30 May 2010

Beim Kaufengehen

A real treasure trove in my inbox, from Clive and his daughter, my niece, Caroline. First two, from Waitrose in Sundridge Park, where the one in German is more comprehensible than the second, to whom chicken seems to be important.

And then two from Waitrose at Bromley South. A fairly sparse barbecue and Lies and Tangerines, a new film by Mike Leigh.

23 May 2010

Blackpool? And I don't say this often: WTF?

Just over a year ago a draw with Blackpool meant that Charlton's relegation to the third circle of hell was confirmed. They (Blackpool) were rubbish (admittedly, so were Charlton, but we'd got used to that by then). I blogged that match wondering how they weren't in the relegation mix too, and assumed it must have been because they never gave up, in contrast to Charlton, who gave up in the warm-up half the time.

Well, once again I've proved my lack of skill as a pundit, since Blackpool have got into the Premier League through the play-offs. I haven't followed the second division this season, so don't know if they've suddenly acquired some skill or if they've just built up that spirit. But to go from last season's team to promotion is astonishing. It's a huge achievement by Ian Holloway, and if he stays with the club it'll be fun to have him on telly more often next season.

I'd rather have Blackpool and Holloway in the Premier League than a lot of the teams and managers that are there, and I wish them well, but surely they've got to be the hottest favourites for immediate relegation since, well, Burnley last year.

21 May 2010

A slippery slope?

When I used to do training in complaint handling, we had a session where we invited participants to think about a complaint they had made, and whether it had been handled well or badly. It was incredible how often the same names turned up. In the bad column, British Gas, mobile phone companies, banks. In the good column Marks & Spencer and Waitrose featured very often for their no-quibble approach and imaginative solutions.

So I shouldn't have been surprised by what happened after I made a comment on the Waitrose wine website on a wine I had bought from Waitrose. I wanted to warn people that it was basically undrinkable. (Believe me, if I can't drink it, no-one can.) It wasn't corked (it had a screw cap) but was so strongly sulphurised you could taste nothing else.

Within a day, I got an email saying my comments would be forwarded to the customer service team, to investigate the possibility of a refund. I hadn't asked for that, but why not? This was good complaint handling. But it didn't progress on to be effective complaint handling. I didn't hear from customer services within five weeks, and so I've had to complain again. By this time, I definitely did want a refund. I realised that if I'd taken the wine back, I'd have got a refund without question. I'm still waiting for an answer but there seem to be two people dealing with it.

So why the slippery slope? After you've been dealing with complaints for 15 years, there are two things that can happen when you stop. Either you celebrate that you never have to deal with a complaint again, or you become a serial complainant. I might have just crossed the line.

18 May 2010

Charlton 2 Swindon 1

It was good to end the season with a win.

17 May 2010

Four Lions

I wonder how many people will go to see this film thinking it's something to do with the England football team? Nobody, of course, I was being stupid for comic effect. Without giving anything away, I can say that the film has very little to do with football. It does have a lot to do with being stupid for comic effect, though, in that everyone in the film is an idiot. Some have seen a lack of any moral drive as a weakness in the film. It's true that it doesn't offer any answers, but if the film has any message, it's that idiocy is everywhere and is a Bad Thing. Which I had kind of suspected all along. But it gave me several good laughs along the way.

It was the first time I'd been to the pictures for ages. What a horrible experience it is these days! I went to the Greenwich Odeon on a Tuesday afternoon, so it wasn't exactly crowded. When the cinema opened at 2pm it was already full of the smell of popcorn, which they obviously pipe into the foyer area. I hate the smell of popcorn. And then the trailers, which made quite sure I'll never see the films they advertised. One of them even gave away the fact that the film stars Nicolas Cage. You'd want to keep that quiet, surely.

Four Lions itself is made by Film 4, so it's shot with the television screen in mind, and the biggish screen didn't add anything to it. But I feel cool and trendy now I've seen it, so it was all worthwhile.

15 May 2010


Dear reader, you may think that I post anything that crosses my mind on this blog. Nearly, but not quite. Often I start writing something and (unbelievable, I know) decide it doesn't work. Here's a list of posts that didn't make it past my rigorous quality control:

Two witnesses
You're a moron, I like that
Giving tea and taking pee
Teaching failure
Pressure of blood

So much wisdom there, that I've failed to share with the world.

