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» Banks

Fines incurred
About a year ago I misjudged how much money I had left in my account and ended up exceeding my overdraft. By quite a bit.

Anyway, my bank has a policy that you are charged £25 for every card transaction you make past the overdraft limit, plus a £28 administration fee. Which doesn't make sense in my book, because if you have so little money in the first place how are you supposed to pay the charges?

Because I rent and move a lot, I get all my letters sent to my parent's house overseas and they post it on to me, and in this case I had a sheaf of envelopes sent on. My panic increased as I kept opening them to see the same thing again and again- fines incurred. It turned out that an expensive card purchase I'd made had been taken out sooner than I expected leaving me in the (what's past red- infared?). And over the past few days I'd used my card for about a dozen little purchases, some of less than £2. And they had received the £20-odd fines too.

So I hurried down to the bank to see what could be done. I was labouring under the impression that it was all a big mix-up and I'd be acquitted when I explained the oh-so-silly mistake. No dice. I 'spoke' to a financial advisor who actually had one ear to a phone the whole time, and seemed to only be paying scant attention to what I was saying. When she informed me that I'd racked up fines of around £320 I embarrassingly burst into tears. Right in the middle of the bank. I had no income and was relying on student loans (the next one wasn't due for another month) and I not only had bills long overdue but was facing starvation!

After a few panicked phonecalls, I decided to head to the bank's other branch across town to see if they could be any more helpful. I was greeted by a chatty young employee to whom I recounted my tale of woe and was surprised by his reaction of laughing. He told me how he'd got into similar trouble when writing dodgy cheques as a student (is this the sort of thing bank employees have done?) and said that it was unfortunate but I'd have to deal with the consequences. He then went on to have quite a lengthly conversation with me about unrelated matters. When I was beginning to wonder whether he was hitting on me, his subject matter (but not his tone) abruptly changed. Anyone within earshot had probably already got bored of listening by now, as he fed me instructions not unlike these:

"So, about your fines, unfortunately there's no way around this unless you know to phone this number *whispers and writes it down*, and were aware that you had to speak to *such-and-such*. Of course, I couldn't divulge the information that would help you but if you were an employee of this bank you'd know to say *such-and-such*. Make sure you quote *more info, while writing down bullet points*. And even if I had told you this, which I haven't, you'd not be able to get a direct line unless you phoned from a branch *ushering me into his office*."

He then stood outside the door 'guarding' it while I phoned the number and proceeded to mechanically state all I could remember. To be honest, I had no idea of what I was doing, but amazingly I was told that most of my charges had been overlooked as a 'goodwill gesture' and I now only owed just over £70 (which was bad enough, but miles better than over £300!).

I'll never forget what that nice employee did for me, it was a real heart-warming example of human kindness. And I survived the charges but not without a severe ear-bashing from the folks.
(Thu 16th Jul 2009, 14:28, More)

» Unemployed

The joys of having unemployed mates
EDIT: this presumes that being a student counts as 'employed'

While I've never been unemployed myself (for long), when I was in my first year of university I might as well have been *looks back in longing to pre-dissertation days*. In my first few months I had pretty much fuck all to do so spent my time getting off my tits with a group of people I'd met over the internet. Several of them were unemployed, and there were some I doubt would ever be offered a job by a sane employer.

After we'd done the compulsory Manc pub-crawls and what usually comes with them (wanton sex, drugs and infidelity) we decided to go a bit more high-brow and have a nice walk *cough- magic mushroom hunt* in the Peak District. With a few bottles of Sainsbury's own whisky.

Sometime before that I'd got to know a particular male member of that group (well, not THAT sort of member) and we seemed to hit it off, so I was hoping to impress him with my fitness and hop up Jacob's Ladder like a lithe little mountain goat. Alas, student stupor set in and I found myself gasping at the end while he, amazingly, zoomed up the steep hillside with gusto. Turns out that in his last few months of unemployment, he'd been spending most of his time playing Kung Foo on his EyeToy, resulting in amazing fitness. Well then, I thought, I know what can help me out now (remembering how my stamina increased to the point where I was dancing for 20 hours solid at Glastonbury) and helped myself to some of the contents of our bags. And then I ran, literally ran, up the impenetrable cliff face, to the awed gasps of all nearby hillwalkers.

After this my memory becomes a bit skewed, although there was some surviving footage on someone's digital camera that to this day I find highly embarrassing.

Anyway, what I do remember is him offering me a bottle of whisky once I'd caught up, to which I promptly necked about half the bottle. The next few hours consisted of me probably revealing a bit too much about my sex life, and (I was later told) slurring about how I knew to behave myself whilst drunk. My camera also has considerable dents and scrapes from that day. After the point where I could barely hold down half my lunch the thought swam into my fuzzy head that by now I'd probably ruined any chances I had with this particular fellow (I'll call him Steven from now on), and by drunken logic came to the conclusion that the only chance of salvation was to bring him down with me.

