Friday, 15 May 2009

Nul points

It's Eurovision again. I love it. It's camper than Butlins, and replacing Wogan with Graham Norton doesn't help matters, but every year I sit down with Mrs. Beetwaste, a fridge full of beer and enough snacks to feed a third-world country, and watch the lot. It's fantastic. No doubt you've noticed it's on. Haven't you?

You should have. The BBC this year has plugged it to death. It's a bit of a new start for it. After the last few years of dross and underachievement, we've pulled out all the stops. Sir Andrew Lloyd-Webber wrote our song. The singer (Jade - that's her at the top with A L-W) seems to have a half-decent pair of lungs on her, and can actually sing. We've been doing the rounds as well, so it would seem; apparently, we've already toured the song around large parts of Europe, so we should be well practised.

We've no chance of victory, though. As much as I hate to say it. I'll be over the moon if we win, but we won't. Partly because the political voting will ensure certain defeat - although the juries are back this year, and the public vote only counts for 50% of each countries mark, which might even things up a bit.

No. We won't win because, although we've made an effort this year, our song ain't the best. The best song is this one. Denmark. It's performed by a bloke who sounds like Ronan Keating. The guy looks a bit like Ronan Keating (Maybe). The song sounds like Ronan wrote it. Ah, well actually, he kind of did. And he did a great job of it. It should win, and that'll make up for the sad and - this year at least - undeserved, exit of Ireland, yet again, at the semi-final stage.

Ah yes, the semi finals. If you didn't see them, well they were a disappointment to say the least. Belarus should have breezed through semi-final one, but alas, white suits and big hair weren't enough for the viewers, who preferred the dirge served up by Bosnia-Herzegovina. And, semi final 2 was truly, truly awful.

...with the notable exception of the Ukrainian entry. Hamster wheels, semi-dressed centurians, and most importantly, a singer who obviously just lost her job at Spearmint Rhino. Denmark should win, but as a seasoned Eurovision viewer I'd put my money on this one. It's got everything a Eurovision song should have, and the Eastern Europeans will love it.

Friday, 1 May 2009

Where there's blame, theres an unsolicited phone call

I've not written a blog entry for some time, and today I've done two. But I've had a couple of phone calls today that've really got my goat.

The background. Our car insurance renews imminently, so I've been on to shop around, as you do. I always, always take care to make sure that the box that says "Don't call me, don't pass my details on, don't waste your phone call on me because I'm not bothered," is marked as "No don't ring me thanks". And I have an interest in doing this; I work for an insurance company and have done my time on the outbound phones, so I have first-hand experience of dealing with people who don't want a call.

Yet there's always one that gets through the net. Normally the call goes "Hi Mr/Mrs Beetwaste, I see you had a quote, do you want it," that sort of thing. I can cope with this. Usually it's "No thankyou," and I'll be polite. But the call wasn't about that.

At 11.30 this morning, the phone rang. I ignored it and dialled 1471, got a Manchester number, and rang it back. It was a company wanting to discuss our car insurance claim. Now, the only claim we've made recently is for a new windscreen, so my initial reaction, naturally, was for the safety of Mrs. Beetwaste, who is in the car today. Then I calmed down, typed the phone number into Google, and discovered that, as I suspected, it was just some idiot wanting to sell us something. Clearly, the money-supermoron websites are now selling on the details of all the claims we've made. So the call was actually to discuss a no-win-no-fee case, for a claim that involved no-one else and is irrelevant to these companies. They have their details totally wrong, and in the process have caused me some concern.

Personally I think this is disgraceful. It's beyond a simple marketing call, because if the wrong person answered then I believe someone could get seriously worried about this. More importantly, the only companies who should have any interest in this, are the insurance companies themselves, when they are calculating my premium. If I want to make a claim, I have ample opportunity to call the ambulance chasers myself. Sadly, these calls clearly work, because if they didn't then there's no way they bother making them. I know that for a fact, because my outbound telesales department shut, because it wasn't working anymore.

