Archive for May, 2013

Compliments aplenty in China

About ten years ago, I went to China to trek the Great Wall with a group of people connected to a charity called Quarriers. It was one of those things were you get people to sponsor you and the money goes to the charity.

Apart from waking up on day three, unable to move, it went well. It was loads of fun. We zipwired over a river….

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We were chased off the wall by some soldiers and had to escape through a farmer’s field and persuade the farmer not to charge us for walking through his fields without permission. There were adventures round every corner.

Often, when we started, some of the locals would walk a little way with us, trying to persuade us to give them our bags to carry, the implication being that you give them a little bit of money at the end of the day. Most of us wanted to carry our own bags, to feel we’d ‘done it ourselves’ but occasionally some would cave in and accept help.

This one day, I think it was about a week in, one of these helpers had been with us all day. She was helping a 60 year old lady called Lily and they were steaming ahead, leading the group, while we trailed behind!

At the end of the day, as we were making our way to our accommodation and the lady was getting ready to turn and repeat the day’s walking in reverse to get home, she produced some t-shirts with pictures of the Great Wall on them and asked us if we wanted to buy some. They were quite nice and not expensive so we all had a look. By the time, I looked, however, all the t-shirts my size has gone. She looked at my top half and ruffled through her remaining ones but they were all children’s sizes. Dammit.

“Never mind,” I gestured, shrugging my shoulders and starting to walk away.

“Wait!” her voice rang out, in the way someone might shout ‘Eureka!’ if they had solved some great mystery.

(Are you ready for this?)

I turned back to see what she had found. She was holding a red t-shift aloft and offering it to me.

“I have extra large!” (Actually she said, ‘extra rarge’ but you get the idea)

Now I don’t know how things go down in China but in the UK, if you want to make a girl buy some clothes off you, it’s not by telling her she looks like she needs the ‘extra rarge’ size.

Unsurprisingly, I passed on the t-shirt…..

Phone conversations I had on Tuesday

3.15pm

TDCJ: Texas Department of Corrections, how can I help you?
Me: Hiya, I’m just calling to inquire about visiting an inmate. I was planning to come next week. I’m flying from England. But I’ve not received the paperwork to allow me to visit. I think the post is going slowly or something. Is there anything I can do to speed things up?
TDCJ: The inmates are allowed to change their visitor lists middle of next month.
Me: O, ok. On his latest letter, he said he’s changing it end of this month.
TDCJ: No. It’s the middle of the month.
Me: So what can I do about coming on Monday?
TDCJ: You won’t be able to visit on Monday.
Me: Is there nothing I can do?
TDCJ: You can come but you won’t be able to visit.

3.30pm

Lastminute.com: Lastminute dot com, how can I help you?
Me: I have to cancel my flight for this Saturday. I remember taking out a cancellation policy on the flight.
Lastminute.com: Yeh, it’s a nonrefundable flight, unfortunately. You can get a refund on the taxes. Not all of them. But a few.
Me: How much would that be?
Lastminute.com: £147
Me: Really?! But the flight was £574! That’s hardly anything back.
Lastminute.com: Yeh.
Me: Can I rearrange the flight? I’m probably going to go at the end of the month instead.
Lastminute.com: Ok, you’d need to pay the difference, if the new flight costs more. And the airline charges £100 for admin fee when you change. And we charge £45. And you’re only allowed to travel between Monday and Thursday.
Me: Monday and Thursday in the same week?
Lastminute.com: Yes.
Me: So I have to get from London to Texas, to the prison for two days of visits, back to Texas and back to London? In four days?
Lastminute.com: Yes.
Me: And how much am I looking at for that?
Lastminute.com: If you travel at the end of June, going Monday 24th, returning Thursday 27th, the extra charges you will have to pay will be £472.
Me: What?! Wait a minute. My flight was £570 to start with. That’s almost double!
Lastminute.com: Yeh. Shall I book it for you?
Me: You know what? I’ve had a pretty rubbish day. My head is aching and I’m knackered. Can I just call you back?
Lastminute.com: Mam, can I ask the reason why you need to cancel the flight? Delta have a policy that you may apply for a full refund in certain circumstances.
Me: (Deep breath.) My friend is on death row in Texas and he has an execution date next month. I wanted to go and visit him but the prison just informed me that I won’t be able to visit, even if I go all the way there. So I’m not… I can’t go… There’s no point. I can’t use those flights.
Lastminute.com: Ah ok. I’m so sorry to hear that.
Me: So will I be able to get a refund?
Lastminute.com: No. The special circumstances are something like if your family member is ill.
Me: Is this not a special circumstance? He’s being executed in a matter of weeks?
Lastminute.com: No, I’m sorry. So shall I change your flights for you?
Me: No. I. Just. Just leave it. I can’t be bothered anymore. I’m exhausted. Bye.
Lastminute.com: But mam, I…
Me: No. No more.
Lastminute.com: If I could just….

