I blame that idiot prince

A few years ago, I wrote a blog about the decline in popularity of the name Andrew, which was about to drop out of the top 100 boys’ names. Revisiting this theme, after emailing an Andrew in his late 20s recently, the scale of the crisis has become apparent.

Below is a graph (lifted, I should probably credit, from the Mirror’s website), into which you can insert names to check how they have progressed over the last 20 years. It’s very interesting, if you like that sort of thing. Witness peak Jack from 1996, and its slow decline over the last two decades as Oliver rose to its current dominance. See how my decision to name a child Alfie inspired a generation, taking it from 119th in 1996 to 4th from 2009 to 2011.

Screen Shot 2018-08-09 at 12.40.31

But now look at the heartbreaking, lingering death of the name Andrew. A respectable 29th in 1996, it has drifted lower and lower, until in 2016 it comes in at 209th. 209th?! Could you even list 208 other boys’ names? Just to give some perspective as to how ridiculous this has got, let’s compare and contrast with the ludicrous name Joey, which is only really appropriate for either a budgerigar or a member of the Mafia. In 1996 – the very year I gave that name to a child (and it was me, his mother assumed I was joking) – only 22 baby boys were called Joey. And it trundled along at that level for a while, until the last few years where it has suddenly spiked. In 2016, 459 poor unfortunates were named Joey – nearly twice as many as Andrew. What is wrong with people?

Other names more popular than Andrew now include Jaxon, Rayan and Kayden, which all sound like household cleaning products to me; Wilfred, Grayson, Maximus, Milo, Kacper… and one which I find somewhat unsettling – Aryan. The 165th most popular name for boys now is Aryan. Let’s just hope they don’t all get together and try to establish a new society.

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Wotalottabot

There’s a been a lot of talk in recent years of the inevitable takeover of the robots, and how it won’t be long now before they can do everything we can and we will no longer be needed. Anyone who believes this has clearly never tried to deal with a bank’s Digital Assistant.

A Digital Assistant is basically a chat programme, which mimics human interactivity to try to make you feel more at ease as you navigate the automated faceless leviathan that is online banking. Or at least, it tries to. It doesn’t take much to get it out of its comfort zone though. Here’s what happened when I tried to find out why my bank had declined a payment to my electricity supplier.

Hi, you’re chatting to Cora and I’ll be your Digital Assistant. Ask me a question (the simpler the better) and I’ll help you find the answer.

Why was a direct debit payment declined?

I’m sorry, I’m not too sure. Could you try rephrasing the question? For example, “how do I amend a standing order?”

Declined a direct debit payment why was? Will asking like Yoda help?

OK, I see you want to manage your direct debits. Would you like to: Set up or change • View existing • Cancel • Get a refund • Reactivate • Switch

Nope, I want to know why one was declined.

Sorry, I think you are asking about Direct Debit but did not fully understand.

I did fully understand. Don’t be so condescending.

I’m just going to search our FAQs for your first question: How long does it take someone to receive money I’ve sent them? • I don’t recognise a direct debit, what can I do? • How do I cancel a direct debit? Was that helpful?

No.

Would you like me to see if one of the team is available?

Yes.

I’m sorry you haven’t found this service helpful. I can help with all sorts of everyday banking queries. Ask me a short, simple question, such as “how do I order a new card?” and I’ll be able to help.

Yes but this isn’t a short, simple question, is it? It’s a question which needs an actual human being. Hello, hello, is there an actual human being there?

Let’s see if I can help you in a different way. Just a moment. Ok, let’s see if one of my colleagues are available. This can take up to a minute. [Up to a minute passes.]

You are now chatting with Rajat. Hello.

Hello. ScottishPower tried to collect a final payment from my account yesterday and it was declined. Can you explain why?

I am very sorry to hear that, let’s work together to try and resolve this within this chat for you. Please help me with your full name and the account number last 4 digits.

Andrew Goodwin, xxxx

Thanks. Andrew, did they try via direct debit?

