Letter to the Guardian Newspaper

Subject: "Them On Us", G2, 31/08/2001

Sir,

Yet another article based on the tired old argument that the British are bad Europeans simply because they are fortunate enough already to speak the language of international commerce and The Simpsons.

Why, instead, doesn't Tom Levine give statistics for, say, the percentage of foreign cars bought by the British and the Germans? Who would be the bad Europeans then, I wonder?

Richard Carter, FCD

Snippets - August 2001

Conversation with Jen's nephew:
"Liam, is James taller than you?"
"Almost."

Interesting Statistic
The average age of members of the Conservative Party is 67.

Exacting Standards
I opened a fairly expensive bottle of wine the other evening and immediately realised that it was corked. Without hesitation, I pourred it down the drain. A couple of years ago, I would have drunk it. When did I become such a connoisseur? When did I become sufficiently affluent to treat sub-standard wine like effluent?

Excellent quote from a surprising source:
"They say that hard work never killed anyone, but I figure: why take a chance?" —Ronald Regan.

Junk Mail and Unsolicited Phone Calls

Having recently changed address and phone number, I thought I'd better try to minimize the amount of junk mail and unsolicited phone calls I receive.

In Britain, there are two organisations (both run by the industries responsible for all the junk mail and unsolicited phone calls) with which you can register to opt out of receiving such mail/calls. These are the Mailing Preference Service and the Telephone Preference Service. The fact that you have to opt out, as opposed to opt in, is annoying in the extreme.

For some reason (I can't image why), I found it extremely difficult to track down these organisations' contact details - especially their on-line registration pages. Here are their details:

Mailing Preference Service

You can register with the MPS on-line at:

www.mpsonline.org.uk/mpsr/html/Register.asp

Alternatively, you can contact the MPS at:

Mailing Preference Service,
Freepost 22,
London. W1E 7EZ.
e-mail: mps@dma.org.uk
www.mpsonline.org.uk

Telephone Preference Service

You can register your telephone number with the TPS by calling:

0845 070 0707

…although it's a rather complex process.

You can also register with the TPS on-line at:

www.tpsonline.org.uk/tpsr/html/Register.asp

Alternatively, you can contact the TPS at:

Telephone Preference Service,
5th Floor, Haymarket House,
1, Oxendon Street,
London. SW1Y 4EE.
Tel: 020 7766 4420
Fax: 020 7976 1886
e-mail: tps@dma.org.uk
www.tpsonline.org.uk

Postscript: Fax Preference Service

A reader of this article has kindly forwarded me the telephone number of the Fax Preference Service. It is:

0845 070 0702

Open Letter to Homebase

Customer Services Department,
Homebase,
Beddington House,
Wallington,
Surrey. SM6 0HB.

20th August, 2001.

Dear sir/madam,

I am fed up with your company. As a new house owner, I have only recently come into the market for gardening equipment. On the two occasions I have bought things from your company, however, I have had nothing but grief.

The branch in question is the Bromborough (Wirral) branch, which I now learn is (along with certain other Homebase stores in the region) shortly to close. I can't say I'm at all surprised.

On 3rd July this year, I bought a Qualcast Classic 35s petrol lawnmower from the store. I was given a small discount because the box and instruction booklet had been thrown away. I contacted Qualcast for a replacement booklet. They were superb and sent one right away. It wasn't until I read the booklet, however, that I discovered what else had been thrown away, namely:

  • two covers (one internal, one external) for the air-intake
  • a moulded foam insert to protect the air intake
  • the allen key to open up part of the engine for maintenance purposes
  • the screw to hold the petrol tank in place
  • the bracket to fix the grass box onto the mower

…all fairly important components of a viable lawnmower, I'm sure you'll agree.

By the time I learnt about these missing parts, I had moved the mower to my new house, 70 miles away from your Bromborough store. I was reluctant, therefore, to return it. Fortunately, once again, Qualcast (who, unlike your own company, clearly do give a damn about customer service) were fantastic, providing all of the missing items free-of-charge. Are Qualcast aware, I wonder, that they are having to provide additional support to purchasers of their products simply because your company is selling them with half the components missing? I am copying this letter to them just in case they aren't.

