Monday 27 May 2013

I can’t use my credit card but thieves can!

A month ago I wrote a piece concerning my credit card, but you never saw it it, because at the moment I finished writing it, the story continued in a most bizarre fashion.

So now you’re getting the final story. Not the complete story, because I’ve had to walk away. My sanity and the future of my sweet peas required me to say to the lovely woman at the Ulster Bank Complaint Department:

“No thanks. Don’t bother to investigate it further, because I have to move on with my life. This could go on for ever. But thanks for the offer. Goodbye.”

Angry Punter makes funny copy for a while, but it’s a fairly boring read, so if scribbling about a consumer issue, it’s always to best to get ‘their’ side of the story. Trouble is, even though I’m armed with ridiculously good intentions, Ulster Bank kept screwing things up, even as I tried to let them have their say.

You know the way you feel when you have to tell the same story over and over again to people who work for the same company. I take that feeling of frustration, swallow it and persist. Working on the other side of these conflicts are people like you and me. Even if mistakes are due to human error, my gripe is always with the corporation, never the worker. I don’t want to jeopardise anybody’s job.

So yes, I’ve told this story often. I’ve told this story to Ulster Bank’s Charlotte, Andy, Helen, David, Pauline, Elise, Naomi, Ronald and Mary. Of those, Naomi from the Press Office shone out as a caring and more importantly, consistent employee.

I knew when I started writing about my credit card security that I was tempting fate, but my cavalier attitude rather fancied that face-off. My problem was that my credit card kept getting declined at extremely stressful and vital moments.

Last Summer I was driving to Knock Airport, on the way to my uncle's funeral in London, when my card was declined in a petrol station. It happened twice more in the intervening months and then yet again recently.

I’m a good little punter who pays his bills on time and leaves a nice balance for the credit card company to get rich off, so there was no error at my end. Over the last two years I’ve actually became fearful of using my credit card, because it has been declined so often. After speaking to several Ulster Bank Fraud Department people, I know that it has nothing to do with my spending patterns. 

Apparently it’s all about websites, yet despite booking trips to England using secure and established sites like Hertz, Aer Lingus and Premier Inn, by the time I reach the third transaction, my credit card is declined. Nobody can explain precisely why, but I was involved several times in rhetorical conversational loops with Ulster Bank’s Fraud Department:

“Don’t you want security for your credit card, Mr. Adley?”
“Yes of course I do, but I don’t want the security to make the card unusable!”

Instead of a convenience, my credit card had become a source of stress, so I wrote the piece and then…

...then I stumbled out of a certain Galway City hostelry at 3 in the morning and fell into a city centre hotel. Well plush, 5 hours open-mouthed sub-comatose snoring later, I checked out, only to receive a phone call from the hotel to say that they had reason to believe my credit card might have been compromised at checkout. I should call my card company and cancel it.

Still experiencing the world as a very bright place seen though letterbox eyes, I couldn't face all the inconvenience of cancelling it. Thanks to the over-zealous security I’d experienced from Ulster Bank, I had their Fraud Department's number on my mobile phone, so I called and had my card blocked.

Then my hungover aching too old for this sort of thing body settled into my armchair, while I berated my thick stupid self for being so dumb as to write about credit card security, because wasn’t that just bloomin’ asking for it, but hey, at least the card was safe.

A couple of days later Ulster Bank called to say that there had been two attempts to use my card, both of which had been declined. Okay, so the bastards were trying to rob me; time to cancel that card and issue a new one, but hey, at least the card was safe.

Or so ... as they say in all the best colyooms … or so I thought. Imagine my delight and surprise then, when online banking the next day, I see a debit on my credit card account. Not just any old debit, but a whopping €1195.95 to some golf club I’ve never heard of.

This was beyond absurd. I couldn't use my card because the security was so tight, yet even though I had called Ulster Bank to alert them of this security risk, and even though they had assured me that this transaction had been declined, it still went through and was added to the balance on my credit card account.

Needless to say, Adley unleashed made a few phone calls and the amount plus interest has been refunded, but while I’ve had apologies from the Complaint Department, nobody had offered any compensation for all the stress, hassle, time and telephone calls. More importantly, I’m yet to have any kind of explanation as to why my card is serially declined, or how a transaction that was not authorised managed to make it onto my bill.

My card’s security is so tight that I can’t use it, but the thieves can!

As if in symbiosis, credit cards and capitalism have fed and feasted on each other for fifty years. If Visa and MasterCard are to survive capitalism’s present trauma, they will have to offer immeasurably better efficiency and service.

Monday 20 May 2013

We’ve perfected the art of circular talking!

I’m over in England for a few days, so my mum and I are heading to Delisserie for some lunch. Calling itself a ‘New York Deli’, both the majority of its clientele and the food on offer are Jewish.

