The Decline and Fall of Manchester United (Part 2)

Today is Day 36 of David Moyes’ reign as the new Manchester United manager.  Another nine days and he will break the record of Brian Clough’s infamous spell as Leeds United Manager in 1974.

On current evidence that’s about the only record he’s going to break.

When Moyes was announced shortly before the end of the 2012/13 season there was a collective groan from the vast majority of Manchester United fans.  Long predicted as a likely replacement when the Man for Govan finally hung-up his hairdryer, Moyes was seen as a safe choice by many within the club.  After 11 seasons with Everton (and a relatively successful spell with Preston North End prior to that) Moyes had built a reputation for no nonsense talk, nurturing good young players and managing on a restricted budget while the big-hitters around him flashed the type of cash that his pay-masters could only dream of.

When Sir Alex Ferguson finally stepped down there seemed to be a sense of fait accompli to Moyes’ appointment.  No other manager was seriously considered (despite rumours of a love-in between Sir Alex and Jose Mourinho) and the deal was done before the club’s share price on the New York stock exchange could be seriously damaged.  In accessions terms this was on a par of appointing the new Pope.

New chief executive Ed Woodward, the Glazer family and – most importantly – Sir Bobby Charlton (a director at the club, not to mention its all-time highest goalscorer) all said that Moyes was the perfect man to replace the irreplaceable.  The conspiracy theorists noted that Charlton even made a veiled reference to ‘The Special One’ when he stated that the new manager was ‘here for the long haul’.

That was then and this is now.  Three months on from United lifting their 20th league (and 13th Premiership) title and little has changed.  Where Alex Ferguson immediately made changes to the youth set-up and the heavy drinking culture embedded in the club during the reign of Ron Atkinson, Moyes merely brought his own team of backroom people and elevated club ‘legend’ Ryan Giggs to player-coach.  Giggs will turn 40 in November.

In that same three months Chelsea and Manchester City have made fresh (or in the case of Chelsea, recycled) managerial appointments and brought in new faces that will only improve their chances for the upcoming campaign.

David Moyes has said that Wayne Rooney is not for sale.  And that’s about it.

The period between May and August is traditionally known as ‘the silly season’ in terms of transfer speculation and who’s going where and how and why.  As early as last March (with the last season still two months to run) Cristiano Ronaldo was linked with a move back to his ‘spiritual’ home in a deal worth anything around £60 million.

The only problem was that Nike (United’s kit manufacturers) would have to stump up the money.  And they didn’t.

Ronaldo, Robert Lewandowski, Cesc Fabregas.  The list of United’s failed attempts to tempt anyone to join (bear in mind) the champions of England seems to be a lot longer already than David Moyes’ achievements in eleven years at Everton (one top four spot and the beaten finalists of the 2008 FA Cup, for those who take notice of these things).

And still the news of Wayne Rooney’s ‘confused and upset’ demeanour dominated the back pages more than any Moyes’ ‘target’ in the rapidly shrinking transfer window.

Whoever took over the managership of Manchester United after Alex Ferguson and 26 years of (mostly) trophy-littered seasons was going to be handed a poisoned chalice.  But unfortunately Moyes is already choking on his first mouthful.

Had he made an example of Rooney (a man who he once had cause to sue for libel after his prodigy left Everton in 2004) then a clear mission statement would have been made: no man is bigger than this club.  And no player can put in more than one transfer request and not expect to have it accepted.

With United in the midst of a commercially driven tour of the far east (and other places) the countdown to the new season gets ever shorter.  And yet one glance at the official club’s website’s list of first-team players sees little (or rather no) difference to that of three months ago.  No-one has come in and no-one has gone out.

Either Moyes has enormous faith in the academy of youngsters that Sir Alex Ferguson has left behind (one reserve is at least now listed as a first-team player) or David Moyes’ hands are tied at Manchester United as much as they ever were at Everton football club.  But perhaps the lure of joining the English champions, under a new and untried (at least at the top level of domestic and European football) manager and a side that failed to make it past the last 16 of the Champions League last term, just isn’t enough for the big-bucks spenders of the English, Spanish, German and – more significantly – French leagues, where Monaco are continuing to acquire big-name players with the financial temptation of paying not a single euro in income tax, given their tax-haven status.

