the brilliantly leaping gazelle

The misanthrope’s advent calendar – day 6

 

One thing I hate about christmas – and there are many – is having pretending to children that Santa Claus exists.

This was something I’d managed to avoid for most of my adult life, by the rather cunning ruse of not having children. But now I share a house with a couple who have a delightfully excitable daughter, who, a couple of weeks ago, sat down noisily on the sofa next to me, arms folded and a face like thunder.

Being highly perceptive, I at once deduced that something was amiss and enquired what it was. “They haven’t posted my letter to Santa yet and he won’t know what I want. ” She paused. “And they haven’t addressed it properly, so he’ll never get it, and anyway, he doesn’t exist because a boy at school told me.” This pronouncement was accompanied with facial expression that clearly indicated an immediate rebuttal of this was required. Again with the perception! Sheldon would be so proud!

Much like naked Twister, this put me in a difficult position; on the one hand, I didn’t want to lie to her, but on the other, there in front of me was her beseechingly pleading face. What was the more important consideration in that moment?

Of course I could’ve said, “ Actually, he doesn’t exist, it’s your parents who buy all the presents, they just get you to write Santa a letter so they know what to get you. It’s a tough lesson I know but you’ll thank me one day. Probably not right now though.”

But then that would’ve been me merely channeling my childhood skepticism about Santa onto her. Even though as a child I had no idea what skepticism was, I never believed in Santa. Even then I knew it was my parents. The logic and reason of that were contained in the poorly wrapped offerings under the artificial tree were proof. I mean, would Santa give an eight-year-old boy a pair of socks?

So instead I said, “ Well only a few know exactly where he lives, but if they address it to Santa Claus, North Pole then the post people there send it to the post people in Greenland and they send it on to a remote village near the Arctic Circle and the postmen there know where Santa lives and they give him his mail. That’s what I heard.”

I was tempted to add, “But who do you believe, me or a boy at your school?

But then, if her parents hadn’t left the letter lying about in the first place, the whole farrago could’ve been avoided.

The misanthrope’s advent calendar – day 5

One of the things I hate about Christmas – and there are many – is the way in which television over the Christmas period has become so unutterably bad, it’s almost as if the commercial broadcasters have given up. It was never like this when I was a boy; I’d flick through the Christmas Radio Times, marker pen expectantly hovering over the page to circle things I’d want to watch. Everyone in my family did, knowing even as we did so, we’d never watch most of them. The main thing was to optimistically imagine that you might, until unexpected visitors and dutiful visits got in the way. Even now I can fondly recall buying packs of three-hour blank videotapes because there was just so much good stuff on. It was as if they’d been holding back the good stuff – rather like a host serving cheap wine until the liggers and relatives they never see have gone and then gets the good stuff out. And quite often BBC2 would show a season of films, over consecutive nights featuring a body of work by an actor or director. One year they did a season of Basil Rathbone’s ‘Sherlock Holmes’ films, another they did a season of Billy Wilder films. And let us not forget the Christmas specials!

But that, alas was long ago in my youth, when the christmas Radio Times was thinner on account of there being only four channels. That was when we had the Christmas edition of ‘Top of the Pops on at 2pm on BBC1 on christmas day, before a Bond film at 3.10 over on ITV!

That was before satellite television and the opening up of the market, to give us, the viewer, even more choice. My annual christmas ITV rant, is I like to think – but those who hear it may not agree – a considered yet restrained critique of ITV and other broadcasters who lay in the pages beyond the listings for big four (and Channel 5). One of my themes is that as advertising revenues have become so diffused – many more get a slice of a shrinking pie – less money is spent on original programming. Look at ITV’s line up for Christmas day. It’s almost as if they’re in cahoots with Amazon Prime, Netflix, and oh dear, don’t get me started…!

The misanthrope’s advent calendar – day 4

And another thing that annoys me about chistmas – and there are a lot – is mistletoe.

Or rather, being kissed under the mistletoe.

Oh alright then, the real reason why I don’t like mistletoe is because those slightly awkward teenage snogs everyone had under the mistletoe?

They always happened to other people. I mean presumably I could if I’d’ve wanted to, at parties where alcohol helped loosen more than tongues but even as a teenager, it was an unshakeable belief with me – and trust me, my belief did a lot of shaking! –  that teenage girls, or a tad older than me, were just as clueless about  things as I was. By the time I was in my twenties the damage had been done. I blame my parents for this, because they had deeply unattractive female fiends, some of them looked more like Edward G Robinson than Mrs. Robinson! – as a hormonal teenager I could only imagine of the fleshy pleasures Benjamin enjoyed – and who had given their daughters an unfortunate genetic inheritance; I was a hormonal teenager, and as hormonal male teenagers are wont to do, I wasn’t always thinking with my brain. Not something I had much control over,  I blame evolution!

