Archive for the 'Unsolicited Opinions' Category

Modern Life is Irksome, Part the First

Sometimes my TV channel of choice is marginally more intellectually challenging than E! Entertainment! Network!  and lately I watched some talking heads discuss the problem that some people are paying too much for their electricity.  The problem is, claimed the heads, people aren’t switching companies to the one offering the lowest price.  If only people would switch companies, they collectively sighed, their household debt would evaporate.  It was the verbal equivalent of a pitying head-shake at the laziness and stupidity of many consumers, with a raised eyebrow of blame.

Now.  I’m going to leave aside the contextual issues including that, for example, many consumers of electricity surely find the switching process extremely challenging (they might for example be older and unused to internet-slash-call-centre trauma, or not speak sufficient English, or have a disability).  Let’s assume we’re talking about the person accustomed to, able to cope grudgingly with, and infuriated by, commercial labyrinths.  Like me.

I have quite strong, yet inexpert, opinions regarding the true nature of the ‘problem’ that some people aren’t switching back and forth like politicians.  I have not yet heard my opinion expressed within the current narrative that more competition is better and people are stupid.

I am, like so many people living Modern Life, time-poor.  Switching electricity company would be bearable if I only had to do it, say, thrice lifetimely.  But that’s not how it works.

Each of the largest six power companies (92% of market share between them) have hit upon the obvious corollary of commercial competition for an essential resource: periodically ensure that theirs is priced lowest, for a Limited Time Only.  So the consumer is bombarded with price packages that include a (relatively) fair rate that rests slightly lower in the murky depths than the second-cheapest deal.  However, there’s a nasty bite in those depths: after the first year or so, the Introductory Special Offer Super Hot Deal disappears and the poor chump who hasn’t diarised a year in advance to research electricity offers during a particular month, and organise switching company, suddenly finds their wallet open and their hard-earned notes blowing away.

To get somewhere approaching the best deal, you have to switch companies anything up to once a year and choose from a quite bewildering array of tariffs.  Will you be boiling the kettle every day and twice on Sundays?  How many people live in your house and do they shower in the middle of the night?  Do you open the window after a particularly malodorous fart?  Given that the last time I engaged in the switching process it took up quite a bit of my time in research, providing meter readings to two separate companies and then listening to them argue over who had made a mistake when they recorded what I told them, several trees sacrificed to confusing paperwork, a month of actual earth time to switch the supply and a further few weeks to refund me for the financial loss resulting from the aforementioned error, this is irksome.

I further note that the average Modern Life household is not expected to limit this approach to electricity.  See also: gas, broadband, telephone, mobile telephone, TV, savings account rates, and insurance deals and find yourself swirling around in a competition-driven nightmare having lost all sense of which way is up.  Or don’t, and get screwed.  Depressingly, a parasitic industry has sprung up amidst the carnage: the switching ‘service’ that uses computer algorithms to do the research and organise the switch for you and pretends the process isn’t that cumbersome.

Before I carry out acts of tedious household expenditure, I perform a rudimentary cost-benefit analysis and recall that I am reasonably cash-rich and very time-poor.  The generalised ball-ache of switching is significant.  The saving might be a few quid or maybe as much as a three-figure sum and I don’t know which in advance.  Even then, it just isn’t worth my time, folks.

Last time I switched company I vowed never again.  Why oh why, I wailed amid rending of garments and through rose-tinted goggles, can’t we return to the days where you signed up with a company and paid a fair and transparent price for your power, building a happy mutual relationship with them, rather than being fiscally whipped for not shopping around constantly to get the best deal?  Put simply, I do not have time for this shit.

So I dropped out, at least where power is concerned.  I finally found a company that appears to share my perspective.  They charge all customers the same (slightly higher) rate regardless of when they became customers or how they pay (aside: many power companies charge poor people with no credit-rating exorbitant rates to load up a plastic pre-pay access key with credit – this should immediately be made illegal).  There are two tariffs, your choice depending on how much you care about renewable resources versus how much you can afford to care.  They don’t have call-centres or choice-menus.  For as long as they continue this approach to their business, they will have my custom.

