Blog DOB: 22 Aug, 2006
Name: Mark O'Connor
Me in the Antarctic
Really Annoying Sh##
This is my blog where I can dump all the sh## that really annoys me. It stays here, I can get on and enjoy myself. It's like therapy, and you can join too for free. Just add yourself as a blogger and get rid of all your sh##.
Gordon Brown, as part of his pre-election campaigning, announced yesterday his top three priorities for the country were "keeping on the road to recovery, keeping on the road to recovery and keeping on the road to recovery". "Bugger", he adds quietly to Alastair Darling, " which f'ing way is it?".
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In a web exclusive, a local Government official has revealed a new tool in their armoury of powers to help them crack down on the UK tax payer. The airborne CCTV device, conceived by Gordon Brown while still Chancellor, is currently being trialled by a number of London Boroughs to verify council tax bandings, to check up on recycling "errors" and to observe spending behaviours. Shareholders take note, the camera, which will be able to record your home through your windows, may spark an increase in the sale of net curtains. The official commented "if you have nothing to hide then you have nothing to fear".
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So much for Virgin superfast broadband! I've clocked mine at 192Kb. Superfast my arse!
Gordon Brown tries out a new technique....
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I use Linkedin, but I must say I find the "People you may know" section quite ridiculous. When I log in it seems to assume I am likely to know other people only on the basis we have the same name.
The noughties is almost synonymous with an age of evil. We had 9/11, the invasion of Iraq, Enron, Robbie Williams, the credit crunch, the expenses scandal, the terrorist attack in Mumbai, the Asian tsunami, Gordon Brown, 7/7, the banking crisis, Big Brother, superbugs, Swine Flu, shooting rampages at Virgina Tech, Land Rovers ..... the world is quite different, and I am not sure where I would start with my list of all the really annoying shit of the decade, but a new one begins, and (tongue in cheek) we're still making great television. Have a Happy new year, and love the world.
"Precious, precious, precious!" Blair cried. "My Precious! O my Precious!" And with that, even as his eyes were lifted up to gloat on his prize, he stepped too far, toppled, wavered for a moment on the brink, and then with a shriek he fell. Out of the depths came his last wail Precious, and he was gone.
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Gordon Brown receives his greeting card proofs back from the publisher
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Leona Lewis is punched in the head by a fellow contestant from the 2008 X Factor auditions.
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The [Nobel] prize was invented by the Swedish industrialist and inventor of dynamite Alfred Nobel, and was first awarded in 1901. There were a record 205 nominations for this year's peace prize. Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and Chinese dissident Hu Jia had been among the favourites.
Instead the committee chose Mr Obama, who was inaugurated less than two weeks before the 1 February nomination deadline.
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David Cameron faces a naked heckler at the Conservative party conference in Manchester during the week.
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"Mighty warriors with mighty swords, shiny helmets and shield bosses
We sail over the crimosn sea seeking plunder in Angle land.."
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In a morning swoop by armed response officers a pensioner has been taken into custondy after putting her wheelie bin out on the wrong day. The offence normally carries a fixed penalty fine, however, a spokesperson for the local council was quoted to say "We have a zero tolerance policy. We will continue to be tough on crime."
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The Deputy Leader finds a new way to travel following allegations she failed to stop at the scene of a traffic accident. Witnesses allege she lowered her window, shouting "I'm Harriet Harman" as she fled the scene.
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David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, takes a cheeky dip in the sea at Brighton beach following the end of the party conference on Friday.
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Amid growing speculation of his using prescription drugs, Gordon Brown instead reveals his new eye patch.
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A next generation speed camera is being trialled in Wiltshire. The model retains its trademark shape and coloring but is fitted with an intelligent computer chip and is part of a single robotic unit. The computer learns from statistical data and will move locations until revenue from fines hits or exceeds government targets.
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More prototype Surveillance Droids are spotted in Central London following Gordon Brown's announcement in Brighton last week.
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Yvette Cooper, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, pictured enjoying a tipple as she celebrates payment of her latest expense claim.
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Ermm, Gordon, I think this might be too close to the bone.
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Gordon Brown unveils the TAX-U-01 surveillance droid at the annual Labour Party conference in Brighton. This new mobile unit is already in production in Yunnan Province, China. It is to be deployed before the end of the year to trial in Guildford, Surrey. The Star Wars like device is preprogrammed with profiling software to select and follow you, automatically relaying data back to a centralised computer where fines can be issued. It is anticipated the droid will also be used by local councils to confirm property tax bandings and to monitor household recycling.
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An ancient human-like creature that may be a direct ancestor to our species has been described by researchers.
The assessment of the 4.4-million-year-old animal called Gordon Ardipithecus Ramidus Brown is reported in the journal Science.
Even if it is not on the direct line to us, it offers new insights into how we evolved from the common ancestor we share with chimps, the team says.
Fossils of G. Ramidus Brown were first found in Parliament in 1983, but it has taken 26 years to assess their significance.
One of the lead scientists on the project, Professor Tim White from the University of California, Berkeley, said the investigation had been painstaking.
"It took us many, many years to clean the bones in Westminister and then set about to restore this skeleton to its original dimensions and form; and then study it and compare it with all the other fossils that are known from Government and elsewhere, as well as with the modern age," he told the journal.
"This is not an ordinary fossil. It's not a chimp. It's not a human. It shows us what we used to be."
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Last week it was the evil ex-employee of Asda. This week it's our own prime minister who gives in to the despicable temptation of licking his chicken.
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TV labrador Ben Fogle is back on the box this week while he continues to film his new show "extreme sex", to be aired later in the year. Ben, a word to the wise, try to bring some tissues. This show looks as if it has no chance of getting on before nine.
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"The farmer took a liking to the cow", the tractor driver explained, "and put the cow to calf". "What!" I thought, as I sat in the trailer during the tour around Northney Farm, "What a filthy beast!". I suppose the next thing I hear will be the attack on David Blunkett by a cow was over a long standing paternity dispute.
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My name has an apostrophe. This precludes me from being quoted for car insurance on quotezone. Apostrophes are not allowed. I can only be quoted if I make up the surname or leave the apostrophe out alltogether. Such nonsense! Don't they like the 'Oirish'?
Virgin Media. No broadband. No TV. The engineer was booked for between 8am and noon on Saturday. If I missed the slot Virgin were going to charge me a £10 penalty. For a bank holiday there were other things I would rather be doing but the frustration of being without, erm... really not good.
At 9:30am the phone rings. It's customer service, the engineer has called in sick. No one else is available. This is taking the piss. Called in sick on a bank holiday? Guess what he's been up to. I have no choice but to reschedule.
Given Virgin Media were going to charge me a tenner, shouldn't I be entitled to do the same as they missed their slot? Maybe this would provide an incentive for the company to start providing a proper level of customer service. What a prick of an engineer. What do you think I should do?
Although he has been wholly descredited since, Gordon Brown was once known as the Iron Chancellor. An unusual moniker given he is in fact made almost entirely from jelly, an attribute which must surely contribute to S&P's threat to downgrade the UK's credit rating.
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Gordon Brown, Hazel Blears, Liz Blackman, Kevin Brennan, Alistair Darling, Ben Chapman, Ed Balls, David Chaytor, Harry Cohen, David Miliband, Geoff Hoon, Shaun Woodward, Maria Eagle..............more
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The 2nd of May and the Express Delivery package Amazon shipped on the 16th April still hasn't been delivered. It seems to be lost in Cork by UPS, even though their tracking screen still shows the package being scanned in every morning.
Looking at the long list of dates - UPS may as well wave a red rag in front of me. Unbelievably, I even sent them a Google map and they still couldn't deliver. I sent Amazon the same map. They replied to me with a very automated response, and then seem to have done nothing at all. A week passed and despite their claim to be "building Earth's most customer-centric company" I hear nothing at all. They don't seem to have picked up the phone to give UPS a kick in the rectum or to let me know what's going on.
Having had enough I cancel the order and take the opportunity to make a complaint to Amazon. Mohanraj, at Customer Service, advises me the delivery "reflects negatively upon Amazon.co.uk and the feedback that you have provided will be used in reviewing the service provided by UPS. I have forwarded your comments to relevant department and they will investigate the issue."
Translation: nothing will happen and I certainly don't expect to hear any outcome. Interestingly, no reference is made to Amazon's own customer service failings and in not following up with UPS after my earlier enquiries, nor updating me at any stage.
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Archive footage of Gordon Brown from the World Economic Forum.
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UPS deliver 15.5 million packages and documents daily to more than two hundred countries and claim to be able to deliver to every address in Europe and North America. In using them, my intention was not to test the assertion, but instead to deliver a package to my Dad in time for his birthday. Actually, I didn't have a choice. I bought a book on Amazon and selected priority delivery.
The package should have arrived next day, but over a week later and it still hasn't arrived. The driver couldn't find the address. Seemingly unquestioned by a supervisor, the driver marked the package up with " incorrect address".
This address is one of those saved on Amazon and has been delivered to umpteen times before. Nothwithstanding this, if you actually type it into Google Maps, it's clearly displayed. In fact, astonishingly, I went to the trouble of saving a google map with the address pin pointed and sent it through to UPS support. They responded to say they've forwarded the email "to the relevant department", but the package still hasn't arrived. Is it me or does good customer service seem to be a thing of the past? A company reaches a certain size and they couldn't give a monkey's about your business any more. They're too focussed on the share price. Or are the staff in Cork sitting around eating peanuts?
Where's my effin package?
They still can't bake! They boast an instore bakery, but I don't, for one minute, believe a proper Baker would produce the product below and try to sell it on to an unwitting consumer at full price. I bought a pack of two Pain au Raisons, brewed a fresh cup of coffee and bit into one. It was dry and didn't taste right. Turning it over explained why, as you can see from the picture below on the right. The blackened, charred bottom is clearly visible. I paid full price for this, or actually, I should say I was overcharged for this, and thereby, unwittingly, contributed to Tesco's £3bn profit as I didn't return to Tesco to complain and ask for a refund.
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Bugger! The cowboy builders strike again.....
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Gordon Brown unveils plans to create 100,000 jobs in a public spending programme rumoured to include the construction of a giant Sphinx in London's Canary Wharf. The Sphinx will have a contemporary twist and is to be built with the head of Gordon Brown on the body of a lion.
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Come here Darling, screw the economy, pucker up and kiss me. I know you want it....
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Today I had the joy of having to sit behind an eejit in a Volvo S40 on the A3 who continued driving in the fast lane even though there were no other cars to overtake. There were distances of up to half a mile between cars in the middle lane, ample room to pull in, but he didn't. He was obviously one of the soft heads who thinks his rightful position is in the fast lane, at the top of the Q.
I had a few options
I am not a fan of either of these options, and was stupid enough to think common sense might prevail. The bonehead would look in his rear view mirror and make way. But being bereft of common sense he didn't do that and I should have undertaken him.
This is the same type of eejit that comes off a slip road and makes an immediate beeline for the fast lane even though their acceleration is never going to match the speed of existing traffic. And the type of eejit who waits until the very last moment to try and cut across lanes to make it to the exit, applying their brakes suddenly, usually in both fast and middle lanes in their hurry to get off in time.
This shit will represent nothing less than a sea-change
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Erm, Gordon, are you sure you understand the concept of "social mobility"?
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I thought this might be the smallest blog post in the world but I remembered Blacksheep already won the blog awards in that category for his blog which contained no content at all. That untitled blog, which his harshest critics lambasted as being an error, also, controversially, won best punctuation and spelling for a blog.
And, as if that wasn't enough hardware for the night, his blog also won first place for best regional submission from an area around Maynooth. Fans admire the blog post for its nihilistic candour and have even drawn parallels to the ground breaking conceptual artist, Marcel Duchamp.
For me, I think he made an error, was too eager with the return key. I can't even link direct to the blank post as the lack of title means it can't be indexed, but enough about the blog awards, I want to talk about shirts.
Why is it when you buy a non iron shirt the first thing you have to do is iron it to take the creases out?
Gordon's economic relaunch suffers another setback as his solution to the energy crisis receives a less than enthusiastic response during consumer trials in Hackney. The Prime Minister, determined to do the right thing, delivered fire to local households faced with fuel poverty, advising them to refrigerate, to make the fire last longer.
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Undaunted by losing the battle with the energy companies to fund a cash rebate to the needy, Gordon Brown demonstrates a new plan to help pensioners stay warm this winter in the face of huge increases in energy bills.
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Ex-minister David Blunkett is pictured below trying to raise the dead and return them to work to pay for his ministerial pension and the largesse of final salary public sector pensions.
While the retired civil servants will be happy playing garden bowls, the rest of us mugs will have to spend our childrens inheritance trying to stay warm and keep up with inflation and, the best part, continue working until we collapse. Read the BBC News story.
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No sure, but here's Alistair Darling as he pauses from his busy schedule for a bite of lunch, traditional fish and chips by the looks of it.
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Phew, a sigh of relief at Number 10 as Alistair Darling remembers to turn up for work with his head.
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Tuesday: Having had his relaunch sunk by Alistair Darling, Gordon Brown comes up with another clever strategy.
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Speaking to the BBC yesterday, Jack Straw, likened the current economic climate to an airplane passing through tubulence. Mr Straw, in an effort to limit the damage caused by Alistair Darlings irresponsible interview with the Guardian, continued with his aviation anology, to ask "The question for the country is who is better to take us through this turbulent period? Is it an experienced pilot and co-pilot in Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling.. or is it David Cameron and George Osborne?"
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Rather than demonstrating any sense of grit or financial leadership, Alistair Darling, in his exclusive interview with the Guardian, basically tells us we're screwed. Is there any optimism in his outlook? No, in fact, he suggests the economic downturn is "going to be more profound and long-lasting than people thought", and assesses that the economy is "arguably the worst [its] been in 60 years".
These disclosures won't do anything but further decrease consumer confidence and contribute to a continuing economic decline, in the same way his chance remarks about temporarily suspending stamp duty stopped the housing market dead.
Way to go Alistair!
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I find it quite ridiculous that I can visit a National Nature Reserve and not be able to stay there to enjoy it because I don't have £1 in coins to pay the parking charge. I had 60p which I fed in to the parking meter only to be prompted with a digital message asking me to "Pay More".
With £100 in notes, a debit card and a mobile phone I gladly would have - if there was the facility to do so. But there isn't, so the choice is to either turn around and go home or face the prospect of being fined and clamped, no doubt, by a contracted out cowboy service.
At first I thought Butser Hill in the South Downs was owned by the National Trust, but they promptly emailed back to say it was Natural England. I contacted them, both to vent my annoyance and to ask had they any plans to update their parking system.
A spokesperson from NE responded:
"Most NNrs are managed by Natural England but some are managed by other approved bodies. Butser Hill is one of these and part of the site is within the Queen Elizabeth Park, run by Hampshire Country Council."
The email included contact details to address my enquiry to, which I did. A respondent from the Council later answered:
"Hi, thanks for the e-mail. I had already seen a copy passed on by a colleague in Natural England.
Firstly, I am sorry that your visit was not an enjoyable one.
With regard to the parking at Queen Elizabeth Country Park, the whole area is covered by an Off-Street Parking Order and as such our visitors are required to pay a nominal amount for their parking... The O/SPO has to be enforced as per any similar scheme and Park staff will issue excess charge tickets where necessary. "
The email continued suggesting "If on your next visit you are in need of change for the pay and display machines then please do come to the Park Centre, open 7 days per week, and we will happily provide it."
There is no Park Centre at Butser Hill, nor is there any notice in the car park pointing the way to the Park Centre located in the Queen Elizabeth Country Park, a couple of miles away. And I still didn't really have my question answered so I asked again. This time a better response from Hampshire Council:
"The Forestry Commission is currently testing a cash less credit card based system at Alice Holt which we will be watching with interest. We are also soon to errect a new set of large fingerposts based up at the kiosk [at Butser Hill]. This will help with orientation about the Country Park, both to the east and west of the A3."
Boris Johnson, London Mayor, has had his head shaved today to help raise additional funding for the 2012 Olympics. Unexpectedly, under his trademark blonde bouffant was revealed an astonishing birthmark, similar to the warnings found on supermarket grocery packaging.
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Gordon Brown, pictured on his way to a fancy dress party at the weekend, is more "Robbin' Hood" than "Robin Hood". He is the Prince of thieves, just look at the headlines -
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At Fishers Farm in Sussex I got very confused by the animals during a visit last weekend. A case in point was the horse pictured below. If it weren't for the sign advising me not to feed the horses I would have definitely classified this animal as some kind of goat! Just shows you how little I know about the countryside.
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While going through the monthly exercise of shredding all the junk mail the banks, credit card and insurance companies pile through our letter boxes I find a letter from Tesco Insurance saying they have automatically renewed my home insurance. I need do no more!
