Thursday, November 9, 2017

Tribute Bands


In Canada there is this wonderful thing where a bunch of musicians roll up and play an album of great classic rock, cut for cut, note for note and then play a whole bunch of other tunes by the same band. Last week my son, Ali, and I went to see the Led Zep version of LZ IV at Massey Hall downtown in Toronto.

Great stuff even though Vivien doesn't want to see anything but the original artists. Trouble is many are dead so there'll never be a chance to see them live again. Led Zep disbanded when drummer John Bonham died in 1980. No 'lets try someone else', it was just that's it. Done!

LZ IV was one great album though. One of the biggest sellers of all time with some great tunes, my favourite being Rock & Roll. However the tune on the night I enjoyed the most was Immigrant Song. And yes this is an opportunity to play two versions of that great tune from You Tube. The first is from the real Zep, the second a cover. Which do you think is best?


... And the cover version.


Holiday still?

Our first point of call on our "Life Stage 2" was in Hilton Head, South Carolina where we were to meet up with a bunch of friends from Bermuda: Judy & Keith, Sarah & Earl, Kathy & Bruce although as it turned out Kathy and Bruce's house in Costa Rica had been threatened by one of the many summer hurricanes as heavy rain was threatening to wash the house away down a mountain, so Bruce went there rather than to HH... and happily things turned out not to be quite as bad as feared.

I've already tracked my tour on the great app here so won't go into great detail about what we did on any given day.



High spots that immediately tick all imaginable boxes were:

  • Two more states off the list (South Carolina and Georgia) -- we are trying to visit them all and think we are about 25 or so.
  • Paula Dean's southern fried chicken -- the buffet at her restaurant was just ridiculous. I didn't feel like eating for two days. The chicken was great too.

  • Shrimp & Grits -- I'd seen this on the TV super chef programmes on Food TV and wondered what the big deal was. If the ones we'd eaten were typical, this dish is fantastic!

  • Plenty of really interesting history which of course I love -- I hadn't realised for example that the British were ready to call it quits in the Revolutionary War until they captured Savannah as a result of massive incompetence by the French (of course) and the Americans in 1779 or 1780. This single act made us think that having a second foothold (the only other being New York) could make a difference. As a result thousands of troops were sent over and Yorktown happened a couple of years later. We'd been repulsed at Charleston a while earlier so if the same happened again at Savannah, we'd have been spared the agony of the next two years. 
  • South Carolina was the catalyst in both Revolutionary War as well as the Civil War -- both were about economics. The first was taxation by the Brits to pay for the standing army in the west keeping the peace on the border with the Native Americans. It was stupidly introduced and repealed as soon as the Brits realised it. Despite that the colonists still preferred to go their own way. The second was economics too but combined with stubbornness. Slavery was just a part of it, although an important part.
  • Beware regional airports -- our flight from Savannah was delayed because of engineering problems. The Delta lady said that in such cases the first flights to be cancelled are regional airport flights and that hub flights wouldn't be. So fly through a hub wherever possible.
  • Bugs made a real difference to life in the 1600/1700's -- lousy medicine meant that the chance of making it through childbirth was pretty slim so out here in the islands, few plantation owners actually stayed on site. They moved where it was safer. This meant they left the place in the hands of overseers and slaves, most of African origin, so a whole different rhythm of life developed as did the language used seeing as few shared a common language. This is unique to this area.
  • The guy that owned HH was a big techie like the Facebook, Amazon, Google guys -- he was the guy who organised the first splitting of the atom and funded the Philadelphia Project initially. MIT was basically him. He finished off radar for the Brits in WWII as we'd hit a wall and only gone part of the way. He used HH as a shooting lodge until the 1950's when he sold it to loggers who then decided to develop the deforested island.

  • The weather was really great! Off the plane it was 85 and humid. No snow, little chance of frost. This is pretty nice weather! We will be back.
  • Flat -- if you were a skier, not great on many counts but for a golfer, tennis player and someone who likes to ride bikes, HH is pretty darn good.
Cycling on the beach at low tide was special
  • Flag raising at Fort Sumter -- this was brilliant. It is very easy to roll your eyes and be cynical at mindless jingoism but being proud of the flag and getting involved in its raising, even if only on just the one occasion in your life, has got to be a high point. I couldn't get near the flag and felt that I'd missed out on a small piece of something. I'd have preferred the union jack of course, but that was never going to happen and will never likely happen as we are keener these days in apologising for everything we've ever done rather then celebrating what we have accomplished.


  • Cocktails -- I've said it before and will say it again that I think that there is nobody better at making great cocktails than Americans. We had many and it was a very happy series of empirical tests.

