Monday, 11 August 2014

Belfast: Of Marches, Parades And Protests

We put away a serious Irish Breakfast Merchant style, then took to the rainy streets to clear our heads having put in a considerable amount of 'research' at various venues, a team effort that concluded at The Spaniard, the nearest thing to a Hamra bar to be found outside Hamra. Belfast's weekend nightlife has got SO much of Beirut about it - the same frenetic, buzzed vibe packed with shiny, happy people and dotted with oddballs, eccentrics and generally eclectic splashes of colour in the serried hordes of overdressed fellas and half-dressed Lovely Girls.

A glorious evening, not without its subsequent toll exacted on Mr Potato Head.

We started spotting coppers dotted around, our first thought being maybe TK Maxx had been turned over by some enterprising souls as we - and the rest of Belfast - were busy carousing. And then a column of white PSNI (Police Service Northern Ireland) Range Rovers filed by, all black cages and white concrete roofs. Yes, I kid you not, concrete. They each weigh six tonnes and are designed not to be a pushover. These babies are riot equipped and if we didn't by now work out something serioo was up, the appearance of two water cannon tankers put things beyond all doubt.

I wandered up to one of the clearly hundreds of officers on duty, little clumps of them at every street corner, huddled in shuttered shop doorways away from the rain. What's the craic? I mean, it's nice of you chaps to be putting on the Range Rover Fan Club annual gathering but...

They were happy to chat: they were all on time and a half or double time, but none of them were particularly pleased at spending most of their Sunday arsing around in the downpour waiting for 4,000 marchers protesting internment (the controversial imprisonment of suspects without trial employed by the Brits during 'the troubles' in the 1970s) and the opposing marchers protesting the protests against internment.

'Put it this way, when I've finished being dressed up like a Ninja Turtle this afternoon, I'll pulling on me jeans and shirt and going for a load of pints an' try and catch up on me weekend,' one chap told us. They were all cheerful, approachable and open - pretty impressive PR for a force created out of the sectarian disaster that was the infamous RUC - and all clearly had no time for the marchers or their opponents, seeing it all as a throwback out of pace with the movement of the times.

'Who wants this? Who, our age - with a life and kids and a future - wants to go back to this?'

I have to say, I never thought I'd see the like on Belfast's streets these days. Roads blockaded with Rapid Response Unit Range Rovers, phalanxes of cops in high-viz gilets and bullet-proof armour festooned with batons, CS gas spray and radio handsets, the lot. 'Yeah, I know. Forget us, you didn't see us. This isn't Belfast, our beautiful city.'

Well, it's all a bit, you know, Gaza... 'Don't. We've got a cruise ship in full of Israelis. You couldn't write this stuff...'

We missed the march, or parade or protest or whatever it was they were calling it. Unlike last year, when 56 cops got pounced by a group of loyalist protest protesters ('swhy we're all deployed here so early this year, we've got over a thousand officers on extra duty today. What a waste of money we could be using for schools or hospitals, eh?) it went off peacefully with only a couple of minor injuries.

It all felt a little like a tourist attraction, but then again we were just tourists anyway. We heard an Italian tourist ask a copper, 'Which side is protesting?'

'Both, love. It's always both.'

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Book Research Is SUCH a Drag...

English: Street sign of Belfast's Crumlin Road...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
There comes a time when some form of reality has to intrude into writing novels, usually when you feel someone with access to the Internet is going to bother to work out if a fifty metre luxury yacht with such and such engines would take three days to go from Northern Spain to Malta, whether turning left from the main Dead Sea to Amman highway would take you to Bethany now there's a dual carriageway in place and you'd actually have to take a U-turn or indeed if you can actually buy terminal cancer drug Roxanol over the counter from a Lebanese pharmacy.

Researching Olives - A Violent Romance took huge dedication and involved drinking Martinis in the Four Seasons Amman, sploshing about smoking Cohibas in the Dead Sea and necking red wine in conservatories overlooking the rain-swept streets of an Amman winter. I had to eat sunny Mezzes overlooking the Golan Heights and wander around the warm spring streets of Madaba before lunching on pan-fried potato, eggs and Mediterranean herbs washed down with icy cold beers. It was hard, hard, hard people.

