had been phoning and emailing regularly over the last few weeks with thoughts on what we should do – a trip to the zoo, and Comedy Walk around Bath, the obligatory visit to the Roman Baths – but without him there was little motivation to move outside our comfort zone. We settled on rising late the next morning, and shopping until the early evening.
And we stuck well to our plan. The exasperated phonecall from the hotel manager at 11am – “we really need to clean your room now, if you wouldn’t mind” – made me think that it was as good a time as any to haul my great carcass out of bed. Feeling energetic, we walked the 1 mile into town, stopping off on route to marvel at new “Japanese-style” apartments overlooking the whole of Bath – “just ?200,000 for a one bedroom home, sir” the saleman informed us, apparently without batting an eyelid. As we landed on familiar High Street territory, The Gadget Shop jumped out at us.
One hour later, having discussed at length with a female assistant the merits of a huge, phallic-shaped vibrating massager – “it gets into all your nooks and crannies” – we emerged with 3 items. One was the massager, and the other two…. well, they’ll be kept secret until the next party. But lunch was looming and after Michelle was attacked by a couple of friendly crows we found the appropriately-named Yum Yum Thai.
By then it was three o’clock and we were waning. Stocking up with edible goodies from Marks and Spencer sounded like a good plan and half an hour later we were at the checkout, about to hail a bus home. The bus came, we clambered aboard with multiple bags, and let the good man drive us up the hill.
And that, pretty much, was that. The hotel was as good as ever, Bath was as enjoyable as ever, and next time, god dammit, Paul and Liz are coming with us. You hear?

