Saturday, October 31, 2009

On finding out your best friend's a Draclia

As you know, I am one of Her Britannic Majesty's 1st Battalion Unemployed and rely on the largesse of my lovely tax-payer friends to keep me from experiencing a pauper's demise. Through judicious application of guile and not a little inventiveness regarding yellow labels, sell-by dates, a bit of ebaying and the odd lottery win (three last month, £24 up on that thanks), I have managed to stretch the £64 odd per week deemed enough for a single person to live on to cover just about all my outgoings, debts and all. The general trend of my finances has been towards the positive and whereas 6 months ago I was regularly flirting with the outer limits of my overdraft and regularly calling the bank up to beg yet another favour, all I need to do at the moment is make sure my regular outgoing payments coincide with the regular incoming ones. It's been running pretty smoothly for three or four months now. All I need do is actually manage to land myself some decent employment and I'm sorted.

There is of course, a weak link in all this and that is the Civil Service. I have been a civil servant, the lowliest of the low; the scabby dog-shit covered mat you tread on before stepping onto the bottom rung of the ladder. They are the ones who do all the work. The higher up you go, the more time you get to stand around talking about how much sick you've got left to take this year and whether it will affect your pension entitlement. Anyhow, the weak link failed, unbeknownst to me, on the 16th of September when the bastards forgot to pay me my fortnightly Dole Scum Allowance.

Now, I had been doing my maths and what with a couple of good ebay sales (we're talking a few quid, not hundreds or even tens) and the odd surprise care of Camelot, I was expecting to be in a relatively healthy position come 30th of September when the next payment was due, just in time to pay my road tax. This was assuming the regular payments had gone in, as they had been doing for nine months. All done by computer, isn't it. Failsafe. I checked my account on the 28th only to see that it had all gone, shall we say, tits up. Panic. I was £6.12 over my overdraft limit. A couple of calls and a quick rescue transfer from Sharon (hint: keep in with the ex) took me just the right side of the line and showed the bank I was on the ball. I called them, told them what had happened and that I was on the case. My next payment arrived on the 30th and thank goodness, it was a double one. They'd rectified the error. When I had a moan at the Jobcentre they said they didn't have a clue what had happened but not to worry, if I'd incurred any bank charges through their error, they would refund them. I said that I'd been onto the bank already and that a note had been made that it wasn't my fault and that there was a chance charges wouldn't be applied anyway.

Scroll forward to a couple of days ago. I open my latest statement. Notification of £25 charge for going over by £6.12. Will be taken on 9th November. Bugger. I call the bank immediately and remind them that I went over briefly, not my fault, I've been good recently, would have been well under if the twats at Dole Scum HQ had done their job properly etc. You'll recall the charge, won't you. I get transferred. I explain everything again. OK sounds fair, I'll just ask. I listen to ropey classical music for 15 minutes. He comes back. Er...we see your point but you still went over so we're still going to charge you. Especially as you said that they will reimburse you any charges. But, as a gesture, we'll only charge you half.

Half? What's the bloody point of that? If you're going to make a gesture why not wipe the charge altogether? Have you any idea of the hassle I am now going to have go through getting that charge reimbursed? Do you know what it's like dealing with these idiots? Eh? Eh? I'll need to call Chester to make an appointment with my local office in Crewe on an 0845 number from my bloody mobile, which I refuse to do, so I'll have to...oh FFS! As gestures go that's like having your car nicked, smashed into a wall and put back on your drive. Bang goes my cheap premiums next year, regardless of my protected no claims bonus and it not being my fault. It could take weeks before I get that money back yet all you've got to do is click a couple of boxes and wipe the charge off in an instant? In the meantime I've got to risk the domino effect from 8% of my income disappearing in one hit and not being reimbursed immediately. You've admitted it wasn't my fault so why should I have to break my back doing all the hard work getting it sorted when I'm meant to be getting myself a job? Don't bother with your gesture, it's a bloody insult. You're First Direct, the bank with the highest customer satisfaction rating ever and all-round good eggs. This is not like you at all. I expect more.

