Monday, 30 November 2009

Street-Porter watch

In my quest to ensure Janet Street-Porter contributes to the local community, I've spotted this.

She's at the school motivating the kids. She's been entering animals into the show. I've seen her at a couple of local events this year. She's even been on Gordon Ramsay's show, plugging our dale.

Oh yes. Street-Porter is a fully-fledged local. Probably gets more involved in local events than I do, but then I've got no money and can't afford to get involved with bugger-all at the moment, which is a bit sad.

If I spot her again, be sure I'll keep you informed!

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

"The 'Dick Turpin' savings bank"

The banks appear to have won the great bank charges debate, thanks to a high court ruling that basically says the OFT aren't allowed to rule on whether charges are fair or not.

There are two points of view about bank account charges. The first is from the point of view of people who are careful with their cash, never go overdrawn, and aren't subject to charges. They argue that if, as banks claim, the charges they levy on unauthorised overdrafts and the like allow them to continue to offer free bank accounts, then why should they have to start paying a monthly fee on their account? Which is true, I guess.

The other view is, that in today's modern age, it costs next to nothing if the bank has to refuse a payment. They don't even send letters anymore, if you have a paperless account. In my experience, the people who are regularly running up charges on their accounts are either bad at finances, which is their hard luck, or more likely the low paid, who are only permanently running up charges because it's the charges themselves that are putting them in the red. If you are having financial difficulty, it seems a bit unfair that you are subsidising people who can easily afford to pay their way in life, by luck or judgement. Anyone can fall on hard times in the future, and we'll see if some of the smug 'well don't go overdrawn then' smart-alecs are so clever if their financial circumstances change. City centres the country over are populated with Big Issue sellers who probably didn't expect to be in a position of homelessness.

Here's a couple of examples. 3 years ago, I bought a telly over a 2 year loan, but accidentally gave the d/d details for a savings account with no money in it. That's my fault. The bank charged me because they refused to pay the bill, because there was no money in the account, and no overdraft facility. They took the charge from the very same account, making it overdrawn and incurring a charge for an unauthorised overdraft. The company taking the money charged me for the rejected payment, and because the d/d was set for the payment due date, they charged me again for being behind with my payments. That one error cost me £130 in charges, for a £40 payment, one charge being for something the bank did but wouldn't let me do, and one because there was no leeway on payment dates. Which I think is unfair. There's no way the cost to the banks was anywhere near that amount.

3 months ago, a payment took our joint account over it's limit. We were charged for this. The bank also rejected two direct debit payments, one of which was for £8. Total charges; £105. We put money into the account to cover being overdrawn - we'd already worked out we needed more money that month, but because the bank couldn't be bothered putting a letter in the post we thought we'd put the money in on time. We hadn't, and next month the exact same thing happened. Ironically, the only reason we went over our limit again, was because of the £105 charge. So, going £50 over the overdraft limit will probably end up costing us the thick end of £300.

I don't think that's fair. I accept it's my fault, but for one small error I'm penalised beyond my means - we haven't go £300 to spare. Especially when I know that the cost to the bank was limited. The bank, incidentally, has changed the charges on it's account to much less, as have others, and I suspect they didn't expect to win today's ruling. They did, and can now continue to take our money at will. And although I'm no socialist, the poor subsidising the better off is wrong.

The one thing it has done is make me more determined to end my reliance on banks, so today is the first day of my 5-year plan to pay off everything I owe. Then I can tell the banks to shove it.

Incidentally, I work for a bank. I like my salary, so will say no more than refer you to the famous words of Mark Twain;

"A banker is a fellow who lends you his umbrella when the sun is shining, but wants it back the minute it begins to rain."

Friday, 13 November 2009

another b%**!y birthday

image: creative paper

I turned 37 on monday, as anyone on Facebook will know, and a week later I've not come to terms with it yet.

Which is odd. Some one once told me that if you got up this morning, it's already a good day, and he was right. So I got older, but that's to be celebrated.

Except that, as you know, I'm stuck in the past. My life ain't great at present, and every time I look at methods to improve this, people invariably require money to assist in getting out of the great rut I've lodged myself firmly into. So it's only to be expected, then, that I look to happier times, and happier birthdays.

Hm. Happier birthdays? I've been recapping some of the birthdays I've had in the past, and some have definitely being better than others. 18, I spent with family having a pub meal, which was pleasant if not exciting. 21, the family came round again, and everyone had a jolly time, I believe. 19, I vaguely remember the drunken, and exceptionally embarrassing (and ultimately, unsuccessful - unsurprisingly, really; I'm amazed I escaped without a slap, or twenty) attempts of making 'friends' with a work colleague. Oooooooh lordy, that still makes me shiver.