I resent being impliedly categorised by the meedja and politicians as a lazy simpleton for not constantly switching companies.  I am making a calculated choice taking into account my priorities and resources.  I resent that my options are to either engage in the switching shenanigans, or to pay more.  I resent that many more people who simply don’t know they are being overcharged, or are too busy getting on with life to be able to address it, continue to be overcharged and that according to the received wisdom they are faulty consumers not properly clicked in to the glorious world of commercial awareness, rather than that the companies are mercenary for taking advantage of them.  It is the government’s responsibility, having privatised the power industry, to sort out this mess so the burden rests less with consumers.

</soapbox>

The Bedside Table

There were many reasons I was dissatisfied with my bedside table.  First, its colour: orange.

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Not even a subtle orange.  Second, it has no drawer.  I must either leave my book on the top (which would be fine if I could constrain myself to two books) or I must reach down awkwardly while on the edge of sleep and open the door and throw the book onto the half-shelf within (or as you can see in the photo, simply throw them on the floor).  Third, with a square base and a monolithic stature it has a utilitarian oomph which is not to my liking.

Fortunately, my taste in furniture tends towards peasant rather than palace. When I last persuaded K-man to visit the local junk emporium, we came across this:

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This is the most poorly-made piece of furniture  I have ever encountered, and that includes Swedish flat-pack specials I incompetently put together myself. It seems to be made predominantly from waste wood by a person who hated their job. In places where surely – surely – a nail would have been better, glue has been used and did not stick properly.  Someone made a bad decision to try polishing this turd, and attached a piece of spare dowelling rod to the outside.

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This little cupboard was very cheap, and I have vision. And my vision couldn’t withstand more morning orange.

Yesterday the sun shone, and in our house that means embarking on a stupid project outside using power tools.  Hurrah!

K-man had to shore up the flimsy construction, and wrench off the stupid dowelling. Then I got busy with the power-sander. A short time later, I looked up from my cup of tea and realised this might not turn out too badly after all.

DSC_1016When all the black shit – I know not what it was – came off, the little cupboard grew a personality.  There was an interlude when I got a bit too busy with the power-sander and the bottom piece of wood holding the door up broke off, but what’s a husband for if not to clean up after his wife’s manic sanding experiments?

Then it was time to paint.  As we know, paint is a shit piece of furniture’s best friend. It covers a multitude of sins and can turn something horrible into something you can stand to look at without crying.  I do believe, however, that the trend should be reserved for crap pieces otherwise beyond rescue.  All those people painting over beautiful woodgrain because of fashion are nuts.  Especially if they do stupid shit like two-tone blue and pink and then sand down one layer of paint to display the nonsense.  I have seen more overpriced ruined chests of drawers than I can bear because people think that shit adds value.  Hell no, you just ruined a decent piece of furniture.  What is it with these people?

Sorry – that rant has been inside me for a long time and it needed to come out.  Obviously, I would never paint something pink and blue two-tone. I would simply use whatever left-overs I had available in the garage. Which turned out to be Farrow and Ball New White.

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Of course, every insect for miles around stuck itself in the paint. But progress was made and soon it was time to wax the top.

DSC_1018I was very surprised and pleased with how well this turned out.  You would never guess the top was plywood, or that it cost only around £20 and a few hours of my time.  Check out the sanded and waxed top:

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Here it is in situ:

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A full year after K-man accidentally sold our bedside tables on ebay for a song, I finally have a book-drawer and no orange.

That’s our new carpet you can see in the photo.  What a revelation!  More about that another time.

 

 

 

Extreme

I was at a party a few weeks ago, which for me means like-minded souls and I get together and become irate at the world’s apparently intractable problems, corporate behemoth uber-un-accountability, slavery, feminism v classism and is it a competitive or complementary relationship, intersectional discrimination, environmental hell, and other light-hearted subjects.  Obviously, we blame everybody but ourselves.

During one of these wine-fuelled if I ran the world people would all just love each other and be happy sessions, in a moment of fairly ironic hypocrisy someone pulled out their iPhone and tuned me in to a quiz with some particularly insightful results.  I pulled out my iPhone – for I am nothing if not a  champagne socialist – to give the quiz a whirl.

The quiz lives at Political Compass and here is a quote from the website:

The old one-dimensional categories of ‘right’ and ‘left’ […] are overly simplistic for today’s complex political landscape. For example, who are the ‘conservatives’ in today’s Russia? Are they the unreconstructed Stalinists, or the reformers who have adopted the right-wing views of conservatives like Margaret Thatcher ?
On the standard left-right scale, how do you distinguish leftists like Stalin and Gandhi? It’s not sufficient to say that Stalin was simply more left than Gandhi. There are fundamental political differences between them that the old categories on their own can’t explain. Similarly, we generally describe social reactionaries as ‘right-wingers’, yet that leaves left-wing reactionaries like Robert Mugabe and Pol Pot off the hook.

