Friday, 27 February 2015

Customer Disservices Speaking

Is it just us or is life at present a lot more complicated than it was  and becoming ever more intricate and demanding?  When we moved here in the 1990's a factor in our choice was that there was a full range of services locally available.  This meant less chasing about and made the paperwork much easier.

This is inspired by the need to renew our driving licences.  No longer can one just have a license for life, when age becomes greater there are procedures and checks and time limits. When these were introduced we had a DVLA office a short walk away.

This closed and we had to correspond with Swansea and as the paperwork become greater and less clear in the wording this was a nuisance.  Then it went online and that became more complicated again, a struggle to stay afloat in a sea of verbiage.

Our electricity suppliers had an office in the middle of town where it was possible to walk in, talk to someone who knew what they were doing and discharge the paperwork and payments secure in the knowledge that it was correct.  Now online you have to know exactly where to click and it is more likely to be wrong than right.

This is because the web site, like so many others, is now far more flashy with pages filled with items and the key links tricky to find.  This is just for basic routines.  If you are seeking hard information, clear advice and specifics then it is almost impossible.

On the credit card, payments in did not arrive.  There were three elements to this.  The payer, the money transaction company and the credit card.  So, perhaps foolishly, I totter down to the bank from which the card originated to meet a floor walker who denied that the bank now had anything to do with it.

Adding insult to injury he asserted that the money transaction company would be the last one he would choose.  So it meant resorting to the telephone.  The payer was in London and by a stroke of good fortune helpful and willing to check it out.

The money mob were in the USA and said it could not be them.  I needed lists of numbers, but luckily these were provided by the payer, not many I suspect would do this.  So it was back to the credit card company and formal written complaint.

Their call centre was in India, on checking up apparently at a location where the brother in law of an ancestor has a large and famous tomb.  After long conversations, I know how he must feel.  The matter is now dealt with, but how many people could cope with this I do wonder.

There are other examples.  What is unnerving about this is that the web sites in question are all passionate to sell me lots of things I do not want.  What I do want is hard information and too often this is not just lacking but all that is on offer is a jumble of meaningless marketing words.

Essentially, all the offices of the basic service used have gone.  It has to be phone customer services, a term I now dread, or online where the web sites are devoted to flashy imagery, sales, all sorts of incidental matters and too rarely either real information or simple systems to do basic business.

When there are problems or even routine complications it has become so much more difficult to deal with them and far from being efficient for the user, far more time consuming with greater mental wear and tear.

But this is now the norm.  How long is it since I was able to go into an office and talk to someone in ordinary language and with basic understanding.  Even the local council seems to be hidden out there in web bush country.

So, one good big solar burst or other cause of a major long term crash and there will be a collapse.  At least we will not be able to call it the collapse of a civilisation more chaos becomes chaos.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Blinkers And Winkers

This was a subject to avoid, given the full media and blogosphere in full cry.  But other ideas paled beside the sheer idiocy of this one.  Malcolm Rifkind, the Scottish Tory refugee in Kensington and Chelsea seems to have gone missing on parade and not so jolly Jack Straw in Labour perhaps hit by one of the fictional WMD's that he lost when helping Blair to invade Iraq.

What is terrifying is that both of these alpha males who fell for a bog standard media sting about their taking money for services rendered were Secretaries of State for Foreign Affairs and not just at the heart of government but inside the Right and Left pulmonary veins.

Rifkind is now the resigned Chair of the House of Commons Select Committee on Intelligence, repeat Intelligence, and Straw is out and about advising sundry bodies and governments on both policy and on the quiet his own ideas about intelligence.  But we will not go into that, some of his constituents in Blackburn may not be happy.

There is a lot of mail that comes through the letter box from all sorts of places.  There are things that crop up in emails.  There are other matters that arise.  So what do many people do these days?  They check it out, starting online and then perhaps following through.

Or they contact someone or a body for an opinion; very easy these days with modern communications. There are any number of sources.  Their reliability may vary but for someone of any experience or awareness they ought to be able to find something.

These men were both once at the heights of government yet they could not work out or did not bother to check at the most basic level of information nor it seems ask any of their many advisers or researchers or underlings or informed contacts or even, Zeus save us, people in Whitehall who would have known.

Is that how they ran the Foreign Office?  Is that how they advised the Prime Minister of their day?  Is that the basis of the many times they stood up in the House of Commons to inform the House and argue the basis of critical government policy?  Worse, is that the way they entered into binding and crucial commitments and negotiations about all our futures?

