Dear idiot, you are illegible for a refund!

HM Revenue & Customs You are eligible to recieve a tax refund…

So, did you spot the deliberate mistake in this promising email, that turned up in my spam folder this morning? That’s right, ‘receive’ is spelt ‘ei’, not ‘ie’.

The old rule about ‘i before e except after c’ is so compromised by genuine inconsistencies as to be virtually worthless. But in the case of ‘receive’ it holds good, unfortunately for the idiot who wasted his time concocting this risible phishing expedition.

Worse, the ‘official letter’ goes on to address me as ‘Dear applicant’, as if I had somehow ‘applied’ for – what? A tax refund? You must be joking, I don’t earn enough to pay tax! But if I had ‘applied’, do you seriously imagine I wouldn’t know I had? And that HM Revenue & Customs would then not know my name? Or that they would send me their decision by email?

The other day, I placed an ad on a national sales web. It was for my house, which I have been hoping in vain to sell now for the past 16 months. Using the interthing was really just a long-shot, a desperate gamble. The house is with an agent, who has it advertised on proper agent-type sites, and in his window on the high street. Plus, I have advertised it myself in the local paper and on other web places, where it has had hundreds and hundreds of viewings  but no contacts. No-one has even come to look at it since last October. The Bank of England has no need to fear a new housing bubble while yet stands Railway View unsold.

Almost immediately, I had a reply. Every fisherman knows not to trust the first disappearance of the float below the water, so I was equally mistrustful of this email. First, it began ‘My name is Matthew’. Now, in my very long experience, anyone who suffers from low self-esteem will attempt to reify themselves in this way, but someone who is proposing to buy something as large and expensive as a house will reserve the introductions until last. They will also tend, I think, to rely on their surname to introduce a note of formal credibility. ‘Matthew’ appears not to have one. They might also propose a visit, or ask for further details, before making me an offer I could only refuse.

‘Matthew’ then goes on to explain with utter lack of conviction that he lives in the same town as me, that he has just sold his own house, and that he can therefore happily offer me a sum of money in cash for mine, which he hopes I will accept. Unfortunately for ‘Matthew’, I am not the sort of giving human being who would make anyone a present of the £25,000 by which his offer came up short of the finishing line. I reply, using few words, telling him so.

I am not sure what ‘Matthew’ was hoping to gain by contacting me in this way. Granted, his spelling was a hundred-per-cent, the grammar unobjectionable. There was nothing overtly dishonest about his message. It was admirably concise. I could not see how he might obtain by it, any useful information about, for instance, my bank account, or other personal details. Perhaps he had genuinely dreamed in the night that I would sell him my house for £23,000 less than I paid for it three years ago, and he would go on to make his fortune in property?

Yet it was the too-earnest desire to give me those encouraging details of his situation, that made the message seem so obviously spurious. Nothing about it rang true. Ultimately, I decided, he must merely be one of that sad legion of spammers who just like wasting people’s time.

And that was when I had the brainwave.

As it happens, I have enjoyed a forty-year career as a writer and editor of English texts. It began with radio and TV news bulletins, progressed through freelance journalism and commercial copywriting, including several years in the junk mail business, and ended with editing many serious hardback books.

Who then better to offer valuable advice to those hoping to glean a modest living from conning gullible pensioners out of their savings and bank details?

Dear (tick nationality: Estonian, Nigerian, Russian, etc.) Scam Artist. Your application to recieve (sic) expat tuition on how to write more convincing phishing emails has been SUCESSFULL! Please send $49.95 for a copy of my best-selling book, How to Avoid the Ten Common Mistakes in e-English That Will Expose You as a Total Fraud!

Just one thing prevents me from carrying-out this lucrative scheme.

A couple of years ago, while broke and hallucinating through a bout of flu, I so desperately wanted to believe I had a tax rebate coming that I actually replied to Mr HM Revenue & Customs (Dniepropetrovsk branch), completing his highly convincing application form, bank details and all. It was only after keying Send that I thought, hang on, they’ve forgotten to ask for my Social Security number…

Ultimately, I suspect, the only defence against email fraud is not to have any money in your account to begin with.

 

Postscriptum

Not long after writing this Post, I heard a discussion about email fraud on the wireless, and was immediately discouraged from my little wheeze of offering proofreading services to illiterate Chinese hopefuls by the guest, from whom we learned that scammers DELIBERATELY introduce errors, so as to weed-out literate respondents who have immediately seen-through their disguise, who might otherwise waste their time, and strike directly at the gullible dimwits who are going to send them money and bank details, because they are too poorly educated to defend themslves.

Hey-ho, back to the drawering board.

 

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How corrupt are our politicians? Or: Maria Miller and the Murders in the Blue Barn

The late lamented General Suharto of Indonesia came to power in a protracted and complicated, almost bloodless military coup sponsored and supported by the USA and Britain. Half-a-dozen of his opponents, military officers, ended up being stuffed down a well; but by and large it was a quiet affair, and departing President, Norodom Sihanouk, survived to die another day.

