Rubbish, piffle, tommyrot, drivel and utter bilge

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Protection Racket

Right now in the UK one of the news items that we constantly hear about is that of PPI, or Payment Protection Insurance. Specifically, the PPI that was 'mis-sold'. We do not have to worry about the definition of 'mis-sold' because there are literally dozens of companies that have sprung up in order to help the consumer reclaim this 'mis-sold PPI', and their adverts on the telly are so ubiquitous that we cannot help but understand the definition of 'mis-sold', because EVERY commercial contains the line 'PPI was mis-sold if you didn't want, need, or ask for it'. Apparently we the British public are so dumbed down that we need this explained to us.
So are you still confused about what PPI actually is? Read on:
 In all types of insurance some claims are accepted and some are rejected, however in the case of PPI the number of rejected claims is high compared to other types of insurance. A primary reason for this is that, as with many forms of general insurance, the insurance is not underwritten at the sales stage and is sometimes taken out by customers without careful consideration as to whether it is right for their circumstances and without careful attention to the policy eligibility conditions. Individuals who seek out and purchase a policy without advice have little recourse if and when a policy does not benefit them. However most PPI policies are not sought out by consumers and in some cases consumers claim to be unaware that they even have the insurance.
These ads are absolutely riveting. I mean, they glue you to the screen. Forget Hollywood, this is BAFTA standard stuff.

However in researching this it turns out that the above company Gladstone Brookes has been using the PPI scandal to their advantage, charging a small fee upfront (usually £50) and saying that their service is 'no win, no fee'. People have used the service, been told that they can't get their money refunded and then Gladstone Brookes refuses to hand the 50 quid back. Watch:

And now we have the case in the news recently of Lloyds Bank. Now, the more observant among you will know that I have a general distrust of banks. To me banks of all kinds have just had that same air of sleaziness about them that is usually associated with ambulance-chasing lawyers, pimps, and politicians. Now that distrust has become complete.

Earlier this month Lloyds announced it was using new powers to claw back £1.5m of earlier executive bonuses – including £580,000 from the former chief executive Eric Daniels – because of its PPI mis-selling. The company has cut annual bonuses for its 100,000 staff by less than a third to a total of £375million, with scores of senior bankers likely to receive huge payouts.

So let me get this straight - these people are still getting bonuses? OK, so they're not as big as they once were. Whoop-te-doo. They are also selling off 600 of their branches, to Co-op Bank. So what, are we supposed to feel sorry for them?

Anyhoo, it seems that companies and banks alike are using the mis-sold PPI scandal and subsequent repayments as another excuse to fleece the public, because there are so many different people out there offering to get your money back for you. This is because humans like a quick fix. If something seems like it's going to be difficult or confusing to do, and someone comes along and offers to do it for you and makes it sound like it's going to be easy, then we lazy humans will jump at the chance. Truth is, it's not that hard.

If you want to find out how to reclaim your PPI the first and only place you should go is to Martin Lewis and his website MoneySaving He's got a page specifically to tell you how to go about it, at You are welcome.

And if you keep seeing those ads on TV, it means you are watching too much daytime telly, because that's when the bulk of them are on, during Jeremy Kyle or Judge Judy. Get out in the sunshine, grow some veggies, walk in the park, whatever. But turn the bleeding telly off. Unplug the thing. Read a book. Or write a blog.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Reader's Digest

So it's been a while (again), much stuff happening in the World of Jeff, and not enough time to write it all down, and sometimes it just seems all so trivial and pointless. But I like trivia and pointless things, and so, fair reader, do you.

So what do I have to whet your whistle with today? Call it a compilation, a digest, whatever - I have a few thoughts that have been playing on my mind recently and it is time to set them down before I forget. Bullet points and all. Don't worry- there won't be a test later, but just read, ponder and enjoy.