It might seem unlikely given the cohorts of civil servants and others to advise and inform them.  Also, the many interested parties and organised bodies with their views, reports and information.  Yet at the end of it all, when let out to play on their own, they function at a lower level than the average teenager and it seems with less capacity for rational thinking.

Are they the exception?  Looking around the various parties and their leaders a shiver goes down the back.  When you look further at the next tiers of personnel and see who is there and what their capabilities might be the shiver turns into the early stages of panic that this is the way they all are and how out government is run.

This seems to be the way it is for the House of Commons.  As for the House of Lords most of them now seem to be people who failed in the House of Commons.  The real blockheads we sent to Europe.

And the election will not change anything whichever way it goes.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Time Travel

You may well have seen this, but if not then it might be good for a smile at a time when there is little to smile about.


* Pasta had not been invented.
* Curry was an unknown entity.
* Olive oil was kept in the medicine cabinet.
* Spices came from the Middle East where we believed that they were used for embalming.
* Herbs were used to make rather dodgy medicine.

* A takeaway was a mathematical problem.
* A pizza was something to do with a leaning tower.
* Bananas and oranges only appeared at Christmas time.
* The only vegetables known to us were spuds, peas, carrots and cabbage, anything else was regarded as being a bit suspicious.
* All crisps were plain; the only choice we had was whether to put the salt on or not.

* Condiments consisted of salt, pepper, vinegar and brown sauce if we were lucky.
* Soft drinks were called lemonade.
* Coke was something that we mixed with coal to make it last longer.
* Rice was a milk pudding, and never, ever part of our main course at dinner.
* A big mac was what we wore when it was raining.

* A microwave was something out of a science fiction movie.
* Brown bread was something only poor people ate.
* Oil was for lubricating your bike – not for cooking; fat was for cooking.
* Bread and jam was a treat.
* Tea was made in a teapot using tea leaves, not bags.

* The tea cosy was the forerunner of all the energy-saving devices that we hear so much about today.
* Tea had only one colour, black. Green tea was not British.
* Coffee was only drunk when we had no tea … and then it was Camp, and came in a bottle.
* Cubed sugar was regarded as posh.

* Figs and dates appeared every Christmas, but no one ever ate them.
* Coconuts only appeared when the fair came to town.
* Jellied eels were peculiar to Londoners.
* Salad cream was a dressing for salads; mayonnaise did not exist.
* Hors d’oeuvre was a spelling mistake.

* The starter was our main meal.
* Soup was a main meal.
* The menu consisted of what we were given, and was set in stone.
* Only Heinz made beans: any others were impostors.
* Leftovers went in the dog.

* Special food for dogs and cats was unheard of.
* Sauce was either brown or red.
* Fish was only eaten on Fridays.
* Fish didn’t have fingers in those days.
* Eating raw fish was called poverty, not sushi.

* Ready meals only came from the fish-and-chip shop..
* For the best taste, fish and chips had to be eaten out small grease-proof packets wrapped in old newspapers.
* Frozen food was called ice cream.
* Nothing ever went off in the fridge because we never had one.
* Ice cream only came in one colour and one flavour.

* None of us had ever heard of yoghurt.
* Jelly and blancmange were only eaten at parties.
* If we said that we were on a diet, we simply got less food.
* Healthy food consisted of anything edible.
* Healthy food had to have the ability to stick to your ribs.

* Calories were mentioned but they had nothing at all to do with food.
* The only criteria concerning the food that we ate were … did we like it and could we afford it.
* People who didn’t peel potatoes were regarded as lazy so-and-so’s.
* Indian restaurants were only found in India.
* A seven-course meal had to last a week.

* Brunch was not a meal.
* Cheese only came in a hard lump.
* If we had eaten bacon lettuce and tomato in the same sandwich we would have been certified.
* A bun was a small cake back then.
* Eating outside was called a picnic.

* Cooking outside was called camping.
* Seaweed was not a recognised food.
* Offal was only eaten when we could afford it.
* Eggs only came fried or boiled.
* Hot cross buns were only eaten at Easter time.

* Pancakes were only eaten on Pancake Tuesday – in fact in those days it was compulsory.
* “Kebab” was not even a word, never mind a food.
* Hot dogs were a type of sausage that only Americans ate
* The phrase “boil in the bag” would have been beyond our comprehension.
* The idea of “oven chips” would not have made any sense at all to us.