Even though my family could not be more English, the fact that we are descended from a Mediterranean culture is never more evident than when we sit down to eat.

The Australian Aboriginals have mastered the art of circular breathing, enabling them to blow into their didgeridoos while at the same time inhaling through their noses.

Jewish people have mastered the art of circular talking, whereby we are able to simultaneously talk to several people at once, whilst assimilating and generally interfering in what several other different people are talking about at the same time.

In an inspired moment, my brother once declared that if the Adleys had a coat of arms, our family motto should be:  'Stop Talking While I’m Interrupting.'

The last time my mum and I went to Delisserie for lunch we’d rather foolishly waited until after 1 o’clock, and sure enough the place had been packed. Like all other Mediterranean cultures, Jewish people love taking their kids out with them; the more the better.

Trouble is, the generation now giving birth to babies were themselves raised by Baby Boomer parents with liberal ideas about boundaries and behaviour, as in no boundaries and who cares about behaviour? Without role models, these young parents now let their kids run amok, screaming and shouting and wailing as if their collective din had the audible quality of honey.

With the adults having to shout at each other so that they could be heard over their kids’ cacophony, I sat there feeling very far removed from my County Galway back garden. I’ve been to countless Ramones gigs and still cannot imagine a more intense and energetic noise than a full Jewish restaurant.
This time we arrive earlier, and lovely, there are only six or seven other people in.  We sit and pick up the menus, look at each other and smile. How can so few people make such an incredible noise? Do they design delis so that every word spoken is bounced around to maximise the latent Jewish atmosphere? Is screeching chatter the Jewish muzak of choice?

My mum reaches both hands to her head and announces she’s going to take off her hearing aids. I tell her I think that’s a stroke of pure genius. Placing the two tiny plastic gizmos on the table, she sits back and exhales with relief.

“Oh, that’s so much better!” she laughs.
“I wish I had hearing aids! I’m jealous of your deafness!”

We both laugh and somewhere at the back of my mind I acknowledge the birth of a Jewish joke. Good humour is filled with truth and tragedy, and the success of a Jewish joke also relies on our ability to mock ourselves. A classic example is set in a restaurant, where five Jewish ladies are having a meal. The waiter walks over and asks
“Pardon me ladies. How’s the food? Is anything alright?”

Now I’m looking at the menu and my stomach is starting to rumble. When I was younger I never thought about being Jewish, because I was surrounded and immersed in the culture, but ever since leaving London I’ve felt very aware of my roots, and the fact that I’m a life-long atheist-pantheist mutant in no way compromises my Jewish identity.

Living in Bradford I was the Jewish guy surrounded by the largest population of Pakistanis outside of Pakistan. During the first Gulf War we’d talk in corner shops, the Jew and the Muslim, debating in a friendly way the rights and wrongs of the tragedy that is the Middle East.

Even though there are roughly only 300,000 Jewish people in the UK, forming a mere 0.5% of the population, their impact on everyday life and culture is respected and acknowledged.

It wasn’t until I moved here to the west of Ireland that I suddenly felt really Jewish, simply because here we make up a mere 0.04% of the population.

Naturally, the first thing you miss about the culture you’ve left behind is the food. So will I have the salt beef on rye? Will it be that heaped pile of steaming scarlet heaven wedged between seeded smoky white rye slices, mustardy and fresh? Will I go for the aromatic chopped liver and matzos or the viennas with w├╝rst and scrambled egg? No, it has to be that ultimate Jewish staple: chicken soup with kneidl (dumplings) and lokshen (noodles).


Later I’m dispatched to Yossi’s deli and bakery, armed with a list of things mum wants. The lass serving me keeps looking back at me between each order.
She’s not used to being treated so politely, but I’m influenced by two decades of living in Ireland.

“A quarter of best salmon! Perfect! 8 mixed danish. Thanks a million! One smoked salmon cream cheese bagel and one chopped herring bagel. Lovely, thanks!”

Each side of me her regular customers grunt orders:

“No, not that one, the big one at the back! Is that fresh? When did you make it? A week ago?”

and being barked back at

“Of course it’s fresh. What you think I am? If you don’t think I sell fresh why you come back each week!”

Whilst on the subject of good service, I need to send a huge thank you to Francesca at the Grim’s Dyke Hotel, and to the barman who saved and returned my pink folder. Also thanks to Mr Butler, for driving my mum and her friends Betty and Geoff! I know you buy the Connacht Tribune in London, so thanks for reading my blather each week!

We’ll finish this week with what I consider to be the quintessential Jewish joke:
How many Jewish mothers does it take to change a lightbulb?
“Don’t worry about me. I’ll just sit in the dark and die alone!”

Monday 13 May 2013

C’mon y'all! Do do do the Galway Shuffle!

