Monday, 30 June 2008

You can't bank on it!

I am not from a wealthy family... rich in love not in monetary terms. I should point out that one of my favourite sayings is "champagne dreams, beer money". I love this phrase because it sums up the kind of family we are. We know what we would like to have if we had the money. When we get a sniff of money, a hint that we are even getting some we have it spent in our heads together with any extra overdraft facility that we may get before we even know the figure. Even then there will not be enough money to fulfill the requirements! Once we receive the money within seconds it is spent, dished out and we are in debit before the day is out. Our debts remain the same and will have been added to and somehow we will have a new credit card that has exceeded the maximum.

Banks hate us... to be fair the feeling is mutual. My brother and I are similar personalities. We get a bit of money and share it normally leaving ourselves short. We both live away from our families so we immediately open our flybe/easyjet accounts and start paying for flights for various loved ones to visit us. We may even just give money to each other to pay for something rash or inappropriate. It is not uncommon for us to have a windfall and buy each other a used car, a couple of flights, a holiday even or even more importantly a new laptop. And this maybe... just may be the reason banks don't like us. We are risky customers.

Sure they like it when the money comes in, encourage us to borrow but yet are fickle and unloyal when we reach problems.

After various money transactions my brother and I spend the rest of our time paying each other back. Transferring money by Western Union normally involving the quick transaction of waiting in a long queue on a lunch time knowing that the other needs the money by 2pm, behind various people who are simply using the Bureau De Change. Then comes the hard bit... where will my brother be able to pick it up or send it from. He lives on the border of Southern and Northern Ireland and so you have to guess where he will be. If you guess the South you can guarantee he will ring you from Belfast and inform you that Western Union have no knowledge of the transaction. A quick 2 hour drive with irritated phone calls to mobiles ensues and he arrives just as the Western Union are either starting their training afternoon or are closing for the day. This means he misses his deadline... or I miss mine.

Regardless of this however banks have no sympathy. Our letters detailing payment plans are notorious. Our countless revised offers of these plans are met with little if no sympathy and charges are accrued by payments turning up just 30 seconds too late before that important cheque goes out.

One time my brother had fallen out with Barclays bank. This was due to charges and various other upsets that the bank did not take responsibility for. In a state of fury as I waited for him outside I could hear his raised voice, could feel the foul temper before he left the building and the words echoing through the halls of the bank and out onto the street "That's it! I'm through with your bank- close all my accounts!" I wanted to Rugby tackle him to the floor and gag him with his beautiful louis vuitton man bag.... bit like a folder with a zip that requires him to carry it under his arm like a woman's clutch bag. Instead I just nodded in agreement as he left the bank and started to walk quickly down the road swearing about the bank. And then I watched it... the realisation... the pure horror as the reality of what he had done hit him. I watched him look down at the cheques (personal ones which would take at least 5 days to clear and unfortunately there was at least one bank holiday and a weekend in between!) that he held crumpled up in his clenched fist.... "Oh great, bloody great! I've got no bank account! No one will even give me one now!".

I stepped in with a solution to solve all our problems. I had a spare account at Natwest which I had had since a child. He could use mine as we had the same initials. No problem! Confidently we deposited the cheques into my account and waited for the 8 days to pass before he had the money.... Disaster was averted. We treated ourselves to lunch. We talked about how I would give him the card for the account etc.

After a month or two I had handed my brother my cheque book which I had signed each cheque of so he could send off the cheques without discussing with me and pay his bills. All sounds like it was working doesn't it? Oh you fools! A day came when my brother asked me to go to the bank and see whether a cheque had been deposited. He gave me the cheque book as he did not have the card on him and I confidently strode up to the counter. The lady asked for the bank account details and without thinking I handed over the cheque book. As she flicked through the pages she noticed I had signed every cheque. She looked at me as though I was the biggest idiot she had ever seen. "What are you thinking? Have you signed every cheque?" As the embarrassment crept up my cheeks I snottily replied, "Yes was I not supposed to? It saves time when I'm writing cheques". After a long lecture about the dangers of this I silently cursed the queue who were scoffing behind me. When she thought I was suitably embarrassed she checked my account and discovered that there were charges and an unagreed overdraft. At least one of the cheques we'd deposited had bounced.

I was immediately glared at and asked to get away from the counter to discuss my account with a manager. After a whispered conversation between the woman and the manager I continued to stand tall and confident while my brother poked his head in the branch and mouthed "Y-o-u o-k?".

