Double standards

I’ve just had a stressful morning trying to pay a bill online, spending valuable vacation time on the phone to my bank in Canada. All safe and sorted now (I hope, but you can never tell with banks) and way more expensive than I wanted. I lost out on charges and exchange rate differentials. When I tried to pay the bill you’d think I was staging a smash and grab on a diamond deposit the way these guys carry on. You tell your local branch you’re going away (“Have an awesome time!” With a big happy smiley face). Use your secure ID to transfer funds between your accounts, all the while on the phone (International call, telling them who and where you are) to Bank tech support. Yay! Easy peasy. Try to transfer via the banks byzantine international money transfer? “Sorree. Security flagged it up as unusual activity and cancelled your transfer.” Which has led to much grinding of teeth and tugging of what little hair I have left. FFS! Whose fucking money is it? My bank are quite content to accept funds from my Brokers, yet ask them to pay exactly the same company so I can do a quick, efficient, less than 24 hour transfer? You got it – no fcuking way. When I get home my banks customer service department will be getting an ear bashing. My money has to work, to move, to breed, and they’re getting in the way.

Large companies use currency brokers all the time. I know because I used to run tech support on the applications side. Transfers of millions went through every day and the banks never blinked. Try that as a private citizen. Even after double confirming your identity and bank details. Go on. Clucking bell. The big guys use third party money transfers all the time, yet can I do so as a private individual? No. I run headlong into the brick wall of ‘money laundering’ restrictions, even when I’ve already jumped through all the hoops of account verification, exemption forms and the like. Then I have to pay the banks extortionate charges and loaded exchange rates, which can lose me up to a hundred bucks a transaction. I can buy a lot of wine with that. Especially here.

To make matters worse, we’ve run out of wine to lower my blood pressure, so I’m off out in a few moments to replenish supplies. At this rate I’ll be making a serious dent in the much-vaunted EU ‘Wine lake’. Well, at 2-5 Euro’s for a half way decent bottle I can do that. A lot. To add insult to injury, I haven’t smoked for over thirty five years, but I’m eyeing the displays of cigarillo’s right now with fond nostalgia.

Maybe I need a better bank.

Street life

Markets, I love ’em. Street markets even more so. They’re a whole circus of their own. Various stall holders periodically going into a semi manic routines when trade lags off a little. One super animated skinny blonde Italian stallholder (Well, she said she was Italian) treating us to almost a dance routine as she busily shifted stock on her fruit stall. Everyone practicing their not so much broken as mildly bent out of shape but still adequate English on me while I unstick the heavily corroded French language synapses in my brain. We’re getting by.

As for sarcasm, well, I’ve been enjoying badinage with one of our local Boulangeres, an example of which I’ll try to relate as accurately as possible, having not made notes at the time and consumed a couple of bottles of a half way decent Sauvignon Blanc in between times;
Boulangere: Bonjour (As I enter boulangerie)
Me: Bonjour
Boulangere: Well that was a ‘bonjour’ with an accent
Me: A Canadian accent
Boulangere: You’re from Quebec?
Me: Non, No, nous sommes a British Colombia, the West coast.
As conversation openers go it went, and we chatted about a few things, his visit to Saskatchewan and the unintelligibility of Quebeckers to the average Frenchman or Canadian. Oscillating between his accented English and my bent out of shape French, but it should be enough to give my reader a flavour of how relaxed and easy going most French traders (Even Parisians) can be if you at least try to learn and speak the generalities of their language. Nothing pisses the average French person off more than some arrogant English (or worse, American) twat who can’t be bothered to try. I’m even catching a little mild flak off some of the local waiters because I won’t let them practice their English on me. So I hand a little back in a good humoured way, and we all get it right eventually. It’s fun.

