Dignity, Always Dignity

Who am I kidding?  Whilst I’d like to think that I always manage to maintain the kind of stately sense of decorum usually the sole preserve of middle-European monarchy and butlers, the reality is altogether different.  The smallest things are regarded by me as outright provocations and I am prone to over-reacting.  Whilst a smarter man would take a short walk around the block and cool-off, I tend to use rage as a means to fuel a loathsome kind of self-righteousness.  It results in letters such as this

‘Dear Sir / Madam / Other,

I write further to my broadband and mobile plan with your company.  I hadn‘t planned to make a complaint – rather, I had hoped to discuss whether I am currently on the most efficient plan with you as my internet bill has increased from $40 per month to $240 a month.  Indeed, to your credit, someone called ‘Peter’ from something called the ‘Business Centre’ rang and left a message, emphasizing his eagerness to discuss my current broadband and mobile phone predicament.

My first mistake was to attempt to return his call.

‘Peter’ didn’t leave a surname.  Perhaps, much like ‘Madonna’, ‘Kylie’ or ‘Rasputin’; ‘Peter’ is so much of an icon within the Telstra Business Centre as to make a second name redundant.   I did, naturally enough, plan to ask him but never got the chance.

By any measure, sixty minutes is a long time to remain on hold.  However, if you throw in sixty minutes of the most excruciating hold music yet discovered by mankind, an hour seems not so much like a period of time as it does some kind of prison sentence.  

Although I have never thrust a red hot poker into my ear, I can only imagine that it is a similar kind of agony.  

For future reference, if you do wish to place your customers on hold, it might be a good idea not to subject them to music that could easily be used to interrogate trouble-makers within third-world dictatorships.  Indeed, techno music that sounds as if it was created by a tribe of one-legged Guatemalan goat herders using only a drum machine, a broken microwave and every fingernail and black board they could string together at short notice should be avoided at all costs.

Whilst I appreciate that you may consider my claim of having been on hold for an hour to be the product of exaggeration, I can only assure you that it was exactly sixty minutes.  I say that because it was precisely as the phone reached the one hour mark that the call was disconnected.  

This means that after one hour of being subjected to the kind of techno music that could easily be used to kill small insects (and, indeed, this may be a more appropriate use), I had achieved absolutely nothing.

I then tried to make contact through the website.  However, the ‘contact us’ function appeared not to be working.  Whilst the fact that one of this nation’s major telecommunications company can’t string together a ‘contact us’ email is an irony of too large a proportion to contemplate, the next time I am stuck on hold for an hour listening to ridiculous music, I will surely do so.

The only contact mechanism that seemed to operate was the one for complaints.  All of which leads me to this letter.

I would very much like to discuss my mobile phone and broadband account with someone at your company.  Whether it is with Peter, Kylie, Madonna, Rasputin or a one-legged Guatemalan goat-herder; I’m really not fussed.  Whilst I can’t escape the somewhat overwhelming suspicion that I’m being subjected to the kind of corporate pick-pocketing that would make Ronald Biggs blush with embarrassment, I hope to be surprised.

I look forward to hearing from someone, indeed anyone, before too long.’

It may be petty and it may even be cruel, but it is also enormously satisfying.  To date, I have received only a reply that was automatically generated by a computer.  This seems strangely fitting.  I am sure that, from this point on, my filed under ‘M’ not for ‘McCullough’ but, instead, ‘dead-set flat-out mental’.  

    I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Phil Collins, I Smote You

For years we’ve had an agreement.  For mercy’s sakes, I’d even go so far as to say that we had a pact – a sacred understanding, the terms of which were known only by those who were party to it.  Each us knew that abiding by the terms of our contract was the thing that ensured a respectful difference of opinion rather than a loosing of the dogs of war.

    One of us, however, has broken this bond with nary a thought for the consequences.  Quite simply, Phil Collins has unleashed merry hell.  Our agreement was simple: we would maintain a mutual and respectful distance.  Phil Collins would be free to go about his business and I, mine, with our paths never to cross.  All that has now changed.

    I realise that plenty of folks hold warm thoughts for Phil Collins.  After all, what’s not to like?  The former Genesis drummer and accidental solo mega star and his ‘hello Guv’ner, polish your boots?’ style of cockney charm certainly has its fans.  But for reasons that have never been quite clear to me, I am not one of them.  Put simply – like a pair of sandpaper underpants, Phil Collins has always rubbed me up the wrong way.

    I appreciate that I am in the minority.  But just as Phil can’t dance or walk when he’s hanging out with Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford, I can’t listen to his music.  Not even when a giant gorilla is kicking out the jams on ‘In the Air Tonight’.  