The manager took me aside and told me in no uncertain terms that I was not managing my account properly and they were closing my account with immediate effect. I was told to hand over the cheque book and return the card in the next 7 days. As I started to rant and rave of the sheer injustice of this all and even convincing myself that I was in fact a wonderful banking customer I was promptly asked to leave the branch before they called security.

As I arrived outside my brother muttered " They closed your account didn't they?" "Yep 'fraid so!". The reality really started to hit when I realised that previously that week I had kicked up a storm in Barclays about my own account and their inability to transfer my loan payment at the designated time (remember I had already spent this at least a week earlier in my head and now they were delaying it!) and had stormed out in a replica scene of my brother stating that "I want my account closed and I'm writing to the Ombudsman".

As we were left debating what we would without bank accounts my brother suggested Alliance & Leicester. We went in for our joint interview and walked out with new accounts and new credit cards. We even got a free (let's call it plasticy) looking wallet each to put our cards into. A few months later I debated why I couldn't sustain a banking relationship when they refused to change my address and so I was not alerted to being overdrawn by £7 and subsequently incurring £230 in charges before they took away my card and my account. My brother lost his banking facilities a week later with them.

The reality is we do have "champagne dreams and beer money" In fact some would say we have Champagne dreams and Pepsi money. The point is we are great at finding money and spending it....we just don't know why the banks have got it in for us!

Sunday, 29 June 2008

Electric nights!

The first flat I had on my own was a small studio loft conversion. It was charming in its basicness... it had a coin operated electricity box in the kitchen which regularly got the pound coins stuck in it and I would be left with no electricity all night until I could ring the landlord... who I might add regularly ignored me. Eventually when he did ring me back the instructions were intricate and long winded. This involved applying WD40 with a cotton bud. This worked with amazing results. The coins slid in with ease and the lights were restored.

Little did I know that this was a time when electricity for me was easy! Never have I had it so easy! The next flat I had was a one bedroom flat with separate kitchen, bathroom and a living room. I was really moving up in the world particularly when I opened my first electricity account in my own name with Powergen. I noticed that within a few months I was getting lots of bills of different amounts each month but as I had a direct debit set up I thought nothing of it. I was paying every month so there would be no problem. Oh how could I have been so foolish? Eventually people started to call from Powergen asking for money. I would calmly explain I was paying by direct debit each month and therefore owed nothing. By the 3rd week of these regular phone calls my patience was waning. Funny thing is I don't honestly know how I stayed so patient. I imagine it was purely because I knew the payments were leaving my account. I was in the right there was nothing for me to fear!

As time went on the phone calls became nastier and were followed by letters threatening court proceedings and final notices. Eventually my evenings were spent with my temper rising as I read the letters and waited on the phone in a queue to speak to an advisor in India or some other far off place. One evening as the sheer frustration welled inside me like a volcano simmering before eruption I waited on the phone for 3 hours to speak to an advisor. I thought about hanging up many times in the 3 hours but instead I refused to let it beat me. My heart beat got louder and quickened with every passing second and my face was getting brighter and hotter as I listened to Sade over and over on the recorded message. Never have I liked that woman's voice crooning since. Instead of being easy listening it drives me to a state of insanity! My leg started to shake as it did in exams and I started to have imaginary conversations in my head with the call operative. I decided in my hysteria that they personally were controlling my electricity supply! I hated them already. I was ready for war. The armour was there, the passion was lit, all I needed now was an opponent I could battle.

"The offices are now closed, please ring back on Monday to Saturday between the hours of 8am and 8pm." I heard this interrupt the smooth, dulcit tones of Sade but could not believe what I was hearing. Had my anger caused me to halucinate? Was I hearing things? I listened as the message repeated itself! 3 HOURS, 3 HOURS OF MY LIFE I WILL NEVER GET BACK! And now, now(!) the office was closed! I threw my phone to the floor and burst into hysterical sobs as I had no one else to argue with! How could they do this? How could they leave me with everything unsaid! I would have to start again tomorrow. I would wait ALL DAY if I had to! I would speak to someone and that person alone would be made responsible.

