Tuesday 16 December 2014

MY PHONE COMPANY HAS NO PHONE NUMBER FOR COMPLAINTS!


When I write about consumer issues it’s not because I think my problems are unique, but rather because I know that so many of you suffer cruel inequities and hideous iniquities as the customers of large corporations.
 

My credit card’s expiry date came and a new card was issued. Same number, same name, just a new expiry date and authorisation code. So off to the web went this obedient little punter, updating my card details on various websites, all very easy-peesy lemon squeezy. On one site I was a little disturbed to find that the expiry date had already been altered. Cookies? Bots? Who knows what cyber-creatures managed that feat?
 

Then my monthly bill arrived from eMobile, with twice the normal charge, so I called them up to find out why, only to be told that the direct debit on my credit card had been declined. They suggested I should call my credit card company.

Straightaway I did just that, as I needed to know if my card had been compromised. I wanted neither a black mark on my credit rating, nor to pay for a brand new three piece suite for a bunch of criminal skangers.
 

After a rake of menus I spoke to somebody who told me that no attempt had been made to take money from me for that bill on those dates. There had been no decline as there had been no request. 
They said I needed to speak to eMobile about it. 

So off I went back to eMobile, remembering tales of woe told long ago by my good friend The Body, who had many travails with this crew in the past. More menus came and went, more shifting me around departments, until I had a Homer Simpson moment. D’oh! It’s the card’s expiry date! Could that be the cause of the problem?
 

“Oh yes!” said eMobile, “That’ll be it.” “Great! So can I update my credit card with you now?”
 

“No, we’ll have to send you out a Credit Card Direct Debit Mandate form in the post.”
 

“You’re kidding me. But I already have a Direct Debit with Eircom and when I signed up for Emobile you took loads of security checks, and anyway, here I am trying to pay you, not defraud anyone, but you’re insisting it has to be done by mail? Can’t I just go on your website and do it, as I did with everyone else?”
 

“Well, you could because our website does have that functionality. But at the moment that functionality isn’t working.”
 

“Sorry, did you just say that the functionality isn’t working?”
 

“Yes, that’s what I said.”
 

“Do you realise how crazy that sounds?”
 

“Yes, I do. You're not the first person to query this procedure.”
 

So they said they’d transfer me to the department who would send me the form but instead they cut me off, so I had to call back and plough through god knows how many menus to get to the right department, who assured me they’d send a Credit Card Direct Debit Mandate form.
 

Several days later a Bank Account Direct Debit form arrived in the mail from eMobile, which I refused to fill in with my credit card details, as I didn’t want to give them the opportunity to say I’d filled in the wrong form.
 

 Unlike every other company I deal with, eMobile were the only ones insisting on this arcane procedure, while simultaneously making it impossible to carry out their instructions. Yet again I called them, paid my bill over the phone (oh yeh, they have the functionality to take money from my credit card over the phone, but not the functionality to update that card!), and then I once again called their Customer Care to explain how frustrated I felt and could they please make sure to send me the right form this time?


“Yes, I’ll just transfer me to the right department!” they said and promptly cut me off again, leaving me to do all of the above all over again, only to receive a few days later yet another bloody Bank Account Direct Debit form.
 

At this stage I lost it. I’ve got better things to do with my life than be made miserable by eMobile’s incompetence, so I called to make an official complaint.
 

That was when the woman at eMobile Customer Care said there was no telephone number for complaining. I could register a complaint online or send a letter.
 

For once your colyoomist was temporarily lost for words.
 

“So you’re a telephone company with no telephone number for customer complaints. Can you see how that looks to me, as a customer?”
 

“Well you can complain online.”
 

“Yes I can, but if I were a 75 year-old living alone with no internet I’d have to write a letter, to which I am sure there’d be no reply. Is it even legal to deny your customers the right to speak to a representative of your company?”
 

By now I knew I was going to write about this debacle, to speak up for myself and all you other customers who are treated like pooh by corporations every day.