With the big kick-off less than two weeks away, David Moyes is facing a baptism by fire, both on the field and (of more relevance these days) on the TV.  Of United’s opening five games (all televised, naturally) there are Chelsea – and a certain Portuguese manager – in August, and Liverpool and Manchester City in September.  You’d think that Sky (not to mention the fledgling BT Sport) had a hand in these things.  Perish the thought.

Five games that might determine the course of Manchester United’s season in the space of six weeks.  It would, of course, be unthinkable for Moyes to be out of a job by Christmas (the days of sacking the manager of the league champions in that space of time are long gone, Brian Clough or not).  But if United are out of the top four and already slipping on the potential banana skin of the group phase of the Champions League (the only level they successfully negotiated last season remember) and a certain Knight of the Realm may be getting restless in his (heated) seat in the directors box.

There is of course a precedent for this.  The decline and fall of Manchester United after winning their first (and only, bar the two successes in the ‘rebranded’ Champions League) European Cup was swift and undignified.  In six years (and three managers) they sank from champions of Europe to the old second division.  It would be twenty years – and another three managers – before they would reach theImage lofty heights again.

History repeating itself?  As someone once said: ‘Football.  Bloody Hell!’

The Thrill of It

Well, that’s the last time I take any notice of what I read on the Internet. I promise.

I thought TV had run out of the power to surprise me. After this spring’s dismal run of Doctor Who episodes by-the-numbers I’d certainly given up on my favourite programme surprising me again. (And no, John Hurt is NOT The Doctor).

And then a children’s show – forged 50 years ago as a segue between the football results and Juke Box Jury – only goes and casts a 55 year-old, best known for playing a foul-mouthed spin doctor (I should have guessed, shouldn’t I?) – in the lead role of what is still nominally ‘the children’s show that adults adore’.

Peter Capaldi IS The Doctor! Well, bugger me.

Capaldi was all but confirmed last night by William Hill. But having had my fingers burnt by Rory Kinnear back in June, I refused to believe that in this youth obsessed, demographic driven TV landscape that passes for entertainment now that it was anything more than the bookies getting trigger-happy again. A man ten years off his pension playing what has become a 21st Century Romantic makeover of a cult TV legend. It simply doesn’t happen these days.

So I believed today’s rumours about Daniel Rigby. And sighed deeply.

To be fair, everything made sense. The same age (more or less) as Matt Smith. A relative unknown (much like Smith in 2009 and David Tennant four years previously). And a star on the rise, with a BAFTA on his mantelpiece and an opportunity to expand his stardom exponentially.

I tuned in – like most of the telly-watching nation this wet August Sunday – expecting no surprises. The Capaldi story last night was all but gone from my mind.

And then Zoe Ball (inexplicably given the honour of announcing the latest actor to play a pop-culture icon) said those two words. And I was genuinely stunned. Not to mention the most excited I’ve been in the decade since the Telegraph broke the news that you-know-who was finally coming back after a generation in mothballs.

On a scale of one to ten – with one being Daniel Rigby and ten being Benedict Cumberbatch – this was definitely a nine. But once I saw that left hand (adorning a gold wedding ring) I started to think that my lack of faith in the BBC, in Steven Moffat and in life in general was misguided. There is indeed no fool like an old fool.

At the risk of endorsing Peter Capaldi as the 12th Doctor Who before he films a single frame this is (by far) the bravest piece of TV casting I can currently think of. It’s like Peter O’Toole being announced as the next James Bond. These decisions simply don’t happen in drama anymore. Or so I thought.

So, thank you Steven Moffat. You and I have had our disagreements of late (well, in my mixed-up head we have anyway). But I have faith once more in the TV show I have adored (and I use that word with qualification) since I first remember seeing it on my mother’s knee in 1975.

Doctor Who: 50 years young. And still capable of surprising me.

Time to change

Did anyone else see the excellent BBC3 programme (yes, I did use the words ‘excellent’ and ‘BBC3’ in the same sentence there) on Tuesday at 9pm?  Probably not as the then still unnamed baby prince George Alexander Louis was giving his first royal wave and displaying the same follicle absence as his father.  No doubt  the nation was gripped, while simultaneously moaning about the coalition’s latests plans to increase the gap between the haves and the have-nots.  Irony, your name is middle England.

