Words you never want to hear

You have a problem with the local council, your internet provider or your utilities.  Perhaps you want the time of the next train to the Kyle of Lochalsh.
It’s 6. 55 a.m. next Tuesday, if you’re interested.

You pick up the phone, dial the appropriate number, a couple of seconds pass and then your heart sinks as you hear these words spoken by an automated voice that unconvincingly attempts to convince you….
“We are experiencing a high volume of calls at the moment but please hold as your call is important to us!”

Important to you? Really? Hmmm…somehow that doesn’t quite ring true.

It’s a pity we, the public, don’t have the technology to respond to the automated voice machine with one of our own that says, “Actually, sunshine, this call is more important to me because I took time out of my busy day to phone you in the hope you could solve my problem – once you’ve put down your cheese & pickle sandwich and picked up the phone!”

That annoyingly trite, pre-recorded excuse for not answering the ‘phone must be high on the list of the ‘Most Dispiriting Regularly Heard Words In The English Language’,for which, apparently, there’s a competition currently running.

There are so many to choose from.  Like…

“Weekend rail replacement service” – which is BR PR speak for  “You may have bought a train ticket to get you to London in a couple of hours but your journey will take all day Sunday because for half of it you’ll be on a crowded bus that’ll get stuck in a 10-mile traffic jam on the M4 near Chippenham”!

Then there’s “Unexpected item in baggage area!” which is just what you don’t want to hear when you’ve used the person-less checkout against your better judgement only because you’re in a hurry.

Not forgetting, “Are you alright there?” the annoying question I’ve mentioned before that shop assistants now inexplicably use instead of, “May I Help You?”

I’ll leave you to ponder over the ones that annoy you.  Meantime, have a nice day!  Oops! Now I’m at it…

Keep on sharing the gossip…. I love it!

Every week I get a chance to share a bit of me with you, which at times can be both challenging and colourful, yet a privilege for me in many ways.
Having said that, occasionally this newspaper editor does pull me up on a few things.  And there was me thinking that freedom of speech was now in abundance in these modern times.

So, why do we read the newspapers when we are bombarded with news items from one source or another 24 hours a day, seven days a week?

Well, maybe your reasoning is different to mine, but research suggests that we are addicted to gossip and negative news.  Could this be the reason that the majority of the population can’t keep secrets?

This has certainly made me think about my back catalogue of stories, which on the whole are true, despite the slight exaggerated bits for comedic effect.
I’m sure you understand.  Not that I’m complaining, mind you – as I love the fact that as part of my job people share events and stories with me. Long may it continue.

Time to drink in the fact we are not as smart as we think!

We all believe we’re slightly more intelligent than the next person.  Especially if we’re on a train in elbow-rubbing proximity to a WAG minister.

But there are times when, no matter how high our IQ, we behave as if it’s dropped to below single figures – if that’s at all possible.

In other words, ‘Sometimes we ain’t as smart as we think’!  Here’s a f’rinstance that many of my readers will relate to.

I was listening to the Ken Bruce Radio 2 show the other day and heard a conversation between Mr. Bruce and a ‘Pop Master’ contestant I’ll call ‘Bernard’.  His name was actually Derek, but I once knew someone with that name who I didn’t like, so I’ll call him ‘Bernard’.

If you don’t know what ‘Pop Master’ is, you’re either in full-time employment or have such a busy life you never take a break at 10.30 on weekday mornings to listen to the long-running music quiz.

This particular Friday morning, ‘Bernard’ mentioned that as it was his 50th birthday the following day, the celebration, would be a ‘three-day event’.  A Friday pub lunch with drinks and an evening meal…with drinks.  Saturday, there’d be another pub lunch with drinks and another evening meal… with drinks.  Then, on the Sunday, a big family get together where there would be loads of party food… with yet more drinks.

I may be wrong, but I can’t imagine that during his ‘three day event’ he’d be dining on lentils, pulses and other ultra-healthy food.  More than likely, he’d do what most of us non-vegans/vegetarians do to celebrate a big birthday and tuck into a thick juicy steak and chips or a pizza or a big bowl of pasta, washed down with plenty of ‘vino collapso’ or beer, followed by thick, sweet desserts.  So, to sum up…

To celebrate getting one year older, Bernard happily risked the possibility of clogging his arteries and ruining his liver, thereby reducing the odds of him celebrating many more birthdays.  Proof that ’Sometimes we ain’t as smart as we think’.

What are you drinking?  It’s my round!

Here’s a tip worth remembering – change only happens when we’re unhappy

Suddenly, we have all become political experts.  It’s a fact – most people don’t consider the source of the media information they are exposed to before making a decision.

The masses have always been led by a small group of clever and cunning men in power.  This has and will always be the case.  History does repeat itself – there is always a ‘tipping point’.  This can also be said for job satisfaction and relationships.

I once read a fascinating book called Tipping Point – and following the EU referendum result now understand a bit more clearly that change only occurs when people are unhappy.  Something worth remembering.

Right – I’m off  now to build an air raid shelter out the back garden and stock up on supplies- just in case.  Mark my words neither will be needed.  Just sayin’ . . .

A giant eel? Now that has to be monstrously untrue!

When I’m trawling through newspapers for ideas to entertain my readers, I’ll often come across a headline that leaps out at me, grabs me by the lapels and says, “Phil, mate, you have to say something about this!”