  • Colonial muck ups -- back in the early days of these colonies, much of the administration carried out was focused solely on the economics of exploitation. The sugar states in the West Indies were testing beds for the huge plantations in the southern states of the US and at the time were more profitable. So this was how the plantations came to be set out. This also meant less focus paid on them by the mother country. As Colonialists helped the Brits in the 7 Years War against the French primarily (George Washington was a general in that conflict), in so doing they discovered how good they were and how little attention was being paid them... except for taxes. The result was revolution.
  • Willie Nelson at 84 -- in his day Willie was a phenomenal performer and continues on his merry way on the road. A review that I read of the show we saw in Savannah reported that there is rarely a set list, the band simply joins in when they hear what Willie starts to play. His voice was strong and the notes that he hit were fine and reminded us that despite the aging process he remains one heck of a performer. He stood through the entire 90 minute show as well so he's still in reasonable nick. He is one guy that will keep on going.
  • Colonial muck ups 2 -- the success of the colony at Charleston (after the usual slow start) was the catalyst for the new colony at Savannah. Proximity to the Spanish in Florida was another with Savannah being seen as a buffer. The first governor was a Major Oglethorpe who came up with the grid pattern and chose the site on top of the bluff. He made friends with the local Native Americans and led successful punitive expeditions against the Spanish and set things up as his vision of utopia which was no hard liquor, no slaves, no lawyers and no Roman catholics. His massive and total success against the Spaniards did away with the no RC rule but the others slid in as soon as he was recalled to England to answer charges of mismanagement (pretty much like every first governor of the colonies all over the world). However the man in charge at the time of the Revolutionary War was imprisoned, then freed when the British took the city again and proved so popular that he was asked to remain in the job after the British lost the war. So while Oglethorpe probably put people off with his high principles (which were likely the real reason for his recall), Governor Wright proved to be a stellar administrator and had one of the squares in Savannah named after him to boot. 
  • The Christmas present that saved Savannah -- rather than torch Savannah as most other southern cities that he captured, General Sherman chose to give it along with thousands of bales of cotton that could not get past the blockade to President Lincoln as a Christmas present in 1864. The result is the lovely city that we see today... and a whole bunch of much needed foreign currency into Union coffers. You cannot get too far away from economics.
  • The trees -- fabulous live oaks with Spanish Moss and cedar trees.
This cedar dates back to the late 1500's or early 1600's, before the colony began
  • Carmine's in New York -- I was introduced to Carmine's during a business trip to NYC back in the 1990's when I asked for a restaurant recommendation, preferable Italian family style. I wasn't ready then (or now) for the huge portions but at lunch time they are half size which is still twice as much as any normal human being can eat. Having failed to get tickets to see Springsteen, we needed a filip. Linguine and clam sauce Carmine's style did it!
I've forgotten lots of stuff that a quick re-read of the Track My Tour blog will refresh but one of the things that stick in my memory the most came as a result of a refreshment stop at a roof top bar in Savannah. 

We were having a drink after a longish walk around town and shared the table with another couple and began to chat. The guy was a chemist from North Carolina who worked in a contact lens manufacturer and did most of the talking for the couple. They were looking for a retirement place and had spent a day in HH, then Charleston the night before and were staying in Savannah for that night before driving back 12 hours in all.  I said that this sounded like a long way, a lot of effort and a small amount of time to be able to accomplish this and was met with a blank look (as in what are you talking about buddy? This is normal). He said that their preference looked to be HH as he wanted to play some golf. We said something along the lines of that's a great way to meet friends and do some exercise at the same time to which he replied "That would be nice. I don't have time for any friends at the moment. All I do is work".

I didn't know how to respond to that.






Sunday, October 8, 2017

Bella

One of the big wrenches about our Life Part 2 is that we won't be able to take Bella with us on our nomadic travels.

Bella came into our life in 2014 by accident of course. One of Indy's friend's cats had had a litter and he was taking one (Chessie) and there was one left, the youngest and smallest called Misery. Between him and our other son Alistair/Dee Dee, they somehow managed to wangle it so that Misery moved in. We were at Marine Villa at the time and about to go away for a decent amount of time so that Misery would be left solely with Dee Dee.

One of the first things Dee Dee did was rename her Bella to reflect the Italian greeting where a man meets a beautiful lady … "Ciao Bella". Bella was a beautiful little bundle that spent the bulk of her time under the bed in the spare room to start with gradually moving out into the wider house over time. Viv and I never saw much of this being away but by the time we had returned Bella was grown and two of our leather chairs would never be the same. Somehow the scratching posts that we bought were of far less interest to her than the chair and sofa!

For some reason Bella doesn't care to chow down on her food, preferring to graze. This worked when she was alone with us for we'd set her food out and whenever she felt like it, in she'd come and have a nibble or two. As I spotted last week, her sister Chessie isn't like this at all. When she sees food, she goes at it until it is all gone. And I do mean all. That includes Bella's so if Bella doesn't immediately tie on the nose bag, she's lost her chance and has to rely on Chessie's relative disinterest in dry food for sustenance.