  • I don't know about you, but I am not crazy about those moments when you are walking in town, and it's dark, and there are relatively few cars and people about, and suddenly you notice - or rather, you hear - a person of the youngish persuasion some way ahead shouting unintelligible nonsense such as 'Oowoy' or 'Ya-a-ah!' and you look to where the noise is coming from and you cannot quite work out who or what they were shouting at, because there are no other peeps in the vicinity. It tends to make me think that perhaps the person uttering these strange tribal-guttural sounds (who is invariably somewhere between pubescence and mid-twenties) is a trifle unbalanced, possibly under the influence of a controlled substance and liable to do who knows what to me should I cross his path. Of course, being a born coward, I try to pretend I didn't notice this person hailing his invisible buddy, and I casually cross the street as if that was what I was intending to do the whole time. I am also somewhat similarly intimidated when I walk along Recreation Ground Road next to the football field when the local F.C. are playing, because the spectators and players, who number about 30 in total, seem to enjoy engaging in similar shouts such as 'Ee-woah' and 'Geebarrack'.  In fact it seems to me that the entire game of football was built around a desire to holler loudly in a garbled fashion. The same logic could be applied to the songs and chants that occur at soccer matches - complete rubbish. Perhaps we should try to get these two groups together for a mass shout-a-thon? 
  • While we're on the subject of sport, and bearing in mind that I loathe, detest and out-and-out hate about ninety-nine percent of all sports, I have to say that I cannot get my head around the cricket these days. When I were nobbut a lad, back in the day, and up until I left the British Isles for 'Merca, cricket was played by two teams all dressed in white twill trousers, white shirts and white sweaters. You did not need team colours because you knew the batsmen were on one team and the fielders and bowlers were the other team. They had their team logos, very small, embroidered on their sweaters just in the breast pocket area. That was fine. They could tell each other apart - we didn't need to. We had a scoreboard and Brian Johnston commentating, "The bowler's Holding, the batsman's Willey" and all that. It worked. It was fine. It did not need changing. International cricket also needed no team colours because you could tell the difference between the M.C.C. and the Pakistanis or the West Indies. Fast forward twenty years and they're all wearing team colours with their names printed boldly on the back like the NFL. In One-Day Internationals, or ODI to give it its new hip 21st Century name (bear in mind here that I'm fully aware that my usage of the word hip immediately marks me out as an old geezer), even the ball is bright and luminous rather than the traditional red leather. And there's this confusing thing called Twenty20 (or is it 20Twenty? I can never remember. Stupid name anyway) which is a bit like a one-day international but shorter, with just 20 overs each. That has bright uniforms and dayglo balls as well. And the cricket-going crowds, always having been a fairly sedate bunch, are now just as bad as soccer or rugby fans with their hollering and garbled singing. Ecch. Not only that but sometimes the players carry on like footy stars too, filling the pages of the celeb-watcher mags with their sexploits. There is also this new and weird thing they do with the field. They paint logos of sponsors on the field, but all distorted and bent so that when your TV camera views it from high up in the stands it looks just as though it was flat on the page. Someone spent an awful lot of time figuring out how to do that - it's just like that thing you used to get in puzzle magazines and kids' annuals where there is something written down all stretched out, and you have to pick up the book and look at the page edge-on to see the words properly. As if we care about fucking Vodafone when we are watching the bloody cricket. I think I may have mentioned this before, but I hate sport.
  • Is it just me or does the school calendar these days do your head in? The reason I ask is that back when I was in school thirty to forty years ago, all the local schools were on the same calendar because they were all run by the same governing body, with he exception of course of private and boarding schools. All the state-run schools had the same holidays and half-terms, which made sense, because then all the parents knew that all their kids would be off school at the same time and they could make arrangements for that.  But now that we are in a progressive age with schools becoming academies, mini-schools and sixth form colleges, they no longer have to adhere to a prescribed calendar sent down from the powers that be - all they are required to do is to make it so that the school is open for at least a certain number of days per year. Now that's all well and good if your kids all attend the same school - but if some are at junior school and some are in secondary, as is the case now in my house, it means that one kid is only getting a week off for half-term, and the other two have two weeks. Which means that tomorrow morning, only one of them has to drag his butt out of bed and get dressed in his uniform while the other two blissfully snooze on. Does that seem fair to you? Because unlike a lot of adults, I actually remember what it felt like to be a kid, and if it was me, I'd say that pretty much sucks. 
  • So Whitney Houston is dead, and everyone is having their say about it. I can't say I ever liked the woman's music very much, The Bodyguard sucked major league ass, and The Preacher's Wife wasn't much better. Her tantrums and behaviour on Being Bobby Brown  made me glad I hadn't met her. There was one particular episode where I came mighty close to it. The episode where Bobby Brown, being the lovable tosspot that we all know him to be, actually had a nice idea and thought he'd treat Whitney to a day at the spa and pool at Chateau Elan near Braselton, GA, a place I have been to and eaten at a few times due to its close proximity to Gainesville and Oakwood, where I used to live. We went there one year for Mother's Day, as they do a Mom's Day brunch in the atrium which is pretty fancy. (I wasn't paying, you understand - good Gawd no). While we were there partaking of seriously expensive and quite good nommage, a couple of photogs were to be seen taking piccies of a rather animated African-American fellow wearing a hideously garish Bill Cosby cast-off who was posing and mugging for camera on the sweeping staircase. Yes, you've guessed it, it was our dear Bobster, Mister My Prerogative himself. So she must have been around, because really, why would anyone take a photo of Bobby Brown on purpose? So anyway in the episode, Whitney is ticked off with the Brown One because she couldn't believe he brought the darn kids along! Well, what an egregious oversight! The kids coming along on Mother's Day? Perish the thought! "IT'S MOTHER'S DAY." she opined. "Not Kid's Day. It's MAH DAY!" Apparently the fact that if it weren't for the fact that those kids were theirs she wouldn't actually BE a mother somehow escaped her. And that moment sort of sealed the cap on the well of dislike I had for Whitney. So right at this moment when all the radio stations (well, the really shitty ones anyway) are playing Whitney songs four times an hour and all these people are coming out of the woodwork saying what a tremendous talent she was and how she was under-appreciated in her time and the record company marketed her wrong and she was misunderstood and all that bullcrap, I just stand there and think, what a bunch of freakin' hypocrites. I am 99% certain that she had been largely written off to all but the most rabid Houston fans. C'mon, admit it. Ya know ya want to. 
  • OK, so I did own a copy of 'Saving All My Love For You'. Ya got me.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Mike Harding Saved My Life

