Thursday, 28 October 2010

Going to the loo

Privy, jakes, house of easement, water-closet, lavatory, bathroom, toilet, bog..... The list is endless; supposed indelicacy is shunned, euphemisms develop, fashions come and go. Those who are scatologically minded can spend many a happy hour in research on the history of these terms, 99% of which are obsolete.

"Loo" is so common and seemingly long-established that some would be surprised to learn that the OED can find no written trace of it before 1922 (in Ulysses). And what is its origin?

The invaluable Oxford Dictionaries Online (formerly Ask Oxford) has this prim comment:
There are several theories about the origin of this common term for a familiar article of sanitary furniture. The first, and most popular, is that it is derived from the cry of "gardyloo" (from the French regardez l'eau or "watch out for the water") which was shouted by medieval servants as they emptied the chamber-pots out of the upstairs windows into the street. This is historically problematic, since by the time the term "loo" is recorded, the expression "gardyloo" was long obsolete.
A second theory is that the word derives from a polite use of the French term le lieu (the place) as a euphemism. Unfortunately, documentary evidence to support this idea is lacking. A third theory, favoured by many, refers to the trade name "Waterloo", which appeared prominently displayed on the iron cisterns in many British outhouses during the early 20th century. This is more credible in terms of dates, but corroborating evidence is still frustratingly hard to find.
Various other picturesque theories also circulate, involving references to doors numbered "00" or people called "Looe".
The OED will have none of these, and simply says "origin obscure".

Monday, 18 October 2010

Theft made easy

Did you know that if you want to get something for nothing you can do so quite easily? This is how:

You choose an internet retailer whom you know or suspect to be incompetent, negligent or just careless, and place an order with them for whatever you want, giving a name and address you have got from the telephone directory (or anywhere), an age, which can be your grandmother's if you like, and another address for them to send the goods to. They may well do so, though afterwards you might go to prison.

I am fairly certain that I would have little use for a Lipsy Built Up Shoulder Grecian Coral 8, even if I knew what it was, so when I received a statement from a company called Additions, of which I had never heard, telling me that they had supplied one to me, that I owed them £63.95 for it, and that late payments might incur a default charge, I guessed almost immediately that something was not right.

So I dialed the firm's premium rate number and after twenty minutes ("...Press 4 if you really really want to speak to someone..."), I spoke to someone. My news came as no surprise to them and the woman said calmly and without apologies that yes, it was clearly ID theft and they would cancel the account.

Then I had a letter from their Fraud Unit's "FPT Manager", saying: ..."after a thorough investigation, I can confirm that your name and/or address have been used fraudently by parties unknown....... I will be keeping a record of the account(s) for our own purposes to help us combat fraud. I look forward to hearing from you, Yours sincerely".

 So I wrote back to them as follows:
Thank you for your letter. This raises more questions than it answers.
It could hardly have taken a “thorough investigation” to establish that fraud had taken place; that was obvious from the information I gave you. What further investigations have you undertaken? You appear to be saying that you opened an account for someone who provided nothing more than (my) name and address, a false date of birth, and an accommodation address for delivery of the goods. Can this be true? Did you take no action at all to verify the details, for example by checking with the electoral register that someone with my name lives at the delivery address, or by other means? If not, why not?
If this is your normal policy then it means that anyone can look up a name and address in the phone book and order goods from you with no further verification of his identity, but perhaps there is something I do not know, in which case please enlighten me.
Anyway, I assume you have reported the matter to the police. If you have not, I will do so myself, so please provide me with the address of your local police station (or if you prefer I can do so through my local police) .


There was no reply, so I wrote again, twice, and still had no reply. Finally, after three weeks had gone by, I telephoned their Fraud Unit. Asking by name for the "FPT Manager", I was told that the person who had signed the letter was in fact their "Operations Manager" but never wrote letters or spoke on the phone (clearly she is a PR fiction and does not exist). I resisted the temptation to ask whether their Operations Manager's responsibilities covered only the waste bins and toilets, and instead asked why they had not replied to my letters. In reply I got an obvious lie: "Ah well, we tried to phone you but couldn't get through". In three weeks? And why didn't they leave a message?: "Not allowed to:  Data Protection Act".