Still reeling from the exertions and huge personal distress I had to invest in Olives, researching Beirut - An Explosive Thriller was breathtakingly difficult. Walking the city's streets with a variety of highly attractive and personable companions, pottering around the Mouawad museum and investing many selfless hours in exploring the labyrinthine bars of Gemmayze, Monot and Hamra were nothing to the long, hard hours of toil drinking in Raouché, wandering the sun-dappled corniche sipping little cups of piping hot espresso from Uncle Deek's and, of course, eating a huge amount of stuff in the name of veracity.

You'll begin to appreciate I have Suffered For My Art. And if that weren't enough, writing Shemlan - A Deadly Tragedy took me into the mountains above Beirut for long AlMaza-laced lunches sipping sweet chai nana as my companions sat around puffing shisha in the balmy late afternoon, bees and cicadas competing to provide the soundtrack to our panoramic view of the blue city far below - let alone forays into Aleppo's tragically destroyed C14th Ottoman souk. The sweet days foraging around Tallinn and nights chasing hot plates of rich stock with bobbing islets of pelmeni down with iced vodka were agony, I can assure you. Agony.

So you'll understand the sacrifices I'm about to make in Belfast's pubs and its finest hotel, the endless journeys across Ireland's green sward to possibly the best restaurant in the world and other terrible hardships I'm currently putting into A Simple Irish Farmer. Interviewing a convicted IRA killer, part of the game plan, is probably the nearest thing to real 'work' I'll have ever devoted to researching a book. I'll try not to let the platters and pints distract me. Honest...

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

If Gaza Were Ireland

English: A republican wall mural in coalisland...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
As the world stands idly by and Ban Ki Moon waffles incomprehensibly about peace, it struck me what would have happened if Britain had behaved in Northern Ireland as Israel has in Gaza and the West Bank.

It's the same sort of gig, after all. The occupation of a territory and all that. Religious divisions and an artificial border. 'Freedom fighters' bringing their violent protests over that border into the heart of the occupying power.

Except the IRA was actually quite good at it, where Hamas is rubbish. The IRA killed hundreds of British citizens and soldiers, in fact murdered thousands in their campaign for Irish freedom. Hamas' rocket attacks have yet to hit a significant target or result in any major loss of life - claims for fatalities from rocket attacks so far total two Israelis and a Asian worker. Even the recent celebrated kidnapping and killing of three Israeli youths turned out to have no connection to Hamas. And the provocation dealt out in Gaza to cause these attacks is all too little discussed. Those rockets didn't come from nowhere - they were Benjy's reward for his vicious little campaign against the coming together of Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.

The whole - bloody - conflict in the North since the start of 'the troubles' (whether you date them back to 1916, 1922 or 1969) has taken a smaller toll of human life than the Israeli-sponsored massacres in the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camps alone. The Israelis are already well over a third of their way to beating the total all-time Irish Troubles Death Record after a couple of weeks' conflict in Gaza. That's some going.

Imagine the global reaction if the UK had sent in helicopter gunships to blow apart Irish Republican houses in Nationalist areas of Belfast. If our response to bombings such as Canary Wharf were to send in ground troops and tanks to lay waste swathes of houses around the Falls Road and reduce whole districts of Tyrone and Armagh to rubble? If our troops poured shells into schools and our politicians glibly trotted out platitudes about them being used as human shields for bomb-making factories? There was a huge political and civil rights fallout from the few - highly targeted - extra-judicial killings that UK forces carried out - but these (and no, I am by no means justifying them) actions were pinpoint intelligence-led operations, not high explosive bludgeoning of tenements, terraces, schools and hospitals packed with innocent civilians.

What values, then, prevented our Western style democracy from acting in the way that Israel has acted towards the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza? How is it that the British - for all their pursuit of influence and power in Ireland over the centuries - found a fundamentally more decent way to manage conflict with rebellion against our occupation - against paramilitaries - than tearing their adversary's children to pieces?

Would the British people have been supportive of our government's bloody treatment of a people under our occupation if we had been blowing up their houses, degrading their basic infrastructure and killing innocents? Or would we have concluded that our government was monstrous and refused to let our whole society be led into unforgivable monstrosity in the name of a 'war against terror'?

Imagine if we'd killed a thousand Irish people in a week-long 'ground war' against the IRA in Belfast.

Do you think the world would have stood idly by as Ban Ki Moon waffled incomprehensibly about peace then?