Over the next couple of years however, aided by American special forces and ships of the Royal Navy, Suharto carried out a systematic genocide against the ethnic Chinese population, who were all thought to be communist fellow-travellers. Over a million died. Many more, political prisoners, rotted away in island jungle camps.

In the years that followed, ‘Mr Ten-per-cent’ as he became known, amassed a personal fortune of over $30 billion from skimming-off every contract placed with western companies; often, notoriously, for illegal logging. He died in 2008, peacefully in bed, of multiple organ failure, and was given a state funeral.

Now, pardon me, but that’s what I’d call corruption.

President Yanukovych of Ukraine fled the country earlier this month, and sought refuge in Russia. Two months of popular demonstrations in the capital, Kiev, against his corrupt regime climaxed in a week of mayhem. Unidentified snipers thought to be Russian Spetsnaz firing provocatively from behind the state police lines killed upwards of 90 unarmed demonstrators. Government buildings were seized. But on the Saturday morning, when demonstrators entered the Presidential palace, they found nothing, and no-one. The President had been spirited away. It is claimed that he took with him, or had otherwise misappropriated in the two years he was in office, $27 billion in state funds.

That afternoon, the public and the western media were invited to tour his abandoned country home. What they found profoundly shocked the relatively poorly off Ukrainian families. Their elected president had had constructed for himself, a country retreat with every possibly luxury, including gold-plated waste bins, a basement boxing arena, a private zoo and his own personalised portrait labels on the whisky and other bottles in the lavish drinks cabinet. His mentor, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, could hardly draw attention to this egregious excess when accusing the West of sponsoring a coup in Ukraine – something that hadn’t actually happened, since Yanukovych’s supporters were still sitting in the parliament along with the elected opposition, who had already declared an election. For it is whispered that Putin himself has five such homes.

And of course there were Saddam Hussein of Iraq, with his five gruesomely tasteless palaces, equipped with torture rooms and private viewing theatres where he could watch videos of his opponents’ executions; Gaddaffi of Libya, with his secret rape rooms, one actually inside the university in Tripoli, where young students would be brought to him after being ‘broken-in’ by his guards; and the unlovely Ceausescus of Romania. History is littered with the scum whom ordinary people seem almost eager to have govern them, as they crave ‘strong leadership’ and ‘national pride’. They get that, all right.

Is it conceivable then that any British politician could match these breathtaking examples of the corruption of office?

For twenty years, the world-famous insurance business Lloyds of London had been aware of growing losses in the USA as a result of injury claims by miners and process workers in the asbestos industry. In the unregulated climate of the 1980s, a system developed whereby these losses were passed around between syndicates. The claims weren’t paid out, but the commissions grew fatter every time the liabilities were bought-up by another syndicate, in a process known as reinsurance.

Lloyds is a unique business. It is composed of a number of ‘syndicates’, groups of underwriters and investors known as Names, who needed at that time to declare immediately realisable assets of £250,000 to join, but who then received a high rate of return. The catch was that, if their syndicate made a loss, they would have to stump up – and the liability of Names was unlimited.

In the mid-1980s, a suspiciously large number of senior Names (you could belong to more than one syndicate) started quietly resigning. At the same time, syndicates mounted a drive to recruit hundreds of newly-wealthy Names from prospering sectors of the economy: showbusiness, music, fashion and advertising, pointing out that Lloyds had never in its 250-year history made a loss and so their investment was cast-iron safe. These were creative people who, by and large, knew not the first thing about the insurance market but had cash to spare.

Another unusual thing about Lloyds is that they are not obliged, as is every other kind of business, to file accounts at each trading year’s end. For fairly obvious reasons, because of the long-term nature of the business, they get a three-year period of grace. At the end of this particular three-year period, in 1986 Lloyds suddenly ‘discovered’ that they were $6 billion in the red. Oh dear, how can that have happened? They called on the Names, with their unlimited liability, to stuff-up the hole with cash. Many were bankrupted in the process.

The Government, terrified that a scandal would destroy the flower of the global insurance market, then told Lloyds they could mount their own internal inquiry. A committee was formed, spent probably about thirty seconds ‘looking into it’ over an agreeable claret lunch and then, quite unexpectedly, completely exonerated the syndicates of any wrongdoing. The senior Names who had resigned reinvested, and the waters closed calmly over the wreck. No-one was ever prosecuted for what I personally believe was the most flagrant financial fraud in a century, prior to that of the Ponzi King, Bernie Madoff.

While, in 2004, BBC and Guardian (and Private Eye) journalists reported on claims that a £60 million ‘slush fund’ had been created to bribe Saudi officials to secure an eyewateringly huge defence contract for British aerospace jewel-in-the-crown, BAe Systems; a deal known as Al Yamamah.