Naturally, I was as fine a figure of manhood then as indeed I am now.

So how was it that my bells were never jingled?

The misanthrope’s advent calendar – day 3

And another thing that annoys me about chistmas – and there are a lot – are Christmas cards.

It is my custom to make homemade christmas cards not because I believe in any religion – it’s just fairy stories for grown ups – but more so that when someone gives me a christmas card I don’t look like a bellend and give them nothing back. My reasoning is that I’ll give cards at christmas, but on my terms, and as I am an atheist and because most all of the atheist christmas cards I can find on the web are either on the crude and vulgar spectrum, or not good really so I make my own. Well, it makes sense to me, but not, however, to a relative of my partner my who finds them offensive. This, I might add, for no other reason that I find it a constant source of amusement, is a women who keeps a Geiger Counter in her house. To anyone who doesn’t know what a Geiger counter is, it isn’t something that measures how fashionable you are, but rather something to measure how radioactive or not something is. So the temptation for me to send her a present from the gift shop at Sellafield is overwhelming, aside from the small fact that as a nuclear power station, it doesn’t have a gift shop.

Anyway, the point is that I am an atheist. Everyone I know knows this. I make no secret of it. So therefore it follows that people who send me christmas cards with depictions of religious imagery on them are causing me deliberate offence?

 

 

The misanthrope’s advent calendar – day 2

 Another one of the many things that annoy me about Christmas – and believe me there are many – is the way in which Scrooge in Dickens’s ‘A Christmas Carol’ is portrayed as a mean spited cantankerous misanthrope, who is made to see the error of his ways and immediately resolves to be a kinder, nicer person.

Scrooge can be seen as proof of the redemptive effect of Christmas on even those thought beyond redemption, a belief that chimes perfectly with a Christian narrative that every sinner, no matter how full of sin he might be, is capable – though gods help of course – of salvation! Or he could just be terrified into being something he isn’t.

I mean Scrooge is a mean spirited cantankerous misanthrope, but that’s precisely why I think he’s so great! Much like Basil Fawlty, one wouldn’t want to be in their company for long, but as a character who entertains, well really!

Anyone in those times who’d lived that long and was engaged in the business he was and wasn’t a mean spirited cantankerous misanthrope was clearly a demented wrongcock of the first order. My sympathy for Scrooge is in no way related to the fact, uncharitably repeated by my partner, that I bear an uncanny resemblance to Jim Carey’s portrayal of Scrooge in Robert Zemeckis’s film adaptation of “A Christmas Carol’

Yes, granted, it has been pointed out by others that as cartilage continues to grow as one gets older and as the nose is mage up of cartilage and being how my chin has a rather unfortunate Bruce Forsyth thing going on, my chin and my nose are going to meet at some point. My brother hasn’t been the only person to try and squeeze them both together to work out what I’d look like if they did.

So much so, in fact that someone has even had the temerity to suggest that I could work as a children’s entertainer on beaches impersonating Mr. Punch!

I would’ve included an image of Carey as Scrooge to illustrate the point, but as a gesture Scrooge himself would’ve approved of, I couldn’t find free images, so I didn’t.

A misanthrope’s advent calendar – day 1

One of the many things that annoy me about Christmas – and there are many, some of which I’ll share with you in the coming days – is the way which people behave as if Christmas is some sort of surprise, something that sneaks up on them, and catches them unawares. As opposed to what it actually is; something that happens every year, at the same time, long before they were born, each year they’ll be alive and will continue long after they’re dead. And it’s not as if there isn’t any advance warning either! In what universe are people who say christmas crept up on them living? Maybe christmas is the killer in a slasher film and someone in the remote cabin has heard noise in the forest and has gone to explore? Or maybe they’re as stupid as people who say variations on ‘christmas came around fast this year’, as if there’s some kind of calendar accelerator.

It’s almost as if there’s a monthly global type lottery to establish if this will be the month to host Christmas; each draw takes place on the first day of the months and starts with two balls, a ‘yes’ and a ‘no’ ball too determine if Christmas is to take place this month.

If the ‘no’ ball is drawn, then it’s a rollover until the next month until a ‘yes’ is drawn and then all the days in that month, starting from the fifteenth to end of it, are entered into the draw and whichever is pulled, then that’s christmas day. There would of course be a gap between chistmas’s; the draws for the next one would start six months after the last one.

Each country could have their own draw!

Wouldn’t that be fun! Imagine the nervousness of retailers, as they’d have to be permantley prepared for Christmas to be revealed! The anxiety they’d feel would be surpassed only by the frenzied mayhem of consumers in an increasingly panicked state, fearful of supermarket shelves not being super, their presents not being that presentable.

