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Tuesday, 26 February 2013

27 Cheryl Cole’s tattoo Vs my new stapler!

Inspired as I’ve been by stories appearing on my e-mail ‘news’ page about who wore what where and who got a new tattoo and who cried because something they did for publicity got – publicity and who had a new hairdo / partner / dress / tantrum / argument with someone else who just got a new hairdo / partner / dress / new shade of lipstick – I decided that I should share with you the big-massive-huge news story of my week.
I got a new Stapler.
It’s not just any old stapler – it’s a long arm stapler with non-slip rubber bottom. I suspect the stapler story scoop exclusive will appear in OK or HELLO or Woman’s Own some time soon.
Sadly, much as I’d like to give my stapler the word count it deserves, this week’s post will be shorter than usual due to the juxtaposition of a twig and my eyeball over the weekend requiring a quick dash to Newcastle’s eye hospital outpatients. If this week’s blog looks a bit blurry - now you know why.
Anyway – my stapler.
Purchased on line for a mere £5.99 (plus P&P) after searching fruitlessly in the obvious stationary outlets, it arrived while I was out – thus extending the excitement, as deferred gratification tends to. With tingles of anticipation I collected it from my local post depot. Unlike Ms Cole’s tattoo it isn’t covered in roses and is blue and black  not red and black. But it has a tenuous link to my creativity. It is to be used to attach a few pieces of paper containing 13 poems which represent my first independent print of page poems, including Reduced Possibilities (formerly Forget-me-not-blue) which was shortlisted in the Bridport International Poetry Prize 17 months ago. Under the heading Other Stuff, the pamphlet will surreptitiously emerge while I’m gigging my comedy stuff in Bristol next month. I know – it’s very 1980s but if the blokes my age can start sentimentalising about how it’s better to listen to their music on vinyl – I can do a poetry pamphlet.
I don’t wish to boast about my lovely new stapler but can’t help speculating that long after Ms Cole’s tattoo has served its purpose and her fans have grown bored of it or had their cheap copies lazered off, I’ll still be having fun with my long arm, non-slip, rubber bottom stapler.
(And I got a free staple remover)

