Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Property and Privacy

The Prime Minister is reported as making a fuss about propety ownership and the ease with which the true identity of owners can be hidden behind nominees, foreign companies and complex legal structures. This is, or should be, a non-problem. Simply require the holders of any property, when formally requested by an arm of HMG, to supply the full details of the ownership chain including the names of all ultimate owners. Failure to comply within a reasonable time - and I cannot see why this would take more than a month - would automatically pass the legal title to the property over to the State. Reliance on the secrecy laws of jurisdictions outside the UK would not only automatically involve the sequestration of the property but the arrest on criminal charges of money laundering and conspiracy of the UK agents and solicitors involved in the sale.  Job done.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Have freebie, will blog

A full page ad on the back of my morning paper features the well known tablet manufactured by a well known, hitherto tax-dodging1, e-retailer named after a famous river.  The strapline is "#Have Kindle will travel" and then there is a bit of blurb starting with someone's Twitter username (but not their actual name and I can't be bothered to look them up) saying he/she was asked to take one and how nice it was to read a book on it. In Turkey.

OK, setting it in Istanbul fills out the "have travel" bit nicely. It is irrelevant as a a selling point unless you believe that hand-held devices (such as watches, cameras, mobile phones, compasses, swiss army knives and the like) can only actually be used in one's home, and who knows, there may be many thousands of such techno-phobes who do indeed shake their heads mournfully and put their ballpoint pens carefully down on the sideboard before going out to the shops because "they don't work outside, I've been told; but anyway I don't want anyone not from our street breathing over it".

What gives me pause is that the person supposedly2 penning this stuff was given the tablet. Of course it accompanied them on their travels. So what? If you give me a free lawnmower I'll do you the courtesy of taking it for a spin round my front garden. I'll happily quaff any reasonably authentic Scotch single malt should you proffer a bot. of same. Though it is more than 30 years since I abandoned using the stupidly overpriced products made by a famous company named after a fruit (and I don't mean Apricot, computer history buffs), I wouldn't chuck one away if they came round and presented me with one of their latest models and said "Go on son, the gigabytes are on us".

In short, testimonials from people who shell out their own cash mean something. Endorsements from those fortunate to have first class seats on the gravy train do not. Having said that, if you would like a favourable mention in these hallowed columns, then your course of action is clear.

1. Not any more, I'd like to make clear

2. I'd like to believe it because the text cunningly says almost nothing about the device and is mainly about the writer boasting about re-reading a book by Haruki Marukami3. But an ad means an ad agency and we all know who writes the copy for ad agencies, don't we boys and girls?

3. I've read it too, alright?

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Those awful advertising slogans - no 7. Boots

Now how could Britain's favourite chemist have offended me? Unlike the other businesses featured in this occasional series, they retail the products of others. Surely it is the producers of ludicrously overpriced perfumes and the like who should face my ire?

No, let's stay focussed. For it is Boots itself that has sought to appropriate a commonplace saying and make it their own. Let's Feel Good. I mean, what does that say about them? Is some rival putting up posters with "Let's feel really awful today?". Who on earth doesn't want to feel good? Do you wake up some mornings, stumble blearily out of bed, chuck a shoe at some cat fighting in the alley outside your tenement and think "Today I want to feel good so I'm going to buy some bath oil?" Shopping is shopping. You go to the shops, buy what you want, go home. If you feel good before you start then fine. If not, buying things is not going to change anything (although it may put a smile on the face of the branch manager).

Not content with trying to associate "goodness" with "stuff you get in a chemists", Boots put the insufferably twee and patronising "Let's" at the start of their wish. It makes it sound as though we, the public, are somehow involved, that this is really our slogan and Boots are just joining in the general expression of well-being. But my friends, never forget that an adman wrote that slogan and admen have no souls or morals. I'll choose my feelings, thanks very much, and I don't need the marketing department of any corporation telling me what they are.

A six iron, I think, and get the secateurs ready.

I went for a real ramble today, around the woods and open country that surrounds Ruislip Lido. There was a pleasant surprise at the halfway point, on the Northwood golf course. Last year they cut down a long hedgerow along the side of one of the fairways. This year I was delighted to see a blaze of colour from an extensive wild flower meadow that has taken its place.

Not bad, eh?

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

The TGV that wasn't

A very refreshing holiday that began with a Eurostar enroute to Amsterdam and finished in Avignon concluded yesterday with the return home. The TGV was supposed to deliver us to Lille about 40 minutes before the Eurostar connection for London. The turmoil at the freight terminal that had suspended services just two days before we had set out seemed to be over. For once there were no strikes by French lorry drivers, blockades of the terminals by fishermen or action by air traffic controllers (and that must be pretty rare). But of course a smooth journey home following our memorable cruising across Europe was never going to happen.

