Thursday, 30 May 2013

A Better Reception

Customer service is preached by almost every company these days. And rightly so. Some companies will fall over themselves in their collective efforts to attract new customers. Nothing wrong with that. However, there are those who treat their long-standing, loyal customers with less deference.

The lovely Marion has been a customer of Virgin Media for more than eight years now. She has never missed a payment and never thought of going elsewhere for television, broadband and telephone services. Until now.

Virgin have used the services of Jamaican Olympic star Usain Bolt to promote their services recently and, it has to be said, with some success. When Marion contacted Virgin Media recently to enquire if, as a loyal customer of the best part of a decade, they might be willing to offer her an improved package the answer was an unequivocal no - unless she was willing to pay about £5 more per month. New customers can get a pretty decent package for about half the price Marion pays. But if she wants this she has to pay even more.

When she spoke to Virgin Media by telephone they came out with some spiel about how they are always keen to attract new customers. But nothing about rewarding loyalty. Although polite enough, the Virgin Media people were steadfast in their approach. Loyal customer? Ha! You'll still need to pay more, dearie....

Marion has now turned to Sky for an alternative. Of course, as a new customer, she has been offered a very good deal. A deal that has more than Virgin Media currently offers - a larger choice of television channels, faster broadband and free telephone calls at any time (as opposed to evenings and weekends with Virgin) More for less - the monthly price is just short of £5 less than Richard Branson's outfit. And for the first six months this is half price.

It made me wonder how many other people have felt their loyalty has been misplaced and have jumped ship. Richard Branson might want to consider this before the good ship Virgin Media sinks altogether...

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Storing Up Trouble

When I moved away from Dalkeith last year, most of my worldly goods were packed into black backs and transported to my new abode on a gradual basis. So many things accumulate over the years and it's quite staggering to come across old forgotten items which were bought on a whim with the idea being 'that will come in handy some day'. It seldom does, of course, and it was small wonder the loft of my old house was creaking with the weight of such junk over the years.

Even today, having moved all my stuff out and having sold the house, there are things of mine now ensconced in my daughter's loft. What would be ideal, of course, would be somewhere to store such things - somewhere easily accessible, safe and secure.

I'm sure my beloved elder daughter will be talking to me about my rubbish valuables now taking up space in her loft. The trouble is, I've already forgotten much of what is there - and in my new abode in Leith, I don't have a loft.

What's that? Why don't I just throw these things out? Well, that's a consideration. However, when I do eventually get round to looking at them again, I have a strong suspicion I'll be keeping such and such for sentimental reasons; and, I can't really throw this out because it reminds me of; oh, and I simply can't chuck this....

Which begs the obvious question - if they aren't going to be thrown out, what are they doing in my daughter's loft in the first place?

Answers on a postcard, please. Which I'll store in my daughter's loft...

Sunday, 26 May 2013

The Cup That Cheers. Or Doesn't...

         Hibernian fan reminisces about the last time his team lifted the Scottish Cup

I enjoy living in Leith, particularly on cup final day. For weeks, nay months, I've listened to many of the locals tell me how their team, Hibernian FC, will end 111 years of pain by winning the Scottish Cup. Although the Hibees have not won this trophy since 1902, the locals have reckoned this would finally be their year, particularly as they knocked out the holders - Heart of Midlothian - in the first round. In fact some of the Hibees discussion has centred on where to store the famous old trophy.

Sadly, after a 3-0 tanking in the final by that other Irish team, Celtic, this will no longer be an issue...

Saturday, 18 May 2013

The Joys of May

The merry month of May is often seen as the best time of the year. Slightly warmer temperatures - even in Scotland - lighter nights and the anticipation of summer just around the corner (not that we've had any decent summers in recent years)

For the Auld Reekie Ranter, May has brought several notable occasions in my life. For example:

17 May 1986 - my first daughter Laura was born (and a very happy birthday for yesterday, dear!)

16 May 1998 - Hearts win the Scottish Cup, their first piece of major silverware in 36 long years.

3 May 2005 - my first grandchild Jack was born

13 May 2006 - Hearts win the Scottish Cup again

11 May 2010 - my grand-daughter Ava was born

19 May 2012  - Hearts win the Scottish Cup again - hammering city neighbours Hibernian 5-1 in the never-to-be-forgotten final

17 May 2013 - On the day of Laura's 27th birthday, I received my Decree of Divorce from Edinburgh Sheriff Court, bringing to an end nearly 31 years of marriage. I am now a free man and my life has taken on a new meaning.

Yes, May is often seen as the best time of the year...

