Monday, August 25, 2014

The glorious summers of yore

Unremitting, steady, heavy rain. Thick grey cloud. The cool air of a late autumn day. Welcome to another washout of an August bank holiday.

Radar map courtesy
The rain is heading north so there is plenty more heading for beautiful Ruislip

It wasn't always like this. The late summer holiday used to mean scorching sunshine. Vivid blue skies with just a few fluffy white clouds to cast the occasional shadow. Long queues simply to join a motorway from an access junction. Endless tailbacks on the approaches to a seaside town. That soul-destroying cruise in back streets looking for a parking place. The long boring trudge in the heat to reach the crowded beach. Sand in the sandwiches. That first angry flush down the leg that spells sunburn (and the agony to come of getting into a hot bath). The queue for an ice-cream and the sticky drips down the cornet onto your arms that taste of sunoil when you lick them off. The queue to get back onto the motorway and the endless stop-starting with red brake lights winking up the road as far as one could see. The headaches. The bickering and the arguments.

Ah well, I suppose we always remember only the good times.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

It knocked 'em dead in Brussels

I am indebted to The Guardian for drawing my attention to a theatrical work performed at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe a while back which I unaccountably seem to have missed, and which from the title alone I am jolly glad so to have done, let alone from the description. It seems that a Belgian group put on, and I am not making this up, really and truly, "Once and for All We're Going to Tell You Who We Are So Shut Up and Listen".  Still with me? The subject of this offensive title was "a blistering, no-holds-barred account of what it was like to be a teenager".

Um. Excuse me. If I may just for one moment not be forced to shut up I'd like to make a comment. Thanks. Erm, it seems to me that pretty well everyone likely to be going to the theatre to see this has actually been, or was at the time, a teenager. Even I, venerable now in years and sitting quietly in the big armchair in the corner, can recall the frustrations, irritations, boredom, yearnings and joys of being a teenager.

Anyway, my point is, if it's no-holds-barred blistering drama you're after, you've come to the right place, chum. How about "Oh God, No, No, I Can't Take any More, Please Let it Stop" my scorching, anything-goes assault-on-the-senses about what was like to follow QPR in 2012. Or, for art lovers, there's "I wouldn't Put that Crap in my Compost Heap so Take it Down and Shove it", a full-blooded kick-em-where-hurts rampage about Miss T. Emin and her laundry. Next year I am hoping to take to the Fringe "I Won't Tell You again, You Put the Bloody Milk in First, now Shut your Face and Drink it", the definitive veruka-forming in-your-face piece-de-resistance about how to make tea. If I can just secure that vital Arts Council grant first.

Stringing along the spam callers

I still get several phone calls a week from these desperate people trying to get leads for dodgy law firms or whatever it is they do.  You know the way it goes, the tell-tale pause after you pick up, the background buzz of a call centre and then a foreign voice asking your name, and how you are, and to confirm the telephone number and address and no, this is not a sales call but would you answer some questions....

I have begun to reply to every question by saying, very courteously, "I'm sorry I am unable to give you any personal information for security reasons".  Today my caller insisted I tell him whether I was employed or not. He got the same reply about four times.  He almost broke down, pleading with me that it was not personal and would I just answer. I stifled my own laughter and kept my voice steady and intoned my magic formula once again.  He became so indistinct that I invited him to phone back on a better line but for some inexplicable reason he declined to do so.

I was really hoping he would ask what the security reasons were; my reply would be that he has to pass my security check and I would then ask him his age, passport number, credit card number and PIN and anything else I could think of. Even better if he had queried why this was needed. My answer would be "It is required by my security officer" and had he asked to speak to that self-same official, (surely even these people cannot be so stupid but you never know), he would have got me again, holding my nose and doing a silly accent. North Yorkshire perhaps.
"Nay lad, sitthee, we canna go giving out to strangers, think on and look sharp".

Any further objections and it will be down to a strict email from my old friend and advisor P.R. Crush and nobody messes with him.

Monday, August 11, 2014

You have been chosen

This morning the postman brought us a Scott’s of Stow catalogue (one to drool over before filing under X for expensive, and anyway we strolled briefly through their enticing shop only a few weeks ago) and a communication from a minor bank inviting me to apply for a credit card. I struggled for a while to make any sense of it. It informed that I have been “pre-selected to apply” for their plastic. Despite my elevation to the exclusive ranks of those in this apparently privileged position, I nevertheless was expected to complete a mass of questions about my financial position.
Now I can understand being asked to apply for a credit card. Anyone may apply. They then decide whether to accept you. Fair enough. Sometimes financial institutions suggest that I have been selected to apply. This doesn’t mean much, unless there is some form of rationing on the supply of their cards and only those invited to apply are able to do so. But to be pre-selected? I’ve been selected in some sense before other people who are also going to be selected? Baffling. And why me? They must think I am a person of worth and standing, yes? Wrong. Their literature talks of their card being suitable for people needing to establish their credit-worthiness. So I have been pre-selected as being the sort of bloke who pawns his watch on a Friday in order to place a quick bet with a bookie’s runner, take a floozy out to the music hall and blow the remains on a pint of porter on the way home. [These ideas may be a bit dated: Ed]. Well, I’m not happy about it. They might as well address their fancy letter to “Dear Loser” and include such snippets as “Say goodbye to the misery of fighting off brokers’ men and bailiffs” and “Impress your friends by not having your TV repossessed”.
So no shiny new credit card with up to £1000 credit (if my pre-selected application were to be accepted, mind you). But I am left wondering about the people who are merely selected to apply for this particular card. What sort of credit limit would this collection of downbeats, persons of no fixed abode and financial outcasts be offered, if a respectable long-time homeowner such as your correspondent only gets a measly grand to kick off?

