Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Things that I don’t understand #1

Something's not quite right.

The first installment in a slightly less bile-filled series of lists about things that confuse and perplex me. I suspect this might have something to do with my age.

1) Quilted toilet paper
A close-up of this strange phenomenon. Why would you pin-prick flowers onto your poop roll?

I just don’t get quilted toilet paper (also known as QTP). It is evidently too thick to be of 100% efficacy for one’s nether regions, and it certainly looks anything but good taste. For me, quilted toilet paper is akin to those gold plastic boxes that people put tissues into to disguise the (far more aesthetically pleasing) cardboard box. Am I alone in thinking that QTP is not to be found in the finer establishments of this hallowed isle of Great Britain? I have visited Eltham Palace. It was not there. I have been to Claridges. It was not there. But I have found it in an old lady's bathroom (not my mother's, thankfully), along with a doll in a knitted dress coyly hiding another QTP roll under her voluminous pink skirts.

2) Tight jeans with saggy bottoms
I think I am going blind
First, there were straight-legged jeans. Then there were straight-legged jeans that hung down slightly at the waist, prison style. Now there are tight tight tight jeans with saggy bottoms. Apparently they are called Drop Crotch Skinnies. Ye gods and little fishes. I don’t understand these at all. Usually sported by skinny white men with bristling beards – the sort of wiry-looking men most prisoners would avoid near the shower rooms – these trousers seem to be spray-painted on until the thigh area, whereupon they just – sag. Is this because hipsters couldn’t manage to pull their tight pants down quickly enough to go to the toilet? Did North London experience an epidemic of poopy pants because nobody could peel the denim away from their hot sweaty thighs in time to squat? Is this a clever fashion device to allow hipsters freedom of botty movement? If so, then I completely get this trend. If not, then no, I don’t understand Drop Crotch Skinnies.

3) Smart Water
Have you seen this water? Call 0900-SuckerPunch now
Water is not smart. Water is water. It should have a neutral PH of approximately 7 – not too acidic, not too full of other base minerals, but it does not have a PHD. The only thing smart about Smart Water is the fact that someone realised that some people – usually those who wear tight denim with saggy bottoms – will be willing to pay £2.50 or more for a bottle of water. So while water has been around for millions of years, some suckers at the teat of posh water bottles really have just been born yesterday.

That is all. For now.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Things that make me feel ill

                          The latest in a series of rants that began before the internet was created. 

Ok so these are First World Problems
1) Halitosis
More specifically, someone else's bad breath. 
I had a real blast of this yesterday on the train home. I was so happy to get a seat, given that the majority of the time we are packed in closer than incestuous sardines in a hillbilly can, but at what cost? At what cost, indeed. For I was next to a smartly-dressed young man with the worst breath in the world. It was so bad I had to sit with my back to him. I opened the window. I had to take off my cardigan because I was overheating with the need to puke. I sprayed my scarf with scent and held it over my face. I don't even know how he could have managed to gut-breath the carriage, given that he rarely opened his gingivitis-beriddled mouth. Even the flowers printed onto the lady's dress opposite wilted. When he got off the train at Streatham, we literally breathed a sigh of relief. Except for the girl across from me, who was dead.

2) Papaya
Nasty little ass fruit
This evil little fruit. Look at its innocent little face. I've had it in drinks before, I've enjoyed the scent of my body butters and hand lotions. Nothing prepared me for the satanic devastation it caused to my tastebuds. It smelled so nice! The juices I have been drinking seemed so rich and nourishing. So when I got the chance for some fresh papaya at a five-star hotel in Thailand, I thought my breakfasting dreams had come true. I loaded my plate with delicious fruit and returned, starry-eyed, to my table and prepared to savour the delights. What a load of ass. Literally. It tasted like ass. I tried it twice, to be sure. It resembled an ass's ass. The ass of a donkey. The sour, vomit-laden assfruit of a dead donkey. The supporating puss-filled colon of a putrefying mule carcass. I suspect my rotting-gummed friend above has been licking papaya. 

3) Farts
Other people's, of course. Mine smell like roses. Or KFC. Sometimes both. I don't understand why people do not seem to enjoy the wind of my labours in the same way that I do. They cannot appreciate art, evidently. However other people's dropped wind is the breath of the devil and all his hellish minions. It is the foul air that emanates from the pit of sulphur and lime, the demesne of all that is wrong. And when it happens on a train, a tube, or in a hospital waiting room (oh that one was the worst - death farts from hideously ill people) ... ugh. But the very very worst, the Titan of all worseness.... the fart of a cat. Just take my word for it.

4) Mint Choc-Chip Icecream

Have you ever licked between the toes of an ageing, tuberculoid polar bear? No? Well try some mint choc-chip icecream and enjoy a similar experience (best to hit the polar bear with a tranquiliser first). After tasting this delicacy, hit yourself with a tranq gun. It will take away the burning pain in your mouth and make everything seem good again. Food colourings, creme de menthe, a frozen putrescence. And that's just what's in a polar bear's toejam. This 'delicacy' even has its own Wikipedia page. Disgusting.