Monday, 21 July 2014

Of Gaza And Telegenically Dead Palestinians

(Photo credit: AlphaBetaUnlimited)
I have long been struck by how little people back home knew - or cared - about the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Advancing that understanding was a big part of my intent in writing Olives - A Violent Romance, which has a go at perhaps deepening a reader's understanding that the situation behind those nice, easy to understand CNN or Fox bumper sticker headlines is perhaps all a little more nuanced than 'Palestinians are all terrorists and the good guys are trying their best to sort out a nasty and difficult situation that's not of their making'.

I got an email yesterday from an American reader who said she was thinking about what was going on in Gaza right now all the more deeply because she'd read Olives. It was sort of nice to get and I know there are many others out there who feel the same way, so that all sort of makes the book worth the effort (without the millions, fame, fortune and all the rest it's clearly brought me).

And yet I still feel utterly impotent when confronted with the realities on the ground. I sat looking at Twitter last night trying to contain the surge of anger, trying to retain some sense of objectivity and not just fall off the deep end. I follow a lot of 'activists' and others involved in Palestine on Twitter and so my feed is rarely free of a clamorous little group whose intentions are of the finest, but whose constant barrage of one-sided opinion can be counter-productive. It gets wearing - you just don't want to hear it any more.

Watching the demolition of Gaza's infrastructure, the sight of F16s, precision guided artillery, helicopter gunships and now tanks, warthogs and troops battering one of the world's most densely populated - poorest and most desperate - cities was awful. It's beyond cynical - Benjamin Netanyahu's exploitation of Hamas' pathetic rocket attacks would only be possible in a country that has been consistently radicalised by the constant propaganda pushed by a polity with a wholly evangelical Zionist agenda.

Could you even contemplate a Western politician responding to international outrage at the unacceptable civilian cost of his government's military might being hurled at a defenceless city with the charge that the other side was 'piling up telegenically dead Palestinians'? They're pulling lifeless, dusty little bodies out of the rubble every minute - over 300 innocents are dead already in this latest incursion. And Israel's leader demonstrates his regret by accusing the children his military have murdered of being telegenic? God help us all.

Those impressive sounding Hamas rocket attacks have not killed a single Israeli. There are no Israeli children being pulled out of the rubble. In return for which Israel is pounding densely packed population centres with all the might of a modern military machine, blasting away at the rats slithering around in the dustbin of Gaza. They've got nowhere to go: north, east, west, south. They're all 'legitimate targets' as the Israelis mendaciously blether about ceasefires and continue to send high explosives, flechettes and fragmentation warheads into homes, hospitals and schools.

And so sitting in my comfy chair in Sharjah, I watch it and the only thing I can do is get the hell off Twitter before I lose it completely and become yet another skewed, furious voice railing against the monstrous unfairness of what they're doing, the awful media reporting (TWO ISRAELI DEAD screamed one bold type headline, only underneath did we see that some three hundred Palestinians had chosen to run into explosives) and my own complete impotence.

I didn't even want to write this, just let my book stand as my effort and comfort myself that if only a few people are watching all this and thinking about it more because of what I've done, then that's a good thing. But, of course, I'm kidding myself. A stupid book won't change one iota of what's happening. Nothing I could possibly do will.

So I went upstairs and watched it all on Sky. At least then I was just shouting at a television and not constantly restraining myself from flinging abuse at people tweeting recipes for butterfly cakes just because I care about this and they've chosen to prioritise how much butter makes the sponge as light as an angel's kiss.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

We Are Amused

English: The Tenth Dalai Lama, Tsultrim Gyatso
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The strange and, well, basically 'wrong' minds behind the Pan Arabia Enquirer have long provided me with much gentle amusement, even though I have been associated with many who have for one reason or another been horrified, outraged or otherwise disgusted by the shenanigans of the Middle East's only satirical news website.

For years, Spot On training sessions have been enlivened with exercises based around probably the world's greatest headline - and I really don't want to expand any PAE egos here, so you lot can stop reading right now - Dalai Lama In Bananarama Karama Shawarma Drama.

The site rarely fails to amuse - but even funnier than the satirical content is the reaction of the Middle East's inhabitants, many of whom wouldn't know satire from a Mars probe. The comments to the Gold Class Lane To Abu Dhabi story (just one of many, many examples) are beyond priceless. And many PAE stories attract similar violently ignorant - and consequently hilarious - opprobrium. 