I handed him the remaining half-bottle of whisky and planned to goad him into drinking it, but I had forgotten he was unemployed so already no doubt half way to alcoholism, and it didn't take much encouragement for him to follow suit and neck it (along with one of the more respectable members of the group's brandy). This is where the old memory gutters like a dying candle. Snapshot images in my mind consist of tipping my head back to laugh, and continuing to tip backwards until I was on my ass in some sheep shit, and me and Steven literally rolling down the hill (which must be true considering the bruises). Eventually even the other reprobates got fed up with us and left us on our own, drunk, up a hill riddled with potholes while it grew increasingly dark. Haha, cheers guys- you loveable scamps.

While Steven crowed about how fuckin beauuutiful the setting sun was, through my inebriated haze I began to get worried so staggered up to a straggling walker- a grizzled Yorkshireman- and, pretending not to be drunk (no doubt the scariest of my personas) asked him how to get off the mountain. He looked incredibly unimpressed (at this point Steven chooses to appear over the brow of the hill, singing loudly and falling into a pothole) and grunted something, which I took for a "follow me". Poor guy.

Once we reached the town the others had settled themselves nicely in the pub and I chugged down the carbonated water they'd so thoughtfully bought for me. Even after the meal I felt no more sober and began to wonder if it wasn't a double vodka and lemonade, but as me and Steven were comfortably settled next to each other I didn't give it a second thought. At one point, though, we looked around the table and realised we were alone. The others had gone to get the train back! how dare they. And the silly sausages had left all their bags and coats sitting about. We helpfully gathered up everything and heaved it to the train station, but it had already gone because no-one was on the platform. Not to worry- another train back to Manc was due soon and I could stay at his as it was a bit late to be heading all the way home to Leeds. The prospect of this, of course, was more than enough to dispel any lingering concerns about the others and we happily hopped on the train with all their bags, laughing about how silly they'd feel tomorrow.

15 minutes later the panicked phonecalls started coming through- turns out the others had just popped out for a fag (and give us a bit of space) and returned to find they'd been robbed.
(Sat 4th Apr 2009, 11:47, More)

» Bullies

My dad always told me to hit bullies harder than they hit you
... so when I was in Year 5, when the nasty girl in our class started shoving me out of the way in the cloak room, I punched her so hard in the mouth that her teeth bled and nearly fell out.

I might sound like the mean one here, but she really deserved it.

She cried and the headmaster came in, but being a very traditional schoolmaster-ish kind of guy, he listened to both our stories and ruled in my favour. Not only was she on liquids for a week, but she also got detention.

Recently I heard that she's now a member of the labour party.
(Fri 15th May 2009, 8:45, More)

» Gambling

How I met my boyfriend
This isn't a gamble in the strictest sense, but perhaps one of the most stupid chances I've ever taken that luckily turned out great. Apologies for lack of funnies but I promise this is 100% true.

A few years ago I was having a bit of a rough time. Throw usual teenage angst (I was 18) in with a very ill mother, father having a mental breakdown, recovering from anorexia and growing clinical depression... then add a bad case of unrequited love on top of that. You can probably imagine. As a result I started to become pretty withdrawn and spent a lot of time shut up in my room crying and listening to Nick Drake. Not a good sign if you know his fate. Anyway, one day when I was online I came across a site where I had the opportunity to bemoan the object of my affection's lack of interest in me, and came to notice a few reprobates on the site asking stupid, hilarious questions. For the first time in ages I had a proper laugh, and it became a drug for me. It seems pretty sad now how I came to live my life online but certainly at the time, in a life where I had little joy, it became a rock for me. After some months I got to know some of these folks pretty well and we became somewhat infamous (this was a serious site, not like here!)... trolling and suchlike.
A good proportion of these people were also troubled souls and we supported each other, genuinely cared about each other and for the first time in my life I found highly intelligent, funny and open-minded people... the sort of person I liked. The sort of person I wanted to be. Unfortunately I was also very young, and although aware of the dangers of online relationships of any kind, in my state wanted to believe the best in all of them. And it worked out... more or less. There were a few serious weirdos but that story's for another day. As is pretty much inevitable with any social group, the folks on there started to pair up and the idea of meeting up was bandied about. I distanced myself from this talk but was actually shocked when I heard that a fair few of them had met up already. Things started to move a bit too fast for comfort. Some were moving in together, at least 3 people I knew of were having affairs, the rest were meeting up and taking drugs overdoses etc.
By this stage I was more or less back on the tracks, but this experience (you must understand it was very intense and new... pretty mind-blowing) had made me realise what was making me so unhappy and the terrible shortcomings of my life. I began to realise that if I continued to have no ambition and something didn't change pretty soon then I'd end up like some of the older people there, and I wanted to learn from their experiences. So I decided that these new friends of mine were the way to go, however at the time I was living overseas from most of them. Around this time I also decided it was time to cut my ties with this social networking site... it had given me the support I needed but it was time to move on. Relationships were starting to get too complicated and I was becoming too dependent on it.