Thursday, 16 May 2013

The Nags Head

Arguably the funniest situation comedy ever aired on British television was the BBC's Only Fools and Horses. Starring David Jason and Nicholas Lyndhurst, this was the story of two brothers in the Peckham area of London. The self-proclaimed 'Del Boy' was the classic wheeler-dealer type who would sell anything for money but kept one eye on the long arm of the law reaching out to stop him. The series ran for nearly 30 years and is still repeated on cable television to this day.

The pub in the programme was called The Nags Head. Fancying a weekend away with my beloved, I thought a wee trip to London might be a cunning plan. I was mildly surprised to discover there is a pub in the Covent Garden area called The Nags Head.

I'm curious as to how it would look. I envisage a stout fellow, with short grey hair being the genial 'mine host' behind the bar  - as Mike was in Only Fools and Horses. Supping a pint of foaming ale, I would expect to see a small chap in a sheepskin coat and flat cap wander in and being told to snub out his cigar by the aforementioned owner.

I don't doubt the owner of the real Nags Head has heard it all before and may well play on the name of the pub with the hope it attracts visitors other pubs in Covent Garden don't.

So, now the football season is over, I may treat the lovely Marion and head down to the Old Smoke. And if we go into a bar and there's an old man with a white beard answering to the name of Uncle Albert playing the piano then I'll know where we are!

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Happy Birthday, Ava

My youngest grandchild is 3 years old today. She's replacing the tantrum throwing terrible twos and replacing them with.....the tantrum throwing terrible threes.

As you may detect from this photo, butter wouldn't melt. Happy birthday, sweetheart.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Songs in the Key of Life

Desert Island Discs is a long-standing programme on BBC Radio 4 that I’ve hugely enjoyed for a number of years now. With the advent of the podcast, I can delve through the BBC’s huge library of broadcasts over the years and they make for avid listening.

It got me thinking about my favourite songs and the ones I would like to take with me should I ever be cast to a desert island. The trouble is I would need more than the 8 the BBC programme restricts you to.

If you’re having difficulty sleeping, below are some of the songs that I would take with me to a desert island...

Set Fire to the Rain – Adele
This song was never off my IPod at the time just before and during the period I left my wife. I first came across Adele after I wrote on my blog about the American singer Carole King. She was in a concert which was shown on BBC4 and I found it hugely enjoyable. Someone posted on my blog that Adele was the new Carole King. So I downloaded her album ‘21’ and was bowled over. Adele has such a powerful voice it strikes the heart. The lyrics of Set Fire to the Rain brought it home to me how unhappy I was with my wife and how something had to change. It did on 26 January 2012 when I walked out of nearly 30 years of marriage – with Adele providing the soundtrack to a momentous move.

Town Called Malice – The Jam 
I loved The Jam – strangely, more so after they split in 1982. A Town Called Malice was out at the time I was living in Aberdeen and, to me, the song could have been written about the Granite City. When my parents separated in 1969, my mother took me there from Cumbernauld, just outside Glasgow. It was 140 miles away but it could have been the other side of the world. Twenty years later, I left Aberdeen for Edinburgh. Aberdeen is a beautiful, clean city but many – although not all -  of its citizens have a very narrow-minded view of life. I felt I had to fit into one of the boxes Aberdonians put you in – and I sat uncomfortably in it.


Street Fighting Man – Rolling Stones 
The argument has raged for almost half a century – who were the best, The Stones or The Beatles. I feel some of The Beatles’ early songs were naff, for want of a better word, although some of their later work as they headed towards an acrimonious split was quite good. However, for me, The Rolling Stones were consistently good and I have always preferred The Stones more aggressive style. Street Fighting Man epitomises the band – it’s one of the best rock songs ever. It’s astonishing to think Mick Jagger and co are still going strong all these years later.
Nothing Compares to You – Sinead O’Connor
When I left Aberdeen I went to live with my father in Paisley as 1990 began. I was with him for three months. I had never been particularly close to my father, due to him discarding his wife and only child into wilderness just before Christmas 1969, but when I reached adulthood, got married and had children of my own, we became closer. He was an enormous help to me when I left Aberdeen and for that I will be eternally grateful. Nothing Compares to You was number one in the charts at the time I was living with him in 1990 and it reminds me of the time we spent together and the support he gave me. My father died very suddenly seven years later, aged just 58, and never a day goes by when I don’t think about him. When I hear this song, he immediately comes into the forefront of my mind.

