April 30, 2009

I fear the Greeks even when they bring gifts

Filed under: misc — Duchess @ 1:58 pm

I’ve been away, dealing with a spot of bother.

Last Thursday evening, one of my neighbours knocked on the door and handed me two parcels she had signed for.  I thanked her and took them in, though I was a little surprised, because I wasn’t expecting anything.

I opened the first parcel.  It was an iPhone.

I’m not, on the whole, a covetous person.  Mostly I don’t have jewellery or antiques; my car is 12 years old and I have never bought an item of clothing that cost more than £150.  But I really love gadgets, especially electronics, especially phones, especially phones with internet.  Anyone who knows me knows I covet an iPhone.

I opened the second parcel.  It was another iPhone.

I didn’t break the seal on either box for a long time, but finally I thought it might be okay to open just one of the phones.  I plugged it into my computer.  In seconds I had a text message inviting me to log in with a user name and password that was a combination of my name and my birthday.  Clearly the phone was ordered by someone who knew me well.

The next morning I began trying to find out who had sent me this gift – partly so I could let them know that the order had been accidentally doubled up and I had received two phones.  I narrowed the suspects to one: my ex-husband.  We were pretty hostile for a while but have become friends again, and he was always a generous man.  He knows I want an iPhone and besides his denial was flippant “not me, guv, maybe they fell off the back of a lorry”.

Meanwhile, lest you think I am silly, I called both banks where I have an account, and each was certain that I was not paying for any iPhone or any iPhone bills. There was also nothing on my credit cards.

By the next morning my Ex had made it clear it really wasn’t him 

I dug a little deeper and accidentally got information on the account details, protected by a PIN I didn’t have. 

I had been the victim of identity fraud.

The account name was mine.  The account number was someone else’s (unknown).  The bills for the two accounts came to more than £100 a month.  It was likely he would notice.

And when he did, he was going to be pretty upset.  My name and address would be all anyone had.

I still didn’t get how the baddies benefitted – phones had been sent to me – but I was pretty sure I needed to get rid of them. 

I tried to take the phones back to the shop, but they absolutely refused to have them and finally I took them to the post office.  UK law says that mobile phone providers have to accept returns within two weeks.  This was within two days. 

I read carefully the return instructions, which said I must affix the label to the parcel.  The label was simply a large number 2 and a barcode.

The number 2 was reassuring.  That usually means Second Class Postage paid.  The barcode was less promising.  And there was no address.

At my local country post office, which is just a counter inside a news and stationer’s shop, I brandished my parcels. I am a little confused, I said.  Is the barcode the address?

The postmistress examined them and replied with enigma worthy of any oracle, Well, some say it is, and some say it isn’t.

I asked if she would nevertheless accept the parcels and she looked doubtful.

I began to get very agitated and explain that the shop wouldn’t take them either, but they weren’t mine and they had been wrongfully sent to me and I really, really needed to get rid of them.

The other customers in the queue began to get interested.

Unsolicited mail! shouted one, Not your problem!  Chuck it or keep it!  Up to you!

I said, My name is on the account, even though it’s not my account. I don’t want to be in trouble. 

The other customers sucked their teeth, meaning this was a problem. Who knew what to do about it?  It was bound to be trouble.  I hadn’t heard the last. 

The postmistresses conferred. The big number 2 on the label was very reaassuring.  At last they agreed they would take the parcels.

I said, pushing my luck. Please could I have a certificate of posting?

Emphatic refusals.  We don’t know where it’s going, see?  explained the postmistress, reasonably enough.

Eventually, with tears on my side and heckling in the other queue, they took the packages.  They gave me a receipt that simply noted down the barcode. 

I was surprised at how light I felt when the phones were gone.

The next evening (yesterday) I arrived home to find that another neighbour had signed for a new parcel.  He handed me a Sony laptop and my heart sank.

This morning I finally understood the scam.  It’s all about credit.

I called the people who had sent the Sony.  Amazingly, they sent it without any money at all.  I have (or used to have) a good credit rating and they trusted that I would pay later.

The fraud investigation team explained to me the system.  All someone needs is your name, address and date of birth.  They don’t need to know any credit card numbers or bank details

They apply for credit and order goods.  To protect you the goods are sent only to you.  That’s the bit I didn’t understand.  I didn’t think anyone would be so bold or open. Apparently the baddies hang around the house and just sign for your goods and have them, or, more often, they wait until the next day.  They knock on your door and say, Did you by any chance get a laptop computer delivered to you yesterday that you didn’t order?

You agree that you did.

Oh, thank goodness for that! They say.  I have been trying to trace where it went!  That order was meant for me! 

And then you hand over the goods, because you are glad to have the mystery solved.

Sounds improbable, right?  When I called the laptop people to report it all, they said, Fine, thanks very much, but what about the laptop delivered last week?

I guess the baddies got that one.  I never even knew it was delivered.  Maybe a neighbour signed for it, maybe the baddies, lurking in my driveway after I had gone to work, signed for it themselves.

Either way it is creepy.

April 22, 2009

Budgets for beginners

Filed under: misc — Duchess @ 3:07 pm

In Britain we have a delightful annual tradition called the Budget.  Once a year the Chancellor of the Exchequer comes out of No. 11 Downing Street waving a battered red briefcase, called the Budget Box, and everyone takes his picture. 

Here is the Chancellor of the Exchequer with the Budget Box.  Inside the box is The Budget.

This Chancellor is called Alistair Darling.  That is his real name.  The Budget Box he is holding belonged to William Gladstone in 1860 and that is the real box, though Gordon Brown, who used to be the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but is now Prime Minister, had a shiny new red box made by Scottish apprentices which he used instead.  In these tough times Alistair (Darling) obviously felt we needed the comforting genuine and grown up Gladstone stuff.

The Chancellor’s emergence from No. 11, like a butterfly from the chyrsallis,  used to follow 6 weeks of what was officially called Budget Purdah, when there was a total blackout on financial news.  Now we have instead several months of unattributed briefings from “sources close to the Chancellor”.  Besides, Budget Purdah is probably politically incorrect.

Nevertheless, and though the plans are widely leaked, there is still some frisson of anticipation when the Chancellor stands up in parliament.  Everyone in my office peeked at the BBC website at some point this afternoon, though we all knew that when the Chancellor sat down, the price of beer, fags and petrol would have gone up. 

Budget Day is the moment when the Chancellor announces what the tax rate for the next year will be, how much money each week people on state pensions will get, how much the government will tax retirement plans, savings accounts, capital gains, inheritance, whatever.  And just, by the way, he can throw in anything he likes.  He always likes to make it more expensive to smoke, drink and drive.  Sometimes he likes to make it more expensive to read or eat or buy clothes too.  He can make it a good plan or a bad plan for me to retire or get married or buy a house or a car or a solar panel or a pint of beer or a porfolio of shares.  He can make anything he likes more or less expensive, because he can tax or untax anything I might buy or see or plan or do.

One year the Chancellor made takeaway food whose temperature is raised above the ambient air temperature 17.5% more expensive.  At a stroke milkshakes to go became more tax advantageous than coffee to go

What larks!

When he has delivered his budget the Chancellor says, I commend this Budget to the House.  And at last he sits down.  There are a couple of hours of debate.  All political parties get five minutes airtime to explain their position to the people and then there is a division (=vote) in Parliament and the Budget is passed.  I haven’t the energy to explain Parliamentary democracy here, so you will just have to take my word for it or look it up yourself.  The Budget always passes, because if it didn’t the Government would fall.

Meanwhile, while Alistair Darling has been thinking hard about the economy, the Prime Minister has had his mind on Pariliamentary pay and allowances.  The issue is a little tedious, but Gordon Brown’s response, announced in an unexpected video on the Downing Street website has got everyone wondering about the PM’s strangely inappropriate, sudden and intermitent grins, grimaces and eyebrow gymnastics as he explained the new rules.