At which point, given that my opening question was “Why was a direct debit payment declined?”, I started to bang my head on my desk. In fact I wasn’t at all convinced that Rajat wasn’t also a computerised assistant until he wrote “No there is nothing from there end, it seems that they have not tried to take the money out for your account.” Only a human being would write “there” when they meant “their”. Dream on robots. You’ll never be able to mimic that level of basic ignorance.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Shhh

It’s quiet in my house this morning.

In the film The Family Man, high-powered businessman Nicolas Cage is given a ‘glimpse’ by his guardian angel of how his life would have been if he hadn’t dumped Tea Leoni (one of the least plausible events even by the standards of Cage’s bizarre filmography) to go to London and make his fortune. He is shown the family he would have had, the path his career would have taken and basically what might have been.

This morning, with the two kids who live at home both away, it feels like my guardian angel is giving me a glimpse of the life I should have had, and will have again. For a lot of the last year, it’s felt like someone has been trying to ask me “Who are you kidding? What made you think you were supposed to be a husband and father?” And now this morning they’re saying “This is you, this is what you were meant to be. Three more years and I’ll have you back on track.”

Problem is, the guardian angel hasn’t factored in the couple of decades where he got sloppy and let things slide. Maybe I wasn’t supposed to meet a cute, mixed-up girl who was so keen to have kids she was willing to take me on as well to make it happen; but I did. Maybe I wasn’t supposed to father four kids who all turned out far better than anyone could have expected: one so strong-headed and self-assured that he lives on the other side of the world and only feels the need to get in touch about once a month, one so driven and ambitious that there was never any doubt he’d get where he wanted to be, one with music so deeply ingrained that I’ve already had to promise to bequest my CD collection, and one with such a black sense of humour that, if memory serves me right, he has plans to attend my funeral wearing a T-shirt with the slogan “Ha ha you are dead” and a sash proclaiming “I am the bestest”. (He’s already had the sash printed. It’s hanging up in my room.) And, yes, most of what’s good about them they get from their mother, but that’s fine. I was there too.

So if the future is supposed to be a return to the life I had before all that happened, well, tough, it can’t be. Because pretty much the only thing those four kids have in common is that they all think I’m great. Which is an uncharacteristic piece of self-aggrandisement for me, but that’s the truth of it – when it came to being a Dad, I more or less nailed it. One way or another, be it by email or social media post or (who knows) they might even phone once in a while, those kids will always be around. Bad luck life. You let me off the leash for too long.

So yes, it’s quiet in my house this morning. And in three years, when the last one leaves, it will be quiet a lot. But not all the time.

The film The Family Man is a sweet, funny look at the travails of that existence. But it’s no sweeter or funnier than mine has been living it for real.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

It’s that time again

At what point did Do They Know It’s Christmas become part of the classic songbook of radio-friendly festive tripe, rather than what it really is, a song about starvation?

Those who were around when it was released (and greetings fellow dotards) will recall that hearing it always carried with it a heavy sense of the reason for its creation. When it hit the top of the charts, every performer on Top Of The Pops (apart from one bozo from Slade) wore a Feed The World t-shirt. This was never a song about celebrating Christmas, it was about getting sustenance to people who were dying.

But somehow, in the last decade or so, it has become a fundamental part of the avalanche of schmaltz which infests the December airwaves. Do broadcasters really not understand that just because a song has Christmas in its title, it doesn’t necessarily slot in alongside classics like Wonderful Christmastime or pap like Last Christmas? There are clues in the lyric, after all. “The Christmas bells that ring there are the clanging chimes of doom.” It’s not exactly “When the snowman brings the snow”, is it?

And while we’re on that subject, “There won’t be snow in Africa this Christmas time”? Yes there will. You might have to look pretty hard for it – the higher ground of Chad, Libya, Algeria and Tunisia, Mount Kilimanjaro, there’s even a ski resort in Lesotho. Given that Africa is as big as China, India, the USA and most of Europe, generalisations were always likely to be a bit on the crass side. The whole continent didn’t have famine, you patronising Europeans.