Or maybe, just maybe, most people wouldn’t care, would just go on with their daily routine and carry on as normal.

Here’s my favourite Christmas joke:

Why does Santa have a bulging red sack?

Because Christmas only comes once a year!

It’s the Christmas Day catwalk…

After opening the presents – a good haul this year – I went out for a walk here in Southwold where I’m spending Christmas. Possibly because of the fact of me being woken at 5.30am by the next door neighbours alarm, possibly because of me me having had pretty much a whole bottle of champagne the night before and going to bed at 2am, possibly a combination of the two might have resulted in in my interpretation of what befouled my eyes on the walk  being more caustic than it might otherwise have been.

Because everywhere I looked there seemed to be people wearing presents they’d just opened. Clothes that were obviously having their first public outing, footwear that carefully avoided puddles or mud, and this is the important bit, the wearers trying to brazenly pretend that their not showing off their new gear. Any notion of colour co-ordnation is gone – if it’s been opened on Christmas Day it’s worn it seems.

And me being where I am, the amount of not so old men wearing red corduroy trousers and mustard colour socks was breathtaking. As were teenagers looking cool by wearing the latest tech gear – the EarBuds seemed especially prevalent – and men who should’ve known better trying to look cool but who had reached that level of financial comfort that they can actually afford the tech. Brands abounded, probably worn by bounders.

And this brings me onto my final gripe and it’s a perennial one. The sales start tomorrow, so what is the point of buying something at a more expensive price simply for the sake of it being opened on one day and not the next. This makes no sense to me, but I guess it’s how capitalism works, convincing us to buy something at one price, only to sell to us the same item at a lower price the next. Why people don’t give a card saying ‘This is what I’m to buy you in the sales’ bearing a ‘photo of said item,  I don’t know.

As for the women, well in this post Weinstein world we live I don’t think it wise for me to comment on them and….ooh is that the sound of a bottle of champagne being opened? It was! Duty calls…

 

Don’t eat the yellow snow…

CS

One of the many great things about snow is that it helps one find one’s inner child. Admittedly, for some this search may be longer than it is for others, whilst for some it is a hopeless search. And then there are the wretched people who don’t bother to search at all, wretched on account of the fact that they experienced their own childhood as a necessary but tedious part the journey to becoming an adult.

You know, the sort of people who, when they open the curtains first thing in the morning and see a blanket of thick snow say with a sigh, “Well you know this will cause major problems for my journey into work.” Not “Great! A day off work! Fantastic! Lets get out in it!”

To have a snowball fight. Go sledging. Proper sledging, not the cricketing kind. And are wise enough not to eat the yellow snow! The sort of people who want it to keep snowing, so they can have more fun for longer. I can hear them now, laughing excitedly at sheer enjoyment of it all.

When on thinks about how comparatively easily bits of country grind to a halt – transport and utilities – and how the news would have us believe that stories of people just getting on with it are instead somehow brave, you wonder if this country ever faced a real disaster, not a media one.

The boogie must be breathing a sigh of relief, because given how some people lay the blame for everything on the decision to leave European Union, I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest if Guardian readers manage by some twisted logic to blame the disruption caused by the snow on Brexit.

 

 

 

Everything is about class, isn’t it…?

web-cartland-pa

They say that travel broadens the mind.

Well that’s certainly true in my case, as a few days ago  I travelled to Chichester to see a play, and discovered yet more things to befoul my eyes and cause general botheration.

It seems that what I consider 1st Class to be and what Southern Railways consider 1st Class to be differ wildly. I’m not fool enough to delude myself into thinking it was going to be the sort of  1st Class that Hercule Poirot would not find out of place, but even though my hopes weren’t high, they sunk when I saw what I’d paid for. 1st Class consisted of a cover on the headrest with ‘First Class’ emblazoned on it. That was it. If there was any difference in the amount of legroom, or the comfort of the seats, or something, anything to set it apart from Standard class and therefore justify the premium paid, it was imperceptible.

I know that for some of your reading this, the very idea of their being any class system of whatever hue has no place whatsoever in a modern society, especially one that can be purchased. And I would agree with you, any class system is as outdated as it is divisive…but, and there is a but. My socialist principles – and those that know me may laugh at the very notion of me having any principles whatsoever – suddenly disappear in a Standard Class train carriage.

People using the free minutes that the mobile ‘phone tariff gives them declaiming loudly,  at length and within earshot, and as soon as one candidate for brain cancer has finished, another one who been biding their time starts. Or people who when finished doing the above bray loudly to an equally annoying companion about something I find tedious yet for some wholly inexplicable reason they find to be a source of inexhaustible discussion. Children, whose parents imagine themselves to be the sort of parents who don’t agree with what they see as the rigid orthodoxy of well mannered children which also just happens by good fortune to allow them to abdicate responsibility when it suits them. The fruit of their loins isn’t rotten; no it’s just ripening differently.  Other people, it seems to me, are better with the volume turned off.