Such business methods were highly illegal in international law, and having lost out, the Americans were furious. The total value of the deal is still unknown. Every attempt to find out who was behind it and what exactly went on has failed, stymied by British politicians conveyor-belting on endless commissions of inquiry.  The deal was originally brokered by Margaret Thatcher’s government. Her son Mark, who operates as an international fixer, has always denied reports that he was personally involved. Several years later, Tony Blair notoriously prevented a police investigation into the affair by the Serious Fraud Office on the grounds of national interest. It was reported that, in fact, he had done so in the face of a blatant Saudi threat to kybosh a new £6bn deal to buy the Eurofighter aircraft.

Oh dear, again. But is there any suggestion that British politicians personally gained from either of these genuinely appalling instances of ‘realpolitik’?

I am willing to vote UKIP (just once) if any of the piss-stained-sofa brigade who regularly post a load of uninformed crap on Comment forums about how Cameron and his cronies are all on the take can prove that any serving British politician has done anything more morally reprehensible than accepting the odd free ‘fact-finding mission’ to somewhere agreeable for a few days; or, on leaving office, has taken up a sinecure advising a company whose activities they formerly regulated, how to go about winning government contracts. All such activities are extensively monitored, often publicised and subject to strict rules about declaration.

Politics is and always has been something of a gravy-train for some. But it is almost impossible for a British politician to steal too much money from the State. They are much too spineless.

Several members, both of the Commons and the Lords, have recently gone to gaol merely for fiddling their expenses to the tune of a paltry few thousand pounds. Most did so, out of a sense of entitlement: custom and practice, old boy. Expenses were part of the salary package. Former Europe minister, Denis McShane, got eight months for cooking the books: he hadn’t actually taken money he was not entitled to, he was gaoled merely for falsifying the accounting of his expenses, making-up receipts because he either couldn’t remember or was too lazy to lookup the actual details of his reclaimable expenses. It’s tough at the top, especially for former journalists to whom such behaviour is second nature.

Of course, there were egregious examples of MPs claiming mortgage relief for ‘second homes’ in London that they were renting-out to family members or to one another; for ‘repairs’ to second homes that were in reality their first homes (including having one’s moat cleaned), and for normal household items: new kitchens, large-screen TVs, frozen packet meals, etc., that genuinely pissed-off the voters.

In 1999 there was the notorious case of MP Neil Hamilton who, according to witnesses, accepted a ‘brown envelope’ stuffed with cash from a lobbyist, to ask questions in the House relating to Harrods owner Mohammed Al Fayed’s quest to find out who killed Princess Diana, to whom he (erroneously) believed his son Dodi, also killed, had been engaged (she was in fact planning to marry a Harley Street doctor, another wealthy Muslim). The affair descended into a welter of libel writs, Hamilton lost his seat to anti-corruption campaigner, Martin Bell (the ‘Man in the White Suit’), and was later forced to go into showbusiness with his exuberant wife, Christine – a fate worse than impeachment. He is now the Party organiser for UKIP; one reason to vote for the Monster Raving Loony Party or anyone else, for that matter.

But successive Parliamentary political inquiries agreed that though the witnesses were ‘compelling’, there was no proof against Hamilton. Yet again, was this the Establishment closing ranks to protect the reputation of a Parliament increasingly subject to media intrusion over reports of other MPs taking cash from dodgy lobbyists for asking the right questions? New rules were later formulated to reduce the influence of lobbyists, after several notorious exposés by undercover journalists.

Like Oscar Wilde before him, Hamilton was finally undone in the libel court. He lost his case against the enormously wealthy Al Fayed, and declared bankruptcy. The point being that, whatever he had done, and however much the Establishment closed ranks against a free press, he couldn’t ultimately get away with it. And the amount originally involved was just £2,000. Truly, pride goeth before a fall.

The British Establishment has always looked after its own. You may find a high proportion of Old Etonian posh boys running things for the benefit of their cronies and the moneyed class, just as US Presidents have a high proportion of Harvard frat buddies amongst their entourage.

You might find that all governments, whatever their stripe, act in the best interests of the ten percent of the population who own eighty percent of the wealth: it’s just the way of the world. But even in the case of the most blatant dishonesty, taking backhanders, securing positions (things were far worse in the time of Robert Walpole), embarking on well-funded lecture tours, we are talking at most about a mere few tens of thousands of pounds here and there, mostly legally – if cynically – obtained, offering a more agreeable retirement than the State pension. And who can blame them, after years of public service and humiliating self-promotion?

You will not, I guarantee, find when he leaves office that ‘Kubla’ Cameron has built a stately pleasure dome for himself and his family over the bones of murdered Labour opposition members, at a cost of millions, somewhere in Oxfordshire. Nor are his bins going to be gold-plated; while the only ‘zoo’ will be the reptiles of the tabloid press at his gate.

Case dismissed.

