Wednesday, March 28, 2007


"Thank you for calling international card services at this busy time. Be assured your call will be answered as soon as an agent becomes available."

I am assured alright but only of two things; the first being that this call is going to cost me a fortune and the second, that I will now have time to make that first coffee, roll a cigarette and maybe even meditate upon such imponderables as why men have nipples for a sufficient enough time to finally come up with a satisfactory explanation.

Unfortunately, and probably just as I was about to have an Archimedes moment regarding the male mammary papilla...

"You're through to ****** ******, could you give me the last three digits of your debit card please?"

"Well, I could but this is about a credit card."

"Oh...well, if you could give me the number of the card and then I'll put you through." There is a rising intonation and I realise I'm talking to Australia. I accept the fact that I'm in for the long haul and make another coffee.

"You're through to ****** ******," I'm in Scotland this time, "Could you give me the day and the month of your birth, please?"

"A Sunday in January, my dear."

We clear up this little misunderstanding and proceed.

"On the 26th of March, there was an attempted payment of around 600 pounds..."

"Actually, there were several attempted payments. All to the same place and none of them successful."

"And could you confirm that this was, in fact, you?"

At this point, the only thing I felt like confirming was the fact that this girl was just not listening.

"Yes. Well, there was in fact a security flag on your card."

"Again? That's the third time this year!"

"Yes. The computer, you see, didn't recognise the attempted payment as conforming to your usual spending pattern."

"It never lets me use the fucking thing often enough to create one is probably why. Is there anything I can do to ensure that when I want to use the card, I can? How much prior notice would you like?"

"Unfortunately not, sir." I make a note to introduce swearage sooner next time. "It's all done on computer you see, which builds up a pattern of your spending and flags anything not conforming to it."

"I am beginning to understand, yes. Your computer won't allow me to use the card and yet, if I don't use it often enough, your bank is introducing an annual charge of over 30 quid to cover what you describe as administration costs. Just how much juice does this computer use?"

"I'm sorry, sir. But there is absolutely nothing I can's all this fraud, you see. Anyway, I've lifted the block on the card so you can make the payment now."

"Actually I can't. You see, I had to find another way to pay which incurred a 30 pound charge...I don't suppose you could reimburse me for that, could you?"

"Unfortunately not, sir. There is a verification charge of one pound, sir but that won't be coming out of the account."

"I'm sorry, could you run that one by me again, please?"

"There is a verification charge of one pound but it won't be deducted from the account."

"So, what I think you are saying is that there will be no verification charge in this case."

"That's right, sir."

I am sooooooooooo grateful.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


Eve of War

Well, thanks to The UK Today for passing on Bloggerheads' original guided missive, I would seem to be obliged to at least attempt some kind of coherent answer to the question, "Daddy. What did you post when the war started?" Well, unfortunately my archives don't reach back that far into the dim and distant so I shall borrow The UK Today's admirable paraphrase of, "Daddy, what did you do when the war started?"

Fiendish. Such an uncompromising choice of tense.

I could tell him what I had done up to that point although the story would be too long or the list of achievements too damned short for this space.

I could even inform him of that which I had yet to do but the story of being presented with myself, sliced and diced and yet loved beyond measure is one which I am not sure I am quite ready to write.

Would that he had used the past continuous and I were able to relate just how, like so many others, I was sitting wide-eyed in front of CNN watching shocked and awed as several thousands of tons of exported democracy fell upon central Baghdad. I should have known better; after all, we had been here before but there was still that sense of disbelief, the feeling that after so many fuck-ups and failures, the bastards are at it again. And at it again they certainly were, that fucking chimp getting his strings pulled by those whose belief in geo-politics had survived even Afghanistan and our Tone on some kind of touchy feely crusade to rid the international community of nasty tyrants with silent movie moustaches. And as the lies were found out one by one and the lack of even a basic post-baboom plan became abundantly clear, all that was left was some kind of deranged repetition of the mantra, nine eleven, nine eleven, nine eleven...