I visited my parents in Bromborough yesterday. Despite my better judgement, I decided to take the opportunity to buy a top-of-the-range hedge trimmer from your store… Guess what? That's right: there was a vital component missing (the bracket to attach the handle to the trimmer). Once again, I only found out when I was back home, 70 miles away. When I opened the box, it was immediately apparent that I wasn't the first person to do so: some of the polythene bags containing the smaller parts had clearly been opened and re-sealed with sticky tape. I can only assume that another customer had already returned the trimmer because of the missing component, and your staff had simply put it back on the shelf in an attempt to fob it off on the next mug (me) who came along. This time, I was not prepared to ring up the manufacturer of the equipment for a replacement component. Instead, I elected to make the 140-mile round-trip to return the offending item, and to purchase a (cheaper, working) replacement from Do It All.

In light of the above, I hope you understand why I will not be doing business with your company again. If this is the sort of service you offer your customers, I might as well go to B&Q.

Your customer no longer,

Richard Carter

P.S. In the interest of consumer awareness, I have published a copy of this letter on my popular website at:
www.gruts.com/archive/2001/08/homebase/

c.c. Qualcast Head Office
Gruts website

Slug-slinging

Extract from an e-mail to Carolyn:

We appear to have a major problem with slugs. Whenever it rains, thousands of them appear on our patio… and it rains here an awful lot.

But I've come up with a brilliant solution to the problem: the slug-slinger. In truth, this is nothing more than a common or garden orange pooper-scooper, bought for 99p from the local supermarket. It's shaped like a child's seaside spade, but with a criss-cross framework of slats. The slats make it ideal for slug-slinging, as they cut down on air resistance, as well as giving the slug less to stick onto.

Slug-slinger in action
The slug-slinger.

By a process of trial and error, I have worked out the best method for using the slug-slinger. First, find your slug, then tap it lightly with the slug-slinger. This causes the slug to shrink its body size and to grow more rigid (both of which make it easier to sling). Next, scoop the slug onto the end of the slinger. This is fairly easy, as slugs thoughtfully provide their own mucus adhesive. Next, run down to the bottom of the garden and catapult the slug into the adjacent field. The first time I tried this, I got the trajectory all wrong and ended up sending the slug in a loping parabola, way too high, so that it came down SPLAT! on top of the wall. I have since worked out that it's all in the wrist action: aim low and snap sharply with your wrist at the end of your catapulting motion. This helps dislodge the slicky slug from the scooper and gives you an extra three or four yards' range. With any luck, you can propel the slug a good dozen yards or so into the field.It gives a whole new meaning to the term slinging in the rain.

I don't think slugs have a homing instinct, but I'm keeping my eyes peeled to see if any of them try to sneak back over the wall.

THERE'S ANOTHER OF THE LITTLE BASTARDS ON MY PATIO NOW!

I'm off to do some more slinging.


Postscript: I later realised that, once I have slung the slugs, but before they hit the ground, they could be referred to as ICBMs (inter-campal ballistic molluscs). Since writing the above, I have also developed a second technique for use while out on Slug Patrol: Slug Flicking (I had to be careful how I typed that!). This involves using the slug-slinger to flick the slug straight off the ground over the garden wall. You can't flick slugs as far as you can fling them, but the technique comes in handy when there are a lot of slugs around and you are pressed for time. Incidentally, my slug-slinging record now stands at about 25 yards, but it didn't really count: it was wind-assisted.

See also: BBC News - Robot slugkiller ready to roll

Snippets - July 2001

How to find out your mobile phone's serial number:
Dial *#06#

Great Name
The Dutch environment minister is called Jan Pronk.

Spooky!
I was typing away in the office today (10th), when I thought I felt a hand on my shoulder. When I turned round, there was nobody there. The same thing happened last Sunday, but the hand was on my right buttock that time! Occam's Razor would conclude that I am haunted by a perverted ghost.

Overheard in the pub:
"There's a rumour that Stan Laurel was Clint Eastwood's father."
"Bollocks!… Mind you, though…"

Practising

Jen and I played doctors and nurses last Friday night. No, not that sort of doctors and nurses, you wicked reader; just like real doctors and nurses, we were practising medicine.

You see, a real (male) nurse was due to come and take my blood pressure on Saturday morning for insurance reasons. Every time I have my blood pressure taken, I faint (yeah, laugh away). So Jen borrowed a blood-pressure-measuring-thingy and stethoscope from her friend, Joy, and we got practising.