Postscriptum

Walking in London a few years ago, after Blair left office, I found myself passing a certain large house in Connaught Square. Outside were two bored-looking policemen weighted down with Messrs Heckler & Koch’s finest automatic weaponry. My first thought, I swear, was ‘Oh, good, they’ve got the Blairs under house arrest…’  Then, of course, I realised it was his taxpayer-funded protection detail guarding his £5m London home. Oh well.

Post-postscriptum

A week after this Post appeared, the Maria Miller story broke. Here was the Culture minister, an unfortunate-looking woman with piggy eyes, claiming tens of thousands of public pounds towards the cost of paying for a ‘second home’ in London, in which she had installed her elderly parents. Perfectly allowable, although Wimbledon is rather a long way from Westminster, where you could imagine an MP renting a small flat handy for work.

When the rules changed in 2009 to prevent MPs using public money to buy second homes in London which they then sold on for substantial profits, Miller redesignated it perfectly legally as her ‘first home’ and later sold the house for a very substantial profit, believed to be in the region of £1.2 million. The ‘first home’ designation also meant that it was not subject to Capital Gains Tax, which only applies to second and subsequent homes.

The independent, external committee set up to scrutinise Parliamentary expenses ordered her to pay back £45,800, half the money she had claimed. They reported that she had been uncooperative with their investigation. The internal Parliamentary committee of MPs set up to block any difficult findings of the independent committee then reduced the amount to £5,800, which she duly paid, and told her to apologise. Ms Miller made a 31-second speech to a near-empty House, of which approximately one nanosecond consisted of the word sorry, with the vowel removed. Colleagues around her registered their support with expressions redolent of having caught a whiff of fart gas under the table.

The Daily Telegraph, that had broken the story, then released a recording of a conversation in which Mrs Miller’s aide appeared to make a fairly unsubtle attempt to persuade them to back off, pointing out none-too obliquely that the remit of the Culture Minister included implementing press reforms… Supporting Ms Miller, Prime Minister Cameron insisted that he had total faith in her, and demanded that a line be drawn under the affair. Ha! This is the same David Cameron who had total faith in Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks, his good friends, now on trial on various charges…

In the meantime, while public service workers such as nurses were being told their annual pay increase would be held to one percent next year, significantly below the rate of inflation, and naughty policemen would get none, MPs were wringing their hands in anguish over another independent commission report, that has recommended they should all receive a compulsory 11 per cent pay rise in the next Parliament.  Unfortunately, they are bound by the findings of the commission and could not refuse the money even if they wanted to, which they so badly do…. A nurse’s salary starts at about £19,000 a year; an MP’s at about £67,000.

Don’t ask about their pensions.

Or expenses.

STOP PRESS

With six public petitions running heavily against her, Ms Miller resigned as of 8 o’clock this morning, Wednesday, 9 April. A victory, of sorts, for popular democracy.

Flight of Fancy

I am Garry Lambert Esq. a solicitor with the GL Chambers London and personal lawyer to our late client Ahmad Saad Khader Abdul-Hafez who was the chairman of Khader A. Abdul-Hafez Holding Co in Dammam, Saudi Arabia. Before he died,made a Will in our law firm GL CHambers London stating that $8.2Miilion USD (only) should be donated to any charity home of our choice overseas.

This sick little Nigerian bastard spammed me at my email address this morning.

The ludicrous scam goes on to claim that the said ‘Ahmad Saad Khader Abdul-Hafez’ was a missing passenger, presumed dead, on Malaysian Airways Flight MH370.

How did I know it was a scam? I wonder. Maybe because, as formerly a working literary editor, I know how to recognise correct English, even if by choice I don’t always write it, the way, er, solicitors do? Or maybe it’s because in English law, a person has to be missing for seven years before they are presumed dead?

In future, ‘Garry Lambert Esq.’, I would appreciate the opportunity to earn a big fat fee; and you will, I am sure, appreciate the additional income you could earn from your illicit internet activity, by allowing me to cast a professional eye over the illiterate, misspelt garbage you are sending out, and to correct it carefully in order to make it at least convincing to the general reader.

Alternatively, I wish that you would just stick your greedy head in the mouth of one of your hungrier African lions and say goodbye to your sorry ass.

– Herr Professor Doktor Ernst von-und-zu Bogl (By Appointment), for it is he!

So what has happened to Flight MH370? And why are you asking me?

“Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.” – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: A Study in Scarlet.

So, what has happened to Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370, missing now for nine days? The Comment threads are buzzing with the usual uninformed speculation. Among the many plausible and not-so plausible theories people have posted are:

1 It blew up in mid-air. A bomb. A fuel explosion following an engine fire. Cabin fire. A missile. North Korea. Single engine transponder continued to ping for 6 hours, picked up by Inmarsat. Why did it take them a week to report it? Was it pinging from the air? From under the sea? From on land? Why has it stopped? If terrorism, why no claim of responsibility? Why no wreckage? Why was it three days before we were told the plane had altered course unexpectedly?

2 Massive electrical failure. Solar flare? It came down in the sea, intact, then sank. On land. Stranded. Why no emergency message received? What happened to the passengers?