I suppose all of us at one time or another have turned in our darkest moments to something to help us out of our doldrums, our funk or whatever you may call it. Whether it be a song or a TV show or a book or a movie, these things we hold dear in our heads and hearts can make us feel better by simply reminding us that we are alive. Not merely alive, but ourselves.

For me, the little section of my brain that contains these items consists mainly of comedy. Comic songs, poems, monologues and standup routines, from such masters as Stephen Fry, Paul Merton, Ben Elton, Shelley Berman, Richard Jeni, Jeff Foxworthy, and even less well known exponents such as Simon Fanshawe, Kevin Day, Jeremy Hardy, Kit Hollerbach, Kip Adotta, Joe Bolster...

You may recall I told you all the story of when I was jailed for bouncing a check, for six days. When I was released, I was (for reasons that are too complicated and involved) homeless for about eight weeks, and had to live in a Salvation Army shelter, sleeping in a dorm with eight other guys. My days were a vacuum that had to be filled somehow, and I spent the majority of my time using free public computers and reading books in a library. I had no transport and so I walked everywhere, and if you know the city of Gainesville, Georgia, you will be aware that while there are sidewalks in the city centre, they tend to run out when you get to the Lakeshore Mall/Wal-Mart/ area, and you are mostly on the grass verge if you want to get to McD's or the Atlanta Bread Company. The shelter is over on Dorsey St, so it's a good long walk to most places.

During my long walks I utilised these little poems, songs and monologues to keep myself entertained. I used them also when driving anywhere and I still do recite them to myself when walking back from town at night. I'm sure if anyone hears me they think I'm a bit barmy.