* The world had not yet benefited from weird and wonderful things like Pot Noodles, Instant Mash and Pop Tarts
* We bought milk and cream at the same time in the same bottle
* Sugar enjoyed a good press in those days, and was regarded as being white gold.
* Lettuce and tomatoes in winter were just a rumour.
* Most soft fruits were seasonal except perhaps at Christmas.

* Prunes were medicinal.
* Surprisingly muesli was readily available in those days: it was called cattle feed.
* Turkeys were definitely seasonal.
* Pineapples came in chunks in a tin; we had only ever seen a picture of a real one.
* We didn’t eat croissants in those days because we couldn’t pronounce them, we couldn’t spell them and we didn’t know what they were.

* We thought that baguettes were a serious problem the French needed to deal with.
* Garlic was used to ward off vampires, but never used to flavour bread.
* Water came out of the tap. If someone had suggested bottling it and charging treble for it they would have become a laughing stock.
* Food hygiene was all about washing your hands before meals.
* Campylobacter, salmonella, E. coli, listeria, and botulism were all called “food poisoning”.

* The one thing that we never ever had on our table in the fifties … elbows.


I might add that then it was usual to eat at tables.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Don't Bank On It

The Midland Bank was where the bank account was opened around sixty years ago in London after the Army decided that on the whole it was safer for the nation for me to be a civilian.  When I cashed my first cheque it was off to the nearest barber at the Savoy Hotel for a haircut.

The barber, looking at my flowing locks asked me if the cut was because I was going into the services.  He was surprised when told it was the reverse.  A human right to hair was one of the disputes I had with my military superiors.  Now a student, short hair was needed for me to express my individuality.

The Midland Bank was with me through studies, work, marriage and mortgages and all the rest into retirement and through the ups and downs and more downs of getting through the years.  Then in the late 1990's it was taken over and then renamed.  HSBC it became and it was not long before I was calling it Shanghai Lil's.

For this naming see "Footlight Parade" in Wikipedia, the 1933 movie with James Cagney, picture above.  This was because when entering the local branch instead of doing the basic job of managing the account or moving money I was accosted by attractive forward young ladies making me offers which they claimed were too good to refuse.

After my Chief Executive running the figures it seemed they would be better off than me at the end of it if they earned their share of the takings.  So it has not come as much of a surprise to learn that my bank has been at the deep, muddy and murky end of world finance.  There has been a great deal in the media about all this.

This letter to David Cameron from Rowan Bosworth-Davies will do for me along with his two previous posts of Tuesday 17th and Saturday 14th of this month.  They are all a little on the long side but easy and plain reading if you have the time. He does have expertise on the subject of criminality.

Shanghai Lil was also the name of a B-29 Bomber of the US 444th Bombardment Wing in the Far East in World War II.  One thing for sure, they did not do half as much damage as the HSBC bank has done in the economic financial warfare of the early 21st Century.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Mopping Up The Mess

When is a government not a government?  This intriguing question which might tax the best minds might arise again in May.  Back in 2010 we may recall that Gordon Brown, mindful of the nation's needs, camped out in Downing Street until the Coalition had set up.

This LSE article says that something should be done. It is right.  The only snags are how, whom and to what purpose never mind getting the rabble now in Westminster and around to agree to anything sensible or effective.  The phrase "accidents waiting to happen" comes to mind.

Avoiding any prediction as to what the election will throw up, to coin a phrase, it is possible that a messy result could lead to a situation where there is not a clear way of resolving who will agree to join who to form an administration.

Those who recall the history of the old French Third Republic will be aware that it was possible for long drawn out debates and plotting before a new government was formed.  Even then, many did not last long and there could be an unending series of political crises.

History tells us that in countries that were persistently afflicted with uncertainty and inability of electoral systems to deliver effective governments could be prone to lurching into dictatorships, military coups or foreign takeovers.

It would be possible to pick the way through the history of British governments and discuss periods when the two party system did not function but this would make a long and complicated post.

But what should be remembered is that over some long periods one or other or both of the major parties were essentially long term coalitions whose membership fluctuated.  A consequence of this was that a good deal of what happened often was determined by the smaller even marginal groups in Parliament.