Burley Cross Postbox Theft

Back in December I got all excited about a new book from Nicola Barker, and yesterday I read it. It should be clear from the earlier post that it would have to be a very bad book for me not to love it. In fact it's brilliant, and really funny.

Here's the set-up. A post-box in a West Yorkshire village has been broken into, and the letters have been found in a binbag a few miles away. The letters are sent to a village policeman, who has the task of reading through them and trying to work out what's happened, and who's broken into the box. At the end of the book he gives his findings.

The whole book consists of the letters that were found, topped & tailed with letters giving the policeman his instructions and giving his findings.

The overall whodunit plot is quite slight, and really rather unimportant. What matters is the letters themselves, in which Nicola Barker brilliantly creates a variety of personalities and their intermeshing stories.

It's probably a book well-suited for me and my former colleagues. Reading through the letters is quite like reading a file of documents, and at times I was tempted to start a chronology and use post-it notes.
Even closer, one of the first letters is written to a council official by an aggrieved but chatty citizen. A long rambling letter, it contains 100 footnotes, one of which (64) reads "I will return to this important detail a little later!" How familiar is that?

Fair warning, though, that opinion on Amazon is evenly spread; clearly some people hate this book as much as I love it.

(If you want a proper review, there's a really good one in the Telegraph

12 May 2010

Consumer unit

This is a post about a consumer unit (right) but hang on, it gets cute.

As part of the work for my kitchen I've had a new consumer unit installed. Until now, quite unbelievably in 2010, my house ran off two fuses - one for lights, one for sockets, and I believe some bakelite was involved. But it worked, and I don't think I've ever had to change any fusewire. (I'm possibly the last person alive who knows what fusewire is.)

But this took me back to my childhood, childhood , childhood. Above the fusebox in our house was a card of fusewire, and there was space to note the name and address of your local electrician. In that space my sister had written "Daddy", which it makes me happy to remember.

11 May 2010

The tension is unbearable

Why can't these sort these things out quicker? The election was on Thursday, but now on Tuesday we still don't know the outcome. I refer, of course, to the council election in Lewisham Grove Park ward, where the recount still hasn't happened. Lewisham clearly trying to upstage Nick Clegg et al, by being the last to declare a result.

I've no idea why Lewisham is taking so long. From other blogs, it seems that they didn't start the counts for Parliament until 4 or 5 on Friday morning, and the results were declared by 9. Then they seem to have stopped counting and resumed in the evening, with most results limping out in the small hours of Saturday morning. Finding that Grove Park needed a recount, they seem to have thrown a collective sickie yesterday, and the council's website is saying the recount "is expected to take place" at 11 am today, with the result to come this afternoon.

It's all very strange. I wonder if the council officers who had volunteered for the count had to sit around between 10 pm and 4 am on Thursday night. But, basically, what a shambles! If only we had a proper local press who could investigate.

09 May 2010

Friends, family and neighbours

To round up the election position, my niece got a very respectable 641 votes in her ward in the Merton council elections. I'm really proud of her and I hope she'll have another go when there's no general election on at the same time, when there will be more likelihood of the Greens' voice being heard.

Keith came third in his parliamentary seat, which isn't surprising, but he did increase the libdem share of the vote, which isn't a bad achievement on a thoroughly disappointing night for his party.

In Lewisham, it's pretty much labour all round. Most of the green councillors have gone - pushed out by the high turnout. I also clearly have not been paying attention, since I only just noticed how many wards were cut in 2002; there used to be a Grinling Gibbons ward for example. And of course fewer bigger wards means the Conservatives find it harder to get councillors elected than ever. There used to be pockets of middleclassness, like St Mildred's or St Margaret, which were small enough to be tory strongholds. Not any more. Now, to my immense surprise, Grove Park ward, where I grew up, is their only hope. The result there is still not declared, pending a recount which will presumably happen on Monday.

Whatever the result there, the Council will be overwhelmingly labour. This isn't good, and shows that even on a local level first past the post disenfranchises a lot of people. If I can be bothered, once the final figures are in I'll have a look at the number of votes each party needs for a councillor.

