Google+ Followers

Monday, 23 November 2015

The Wicker Man

As you all will know I go to the theatre quite a lot. It's's certainly cheaper than going to a shrink. Me and me mate Roger usually dash along to the National, The Old and New Vic and the Barbican to see the latest in London theatre's rep.

A couple of weeks ago you'd find us at the Old Vic wondering what all the fuss was about Eugene O"Neill's "Hairy Ape". It may well have been bloody fantastic in the New York of the 1920's but for this Millenium Londoner it was....a great disappointment.

Unlike the RSC's "Henry V" at the Barbican. Last week I was transported to France, I was captured by the man Harry. The comedy was wonderful and the love scenes, so authentic. Tom Stoppard: there's a new kid on the block and that's WS.

Yet all this high culture is a mere distraction. Last week our neighbours and one of our best friends upped roots and moved to Cornwall. They've moved to Poundstone, near Bude. Not to be confused with Poundland, Poundstretcher or the 99p Shop. They have none of those in walking distance: unlike Walthamstow.

To be honest I thought they'd never move. In my waters I felt that they'd realise the folly of their ways and pull out. But no, last Tuesday, a tearful farewell saw them and their lovely dog Lottie head west. Regular updates since then have confirmed in my mind at least that they and the American pioneers have much in common. To be sure there are  no Injuns at the front door but not being able to sleep because it's so dark and quiet sounds like a bit like "The Searchers". We learn, however, that there's miles of beach and acres of grass and a local restaurant with the best fish and chips ever. The hake fly into the fryer: literally.

We will, of course, be visiting them in the Western Isles. Along with Frodo, Bilbo and Gandalf and all that was best in Middle Earth. adventure on Saturday doesn't bode well.

Saturday morning at 8 am  saw us heading for Kingston Vale, a few miles outside of Kingston upon Thames. The missus and her partner were running a workshop for the Kingston Embroidery Guild in the local church hall: I was the driver. After a faultless journey via the North Circular, that tourniquet around the throat of north London, we arrived half an hour too early and had to hang around until the hall was opened. We set up the room and the ladies arrived, and I had six hours to kill from 10:30 am to 4:30 pm.

I could have got in the car and driven somewhere - there are loads of interesting places - but I decided to go into Kingston and shop. My original plan formulated in Walthamstow was to take the local bus using my Freedom Pass - except I forgot to bring it. Instead I decided on walking into Kingston - it shouldn't be that difficult, I had Google Maps on my phone.

Off I set purposefully. Except Google Maps was telling me to go in another direction. So I ignored it. After half an hour I had completed a near circle, but wound up at a bus stop. The bus journey was eventful. For the first time I used my debit card - frightening not knowing how much the journey would cost. It was a relief to recognise the road where the church hall was since I knew I was heading now in the right direction.

After 20 minutes I  arrived in Kingston...and headed for John Lewis. I took in a deep breath as I entered its portals - home. All the familiar smells, all the Mieles, the Boschs and AEGs, the Tom Fords, Clinques and Samsung and Sony TVs along with the Apple concession. Since it was just like the one in Oxford Street but populated with "river" people I left soon after I arrived and hurried into Bentalls. This was once a majestic department store. No more: what's left is shrunken to a small area of what is now a Mall. Looking like any other Mall across the country. Each level having the same mix of shops as every other level in every other Mall across the Universe.

I went into HMV: which I thought had died and bought two DVDs. "This Island Earth" a super 1955 sci fi and " 2001: A Space Odyssses": the greatest sci fi film of all time. Having been depressed by the consumer experience I decided to walk back to Kingston Vale.

My sat nav pointed me in the direction, but this time I checked the street signs to make sure and I set off confident that I knew where I was heading. I hadn't eaten since 7 am and by 1 pm I was getting peckish so sought out a pub. "Fish and chips". Fond memories of long walks with my neighbour Gregg, now in Cornwall, and a lunch time break at a small pub and fish and chips. Unfortunately this time the fish and chips were out of a freezer pack and ironed in the oven. That and a huge TV screen showing Watford against Man U completed my meal time.