It’s Too Late – Carole King

I’ve always enjoyed Carole King’s music and the aforementioned concert I watched on BBC4 in 2011 brought it home to me how much my life needed changing. I didn’t love the woman I married in 1982 the way a husband should love his wife – she was more like a sister to me – and spiralling debt and other problems meant something had to change. ‘Something inside has died and I can’t hide but I just can’t fake it’ – King’s lyrics resonated in my head. I know I hurt people when I walked out of my marriage in 2012 but I risked hurting people even more by staying.


We Found Love in a Hopeless Place – Rihanna
Now I know what little credibility I have may well have disappeared with this choice but bear with me. 2012 saw one relationship end for me – and another blossom. The lovely Marion has rekindled the passion I used to have for life and I have now found love once more. My daughters may snigger but I quite like Rihanna’s music and this song always   reminds me of the love I have now found with Marion. After a difficult time, I have indeed   found love in what was a hopeless place.

Come on Eileen – Dexys Midnight Runners
This song was in the charts when I got married in 1982 and reminds me of happier days with my wife. We were just 20 years old at the time and I thought we could do anything we wanted. Children arrived and we brought Laura and Michaela up to be fine young adults of whom I’m extremely proud. Sadly, my love for my wife faded over the years – but this song is a reminder of when it was at its strongest.


Sunshine on Leith – Proclaimers

Now, as a Hearts supporter, you might find my fondness for The Proclaimers – one of Scotland’s leading musical acts – somewhat strange given the Reid brothers penchant for all things Hibernian. However, I’ve always enjoyed their music and I remember being blown away when I first saw them live in Aberdeen in the late 1980s – just before I left the Granite City for Edinburgh. In 2012, one chapter in my life closed whilst another opened and I moved to Leith. Sunshine on Leith is an apt description of how Marion rescued me – ‘My heart was broken, sorrow, sorrow, you saw it, you touched it, you claimed it, you saved it’. When I first heard the song more than two and a half decades ago, little did I think that one day I would be living in Leith. But while I’m worth my room on this Earth, I will be with you…

 It Must Be Love – Madness
 As a lover of ska music, there had to be a ska song here. I love Madness and I would dearly love to see the Nutty Boys live in concert. I’ve already seen The Skatalites, The Specials, The Beat, The Selecter and Bad Manners live, so Suggs and the boys would almost make things complete. The lyrics to It Must Be Love – an old Labi Siffre song – could have been written for Marion and I. I saw Suggs at the Edinburgh Festival in 2012 when he spoke about his life and did a few songs. He finished off with this one and it brought the house down.

The Story of the Blues – The Mighty Wah!

First they take your pride,
then turn it all inside,
and then you realise you got nothing left to lose.
So you try to stop, try to get back up,
and then you realise you're telling the Story of the Blues.
Felling browbeaten day after day,
I think It's over but I just can't get away.
You said forget it, well don't go jump to the gun,
you're laughing this time next time you might be the one

Pete Wylie’s powerful voice and vibrant music has always meant a lot to me. The Mighty Wah! – one of several creations of Wylie’s in the 1980s – hit the charts with this song and it struck a chord with me. At the time, Thatcherism was at its height and there were major changes at my then place of work in Aberdeen. Bus deregulation, introduced by then PM Margaret Thatcher, meant many staff being shown the door at what was to become First Group. The Story of the Blues depicted the uncertain mood at the time – a mood that was shared by the working classes of the mining, steel and shipbuilding industries in Scotland. Industries Thatcher set out to destroy.

 My Perfect Cousin – The Undertones

My mother brought me up almost single-handedly in the early 1970s and when the school holidays took place I would go to my grandmother’s house where she looked after me and my cousin George. This happened every year between 1970 and early 1974 and George and I had a few things in common. We were both only children, being brought up by a single parent  - and we both had a love of football. Games of Subbuteo, the table football game which was hugely popular in the 1970s, were frequent – but George always seemed to bloody win! A few years later, Irish band The Undertones sang about My Perfect Cousin. I loved The Undertones and while Teenage Kicks ran this this track very close, this was my favourite song as it contained lyrics such as ‘My perfect cousin – what I like to do he doesn’t’ and, with reference to the aforementioned football game, ‘He always beat me at Subbuteo, ‘cos he flicked to kick and I didn’t know’. This song always reminds me of summer days in Aberdeen’s west end.

These are just some of my favourite songs - you'll be thrilled, I know, to learn I may post some more at some point. Where's the valium...?

Friday, 3 May 2013

Jack the Lad... 8 years old today. And a fine lad my grandson is turning into. The fact he is halfway to adulthood is somewhat scary and makes me feel even older than I already feel.

I'd like to think that ten years from now, I'll be buying Jack his first pint of foaming ale in the pub. Sadly, as he lives in Dalkeith, I suspect he'll be doing this before too long...

Happy birthday, young fella.