Anyway, it was called ‘Laura Bruno: my Dad and Me’ and you can probably make the connection just from her surname alone.  This was a camcorder-led documentary about  the once household name Frank ‘know that I mean ‘arry’ Bruno’s struggle over the last decade with bipolar disorder.  Now, most people will still remember Frank as the jovial gentleman of boxing from the mid 1980s until his ignominious defeat at the hands (or rather fists) of Mike Tyson which ended what had been a career more known for its failures than its successes (although Bruno was – briefly – World Heavyweight champion in 1993).

Back in 1989 Bruno fought Tyson for the first time, shortly after the Sky satellite service was launched in the UK.  The fight was stopped in the fifth round, but the nation still considered Frank Bruno the winner.  This was, I hasten to add, around about the time a hopeless ski-jumper called Eddie ‘The Eagle’ Edwards was also a national treasure.  There was something about the 1980s and 90s that lifted sporting failure above the realms of common sense.  What with Gazza’s tears in the 1990 World Cup, as long as you went down fighting (or in Gazza’s case crying like a baby) that made you more loved than actually achieving anything in sport.

Bruno was never more than an average boxer, but his big personality (not to mention sparring relationship with the likes of Des Lynam and Harry Carpenter) made up for his professional failures.  This was a gentle giant of a man, with a booming laugh and the kind of manners that sportsmen (and especially boxers) were never usually renowned for.  He was a family man, with a devoted wife and loving children.  And the nation loved him for just being ‘our Frank’.  This was a sportsman who transcended the sport that made his name, and was just as likely to be seen dressed as Widow Twanky in seasonal panto as he was sparring in the gym.

After retirement Bruno slowly faded from public view.  Lennox Lewis (British by birth, but more stateside in personality) took his place as the feted British boxer of his generation just simply by winning the odd fight.  And Frank Bruno was only occasionally seen on our TV screens in comedy skits and the annual Sports Personality of the Year even each December (where, inevitably, his comedy sparring partners Lynam and Carpenter would be present to go through the same tired ‘know what I mean ‘arry’ routines from a decade earlier).

Bruno next made front page news in 2003 when he was, rather surprisingly, sectioned under the mental health act after having spent several days sleeping in a purpose built gym in the back garden of the mansion which his fame – rather than his boxing – had bought him.  The Sun, typically, ran with the understated headline ‘Bonkers Bruno sectioned’ and people (naturally) assumed that this was yet another case of the ‘build ’em up/knock ’em down’ culture so favoured of the tabloid press.

The truth that emerged from the documentary ‘Laura Bruno: my Dad and Me’ painted a very different picture.  Bruno had remained undiagnosed as a sufferer of manic depression for a very long time.  Only the breakdown he suffered in 2003 revealed that the jovial, bigger than life Bruno had been little more than an act.  And that the gentle nature had been a cover for a man of wildly swinging moods, culminating in periods of severe depression and excessive highs.  This was a man as likely to be found sobbing in his bed as hiring a helicopter for his daughter’s birthday.  For Bruno, the good times and the bad times largely went hand in hand.

What impressed me most about this documentary (not to mention Frank and his daughter Laura themselves) was the candidness that each exhibited in talking about an illness that – statistically – may go on to affect one in four people in the country.  Frank did not attempt to shy away from the more unpleasant aspects of his illness (he admits to at least once hitting ex-wife Karen during one particularly bad spell) and Laura bravely admitted that – in genetic terms – she has a more than likely chance of developing this illness.  Even though still in her teens she could already relate to the kinds of lows that can leave a bi-polar (or indeed any clinical depressive) incapable of dragging themselves out of bed in the morning.  

This was a documentary that didn’t shirk from both the advantages and disadvantages of having bi-polar (perhaps the most famous historical examples being the likes of Vincent van Goch and Terrence ‘Spike’ Millgan’s struggles with an illness that blesses you as much with artistic creativity as it does robs you of the balance of your mind).  Speaking as a sufferer of bi-polar myself I can certainly relate to Bruno’s feelings of elation that often cause as much harm as  the lows more associated with depressive feelings.  Like Bruno, I have spent money I cannot afford, made extravagant gestures to family, friends and complete strangers, and been hospitalised on account of my condition.  I can certainly also relate to Laura’s fears of inheriting her father’s mental health problems.  My own father was often a very moody man who had a string of failed relationships and children with more than one woman.  Bi-polar is not usually something that just happens to come along in later life, but a genetic curse.  Like an inherited heart condition.  Or – in the case of Angelina Jolie recently – a rogue gen that would almost certainly result in her developing breast cancer.