I walked on up and up and up past a hotel I'd stayed at in 1987, planning on a dirty weekend that never happened. Then down, down, down until I happened upon Dorich House. It was the home of sculptor Dora Gordine and her hubby Richard Hare and built in 1936, providing studios, a gallary and study  as well as a home. It was abandoned in the 1970's became a squat and was rescued in the early 1990's by Kingston University. And there it was: in all its restored glory. It is magnificent - a gem. If you're in the neighbourhood do drop in and spend a few pounds to help keep it going. 

Anyway, after that detour I arrived back at the church hall as the ladies of Kingston Embroidery Guild were packing up.

On the way home I decided since London was such a big place I didn't need to use my sat nav so we missed the turning which would have taken us onto the North Circular and home. After circumnavigating Clapham Common at least twice (there was a major road closure) we arrived home 2 1/2 hours later.

I'd love to visit our friends in Poundland Poundstock, but I'm fearful that we might find ourselves at the other end of the country sat nav or no.

Friday, 13 November 2015

Grand Theft Auto VI

Another excitement filled week this week.

It began, as is increasingly frequent, with a ferocious attack on my face with my razor. The unequal contest between cold steel and my old, yet unlined, face invariably ends in a blood dripping nose or chin. The nose unfortunately gets in way of the blade as I attempt to cut away the stubble that stubbornly grows in the nostril opening. Despite my efforts, no matter how precise and careful I might be I snick the tip of my nose opening a torrent of blood letting that turns my exotically perfumed bath water pink. 

I leave the bathroom, my still unlined face dotted with small rectangular patches of pinkish loo paper.

Wednesday, being a day of some importance, saw me unshaven. 

I don't know about you but the sight of a inexpertly shaved Hale and Pace suggests early onset Alzheimer's or something worse. 

Given the significance of the appointment, I pulled out my one and only Paul Smith shirt, purchased during their Convent Garden winter sale when I had more money than sense. I chose a pair of charcoal black strides, fashionably cut to suggest chic but to hide my stomach. On my feet a pair of sophisticated pointed City shoes - hinting at wealth and experience coupled with financial acuity.

I had thought of wearing a toned down hipster ensemble. Pale slim cut, hip hugging, buttoned up jeans, a white shirt and black Hush Puppies: but given the event I thought something City slick might be more effective.  

I slipped into my black Vauxhall Astra, 1.7 CDTi and melted into the traffic on the North Circular. I was heading for St Albans. I was late, but not so late. I called my contact  but no reply. I thought maybe they'd been kidnapped or possibly slept in. Foot to the floor I hammered up the A406 and onto the M10, before hanging a left and screaming onto the M25....

Luckily, for once, I was heading in the right direction: west. The traffic was heavy, but I got myself onto the outside lane and stayed there...much to the annoyance of the extremely large German cars sitting on my tail. The speed limit is 70 mph. I was at the limit and no one should be going any's against the law. 

The exit for St Albans hoved into view. I'd been there countless times...but still get confused at the first roundabout. If I wasn't careful, in no time I'd find myself back on the M25 heading for Stanstead. This time I found the correct exit and then fortunately did not mistakenly head for Ayletts Nurseries. Whilst extremely diverting, I would be quite a way from my intended destination.

After a few minutes drive I found myself parking outside an imposing house in the better part of St Albans ( Yes, since you ask they do exist!). I'd broken my journey to buy the lady of the house a large bunch of flowers: she'd recently been through Hell and survived.

My old time friend filled me in. Our appointment was at 2 pm, it was across town and on the way he had to make a drop. We had just enough time to discuss what vegetables he might grow in the allotment at the end of the garden and whether muted pinks would work as an overall theme for his take on the Stow Gardens in Buckinghamshire. 

We took his car, an ancient jalopy that had seen better days: a 2005 Astra treated like an old war horse. She needed to be put down and we were the ones to do it.

The Vauxhall dealer was a very nice young man. My friend had pre-booked a test drive in one of the latest Astras: an SRi - all gadgets and poke. For some reason I had to pretend that I was also interested in buying a new car. I asked all the right questions - did it have an electronic hand brake and ambient lighting - all of which I liked in the earlier model. "No", I was told, but I could do wonders with my iPhone, and with Vauxhall's car park in the Cloud, should I have an accident or lose my contactless key, they'd be with me in a jiffy.

