Sunday, 25 September 2011


You may or may not know that I am a confirmed bachelor, this is not by choice mind, its just the reality of the situation. It came to me in the gym today in between the second and third bouts of heart palpitations (why did they put the gym on the first floor, those stairs are hard work) that I have wisdom to impart in relation to living on my own, it would be churlish of me to withhold that info from the millions of people who don't read this blog.

For example, did you know you can cook pasta in the kettle? With one small modification, a bit of sellotape to keep the power button from disengaging and you can have pasta (and rice) fresh from the kettle. I wouldn't use the water for tea or coffee though; it tastes a bit off. You can use if for cuppa soups though because when you add a cuppa soup to anything it only ever tastes of cuppa soup, all other flavours are neutralised.

An important thing to know about cooking is the difference between savoury and sweet, its not complicated so don't fret. Crisps are savoury and Nutella is sweet. A handy way to judge if something is savoury is to ask yourself if its a crisp flavour, all crisp flavours are savoury, if you doubt that inviolable fact why don't you get Nutella flavoured crisps? My logic is irresistible.

But listen, I'm getting ahead of myself. It doesn't matter what you're going to cook (I say cook but I don't really mean it) when we haven't explored what we're going to cook with. The confirmed bachelor needs a toaster, a microwave and a hob. In fact, you don't really need a hob as such, why people spend hundreds of pounds on complicated cookers when you can go to an outdoor shop and buy a gas stove for twenty quid is something I have yet to work out. The added advantage of a camping stove is it can be moved about easily, you can cook on the coffee table, the bath or even in bed.

Also, a common mistake people make is to use the hob (the bit on the top of the cooker with four rings on it) and a pot when the kettle will do the job just as well. For example, you can make soup in the kettle, you might have to discard it afterwards but kettles are ten-a-penny these days. Beans can also be warmed in a kettle as can sweet corn (if you like that sort of thing) and pop tarts if you broke the toaster trying to grill some bacon.

Pop tarts in a kettle I hear you say? A complicated system of platforms must be manufactured from tin foil, admittedly it is much easier if you're drunk and its 2:30 in the morning, some might say, drunken necessity is the mother of pointless invention and I'd have to agree, the following morning anyway because it seems perfectly reasonable if not essential at the time.

But listen, I digress. You're hungry and I'm waffling, when I say waffling I don't mean in the food sense, I've never eaten a waffle in my life, why would I? Did you know you can heat soup up in a toaster? You can and I'm going to tell you how. Buy some wholemeal pitta breads, cut them open and fill carefully with cream of tomato or chicken soup, carefully place in the toaster. Obviously cooking times will vary depending on the power of your toaster. I suggest you keep an eye on it, eventually the pitta bread will lose structural integrity and the soup will begin to weep out, the trick is to catch it just before it happens. Many people like to dip bread in soup; why not just serve the soup in the bread! (I know some posh restaurants do this but I promise you, they don't heat it up in a toaster. Middle class friends will mock until you point that very important fact out.)

We've talked about toasters and kettles, lets now talk about cookers and microwaves. Ok, I'm trying hard to think of something, hold on... Oh yes! Frying stuff! Of course, nothing can't be fried, except pot noodles, you can't fry a pot noodle, well I say that, obviously you can fry a pot noodle but you'd be as well doing it while its still in its plastic pot because it won't affect the taste of the end result. Sausages and bacon can be fried as can eggs, when you're done with those you can then fry bread in the fat and it is yummy! Not very good for you mind but yummy never-the-less. Try doing a fried egg in the microwave, my dad went through a phase of doing this, it's actually quite hypnotic. You crack an egg on to a small plate with raised edges, stick it in the microwave and watch as it turns slowly into a fried egg. The egg white slowly turns white and the yolk begins to solidify, its quite miraculous really. He began to experiment with different shaped receptacles but had to stop when he used an antique tea cup with a gold rim. I dare say the egg would have been an attractive shape but gold doesn't agree with microwaves; the tea cup exploded and the microwave never worked again.

Listen, I apologise, if I post a blog that's too long, my very great many readers will tire and get bored so I'm going to stop. If you're hungry, make some toast but remember; you can put anything on toast except crisps and spreading Nutella on crisps doesn't make a savoury snack sweet. What, you didn''t expect any serious commentary on how to cook did you? You're an optimist, I'll give you that.

Also, after having done some reading, you can't fry an egg in a microwave, technically its being poached. You live and learn.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

But Seriously

Kindly cross-posted to subrosa's blog.

No, its not a Phil Collins album, I thought I might post something serious for a change, normally I'd say it doesn't suit me and that it involves to much in the way of work. You have to do stuff like 'research' and back up any claims you make with something called 'evidence'. It's much easier for me to transfer the contents of my head directly on to the screen, no need for any citations or providing sources because it all comes from the fevered imagination of a person who's blog no one reads; most importantly, no one is harmed.

