Thursday, 31 July 2008

For the Binge Alcoholic In Your Life - Gifts From Argos

If a loved one bought you any of these gifts (click on picture to enlarge for grim details), would you see it as an act of love? Or would you see it as a sign that they wanted you dead, soonest? Would you check to see if any of the family had bumped up your Life Assurance cover recently?
Would you ask for the receipt and take it back to exchange for something more life affirming? A Breville sandwich toaster for example...?

My brand new Autumn Argos catalogue happened to fall open at this edifying page, this damning endictment of modern Britain as a national disgrace, where youngsters spend hours preening themselves to look flawless for the big night out, but seemingly care nothing by the early hours for being found unconscious in the street in their own vomit, undies akimbo. Or who stumbles upon them in that state, be it friend or foe.

Drunkenness used to be a normal-ish rite of passage, a phase, circumscribed by the high cost of drink, the refusal of the pub or bar to serve 'one over the eight', the long arm of the law who still had the power to administer 'tut tuts' or 'thick ears' accordingly, and the young drinker's own sense of self-respect. Then there was the sophistication of being seen to sip your Cinzano rather than turning potential mates off by witnessing you crassly glugging pints and necking shots.

This all now seems to have been swept by the wayside so that despite all their material advantages over previous generations, today's hardest drinking generation displays a worrying degree of often-exhibitionist nihilism, a devil-may-care, so what if I die? attitude. Some indeed are attaining their inner death wish, foi gras-ing their livers with booze, and not seeing middle age.

More and more older people are also drinking to excess or never calming down from their Uni days. Retirees too seem to be opting to take up alcoholism (usually alongside boredom in the sun as ex-pats) and eschewing the golf, ballroom dancing, community work and allotment-keeping of yesteryear.

Is life really so awful that an alarming number of people seek escapism in these excesses? Is life becoming more awful because an alarming number of people are seeking escapism via excess rather than trying to make it better and doing that much-missed community work?

Does excess really = happiness?

Or just numbing, dumbing down?

Funny how a page in a catalogue can lead to a whole train of thought. But lest anyone mistake me for a born again Temperance evangelist, I would just like to make it clear that shocked though I am at Argos promoting binge drinking, I am not against social drinking, only anti-social drinking. And if excessive drinking only killed the a***holes of this world, I'd personally bulk buy these aids-to-suicide for them, but fact is a lot of good people are being sucked into this toxic world and lost to it too, no matter that there has never been more psychological and other help available to them to help them face up to whatever demons are driving them to drink destructively.

I remember being a mess and unhappy with myself in earlier years, but never self-loathing. Where does self-loathing come from (if a person's not actually Hitler), and how do we as a society address this scourge (apart from trying not to indulge in behaviours that can only make self-loathing worse and offer no sense of achievement)?

Here endeth my lesson for Thursday...

Monday, 28 July 2008

The Perils Of Emulating Livestock...

In this increasingly prescriptive 'free' country of ours
My attention is drawn by a newspaper headline
Bannered 'That Mutton Moment - knee no no's after 35'
Demanding an end to above-the-knee hemlines
For females 'of a certain age'
Who don't want to be confused with a tired hock of meat

If ever I'd sought to emulate a form of livestock
Be it lamb or mutton
And followed the herd
This might well succeed in preying on my mind
Not least since there's no companion article on
What a funky monkey who intends to be the bee's knees 'til the day she dies
Should be wearing this season.
Oh dear, guess I'll have to wing it….

© LS King 2007

But where do the fashion police stand on Jelly Shoes for the over-35s, I wonder?

Friday, 25 July 2008

The Honours List

I was greatly moved to find that I had been awarded this honour by relatively recent blogmate Can Bass 1, who keeps a lively and eclectic blog of ecclesiastic hue, but is touchingly not above consorting with a God-fearing athiest like myself! (Or applying for a job in Asda - good luck CB1!)

I have been thinking all week about who I would like to award in turn! Here, in no particular order, are my favoured few! Ok, well quite a few actually.

