Friday, April 25, 2008

Don't bank on it

I have a lot of problems with my Bank – not the least of which is their staff’s infuriating habit of calling it “Haitch SBC”. (I resolved that at the first opportunity, I would ask the management why their staff training didn’t include advising people the name of the firm they work for - but the next manager I spoke to also called it “Haitch SBC”.)
With staff exhaling violently whenever they announce themselves, their call centres must be like wind-tunnels.
But collective aspiration is a minor irritation. Another problem is their web-site. Why do so many big companies have user-hostile websites while smaller ones are usually much easier to use? OK, their businesses are less complicated, but I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who used to scream at the British Airways screen, “Go and look at Easyjet’s”. In the end they did, and it shows. Perhaps HSBC should look at Nationwide’s.
But the site's most annoying idiosyncrasy – of many - is the way it asks you, in the middle of whatever you’re doing, if you would prefer NOT to be logged off. If you happen to be looking elsewhere at the time, you’re off.
(The creeping "haitch" is not confined solely to HSBC - a guy in Curry’s the other day tried to sell us a TV that was “Haitch D ready” – it sounds like a folk singer. I wouldn’t buy anything from a guy who says “Haitch D ready” even if he didn’t have halitosis.)
Not only that, but the words he should have aspirated, like "have" or "here", he pronounced "'ave" and "'ere".

I’m enjoying a Christmas present, Passionate Minds, about Voltaire’s affair with Emilie, Marquise de Ch√Ętelet – one of the first women physicists - in the early 18th century. Writing about the Enlightenment period, author David Bodanis says, “In writing your thoughts in a letter rather than in a private, confessional diary, you’re showing that you’re proud enough […] to expect that other people will want to hear what you’re expressing, about yourself. Emilie wrote an immense number of such letters[…]”
Sounds like she was also the first woman blogger.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Could I have a word?

Things are not going too well domestically. In fact things are grim. Every year we start a new series of Scrabble and it’s my unspoken resolution to win the Scrabble World Series, but I never get further than Most Promising Newcomer – which, considering I was one of its Beta testers when it was launched, is stretching it a bit.
What’s even more galling is that back in January I was leading 10 games to 9 and rehearsing my lap of honour. Then she won the next seven games on the trot. The score now is DG 22; Wordsmith 15.
I may have identified the problem: I discovered only last night that there are four “u” tiles in the set. All these years I've had the unshakeable belief that there were five. And, since all my favourite words have multiple “u”s – crepuscule, unguent, pustulate, unctuous, and my ultimate favourite, curmudgeon (which she says is appropriate because I am), I consider myself unfairly handicapped. Either that or there were five and she’s hidden one.
The solution came to me last night. From tomorrow – can’t tonight, it’s the big footy match – we adopt the European system. She will play with the tile set she knows and loves. Mine will be Polish.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

BA humbug

I did a post a couple of years ago warning people to watch out for guys – it’s always guys – with diminutive names. (Unless of course they’re jazz musicians.)
At the time I meant politicians. (You knew where you were with Mark Antony - he didn’t call himself “Markey”; it was that Pompey who was up to no good.) But who would trust a guy called Bertie Ahern, the Irish taoiseach at the time? And if he’s a double-diminutive, like his predecesor, Charley Haughey, you have to be twice as wary.
Now Bertie, whom Charley called “the most skilful, […] devious[…] and cunning” of politicians, (from Charley, praise indeed), has quit over “unexplained transactions” of about £600,000.
What I said in 2006 was
‘He said it was “a misjudgement”. First it was “only $60,000”, then “a speaking fee”, then “an unsolicited gift to help me over my separation” then “a loan”. Now, it’s a misjudgement.’
But Bertie’s replacement is obviously a man on whom you can depend: he has the solid, diminutiveless name of Brian Cowen. But according to my news bible, The Week, it seems he’s not known as Brian Cowen. In political circles they call him “Biffo” – an acronym for “the Big Ignorant Fucker From Offaly”.
Meanwhile, highly-paid British Airways PR consultants are trying to hide their new Chief Exec because of the Terminal 5 debacle. (Following on the “Gate Gourmet” and the “wearing a cross on your necklace” debacles - which admittedly weren't on his watch.) Next it’ll be the "Great Third Runway Debacle". I’d like to write to him to complain about aircraft noise, but he’s the diminutively-named Willie Walsh.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Weather retort

I took this picture three days ago, when the bay didn’t look like it does now. It’s been raining most of the time since then: at times you can’t see the other side of the bay. I’m not looking for sympathy – in fact I no longer tell people in England when we have bad weather. They have this conspiracy. “It’s beautiful here”, they all say – whether it is or not. They don’t actually say, “Na na ni na na – serves you right for gloating about your weather all these years”, but you can tell by the smug tone that it’s there.

It’s tough being a football manager. Steve MacLaren, when he was England coach, once – just once - carried a huge umbrella, quite reasonably, to keep the rain off his Simpson’s suit. The tabloids made him the national wuss. Even the Guardian, no less, gave “Sheltering under an umbrella” one of the ten reasons why he should not be England manager. (Although some of its other reasons - like playing Joleon Lescott - have since been endorsed by the new manager.)
The result is that ambitious football managers, if they want the England job, have to stand out in wind and rain in just their suits - like poor Gareth Southgate last weekend, catching pneumonia, while the ones who’ve already made it – like the nose-picking knight – can be snug in their Umbro-supplied anoraks.

Jones's Law

I once had dinner with Gilbert Northcote Parkinson, author (this for those under forty) of Parkinson's Law. In awe of the best-selling humorist, I spent days preparing for an evening of merry banter. The food was excellent, but it was a long and tedious meal: I assumed my repartee had failed to bring out his latent humour, but later consoled myself with the thought that funny writers are not funny in person because they're too busy worrying about what funny stuff they're going to write next or in which tax haven they're going to live. Over the years I have derived much comfort from assuming that the converse is equally true: that the reason I can't write funny is because I'm such hilarious company.

I didn't write this either - I stole it from the Sunday Times:
Doctor: "You're going to die".
Patient: "I'd like a second opinion".
Doctor: "You're ugly".

We had fun over dinner last night with the thought that British place names don't appear in song titles because, unlike American ones, they're not glamorous. It explains, for instance, why "By the time I get to Wigan" never made it to No 1; nor, I guess, will "Sunderland, Oh Sunderland" or "In my mind I'm goin' to Wolverhampton".
Penny Lane anyone?

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Irritable Vowel Syndrome

I spent ten years in New Zealand (for the same offence today you’d probably get eight and be out in four) and when I got back to England I found that when I asked for a pen, someone would give me a pin. I had caught IVS – the dreaded Irritable Vowel Syndrome.
It’s an illness that affects all Kiwis; it’s highly contagious, and the only cure is expatriation. We saw how quickly it affected Ian Botham and David Gower when they covered the recent series of Tist Metches.
You don't feel a thing - it strikes at your vowel movements: IVS sufferers transform the letter “a” into an “e”; “e” into “i”; “i” into “o”; “o” into “u”; “u” becomes “a” - or disappears completely. Thus: Wan p’lls beck th’ cendlewock bidsprid, gits ap, drissed, end cetches thu bas tu wurk. Somple, usn’t ut?

Thet’s ut for thus wik – but you can see how cetching ut us - must stop now before my Spellcheck overheats. Next week: double vowels - “oe”, “ou” etc., and how to distinguish a Kiwi from an Oz. (Th’ Kiwis are the wans thet lit as wun Tist Metches.)