The letter says:
My first thought was "I've been had", my second was, why did Tesco store my bank details for the year? My third thought was, look at the premium - £456.75. This is over two and a half times more expensive than the cheapest quote I had received for a comparable policy, from Swinton.
My fourth thought was, I'll never use these cowboys again, how can they get away with it - and try to pass it off as though they're doing me a favour and being done in the name of high standards?
What'll it be next? Will I find some of the staff in my living room opening a bottle of wine. "We decided to help ourselves, every little helps!"
The BBC headline read "Brown brings mystery to festival." Of course, this isn't the only place he brings mystery. Although better known for his sleight of hand, Gordan is currently making houses disappear at an alarming rate throughout the UK.
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"I don't think the British people have ever been broken by anything or anyone." says Gordon Brown in an Interview
with Ian Rankin at the Edinburgh book festival. Read the story here.
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"Britain is basically a decent, compassionate society", says Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
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In a seafood salad purchased from Tesco I found the diminutive monster circled below clung to the side of a prawn, perhaps feeding. Like I'm going to eat it now! How annoying!
Under the microscope I thought the creature bore a a slight resemblance to Tesco CEO, Sir Terry Leahy, but it may have been a trick of the light. Gosh, I hope he's not doing anything despicable on the food.
I couldn't quite think of the caption for the picture below. Any suggestions? It depicts Gordon Brown and Harriet enjoying happier days in each others company at No. 10 - before he went on holidays!
You know, I heard they even had their own song. It's that one from Martene McCutchen. Remember her? Eastenders. And I'm sure you've seen her in Faces. What was it called, "This is my moment.", or something like that?
I'm sure I have a weak regulator to thank for shafting the consumer and limiting my choice in the area so I have to endure three trips to Tesco in the week, one to the supermarket, one to the Tesco convenience shop and one to the Tesco petrol station.
All three had their own dissatisfied tale to tell about Tesco Customer Service.....
1. At the supermarket the groceries were being scanned as if it were the new speed event in the 2012 Olympics. As I struggled, near defeat, with separating plastic bags and trying to pack, the cashier was finished and was now busy texting on her mobile phone, completely oblivious to me.
2. At the partly flooded convenience shop I bought a chicken ceaser wrap. The cashier seemed to clear a bonus of £2 from the transaction. I handed him £4, and watched as he registered £2 cash received on the till. What happened to the other £2?
3. At the petrol station - I wrote about this earlier - a queue even though there are free pumps. What are the staff doing? From the corner of my eye I observe a manager emerge from the nearby supermarket. He takes a closer look, albeit at long distance, at the queue and scuttles back inside the supermarket. What do the staff do? Nothing!
I think the petrol stations are designed to work without supervision. When I finally make it inside to pay the two chuckling cashiers decide to swap tills while us customers wait.
Going to Tesco gets you in such a bad mood! Grrrrrrr......
I probably wouldn't mind queueing for petrol if there was a shortage, but to end up in a queue for no reason at all is absolutely infuriating. There are free pumps, but we're sitting in a queue. All because there are a group of boneheads who insist on waiting for the pump to be on the same side as their petrol cap.
It makes no bloody difference! The pump will reach. You can use any pump.
To demonstrate the point, below is a picture of me filling my car up with the petrol cap "on the wrong side". Quite clearly there is loads of room.
Having made it to Uhuru Peak, Africa's highest point, the last thing I expected was to almost lose an eye. Yet this very nearly happened as some eejit wedged a metal plate into the sign that marks the peak, to hang a memento on. As the plate is at eye level it's invisible. I turned right into it, and caught my eye..
Should I be surprised? No. Tourists the world over do some extraordinary and really annoying shit. You can't let them out you know. The most annoying for me was a young woman posing on an Ahu, one of the sacred platforms for the Easter Island Moai, for an entire afternoon, just obstructing the view without a care for anyone else. That was annoying, but chipping a piece from a Moai ear to retain as a keepsake as a Finnish tourist did this year - that's just plain shit..
And speaking of which, in the Atacama desert, one of the magical places of the world, a tourist ruined the natural rock formation known as the three Maria's when he climbed up on one of the figures for a photo shoot and broke it. Way to go ass#*le!
The following clip of a Geordie buying shoes was emailed to me last week. It seems to have been recorded off the TV, but I can't make out the channel. One thing is for sure, I wouldn't like to be the Shop Assistant.
Posted in: Life
Watch out guys, if you have been adding Activia to your shopping basket you could be accused of being a gay or a girl. This yogurt is as feminine as tampons and panty liners. This was lost on me until I saw the current TV advert for the product which alienates male consumers by using the words "every female" instead of "everyone" in the sentence "I have every female in my family eating it".
The message is simple. It's a girls product. Guys don't eat it. I am a guy, I shouldn't eat Activia yogurt. I wrote to Danone for clarity. A spokeswoman from the UK Danone Careline responded to my email saying it was "fine for men as well". Rather than being assured, the reply made me more apprehensive as it read more like "you shouldn't have any side effects you freak".
I have dropped Activia from my shopping list since seeing the advert. The email did not attempt to get it back on there. I guess men eating Activia is something they can't be seen to condone. If you are male and eat Activia consult a specialist, you need help.
Thank you for your e-mail. Activia is fine for men as well as women.
The core target audience for Activia is women aged 30-45+. This is why we advertise with women only, around this age. We are aware that men also consume Activia, but understand this is low compared to the number of female consumers; hence our advertising is targeted at women. We have not ruled out men in advertising and this is something we may do in the future.
Gordon Brown is looking a bit arse about face over this 10p tax rate.
Marks & Spencer don’t have a plan B. They do have a Plan A, and Plan A is all about tackling "some of the biggest challenges facing ..... the world".
Their eco-marketing literature says we’ll see them work with "customers .... to combat climate change". As part of the plan they’re introducing a 5p charge for plastic bags from the 6th of May, to help reduce the amount sent to landfill. Until then, every shopper will get a free bag for life with their food purchases.
I got one yesterday. It was handed to me, neatly folded, after I finished packing my purchases into the environmentally damaging plastic.
Pardon me for stating the "bleedin" obvious – but shouldn’t the free bag be handed out first – are you really serious about Plan A, or is this just more marketing to mug the consumer?
Mayor Ken Livingston, posing outside City Hall, as he promotes his plan to create a beach on London's South Bank; an urban beach to rival the Plage in Paris.
Ooops, did Ken accidentally forget to put on his Speedos? Uh la la!
Why are old sheets and pieces of cardboard beginning to replace the traditional birthday card? Hang them up on a fence at the bottom of the road or over a bridge. They'll be so excited when they see their birthday sheet!
Posted in: People
I'm an Orange mobile customer for over ten years. In that time I have had one phone upgrade, and a lot of very expensive bills. The phone upgrade didn't last long. It was an Ericsson T28s which didn't allow you to speak. You'd dial a number and could hear the person on the other end answer hello before hanging up. I remember walking into an Orange Retail Shop on Oxford Street only to be told they couldn't help as the Orange shops were seperate. Great Service!
If you don't upgrade your phones you're meant to get a discount. I've never had one. Occassionally my monthly bills top a £100. Am I on the right plan? Who knows, all this marketing gibberish about Dolphins, Racoons and Panthers is just too confusing.
In any case, the issue is international calls which are normally out of plan and where the Mobile companies rake it in.
If I'm away in Cork it's 38pence a minute to make a call, 19pence a minute to receive a call and 25pence to send a text message. From the UK I call Irish mobiles and at the end of every month I am left with unused minutes and unused texts which only roll over a month. Orange keep the rest.
The good news, I found a way to do it for free. All I get charged is a local rate call which gets swallowed up in the unused minutes I lose every month. Mobiles in all the countries listed below can be called for free...
Ireland, USA, Autralia, South Africa, Canada, Belgium, China, France, Spain, Argentina, Austria, Bahrain, Brazil, Bulgaria, Chile, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Norway, Germany, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Luxembourg, Mexico, Lithuania, Netherlands, New Zealand, Peru, Poland, Romania, Slovnia, Skovakia, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, UK
The company doing this are called Rebtel. With a name like this they should come from Cork, but they don't. They're based in Stockholm, and it's easy to get started.
Next thing I need to find is how to make free or very low costs txts, anyone out there in Neverland know the answer?
Eating out should be a treat.
At Cafe Rouge, about five minutes from Brighton's seafront, early on Saturday evening, people were being turned away because there were no tables.
They were lucky.
This would have been anything but a treat.
The service at Cafe Rouge was so bad I think it is the first restaurant I ever walked out of without leaving a tip.
We waited an hour for the Salade de al mer, a main course which, unbelievably, was smaller than the side salad. Is it a main course, or have we been mugged and served a starter portion?
There is no one to ask. We can’t even order another drink as there is no service. Not once did anyone visit the table to see how things were.
Having waited twenty minutes for a coffee I complained about the children’s meal. There was no banana. The waiter didn’t seem to understand.
I cancelled the coffee. Just bring me the bill, I hissed.
People were still being turned away. Not because the place was so busy, but because the service was so abysmal.
Outside I look back, take out my camera and photograph the facade. I make a mental note: never return, dissuade anyone from going.
M&S share price has dipped again after news the retailer issued 70,000 to 800,000 20% discount vouchers to employees and pensioners in an attempt to boost trading. Sales are still down since Christmas, and while it may be convenient to blame consumer confidence or "tough trading conditions" or interest rates, where M&S are concerned, other controllable factors are clearly contributing to the decline. In fact, if you have the vouchers, there is every possibility they'll still be in your pocket at the end of the day.
Take their clothing. Last weekend I visited M&S at Hedge End. Out of a large selection of suits there were actually only two choices. One,a grey city pin, had the right jacket size but not the right trouser size. For the other, the complete opposite. They had the right trouser size but not the jacket. Are there any sales assistants?
I wait for one. I give up and wander away to another section. I come back. I wait. I give up again. I overhear an old dear confide to her friend "they used to do fantastic stuff in M&S but they seem to have stopped doing it for some reason". I couldn't make up this comment. I come back. I wait. Finally, after about fifteen minutes, a sales assistant appears only to say "We don't keep stock Sir. Just whats on the rails. We can order it in for you?."
Order it in? Great! Shall I just wait here for three days, by the changing room? I leave. Next day I visit M&S in Portsmouth. Unbelievably, in the grey pin suit, they have the right trousers but not the right jacket size. It's Sunday trading, so I have no chance of making it back to Hedge End before closing to get a full set.
During the week, as I still need a suit, I interrupt my commute home and get out at Oxford Circus. I walk to Marble Arch, home to the largest M&S store in the UK. Inside, I have to give right of way to a sales assistant before going up the escalator to Mens. Rails and Rails of suits to walk passed. Their biggest store in the UK, a huge choice of suits, but still the same issue. You can't get a complete set.
Tough trading conditions. Don't give me that cow crap, when the buying conditions are impossible!
Tesco have added a wall of diy tools to its Express in Port Solent as it continues to expand and expand and expand. I went in to do some quick grocery shopping, but what an effort! Firstly, there were no baskets by the door and I had to literally hunt one down. None at checkout one. None at checkout two. None at checkout three. What the f_ck, did they send them all out on a training course! Finally, I find one lone basket at checkout nine.
You know I read recently that well over 50% of the people who shop at Tesco find it irritating. I'm sure the rest find it really annoying. Half the aisles are littered with packaging and there just seems to be no pride in keeping the place clean.
No pride. What's this? Pizza Express pizzas dated the 13th. That's three days ago, and they are still on sale at full price. Now that's just taking the piss!
It is to become compulsory for 11 to 14 year olds to be able "to cook a tomato sauce" announced Ed Balls, School Secretary, as he introduced new labour plans to tackle obesity. The Government will fund the training of eight hundred new cookery teachers in the next two to three years making practical cooking skills part of the national curriculum from 2011. Students will be able to "do shepherds pie, or chilli con carne ... or do a simple curry", he continued, while inviting members of the public to suggest healthy, easy to prepare dishes. (Ed, how about Tomato Sauce?)
Critics of the scheme point out the fact that physical activities aren't compulsory, and physical exercise may be more effective in fighting obesity trends among the young.
Meanwhile, a giant picture of Gordon Brown was delivered to Downing Street today for approval by the PM. It's rumoured the image will be permanently displayed on London Bridge, in a similar way to the portrait of Chairman Mao in the Forbidden City, Beijing.
The monster reaches out his huge hand....
Home affairs committee chairman, Keith Vaz, speaking during yesterdays question time said the government are likely to press ahead with national ID cards and were going to pilot the scheme this year by issuing them to foreigners entering the country. Press ahead? Of course they are. The Identity Cards Bill received Royal Assent in March 2006, and the UK passport office became the IPS (Identity and Passport Service) on 1st April 2006. The IPS website is unequivocal in saying the "National Identity Scheme will eventually become compulsory". The scheme will be obligatory for British, Irish and foreign nationals resident in the UK.
The ID cards will contain biometric data which will also be stored on a national database with other personal details. This data is being termed our "biographical footprint" which the government will keep and track. The scheme is being packaged up as though it were for our benefit, but the benefits listed on the IPS website are really pretty lame.
|1||Help protect cardholders against identity theft and fraud||Just a sweeping, general statement with no evidence to support it. Is biometric technology even ready?|
|2||provide a reliable way of checking the identity of people in positions of trust||Why? And what's exactly wrong with the traditional way of checking references, qualifications and having a proper system of internal control?|
|3||make travelling in Europe easier||Is it difficult now?|
|4||provide a secure way of applying for financial products and making financial transactions including those made over the internet||this responsibility should be with the banks, credit card companies, and others like Microsoft - not the government.|
|5||offer a secure and convenient way of proving your age||In fairness, the only time I've ever been asked to prove my age is when I was underage and trying to buy a pint - come on!|
|6||help to confirm your eligibility for public services and benefits - and reduce fraud relating to these services and benefits||paper over built in weaknesses in existing government services rather than fixing them|
|7||help in the prevention of organised crime and terrorism||They're already in the UK. They'll have a card like everyone else.|
|8||help combat illegal working and reduce illegal immigration to the UK||It'll continue|
|9||allow the police more quickly to identify suspects and people they arrest||Is this really an issue, they have enough powers to hold people in custody until they find out who they are through normal "policing". Aren't most suspects already "known" by the police anyway?|
The cards will cost £30 each. With a population of 60million this will raise £1.8billion which will pay for extra public sector staff to run the scheme, and another public sector IT project to build the database. Are you comfortable with this? Would you have preferred this to have been spent on the NHS? Does the government have a good track record of storing data? Do you trust them with your "biographical footprint"?
I don't! And what's coming next? A CCTV camera in every home?
32 dead horses were discovered in Amersham, Bucks at the weekend. Three other animals were in such poor condition they had to be put down, while the remaining stock of eighty were being taken to sanctuaries rather than the meat hooks they were destined for. Conditions at the site were described as "utterly horrific" with horses being tied up in small pens and standing in their own excrement.
So what's the problem? They're animals! There are plenty of starving people in Africa who'd be happy to eat them! This probably isn't a response you'd expect, but would it be more acceptable if I was talking about chickens?
They live for thirty nine days, never see natural light, constantly feed to make their commercial weight, are overcrowded, get painful lesions on their legs from sitting in their own faeces ("hock burns"), and are starved for eight hours on their last day to have a clean gut before ending up on our shelves in Tesco at two for a fiver.
This is the story Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has been describing on Channel 4 this week as he tried to convert Axminster into Britain's first free range town. His experimental chicken farm contrasted differences in welfare, and in taste, between factory reared and free range. The free range chickens, he said, are "out here in the grass, doing what chickens want to do."
I would like to think, and I'm probably in the majority, the surviving horses in Amersham would have a similar fate and were free to run around a field, but when it comes to chickens people just don't seem to feel the same. They're chickens, they'll buy two for a fiver.
I'm actually in denial it's the new year. It can't really have passed by that quickly. They've missed out on some of the months. They must have done. Was there an April? And what about October, I don't remember there being an October?
I do remember The Rise of the Silver Surfer, the disappearance of Madeline, demolishing the garden shed, and a few other things really got my goat during the year, but here's my top ten....
Happy New Year and God bless for 2008
As 2008 begins, and the first day of commuting misfires with overrunning engineering works, I've compiled my list of the most annoying attributes of, or the reasons to avoid using, public transport.
Do you really want to do this for another year?
"A Christmas happy you will have.....ruff ruff"
I found this poor Yoda through google images, and decided to give him a home here for Christmas.....
Why is it always at the most inopportune moment your bank or credit card company will decide to put a stop or caution on your credit or debit card? And what are you supposed to do? The only contact numbers on the card are to report if it's lost or stolen. There isn't a number listed on it to call if your bank have put a hold on it.
Although my most embarrassing moment was definitely being stranded at a checkout in Tesco with the card stopped and no cash, this Christmas the bank did it inconveniently again. Twice.