3 The onboard navigation systems failed. The pilot thought he was on-course. Ran out of fuel over the Indian Ocean. Tried to put it down somewhere. Crashed. But pilot had 18,000 hours’ experience. And why no emergency signal?

4 The pilot hijacked his own plane to flee abroad or commit suicide. Why? He’s a pilot! Malaysia’s is not a closed border. Where did he go, where is it now? Did he go mad? Why did the rest of the crew not intervene? Why did the co-pilot bid Malaysian air traffic control a cheery ‘goodnight’, if the pilot was busy committing suicide? Why did he build his own flight simulator at home  – was it to rehearse taking a plane? To train terrorists? If landed somewhere, why not reported by the local airport authorities? What happened to the passengers?

5 The pilot and/or co-pilot was part of a conspiracy to hijack the plane and made sure all comms were disabled. What was the purpose? Why has no-one claimed responsibility? Did someone want to get hold of 777’s secret technology? Did they decide to seize a plane of their own to mount a 9/11 attack because it’s too difficult to hijack a plane? Somewhat illogical reason! If plane recrossed Malaysian airspace en route to Andaman Islands, why not noticed on civil/military radar? Why airforce jets on standby not scrambled? (Port Blair runway too short to land a 777 but up to a dozen – or 600 – others in range.)

6 The aircraft has 8,000km range, fully fuelled. So landed at a secret destination, possibly a former Soviet ‘Stan’ republic, and is being kept hidden/being repainted. (Or in Australia, according to US ‘intelligence’,17th March). Either as a future weapon for a 9/11 attack (Petronas Tower?) or because Malaysian Airlines is in financial difficulty*. Again, what then happened to the passengers? Hostage? Murdered? Was any individual on the passenger manifest a potential target for kidnap or assassination?

7 Why did no-one on board apparently use their mobile phone to broadcast a message? Has anyone checked? Could terrorists really have taken phones off 230 people before anyone could call or secretly text? Did plane blow up suddenly? (So why not seen? Wreckage not found?) Or did no-one realise they were in danger? Already asleep because after 1 a.m.? Knockout gas in ventilation system? Temporary depressurisation of cabin? Suggests pilot/crew involvement. But no suggestion pilot was political. Except he was, sort-of. Politics? Blackmail? Family threatened? Huge bribe? Or just out of cellphone signal range?

8 Attention focussed for several days on two young Iranian men travelling on stolen passports. It is believed there are a million stolen passports in circulation. Background checks showed one of the men was hoping to find asylum in Germany. Also Sweden. Could both have been hijackers? And foiled the plane’s comms systems? And taken it over, and taken the passengers’ phones? Where would they have gone? Would we not know by now?

9 No attention seems to have been focussed on two Ukrainian and one Russian citizen on the flight. Ukraine is currently an international flashpoint, with Russian troops massing to invade. Again, could just two men take over a 777 with locked cockpit door and 239 passengers? Was there a fight, with shots fired, that caused sudden cabin depressurisation, hence no phones used? Shoe bomb used to blow open cabin door. Was Moscow a target for a 9/11 attack?

10 Separatists, possibly with China involvement, ie Uighur moslems; or one of many Indonesian separatist movements, e.g. Bandah Aceh; or al-Quaeda cells from Bali, Indonesia, Philippines, etc. Maoist Indian Naxalites. Or Tamil Tigers. So why no demand or claim of responsibility? Why none of these on pasenger manifest? Plane blown up unintentionally en route to target? Switched in mid-air with another commercial flight? Shot down by military fighter jets to prevent an attack? Or by accident – automatic defence systems triggered by plane off course and not responding??

11 A high-tech explanation. Possibly a trial run for a 9/11-type operation? Testing 3D-printed weaponry (undetectable plastic)? Cyberjacking – using mobile phones or satellite technology to see if a plane can be taken over from the ground, comms disabled, and flown by remote control? Then ditched in the Indian Ocean (2km deep water!)? The real operation comes later?

12 Fire in the cockpit. Pilots shut down comms transponder to put out fire (WTF?? Ed.) Set course for emergency airfield, passengers, pilots and crew all overcome by smoke. (Why didn’t pilots put on emergency oxygen, then?) Autopilot flies plane on and on, out into the Indian Ocean, until it runs out of fuel. (Fails to explain why plane alters course three times… also would you not make a Mayday call BEFORE you disabled your comms?)

13 Alien abduction by traction beam. Mid-air collision with alien craft. Slipped through a wormhole into another dimension or parallel universe. Portal opened up into the future. Plane found on moon…

Actually, I’ve made up the last bit. It seemed the most probable explanation.

* Blogger ‘Gary’ (Yahoo!, 17 March) quotes an interesting report of a proposed CIA operation in the 1960s to switch a regular flight with an identical radio-controlled airliner and deliberately crash it to falsely implicate Cuba. (If that is the plan, it’s not going to work, because everyone now knows the real plane is missing! – Ed.)