Anyway, a lady rang back this evening. I tried not to be rude, but firstly, the automatic dialling system that made the call took 7 seconds to find an agent available to speak to me, which riles me anyway. She then asked for Mrs Beetwaste, but pronounced her name wrong - our real name has 3 letters in it. It's not hard to get right! Finally, she wouldn't tell me what the call was about - no doubt this will be for data protection purposes which I fully appreciate and understand, but the car insurance is in both names, ergo she can speak to either of us. Luckily I'd already done some research and knew exactly what the call was for, so politely suggested she doesn't waste another call.

Hopefully she got the hint, and now I'm going to complain to the relevant consumer groups, like the grumpy old man that I am nowadays.

"I an't got ner patties"

Something very odd happened recently, and it caught me by surprise. I actually, albeit briefly, felt homesick for Hull. Quite unexpectedly.

I'm not quite sure what brought it on. The Hull-Hull KR derby was on telly over the easter weekend, and maybe I missed being around that buzz it always creates. It might have been visiting the local chippy in Pateley and having fish yet again, because they don't sell patties outside of a 5 mile radius of Hull. (God, I miss Patties. I'd drive 150 miles each way for a pattie fix.) Possibly, it was seeing the Humber Bridge on Sky Sports News, whilst they were previewing Hull City's imminent defeat by Middlesbrough. It might have been a combination of all those things. All I know is, for the first time in nearly two years since I properly left the city, and my job there, I actually wanted to go 'home'.

I use the word 'Home' reservedly. Hull is my birthplace (ok let's be pedantic, North Ferriby - it says Elloughton on my passport and I'm sticking to it). It's where I was brought up. Went to school, and university. Had my first pint. It's where I first fell in love -and got dumped. It's where I met my wife. Started work. Think of any major event in your life, and I did it in Hull. It shaped my entire early-to-recent life.

Yet I never felt totally at home there. Never settled. In the thirteen-plus years I've been with Mrs. Beetwaste, we've lived in seven houses, and there's been something wrong with every one of them that's made us decide to move on. Finally, we've moved to Nidderdale (no, not Sutton Park, the real Nidderdale in North Yorkshire) and it's great. It's lambing time. Every other field is full of sheep and lambs, and we can see them out of our window. We made a home in our favourite part of the world where we've been coming on holiday for years, and it's just fantastic. I wouldn't want to live anywhere else.

Until the other day. As I say, it caught me quite by surprise. I was sat at work, waiting for yet another call about home insurance, and got to thinking about Hull. Walking along the Victoria pier, and gazing across (in the words of Larkin) 'where sky and Lincolnshire and water meet' . Wandering down Whitefriargate (when it had shops). Sitting in Queens Gardens on a Saturday afternoon, eating a Fletchers sausage roll. Indeed, revisiting Queens Gardens on a Saturday night, for other reasons I won't discuss here!

And I guess that's when I snapped out of it. Fletcher's has gone now, and the Hull I remember is promptly disappearing as well. I had some pretty bad experiences in Hull, but I suppose you only remember the good things, and that's not a bad thing at all. I've moved on, and I'm glad I did, because even at 36 I still have some ambition left - which after 34 years was never coming to fruition in Hull. Leeds is a dump, a hole, a dirty, God-forsaken place, but work-wise there are far more opportunities than Hull ever offered. (I wouldn't actually live in Leeds, though. Not a chance.)

I think that the familiarity, the nostalgia, was what made me homesick. If I wanted to buy something, I'd know exactly where to go in Hull. Tyres? Londesborough street. Car parts? Waterloo. Haircut in Harrogate? errrrrrrr pass. It's going to take a very long time to become familiar with this area, and I've come to realise it'll take years, not months. That's what I miss. Not the city. And, that's what hit home recently.

Hull, I salute you, but I've got to go - for now. Just, please, export patties. Pateley Bridge needs them.