The ‘Time to change’ campaign that has been running since the start of the year is a genuine attempt to redress the amount of ignorance and discrimination that still exists regarding mental health problems.  And by using high-profile names like Frank Bruno (and Stephen Fry, who confessed to his own bi-polar condition and thoughts of committing suicide) one would hope that the stigma associated with mental health will one day be reduced to the same kind of levels as homophobia and racism in recent years.  Certainly if more of these kinds of programmes were broadcast on mainstream channels during prime-time then the acceptance of people with bi-polar, schizophrenia and post traumatic stress disorder (amongst many other conditions) would come a step closer.  Until then the sycophants of middle England will no doubt prefer to watch BBC1 and coo over a baby that will want for nothing and (unlike Frank Bruno) will never be sectioned by an NHS hospital should a genetic trait ever rear its head.

The runners and riders for the AM elections on August 1st

A week today there will be a new face representing Ynys Mon in the Senedd in Cardiff.  After 26 years – during which Anglesey has suffered job losses, financial hardship and the constant threat of Wylfa closing down – Ieuan Wyn Jones is stepping down as Plaid Cymru AM.  Automatically triggering a by-election which can’t have failed to attract the attention of the island’s inhabitants.  As always, doors have been knocked, fresh has been pressed and speeches have been given (but more on Nigel Farage later).

I’ve been a constant voter since the age of 20.  I even remember the day the aforementioned Ieuan Wyn Jones was voted in as Plaid Cymru MP (long before the days of the Welsh Assembly and any political representation in Cardiff).  I was 15 and in those days my old primary school was shut on the day and turned into a polling station.  After school my grandfather and I went across the road from our house for him to place his signature on the ballot sheet.  To my naive eyes it all seemed as though history was taking place.  The 1983 General Election pretty much passed me by, though I do have vague memories of the late Michael Foot – looking more like a mad professor than the leader of the opposition – appearing on the nine o’clock news and dragging Labour down into its worst defeat for over half a century.  It would be another 14 years before a now non-socilaist Labour party would finally wipe away memories of that ignominious defeat.

So, the importance of voting was drilled into me from a very early age.  The year Ieuan Wyn Jones replaced Keith Best as MP for Ynys Mon we held our own ‘general election’ in English classes.  Again, the importance of the vote and who ran our country were as much a part of our education as sonnets and quadratic equations.  It was all a bit of fun as some of us stood for conservative, labour, SDP (remember them?) and our own ‘made-up’ parties (one of which suggested dumping all the nuclear waste in the country under farming land.  And paying them compensation. Whoever in the class came up with that suggestion must be a visionary).

So, August 1st.  On page 13 of this week’s Holyhead and Anglesey Mail there is a brief breakdown of the six candidates all hoping for your vote next Thursday.  Here are my thoughts on them, along with a William Hill style betting guide.

Plaid Cymru Rhun ap Iorwetth – probably the best known face of the six, not least of which on account of his career as a broadcaster on ITV and S4C.  Born on the island and has now returned because of his belief that Anglesey has a bright future with him calling the shots in Cardiff.  Will have the backing of ieuan Wyn Jones and will mostly rely on voters looking for a smooth accession from one Plaid AM to another 3/1

Labour Tal Michael – hitherto unknown face, but well-liked by the small business fraternity and keen to ensure that existing traders will profit from the proposed Wylfa B.    Should be there or thereabouts 5/1

UKIP Nathan Gill – a Llangefni resident, family man and – with the rise of UKIP’s following the last General Election and the town and council elections in May – has to be in with a genuinely serious chance.  He even had Nigel Farage bussed in to give a supportive speech at Holyhead town hall on Tuesday evening.  With people largely abandoning the mainstream political parties he will no doubt thrive on the back of the anti-immigrant, ‘Wales for the Welsh’, anti-EU brigade.  A firm favourite at 2/1

Conservative Neil Fairlamb – with Conservative appeal at an all-time low following Cameron’s welfare reforms since April he surely has less of a chance than an eskimo in a heatwave.  Will possibly be booed through the streets of every town on Anglesey.  And the dodgy ’70s moustache does him no favours either. 10/1

Liberal Democrat Stephen Churchman – like Fairlamb, notoriously absent in terms of press coverage and promotional literature.  But seeing as the Lib Dems are largely seen as Conservative poodles these days, is there any point voting for this lot any more?  And doesn’t have the presence of Nick Clegg to provide Farage-like support.  A definite outsider at 12/1