Yesterday Mrs S and I sat and watched a low level drug bust by the Flics across from the cafe we were sitting at. A woman fixing the tyre of a childs bicycle while her husband controlled their Spaniel and their excitable four year old little boy. It may have been a girl, no young lad should be forced to ride anything that pink. Not even in such a cosmopolitan place as Paris. An Angry Dyke stereotype (Very mannish short hair, wearing boots, jeans and golf shirt, pissed off expression nailed to her face) crossed the road and took a seat outside the cafe, ordering an espresso, chain smoking Gauloise, making fluttery finger gestures while talking sotto voce on her phone. She appeared to be watching the Police. Young Couple speaking very heavily accented French tucked into the corner. A tourist parking his sparkly hire car right across from the intersection, effectively blocking a buses turning circle and getting soundly honked for his transgression. Cars and buses squeaking down twisting narrow streets, miraculously missing wing mirrors by millimetres. And scooters, scooters everywhere. Somehow missing getting squished by cars and buses, in turn not squashing pedestrians and the incredibly agile Parisian cyclist. Close calls seem to be the order of the day. Africans punctuating the sidewalks in variants of the Dishdash or Thawb, those long lightweight robes suited more for sub tropical and middle eastern climes. Hey, but this is Paris, right? Street life in the raw.

I’m quite enjoying myself.

Not found in the guide book

We’re all settled in now at our little Paris apartment. Stumbling over our rusty (In my case almost seized solid from disuse) French. But we’re making an effort. Which is probably why the waiting staff, and everyone generally, have been so nice to us so far. So any rudeness, intransigence or sarcasm will have to be overheard. Drat. How am I to learn?

Never mind. Last night Mrs S and I dropped by a Fondue house. Specifically this one. Which was an education. Now in all the guide books and Rick Steves / Anthony Bourdin YouTubes we’ve watched, the art of Fondue is rarely covered. And it is an art. From the well known Fondue pot (Not those prissy little stainless steel things, but the big, fcuk off cast iron variety) to the oddity of ‘Raclette‘ where a third of a 6kg (13-14lbs for those of an imperial bent) wheel of semi soft Swiss cheese is fixed in a weird looking rig and subjected to a heating element so it melts, to be scraped off onto bread, or meats, pickles or anything. At the time we didn’t know what these strange objects were, so like the cowards we sometimes are, or in this case still too jet lagged to really enjoy things, opted for a salad and a half bottle of decent red while we peoplewatched.

For my smoking friends on my sidebar, as for the ‘smoking ban’ so rigorously prosecuted back at home, lets just say the French have perfected the art of the shrug. That gentle juggling of shoulders which means “So what?” Which is the attitude applied to the smoking ban, now enshrined in law throughout much of Europe and the Anglophone West. None of this ‘No smoking by anyone near anything anywhere or even looking at a cigarette at all- ever’ rules. M’sieur wishes to smoke? Just outside the door, under that nice snug little awning out of the immediate draught. Okay? As Mrs S and I had elected to eat at an outside table, the waitress, determined to practice her English on us, seemed surprised that we didn’t smoke, and there were children under five at the next table! Mon dieu! Call Les Pompiers! (Fire brigade) Whose van was round the corner while the lads were bunking off for a quiet Gauloise at the next Bar Tabac.

Paris isn’t a clean place. It’s busy and inexplicably dusty at present. Which if you’re overly houseproud or germ phobic might lead to a touch of the vapours. Off the main boulevards, down the side streets it’s all narrow sidewalks and busy people. Motorcycles and scooters parked on every space unoccupied by cafe tables. It’s hard to take your time unless you do so assertively. Give people room to get by and you’ll do fine. You will get bumped and barged if you’re in the way. Get used to it. You’re a touriste and therefore fair game. The locals walk briskly and with purpose. They have places to be, there’s not much room, and if you’re in the way; move it, sucker. Pavement (Sidewalk) dawdling and window shopping is best reserved for those days when the locals are still in bed or at work.

As we headed from Gare Du Nord via taxi, at Place De La Republic there was a noisy demonstration of sorts going on. More like a concert than a demo. According to our driver it was a strike. When asked who by or what it was about, our man said he didn’t know or care. “There’s one every day.” He explained as he squeezed our cab through gaps with barely a cards breadth between them. Man, I am glad we didn’t hire a car. Paris driving is no place for the faint of heart.

BTW; today’s post was written while wearing my PJ trouser’s and brand new blue paisley dressing gown. I may go out wearing a bow tie this evening. I have brought two, one formal black and the other a genteel metallic paisley pattern picked up before we left London. Just in case Mrs S steers me into an establishment where ties are required. At which juncture I will defiantly tie it in sight of the Maitre ‘D (None of these cheap ready mades for me – no style whatsoever).

Hey, I’m on holiday. Meanwhile, back over the Channel, some sore losers have been kicking off because the voters didn’t see things their way. Ah, les pauvre petits. Wnakers. Bless.