Another similar night followed. Feeling exhausted on the 3rd night I phoned. Weary and broken down I eventually got a nasally voice answer the phone "Powergen - How can I help you?" Voice shaking with anger and exhaustion I started to explain the situation. Suddenly the lady butted in and her voice had changed from a sing song voice to a woman abused or personally insulted. She informed me that I had 5 accounts open in the one property. Frustrated and whiny voice from me responded "Why would I do that? I have one flat, one account with you and one direct debit that I pay for each month". A short sharp reply followed " You can't just go round opening electricity accounts all over the place, turning lights on and off and not paying for your consumption!"My mouth opened in shock and heard all the things I should be saying in my head but from my mouth came the voice of a whiny teenager " I didn't! I swear it! ". I was told someone would call me back once they'd looked into it.

Two years later and having moved to another property my time with Powergen had been over for 18 months. The relationship had ended but the baggage came with me. Powergen continued for 18 months to refuse our relationship was over and refused to let me leave with dignity. They believed I had multiple electricity relationships with them and they had all found out about each other. I spent evenings of teary phone calls from my electricity company who were begging for me to give them answers and accept that we were something we never were! Eventually Energywatch got involved and I was sent an apology for my treatment. I could finally move on.

And I did. I went straight to British Gas for my electricity and my Gas at my first 3 bedroom property. Confidently I paid my direct debit and then a year later, out of the blue- I couldn't believe it! Look who was coming back into my life! Powergen had started to write to me again. This time for my house. I ignored it and ignored it and paid British Gas every month. Finally after various court notices I spoke to Energy Watch again. By this time 2 years had passed and I was now living in Jersey. Suddenly Energy Watch informed me I was getting a refund from British Gas as Powergen were the ones supplying the property. This couldn't be. How could I continue to be involved? I wanted out of this relationship. I felt as though I was under the spell of the Moonies or some other cult but this was an electricity company! They just kept bringing me back to them. Finally I got my refund and paid Powergen. Suddenly it was over. The end of an era.

Yet British Gas were now starting to get needy. They didn't want to accept that we had never been anything more than just acquaintances! They thought I had a relationship with them. In fact they were charging me for a another house on my road. Having discovered this I was given a swift apology. A few months passed and it started again. My stalker is back! My electricity company wants to be involved with me as I started to get bills again from British Gas- the company who never supplied me with Electricity. Cunningly I changed my correspondence address to my mothers as I feared that I may have a break down if I continued to see an envelope marked British Gas. My mother now rings me and breaks the news of yet another billl for electricity I have never used and for the property across the road from my old house which has the illuminations of blackpool as a replica in their front garden. I however, am looking into solar power for my next property or maybe a wind turbine... whatever it is there has to be a better way!

So British Gas and Powergen if you are listening... it's not you, it's me - IT'S OVER. I'm sorry I've moved on!

Saturday, 28 June 2008

A picture... sometimes...lies!

Once when I was little my mum said to me "What's wrong with you now face ache?" I should point out that I had been naughty and winding her up all day... she didn't normally speak to me like this but I remember the shock of her saying it! Since then however I love the whole concept... my face aching with moodiness. I suspect most may be traumatised by this but to be honest I've embraced it. Obviously thinking about my face actually aching with pain is a whole different idea and one which I do not care to embrace.

Recently my friend who does photography for a hobbie asked if she could take a few photos of my eye... weird idea I know but I agreed. As she moved the camera on it's tripod so that my eyelashes were touching the lense she snapped away and told me off for not opening my eye wide enough. When claustrophia set in she eventually moved the camera away and chatting happily went on snapping my photo but using my whole face. Irritation was rising and after a minute or two I said I'd had enough. Later that evening she sent me a picture of my whole face (it is the one you see here on my profile) and I looked at it shocked. My skin care routine was so successful. People always were telling me I looked younger than my age and I now realised why! I looked like I had no concerns in the world! My life had been blessed with happiness and a carefree lifestyle or that was the impression that my face cream with collagen had produced. I was thrilled with my wrinkle free face. How had I not noticed before the smooth texture of my youthful skin? I was tempted to forward it to Oil of Olay or Avon and force them for me to become the face of their products.

Minutes later I received an email... "Do you like the photo? I took the wrinkles away from your eyes, changed the colour of your skin tone and whitened your teeth". It occured to me that maybe just maybe I had been conned! I was confused...what an illusion! Or was I deluded? It couldn't be! This was the person I wanted to be not a wrinkled, tired looking 30 year old. She then sent the original photo and showed how she changed it. This was more of a shock then the previous one... the wrinkles were there - in fact I looked exhausted, pasty and like i'd had a hard life! Oh the shame that my life and general grumpiness existed through the smile on my face!