Beeeeeep.

It is 3.45pm. I am ready for bed.

And that, my friends, is what happened to me on Tuesday. My mind is tired. My head is aching. I’m wondering when we became so addicted to rules and regulations.

And I’m sad.

*As a postscript to this, I called on Wednesday and Lastminute.com had changed their minds. I do not have to travel Monday to Thursday in the same week. Problem solved! I’m going in late June and it only cost £280 to make the adjustments. Phew.

Price promise vouchers (Or: Money off next time)

Hello all.  Welcome to my Wednesday guest blog post from Rambler5319. Enjoy!

 

I’m going to start off referring to a recent article in one of national daily papers, by journalist Tom Utley, here in the UK. It highlighted a very cunning ploy being used by four of the big supermarkets. (I was taken in by it just as he was.) It’s called “Brand Matching” by the one he uses – Sainsburys; it’s called “Price Promise” by Tesco and other things by the others. It means that each supermarket in this scheme (Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons) finds out what the others are selling, say, their 500g packet of Shreddies for and if it is cheaper somewhere else they take the cheapest price and “match” it by giving you a voucher for the difference. For example, if you paid £4.18 for your carton of 48 Weetabix this week at Tesco – btw that is the price – and Sainsbury were selling theirs for say £4.00, and that was the cheapest of the other prices, you would have a credit for £0.18 and so on for all your other items. Some of these may be over or under the cheapest price so there will be a final balance which could be a plus or a minus figure. Just suppose in this case that the final total of plusses and minusses came to +£0.18 you would get a voucher for that amount. This voucher is received when you go through the checkout and can be used to get money off on your next visit.

Here are a couple I got recently.

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You can see that, in total, I could reclaim £2.11 off my next bill.

Looks good doesn’t it – £2.11 off my next bill? However I wonder if you’ve ever got one of these vouchers and thought, “Hang on a minute, this means if I’d shopped at another supermarket I’d have got my food and other stuff for £2.11 less.” In actual fact what these vouchers mean is that really I’ve been overcharged. Even if you had thought that, you still have a problem because you don’t know at which of the other supermarkets in the “Brand Match” scheme (Asda, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons) you could have realised those savings. And, even if you did, is it likely that next week you will drive to that other supermarket just to pick up the items which are cheaper there? Would you stand in 4 different queues at 4 different supermarkets just to get the cheapest items? Isn’t the whole idea of supermarket shopping that you want to be able to pick up everything you need in one place to save visiting loads of different places. So what is the “Price Promise Voucher” (or whatever it’s called in the one where you shop) for? Put quite simply it is a type of loyalty inducement. They want you to go back to their supermarket and spend your money there – oh, and of course, redeem your vouchers and make that crucial saving except in reality you haven’t saved anything at all. What you’ve done is “not lost”. Think about it carefully. You’ve got back to zero after having paid more than you could have done elsewhere. (In my case I could have got my items for £2.11 less somewhere else so the overcharge of £2.11 is being credited back to me; crucially though, it’s not money in your hand.) The thing to be aware of is that the vouchers have a date limit on their redemption so you can’t just hand them in any time. In fact you can’t go back in the same day (if you’ve forgotten something) and use them because they don’t start ‘til the day after you receive them and they last for about 4 weeks.

This strict redemption period is what draws you back because you say to yourself I must use the voucher before it runs out. You go back to the very place which is apparently overcharging you so you can be overcharged again! And yet, just like Tom Utley, I felt quite pleased when I was given my voucher. “Ah yes,” I thought, “that means I’ll save £2.11 off the next bill.” I wasn’t realising that when I got my “£2.11 Tesco was simply helping me back to the zero position of no gain/no loss compared with their competitors.

I want to look at a couple of areas Tom did not cover as I think they’re also worth thinking about.

Firstly, I was not realising that Tesco had had my £2.11 for a week (or in some cases longer) in their bank account so I’ve really become a lender to one of the biggest supermarkets in the UK. Fancy that, me lending Tesco £2.11 for a week. Thing is though they didn’t ask if they could borrow it – they just took it and promised to give it me back next time I came in with that piece of paper!