13, now that was a laugh. Bonfire night with some kids from school, highlights being 'Briggsy' stepping backwards onto a rocket and watching the sellotape-repaired projectile almost blow up next door's house, and the unintended (and deeply upsetting) destruction of my collection of painted Airfix WW2 fighter planes, in 1:72 scale. The day culminating in a gunfight with various toy guns, firing projectiles of disk/sucker dart variety.

17 was the first birthday I don't particularly recall getting excited about. I remember getting up, and not being fussed, getting ready and going out without any real celebration or inclination to do so. At all. Ironically, my 17th birthday was also the day the Berlin wall came down, so perhaps it's not surprising the entire day paled into insignificance.

30, I spent a weekend in a B&B in Wharfedale, which was fantastic, so much so we went back for my wife's 30th. Hers was more memorable, due to the whole of the dales being flooded; we almost didn't make it back to the b&b, but it sticks in the brain and provided some good pictures.
22. The university had organised buses to London, at £4 a head, so we could all attend a student march. So we went to London, and ignored the march to have a day in the capital. For £4. Most enjoyable.

And that's it. No other birthdays stick in the head, or stand out, sadly. Which suggests I'm either boring, or don't do anything exciting anymore, or both. Someone else once told me (a French teacher, as I recall) that life is like a bar of Galaxy. 8 chunks, 10 years a chunk, and that's it. Well, I'm 3 years off my 4th chunk, so I'd better start getting ready for 40!

Anyway. To end the week, and try and cheer me up a bit (!) here's a video. The obvious one would be Stevie Wonder singing his birthday greetings to Nelson Mandela, but that's boring and obvious and I'd much rather be reminded of Clare Grogan in her prime, so enjoy, courtesy of Youtube.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

ho ho chuffin' ho

I went into a famous catalogue-shopping establishment (let's call it 'argoose') last week. End of October, and they were playing christmas tunes over the tannoy. It's started, then, the countdown to christmas.

I used to love the festive season. As a kid, it's great. It's your one chance to own a decent telly/stereo/computer. When I was 7, we all had to write letters to Santa at school. I asked for a torch, and a 'Race & Chase' slot-racing-budget-Scalextric thing. Remarkably, that's what I got, so credit to the school for organising that one! Thing is, it was exciting. Even when I got older, Christmas was still a laugh.

Then I started work. My first job was for Gateway supermarkets, in November 1988. Christmas was hard work, but a laugh. The tannoy music was cheesy, but Christmas started properly in December, and in the years after, the money I earnt in this job paid for some fantastic nights out over Christmas. Christmas Eve to me was a better night than New Year, because it wasn't as busy and everyone was up for a laugh. Even the year I was spectacularly ill on sweet cider whilst in fancy dress was a laugh.

Then something changed. I continued to work in supermarkets, for Kwik-Save and then Iceland. Back in 1988, Christmas Eve had a pattern, the morning was mad-busy with people buying fresh produce, and the afternoon went quiet as people went home to prepare for the next day. We'd all go home by 4pm.

The rot started at Kwik Save. Firstly, they opened Sundays. Then, they opened late nights until 10pm - an utter waste of time, and on the council estate I worked on, it was a serious security risk as well. That was followed by a mandate that at close of business Christmas Eve, we all had to stay late to get the shop ready for re-opening, and that took away the one perk of retail. We'd worked like idiots for a week so we could relax on Christmas Eve, but now we were being told that we had to stay late, whilst I suspect the head office and board of directors were all down the pub.

Something else changed. Christmas started in August, not December or even late-November. By December 24th, we'd had 4 months of it. In addition, customers changed. Christmas Eve became busy all day. Customers started buying more and more junk they didn't need. In reality, the shops are shut for one day, but it became really obvious that as a retailer, my job was to take as much money from the customer as possible, whether they had it or not.

And that killed it for me. Not just the 4 months of festive season, but the realisation that there really isn't any purpose to Christmas anymore, other than to spend money on crap. Crap that in reality, on boxing day will probably be half price. Crap that is readily available throughout the year, but we've been programmed to buy it in December.

People hear this, and then tell me 'Ah, but it's for families'. Hmm. It's the perfect time of the year for people to be made to feel inadequate that their family isn't perfect, particularly those who've lost relatives. You get cards from people who you've not seen for ten years, and cards from people at work you see every day, for God sake. TV is full of trash, even more so than usual, and the Queen gets to patronise her long-suffering subjects.

So, if I appear grumpy over Christmas, I apologise, but truthfully it has no meaning to me anymore, other than to sit in front of the telly enjoying some time off work with a fridge full of beer, Which I think is a bit sad. I doubt Santa will be bringing me a torch this year!