16 June, 2012



Good word, vicissitudes. Redolent of an elegant fin de siècle Paris, I think of it as an undiagnosable but debilitating condition suffered, or more precisely indulged in, by bored ladies of quality.

— Ça va, Hercules?
— Malheureusement, mon cher ami!
— Mais pourquoi?
— C'est ma femme, mon cher Théophile, ma femme. Récemment a-t-elle toujours des vicissitudes.

If you'll pardon my schoolboy French.

What's that got do with anything, you ask impatiently? Nothing really, except that I can't think of a pertinent title for this post.

Anyway, my dustbin was emptied yesterday, as part of the normal route, without even the need for an email of complaint to the council's "works" department. For the first time in two months. Strange experience, as each Friday you watch dozens of dustcarts zooming around the district, each industriously collecting its assigned category of rubbish, passing tantalizing close but never actually calling at your house. It's a bit like being in a Twilight Zone plot where the house has been displaced into an alternate but adjacent universe. Or living in a disputed block of a city where an insoluble long-term conflict has transitioned from actual violence into chronic nitpicking intercommunal bloody-mindedness.

Still, my campaign of polite but persistent footstamping seems to have done the trick and normal service has been resumed. We'll see how long it lasts.

I wouldn't bore you with this trivium but for something else which has been bugging me. I was talking to a near-neighbour who was also caught up in this situation. She was telling me how she had phoned the council about it, but that she had refused to give her address because she feared being victimized by the dustmen for daring to complain. All very well, but precisely how did she expect the council's minions and/or contractors to investigate and deal with the problem?

— The bins haven't been emptied again.
— Oh yes madam, and where do you live?
— Greater Woolwich.
— Where exactly in Greater Woolwich? What is your address?
— I'm not telling you that. The binmen might drop stuff on my garden path in revenge.
— I see. No problem, I'll have the special collections team visit every domestic property in the borough to check. Thank you for calling.

I'm still trying to work that one out.

While ruminating on this piece of thinking, I visited an emporium of a well-known clothing, soft furnishings and posh-sandwich retailer, hoping to buy a new coat. I selected a likely garment, hand-crafted by ethical slave labour in China, or so the label tells me, and approached the tills, where one of the Daughters of Allah was engaged in what appeared to be haggling with the assistant. He successfully convinced her that such is not the custom in the more respectable mass-market outlets in Oxford Street and the transaction was concluded. I approached and proffered my purchase for scanning. As the amount flashed up on the till, he asked

"How would you like to pay, sir?"

A perfectly reasonable question, except that before he had begun to speak I was already holding out a small but sufficient wad of £20 notes towards him.

I couldn't think of a suitably anodyne response to his question. I still can't.

Is the world going mad or am I just getting old?

Incidentally, that there Google's not as clever as it thinks it is. To be honest, I find the trick of using tracking cookies to match adverts to your searches is a bit spooky. But if it finances a free search engine and free newspaper websites then I will live with it. However, every advert on the Telegraph site for the past few days has been offering me outdoor coats from M&S. Er, I've already bought the sodding coat, guys. I am not currently in the market.

Now what the smarty-pants at Google need to be working on is to tie in the tills at M&S so they know that a relevant sale has taken place. Hmm. I paid in cash; how then do they know it was me? Let's see. I paid in £20 notes. You don't get £20 notes in change, you get them out of an ATM. Record the serial numbers of the notes issued during the ATM transaction. Scan these numbers at the M&S till at the time of purchase. So, Herr Greenvood, we haff reason to believe that you were on ze 2nd floor of ze Marble Arch branch of Marks und Spencer at eleven o'clock on Wednesday, 13th June, negotiating ze purchase of ze very coat that you are wearing. Zis ties in with CCTV footage and with ze records of your mobile phone signal.

Nah, don't give the bastards even more ideas.

Right. Off down the boozer for a bottle of Russian lager. I'm not drinking that Polish muck any more; it's racist innit. I 'ad that Hermann Goering in the back of the cab the other day. Showed me 'is medals, didn't 'e?

"A perfectly reasonable question, except that before he had begun to speak I was already holding out a small but sufficient wad of £20 notes towards him."

It's habit. He just reels off the words, doesn't bother to listen to what you actually say to him. I get the same thing collecting a McDonalds breakfast on the way to work in the morning - even if I say '...to take away, please' I still get asked 'Are you eating in?'

{where one of the Daughters of Allah was engaged in what appeared to be haggling with the assistant}

Surprised she wasn't behind the till.

In my local "Third World Tat At Monster Prices" it can take several minutes to hunt down someone who might have English as a first language.

I'm slowly getting the message.

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