I may be in the gutter, but I’m looking at guitars

(Guitar bore alert)

Thursday, 27th November: Libra

“You will have to buy some equipment. The financial outlay will be considerable, so do plenty of research before making your purchases. When in doubt, choose quality products that are known to stand the test of time. These items will be decidedly less flashy than some other brands, but don’t get distracted. In a few years, you will be very glad you chose function over fashion. You work hard for your money and should get good value for it.”

Well, Russell, I don’t really work at all for my money, but I do worry a lot about it, if that counts.

The astonishing this about this prognostication, that I have filched from the home page of Yahoo!, is that it exactly matches what was happening to all we Librans on that fateful day.

And not for the first time – see Posts passim.

I have in fact spent the past few weeks, if not months, staring with glazed eyes and gelatinised brain for several hours a day at online guitar catalogues, researching plentifully (but apparently in vain) for the Perfect One, that I can take with me into exiled retirement.

There were several false starts, escape from which involved cumbersome and sometimes vituperative negotiations. ‘I just want my money back’ became one of my Top 10 Most Repeated Phrases of All Time. I was even killed by email: one dealer announcing murderously that he had ‘deleted all mention of me’ from his ‘system’, so that I ‘no longer exist’ to him. But eventually, by last Thursday, a sort of equilibrium was restored.

So I was prepared for a considerable financial outlay. For the past two years I have been selling off stuff I bought during a crazed, three-year attempt to turn myself into a professional musician, a jazz singer. I lost a fortune buying retail and selling wholesale: a piano I don’t play, a drum kit, seven guitars, four amplifiers, two microphones and a partridge in a pear tree. As I have Posted many times piteously, no-one at all seemed to be buying. The only people I ever heard from turned out to be bored teenagers emailing vicariously from messy bedrooms in Kyrzgystan.

And then suddenly last month the dam broke. In the space of three weeks I sold three archtop guitars, my lovely bass, that I hadn’t played for three months, and a small bass amplifier. This, together with a bit of stretch on the elastic of my overdraft, has proved just enough to buy a quality product known to stand the test of time, but not from a flashy manufacturer; and to obtain what should certainly be value for money.

I definitely needed to buy some equipment, I’d been without a string to pluck for more than a week. And that’s the unusually amazing part of the prediction. It’s not like: ‘You are going to buy yourself an expensive present, wooooahooah!’ (Sure, it’s coming on Christmas, why not? No-one else is going to buy me one). It’s the extraordinary insight into the long and complex mental process that has gone into my decision-making that really impressed me.

Okay, I have been known to poke a bit of fun at the astrologer Russell Grant when things turn out more or less as predicted in his syndicated columns, one of which I used to subedit on the local paper, but in this instance I’m feeling uncomfortable. What off-Earth have a dozen slowly wheeling ‘constellations’ of what we now know to be entirely unrelated stars and even distant galaxies that look like single points of light got to do with what goes on in the tousled or depilated, half-empty heads of bewildered and struggling humanity?

At the risk of boring you, there are indeed ‘flashy’ brands of guitar, and populist designs – some of them ludicrously overpriced – see again Posts passim. And there are brands that manage to be both flashy and populist but also quite cool and ‘niche’. There is a vast quantity on sale of a small number of familiar designs that all come out of the same pattern box, pretty much, distinguishable only by their cosmetic touches.

And then there are the known brands most players go for, that may have budget models for starters but which move on up to pretty classy models, even though you can’t sell them again without the name Gibson on the head. There are your collectors of rare and vintage guitars, that can cost up to £100 thousand or more. And finally, for the genuine virtuoso, there are unique and personalised designs from a small number of hand-builders, known as ‘luthiers’, that can cost a lot of money, but stand the test of time.

The guitars I had dismissed, or ordered and then returned or cancelled, were mostly budget-priced and ultimately disappointing versions of overhyped, ludicrously expensive and ‘flashy’ numbers. By last week, I was abandoning a lot of what I thought were my carefully thought-out criteria – size, shape, colour, types of ‘tonewoods’, electrical systems, suitability to playing particular styles of music, price, availability and so on.

I had set out looking for a one-stop solution, that would be future-proof in terms of the technology. But nothing fitted the bill. I had begun to despair of finding exactly what I wanted. Instead of looking for something that would talk to my fridge, as it were, I started thinking in terms of reverting to just a classic, simple style, that would never date. Of, as they say, ‘sticking to the knitting’.