    I was watching ‘Rage’ on ABC TV, traditional home to unwashed indie upstarts – who frequently seek to compensate for an absence of talent with an overdose of feyness – when it happened.  Without so much as a warning, Phil Collins appeared on my television screen.  Sadly, this wasn’t classic Phil programmed by some obscure band member in a misplaced quest to achieve irony.  It was a brand new video clip for the song ‘Heatwave’.

    There’s only one thing in this world worse than a new song by Phil Collins – and that’s Phil covering someone else’s song.  This is exactly the kind of musical profanity that Phil has decided to visit upon us.  Were the book of Revelations to be written today, it would no doubt list pestilence, plague and a Phil Collin’s cover album as being sure-fire signs of an impending apocalypse.

    Brace yourself – Phil is releasing an album of Motown covers.  Before I go any further, I should declare that I love Motown.  It is for that reason I think that the amazing musical legacy of Motown artists should be preserved rather than desecrated.  Those songs were perfect the first time.  Simply producing a poor facsimile of the original is, surely, the last refuge of the desperate.  It is a rule that applies to Phil Collins as much as it does to anyone else – a Motown cover album is an act of musical vandalism and is solely a means of deferring attention to an obvious creative low point.  Human Nature, if you’re reading this, I’m talking to you.

    In a last attempt to reinvigorate a flagging solo career, an artist will often spit out an album of covers.  For some reason, these cynical exercises in exploitation only seek to reinforce how much the art of song writing has fallen from favour.  Suffice to say, I can’t imagine that anyone will release an album of Lady Gaga covers in forty years time.  

    It’s often the case that prior to Rage or Video Hits going to air that a warning will appear on screen.  Actually, it’s not so much a warning as it is a promise of the entertainment that’s heading your way.  They promise ‘adult themes’ and ‘mild horror’ or even violence.  All of which is a bit much for a Saturday morning.  Surely, however, a warning that Phil Collins might appear is not too much to ask?  They don’t need to mean about it – they could easily do it in the manner of an M & M packet and say, ‘The following program may contain traces of Phil Collins.’

    I don’t know why I dislike him so much.  By rights, he should command my respect, especially when you take into account his extensive charity work and his efforts to raise awareness for dyslexia by naming an album ‘Hits’.    But I just can’t stand him – perhaps because he was almost omnipresent in the 1980s.  For some reason he seemed to represent everything that was wrong about music in that decade.  

    Had Phil turned up in my kitchen and helped himself to a piece of toast, I couldn’t have been more surprised.  By appearing on Rage, Phil Collins has trespassed upon my Saturday morning and I simply won’t stand for it.  He may have caught me by surprise but, next time around, I will be ready.  From now on I will keep a small vile of holy water by the television in case of further incursions.  And if it should happen again or – Lord save us – if it becomes a pattern, then I will have no choice – I will join Genesis as their new lead singer.  Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks would surely welcome me just as they once did Phil after Peter Gabriel scarpered back in the 1970s.  Not for us the commercial prostitution that is a Motown tribute album, no Sir’ee.  As our first order of business we would, of course, release an album of Phil Collins covers.

‘The Real Me’

I hope I don’t sound strange or sinister
But just like our dear Prime Minister
I must set a secret free
And reveal the ‘real me’.
For all these years, I kept it locked
In a little wooden box
I held it under lock and key
The poor, forgotten ‘real me’

Unclear to the naked eye,
The real me’s a nicer guy
Nicer, sweeter and less bland
He’d surely be in great demand
If I ever let him out
I suspect there’d be no doubt
The real me would become feted
Lauded, loved, congratulated

For reasons that elude me now
I could not stand to let him out
So he sat for years on end
Devoid of either foe or friend
True to myself he always stood
In his little box of wood
High above the muck and grease
Up there on the mantelpiece

He hovered high like a balloon
– The real me remained immune
To life’s unwanted sour surprises
Tragedies and compromises
Plain, resilient and pure
The ‘real me’ could well endure
Any level of rejection
By straw poll or an election

But over time, a nagging voice
Caused me to question if this choice
Was as wise as it could be
– Should I unleash ‘the real me’?
My conscience constantly was gnawing
Until began a gradual thawing
Between me and my better self
I brought the box down from the shelf

The real me appeared quite shocked
As I pulled him from his box
And was he pleased, do you suppose?
No! He punched me in the nose
Instantly, I dropped the box
The little beggar then took off
Through a door that was agape
– The real me had now escaped

For in this world of chairs, it’s true
It’s rough to ask the real you
To stand up when all else are seated
And not to feel that you’ve been cheated
So I agree with Jools and Tone:
It’s simpler to remain a drone
To do what others tell you to
And not unleash the ‘real’ you

The real me remains at large
So I’ve cut up my credit cards
The whole thing has become absurd
It’s been three weeks and not a word
But perhaps it’s good I set him free
And unleashed the real me
But on a purely selfish note
Which one of me’s enrolled to vote?