As I sit here I’m waiting to hear back from the Head of Communications at Eircom, who seemed unaware that eMobile customers did not have access to a complaint telephone number.
 

Well, in a world where telephone companies don’t have telephone numbers, I suppose it’s naive of me to assume that communications companies communicate with themselves.
 

We live on a planet that is ruled by Corporate Culture. As customers, we are nothing but an income stream.
 

They don't want to hear from us. They don't want to have to deal with us.
 

Please, don’t put up with that attitude. Speak out, make a noise, be a pain in their corporate behinds.
 

Instead of us fitting in with all their instructions, it’s time they started to serve us.

 


©Charlie Adley
08.12.14.

Monday 8 December 2014

TONIGHT I’M GOING TO LET GALWAY CITY LEAD ME ASTRAY!



I’m going out tonight. It’s time for my staff Christmas party, and seeing as I’m a one man band, that’ll be me, happy out and alone, on another of my organic Galway rambles.
 

When I say ‘organic’ I don’t mean I’m going on a righteous expedition to forage for wild sorrel.

No, I’m not going out to save the world. Tonight will be a celebration of a few things going well in my life, propelled by the fact that nearly half a year has gone by since I last took myself out.
 

Organic in this instance is nought more than a description of how the night will proceed. I’ve lived in the west of Ireland long enough to know that the best way to have a good itme is to let it happen to you. Galwegians don’t like making plans and are blessed by living in the perfect-sized city for bumping into people. So I’ll start off down at PJ McDonagh’s for fish and chips, then wander into the Quays front bar around 7 and from there, well, who knows?

Much as I love Neactain’s during the day, I find it a little too crammed in the evening. My tired old pins prefer to sit down in pubs, but I cannot resist a few runs through the wondrous old pub, in the Quay Street door, linger by the fire in the middle bar, chat to a few in the main bar and then slip out onto Cross Street to -
To where?

We shall see. My ramble will grow in its own organic way. There have been hundreds of rambles over the years, and as time passes the pubs that I aim for have changed.

Well, that’s not entirely true. 20 years ago I couldn't have given a damn about standing in pubs, so long evenings were spent hovering in the woody cosiness, the modern and ancient history of Neactains. It’s a special pub that stands the test of time and whether I’m inside or sitting outside watching Galway TV walking by, I’ll always love it.

However, as much as it’s the central social hub for so many people, it has never become my ‘local’. Although your ‘local’ sounds like it should be the nearest pub to your home, it’s really more about how a pub feels; whether it can be your home from home.

When I first landed in Galway I lived in Salthill, and O’Reilly’s Stroll Inn was right at the top of our road. Long afternoons were spend idly drinking and playing pool as we youthfully frittered away the days, while in the evening my housemate and I would make the slightly longer walk down to the Cottage Bar, ages before it was yuppified.

It was my first Galway local. There’d be a raging fire to warm my bones and steam the rain out of my clothes. Maybe Ruth and Bernie would play a few tunes, or we’d have a game of Gin Rummy with our pints. It was all fairly calm and civilised, and as I recall, the place never seemed to close. I left fairly late but was never anywhere near the last to go.

Then I was happily kidnapped by a bunch of local lads who introduced me to my second Galway local, an Tobar, which back then was crammed with characters, eccentrics and lost souls looking for kindred spirits.
 

I fitted right in, humbled by the way I’d been accepted by this inner sanctum of locals.Sitting at the bar long after 11 one night, The Body turned to me and asked“Are you going out tonight, Charlie?”

At first I had to blink and pinch myself, just to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. There I was, my arse long-ensconced on a barstool, pleasantly inebriated and certainly not in my living room, nor my bed.

“Er, I am out. This is out. “
“No!” retorted my friend. “I mean are you going OUT?", shouting the word as if I’d been unable to hear him the first time.

Ah. So the five hours we’d spent in the pub didn’t count. He meant am I going to one of the nightclubs in Salthill. You knew that all the time, because you're Irish, but to me it seemed  a bizarre question.

Later we’d wobble out of Tobar and ramble to Salthill. There’d be a stop in Taylor’s and another in the Blue Note, (once the Hibernian was gone) and then on to shake our 30something butts in vulgar fashion at Vaggies.

Years later, when I returned to Galway after life in Connemara and San Francisco, I lived in the Claddagh and Taylor's Bar became my third Galway local. 


Oh how I loved that place, sometimes because of and sometimes despite of the equally irascible and enjoyable antics of Seamus Mulligan. Front bar during the daytime, doing the Simplex while chatting to the lovely Una; middle bar in the evening with the hardcore drinkers and ne’er-do-wells, and occasional forays into the back bar where Dalooney and others skilfully rolled out jigs and reels for tourists and the odd loose-legged Guru.

The only rambling I did from Taylor's was to Padraig's down in the docks, for late night pints and scary games of pool with lads off boats from places where men had Popeye biceps.
 

After Taylor’s was sold and turned into a lap-dancing club I was bereft of a local, and to be honest, although I’m now recognised and feel welcome in many pubs, I have never found another. So where once my rambles were grounded, anchored from a central pub, they have been for years loose and free form affairs, during which I have neither any idea where I’m going nor who I’ll see.

That’s the way Galway likes it. Keep it simple, react as you go and let the city take you out for the night.
 

This evening might well end with a few luscious pints of Guinness, downstairs at the Crane with Dalooney, and then again it might not.

By god, I’m looking forward to it.



©Charlie Adley
27.11.14.

Monday 1 December 2014

WHY MAKE LIFE HARD FOR YOURSELF? TAKE THE EASY WAY!



“She didn’t put in one single ounce of effort. Never bothered herself about anything. Fair play to her now. She completely deserves her success!”
 

That’s not the way it goes, but maybe it should be. We prefer to hear tales of those who have toiled and sweated, overcoming obstacles and all manner of hardship to achieve their goals. We see them as worthy winners. Somehow they have earned their right to kiss the sleeping princess.
 

For a while now I’ve been wondering if we haven’t got it all wrong. If life, as people say, is a jungle, then the easiest way to get out is to follow a path. Why would you hack and scramble your way through the thorns and unknown predators lurking in the dense growth, when you can follow the path of least resistance, out onto the relative safety of the savannah?
 

All over the world we’ve created monolithic institutions that require us to hack through the jungle, to suffer for joy, but as time goes by, I’m increasingly becoming a fan of the easy way.
 

My good friend’s little girl was born into an English family, living in Barcelona. Every day of her life she heard English, Spanish and Catalan spoken all around her, and we noticed that as she learned to talk, she invariably chose whichever word required the least effort, regardless of the language. Instead of saying ‘water', she’d choose ‘agua’ because it was easier.
 

This was not an intellectual decision. She was way too young to consider the correct language for all social situations. No, it was simple. When she wanted water, her brain just directed her speech towards the easiest way.
 

The easiest way must be our natural state. To thrive and reproduce as a species, any animal aspires to the easy way. Yet humans have contrived to spoil it for themselves by injecting kudos into torment.
 

The young woman that was that little girl is now perfectly trilingual, thankfully intellectually able to choose the right language for the right person, yet other childhood speech patterns can last a lifetime.
 

Last week I was listening to the England football manager, Roy Hodgson, droning on in his particularly sanguine style and then I heard him say “Wayne Wooney.”
 

Wayne Wooney? I had heard Wayne Wooney before, but where?
 

Aha, yes, it was on the Jonathan Ross show. He’d made some joke about how little he knew about football and blah blah blah Wayne Wooney.
 

My mind had wandered and missed the chat show host’s slick blather, but my attention switched back to the screen when I heard ‘Wayne Wooney’, because for a second I thought that the England and Manchester United captain, a.k.a.‘Shrek’, might be on the show. He wasn’t, but what was all this Wayne Wooney stuff, with Ross back then and Roy Hodgson?
 

Then I saw the link.
 