5) Death socks
Socks worn by other people. Socks that have not only been worn by other people, all day, but then end up on your side of the sofa. Socks that you realise, half-way through a film, are stroking your arm. Your bare arm. Touching the skin. Your skin. Dear saints have mercy. Also to fear are the socks being pinged off a pungent foot and waved around near your face. PROTECT YOUR EYES! Protect them from the foot-bogies that will ping off into your mouth, if it is open.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Not such a Nisa Isa

Keep saving, keep saving
I’ve been noticing it for a while, the slow clandestine creep downwards of rates on cash Isa products.

I started off with 3.5 per cent more than a decade ago on an HSBC Isa. In the heady heights of 2006 I managed to wrangle 4.25 per cent from HSBC, before the mighty crash. By the time I’d recovered from redundancy and was back on my feet to start adding to my savings, I was not only getting about 0.5 per cent but also having to endure three compounded errors in a row (where HSBC had lost my cheques/applications).

From thence I switched to Leeds Building Society, which in 2010 was the only one offering anywhere near 3 per cent. Within a year, it was down to 2.5 per cent and then down to 1.75 per cent for two years.

Now the most I can get from Leeds is a 1-year fix on 1.5 per cent. Still better than my husband’s Barclays Isa which is less than 1 per cent.

So having decided in 2014 that I wanted to start with stocks and shares I invested with Hargreaves Lansdown and started building up a tiny portfolio, while my 2-year cash Isa lingered untouched in the hallowed halls of the Headrow.

Thus far, the 2014/2015 S&S has returned 8 per cent in total; some parts, like the proverbial egg, are better than others. I’m not worried. It’s an 8 per cent gain not an 8 per cent loss, and it’s still better than any cash Isa on the market. It’s also more than any costs I would incur if I pulled the plug.

But this is my Long-long-long term saving. I want something up to two years in case Mr K and I get sprogged up or decide to go on a tour of the Antipodes. So I had a look for cash Isas on t’interwebs yesterday and found that the best rate was one from Santander, for 2 per cent. However I had to be a 1,2,3 customer. Always a catch.

I have opted for 1.85 per cent from Kent Reliance, which is the third highest rate I could find. The second was with Julian Hodge but I got bored of all the click-throughs on the website while looking up how to invest, so I went with Kent Reliance. I have to say, it was all done online within about five minutes - a simple, smooth and clear process. You can’t beat that kind of ease.

Yet I am still left with a bitter taste in my mouth that cannot be (solely) as a result of slightly off milk in my coffee this morning.

I wish providers would stop calling an Isa of 2% a ‘Nisa’. It’s not nice. It’s barely palatable. It might look good compared to CPI but let’s look at RPI, shall we? Let’s consider seven years of below-inflationary pay rises across the UK (assuming a level inflation rate of 2.5 per cent).

True I don’t have to pay so much for sour milk or petrol (maybe I accidentally put petrol into my Gold Blend this morning? I was quite tired). But I do have (supposedly) quite a few more miles to go in this chassis and I need my money to keep pace with me.

What’s so nice about 2 per cent? Maybe I should have gone all out on my S&Ss Isa. Many people would tell me to do so. But I like having cash, I need a bit of a cash net and, if figures from Cofunds are anything to go by, so do a lot of people in the UK.

According to Cofunds, Money Market funds saw impressive net sales in March, which resulted in the sector placing third in the net sales leader-board in the first quarter of 2015.

Furthermore, data released recently by the Investment Association has shown that net sales of S&S Isas slumped to just £325m in the key January to 5 April tax year end period - the once-heralded ‘Isa Season’. That’s a 57 percent drop from the £756m in the same period last year and despite the previous government increasing the annual allowance.

So people are looking for a safer place for their money. Cash and cash-like securities are winning combinations for people looking for a tax-efficient investment.

Banks and building societies should be falling over themselves to woo this money towards them, with more competitive rates. At the moment they’re competing to see who can offer the lowest rate. This isn’t a year of the Nicer Isa. It’s a Nasty Isa. It’s a farce. And we put up with it because they know we will. Because they know we want something in Cash, something more accessible. They’re right. We grumble but we put up with it because, well, what are the options? Property? Money Market funds? 
Most of us plebs haven’t got that kind of cash to stash. I can’t even afford a Lamb, let alone a Lambo.
I accept we have to accept these low rates. Nobody is going to listen to we great unwashed in this shady economic environment. But please, stop pretending these are Nisas. They’re not. They’re Pathetic Isas. Pisas. And I’ll leave the pronunciation up to you.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Who calls me? Spam numbers


Beautiful Ballachulish
The village of Ballachulish in Lochaber, HighlandScotland, is centred on former slate quarries. 

It’s a beautiful part of the world. Apparently. I’ve never been. But Today I got called at 10:10 am by this number: 01855 605 303

This is evidently a spam number. I know nobody in Ballachulish. I don’t tend to give out my mobile number when I fill in forms, etc. If I do, I always tweak one of the numbers so it’s not accurate.

Yesterday, I got called at 11:43am by 01943 593491. This is from a place called Guisely, based in the City of Leeds metropolitan borough in West Yorkshire, England. Historically part of the West Riding of Yorkshire, it is situated south of Otley and Menston, it is a suburb of north west Leeds.

Also, a very beautiful little town. From the pictures I’ve seen, it has quaint limestone walls and small grey-stone buildings.