Remembering the reactions to one's own mild attempt at satire, all those years ago, Ten Word Arabic, the PAE's crop of well-meaning crazies trying to put the clearly skewed news reporting right are a thousand times more outraged and all the more chucklesome for it.

Anyway, this post is just to say I bought some t-shirts and mugs and stuff from them on InkMash to take home with me on leave as pressies.

And yes, that's it. That's the post. If you wanted insight, context or analysis, I suggest you go read Gulf News...

Friday, 4 July 2014

Bee Bones

Back in 2007, a post on uber-blog Boing Boing alerted me to a new website from Harper Collins Publishers called 'Authonomy'. The site allowed you to upload the first 10,000 words of your book and then have other writers critique your work or vote it to the top of a pile to be read by a Harper editor.

I posted about it a lot at the time, pimping my first, silly, book Space - which I uploaded to the site. I also posted about my disaffection for a process and website I came to see as debased, not because my book didn't win a gold star (because it did) but because the gold star was actually duller under its micron of plating than the average Shiny.

Authonomy did something marvellous for me, though. It allowed me to meet other writers - to learn from them, to share the ups and downs with them. It transformed my approach to writing and led to me writing more books and, I like to think, better books.

I've kept in touch on a regular and almost formal basis with a group of ex-authonomites, the feared and shadowy Grey Havens Gang. And I've kept in looser contact with a number of the people I met during my month-long odyssey propelling Space to the top of the greasy pole. You know how Twitter, Facebook and all can keep people sort of popping up every now and then.

One such is Richard Pierce. Like everyone else I knew on authonomy, he never got picked up by Harper as a result of winning the monthly plugfest, but he did get taken up by British publisher Duckworth, who published his novel, Dead Men. Which I thought was a tad funny as that wasn't the book Richard was shopping on authonomy - that was a book called Bee Bones. It's a long time ago now, but I remember Bee Bones being pretty popular on the site - a stark and yet very human book that explored a young man rooting about in his dead mother's life.

Having had his taste of the conventionally published life, Richard has taken to self publishing - and so Bee Bones is coming out as a self published novel, some seven years after I first came across it on authonomy. Which is a while, I know, but then it took Olives - A Violent Romance about the same length of time to become a book rather than a manuscript.

I'll be buying it - I enjoyed it on authonomy as I enjoyed so many books from a selection which I thought at the time consistently threw up better and more diverse reads than I could find in my local bookshop. A number of the writer friends I made have been published - a few conventionally (a couple becoming best selling novelists) but many more taking the self-published route (a couple becoming best selling novelists).

So if you need a book recommendation, take this one. Richard's Facebook page is linked right here and when he presses the button and lets Bee Bones out into the wild, you can be among the first to know.

I hope he doesn't mind me nicking his cover...

Friday, 27 June 2014

The Infinity Conundrum

Rainbow mosaic infinity
 (Photo credit: mag3737)
Professor Liddle seemed to appraise his visitor coolly. Urquhart wore a camel greatcoat and a trilby. Unbuttoning the coat revealed a moss green suit, on his feet brown brogues finished off the odd appearance of a man outside his time. Liddle may have expected to see such a figure at the finishing post of a 1960s race track rather than in the sparkling modernist chrome and smoked glass surfaces of the Advanced Physics Institute.

'It was regarding your Turing Memorial Lecture yesterday, I came, actually,' Urquhart helped himself to a seat in front of Liddle's neat desk. 'I hear it was fascinating.'

'It appeared to have been well received, I do flatter myself to think.'

'What was it? "On Infinity"? I'm surprised it wasn't endless.'

'Very droll, Mr?'

'Urquhart. What was the premise? We are all atoms, wasn't it?'

'Not at all. I explained that we have an altogether too finite view of infinity. We see infinity as being really very big, but rarely do we afford the concept sustained thought that would allow us to truly appreciate infinity as it really is. So when we regard the universe as being infinite, we think of it as an expanse of stars that goes farther than we can see or imagine. It's a little like primitive tribesmen regarding the night sky as heaven. The scope of our imaginations and experiences limits how we can possibly conceive of the infinity of infinity.'

'I'm certainly starting to feel small. You shared a rather fantastic illustration, though.'

