Friday, November 24, 2006

If I Was A Carpenter, But Then Again….

During a moment of madness, perhaps called a ‘senior moment’, I decided to add a shelf in my bedroom. ‘The’ bedroom in this erstwhile establishment, you understand. The following day, I asked my dear son-in-law if he had any discarded pieces of wood that would be suitable. He did indeed, and after assembling his wonderful electric saw, I ended up with my 33 inch shelf, with fingers intact. In faux wood exterior, chip board interior – the shelf, not my fingers. It also required a small one inch wide piece of wood to bolster one bracket. Doug also managed to provide that. On Monday morning, I visited four stores before I found the right size brackets. I returned home all excited. Unfortunately, one of the needs when putting up a shelf with brackets attached is screws. So, I re-fired up the trusty steed, and took off to buy screws. Another senior moment. I’d forgotten that there is a Home Depot about 3 miles away. I hunted high and low for screws, and found some in Walgreens. Returned home. I discovered that all the screws were the wrong type. All of them had heads that were not big enough to ‘hold’ the bracket. Should have bought a few politicians if I wanted big heads.

I remembered Home Depot, and the trusty steed was fired up yet again. For those who do not know this wonderful place, it is a massive area with every conceivable ‘thing’ that you could ever need for ‘home improvement’. It also permanently echoes to the sound of incessant ‘beep-beep’ of electric trucks being driven backwards. I have no idea why this is, but the staff takes great pride in annoying me with this noise. I blame Ralph Nader – he was the one who introduced this idea, so that trucks can be heard reversing in California from Florida.

I digress, so back to the plot. I needed six half-inch screws, and four one inch screws. During my deliberations, a rather rude young man demanded to know where hinges were kept. My obvious reply did not amuse him. The idiot actually thought I worked for the store. How he worked that out is beyond me, but I strongly believe that his parents should have been restrained in the bedroom department.

I ended up buying six one inch screws – the lowest number they sell in a package, and 12 half-inch screws. All in nice sealed little plastic bags. After waiting in line for a while (called queuing in some countries), I presented my screws to the check-out lady. “$685.43” she said. “For 18 screws?” I retorted, immediately regretting my unintentional innuendo. Seems that there was a numbering error in the bar-code. I was actually on the brink of buying a two-speed mower! Wow! Unfortunately, the only ‘cure’ for this mistake was for me to buy the mower, and then take the receipt back to Returns for a refund. I would then be allowed through the check-out to buy the screws, but hopefully not the mower. Did I wish to pay cash, check or credit card, inquired the check-out lady. I commented on the farcical situation, while enduring wild stares from other home improvement aspirants standing in line behind me. A manager was called. He assured me that it was vital that I paid for the said mower, and then I’d be given the refund; it was a ‘computer error’. I tried (in vain) to explain that computers do not make errors, only humans who used them. The alternative was for me to leave the store.

I did, and went to Lowe’s. Another emporium of home improvement gizmos. The only difference in the end result was that I did not have to purchase and refund a mower. They also have the stupid beep-beeps, and in addition, Christmas music…. Sorry, to be Politically Correct, ‘Holiday music’. All I can say is Bah humbug!

The shelf is now in place, and is a treat to the eyes. The moral of this story? Always plan before embarking of anything in the home improvement arena.

Here endeth today’s lesson.

Thursday, November 16, 2006


Now being a proud owner of a Mercury Grand Marquis (which, as an aside, is a better trimmed Ford Crown Victoria, favored by Messrs. Plod in these here parts, but a lesser trimmed Lincoln Town Car favored by old codgers and pimps in Florida), I was worried to read that the oft-hated European Commission/Parliament has decided to ban Mercury. Picture the headline, dear readers, “Europe to Ban Mercury”. Shock, horror, because sometimes, on a very rare occasion, what happens over the Pond eventually happens here in the good ol’ US of A. I know that Joy would also be equally horrified.

However, upon reading the article, all was clarified. My Mercury is safe, as obviously is the planet of the same name. It seems that the European Parliament has given its backing to a directive banning old-fashioned mercury thermometers, of the sort that were lodged so uncomfortably under the tongue since time began, or at least since I was a child. I don't know whether they are still made or used in Europe. Over here when I had my last medical a few weeks back, something was pushed into my ear. Nurse assured me it wouldn’t hurt. She lied. That’s what nurses and dentists do. When my children had a temperature I would push one of those under their tongues for two minutes, with a promise that if they tried to remove it, it would be placed ‘where the sun don’t shine’. It usually worked.

I understand that mercury is dangerous - isn't that why the Mad Hatter was mad? But I also remember in the Chemistry Laboratory at school, breaking the top of a thermometer, and then holding it over a Bunsen Burner to get the mercury out. When cooled, I would roll some of the stuff round on my hand pushing it around with my finger and impressing girls. I remember both the girls and I being entranced by this magical liquid metal. To my knowledge, this has not affected my later years, but with Arthur creeping into my hands, I do have to wonder.

Now, dear readers, back to the Mad Hatter for a moment. I once read that Hatters really did go mad. The chemicals used in hat-making included mercurous nitrate, used in curing the felt used in the making of the hat. Apparently, prolonged exposure to the mercury vapors caused mercury poisoning (vapors? It has vapors? I never smelled anything). Victims working at poorly ventilated hat factories developed severe and uncontrollable muscular tremors and twitching limbs, called "hatter's shakes", hence the expression,”He was mad as a hatter”. Other symptoms included distorted vision and confused speech. I can sympathize and indeed display such symptoms until I’ve had my three mugs of caffeine each morning.