Jour de la Liberation

Well blesse mon cœur. Nous sommes arrivée a Paris mes vieux. And it’s Liberation day (At least in Guernsey and Jersey) but not in Paris until 25th August. No matter. We’re here. A little light headed on the whole experience. Suitcases are down, windows are open and Mrs S is doing a little girly dance of joy. Which gladdens my heart. If being happy extended your life, I’d be almost immortal right now.

Any old courses sur route. We got out of Dodge as the post UK election parties were winding down, and when I’ve sobered up a little, will be musing over the election results financial ramifications.

Or not. For another day perhaps.

Interesting stuff about Paris

As I’ve written before, Mrs S and I are going to Paris shortly for a well deserved jollyday where I will be avidly studying the art of Francophone sarcasm and irony as practiced and perfected by French service staff. C’est n’est pas votre dejeuner monsiuer, c’est la merde de ma tante. Et services vous droit pour ne pas apprendre le francais vous rosbif ignorant. So there.

On the topic of things Parisian I’ve recently come across this guy, Tom Scott, an entertaining fellow with his own channel on YouTube. As I will be spending some time in Paris this year, I thought I’d watch and post the following videos, which, quite frankly make a refreshing change from the touristy Rick Steves and Lonely Planet stuff relied upon by so many of our Southern cousins.

On ‘Paris Syndrome

But since I’m not Japanese or Chinese and have spent time (working) in Paris before, I’m not in the ‘at risk’ category.

Or Privacy In France: A Lot Of French People Might Be About To Sue Me

This may end up being a distinct possibility. If they can find me after I’ve gone home………

And ‘Point Zero’ outside Notre Dame.

Which isn’t that far from our apartment. Way cheaper than many hotels and with a little discrimination and early booking can land you in quite the little gem of a place. I may drop by one quiet Sunday morning when most other tourists are still tucked up in their little beddy-byes.

I’ll be posting my own misadventures and observations as time and Interweb connections allow.

Londinium

Well, here we are in jolly old Londinium, the first time I’ve spent non-working days in the crapital for decades. Seriously. Our booked accommodation fell over. We’d booked through AirBnB online, and found ourselves booked into some serious low rent digs. Not quite a slum, but by our Canadian standards, seriously dodgy. I’m amazed AirBnB let it be listed. We fled and found a budget hotel south of Marylebone. The experience has cost me three hundred bucks, but I’m not unhappy. There are times when you’ve just got to chalk it up to experience and move on.

Which is where we are now, sightseeing, breakfasting at Marks & Spencers because the budget hotel breakfast is so tightly budgeted that Church mice would consider it meagre fare. I’d really rather forgotten the horror of instant coffee. Or flavoured shite, as it is more popularly known. Coffee it ain’t.

Reacclimatising to the rain and humidity of soggy old England. Moving right along to Francophone fleshpots on Saturday.

Recommendation 1: Thames Clipper. Big fast river catamarans that ply the big T from Waterloo to the millennium carbuncle. Get a river rover ticket and use it instead of the Tube or buses. Worth the money.
Recommendation 2: The Beehive, Crawford place, Westminster. Beer choice a little limited, but we’ve adopted it as a ‘local’ for the next 36 hours. A busy, cheerful little place with shelter outside for those whose drug choice includes nicotine. Not a bad menu either.
Recommendation 3: Royal Naval Hospital site where we lucked onto, of all things, a musical masterclass in the Chapel. Missed the famous painted hall as we were so busy enjoying the performances that the closing time of 0five o’clock drifted on by without a murmur.

Apparently some of the locals were indulging in a form of Democracy. I think they chose the muppets with the blue rosette, but what do I care, I’m just a tourist nowadays.

Okay. That’s it for now.

TTFN

Sometimes……..

Those of us who blog are often accused of being “Some guy in their Mom’s basement who lives in their pyjama’s.” by ‘professional journalists’.

