Saturday, June 30, 2012

B-card RIP

Nah, it was a piece of cake. I decided to try again. Deep breath and then call. I got an intelligible and coherent rep at last. She gave me two pieces of information that enabled me to log in. Good. So now I could see how much I owe, and so I filled in the box that asked me how much I wanted to pay. The lot, believe me, the whole fricking lot.
Ah, but how to pay? It asked me to set up a Direct Debit. Don't want to do that. What's the alternative? There isn't one. No reference anywhere to an alternative such as paying by cheque or making a BACS transfer. And the FAQ section is about as much use as tits on a bull.
So, I have to make another phonecall. This time I get Abdul the Bulbul, the one who talks English with a chapatti in his mouth. I am patient. I ask for the bank's sort code and account number. A the B is baffled. He then says his machine is slow and puts me on hold (Why do they think we need that tinny music while we wait?) In the end he comes back, gives me the wrong information, but fortunately corrects himself at the last moment.
There's no doubt about it, I am on the wrong planet, but at least I can now set fire to my Barclaycard before I catch the space shuttle to Aldebaran or wherever.

One of those days.....

You win some, you lose some

I was called a couple of days ago to a Swift nest where the three nestlings were under threat. The only solution I could see was to remove them (legally, I should add) and take them to a carer for handrearing. This is a highly specialised business, but luckily I have a friend, Judith, who is one of the few people in the country with the expertise to do this. I watched as she fed and watered the nestlings, and it was a joy to see.

Shortly afterwards, I received a call from the wife of a fellow Swift enthusiast, to tell me about one of the Swift nests on their house where three nestlings had mysteriously died during the night. And I mean mysteriously, no obvious cause. All I could do, was to make sympathetic noises, but at least I had the consolation of knowing that for the three which died, another three have every chance of making it.
Funny old business, life.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Barclaycard shmarklaycard

I am so glad it's Friday as I have just cause to be grumpy. The whole saga of getting a B-card (platinum, no less) and then failing to access my online account would bore the balls off a buffalo, better you should read Beowulf in fraktur. But, being a generous fellow, I will give you the essentials.
Having failed to log in, I call the helpline. Helpline Person 1 asks all kinds of questions, and then transfers me to Helpline Person 2, Helpline Person 2 asks the same questions, then gives me some info and, when his suggestions don't work, I ring up again and have a chat with Helpline Person 3, who asks the same questions and then makes alternative suggestions.
They don't work either, so I go to the online chat facility, you know, the kind where you type in your responses to, in this case, Cedrick: "My name is Cedrick, how can I help you?". After a series of interchanges, I realise that Cedrick is a robot, programmed only to tell me "I'm sorry to hear that", "I don't have the information, you need so please phone [helpline numbers that I suffered from earlier]".
At this point, I ask him for a statement of account, so that I can pay what I owe and then cut up and ceremonially burn my Barclaycard. At which point, the robot whirrs and says "Your account has been blocked. You need to phone [another helpline number]."
I was sorry to hear that.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Pearls from the French courts

Ce qui suit provient d'un livre intitulé "Désordre dans les Cours de justice"
et a vraiment été dit en Cour, mot pour mot.