The worst of it, though, surely has to be “Tonight thank God it’s them instead of you”. Sorry, do what now? Thank God that someone else is starving instead of me? I won’t, if it’s all the same to you. If I’m going to say anything to God, I’ll probably ask why anyone needs to be starving at all. And if I’m going to thank him, it will be for my not being a smug, self-important, tax-evading rock singer who apparently believes himself to be an international statesman.

Still, at least it’s not that abomination by Mariah Carey.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A minute of your time

There was a minute’s silence at the football on Saturday. I was there with my youngest. He’s old enough to have figured out for himself how he feels about it, but even so I felt like maybe I should explain to him why it mattered to me. He’s used to me talking rubbish, spouting controversial opinions for comedic effect, so I thought I should say why observing a minute’s silence was important.

It seemed quite straightforward at first. It’s to acknowledge the sacrifice of people who gave their lives to protect our freedom. People who died for what is just and proper. I’ve been watching the 1980s documentary series The Nazis: A Warning From History with my kids (that’s right, I’m a fun Dad), and it’s very easy to understand that the men who fought the Nazis in the Second World War were doing the right thing. They really did exactly what I wrote above – protect our freedom and die for what is just.

The problem is, not every conflict into which our young men have been thrust can make the same claim. It’s hard to say that the invasion of Iraq effected by Tony Blair was anything other than political, not to say cynical and profoundly misguided. A cold analysis from outside the partisan hotbed of Northern Ireland itself would struggle to find a straightforward right or wrong viewpoint. This is not, let me make explicitly clear, any comment on the bravery or sacrifice of the men and women who fought in these wars. It is a comment on the muddier ethical and moral imperatives behind them.

Well, I reasoned, if it’s complicated to use the wars themselves as the rationale for the minute’s silence, it’s easy to use the character of the people who died in them. Courageous, patriotic men and women who were willing to pay the ultimate price for what they believed in. That’s what we are respecting, people who adhered to the old Zapata quote, it is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees. Job done.

Except.

What about the people on the other side who were exactly the same? If we’re respecting people solely on the grounds of their bravery, doesn’t that apply to all soldiers, whatever their nationality or belief system? What about the three men who attacked Borough Market when my eldest was working there in the summer? They knew they were going to die, but they did what they did anyway in the name of what they believed. Am I supposed to respect them? I’d rather not, if I’m honest, but that’s where the logic takes me. Just because I disagree profoundly with their motivation, shouldn’t I acknowledge their courage?

So, like the snowflake libtard that apparently I am, I ended up standing in a silence full of confusion. I spent my minute reflecting on the futility of nationalist expansionism and religious dogma, of conflicts in which passionate, committed young men and women are exploited and sent to their deaths by jaundiced leaders, with little or no regard for the lives they will ruin with their politicking.

I’m sorry if this seems controversial. I would genuinely love to be a Daily Mail reader and labour under the simplistic delusion that everything is black and white. Unfortunately, it isn’t.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

England are going to win the World Cup! (In 2026.)

The cause for such optimism?

http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/41545920

Possibly the only good thing for me personally about the hideous lurch to the right this country has taken in the last couple of years is that it’s made me realise how much I love multiculturalism. There’s been a lot of rhetoric hinting at the idea that at root we’re all innately tribal, and all that’s happening is a return to our natural state. And I’ll admit, it’s made me wonder, have my protestations of liberalism been a merely intellectual exercise, formed because my brain knows it should think this way while my heart is craving the freedom to come out and say how it really feels?