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

26. Library Love

No. I don’t mean ‘their eyes met across a crowded book case’ or ‘passion behind the index cards’ (do they even still have index cards?) or 50 shades of ‘keep the noise down please’. I mean I love my actual library. My ideal man would be my neighbourhood library - square, not particularly attractive, created in the 60s/70s, but full of endless wisdom, strong, reliable and reasonably calm. Perhaps not prone to flooding like my local library and not made of concrete and not closed on a Thursday (you should never stretch an analogy too far) but warm, welcoming and always pleased to see me. This may explain – partly – why I am single.
I love my library. I’m pretty sure it loves me back. Certainly the librarians would come looking for me if I failed to attend more than two days and there was no report of an outbreak of bubonic plague. It might even have to be pneumonic plague to keep me away.
As a child I once got stuck in a loop with a Professor Brain Storm book and didn’t understand why the patient librarian tried desperately week after week to get me to take out something else. But now I get it.
Often I’m there to use the computers or read the newspapers or get out a DVD (though I’ve pretty much exhausted the supply of ‘sexy young action-scientist types save the world’ and if I see one more Jane Austen adaptation I’ll have a fit). I use the loo (though not in Ashington where you need to be one of the favoured to get offered the secret loo keys!) bump into friends, research/fact find, check out which bits of my town the local planners are intending to put under tarmac next.
It’s sometimes fun to go into the children’s section to see the toddlers just getting to grips with the joy of books or ‘those’ mums screeching across the expanse “Sophie darling have you finished that Dostoyevsky?” to some three-year-old punch drink on needy parental exhibitionism. There is the guy with Tourette’s (the spelling of which was found for me by the librarian as it did not appear on word Search) who invariably sits next to me at the PC terminal or the old bloke who plonks down heavily heaving and sighing and looking round hoping to catch someone’s eye so he can give his fulsome opinion on the idiocy of technology (we all get very focused on our screens at that point as if someone just e-mailed to say Nick Clegg grew a backbone.)
And, lord love ’em, the genealogy army. They tend to storm the computer floor armed with dreadnought voices and prima donna attitudes that would shame Lawrence Olivier.  In the guise of asking for help from the librarian on duty, they announce that they need to access – whatever – to confirm that great aunty Maud was the bastard offspring of the duke of Barking’s great niece’s illegitimate great, great grandson’s neighbour. And isn’t it fascinating that great grandpa Fred was a farm hand (in Northumberland!) and used to be allowed to clear up the steaming dung heaps in Cow’s Gate upon Nowhere in 1803? Tempting as it is to roll out the family tree that my dad’s cousin did, reaching back to the Norman invasion – I don’t -I’m too modest.
The library at Berwick-upon-Tweed is a fantastic example of what libraries really are all about. Set in the most uninspiring surroundings on the upper floor of some concrete monstrosity – once inside you are in a wonderland of words and imagination, energy and intellectual light. The atmosphere sparks with creative vigour and opportunity. I once did a book launch there and have to say that it stood out head and shoulders as a positive experience – over other much more glamorous locations.
For my real idea of heaven – give me a library van. A few years ago I applied to be a library van driver. I did not get the job. They claimed it was because I lacked mechanical skills (yeah right) but I suspect they realised that, put behind the wheel of a library bus, they may not see me again for several months and I would be found somewhere in North Northumberland holed up in a lay-by with a very large flask of tea, a ‘keep-out’ sign on the door and a big smile on my face.
Libraries are the best most highly rateable ROI places provided by tax payers’ money (and yes I include hospitals – you don’t get MRSA in a library). They are one of the few institutions that are invaluable to ordinary people and provide a counterweight to – well just about everything else that consumes human energy and time in this mad, mad world.
Go to yours.
If your local council threaten to close it, stamp your feet. If you haven’t got one, stamp your feet harder. If you live in Newcastle upon Tyne or anywhere else that is threatening to close lots of libraries at a time when the have-nots are being screwed over by the haves and need more than ever, exactly the kind of access to resources and support that libraries have always given – start the revolution.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Blog 25. Currys/PC World Customer Care Ride – better than bungee jumping off the fridge!