Socialist Labour Party Kathrine Jones – the only candidate to oppose Wylfa B.  Lives and works in Bethesda and a Greenham Common protestor thirty years ago.  Mentions the possibility of Trident nuclear missiles in her manifesto leaflet.  But she did at least reply to my text, which was nice.  Her policy on Wylfa B is unlikely to curry much favour amongst those who consider it the island’s only hope 15/1

And there you have it.  With voter turn-out expected to be even lower than the recent town and county council elections, general apathy would appear to be the favourite at evens.  But with a general election in just two years, whoever is elected will have precious little time to reverse what appears to be a terminal decline for the island.  My bet is for UKIP to triumph, not least of which they have the most efficiently run campaign and – having walked past the man himself on Tuesday afternoon – Nigel Farage (the poster boy of UKIP)  backing up their candidate.  Not to mention the current anti-immigration feeling being dominant amongst general voters’ thoughts.

Me, I’m going to spoil my ballot paper for the first time in 21 years of voting.  A feeble gesture, but one that pretty much sums up my feelings on the way this country is governed at the moment.  And surely better than just whining ‘they’re all the same, so what’s the point of voting?’, no? 

How I nearly – but not quite – became a member of the village people.

Backtrack to yesterday.  For those who actually take the time to read my blog (come on, one or two of you have sneaked a look.  Either that or the blog stats are lying) I mentioned an ’employment’ position that was on the horizon.  One involving dressing as a motorcycle cop, a native American, a construction worker or a cowboy.  Still not with me?  I was hoping to become a volunteer with the YMCA.

For those of a certain age the YMCA means little more than possibly the campest song anthem (not to mention music video) that was produced from the early days of MTV.  The aforementioned gentlemen strutted their stuff – dressed in garb more becoming of a kissagram or lady’s hen night – and called on ‘young men’ to come and join them.  You get the drift.

For the last 12 months – at least in Holyhead terms – the YMCA has been at the hub of the town centre (or as most people still refer to it ‘where Woolies used to be until they went bust’)

Anyway, I was all set to become a volunteer at said shop right up until this morning.  But unfortunately – due to the flash-flood that certainly woke me up in the early hours this morning – the Holyhead shop was closed when I passed this morning.  The rain was apparently knee-deep when the staff arrived and they will not open again this week.  And maybe not again.

So, there you have it.  I can’t even find a voluntary position in my home town at the moment.  Let’s just hope that when the Citizens Advice Bureau come calling in September a tsunami doesn’t hit the breakwater and take the whole of Holy Island with it.

TOMORROW: my thoughts on the AM elections on August 1st.  I shall be telling all about my brush with Nigel Farage, the text I got from the socialist labour party candidate and how I am seriously considering spoiling my ballot paper for the first time in 21 years of voting.

Free BT wi-fi that isn’t actually free

I downloaded the BT wi-fi app to both my iphone and ipad on Saturday.  This’ll be handy, I thought.  I can check my emails, see what’s happening on Facebook and generally keep in touch with things via the electronic world.

Er, except it stopped working on Sunday.

And again Monday.

And yesterday.

And today.

So, I duly rang BT technical support.  After the usual wait – ‘Greensleeves’ still sounds as good as it always did – I got through to a charming Indian gentleman who thanked me profusely for providing him with my personal information, thanked me again when I agreed to be put on hold, and thanked me once more when he explained he would have to put me through to a supervisor (who didn’t thank me once, but then she was British).

The explanation – for those who don’t already know it – is this: the hotspots that come up on your device (phone/tablet) are actually other BT broadband users.  These are not (as I incorrectly surmised) independent signals that BT supply out of the goodness of their hearts.

Silly me.

So, if you’re a BT broadband customer and try to access a BT wi-fi hotspot, your success or otherwise will depend on whether another member of the BT ‘family’ is using their broadband at any given time.  If they aren’t then you can surf to your heart’s content; if they are you might as well be waving your phone around like a lunatic hoping for dial-up to appear.

Most smart-phone contracts come with a data allowance every month that – again depending on the usage of other providers – can vary from area to area.  So that 500 meg gets used up pretty quickly, irrespective of whether you have reliable use of the Internet or not.