Strangely, an Australian aviation expert on BBC radio this morning (17th March) claimed that the hunt for MH370 has switched to the southern ocean as the result of information supplied by US intelligence. Yet this information is only being generally reported on newswires today (20th March) as aircraft search for two ‘objects’ ‘spotted four days ago’ 1,500 miles from Perth in the Southern Ocean by an ‘Australian’ (sic) satellite…

Postscriptum

I have just vaguely recalled that I dreamed something like this scenario about a year ago.

Post, postscriptum

Okay, I thought I could keep it going but it’s now three minutes past six pm on 31st March and we’re still no nearer finding this plane. Vast areas of ocean have been combed, intelligence satellites and planes have spotted literally tonnes of floating garbage, some of it the size of  an aircraft, none of which appears to have anything to do with Flight MH370 (so you wonder what the hell it is, then? Why are we just chucking this stuff away?Alll the recorded faint ‘pings’ have been analysed, but Malaysia is still not releasing the information they are getting from the investigating team. China is practically at war over the incompetence with which the episode is being handled by the State airline, mass protests have taken place demanding the authorities either come clean or stop putting out misinformation, especially by text messages. Numerous relatives have been interviewed saying they believe their loved ones are still alive; although we know of course that there is no air on the moon. It is all very difficult, as if you don’t know anything, it’s hard to say what it is you don’t know, without sounding as though you do know really, when all you know is that nothing is known.

Meanwhile, the days roll by.

 

Microsoft, you stink

A tremendous blastwave of intense, thousand-degree irritation must almost flatten the little town of Redmond, Washington every time the beanbags cloistered in the hallowed halls of Microsoft HQ pull the plug on a billion personal computers around the world in order to forcibly download their uninvited, invisible ‘updates’.

I presume, that is, that they are not just doing it to me, but to all Windows users simultaneously, everywhere in the Universe throughout Time? (That’s an actual quote from a contract I once had to sign! These Americans.)

It is incredibly infuriating, to be brutally reminded by these completely random incursions into what we imagined to be our private space, that we have no control whatsoever over these machines that have come to be an integral part of our lives, an extension of our own psychosphere.

Any illusion that this is a ‘personal’ computer, that the volumes of data it contains and the spark plugs and cylinders and hydraulic rams and pit-props, the little pixies rushing about inside, became our personal property when we paid PC World through the nose for it and its useless extended warranty, is rudely shattered.

To our dismay, with no warning, whatever operations we happen to be performing, however vital they may be to the war effort/economy/readership/customer relations/clerical work of Bloggs & Co., heedless of approaching deadlines or the imminent crack of Doomsday, are simply thrust into abeyance, for who-knows how long?

Disconcertingly, our fragile work vanishes, our desktops gradually disappear, breaking down icon by precious icon, like the wider Western civilization around us, to be replaced by a bald assertion that Windows is preparing to shut down, we are no longer in command of our lives, the process is already 15% complete, no going back, so fuck you, suckers.

The naive presumption of Americans is breathtaking.

There is, surely, absolutely no reason a warning cannot be issued in advance that this is about to happen, giving you time to Save your work? For, once you have wandered off, grumbling into your beard, to make a cup of tea, and wandered disconsolately back in again, staring at a blank screen until, finally, light appears at the end of the tunnel, configuration begins and the ironic word ‘Welcome’ appears, followed by most of your desktop, still mercifully in the order in  which you had arranged it, nevertheless your vital work is no longer there on display, and some of your settings have inexplicably taken a turn for the worse.

You are thus obliged to rely on uncertain memory to try to retrace your steps; and, if you should succeed in finding where you were when you were so rudely interrupted, you are liable to find  the program has not Saved any changes you made immediately prior to the moment at which your system was taken hostage; that unpredictable, unpreventable moment at which you effectively were relieved of your mental capacity to decide for yourself, how you would like to live your life, which is no longer your own.

The psychological effect is shattering. It is comparable, one imagines, to being arrested for a minor crime you have not committed, failing to pay your TV licence or something, by a heavily armoured squad of paramilitary police breaking-in your front door at 5 a.m. and forcing your screaming children to lie on the floor.

It is comparable, one imagines, to leaving church on a Sunday, imagining yourself to be in a state of grace, only for some guy in a stocking-mask to stick a .38 in your wife’s ribs and demand your wallet, your phone and your daughters. Comparable to being deported in a cattle truck to God-knows what horrid destination, or sold into slavery for a dozen years or so.

It is, in other words, disempowering and demeaning and dehumanising, and it should not happen.

There is no call for it to be done in this way, with maximum Shock and Awe; except that the corporate policy committee has obviously reasoned that, if people were given the choice to accept or delay or refuse the opportunity to receive these vital amendments to the dodgy programming of past Microsoft beanbags, they would invariably put off the evil moment in favour of getting on with what they were trying to do before their supervisor, driven by unreachable targets and secret top-ups of crystal meth, starts yelling at them dementedly.

