Friday, July 24, 2009

Hooky newsagents

I see that the cops have finally raided the hooky 'newsagents' at the bottom of High Street.

How he survived for so long is beyond me. Surely a 24hr newsagents pitched right in front of the nightclubs & regular police patrols, but with barely any actual stock on display, might arouse suspicion?

All the goodies were hidden under the counter or out the back - litre bottles of dodgy vodka, Canary islands cuthroat ciggies, and Jebus knows what else.

I gave up cigs a few years back but am still partial to the odd cigar, especally when sitting on the step outside Betty Black's at 1.30am chewin' the fat with my homies. He's the only shop at that hour of the morning & I used to go over and try and buy cigars off him. I always got the same response:

Me: Can I have a packet of Hamlet?
Shopkeep: Sorry, we don't have any this week.
Me: What sort of newsagents doesn't sell cigars???
Shopkeep: I can't afford them, here try some of these instead...

So I end up buying a packet of Canaries fags for a couple of quid, smoking half of one and stubbing it out in disgust.
I brought the packet into work yesterday & couldn't give them away.

He was still open last night but i'll miss our late night cigar badinage if he goes. It became part of my post-pub routine, something of a running joke shared between us.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Swine Flu Helpline Part 2

Work was like Central Station at rush hour today. Huge lines of eager young Herberts and Herbertesses were escorted through the building to the Swine Flu Floor. The Swine Flu Floor used to be full of shouty types doing telesales, flogging death policies to bank customers to be exact. Now they've been displaced to make way for the Swine Flu Helpline. There's some sort of grim irony there, perhaps, but I'm no Alanis Morissette.

I got chatting to a young lady (q. attractive, though dressed like the herbology teacher from Harry Potter) while on my teabreak. She'd just completed her swine flu training and I picked her brains as to what her new job would involve. It seems to be something like this:

Caller: Hello, I think I've got swine flu
Swine Flu Helpliner: What are the symptoms?
Caller: Runny snout, achy limbs, sneezey, coughy, loss of appetite. cloven feet....
Swine Flu Helpliner: Yes, sounds like swine flu alright. Write down this code: 5RHG6678
Caller: Ok, what do I with that?
Swine Flu Helpliner: Well first, you need to find a 'flu friend' (makes rabbit ears motion with fingers)....
Caller: A whatknow?
Swine Flu Helpliner: A 'flu friend' someone who probably doesn't have swine flu. Ring up them up and give them that 5RHG6678 code. They can take it to a pharmacist and collect you some Tamiflu. Get them to drop this through your letterbox, avoiding all contact with you.
Caller: For this relief much thanks

So there you have it. In one fell swoop the decades-old supremacy of the British Medical Association has been bypassed. Now phone monkeys with three hours training can legally dispense medicines. Have we come to this already? It's positively post-apocalyptic, like something from 'Threads' or 'The Event.' One little dose of flu and we start throwing medicines at each other.

With so many elderly, single people around, I wonder how many will find trouble finding a 'Flu Friend?' I nominate Andy Burnham as my flu friend, and demand that he personally delivers my Tamiflu when the illness strikes.

Actually, I've never had the flu, ever. Unless some of those bad colds I had in my youth were the flu in disguise.

It's a pity they didn't have similar helplines in the 17Th Century:

Caller: Hello, I've got big black lumps all over me groin and an uncontrollable thirst....
Black Death Helpliner: Sounds like the Black Death alright. What's your address?
Caller: 1 Gropewhore Lane
Black Death Helpliner: Right, we'll send a man round to board up your house. Stay put. He'll walk up and down for a bit with an orange studded with cloves on a rope, don't be alarmed. Also, if you smell smoke, that'll be just him burning a load of twigs to drive away the miasma. Do you have any dead bodies in the house?
Caller: One or two, yes
Black Death Helpliner: Can you find a 'Black Death Friend' with a wheelbarrow? They could cart them away for and drop you them in a big pit.
Caller: Shouldn't be a problem. Thanks then.
Black Death Helpliner: No problem. Oh before you go, do you have any dogs or cats?
Caller: Yes, a labrador
Black Death Helpliner: Strangle it. Goodbye.

I was offered training for the Swine Flu Helpline but I have to do it in my own time. Anyway, the tempting carrot of £7.50 p/h is only offered for this weekend, after that the wage will be £5.80 p/h, same as what I get. I'll pass. My passport fiends need me.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Swine Flu Helpline

Our work has announced we've won the Swine Flu Helpline contract. 2,000 new jobs with 200 of them on our site.

My firm pays minimum wage to part-time single mums; callow youths who failed their GCSEs and are planning their escape; over-educated layabouts like me too uncoordinated to get a real job; uni students on holiday; builders and joiners affected by the economic downturn. All lovely people, of course, but some of them couldn't spell influenza let alone tell you what it is.

Every other week there are mass sackings as bored and listless workers take too much time off on the sick, turn up late or just hang up on customers. And then a new set of drones is wheeled in through the door. It's a people factory.