By now I was getting a little restive, so I dropped this and asked my original question: whether it was true that they had sent off the goods without asking the thief for any proof of identity. She said yes, and that this was normal practice among internet retailers. I found this difficult to believe and said in quiet, measured tones: "Bollocks".

She took umbrage at this mild expletive and we parted with expressions of mutual distaste.

But I had asked Chelmsford Police about this and a week later, I had a phone call from a charming and able woman police officer. She told me that only the victim's local police could do anything about such an incident and since in this case it was not me who had lost any money then only the retailer could report it. And further, that this was indeed a very common occurrence: many retailers simply don't bother to make checks but reckon that if it's not a big item then it's better to suffer a small loss than get involved with an investigation.

So what the Applications woman who had last spoken to me told me was quite right and I perhaps I should apologise to her.  I don't feel inclined to do so because my comment was justified; it is appalling that this is allowed to happen; besides, I had spent money on the first phone call and wasted a lot of time writing letters.

Anyway, I didn't care for her tone.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Religious war breaks out

It is not surprising that the only incidence of bad feeling, arrogance and selfishness among the miners and all those involved lin the astounding rescue in Chile was on the part of the representatives of competing religions who each claimed exclusive credit for the success of their appeals to their respective deities.

A Seventh-day Adventist pastor announced "God has spoken to me clearly and guided my hand each step of the rescue; he wanted the miners to be rescued and I am his instrument".

A Catholic bishop celebrated an outdoor mass facing the TV cameras, and asserted "God has heard our prayers; I have received comments of encouragement from all over the world.."

The most modest of the claimants was an evangelical preacher who serenaded the families with a guitar and songs of praise. "He listens to the music", he said.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Work Songs

Back in 2004 we had a good time singing twenty love songs , but one can tire of these. Let's have some songs about work;  here are lines from a dozen of them. Do you know what the songs are?

I'm an old cowhand...

A thing of shreds and patches...

He sleeps all night and he works all day...

Ridin' out on a horse...

From the rise of sun to the set of moon...

Oh, 'tis my delight on a shiny night...

In my profession I work hard, but I'll never stop...

You can bet these don't grow on trees...

Trumpets are tearing my eardrums...

The quaint and curious costumes that we're called upon to wear...

You give me some whiskey, I'll sing you a song...

Where a million diamonds shine...

Answers are HERE

And here's one which epitomises the pride, patriotism and sheer grit of the British working man:

I am an oxy-acetylene welder
Welding the whole day through
Life's great in oxy-acetylene welding
Welders, we know that's true...
Then there follow some details of the skills deployed and the technology used, and finally a rousing paean:

 Among the world's great welders, we English are the best
So give us a little bit of oxy-acetylene and we will do the rest!
This is the perhaps the most inspirational of all work songs; it is sad that the complete lyrics do not appear anywhere on the net, and no-one at the OAWU, not even the retired  officials whom I questioned, seems to have heard of this great song. Does anyone out there know it?

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

I bambini del Duce

No 32 in an occasional series of extracts from The Postcard Century
January 1928  Not waving but saluting. The two elder sons of Mussolini are already adept at the fascist salute. Bruno became a pilot and died in action in 1944. His younger brother Vittorio survived the war and went to live as an exile in South America. The third brother, Romano, was their junior. He inherited their father's musical gifts, became a popular pianist and bandleader and married the sister of Sophia Loren. Their daughter Alessandra alone continued to serve the fascist cause as an Allianza Nationale deputy in the Italian parliament. We do not know what Emilie Ascoli means when writing from Carrera to Mrs Perkins in Durban: he adds to his conventional message of greeting: I think this P.C. will interest you.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Warm Heart

Winter is not yet upon us, so why am I making use of a piece of equipment designed to help Antarctic explorers type up their diaries when it's -20°?

At the moment I am totally deprived of fingerspitzengef├╝hl (in the literal sense, not the figurative—there's nothing wrong with my strategic intuition). This is caused by peripheral neuropathy; it may not be permanent but means that at present my hands are cold and my fingers are numb. My friend Grumio (the Bruton Boulevardier) has very kindly sent me a pair of Heating Gloves; plugged into a USB port, these suffuse my hands with a pleasant warmth. This is not only comforting but enables me to achieve my normal level of clumsiness in bashing the keys.

This post must be a short one. Like Captain Oates, I have to go outside and may be some time.