So, on Thursday afternoon, I was prospecting yet again on the websites when, after about 1001 more scrolling images had been subjected disdainfully to my overcomplicated set of criteria, I was suddenly stopped in my tracks by a kind of ‘little black dress’ of a guitar – a double-cutaway, slimline design known as a ‘335’: elegant, simple, classic – a triumph of function over fashion, from a known but not overhyped, quality Japanese maker – expensive for me, perhaps, a ‘top-end’ instrument (I’m not the greatest of players, me), but affordable at a small stretch, and definitely one that would stand the test of time.

It took another hour or so scribbling numbers on the backs of envelopes, unopened bills, weighing-up the benefits of paying cash over credit, worrying lest my small posse of existing creditors should ask awkward questions about my irresponsible sense of priorities. Then I thought, to Hell with it: this is my one chance! With Russell Grant’s sage words of advice from the morning churning through my veins, I leapt into the car, rushed round to the bank, disabled-parked and, at five minutes to closing time, dumped every penny I’d accrued from my gratifying run of sales into my groaning current account. I was broke again, and happy. I was buying a guitar!

Conversation with the stockist on whose website I had found the answer, however, produced the disappointing news that the guitar was not a stock item: it was generally available only in Japan, with just a handful exported to the USA and Europe. To order one could take three or four months, and I would have to pay in advance. It would mean tying-up £2,000 well into the New Year, with nothing to show for it.

It struck me then, how lucky I had been to have found the guitar at all, and at the precise moment when I could just about afford it! Here probably was yet another example of the serendipity with which my life has been blighted, given the frequency with which I make the most selfish and appalling, spur-of-the-moment decisions on irresistible purchases I always seem to have to go back on five minutes later. Either because I do not really have enough money to keep them, or because they are made out of rust. But never mind! I was buying a guitar!

To avoid getting distracted, I went back on Google, increasing my quotient of research considerably; and at last, on about the fifth page, found an identical one on sale in a scarily efficient-looking shop (where are the workers?) in faraway Köln, Germany, happily at the same price. It was the last one in Europe! Late on Thursday evening I took a deep breath and hit the Submit button, ordering it from their English-language website (Do British or American guitar stores have parallel German-, French- and Italian-language websites? I seriously doubt it.)

Hurrah for the Common Market! My Ibanez EKM-100 in Wine Red (the EK stands for Erik Krasno. You’ve surely heard of him?) should be arriving next week.

Cheers, Russell! Here’s looking at the stars.

Postscriptum

Hold the Entertainments page! It turned out to be Not The One after all. What am I like? It’s up for sale again, to try to mitigate the awful cost of the next one I acquired (at the knockdown bargain price of only £3,000!) This one, I feel sure, is it.

Better be, it’s a Gibson.

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Police procedurals #3

And why, oh why.

It’s late in the evening. Illuminated only by a desklamp, the expected victim is working late at the office, or rifling through the boss’s desk drawers, looking for incriminating evidence. He/she is the only person left in the building.  Somewhere a floorboard creaks, a breeze disturbs the pile of important papers…

And instead of phoning the police and hiding in a cupboard, what does the idiot do?

“Hello?”

“HELLO??”

“Is somebody there???”

And goes out of the office, alone and unarmed, onto the darkened fucking stairwell to investigate….

 

PS  And why, oh why, do characters when they are being pursued through buildings by the baddies/cops/hired killers, always run UPSTAIRS, from where it’s more difficult/dangerous/HIGH UP, to get away?

Could some mildly inebriated and deadline-driven TV scriptwriter maybe let us in on the secret?

I am a Chimera

It’s happened again. I don’t exist.

A couple of weeks ago, I managed to sell one of my guitars, the most valuable, for the gratifying sum of £x. (I know, I’ve been moaning about nobody buying my lovely guitars for over a year now and suddenly I’ve sold all three archtops in a month.)

The money appeared in a kind of virtual sense in an account I had opened with a well-known online cash transfer service, now operating as a secondary bank, etcetera. (Other well-known etceteras are available.)

I then found that my account status enabled me to transfer only half the money into my own bank. (I say my own bank, because it’s one of the banks I own.) But there was a method by which one could extend the transfer limit, by verifying that your bank account really does exist.

This involves requesting verification, whereupon Etcetera transfers two tiny amounts, pennies, into the account and you have to guess what… sorry, find out somehow what they were, and tell Etcetera the amounts, so they know your bank account exists. They ask you to be patient for three or four days while they generate the payments. (I know, I have the same problem.)

After a week, and daily trips into town in my mouldering old dog-kennel to investigate my still penniless bank account, I became bored with the game and rang Etcetera up. No problem, said the cheery colleen from the call-centre, we can do it now, over the phone.