Hmm. I see your point. I'll get financial services to call you tomorrow. I can't do anything tonight.

Financial Services called. I won't bother boring you, same deal, no joy.

Then it struck me. Despite First Direct being absolutely brilliant with me and helping me through the worst financial nightmare of my life these last few years; being understanding, approachable, friendly and fair, and despite the HSBC group not receiving any outside help during the "crisis", they were finally resorting to type. They were suddenly becoming bankers. The new kind of bankers, the ones we've sussed this last year. Lazy, money for nothing, snout in shitty trough bankers. They'd realised that although it wasn't my fault, the tax-payer was going to recompense me for charges I'd incurred because of the Jobcentre's error. In effect, the taxpayer was going to pay First Direct £25 for doing absolutely bugger all. Or rather it was going to pay them £25 for the honour of being a cynical blood-sucking vampire. And I really don't think that's fair.

I have written a brief missive to the chief executive and made him party to my innermost thoughts. Happy Samhain.

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Right time, wrong place.

It was midnight last night and I had dozed off in bed reading The Independent. My phone rang. It was my best of all best friends, she has a habit of doing this, of phoning me on the way home from a night out. However, I hadn't spoken to her for a month and I had been a bit concerned so I let her off. I say "spoken" advisedly; our conversations are generally one-sided but not through design. I rarely get a decent go. She is also not easily embarrassed. Again, this is not through design, it just happens. We both went on a train once, in the rush hour. She didn't use trains as she lived in central London at the time. "You've never really been on a train before in the rush-hour, have you?" I said. "People are looking at us." She is immense fun, on top of being drop-dead gorgeous.

Last night she was on the tube. After half an hour of me trying to get a word in she suddenly said, "Where are we? Oh, Pinner" then broke down in gales of laughter. "Two blokes have just got off. They were sitting opposite me. One of them asked me as he went past, 'Don't you ever take a breath?' "

There were so many replies I would have given had I been there.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Lazy Blogging

My friend and former colleague at the world's finest tolled river crossing and Government give-away in Dartford, Andy, has sent me an email. It is possible you have seen it already, in which case, sorry. It is a prime illustration of why that nice Mr Obama is going to have a bit of a struggle getting any kind of reform accepted. Yes, why bother paying when someone else can...

The annual Stella Awards:

For those unfamiliar with these awards, they are named after 81-year-old Stella Liebeck, who spilled hot coffee on herself and successfully sued the McDonalds in New Mexico where she purchased the coffee. You remember, she took the lid off the coffee and put it between her knees while she was driving. Who would ever think one could get burned doing that, right? So... These are awards for the most outlandish lawsuits and verdicts in the U.S. Here are the Stellas for the past year (with some editing):

7TH PLACE : Kathleen Robertson of Austin , Texas. Awarded $80,000 by a jury of her peers after breaking her ankle tripping over a toddler who was running inside a furniture store. The store owners were understandably surprised by the verdict, considering the running toddler was her own son.

6TH PLACE : Carl Truman, 19, of Los Angeles , California won $74,000 plus medical expenses when his neighbour ran over his hand with a Honda Accord. Truman apparently didn't notice there was someone at the wheel of the car when he was trying to steal his neighbour's hubcaps.

5TH PLACE : Terrence Dickson, of Bristol , Pennsylvania was leaving a house he had just burglarized by way of the garage. Unfortunately for Dickson, the automatic garage door opener malfunctioned and he could not get the garage door to open. Worse, he couldn't re-enter the house because the door connecting the garage to the house locked when Dickson pulled it shut. Forced to sit for eight, count 'em, EIGHT, days on a case of Pepsi and a large bag of dry dog food, he sued the homeowner's insurance company claiming undue mental anguish. Amazingly, the jury said the insurance company must pay Dickson $500,000 for his anguish. We should all have this kind of anguish.

4TH PLACE : Jerry Williams, of Little Rock, Arkansas, Awarded $14,500 plus medical expenses after being bitten on the arse by his next door neighbour's beagle - even though the beagle was on a chain in its owner's fenced yard. Williams did not get as much as he asked for because the jury believed the beagle might have been provoked because Williams had climbed over the fence into the yard and repeatedly shot the dog with a pellet gun.