But once again I know nobody who lives there. And nobody who would want to call me in the morning. The mystery deepens.

On Tuesday, I was phoned by 01792 828958. This is a proper firm called Opinion Research Services. At least, it has a web presence. Now, nobody can be 100% sure that any firm with a web presence is actually genuine but it looks genuine. It has even put a helpful notice on its website:

“Our telephone interviewing centre based in Swansea makes calls from 01792 828958, 01792 674980 or 01792 348614. We understand that many people are reluctant to answer calls from numbers that they don't recognise, so we have prepared this FAQ page for people who receive a call from us and then search for 01792 828958, 01792 674980 or 01792 348614. It explains who we are, why we are calling and will hopefully answer any other questions you may have.”

Well, not really. I want to know how it knows who I am and how it has my personal mobile number. Anyway. Of course I ignored it.

Monday was also fun. At 11:57 I was called from Bridgend on 01656 360199. Again although I know a few people there, nobody would call me. You see the pattern here? Random numbers from across the UK, all calling at roughly the same time. I actually answered this one as “Newsdesk”. When they realised they’d called the national newsdesk of a major newspaper, they quickly apologised, said they’d remove me from their database, and hung up.

I bet they didn’t. I bet they passed me to Guisely and Ballachulish.

I had quite a few unwanted calls on Monday. Spammers 0843 724 0610 called me – I get this one quite regularly. In fact, it has its own entry in my phone book as “Spam”.
That evening, Opinion Research Services called me again.

I got spammed by Spam on Sunday, by ORS again on Sunday, by Morons last week – Morons being 0117 301 7723. They also have a special entry in my phone book.

ORS called me twice more last Friday, last Thursday, and last Wednesday.
I got a fun call from 0800 056 2422 on the 19th, ORS on the 19th, again in the morning from 0800 056 2422. ORS is starting to be a PITA (pain in the xxxx)

On 18th I got called by 01530 382 170. This is from the place called Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Coalville. This is accordingly a very nice place to visit in Leicestershire. It boasts several centuries’ worth of historical activity, Norman Castles and quiet English Pubs.

Overall, the past couple of weeks I’ve been blessed by such a national variety of spammers trying to do whatever – sell me PPI or talk to me about my accident claim. In fact, it’s risen so much over the past couple of weeks that I have to suspect either that my details have been passed on by one of my providers – I recently signed up with Amex – or someone has a grudge against me (perfectly reasonable) and has put my number on every single spammer’s website to punish me.

I can only assume I am being punished. And I probably deserve it. But just in case you get met with one of these numbers, I am informing you now to be aware. The scammers are everywhere, even in the middle of absolutely frigging nowhere. 

Friday, February 20, 2015


I am not sure how I managed it. I'm not sure how I got here. But I am sure of one thing: it is National Cat Day and therefore I must post pictures of cats.

Not just any cats. No no. Surprised cats.

You're welcome.

1) Derp. Yep, there's one in every family.
Photobombing Kitty Style

2) Help! Ray's turned Feral!
The Zombie A-paw-calypse starts

3) You serious? That's your new boyfriend?
I can't believe the horror 

5) NO WAY!
well I never!
6) Get it away from me!  GETTITAWAYFROM ME!!!!!
So. Much. Terror.
Death come swiftly I beg thee
8) Caption says it all

               HAPPY CATURDAY FOLK!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Valentines-Day Wash Out

I am exhausted. Getting to the end of the week seems a chore, a nightmare scenario each week. Going out in the evenings fills me with dread. Sleep evades me.

This is probably why I thought for once, on Valentine's Day, I might be able to have a little bit of a lie-in, at least until 9am. A romantic lie-in, I suggested. This is basically exactly the same as a lie-in but I thought if I threw the word 'romantic' in front of it, it might actually sound special and therefore acceptable as a Valentine's Day activity.

Well that didn't quite happen, as mom popped round to give us a little present and to collect hers, but as she didn't stay for breakfast, I thought I could catch another hour's kip until about 9:30. The intention had been to get up at 9:30, 10am and make pancakes. Then Mr Mermaid and myself could decide where we would be going for a day out. A nice walk in the countryside, maybe to a country pub, then back home where Mr Mermaid would have to do some freelance work.

I slept until 11am, and just about shook myself out of my stupor to create the below - Canadian style blueberry pancakes with Maple Syrup - while Mr M popped out to the shops.

I had just about enough time to make the pancakes and put the finishing touches to his gifts from me - wrapping his Penhaligon's candle, icing the enormous heart-shaped choc chip cookie I'd baked on Thursday, and writing on his card, which was also hand-made - when Mr M came back.

The feast was all we'd hoped. In fact, it was so good that we felt a little sleepy. After some lovely gifts from the hubby - a rose, some choccies and some Clinique make-up, I headed for the sofa, and fell fast asleep. I didn't wake up again until 4pm.


I was SO knackered, you couldn't even imagine. What a Valentine's Day wash-out! We managed to get to Tooting, to Honest Burger, and have a nice short meal, then come home again. An hour out of the house. Immediately upon entering, I made myself a cup of tea, re-entered my onesie and thereafter I lazed (and grazed) on the sofa again for a few hours while Mr M worked.