Today I watched two of my colleagues take a discarded top off a food package and skim it back and fro like a Frisbee. For 8 and a half hours. Including while they were on the phone talking to customers. At times it distracted me from my involved reading of 'The Human Stain' by friend Roth.

This is who will advising you about swine flu, scaredy cats. The government knows you are stupid, and is treating like children. It's all you deserve, anyway.

God only knows what the training will be like.

I discovered that my boss keeps a daily formula which works out how much £££ I earn the company per day. They take the electricity I consume, and amount of time I spend idle, the time spent talking, spent shitting and pissing and doing feck all, minus my wages, and feed it into a computer. I earn the company about £25 a day. That's a bit more than what I earn. My company is French owned. Le plaisir est tout l'à moi, actionnaires français.

My boss told me I used to display negative body language towards him, but now I don't. Good news.

Saturday, July 18, 2009


You may remember that earlier on this year, meteorologists predicted that we were in for a good summer. The papers were all over it, revelling in pictorial fantasies of long, hot days, cricket and skimpily dressed ladiez.

After a little research, I discovered that their predictions were entirely based on simple probability. Apparently, the chances of having three bad summers in a row are so slim that the weather forecasters simply gambled that we wouldn't get another. No fancy satellite readings or oceanography analysis; just simple probability.

Well, May and June were fine; but then April and May were fine the year before. And now we're having another damp July, and the short range forecast doesn't show any improvement.

The clouds are low, heavy and lead to sudden intense downpours, though, rather than constant rain. I can live with that. The rain can be quite spectacular, as long as you don't get stuck out in it. After it's finished, the air seems fresher. It's good for cycling in, as the bike travels slickly along the damp road and I don't get too sticky.

So is this going to be our weather from now on? A fine end to spring, followed by a humid mini 'rainy season' and a mild autumn and winter? The recession has rather pushed the climate change agenda, so fashionable two years ago, off the news pages. The clarion call to go green has muted.

Among the sceptics are some folks who say that while climate change is inevitable, it isn't man-made, so we might as well keep burning that carbon. This is a strange argument; if the climate is changing, why hasten its adjustment by added more & more gas to the greenhouse?

With that in mind, I will switch off this power hungry little laptop and go and read a book.

ADDENDUM: My dear old mum pointed out that the weather the last few weeks has followed the same pattern: a bright cool start, incresing cloud, intense afternoon downburts and finally a calm but cloudy evening. It's mostly true, and today's weather was definitely just like that. It's a mini-monsoon season, I reckon.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Argos Card Services

I’m currently in dispute with Argos Card Services. When you receive a monthly statement from them, the only payment methods offered are as follows:

“You can pay by using one of the following payment options: 1. By Direct Debit. If you would like to set this up, please call the Call Centre on: 0845 640 0700 . 2. Send a cheque attached to the giro slip, to the following address: Home Retail Group Card Services Limited, Royal Avenue, Widnes, WA88 1AP. Please allow 5 days for the payment to reach your account. To avoid delays, please write your address, postcode and account number on the back of the cheque. 3. By cash or cheque at any bank using the giro slip on the bottom of your statement. There should be no handling fee at your own bank or at any branch of Lloyds/TSB bank. Please allow 5 days for the payment to reach your account. 4. If your bank offers a direct bill payment service, just call them or visit their website. Quote our direct payment account number: 9050 5498 plus the sort code 20-91-79. Your customer reference number is your Argos Card number without the first 6 - so it starts with a 3354”

Now, none of these payments were suitable for me, except for paying by cheque. I don’t like direct debits as your bank slaps a big fee on you if the money isn’t in your account. I work in an industrial estate on the edge of town & don’t have a car so can’t easily get to a bank. My bank doesn’t offer an online bill paying service. So I pay by cheque.

Now, on the month before last I ran out of cheques. Foolishly, I forgot to ring Argos to let them know. My bad. BUT my debt was only for about £13, and Argos Card Services have slapped a £12 late payment fee on my account!

Now, naturally that annoyed me. But what has annoyed me even more is that now I am in debt, it turns out that the company can take payment by debit card over the phone! If you ring 0845 64 00703 you can pay using a Switch/Maestro card on an automated touch tone system.

This phone line is not advertised or mentioned anywhere on the Argos Card Services website, or the monthly statement.

I complained about this to one of the many agents who have phoned me demanding payment. One offered to forward my complaints to a manager who would look at them. But no manager has contacted me, just a load of agents hooked up to a bloody autodialler. They usually ring me every 9.00am on Saturday and Sunday.

I’ve now been hit with a further £12 pounds of fees, making £24 in total for a £13 debt. I’ve just made a payment of £13.67 – this covers the interest charges for the last two months and clears the original debt. But there’s no way I’m paying the £24 late fees. What should I do? I only bought a battery charger and an electric hair clipper.