The first time, Nintendo Wii's were back in online stock but because the card wouldn't process they were out of stock before I had time to finish. I didn't get one.
Next day I decided to buy something else, ordering before 2pm to make next day delivery. Again the card was stopped. By the time I had run through a series of ridiculous security questions by the bank (such as "Give me the name of a music store you buy music?" - let's face it, you have a 50:50 chance of getting that one right, HMV or whatever Virgin is now called!) I missed the cut-off so the delivery is now scheduled for two to three days after Christmas. No doubt by then it will have been discounted 50% in the sales.
Is there a better way?. Could the bank actually call, don't they have your contact numbers? But of course some of them do. Recently a friend was left stranded in a panic in Tunisia in the middle of the night when her card was stopped. She had no cash. The bank however had kindly left a message on her home telephone in the UK saying the card was stopped as it was being used in Tunisia.
Being used in Tunisia? Ehh, maybe she's in Tunisia, maybe we should call her mobile? No such luck.
There must be a better way. At least as a start a customer service number should be printed on the card. You might then have some chance, rather than having to take a very ignoble exit from Tesco if you happen to be left stranded with no cash and a refused card.
If you're buying retail and go into any of the high street stores such as PC World, Comet, Currys, John Lewis, Dixons, Tesco all laptops on sale come pre-installed with Windows Vista. If you go online to Compaq, Toshiba, Sony, HP, Acer and the rest, you have no choice but to buy Windows Vista. In fact, all websites display the same message "Toshiba recommends Windows Vista", "HP recommends Windows Vista", "VAIO recommends Windows Vista", "Acer recommends Windows Vista" on and on ad nauseam.
With the consistent wording, these recommendations clearly originate from Microsoft rather than clinical engineering tests. Microsoft are heavily incentivising manufacturers to push Vista which has unbelievably been in development since 2001, consuming Microsoft people and money. Despite this, Vista, delivered three years late, doesn't perform any better than XP and needs some serious hardware just to run the graphical "Aero" interface such as 1GB of system memory and a 40GB hard drive capacity.
Business customers running Vista Business were thrown a life buoy, being quietly allowed to "downgrade" to XP. Retail customers, however, don't have the same licensing choice. If you have it, you're stuck with it. The main change in Vista is the unnecessary user interface and an improved search function as it tries to catch up with Google. Oh, and My Computer has been renamed Computer.
With Vista OS I am reminded of the Apple II being replaced with the Apple III in the early 1980s. The Apple III was designed by Marketeers and was the beginning of the end of Apples leading market position until it started to find itself again with the iPod. Vista has the look and feel of a development being led by Marketeers, it's not an operating system of choice.
So what is the alternative? As you can't seem to buy a laptop with XP you can return to Apple and the MAC OS (once it's not the "leopard" 10.5) or you can build your own with a Linux distribution such as Ubuntu, i.e. buy a Vista Laptop and uninstall the Vista OS. For the moment, my choice is not to buy.
Chancellor Alistair Darling does listen to businesses, he announces, trying with great difficulty to suppress a smile as he daringly poses for a picture without his ears.....
Mr A gestured to the Garfunkel's across the road and suggested we "just go in there". Even though it was quiet, the staff left us waiting to be seated for an unnecessarily long period of time.
When it was obvious we weren't going to leave, the waitress approached. From her expression she'd clearly drawn the short straw. She had to endure the inconvenience of the customers.
The attitude in the kitchen can't have been any better. I had to take a photograph of Mr A's lasagne. It was so palpably burnt - incredible that this could be delivered out of a kitchen in Piccadilly Circus and be unashamedly charged at £8.95.
Krispy Kreme have a facebook group, apparently, called Krispy Kreme is coming to Portsmouth. But don't get me started on social networking sites, I want to talk about another one. This site, pictured below, used to be the children's playground at Tesco's North Harbour in Portsmouth.
Make way! It was obviously not producing revenue and has been given over to the much healthier doughnut! Evidently 120,000 of them will be given out free in the run up to store opening and , especially for Portsmouth, a limited edition doughnut, called the Berry Redknapp, after former Pompey manager, will also be available. Don't you just love the marketing?
And the playground? Gone.
Despite having the Techguys with "a wealth of knowledge, years of experience and unrivalled expertise in all manner of computer and technology related challenges" I couldn't get onto the PC World website as it was too busy. I am advised the store will open soon, and bizarrely, am asked to try again in 1430 minutes.
1430 minutes, why that's just under 24 hours? What's the matter, can't the Techguys get the load balancing on the servers right? Is the challenge too great? Or maybe PC World, ironically, just doesn't have the hardware?
By the way, I assume the 1430 minutes is an error in their calculations, unless they've been really clever and included a variable to cover the amount of time a visitor will waste trying to find a laptop without rubbish Vista installed.
Wouldn't it be useful if PC World added operating system into their search function? You might feel you actually had a choice, even if it was only to select XP.
Kent police have started "an exciting new venture" announced Simon Redman, their Director of Support Services. The project, which cost £10,000 to set up, is an online shop expected "to meet demand for new police themed products" and "hopefully raise money to put back into [the] community".
One resident from a crime ridden estate in Ramsgate said "We never seem to see a proper copper round our way", a sentiment shared by other residents. But spending £10K on a shop rather than policing isn't the thing that disturbs me about the story. I'm sure the £10K will be recouped in time and the amount, considering historical spending levels on public sector IT projects, is a drop.
The disturbing thing in this story for me is the message being sent out on some of the merchandise. Take the bib below with the slogan "I've been inside for 9 months". Not only is this destined to become the latest chav baby accessory but it completely trivialises the prison experience. Is this the message the police should be sending out?
By the way, the bib is already out of stock, but you could buy the hip flask. Fill it with your favorite tipple, bring it with you in the car (??).
Gordon Brown at the CBI conference yesterday delivering his "In the old days ..... In the new world" speech. It all sounded a bit like.....
Posted in: Government
I often wondered why I would see queues of people in line outside Planet Hollywood or am I mistaking it with the Hard Rock Cafe? I'm not sure, I had never been there either. Planet Hollywood opened in 1991 with the backing of a bunch of Hollywood biggies such as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis. It still seeks the endorsement of A list celebrities, and promises "distinctive dining" in its themed surrounds.
The mission statement suggests a passion for their guests, no compromise on high standards and a continuous striving to improve.
Still feeling deprived from lunch I ordered a club sandwich from the menu. Jayne ordered sizzling Fajitas.......... The food arrived. The club sandwich, despite the price, was made with processed turkey and the fries were cold. As for the sizzling fajitas of beef and chicken, the beef tasted as though it came straight from the refrigerator having been cooked the day before. Sizzling my arse!
A passion for guests? I don't think so. I'd have have felt more satisfied had I paid £50 for a happy meal in McDonalds.
Lazy or just plain ignorant? This visitor to my next door neighbour parks partly across my driveway, blocking my exit, even though there was plenty space to pull up without blocking me in, and there wasn't any emergency. Did they do so because it was a shorter distance to walk to the front door or was it out of a complete lack of awareness or sense of good behaviour?
Wasn't man supposed to have developed in the theory of evolution?
When I arrived at Disney's Newport Bay Club it was lunch time. Having checked in and made it to the room I was tempted by the club sandwich on the room service menu. What arrived was so awful I had to ask for a refund and was only able to take a single bite. The sandwich, at €11.50, was halved rather than quartered. The bread, which was brown wasn't toasted. It was, however, hard and dry to the touch, as if the slices had been left out in the kitchen overnight. It was made with processed ham rather than chicken or turkey.
Disney magic clearly didn't extend to the kitchens of the Newport Bay Club and the room service menu. The chef didn't clap his hands over this dreary bad ham sandwich and utter a triumphant incantation - a puff of smoke ("Eh Voila!") - a club sandwich....
The traditional club sandwich is quartered, usually double-deckered and held together with toothpicks. The bread is toasted, crusts removed and the ingredients include bacon, chicken or turkey, tomato, lettuce and mayonnaise, not what they serve at the Newport Bay. Needless to say, I didn't order room service again.
Oh..... and I almost forgot, the sandwich came with a cold pot of tea.
Normally you can leave a pushchair at the aircraft steps. At the Air France check in desk at Charles de Gaulle the clerk looked down at the pushchair and shook his head. Not tonight, evidently.
As the three year old was fast asleep, and there was still almost an hour before boarding, this seemed quite monstrous and I queried why the pushchair had to be checked in now. This certainly wasn't the case when we flew out, we left it at the aircraft steps.
Visibly annoyed at us he looked about for someone else to confirm the check in. He came around to our side and walked across the floor, had a brief conversation with another AF clerk and returned. The pushchair had to be checked in.
I lifted E out, still sound asleep, and struggled to fold the pushchair with one hand and one leg while the check in clerk watched, un-amused. He then produced a large plastic bag and started to pack the pushchair into it, advising us it had to be taken to Area 8. It couldn't be checked in at Area 10 with the rest of the luggage.
Go to Area 8? Whatever about having to check the pushchair in, you would at least think we could have pushed it to Area 8, with E asleep, rather than trying to walk a high wire, balancing a sleeping child, a folded up pushchair and the hand baggage. What customer service!
A day later I hear about poor Jean-Jacques Jauffret, a French scriptwriter who was called "enormous!" by the check in clerk. Imagine, they actually came around from behind the check in desk and very publicly measured his waist. Incredible!
Having already become irrelevant, David Cameron, has now started to turn invisible. .
Miss Bournemouth gives a speech during the party conference pageant finale.....
Alistair Darling, the Chancellor, pictured out on the town at the weekend with Marina from the cult sixties TV show, Stingray. Gossip column note: don't they make a great couple!
Since Easyspace was acquired by Iomart for £10.5M at the tail end of 2004 services have been in decline. One of the problems, and I speak as a user and customer of Easyspace since the 90's, has been in their outsourcing of support services to India. When support was based on shore in Byfleet, Surrey, the technical response and customer service experience, was always spot on.
This Thursday I contacted Easyspace support with a very simple problem to resolve. I had tried, unsuccessfully, to renew five of the domains in my stable with a debit card, as I have been doing, for what must be now almost ten years.
The response I got back on my support ticket, time stamped 4:33am (about 9am local time India) claimed "Debit Card is for Monthly Customers Only.", and prompts me to follow a link about payment methods which goes on to explain about direct debits.
My query had asked "I have tried to renew these [domains] on three separate occasions, even using different debit cards but I keep getting the same message - unable to process at this time."....
Iomart is a public company. You expect an appreciation of the difference between a debit card and a direct debit, but there isn't one. Perhaps this is an outcome of not properly managing an outsourced function, where you end up getting a customer response which begins "this is the wrong answer".
Of course, since last year I have been migrating all my services away from Easyspace, ever since I had been encouraged / miss-sold an upgrade to a dedicated server with a rubbish Plaxo control panel. In fact, this is the reason I registered the domain, reallyannoyshit.com and started this blog. Over a year later and this company are still annoying the s... out of me, and are still getting it wrong.
Just in case you might have cycled into this tree, Surrey County Council had the foresight to put chevron markings around it....
His expression said it all.....
The packaging boasts "it is like food you might cook yourself". This is true if you like to cook plates of jellied meat. Did I say meat? A closer look at the packaging reveals the meat is actually only 4%, so if you are planning a dinner party with a main course of jellied meat be sure to spend time on your marketing, so you can really give the dish a positive spin when you unveil it to your guests. What's the other 96%? Who cares, if anyone asks distract them with a cute kitten. It's an old marketing trick, works every time.
The annual food festival at Emsworth, an old fishing village on the South Coast, took place again this weekend and attracted an estimated 55,000 visitors. This is simply too many to pack into such a small, beautiful space, considering normal motor senses and awareness of others is either completely turned off or is dramatically reduced. People think with their stomachs and behave very unexpectedly. This includes coming to a complete stop in the middle of a pedestrian flow to hunch over and shovel food into their mouths. If you have a pushchair or a wheelchair or small kids the stress of trying to move through the crowd in one piece is too great, best to retreat to the river to feed the swans.
Gordon Brown, in his first speech to the TUC as prime minister, arrived on stage dressed as a pantomime cow. Not having the social skills of his predecessor, Tony Blair, critics have long advocated he find new ways to be creative in engaging with UK voters.
Of course, this prop had a dark undertone, in the shape of the pink udders. They gave the appearance of being able to produce milk (as in "jobs for Britons"), but in the end they are just part of a costume he can unzip and climb out of..
The hideous Autumn migration of large ugly spiders has begun. There you are sitting quietly on the sofa on a lazy weekend afternoon watching Back to the Future when you're distracted by the freak racing across the floor on his eight legs.
This happened so quickly I didn't have time to get my camera out. In the afternoon, a man, unbelievably, walks out of a kebab shop carrying a live mouse by the tail. He stoops down and lets it free by the kerb where it quickly takes shelter under a parked car. The man, smiling to himself, goes back inside, presumably waiting for customers or to examine the doner on its rotating spit.
Ken Livingstons observation in June that the Olympic logo "will grow on you" took on a new meaning this week when shocking images revealed in The British Medical Journal pictured a man from Croydon with a 2012 shaped rash on his abdomen.
I should have known better when the doors opened. I really should have got a taxi home last night rather than getting on the tube with this bunch of ........
"Boo Hooo, there's no one waiting for me......"
Widely reported in the press this week, Chelsy Davy, has a strop at the airport as Prince Harry wasn't there waiting for her.
Gordon Brown doesn't flinch as he's hit by a blue beachball . This new office sports craze called faceball, originated at Flickr, arrived at this mornings cabinet meeting amid great ministerial humour.
Now in production in China, the London mayoral robots...........
Two things disturbed me about the recent Rolling Stones concert at the O2. The first being that Greenwich Council will not fine either Keith Richards or Ronnie Wood £50 for smoking on stage at the venue on the basis that no one at the concert complained about it. It would seem as if the smoking ban doesn't actually apply as long as no one complains. Does it set a precedent? Could landlords display signs like "this is a smoking pub" and have their patrons agree. What exactly was the point of introducing the ban if it isn't applied? Isn't this just another message to the UK that you can get away with anything?
The second thing that disturbed me was someone describing the event (of them lighting up) as "being a great rock 'n' roll moment" (Evening Standard 22/08/07). Now pardon me for being a purist, but how does this non event compare to Ozzy Osbourne biting the head off a bat?
When a friend of mine was trying to sell his house he de-cluttered into mine in true Anne Maurice style. This was a few years back, and believe it or not I still have a load of his junk in my garage. I can't even put my car in there as there's a dish washer, a plastic garden dining set, a wooden book case, four louvered doors, a lamp stand, a telephone book, a garden shears, "didn't they do well?", and an assorted bunch of other rubbish you would never expect to see on the conveyor belt in the generation game, all obstructing my way. The clutter takes up just under half of my garage space.
For the first couple of years I didn't particularly care, he was doing up his new house, had a new baby and so on, but in April I asked him to move it. I am still waiting, six months later, even though he has room in his own garage and has access to a van every day of the week.
Once, since, on a Friday, he sent me a text to say he had the van and could collect that weekend. I figured, that's convenient for him. I had asked him to collect the stuff on a week night after work. I am not usually there at the weekend. He had agreed, with the nights getting brighter, he could do it. I concluded he must have had the van for something else and it would have been convenient for him to collect at that time. I texted back to say I wasn't there, and when was he going to collect it, only to receive a text back saying "well, I have tried", referring to this single attempt. It was then that words like "piss" and "taking" started to spring to mind.
It's now September. The nights get shorter making it impractical for a week night collection and the junk is still in my garage. The next time someone asks me to store something I will certainly say no, and direct them straight to a self storage unit like the big yellow storage company.
I still wonder what to do with the junk in my garage. Pile it into a skip, except I lose again in having to pay for it. Have it delivered to his house and dumped in his driveway - again the cost is mine. What would you do, what would you recommend?
The UK's information watchdog warned, during the week, of a danger of the UK "sleepwalking into a surveillance society". Richard Thomas, the information Commissioner, was most concerned about the national identity card scheme, a population register planned by the Office for National Statistics and a proposed database of children which includes their fingerprints.
When I bought a DVD player this morning I was incredulous I had to fill in a form for "TV Licensing", giving my name, address and whether I had a colour or black and white TV. All this will be fed back into the TV database to ensure no one eludes paying their TV licence. Incredible!
Who is TV Licensing? It's actually "a trading name used by companies contracted by the BBC to administer the collection of television license fees and enforcement of the television licensing system."
George Orwell seems increasingly to have been a prophet rather than a novelist. Now you can't even buy a small electrical appliance without it being entered in a central database.
As I get the overland and Jubliee line to Canary Wharf my car is ordinarily
curled up asleep on the driveway. Last week, in a hurry to get to Gatwick,
I jump in, turn the ignition. Nothing happens. A moment of panic. No jump
leads. AA home start cancelled several years earlier. I get out, push open the
front door, sift through the cumulative letter box junk. Eureka. A business card
for a taxi company. I can't press the digits on the keypad fast enough.
