Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Butcher, The Vicar And The Big Red Box

This blog is taking a temporary break from suburban Maryland and returning to its rural Lincolnshire roots. We are staying in a village where you can walk to three pubs within five minutes, and buy sausage and bacon from the butcher’s at 7.30am on the stroll home from picking up a newspaper. My cell phone is (thankfully) getting no signal, so I’m enjoying the retro thrill of using an old red phone box that smells of olde Englande’s most ancient piss and fag ends. The church rings its weary bells, there are ducks on the village stream, the pallid children attend a picturesque antique school house, and I have no doubt that in the afternoons a number of polite and elderly ladies regularly enjoy a cup of tea and a slice of cake.

It’s not quite perfect, though. I have yet to hear the genteel click of leather on willow, and I have not spotted any old maids cycling home through the mist. The former is likely drowned out by the moronic drivers who speed through the village’s narrow streets, travelling far in excess of the 30 miles per hour limit, while the last of the latter were probably run over and maimed several years ago. PC Mark Lassmans doesn’t mention the speeding in his column in the village’s admirably open quarterly magazine, but he does threaten to ticket parents who are blocking in residents on All Saints Lane when they pick up their children from the village infant school. He condemns their parking habits as being “beyond belief”. And he reminds readers of the curfew.

Yes, due to a spate of vandalism, there is a curfew on youths hanging out at the village’s two playing fields. Come dark, reportedly, they have been favoured lurking spots for under-age drinkers to by-pass Britain’s alcohol laws. Intoxication then leads to a desire to remodel the village football team’s modest main stand. PC Lassmans and PC Smith found 13 boozing youths there on the cold night of February 7, but although they took down everybody’s details, no one admitted to having ripped five steps and several chairs out of the structure. Without witnesses, there was no prosecution, and the best our law enforcement officers could do was force the youths to pour their drinks into the snow (a shameful waste, I'm almost inspired to write to the magazine).

These young folk are perhaps lacking in spiritual guidance, so the Reverend Jenny Rowley comes to the rescue in her own column, illustrated with a picture of her reassuringly jolly smile. When faced with an impossible situation (such as the All Saints church and its “ever-present financial challenge”, hint hint), then all we need to do is find strength in Jesus “and trust in his power”. Then we will find that we are “walking on water”.

Although this morning all the villagers I saw were still using the bridge to cross the village stream, I’m sure that a little bit of belief in the power of Jesus will allow PC Lassmans to come up with enough evidence to prosecute the football stand vandals, or villagers to stand in the middle of the road to face the boy racers head on, and have those cars just bounce off harmlessly to one side, their axles broken and their drivers reformed. Meanwhile, more practical villagers sitting on the Parish Council are working on a skate park to occupy the cider-swilling youths; controls on the owners of pooping dogs (a major international concern to this blog); and initiatives to plant new trees, to keep the place tidy ahead of this year’s Best Kept Village Competition, and to relocate the speed signs so that brain-shy motorists have less of an excuse for acting like they have somewhere important to go.

No one wants an English village without at least one church and a smiling vicar, but it’s not just the parking outside the infant school that’s proving beyond belief. The phone box, the pub and the butcher seem to be much more useful to the residents. “The God of the impossible calls us all to love and to trust him,” the Reverend Rowley burbles. I imagine her lurking behind the football stand and draining the dregs of the discarded lager cans before she goes to home to write her column late on a Friday night. Jesus, give me Extra Strength! she hollers to the belfry, for I love an impossible God! Oh, and as any fool staggering home from the White Hart knows, that red telephone box doubles up as the village time machine too.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Phoney War

The first law of capitalism: you are the customer, therefore you are an idiot.