07 May 2010

Hungover parliament

At the time of writing it looks as if David Cameron will try to lead a minority government, with (probably informal) support from the libdems. That arrangement won't last and there'll be another election within 12 months. Long term, that's probably the best result for the rest of us, because it's the worst result for the tories. They've promised to inflict huge economic pain on the country, and we can hope the effects of that will be becoming apparent by the time of the rerun. Meanwhile labour will have finally got rid of Gordon Brown and hopefully can do something to improve its image.

The tories ought to be furious with David Cameron for blowing this chance. I'm not sure, though, if he could have done better. In the end, people in sufficient numbers realised that deep down they really hate and mistrust the tories. So although labour lost of lot of seats, it was not the wipeout that would have been predicted six months ago. And I suspect this also led to the squeeze on libdems. That and Nick Clegg's shaky handling of his position.

In Lewisham East the libdems were proved correct: the conservatives can't win here, and they took third place; but libdems were a pretty poor second. I think that in some of the local polling booths there were problems, resulting in people not being able to vote. It was a relatively complicated poll with single choice for parliament, choose three for council, and choose first & second preferences for mayor. Lewisham's website is saying mayoral results will be available from 8pm tonight, and council results from 11pm. That's really rather unimpressive.

04 May 2010

Election update

Here in Lewisham East the libdems have had by far the most active campaign. Sadly, it's founded on a negative claim, that "the Conservatives can't win here". This is based on the voting in council elections four years ago, which was a highpoint for the libdems. In truth, it would be an absolute catastrophe for labour if they didn't win here. The best explanation of the strength of the libdem campaign is that every extra vote will strengthen and prove their claim that the present electoral system is biased against them.

The labour campaign started early. I was canvassed by a lovely local councillor, and I'd hardly got out the words "I'm a natural labour voter but ..." before her crumpling face betrayed how many times she'd heard that. The candidate, Heidi Alexander, is playing a sly game. Her publicity says she doesn't agree with everything the labour govt has done, and she'd be prepared to discuss this personally. So she gives the impression she might be able to deplore the Iraq war, for example, in private. For me, that's not good enough. The problem with the last government wasn't just its leaders, it was the supine acquiescence of virtually all the backbenchers that let them get away with it (where are pesky kids when you need them?) The old lot and the new lot need to admit that was wrong and show that they will be willing to challenge their leaders, in public.

The Conservative campaign ... is there one? I haven't seen any trace of it. They obviously believe the Libdems' slogan. In any case, there's more chance of me cutting both my legs off and climbing Everest than voting for them.

I really don't have any choice but to vote Libdem.

Meanwhile there are local elections, including that for the Mayor of Lewisham. Here, the libdem candidate's main proposal is to abolish the post entirely. I think I agree with that. An executive mayoralty risks being undemocratic, and the advantages claimed for the system - faster decision making, clearer direction - don't seem to have appeared.

And finally the ward councillor elections. Should be safe for labour. And I really mistrust libdems in local government. Memories of the disastrous administration in Tower Hamlets some years ago. So I'll probably vote labour, with maybe a vote for the first green candidate alphabetically.

Meanwhile, disregard all this if you live in Sittingbourne & Sheppey, where Nevols is yer man, or in Merton Trinity ward, where the Green party has an exceptional candidate, Liz Matthews.

02 May 2010

Fox food

Two more from Clive (from Waitrose in Sundridge Park).

As Clive says, we know Waitrose is upmarket, and here's the proof: you don't get fox food in Lidl.

Charlton 1 Leeds 0

This was by far the most engrossing game of the season, where the action on the pitch was absolutely matched by the emotion in the crowd. Leeds might have got promotion if they had won, and as the news of Millwall's score came through their fans made sure their team knew they only needed one goal. While a win for Charlton might mean the slim hopes of automatic promotion remained alive.

It was an even match, I suppose, but I think both sets of fans will think their team had the better of it. A late goal from Akpo Sodje was celebrated like no other goal I've seen this season. There was a huge outpouring of emotion, even in the old geezers around me in the West stand. Perhaps even that was outdone, though, by the reaction to a brilliant save by Darren Randolph in the third minute of added time.

If all the following things happen next weekend, Charlton will be promoted in second:

Charlton win at Oldham
Leeds lose at home to Bristol Rovers
Millwall and Swindon draw

Simple. Playoff tickets go on sale today. I just have this dreadful feeling we're going to end up playing Millwall at Wembley.