"I need a car to Gatwick please"
"What time do you need it for?"
"Now", I blurt out.
The weekend passes, back in the train reading Mr China ("The incredible story of a Wall Street banker who went to China with four hundred million dollars and learned the hard way that China doesn't play by Western rules"). One night, after work, still in the office, gazing out of the 23rd floor I remember, and call the AA from my mobile.
A recorded voice advises me I am in a queue. I may be holding for five minutes. Did I want to call back at another time? I hold. I hold for ten minutes. The same AA adverts replay and replay and replay, without interruption, before someone finally speaks.
I quote my membership number and enquire,
"My car needs a restart at home. I don't have the home start option on my membership. I wonder if it's possible to add it, and have a a call out at some stage tomorrow?"
"You can add home start and that will be valid up until your renewal next year", he responded, quoting me the full price, even though my renewal would be two weeks earlier (i.e. pay the full price for fifty weeks rather than fifty two - 3.8% bonus for the AA) He continues confidently "You would have to pay a surcharge for your call out tomorrow. The total price including your membership upgrade would be £89".
I hesitated. Home start is £44. The surcharge is £45. I paid the home start sub. for many years, never using it. Cancelled it in the end as it just seemed a waste of money. Somehow I actually feel as if I am being ripped off, not just because of the two weeks but the fact it just didn't seem right after being a customer for eight years.
"I'll leave it" I answered, already thinking about the RAC
for next year.
"Is there anything else I can help you with?"
In the morning I go to Maplins and buy a portable car charger for just under £40. If I had planned better I could have bought one on the internet for £20.
How on earth the building pictured below got planning permission is a mystery well beyond me. It opened in 2006 and contains the printing presses which run off the majority of the newspapers owned by Thomas Crosbie Holdings (TCH). This includes the Irish Examiner, and the Evening Echo. In the opening ceremony, Michael Martin, the Enterprise Minister, pressed the button to start the presses.
The building clearly doesn't compliment the landscape in any way. Instead it interrupts it, it shuts it up mid sentence, and is just simply plain ugly in its surroundings. Any one care to guess how it might have been approved?
The Rochestown Park Hotel is a four star hotel. On Saturday evening as I was in Cork for the weekend I stopped by there with my bother and sister for a drink. My brother ordered a Murphys, my sister an OJ and for myself, a still water. My sister was buying. She handed me a glass full of ice, the barman assuming I was having ice rather than asking.
"Could I get a glass without ice?"
A four star service? The barman took the glass back, threw the ice out of it and handed the same glass back, rather than getting a clean one. Mental note: don't come back here in a hurry, clearly either the staff aren't being trained or they just hire dipsticks.
Householders were reminded during the week of their prodigal attitude to wasting food. The blame for dumping 3.3million tonnes of edible food into landfill sites is tipped squarely onto us as the consumers. In landfill the food breaks down and causes "greenhouse gases" which, we're reminded, contribute to the type of weather which has left large swathes of the UK under water.
Earlier in the year, Jennie Price, a former Chief Executive of Wrap, the UK's waste body, advised us to look in the fridge or cupboard before shopping, and as far back as 2005 Lord Haskins accused us of having "eyes...bigger than stomachs".
Meanwhile the supermarkets are in the clear. You can still buy food off the shelf which is already rotting. You can still buy food where the use by date is the day you're actually buying it (and you're still paying full price).
Every adult in the UK, according to Wrap, wastes approximately £400 a year on food that ends up in the bin. Where else is it supposed to go if you can't eat it?
Enticed in by the Sales signs and in need of some new shirts I went into Austin Reed in Kingston's Bentall Centre. Although my main reason for going out had been to buy a new pair of boots in Jones ("the bootmakers") they only had shoes, and I couldn't go home empty handed.
Formal shirts were on a two for three in Austin Reed and there were also shirts marked down by half price. I found one shirt in the half price bay and then picked out another three formal shirts. The three formal shirt were £50 each and the half price came in at a few pence short of £25.
"That'll be £150 pounds", said the sales assistant after scanning
in the bar codes.
"£150? You have two for three on formal, that's those ones", I said, isolating the three shirts on the sales counter, "and then this one" I continued, while picking it up, "is on sale"
"No", said the sales assistant, shaking his head, "that one is the free shirt"
"In that case it would be cheaper for me to run these through as two separate transactions, can I do that?"
He hesitates, then quietly cancels the transaction, and runs the items through again as two separate sales. "That's accountants for you", he explains, while handing me the single bag. As I leave I feel, erroneously, as if I'm up £25 - Wuwho! Next stop Threshers.
Prime Minster Gordon Brown pictured at the weekend on the circular line returning from Tiger Tiger.
Gordon Brown promises to lead a government of "all the talents".
Homebase's online store seems to have disappeared from the internet. Today when I tried to visit all I got was a blank page and an egg timer. I wonder if this is an improvement over the prior week where the site simply said "Sorry, homebase... is temporarily unavailable". Given DIY sales are in decline wouldn't you think they'd have made a better effort?
The Mountfield HP470 hand propelled petrol mower with its Briggs & Stratton engine is a dud. Since writing about its slow start last year things have only got worse. The wheels continue to fall off and the push bars have now buckled. At first I thought it might be trying to transform, chitty chitty bang bang style, into some kind of super, hovering mower. But no, the mower, which is under two years old and has been used less than twenty times, looks as if its been in service since the last century. I don't think it will make another cut and looks destined for the scrap heap.
The now familiar blank screen which has replaced all programming formerly delivered by NTL. Back in early March I though it was only Sky I had lost, now it seems to be everything.
I will be visited by a technician on Monday morning but have been warned that if there is no one at home I will be charged £10. I think, well, I've been without a service for a week, don't you think it should be quits?
I still recall those smug comments I read on blogs and forums after the takeover and the lack of Sky programmes, about what a clever chap Richard Branson was, how he was sticking up for the little guys, and surely Virgin had something unbelievable up their pop sleeves. Is this it? A blank screen and a change to telephone charging, no longer billed by the second, you are now billed by the minute - rounded up. If you make a call lasting two minutes one second you will be charged for three minutes. Well done for sticking up for the little guy.
And by the way - can we please stick a zip on Uma Thurman. She is quickly becoming one of the most annoying people in the world as these irritating Virgin ads are replayed and replayed and replayed............
Despite leaving my contact number with British Gas with a request to call me back once they had investigated what may have occurred I instead receive a letter this morning from Revenue Assurance, their debt collection agency. I am not really surprised, in fact, when I first spoke about this in May I ended the blog with "To be continued....".
The debt collection agency are looking to recover a debt of £743.67 from a dormant company which has never traded and which doesn't even have a bank account. The company was incorporated in July of last year which is clear to anyone who looks up the records at Companies House.
The billing period for the amount they are trying to recover is from November 2004 to October 2006. If the company was incorporated late July of 2006 how on earth could it have been using a gas supply at an office in Cambridge since November 2004?
The annoying thing about the letter I receive is that it doesn't have a contact name. It's signed off "Recoveries Team", above which is stamped, some standard signature which gives an initial rather than a name. In fact, it appears to signed by an A Frankenstein.
I call the number on the letter and after I quote the account number am told the person I need to speak to is on the phone. I leave my details. Now I am beginning to fume.
A quick Google on British Gas Billing and the results returned include headlines such as, British Gas swamped by billing complaints, My British Gas nightmare: Customer Service Hell, British Gas: awful on every level, British Gas sets complaints record, Surge in British Gas Complaints, British Gas Complaints Soar, Billing Chaos at British Gas seemingly ad infinitum.
In fact, the Times, this morning, breaks another story reporting that back in February British Gas cancelled the direct debits of 45,000 of its customers, just weeks after Phil Bentley, MD of British Gas, promised to cut complaints caused by a new £400 million billing system.
Photo: British Gas gets a £400 million makeover.
To be continued ......
I read recently in The Long Tail that the supermarket contributed to the downfall of communism. The supermarket "showcased how a free market economy could deliver abundant, affordable food and became a metaphor for what capitalism could do and Communism could not". Boris Yeltsin, the first president of the Russian Federation recalled in his autobiography, recounting a visit to a supermarket in 1989, "When I saw those shelves crammed with hundreds, thousands of cans, cartons, and goods of every possible sort, for the first time I felt quite frankly sick with despair for the Soviet people."
Luckily it wasn't Tesco he visited. The empty shelves, damaged produce and long checkout queues might have given him an entirely different vision of the economy.
Photo: Vision of the future or simply a queue arising from a lack of checkout staff or is it confused souls waiting for food to be moved from cages to the shelves.....
Mattesons Fridge Raiders are a self styled "bag of meat" snack which claims to be "an ideal healthier snacking alternative to crisps". Made with 100% chicken...actually it's made with 91% chicken, but that 91% is 100% chicken....
Having been saturated with the TV advert I stopped in front of them in Tesco only to be perplexed as to why there is a bag of chicken which tastes like Chinese spare ribs. Are Mattesson set to expand the range into the rest of the crisp flavours so that we can eat chicken that tastes like beef or prawn or bacon?
What happened to eating an apple or dunking a digestive?
Government insist there is no risk from Wi-Fi radiation
Read what other bloggers are saying....
The 2012 Olympic logo was unveiled today with Seb Coe, the 2012 Organising Committee Chairman, admitting "It won't be to everyone's taste". Words like "jagged", "jigsaw" and other unprintable words are already being used to describe the "zany" design which had a price tag of £400,000.
Of course, because of the price tag, the new logo is officially a brand set to "take(s) our values to the world beyond our shores". Ken Livingston, praising the angular and disjointed design, says it "draws on what London has become".
Seb Coe further describes the logo as "an invitation to take part and be involved". More than 12,500 people already have by signing a petition to have it scrapped.
Some have also remarked the logo might be derived from the Nazi Storm Troopers insignia, perhaps recalling and being influenced by Ken Livingston's jibes at an Evening Standard journalist last year?
It's also been suggested the logo represents a sordid sex act too rude to show on the internet.
The New Head Quarters of Spectre are set to open on the 27th June.
Cherie Blair photographed while wearing a beard of bees
Pictured at the weekend, enjoying their shared leisure interest, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown attend a Star Trek Convention.
Last week I was in Portsmouth and got stuck behind a waiting car on one of the one ways leading to Albert Road. I sat patiently, behind the "old dear", who didn't acknowledge me or that I was waiting behind her. After about five minutes another "old dear" closes the front door of her house and eventually gets into the car. She did glance my way - disapprovingly - but again, didn't acknowledge my waiting. The pair drove off without as much as a wave of the hand...........
.....as if I had nothing better to do......
Prime Minister Tony Blair prepares for his final day where he is set to exit Number 10 in spectacular style.
I tuned in briefly only to witness twelve people all talking at the same time. The spine says it best
Tony Blair opens his shirt outside 10 Downing Street to pose for a glamour shot, unexpectedly revealing the Kuato like creature he shares his body with.
Play once and it becomes an effort to stop. No fancy Xbox needed, no shoot em up gore...This script runs Pacman
"What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason! how infinite in faculties! in form and moving, how express and admirable! in action how like an angel!"
Some chancer even dumped his pizza express box and other rubbish even though the recycle point is just for bottles and cans.
I had a look on that internet thing everyone seems to be talking about, for a cheap flight from Cork to London. Amazingly, I was quoted £1,361.64 for the return flight, and instead of taking an hour as it should, the flight is scheduled to last over six hours on the return, and almost five hours outbound. Book cheap flights with Opodo my arse!
What brainbox decided to locate the internet area right beside the smoking area in the North Terminal of Gatwick Airport?
I'm sitting here right now enveloped in a cloud of stinking cigarette smoke. I would vent my spleen a lot more except I am overcome by the stink and my eyes are begining to water.....
Has the word planning become obsolete?
This is not a normal day, said Tony Blair, prior to his public announcement about stepping down as Prime Minister. Within moments, both he and his lovely wife Cherie, were transformed into the great Spider King and Queen, and proceeded to run amok around parliament. A media blackout has been ordered and a state of emergency is to ensue before the feeding frenzy of their victims, frozen in finely spun gossamer webs, begins.
Tony Blair is expected to make a public statement today at 12:00 to confirm he is to stand down as labour leader. The announcement is set to spark a leadership contest.
Tony Blair ordered the Lord Chancellor Gordon Brown to work in his underpants following revelations that his tax credit system has made £6billion in overpayments and is set to write off close to £2billion of tax payers money as unrecoverable. Gordon was seen emerging from Downing Street in his pants, a little hunched over, but obviously seeing the amusing side of his predicament. A brief case covered his modesty.
Conveniently, John Reid, is set to resign as Home Secretary in June, when Tony Blair goes. Would it not have been better to put his differences with Gordon Brown aside, and finish with the rubble of the Home Office?
This morning I received a bill for £743.67 from British Gas Business advising me the account is to be passed to a Debt Collection Agency if I don't pay.
Customer Services, when I ring them, inform me the billing period is from November 2004 to October 2006 at an address in Cambridge. When I say I only registered the company in July 2006 and it is a non trading entity I am met by silence, and then "but we have your address".
Of course you do, you just got it from Companies House, but the debt is for a different company. Can you tell me the company number of the company who opened the account with you in 2004?
It seems to be not possible. Customer Services have to regroup and pass it to another department.
I just tried to make a bank payment from my account using internet banking, only to receive a message, after I had put in all the details, that if I wanted to make the payment online I would have to call. I would have to call between 8am-7pm Monday to Friday? How is this an online payment if I actually have to call the bank to have it processed?
Of course, they also suggest other payment methods are available such as cheque (Doh!), debit or credit card. As if consumers are able to accept debit or credit cards! Grrrr.
The rate of corporation tax for small companies is set to increase by 3% while the rate for large companies is set to decrease by 2% under the Chancellors 2007 Budget.
Gordon Brown explains the increase in the small company tax rate as a deterrent to tax motivated incorporation. This is where a person incorporates a company and provides a contract for services to another company, rather than being employed directly by them. This enables the "employee" to pay themselves dividends rather than salary and thereby avoid having to pay national insurance.
However, the practice is legislated against since 2000 when the government introduced IR35 so that this budget increase is just simply bad news for genuine small companies taking on board the personal risk of running their own company. Rather than encouraging an entrepreneurial spirit this is another disincentive to leave paid employment and start a business. The little profit you make will be cut by another 3% while larger companies can continue to grow and put small companies out of business.
Already little companies face undue delays in registering for VAT making them uncompetitive as their costs are higher by the amount of VAT they can't reclaim. Now another 3% is set to be cut from their earnings. It would seem as if the Government would prefer if there was just one large company in which we were all employees.
A new Prime Minister and Lord Chancellor arrive in Munchkinland.
"A younger man can go for a drink with a senior man and talk about his career. But a younger woman, if she asks a man for a drink for the same purpose, we know what happens"
Cherie Blair addressing the Global Banking Alliance for Women World Summit in Glasgow during the week.
Gordon Brown, with his trademark sense of humour, introducing his 2007 budget
A working Mum trying to start her own business by night with an investment of sweat capital has received a fairly typical response from HMRC. A response which doesn't quite meet the aspirations of Tony Blair who has been quoted to say "The public ... should receive, high quality service from the Government".
The entrepreneurial Mum incorporated and registered voluntarily for VAT last year. Within a couple of months of registration Customs decide to deregister her VAT number as they were concerned about risks of VAT fraud from mobile phone and computer chip traders, even though the Mum is starting a translation service and a consultancy for ISO accreditation.
She wrote to HMRC on the 12th December to advise them she needed to retain the number. She received a response from HMRC in the first week of March. In this response the Customs Officer from Staines says "I have just received a letter from you dated 12th December. This letter was logged into our mail system on the 23rd February, 2007. Although in this letter you ask me to consider not deregistering your company for VAT I am afraid that the deregistration process was concluded on the 12th December.....I cannot understand the recent arrival of your letter. "
No advise is given to the Mum about how she should now account for any transactions which have occurred since the 12th December. Does she now embarrassingly return to clients and issue them with a VAT only credit note with the explanation she has been deregistered (this will be great for repeat business) - or does she just keep the VAT? No indication is given in the letter as to why her letter wasn't logged on to the system until the end of February, almost three months later, or whether it's going to be investigated to understand if the system is flawed and cannot therefore by its nature deliver a "high quality service".
Isn't it nice to see small business being supported by the Government!
So how many died since the Iraq war? One estimate is over 600,000.
Ken Livingston gets ready for another day at the office.
On the same day Gordon Brown calls on all homes to be greener he signs approval for his new plans to relocate Number 10 to a tree.
What if there was no budget left for the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics?....