Bella has tucked in first...

… but has walked off...

… leaving the field clear for Chessie to clean up...

… first Bella's food and then her own...

… to the victor, the spoils!


In the past, Bella and Chessie would squabble but familiarity has dampened that down to the point where they aren't exactly buddies hanging out together all the time, they sort of ignore one another so that one does one thing whilst the other does something else. The only real consistent time they come together is food time.

Bella follows Viv around to the point where its almost stalking. Viv had never been a cat person but Bella found a way to her heart.



Fortunately Bella is joining her sister with Indy and Cat and will have a lovely home. We will see her of course and hope that somehow she remembers and doesn't blame us.

Moving


It has been a long journey in Bermuda for the family. I arrived on the midnight flight from the UK (remember those?) on 19th September 1985, 7 weeks before Viv and our then 7-month old Indy arrived on 23rd November 1985, an afternoon arrival of all things.

Its odd what you remember from so long ago when you didn't really have a camera (and no digital smartphones to take thousands of the same photos) and it cost an arm and a leg to have the photo shop develop them. Memories for me at least are in small things that for some reason stand out. That afternoon when Viv arrived, it was the hostess that carried Indy down the stairs and put him into his stroller. Now why would I remember that when Viv does not? 

The point of what I am saying is that its been a long time and we have collected an awful lot of memories along the way but also an awful lot of stuff, much of which we haven't looked at for years and when we did in the past 3-4 months of getting ready for our 'Life Part 2 -- Nomadic Existence' which started 2 days ago, which we couldn't feel able to part with. In the end though much went to the dump but only after a lot of angst which over time gave way to resignation and then finally irritation or exasperation as we couldn't fit whatever into the suitcase or bag.

Trouble is that generations view things differently to their forebears. We discovered this along the way when we were having to deal with some of my Mum and Dad's treasures, lovingly collected antique china bought in England often from auction houses in the 1950's up to the 1970's. I remember them being bought so have a connection with them (albeit tenuous) but our children have none beyond a "That's Grandma's china tea cup? Nice."And really in the 20 or so years since we brought these things to Bermuda, we have done nothing with them other than put them out on a chest especially bought at great cost and shipped in to display them. In other words, they have been dust collectors. And if Viv and I haven't used them much, certainly the children won't at all. So what do you do with them?

I started out by contacting an antique expert/auctioneer who came over, spent less than 10 minutes and said "Very nice. Sadly I know nothing about English china or paintings but do know they are worthless in Bermuda." After my surprise I asked what was popular in Bermuda and she said "Bermuda cedar artifacts and furniture, some local artist paintings and rugs." This helped not at all as we had none of the first, only one of the second which we would be keeping and three of the last. The lady did suggest I contact a UK auction house and see what they could do which was what I did.

Four Royal something fine china tea cups… nice but no thanks!

I chose an auction house in Canterbury which I thought would be a good start as my mother in law, Anna, lives there. Also it is a decent size old city jam packed full of old stuff and outside of London. All positives. The house asked me to photograph the items in detail and send them over so they could assess whether it was worth crating them up for auction or not. I took hundreds and hundreds of photos of tiny cups, oil paintings, and wall plates from every angle trying to highlight what would be important which I took to be china markings, artist signatures and those scribbles that artists do on the back of their work before they are framed and whirled them off. The china was of Meissen, Dresden, royal this or that, Limoges, all decent names according to Google. Same answer. Nice but worthless. So I looked on EBay and in retrospect wonder why I didn't do that at the outset as that website has everything and I do mean everything on it for sale or auction. The self same Limoges wall plate that I had on the wall and thought lovely was offered at 5 pounds with shipping and handing another 10 pounds on top! Same for everything! All those visions I had of that TV programme Antique Roadshow disappeared in a flash. 

Same for the paintings which I thought really nice and had researched. There was a 100-year old oil painting from Old Leigh of one of my favorite pubs, The Crooked Billet, by a local Southend artist who Google told me had seen paintings sell at auction for 100 pounds plus. There were three water colors by an English artist called AEG Holt who Google again told me had seen paintings sell at auction for 700 pounds plus. There were others too that I had paid to be restored and reframed in Bermuda at hideous cost… same thing. Zip.

So what do you do with lovely things like that which are essentially valueless to the current generation? The answer is find an older person and sell it to them. Sadly I couldn't find any but at the same time I did find out what people did buy and boy, was that a surprise. Those things that you thought would be in great demand weren't, and those that you thought were pretty much undesirable in fact were. Totally counter intuitive but it has reinforced the notion for Viv and I that possessions of this kind are nothing but anchors holding you back and that you are much better off shedding as much of that kind of thing as you can. That is why we are only shipping 55 cases of stuff!  What are we doing!?!? How on earth did we still get 55 cases from what we had left?? There is one for goodness sake that says on the Bill Of Lading 'Wooden Ornaments'. What on earth are they? I didn't think we had any but maybe it was something that just couldn't be discarded from years ago that I've forgotten about.