'It's by no means fantastic. If you wish to begin comprehending the vastness of the concept of infinity, you could perhaps regard the sun as being an atom and our planets as particles surrounding that atom. If that were the case, then we would be part of a larger entity, so huge that we could barely conceive of it. We would possibly be an atom of Flourine. We might be an infinitesimal part of a very large frying pan, for instance. And that frying pan would be held in hand by a woman cooking in a kitchen on a landmass on a planet so huge that we, standing on a particle of a single atom of Flourine, would find it hard to even scale in our tiny minds. And yet she and her planet are part of another atom, an infinitesimal element of an even greater hand in a greater kitchen.'

Urquhart shifted in his chair. His brown eyes were alive and inquisitive and he waved Liddle on.

'So as we imagine this onion skin of worlds of infinitely larger size, we must also conceive that for them time moves at an infinitely slower pace. Our smaller size quickens us. We are correspondingly more volatile, you see? If the universe is truly infinite, even our concept of time has to give way to an infinite range of the passing of time.'

'I think I do. But you are talking of remarkable scales here. It all sounds, well, fantastical.'

Even his visitor's vocabulary seemed a little old fashioned, Liddle may have pondered, but his mind wouldn't really have been on his audience, but on his favourite subject and he would have been on a race to complete his thought process. 'Infinitity is by its nature fantastical. So we have dimensions to infinity, not just the planar infinity of a universe so large we cannot imagine it, but a universe so small we cannot imagine it. You see? And then we have infinity of scale and of time to take on board. How many thousands of lifetimes on our planet will pass before that frying pan containing its atom of flourine as part of its non-stick coating will be put on the hob and heated. And how long will the changes of that heating process take to manifest themselves in our solar system? You start to see the scale?'

'Yes, but-'

'And so it is for our own frying pan. We are on a scale, just one layer of this infinite onion skin of nested universes, our own frying pan contains countless million solar systems, each containing in its turn countless million more.'

'Which is all very well, but it doesn't explain the odd leap to nuclear-'

Liddle's animation took on an annoyed edge. 'Odd leap? Don't be a fool, man! Think about it! Our universe consists of a perfect amount of mass, which never changes. We might change the state of matter, but we don't change the amount of matter. And so there is balance across this whole infinity of universes. Except for one small problem: every time we split an atom for nuclear energy, we are releasing the power of the destruction of an infinite number of universes smaller than our own. That wondrous release of inexplicable energy is because we are inflicting infinite gigadeath on countless, increasingly infinitesimal, planets and systems. In our natural state we disturb nothing in the universe, but this constant atomic holocaust is inflicting untold destruction in the infinite layers below us. And I believe as an ultimately self repairing system, as all natural systems are, the universe will move to stop us in time.'

Urquhart sat forward, his face unhappy. 'It is a fascinating view of things, Professor, but it has sadly cost your whole audience their lives as, I am afraid, it will cost you yours.'

'I'm afraid I don't understand what you mean,' Liddle twisted in his chair to rise, but there was a gun in Urquhart's hand and Liddle would only have had a second to note the darkness of its little mouth when a sharp report followed by a tremendous impact to his head flared his world into darkness.

Urquhart placed the gun back in his pocket and peered over the desktop at the dead scientist splayed out on the floor. He died because he knew too much and talked too much and spread dangerous ideas that had all too much impact on the gullible and impressionable public. And someone has to weed out thinking like that before it gets out of hand and threatens our cosy view of the world, a view so important to the functioning of a healthy society. It's a job that knows no limits and is, like the universe around us, timeless. But someone, you'll understand, has to do it.

You might have worked out by now that I am Urquhart.

And I'm behind you.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

On Writing Books

Quill (Photo credit: campra)
There you are, head thoroughly in the clouds. You're in the middle of a rainy day in Thurles, Co. Tipperary. It's cold and there's a wind - what they call in Ireland a 'lazy wind', the type that can't be bothered to go around you but goes straight through you. The thud of a car door sounds and footsteps scrunch on the wet tarmac. A man pulls his coat around himself and then you get a Man From Porlock.

It's like being torn out of your life and jettisoned instantly to another time and place, suddenly finding yourself in the 25th century in a massive space station, surrounded by little bald naked green men making strange inquisitive hooting noises and poking you. It's a moment of almost existential discontinuity.

Can't you see? You want to scream. I'm writing!

British poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge it was, feverishly jotting down the vision he'd experienced during a particularly vivid opium binge, who was apparently interrupted by a knock on the door. It was the Man From Porlock, the nearby village. Coleridge dealt with his visitor and returned to his poetic vision only to find he'd forgotten the rest of it. The poem (It's the one that starts 'In Xanadu did Kubla Khan, a stately pleasure dome decree, where Alph the sacred river ran, through caverns measureless to man, down to a sunless sea'. You can tell the years of being beasted by increasingly frustrated teachers weren't entirely wasted, can't you?) stands as one of the great creations of poesy, a fragmentary, brilliant thing. But it ends badly.

Sometimes it goes well and the words cascade off your fingertips like flicked butterflies. Sometimes you just sit staring at the screen and drooling. More often you wander off to Twitter, making some awful excuse about 'taking a break' or 'building one's author profile'. I might be lying about the latter, only a complete arse would think of Twitter as being any good for that.

But the worst thing in the world is when you're in your other world and the words are tumbling and someone thinks the scandalous price of broccoli is something that you need brought to your attention RIGHT NOW.

Apart from that, it's all going very smoothly, thank you. Taking a bit more research than I'd reckoned on, the story twisting in my hands like an over-excited anaconda with a sparkler up its bottom, but that's okay, that's how it goes.

All of which is my way of saying sorry for not posting very much, as if anyone cared whether or not I did anyway. And now, if you'll forgive me, I'm off back to a cold day in Tipp...

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Shaheen The Camel. A New Gulf News High.

Gulf News is breathlessly presenting the World Cup match winner choices of 'Shaheen', a camel apparently blessed with octopus-like powers of footbally prescience. Or as GN puts it, 'our resident hump-backed football genius."

Shaheen is placed next to two signs, each representing a team about to play. Just in case we forget this is about football, the speculative ungulate has a football tied around its neck. Shaheen then picks a team by attacking one of the two signs, which appears to have been festooned with a sock dipped in the camel equivalent of catnip. Camelnip?

This is the top local story on Gulf News' website today. It confirmed something I have long held dear as a belief. I'll let you guess quite what that is...

Wednesday, 11 June 2014


Looking Upwards at HSBC
(Photo credit: lipjin)
HSBC has, in a moment of rare brilliance, broken its IVR. Not that it was ever an IVR to write home about in the first place, but now they've really cemented things and ensured it doesn't let you do telephone banking.

The one thing you'd want a telephone banking system to do, really. But then my expectations are probably set too high. Maybe I should expect my phone banking system to be set up to let me craunch a marmoset or perhaps provide me with philosophical inspiration. Because it sure as hell can't perform a transaction.

IVR is, in case you're interested, Interactive Voice Recognition. It's the phone system OR PRESS It doesn't really have to be about voice, it can be keypad response. I'll never forget Rick Dees' highly amusing breast self examination hotline IVR gag: "Welcome to the Rick Dees breast self-examination hotline. Press one. Now press the other one."

Anyway, if you want to transfer money between accounts and you have multiple accounts (I do. There isn't enough room in one account to hold all the money I have, see?), you are now presented with a list of accounts to debit. Let us assume I want to transfer from my number two account to my number one account.

Foryour ONE.

So you press two.

Foryour HSBC.UAE.current.account. ZERO....too...ZERO...WUN...ONE...2 press ONE.

So you press one. Foryour HSBC.UAE.Savings.account.. 0..2...0...0...FIVE...0. Press ONE.

And that's it. You can't actually choose the account to credit and the account to debit. It's broken. Bust. Kaput. Borked. Non-functional. Usefully challenged. Without point. Eff all use.

So, heart heavy, you call the call centre. 

"Hello. Your IVR is broken."

"I'm sorry sir, I didn't understand you. Did you want to have your car washed, top up your credit card or craunch a marmoset?"

"No, I just want to tell someone at the bank that the new IVR is functionally broken. It won't let me transfer between accounts." I nearly say it's pining for the fjords but remember in time that you never, ever try to make a joke with the HSBC call centre or F16 strikes are called down on your house.

"I know the new IVR is complex sir and hard to understand and I appreciate your difficulty. Can I do the transfer for you?"

"But you're just reciting a script you've been given because of the high volume of complaints you're getting and that doesn't alter the fact or escalate the information to someone who could act on it that the IVR is actually functionally non-functional. Ineffective. Not fit for purpose."

"Yes. Umm. No. Is there anything else I can do for you today?"

They're taping the call. I hang up because I know what I want to say won't read well in the court transcript of my verbal abuse case.

I hate them. With a passion.

But then you know that...