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I made and sent these two years ago... no pun is too terrible for Christmas cards.

(Tue 11th Dec 2012, 20:09, More)

That lesser-known game of yesteryear...

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(Fri 19th Jun 2009, 18:59, More)

Best answers to questions:

» Nativity Plays

I was nine, and I played...
No, don't try to guess. You'll never get it in a million years.

I'll tell you.

Ian McCaskill.

(For the benefit of anyone born after the eighties, he was a weatherman on the BBC.)

My job was to run onto the stage in a woolly jumper and thick glasses, unfurl an enormous weather map of Britain on a piece of paper nearly as high as me, deliver the weather forecast, and run off again.

You've probably realised by now that my school didn't do a traditional Nativity play. In previous years we'd plodded through some variation on the traditional story, but come 1992 it was Mr Killick's turn to write the script.

As with all the best teachers, Mr Killick was slightly eccentric and not one for convention. Out went the choirs singing traditional hymns, to be replaced by a song called "Yule Tidings" sung to the tune of Greased Lightning.

Anyway. My lines as the bespectacled weatherman were, as best as I can recall, to explain that Doctor Who, K9, and for some reason David Bellamy, who at this point were all busy saving Christmas in the Tardis, should wrap up warm as they were going to be battered by the big bad blizzards I was excitedly pointing at on the map.

My attempts to reconcile the recurring encouragements during rehearsals to both (a) try to mimic the gentle whispery voice popularly associated with Mr McCaskill, and (b) speak up so people at the back could hear, resulted in me delivering my lines as if this respected meteorologist had overdosed on speed. Still got an applause, though.

"And that's all from me. Goodnight."

All school Christmas plays should be like that.
(Fri 27th Mar 2009, 22:39, More)

» Call Centres

How to deal with Sky.
This wasn't me, this was my grandfather. He had Sky TV, but got bored with having to pay for hundreds of channels of tripe. So he called them and asked to cancel his account.

This, it turns out, is easier said than done. My grandfather would call up asking to cancel; sometimes they said they'd cancel it but continued to bill him, sometimes they passed him around from department to department. It's as if they couldn't understand why anyone would want to stop paying for Murdoch-brand effluence being pumped into their home, and if they could stall for time long enough to steal another monthly subscription payment from this old-age pensioner, they would.

In the end, he had to fake his own death.

He called them pretending to be his son. "I'm sorry to say my father died recently, and I'm tying up his affairs. Apparently he had a subscription to Sky. Could you cancel this, please?"

They did.

I assume the same works for NTL (or Virgin Media, or whatever's now printed on the junk mail they insist on sending me every few weeks). I don't know a single person who hasn't continued to receive bills after they've left NTL. Perhaps faking your own death is the only way to do it.
(Thu 3rd Sep 2009, 20:37, More)

» Debt pron

I couldn't get into debt if I tried.
A little off-topic, but it fits in well with some of the stories that have been posted so far. I'm referring in particular to those stories about banks who fall over themselves to offer credit cards, loans, and other debt-producing facilities to young people, almost pressuring them into signing up for these things. My experience is exactly the opposite.

Five years ago, I had two current accounts. One with Halifax, and one with HSBC. I was 18 at the time, and both banks had provided me with the latest piece of useless junk for banks to fob off young people with: the Solo card. Accepted precisely nowhere. Halifax had even provided me with a cheque book, which was next to useless because they didn't give me a cheque guarantee card to go with it.

Then one day, Halifax sent me a letter offering me a Switch card. I thought, "Excellent! I'll now be able to buy things online without pestering the parents any more." So I filled in the form and sent it back.

Weeks later, I'd heard nothing. I chased it up, and I got a letter a few days afterwards telling me my application for a Switch card had been rejected. One wonders why they even sent me the letter in the first place, but never mind.

So, I tried HSBC. Now, I should point out that there is a fundamental difference between Halifax and HSBC. Halifax are simply incompetent. I'm sure that in some way, they mean well, it's just that they can't run a financial institution. HSBC, on the other hand, are evil geniuses. They go out of their way to make life as difficult as possible for anyone misguided enough to have an account with them.

I wandered into my local HSBC branch, and uttered words to the effect of "Excuse me, I have this Solo card, which is all well and good, but it's not accepted anywhere. I've heard about your Switch current account, can I have one of those?" They sat me down on one of their gaudy-coloured sofas and had someone come out to speak to me. I explained to her that I had their crappy fob-off "current account" and I would very much like a real one. You know, one I can actually use.

"Oh, you've got a Solo card current account?"
"Oh," she said, in that "talking-to-a-toddler" voice. "I think that account's a bit too grown-up for you. I'll give you this leaflet about our 'account for 16-to-17-year-olds'."

See what I mean? Halifax said "no, we're not upgrading your account to the one we sent you a letter offering you", but HSBC went one better and said "no, we're not upgrading your account and we think it should be downgraded to an account whose very name should imply that it's not intended for 18 year olds, but hey, we're HSBC, and we like being as perversely annoying as possible."

So that's why I haven't gone into a branch of either bank for the last five years. I still have the accounts, they still have some footling amount of money in them, and they still waste resources sending me statements every month.

Incidentally, a couple of months later, I noticed that Nationwide let you apply for a Visa credit card online, so I thought I might as well give it a go. The application was accepted and the card arrived within a week. Of course, since I only wanted a debit card, I've always used the Visa card in the most boring way possible, by paying it off in full by direct debit every month, not spending money I don't have, etc. This is to be recommended, partly because it means you never get into any debt, but mostly because doing that really annoys the banks because you're using their credit card facility for free and they're not making any money off of you.

And yes, I know Solo cards are accepted in more places now, which is presumably why a couple of years ago Halifax thought "oh noes, we're now offering a service which is actually useful!" and swapped my Solo card (hardly ever used) for that completely unrecognised artifact, the Visa Electron card.

Insert smutty joke about length here.
(Sun 26th Nov 2006, 15:26, More)

» Spoooky Coincidence

It was the end of the third year of university...
... and we had a room in the house we were living in that would become spare in the fourth year, so we advertised for a new housemate. Someone got in touch, and came to look round the house. He was a first year student, and he mentioned that our kitchen was much tidier than the one in Benefactors, the hall of residence he was living in. Now, this being only a relatively small hall compared with some of the others, I pointed out the coincidence that this was also the hall I was in in my first year.

Then he asked, "what room number were you in?"
"Well, that's quite freaky..."

There are about 4000 rooms in various halls of residence on the Warwick campus, and our new housemate was in the one I'd inhabited two years previously. Spoooky.
(Thu 8th Feb 2007, 21:47, More)