Sadly these lovely Chinese cloisonné bells that we bought in Beijing ended up on the dump

Do what I say, not what I do. OK?

We did manage to meet a lot of people in the process as we had 6 house sales as well as posted up to 120 items individually on E-Moo and three different Facebook sites dedicated to selling stuff on the internet and in this we also ran into another issue that we hadn't expected… at some point we became too successful in selling stuff.

It didn't feel that way at all as I'd started posting stuff in July, around the time of Indy and Cat's wedding as I suspected that it would take longer to sell stuff than we expected. After a few weeks of what we felt was lack of success, we contacted a couple of people who run businesses that are dedicated to selling households in one lump. The first came around looked at our big, costly furniture that we'd shipped in a few years ago and probably mentally discounted them to 10% of original cost and then added up all the other stuff that we had. One comment stood out: "dining tables like that don't sell." Rubbish we thought it was lovely. Classic wood, solid as anything. Seats 8 in its current configuration but with the extra leaf extends to 12. Cost a fortune. She was right though, darn it. 

This first lady told us that her minimum target sales proceeds was $7,000 and that her commission rate was 20%. The second lady and gentleman team had a $10,000 target but same commission rate. The first didn't like the fact that our big items were that big and costly while the second didn't like the fact that we were all over E-Moo and Facebook doing it ourselves. The first stopped returning our calls whilst the second simply fired us.

We did meet an interesting cross section of people though. Most were really nice but the ones that you remember the most are those that for some reason or other just have to explain why they cannot buy that particular $2 item because it is too small/large, wrong color, wrong shape, etc.  We were simply looking to sell our stuff and if it didn't work, that was OK. We understood. But please don't tell us why you aren't buying any of our stuff!

The negotiators came in all types. The regular house sale goers were interesting. One lady told me she'd come from the US for the week and still liked going to house sales for bargains. Having told me all about how Gorhams charged $45+ for a trash bin (I didn't think it was that much), she couldn't see how odd it was when I refused to sell ours to her for $10 when I said we were asking $15. In the end I think we gave it away to someone who bought a lot of stuff and was really nice. 

The nicest lady award I think goes to Juliette who came along twice. The first time she spent over an hour poring over the various things on sale and had bought a vast cross section of stuff that I could barely help her get into her car. Plant pots, bedding, pillows, pots and plates… you name it, Juliette bought it. I obligingly helped her keep total as we went along and she told me she had to stop at $200 otherwise she'd have to go to the ATM just up the road at Lindos. When it was all over, I gave her a bunch more hangers than she'd originally wanted and I think the trash bin as I mentioned earlier. Viv asked whether there was anyone at home to help her unpack and move things indoors, she said she didn't dare tell her son who was at home. A few days later, Juliette came back for more! 

And that was pretty much how it was. Other memories included the lady who came to our house at 6 am to buy our dining table and chairs and took our coffee table too; the lady who bought all our garden furniture and then came back and took all our tools, coolers and citronella candles; the lady who bought our barbecue and struggled to load up whilst her daughter sat under a tree and played video games on her phone and complained about the time it was all taking; the guy who turned up for some coins I'd bought and was trying to sell only to find that I'd packed the darned things by mistake somewhere; and probably at the top of the lot the moving and packing guys who demonstrated how amazingly skillful they were at the job.

When they moved our huge table in, the original movers brought a crane and an army of men to move it. Leaving these two blokes simply ambled up and picked it up and loaded it into the van whose cab has actually been lowered onto the street for easy access. The view is of Cobbs Hill Road with Inverness the peachy pink cottage to the right.

I really don't ever want to do that again though! Nomadic life for us now!!


Paget


In the time we've lived in Bermuda, Viv and I always lived in Warwick. It wasn't planned in any way, that's just the way it happened.

Map of Bermuda showing the 9 parishes. Warwick is the green number 3. We started out bottom left and progressed to end up top right of the parish

I'd found our first house called Anchor Down, a typical Bermuda cottage next to Warwick Camp on South Shore Road overlooking the beaches purely by luck. I hadn't had any real plan, this place turned up and I was first to reply to the advert. It was pretty much on the border with Southampton Parish and for the next 32 years we moved progressively nearer to Hamilton… again not through any specific decision taken by us. 


The top picture shows the bottom left part of Warwick with the Camp on the left and beaches at the bottom. To the right of the collection of houses is a green field and single building. That is the old Military Hospital where soldiers would be moved if they caught diseases (which they did a lot) for the soothing sea breezes. To the left of that building is Anchor Down where it all began for us. The lower picture blows this up better.