But listen, while I am no brilliant academic, no wait, don't argue, I've accepted it. Nor am I a total shmuck, I've been around and I read a lot, it was suggested to me by another blogger that I might say a few words about Debt Collection Agencies and their methods along with things that could help you if you're being hounded by a DCA.

A very quick few words about my experience firstly; I joined a gym (I'll try not to be specific, it was a tennis orientated set-up, going by the name of David Lloyd.) I signed the standard twelve month minimum contract but four months in discovered three serious flaws; the service was terrible, the staff were entirely unhelpful and I simply wasn't middle class enough to be there. I told them I wasn't happy with the service (although I jest, the service was rotten and not worth £80 a month in anycase,)  they adopted a 'tough-you-signed-a-minimum-twelve-month-contract-that-you-can't-get-out-of-so-meh' stance, they were not interested in the slightest even although the reason I was unhappy was their fault.

I cancelled my direct debit and did not return to the club.

Here comes the serious bit.

They chased me at first themselves then after three months of correspondence (me telling them they'd broken their own contract by not providing a service they said they would) they passed the debt on to their pet DCA, we'll call them ARC because that was and still is their name. I explained to them the issue was still in dispute (meaning I was still jawing with David) but to no avail. Daily phone calls, letters on a weekly basis with threats of all sort of things ramping up as time went by. Eventually letters start coming from a solicitor called Trevor Munn, threatening action in Northampton (or was it Southampton) County Court. Needless to say, Trevor Munn is another arm of ARC and the next step in their intimidation program.

I'll stop the narrative here, you can google some of those companies and find all sorts of stories on consumer action websites and forums but here is the thing, never have I ever seen a post saying; 'That swine Trever Munn took me to county court!' Why? Because he (or they) never will.

The following information is true for any civil debt not including Council Tax or monies owed relating to property; it will stop DCA's and any action they're threatening to take (albeit it up to a certain value) in its tracks.

It is called more generally 'Prorogation of Jurisdiction' and is covered in paragraph 3(4) of schedule 8 of the Civil Jurisdiction & Judgments Act 1982.

Sounds technical but it isn't really, please don't be intimidated by it. What it means is this:

  • You can't be taken to court in a jurisdiction (ie. Northampton) except for the one in which you are personally domiciled. (Any threat by a DCA to do so is intimidation.) If you live in Edinburgh, they need to take action in Edinburgh.
  • Even if the contract you signed says you agree to be dealt with by English law (for example) this is null and void, no way does a clause in a consumer contract circumvent UK civil law, much as big business would like it to be the case. 
There are some caveats, the main one being; it doesn't work with immovable property, if you live in a house in Northampton (for example) and get some crazy paving, the crazy paving will still be in Northampton even if you're not; they can still chase you in Northampton.

Specifically what it doesn't cover and the topic that caused me to be serious for a moment is Council Tax. It wouldn't be covered since it's attached to property anyway but CT is a different kind of debt and a blog post all by itself; you don't have a leg to stand on. The statute of limitation for civil debt in Scotland is five years (in England it is six) meaning, if they don't chase you in that time you're probably ok. For Council Tax debt, the statute of limitation as far as I can gather is twenty years from the date of the summary warrant being generated, these warrants are issued automatically at the request of Council and they won't get lost on the way to the sheriff court either. (If any of that is incorrect please let me know, it was hard to find even that info.)

In summary, if you run up credit on a catalogue card or HP agreement, they have to sue you where you live. Obviously if it's thousands they'll go after you but even then if they're doing it in Plymouth you can write to the court asking for it to be 'dismissed with expenses in favour of the defendant'. The nub is; if its a couple of hundred quid, they won't because its not economically viable to do so. My supposed debt was around £550 and they left me alone, even Citizen's Advice (who didn't know about Prorogation of Jurisdiction) said they probably wouldn't chase me for that amount.

A lot of people go to great lengths to break out of contracts were the plaintiff (the company doing the chasing) simply has no intention of following through with legal action; it's all bluff. I think we can all agree Debt Collection Agencies are odious set ups many using as they do: very questionable techniques when it comes to dealing with what they like to call its clients.

Final point to make. If you have this kind of low level debt (maybe under £1000) and you are being chased by DCA's and their pet (in many cases, I think fake) solicitors; always have a good look at the wording of the letters they send; for example:

  • '...documentation is being prepared for submission to county court...'

Leaving to one side it'll be the wrong court, the court isn't preparing documents, Trevor is and he's a cad and a bounder and has no power whatsoever to do anything; only the correct court has that power and only after a fair hearing. Since Trev is lazy and a tight-arse to boot, he's not going to go to another court for a tawdry few hundred quid.

My point is, if you are unfortunate enough to find yourself in this situation, this law empowers you, it may not void the contract, although people with bigger minds might be able to say if adding a clause to a consumer contract saying 'any legal disputes' would be handled by a court that has no jurisdiction over the consumer does in fact void it?