No, it turns out. Every time I see something like the above it fills me with genuine joy. I love that the final goal in this highlights reel of England against Chile was scored by Angel Gomes. You know, the Englishman. Adilson Angel Abreu de Almeida Gomes, to give him his full, glorious name, who was born in London to an Angolan father. And it’s not a racial thing, it’s not imperial guilt, in spite of the fact that I’m aware we’ve got a thousand years of history to (broadly) make up for. It’s just a gut response to the reality that the world is getting smaller and smaller and people are mixing more and more, that people can come here and feel at peace and at home, and there’s nothing any wall-building, Europe-exiting reactionaries can do about it. That will never stop happening. You hear me, Sun readers and UKIP voters? That will never stop happening. There are too many of us who are happy to open our arms to people who are different and exotic and desperate and who just want to be here for whatever the hell reason they feel this is the country for them. I’d take a dozen of them for every one of you peddling the lie that we don’t want them. This country was built on immigration, going back to the Romans and the Germans and the Vikings, and it will continue to be. Every Angel Gomes goal is a crashing wave against your attempts to Canute this country into homogeneity.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Go South West, life is very, very peaceful there

About six weeks ago I was delayed at Winnersh Triangle railway station. I call it a station, it’s basically a long wooden walkway with no amenities whatsoever, other than a couple of benches. I was there for 78 minutes, on the hottest day of the year, waiting for a train to Reading.

When I got to work the next day, just for something to do really, I went to the South West Trains website to see if I could get a refund. It would be pennies, I realised that – the full return fare had only been £11.30 – but it was the principle of it. I found an online form and filled out all the relevant information. I realised a couple of days later that I hadn’t received an email acknowledgment of the request, and presumed I’d completed the form incorrectly. I shrugged and forgot about it.

22 days after my initial complaint I got a reply from a Customer Service woman named Victoria, who for all I know might be a real person, asking me to provide a photo of my ticket. Needless to say, I had chucked it out. I sent the following, rather churlish reply:

That ticket, as you no doubt would expect after 22 days, has long gone. I gave up on ever hearing anything back ages ago. Excellent tactics by South West Trains – delay even acknowledging the email for weeks and weeks, by which time people will have assumed they were never going to get a reply and conceded defeat. End result – no refund! Job done! Well played South West Trains.

A mere 18 days after that email, I have today received another reply from Victoria. To be fair to her, she’s been very reasonable. I mean, I wouldn’t even have replied to the above.

On this occasion, I will be happy to accept some other proof of travel, for example a receipt or a copy of a bank statement, so long as the transaction is clear. Any compensation due will then be paid as a gesture of goodwill, in National Rail Vouchers.

So I went and had a look at my online bank statement. For reasons that will become apparent below, I realised it’s unlikely I’m going to get my refund:

Hi Victoria

The best I can do is a screen grab from my online banking, showing the two payments I made that week. I definitely worked on the Tuesday at Winnersh, which is how I got to spend 78 minutes on the Winnersh Triangle platform on the hottest day of the year, but there doesn’t seem to be any evidence of that, since the two card payments I made came out on the Wednesday and Thursday. Maybe they were processed a day late; maybe I paid by cash on the Tuesday. Who knows? It was 40 days ago, and I can barely remember what I was doing 40 minutes ago.

The payments are also showing up as GWR, even though I was sure it was a South West service I was on. Does that make sense? Goodness knows. As a microcosm of everything that is wrong with the shambles of national rail services ever since Margaret Thatcher and her band of corrupt cronies decided to rip us all off by privatising the network, thereby making sure that shareholders get to profit from taxpayer subsidies, this takes some beating. Massively delayed trains, slow customer service (nothing personal, I’m sure you’re going as fast as you can and management should employ some more Customer Service people, but three weeks per email isn’t great), and utter confusion about which company is doing what.

Of all the malevolent, socially unjust policies with which the appalling Thatcher blighted the nation, the farce of rail privatisation might just take the biscuit. I realise that you, Victoria, were probably not even born when she was ripping the social fabric of the country to pieces, so I’m not blaming you, but take my word for it. There was a golden age when the state just provided services which everyone needed, without any dodgy, tax-haven using billionaire oligarchs getting rich off the back of it. Ah the 1970s, you weren’t all bad.

Given that you presumably will not now have to spend any time processing my refund, I’d ask that you spend the saved minutes taking a look at The Four Big Myths of UK Rail Privatisation – Action For Rail. If it hasn’t been blocked by your employer, that is.

OK, so I won’t get my refund, but at least it made me feel better.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment