Tuesday 27 September 2011

I was quite relaxed about my operation until....

Lying on the trolley-bed in Pre-0p, waiting to be wheeled in for my operation, I hear two women and a man talking behind me.

“It’s such a shame, isn’t it? Didn’t they read her notes?”

“Apparently they did. Well, they said they did, but they had to say that, didn’t they? Still, I don’t see how they could have. Terribly sad, awful.”

“No, they couldn’t have read her notes, otherwise she wouldn’t have died!”

Whoever you were, thanks for your comforting chitty-chat. So good to overhear your reassuring words, just before they wheeled me into the operating theatre!

Friday 23 September 2011

If all goes well I'll be back on the Prom ... fingers crossed!

No fresh and furry post this week, as I'm off to hospital to have a little keyhole surgery on my knee. If all goes well I'll be able to walk without pain, a prospect that fills me with joy. So fingers crossed and I'll keep my colyoomistas posted...

Friday 16 September 2011

Here’s one dumb sucker who swallowed the maggot of 6 months free interest!

1 credit card = 1 leaflet, 2 letters and 3 booklets = 63 pages of illegible blurb and incomprehensible small print, lovingly lacquered into slick smooth selling copy for a product I neither sought out, nor want, nor need.

63 pages?

So did it work? Well, here’s one dumb sucker who swallowed the maggot of 6 months free interest. Did I read the blurb? Do I have any idea what I’ve let myself in for?

63 pages? You’re ‘avin’ a laugh.

My old Ulster Bank MasterCard sat in my wallet for years, neither exciting nor annoying me. Not a second of my life was wasted wondering whether it was either wonderful or deficient. There’s more to life than a credit card.

But Ulster Bank decided that my card just wasn’t up to scratch. Evidently they’ve come up with a way to make more money out of my spending patterns, so back in June they wrote to tell me that I was being upgraded to a bigger better more generally heavenly credit card. If I didn’t want it to happen I could tell them, otherwise I’d receive the upgrade automatically.

Upgrade, huh? There’s a word to make you feel fantastically self-important and all just a bit in love with yourself. Nice marketing, Ulster Bank.

Go on big boy, hit me with the Barry White soundtrack:
Hmmmm mhhhmmmmhh.... can’t get enough of your UPgrade baaaaaby....

Having felt thoroughly intimidated by the acres of small print, I scanned my eyes quickly over some of the big-print blurb. Well looky-here! Purchases on the new card will be interest-free for 6 months.

‘Yowza!’ thought I, in my financially adult and sophisticated way, ‘Let’s have ourselves a li’l bit o’that interest-free action, baby!’

For a few minutes I read more blurb, trying to find justification for the use of the word upgrade. Nu-huh. This upgrade exists only in the minds of the Ulster Bank and MasterCard, happy in the knowledge that they’ve caught another one, hooked on their line for a few more years.

The leaflet was entitled Your Upgrade To A Credit Card That Offers You More, which ran to 8 pages, telling me about their super new YourPoints points system. The words tumbled excitedly from the page. When I’ve spent a mere €47,600 on my new credit card, I’ll have enough points to take one adult and one car on the ferry from Rosslare to Fishguard.
Oh my god. I can’t wait. Talk dirty to me whydoncha.

After that letter and leaflet, Ulster Bank sent another letter and three separate booklets that must overlap, please say they do, please say they overlap, because I don’t want to believe that it’s possible to say that much about a credit card. 63 pages? Please tell me they’re telling me the same things over and over again. I’ll never know, because I know that if I read them, I’ll drop dead and inside my skull they’ll find Campbells Cream of Mushroom Soup.

My favourite booklet arrived next: a hard-to-resist little number called Ulster Bank MasterCard Insurance and YourPoints Terms and Conditions, which runs to a full 28 pages of small print, designed to melt your brain like a naked bar of chocolate atop a hot radiator.

The second to arrive in the mail was a charming little ditty entitled Ulster Bank MasterCard Important Information, with a total of 19 fascinating pages crammed with all sorts of Must-Know goodies. At least, I presume it is, but while I was trying to read it my soul resigned, escaped the confines of my body and dragged its belly over mud and gravel, crawling inexorably towards the Caverns of Hopelessness.

The final blurb arrived in the form of the third booklet, ingeniously called Conditions of Use, a masterpiece of mind-numbingly minuscule print, gate-folding into another full 8 pages .

63 pages?

Let’s step back, pause for a second and take the unusually empathetic step of trying to sympathise with the legal departments of credit card companies. We might only wonder at the titanic levels of idiotic human behaviour that have forced credit card companies to legally reinforce themselves: simply start with ‘Dyuuurk, I hur hur spent all the money hur but I didn’t know I had to hur pay it all back hur hur’ and go anywhere you like from there.

I know that as each crazy person brings another crass lawsuit as a result of their inability to balance the use of their own brain and plastic, these companies are forced to protect themselves, but 63 pages?

63 pages?
What can they be saying?

Yet I’m happy in my ignorance. The day has yet to come when I feel the need to sit down and read 63 pages of blurb and small print.

They have beaten me.
They can and will have my money, but they’ll never take my spirit.

Now, what about those interest-free purchases? HooooMumma!

Monday 12 September 2011

... in which I fish for human trout and catch a bollox instead!

“So when can I come to look at the house?” I ask.

He has called me about an ad I placed in the local paper, looking for a house to rent. His late middle-aged voice hesitates, his breathing strangled into a whine.

“Whell now, I’m not sure, now, really.”
“How would Sunday be?” I offer, trying to move things along a little.
“Sunday? No, sorry, y’see Sunday would be a bad day for me. Saturday would be better.”
“Great, so Saturday, I’ll come look at the house. What’s a good time for you on Saturday?”
“Wheeeell there’s the tenants moving out now, on Saturday d’ye see, so things could be a bit messy, and -”
“Okay, yes, I see, sure, that’s probably not the best time to look at a house.”
“So right now, grand so, come on Saturday at 1 o’clock.”
“Oh, okay, I er yeh, great. I’ll call you Saturday morning. Oh, and just so we don’t go wasting each others’ time, did you have any idea about what you might be asking for rent?”

As I ask my voice trails off, because I know he’s pure old school rural Irish. He doesn’t want to talk money at this stage.

“Ah well now d’ya see I oh I haven’t really oh -”
“Sound. Perfect. Why don’t we chat about that when we meet each other, eh? That’d be better, wouldn’t it.”
He sounds ridiculously relieved at my suggestion.
“Yes, that’s the way. Grand. Lovely. So call me during the week and we’ll sort out a day for you to come look at the house.”
“But I thought I was coming Saturday at 1?”
“Ah, so we did. So call me Saturday morning and we’ll sort it. Bye now.”

This fella’s called me because he wants me to rent his house, but he will tell me neither when I can look at his house nor how much the rent will be. This kind of behaviour mystified and infuriated me when I first came to Ireland in 1992, but now I understand. The little bit of Londoner that still lurks in me feels strongly that seeing the house and knowing the rent are two pretty basic criteria. Yet the part of me that has loved and lived two decades in the West of Ireland now plays the Irish game as a second nature.

I’d go as far as to say there’s a quiet fondness in me for the idiosyncratic gentle wooliness of rural Irish behaviour, and only a smidgen of frustration.
Well, I am human. Oh so human.

Compared to yer man’s circuitous and eccentric behaviour, the majority of responses to my Accommodation Wanted ad have been breathtaking. The Irish are famous for their literate and scholarly ways, but for some reason when the people who have called me incessantly over the last three days read my ad, their eyes read the word Detached and saw Semi-Detached. They read 3 bedrooms and saw 2 bedrooms, while assisted solely by the power of their own vision, they magically turned the word West into East.

Being a soft git who believes in that whole karmic what-goes-around-comes-around whoodjermalarkey, I’ve spent many hours over the last few days texting and calling people who left messages in response to the ad. I’ve thanked them each profusely for their call and told them that I’m so sorry, but strangely I kind of meant all that stuff I said in my ad about how we’re looking for a 3 bedroom detached, 20 minutes west of the city, so sorry and thanks, but neither a 2 bedroom terrace in the city centre, nor a 7 bedroom 20 miles east of the city will do.

I didn’t text in shouty upper case capitals CAN'T YOU EFFIN' READ? or call the bloke who left a message about a house in Loughrea and say "How can anything apart from a time space wormhole be 5 minutes from Loughrea and 5 minutes from Galway? Did you stumble upon the God Particle while you were wandering around out on the bog, you raving madman?"

So yes, handling those calls has been annoying, while dealing with the fella who simply wouldn’t tell me anything or let me see his house, well, that was more fun. It felt a bit like landing an Irish trout.

I love the way that here in the West of Ireland I can mix up my Jewish oral tradition with the locals’ own, everyone milking tragic histories for pathos and self-deprecating humour. But it wasn’t until last week I realised that in both cultures, for different reasons, communication can mean calling up and saying you have nothing to say.

While I was trying to hook the Lesser-Spotted Irish Landlord, my brother called me to say he was too tired to talk. I knew just what he meant. We’d been texting and playing telephone tennis for days, and he felt he should call for a chat after being out the last time I called, but when it came down to it, he was just knackered. I was half way though my dinner anyway, and could hear the exhaustion in his voice.

He said “Hi, I’m too tired to talk!” and I said “Fine, speak to ya soon! Bye!” and understood completely. Equally, I wholly understand yer man’s hesitancy to talk about the rent on the phone. He wants to have a good look at me and gauge how much he can charge me. Although the Trout’s motives were very different, both oral traditions found a need for a man to call to say he has nothing to say.

So I call Fishy on the Saturday morning, to confirm that I’m about to drive out to the house.
“Well, I’m up in Mayo today,” he tells me, “So tomorrow would be best.”
“But you told me last time we talked that Sunday was bad for you. I thought we’d set up a meet for today.”
“No no, not today, d’ye see. I’m in Mayo. Come tomorrow morning, early.”
“No, not early. Ireland are playing in the Rugby World Cup.”
“Are they? Well now, why don’t you call me next week? Tuesday I’ll be here and -”

Enough. I’ve had enough now.
“You know what my friend, I’ll leave it, thanks all the same.”
“Sure. Sound.”

Yes, I was and am still fond of those quirky old Irish ways, but also sometimes you have to step back and tell yourself you’re dealing with a time waster. Yer man was more unreliable than stinky milk, and a bollox is just a bollox in any language.