I did a double take at the zoo. Fortunately I had a camera as this Gorilla looks remarkably like someone, I couldn't figure it out at first, I kept questioning "could it be? It looks very like him, but surely not! What on earth would he be doing in the zoo?"
What if these were being made in the future and they kept sending them back?
Rather than taking responsibility for a botched up negotiation, Virgin Media, who sucked up Telewest and NTL, are broadcasting a message on Sky One in which they blame Sky for the channel being unavailable. "Thanks to Sky", they say, "the Sky One channel is no longer available. They've picked up their ball and gone home. Foul play? We think so."
The viewer is then invited to visit their website, virginmedia.com/fairplay, in which they ask a clearly biased question "What do you think of Sky withdrawing its non-premium channels like Sky One, Sky News and Sky Sports News from Virgin Media's TV service?".
Here's another question. Isn't it about time that Virgin stopped acting like a teenager and grew up? I can hardly believe reading a comment on one message board where someone says "well done for standing up to the big guys".
Are you serious? The Virgin Group employs over 35,000 people in 200 companies worldwide and has a turnover in excess of over £4billion. They're hardly the little guy or the underdog they like to portray themselves as - if you think otherwise you've been seduced by the Marketeers. This is big business.
Virgin claims to put consumers first, well, what about all the viewers who are now paying the same price for a reduced service? I would say this is really annoying shit dot com.
You've got to pick a pocket or two
Tesco are set to issue hard hats and high visibility jackets to shoppers who visit their stores after 9pm. At this time the stores are effectively transformed into workplaces rather than customer friendly supermarkets.
The stores remain open to grab late night shoppers even though the aisles are cluttered with cages and access is blocked to the majority of the shelves. Shoppers have been seen to get footholds in the cages to reach items like bottled water which are now beyond access.
The cages are being rolled out of stockrooms, pushed from behind by one person with limited visibility of shoppers who might be dithering or just plain confused in the aisles. However, stores profitability is up as the stores can lock up earlier thereby reducing overheads like staff costs.
..... Okay so I made the headline up, partly, everything is true other than the hard hats and high visibility jackets, but I am beginning to think I should bring my own. This trend seems to be another example of Tesco putting margin first, customer second.
"Is road pricing the right answer? I'm not saying it is - I'm saying lets look at it", responded Tony Blair to the 1.8million people who signed a petition on the number 10 Downing Street website opposing plans to introduce a mileage based road tax.
In an interview with the Daily Mirror Mr Blair is also quoted to say "I don't think this is an issue you railroad through against massive public objection.... I wouldn't personally .... engage in that type of Kamikaze politics."
So that will be unlike the Iraq war?
Tony Blair as Larry
David Cameron as Moe
Gordon Brown as Curly
Rather than describing the effing eejits who drive up your ass leaving only enough room between your cars to swipe a credit card, or those who literally take aim at you with their car if you dare dart out onto the roundabout, or those who get too close in a supermarket queue, or park in a handicapped space, or those who are just plain rude and ignorant, I will pass over to Walt Whitman who sums it all up in Leaves of Grass on one of those days you're glad to get home and uncork a bottle of red....
"I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid and
I stand and look at them long and long.
They do not sweat and whine about their condition; They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins;
Not one is dissatisfied - not one is demented with the mania of owning things;
Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago;
Not one is respectable or industrious over the whole earth."
Up to £29.5m of tax payers money is to be used to pay the salaries of undercover council officers to police the smoking ban when it is introduced in July . The Officers are empowered to covertly photograph and film those who light up in public. They can also issue on the spot fines of £50. Up to 1,200 officers are expected to be trained in the coming months.
and once upon a time Vulgaria was a fictional land..............
Eight temporary road signs have been put up by Cheshire County Council to advise drivers of diversions while roadworks are carried out on the A49. The publicly funded signs, which are only in Polish, have been defended by the Council, who claim the police have been repeatedly called by polish drivers baffled by English road signs around the Cheshire-Shropshire border. The local Polish population is said to number approximately 4%, not all of which will be drivers. The council's highway engineer remarked "It is a practical and common sense approach".
I will never buy an Apple product because I refuse to be so transparently manipulated by a marketing company. I do not agree with reinforcing or exaggerating negative stereotypes of people based upon their appearance, particularly as we the consumers are unwittingly supporting and paying for it when we buy Apple. Our society has enough people with eating disorders and negative self images without public companies using these weaknesses to sell more products. This current Apple advertising campaign really puts everything down to "looks". I don't know about you but I buy a computer on the basis of what it can do rather than wanting to be "cool".
6:30am and I set the car alarm off four to five times. I forget the exact count. The first time it went off as I put the key in the door and it scared the bejesus out of me. I was still half asleep.
Shaken, I opened the door and popped the hood. The radiator seems to have sprung a leak and I had a cocktail of water and anti-freeze to pour in.
When I went around to lift the hood the alarm went off yet again. Shite! The keys are on the car seat.
As I try and jump to the car door I slip in the snow. Car alarm still wailing. I struggle like the proverbial upturned beetle before I eventually lunge at the keys, press the button and cut the alarm.
Two lights have now been turned on in neighbouring houses, but the alarm goes off another two to three times before I eventually close the car door and skulk off in the dark.
|Time Spent on||Hours|
|Work (no lunch)||11.0|
|Getting ready in the morning||0.6|
|R&R (including making dinner, R&R?)||1.9|
Returning late from work I stopped into Tesco and couldn't resist buying a vanilla creme coronet from the bakery to cheer myself up. I had to take a picture of it because I can't yet find the words to describe the trauma of finding a center filled with green mould (see picture below). The best before date was today. Is there any scientist out there who can explain how you can get green mould inside a pastry "fresh from the baker" at Tesco?
When you go into the B&Q at Fratton Way, Portsmouth you have two choices. You can pick a trolley up at the entrance or, if you are only looking for a few things, you can go inside and end up trying to carry everything in your arms, because for some bizarre reason there are no shopping baskets
Once you've passed through the one way security gate it's too late to go back and grab a trolley. You have to go to the exit at the other end of the warehouse and then back around to the entrance again. You don't really believe your eyes. There must be baskets. You look left and right, and repeat the process a few times, beginning to feel more than a bit stupid. There must be baskets. There are lots of orange B&Q buckets, but there are no shopping baskets. When you turn towards the cash registers there are still none, not even an empty basket tidy. There are none of those either. B&Q at Portsmouth just don't offer shopping baskets.
As I went up the central aisle for the fourth time looking for nails, my arms awkwardly cradling three tubes of flexible polyfilla, two paint rollers, one tube of wood paint, one UPV cleaner and one pipe tidy I wondered why on earth there weren't baskets, why they didn't have a map somewhere and why, instead of having a fancy coffee shop they couldn't just concentrate on the basics of customer service first, like having a shopping basket..
Monster is a jobs board, which in the UK is billed as a leading careers website. The marketing gump on their web site includes the following statements
They are currently spending god knows how much on their "monster works for me" global add campaign. Rob Brouwer, CEO, Monster UK & Ireland, comments "It's aim is to encourage and motivate candidates towards a positive career move in 2007 based on their own individual needs or desires - the reason they go to work".
Call me old fashioned but for me one of the key reasons people go to work is to be paid, but with all this "innovative technology" and "searchable database" thingy there is no way to filter your results by how much you would like to be paid or a minimum salary requirement. Everything is jumbled in together and it's a hit and miss whether the optional keywords field will successfully filter out what you don't want. The chances are it will also filter out the jobs you do want as they simply may not contain the chosen keyword.
The search structure is basically ten years old Web 1.0 ("very 1998") and you can't find anything on it unless you're prepared to set up camp for the day and "pan for gold". It would make far more sense to use some of that TV money to add new search parameters or new table columns or tables to the database. In fact, such small changes might only take a week of development work for one person, I'm sure this cost is probably less than the cost of one TV advert.
Rob, I am certainly motivated towards a positive career move, your marketing team have devised a good add, I just wish that when I peeled that label off there might have been some "innovative technology" and a "searchable database".
I received the following content in an email today. Here it is:
"The government's proposal to introduce road pricing will mean you having to purchase a tracking device for your car and pay a monthly bill to use it. The tracking device will cost about £200 and in a recent study by the BBC, the lowest monthly bill was £28 for a rural florist and £194 for a delivery driver.
A non working Mum who used the car to take the kids to school paid £86 in one month. On top of this massive increase in tax, you will be tracked. Somebody will know where you are at all times. They will also know how fast you have been going, so even if you accidentally creep over a speed limit you can expect a NIP with your monthly bill.
If you care about our freedom and stopping the constant bashing of the car driver, please sign the petition on No 10's new website.
Michael O'Leary, the CEO of Ryanair, once called British Airways "expensive bastards". Having recently spent almost £300 for a one hour flight from London Gatwick to Cork I would have to agree. Except it wasn't with BA I booked the ticket, this was Ryanair. Despite booking the ticket seven weeks ahead of the flight date this is the ridiculous price I had to pay over Christmas for the short haul flight.
The Boss of the low-cost airline has also been quoted to say, "No, we shouldn't give you a bloody cup of coffee. We only charge 19 euros for the ticket." However, even if you pay close to £300 you still have to pay for your own coffee (incidentally, the average price for a BA flight is £178).
Low cost airlines are superb, as long as they remain low-cost, but if you have to pay above average prices for no frills then you don't ever get a sense of customer loyalty. Since Go was absorbed into Easyjet and Barbara Cassani its CEO left the low-cost airline industry any sense of customer service vanished with her. It certainly doesn't exist in Ryanair.
Christmas is evolving into a pagan consumer festival to better appeal to a multi-cultural society and amid growing fears of litigation. The trend was highlighted in 2002 when the British Red Cross first implemented a policy to not display Christmas decorations in any of their 430 UK Charity Shops. The pace of change has been accelerating since. This year a report by the employment law firm Peninsula reveals that three out of four UK employers now ban festive decorations so as not to offend people of other faiths or because they fear litigation on the grounds of discrimination.
Health and Safety rules are also being blamed for the clampdown on yuletide tinsel with a spokesperson at Tower Hamlets local council defending their decision by maintaining "There's a concern people might hurt themselves trying to attach hanging decorations from the ceiling." The Royal Bank of Scotland has asked its staff to book an engineer if they want to hang cards on a string. Other employers are claiming the baubles and tinsel simply look unprofessional.
The Royal Mail seasonal stamps now exclude religious imagery and the majority of corporate cards you now receive are unlikely to contain the word Christmas or scenes of the nativity. Instead the cards are likely to wish you "Seasons Greetings" and feature winter scenes or a festive penguin. If the trend we see this year which has included refuse collectors in Kingston-upon-Hull being banned from wearing Santa hats, Wokingham District Council taking out an injunction against millionaire Vic Moszczynski for decorating the outside of his home, a college in Rotherham looking to replace traditional turkey lunch with halal chicken prepared according to Muslim beliefs, then I think we can predict that Christmas will have been replaced within twenty years by a pagan consumer festival and it's origins completely forgotten.
What is Christmas about anyway?
This morning I received a Christmas card which had already been opened. It wasn't sent this way, this had clearly happened since it entered the postal system. Yet another experience to compound my lack of confidence in the Royal Mail to get it right, but it doesn't quite match an incident I had earlier in the year when I was sent a suit from a tailor in Hong Kong which never arrived.
The Royal Mail tracking system said it had been delivered to me, seemingly on a date when there was no one at home. They even had proof. They had a digital signature. This appeared to be someone's first name, but was so badly drawn I couldn't even make out the characters. It was as if one of the squirrels in the back garden had taken delivery and signed for it.
When I complained the Royal Mail suggested it must have been delivered to one of my neighbours. "If you were going to do that", I asked, "why would you not put a card through my door to tell me what you've done or ensure you get a full signature or record where you've delivered it if you've delivered it to a different address? Is there a policy, are you not meant to deliver to the address on the label?".
It all seemed very suspicious, a fact reinforced when customer service told me the delivery person no longer worked with the Royal Mail. I was left to assume they were now roaming around in my suit, living a high life of sorts.
To my surprise, three months later, as I was getting out of my car, a neighbour, who lived about ten doors away and who I don't ever remember seeing before appeared with my Hong Kong parcel under his arm. "I've had this in my hall for a few months", he says.....
I recently heard the Cork City Council web site was being criticized for failing to really appreciate the needs of the people who might use it, in particular it didn't consider how the site might be displayed by other browsers. This seems to have culminated in the Council putting a note on the site saying it "will only operate correctly by using Microsoft Internet Explorer 5.5. or greater". The user is then invited to "upgrade".
With close to 90% of browsers already using Internet Explorer 6 or above or using the superior Firefox browser the number of people this invitation would apply to is a very small minority, given that we must also count browsers such as Safari and Opera.
To change from Firefox to IE would actually be a downgrade. The W3C browser statistics for November '06, rate Firefox browser usage at just under 30%, as it continues to take market share away from Microsoft's Internet Explorer. The Council web site does not display properly in this browser, suggesting it was only developed on Internet Explorer and not tested on other environments. By web standards, this is very un PC (boom boom), as it has the potential to alienate a substantial number of visitors..
W3C, shorthand for the World Wide Web Consortium, are the standards body for the web. They develop and define the language standards that ensure the universality of the web. In addition to Cork City Council ignoring users with other browsers, the website doesn't meet these standards set by the W3C. In fact, it contains twenty three errors, which realistically, would take about ten minutes to correct.
They do include an accessibility roadmap which does mention attaining AA and AAA accessibility standards. This is all very well, but it's usually better to start at the begining: Lads, aim for the A standard first, a good point to start at would be to correct the twenty three errors, and sort out displaying the site on other browsers. As a local government body you should be setting a standard. Upgrade.
The Lions Club put a sleigh together each year and drive it up every street with ringing bells, knocking on every door to raise money. The collectors are dressed as Santa Claus or elves, who, according to the flyer, are meant to "bring a little Christmas cheer".
Grrrrr, I don't know about you, but I see this as a very "passive aggressive" method of raising funds. It doesn't rely on any spirit of giving, you're being subtlety bullied into empting your pockets, harassed at your own door. You open it to a Santa Claus singing a Christmas carol, are you really going to tell him to shut it and say no?
There must be a psychological barrier to people using the slow lane. This is why we end up with slow moving traffic in the fast and middle lanes while the slow lane is empty. We do not see either ourselves or our automobiles as the "type" of vehicle which belong in the slow lane. We do not fit or want to fit the profile of users of this lane so will automatically take position in the middle lane, or worse, accelerate straight into the fast lane, irrespective of the risks. We see it as our rightful position. Who really wants to be branded a "slow lane" driver?
Spending approximately thirty to forty days a year just sitting in commuter traffic I've had time to think about it's psychology. I've also wondered, during this time, whether our cave dwelling ancestors were not in some ways better off. What is our quality of life?
With the push for UK national identity cards being justified with sensational figures like an estimated £3.3Billion lost in identity theft, you would presuppose that government departments would take data protection very seriously. You would really expect them to be setting a standard.
When I complained to the UK Visa office I added my concern about the privacy of my data.
As a VISA sponsor you have to provide key information to UK Visas such as copies of your bank statements, utility bills and so on. UK Visas offers no information or assurance as to how any of this information might be protected, how it is used, how long it is kept for, whether it is used for any other purpose, where it is kept, who has access to it, what media it is kept on or how it might be disposed of. There is no public information on their website. In responding to my complaint UK Visas choose to ignore my concerns and made no comment at all.
Whatever happened to picking up the phone and talking to customers?
I received two letters from Direct Line. When they came through the letter box I didn't even open them. I assumed they were just part of the continuing junk mail I was receiving from Direct Line and I put them on the "junk mountain" for shredding later.
A few weeks on, when I finally get around to opening them for shredding, I glance at the contents. The first letter advises that, because I haven't sent them evidence of my No Claims Discount, they were removing the discount from my premium resulting in an additional premium of £471.45.
Obviously I hadn't answered the letter, so the next letter notifies me they are cancelling my insurance on, what would now be Tuesday. I wondered why Direct Line couldn't have just got the details directly from my previous insurer, to which Customer Service replied, the no claims discount was my responsibility.
Wouldn't be good if companies actually started to take some responsibility for their customers? Couldn't someone have picked up the phone, and talked to me, we had to do this in the end anyway?
I've already decided to not renew my insurance with Direct Line. I wanted to cancel it there and then but they quoted me over £200 as a cancellation charge.
When you start your computer the chances are you could actually go away and make a coffee while you wait for it to complete. Overtime your computer becomes so slow that you either replace it or you take a hammer to it in a moment of angry frustration. You only have a 256K or 128K memory card when they seem to be churning them out now with a 1GB card as standard.
Of course, this will help, and you will see an instant difference at start-up. Until, that is, you start to install all the other programs you used to run on your old computer.