Sometimes you’re just not in the mood; sometimes you just don’t have the time, but it’s not up to you. If you want to walk from Spanish Parade to Cross Street on a sunny midweek afternoon, you have to do the Galway Shuffle. Way back in 2004 this colyoom christened Galway ‘The City of 10,000 Howyas’, but beyond that short sweet “Howya!” there exists a higher level of Galway greeting.

Sitting outside The Quays, I spot a friend of mine walking up the street.
‘Haven’t seen her for ages.’ I think to myself, ‘Must try to catch her and have a chat.’

Fifteen minutes later the chef, artist, restaurateur, author and general Galway legend has only made it as far as Martine’s Wine Bar. Everybody wants to say hello to her, have a wee chat and a hug.

By the time I stand to greet her she’s explaining how she’s already late for an appointment. She’d stopped to talk to people on Wolfe Tone Bridge, and with the sun shining, Quay Street was lined with folk such as myself who were delighted to see her.

If we lived in Hollywood she’d be crying “Everyone wants a piece of me!” but thankfully we live on the shores of a different ocean, where we appreciate the profundity of human contact, and are willing to walk the Quay Street line, shaking hands, kissing mwaaahs and… oh hell, maybe we do live in Hollywood after all!

No. There’s no red carpet on Quay Street. If you’re recognised and talked to, it’s because you’ve a red carpet soul.

Do do do the Galway Shuffle!

If you’re in a hurry, dealing with Howyas is a lot easier than doing the Galway Shuffle. A couple of weeks ago, walking along Dominick Street, I met three Howyas in the tiny distance between the Arts Centre and Bridge Mills. Being a bit of a recluse, I hadn’t been into town all week and it filled me with joy to feel I still belonged, since I’ve moved out of the city yet again.

The sun was shining that day too, so people’s chins were raised, their eyes looking out towards each other, rather than cowed to an Atlantic gale and lashing sideways rain. The weather definitely plays a massive part in Galway life, but no storm is stronger than bonds forged in fun.

My first smiling “Howya!” that morning comes from another English lad, with whom I used to enjoy a chat and a pint, back in the days of Taylor's Bar. As we pass in the street and exchange Howyas, a smile brushes my lips as I remember the slagging he gave me across the street last year.

I’d written a colyoom about the misery I’d experienced being a fat teenager, and as I came down Henry Street, he’d called across from William Street West, his sardonic northern accent the perfect foil to his sandpaper dry wit.

“ ‘Ere, Chaaaarlie! Read that piece you wrote about you being a fat kid. Shocked me it did! Never thought in a million years you’d’ve been a fat kid. Not Charlie, not with his natural athleticism. Shocked me to the core, t’did!”

Passing Aniar I almost knock over yer wan from Galway market. Seemingly plucked intact as an extra from Godfather Part II, he’s sartorially perfect and, as ever, aesthetically beautifully turned out, from flat-capped top to the tip of his arcane bike trailer.

He is an example of a perfect Howya. Such is the complexity and subtlety of life in Galway City, the fact that we’ve barely ever shared a word spares us the compulsory and potentially lengthy Galway Shuffle encounter. Yet because we both have a pretty good idea of who the other is, it’d just be plain rude not to acknowledge that mutual recognition, even though we don’t actually know each other. So another smile and a Howya exchanged puts a bounce in my boots and a smile on his lips, and how bad can that be?

Crossing the road towards Arabica I spot the print shop owner. For years I’d see him in his shop, but back then, clutching a mere three sheets that needed photocopying, I was barely a blemish on his platen. Years later, with much thanks due to his wonderful staff in their main depot, his company has done all of my printing jobs, so we now know each other well enough to be genuine Howyas.

“Howya Charlie!”
“How’s life?”
“Good! Mighty! Yourself?”
“All good mate! See you later!”
“See you.”

How simple is that? How happy am I to be living near a city where I share three friendly smiling greetings with three human beings I only partially know, barely 50 metres out of my car? I’m not even over the river, but as I stroll over O’Brien’s Bridge I know I’m leaving behind the world of the Howya.

I’m entering the dance floor that is Galway City Centre.

Do do do the Galway Shuffle!

On those days when you’re not in the mood you simply have to pretend you haven’t seen a soul you know. They’ll forgive you, because their lives are not void of interest. They aren’t exactly sitting there hoping against hope that you’ll turn up and save their day. They’d have been happy to talk, but hey, no biggie.

Ah, but when you do have time to do the Galway Shuffle, or when you’ve been so missed that you’re given no choice, it’s far from a terrible trial. Outside Fat Freddy’s, hands are outstretched towards me from arms raised to be shaken. Bottoms rise from the mock  wicker chairs outside Tigh Neachtain, where smiles are shared with recollections of shameful times past; where hugs precede new mischief to come.

I’ve lived in London; Melbourne; San Francisco: some of the world’s most wonderful cities, yet there’s nothing anywhere that compares to the sense of comradeship, kinship and caring that awaits those who walk the Quay Street line.