AVOCAT : Le plus jeune garçon, celui de 20 ans, quel âge a-t-il ?
TÉMOIN : Vingt, comme votre quotient intellectuel.
AVOCAT : Donc, la date de conception (du bébé) est le 8 août ?
AVOCAT : Et que faisiez-vous à ce moment-là ?
TÉMOIN : Je baisais.
AVOCAT : Elle avait trois enfants, c'est exact ?
AVOCAT : Combien étaient des garçons ?
TÉMOIN : Aucun.
AVOCAT : Y avait-il des filles ?
TÉMOIN : Monsieur le Juge, je pense que j'ai besoin d'un autre avocat. Est-ce que je peux avoir un autre AVOCAT ?
AVOCAT : Comment votre premier mariage s'est-il terminé ?
TÉMOIN : Par le décès.
AVOCAT : Et, par le décès de qui s'est-il terminé ?
TÉMOIN : Devinez.
AVOCAT : Pouvez-vous décrire l'individu ?
TÉMOIN : De grandeur moyenne, avec une barbe.
AVOCAT : Était-ce un homme ou une femme ?
TÉMOIN : À moins que le cirque fût en ville, je vais dire un homme.
AVOCAT : Docteur, combien de vos autopsies avez-vous faites sur des personnes mortes ?
TÉMOIN : Toutes. Les vivants se débattent trop.
AVOCAT : Vous souvenez-vous de l'heure où vous avez examiné le corps ?
TÉMOIN : L'autopsie a débuté vers 20 h 30.
AVOCAT : Et M. Denton était mort à cette heure ?
TÉMOIN : En tout cas, il l'était quand j'ai fini.
AVOCAT : Êtes-vous qualifié pour un prélèvement d'urine ?
TÉMOIN : Êtes-vous qualifié pour poser cette question ?
Et le meilleur pour la fin :
AVOCAT : Docteur, avant de procéder à l'autopsie, avez-vous vérifié le pouls ?
AVOCAT : Avez-vous vérifié la pression sanguine ?
AVOCAT : Avez-vous vérifié la respiration ?
AVOCAT : Alors, il est possible que le patient fût vivant lorsque vous avez commencé l'autopsie ?
AVOCAT : Comment pouvez-vous en être si sûr, Docteur ?
TÉMOIN : Parce que son cerveau était dans un bocal sur mon bureau.
AVOCAT : Je vois. Mais, est-ce que le patient ne pouvait pas être quand même encore en vie ?
TÉMOIN : Oui, c'est possible qu'il soit en vie et fasse le métier d'avocat.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Herring Aid

In my Remind-Me Calendar, the entry for 02 July reads: 0090 Hering Test. I just noticed the orthographical oddity, and for a second my brain automatically corrected it to 0900 Herring Test. I like the idea of being fitted with the NHS equivalent of a Babel Fish, a device which will enable me to translate the many utterances that nowadays don't really make sense. For example

"A hosepipe ban is in force in East Anglia" -this during the wettest Spring since records began;

"Why do you need that test, I've never even heard of it" - this from the practice nurse at the Surgery (the test is an indicator of incipient cancers of the pancreas, etc and recommended by my doctor in Ankara);  

"Sorry, we can't balance your alloy wheels at this garage, it requires special equipment", which I interrpret to mean "Piss off, you and your ageing Nissan aren't worth bothering with".

Once I get my new Herring Aid, I shall KNOW what it all means! And, as a bonus, I might also catch a lot more of what people are saying to me and, if I can recover the higher frequencies, also be able to hear Goldcrests and Willow Warbler song and the chirping of bushcrickets again.
Mind you, I shall continue to use subtitles for American movies - my impression is that even the Yanks no longer understand what they are saying, rather like Little Jim in Eccles' boot.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Gentleman caller

My mother had a niece called Freda. Freda was a good person, but ungainly and unlovely. She worked with animals, so also had a certain ripeness about her. Not surprisingly, she remained a spinster. I think she was in her early sixties when my mother told me, in suitably hushed tone: “Your cousin Freda has a gentleman caller!” Even in hushed tone, the exclamation mark was unmistakeable.
It was the first – and, as it turned out – the only time I ever heard the expression “gentleman caller”. Apparently he was relatively elderly, and used to take Freda out for tea and cakes, or walks in the country, or.... Or? It didn't really sound like a case of late-flowering lust to me, though my mother suggested that they might be “sparking”, another Edwardian term that has since been replaced by less delicate words.
Why am I telling you this? Because, anxious to know whether romance had once more visited my daughter, I asked her if she had a new “gentleman caller” in her life. I am pleased to say that she didn't tell me to mind my own business, she said yes to my question, and, best of all, had no problem with the expression that my mother had used about cousin Freda all those years ago. No doubt she and her new man are sparking, but I am much too discreet to even think about it.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Two Worlds Cracking Up

This piece by Thomas L Friedman of the New York Times is the most incisive analysis of the crises in Europe and in the Arab world that I have seen. 