Connecting to server...
You're now chatting with a random stranger. Say hi!
You: Hi citizen
Stranger: hi
You: Papers please
Stranger: passport please
You: Snap
You: Do you own a dog?
Stranger: can you read it out for me?
Stranger: no, no dogs
Stranger: no pets
You: No animals of any kind?
Stranger: none
You: Prove it
Stranger: my web cam is not working at the moment
You: I'm sure I can smell dog
You: Is that not dog hair on the couch?
Stranger: your sense of smell is screwed up
Stranger: you can't see very well -- it is night here
You: It definitely has the odour of wet dog around here
You: Maybe you have a dog but you just forgot?
Stranger: now you know why i don't have a dog
You: I'm starting to become more convinced by these denials that you own at least one dog
Stranger: heck, my last 3 girlfriends broke up with me b/c i did not want babies b/c i did not want to deal with baby shit
You: You're protesting too much
Stranger: why the hell would i deal with dog shit and dog urine?
Stranger: that's b/c you are such a pin head interrogator
You: What sort of dog is it? A great dane, jack russell, just tell me
You: You can confide in me
You: What do you feed it on?
Stranger: i live in a glass house
Stranger: nothing to confide
Stranger: even your very insinuation bothers me
You: Can we just pretend that you have a dog? To help the conversation along?
Stranger: no
Stranger: i am sorry
You: Come on
Stranger: i live in korea
You: Ok
Stranger: we are civilized here
Stranger: unlke the rest of the world which gives dogs a very high status
You: I refuse to be drawn into any obvious canine meat conversations
Stranger: why?
Stranger: what did you have for your last dinner?
You: Pizza with kebab meat. Say you had a tricycle/rickshaw
You: A tricycle rickshaw pulled by dogs
You: That would be so cool!
You: I will supply this to you
Stranger: i guess your kebab was goat
You: If you did have a dog what would you call it?
Stranger: you mean for dinner?
You: No! As a pet
Stranger: to me all animals are same
You: Let's get you an imaginary dog called Joe Brolly
Stranger: i refuse to practice racism with dogs/cows/goats etc
Stranger: they are all equal
Stranger: i eat chicken twice a year then i have to eat twice a year
You: I have a league table 1.) Tiger 2.) Snake 3.) Dog etc
You: Do the dogs that get eaten have names?
Stranger: great, now you are getting it
Stranger: why not?
You: I don't want to eat anything that has a name
Stranger: see -- you should widen your horizons there
Stranger: like your kebab pizza
Stranger: pizza from italy
You: I just want to warn you that if you ask me anything about the Osmonds in this chat window I am disconnecting
Stranger: kebab from morcco
You: Also, birthdays and Christmas are not topics for conversation
Stranger: you are too controlling
Stranger: easen up a bit
You: I am a Jehova's witness
You: We don't believe in birthdays, christmas or The Osmonds
Stranger: all right
Stranger: i have tried everything
Stranger: i think i will allow you to imagine i have a dog
Stranger: what next?
You: Cool
You: What breed/size?
Stranger: rotweiler
You: Poor choice in my book, but OK
Stranger: about a metre high
You: Is he/she fierce?
Stranger: no
Stranger: i have brought him up on vegan diet
Stranger: you see i am vegan
You: Cool
Stranger: not a dog eater as i told you
You: I think you'll have to supplement his diet
Stranger: no
Stranger: have you had a look at the elephant?
Stranger: does the elephant in the wild eat according to FDA's recommendations?
You: Let's pretend I am your neighbour and I secetely throw bones over the fence; would you be annoyed?
Stranger: definitely
You: I may move then
You: I may bring the dog too
Stranger: there is nothing available for rental around here
You: He will follow me naturally & willingly, because he senses you secretely despise him
Stranger: no, for as a vegan i despise nothing
You: I can easily charm your neighbours into letting me sleep at their property
Stranger: everything in nature is naturally drawn towards me
Stranger: try as hard as you may, my dog will not eat unless he has double checked all the ingredients
You: This fantasy dog is proving both troublesome and unrealistic
Stranger: all fantasies are like that -- a bubble getting bigger and bigger
You: NO you need to ground the fantasy in some reality, to create a literally illusion
You: literary even
Stranger: but anyway..
Stranger: what is it with dogs you had at the beginning of the show
Stranger: before it went haywire
You: I never mentioned dogs, you did
You: You said you could smell dog
Stranger: if you dial 911, would they take you to an asylum?
You: Can you do it?
You: Tell them to bring the straps
You: Last time they forgot and I gained control of the vehicle
Stranger: forget 911. just tell me where you live. I will come with those "jolt pads"
Stranger: here i have already started
Stranger: this is for your own good
You: I live near Strabane
Stranger: Street address
Stranger: please
Stranger: please i need your street address
Stranger: don't hang up on me
You: 45-47 Abercorn Square,Strabane, BT82 8AQ
Stranger: i am a mere six thousand miles away
You: Lets leave this for now
You: I am beginning to despise you
You have disconnected.