The test plots your politics not on one linear ‘left/right’ line, but in a quadrant that accounts for the distinctions between social and economic political liberalism or authoritarianism.  Or something.  So:

If we recognise that [the left-right line] is essentially an economic line it’s fine, as far as it goes. We can show, for example, Stalin, Mao Tse Tung and Pol Pot, with their commitment to a totally controlled economy, on the hard left. Socialists like Mahatma Gandhi and Robert Mugabe would occupy a less extreme leftist position. Margaret Thatcher would be well over to the right, but further right still would be someone like that ultimate free marketeer, General Pinochet.

That deals with economics, but the social dimension is also important in politics. That’s the one that the mere left-right scale doesn’t adequately address. So we’ve added one, ranging in positions from extreme authoritarian to extreme libertarian.

That line goes vertically from top to bottom, resulting in a diagram divided into four quadrants:

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The thought occurs that you readers probably came across this test years ago, but it’s new to me and I’m soldiering on.

There is far more information on the website, but as we know, when attention spans wane it is time to introduce FAMOUS PEOPLE.  That’s right. Here’s where they plot on the graph:

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At this point I’m thinking that it’s no wonder I firmly believe the world is royally screwed up – it seems that many of our leaders reside in the upper right hand part of the upper right hand quadrant. In common with lots of world leaders, I have studied both law and political science (specifically, human rights) and I continue to be amazed that folks who must have read the same weighty tomes of convincing left-wing libertarian thoughts of a bundle of eminent thinkers can consistently spew such right-wing ill-thought-through downright-mean old clap-trap.

Ed Milliband is the son of a full-blown Marxist and known as Red Ed in the UK for his astonishingly left-wing position on many policy areas. Yet there he is, in the upper right quadrant.  I’m not even going to comment on the inclusion of Mitt Romney, because it hurts me to think about him for the length of time required to formulate the violent expletives warranted.

So I took the quiz and wondered where I would come out.  And the answer is:

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That was a surprise even to me.  It’s no wonder I spend such a hefty dollop of time getting righteously pissed off at The State of Things.

Am I such an outlier? Not based on the self-selecting sample of folk at the party – I found one person whose dot was so far over to the left the graph wasn’t big enough to accommodate his views, and someone else who was just slightly more to the right and up.  Even K-man (and I say this with fondness) sits in the lower left quadrant.

If you are inclined to spend the five minutes to take the test and tell me the results, I would be interested to find out where your dot lands on this chart.  No judgment, no authoritarianism, nothing but curiosity.  I think left is best, but that’s because that’s what I am.

The Show Must Go On

Six weeks into this year, my interim assessment is that it sucks.  Minor trauma plus minor trauma equals astonishing sense of unfairness.  On the bonus side, I got my annual bout of illness over with during the first week of January.

First, allow me to expound on the self-made miseries.  Well, what the hell, I’m going to be true about it: K-man made these miseries.  It was nothing to do with me when he put our car on autotrader.com because he’d identified a new car he swore he needed.  Something about the size of his testicles, I don’t know what.  We use our car once a week at most, but for reasons to do with stones I don’t possess it behoves us to spend £6,000 on a piece of metal that spends 98% of its time on the driveway.  Don’t ask me; I just live here.

He made a hat-tip at ‘consultation’ and put Vern on the market, selling and arranging collection within a 24 hour period, for a price that was borderline insulting to Vern’s dignity.  The pre-car research on the proposed new car was only completed after he sold our old car. Things were discovered, worrying things, about the proposed new car having a fake service history.  What now, fool, when we need a car?  Oh yes, now we’re pressured buyers: a great big unavoidable horror.  Car salesmen can SMELL pressure. 

Yes, I’ve been skating close to the thin mental line lately.

Next up is the Bedroom Furniture Debacle.  The bedroom was next on the list of things in the home to participate in the destruction of my surroundings, a project that’s going really well.  Remember the bannister?  Months later, this is what it looks like now:

My best guess is that the white stuff in the middle is nuclear-bunker-grade heat-protective coating. It will not budge.  If President Obama needs protection from Iran’s unhinged, he should come to my house and crouch behind my bannister.