For many years, strategists have debated whether Turkey would be a “bridge” or a “gully” between predominantly Christian Europe and the Arab/Muslim Middle East. If Turkey were admitted to the European Union, it would be a bridge binding these two worlds. If it were kept out of the E.U., it could become a gully separating the two. It turns out that Turkey these days is neither a bridge nor a gully. It’s an island — an island of relative stability between two great geopolitical systems that are cracking apart: the euro zone that came into being after the cold war, and the Arab state system that came into being after World War I are both coming unglued.
The stresses are getting to everyone. The reactions range from the truly horrific murders perpetrated by the Assad mafia family clinging to power in Syria to the disturbing fight that broke out last Thursday on a morning TV talk show in Greece, where the spokesman of a far-right party tossed water in the face of a woman from the left-wing party on the show and then smacked another woman panelist in the face three times.
The island of Turkey has become one of the best places to observe both these worlds. To the east, you see the European Monetary Union buckling under the weight of its own hubris — leaders who reached too far in forging a common currency without the common governance to sustain it. And, to the south, you see the Arab League crumbling under the weight of its own decay — leaders who never reached at all for the decent governance and modern education required to thrive in the age of globalization.
Europeans failed to build Europe, and that is now a big problem because, as its common currency comes under pressure and the E.U. goes deeper into recession, the whole world feels the effects. The Syrians failed to build Syria, the Egyptians failed to build Egypt, the Libyans failed to build Libya, the Yemenis failed to build Yemen. Those are even bigger problems because, as their states have been stressed or fractured, no one knows how they’ll be put back together again.
To put it another way: In Europe, the supranational project did not work, and now, to a degree, Europe is falling back into individual states. In the Arab world, the national project did not work, so some of the Arab states are falling back onto sects, tribes, regions and clans.
In Europe, the supranational project did not work because the European states were never ready to cede control over their budgets to a central authority that would ensure a common fiscal policy to back up a common currency.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

What's in a name?

The reading for this coming Wednesday's Mass is from the Book of Kings, and I think they are going to ask me to read it. It's the account of Elijah challenging the Baal-worshippers. How, methought, the devil do you pronounce "Baal"?
 In Hebrew it is represented by the three characters: בעל - BET AYIN LAMED - (AYIN being a sort of glottal stop), giving [1] /BAH' L/, though the ayin is often ignored by those not aware of its existence in the word [2]. The anglicised (originally Lutheran?) version of Baal rhymes with “hail” [3], though some add a weak /ə/ (schwa) to darken the L [4].

[1] BAH-ahl /'bɑːɑːl/
[2] BAHL /'bɑːl/
[3] BAYL /'beɪl/
[4] BAY-uhl /'beɪəl/
I prefer the Hebrew pronunciation, but that leads to inconsistency, eg, if BA'AL is to be pronounced in the Hebrew way, then surely Elijah (which we pronounce to rhyme with “oblige-a”) should really be Eliyahu (Hebrew אֱלִיָּהוּ, as I am sure you all know . So, much I'd love to show off by pronouncing Baal in the Hebrew manner, I'd better not. Don't want old Luther turning in his urn, do we?

Thursday, June 07, 2012


Here's a puzzle for those of you who are trying to keep the Alzheimer's at bay. What do the following refer to? NW KARAYEL N YILDIZ NE POYRAZ SW LODOS S GİBLE SE KEŞİŞLEME W GÜNBATISI Clue: I didn't know about any of this till I went to the Turkish Aegean coast.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Ageing but still not withering

Well, mes chers potes, I made it to another birthday. What I find moving is all the bunting and flags that people have put out..... Quite humbling.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Philipp Jakob Cretzschmar. (1786 – 1845)

Did you know that Cretzschmar was a German physician? He was born at Sulzbach and studied medicine at the University of Würzburg. He taught anatomy and zoology at the Senckenberg Medical Institute of Frankfurt. No, I don't care either. It's just that I saw a pair of Cretzschmar's Buntings while I was holidaying on the Aegean. The male in particular is much prettier - and easier to cope with - than his name. It's not a common bird, apparently, not as common as, say, Ortolan Bunting, which despite a lot of searching I did not manage to see or hear. But that's birding for you.