Beyond that, it allows you to have some fun with debt collection staff, I used to think they were just doing their job, it wasn't their fault etc but now? Not so much so, the people at ARC were rude and intimidating and that is wrong. However when they phone you (and they will again and again) the negative attention can be remedied by saying things like, 'So glad you phoned back, isn't it annoying when our phone sex is disturbed, I was fast reaching a cli-'. Usually they hang up...


Digressing slightly and because I don't want anyone to think I'm encouraging bad debt, my fight was just, they wanted me to pay for a substandard service I wasn't using, if I'd been using the gym  during the remainder of the contract (and my waist line will prove I wasn't) then I would have paid because that is fair. However, if you're a screaming store/credit card nutter with a shoe addiction; shame on you! You deserve all you get.

Although can I just say, those Ferragamos you're wearing are to die for!

Sunday, 11 September 2011

21st century living.

Over the past few years I've discovered a down side to living on your own; it makes you go crazy. You spend all that time sitting by yourself listening to your inner voice telling you what to do and think; in a sense you might not be talking out loud but you are talking to yourself which in normal circles means you're bat-shit-crazy (which by the way; I don't believe.) It's important to have other people around to dilute the advice you're giving to yourself because it is shit advice, for a start its definitely one sided, it's also skewed insofar as it's going to be what you want to hear which isn't normally useful and it will most probably be flawed because you'll be shitfaced. Trust me, when you live on your own, you'll be drunk most of the time.

So you need a flat mate, lets face facts, with the current economy you're not going to afford anything by yourself bought or rented. First rule is; you need a flat mate, not the other way round. Be in the driving seat or you'll end up living in a hovel with someone who thinks they're in charge as opposed to living in a hovel where you think you're in charge. Second rule is, choose carefully your house mate, actually scratch that, it doesn't matter what you do because you're going to probably be sharing with a pig or a prig anyway, its been my experience there's nothing in between. You must always be aware of your own behaviour and traits, you have to understand things from your house mates point of view, you must 'put yourself in their shoes' so you can understand that while they are a filthy unhygienic animal; you are in fact perfect.

The fact is (and it is an incontrovertible fact) even if you choose to share with a best friend, come the end of the lease you will not be best friends, things will have cooled off considerably because you will have discovered just how much of an unfeeling, unclean beast that best friend was. You can also substitute best friend for partner, if you're going to move in with a girl or boy friend then go ahead but be sure to rent only, don't for example go and buy something because you will come to understand; while you will have done very little, well lets be honest, nothing wrong; they will have morphed into a complete ogre. It is far easier to disentangle yourself from a 12 month lease than a 30 year mortgage.

You might ask now if a male or female flat mate is best, the answer is easy; both are equally as bad. Female flat shares fall into two categories, they're either manic self-centred selfish Princess Me Me's with a make-up fetish or they are filthy hippies with stinking hair and a cat fetish. Male flat shares are bad for the opposite reason, they are either lazy filthy bastards who seem happy after having flushed the toilet to leave streaks of shit up the side of the pan or they are lazy filthy bastards who don't flush the toilet and leave streaks of shit up the side of the pan. Females care to much and males don't care at all, remember though; you and I are perfect, we don't count.

If you're going to share, where does the sharing aspect begin and end? It begins and ends with payment of bills & living space. I can guarantee if you say 'pshaw! don't worry about it, you can use my milk' this means that for the duration of the let they now think they can use your groceries (not just the milk mind) and never ever buy their own victuals. The same goes for living space, flat mates are like vampires, if you invite them in once they'll never leave, you see, they're room will be a shit hole, yours won't, they'll just prefer your space to theirs because you won't have mold growing in the corners.

When eventually you've become sick of living with a cross between a tramp and a serial killer, you'll have to dissolve the flat share, this is always awkward, it's a bit like going through a divorce but without the kids (unless you had an unfurnished let and you bought furniture together, which by the way is a really fucking stupid thing to do.) You'll probably have a minimum 30 days notice to serve, here's a tip though, each month on top of the rent you're paying, into another account pay something extra so you can cover the months overlap on your next rental. Ok, you will resent giving the mucky bastard the flat to him or herself for a month but the alternative is probably worse, they might actually kill and eat you or perhaps just eat you which would probably be worse. Equally, drop hints to them that they should put something away each month, I have no idea how you'd broach the subject though.

Of course, you could bite the bullet and live on your own but remember, don't drink wine and listen to yourself, you might end up starting a blog and typing shit into it that seems to you to be the very pinnacle of sense and wisdom but to others seems like you drank to much cheap vino and face-dived into your key boardddddddddddddddddddddddddhjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjnweeeeeeeeeeee      asddddddddddddddddddd,kfd99999999999999999llllllllllll................/.................;;;;;;#~~~~~~:~)1111!!