And there was no refreshment available on the train either, so that when we got to Chichester, we repaired at once to the tea-rooms at the Cathedral – the look of other places wasn’t right for some unexplained but nonetheless self-explanatory reason – and had some tea. Well I write tea, inasmuch as it was to tea what homeopathy is to medicine, a poor imitation that costs more. If the tea was bad – and it was – then it was as nothing to what was befouling my nose. I’ve never smelt old ladies perfume before, but if I had of done, the person behind me would have bought those memories flooding back. It was how I imagine Barbara Cartland would smell, a cloyingly sickly smell, one that all the subtlety of a punch in the face.

Incidentally, the play was excellent.

Are banks inadvertently colluding with online fraud…?

BS

Until a few hours ago, I had never even thought this a possibility, but now however, I’m not so sure. Let me explain why.

A couple of weeks ago I had an event to attend, which meant me wearing a suit and consequently trainers. The trainers I wanted were not easy to find online, but eventually I found them and bought two pairs of them. My doubts regarding this purchase grew with every passing minute I didn’t get an email confirming my order. Too late I checked and realized there was only an email contact form. I’d been scammed.

Within the hour, I asked my partner to ‘phone my bank. You’d think that a bank would want to make reporting suspected fraud as easy as possible for the customer. Think again. After putting in my details to the automated service, she was told that her call was important to them and would be answered shortly. If it was answered shortly, curtly or dismissively, I don’t think she have minded too much after ten minutes holding for a human voice that didn’t materialize. I mean, if you are already worried about fraud and you think that as you wait that your bank account is being siphoned away – that literally time is money – the last thing you want to do is to put in the very details that a fraudster would need to do that into an automated whatever only to be put on hold. Yeah that helps reduce your anxiety levels!

My partner ends the call and tries another number that the bank encourages you to call if you suspect any fraudulent activity. Same thing as above. Details and hold. And more hold. Eventually someone answered. Eureka! Once again details are given – not doing anything to allay my mounting paranoia – and eventually details of the suspected fraud is given. This takes a while and he confirms that yes the payment has gone out. To somewhere in China! A freeze is put on the card that used immediately to prevent any more activity and he arranges for a new one to be sent out. A text confirming that this has been done arrives a minute later and is the first piece of good news in this whole sorry episode. But he also says that if the trainers don’t arrive, to get back in touch with the bank to sort out a refund. So a happy ending then?

No. Because this isn’t a fairy tale

Earlier today my partner calls the bank. Same thing, details and hold. And more hold. Eventually someone answers. And asks for details, the details which the bank has already been given and which should be on a screen right in front of him. But no. Despite banks and others banging on about how your calls are recorded for this and that, her call was not, it seems recorded and the only information he has was that a new card was requested.

So the whole rigmarole begins anew. He can’t find any details regarding the affair. My partner is, understandably, beginning to lose her cool at this point. I don’t blame her. If it weren’t for my speech impediment, I’d be calling into question his both his legitimacy and carnal relationship with his mother. Her call is as labourious as it is unproductive. But he transfers us to another department. More hold. And more hold.

Eventually I ask my partner to hang up and give her an ‘0207’ number to call. Ostensibly this is a number to call from abroad, but I figure, ‘what the f-‘ Eventually this too is answered. But not by a human. Details have to be given first. Then more hold. Then a human. But first I have to answer some security questions, most of which anyone posing as me would know. And then she asks me in what month and year did I open the account I’m calling about. ‘Seriously ‘I exclaim, ‘that was over two decades ago, how do you expect me to answer that!’ She admits rather sheepishly that she couldn’t. But my partner is allowed to speak on my behalf. She explains again the situation and what led us to talking to her. Then she explains that this isn’t the right number we need to call, the right number is inexplicably not publically available and we should call this number in the early evening when it’ll be easier to get through.

So that’s the current state of play. And I can’t help but think that if banks want more of us to switch to online banking, they might possibly want to put in place fast and effective fraud resolution systems to give their customers some confidence. Not just say they’re doing it, but actually do it. But then my bank has cut 57,000 jobs in the last few years and like an increasing amount of companies uses automated switchboards and has websites that rarely give out direct numbers. This is efficient apparently, only not that efficient if you want to speak to someone, but efficient if you’re a shareholder in said company. This a gripe shared by others, raking in money from putting callers on hold or charging them for using mobiles. Nor can I forget the nearly £21 billion that we, the taxpayer, paid to pull my bank out of a hole they’d dug themselves into. If only the taxpayer had put them on hold!