The majority of these programs think you want to use them every time you start your computer. They also think it's perfectly ok to communicate with "VGER" when you're connected to the internet and even try to automatically restart your computer if they find and install an update. Marketing are likely to consider it beneficial to have the program load automatically. The user isn't likely to quickly forget the software or the maker or use an alternative, you're right there in their face every day.
This is fine if you actually want to use the program every day. If you only want to use it periodically then you should be able to easily turn it off, and when I say "easily" I mean you don't need a computer degree to do so or have to type "msconfig" or "regedit" into the start and run menu. Personally, I would prefer my computer to start with only one program, Kaspersky anti-virus software. Everything else I would like to choose to start when I am ready.
However, the default on the majority of software installations seems to be to run when windows starts and to automatically search for updates or newer versions of the software when you're connected to the internet without giving you the option to change it.
I was actually surprised that MSN Messenger 7 included the ability to un-tick "run this program when Windows starts" in the options tab. Prior to this version this wasn't included as an option. Instead you had to click start and run. Type in regedit.exe and click ok. Navigate to HKEY_CURRENT_USERSoftwareMicrosoftWindowsCurrentVersion un. Once you're there click on the MSMSGS entry and select delete. Then click yes to confirm.
At least one piece of software has made a positive change, if only the rest would follow.
Having just spent five apoplectic hours trying to drive home, predominately gridlocked on the M25, I've had time to consider whether the congestion charge might have helped to reduce or alleviate todays congestion.
It all started this morning at 6:30am when a truck overturned on the anti-clockwise stretch of the M25 at junction 9. This didn't affect me as I was travelling clockwise. However, to my surprise, eleven hours later, in the return rush hour, two lanes of the M25 are still closed. Traffic is queuing from junction 14 at Heathrow.
Earlier, on my route in to work, going the opposite direction via the M25, A40 and North Circular I am delayed on the A40. The reason for this delay, of about forty minutes, is because a road crew are sweeping the central reservation and there is a lane closed. There is also a large stretch, over a mile, which is still coned off, even though the work is completed.
The traffic alerts I hear all day, having spent close to seven hours behind the wheel, are common to the traffic alerts I hear almost every day. These cite, in no particular order, road works, traffic lights out, collapsed manhole, broken down car, traffic accident and onlookers as the reasons for congestion. These create traffic black spots, and they will occur even if there is a congestion charge.
We're simply not clearing these issues quick enough, reopening lanes to get the traffic moving or deploying traffic police to failed traffic signals. Two lanes closed on the M25 for eleven hours is wrong, and I struggle to understand why the tax payer should be penalised for this through a congestion tax when the overall process of traffic management isn't effective.
With a charge of £1.30 per mile, the daily cost to me, using both the M25 and the North Circular, would be £104, equating to £520 per week or a staggering £24,000 per year on congestion charges. In order to pay the congestion charge I would need to earn at least £30,000 per annum as I also have to pay the PAYE and national insurance. Don't forget, at this stage I haven't even started paying any of my other bills such as mortgage payments, food, utility bills etc etc.............
I am intrigued by the contrast between Chancellor Gordon Browns Pre Budget and the Irish Budget announced by Irelands Finance Minister, Brian Cowen. On the one hand we have an incredibly pro business budget which is bound to encourage entrepreneurs, small business and equity investment in the Irish economy.
By comparison in the UK small business and entrepreneurs are continuing to be snuffed out. Managed service companies (MCS's) for instance, are deemed to only "disguise employment" and are subject to increased measures in the Pre-Budget announcement. This includes enabling the recovery of "outstanding" tax and NI contributions from the companies who engaged the MCS. An MCS could be a professional who has decided to set up a consultancy practice. This is a "tax motivated incorporation" rather than entrepreneurship and small business development vital for UK economic growth, i.e. the person isn't really a consultant she's a deemed employee.
It is actually becoming prohibitive to start a business in the UK to the point where, economically, you are actually better off staying in full time employment. Why would you want to take on the financial risk within a burdensome, complicated tax framework where your government assume the worst about you, and in any case you can be waiting up to six months for VAT registration without any guidance about accounting for VAT in that period.
What's the alternative, well moving your business out of the UK and incorporating it in Ireland where small business and entrepreneurs can be assured of support is looking a lot more attractive.
Why do web designers assume if we hit the button which says "exit" or "logout" we've done so accidentally?
I don't know anyone who either randomly clicks all around a web page because they don't know what to do or whose hand slips, moving the mouse over the exit button, and in their confusion, they click "exit".
Luckily for those a pop up message will appear saying, "Are you sure you want to exit?" - for the rest of us, I guess we'll have to continue, each time thinking to ourselves, "well why else would I have clicked the button?"
Following my blog on UK Visas toward the end of August I decided to complain to my local MP who agreed to contact UK Visas on my behalf (hooray). I still find it all too astonishing that a UK company could invite someone to the UK for a business meeting, providing full sponsorship and accommodation, and have them refused admission. It's even more disconcerting to think that this person, a Thai national, was already in the EC, actually in Dublin, so had been cleared by the Irish Embassy in Bangkok for entry into an EC country.
She had only planned to visit Ireland. She had not applied for a UK or a Schengen visa before she left (a Schengen visa allows entry to all EC countries in the Schengen zone).
She had a return ticket to Bangkok. The invitation she had from the UK company was out of the blue (not uncommon in business). You would think, having full sponsorship from a UK company, already being in the EC and having an onward ticket home would be sufficient support for a UK Visa application. But it wasn't, instead she was refused admission and the embarrassed company, had, ultimately to fly a representative to Bangkok to hold the meeting later in the month (hooray from the rep, boo from finance).
UK Visas claim to "issue visas to 80% of those who apply, and stop only those who are a significant immigration risk to the UK". I failed to comprehend, in the circumstances, how she could have been regarded as a significant risk. I had to complain, I couldn't understand the decision. It was so clearly wrong. I wanted to understand it.
The response from UK Visas shouldn't really have surprised me. I dug it out again this week to reread after learning 150 illegal immigrants were to be released on bail. I guess these 150 are set to join the estimated half a million immigrants working illegally in the UK at a cost of some £3.3Billion in unpaid taxes.
When a company receives a complaint it's an incredible opportunity to learn about their services and how they can improve them, because most people don't complain, they walk. This wasn't the spirit in which my complaint was read, perhaps because, with Public Services, you can't really walk, as there isn't an alternative. There's a lack of competition which might make it matter.
The Entry Clearance Manager (ECM) "would like to note that he reviews all refusals, and was satisfied that the decision was made in accordance with the Immigration Rules. The decision of refusal is therefore upheld" (high 5, we're in the clear).
He then adds, notwithstanding that the applicant is now happily back at home (beep goes the Tuc Tuc) for several months and has no reason to visit the UK, she is "welcome to submit a new application at any time, which will be judged on its individual merits and in accordance with the Immigration Rules".
Is there really any point in complaining to a Public Body about its service?
As much of a fan as I am of Google I find it incredibly annoying to click on a link in a page of search results, only to have to wait while Adobe Acrobat wakes up, yawns, stretches, puts on its slippers, scratches, walks to the bathroom, brushes its teeth, gargles, goes downstairs, puts the kettle on, starts frying sausages - and I am still waiting for the page to display. Lately when I see this happen I just click the back button quickly and exit. Why does Adobe Acrobat take so long to start?
But now in our page of Google results we can also click on a link and be presented with an RSS or XML file. This would be great if we were computers, rather than human, as we're not, opening the page is a waste of time. You can't easily read the content, so it's not as if we're going to say "just what I was looking for, I'm going to add this to bloglines".
One small thing we could do to make Google even better would be to put a little icon against each entry indicating the type of file we are about to click on. That we don't have to endure the "surprise" of clicking on a .pdf file.
More about search results: I hate clicking on a link only to be presented with another site offering nothing but sponsored searches or sponsored results. I hate clicking a link and not having access to the content without subscribing or giving away my email. I hate clicking on a link where the content is completely irrelevant to what I was searching for.
Having the morning off I decided to give the garden one last cut of the year and pulled my Mountfield HP470 hand propelled petrol mower out of the shed.
I bought this red mower, with it's Briggs & Stratton engine, earlier in the year when the pull cord on my old one snapped and disappeared into the lawnmower.
It hasn't been going well from the start. On its maiden cut two of the wheels fell off, and the pull cord, over six and half foot in length (what size arms do they think we have?) quickly cut through the red plastic engine cover. Although the mower claims "Reliable starting" among its credentials, having just spent over half an hour trying I have proof that it is not.
The clouds are now discoloring into darker shades of grey, it looks like rain, will I try for another last half hour to get it working?
The Telegraph today reported HMRC staff would have to use their annual leave to attend their Christmas lunch. I had actually heard the story yesterday on local radio and had been wondering since how a lunch could last so long that you would have to take annual leave to enjoy it.
Perhaps its an indication that HMRC are working in a different time continuum. Those waiting months for VAT registration numbers might be quick to agree. It's a time zone where everything takes longer or slows down. A process that should take a few weeks, like VAT registration, stretches out to eternity, and a lunch that should take a couple of hours needs a holiday.
Interestingly, the Telegraph article also quotes an HMRC spokeperson as saying "it is vital that we continue to provide a good level of service to taxpayers and claimants."
I had to read the sentence twice, did it really say continue?
Black Cabs and the London Cabbie may be regarded as part of the cultural collateral of London, in the same way as red buses and the familiar red and blue symbol of London underground. For the tourist, clambering into the back, might be as much a part of their sightseeing as is visiting the Tower. The London cabbie has almost become synonymous with words like honest, hard working and working class. With so many unlicensed, illegal cabs crawling the curbs in clubland, the black cabs are also viewed as safe.
However, the cabbies like their short distances. They run a business after all, and maximise their income if they take short fares. Even though they can use the bus lanes, and are not meant to refuse fares, they do. Their best excuse when they hear where you're going to is to say they've had a fare come up over the satellite. They take precedence.
I remember one Christmas standing on Oxford Street, the West End, unable to walk beyond the curb at Selfridges. I left my shopping to the last minute, then did it in one swoop, arriving out onto the street and the rain as if on a tight rope with an unsteady, cartoon like, tower of packages, and bag handles, literally, beginning to dig through my fingers.
I needed to go six and a half miles to Brent Cross where my car was parked. A succession of black London cabs pulled up, only to drive off again with some excuse. In desperation, and almost after an hour of agony, debating whether I would ditch the presents, I had to bribe a London cabbie as he was pulling off, "I'll give you a hundred pounds", I pleaded.
Of course he stopped, and took the fare. You know, I was so grateful, I gave him a tip as well.
Don't you just love it when you buy a product and, having struggled to get it out of the packaging, you find it's incomplete. There's a part missing. You can't use it or you can't assemble it.
I was surprised to find this happen with a software installation disc. A copy of TAS Books Basic, purchased from Amazon, contained no serial number card. You can't install the software without the serial number, or maybe you can, but there's not much point as you won't be able to use it for long.
When I call the TAS customer care team an automated voice asks me to choose an option. Being fairly typical of automated phone filter systems, or offshore call centres, there is no natural option for my query.
When I do speak to someone the solution is to fax my invoice from Amazon, plus a letter containing details of who the software will be registered to, off to the anonymous Customer Care team.
Customer Care? I might agree if someone had actually apologised for the inconvenience, had said this very rarely occurs, perhaps thanked me for buying the product, and, more importantly, were actually able to sort it out over the phone. Afterall, the company promises their customers to "deliver services so good that you, our customers, recommend it to your friends and colleagues".
This is another call where I'm advised it may be recorded for training purposes.
Now I need to decide. I can either take the time out to fax the details off or I can return the software and get something else from a different supplier. The latter is my preferred option. I don't actually feel valued as a new customer, and if I settle for the product I'm basically saying "ok" to low standards. Why do we do this in the UK? We can be eating the most horrific meal and when the waiter asks us if everything is ok, we respond with "mmmm, delicious, thank you."
I defer the decision to make a coffee.
Call me old fashioned, but if I go to a filling station it's to put petrol in the car. I may, occassionally, also buy a newspaper or milk. I wouldn't go there to do the weeks shopping.
I find it bizarre that I have to join a que for a petrol pump while the car owners are dithering inside what has now become a supermarket, and I have to wait yet again while a succession of shopping baskets are swiped through the checkout. All I want to do is pay for petrol.
Spamming is a numbers game. The more you send out the greater the probability that someone is going to open, read or act on the contents. It's all about arithmetic. The evil spammers are playing a numbers game. For them it's not personal, it's business. If you send out eight million emails there's a far greater chance of some "mug" opening one than if you only sent a hundred. The more emails you send the more successful you'll be.
The spammers use increasingly sophisticated techniques to circumvent and confuse anti virus programs and avoid detection. You've probably seen some of these in your inbox. Emails, which contain strings of random words, where the text is written on a graphic, which contain graphics and words, which seem to come from yourself. They don't care who the recipient is, so you get young kids being sent links to pictures and sites "caligulinks") which are wholly inappropriate.
Worryingly there is also a trend to hijack genuine mail domains. I've had this happen to me twice on two different domains. Every email contains header information such as the reply to address, the sender address etc. It's very easy to forge email headers so they appear to come from elsewhere, a genuine source. All of a sudden you start to receive hundreds and hundreds of mail delivery system errors in your inbox saying the mail program wasn't able to deliver your message. You become inundated with bounced email messages, in addition to your normal quota of spam. Your mail domain can also be blacklisted.
Spammers have a number of distribution channels. These include free email accounts like yahoo and hotmail, hacked servers, relaying messages, mail servers purchased with stolen credit cards, your own PC infected with a worm or Trojan virus ("zombie PC's"), even that innocuous contact form you have on your website can have alternative email headers injected into it.
Your details can be guessed at, harvested by program crawlers, be purchased, stolen, or be already included in a "marketing database" (wow..., email advertise like this to 8,000,000 people - sound familiar?). Genuine database directories can be "scratched" for your information, as it's too readily accessible.
All companies seem to view the collection of your data as an asset but fail to adequately protect it. Web sites are designed so you have to opt out from mailing lists. The opt out buttons can even appear on each page of a multi page form. I did a double take when I saw this on the application form of a major UK bank. Spam can contain illegitimate "unsubscribe" links. When you click you're added to a database, your identity reduced to currency. Instead of reducing your spam your increasing it.
A report out today by IT security firm Sophos reveals that both the US Republican and Democratic parties distributed spam in the run up to the mid-term elections. Of course, we can't call it spam, as US political parties are exempt from legislation like the CAN-SPAM Act. Is this leadership? Sophos also reveal the top twelve "dirty dozen" spam producing countries.
Can we ever hope to do anymore than stay one step ahead of the evil spammers? There are a few actions we can take to help reduce the volume, they won't eliminate the evil
When a second domain of mine was hijacked, and I had time to calm down from the "web rage" I started to wonder if Don Corleone had a website....
If Don Corleone had a website, I imagined, just a small site he put together for the family. He had links to his favourite sites, an updated news section, and he even had a contact form. This internet thingy was a breeze. Then one day, after breakfast, he opens up his email and watches as hundreds of bounced email messages are downloaded to his laptop....
What would he do next?
Despite being unable to book an EasyJet Flight online due to a bug or lack of information on their website I'm still very much a fan of this low cost airline. But now that they've discontinued the Gatwick (LGW) to Cork(ORK) route, choice is limited.
In fact, there were no available flights on BA when I wanted to travel, and I didn't want to fly from Heathrow. This only left me with one choice, Ryanair.
After you've paid for each direction on the flights, added almost £50 in taxes, another £7 for a bag, and a further £1.40 to pay by debit card, the total price comes in just shy of £300.
Surely it's wrong to pay this for a Ryanair flight where you don't even get a seat pocket.
After my Toshiba had to be binned I got an IBM T21 and an IBM T22. I still keep the hard drive of the Toshiba as a reminder to myself to take backups. It sits over the fireplace with an old clock, a picture of Freud, a fossil, and a photograph frame made from cactus wood.
There still is some very useful data on the drive, but I've never been prepared to pay the sums needed to retrieve it. But back to my IBM's.....
The T21 I always used as a reserve, it's been the presentation machine, not cluttered up with some of the servers and applications I've been running on the T22. That was until I started getted the BSOD (blue screen of death) on the T22. It finally got to the point where it wouldn't restart after a crash.
After some internet searching I replaced the memory with two 256k cards, and for a while everything was great. The laptop powered up, and the overall speed improved - until yesterday, three weeks after replacing the memory, now the machine is a dud, the memory is burned out. Fortunately I've been able to slot the hard drive out and plug it into the T21, but the T21 is so slow. The screen freezes, I get terribly annoyed with it...
Is there anything better out there, I need the portability of a laptop with the resilience of a server?