So we did, and after a lot of silly questions my bank account had its own identity. So I stupidly went online and blew all the money on buying another guitar, that I immediately had to send back as it threatened to blow up my amplifier with its dodgy electrics. But that’s another story.

Identifying my bank account was not the end of it. Having gained five green ticks on my way to full citizenship of the Etcetera community, I had to pass one final hurdle.

Who in fact was I?

Assiduous readers of this, muh li’l bogl, will no doubt recall that in May 2012 I was thwarted in my attempts to deposit a windfall with one of the growing number of Social Banks, that affect to redistribute your savings at a fair rate of interest among the poor and needy, when it was discovered that I don’t exist.

Shortly after, my Ahum debit card was rejected by British Telecom Stores when I tried to buy this very laptop online. The security people at Ahum Bank refused to speak to me because I had failed the security questions, which meant they were not allowed to tell me which question I had answered incorrectly and so give me an opportunity to correct it. It subsequently turned out that I had failed to give the correct date of my own birth.

Yes, I am surely in the early stages of clinical senescence and death. The other day, I greeted an old acquaintance in the street by asking if he was now living in Cheltenham? I meant of course to say Boglington-on-Sea, which I knew perfectly well was the name of the town where we both now live.

I immediately recalled a similar moment years ago, encountering at a wedding the mother of one of my several in-laws, a woman in her 50s, who asked me brightly when I had returned from America?, a place I had and have never been to. Alzheimer’s was not a fashionable diagnosis in those days, but she later died of it.

I had not, however, forgotten my own birth date. For some reason no-one could ever explain, my credit file had recently been altered to show my date of birth as being the same as that of my ex-wife. Ahum Bank must have been mightily embarrassed, since they paid me £150 to shut up about it.

And now, here I was, attempting to prove to Etcetera that I am me by completing a form, only to have my data spat back out with the remark, in red, that the information I had given about myself did not match the data they already had on me*.

The first question is obviously, if they already hold the data, what the fuck are they playing at, asking for it all over again? But we’ll pass over that. I rang the call centre again, to be told, no, you did not input anything incorrectly, but our credit reference agency says they don’t hold enough data on you to make a match.

I shall also gloss over the incredible lengths to which I was then asked to go to bypass the credit reference agency, involving either scanning or photographing and somehow uploading various documents to a part of the Etcetera website that, as far as I can discover, does not exist.

I shall avoid commenting too on their Customer Helpline, which returned my request for help with this specific issue of establishing my identity, which I had so carefully explained, with a lengthy dissertation on what to do when you have Alzheimer’s and have forgotten your password, and other Frequently Asked Retarded Questions (FARQs).

To the obvious next question: why not?

Now, I am a man of some 65 summers, and not a few winters. I was born here, I have lived here all my life. I have a national insurance number, a British passport and a driving licence. I’ve paid tax and national insurance contributions off-and-on since I was 18. I receive the State pension, which takes a bit of effort as you first have to prove your identity (again) to the Department of No-work and Pensions (even though they have just written to you to tell you that you first have to do that, and so must have some inkling as to who you are).

Furthermore, I have been officially married twice, by both Church and State; and divorced again. I have raised two nice, polite and clever children, been registered as a company director three times, bought six houses and sold five, and stayed (God knows why) with the Ahum Bank, man and business, borrower, supplicant and mortgagee, for over 40 years. I even have a Special Branch file (see Posts passim).

I mention these lifetime achievements, partly in triumph, but also because I argue that it is quite impossible that I have not left a data trail on the planet ten miles wide and sixty-five years long.

Yet there appears to be a disorganisation of groaning baboons out there, posing on their beanbags as a credit reference agency: scratching their arses, masturbating frequently, grooming one another for lice prior to embarking on a fresh round of consuming too much fermented fruit before collapsing in a drunken, snoring heap, that cannot manage to find a single trace of me anywhere.

And the good folk at Pay-etcetera are happy to go along with them. My bank account exists, the money exists, virtually; the guitars whizz about the country keeping the courier industry in being.

But there is no sign of me. I am a chimera, a ghost outside the machine. Why, even the photograph above this post is not really me: it is someone pretending to be an elderly depressed man from another time and place.

 

*And do you know what it eventually turned out to be? This form asks for a ‘street’ field with your address, so I put in the name of my street. A name that was missing from the existing record, which had not requested a ‘street’ name, and so I could not possibly exist; although the rest of the data were identical.

It’s the kind of thing that doesn’t give you a hell of a lot of confidence in the modern Security State.