I have said it before, and I will say it now. If I knew what the hell I was talking about, I would switch to using open systems software and never again purchase a Microsoft product.

Microsoft, you stink.

Reach for the Gutter

if you essential achieve pertaining to online shopping, approximate certain you train it in a join of artist, go-with-anything items are timing out with.

Well, okay, I complained just the other day that I don’t even get Spam anymore, and now this.

It goes on in a similar vein for several more lines.

I have Posted in the past about Spam that doesn’t make a lot of sense, but this purports to be from someone in Canada trying to sell me a handbag. It reads more like a Google translation from Hungarian. Surely even French-Canadians can manage a bit of English? If not, I speak passable French.

Talk about misdirected sales pitches! Why, I have a wardrobe full of handbags already, but nothing relevant to put in them. I don’t use lipstick or am allowed credit cards, my phone is on-charge somewhere I can’t remember where, and my emergency condom has probably dried out by now.

So it’s back to the drawing-board with you. These eyeballs are not for driving.

– Uncle Bogler

Hey, I finally bought a ladder today! One of those 10-way folding ones. Now I can do all those jobs I couldn’t be bothered to do when I didn’t have a ladder, with the excuse that I really needed a man with a ladder to do them for me.

No excuses now. Let’s hope the new ladder will inspire me to go up it. Clear the gutter that’s been dripping all winter. Paint the wall that’s stained with algae from the dripping gutter. Shine those windows! Mow that hedge.

If I can figure out how it works. At the moment, it’s only two feet high and has lots of clever hinges that twist and lock and grab your fingers and give you blood-blisters. I’m looking at the packaging for clues, but the instructions make about as much sense as the Spam quote above.

There’s a page of diagrams, a bit like The Joy of Sex books you used to snarf at before you discovered sex is more of a burden than a joy, best left to college girls and Ukrainian truck drivers. It’s hard to figure out how you get to position number eight from number five, for instance. That’s the Hedge-trimmer position, and the Gutter-clearer-outer. But which way up? They should rename this instruction set the Clima-Sutra.

Maybe I need a man with a ladder after all? I’d have a drink-and-a-think, but I’ve given up wine for Lent. It sounded like a good idea at the time.

A bit like buying a ladder: the only way is up.

Walking with dwarfs

Does anyone know the difference between a succubus and an incubus?

They’re both a kind of devil, but I can’t remember which is which. One sits on your shoulder tempting you, and the other does whatever. I think what I’ve got on my tail is an incubus. Two, actually. They keep popping up wherever I go, and my internal response is to stoke up the fires of hatred, which is a sin and not a Good Thing altogether. You shouldn’t despise your fellow man. But these are not ordinary men, I’m convinced of it. They’ve been Sent by the Evil One to torment me.

Yes, you can wait 64 years and along come two incubuses at once…

Hunzi and I have two walks, that we do every day. I may have described them to you before. One he knows is called Along the Beach – Border collies are supposed to be able to understand up to 200 words of human speech – and Up the River. Extending to about five miles, this one involves first driving the ten minutes to the beach. We park at one end, and walk a mile along the shingle barrier that, until this winter’s storms, used to protect the reclaimed pasture behind. At the far end, the beach becomes too rugged and impassable, especially at high tide, with an extraordinary rock formation making a 200-foot-high cliff of twisted filo pastry layers.

So we turn halfway back, then down onto the river path and walk a mile and a half as far as the lowest bridge, over the river, round the chapel, and return along the cycle track on the far side, past the horses, red kites mewing in the sky below the hill, past the tin shacks and the duck lady, then across the river to the car park.

The other walk we do daily takes us across the road, through a small estate, under the main railway line, along the cinder path above the flood pans, still half-full from the winter rains, crossing the tracks of the little steam railway that carries tourists up the valley to admire the gorge, gates clanging, turning left over the iron-girdered footbridge across the river, past the cricket club and into the exurban space that passes for our local recreation park.

Exurbia is the name given by a writer called Iain Sinclair to those outlying parts of towns that haven’t yet quite been developed. Neither suburbia, nor greenbelt, they are unclaimed spaces containing the hidden extrastructure  of urban communities. Sports grounds. Recycling facilities. Industrial units and electricity substations. Storage  areas, lorry parks and brownfield sites, railway lines and decaying industrial buildings, all widely separated by unfarmed fields, marshes, immature woods and scrubland, criss-crossed by waterways, railway lines, power lines, footpaths and cycle tracks.

