Saturday, July 26, 2008


The Secretary of State for Culture, Media, Sport and Capital Letters, Andy Burnham, in an interview in The Times today, lists his interests: “Everton, the Labour Party and the Catholic Church – in that order”, he says. Well, one right out of three isn’t bad for a Government Minister - and at least he had the order right. It should qualify him for the post of party leader, except that he's not only English, but Scouse.

In case it escaped your attention, this is my 250th post. No, no, please, no fuss, flowers or fireworks. I wish I hadn’t mentioned it now – I can just hear you saying “And this is after 2½ years’ practice?”

Speaking of posts, I was standing in the queue at the Post Office last week and I saw these marker pens. Ah yes, I need marker pens, I say, and pick them up. But by the time I get to the counter I’ve found, on a label containing seven words, not one but two grammatical errors. I point out to the clerk that “pens” is plural, not singular, and that the plural of “CD” is “CDs”.
The clerk is unimpressed, and Italian. He says what the lady in Marks and Spencer said when I complained about the “Ten articles or Less” sign. “Do you want them or don't you?” he asks.
It’s my doryphoria again. Interesting word – means being excessively pedantic: it’s derived from the Greek word for a spear carrier. So why don’t we call spear carriers “doryphores” instead of “spear carriers”? What’s worse is that it also means Colorado beetle, despite the fact you never see a Colorado beetle, nor me, carrying a spear. Confusing.

But it’s not all bad news: Premiership football is only four weeks away.

Friday, July 04, 2008

A matter of form

We all know how big business goes out of its way to make itself inaccessible to its customers - try making a complaint to Microsoft or France Telecom. I sympathise totally with the man who drove his Mercedes into the dealer’s showroom – through the window – in an attempt to get their attention.
I’ve been wondering how to get the attention of my bank.
I used to use a friendly local bank in rural Pennsylvania where they were helpful and efficient and gave you peppermints - and didn’t charge seniors checking fees.
Then, a few years ago, it was eaten up by an ugly giant bank, promising greater efficiency, more security, high tech online facilities etc.
The ugly giant is called Wachovia Bank - a name that would be much more appropriate if spoonerised.
I’ve been trying to use these supposedly secure online services – but the trouble is they're so secure you can’t use them. When I try to register they tell me I’m already registered, but when I try to log on they tell me my e-mail address is wrong!
When I try to ring the "toll-free" number (which is not toll-free but very expensive), after 20 minutes pushing cascade buttons, a dalek voice tells me to hit a key that doesn’t exist on a French 'phone. And when I e-mail – this is the worst – they reply with a standard form letter.

“I regret we were unable to fully assist you via email”, it says; then, incredibly, “If there is anything else that we can do for you, please do not hesitate to contact us. Have a great day."

It goes on: “I value your business as a Wachovia customer and look forward to
continuing to serve your financial needs.” Yes, “continuing”!

"If you have additional questions or concerns, please contact us via e-mail”.
But when I do so, they send another form letter. Their form letters are all the same – except that they have a random name generator which selects from a list of tasteful female first names, so they appear to come from some nice, caring lady with a '40s Hollywoodish name like Barbara, Audrey or Alison. When I say “Please, Marilyn, I beg you, do not send me another form letter”, the reply is – Aw, you guessed it.

Now they have the gall to start taking $5 out of my account every month because it’s a “dormant account”. Whose fault is that?

In New York last year, I thought I’d foil the system. I walked right into their branch on Sixth like I used to do in Paoli, PA. They said mine was not one of their account numbers! Remember the name: Bachovia Wank. The funny thing is, I’ve been trying to send them money.