3RD PLACE : A jury ordered a Philadelphia restaurant to pay Amber Carson of Lancaster , Pennsylvania $113,500 after she slipped on a spilled soft drink and broke her tailbone. The reason the soft drink was on the floor: Ms. Carson had thrown it at her boyfriend 30 seconds earlier during an argument.

2ND PLACE : Kara Walton of Claymont , Delaware sued the owner of a nightclub in a nearby city because she fell from the bathroom window to the floor, knocking out her two front teeth. Even though Ms.Walton was trying to sneak through the ladies' room window to avoid paying the $3.50 cover charge, the jury said the nightclub had to pay her $12,000, oh, yeah, plus dental expenses.

1ST PLACE : (May we have a fanfare played on 50 kazoos, please.) This year's runaway First Place Stella Award winner was Mrs. Merv Grazinski of Oklahoma City , Oklahoma who purchased a new 32-foot Winnebago motor home. On her first trip home, from an OU football game, having driven on to the freeway, she set the cruise control at 70 mph and calmly left the driver's seat to go to the back of the Winnebago to make herself a sandwich. Not surprisingly, the motor home left the freeway, crashed and overturned. Also not surprisingly, Mrs. Grazinski sued Winnebago for not putting in the owner's manual that she couldn't actually leave the driver's seat while the cruise control was set. The Oklahoma jury awarded her, are you sitting down, $1,750,000 PLUS a new motor home. Winnebago actually changed their manuals as a result of this suit, just in case Mrs. Grazinski has any relatives who might also buy a motor home.

These people elected the leader of the free world.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Prize guy

I've done a bit of that writing stuff before; if the Nobel Prize committee would consider advancing me a million sovs this time next year I promise it will inspire me to work my arse off over the next three or so and write that proper book I've always known is in me. Honest.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Hey, mum, it's the...

Dear Cheshire East Council,

I currently have 4 waste bins. This is something I do not really object to, I am all in favour of recycling where possible. I do not object to this even though I live in a VERY SMALL HOUSE. With a VERY SMALL GARDEN. I am lucky in that I have a drive and can line 3 bins up outside my door and still have enough room to park my car on it. I even have enough room to wheel the garden waste bin out of the garden, round the front of my car and between my car and the festering wreck of a Corsa sitting on my neighbour's drive, sometimes even without knocking her wing-mirror out of its socket. Every Monday evening, come rain or shine, I wheel one (or even two if I've filled the silver one with cardboard and tins) of them to the end of my drive, a distance of some 20 feet. I make sure that there is nothing in the wrong bin because I don't wish to receive a fine. I make sure that the lids are tightly shut because I know you won't collect them if they're even a tiny bit open. As I live on my own and create very little rubbish this generally isn't a problem unless next door's sk8terboi emo-cretin son has dumped another load of takeaway cartons on me. I make sure the bins are positioned on the edge of my property as instructed. In fact as repeatedly instructed. You even go to the lengths of printing a newspaper twice a year instructing us how to fill and position our bins correctly so your staff don't have to do too much heavy work. I mean, god forbid they should actually have to lift anything like in the olden days. I don't even put my silver bin out until it's full because I can't see the logic in using energy to mechanically lift a heavy bin onto the back of a lorry just to empty out a couple of baked bean tins, a milk carton and a pizza box. I save you time, money and energy. Thinking, thinking thinking all the time, me. Considerate, ain't I.

So, with all this in mind, would it be beyond the bounds of reasonable possibility to expect the crews visiting my house to at least repay the favour once in a while by actually leaving my bin exactly where I left it and not in a group of half a dozen 15 yards down the street in the middle of the sodding pavement thereby forcing the endless stream of passing teenage mothers to dodge into the road with their twin prams. A manoeuvre difficult enough to execute at the best of times but nigh on impossible if you're texting and listening to your iPod at the same time.

How bloody difficult is it to do a job properly?

Yours etc,