Hunzi knows the walk through our exurban space as Round the Sewage Works and Down the River. For, having rounded the eponymous water treatment facility and trudged through the scrubby, muddy wood along the railway, across the field and back past the cricket ground and over the bridge again, we turn sharp left and follow the river downstream, past the grinning fisherman who has just clubbed to death the last sea trout in the world, round the 60-acre university sports facility, under the road bridge and along the municipal river walk beneath the retail park and the housing estate, over the footbridge and back along the river the other side, past the allotments and under the road bridge again, turning onto the road running past the other side of the sports ground and over the railway lines, past the filling station and across the road to our little house, with its forlorn For Sale sign, its rubescent Photinus and neat double-glazed windows. Every time I behold my little house, front garden bathed in sunshine, I feel a pang. Why is no-one even coming to view it?

The interesting thing is, I suppose, that we are talking about two different rivers here, the Tigris and the Euphrates. Though they end up at the same place, flowing to the sea through the town harbour, and they’re both about the same size, the Tigris runs through the town and the Euphrates (names heavily disguised to protect the innocent, i.e. me) is one valley over and flows through fields where sheep may hazardously graze their flat pasture below the frangible barrier of mud and shingle. On the other side of it, the sea is hungry and wants the land back, slopping over with every high tide – and along parallel to the beach, in an artificial course dug for it in 1852 when the estuary below the grey stone mansion, the ugliest building in Wales, like an Irish Garda barracks, was drained for  farmland.

So the two walks form completely separate, collapsed figure-of-eight circuits. Indeed, on less energetic days it is possible to do just half of each, before going home for tea and toast. Yet, whichever of the two we do, Hunzi and I, in whichever order, at whatever time of day, or day of the week, there they are… my incubuses, or incubi, I’m not sure of the correct plural. Two small men, bald (one polished, one fuzzy), with bushy beards growing down to their chests – one pale ginger, the other gingery brown – standing about 5’3″ in their holey socks. Each, in their way, the genie of their particular river.

Tigris is slightly built, yet wiry and tough-looking, with tattoos on his forearms. He has a sit-up-and-beg bicycle, which he rides endlessly round and round the cycle paths, always at the same, slow, stately speed, never varying unless he stops to wash the wheels at the river or in a puddle, a mysterious, oversized black box tied precariously to the rack behind the saddle.

He is often to be found enjoying the sunshine, occupying the one park bench in the whole valley, either sitting or lying down, smoking a roll-up. He has on his face an ineffably smug expression, as if to tell everyone he has found total contentment in this pointlessly vacuous existence. His billowy beard, like the luxuriant pubic hair of a Pre-Raphaelite model, juts forward at an annoying angle, as if prepared for an argument about it. We have never so much as exchanged the time of day, and I often take a two-mile detour whenever I see him approaching, slowly pedalling, or lying on his bench – which is pretty much every time Hunzi and I go Round the Sewage Works and Down the River. He is driving me crazy just by his very existence; but he knows that I know it’s my problem, not his. That, of course, is his job as a full-time professional incubus.

Originally a fan of my famously comic dramatic performances, Euphrates quickly became tiresome in his fulsome admiration. The retiring sort, I appreciate praise but in small measure. Now, he infests the area we know as To the Beach and Up the River, popping up at any point along the five-mile walk at any time of the day or night and in any season of the year, to play the game known as ‘I saw you in the supermarket the other day, but you didn’t notice me’. (Of course I did, and he knows I did…)

With his bushy marmalade beard and short, stocky build he somewhat resembles Gimli the Dwarf, from Lord of the Rings. Since the day he appeared in the distance and detected instantly that I had spotted him and was sprinting off in the opposite direction to avoid him, our encounters have become increasingly satirical. He will suddenly arrive behind me and accelerate past at a great rate, throwing over his shoulder some remark about having passed me only the other day, and disappear off ahead, leaving me to trudge along in his wake, bearing the heavy burden of guilt over my obvious sociopathy. It is an effect made worse by the fact that the cycle path at that point runs true for the best part of a mile, so that one has to view his triumphantly dwindling back for the next ten minutes. So expressive, it might as well be his front.

It would, I think, repay some University research scientist in need of cheap publicity to conduct a study of how it is that short people can walk faster than tall people. I think it’s to do with being able to fit-in more strides to any given distance walked; as I, with my spidery long legs, am often overtaken by little stumpy people pedalling furiously, and am unable to catch them even if I quicken my stride to match theirs.

Of course, incubuses have supernatural powers enabling them to sprint round our walks and catch us twice, inducing double the amount of paranoid bile produced by my churning pancreas. (A reference to what I fear may have been a gallstone recently passed).

My dearest desire is to escape the area altogether, since these are realistically the only walks available to us (Round the Horses takes us via the university equestrian centre and the lesser campus – hippocampus? –  but is probably less than two miles, and punishingly uphill), only nobody comes to look at my little house anymore, not since I appointed the new agent. He tells me you can take a horse to water but you can’t make it drink, which is not a helpful analogy as he has managed to send me no horses at all, thirsty or otherwise, since the beginning of January.

But I shouldn’t be surprised if, wherever Hunzi and I end up, we shan’t find that the world is teeming with self-satisfied, smugly bearded ginger midgets, just waiting to annoy the hell out of me.