For example . . .  “Drunken ballerina kicks policeman in the groin after missing flight!”

I’m almost, but not quite, ashamed to say that when I saw it, my comedy instinct took over and I thought ,“She must have been rehearsing for the Nutcracker Suite”.

I know very little about the world of ballet. For years, I thought a ‘Pas De Deux’ was a French father of two.  And, yes, I’m aware that it was an assault on one of our brave boys in blue, who face enough aggro on a daily basis without having to contend with a petite dancer who’d obviously spent far tutu much time at the barre.  But, be fair. It was a funny headline.

How often do you see the words ‘Drunken’, ‘Groin’ and ‘Ballerina’ in the same sentence – unless you’re privy to some unsavoury backstage secrets at Sadler’s Wells?

Another headline that grabbed my attention was the one that claimed “The Loch Ness Monster Is A Giant Eel”.  According to scientists who analysed DNA in the water, the eel is 13 foot in length.  Hardly ‘monster size’.  I’ve eaten spaghetti longer than that!  Besides, eels have a life cycle.

Depending on the species and their habitat (no, I’m not after Sir David Attenborough’s job) they can live up to 25 years.  To me, that blows a hole the size of Godzilla in the giant eel theory, because the Loch Ness monster was first seen around 900 years ago.

Unfortunately, there are no photographs available because the monk who spotted it had run out of film the day before.  And being a Trappist, he couldn’t ask any of his fellow monks if they had a spare camera.  What a shame!

As far as I’m concerned there’s definitelyan enormous prehistoric monster in Loch Ness and I’ll continue to believe it for as long as I’ve got shares in the Scottish Tourist Board.

I’m feeling the chilly arrival of winter weather

I’m in need of some help here.

My gran would always tell me to “never cast a clout until May is out” and to be honest, for most of my childhood, I never knew what on earth she was talking about.

Apparently, since the 15th century ‘clout’ is a word that has been used to describe a fragment of cloth or clothing and could be spelled as clowt, clowte, cloot, or clute.  It’s here that the saying took on two meanings, rather than just the one original.

The new meaning was a reminder not to be too quick to chuck the winter clothes before cooler days during the month of May were most likely over.

Following events of the weekend and the wrath of Storm Lorenzo doing his best to rain on our parade, I am now wondering when would be the best time to pull out the Damart catalogue (other thermal underwear retailers are available) and put my vest back on.  Putting the patio furniture and barbeque away for the winter this week left me feeling rather chilly to say the least.

You just can’t always bank on staff being happy about your claims

When we talk to staff in shops, cafes and banks, we expect to receive the same amount of courtesy we give.  But we’re often disappointed.

Some time ago I told you about the appalling service a friend of mine encountered at his bank when he tried to transfer birthday money into his grand-daughter’s bank account.  While I won’t reveal the name of his bank, I can tell you it’s in Newport.  The Newport that moved from Monmouthshire to Gwent and then re-located to south Wales.

One thing you can say about Newport. It’s well-travelled.

My friend recently received even worse treatment at a different branch of the same bank.  However, this time he came away from the experience more amused than annoyed.

A couple of days before the PPI deadline, he popped into the branch to ask whether he might be able to claim PPI on a credit card first issued to him more than 20 years ago.

He was greeted by a clipboard-clasping lady, who asked, with a forced smile, “Are you alright there?”  Oh dear! Bad start!

When my friend replied, “I’m just enquiring whether I had PPI on my credit card”, the lady, rather-too-eagerly, announced, “We don’t deal with PPI in-branch!”

Then, her eyes narrowed as she asked in a classic passive-aggressive tone, “What makes you think you weremis-sold PPI?”

My friend replied ,“I don’t. But Martin Lewis, the money advice expert, said people should find out whether they were.”

At the mention of Mister Lewis, the lady snarled, “I hate that man!”
Surprised by her bilious outburst, my friend replied, “Why? Because he helps people save money?”   The lady’s face then resembled a bulldog chewing a wasp (Les Dawson:1975) as she went off on one about Martin Lewis bringing banks to their knees!

This churlish response was totally unwarranted as she’d been asked a perfectly reasonable question and her spectacularly negative attitude was so OTT my friend almost burst out laughing.  He wants to change banks, but I hope he doesn’t.

Stories like this shine a spotlight on unhelpful clipboard-clasping employees.  You know who you are!

Dreams can turn your bedtime into a nightmare

We all need a good night’s sleep to recharge the batteries and to maintain good health.  How else will our bodies repair?

Some of you reading this will, without doubt have a few sleep challenges, which can range from insomnia, not needing much sleep, to needing more sleep than most.  But for me, it’s vivid dreams on an extremely regular basis.

This could be down to the fact I have an over-active mind or the fact that I don’t relax or unwind before bed time.  Either that, or there could be a much more serious underlying cause. Who knows?

One thing is for sure, my disturbed dreams could easily be part of a documentary on the subject of sleep and the source of many after dinner stories.  In fact, I could easily dine out on my back catalogue of vivid dream for many years to come.

The good thing is, I stopped sleep-walking many years back.  But, if you do spot me walking the streets in my pyjamas late at night, don’t wake me up!  Just point me in the right direction home.  Thanks in advance.