Next was Paddock Drive for a decent spell in between Middle Road and Harbour Road, just off Burnt House Hill opposite St. Anthony's Catholic Church where we have been irregular frequenters over the years. After that a short stay in Ord Road, in the Forest Hills area for a couple of years before moving to Marine Villa right on Harbour Road on the border with Paget which was Cobbs Hill Road, a road that ran over the hills to South Shore at the other end. It was probably a Tribe Road back in the day.

Then finally two years ago we moved across the garden and parking area to Inverness right smack bang on Cobbs Hill Road -- Marine Villa was all of 50 yards away to we were still getting nearer even though this time it wasn't by much.

Cobbs Hill Road and Harbour Road junction. The Inverurie Hotel and Wharf Condos are the harbor side buildings with Inverness the first house up the hill on the right. It is peachy pink with green shutters. Marine Villa is the house just below Inverness right on Harbour Road.

Inverness was a lovely, old Bermuda cottage which had been reimagined over the many years since it had been in existence, mostly courtesy of our friend James who had lived there a couple of tenants before us. Hard to believe but the cottage had simply rested on top of the hill so it was infested with bugs of all sorts and was very damp, the damp that only a Bermuda stone cottage can have. James had done his best and really did work wonders so we were very happy there. So when we'd finished all our downsizing, selling, chucking, gifting and other means of getting rid of our stuff, we had a few days before we left on our adventures which coincided with our eldest son Indy and his new wife Cat being away on honeymoon. So we got to house sit and cat sit for a few days. 

The house is called Pennywise and is in Paget.

Bermuda's lovely beaches are bottom left of Warwick Parish where we started out. 32 years later we had moved in small jumps from bottom left to top right on Harbour Road. The boundary line with Paget to the right is Cobbs Hill Road where Inverness, our last home, was number 2. Mind you the condos on the other side of the road were also number 2 which caused much confusion when the time came to give directions.

Even before this but only by a couple of days, we'd been sleeping in Pennywise as we'd sold our bed but returned to Inverness to continue our moving work but this time it would be for real as we also took our cat, Bella, with us to join her sister, Chessie, and in fact rejoin her as family for once we moved on our travels, Bella would stay with Indy and Cat.

Viv liked Paget. She said that it was only a few minutes away not like before… where we were 10 minutes away. For my side, I didn't care for Paget that much. The weather wasn't as good for a start and the main feeder road, Middle Road, was nasty and quite busy where we were. 

Moreover, Warwick was named after the Earl of Warwick, not the king maker from even older times but an Earl who considered Bermuda to be a great investment when he and a bunch of others set up the Somers Isles (Bermuda) Company soon after the accidental discovery and colonization in 1609 by Admiral Sir George Somers. He turned out to be wrong. It wasn't that great an investment. The other new colony of the time, Virginia, was much more fertile... and bigger. Here's the Wikipedia link so you can read more of the history of Bermuda which I find fascinating. So much came down to chance in the old days. I don't really believe that an island of its size can really be otherwise. Even the island's motto "Quo Fata Ferunt" (wherever the winds blow us) reflect this.



Anyway when our taxi picked us up from Pennywise to take us to the airport, whilst I was sad about leaving Bermuda with all its familial history for us, leaving Paget was a snip. We'd only lived there for 4 days after all. Now Warwick Parish, that was something else.

Full aerial map of Warwick in the foreground with Paget beyond stretching out to the east end

Living in the Real World

This is something I wrote about a month or so ago but never got around to publishing. Not sure why. Sometimes I feel that the 'System' is stacked against normal people. Given the way that that is, it also makes me wonder who the 'System' actually works for.

***

Sometimes you have these days when you are exposed to some of the real realities of life, not those that you see on TV or that you have to 'endure' at work. Today was one of them for me. It really makes you realise how cosseted you are from the realities that are all around... and of course how lucky you are.

I was in the Bermuda Government office of Social Insurance waiting for some information and overheard a conversation between an elderly lady and a lady member of staff. This department is the one responsible for paying out the Government pension and for some people this amount is substantially the largest part of their income so is really important. The elderly lady told her story which went like this.

She lives in a home for seniors in the west end of the island and has become aware of another lady who lives in the same facility who routinely intercepts the postman delivering the pension cheques and demanding most aggressively the cheque of this elderly lady (and who knows who else's). The elderly lady said that this other lady 'hates' her and has gone to the extent of acquiring a copy of the elderly lady's birth certificate to 'evidence' that she is the intended recipient of the pension cheque. This lady was understandably upset by this but in the lovely way that so many people her in Bermuda have put it in such a way as that she felt that she was imposing on the government employee's time but really needed the help.

The government employee was as helpful as she could be but there are times when 'the system' gets in the way and this was one of them. She said that the postman could not have given the cheque to the wrong person as that is against the rules (what if that postman did not adhere to the rules?) and said that she would talk to the facility manager to see what could be done to make sure it didn't happen again and could this elderly lady come in again next week to talk it through again.