And so to the test drive. There in the court yard was this very red, very mean machine. We got in, the salesman fired her up and took us for a spin - round the delightful starter home estates that blight St Albans. Then it was my mate's turn to see what this monster could deliver. He didn't do one right hand turn - left, left and left. As we were hammering up the streets of outer St Albans we learnt that this machine had mega sat nav, mega driving assistance, DAB radio and wi-fi. It wasn't a car: it was a technological wonder...slowly trundling around the nondescript streets of Hertfordshire.  

The car stopped, panting and we changed drivers. I was at the steering wheel and she was keen to show me her paces. After a slight hiccup - with 6 forward gears reverse is where 1st is on my Astra - we headed off down the road, left, left, left...I turned..left..and..left again. I was so shocked when I was told to turn right I nearly stalled the car on the roundabout. I drove us back to the dealership and parked. At which point I asked about the self parking options since I'd managed to straddle two parking bays. 

Then down to hard bargaining. Except with 5 years' interest free credit, no deposit and an 8% discount if you or any of your relatives were  members of the human race, there was little to bargain. I forgot to ask what happened if you paid cash up front.

£18k to £19k is a lot of money: especially if you only do 2000 miles a year. My friend is keen to replace his car as is his wife. They have this huge house, fully done up with a new drive and double garage and one very nice newish car and my mate's well used car. It doesn't add to the curb appeal. 

However, in the circs I'd keep my mate's car in the garage and only bring it out after dark. And possibly buy an inflatable model of a Merc or Audi to fool the neighbours.

Next week, I'm off to Buxton to buy a house....or not

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Wall Street

In September 2014, after a long illness a neighbour died.

His widow had had nothing to do with the family finances. She had no idea that he had some £60,000 in his bank accounts.

He left no will.

The deceased had befriended a drifter who, after a while, would crash out in their house; borrow money and make himself quite unpleasant.

The widow was intimidated by this young man: he'd arrive late at night and she'd let him in along with his girl friend. He was rowdy, so much so that neighbours alerted the police. At length the police visited her and they provided secure locks and an automatic door light so she could see through the fitted spy hole who was there.

The drifter's girl friend stole the widow's cash.

Our neighbour, before he died, was in hospital for months. When he went home a few weeks before he died he could not leave his house.

After he death it was found that during his time in hospital and at home, over £3000 had been withdrawn from his account. It was withdrawn from cash points late at night and at sites a few miles from where our neighbour lived. He would not have been able to make those withdrawals.

The suspicion was that the drifter had got hold of the cash card and pin number from our neighbour's wife and used those to fraudulently withdraw money. On another occasion the wife had given him money to pay a bill - he didn't.

The theft was reported to the police, Barclays Bank - that was the neighbour's bank - were  notified. The bank provided the police with details of the withdrawals: it was obvious that our neighbour couldn't have made the withdrawals.

The pattern and timing of the withdrawals were so out of character that they should have been picked up by the bank.

The bank appeared to recognise this because the £3000 was credited back to our neighbour's account.

The drifter was subsequently charged and found guilty of theft.

Probate rambled on. Finally the widow received details of the monies her husband had left in his bank account.

It was clear that £3000 had been withdrawn from one of the accounts after his death and after his accounts have been frozen.

A letter to Barclays followed asking what was this withdrawal. It turned out that Barclays had reclaimed that £3,000.

The reason they gave was that they'd written to the widow soon after her husband's but since she had not replied to their letter they had automatically reclaimed the money.

Barclays knew of his death. Barclays had closed his accounts. Barclays had initially paid over the £3000. Barclays had been contacted by the police seeking copies of the relevant bank statements as evidence to support their charge. But despite all that, having had  no reply to one letter from the recently widowed wife the bank grabbed back £3,000.

I wrote to Barclays explaining all the above.

The first reply apologised because the letter had been sent to the wrong team.

I now have a second reply from them, in which they say my letter has been referred to their fraud office. However, as I didn't mention a police incident number in my letter they can't do anything until I provide that.

I am fuming. This is totally unacceptably bureaucratic.This multi-national, multi billion pound, high earning business can't get its basic customer services sorted.

This is a fairly straightforward case. Barclays recognised that money had been withdrawn fraudulently almost a year ago and refunded the money, but because of a lack of coordination, imagination or humanity this widow has been deprived of £3,000.