We did have a friend to put up that evening, as she was stuck for somewhere to crash for the night, so I made her bed, got a hot chocolate ready - and that is all I remember of Saturday. Hearing everyone's tales of wintry walks, pub lunches, days out on the Thames, shows or evening date nights has made me concerned for my physical well-being. Mental, too. I took a test yesterday on Facebook, probably one of those awful BuzzFeed things, which says my mental age is 53.


Frankly I am unsurprised, though I am shocked. I am always tired, always working, never resting. I do not want to go out with friends or with work. I want to stay at home and sleep. This week I am out three nights in a row and dreading it. It is the worst possible thing that could happen to me. I say no to going out on Saturdays because I just can't face how tired I will be afterwards. I literally do not want to do anything. Every time I get invited to something I groan inwardly.

So much for Valentine's Day, birthdays, Easter, etc etc. Might as well buy me one of those fat lady scooters now so I can just hum along to the shops and collect my pension.

PS  I also made a stack of pancakes for the office this week, cinnamon and blueberry American style (with the ubiquitous maple syrup). I think they went down well.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Why Santa is a Terrible, Wicked Man

Evil Santa?
Anti-Santaism isn't just believing there is no Santa, but the thought that if there is a Santa, he is a malicious, malevolent being and to be despised above all beings.

The idea that one man, one supernatural being can willy-nilly make or break a child's emotional, mental and spiritual state at Christmas is obscene. Santa is a megalomaniac, an absolute despot, passing judgement on children who because of circumstance or upbringing are breaking his so-called 'naughty laws'. Who made him a judge over children? It's evil. There are children begging for help in this world, who are suffering from terrible diseases, abuse, wars, famine.

Santa has the power to help them at Christmas. But he doesn't. He gives expensive gifts to children who do not need them, and does not answer the pleas of the desperate, the needy, those dying of
starvation or from a lack of clean water.

What kind of a being is that, who would leave children in such a world? What a wicked, nasty character people believe in. He does not use his supernatural powers for good, but makes demands on people to thank him, to be grateful, to present their grovelling petitions to him so he can make some arbitrary decision over their lives.

If I were to go to the North Pole - and I wouldn't want to, personally the Tooth Fairy is much more likeable, seeking to give back to children who have lost something - I would say to Santa: "How dare
you? How dare you create such misery for thousands, millions of children around the world? How dare you leave children to starve on the streets of Calcutta or Brazil, when you could easily give them
food and shelter. Who gave you the right to decide upon whom to bestow your so-called Christmas spirit?"

No, Santa is not good. He is wicked, evil, despotic and a megalomaniac. He is a madman and I hate him, I hate his nasty little lists (who gave him the right to say who is naughty and who is nice?). If I saw Rudolph I would punch him in his bright red nose.

But wait.. What is this you are saying? 'Why? Why rail against Santa? Why all this aggressive spewing of bile against someone who does not exist? He doesn't exist, so it is impossible that you can hate him. You cannot hate him for what he has never done, because he never existed.'

Ah. You see, to rage and rave against a non-entity, something that does not exist, well that does not make sense, does it? It like is a man shouting into the wind, telling it to stop but achieving nothing.
It is the ranting of a person so full of hate that it simply does not matter that the thing he hates does not exist. It is the ranting of a madman, fighting an unseen assailant, battling only with the image in
his mind.

I do not really hate Santa, because he does not exist. I have no feelings towards him either good or bad. Seeing his face on billboards does not choke me up with rage, nor do I blame him for the suffering of millions of children across the world at Christmastime. If you were to question things logically, you would see how futile it would be of me to expend so much hatred on a myth.

If Santa does not exist, it is illogical to hate him and what he has done, or to accuse him of not doing something that he should have. To hate, to question, to accuse in this way actually gives form to him,
gives him credibility, gives him an identity. The very thing you hate and claim does not exist, now exists in the form you have created, but - and here is the kicker - only in your mind. Well done you. You've officially lost the plot.

But what if? What if it was not just a myth! What if Santa does exist? Well it would still be in your right to hate him for all those reasons outlined above. That is fair enough. But then you would need to give Santa the right to respond. And perhaps you may have to admit that you might have been wrong about Santa, after all, you were wrong about him not existing at all. But you would hate that even more.

You see, you cannot make a stand on the grounds that Santa is a myth, and does not exist, if you are so concerned about all the things he has done wrong. He's a myth. He has therefore done nothing wrong.

But if you persist in accusations and hatred of his character, person and being, then you cannot say you do not believe in him, or that he is not real, rather that you simply choose to believe your version about him.

A-Santaism therefore as a concept eats itself. The thing that gives it validity is that there is no Santa to believe in. But to justify this disbelief, one must actively hate, one must discredit the person, being, actions and thoughts of Santa, thereby making him a real concept. You cannot hate what is not there; you cannot tear down that which has not been built up.

Don't get me started on the Easter Bunny.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The peculiar incident of the cat in the daytime

Monty Baggins the angelic (?) cat
It started off so well.

Actually, not so well. It started off with me cleaning the windowsill of a (then) empty study overlooking the back garden.

