Monthly Archives: November 2014

Black Friday blues

Last Thursday was Thanksgiving, which we don’t celebrate here in the UK, and last Friday was Black Friday, which apparently now we do (thanks, Amazon). I spent the afternoon with the hordes in the crowded-at-the-best-of-times Intu shopping centre in Derby. I’ve never been much of a fan of a shopping mall. I think I went just three times to the Galleria, Houston’s finest, and although I couldn’t completely avoid our nearest, Memorial City Mall,  I did my best to keep away as much as possible and most certainly didn’t feel the need to revisit either on my recent trip back. The same applies to Intu, with the added annoyance that its ridiculous name brings to any outing. So what with all that baggage and Black Friday now being a thing, frankly I’d have preferred to spend several hours on the geriatric ward of Derby Royal, and I do know what that’s really like (more of which later).  But I had no choice. [Spoiler alert: rant approaching.]

You see, up until that very day, just 48 hours ago, I had been continuing to pay for a US mobile phone contract alongside a UK one, and having to use two phones (one smart and one very dumb but with a battery that lasts a whole week!). This, then, has been four and a half months of unwillingly but necessarily shelling out for a US contract while no longer living in the US.   Let me elaborate. [Friends to whom I’ve elaborately elaborated already, feel free to skip to the end.]

At the time I was sorting out our move back home from Houston we didn’t want to close our Bank of America account; we’d still have money going in and out for a few months beyond our departure, I was planning a trip back in October so it would be useful then,  but most importantly, the exchange rate was shit. So, I went into the bank – note, actually went in to a branch and spoke to a real person – to ask how to change our online security mechanism which was linked to my US phone – any transaction (like transferring money) required a code that was texted to me.  “Oh that’s simple, ma’am, we can just link it to a different phone.” So I switched it to my UK phone number there and then. Easy peasy lemon squeezy, thought I, one moving job ticked off the list. Until I realised it wasn’t, on what was our very last day in the States, when, online transacting, the code came dinging right up on my US phone screen. Some time later when I’d managed to get through to a person in customer services (I could take up considerably more screen space by expleting about quite how laborious and frustrating that particular experience was but I’ll simply say that voice recognition software and the word ‘representative’ in an English accent do not, in America, gel; I’ll leave that hanging for y’alls to picture the blueness of the air) I was told that I had been incorrectly advised and online security cannot be linked to an overseas number. What I needed, in fact, was a “Safe Pass Key” – a physical card. My customer services operator helpfully changed my address (another last minute job jobbed, pleasingly killing two birds with one stone, I wrongly assumed) and then proceeded to be unable to order my Safe Pass Key because, it turns out, you have to wait 30 days from a change of address. So, there was my first month’s US contract while not in the US accounted for.

30 days later, online I go to order the Key, only to get the brutal message: “your Safe Pass Key can not be ordered at this time, try again later”. A few failed retries and I decide it must be 30 working days I have to wait. Here we are now rolling into my second month’s US contract while not in the US.

Ten days later, same scenario, same message, so a customer services phone call can no long be avoided (but I do remember to say “represenadive” in my best Texan twang). I get the shock news that, “unfortunately, ma’am, for security reasons we do not send our Safe Pass Keys outside of the US”. The bank has already sent me a new debit card to my English address, I say. Not the same thing. They could send it to my old address, she suggests. That would be the house in Houston where I no longer live and where someone else, a complete stranger, does instead. I question the bank’s notion of security, but to no avail. “Do you know anyone who lives in the US?” she asks. “Er, yes.” “Well we can get it sent there.” So, sanctioned by the bank, we change our address to our ex-neighbour’s. And then – did you see this coming? – I have to wait another 30 days.  There I then was, grumbling my way towards a third month’s US contract while not in the US.

A month on and at last I click that ‘confirm order’ button and my Safe Pass Key is on its way to the Ks’ house. By the time it arrives, in two weeks, I’m only three weeks away from our half-term holiday in H-town, so Mrs K keeps hold of it till I’m there.  Four weeks after that, I’m back home and, hallelujah, it works. Finally, I can cancel my US contract.

Except, I can’t, quite yet. You can’t just stop and pay up pro-rata with T-Mobile. No, you have to complete the month’s cycle which in my case takes me through another three and a half weeks to 28th November. Which fell on Black Friday. Which brings me back to Intu.

As of 28th November, my smart phone is only good for smart stuff if I’m connected to wifi so I need to transfer my UK contract from dumb to smart asap, without changing my number, losing my contacts from either phone, or any apps. Cleverly, I have managed to save all my photos elsewhere jic, but any smugness I feel is dwarfed by the need to also  complete the unlocking procedure online once the new SIM card is in and the worry I have about not understanding what this actually means. Obviously, it requires a visit to the EE shop. Which is in Intu. And it’s Black Friday. Bizarrely, the EE shop has no wifi (not allowed by Intu) so once the contract’s sorted and the new SIM’s in, I have to hot foot it over to a coffee shop which does have wifi (allowed by Intu) to unlock the phone. I have remembered to bring my laptop and the right usb cable, but my feeling pleased with myself only lasts as long as it takes me to snatch a seat, snap open the laptop and reach for my reading glasses which are not there in my bag. I manage to get past the password because I know that’s the first thing that comes up, but can’t go beyond this because I’m unable to read what comes next on the screen. I have to up sticks, relinquish my comfy corner in the crowded Costa, squeeze my way to Boots, and buy a pair of readers, before battling back and starting it all again. FFS!  I’m hassled and hot and raging and I blame it ALL, even my crappy eyesight and forgotten specs, on Amazon, the Bank of America, T-Mobile, EE and fucking Intu with its nonsense name.