We all know that Roy Hodgson can’t say his Rs. He’s Woy Hodgson and his captain is Wayne Wooney. Jonathan Ross is also notorious for his lack of prowess with Rs, being affectionately referred to by the British public as ‘Wossy.”
 

Let’s also throw into the mix one Roy Jenkins, the erstwhile British politician who made massive changes to English punitive systems as Home Secretary, while upsetting a lot of Nationalists and Republicans in Northern Ireland.
 

Later he went on to form the SDP, but all we need to know right now was that he was another Roy lacking the ability to say his own name without substituting an ‘R’ for a ‘W.’
Roy Jenkins was and always will be remembered as Woy Jenkins.
 

So what’s the deal with all these Roys and Rosses who can’t say the 18th letter? Well, might I suggest that you think of them all as little boys.
 

“What’s your name, boy?” booms asks an adult.
“Woy, miss.”
 

Much cooing and many ‘Oh isn’t that sweet?’ noises from all gathered grown-ups.
 

“And you little fella?”
“Jonathan Woss miss.”
 

Oh how adorable. Look at his smile. Much laughter.
Currents jump synapses, burning fresh routes through the tiny child’s mind.
 

Throw in a W and they love you.
 

A Home Secretary, a national football coach and the highest paid TV personality: all found an easy way to ingratiate themselves in formative states as children. No effort; just a lucky break. Success disguised as a speech impediment.
 

So you see, survival doesn’t have to be hard. We strive to make it so, but even the corporate world has learned that making life easier for their employees creates a fatter profit.
 

Several recent studies have shown that the American Model, where workers were given the minimum vacation and sick time, alongside the longest possible working day, is counter-productive.
 

The best way to get the most out of their staff is to impose a system of longer holidays, more time at home, naps in the afternoon, daytime workouts and longer sleeping hours.
 

However counter-intuitive this all might sound, here we have yet more proof that the easy way is the best way.
 

If employers invest in the mental and physical wellbeing of their workers, they will benefit in productivity, loyalty and performance.
 

I reckon the workers would feel a lot more motivated too. If you’re suddenly forced to go on lengthy holidays with your family, you might be happy to get back to work!
 

Studies and reports are never to be trusted implicitly, but the biology behind their findings is sound. Apparently our minds have the ability to work at their optimum in cycles of 90 minutes. Longer than that and we are more likely to fail.
 

The most successful people tend to be those who work early in the day, taking breaks every hour and a half to have a snack, a nap or do a little exercise.
 

So don’t overdo it. Take it easy.
 

If the rewards of triumph over adversity are tempting, think how much you’ll enjoy victory the easy way.

©Charlie Adley
20.11.14

Friday 21 November 2014

DEATH VISITS THREE TIMES, THE LAST A FRIEND AND GOOD MAN!



We are a fantastic species. For millennia we saw comets in the sky as messages from gods, omens of defeat and disease, yet now we have landed on one. A tiny craft made here travelled 300 million miles through the void, hit the bullseye and then plonked itself down on the comet’s surface.

You’d think we were almost gods ourselves, were it not for death. Struggling with the knowledge of our inevitable death we show our humanity, rather than our divinity.

We’re going to die one day. We don’t know why we’re here and we don’t know how to face death so comet schmommet, we’re not gods at all.

We are human, blessed with the 4 Effs of Humanity. We are fallible, freaked out, fucked up and fantastic.

I’m a big fan of humanity: both the race and the emotion. In the last week death has visited my life three times, in wholly different ways, and I’ve given thanks to humanity for easing my pain.

You might mock the first of my deaths but tread carefully. There can be more to a plant than mere vegetable matter, and Perfect White Geranium and I had history. Back in 1995 I left the West of Ireland to make a new life in California. 

Tragically it didn’t work out, so when I returned years later, I shared a place with my friend Artist In Blue Towel. I’d given her all my plants when I left and then forgotten them, so I was thrilled when she handed me back my white geranium.

I cut a branch off it, stuck it into another pot and gave it to my friend. This new plant thrived, as did the mother plant, for decades.