Back in the 80s I knew a guy named Paul, who happened to leave behind a cassette, one side of which contained two Goon Shows, the other side a wonderful album by Northern comedian and folkie Mike Harding. I kept that tape and a decade later while living in Georgia I discovered it and put it in my car, listening to it while driving around. In fact, it was in my Toyota Corolla that the tape finally gave up the ghost, I had played it so much. But it didn't matter of course, because the LP was now in my brain. Anytime I wanted to hear it I could, because I knew it so well. The album was Mrs. 'Ardin's Kid, and the poem that I used to recite the most while walking around (and still do) was The Ballad Of Cowheel Lou. And I don't think it is too much of a stretch to say that it was that that maintained my sanity in troubled times. So I just want to say a big thank you to Mike Harding. Mike - you might just have saved my life, mate.

Reproduced below are the words to The Ballad Of Cowheel Lou. Sorry I couldn't find a convenient YouTube vid of it, but if you want to buy the CD it's available from Amazon or from

Mike Harding

North Of Oldham South of Diggle, there lies a town called Mumps 
Where the tripe mines stand just by the washhouse wall 
And in that deserted town where the shacks are tumbling down 
You can hear the scabby moggies lonesome call

Years ago this town was booming when the tripe rush days were on 
And the miners they rolled in from far and near 
In the 'Sweaty Clog' saloon they were supping night and noon 
Sarsaparilla, liquorice juice and privet beer.

Now she was a good time dancing gal, any tripe miners pal 
For a bottle of Brasso she'd love you all night through 
She was rough and she was tough, she wore no vest and took black snuff 
And was known to all the lads as Cowheel Lou.

Now Lou had one special man, his name was Dangerous Albert 
He sucked Fiery Jack and camphorated oil 
He wore barbed wire combinations and slept rough on Oldham station 
And Wimpey used his dandruff for hardcore.

Now one stormy night in Mumps when the rain came down in lumps 
And the wind blew empty tins off Saddleworth Moor 
In the 'Sweaty Clog' saloon the pianola played a tune 
And Lou was sewing mudflaps on her drawers.

While a gang of tripe prospectors and a couple of tram inspectors
Were gambling all their pay on snakes and ladders 
While a pair of Huddersfield tramps were supping the oil from the lamps
And Albert was trying to kickstart the pianola.

Well, the doors busted open wide and a stranger come inside 
It was Spotty Bum McGrew the lame evangelist 
He was an hop-along bible thumper, he kept a white rat up his jumper 
And in his hand he held a tambourine.

He said " I'm looking for a man as how they call him Dangerous Albert 
I've heard as how he's known around this part." 
Well the pianola stopped its tune and a hush came on the room 
So quiet you could hear a cockroach fart.

Said the stranger, "Me and Al, we were buddies he was my pal 
In the salvation army band we both did play
'Til one night we went on booze, he ripped up me shirt and widdled in my shoes 
He blew his nose on me vest and smashed me tambourine!"

Then Albert caught his eye and the stranger gave a cry 
And leapt upon the bar with a scream of rage 
Then Albert gave a shout and whipped his weapon out 
And in his hand he held a tambourine

Now tales have been told of what took place that night 
The fiercest fight that Mumps has ever seen 
How Spotty Bum McGrew and the lover of Cowheel Lou 
Fought to the very death, each with their tambourine.

All night long they did do battle and their tambourines did rattle 
Spotty Bum's teeth went flying in the grime 
They knocked off Albert's hat and hit the landlords cat 
And stopped to suck a lemon at half time.

Now the second half got dirty as they were both feeling a bit shirty 
Spotty Bum hit Albert with his rubber leg 
Cowheel Lou could stand no more, she picked up pianola from floor 
Chucked it and killed them both stone dead.

Now north of Oldham south of Diggle, there's a broken hearted gal 
Who tends the grave so cold and so bare 
For at Clog Hill above the valley where the wind howls night and day 
Spotty Bum and dangerous Albert are buried there.

So if you go 'cross Saddleworth Moor where the wind whips up from Diggle 
And you think you hear thunder in the east 
Its not thunder 'cross those hillocks it's the ghost of those two pillocks
Knocking buggery out of each other with their tambourines.

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