From there I could see our Rum-Tum-Tugger, aka Monty the Cat, perched insouciant on the border fence between our house and the neighbours' on the left.

He was making rude noises at something small and fluffy on their lawn. It looked like a grey owl, but turned out to be a small kitten, all fur and eyes the colour of ripening pumpkins.

Before I could utter a warning, he had leaped into their garden and was saying very nasty things, dark things, irascible words for which there is thankfully no discernible human meaning, whereupon a jet of water sprang out from a hosepipe and he bounded back into the sanctity of our home.

Of course, I laughed out loud, which prompted three ladies sitting in the garden to look up. These were our new neighbours. Correctly, we were their new neighbours, and Monty had just attempted to rough up their kitten. What a bully!

But this was nothing compared to what happened one terrible, sultry, summer afternoon, back in '14.

It happened thus. Monty and I were doing nuttin while sitting inside and saw Rowdy cat (the un-neutered black and white tomcat) prowl into a neighbour's garden and pick a fight with Flea (the fluffy black cat who lives up the way). They were hammer and tongs, then entered our garden, then entered Left Hand Neighbours' garden. There was their grey kitty, still too young to be speyed but old enough to be on heat. They were chasing her round the garden, making those weird, angry sexual sounds that only cats can make.

This catfight had been going on for hours. The ladies next door managed to get their cat in, and the couple to the left had managed to spook the black cat with a gentle squirt to the behind, but Rowdy and the black cat were still circling each other - now in our yard.

So thinking the coast was clear, and with Monty definitely raring to go outside and show these muppets what a real bruising was (he grew up in Streatham), I decided it would be a reasonable, grown-up, adult thing to do to don a cape, put Monty on my shoulders, and gallop out of the back door towards the two spatting cats while singing the Feline version of Ride of the Valkyries.

I called it ..... Apocalypse Meow, and it goes like this.

"Meow Mi-mi MEOW Miaw, Mew mi-mi MEOW Miaw, Mew mi-mi MEOW Miaw, MEOW MEOW MEOW MEOOOOOWWW."

Just in case you were wondering.

Anyway the two caterwauling kitties froze mid-yawl and looked at us in horror, the caped pink, two-legged beast (me) and the Ginger cat sitting astride her shoulders like the Colossus of old. And then they scarpered.

"Yeah" I shouted at their retreating forms. "Monty brought a Human to a cat fight". I think I even did a gangland sign.

Just then, heard a male voice shout with laughter "Well done Mermaid" ... and looked round to see pretty much all neighbours, left and right, looking out of their windows at me.

I will never live this down.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Christmas under the sea

It is a common misconception that Mer-people do not celebrate Christmas.

This is blatant error, no doubt perpetuated by Fox News, which has a penchant for key facts, such as the rampage of the Muslim Religious Police that haunt parts of the UK and beat you for entering a no-go zone.

In fact, Mer-people love Christmas.

This year the tree was purple, pink, gold and teal, with a kind of 'Arabian Nights' theme to much of the food - spiced parsnip and tarragon soup for starters; baklava and figs for nibbles and Greek sweetmeats and goodies sent to us by the inlaws.

However, no Christmas is complete without the usual fusion of Germanic and American-inspired holiday favourites, such as Gingerbread houses (made and decorated by yours truly) cookies and cakes (also made and decorated by yours truly), stollen, stockings for Santa to fill and general gourmandising excess.

However, it all got too much for one member of the Mermaid's household, who could not cope with the sheer volume of treats from the table and gifts - many of which were from friends of the family who felt it was important to treat Monty the Cat as if he were a human child - and succumbed to a weird stupor on the settee.

Monty the Cat in post-Christmas 'Nip Trauma
And for a fuller view of the various Christmas decorations and food, simply for those who like a good nosey around the Mermaid's palace, follow me on instagram: http://instagram.com/simoneysunday/

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Press Release of the Decade

We just got sent this about a new green chauffeur service....
Every single Fleet Street Journalist got this very informative press release.

XXXXXXXX@econnectcars.com via sendgrid.me  (12:08)

Hi Mermaid,

I am writing to you from (name of company) (URL of company) to let you know about (our product, new launch, event, award etc). It is (launching, starting, appearing, on sale etc) from (insert date) and is available from (insert brief description). Don’t hesitate to get in touch if you want more information.

On (x date), (company name) (company URL) is (details of news – eg launching a new product, holding an event, won an award, new person starting a job).

Insert line indicating why it is ‘news’ and what makes it interesting e.g. first time product/event, new launch, celebrity involved, award received)

Insert line on what sets you apart – any personal angle or interesting facts/statistics?)

Other key points – list (bullet points) and other areas of interest – maximum 5 points)
(Insert prices and availability. Include stockist details if appropriate or location and timing of event)

Please let me know if you use this story.

Best wishes,

For press enquiries, further information or to set up a product review / request product:
eConnect cars



Tuesday, December 09, 2014

The name game

Something that really annoys me is when I answer the phone by saying my full name, and the person who has called me struggles to pronounce my name, or asks

"Is XXXXX there?"

YES you dolt, I am here. I answered the phone. I answered the phone with my name. With my full name, pronounced correctly.

I also get emails responding to mine where the respondent has assumed my name is a man's name, and not bothered to read either my sign-off or the email address or the signature underneath the email.