Avignon has a gleaming new station dedicated to the high speed services. In a few months Eurostars will be running there. Despite the heatwave it was reasonably cool as we we waited for the arrival of the train that was starting in Marseille. I noted, with that queasy but undefinable feeling of unease familiar to experienced travellers, that all the preceding TGVs were flagged as 5 or 10 minutes late, though ours was not. But it arrived late and it seemed to dawdle for a quite a bit and then as we pulled out of Lyon we slowed to a crawl and, having crossed the Rhone, stopped dead. Not necessarily a problem, you might think. Then the lights went out. Followed by the air conditioning. This is a problem, you would think and, my friend, you would be entirely correct. I became very uneasy when, after about ten minutes of nothing, a man looking a bit like Superintendent Drefyus' assistant in the Pink Panther films walked down the track as if looking for his keys which he was pretty sure he had dropped somewhere in the vicinity. About ten minutes later he walked back. I could not determine if he had found his keys. The lights and aircon came back one. And then we creaked away, with a muttered apology over the loudspeaker about "technical problems".

The train was very fast after that but unable to make up any of the lost time. We played with emergency strategies, including moving our luggage to the doors to make a really fast getaway in the hope of racing down into the Eurostar departure lounge in time to shout "hold that train". But it was not to be. With exquisite timing, as we debarked at Lille on one platform, we saw our Eurostar leave from the one adjacent.

Actually the Eurostar people were very good. Knowing that there were delays on the TGV connections, they were fast to give us tickets on the next train out, and we were lucky that there was plenty of room on it, and we arrived at St. Pancras having missed the rush hour which was a sort of bonus.

This is not the first time I have had to moan about the TGV service. It's a bit like my days commuting on the Piccadilly. You just know something will screw you up.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Modern English as it is mangled

Just because English is a fast-evolving language does not mean we have to put up with every new usage. Here are some of the more ghastly examples. I hope this will not be the first in a series.

What was wrong with giving? Does gifting actually denote anything different? Does anyone ever use this word in day to day speech?
"Darling, have you wrapped up all the things you are gifting this year?"
"I'm off to the shops for some serious gifting"
"Oh God, I'll be so glad when I can see the back of all this gifting"

No, I've never heard anyone say anything remotely close to these phrases, either.

In an email, BBC Publications, who really should know better, suggested pre-ordering one of their  magazines. You cannot pre-order anything. You either buy it outright or you place an order. The order will then be fulfilled. If the product is not in stock, you should be given a delivery date. Your order still stands whether in stock or not, the contract is based on the premise that delivery will be in a reasonable time in relation to the product and fair expectations.

The term pre-order is never used in business to business, where it is normal for goods not in stock to go onto back order for delivery as soon as they become available. I cannot see why this term is now used in retail, unless it is meant to be shorthand for "We want you to pay now but we don't have the goods in stock so we're going to sit on your money" in which case it should be replaced by "Prepay" and then everyone would know where they stood. If you are registering your desire to obtain something as soon as it becomes available and have not paid, and will not be charged until it is sent out, then you are ordering the product. Not pre-ordering. 

It is interesting that where you order a service in advance, such as airline or theatre tickets, you are not invited to pre-order. The phrase here is "book".

An Americanism which appears to have no discernable meaning at all. Funk, in English, means fear or cowardice. Funk in America used to mean a form of "music" involving excessive use of the amplified electric bass guitar and men shouting "huh, uh" at every opportunity to denote how cool, up-to-date and sexually desirable they thought they were. But the adjective funky gets routinely applied to anything you wish nowadays. It was even used to describe a kitchen featured on a "You're too lazy to go house-buying so we'll ferry you around and film you going "Wow" a lot so as to make a cheap TV programme" TV programme the other day.

I don't know if some users believe the word to be a bowdlerised form of a well-known four letter swear word, or, if some do, whether there is an Irish form called fenky but if not it can only be a matter of time.

When you phone almost any commercial organisation, you will be asked to make selections from a menu, then they will play three minutes of music at you and then you will hear a recorded message telling you that "They are experiencing a high volume of calls but one of their advisors will be with you shortly".

By "advisor" they suggest an experienced, reassuring person in a business suit, hired specifically to answer your call, who will calmly and efficiently deal with your enquiry. But you will, when you are finally connected to a real person, talk to an ordinary employee who works for the organisation and who routinely answers calls directed to them by the automated switchboard. They do not advise their employer. They do not advise you. They are not advisors.

Second hand. That's all it means. Someone owned the object before you. Whether they loved it or loathed it is not relevant. If you want it, you want it and if not, not. End of discussion. 

If a young bird fledges from its nest it is a normal event in the natural world. But if it is filmed for a nature TV programme the fledging will be described as a "drama".

Another TV misuse. If a popular comedian visits a part of the country on some trumped up excuse to fill up a six part series, she will be described as being "on a mission to...." do whatever is going on. Or it could be a well known business person dispensing advice to failing entrepreneurs. Or a singer teaching amateur choirs. Or a gardener espousing a particular form of gardening. 

Leaving aside the religious aspect of the word, the essence of a being on a mission is that someone has required you to go and do something. Therefore it cannot be anything to do with a TV programme for nobody can be really tasked with doing anything in the world of TV; they have obviously consented to it, on the advice of their agent, and signed a contract for a nice fee, a book deal and a decent share of any spin-off adverts or feature films.