When I went to the Law Society to be admitted as a solicitor - I always find it funny that you are "admitted"... you get "admitted" into mental institutions or hospitals... oh yeh and law! - my whole family attended. My Dad had not turned up to anything else but arrived at this. At the end we decided to have a family photo... first one in probably about 20 years! The hilarious thing about this photo was that my father looked wealthy and proud. His chest was puffed out and pride and self appreciation made him tall and healthy. In the photo this was a man who had made it! The rest of us looked ill, pasty as if the sun had never touched our skin and tormented by life. My neice who is gorgeous looked like what I can only describe as a scrag bag. Forced smiles and an atmosphere of snottiness came through the picture! You know in the eighties english people had that look... think old Eastenders episodes. Everyone is pale and poor looking. Clothes looked market bought and the characters skin looked weathered. Acne was commonplace or if not then scars from previous bouts. A spot was never just a spot it was a boil. People looked slightly grubby and you imagined they might have a kind of musty smell about them. They also looked cold. As if the sunlight never warmed them up and that they always had a cold. You knew that they rubbed their noses on their sleeves rather than tissues. So now you have the picture. We looked like the cast of eastenders surrounded by a wealthy character who was my Dad. He would be the character who buys the Queen Vic and drove a Jag round the square. Not Ian Beale more like David Wicks.... So there you go my family photo was another con... I should point out that we are a clean family so the grubby ill look we had was totally unwarranted!

When I went on a nightmare holiday with a group of 10 girls they insisted we had a group photo done which would then be turned into a calendar. As they giggled with excitement I groaned as they stated it should have the caption the "Norfolk Broads". Things were made worse when the photo that they liked the best had me in it with my mouth open and my eyes shut. I tried to persuade them, argued that I looked terrible etc. Eventually to shut us up the photographer said "don't worry I can superimpose your face from one of the other photos on to this one. It will look great!" I doubted that! However it seemed like the only option that or a full scale war! One of the girls then suggested we had captions coming out of our mouths of the current holiday song which was being played in every holiday bar - "I'm horny, horny horny horny". I cringed as reality hit that I was a party to this tacky idea! When we later that day went to pick up the "holiday calendar" I wanted to cry! My head was so obviously superimposed on it looked like it was detached from the rest of my body. And of course the only caption on the calendar was coming out of my mouth in a bubble saying "i'm horny, horny, horny, horny!". The horror and the shame was too much to bear. Everyone loved the calendar and for the rest of the year every house I visited there it was - the calendar of horror!

Pictures can lie... my profile picture does... but why not allow it so that I can delude myself and others. I'm guessing you would all by shocked by the reality. The truth is out and it makes me mad... a picture telling a thousand words... hmmm don't think so ... my family don't live in Walford and the only words that picture was stating was this is not a true portrayl. And so the picture is not up in anyone's house.. instead it is ... actually don't know where it is and don't want to!!! I would rather just have the memory for that ocassion! Yes it's annoying that that is the only picture we have of the ocassion but who needs it!

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Whatever happens you are not taking my sky dish!

So the morning started as expected... I woke up to the sound of both my mobile phone alarms going off one after the other for a whole hour as I hit snooze on each one. No I am not a drug dealer I am just one of those unfortunate people who for some reason always has a mobile phone contract that she can't get out of... if i'm not spending £300 a month on phone contracts I am either in a coma or dead. Eventually I got out of bed in the usual way... close to tears and whinging. I have never grown out of the thing you do when you are a child where you whinge at your parents as soon as you wake up.

I jumped in the shower already realising that I was going to be late for work and stepped out of the shower onto the wet floor... my shower head has been spraying all over the floor for months now but my landlord has done nothing about it.I left the bathroom with a towel wrapped round me and immediately slipped in the water on the floor. I felt my hip crack out of its socket and felt annoyed that not only was the shower still leaking but that after 3 months I continued to slip every day.

I was out of the house quickly and ran...did i say ran.. i meant walked in a half comatose state to work. I picked up a latte and my trusty banana and walked into the office. I was greeted by numerous head nods and sat down at my desk.... I should point out that I sit next to my manager so she can keep an eye on me, below the air conditioning vent that has pigeons in it cooing all day and below the cctv camera... instinctively I roll up my sleeves... I don't know why but I have a thing about looking dodgy on cctv cameras and I immediately do everything in front of one like a magician proving that I am not sticking post its or envelopes up my jumper. I ran to court in my high heel shoes which squeak when I walk... did i not mention I am the poorest solicitor I know and new look shoes for £15 bought on line are the best I can do. Oh the glamour!I am sweating profusely... I use that word "profusely" as it always makes me laugh.... At the end of court I decide that I will work from home for the rest of the day... this is because I have bronchitis again for the second time in 2 months.. This means I have a constant temperature and have a hacking cough which even irritates me.