We moved out of our bedroom three weeks ago and it’s in a state of disarray that will be brought to you in another post.  Our furniture is too big for the room so was put up for sale.  The enormous triple-wardrobe was the priority, but ultimately we needed to rid ourselves of the rustic solid oak bed and bedside tables we got in New Zealand too.  We discussed and agreed a sale price that would prevent me feeling aggrieved (I like this furniture and we paid a wadge for it).

K-man operated the eBay and somehow fucked up the equation that exists between ‘buy now’ and ‘minimum bid’.  Our solid oak king-size bed and two bedside tables that we lavished cash and care on were sold for a price so low I had to fight back tears.

Next up, the trauma visited upon us from outside our control.

Finding that one’s bicycle has been stolen is never pleasant.  I can attest that it’s particularly unpleasant when one is returning home at 1am on a freezing cold night having had too much to drink.  I searched the bike park in vain for my bike, clinging to the hope that I had, like all the other times, simply forgotten where I’d left it.  I saw a cut cable lock and with a sinking feeling put my combination in.  It sprang open, and so did  my tear-ducts.

To a cyclist, no bike you’ve had for any length of time is just a bike.  We’ve seen penguins, fallen off curbs, been blown into oncoming traffic, got back up, and travelled on together.  I loved my bike.  I reported the theft of my buddy to the police.

Describe the bike, blah blah, where did you leave it, blah, was there CCTV, blah blah investigate I’m not really listening anymore but then and how would you describe your ethnicity?

What?

Are you black, white, asian? 

The police person on the phone does not know me, and does not know that questions like that coming out of nowhere, even when I’m drunk, especially when I’m drunk, and already upset are not something I’m going to let fly.  Way to make a bad situation worse, Flow Chart voice.

Is that relevant?  I shot out before I could stop myself.  Would you NOT investigate the crime I’ve just been a victim of because I fit, or did not fit, a certain racial profile?  

Nomadamnotatallyoudon’thavetoanswergovernmentstatisticsblah.

Because, that’s certainly the implication OFFICER.

Doyouwishnottoanswer?

Would you like my gender, age, or other profile information for the government statistics? 

Uh, no.

In that case you can put me down as human.

I’m really pleasant when I’ve had too much to drink and been the victim of a crime.

Next up: the following week, K-man was riding home on his un-stolen bike and got hit by a car.  The bike ended up under the wheels of the car, and he bounced off the bonnet.  He’s fine; cuts and bruises only (though the bike was a write-off).  Mostly, he was shaking and fragile with shock.  Thank lard it was a small car that hit him, and that it was not going faster.  He made eye contact with the driver before the collision (she definitely saw him), he had right of way, and she should have stopped and she knew it.  Her foot ‘slipped off the brake’ apparently, so she simply drove into him at a roundabout.  A witness helped pick K-man up and escorted him home to make sure he was OK.

Then, back from a weekend in the country during a cold-snap and snow, our heating broke.  It’s always a bad sign when you can see your breath in the hallway, and in sub-zero temperatures frozen pipes mean you have to eat your Ha! Boiler insurance! What a con! words and call the Fuck My Wallet line.  £500 later, I’m seriously considering becoming a heating engineer.

Everything you ever wanted to know about my frame of mind by this point is represented by this picture of Jesus, our formerly vibrant house plant:

What’s a girl to do when the first six weeks of a year have removed her colour and rendered her incapable of even a glimmer of sparkle?  Why, run off to Paris, of course!  My friend JR might not be a doctor, but he knew, it turns out, that I was in parlous trouble in the doldrums department without me even having to mention it.  And, because he is somehow psychic and knew without me ever having breathed to anyone how much I wanted to go there, he surprised me with tickets to this place:

It's the Star Ship Enterprise, in chandelier form!

In one weekend, I regained my sense of being alive.  My vibrancy came back, I smoked some cigarettes, ate a bucket of french lard, glammed around Paris, and remembered all the good shit I’ve seen and done, all the people I loved, love, and almost lost, and who I am privileged to know.

Reasons to Love London: Festive Edition

London is an exciting place with which to be involved.  It doesn’t matter how long your relationship has endured: there’s always something unexpected to stave of the potential for familiarity to nudge the threshhold of boredom’s grey gloom.