Rol Hirst - For his services to creative writing and scintillating wit, who recently made 'Blog of the Week' in the Mail on Sunday.

Bloggertropolis For his services to TV reviewing, creative writing scintillating wit and contraception (don't ask!).

Reluctant Blogger - For her services to human insight, soulfulness and compelling narrative writing.

Oliver's Poetry Garret - For his services to poetry, photography and trying to live the life artistic!

The Age of Uncertainty - For his services to bookshops, book trade honesty and how to cope with the 21st C.

Kaz - For her services of being the most stylish young pensioner with attitude around!

Derfwad Manor - For Mrs G's services to the TV networks, homeschooling, good relationships and America!

Old Fogey For his services to intelligent blogging, nostalgia and the arts.

Moi - For her services to photography, keeping fit and squirrel wars!

Screaming Headlines - For his services to honest journalism!

Through A Glass Darkly - For his services to British town planning (he's given up!)

The Vaguetarian - For her services to avatarism, cyber-vegetarianism and an allround welcome at her cosy tearoom!

Jock's Place - For fighting for just about every worthwhile cause there is!

More Canterbury Tales - For services to New Zealand bloggery!

Life Happens Between Books - My newcomer's award for Mrs Fishwife's services to books & redheads!

WiseWebWoman - For her services to doing exactly what she says on the can! Not to mention some great photography too.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Hell Hath No Fury Like A Poet Scorned

Former Serbian-Croat leader and war criminal Radovan Karadzic, who was apprehended at the weekend after 13 years on the run, apparently started life as a working class poet who couldn't get his work published by a sneering middle-class, and despite becoming a psychiatrist to be admitted to their ranks.

Thus after a spell in the Green Party he turned his hand to politics, assuming leadership of his country through founding the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS), but resorting to less-than-democratic means to attain/maintain power, culminating in the torture and genocide of countless fellow countrymen.

Now the worst I've considered is attending a Quaker Meeting and when it's my turn proclaiming that the Lord has moved me to share my entire works with them and they can't leave until I've finished.

Is that where I'm going wrong? If the pen doesn't prove 'mightier than the sword', should one then give the sword a chance?

And did Karadzic give his victims one last purchasing opportunity to acquire his complete works as an alternative to a bullet-in-the-head?

Which makes you wonder really - if Hitler began his life as an artist who couldn't sell his work, what would have happened if he'd won the German equivalent of the Turner Prize in the early 20th C and had enjoyed a meteoric art career...? And was artistic jealousy behind his hatred of Jews in particular (a demographic known for their high percentage of successful artists)?

An unappreciated artist can be a dangerous creature methinks.

As a poet friend of mine puts it

Best Seller

Poetry doesn't normally sell
But mine might
For I intend to embark
On a series
Of bizarre and
Motiveless murders
On and around
Hampstead Heath.
Poetry doesn't normally sell
But mine might...

© Paul Birtill

*It works, he always sells a lot of books after ending his set with it!

By the by, here is a collection of Mr Karadzic's later work published while on the run;
I Can Look For Myself
PS: Doesn't he look like the long-lost brother of Ted Hughes (below), if he hadn't killed his hairdresser, though?

Friday, 18 July 2008

Politicians Moving Forwards Actually

Honest Politician

Vote for me and I promise
To spend 98% less time in real terms
Slagging the mismanaging freeloaders of tax payers' money,
(otherwise known as the previous, Right dis-Honourable Government), off
And getting on with the job
Of arguing with Newsnight presenters
Browbeating my dissenters
And conjuring oratory
Whispered down a small ear mike to me
In ever more impressive-sounding
Patterns of convolusive evasiveness
Replete with the spurious figures and stats
That suggest I am doing a great deal
When in a very real sense
If you cared to follow my ambidextrous verbosity
(For which no shovel is large enough)
Through its maze of Machiavellian machinations
You would see
I am merely a vainglorious exercise in how many ways
There are of saying nothing
Spending nothing
‘Moving forward’ while standing still
As I practice my signature on the history annals.
Oh I have spin to make your head spin
So you won’t know your Left from your Right
How else do think I’m going to win?
How very passe of you!
Vote for me – yes honestly…

© LS King

*I ought to make it clear that this poem is not specifically about David Cameron MP, and any similarities between Mr Cameron and this poem are as co-incidental as he chooses them to be! More a question of his picture seeming to go with the poem best!