Sometimes they do this several times.

But the most annoying is when someone I have known for 15 years HANDWRITES a card to me and gets my name wrong. Not the spelling - that is forgivable - but the actual name. Calling me by a man's name instead of my name.

I'm simply going to delete every single email without reading it, and put the phone down on every single person not getting the name right in future until they learn. They're trying to sell me their services, their ideas, their people. I don't have to sell them anything. They're the ones wanting to "reach out to me".

By the way - ugh - 'reach out'. What an appalling phrase, conjured up by illiterate and uneducated jargon-munchers. I do actually delete everything that comes with people offering to reach out to me. Reach out to me and I'll rip your flagging arm off.

Lord Sugar wouldn't stand for it. Why should I?


Learn your audience
Spell-check before you send

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Gyrating Bananas

Know your internet memes, Canadians
Among all the news stories hitting the headlines this week about young girls heading off to Syria to fight against Islamic State, or potential terrorist attacks thwarted by undercover police stings, one act of cyber-terrorism, or rather, hactivisim, which went almost unnoticed, caught my beady eye.

I guess this was because it happened in Canada, and unless there is something dramatic that involves heroic security guards at the houses of parliament, news from the nice neighbours across the Pond does not make it big over here.

It might also be because the act was itself pretty darn hilarious, so hard news sites have found it difficult to report on without indulging in a little bit of headline hamming or spurious photos.

Basically, since Friday, people wanting to log onto official websites for Canada's Parliament, its Supreme Court, the city of Ottawa and the Ottawa and Toronto police forces have been occasionally greeted by what the New York Times can only describe as a "a gyrating, anthropomorphic banana" or, more frequently but less amusingly, an error message.

According to the reports secreted in the bottom of newspaper columns, the strange banana shake was prompted by a hacker or a small group of hackers supporting the cause of an Ottawa teenager who was charged last spring with making hoax telephone calls throughout North America.

Along with the banana, the group/person called Aerith, who claimed responsibility for the hacking, posted statements denouncing the city’s police and provided personal information about the lead investigator and the city’s police chief.

I do not applaud the dissemination of private information about individuals, who are only doing their jobs as far as the law is concerned, but I do applaud someone who can make a statement so well and so widely, employing a favourite internet meme to put the message across.

Fans of the gyrating banana referred to so obliquely by the NYT will know that this was the famous 'Peanut Butter Jelly Time' banana, a heavily pixellated dancing flash animation from c. 2000-2001, which asked: "What time is it? It's Peanut Butter Jelly Time".

The internet - what a mine of information it is, not all of it useful - also informs me there is an emoticon developed for people who wish to insert a dancing banana into any emails. Thankfully I have not updated Blogspot with this, or I may have been tempted to insert it here.

A more famous parody would be Brian Griffin's attempts to cheer up Peter by performing the PBJT dance.

Family Guy Brian Griffin and Peter Griffin
I did want to see the gyrating banana dancing across official Canadian websites, but so far I have had no luck. But right now, all I want is a big piece of bread, smothered in grape jelly and peanut butter. It is 4:30. So surely, SURELY, it must be peanut butter jelly time - somewhere? Probably in Ontario.

I'm off to Canada.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Flaggin' mansions!

My defence of Ed Miliband last week got a storming response on Facebook, not all of it polite, but it certainly raised quite a few issues.

Since then, I have discovered two things: 
  • Someone has started a petition to remove Myleene Klass as the face of Littlewoods
  • Some Labour MPs (and ex MPs) will fall into the Mansion Tax bracket.
Let's deal with Littlewoods first. Personally, I like Myleene Klass. She was very sweet to my mother at a party we went to (her family are friends of our family) and she spent 20 minutes trying to explain how to use a digital camera to her. Anyone who has enough patience to teach my tech-illiterate mother how to use a camera has to be a good person, in my book. 

However, since her tirade against Ed, which I think was a thoroughly misguided and ill-informed topic for her to tackle, more than 8000 people have signed this petition on Change.org. There has also been a counter-petition for her to not be dropped, which has so far generated 590 supporters. 

I don't think Littlewoods should drop her, but a media-savvy PR at the firm should sit down with their face of the brand and explain to her that the target audience for Littlewoods is not likely to sympathise with people who have to shell out £1.8m for a garage.

Next, Emily Thornberry, a thorn in the side of Ed Miliband. There must be something about the man that means every week, a woman will publicly berate him or cause him embarrassment. Last week it was the turn of this woman in her £2m+ mansion, who tweeted a picture of a house in Rochester, swathed in England flags. In case you have been living in a bubble/not in the UK, here's the tweet:

That Thornberry Tweet Rochester
I can't help feeling a slight twinge of guilt when I read about Emily Thornberry's tweet. Sure, the people living in this house are unlikely to have felt any sympathy for those wealthy people complaining about the mansion tax, so they'd agree with Miliband on that. But they should not have to stomach the upper-classes sneering down their noses at them, publicly, on twitter.

People who have bought Thornberry's lame excuse: "I have never seen so many flags on a house, this is what I meant" are obviously living in cloud Kitten Land, where everything is beautiful and people tell the truth.