Do do do the Galway Shuffle!

Monday 6 May 2013

Life is so easy when everyone else is wrong!

With thanks to my good friend Martin Rowson

Dear Mum,

I know it's a while ago now, but I’m sorry that I argued with you. I felt terrible as soon as I put the phone down, and even though we speak nearly every day, the fact that I've not yet apologised properly has been on my mind for weeks.

Maybe I just felt so comfortable with our chitty-chatting that I thought I’d get away with saying how George Osborne had managed to enrage me. I know that no matter how much I tried to explain my outrage, you would respond with classic Daily Mail stances. 

I’m not suggesting that you are unable to form your own opinions. I remember well the dark and fearsome atmosphere in the family home decades ago when life was tough for the Adleys, and it looked like you might vote for the SDP, rather than the Conservatives. Dad didn't know what to make of it, but I was impressed. It was a huge opinion shift for a woman who had spent all her adult life campaigning and fund-raising for the Tories.

As you know, I lost my interest in party politics when New Labour arrived on the scene. Even though it was great that their victory broke the sequence of four successive Conservative governments, Blair's rebranding made my old socialist party sound like a jazzed-up washing powder.

Trouble was mum, you and I were coming at our conversation from completely separate perspectives. You sent me to Public School, so I know well the Camerons, Osbornes and Blairs of this world. I know them for the self-serving ignorant little twits they are, so when Osborne asked why the English should have to support a dole culture like that enjoyed by child-killer Mick Philpott, I just lost it a little in the noodle.

However much I insisted that there is no dole culture being enjoyed by people like Mick Philpott, because Mick Philpott is a crazy evil man, and that by making such a comparison Osborne was not only trying to scrape some political kudos from the bottom of a stinking barrel, but also, in the process, demonising all other families on the dole, you kept referring to the way Philpott had exploited all his women to increase his welfare payments.

I’m sorry that I lost it, but that sounded so Daily Mail, and I can only take so much of George Osborne’s knee-jerk bigotry. You see, despite the way the English middle classes depict themselves as quintessentially conservative with a small ‘c’, there are few people I’ve ever met more conservative than the Irish. When they’re not comfortable with their own status quo, they borrow someone else’s and stick to that like a mouse in a glue trap. To satisfy this appetite for conservatism, Ireland actually has two Daily Mails: one of them is called the Irish Independent.

So no, I didn’t mean to offend you, and yes, you’re right, Philpott was just doing it for the money and the power, but isn’t that central to Conservative policy?

Now, now, there I go again. There’s no need for such flippant provocation, but I’ve just had it with all these pathetic small-minded propagandist myths that the political Right spread around, like slurry on fields.

Top of the misinformed begrudging Pops is welfare fraud. Apologies for my lack of Irish statistics, but I can’t imagine that, pro rata, there’s a great difference between here and Britain. A TUC poll revealed that most people believe a massive 27% of the entire welfare budget is being claimed fraudulently, when in truth the figure is 0.8%

Can I say that again, so that we can get a grasp on this, once and for all? A measly 0.8% of the entire welfare budget is being claimed by fraudsters. I strongly suspect that much more than that is spent in efforts to catch fraudsters, because clamping down on dole cheats gives good political game. Bagging dole-stealing skangers wins votes, so it’s worth spending loads of money on nicking them, in an extremely visible and public way, but please never say that the welfare state supports people “ the Philpotts...” because thankfully, there are no people like the Philpotts.

I think you’d like it over here, mum. Lots of people think just like you do.  They even use the same expression: 

“We’re just a small country!” say the Irish, just as you do about England, and they go on (and on and on!) “We simply don’t have room for them all. They don’t just come for our dole, they come over here to use our health service and get looked after better than local people when they do. And they get council houses as if they’ve lived here all their lives. And they get cars and mobile phones off the government.”

To them I say one word: “Tosh!”

Thankfully mum, I know you’re not that extreme, although I do sometimes wonder how much you temper your opinions when I’m around! But by god, I do get fed up with hearing all these moaning minnies going on about how everything is somebody else’s fault.

That’s why I loathe the Daily Mail: because it’s just a blaming machine. Life is so easy when you’re the only one who knows the truth, and everyone else is either wrong or dangerous. It’s a comfy and smug place to live, at the top of your own hill of righteousness.

But life is more complicated than that. The vast majority of people are good, sound, honest and well-intentioned.

If they have signed on the dole they most probably need to.
If they have arrived in the country they probably needed to leave where they left. As I always point out, our family were immigrants too, and all of us have benefited from the Welfare State in so many ways.

Of course your right to your own political opinions is sacrosanct, and I think no less of anyone - especially my lovely mum! - for their own beliefs. You are living proof that Tories can sometimes be wonderful, generous and loving people!