The elderly lady said of course but could they make sure that it was all resolved by the next payment date which was the 15th? Of course not, said the government employee, all the presets have been set up with 'the system' for the payment to be automatically generated. It was far too late for any change to take place this close (we are the 10th) to payment date.

So this poor lady will remain in limbo as to whether this carnivorous other lady takes her pension money for another month or not.

To me this should be a criminal matter but then again the second instance makes me wonder about that too for a day earlier I just happened to be in the central police station in Hamilton waiting again for another reason. Another lady with two young children, her grandchildren, were also waiting. She was getting progressively more agitated and went over to the counter on a number of occasions to see if she could be attended to. Apparently not as there wasn't anybody there who could see her and then the conversation began that make me take note:

"I have to get to work by 3.30 today so can't wait any longer. Are you sure there's nobody I can talk to?"

"That person isn't here at the moment, sorry. Could you come in another time?"

"What other time?"

"Well we are open 24-7 so you can come by any time."

"Will that person be here then?"

"Well he may be off shift of course."

"So is there anyone else I can talk to then?"

"No, he's the one in charge of the investigation."

"But all I want to do is give my witness statement."

"Well there's nobody here to give it to."

"Can't you do it?"

"No, we're station duty personnel. We don't get involved in investigations. There's only one man assigned to this."

"So will he be here at some other time tomorrow?"

"Oh yes, tomorrow for sure."

"What time tomorrow?"

"When he's here."

"What time would that be."

"Tomorrow when he's on shift."

"When is that?"

"I can't tell you that, Ma'am. That's police business."

The lady left and so far as I can tell, the investigation continues without any witness statement.

Comes back to one of those lines in tunes that you can't get out of your head: "Has the world gone mad or is it me?"

Help!

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Father in Law

It has been a great week! First was young Michael and then on Saturday last, 15th July 2017, the wedding of my eldest son Alex to his beautiful Catherine.

Actually it has also been a party week as friends and relatives from all over came into Bermuda to help the celebrations which began on Wednesday last and ended only on Monday. I could not do this every week!

Looking through the lens of a parent, it is often difficult to differentiate the young man who, say, smeared dollops of vaseline into the carpet with a friend at age 2, lost one of his school shoes walking down some stairs (just one though) and so on with the handsome, articulate young man who effortlessly went through each of the events that constituted the full wedding. I know it's a parent's legacy to see things differently as we have known every step he ever took up until now -- which is why we remember him that way -- but to also know that we will most likely not be a major part of his future. That is something he will build with Cat.

That is entirely as it should be but it does leave you with a lingering sadness knowing that one of the happiest days of one's life is also the start of something else as well.

Mind you he did choose well with Cat -- or is it the other way around? Difficult to know these days of gender equality. Whatever, it turned out well. Cat is a planner and just loves spreadsheets. I hadn't realised just how much until Viv and I went with them both and Cat's parents to Japan when Cat produced a remarkable series of spreadsheets containing practical travel details as well as a daily itinerary for the near 3 weeks that we were in Japan... ahead of time. A phenomenal enterprise, but one that was dwarfed by the planning that went into the wedding.

On the day, the sun shone on the beach where it was held. The sea was calm for the boat trip to the island. And the evening was calm and starry when we made it to the island where the reception, dancing and general partying took place.












Cat and Alex won't be going off on their honeymoon until September so they got to enjoy each night of party as well. Not a bad idea actually!

Thanks and good luck to you both!



Love Dad

XXX

Great Uncle Mark

Sounds good, doesn't it? But at the same time rather daunting. However it is true for last Monday, 10th July 2017, a little boy was born in England named Michael weighing in at 7 lbs 9 oz and altogether hale and hearty as is his mum, my niece, Zophia.

And that's about it really as I could easily end my short piece at this point and not ramble on as is my wont on occasion, but it does make me wonder what young Michael's life will be in say 25 years which would make it the year 2042.  Chances are that his great uncle will no longer be around as that would make me really, really old but the world will continue and life will go on.

Many commentators have said that this next generation (and I am talking my children, not the one after that Michael has now joined) will be the first in history to have less of an economic future than their parents and it is really easy to see why people would think that. When I started work back in 1973 at the age of 19, nobody I knew had any money and very few went to university -- I think the statistic back than was 1 in 10 who did. So anything we did was upside. These days, far more go to university and most have far more than we did when we were young so expectations are greater.