I didn't like it at all, but discovered that it wasn't nearly so bad if I knew what pressure Jen was going to pump it up to before she began, and I could watch the pressure gauge.

The practice was well worth the effort: the (extremely greasy) male nurse came on Saturday morning, and I managed to stay conscious for the whole ten minutes he was there.

My blood pressure was 120/70, which, according to Joy, is pretty damn good.

Criminal Genes

Jailbird Jeff
Jailbird Jeff.

A nation rejoices: Lord Jeffrey Archer has been detained at Her Majesty's (and everyone else's) pleasure, having been found guilty of perjury and perverting the course of justice.

The general feeling in Britain seems to be that it couldn't have happened to a nicer person. Seldom in a single day have I heard the word comeuppance used by so many people. The general dislike for Archer seems to be founded on a number of factors, not least the verifiable facts that he is:

  • a lying bastard
  • a Tory
  • the author of crappy novels
  • a multi-millionaire
  • a client of prostitutes
  • the beneficiary of alleged insider-dealing
  • an alleged Kurd-burglar (allegations since withdrawn)
  • a person who spells Geoffrey with a J
  • a complete and utter twat

The British press is having a long-awaited, long-prepared-for field day, with more than one of its number pointing out the similarities between the shortfalls of Archer and those of his cheating, philandering father. To its eternal shame, BBC2's flagship news magazine, Newsnight, began a piece on Archer on the day of the court ruling by observing that he inherited the genes of his cheating father; the clear implication being that his criminal behaviour might somehow be attributed to his genes...

Bollocks! My dad and I both like John Wayne movies. Does this mean that there is some genetic basis to my liking for the The Searchers and True Grit? Isn't it so much more reasonable to attribute it to the fact that I was brought up in an environment where I could learn to appreciate John Wayne's movies (because they were on our television all the time)? Similarly, if you are brought up by criminals, isn't it more likely that you will learn to treat the law with contempt?

I'm not saying that there isn't a genetic element to criminal activity (although, if there is such an element, I suspect it is likely to be very minor), but the sort of flippant, throw-away remarks made by the likes of Newsnight are irresponsible and dangerous. We are all products of our genes and our upbringing; you cannot separate the two. In the words of one of my favourite novelists, the late, great Canadian, Robertson Davies:

Nature and nurture are inextricable; only scientists and psychologists could think otherwise, and we know all about them, don't we?


See also:
Gruts: Jailbird Jeff's Stir Tally
BBC News: Archer jailed for perjury
BBC News: Police confirm Archer aid probe

Cheryl Ladd

Cheryl Ladd
Cheryl Ladd.

Cheryl Ladd, Charlie's cutest angel, is 50 today. This cannot be!

Cheryl (along with her angelic co-stars and my friend Carolyn) left an indelible impression on my formative years. Especially in the Hawaiian episode where Cheryl went skuba diving in that black bikini. How can she possibly be 50?

Of course, when I was watching Charlie's Angels, the 14-year age gap between Cheryl and me was inconceivably large; now it seems alarmingly small. Is it really only 14 years until I will be 50? Just think: by then, Cheryl will be 64 (cue Beatles song)!

My infatuation with Cheryl wasn't some temporary whim, however; it required profound dedication. I bought all the posters (the one of her in the white dress, showing a lot of leg and holding a revolver was my favourite); I managed to acquire her eponymous LP (the track Skinnydippin' conjured up all sorts of images in my impressionable teenage mind); and I even wrote a letter to the Mayor of Huron, South Dakota (Cheryl's birthplace), suggesting that she be given freedom of the town. I still have the reply: the people at the Huron Chamber of Commerce were inclinded to agree.

The only criticism I would ever level at Cheryl was that, even back then, I didn't much appreciate all those 1970s clothes; I would have much preferred it if she hadn't worn them!

Anyway, enough of all this nostalgia! The world moves on.

Happy birthday, Cheryl, wherever you are.

Snippets - June 2001

Letting Oneself Go:
You finally realise you've let yourself go when a drunken tramp stops you in the street and tells you it's about time you lost some weight. The sad thing is, you probably think I made that up.

Beaullucas:
While consulting a dictionary for some help on a crossword the other evening, I discovered that the word bollocks is derived from the Old English beaullucas, meaning testicles. This amused me far more than it should have.

Advice to the Young Writer:
Avoid the avoid clichés like the plague cliché like the plague.