Over the years I lost count of how many cuttings I took off Perfect White Geranium. I became quite cavalier, even showing off a little at how easy it was to create a new plant. 

Look, just take this central stem, chopped at both ends, and d’naaah, another plant.


Perfect because the plant’s leaves were flawless, large, deep dark green: memories of a life loved, lost and regained.

So when the stem went black in the pot, I knew its time had come. Everything dies. Being a nurturer I’d be sad to lose any plant, but this one was almost a friend.

If I wasn’t writing this in public, I’d say Perfect White Geranium was a friend, but generally people expect friends to have heartbeats, so when I then heard about the dog that had died, I was deeply sad.

Admittedly at the time I had consumed a small bucketload of whiskey, as we were mourning the loss of a true human friend, but Una didn’t know that I hadn't heard that Boogie had died, and all of a sudden tears were exploding from my eyes.

Una looked a little surprised and distressed, until I explained that her black labrador and I had formed a strong and permanent bond years ago, while her family, all of us in fact, were experiencing trauma.

Death makes little sense at the best of times. When it takes a tiny spirited unique child, you find yourself hugging the dog.

Third of the three and left until last as it hurts the most, the death of my friend Tim. Another gone far too young, we knew death was on the agenda as he’d been living with cancer for a long time. Throughout the surgery and the ensuing disfigurement, Tim remained as stoic, brave and dry witted as he ever was.

Tim was one of those people who are built purely of the essence of themselves. When I visited him in UCH a few days before he died, he showed not one single change of character.

Of course he felt emotions just like any human, but Tim was English: he kept a lid on it. 

So when I ran out of football smalltalk and dared to venture from the safety of Boy Chat into the No Man’s Land of Human Talk, he had no time for it.

I asked him if he’d watched the game the previous night. He nodded but explained he’d not seen all of it.

“So tired.” he whispered, leaning back on the pillow.
“That’d be your body fighting the illness.” I offered, knowing it was no such thing.

Tim looked over to me and smiled.
“Nah. T’isn’t.” he said, forcing me to nod in agreement.

The silence that followed was laden with truth; the simple yet devastating truth that he was struggling to stay alive.

After my visit Tim texted me to say thanks for coming in. Away from his bedside I was allowed to once more leave the shores of Safe Man Talk, and text him back that he was a good man. 

Smily emoticon came back, his way of saying “Goodbye” to my “Goodbye.”

He was a good man. It was said in the church by many. It was said in the pub by many more. It was the summation of the man. If our lives are to be summed up in five words, I can think of none finer.

Once you’ve popped your clogs it makes no difference whether you climbed Everest or won X- Factor. Did you live a just life? Did you do harm? Did you love others?

The sadness that accompanies each death is as different as the human gone. When Tim’s coffin came around the corner of the street, carried by close friends of mine, my emotions went into spasm.

Yes, he was loved by them and I am part of them and even though I now live far away I am still so much a part of this and whooosh ... my tears flowed.

Tim was humanity on legs, the human race in a single person. Yes, he was flawed; a smile appeared on my face each and every time I saw him; he was a good man.
When death comes to us, I hope we might all match Tim’s legacy.


©Charlie Adley
13.11.14.

Sunday 16 November 2014

MY HEROES ARE THOSE WHO SAVE LIVES, NOT LOSE THEM!


Four years after 9/11, I was standing beside New York City’s ‘Ground Zero’, reading the hoardings hung on the wire fences around the site of the attack.

One of them declared: “In memory of all those great American Heroes.”

Turning to my friend, I observed:

“It’s strange the way the word ‘hero’ is used these days.”

I was about to explain how they were innocent victims rather than heroes, but I never got the chance.

A hand grasped my shoulder. I was spun around to face a grey-haired man in an anorak and spectacles.

“Hey! Show some goddam respect!” he hissed at me.

Had I shouted to my mate, I might have understood this man’s rage. But I had whispered. The scene before my eyes had filled me with sadness, and my voice went quiet as if wev were in a church.