Any period of confused or uncertain government is bad but sometimes it is worse.  Thinking of 1914 there was apparently a majority Liberal government but in reality there were several elements who were in dispute over many issues which carried over into foreign policy.

Not only did this distract the Cabinet from what was happening in Europe it meant a failure to pursue a vigorous and organised response to the unfolding of events there.  It needed a good deal more than the endless juggling of Sir Edward Grey's efforts to come up with a positive diplomatic and political formula that might have staved off war.

Almost month by month it seems that the world is becoming a more dangerous and disorganised place in which governments are strained to deal with both the problems at home and the wider implications abroad.

Given the UK dependence on trade and international debt and finance to be going into perhaps a sustained period when not only is there uncertainty in the heart of government and inability either to decide or to function properly but chronic party and policy divisions that cannot be overcome or reconciled.

On the one hand the Atlantic Isles could dissolve into a number of mini states in continuing political conflict, perhaps allied to this or that foreign power.  At the other there could be the imposition of a full blown authoritarian government.

Anyone for an absolute monarchy?

Sunday, 15 February 2015

More On Tudor Times

Working my way slowly through The Register of the Guild of Knowle 1461-1535, in The County of Warwick, text available online, would seem to have little to do with the flurry of Tudor period items on BBCTV or the current actor celebrity Benedict Cumberbatch or celebrities of the mid and late 18th Century but it can happen if the connections might be there.

The programmes are Wolf Hall, last two episodes coming up and last week's Michael Wood hour on Mary Arden, wife of John Shakespeare and the mother of William Shakespeare.  To our amazement etc. she was a capable intelligent woman who could deal with business as well as running the home.

It is very likely that it was precisely these qualities as well as the portion and land that came with the marriage that attracted John as much as the swirl of a skirt or a come on look from under the bonnet.  Marriage was often business in those days as much as romance etc. whatever The Bard's popular entertainments might suggest.

In The Register one name caught the eye, it was a Comberbach.  There is a full and well organised Cumberbatch family history website, doubtless the source of all the media exclusives on his family past we have been given but I wonder if this one has been missed.

If so a pity because The Register lists three Shakespeare's, a John, a Richard and a Christopher along with others that caught the eye, notably a Somervyld and Throgmortons.  We should remember that name spelling was often elastic in those days.  Another thing is that Warwickshire then was not quite the same as it is now after reforms and changes in the late 19th and 20th Centuries tidied up and changed boundaries and removed separated parts in other county areas.

The Guild of Knowle (also Knoll) had its reach across a wide area of Warwickshire and was a major religious, charitable and administrative organisation which impacted on social matters as well.  This included the lands in which the Arden family were a major influence.

In those days if you are working out who was what and the rest it is far from easy to tease out the networks and groupings of families never mind just how things worked in practice at which the few remaining records only hint.  It is also quite alien to our modern life as well as periods in the more recent past.

The Somerville Plot 1583 might be a place to start, when John Somerville, Edward Arden and Francis Throckmorton lost their lives in a planned attempt to dethrone Queen Elizabeth and restore the Roman Catholic Church.  John Somerville was married to Margaret Throckmorton daughter of the marriage of Edward Arden and Mary Throckmorton, she being the daughter of Sir Robert Throckmorton of Coughton near Stratford upon Avon.

He was the eldest son of Sir Nicholas Throckmorton and Anne Carew.  Anne was the daughter of Sir Nicholas Carew, Master of the Horse, Companion to King Henry VIII, above, who grew up with Henry and was very close to him but lost his head in 1539.  He was a near cousin of Anne Boleyn and made the wrong call, with others, at a fraught time.

After Thomas Cromwell, it seems agent of this, lost his head the following year, King Henry had cause to regret Carew's loss.  As the Carew name was taken by the senior branch of the Throckmorton's, Queen Elizabeth had some sympathy with them, as long as they toed the line, which Francis did not.

Elizabeth (Bess) Throckmorton was a favoured Maid of Honour until she gave in to Sir Walter Raleigh and married in secret and found herself in the Tower as a kind of social housing.  Meanwhile, the John Somerville above, along with his brother who succeeded him Sir William, the close friend of The Bard were of Edstone in Wootton Wawen just north of Stratford.

This estate had come to the family with the marriage of their grandfather, Thomas Somerville  to Joan Aylesbury (also Ailesbury) daughter of John Aylesbury.  They were a leading family of gentry in Warwickshire ranked among the most senior in the Guild of Knowle emblazoning their coat of arms in the chapels.