So, there you have it: broadband on the go which may not actually work if one of your neighbours is playing online games and downloading more data than a Dalek in Utah (you’ll have to have seen the episode with Christopher Eccleston in 2005 to get that reference).

TOMORROW: news of my latest employment venture.  It may involve dressing as either a Red Indian, a motorcycle policeman, a construction worker or a cowboy.  And there were two others, but only one was gay. All will be revealed…

The world holds its breath

So, the Duchess of Cambridge – or, as I prefer to remember her, plain old Kate Middleton – is at this moment on the point of giving birth to the third in line to the throne of our British monarchy.  This is obviously the most important news happening in the world today – far more important of course than David Cameron urging Internet search engines (such as Google) to stop the availability of child abuse and child pornography images online.

Can anyone tell me exactly what it is about the Royals that sends, not just the media, but otherwise rationally minded people into apoplexy and Olympic levels of fawning?  People say this all goes back to the death of Princess Diana in August 1997, when the outpouring of public grief was not matched (and even then not in this country) by the destruction of the twin towers and the deaths of over 3000 people.

Now, I have nothing against the Windsors as people.  I’m sure they’re just normal, everyday citizens who just happen to have privileges and wealth well beyond the rest of the nation that has to work and struggle through every day just to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table (I’m ignoring of course the two million plus who don’t have to do that and just let the state pay for everything, but that’s another matter).

And I think that’s where the whole ideology of having a Monarchy just doesn’t cut the mustard with me.  I mean, at the moment people who are disabled and with long-term illnesses (both physical and mental) are being forced into doing menial jobs which actually reward them less than the benefits on which they were previously living.  The only people saving money are the treasury, and they’re not even putting the multi-millions saved by these all encompassing welfare reforms into creating jobs and a living wage for people.  But again I digress.

Personally, I just find it disgusting that a family that – until the last twenty years or so – didn’t even pay a percentage of their wealth to the taxman (certainly in the Queen’s case anyway) and in the case of the Prince of Wales don’t pay either income or capital gains tax on the tens of millions they earn for owning the whole of Kent.  Or something.

We live in very troubled financial times.  The cost of renting or owning your home has never been higher, jobs are scarce and cutbacks to public services – such as the NHS – are becoming more and more severe.  Yet Kate Middleton’s baby will be born in a private hospital, surrounded by top draw midwifery and medical assistance.  How can this be seen as anything less than double standards?

Royalists no doubt will claim that the presence of a Monarchy produces millions each year from the tourist trade, and they may have a point.  But isn’t it time that people woke up and realised that successes like the London Olympics last year and the appeal of London as a global landmark had and have little to do with a bunch of pampered, over-protected elitists who have less and less relevance to the man or woman in the street as the years pass.

But then, some people think that footballers over the last twenty years or so have earned the right to become millionaires every month just for the privilege of playing a sport they love.  So clearly there is some digression already between the haves and the never will haves.

So, congratulations to Kate and William: may your offspring want for nothing.  But then he or she never will.

One final credit card rant. Cross my heart and hope to die.

Okay, a little background first. Between 2003 and 2010 I worked for Post Office Ltd. During that time the organisation was – and still is – in dire financial straits. Anything up to £1 million a day was being lost through mismanagement and rebranding. Not to mention the government’s growing contempt for an organisation they felt had  passed its sell-by date (of which more later).

In partnership with the Bank of Ireland, the Post Office launched a range of financial products in an attempt to recoup some of the losses they had suffered for a decade or more. And yes – you guessed it – one of these ventures was the Post Office credit card.

Prior to 2006 I had never owned a credit card. Had never felt the need and was brought up that you didn’t buy what you couldn’t afford.

That changed when the Post Office credit card was launched. As employees we were encouraged – or rather told – to purchase the card ourselves as a demonstration to our customers just how good it was. In truth we were already struggling to meet the targets necessary to haul the business back into profitability by the following year.

So, I took out said card. I even filled the form in myself. Job done and another notch on that week’s targets

So, cutting to the chase. I moved address in early April and duly informed the Post Office credit card of my new details. Having replied to a request for confirmation by first class mail I assumed – yes, Ass of U and Me – that my next bill would arrive in plenty of time to pay it off.

It never did. The letter I had posted to London first class had in fact then been sent to Ireland. And my change of address was not actioned for 8 days.

I duly rang the Post Officer credit card customer service line and they said – don’t worry – you can pay your bill manually over the counter with the necessary reference number and the balance due. Which I did. Again, all well and good.

The next month my bill did arrive at the new address. Except the payment I had made was not acknowledged and I have been charged an additional £24 – plus interest – for both late payment and exceeding my credit limit. Neither of which i had done.

I returned to the Post Office where i had made the payment – the very same one where I had taken out that application myself some seven years before – and raised a complaint. Over a month later it has still not been resolved. Over £500 of credit is still due on a bill I paid off at the beginning of June. And ‘investigations’ could take anything up to another eight weeks.

So, credit cards: avoid, if you can. Between the Post Office and Santander I now owe over £700 which as far as I’m concerned I have either paid off in full or never accrued in the first place.

Coming soon: TV BELCH. A spin-off blog in which I attempt to dissect what remains of any quality TV still left on the box. A bit like Harry Hill but without the laughs. And don’t expect to see anything broadcast on ITV after 9pm.

Today’s credit card rant.

Yes, credit cards again.  Twice in three days.  Why do I bother with the things?  Well, one simple answer.

Im not.  Not any more.

Yes, if you shop online a credit card is a much safer way to make your payments.  If items go astray, or if someone hacks into your card details, using a visa debit or solo or maestro card it’s like opening up your bank account to a bloke carrying a swag bag and a mask.  Possibly with a sawn-off shotgun.  Or maybe that’s just on the now sadly cancelled ITV drama ‘The Bill’.

But even your credit cards are not safe to use online as I discovered myself only last weekend.

Like many desperate lonely people I subscribed to one of the more popular dating agencies that you see advertised on TV.  Usually around the time Michael Parkinson is trying to get you to take out life cover with the added temptation of a free parker pen just for ringing up.  (On which note, get well soon Parky).

After three months – and not a single date – i cancelled the subscription and went back to enjoying the single life I had never left behind.  All well and good.  That is until last Saturday.

If your bank offers an online account then I strongly suggest you use this facility.  Rather than wait for the monthly statement to drop on your mat.  Then you can track exactly what you spend and make allowances to pay it off when the bill arrives.  All well and good.  And indeed a very sensible thing to do.

Last Saturday I did just this only to find my spending on my credit card was rather higher than I expected.  When I clicked on the button for ‘recent transactions’ I found the following entry:

DOMESTIC INTERNET GLOBAL PERSONALS

three times, with varying sums between £64.95 and £99.00

Er, come again I thought.

Being a Saturday my bank was closed so I rang the number on the back of my credit card and cancelled the card.  The three transactions I raised as fraudulent and they assured me that no further transactions would be made against the card.  An inconvenience for sure, but at least I had the peace of mind that whoever had hacked my card would not be getting his jollies any more at my expense.

And then Tuesday came and I had a letter from the credit card fraud department.  They had decided – in their wisdom – that the payments were not fraudulent because they were for – and I warn you to look away now if you’re of a nervous disposition – ‘adult entertainment websites’.

Come again, I thought (sorry, not the best phrase to use on this occasion).

So I rang ‘Nicola’ and she was adamant that I had made the transactions myself.  I explained about the ‘dating agency’ subscription and all she could tell me was that she had contacted DOMESTIC INTERNET GLOBAL PERSONALS and this evidently reputable company had informed her I had no less than EIGHT accounts, some with names that would make even the hair of Cousin It from ‘The Addams Family’ curl.  Use your imagination if you haven’t done so already.

So, of course, I denied any knowledge (and of course you’re probably thinking now that i’m a dirty little perv who goes in for the kind of ‘adult entertainment’ that even Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown would draw the line at.  For the record: I had not subscribed to any website where – ahem – services or other sexual favours were offered.  Besides, having seen the cost of these things I think onanism is still a cheaper way of leading a healthy active life.  And doesn’t yet require the details on your credit card).

I was then asked to take some photo identification into my local branch, which I duly did.  The advisor was both helpful and understanding – unlike ‘Nicola’, who clearly thought I sat around all day with my trousers round my ankles abusing myself until my eyes fell out – and faxed the photo through to Doubting Thomas.  This was Wednesday.

Yesterday, a Santander envelope (yes, the bank of Ennis, McIlroy and Button) came with refunds for two of the three erroneous payments.  My first thought was one of relief; my second was ‘why only two?’

As far as I know I am still being accused of visiting and subscribing to – shall we say – more broadminded websites to the tune of £99.  So, after finding out on Wednesday that Santander were going to charge me for the privilege of using their card from this December, I am at an all-time low in regards to how secure and efficient using any type of credit card again.

TOMORROW: one final rant, this one about another credit card company.  And the best bit is I actually sold this one to myself.

The economy and migrants

Yesterday the ‘i’ newspaper – the concise form of the Independent – ran with a news report that a treasury watchdog had advised the coalition to accept more migrants into the country in order to bring about a turnaround in the economy by 2015 (co-incidentally the year of the next general election).  This may raise eyebrows in middle England for two reasons.

Firstly, for at least a decade now, pretty much every media body has been going on about the fact that there are too many foreign nationals in the UK.  Newspapers – principally the Daily Mail, when not writing about its other obsession (single mothers) – say that there are too many ‘foreigners’ already.  Where are the border controls, they ask?  Why should we let the Bulgarians or the Polish  or the Romanians come here, sponge off our benefits, take our housing while we pay taxes that fund all this?  Well, the truth isn’t quite as simple as that.

Yes, border and immigration control has been out of control for some time.  There is an element of truth to the fact that some (repeat, some) foreign nationals have been given either asylum or passports or visas to stay in Britain and either lead a life of sloth or use Britain as a base in order to lead – or more often continue – a life of crime and illegality.  There is no denying this.

But what people tend to forget is that there is an even larger element of society in the UK today that already does that anyway.  They are British, born and raised in the UK and have every right to stay in this country even if they have never contributed to society in any way shape or form.  Some of them may or may not be criminals, some have never done a day’s work and some believe there is no point having a job when the state benefits they receive already match or exceed any work they are offered.

The problem with this treasury watchdog recommendation – assuming one can actually interpret it as a problem – is that foreign nationals are largely unaware of what rights there are to such basics as a minimum wage.  In 2005 my uncle met and fell in love with a Romanian woman.  She was intelligent, spoke six languages and wanted to go to a country where you got paid more than peanuts for doing a professional job.  Before they married the immigration authorities had them jumping through hoops before they were allowed to wed: and when she finally became a British citizen she even had to learn the words to God Save the Queen.

Now, perhaps she’s an exception.  Or then again, perhaps not.

Go around any major city in the UK and take a look at the faces that you pass.  I can say for sure that at least half will be non-caucasian, possibly of a different religious faith to either Christianity or Catholicism.  And – heaven help us in these Islamaphobic times – even Muslim.

The flames of anti-Muslim feeling were fanned once again only last May when drummer Lee Rigby was butchered outside his barracks in Woolwich and the aftermath was captured and broadcast on the ITV news only hours later.  This was the action of extreme Islamic fundamentalists and was not representative of the vast Muslim culture that exists in the UK today.

The rise of political bodies like UKIP and the BNP automatically judged the extreme feeling of much of middle England after these attacks and used it to promote their own racist and fascist agendas.  Attacks on mosques after the murder of Lee Rigby increased exponentially.

But what does this have to do with the economy?  Well, the treasury watchdog that has made the recommendation for more rather than less migrants has clearly identified one salient fact: foreign nationals are in the majority more willing to do the kind of low-paid, no rights work that the coalition will need to create in order to bolster what is already a flagging economy.  Some of these potential immigrants will have no concept of minimum wage, employment rights or the opportunity to turn down work because a life on benefits will be more beneficial.  In the main they will be fleeing from politically troubled dictatorships, countries where ethnic cleansing is still rife or – like my uncle’s wife – merely looking for an opportunity to be paid a living wage for the professional skills they can offer.

So, the next time your white anglo-saxon neighbour turns down a job that pays £350 a week because he and his partner and children already receive that – and possibly more besides – in state handouts, spare a thought for the foreign national who arrived in this country because they faced persecution (or worse) in their homeland and just wanted a life away from tyranny and abuse.

The welfare reforms that the coalition began rolling out from April are attacking pretty much every demographic of society.  Some are popular choices, some not.  Whether the millions saved by these reforms will be put back into creating jobs that offer a living wage remains to be seen.  But in the meantime the short-term fix appears to be to bring more foreign nationals into the country that are willing and able to take the jobs that the cast majority of our born and bred British people are not.

So, the next time you get served in McDonald’s, see someone picking up litter from the street or setting off for work at daybreak to start a 12 hour shift, take a look at their face.  It may be a completely different colour to yours.