Now I wish to make a clear and unequivocal statement to distance myself from this foul calumny. I do not live with my Mother (as followers of this blog know, she passed away last year and I have not lived with my parents for many years). Furthermore, my Mother never had a basement. Garden sheds, yes. Attics, yes. Basements no. Mrs S and I did have one basement in our last UK property, but that subterranean space was used as the laundry room and as an occasional workshop. With the advent of Wi-Fi, I’ve even blogged from the conservatory, and yes, our garden shed when the kids were having a party. Besides, our last house was an old Victorian building and far too damp for electronics. In addition to which is our mutual dislike of dankness, we prefer the sunshine. Yes, I will occasionally concede that I have written partial posts and managed comment threads whilst in my dressing gown and PJ’s, but 99% of the time I am properly attired for the days travails.

However, here’s a challenge; ‘Like’ this post if you’ve ever blogged naked.

No pictures, animated Gifs or video clips in the comments please. This isn’t Tumblr.

Oddities and space

I’ve never understood why certain people feel compelled to approach obviously busy strangers simply to indulge in ‘social’ chatter. Don’t know about the rest of you, but I like my personal space. Especially when working. To totally focus on a task to the exclusion of all else, detesting unnecessary distraction. I’m not totally asocial, I’m just picky, that’s all. Life has taught me that not all conversations are safe. Got something meaningful to say? Unload your soul in the comments (if you must), it’s what they’re there for. I may reply. I may not. Depends how busy I am. Yeah, I’m a party pooper, so don’t invite me, okay?

While the kids were growing up I made allowances, and always tried to respond to their anxieties / questions, hug when needed, and sometimes exercise extra care when getting up in the morning as Youngest had a habit of sneaking into our bedroom and sleeping on the floor next to our bed. Poor lamb, I almost trod on her one morning when I was new to the game of married life and every day was an ‘adventure’. Those were the days, eh, Bill? Clucking bell. Never mind, despite all the humps and bumps, both stepkids have turned out relatively okay, and I love them both dearly, so maybe I got it right. For a given value of ‘right’.

The future of social mediaOtherwise the whole multi tasking thing has rather passed me by, apart from when I’m cooking. It’s probably why I killed off my Farcebook account (twice), and while I do have a Twitter feed and ID, never Tweet. Why? Because they’re both time killers, distractions. Filling up empty lives with fluff and replacing actual thought. Hmm. Now there’s an interesting notion. Maybe social media will eventually evolve into some kind of electronic hive-mind for the ‘connected’, leaving them wide open to manipulation. An unwitting zombie army to be directed onto non participating ‘unbelievers’ or ‘deniers’ who don’t agree with the goals of the manipulators. I’m sure Leg Iron could twist that into one of his excellent scary stories or use the concept to taunt one of his drone co-workers.

As for me. Others might consider my relative standoffishness odd, but I’ll give the whole social chatter thing the go-by. Life is too short, and I have a flight to catch.

Why is there no….

Why can’t I find a ‘Dislike’ button on Facebook? People have dislikes as well as likes, so why the hell not?

The reason behind my question is that Farcebook integration is currently playing merry hell with my London accommodation bookings. To cap it off, mildly panicky phone calls and e-mails to UK based places are not being answered and all I’m getting is cutesy little ‘Our outreach team will soon be with you’ bullcrap from the service provider. So yes, I’m looking for a way to publicly express my displeasure. Big time. I’m being fobbed off and I don’t like it.

I’m not that worried, if everything has fallen over there are plenty of other hotels in London. I have a credit card and money to spare. I’m just pissed off that the guilty parties have had my money since January and probably won’t give it back if our stay has gone sideways. Well chaps, if you want to play it that way, I’ll just hand the mess off to my lawyers (Lye, Cheetham, and Runne) and insurance company while I’m enjoying the pleasures of Paris. The extra fifty bucks I spent on trip cancellation insurance will mean I’ll get my money back, eventually.

My major beef with Farcebook integration is the demand that you share your personal details with them, then share your most intimate online emanations and personal preferences with their advertisers and every spammer and scammer on the planet. What if I don’t want to post my every frigging bowel movement online? No, I’m not giving you my cell number. Our home phone is also ex-directory for a bloody good reason. My spam filter permanently runs red hot as it is. No you can’t have the names and numbers of my friends because I want to keep them. Yes my ‘privacy’ settings are set to ‘friends only’ as if those Farcebook fcukers cared.

So there’s your next big market opportunity Mr Zuckmyarse. Let’s have an opportunity for the cheated and disgruntled to vent their spleen. The ‘Dislike’ button. Hey, it’s only ‘Fair’.