The truth is, she was taking the proverbial and - do not deny it - she said what many of us were thinking, especially when we saw TV footage of the man emerge from his house, cap on head, less than 100% fit and covered in tattoos. To be honest, I believe people should be allowed to fly their flags without being branded as anything by anybody, but when I saw him, my first thought was 'this is exactly the person I thought would live there'. Then I realised, guiltily, that someone else lives in a yellow house and flies the flag daily, without censure: 

Buckingham Palace
Who was I to criticise? I was no better than Thornberry. But I am just a person, not someone in public office, let alone a Labour personage living in a lofty house in North London. Her comment and the motive behind it smacked of upper-class snobbery. It smacked of Toryism of the Old School kind, not the kind that is pandering to UKIP. It reeked of Middle England putting the educational boot into the rest of us. And therefore Miliband was right to give her the boot, too. Oh, wait, sorry, yes, "accept her resignation". 

If Labour wants to prove it is for the people, for the masses, then its party members better start looking at their own lifestyle rather than criticise that of others, especially the voting public. Because it won't be too long before someone sets up a Change.org petition against the entire Labour shadow cabinet - and their £2m houses - and then we are left with nothing credible that can stand against the grinding, terrible machine that a Con-UKIP truce would bring.

However while I may not be able to pay a tax on something like this BIG WHACKING HOUSE unless I become a former prime minister, I am still convinced that if I did own a £21m house in a prime central London location, I would have more than enough equity and/or free cashflow to be able to pay a tax for the privilege.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

In defence of Ed Miliband

Ed Miliband, Labour Leader

I can hardly believe I am doing this but I agree with Ed Miliband.

In a week where he has been lambasted by celebrities, the media and politicians of all flavours, it is harder to praise the man than to bury him.

My old debating coach used to tell me it is harder to stand up for an unpopular cause than to decry one, and as I have always relished a challenge, I am unafraid by what might follow.

Ed Miliband is right.

While Myleene Klass may claim that £2m will just about get you a garage in London, and the media may agree, I would like to ask the normal, working people of London and the South East whether they live in a £2m garage.

It is my experience - 15 years as a financial services journalist, not as a celebrity commentator who reads the papers occasionally and listens to BBC Radio 4 - that the majority of people live in homes worth far less.

The average house price in the South East, according to the latest data from the Office for National Statistics and the Halifax House Price index, is somewhere between the figures these bodies have provided of £485,000 and £355,630 respectively.

That's a far cry for £2m - a figure skewed by the media and celebrity-rich areas of Kensington, Kingston, Chelsea, Putney, the City, Canary Wharf penthouses, Wimbledon Village, Dulwich Village, some parts of Clapham and Islington, and some parts of Golders Green and Finchley.

For the rest of us oiks, who slum it out in Brixton, Streatham, Peckham, Lewisham, Mitcham, Morden, Hackney, Newham, Hammersmith, Walthamstow, Balham, Norwood, Norbury, Thornton Heath, Hackbridge, Camberwell, Elephant & Castle, New Cross Gate, Lewisham, etc etc etc, well house prices just ain't anywhere near £2m.

We'd be grateful for a £2m garage, sure, but we are normal people who like normal houses that we can afford to maintain. If we were so desperate to live in an area that only had £2m garages, then we'd need to be paid seven-figure sums to advertise clothing catalogues.

But we don't. We are nurses, teachers, shop workers, journalists, pencil-pushers, council workers, administrators, bus drivers and the self-employed.

According to data from the Council of Mortgage Lenders, these normal people here in London and the South East have an average loan size of less than £250,000. Here's some statistical data to stick it to the whinging rich who have actually NO idea what real people earn or experience.

"First-time buyers typically borrowed 3.90 times their gross income, more than the 3.83 in the previous quarter and the UK average of 3.46. The typical loan size for first-time buyers was £212,000 in the second quarter, up from £200,000 in the previous quarter. The typical gross income of a first-time buyer household was £55,000 compared to £52,500 in the first quarter.

"Due to higher house prices within London compared to the UK overall, there was a continued shift in the mix of properties bought by first-time buyers in London towards more expensive properties. In the second quarter, 63% of first-time buyers bought properties priced at more than £250k, up from 57% in the first quarter and 51% in the same period last year. This was significantly higher than the UK overall level of 17%."

Yes it is true that house prices are higher in London - but as with all data, this is skewed by the super-rich areas where a dog kennel costs £70,000. This is not the experience of the vast majority of the population, for whom a £2m mansion is far above what any length of inflation and upward pressure on house prices could hope to achieve. 

Even if my own five-bedroomed house were to show house price rises of 600 per cent in the next 50 years, it could not match the £2m mansion tax proposed by Labour.

Now I am not agreeing that it is a good policy. But it may be a way to show that Labour is getting back to its roots - tax the rich and give to the NHS (and yes, if you have a £2m house you are going to be more wealthy than the majority of the UK population. Get out of your cars and go have a look at some of the poorer neighbourhoods around you).

It may also be a way of raising some much-needed revenue to shore up our ever-flagging deficit. 

I've sat through Budgets and Autumn Statements which each year tell me how great the government has been in cutting the deficit and getting us out of a recession, how austerity has helped us get back on our feet. 