In this obviously fictional sketch, there is an Idiot Customer, several Clueless Employees, and a Faceless Corporation, let’s call it AT&T. The Idiot Customer has a broken Sony Ericsson mobile phone, his second in two weeks, and is back in the AT&T shop where he bought it. Twice he has plugged it into the re-charger overnight, only twice to discover next morning that the previously functional phone has completely died. The first time, AT&T sent him a brand new one, after a long interrogation about what happened to the old one, and much messing with the broken phone in the AT&T Shop with Clueless Employee 2. Now, on the phone again to the warranty office while pacing around the AT&T shop, the Idiot Customer listens as Clueless Employee 3 offers to send him another new phone. The Idiot Customer points out that it would perhaps be a good idea to send a new re-charger as well, because the re-charger seems to be responsible in some way for knackering the phones.

[The following conversations have been heavily edited in order to reduce a one-hour phone event to a manageable length.]

Clueless Employee 3 [reading off an English-language crib sheet somewhere in The World]: I am only authorised to send you a new phone, sir.

Idiot Customer: But if you only send me a new phone, there’s every chance that the old re-charger will break the new one, and then we’re back to where we started, only now with three broken phones.

Clueless Employee 3: I am only authorised to send you a new phone, sir. If you like we can send you the new phone, and then when you receive it, you can contact us to send you a new re-charger.

Idiot Customer [incredulous]: Why not just send me the re-charger together with the phone and save us both a lot of time, effort and money?

Clueless Employee 3: I am only authorised to send you a new phone, sir.

Idiot Customer: I am standing in an AT&T shop under a big slogan that says, AT&T: Solution Provider. I want you to provide me with a solution.

Clueless Employee 3: I would like to apologise on behalf of AT&T, sir, for all the inconvenience.

Idiot Customer: I don’t want your apologies. I want a phone that works.

Clueless Employee 3: I will see what I can do and get back to you, sir.

[Idiot Customer is put on hold.]

Idiot Customer [to Clueless Employee 2]: Jesus Christ on a flying fucking motorbike.

[Clueless Employee 1 has long since ducked out of the shop, Clueless Employee 2 is ignoring him and thinking, “I wish this bastard customer would stop ranting down the phone and leave.” He’s the same Clueless Employee who was peeved two weeks ago when Idiot Customer inconveniently came in just as he was settling down to watch Barcelona versus Manchester United live on his computer. Yes dude, I’d like to be watching that game too, but I’m not because the crappy phone you sold me doesn’t work any more.]

Clueless Employee 3: On behalf of AT&T I would like to apologise for putting you on hold for such a long time, sir. I have checked in my computer, sir, and I am only authorised to send you a new phone.

Idiot Customer [sighing, and hating himself for having to deliver this line]: Can you put me through to your manager, please?

[Many more minutes of holding, apologies and repeated explanations about the probably malfunctioning re-charger later.]

Slightly Less Clueless Employee 4: We can send you a full phone kit as a special one-off courtesy, sir, but it will invalidate your warranty agreement.

Idiot Customer: I don’t care, just send it, and don’t even think about charging me for postage, and it’s no special courtesy, by the way, I’m actually trying to save you money here by not having another one of your phones break because the re-charger you sold me is faulty.
[Another ten minutes combing through the fine print. Idiot Customer isn’t really listening as he verbally signs away his rights to any future replacements. He’s mourning the loss of the good mood he was nurturing on a fine summer’s morning just one hour ago. Of the old-fart school, he still hates mobile phones and their moronic, ubiquitous intrusiveness, and wishes he didn't have to go through all this just to get back a device he wants to live without.]

Clueless Employee 4: Thank you very much for calling AT&T today. Is there anything else I can help you with?

Idiot Customer: Yes, please. Could you set about destroying your sorry excuse for a company from within, preferably today, and with the ruthless efficiency of a ravenous rogue crocodile happening upon a nest of newborn seal pups? Please?

Though the Idiot Customer only thought of saying that afterwards. Idiot.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Mockingbirds Chase The Moon

Paper Wasp Recordings, the southern Maryland-based, lo-fi micro-label for exiled British indie-pop bands, today releases a new EP by acoustic soul anti-stars Medlock. It’s previewed in its entirety here. What good fortune that the internet exists, allowing us to claim an international audience without ever having to leave the house to tour the world’s major cities, or trek to the post office with jiffy bags full of wobbly cassettes.