Monday, 14 July 2008

Churchill & The Two-Finger Salute!

Last week I obtained 70 online car insurance quotations for 3rd party fire and theft, ranging in price from £279 -£1285 for my new (secondhand) Skoda, using a variety of price comparison sites. Can you guess which one I went for?

No more fully comp for me after Churchill (a major British insurer which prides itself on the emulation of British values) decided that its British values are incompetence, gross underestimation of both car and customer and trying to string the customer along until they either lose the will to live or die of old age. Yes their quotes may be competitive, but forget it if you ever need to make a claim. As for that legal cover you took out with them, forget about them employing it to defend your no-claims honour against a dangerous road surface on Britain's Deadliest Road - no matter that your car decided at low speed (and of its own volition) to aquaplane at temporary roadwork traffic lights in treacherous conditions.

So that my suffering and paperwork hell of the last four months since the crash has not been in vain I thought I would share with you several useful insights I have gleaned about car insurance companies when you need them - knowledge I found very lacking on the net when I needed it;

a. ALWAYS claim for whiplash injury, even if you only have it for a day as they will stitch you up big time on your car valuation. Not being in the habit of crashing, my mistake was trying to be totally honest and honourable, assuming they would behave likewise towards me, despite friends warning (and urging) me otherwise.
b. Always strip your written-off car of everything you can & claim the money back for any unused road tax on the disc/extract the stereo if it's any good. I only wish I'd had the means to lever my recent tyres off as well!
c. NEVER accept the insurance company's first insultingly low offer. This is regarded by them as an 'opening gambit' to ascertain how big a mug you are and should be regarded by you likewise. However do swat up on the value of your car and your insurance policy wording as you need to be sure of the moral/legal high ground before arguing with these people re what your entitlements really are.
d. Hassle them by telephone EVERY DAY or they'll let your claim drag on ad infinitum. Always be icily polite but insistent. It drives them nuts. One call centre supervisor, 'Russell', said he didn't like my 'insulting attitude' just because I kept asking to speak to the Customer Service Manager (CSM) and pointing out I couldn't afford to accept his 'final offer'. But as a friend remarked it wasn't up to 'Russell' to either like or dislike my attitude if I wasn't actually giving him verbal abuse or insulting him. In fact 'Russell' was being downright unprofessional by making personal remarks and trying to deviate from the point.
e. Always record names/dates/phone conversation details for future reference and keep all correspondence.
f. Finally like me, you will probably be forced to acknowledge that it is unlikely the spotty 17 year-old call centre operator will be authorised to go above a certain amount (usually an extra £100, which they will always insist is their 'last offer'). In addition they will try and lie to you that they have no Customer Service Manager (CSM), as to escalate your case affects their bonus. One 'Leanne' was so desperate to get rid of me, she lied to me that my written-off car had actually been fixed! Reaching a brick wall on one level dictates you move on to the next level.
g. Failing the holy grail of a Customer Service Manager, find out the Regional Manager's address and phone number, and if you get no joy out of him, the Managing Director himself. As a last resort there is the Financial Ombudsman to complain to (free to you, but it'll cost your insurers so it is not technically in their interests to allow things to escalate this far)
h. If you have legal cover and believe the accident was not your fault, insist it is used - Churchill denied me mine on the grounds that they didn't have 100% chance of winning against Oxfordshire Highways. Which kind of makes you wonder what are they doing selling legal cover if they have no intention of letting customers use it? And since when was any case a dead cert???
i. In Britain the Association of British Insurers stipulate that a final claim settlement should be enough to allow the insured to replace their lost vehicle with one of equivalent quality, allowing for regional/time of year price differentiations. It is as well to keep reminding the insurer of this industry-standard obligation as well as sending them at least 6 print-outs of equivalent age/model/condition cars as your own for the price that you seek.
Check out any insurance watchdogs, ombudsmen or regulatory and industry standard bodies in your neck of the woods.