It begins like a trumpet call. The Goodman Masson website announces, "You may have noticed some new and exciting developments at Goodman Masson" and continues with, "Over the past six months we have been asking a lot of questions. We've asked our clients, candidates and ourselves how we can improve Goodman Masson. "
You would expect, following the intro, that this agency would be deadly serious about customer service.
How is it possible then, that after apparently spending six months on marketing activity, that the best they can seemingly come up with "as a result of all this hard work" (terrible hard work talking to customers) is to ignore candidates when they apply for advertised jobs? You would think someone, during that time, might have conceived the idea of an auto responder saying, at the very least, "thanks for sending us your cv".
Unless of course, the result and conclusion of their research was a new customer service method. They've already implemented it here: Ignore your customers, they're terrible hard work.
Posted in: Business
The automated voice recording on the HMRC National Advice Line says you can also visit the HMRC "internet website".
So they have their website on the internet eh?
Hmmm. I wonder if it starts with "doubleu doubleu doubleu"?
If you purchased something on the internet you needed to return, would you be reassured by a customer service policy which stated "You should not contact .... [the returns] office... to see how your....[return].... is progressing. As you can appreciate, dealing with constant phone calls can further delay the processing time"?
This service policy would suggest a number of things. (1) customer care is not valued (2) the number of returns is high (3) the company doesn't have an effective system.
In fact, I think this policy [authored by HMRC] is a swing too far for the plain English campaign. This policy quite simply translates as "f### off".
Speaking in 2003, John Healy, the Treasury Minister for Customs, stated "Customs is also an ancient service, with legal roots stretching back to the 11th Century". To the cynical, tracing the history of HMRC back to the dark ages might confirm their suspicions about the role and function of the organisation. Indeed, when you look at the very narrow definition of it's objectives you might be forgiven for assuming they've never been altered. They simply state: "We are here to ensure that the correct tax is paid at the right time". The powers HMRC use and apply are based on this one simple objective.
Defined in this way, this Government Department, is able to detach itself from both circumstance and consequence. Rules can be blindly applied as they are not limited by any economic context. This may also go some way in explaining why there does not exist a Taxpayers charter. There is no downward pressure from the organisations goals to have one. Although it's been discussed at the Consultative Committee Meetings it seems to have been reduced to a carry forward meeting minute. It needs further thought.
Suppose we added one more aim to their objectives, and this was "To not inhibit or impede economic growth." This goal might accomplish a number of things, including a need by HMRC to understand the wider economic impact of applying it's powers.
Let's look at an example. In it's current form it is perfectly permissible for a company to have to wait over four months to be VAT registered. If the registration process were governed by an objective to not impede economic growth this timeframe would be unacceptable. I can almost hear Donald Trump exclaim, "It's a disaster". The organisational structure and practices would have to change so that the process be completed in an acceptable period, a period to which the organisation is accountable.
At the moment there is none. Guidance booklets from HMRC suggest the registration process to be three weeks, however, owing to their single objective, and the lack of a tax payers charter, they can legitimately take as long as they like. There will be some reason or power they can apply which supersedes any prior commitment. At the moment, this reason is Missing Trader Intra-Community (MTIC) VAT fraud estimated to cost the Exchequer 0.6% of total Government revenue, almost the same still being lost through tobacco smuggling, or estimated to be lost in identity fraud. The spin put on MTIC fraud is that it diverts vital funding intended for public services, like hospitals and schools, on which we all rely.
I say "spin" as we should not forget these losses are less than the £3.3billion in unpaid taxes avoided by over half a million illegal workers, and less than the amount the Government has spend on the Iraq war. It's a spin, should it be used to lower standards of public service? Long, undue delays in VAT registration are explained away as part of Customs strategy to combat MTIC fraud. This, for some reason, seems to make it okay.
Lets look at another example. HMRC have redeployed an additional six hundred staff to help with validating the VAT repayment returns of companies trading in industries tainted with MTIC fraud. When we look at the numbers it just doesn't seem to stack up. The Department processes approximately 170,000 repayment returns per annum. Of these, only a small minority relate to returns submitted by companies trading in tainted markets. If this small minority were 5% then there would be some 8,500 returns per year to apply increased validation to.
With these numbers, each repayment return would have one Customs Officer working full time on it for four weeks. You would be forgiven for concluding , with this level of resource, returns would be validated quickly. This is not the case. In a letter leaked to me, from a reader, a senior Customs Officer writes, "HMRC is under no statutory obligation to complete these verifications within any fixed timeframe" and further "the case officer will normally provide at least monthly updates", which would suggest the process is going to be a siege.
Cashflows of legitimate businesses are squeezed as Customs retain their VAT repayments as part of their strategy to combat MTIC fraud. This makes it okay. Where the single objective of the organisation is "to ensure the correct tax is paid at the right time", it becomes acceptable to implement a strategy to "disrupt.... all points in the supply chains". The collateral damage is not considered.
Are these the "legal roots stretching back to the 11th Century"?
Ok, so where were we?
To recap, I was registering a start-up business for VAT. The application was submitted online on the 4th of July. The application prompted a request for further information, the majority of which just does not apply to a home business. I replied to the answers and posted my blog on the subject towards the end of August.
The next contact I have with Customs & Excise consists of a business card put through my letterbox. A meeting hadn't been arranged with me. They had seemingly "given it a whirl" on the off chance I might be in.
I held the card in my hand thinking whether this was indeed a good use of tax payers money. It must have taken two staff a round trip of three hours to make the visit. That makes six hours or almost a day, which could have been avoided with a simple call beforehand.
My eyes linger on the card before I turn it over. There is a note on the reverse asking me to call. I do. A meeting is arranged for Tuesday, the following week, the 27th of September, at "morning".
I listen to James O'Brien on LBC while I wait. Occasionally, I look through the front window to see if anyone is there. Then I see a convertible pull up, park outside next doors, raise the roof, and two Customs Officers get out.
They explain that HMRC need to apply more detailed verification to businesses registering for VAT owing to abuse of the system, an abuse that has led to substantial losses for the UK exchequer. They are well mannered. I show them samples of some products I am looking to import from the Far East. One of them is a redesign of a popular Asian product I am planning to manufacture. They seem satisfied and exclaim, "you're obviously not the type of company we're looking for". All in all they stay about twenty minutes.
The application is referred back to the Registration Unit at Deansgate. I feel assured the VAT number will be issued, finally, after three months. Three weeks later, on the 23rd October, an HMRC brown envelope arrives through the letter box.
Instead of the expected VAT certificate there is an "Advice of Non-Registration". The letter says "for the time being you will not be registered". The letter contains a table of reasons an application cannot be processed.
There is an X against "Your application form has failed pre-registration checks, please contact the office for further information".
My first thought was of customer service. Wouldn't it have been helpful to include the "further information" with the letter? Instead, I have to write to them and request it, they will send it, then I have to respond to it and ask them to reconsider the application. Was this the most efficient or effective way to do this? If there had been other questions couldn't the visiting officers have asked them? I can foresee another six to eight weeks delay.
Interestingly this is the first letter, which doesn't give advice about invoicing. Previously you are reminded to add VAT to the sales price and tell the customer you will sort him out with a tax invoice later. Having done so, and being advised of non-registration, what do you now tell the customer? If you are appealing the decision do you still need to follow this process? My first thought was of customer service, but the letter offers no help.
To say I am baffled as to how a VAT application can take four months is an understatement. What can possibly take so long? Whatever it is, it can't be good news for UK entrepreneurs.
The unwieldly tool HMRC applies to combat fraud partly creates the problem they try to solve. In order to VAT register a company, businesses are being encouraged, or should I say being cornered into, buying already registered companies, which are dormant, or being liquidated or are worth nothing. Or they register companies with different trade classifications, such as a plumber, and then change the classification after being registered.
Where the alternative is to wait over four months for an application to be processed I can understand why business owners do this. Is it wrong? You know, I don't think it is anymore. Why should new, legitimate businesses in the UK be choked with red tape and be criminalized?
Was it really Tony Blair who said we ".. should receive, high quality service from the Government"?
Ken Livingston wins his high court appeal against a finding he brought his office (him being mayor of London) into disrepute after likening Evening Standard journalist, Oliver Finegold (him being Jewish), to a Nazi camp guard.
Mr Justice Collins (him being educated) says "the right of freedom of speech does extend to abuse". So it seems Ken can continue to be "unnecessarily offensive".
Great news as we fall out of the pubs at closing time and take an irrational dislike for someone. As we hurl abuse we can be confident in the precedent set by Mr Justice Collins (him being educated) and Ken Kivingston (him being our Mayor).
It's ok to be abusive to someone. We're just exercising our freedom of speech.
.... and hang the consequences. How exactly does this relate to our growing culture of yobbish behaviour, stabbings, and the vast sums of money squandered in the NHS as A&E respond to late night brawlers? Eh.....Look, the important thing is my right to insult and abuse someone be protected by our legal system!
What's next? Perhaps it's time for Ken (him being Mayor of London) to walk to work in a football shirt and a can of tennants.
The good news is when you uninstall IE7 you revert back to IE6 with it's familiar navigation.....
There is an article on the Microsoft website by Mark Walker entitled "Windows Internet Explorer 7 Toolbar: It's your option". It was penned in June and claims IE7 "has a monitor full of choices....to customise the browser.....to suit your personal tastes". The article includes screen shots where it looks as if a user can toggle back to the classic view, the one we're familiar with in using Microsoft products; with the file menu on top etc. But things seem to have moved on since June.
Now the final version of IE7 is due to be released this quarter, distributed as a high-priority update via Automatic updates and the Windows Update and Microsoft Update sites, but on the copy I downloaded today some of the reported options have been clipped back. It wasn't, for example, possible to revert back to the clean, classic view. When I was first presented with the screen I was immediately frustrated with some of the changes, but in particular in not being able to customise the layout. In fact, I must admit, having used Internet Explorer for over ten years, today is the first day I downloaded alternative browsers. I was so annoyed I figured, "well, if I must learn to use it again, I may as well look at alternatives". Browsers of course are free, so there is no reason why you can't download and run alternatives. I picked Netscape and Firefox.
Netscape for some reason drew an association with IE and ended up presenting me back with exactly the same IE7 screen, only it said Netscape. "losers" was all I could mumble as I immediately uninstalled it. Firefox, on the other hand, which you can download from here, has a superior user interface to IE7. In fact, in a very short time, I almost had it configured back to looking like classic IE, only better.
What's the problem with IE7? Well for me the main thing is you can't customise the appearance. The address bar stays on top, presumably the developers having read Joel Spolsky's book "User Interface Design for Programmers" or his blog liked the idea of being able to bounce your mouse off the top of the screen and end up in the address bar. However, they seem to have missed all points on user familiarity and navigation.
Two icons for "favorites" now, irritatingly, appear in the far left, where the more frequently used home button would be better placed. All the other icons are right aligned until you turn off the tab browsing feature in internet options, which you have to do to get them back on the left. And of course, they've added in search - No Thanks - I have a clean google homepage. Some added security features are bundled in but these should be handled by your virus protection software or you end up getting conflict errors instead.
I genuinely believed the browser wars had ended long ago. Microsoft were the clear winner with a superior product. However, if IE7 is released with the rigid user interface it has today I would bet the wars start over. There seems to be some strategic effort with IE7 to more seriously engage the search market and I think the browser feels diluted as a consequence, in any case, I it would seem to be surpassed by the Firefox browser.
The good news about IE7 is you can uninstall it and revert back to IE6 with it's familiar navigation, or you can download the Firefox browser for free.
With parking spaces not getting any wider and more and more people driving the equivalent of armoured personnel carriers is it any wonder our cars are being scratched to bits when there isn't even enough room to open your door to get in.
I had taken to parking in the remotest corners of any car park and, if it was a multi story, going straight to the top floor, thereby minimising the risk of damage to the car, including all the hit and run bumper scrapes you find, each one, as if adding to your disillusion about humanity.
Parking further away I would get more exercise. This seemed to be the last thing on anyone's mind when looking for a parking space. The objective is to park as close as possible to the destination, even if, for some, it means parking in a disabled spot. When challenged, can you believe someone would shrug "sure, there'll be none of them around this time of the night".
Parking at a distance brings a new wonder. How is it I can park remotely, yet, when I return to my car, I find a cluster of other cars parked around it, as if to form an island? Yet again, on a visit to Tesco, i park in the remote corner, plenty of empty spaces beside me, and lots between me and the entrance.
Why then would someone pull up, so close, that I can't properly open my door?
I look at the space between our cars, I look around at all the empty spaces......
The first line of my renewal notice from the AA says "We've checked to make sure that your renewal quote is the very lowest we can offer."
This should be reassuring coming from a company like the AA. You can almost picture the dilligent, suited executives making calls, negotiating for you, well in advance. You can imagine, aided by their TV advertising campaign, perhaps a month before the renewal date, at one of their Monday morning meetings the Boss quips "Oh, by the way, Mark's insurance is up for renewal, go out there and get him a good deal, the best deal. That's what we're here for."
Even as you visit the AA website you're greeted with and reassured by statements like "We'll shop around to find the best car quote for you" and "..our recent survey (July '06) showed we could save up to 40% on your car insurance."
This all sounds very positive. How is it then, with another year added to my no claims bonus and my car depreciated further in value, that my premium should increase by 17%? Last year I paid £350.25, this year I am being quoted at £409.43.
What happened to the "outstanding deals" being negotiated for me, by the AA, as "the UK's biggest car and home insurance broker, dealing with over 20 leading insurers"?
How is it I visit one other website, moneysupermarket.com, and obtain 21 better quotes? One of the quotes is from AXA, my current insurer through the AA? The best quote was over £100 cheaper. I settled with Direct Line in the end, paying less than the premium I paid in the previous year for an identical policy, saving about £60 when compared with the AA quote
Another insurer, another story, but I guess they all do this..... Direct line offer to "securely store your payment details so that we may automatically renew your policy for subsequent years. Select NO if you do not agree to this."
Having a healthy disdain for direct debits and recurring payments I select no. Recurring payments rely on your complacency, you're unlikely to ever get a good deal if you agree to them. I have a feeling a few percent is bunged on top of what you paid the prior year, right or wrong, I certainly feel that way about my AA quote
A note to the wise: always say No to Direct Debits. Always get a second opinion, always get a second quote.
550,000 tones of direct mail were posted in the UK last year. With a multiple of 17 trees per one ton of paper, we can conclude, in excess of nine million trees were cut down, pulped and distributed into our letter boxes as 21 billion individual pieces of junk mail.. This excludes hand delivered items, such as free newspapers.
In the UK, unless you have ticked column six on your electoral register, your details will be sold by your district council. And the price is a steal. It costs just £20 for the register and then only £1.50 per thousand entries, valuing your personal data at just over .15 of a penny. The full register, which you have no choice of not being on, is available at the same price. The full register can only be used for a few defined purposes. One of these defined purposes, is to help establish a persons credit status, by credit reference agencies.
The fact I'm not on the edited register and still receive junk mail offering me credit cards, personally addressed to me, does make me wonder where these financial institutions acquired my info.
However, with identity theft in the UK reported to cost £1.7billion, the thing that really rankles me about it is that I have to individually shred the addressed junk mail with a household shredder. Not having the time to do this during the week, it becomes an incredibly annoying and unpaid weekend chore. At least with the free newspapers I can pick them up off the floor and put them straight into the recycle bin.
Some days you can feel completely overwhelmed by the amount of sales and marketing you can't seem to avoid. Everything is vying to grab your attention, headlines, bill boards, junk mail, phone calls from mobile phone companies, door to door salesmen, the Kleeneze catalogue, roofers, meter readers... and did I mention email? Don't get me started....
|#||Type||Who can help||Their Phone||Their Website|
|1||Telephone Calls||Telephone Preference Service||0845 070 0707||tpsonline.org.uk|
|2||Faxes||Fax Preference Service||0845 070 0702||fpsonline.org.uk|
|3||Addressed Junk Mail||Mailing Preference Service||0845 703 4599||mpsonline.org.uk|
We're not always functioning at our full 40%. Sometimes we go into auto pilot and, for all intents and purposes, are pretty much switched off. Some things are so familiar to us we don't think about them. Our expectations are so strong about the outcome we don't expect anything different to happen. You go into Tescos, you fill your trolley, you come home and put things away. Only then do you discover the rotten apple in the bag or that the best before end date is only a few hours away. To compound your mood, your annoyance is directed at yourself for not paying attention rather than the vendor, who has taken money from you for something you can't eat..
Bad Apple in Bag
Bad Apple Portrait
The Good Ones
For legal reasons I should add. I did buy a bag of apples today from Tesco. The bag contained one bad apple, the rest were intact. The evidence is pictured above. I didn't buy anything with an expiry date about to occur.
Why would anyone write a program that..........