Choices, choices

On my way to the UK shortly, going through the usual last minute fussing with securing valuable documentation and making sure that if anything untoward happens to our cosy little apartment while we’re away, nothing critical will be lost. Packing, checking tickets, booking the taxi to the airport. Ensuring our hosts know when we’re arriving. Off we’re going, into the noisy bustle of jolly old Londinium where the population are faced with a life critical choice.

No, not the forthcoming General Election, which seems to be a straight race between which pro-EU muppet gets in. Not whether to vote for the Tory or Labour Muppet, the Limp Dem, Green or SNP muppet, or the party whose muppetdom is actually in doubt, a.k.a. Big Nige and the Purple Gang, who are currently riding low in the polls, so they’re clearly not worth voting for don’cha know peasants. Don’t let those nasty Tories / Labour / Limp Dems in by voting your conscience. Although if you vote for the traditional rosette, of course they will. Don’t waste those votes, give them to the lamestream parties (Meh). I reckon the result is a given; as usual the British electorate will choose; in the words of Hillaire Belloc to “always keep ahold of nurse / For fear of finding something worse.”

No, I’m talking about the really important stuff, the critical life or death choice that the UK now faces. The burning question of the day. The one crucial decision that will shape the nation for decades to come. What’s going to be the name of the new royal baby? Here are the odds.

Hope this helps.

Update: Well, that’s that then. Bill and Kate have gone for a generational motif on the babies name. Charlotte, (3-1 Grandfather Charles) Elizabeth (6-1 Great Grandma), Diana (8-1 Grandmother). Or in the words of her Great Grandfather; “What about bloody Phillipa then?”

That’s interesting

A quick pre-flight shopping jaunt out to get Mrs S a new iPad cover for our trip to gay paree. We doglegged onto the Patricia Bay Highway and saw something I personally haven’t witnessed since November 1982. A full on convoy of Hells Angels (Not imitations, the real deal – I’d know that patch anywhere) with Police both local and RCMP up and down the road trailing about twenty six, maybe as many as thirty Harleys riding in a highly disciplined two line pack, swinging down the off ramp that leads to Highway One northbound.

I almost had an attack of nostalgia on the spot.

I really must fly

Another year, another transatlantic flight. This time we’re going to ride in bigger comfier seats, which, when you realise that the airlines bean counters are having aircraft refitted to cram ever more steaming humanity on board, is no bad thing. Fly economyFrankly, I’ve done the whole air cattle truck experience, and while it’s okay if you’re five feet five and under a hundred and thirty pounds, if you’re like me, over six feet with broad shoulders, well, the muscle cramps after ten hours in an alloy tube are really unpleasant.

So we end up paying more (Half as much again – yikes!) for the extra legroom and seat width. Which pays off as you don’t suffer from post flight muscle cramps for the next forty eight hours as well as the jet lag. Which really pisses me off. Economy seats are like paying to be put in Skeffington’s Gyves. Thoroughly unpleasant. Unless you’re one who gets their jollies that way. If you have to travel, the choice is increasingly boiling down to get yourself surgically reduced or prepare to suffer. Me, I’ll take the comfy chairs.

Unusually for me, I’m already packed to Mrs S’s satisfaction. Which is a surprise, not least of all to me. Hold the phone. She thinks I’ve packed properly? There’s a first. Also this trip I have brand new luggage, a decent suitcase instead of the falling to bits piece of crap I inherited from somewhere, new Targus bag for all my retro but still serviceable electronics. A brace of Nokia 6310i’s for local calls to dodge the horrendous overseas roaming charges our regular Canadian cell phone companies impose. I’ve also set up a secondary non google webmail address, onto which all my email will be forwarded. Which means Google won’t get all shirty and lock me out when I try to access my email from La Belle France instead of BC. Like my last transatlantic trip. Or the last one. Or the one before that. It’s not as though my passwords are something easy to crack like name123, date of birth variants, or heaven forfend; ‘password’. I like obscure, multi character and case sensitive which only means something to me. It seems to have worked so far. So far so…..bugger. Or not.

In the meantime, I must fly. Comfortably. Until someone invents a viable means of teleportation or Worm Hole travel.

Any old road up, while I’m passing through the UK I’ll be keeping a weather eye on the election; I may be scathing, I may be sardonic. Watch this space, and for your edification a little Tom Scott video of 7 illegal things to do in a UK election.

TTFN