Secondly, a further side to this is that, if you think about it, it could be interpreted as a type “price fixing”. What each one is saying is that whoever is selling the item for the lowest price is the one we will charge our customers. Sounds ok doesn’t it? But wait a minute, what happens if say an item is being sold for £4.00/£3.80/£3.75 in three of the places and last one says that they will put their price at £3.70. Is this fair? Well, it might be but what if the profit on this item was quite high anyway so even at £3.70 they’re still making a fair amount? The others were looking to make even more but they’ve been undercut and so agree to the £3.70 in their stores to match the lowest price and then give the difference back in the form of vouchers to their customers. The trouble is the lowest price may not necessarily be the best price for the customer. It could be that if this item was sold for £3.50 for instance it would still make a good profit but because we don’t know the details we can’t say. All we know is that the stores will still make a good profit at the lower price because it still has a good margin in it. Can you see the problem now with this whole concept?

A further twist to the psychological ploy is the other side of the coin when you get a piece of paper saying, like mine did a few weeks ago: “Today you have saved £0.94”. This is what you get:

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This means I couldn’t have got my basket (trolley) of goods cheaper anywhere else (at stores in the scheme) and in fact your store was the cheapest, over all the items, by that £0.94. What’s this piece of paper worth? Well, nothing actually. It is simply telling you that this week you have not been overcharged. Oh well that’s good isn’t it? In a kind of really odd way you now feel as if you wished you had been overcharged so that you would have the ability to get some money off your next bill because it makes you feel good. The cleverness of the scheme is that it is actually making people happy who have been overcharged! Read that again. And it’s obviously working. Ask yourself how often do you change store or supermarket? Do you really want to keep having to learn new store layouts so you know where to find all your items or do you, like me, want to know that, every week, when you walk down aisle 6 you will find the veg & in aisle 23 the tinned fish and so on?

What can you do about it? Not a lot except that maybe in a week when you redeem your vouchers and get a “you have saved” printout you go and shop in a different store the next week as a punishment for the one who overcharged you the week before. Or maybe you have a better idea?

A cup of tea in the garden

Take your morning coffee out into the garden (Simon Gear, Going Greener)

I’ve been sitting on this one for a little while now, feeling like this was the next direction to go in with my Living Usefully project but not quite getting round to it.

As I drink tea, not coffee, I have adjusted it slightly but last night I decided that today was the day when I would take my tea into the garden. The weather has been nice all weekend and there have been some recent additions to the garden which I thought would make standing out there a lovely thing to do.

We recently got a cherry tree, a plum tree, a strawberry plant, tomato plants, a tall fuschia plant and a load of pansies and lobelia so there is a lot to look at in the garden right now. I was looking forward to my tea-in-the-garden plan.

Then I woke up, fifteen minutes ago. The birds were singing, the air felt warm and I pulled back the covers.

Then I looked out of the window. It was pouring with rain and everything looked soaked.

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So I pulled the covers over me again, rolled over and went back to sleep.

Sorry, everyone. I’m sorry. I tried, sort of. I’ll try again tomorrow. Maybe.

Danda and the dock leaves

Before I proceed with this story, I would like to remind you all of what happened last summer when I picked a blackberry for Danda. It was the first blackberry of the summer and I picked it for Danda and trekked up the biggest hill in the world to give it to him. You’ll have to check the post for his reaction.

So last week, I went foraging. I now have a book about foraging, called Food For Free by Richard Mabey. It’s fabulous and I’m cautiously working my way into new types of edible plants. It started with nettles…

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…and has now expanded into dock leaves and dandelion leaves too. On the river near Ham House, there is an abundance of greenery for the taking. It’s like a forager’s paradise….

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Nettles on the left, dock leaves toward the middle then dandelion leaves on the right. Dandelions are really good for you, apparently. And the whole plant can be eaten, from flower to root. Things like dandelion leaves and dock leaves were collected constantly and steamed and eaten like spinach but when spinach started to be grown more, we got away from eating these things.

Along I went, on my foraging mission, collecting lots and lots of greenery and thinking what lovely things I would make with it.

That evening, I decided to make a chilli with venison mince and lots of tomatoes and onions and fresh red chilli. As all these things are quite rich flavours, I decided to add the greenery in right at the end, just until it wilted a little, to lighten the whole thing up. So in it went, I stirred everything round, seasoned it and put it in bowls for Danda and I.