Why would anyone write a program that would automatically restart your computer? A program so persistent that, when you click "Restart Later", you only get a moratorium of ten minutes before the message pops up again with the same determined prompt? Every ten minutes, as though it were taking orders from the atomic clock. The message gives you five minutes to act. This is less time than it takes to go to the toilet, make a coffee and return to your desk. In which time, the relentless program has shut your computer, ignoring your unsaved work, like the spreadsheet or letter you've been painfully composing.
It doesn't even take a trip to the toilet. You might be retrieving a file, or talking to someone or pacing the room on your mobile. Why would someone write a program that can restart you computer, and wipe your work, as you do that?
Before anyone says, "Well, you can change the settings", I already know that, and that's part of the problem. In an age of hot desking and shared computers you inherit the settings of previous users. Some, not unsurprisingly, might select the recommended setting, which will run this program.
For those that might not know how to change their setting click Start followed by Control Panel. Look for the icon below and double click.
Change the settings. My preferred setting as pictured below is to not download automatically. I like to decide what to install and run on my machine. I learned this after installing Service Pack 2, to discover afterwards my DVD drive didn't work anymore as there were no supported drivers.
All I wanted to do was book a cheap flight. Surely this should be a simple operation on the internet. I've done it so many times before; you select your dates, you modify your preferences, you go ahead and book the flight.
I get to the familiar easyjet screen, pictured below. I click "Show Flights"
At this point I'm expecting to be taken to a screen where I can look at flight options, instead the following alert pops up.
I click ok, the only option and back at the familiar screen
I click "Show Flights"
At this point I'm expecting to be taken to a screen where I can look at flight options, instead the following alert pops up.
I click ok, the only option and back at the familiar screen
I click "Show Flights"
........oddly, as I type Ryanair into my address bar these words from Yeats drift into mind "Now that my ladder's gone, I must lie down where all the ladders start". The words are from "The Circus Animals Desertion" Ah, maybe thats the connection
In late April I acquired a dedicated server from an internet hosting company and paid for three months in advance. The price for the quarter was £211.47 (including VAT). Stupidly, I hadn't looked at my bank statements until today, to discover, the company, due to an obvious accounting error, have been debiting my bank account each month since April for £211.47, leading to an overpayment of just under £1,000 even though I had cancelled the server after a week of use because the solution was unworkable.
Interestingly, this aim listed company, reports a 46% increase in profits for its last financial year.
Notwithstanding the fact I hadn't authorised the company to debit my account at all (that's another story), the fact it occurred is a reminder, that:
Recurring payments on your credit cards are the same. Some companies will automatically renew your purchase without advising you, and make it particularly difficult to cancel. I remember it taking months to stop AOL direct debits.
When I joined Ecademy, the social business network, I paid the twelve month subscription fee in advance. I lost interest in the network after a few months and stopped using it. On the anniversary of my joining, Ecademy renewed the subscription automatically. The first I knew of it was seeing the debit on my bank statement. The next year they tried to do the same, but as I had changed my card the payment failed. I then started to receive a series of automatically generated emails. These lasted for a few weeks and then stopped. This was the sum of the Ecademy customer service experience.
Most companies rely on our complacency. We don't study our bank statements and transactions or manage our cash as we should. With recurring payments and automatic renewals you may not get the best deal. This is particularly so with car or home insurance. If your car insurance is on an automatic renewal, you're unlikely to get the best deal.
Three last points:
You have one of those days. It's the middle of the week. You're late leaving
the office. You're not in a good mood.You've already decided you just have to
stop and get a bottle of wine. As you know there's nothing in the fridge, you
bundle everything into one stop. Your shopping basket fills with one bottle of
Anubis, a 3 pack of Magnums, 2 pain aux raisons, and for dinner?
There you are in the ready made meal aisle. A picture catches your eye: mmmmmm...... Finest Chilli Beef Noodles. The short, mouth watering trip from Tesco's to home is spent thinking about the chilli beef, mmmmmmm, pouring a glass of wine with "beaded bubbles winking at the brim" like they do in "Ode to a Nightingale".
You're there. You switch the oven on, gas mark 5 you presume ....mmmmmmmmmm. You look at the packaging. You look again. You turn the box of Chilli Noodles around, and over again, not believing the innocuous, camouflaged symbol in the bottom left hand corner which says "microwave only". You don't have one. Having grown up in Ireland in the 70's and 80's you've always retained your suspicion of the microwave, and you've just paid £3.69 to be snatched, unceremoniously, from the jaws of your midweek, having a very bad day, escape.
Opening a business bank account with Alliance & Leicester for a client. The client company had one director and an off the shelf company secretary.
The bank declined to offer a bank account citing its reason as "one or more of the Directors involvement with a liquidated company".
The Director, a millionaire, had closed a company three years earlier and distributed the large surplus the company had amassed as a dividend to himself and the other shareholders.
Naturally an off the shelf company secretary will be involved in liquidated companies as so many new companies fail in their first year.
Although, I did appeal the decision based on the facts and had the account opened it does prompt the question why
You would think if someone picked themselves up from business failure to try again they would be encouraged, rather than having institutional doors shut as if they carried a communicable disease. Do the life coaches not continually remind us of Edison and the light bulb?
At least in this case there was a happy ending, Alliance & Leicester saw sense. This is more than can be said for HSBC who once declined to open a business account for me because my personal bank branch was in East London, I lived in Surrey and I hadn't changed the address on my Driving licence. It all added up to suspicion. This is why I always dissuade clients from using HSBC. I will always recommend an alternative bank, like Alliance & Leicester or Barclays.
For those who don't know, dmoz, or the "Open Directory Project" is the "largest, most comprehensive human-edited directory of the web. It is constructed and maintained by a vast, global community of volunteer editors."
The DMOZ database feeds search engines like Google, AOL, and Lycos. This is one of the reasons web developers will endeavour to have their sites included in there.
Oddly, the fact that all submitted content is human reviewed, is broadcast as a major quality control advantage. The volunteers or "net citizens" as they are called, can cull "out the bad and useless......keeping only the best content".
There are over 4million sites included in the directory, The directory has over 74,000 editors managing 590,000 categories. Anyone can apply to be an editor. You pick a category and then soon you too can keep out "the bad and useless".
If you ever have the patience to browse through the dmoz directory you might be surprised by some of the included sites. At various stages I've found holding pages, pages only made to click through to sales, pages without any useful content, pages that are badly made or inaccessible. These are clearly not "the best content" and their inclusion in the directory would seem to add credibility to tales of corruption among the editors.
There are stories that the editors can be bribed, stories they will deliberately sabotage competitors sites either by changing their classifications or not adding them at all to the directory. The dmoz directory aims "to become the definitive catalog of the web".
We are not living in some future world where corruption and greed have been erased from humanity; the ego has not been subdued and we do not live together in an open, intelligent and selfless society. Can a human edited database (which has to inherently include all the subjectivity, bias and preferences of the editors) therefore produce objective results, can it be relied on to keep only "the best content"?
Well done for trying but I think I would feel safer in the hands of an algorithm.
Being completely anti Apple I don't know why I downloaded iTunes. Well, yes I do, it was recommended to me.
At first it was a love affair. Finally I was able to get my hands on the U2 cover versions of Endless Love and Unchained Melody, but that was about it.
Soon I began to appreciate the iTunes library didn't contain much of the songs I was looking for (like Waterloo Sunset and Eve of Destruction) or almost worse, all it would have is a crumby live version. However, I persisted. I downloaded Bobby Sinclairs Love Generation as it reminded me of taking a bus ride over the Andes. I downloaded about nine songs in all, and now they're completely stuck in my computer.
I don't have an iPod. I will never buy an iPod. If I were to receive one as a gift i would put it straight on eBay. When I'm in the car and not listening to LBC 97.3 I like to listen to my CD's but of course these ridiculous m4p files from Apple won't let me that.
The only solution it would seem is to use a crack program to convert them into something useable, something that I can listen to, i did buy them after all. Had i known the limitations I would have concluded the unit price per song was actually too much.
Note to self: next time buy the CD
I had a virtual server with a UK, aim listed, hosting company (I'll blog about them separately). One day I receive a sales call. The sales person advises me that the company is discontinuing its virtual server range and I would have to upgrade to a dedicated server.
I was paying £39 per month for a virtual box. The upgrade was only going to cost me an extra £20 per month so I went ahead. There wasn't an alternative.
As I had a lot of domains on the virtual box (free hosting to startups) I had concerns about the time it would take to migrate. But "ah" they said the Plesk Control Panel is included in the Gold package. That will ease the migration.
Little did I know that there was a limit of 10 domains on the box. If I wanted to add more I would have to buy additional licences from Plesk. So the solution was completely unsuitable for me. Why would I pay more to host some sites which have no database backend and use up about 50K of disk space?
Aside from that, Plesk proved to be a completely useless interface for configuring and administering the server. It was't able to adequately configure other applications running on the box like MySQL, PHP and the Apache web server.
Unless all you want to do is administer some emails and domains and you are prepared to pay the licence costs invest in Plesk. If you actually want to control your box don't, just install Webmin. Webmin is free and gives you control over the whole box.
I eventually installed Webmin on the dedicated server but Plesk wasn't going to give up. It had damaged the configuration too much. The only solution would have been to start with a new box, no plesk installation. A dedicated server, without the Plesk control panel, was £49.99, so I thought that was good I save £10 per month. High five, and buy a bottle of wine.
But support tell me a different story to sales. If I pay £49.99 I won't have a MySQL database. So tell me what good is an 80Gb box without a database? At the moment I am migrating my business away to another company, and the cost of the dedicated server package I had has been increased by over 16%.
So that was a good technique, ring your clients and tell them you're discontinuing a product they're using. Switch them over to a more expensive product (50% more expensive). Wait awhile, then up the price of the more expensive product even further. Result: you almost double sales.
The board or the VC's must be getting ready for an exit!
Once you’ve purchased Norton Anti Virus Software you’re unwittingly locked into a cage. Your machine is secure and you learn to live with the degradation in speed and performance but watch out if you decide to not renew your subscription. Getting out of the cage is difficult. Alerts dominate your screen telling you the obvious. Even if you click them they do not go away, they will reappear, like a virus, on the screen in one minute, like this one below.
If you untick the box above and click ok the alert will only disappear for one minute.
The best you can do is try to drag the box away off screen, but it doesn’t work for long. Wake your machine up from one of its forty screen saver winks and the Norton alert message has made a Hollywood reappearance, dominating your screen again.
The marketers have must have carefully devised this to be so annoying that the majority of users will end up opening Norton and renewing their subscription. As I completely detest hard sales and lack of choice my only option to escape the cage was to uninstall Norton completely and get a proper system from Kaspersky Labs.
Kaspersky Anti-Virus Personal Pro
I am still astonished that this actually happened, particularly when there are estimated to be over 400,000 illegal immigrants in the UK.
I have a contract with a UK entrepreneur. He has businesses in the UK and Hong Kong and recently looked to acquire an IT Service business in Bangkok.
His UK company invited a Thai national, "Kay", to visit his UK office to discuss a possible employment offer in Bangkok or Hong Kong. Despite an official company invitation a visitors visa was refused, to make matters worse, "Kay" was not even interviewed by the British Embassy in Dublin.
UK Visas claim to "issue visas to 80% of those who apply, and stop only those who are a significant immigration risk to the UK".
Kay was on a two week holiday in Ireland when we contacted her and asked her to make a short visit to us in the UK. She was already in the EC. The Irish Honorary Consul in Bangkok had ascertained her local circumstances and granted a visa to her. In a seeming vote of no confidence in the Irish immigration process the UK Embassy in Dublin would not let her visit London (clearly determining her to be a significant immigration risk).
Despite being invited to the UK by a UK company, despite having an onward ticket to Bangkok, despite having a letter of sponsorship from an accountant living in Surrey, despite already being in the EC, despite being granted a visitors visa to Ireland Kay, an employable young graduate, was refused UK entry clearance.
As a consequence the UK company had to fly a representative to Bangkok to hold the meeting which should have happened in the UK.
Words like bumbling and ludicrous come to mind. Have you ever had a similar experience?
On the 4th July I applied online for a VAT registration number for a small company. The company, a home business, is estimated to turnover no more than £75K.
In the application the activities of the business were described as "General trade of hardware and previously owned goods to end users and resellers."
The application prompted an enquiry for further information. Bearing in mind the size and scale of the business, the questions from the VAT office included (these were some of the best)
|1||We note that you have entered the same address for your business and your home. Do you trade from home? If not please provide your business address.||No, I didn't make a mistake completing the application. Don't you think I would have checked it before submitting it? This is a home business.|
|2||If you do work from home, please describe how you do this, ie where is the stock kept?||Eh..... in the garage, in any of the rooms. How much space do you think £1,000 of stock would take up|
|3||Please provide your business plan||Look at the size of the business. This business is not looking for bank loans or angel finance or any kind of investment why would it incur the cost of preparing a formal business plan?|
|4||Advertising material for the business||Would a start-up company be (a) better off picking up the phone and trying to talk to people or (b) incurring print and postage costs sending out junk mail?|
|5||Please provide copies of signed contracts.||Signed contracts? What buyer in their right mind would sign a contract for the supply of hardware from a start-up company which isn't even VAT registered?|
The process of starting a business is being stifled even further by having to wait in excess of three months for a company to be VAT registered. During that time you have to answer queries which can't be regarded as sensible and which could have been avoided with an effective risk based approach, an improved application form and some intelligence applied to the process. Instead, it seems as if every application is being treated as a fraudulent application.
In this example: the small company applies for registration on the 4th July. On the 26th August HMRC write to say it may take an additional 12 weeks, bringing total time taken to almost five months. During that time I have to increase my price to include VAT and tell customers I will sort them out with a tax invoice later. Incredible.
If you are registering a company for VAT in the UK be sure to factor in a considerable amount of idle time while you wait. In the meantime what can you expect? Well, HMRC ask you to add VAT to your sales price and tell your customer you'll sort him out later with a tax invoice.
Yeah right! If your supplier asked you to do that what would you think? i know what I'd do if I was the customer.
What can possibly take so long? You're not likely to find out. HMRC, a public service body, instructs (their emphasis) "You should not contact either this office or the National Advice Service to see how your application is progressing. As you may appreciate, dealing with constant phone enquiries can further delay the processing time."
This letter, of course, isn't at all consistent with the information on the HMRC website. There in the FAQ's section under "When will I get my VAT registration number?" it says "...it may take up to 8 weeks to complete the registration process as we are now carrying out a wider range of checks on every application." and "We expect to be able to issue you with a VAT registraiton number in about 8 weeks but it may not take this long."
So riddle me this, Riddler: what on earth can take HMRC twenty weeks to process a VAT application which was correctly completed to start with?
The last word
Is it a solution to devise a system of controls, designed to prevent an abuse by a minority, and apply them indiscriminately to everyone? I like the story of the courageous retailer who successfully improved her business model by deciding to focus on selling to the majority rather than preventing theft by a minority. The change in focus, leading to tangible changes to the store layout and removing restrictions like the number of items a shopper could bring into the dressing room, led to strong retail sales growth without an increase in theft.
Even with our Government Think Tanks and the intelligence of many civil servants you would think a better solution could be devised, rather than a fix, which must naturally assume everyone a crook.
It can now take over three months and up to five months to get a VAT registration number from HMRC as they seem unable to apply any form of risk management or triage to the registration process. You have small "rinky dinky" companies being asked to provide business plans and marketing material, and they can be still turned down for registration for not supplying more information; none of which is asked for at the registration stage.
Right now this situation would seem to be permanent. I have two new companies registering for VAT. Company A applied for registration on the 6th June and is still not registered. I received a letter to Company B this morning advising me that it may take another 12 weeks. Company B is registering on a voluntary basis with monthly turnover not expected to exceed £6,000.
However, what I find most disconcerting about this process is HMRC stating on their website:
"Although you cannot charge VAT before you are registered or show VAT as a separate item on any invoices you issue, you can change your prices to include VAT. You can do this from the date you should be registered and before you receive your Certificate of Registration. You will need to explain to your customers that you will be sending them VAT invoices later."
I can change my price to include VAT but can't show it on the invoice, so my customer is unable to reclaim any of this VAT until I later provide him with a VAT invoice. As a customer I would assume my supplier is pulling a fast one, I will never get an invoice. I would certainly not pay over the full amount, and then we are in the wonderful accounting world of part payments, later followed by credit notes and re-issued invoices.
As a customer, unless I am buying from a personal service company, I wouldn't buy stock from a company which is not registered for VAT, as I wouldn't believe in the substance of it.
Being the sole director of an existing company which is VAT registered and always pays its VAT on time means nothing to HMRC if you wish to start another company. They will approach your application as though your intent is to fraudulently register for VAT. The fact you might be a home owner in the UK, be the member of a professional body, have previously worked in government, pay your VAT on time are not considered as no risk assessment is applied. Is this the best use of tax payers money? Surely there is something fundamentally wrong with the registration process.