And you know what the really sickening thing is for me to admit? It is that I can actually understand the motives behind the one and yet when I consider the other, I have no way to rationalise it nor even to lever it into some kind of accommodation with that part of me that finds such state sponsored throwing your fucking weight about just because you can absolutely abhorrent.

And yet I should turn myself to the matter in hand and a realisation infinitely more depressing than anything above. It does not help in the slightest that I am not alone, that I am probably representative of the majority in that when my daughter raises her eyes to me and asks, "Daddy. What did you do when the war started?", I shall have no alternative but to answer, "Absolutely nothing."

Now to tag some more willing (more or less) bloggers.


Thursday, March 15, 2007


Yes, sometimes it really is this simple.

And yet, at other times, you simply have to set phasers to stun.

Thursday, March 08, 2007


Ferihegy. Terminal 1.

"No liquids are allowed on board, including gels, pastes and lotions."

Now, let me get this straight, okay. You say that all the above itemries could shield ingredients which, when mixed together, could cause quite a serious loss of aerodynamic performance, right?

But you are going to allow me to take up to 100ml of each forbidden substance providing the whole lot doesn't add up to more than a litre and will fit into a re-sealable plastic bag, yeah?

You do realise this is completely barking, don't you?

And just how come you decided to let those two girls through with their 300ml soft drink bottles and yet have no choice but to bin my shaving foam and cigarette lighter?

London. Luton. (Yeah, right.)

Christ, it's cold.

So, off to passport control, customs and immigration and, once again, evidence of the quite clearly deranged. There are two policemen in flak jackets, one flanking the hall and the other behind the booths. They are each armed with a semi-automatic (and very plastic looking) rifle and a holstered pistol. The rifle is held in the Port position and the trigger finger, across the trigger guard.

I tried...honest. I really tried to find an even half-way rational explanation for this and came up with absolutely nothing. A couple of beat cops would have been sufficient to deal with any disturbance at what I imagine must be just about the safest place in the entire airport. The only warning signs visible in the whole area were those banning smoking and mobile phones and sure enough, the flanker busied himself with the seriously telecomically challenged and I was left wondering whether or not he operated a three strikes and you're out policy. Even I could learn to love that.

England. (Oooops, sorry...the Regions of the UK.)

Oh dear, oh dear.

What a race of whinging, spineless, helpless and dependent nancies we have become. The land of the sheep and the home of the cowed. You generally get what you deserve and the nanny state is what we've got. Is there any area of our lives into which we will not allow the government control freaks? Any limit to the amount of shoddy service we will accept? A point at which we will say, "No mas" to the spin and downright falsehoods of our elected representatives at Westminster?

Just what the fuck is going on with this much vaunted and imminent ban on smoking? An entirely legal activity, harming only the smokers themselves and one which nets the government a fair whack in revenue, will only be possible in the comfort of one's own home or in one's car. Now I am of an age which allows me to recall when theatres and cinemas were all smoking areas and yet nary a cough or minor protestation was evident during the entire performance. These days, an actor lights a cigarette on stage and half the audience breaks out in sympathetic bronchial expectorations. Bollocks. Conditioning is all.

You may deduce from the above that one, I am a smoker and two, that I hold no truck with all the passive smoking twaddle either and you would be right on both counts. The issue seems to me to be about unpleasantness and lack of consideration which I am, most definitely against and consider them both to be evils of our time. Now we have designated smoking areas, smoking rooms in offices and groups of smokers gathered outside buildings feeding their addiction or just revelling in the pleasure that only tobacco can provide. And just what the fuck is wrong with that? Nothing as far as I can see. And yet even these are to go when the legislation comes into force. Where is it going to stop? When will talking too loudly on a mobile phone be punishable by a fine? Or personal hygiene problems? Farting in an enclosed space? Car stereos at excessive decibel levels? It's bollocks. It's discrimination. And it needs to go.