Occasionally, the unexpected thing is horrifying, such as when a tramp lurches at you from a doorway and in the half-second before you realise he’s harmless you fear for your life, your bag, and your iPod.

Most of the time the unexpected thing is pleasing.  Someone might choose that week to demonstrate that humans haven’t all gone to hell in a hand-basket, and the wallet you lost in the park will be handed in to the police complete with all the cards, ID, and every single note-worth of cash.

Other times, the unexpected thing will happen when you are trudging along minding your own business, and happen to turn a corner that you’ve turned a million times before.  Like this one, around the corner from the British Museum:

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Usually, that building looks like Hitler’s favourite architectural design for the final show-down scene in Ghostbusters.  The other day, it looked like a big glowing pile of art.  The photo doesn’t really do the projection justice but in case you can’t tell, it’s an advertisement for a TV channel.

Even the most soul-destroying activity of the festive season – shopping – is made more bearable when confronted by the unexpected pleasure of a non-tacky Christmas decoration installation in Covent Garden Market:

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I can say many negative things about London when I put my mind to it, but I could never accuse it of being boring.

Festering Nob of the Week

As an ardent complainer to anyone who will listen regarding press underhand tactics, pandering to populist pap and ignoring journalistic professionalism standards which would seek to present more than one side of an argument, I have long held News International as news source second closest to the devil incarnate.  Closest to the satanic heat is of course, The Daily Mail and stablemates.  A while ago I analysed over 1,000 frustration-inducing articles and I have the stats and the eyeball-scars to support my opinion.

So it is with measured glee that I watch the News International empire begin to unravel in the face of the awakening of politicians’ enlightened self-interest.  I’m sure they’ll stitch themselves back together soon enough, and no-one will go to prison, but for the moment it’s as though a Balrog has awoken from a century-long slumber and fought through the earth’s crust into the brains of those who ‘lead’ our country.  I’m just sorry so many innocent people had to have their privacy trampled for it to finally happen.

Now that the cat is enjoying itself among the pigeons, almost everyone in public life is under the microscope in some way. Either they were under News International’s microscope, or they are implicated in this whole sorry state of affairs and are now under the microscope of public scrutiny. It’s amusing to watch the press eat itself, with the exception of the Guardian which blew the lid off the whole can of worms.

Is it a coincidence that I read the Guardian? No. It’s not perfect, but my own scientific study leads me to conclude it’s the best available daily newspaper.

Let’s pass quickly through the multi-layered scandal involving cozy relationships between politicians and News International journalists, the mystery of Rebekah Brooks’ apparent invincibility, and the unconscionable behaviour of hacking a missing girl’s voicemail to not only listen to messages from increasingly concerned friends and family but also to delete them, leading to false hope she was still alive not to mention obstructing a police investigation. I’ll also skim over the fact that the same technique was applied to the victims of the 7/7 bombings. I’ll take a breath to mention that an additional allegation floating around that Rebekah Brooks called Gordon Brown shortly after the diagnosis of his son’s illness to tell him that she knew all about it already.  And I’ll just take this opportunity to cast a beady eye of disdain towards any line of argument seeking to hold one upchuck of a ‘private investigator’ solely responsible.

Let’s skip through all of that and get to the police and their non-investigation of the issue in years past despite multiple banners reading CLUE being waved at them.

Maybe they half-investigated it. Maybe they didn’t try too hard because senior officers were taking payment for feeding confidential information gleaned through their own investigations straight to News International journalists. I don’t know. I don’t have all the facts. Nobody does. Nor, I suspect, will they ever.

That doesn’t prevent me from shoving this week’s Festering Nob Award at Andy Hayman, a senior police officer in charge of a variety of things during the time these events took place.   I do so even though it’s only Wednesday.   Here is his reaction to a straightforward question from the people trying to get to the bottom of debacle:

To me, it screams Entitled Asshat Fake Affrontery. It may be that you’re leaning towards understanding his righteous indignation at such a question. Notwithstanding that it’s a question it is surely sensible to ask under the circumstances, it appears that Mr. Hayward left the Metropolitan Police in order to take up a position writing for a News International publication after harbouring a boyhood dream of journalistry.  You do not need to be a conspiracy theorist to arrive at a pretty damning negative inference based on that nugget of information.

I simultaneously want to puke and reach for the nearest copy of my other favourite news source, Private Eye.


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