April 20, 2009

Going to the CIA on purpose

Filed under: misc — Duchess @ 12:53 pm

Well, I don’t know about you, but  I  am glad to have a President who tells the truth about what we have done, says it isn’t going to happen any more, but draws a line under it by saying the guys on the ground aren’t going to be prosecuted.

Meanwhile, in case you missed it, I once wrote about going to the CIA by accident.  It’s still one of my favourite stories.

April 7, 2009

Along the tow path

Filed under: A long way from home,Canal,misc — Duchess @ 1:36 pm

When I am on the canal I usually sit in what’s traditionally called the saloon, almost at the front of the 62 foot long boat.  There are two chairs, and I occupy both, moving from one to the other depending on the fierceness of the fire and the strength of the cold outside.  From one chair my toes can reach the cast iron stove, where there’s a mark matching the melted tread of my slipper.

On Saturday evenings I burn candles, stew a chicken and watch a bit of tele.  When I was at school, impossible as it sounds now, the clever girls did Latin and the dim ones did physics.  The tele is dim and prefers volts and amps to ablatives and gerunds, but because I am clever I don’t know how to give it what it wants.  It splutters in and out of life. 

I watch a show in which people have brought ugly stuff from their attics to a place where antique experts will tell them what it is worth.  It’s the credit crunch and that’s the only kind of tele the BBC can afford.  At exactly the moment when the expert says, You will be surprised to learn that on the open market this item would fetch…  my tele demands more amps (or volts; I don’t know which because I am clever) and it turns off.

I’d had enough of this last Saturday so I grabbed my torch (that’s a flashlight to you North Americans) and trundled up the towpath to the pub.  I knew Stematos, the Greek landlord, and his apple-cheeked British wife would be glad of my custom.  That is, I knew Stematos would be glad.   Apple-cheeked is not at all clear that I am worth the bother. 

As I have written before, I have more than once fallen foul of the 3 o’clock Baguette Watershed, meaning no foreign muck after that hour, but she might just stretch to a slice of ham between two nicely buttered slabs of honest British bread, if I ask especially apologetically. 

The pub is about a quarter of a mile along the towpath and over the bridge, but I didn’t make it that far. As I reached the bridge I saw that a group of boaters had gathered around a bonfire.  I took a spare seat and someone passed me a glass of wine.  Faintly acrid smoke, smelling of burning creosote, drifted past me and across the canal.  At my back I could feel the night, cold and clear, but the bright heat of the flames drew us all in, and we were warm and merry.

I had seen in the new year around a bonfire with much the same crowd: people whose last names I don’t know, who are called after their boats or creatures of the canal.  The bonfire shone on shaved-headed Ratty, my first friend along the towpath; purple-haired, Emma, my near neighbour; Pat the engineer; Mar who put an axe through his foot last week chopping wood and Scotty who has to go to parenting classes on Tuesdays or else he won’t be allowed to visit his wee babby. 

Because I used to walk a toy poople along the towpath, I have also had occasion to mention the scary dogs some of my neighbours keep.  My poodle has emigrated, and the uneasy peace along the tow path, and in the pub, is breached a little less often.  We are all still variously lame, divorced, pierced, tattooed, out to lunch or gone fishiing, TV license fee evaders every one.  I am fast catching up with the others, a connoisseur of scrounged bonfires: I favour picnic tables.

Nevertheless, it still feels a little odd to find my fifty-five year old self alone in this company on a March evening in England getting drunk under Bridge 216a and warming my toes on burning fence posts.  When I was a kid there was a joke (I think it was from Maine) and the punch line was always, You can’t get there from here. 

Turns out you can.

Freely hosted by Weblogs.us. Powered by WordPress. Theme by H P Nadig
Close Bitnami banner