Green. Green. Green. The colour of the moment it would appear. The colour of both a healthy spring meadow and a decidedly unhealthy globule of snot. Everybody is stressing their green credentials, making the right environmental noises and yet really, actually, in fact, doing absolutely bugger all about it. The government is already some 30% behind its interim targets to allow it to meet its treaty obligations by 2020 or whatever and yet Blair is interviewed about his frequent flying and is allowed to waffle on about new fuels and new aircraft design being the answer. The only problem with this is that there are at the moment and well into the foreseeable future no alternative fuels available and the new designs he mentions have so many inherent stability problems that they would have all the airworthiness of a not particularly streamlined breeze block. Gordon Brown is allowed to get away with breaking his promise to freeze duty on LPG fuel and, with oil and gas reserves approaching worryingly low levels is not at all interested in providing any funding whatsoever for research into alternative energy technologies. I heard, so don't quote me, that some English developments in nuclear fusion were as usual, ignored and not funded and they are now being investigated by the French. And talking of the bloody government, just whose brilliant idea was it to make the need for EU qualifications for NHS doctors retrospective by 10 years? I'm sure all the Indians who were invited over here and welcomed in order to keep our health service going in the face of almost overwhelming odds weren't expecting any form of gratitude. Surely not.

And then there's Lincolnshire county council. Selective waste collection or somesuch. Every household now needs three bins into which must be deposited only that which the waste collection service instructs people to so do. A very worthy initiative, I'm sure and yet...

Okay, there's the investment in three outside dustbins and, if you are too lazy to go outside every time you need to throw something away, three indoor ones as well. They do not collect from the driveway anymore so every senior citizen has to struggle to get them to the kerbside. And last but not least, there is one material missing from the list of those of which they will dispose. Glass. That's right, bottles, mustard and jam jars, pots of face cream, the lot. Any glass. Right out.

Now, where I was staying, in a little village just on the edge of the Lincolnshire Wolds, the nearest bottle banks were a drive away either to Spilsby (about 3 miles) or to Horncastle (about 15). These have now disappeared, no doubt due to the impossibility of emptying them frequently enough to keep up with the demand. All thoroughly thought through as you can see. I have visions of old auntie Ethel gradually being shunted out of her own house by the sheer weight of empty glass containers.

It's all getting too much. Identity cards, road charges, ASBOs, surveillance cameras, the lot. Maybe we should just have a chip implanted at birth and give up completely. Baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa.

London. Luton.

Christ, it's cold.

"Do you have any forbidden, dangerous items on you at all, sir?"

"Only my lighter and I'll bin that before going through to departures."

"No need at all, sir. There's even a smoking area now, attached to the bar in the departures building. You can take it on the plane as well."


"It depends on the airline, sir."

"I flew with you on the way here and I lost my Zippo."

"Ah. You do know you're three kilos over your baggage allowance, don't you? That'll be 15 pounds."

"I was 5 kilos under on the way here. Do I get a discount?"

"That'll be 15 pounds."

Ferihegy. Terminal 1.

Lights on, nobody home. No passport control, no customs, nothing.

Ferihegy. Terminal 2. Guarded parking.

"6 days then, sir. 18 000 forints."

"6 days? I brought it in at 5 o' clock on Thursday afternoon and it's now 20:30 on Tuesday. That's a whole day for three and a half hours' parking?"

"That'll be 18 000 forints please, sir."

Fuckery. But at least I can smoke.

Thursday, March 01, 2007


Right, off to Budapest for a flight back home and the Everton match on Saturday with a whole bunch of exiled and ex-pat Blades. Anyone wandering past the Devonshire Cat at 12 o'clock on the day is very welcome to drop in and buy me a drink.

I've just had an e-mail from my brother informing me that a T-shirt is awaiting my arrival. A T-shirt?

Only this season's replica home kit is all. Twenty as chips...but a T-shirt? Jesus.

Anyway, back on Wednesday.

If I'm not up on a charge of fratricide, that is.