Sunday, April 15, 2007

Coloureds still getting a raw deal

Sunday, April 15, 2007 0

Is this happening where you live? Have Mr Green, and his inseparable buddy, Mr Red, been unceremoniously punted from their pedestal? There were riots in the 50s when the blacks were treated as second class citizens, but today, apparently it's OK to discriminate against reds and greens.

The ones in my locale used to perch proudly atop a tall post at either side of the road separated by a zebra crossing. Waiting to cross, pedestrians and LED shepherds faced one another directly. They made eye contact and had mutual respect. From their lofty position they could be seen by everyone from a hundred yards away. They were so well placed you could drop your gaze to check your flies are fastened and still a deft flicker of their bulbs would register in the corner of an eye alerting you that it's safe to cross.

The system worked so logic decrees that it must be scrapped. The pedestrian (or pelicon) crossing lights in my home town have all been replaced with kerb-facing, waist-high LED boxes. Consequently if there are a few people waiting to cross, the lights are entirely obscured forcing you to guess if you're likely to be squished into the tarmac should you decide to make a move. Call me crazy but isn't this counterproductive given that we now live in a compensation culture, nanny state climate where aspiring to be good little, rule-abiding, safety-conscious citizens is the order of the day?

Let's make a leap of faith and assume you can actually see one of these new white elephants. You're going to look a complete prat gawking at it like a snake charmers' transfixed pet, rather than casually watching the traffic flow whilst keeping your eyes peeled for a colour change.

It must have cost a fortune to ditch all the old - yet perfectly adequate - lights in favour of these new contraptions, so common sense would suggest that they must bring with them certain benefits. There has to be a rational explanation for implementing such an expensive scheme on a town-wide scale. The trouble is, I don't have the slightest inkling as to what it might be.

Edit: Seeing as this enthralling post has sparked such impassioned debate, I thought you'd be chomping at the bit for an update...

The local council - in recognition that these waist-high LED boxes are, for all intents and purposes, invisible to all but the person standing immediately next to them I presume - have installed an extra 'cross/don't cross' box a couple of feet above the existing ones on either side of the road. All it will take now is for a team of basketball players to move into town and they'll be shunted right back to their original locus. Stay tuned for more sensational pelicon crossing news!

Something I hadn't noticed about the new system until now is that the audible 'it's safe to cross' bleeper signal has been canned, so blind people have even less of a clue when to cross. Are they expected to wave their white sticks into the unknown and only make a move when the twang made by passing cars hitting it ceases?

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Oooh those naughty banks are right rotters!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007 7

Money Saving Expert of TV and radio fame, Martin Lewis, has been harping on about reclaiming exploitative bank charges recently. Barclays, for example, charge you £35 each time you fail to pay back your credit card balance on time. Financial analysts with letters after their names have established that it only costs the banks £4-ish in administration charges to process these deficits so the rest is just beer money.

Despite the hefty charges, the same people are continually going into the red and so have been racking up fees totaling many thousands of pounds. Martin has put together a template letter for you to fill in and submit to your bank to reclaim the unjustly pilfered funds and people have been doing this in their millions throughout the country.

This is all well and good, but it's a lot of hassle so I'm here to offer my guide to good money management. Can I have a drum roll please?


OK, here goes. If you spend more money than you've got in your bank account, the figure on the bottom line of your statement becomes negative and that's bad because the bank tells you off and takes more money you don't have. The secret is - wait for it - to only buy stuff when you can afford it. That way the numbers on your statement stay black and you don't end up living on the streets.

Now of course there are worthy exceptions to every rule. Say you've got an arrangement for money to be automatically deducted from your account to cover essentials like rent or mortgage repayments or bills and then unexpectedly you lose your job. It's the ones who spend £100 on a handbag and then are shocked to discover that they're broke. No, more than broke, they're severely bankrupt.

Which is another rant in itself. In Britain, if you become very, very bankrupt and have no way of getting back on an even keel (besides getting one of those job thingies, being frugal and paying back the money over a long period of time) you can opt to just right off your debts and start afresh. You're barred from owning a credit card for a while, but other than that you're free to go on another shoe shopping spree at Harrods the next day. Handbags and shoes? This is all starting to sound very sexist isn't it. I didn't mean it to. Just as many men are useless with money, and the ones with handbag and shoe fetishes are the absolute worst offenders.

To sum up (Congratulations if you're still awake. If not, you smell and your nose looks a bit funny and you can't hit me for saying so because you'll never read this): that £35 fine is supposed to be excessive because it's intended to act as a deterrent. You agree to it when you sign the credit card contract with your bank so it's a bit rich to moan about it now. Banks exist to make money. If you don't have any invested with them they can't reinvest it elsewhere. They aren't going to give you money for nothing over and above the 0% interest 28 day repayment policy (which they also profit from) out of the goodness of their hearts, so don't give them the satisfaction of reeling in your debts.

Anyway, look on the bright side. It's only money - it's not as if Barclays are going to come round to your house and repossess your legs is it?

Tuesday, April 10, 2007


Tuesday, April 10, 2007 0

Have you ever watched a film and found it almost impossible to fathom what the heck is going on because the cast all sound like they're trying to annunciate their lines around a giant gob-stopper? Could it be that they've all been held captive in the Marlon Brando school of method acting for the past decade?

A bizarre trend for delivering rapid-fire, hushed dialogue through clenched teeth seems to be gripping Hollywood at the moment. It's so prevalent I wouldn't be at all surprised if we soon decided to adopt lip reading as the official international language of celluloid. I catch these antiquated black and white classics on obscure Sky channels where the entire cast meticulously project the script like microphoneless thespians performing in a Roman ampitheatre, and have to wonder where it all went wrong. The days when TV and movie producers were cognisant of the relationship between clarity of dialogue and audiences actually being able to comprehend the plot are long gone.

Rafts of modern TV shows may as well be scripted in Swahili as so much of their dialogue is also getting lost in translation. If subtitles aren't available, often I'll just throw in the towel, and according to 'The joy of subtitles', an article by the Beeb, I'm not alone. I wonder how many of those six million people using subtitles in the absence of any hearing impairment also keep their trigger finger poised over their remote control's rewind button.

The theory the author postulates to explain the phenomenon indicates why we're just as likely to encounter duff dialogue clarity sitting in a cinema as we are watching a DVD or TV show at home through a traditional TV with tinny stereo speakers.

Even with the best audio system money can buy, on a few occasions sitting in cinemas I've had to restrain myself from grasping for the rewind button in a futile attempt to unravel an indecipherable line. Duh! Mummy always said I was special. ;)

Thursday, April 05, 2007

If Johnny told you to jump over a cliff...

Thursday, April 05, 2007 1

GPS systems often direct motorists down blind alleys or across otherwise unsuitable terrain because, after all, they are only mindless machines. They lack the intricacies of local knowledge and that all important human trait, common sense.

Not the end of the world you might think since no car is going to force you to go where you don't want to. You see they all come fully equipped with a clever fail-safe device called a driver who interprets the computer's suggestions and then decides the best course of action to take. For instance, if your TomTom urged you to plunge your £96,000 Mercedes into a river...

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