Back then, I became an accountant because I wanted to not be unemployed like half of my school class were. These were hard times if you remember. That year a coup d'etat had brought down the Heath government in a rash of strikes that brought the country to a grinding halt. The UK had just joined the EU and given what has transpired within the last year in retrospect it seems surprising that these events were not blamed on the then named EEC (European Economic Community, a far cry from the European Union which has far more political overtones). In the ensuing election, there was no result (rather like this year's massive Tory party misstep) and so Parliament struggled on through 18 months of misery, strikes, runaway inflation, soaring interest rates and no money. I know this because my parents continually droned on about the "bloody Labour Party", the "bloody unions" and much else and because I last year read a book called 'The Seventies' which reminded me of this total and utter mess that the country entirely willingly wished upon itself and created. At the time I remember thinking the 3-day week was great as that meant I had 4 days off each week AND I had more money that I ever had before (which was nothing)... even though it was less by a large factor than any of my friends who at that time had work or who were on the dole even.  Being young and never having experienced anything like this before, I wasn't aware of any problems at all. I was having fun!

So I say to the pundits, mostly miserable economists who think mankind is doomed already (think of an early economist called Malthus) that when Michael turns 25 in the year 2042, he will be just fine. He will be at the start of a wonderful life which he will build and I can further foresee when he turns 60 that like his great uncle, he will wonder what his children and grand children will do when they grow up.



Don't worry, Michael. They will be fine!

Love Great Uncle Mark

Friday, June 30, 2017

The System

It has been a while since I made my last post but I have just been a bit lazy. So apologies to any readers that follow my meanderings. I'll try to do better in future, as Warren Buffet says after he's made a bit of a horlicks about something -- not that he makes many of those.  Witness just today when he exercised his Bank of America options and made $12 billion!  He deserves the afternoon off on a day like that.

But this post isn't about any of that, it is about the mindlessness of how business has become when it touches the small person, that is you and I, or in tech speak 'the user'.  Time was (and I know I sound like my parents now but then again I am grey so what do you expect?) when you wanted something like a bank loan, for example, you went into your local branch and asked to see the bank manager. You'd meet him (most likely in those days) and discuss what you needed and he'd make a decision on whether you were a fair risk or not.  Scroll forward to the times of the robo-lenders and there's no human touch involved at all. Just credit scores and a few computer chips with an embedded algorithm that give you an answer in a nano second. It is called 'efficient' and the world is striving for 'efficiency' so that we may increase our 'productivity', another quite innocent word that has taken on horrible connotations in recent times.

Now if you want a loan from a bank you cannot go into a branch and see a manager because there isn't one, a manager that is, and quite often there isn't a branch either. I went into a branch of my bank in England in a city high street and lined up dutifully for a 'customer services assistant' who it turned out could not assist me at all even though I was there in the bank. I had to call their call centre (which I did from a bank of phones from the bank branch) for this type of thing which was in another city (and could have well been in another country for all I know) and speak to another but this time disembodied 'customer service assistant'.  These days I don't bother going into banks but simply make the call to the call centre instead. Its not that it saves much time (it doesn't) rather I just skip the first bit where someone tells me in person that they cannot help and suggest that I speak to someone in the call centre.

Almost always you are met with "Good day, this is XXX customer service centre where your call is very important to us. Unfortunately there are other customers on the phone and the waiting time will be ..." or some such variation. I tried British Airways for some insane reason the day after their recent computer crash and the wait time even at night was a day and a half!  But if you're lucky the line goes click and somebody picks up.

At that point you encounter the first stage which immediately follows the pleasantries which are "How can I help you?" and then immediately jump into the remote identification process which starts off with invariably the same: "what is your date of birth?" and "what is your mother's maiden name?"

So on the one occasion recently that made me write this blog piece (it was a bank but could easily have been a phone company or almost anyone else) upon providing the details, I was met with the answer: "that's wrong". "What do you mean that's wrong?" I said back. "The system says its wrong" comes back the answer.

So there you have it, the 'System' knows everything about everything and everyone and that 'System' knows my date of birth and mother's maiden name... and I don't!  But here's the wrinkle, I have had that account since 1980 or 1981, don't remember which, and that... wait for it... predates computers and goes back to the time of branches and bank managers. At no point in between then and now have they ever asked for my mother's maiden name (they update passport details every so often) so how does it know?

We have a friend who is more nomadic than we are and she is part of the global data entry team that enters masses of data on people for a website that specialises in genealogy. She is provided with reams of paper with various bits of information and simply enters data from that paper into a 'System' and gets paid something for it.  So human interference gets involved right at the beginning.  One thing I remember from my college classes in DP (Data Processing as it was called back in the 1970's!) is garbage in, garbage out. Fat fingers is another way of putting it. Or human error. Not saying it is, not saying it isn't. Just saying.

Going back to my call centre conversation, I realise that its not that person's fault.  All they do is react to prompts provided by 'The System'. They don't know me or my details, they have common sense probably but 'The System' does not. They just respond to queries from 'The System' -- by the way I thought this is what computers should do for us, not the other way around -- and 'The System' asks them random questions for which the first two always seem to be the same. Once through them there are of course many others to choose from as well before you can actually start to do whatever it is you want to do.