Enjoy Every Sandwich

The internet is an amazing thing.  You could go so far as to say that it’s the best thing since sliced bread – which is a pretty big call given that the bread slicer was invented in 1928 by Otto Frederick Rohwedder.  It’s also worth noting that the invention of sliced bread paved the way for other really useful inventions such as Charles Strite’s electric pop-up toaster.  Ironically, the only reason I know any of this is because the internet told me so.

    However, it’s not all beer, skittles and sliced bread on the internet.  It’s also a place of considerable danger.  For that reason, my computer has a plethora of software committed to combating computer viruses and spam (of both the email and spiced ham variety).  Like a home owner cradling a shotgun in case of intruders, my computer sits in a state of eternal readiness to ward off any attempted break in.

    And, just like that home owner, this software occasionally intercepts well-meaning people doing no more than going about their daily business; who are not asking me to purchase discount pharmaceuticals or invest in the Nigerian banking industry.  When this occurs, attachments are removed and – presumably – led away for questioning.

    On other occasions, the software intercepts suspect transmissions for a good de-lousing before dumping them in by ‘junk’ box.  I received such an email last week.  The subject line was, pointedly, ‘Not game, serious relations!’  Frankly, it made no sense.  Intrigued, I peeked into the quarantine section of my computer.  The email began: ‘Hello friend!!!’

    Whilst the subject line had deployed an exclamation mark in an unusual manner, the opening greeting displayed a reckless disregard for conventional punctuation.  It then continued:

    This is not spam or other bad things. So, please, answer to me!!!

Another triple.  Much like a half pike with a triple twist on the Olympic long board, it was a sentence that would best be described as suffering a high degree of difficulty.  To put it mildly, there is something slightly terrifying about an email that demands with three exclamation points that you ‘answer to’ them.  Whilst the email was going to some lengths to assure me that it wasn’t ‘spam’ (or for that matter, the unspecified ‘other bad things’), it was hard not to conclude that like the Queen in Hamlet, the lady doth protest too much, methinks.  Then came the resume:

My name is Anna. I’m 28 years old.

I live far from Moscow, about 1200 km. I hope you know a town Cheboksary.

You can see it in Google if you want.

Presumably, if it’s good enough for Google, it ought to be good enough for me.  According to the internet, Cheboksary is a city with a population of just under four hundred and fifty thousand.  However, if Anna had her way, the town’s population would fall by one.

I want to search man from other country for serious relationship and may be love.

I’m not married and have no children.

I’m attractive and no-smoking girl.

    There’s a simple rule in life – if you describe yourself as attractive, you’re probably gravely mistaken.  Worse still, if the best you can say for yourself is that you won’t be sucking down the best part of a packet of Peter Jackson Super Mild in the foreseeable future, you’re not so much scraping the bottom of the barrel as you are tunneling through the other side.  However, it was then that things took a turn for the ridiculous:

I’m really tired of my boring life and i want to meet new man in my life to change it.

    How could this be possible when, according to its Wikipedia page, the town of Cheboksary is a cultural hotspot with its own opera theatre, orchestra and – I kid you not – ‘a number of heated pools’?  Better than that, it also has Russia’s only beer museum.  Whilst Melbourne has a lot to offer, it’s well accepted that it suffers a chronic shortage of beer museums.  The claims to boredom are even more improbable when you consider that Cheboksary is the tractor capital of Russia being, as it is, the official headquarters of Concern Tractor Plants.

The email begged for a response and was signed ‘Anna from Russia’.  The email address to which you were encouraged to respond bore no resemblance to this name; referring, instead, to someone called ‘Solishko’.  There is, sadly, nothing to explain what or who a ‘solishko’ is.  Not even on the internet.  Whilst such a slur on the great city of Cheboksary should not ordinarily go unchallenged, there seemed little point.  Not even to correct the numerous spelling and grammatical violations.  Leaving aside the rather substantial fact of being committed to Kate, to respond to an email headed ‘serious relations!!!’ or, indeed, any email with a triple exclamation point is surely asking for trouble.

    Perhaps it’s best if I switch my computer off.  Just for a while.  Maybe I’ll go find myself some decent sliced bread and make myself a great big spam sandwich.  Anna from Russia might not be impressed, but Otto Frederick Rohwedder would be proud.