So I was showing respect. Had I been more foolish I would have tried to explain to this man what I meant. But I could see the pain behind his eyes, the loss, the anger, so I dipped my chin and simply said “Sorry!”, walking away with my tail between my legs.

Who knows who he loved in the towers, but as much as my heart broke for all those lives lost and broken, my sadness was spreading far wider, to the hundreds of thousands of innocent victims in Iraq who died, as a result of this attack. Members of the public killed for no good reason. The powers that be have long referred to civilian deaths during wartime as ‘collateral damage’.

It’s a hellish long way from ‘hero’ to ‘collateral damage’ but they are one and the same person.

Very sad.

Whenever particular wars flare up, foreign populations become especially agitated, seeing one ousted overpowered people as more important than others.

I cannot. I just see a human life, each as vital as all the others. So now, enveloped as we are in memories of the First World War, my heart bleeds fiercely, as it always does when I contemplate that horrendous debacle.

There is no way to wage war tidily. Even the crisp technology of remote-controlled drone warfare kills innocent victims aplenty. However there is something especially tragic about the 1914-1918 war.

The odds were stacked against the innocents for so many reasons:

The weapons of war had changed. Artillery fire had become faster and more furious, leaving the infantry hiding in putrid trenches. The makers of war still envisaged two armies facing each other in the field, so they used all their powers to recruit as many men as they could, yet technological advances meant that no such battle was possible. Shells, shells, endless shells pounding exploding killing maiming, followed by poison gas, as soldiers sat impotent and rotting in their muddy holes.

Then there was the pointlessness of the war, fighting over 100 yards of Belgium to satisfy the hubristic Empire aspirations of European aristocracy. Those soldiers were expendable: 1c and 2c coins in the coffers of the continent's Crowned Heads.

Then of course, there were the lies. The idea that it mattered at all. I’m not being disrespectful of those who died by saying that their war was pointless. They were brave men and women, doing their duty.

Lies lie behind many wars. For a reason that is beyond me, people swallow these lies to this day. Two months ago the UK government said that by fighting ISIS they’d make the world a safer place. Last week the BBC reported that the government was warning Britons abroad to be vigilant, as their participation in the war on ISIS has made the world a more dangerous place.

Lies abounded back then. Lloyd George promised surviving returning soldiers ‘A Land Fit For Heroes’, yet there was nothing for them. Post-traumatic and unemployed, decades before either ailment was treated by the State, a generation succumbed to the Spanish Flu epidemic. Dark times indeed.

Lies. It was the Great War. Nothing great about it, except the number of innocent victims.

It was The War To End All Wars, but clearly, it was merely the overture to the symphony of modern warfare.

They’d be back by Christmas.
I don’t think so.

Far from being disrespectful to the dead, I am honouring their sacrifice. They were innocent victims. Most of them were out there so the children back home could afford to eat. Putting yourself through hell so that you can keep your family healthy: that, to me, is heroic. Getting killed for a government who quite frankly doesn't give a damn: that is truly terrible.

Of course there were heroes out there. Incredible daring and courage was displayed on a regular basis. When it was employed to save lies rather that destroy them it was particularly heroic.

I’m not saying that all killing is bad. Give me a gun and I’d shoot a Nazi stormtrooper, no problem.

But my heroes tend to be those who dare to save their troops. Give me Shackleton over Scott every day. Scott was an amazing man, brave and honourable to the core. But in the same way that the English celebrate Dunkirk as a victory, they worship a man who came second and perished with his comrades.

Shackleton’s expedition failed spectacularly, yet he didn’t lose a single man. I have just read his own account of the Endurance expedition, the ensuing landing on Elephant Island, the incredible journey in the James Caird and the epic crossing of South Georgia. These were tough men, hard and steely in a way so far beyond your sofa, your iPad and cappuccino that I suspect it no longer exists.

Despite his strong ambition and a desire for glory, Shackleton made every decision based upon his greatest chance of keeping everyone alive.
That’s my kind of hero.


©Charlie Adley
06.11.14