Forget abusing your body with chemicals or the fickle quick fix of stand-up comedy, or thrill seeking on the Blackpool Pepsi Max (is it still there?). For that authentic surreal sensation or the biggest laugh of your life (albeit in a manic losing-your-sanity kinda way) or just a general mind altering experience, get down to Currys/PC World. I guarantee you’ll be off your head one way or another by the end.
Over two and a half months, I spent many strange hours in Newcastle’s Northumberland Street Currys/PC World (Dixons as was) attempting to commune with the humanoids. I don’t speak Click Click and they don’t speak Tired Parent but once it was agreed that a refund was needed, they behaved as if the notion of dealing with a customer was as alien to them as E.T’s arse.
The fiasco began with the purchase of a laptop for my daughter at Currys/PC World in Warwickshire and ended with me arriving in this particular Newcastle branch on Friday 8th February at about 9.30a.m. to collect the agreed refund (after they admitted miss-selling the equipment). I finally got the refund at around 2.30pm. The intervening five hours - yes let me just repeat that -
F.I.V.E  H.O.U.R.S
were spent wandering round Newcastle waiting for a manager to arrive because the minions couldn’t deal with the situation even though the ‘situation’ was supposed to have been finalised days before. There always seem to be lots of managers in the shop apart, that is, from one who will sort a problem. There were some older humanoids programmed to smirk and say ‘it’s nothing to do with me’. You stand there mutely while in your head an image of them disemboweled on a bed of bleeping laptops starts to form. They are managers, yes, but not as you know them, not the sort of managers who deal with customers, at least not you.
I went to the library, had a coffee, rang them because they didn’t ring me within the hour they said they would (in fact it was over two hours when I rang them). I wandered some more. I missed the train I was meant to be catching home. By 1pm I was convinced that I was in some terrible Zombie movie and the in habitants of the shiny noisy den called Currys/PC World were eating the staff in nearby Superdrug while I steamed in PrĂȘt-a-manger. Why did I persevere? Because it was about my tenth trip to the outlet with the same problem and I wanted above all things never to return.
One of a multitude of inexplicable hurdles seemed to be that no employee understood the concept of corporate identity; they could not cope with the idea that the equipment was purchased at a branch in Leamington and the problem had to be dealt with at a branch in Newcastle. It was as if a goat had been purchased from a plumber in Burundi and I was trying to get a refund from a dentist in Kazakhstan.
No one apologised until I pointed out that ‘maybe someone should apologise’. The poor baby triffids on the floor often looked very hurt when I suggested that none of the things they said would happen ever happened. And to be fair, the tech guys who did their best over the hours and days and weeks and months we spent together, to solve the unsolvable, were very nice.
On one sparkling occasion (after only three attempts, two cut-offs and a nervous breakdown) I got through to the magic phone number to ascertain the current state of play. I was told, in a mystified wots-ya-problem tone that the laptop had only been ‘logged in’ once. So that’s alright then. If they cook their system so that you can take an item in on multiple occasions but it isn’t ‘logged’ that’s fine. Is it their version of time warp or parallel dimension? What is to the customer a bloody waste of time, effort and frustration is one little blip to Currys /PC (Permanently Crap) World.
Sometime during the middle of month two, I was offered the chance to hand over £100 for the privilege of upgrading to a laptop that did what the first laptop was supposed to do and on which basis it had been sold. It’s a canny little ruse you have to admit and from the point of comedy it has its merits – the company benefit financially for sloppy selling.
And so I whiled away hours of my life and bus and train fare and will pay, no doubt, in reduced time on this planet because of the stress which I am sure could have been alleviated if I had screamed, sworn, hit someone or just rampaged around with a sledgehammer but hey ho – the constraints of civility.
But I did have the pleasure of a real piece of high farce, which my friend, who accompanied me for moral support and to prevent me being vaporised, was able to share. When I finally left Currys /PC (Pissed-off Consumer) World, having missed another train and wasted another day of my life, the ‘manager’ called after me. Now that the refund was done, he said, he could sort me out with a new laptop ‘if I wanted’. Bless.
Can I say a big thanks to everyone who reads my blog. I know there are supposed to be all sorts of links and gizmos on a blog but I’m sure you know where you want to go next without tips from me. I hope that by keeping the posts concise you’ll have plenty of time left to go to other less grumpy stuff you like in your perhaps-I-should-read-a-blog slot!
Amanda J

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Blog 24. Cut Foreign Aid – What a spiffing idea Jacob Rees-Mogg.

Overhearing Jacob Rees-Mogg on Radio 4 Friday Feb 1st I wondered if someone had FF my life and it was, in reality, April 1st.
Let aid to the poor and destitute be left to the whim of random private givers - was the thrust of Smoggy’s smug slaver.
Refraining from defenestrating my innocent radio I hesitated. What ho, this chappy Smug-Mogg has – I realised – a smattering of the grey matter mixed in with the mush mash in his privileged bonce. Where his little bit of a tired sounding spite falls off a cliff is that it doesn’t go far enough. Come on Mr. Mogg; let us go the whole hog.
Don’t reduce aid or even schmooze around the rich trying to get them to divert their precious ill-gotten pennies from off-shore accounts to dying infants, just bloody well cut aid entirely. THEN get rid of the hidden subsidies that keep down the prices of almost everything Westerners buy on a daily basis – food especially. We can afford to throw away more than 30% of the food we buy BECAUSE farmers in Africa are living on dirt. Expensive as food seems, it reaches us at a hugely reduced price. This cost gap is paid for by the exploitation of the very folk we chuck a bit of charity at every time red nose day snouts round.  
Granted the average price of people’s basic weekly shop could rise by 80 -100% depending on which figures you use. But at least those who have successfully been fed the lie that WE subsidise THEM through aid would finally GET IT in a very real way. Or rather they would get a bit less of it and those who at the moment don’t get enough will get some. Ta da!
It’s a win, win situation. More food for them, less obesity, cancer and diabetes for us.
Well done Moggy

And I apologise – I keep suggesting topics one week that will follow the next only to get hijacked by another idea. I have a bit of a backlog now and will stop flagging up potential ‘next week’ subjects. Also thanks for the big love response to the Wile-e-Coyote article last week – you crazers!