Friday, August 08, 2014

Scotch Mist - Occasional reflections on a referendum. No 5 –What is best for whom?

The first televised debate between the leaders of the opposing sides took place the other night. As it was on STV I was unable to watch (not that I necessarily would have, what with the build-up to the West Middlesex pro-am hopscotch first round relegation play-offs on Garbage) but gleaned the impression from the press coverage that Alastair Darling, for the “Naes” made a good case for the economic weakness that an independent Scotland would experience.  Predictably Alex Salmond for the “Ayes” continued to bluster that Scotland would remain in the sterling area with the full support of the Bank of England because this would be in the best interest of both countries. This line of argument has irritated me for a long time. The SNP have always campaigned, single-mindedly, that their policies were for Scotland and nothing else mattered. For them to now suggest that everything they do is best for everybody, even though their policies are contested by all of other the main political parties in the UK (yes, UK, there are other parties in Scotland), is confusing. Why should they care what is in my best interest?

Anyway, as I said in my last piece on this particular topic, what matters is the instinct not the endless batting back and forth of numbers. I believe that there is no conflict whatsoever between a healthy patriotism and the choice to join or remain part of a larger polity. Many of the North American states made this choice at a time when most of their residents identified with their state first and the USA second. Increasingly the citizens of Europe are moving this way, at least in part (Try driving from France through Belgium, Netherlands and Germany and see how many times you have to produce your passport). I believe that the UK can produce a better and safer quality of life for all of its citizens than if it breaks apart. The Scots have a flag, an anthem, a football team, a language (if they want it) and huge numbers of them prefer to live and work south of the border. Do they really want to see Prime Minister Salmond taking his place with the minnows at international conferences while Prime Minister Cameron (or should that be Johnson?) sits down at the top table? Do they really want to see their finest businesses relocate to ensure that they remain within the sterling area?

The vote is on 18 September. Five weeks before this business can be put behind us. It matters to me because I am a citizen of the UK and I continue to be frustrated that my views will not be taken into account on that day.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Why, oh why...(no 7 in this surely-it-can't-still-be-running series?) Microsoft (yes them again) think I have the intelligence of a one year old? I have deleted all the messages in my Hotmail account and emptied the Junk folder. "Wow, you have a very clean inbox" says the new pop-up message at the top of the screen. Yes. Yes, I do. Yes, I have a clean inbox. Because I checked each message and clicked on Delete.  It's nothing to "wow" about. It's something I, as the owner of this mailbox, did.

And at the top of my junk folder it says "You don't have junk here (hooray!)".  I kid you not. It actually has the word "hooray" with an exclamation mark perched coyly inside a pair of complementary brackets, entirely free of charge.  Yes, I know there isn't any junk mail. I deleted it all not five seconds hitherto.

If only this worked in reverse and every time I loaded (say) Excel a smug self-congratulatory email popped up on the desktop of the Head of Customer Websites in Redmond which she/he had to read whether he/she wished to or not. It could go something like this:

"Hey!!  (two exclamation marks, it's that important)
We got one of our Office products to open on a customer's PC. Aren't we the best?
Yup, working hard to make products do what they are supposed to to but sometimes don't and you know we feel real bad when that happens, it hurts us here, you know that? We feel the pain. But not today. Today a copy of Excel opened correctly. Hooray!!! (three? yeah, why not, let's push the boat out, they're worth it).

A few million of those and maybe they might design their websites for adults. 

Boris in prospect

Shock-haired Conservative politician and Latin-quoter Boris Johnson (currently employed as Mayor of London) has announced his intention to return to Parliament as an MP at the 2015 General Election. Commentators assume he then intends to position himself as the next leader of the party and will bide his time before knifing D. Cameron in the back in the traditional way.

This cunning plan to spend more time with the Queen requires his selection as candidate for a suitable seat. This in turn needs a seat with an upcoming vacancy. What could be better than the very seat in which your correspondent has the honour to reside, namely Uxbridge and South Ruislip? Safe Tory, lots of golf courses and easy access via the M40 to Oxford and beyond where the current generation of politicos and obscenely wealthy supporters like to live. Sir John Randall, the incumbent, is to stand down. Boris looks likely to be a shoe-in. [I believe the expression employed here is better stated as "shoo-in": Ed]

Representing this area would present a few interesting challenges. Round here we quite like Heathrow Airport, where loads of residents work and we are very unhappy at having HS2 bulldozed through our town and across many beautiful miles of Bucks. Mr Johnson, I believe, does not approve of Heathrow and rather likes HS2. Perhaps he can remind us what Cicero said, when asked to approve the Appian Way extension scheme.

But now a heavier shadow has cast its, er, shadow. A man who is paid to put records on a gramophone and woffle meaninglessly about them by the BBC (and who I will not name because I don't like him and see no reason to give him an iota of publicity), has opined that nobody knows where Uxbridge is.  I can well understand that the aforesaid tosser doesn't know. But anyone familiar with the London Underground surely will, because Uxbridge is one of the termini on the Metropolitan Railway. It was at Uxbridge that crucial negotiations for peace during the English Civil War were attempted.  Here in Uxbridge you can shop at a real old-fashioned department store, Randalls, owned by the very man whose departure from parliamentary service has sparked this whole debate [What debate? Ed]. And anyway, what about South Ruislip, the other half of the partnership? Geographically I actually live in North Ruislip but the vagiaries of the Boundary Commission led to my ward being squeezed south of the border, so to speak. And therefore I can speak for South Ruislip. And that surely is enough to put it securely onto the political map.