01 July 2009

Age and guile

Age and guile, said P J O'Rourke, stealing and perverting an Indian proverb, beat youth, innocence, and a bad haircut. How true, especially on Tuesday night, when the star-studded Ombudsman team triumphed in the Suzy Lamplugh Trust summer quiz. The quiz was held in the students' bar of Chelsea College of Art and Design, and the majority of the teams seemed to be of student age. So we felt really old and probably looked, to the kids around us, even older. It was a bit of a trouncing tbh. First up, we won the spot prize for listing the 20 best-selling singles artists in Britain up to 2004. We got 14, which was more than anyone else, and so won a bottle of House of Commons whisky (which will presumably turn up on some MP's expense claim). Then James got second prize in the raffle - a load of West Wing DVDs. And then we won the quiz itself, and the prizes were astonishing, I think. But Keith took them away for safe-keeping and I haven't seen him or them since. A very well organised quiz, and it was good to be in a student bar, where a bottle of decent white wine was just £7.50. Celebrated in the White Swan afterwards, so home just after midnight.

Then an early start today, to get to Ashford for training. Went by train, for all the usual reasons, but as it's in Kent, it's a two-hour journey (I could easily do it in one hour by car, but couldn't use the laptop.) The course wasn't great, but nowhere near the horror of the Luton experience. A really difficult start when, in the "tell us about your complaint making experience" a delegate gave such a moving and inspiring personal story, that no-one dared follow it with a whinge about a mobile phone company. But as usual the case study got everyone going after lunch. But so hot! By the end of the day I had almost forgotten how to talk, and the fact that no-one fell asleep was a major achievement.

I must have travelled on the Catford-Sevenoaks line many times. It offers a fantastic view of the Darenth Valley, one of the most underrated bits of England. But today for the first time, I noticed an obelisk on the railway cutting just this side of Swanley. Turns out it's a coal tax post, a relic of the City of London's system of taxing coal imported into the city. It had the same function as the more mundane looking road posts (a near example being in Leaves Green, near Biggin Hill). Actually the real explanation is quite a disappointment, but one could speculate as to why the railway coal tax posts were given this mysterious and evocative form. Second speculation of the day: why are there five railway tracks through Headcorn station? But that's not really very interesting.

Anyway it's now Wednesday evening. The air is cooling but still sticky. I am tired, as usual after a day trying to get people to feel enthusiastic about complaints. And I have the day off tomorrow!

Jerry Springer moment: Please support the Suzy Lamplugh Trust in any way you can: it's still doing important work. And if you ever work on your own, make sure you follow basic safety rules. And always remember that your life is more important than your job.

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