We dug in, munching away. I was feeling all at one with nature, eating my recently foraged greens in my dinner. I looked at Danda, knowing he was feeling the foraging love.

His face was a picture of uncertainty.

“It’s quite bitter,” he said, looking at it nervously.

“Put a bit more salt in,” I advised. He did so. He tried it again.

“O, it’s really bitter, Laura…. Do you want mine?”

And so I had two dinners and Danda ate toast. So that went well.

*I have since worked out how to counteract the bitterness. I need to put the greens in earlier, so the bitter taste is dissipated and the other tastes are allowed to come forward.

Squirrels, dogs and cats

Well, everyone, after the last two days, I’ll bet you thought we were done with Chat. As did I. But then I found the back page story, which is generally reserved for the wackiest stories, the kind of thing which have an element of the unhinged to them. Let me remind you of other stories that have found their way to the back page.

There was the woman who knitted an entire troop of pirates and had them on her bed with her. There was the couple who got driven to their wedding in a skip. There was the woman who makes freaky zombie dolls and gives them to people as gifts. That, my friends, is the kind of story that appears on the back page.

And this week is no different. Check it out. The article is called ‘Nutty but nice.’ Clever.

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Hmm. An adventure park for squirrels? What on earth can this mean?

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O, ok. I get it. That’s what she means. She’s made a mini hot air balloon with some nuts in the basket so the squirrel will sit in it.

Yehhhh… She doesn’t mention having a job. That might be something to do with it.

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No, your eyes are not deceiving you, that is a squirrel in a pram on the left and a squirrel ‘cleaning windows’ on the right.

She even set up a Santa sleigh full of nuts, photographed the squirrels when they stood next to it then sent it out as her Christmas card. Hmmm.

I just… I don’t… I can’t even think what to say about this. A squirrel adventure park. Seriously, now. People get their kicks in strange ways. Maybe she should try taking up a hobby, origami perhaps?

And now, for something completely different. A Bingo Dog!

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And last but not least, the Photo of the Week, a cat sitting on a table.

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Cement Face, clip fan and new numbers

Continuing on from yesterday’s post, we’re entering the world of Chat again.

Before we embark on any of the actual stories, I’d just like to list some of the names mentioned in this week’s magazine. People love sending stories or pictures of their children and I fear something has happened to the new mothers of today, something called Crazy Naming. It’s like they’ve randomly picked out some letters from the dictionary and stuck them together to make a word and written it on the birth certificate. And even when fairly regular names are used, there’s a real thing for double barrelling. We must double barrel! These are just a few….

Kaly-raine
Modlen (female, by the way)
Dayton Rae
Ella-May
Amy Rose
Roman
Olivia Grace
Harley
Darcie
Willow
Sharonesme
Kimbalee
Leigh-Catherine

And with the scene set, in we go. First up, we have Concrete Face Lady.

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Yep. Actual concrete. In her actual face. In fact, it was a mixture of cement, tyre sealant, mineral oil and glue. In her face. She was born a boy but lived as a transexual and wanted the plastic surgery to have womanly cheek bones and a more feminine shape to her body. The cement nonsense mixture has also been injected in her boobs, hips and bum, where they have now gone lumpy but the doctors can’t remove them because it has solidified around the  nerves, tissue and blood vessels so can’t be removed. Yeh. Being a boy doesn’t seem so bad now, does it?

Next up, everyone’s favourite page – the ‘Blimey! That’s clever’ page. And what have we here?

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O, it’s just some settings on an oven, you’re probably thinking. Well! Let me tell you! It is not just some settings on an oven!…

Actually, yeh, it is. They had faded away so she got some more sticky numbers and stuck them on. That’s it. That’s the tip. When the numbers on your oven settings fade, put some more on.

That wasn’t really even a tip, was it? That was nonsense.

Let’s try another one.

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Store your hair clips on a fan. Firstly, who has this many hair clips?! Secondly she says this clipping technique ‘stores them in one place and looks pretty.’ And looks pretty?! Really? You decide.

Lastly, this.

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Keep toilet roll tubes and put wires in them with a label on. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with this, as such. But it’s not really the ground breaking life changing rocket science I’m always expecting when I look at these pages. We’ve cut down trees to produce this magazine! I need to feel there was a decent reason why we did that.

I guess the whole of Chat magazine overrides that idea.