Here endeth today’s lesson – don’t mess with Mercury.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Modern Gizmos and Call Centers

As I get older, I find that the so-called time-saving devices make life more difficult. A little while back, I found a cheap $60 VCR. I thought it would be nice if I could record some of my favorite programs when inevitably something happens that I can’t watch them. I opened the box with glee. There was even a remote control with it! Rather small, and difficult to see even when held at arm’s length which is where most readable matter seems to be held these days. It needed its own batteries. Return to store, and buy batteries. This did have the effect of taking a bit of the edge off the purchase. I then found out that I had to buy tapes, so another journey was required to buy three (can’t buy one) VHS tapes with which to record my programs. ‘Do not pass go, do not collect $200’ came to mind. Several hours later, the aforementioned glee had turned to total frustration. I called the store that sold me this thing, only to be told that, “Any 7-year old could operate it.”
“Well, as one was not supplied with the box, please give me some help,” I retorted. The box now gets a weekly dusting, but I have finally worked out what VCR stands for – Very Confusing Resource. I’m waiting for my grandson to visit so that he can install it. If he can’t, I’m sure Rik will be able to. I hope the DVDs will fit into it, but the opening does seem to be terribly large.

As a young adult living in South London in the 1970s, my family was one of the earliest to acquire a VCR. Having researched the matter, I realized that the best quality was the Betamax format. Rik installed it at the tender age of 6. This almost proved to be a prudent choice (Betamax). The quality was much better than VHS, but in later years, fewer and fewer movies were available in this format. The good news was that no one ever broke into the house to steal it – an almost de rigeur occurrence in South London.

I’ve just bought a new telephone. I have an old one, but it is the type which has a cable attached, so that it is not possible to walk around while talking. I also had a remote one, but the battery was past its sell-by date, and would have cost more than a replacement phone. The new one allows to me call people even if I’m in bed. It has ‘speed-dialing’. That’s covered on Page 287 of the Instruction Manual. Might be Page 237, but I can’t quite make out the small print. Being unable to install the device prompted me to phone the Call Center (on the cable attached phone). I spoke with Rodney in Mumbai over a very crackly line. Rodney explained the error of my ways. I managed to install the batteries. I mentioned the speed-dialing. Rodney had to put me on hold for a moment. When he returned, he explained that I was not using the diaper in the correct manner and spillage may occur. Seems that the call-center tripled up on telephones, diapers and a UK bank. ‘Sir, if you will please press the # key twice, key in your account number, and your new diapers will arrive next week.’

Here endeth today’s lesson.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Car Insurance

Dear Readers

I sometimes watch TV and occasionally with some regret, I fail to hit the mute button when the commercials come on. In the US, these come on with alarming regularity, and typically spoil my enjoyment of any program, which to my dismay is why I rarely watch TV. The majority of commercials also seem to be aimed at imbeciles. Be that may, yesterday, I watched a very moving program about some animals that had been mistreated, and the wonderful work of the SPCA in helping them. During a break, a commercial came on for AIG (American International Group, Inc.) which highlighted their car insurance scheme. A must have obviously, as the people on the commercial had perfect teeth and no wrinkles – none that were showing anyway, except for the teeth. It seems that a few minutes would solve all my problems and save me up to gazillions of $.

To set the scene. I have been with GEICO for the last 6 years, and pay a smidgen under $400 every 6 months. My car is basically not worth anything if it was wrecked, but I pity the other sod that would crash into it. It is a Mercury (hang in there Joy – not a Mystery or a Miserable) Grand Marquis which answers to the name of Hercules. As previous readers of this un-missable blog might recall, this has a wonderful 4.6 liter V8 with a Single Overhead Cam no less - I'm not sure if it has a 1.8 Ghz or a 2.4 Ghz clock, but I'm told that if one is expected to be technically oriented, one has to at least have the buzz-words. At least my gas pedal is digital. "On" means 'yeah, baby', "off" means sitting at a set of lights watching the fuel gauge go East. However, I digress, but as I discovered yesterday during a downpour, he has a severe disliking to being driven in the rain. The word “WON’T” was constantly belched from under the hood. He was coaxed home on threats, and promises of more oil. (He’s prone to leaking it on my driveway.)

Back to the plot, dear readers. Today, I went online to get a quote from AIG for this worthy steed. In the US there are many questions about the coverage one needs, but after about 10 minutes, I was quoted $671 for 6 months. By my basic arithmetic skills, this is about 70% more than I currently pay. Now, by dint of technology, one can get AIG to call you to discuss said quote. After 4 transfers, I spoke to Matthew. I do believe that my understanding of English is quite good, but Matthew’s grasp left me repeatedly going, “Excuse me?” I began to wonder if Mark, Luke and John were about to follow. After discussing my concerns, he revised the quote to $490. This included a veritable recovery service. However, all my quotes were for less liability. He was surprised when I declined his generous offer. He reminded me that this included the towing service (available from AAA for $60 a year). Arithmetic seems to be amiss in some people’s minds… When I was a child (yes, once), the three Rs were important. Reading, Righting and Rithmetic.

So the little Gecko will continue to get my support. I then went out and bought half a gallon of oil. Hercules gulped down the oil with gusto. He’s now behaving well. Man over machine.

And the moral of the story is? Don’t watch/listen to commercials on TV. And keep your cars well oiled.

Here endeth today’s lesson.