Saturday, 5 October 2013

Toads and Twits.

Shabby Chic - Toad Style!
One of our compost bins has been selected as a desirable residence by a toad.  Here he is, perched on top of an egg shell amidst a colourful squelch of veg and fruit peelings.  Toady seems entirely content, and has shown a distinct disinterest in moving on despite the lower edge of the compost bin having been propped up on an old brick so Toady can come and go easily.  Each time Richard or I go to the compost bin, we first have to check to make sure Toady has ambled off to one side to avoid being buried by a small avalanche of soggy teabags and kitchen peelings.
Location, location, location...  It's a handy spot for an amphibian.  The decomposing compost will help keep Toady warm in winter, and the thick recycled rubber walls of the bin itself will protect Toady from the worst of the winter storms.  The neighbours are edible.  And come spring, when Toady's feeling especially sociable, there's a lovely pond a small crawly-walk away which should be great for all Toady's partying needs.
This weekend sees the absolutely-final-no-further-extensions deadline for the forthcoming free ebook, City Stories. This is largely a Riverside Writers project but submissions were open to non-members too.  It's an informal sequel to Seaside Stories which has clocked-up a reasonable amount of downloads since it's publication last year.  I have yet to create a front cover for City Stories, but I've begun editing the contents.  I aim to have this project available by mid-November or early December at the latest.
Earlier this year, I took up swimming.  Swimming used to be a regular family activity, back when I was a child, but life moved on.  Earlier this year, I watched people swimming in the local pool and it looked like fun, so I bought Richard and myself swimming costumes and into the water we went - only to find that while our brains remembered how to swim (more or less), our bodies didn't altogether co-operate.  I managed to swim three-quarters of a length before having to grab the pool side and gasp, purple faced, for air.  Richard managed a whole length but with similar indignity.
Seven months later (or thereabouts), having been going twice a week, I now usually swim 40 lengths and need only a small number of short breaks - and these are without turning a funny colour.  I've lost approximately half a stone in weight without dieting, but I've also toned up a bit.  The other swimmers have been nothing but encouraging.  There are several elderly people there who are inspirational!  There's one guy, who must be in his seventies, who speedily swims length after length after length and only stops after an hour or more.  For every length I swim, he does about four.  There are several elderly ladies who zoom past me in the water!
It's a good job that I've been enjoying it so much, as a week ago I received a round robin email from Wirral Council to say they'd accidentally taken £1115 from my current account instead of the correct monthly swimming pool subscription of £11.15.  I was not amused, especially when they claimed they couldn't pay me back and I'd have to sort their mess out myself.
I was even less amused when my bank proved to be of minimal help.  First, the cashier told me I'd have to use the phone in the corner of the room.  The phone's desk space, on which I needed to lay out various relevant documents, was the size of a matchbox.  Then the computerised phone helpline couldn't help as I don't have online banking with them so I went back to the cashier, who said someone would come down.  So I took a seat and waited.  And waited. And waited...  Twenty-five minutes later, just as I was about to return to the cashier again to ask what was happening, the branch manager strolled by and asked if I was being attended to.  "No, not in practise," I replied.  It turned out that the cashier had just assumed someone would come to talk to me.  She hadn't actually had the sense to tell anyone that a customer needed attention.
So, in the manager's office, I was told that the only way to fix the problem was via the computerised phone helpline.  As I didn't have online banking set-up, (something which I'm in the process of amending in case this happens again), all she could do was photocopy my printed-off email from Wirral Council and staple it to a request form which, she said, might get sent back to the branch as, yes, all Direct Debit Indemnity Claims have to go through the helpline.  I'd have to check my account, she said, and if the money wasn't replaced come back in and try again.
Dissatisfied with a vague hope of maybe-or-maybe-not having the issue resolved, I found another helpline number  from the bank's website.  I rang this, and spoke to someone who kept trying to get me to cancel the Direct Debit before bothering to actually listen to the whole story.  No, I didn't want to cancel the DD as I've had it for a while and the problem was due to a stupid clerical error.  What I wanted was clearly outlined in the bank's own DD guarantee and terms of service - namely that the bank immediately replaces my money and the bank then pursues the error/debt from the council.  "Oh," he said, "I will have to speak to someone else about this, madam.  Would you please hold the line a few moments?"  Well, after enduring a torturous recurring cycle of an unidentifiable keyboard sequence, he came back to the phone and said it was all fixed. 
Here's hoping.  Watch this space. 
Good news:  After months of phone calls from a colleague and myself, finally Knowsley Community College has mailed out certificates.  One is an OCR Level 3 NVQ Diploma in Customer Service, the other is an OCR Level 2 Award in Business Skills.  I completed the courses in April this year.  The Business Skills Award made me chuckle a little, as I had to wonder how many of the boffins who grade these courses have co-run a city centre business for the last 20 years, as I have.  My sister Hazel said that at least I now have a piece of paper to prove I can do this.  Isn't 20 years-worth of tax returns proof enough, hmm?

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