In the past month or so I have had many such conversations with call centres on various matters and all of them last an hour or thereabouts. Just this week I tried to close a bank account and went through two call centre levels; the first was the low level person who didn't know a thing and at the first sign of anything complex immediately referred me to someone else who knew a bit more with the upshot being that the lady suggested that I should go into my local branch. Fortunately for this account at least I was in the same place so did just that, met a lovely lady named Ms. Bell and she resolved things in less than 5 minutes leaving me with a warm glow.

Now isn't that what customer service should be?

Monday, February 6, 2017

Spirit of Bermuda


Hello Facebook friends, this is me – Melv.  In an unguarded moment I agreed to help in a fund raising event for a Bermuda charity that potentially involves me willingly or unwillingly ending up in Hamilton harbour in March – which is practically the middle of winter now global warming is changing weather patterns even here.

Really, can you see this amiable buffer dunked into the oily, smelly and …. Very chilly waters of Hamilton harbour?  I am sure that your better natures will come out with a resounding ‘No’ and that you will contribute big time to my ultimate safety and comfort.

Actually I think that’s how it works anyway.  Pay a lot and he skips a dunking, pay a little and in he goes.  Don’t pay and I think there was talk of being sold to the galleys if they have them any more… but I know that that’s not what you really want.  Is it?

The following is the official bit, logo + some vital information on the why’s and wherefore’s and in particular the how of actually ponying up the big bucks to help me miss out on that soggy and decidedly unhappy ending. So do please read it as opposed to skipping it and moving onto the more interesting bit at the end.
  

The Pirates of Bermuda have named me, MARK MELVIN, as a person of value and are conspiring to take me hostage!  My ‘Wanted’ poster is all over the Island and the pirates are demanding that I walk the plank.  I need your help to raise my ransom!  On Sunday, March 5th, my fate will be determined at # One Car Park and Dock between 2:00pm - 4:00pm, so please come and show your support.

AS A DONOR, YOU HAVE A CHOICE!

Donate towards me walking the plank (SINK) into the chilly waters of Hamilton Harbour L
or
Donate towards my ransom (SAVE) so I am safely escorted off Spirit of Bermuda….dry!  J



When you visit ptix.bm/pirates, you are not actually buying tickets, you are donating to SINK or SAVE (as many hostages as you like- it’s like a shopping cart).  Choose the hostage, enter the amount you wish to contribute, and click on SINK or SAVE, then hit the back button to go back to another hostage.  It’s easy, and it’s all in good spirit for a very worthwhile youth programme.  When you are done, proceed to checkout.  You will get a “ticket” as a receipt emailed to you.

PLEASE, Spread the word!
               Bermuda Sloop Foundation is the organisation that runs Spirit of Bermuda and the learning expeditions on board Spirit of Bermuda at no charge to Bermuda’s public school students, taking an entire class of middle school students out on 5-day voyages throughout the school year, where the trainees learn the value of being healthy and the power of taking responsibility for oneself.  These and other character development  opportunities are in addition to the STEM based experiential activities that connect to the middle school curriculum. 
               Their programme and the Foundation recently received the highest award from Sail Training International at the Tall Ships International Conference in Quebec, Canada:  for “Vessel Operator of the Year”, awarded to a sail training organisation, operating smaller vessels, that demonstrates excellence in ‘innovation’ and ‘best practice’ in sail training for young people.
               Through vigilant fund raising, grant applications, corporate and private charters, and special Foundation events such as PIRATES OF BERMUDA, BSF is able to offer their programmes to Bermuda’s public school youth at no charge to the students, who may not otherwise be able to benefit from such an experience.  As many as 400 Middle School youth per year benefit from this programme.
               Donations help to fund student voyage bursaries for school voyages and summer learning expeditions on Spirit.
               Your participation and contributions are greatly appreciated by all involved with Spirit of Bermuda and the Foundation!  

The official stuff was pretty dull beside my preamble, wasn’t it? What it didn’t cover is some other interesting things.

First, a did you know.  Did you know that the Bermuda Sloop takes passengers on its trips overseas?  As in paying passengers.  There’s some particularly nice sounding ones this spring (after the March ending to this promotion) in the West Indies as it’s the 400th anniversary of Antigua. Check out the website.

And the other thing is of course the America’s Cup this summer.  The sloop actually has received a bye into the play off final between Team Oracle and the winner of the Challenger Series so the final races will be between 3 vessels not the usual 2.  This is a Bermuda first for the America’s Cup (and OK I may have made it up, but it does sound fun!).

That’s it then.  I do hope you find it in yourselves to make a contribution no matter how small (although I hope its not too small) for this is a great charity and the sloop itself is a masterpiece of old engineering that showcases how we all used to get around before cars, buses, aeroplanes and space craft.  Much slower, so plenty of time to smell the roses and just kick back (if you’re a paying passenger anyway otherwise there was always the risk of a keel hauling).



Melv