They have long gone off the radar of our major families but not then.  Joan's uncle Ralph was the grandfather of William Aylesbury of Eastcote in Warwickshire and Holborn in London.  His son Thomas, who went on to high office was born in 1576 a little older than the bard.  William's marriage to Anne Poole of Sapperton in Gloucestershire brought connections to the Bridges, Whittington's and others.

A good many academics and others seeking to place The Bard in his "lost years" when there is little trace of him concentrate on peers in high places at Court and theories derived from his writing.  There are as many theories as there are sonnets and plays.  But it really could be quite simple.

He could well have been enjoying the hospitality, as well as the security, of the Aylesbury's given the mutual connections over several generations.  He will have needed it because across the Avon from Stratford at Charlecote was Sir Thomas Lucy who had it in for the Arden's as well as the Shakespeare's and who took full opportunity of the 1583 fiasco to impoverish them.

It will be interesting to see whether Sir Nicholas Carew turns up among the characters in Wolf Hall and what they make of him.  At that time he was a major figure and his memory was carried on for some generations in the families of his many descendants.

Among the Aylesbury descendants were Queen Mary II and Queen Anne.  Sir Thomas, born in 1576, had a daughter, Frances, who married an up and coming lawyer called Edward Hyde who attached himself to the exiled King Charles II.  He was made Earl of Clarendon after the Restoration and his daughter Anne married James, brother of the King with some scandal and bore him Mary and Anne.

Later the main branches of both the Arden's and the Somerville's moved close to Lichfield were they became acquainted with Dr. Johnson, David Garrick and others.  It is not surprising there was then a revival of interest in The Bard.

If you think that the TV items are complicated they do not get near the reality of it and the intermingling of families, people and the rest.

Friday, 13 February 2015

Happy Times On Hold

With the American dock workers apparently putting the supply chain for USA retailing and manufacturing at risk, notably in California, it is not surprising that the scientific doom merchants are suggesting that mega droughts in the American West could be coming soon.

Meanwhile, in the East, New York is about to freeze and the bad weather continues in the area.  The traders and bankers are counting the costs and it may add a new dimension to the currency wars that are going on.

Worried experts try to work out what all this might mean and none of them are happy.  In the UK there is talk of negative inflation by economists meaning deflation to the rest of us.  Because of stoked up money flows recently this is very bad news.

Inflation, by discouraging saving is supposed to promote consumption and taking on of long term debt that keeps electors and business happy especially when combined with ultra low rates of interest.

But deflation in real terms is bad news if you are spent out and loaded up with debt.  It will be harder and longer to pay down, if you ever do.  Worse, people may start to save, putting money away instead of buying all that tat and rubbish and the latest gizmo's.

For those with an interest in the more arcane figures, the Baltic Dry Index has gone down and the last time it happened like this we had the crash of 2007/8.  One way of promoting extra spending is to fight a few wars and President Obama is taking advice on when and where.

Given the uncertainties in the Middle East and the somewhat mixed results in those areas in recent decades, the idea of doing something noisy in Eastern Europe is possible.  After all, in the past when an Empire was in trouble it was often that starting a fight in that area might distract attention.

On the other hand, is the EU beginning to wonder about sending in the banking Mafiosa to Greece to exert its authority and help the Germans get all their money back.  It is not only the bank's money, but a lot of EU's better off citizens rushed to buy property in Greece when the going was good.

The British Navy, gawd bless them, with others, seemed to have stopped the piracy emanating from Somalia.  But this was a major source of income, so impoverished Somali's have headed for the Yemen.  This is in collapse along with Syria and Iraq.

This promises major shifts of refugees and others from the area. For them there is really only one way to go.  So they are heading for Europe where the streets are paved with if not gold, then benefits payments and homes.

Like all sensible and rational people they prefer to go where the better choices and facilities are available.  Make your own guesses where that might be.  But the homes part might prove more difficult.

One big bank ready to blow is Frau Merkel's own Deutsche Bank whose liabilities it is said exceed world gross national product.  As you may guess this is on ongoing problem.  Alas, it is not just an EU matter for what many do not know is that this bank has been buying up titles to UK freeholds.

If Deutsche Bank hits the fan then so will much of the UK leasehold sector together with a lot of other very sensitive investment areas notably in energy and its transmission.

Sumer is i'cumin in loudly sing cuckoo.