And before you ask, after all that, my final settlement for the Rover was still pathetic. Too depressing to talk about indeed. And contrary to the whole point and spirit of 'insurance', I was left significantly out-of-pocket by the accident. I suppose I should be grateful not to have been in a worse accident, and I am - when the paperwork permitted me time to reflect and recover the will to live that is!

To sum up, God help anyone sick or elderly who needs to fight the same battle with today's insurer. Much though insurance companies undeniably need to protect themselves against fraud, they are bludgeoning the majority of us who are honest too, and perversely, actively encouraging dishonesty (such as exaggerated injury claims) by very dint of their renowned meanness and own brand of rip-offery.

But hey what else did I expect from a disturbingly obscene orgasmic animated dog?

Perhaps someone should report him to Watchdog...?

Other sites of interest;

Beware Car Insurer Tricks on Write-Offs

Fluxsposure - an Insider's Take on the Insurance Industry

Friday, 11 July 2008

Innocence and Experience

Two Little Girls

And there were two little girls
In long dresses, picking blackberries
In a field before the city
Once upon a day long and bright
When the world was black and white
And there was a man in a cloth cap
Stole up and grabbed them by the shoulders
Tried to scoop them up and shut them up
But novice hands failed him
Lost his nerve, and then his grip.
Tried to make it up with assy drops
Almost tempting older Lily
But wiser Alice dragged her, running
To the safety of the lane
As he begged them not to tell.
They never went again.
Eighty years
And a thrashing, later
From a mother who didn’t believe her,
She still can’t stand blackberries
Or funny men,
The grandma I nearly never had.

© LS King

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Musings On a 21stC British Class System...

Reclassifying a Classless Society

The upper class and the lower class
The over class and the under class
The haves and the have-nots
The eloi and the morlocks.
Thank god for Business Class
Is all I can say,
As I eat the rich (tea biscuit)
© LS King 2007

* For 'morlocks', substitute 'hoodies'.

Friday, 4 July 2008

Our National Health Service – The Promise

One of my earliest postings on this blog; My Sweeping NHS Reforms concerned my fantasy reforms of the National Health Service - the majority of which I still stand by.

On the eve of the 60th Anniversary of its inception, I think about all the men, women and children born pre-5th July 1948 who were promised healthcare 'from the cradle to the grave' by the State and were given the NHS basically as national reward and recognition for the privations and suffering they endured through World War II, whether they be de-mobbed soldier, long-suffering civilian or evacuated child. That and the guilty fact that Joe Public got bugger all by way of national reward and the much-vaunted 'homes fit for heroes' after World War I.

It is doubly appalling to me when anyone from this generation is denied NHS drugs or care, not only on account of everything they went through during WWII whether adult or child to secure the future of this nation, but because they were promised this care, and the majority paid contributions all their working lives towards it.

I wonder why none of them (or their families if they are too ill themselves) has yet gone to the European Court of Human Rights to defend their right to this national promise made to them.

Glittering 'polyclinic' re-launches of the NHS butter no parsnips with me when layers of re-branding, management and unnecessary new PFI-disaster hospital buildings even less light, airy and value for money than the old (and just as dirty), divert money away from the sick who need it, and some of whom were born with a right to it.

When the pre-1948 generation pass from living memory, then will be the time to consider root and branch reform of the NHS if it does not find a natural and sensible balance between advances in medicine and over-demand in-between times, but not until.

Happy Anniversary NHS! Your days of being 'the envy of the world' may be long gone, but you were a good idea and can be so again if only the powers that be display some honour and common sense in the administration of your ministrations.

As the Hippocratic Oath that all new doctors used to have to swear before commencing practice puts it; 'First, do no harm.'

And not all medical advance is for the better…concrete fatigue is a terrible way to go!