 I suspect that such shows commence in the office of a production company with someone staring up at the sky, folding their hands behind their head and saying in a reflective way to someone else who is half asleep after a long lunch
"How about we get Joe Blow to go to China to find the world's most talented panda?"
"Sounds promising" responds the second replete executive "But what would be the, ah, motivation?"
"Joe Blow is on a mission. No other reason needed. No further research required. One easy fee for him and an easier one for us"
"Excellent. What's for dinner?"

It is, if we wish to nitpick a little, possible to have a self-imposed mission, in the same way that I am sometimes impelled to check out if there any nuts left in the packet we started last week and so go on a mission to the kitchen to see, but then they should come clean about it. "Joe Blow is off to China because he felt like having a damn good holiday paid for by the TV production company he happens to own a half share in" - something like that would be refreshingly honest.

Let us end with a hearty round of abuse for this ghastly phrase, so beloved by politicians that it is used ad nauseum. I worked for over 40 years in the UK, paid all my taxes, continue to live here and intend to go on doing so. But I am not working now. Does this disqualify me as a voter, or mean I no longer have any claim to any benefits to which I may be entitled? No. So why go on and on about hard-working families when what they mean is "the British public"? Or do they? You see, that's the problem with these stupid phrases, dreamed up by speechwriters and image consultants. How long before we have a distinction between "the hard-working", the "easy working" and the "non-working"? If you work "hard" should you pay less tax? No, hold on, hard work is normally identified with earning more so paying more tax. Unless you are head of a large business and can base yourself somewhere like Jersey.  It's confusing. Politics should be simple and clear. I don't want to hear any more about "hard-working" people. Just "people", please.


Tuesday, June 02, 2015

The Daring Young Dog on the Flying Trapeze

I have never watched Britain's Got Talent; I gather it is similar to what happens when large families have get-togethers and all the children are encouraged to do a piece - recite a poem, play the recorder - and are enthusiastically applauded no matter how dire the effort, even while the adults are wincing behind carefully placed newspapers.

It seems I must change my mind. I learn, from this riveting piece in today's Guardian that on the aforementioned TV show not only do they permit animals to take part but that stunt doubles are used for the dangerous bits. For it was the winner - a dog, no less, who in a scandal that must surely be dubbed Boniogate, stood quietly panting by a handler whilst another pooch donned the leotards and did the dazzling trapeze act that secured victory. The audience who voted for the acts they liked the most were not informed of the deception; apparently it's all right because, according to his proud owner, (who was reported as sharing the prize with the now wealthy canine), the dog was capable of doing the high wire tricks but doesn't have a head for heights. Or to put it another way, was not capable of doing the high wire tricks. Because the whole and entire point about high wire acts is that they take place on a high wire, not on a bit of rope laid out on the grass.

Now this gives  me problems, and I don't just mean taking easy potshots at the obvious aspects of this ludicrous story. Consider my bid to represent team GB at the London Olympics in the 100m. I was clearly the outstanding candidate with just the tiny defect that I can't actually run 100m in under 10s [or even 10 minutes: Ed]. Applying the BGT rules means this can be ignored and a suitable stunt double - Dwayne Chambers perhaps - could have stood in for me, and no-one would be any the wiser. Admittedly Mr. Chambers is black and I am not, and he is fairly muscular whilst I am somewhat more lissome in appearance but a bit of clever makeup and some camera trickery will easily get round that. So that's a gold medal in the bag for sure.

Let us return to the idea that "talent" can be measured in animals. What about my wonderful performing goldfish? Each afternoon I splash my finger in the pond, they emerge from the duckweed and open their mouths and I oblige with a pinch of fishfood that smells disgusting but which they adore. Should I enter them in next year's BGT? Or perhaps the Eurovision Song Contest - they could be filmed miming to something being sung by some suitable popular beat combo.

In any case, if you are going to include animals then the talent being appraised should surely be a talent that is meaningful to the animals themselves, not tricks taught in imitation of human activities. The fastest burrowing earthworm perhaps, or the squirrel quickest to unearth the tulip bulbs one's wife has just planted. The magpie with the most irritating "caw"; the fox that can lay the most crap overnight on one's finely raked gravel, the most persistently head-banging wasp in the conservatory. This is raw, natural talent and it ought to be recognised.

I am not sure how Boniogate was uncovered. Are there other cases of suspected mutt impersonators? Did a crack team from the Met Police Dog Squad take the case, with Rover going undercover as a yodelling poodle whilst Mr. Snuffles and Shep spent long hours in a kennel with the listening apparatus? Were there late night meetings in sinister, deserted car parks between Lassie and a hooded and cloaked beast identified only as Deep Growl, whose sage advice was "Follow the Kennomeat?" I look forward to the Parliamentary Select Committee that will uncover the whole rotten mess of corruption and half-chewed soft toys that must surely underlie this nefarious affair and which will inevitably lead to the resignation of the Chairman of the Kennel Club. As for the President of Crufts - dare I suggest that he will be hounded out of public life? [Ouch: Ed]