I arrive home ready for a quiet afternoon and the front door of my flat is open. As I walk in I spot two young men sitting in my living room.They told me they are here to fix the shutters on my flat.... these have been broken after a big storm 3 or 4 months ago in which waves from the beach....(YES YES I know I do live on the beach but I'll be honest I would rather have sky tv then a view!) or should i say the tsunami type waves were crashing over my balcony and hitting my windows. My mum was staying with me at the time and kept saying we must put our shoes on in case we have to leave the flat.... I remember thinking how ridiculous if I'm caught in a wave fully clothed fighting for my life the last thing i want on is shoes to slow down my swimming!

Anyway I immediately snapped at the work men and told them that I had received no notice of their arrival. I grabbed my phone and rang the agent who said I should have been told. After a ... let's call it ... heated conversation I sat down on my floor near my lap top to start working. The mere presence of these men irritated me and I was waiting for just one thing to push me over the edge. The agent rang... like an answer to a prayer to the saint of moodiness... to inform me that my landlord would also be attending the property today. I complained that I was ill and she informed me that she would ask him to put it off for another day. She then said that he would come on Thursday.... flip out averted.

I leaned over to turn on my tiny tv.... you know the kind you had in your bedroom when you were 14 that immediately lost the front flap and remote so you have to touch the tiny spindly buttons to change the channel. I wanted to put Mtv on to calm my nerves. I looked in confusion as the words " no signal" flashed up on my tiny screen. Irritation rising I glanced out the window and saw that there was no sky dish on the wall... looking down in horror I realised it was on the floor.

I flung open the patio doors and snapped at the men "Put my sky dish back up now". Response -" no can do, cut the wire, management agent don't want sky dishes up anymore!". I could feel it rising ... I couldn't control it and I needed to just go with it! "I've had no notice of this you will have to find a way to put the dish back up now!". at 18 years old this guy looked at me as if I was a crazed lunatic, "don't take it out on us- we are just doing our job- told to take it down." i started to rant and rave about how I paid for my sky dish and they couldn't just remove it... this was met with a smirk. At this point I did the only thing a self respecting lunatic could do and told them to get off my property. They could not complete the job and I wanted them away from my flat. They started to pack up their stuff as I unplugged the various things they had charging at my socket and throw it out the door. I slammed the patio door shut. As I did so I watched ... let's call him "the smirker" reach out to pick up my sky dish to take with him! Like a mother saving her child from falling I knew I had to protect the only thing that now linked me to the life I once had... the life where I had sky tv! I threw opened the door and like a crazed woman with my arms flapping lunged for my rusty barnacle encrusted sky dish shouting the words "whatever happens you are not taking my sky dish!!!" He tugged for a moment or two and then I think he may have realised that I was not someone to be messed with. He put it down and i returned to the flat while they continued to pack away muttering words such as "lunatic, jumped up bitch and who does she think she is" I immediately informed them that the window was open and I could hear everything they said. I told them to get off my property or I would call the police. They left and I rang the agent to rant and rave about sky and how I now had no tv channels. Ok so they didn't steal my kidney but that in some ways would have been easier to cope with... I have a spare one of those!

As I lay down on the floor ready to watch anything I could find on my lap top I started to fall into a deep sleep... I was then awoken by the sounds of 2 men talking on my back porch... Embarrassed to be laying on the floor I did what I think you will agree was the only acceptable thing to do and unashamedly gorped out my window. I could see it was the landlord and another man talking about my flat. I had been told he would not attend.... but why was I suprised. I knew they had seen me lying on the floor and rather than be embarrassed I decided the best option was to moodily close my curtains whilst staring at them as if they were ruining my meditation. They looked shocked and I lay back down in privacy.

Then the child outside started to bounce his ball against the concrete. I woke up thinking that chinese torture was being done on my head by the shutter guys... no it was just some annoying kid who found the ball bouncing comforting. .. I however felt like pushing my head through my patio door purely as a way of showing the world how upset I really am... how irritating life is... and most of all how I'm not afraid to show it.