And each time the figures get smaller, the achievement gets narrower, the prospect of being a country with no debt gets further away. This is called clever accounting by some, or wishful thinking by others. 

A proposed £2m tax on property - a theory by the way - might be a very convenient political football for a party that is already taxing people in council houses and on the lowest earnings ladder.

These people fall below the £10,000 a year limit for auto-enrolment into a pension. They have no savings. 

They literally live in garages - prefabs and tiny homes run by councils. And if they should dare to have one extra bedroom - maybe a spare room, maybe a room that their family uses, or maybe a grandmother looks after her grandchildren at weekends - they get taxed.

Let's repeat this slowly so that people understand: 

Labour has proposed to explore a £2m mansion tax on the wealthiest sectors of society (sorry upper middle class, yes you are more privileged than you believe you are).

The Conservatives are forcing the poorest people in society, the financially vulnerable, the people relying on food banks, and often the least educated, out of their homes into smaller properties or taxing them for daring to have one more room than they need.

Instead of jumping on a fashionable bandwagon and slating the Labour leader, why not sit back and actually think about these things: 

Social equality
Raising people out of poverty
Helping the excluded.

If you advocate any of these things, you cannot take anything the Tory party says to ridicule Ed Miliband seriously.

This is the Tory party that doesn't know whether or not, or how much, it will have to pay the EU. First it doesn't owe them, then it does, then it managed to halve it, then it managed to not halve it but in fact will repay it "at its own convenience".

So basically it worked out a debt repayment plan, just like many of the poorest people in the UK have to do daily just to get by.

Ed Miliband is right. The Labour Party have their party members' interests at heart. Their policies are getting back to the real everyday struggles of normal people, the people that the Coalition has forgotten. 

Think before you leap and end up alienating we people, the normal people, the average people. 

Because we are the voters, the majority of voters in the UK and we want someone who actually will represent us. 

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Plump from the Pump(kin)

Let's get some pumpkin pie!
I love this time of the year; golden leaves crisping and curling into brown on the pavement and fine morning mists that send shivers up the spine. Not for nuttin' did Keats praise Autumn as the 'season of mists and mellow fruitfulness'.

The other week I was in Norfolk with my mater dearest and the 'stubble plains' of the poet were clear to the eye. As for the mellow fruits - the pumpkins were almost ready, sitting in their fields waiting patiently for the harvest. It was a delight to the eye and tantalising to the tastebuds.

Now as much as I hate Halloween, I love pumpkins. They're such awfully good fun to make things with. But this time I think I bit off more than I could, literally chew.

It is now day six of our pumpkin and it does not appear to be diminishing fast. I have tried to use all sorts of recipes and invent some more just to use it up, but this one large beast we bought for £1.50 from Tesco just doesn't want to give up easily.

The reluctance of the pumpkin to disappear reminds me of one of my favourite fables, about the Little Pot that Wouldn't Stop. The story goes something like this: Once upon a time, a little girl lived alone with her grandmother at the edge of a village. They were very poor, the poorest of the poor, so the little girl promised her grandmother that she would do lots of work to help raise some money for food.

Being a good little girl, she did what she was told and all day from dawn to dusk, she helped to clean, sweep and tidy up a house belonging to another old woman. In return, the old woman gave her a little pot. No coins, but a little pot.

She said: "All you have to do is ask the pot to give you food, and it will give it to you. When you have had enough, say 'Little pot, stop'." The girl brought it back to her grandmother, who clipped her round the ear for being so dumb as to bring back an old, rusted pot instead of much-needed money.

The girl ran outside. While she was there, some people visited the grandmother and wanted food. Deeply embarrassed at having none, she thought she would try to ask the little pot to give her food. It did. Steaming hot broth filled the pot - but kept on filling it.

"No, no" cried the grandmother, as the broth spilled over the top and into the fire.

"Stop it now", she yelled as she and her guests scooped up their dresses and stood on chairs to escape the torrent that was streaming across the floor.

"No more please!", she screamed, as the broth started to flow down towards the village. Hearing the commotion, the little girl waded towards the pot. "little pot, stop" she commanded, and all the broth disappeared magically.

Well it's a little like that in my household, except the pumpkin isn't multiplying magically, for which my insurance provider should be grateful. At least, I think it is not growing magically. We have already had six servings of pumpkin soup and a short, sweet pumpkin fruit loaf. I roasted the seeds with some celery salt and paprika to make a healthy snack.

Then I made pumpkin pudding and a large pumpkin pie, which I have put into the freezer. Then I cut up dozens of chunks to put into the fridge in a container. Still there was about one third left of the pumpkin. I made pumpkin mash alongside our dinner on Monday. Yet the pumpkin hadn't diminished discernibly.

On Tuesday, I made a spiced sausage and pumpkin casserole. Still a large chunk of the pumpkin remains. I made more pumpkin soup last night - when will this orange madness end?

Tonight I will attempt pumpkin rissotto - but that still leaves me with the remainder of the pumpkin AND a pyrex tub full of pieces.

All I can say is that pumpkin was probably the best £1.50 I've ever spent. I hope I don't get sick of pumpkin before we've eaten the pie.

Please little pumpkin (giant enormous bargain pumpkin), STOP.