The Long, Dark Stag Night Of The Soul

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“The husband who wants a happy marriage should learn to keep his mouth shut and his checkbook open.”
Groucho Marx
Saturday was the Six Nations rugby cup final. Although, not least because the shower of fools managed to lose against the French, I won’t be talking about it. No, an event that eclipsed all others also took place that night – Matt’s stag do. Get a cup of tea – it’s a long story.
It was a cool, clear morning. The promise of copious drinking and a strip club brought to mind my mother’s advice – “Line your stomach, darling, and you won’t go far wrong.” This turned out to mean bananas and milk all round, and as I left home for Guildford that morning to meet Matt (Michelle’s brother), James and Paul, my lonely banana skin served as a foreboding reminder that things were about to get messy.
In fact, messy seemed an understatement. Take for instance our opening salvo, a few swift halves in Edwards bar in Guildford town centre. A quiet place, you’d think, at 2pm on a Saturday. Three scousers, who looked barely out of their nappies, decided that now was a good time to show how very hard they were, with the victim being some poor, misguided fool who had objected to them. Cue a minute of fighting, four on one, involving chairs and all sorts. It was a severe pasting, but the victim won no points for yelling after every break in pummelling “Come on then!”. They already had – and they did again five minutes later, finally finished with a blood-curdling sound of head against door frame. A good start, we thought, and swiftly left through the blood-spattered door to board a train for the Big Smoke.
Leicester Square was the obvious starting point and we made for the Sussex Arms, mindful of the need to pace ourselves to last the night. A few drinks and an Aftershock later, the plan was in ruins. We bounded merrily along, past the Nags Head, past Covent Garden with its wide, intricate arches and on to the Boks Bar. Rugby-watching was the plan, with a view to celebrating England’s victorious win, and the Boks Bar served us splendidly. A Female Tequila Dispenser was installed in this bar, and she had a particularly wiley way of getting a drink out of us. Togged up in Lara Croft garb, the shot glasses were arranged at conveniently racy points down her torso, which she proudly offered with minimal embarrassment. The picture of her kissing Matt was a great shot, and made us thankful we’d brought the camera. The tequila, however, was disappointing – at ?3.80 a shot, it was watered down, and Matt confronted her with the revelation that while we thought she was downing the shots with us, she was in fact swigging from another water-filled bottle on her left hip. To top it all, she walked off without giving change from ?16. By then, of course, alcohol had taken hold, and we couldn’t have cared less.
We watched the rugby. We cheered. We groaned. We threw things. We bloody lost. By then, Matt was suffering. He’d had his head in his hands for around 20 minutes, and we thought it was high time he got some air if he was going to last the night. It worked, in a way we’d never envisaged – within 2 minutes, he’d emptied his stomach. We pressed on.
Two more had joined us – Mo and his friend, who for completeness I’ll call Gunter. I have no idea of his actual name, but he was German, and a cheery bod. Eager to reach the climax of our night, we grabbed the fifth taxi we could find – the first four were either full or ignored us, rightly guessing we might be a bit of a handful – and sped away to Spearmint Rhino, the Gentleman’s Club.
We made it. More to the point, Matt made it. He was disasterously unwell, and his poor preparation (distinct lack of beer tolerance build-up, 3 hours sleep the previous night) was clearly telling. Once in, he headed straight for the great porcelain bowl, while we sped on to the main room.
And, frankly, what a place. I’ve waxed lyrical about the Caf? de Paris nightclub in my time. This was Caf? de Paris with strippers. If you’re going to go to a strip club, this is plainly the place to be. Mo got a round of drinks to shove in our gaping mouths, and we settled down on a plush red sofa. Topless women danced around, and homed in on us like flies. To save my mother’s blushes, I shall merely say that fun was had, especially by our german friend, who ended up ?120 lighter. After a brief geeky moment wondering if any of the young ladies was the “mysterious literary sensation” Belle De Jour, we left, noting that Matt the stag clearly wasn’t having the time of his life thanks to his unpredictable stomach.
We staggered home, amusing ourselves with the astonishingly near retail store of the company I work for, marvelling at the 130-step circular stairway down to Goodge Street tube station (possibly the most challenging drunken moment of my life), and bumping into my old friend Kate and her sister at Waterloo station. I cannot for the life of me remember what she said, but she’d just been to the party I was due to go to before Matt’s stag night reared its head. I think I said “small world” several hundred times. We eventually surfaced in Guildford early on Sunday morning, considerably worse for wear.
A fantastic night, so thanks to James the best man, who conceived the whole sordid idea, and to Paul, whose witty banter had my cheek muscles aching with pleasure. And to Gunter and Mo, whose dad owns my local Indian restaurant the Madhuban (which happens to be the best I’ve ever been to). And to Matt, who provided endless hours of amusement looking like death warmed up. For all I know he’s probably still recovering.
Now all that remains is to get the long-forgotten camera back from the strip club…

This week – Films, Chips and Audis…

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After a disgraceful delay, I can finally report that Paul D and Liz’s visit to Guildford last Friday went splendidly, taking in a film (althoughly sadly Lost in Translation lived up to its name for Paul and Michelle, despite my film-speak protestations that it was a “observationally clever piece”) and a nice meal at Old Orleans, where we observed several scantilly-clad 16-year-olds and a table (a brace?) of drunken men, hurling their food all over the place, before leaving without paying. I’ve heard of frying chips, but never flying chips…
The rest of the week has been fairly ho-hum – an early whim about changing car to an Audi was exciting until I worked out the sheer financial hell I would inflict on my poor bank manager. Still, Tony H as ever came up with the goods and produced a “spare” Audi A6, which I’ll go and look at next week.
Oh, and I’m expecting a VERY exciting delivery today…

Paul and Liz – 1 Year Anniversary

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And many happy returns to Paul D and Liz, both regular contributors to the site. It’s technically their 1 year anniversary today, although there’s confusion over whether the “event” happened before or after midnight… Consequently, Liz was all set for Friday, while Paul is celebrating today. Bless them – and here’s a note from Paul to Liz:
“She’s absolutely gorgeously and wonderfully lovely, isn’t she? Aren’t I lucky?!!”
Well, you’re certainly slushy… 😉