I'd met a few men on the site and had what you might, in a sense, call relationships, however one had caught my eye in particular. He was different from the others in that he didn't come across and actively take part in the site himself. He was a friend of one of the members who had come on simply because he was curious, and didn't spend much time online. All in all, he seemed a lot more grounded than most of the others. We hit it off pretty much right away and were soon texting. I'd already decided to get my life in order and was starting to look into doing a degree, and one of the universities I was interested in was near to where he lived. This is where I took my huge chance. I applied to do a course there and flew to meet him. Bear in mind I was still a teenager and had never met anyone off the internet before. Luckily all went well and we got on the best. Fast forward a few months and I'm living in a new country, with a new set of friends, studying a subject I never thought I'd do. I started taking anti-depressants and got my weight up to a healthy level. My parents were sorry to see me go but they understood it was better for me, and as a result I was better able to support them and not be an emotional burden.

I started going out properly with this guy and met loads of the people from the site who I'm still good friends with now. Although they might not realise it, they saved me, and helped me discover who I am. Me and my boyfriend have just bought a house and are planning to move in together. I'm lining myself up for a good job. I'm happy, healthy and have great friends. And all thanks to that huge gamble I took.
(Fri 8th May 2009, 17:30, More)

» Nightclubs

I don't like nightclubs
I've had a fair few nasty experiences, mainly because I first started going when I was quite innocent and a bit out of my depth.

One of the funnier ones happened in a gay bar we went to after the High School formal. This requires a bit of a background story... *those wavy line things I can't find on my Mac signifying going back in time*

When I was in Year 8 I went on a school trip to Paris, and as I didn't really know anyone who was going was put in a room with two girls I'll call Kat and Rachel. In our nasty suburban hostel (which deserves a whole story itself- hope School Trips comes up as QOTW!) each room had a double bed and a single bed. Anyway, we decided to take it in turns sleeping in the single bed, so I slept there the first night, and somehow ended up there the second night too. All seemed well on the trip, although Kat seemed a little strange.

Let me tell you a bit about her.
She was a bit of a goth/into witchcraft kind of girl. The sort who wore leather studded chokers with pentacles and messed around with ouija boards. I met her parents on an open night- her father was a diminutive man who looked like a wrinkly boiled egg in an ill-fitting leather suit, and her mother was what I can only describe as a blimp. She was the source of the "Your mama's so fat" jokes. I remember being amazed that such a (relatively) attractive girl was the result of these two weird looking people copulating. If you knew her, you'd understand the genes must've come out in the personality.
Her sister was well-known as the first openly lesbian sixth former in our school; she made sure everyone knew (in a scary sort of way) and pounced on people accusing them of homophobia if they so much as looked at her.

It proved that her older sister had a very big impression on Kat.

On the last night, I ended up in the double bed with her and quickly fell asleep, having run around Paris since 6am. I woke not long after to find my 11-year-old body being rather vigorously shaken. She had both legs wrapped tightly around me and was dry humping away furiously and laughing weirdly as she did so. Rach lay sleeping in the single bed, unaware of what was happening in the bed next to her. Of course I was terrified, and I'd led a very sheltered life so had virtually no idea what was going on, only that it was wrong. I cried my way through the ordeal until eventually she was satisfied and fell asleep.

She moved schools not long after and I must've blocked it from my memory. But these psychological scars have a way of creeping up on you.

Back to the night of the formal. 2am in the morning and I'm feeling a little upset because the boy of my dreams has made it clear he didn't enjoy our dance. But we're in the gay club, it's lots of fun, I have some toffee poppets from the vending machine in the toilets and my friends have cheered me up with cocktails. The regulars seem a bit bemused to find a crowd of 16-year-olds in formal gear turning up, but are taking it in their stride. I'm sitting on the sofas. All is going well.


I hear a seductive-sounding voice behind me. "Heeellllo"

I turn around, and Kat is sitting on the arm of the sofa beside me. She puts a leg over my lap and leans over, her breasts a little too close to my face.

I let out a scream and run out of the club, all the way down the street in my flapping formal dress.

I recall hearing Kat cackling away wickedly as I made my hasty exit.
(Thu 9th Apr 2009, 1:14, More)
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