November has been a difficult month, not just for me but for others I’m close to and fond of. Margot died, and I along with F, our 19 year old son and boyfriend of Margot’s daughter, went to her funeral in Holland which was heart-rending, moving and cathartic all at the same time. I keep hearing the line “every silver lining has a cloud”, spoken by Margot’s husband, H, in the rawness of his grief. Then there’s, T, son of good friends, a boy we’ve known all his life, who has been poorly and, last week, needed an op. My Mum, aka Gran, who’s old, frail and demented, also ended up in hospital (though handily, visiting-wise, for a while two floors directly below T), refusing food, drink and, in fact, any attempts at comfort and communication. One of the few things she did say to me, her daughter, in her confusion was “Where’s my baby?”. Oh the cruelty of dementia! [Thankfully, T’s on the mend and Gran’s home and back to being rude, her new ‘old self’ as it were.]  In the context of all of this, my app and chat challenges seem laughably, almost insultingly, banal and overplayed.  So I was encouraged to learn, just yesterday, in a prescient piece by Oliver Burkeman in the Guardian, that there’s a rational explanation for this loss of perspective: thanks to an oddity of the mind, known as the “region-beta paradox”, minor setbacks can cause more long-term distress than bigger ones. To simplify: when truly bad things happen they cross a threshold, triggering mechanisms that help us to cope and recover; in contrast, when all we’re dealing with are first world problems our cognitive defences won’t kick in, so rage may bubble longer.  I like to think it also provides some comic relief from life’s true traumas, too.



It’s not working

I’m holed up in my bedroom. It’s Tuesday. I’ve a dental check-up bang in the middle of the day so I’m working from home around it. Except I’m not working. It’s not working.

Firstly, if I could be sitting downstairs at my desk in the home office it would be a bit more conducive to sensible concentrating than lounging on my bed. But I can’t. The office is full of provisions which have been evacuated from the kitchen and set out on the camping racks, temporarily erected for the purpose. I was very prepared, planning how to make our four week sojourn without a kitchen less bleak. There’s everything we need to self-cater the month away: the two-ring camping stove all tubed up to the gas bottle in the corner, and on the racking a couple of pans, the knife and chopping blocks, cutlery and pasta, rice, noodles, tinned stuff, a few herbs and condiments, breakfast cereals, a couple of onions and peppers, some bananas and apples. The fridge is in the hall, fully stocked, next to a cupboard, newly resituated and housing a few plates, bowls, mugs and glasses. [But the microwave’s on top, in pride of place. Because, in reality, two and a half weeks in, we’ve relied on friends, Grandma and Grandad, take-outs, meals out, but, mostly, I have to admit, Billy-no-mates microwave meals. In the couple of years or so before my Mum completely lost her mind (you could say while it was being mislaid), I used to do her grocery shopping and microwave meals became a staple part of her diet, at first because she could still manage to heat them up herself and then later for her tea-time carers to serve her. Choosing a varied (though balanced would be exaggerating) selection – not too many pasta-based, plenty of vegetables, some fish and meat, a spicy one or two – was a bit of a highlight of our regular mother and daughter routine. And so it has become for R and me, mother and son browsing together in the supermarket. Last night we shook it all up a bit and went for the soup options. Crazy.  Anyway, I digress]. It’s all very make-do and cluttered down there.

Practically speaking, then, it’s not easy to be downstairs, what with all the foodstuff. And then there’s the commotion. Slamming, banging, smashing, sawing, drilling, shouting, singing, radio blaring.  One wall’s been completely demolished, one knocked through, everything’s been stripped out, electrics rewired, plumbing moved, a gas pipe installed, flooring ripped up, walls and ceiling replastered and now the refit is beginning and on it goes. In the process they’ve uncovered two long-abandoned mice nests under the boards, one still stocked with a stash of dried pellets of dog food! Ew! We’ve lived here for nearly 20 years and never heard the scuttle of a mouse and only very rarely fed any dogs (we’re not asked much anymore to dog sit, you won’t wonder why if you’ve read this), which just goes to show these have been here for yonks! It’s too much to face.

So that’s why I’m away up the stairs. We have no running water down below, so up here we’ve fixed up our little breakfast station, with kettle, toaster, stock of bread and muffins, tea and coffee, jam and marmalade and marmite and peanut butter. Just a wee fridge missing so there’s some upping and downing in the process, but still, it feels cosy in the mornings (and, to tell the truth, mid-morning, mid-afternoon and at bedtime too), our own little b&b set-up. It’s definitely another distraction in the working-from-home-not-working scenario but we’re liking it so much we think we might invest in said mini fridge, double up on the kettle and toaster combo and keep it going even when the new kitchen’s in full swing.

But it’s not just the surroundings. I’m also taking a while to adjust to the mental self-discipline that working from home requires.  I lamented the loss of my professional role when we relocated to Houston, yet now I’m defining a new one, it’s still a teensy bit of a struggle to shrug off the carelessness of a carefree life. Actually, how do you slough off a lack of something? It was an unfettered way of being, with self-imposed routines revolving around leisure more than labour and an often less-than-executive focus. So, there’s that, my inner regimen taking its time to reemerge…

Fundamentally, however, I can’t entirely blame the lack of kitchen, noisy builders, the homely little nook on the landing or my mushy brain. There’s something else too: the office crack. I missed it and that whole other circle in the Venn diagram of life, overlapping but not completely overlaid with the home and family and friendship ones. Most of what  I’m paid to do now can be done anywhere I can hook up to a screen and wifi, yet I’ve chosen to mainly do it in the office and the truth is that I probably would’ve done even with a kitchen and peace and quiet and the ability to focus in the house. It’s funny there and not really very funny at all here, and I quite like a gossip, and an exchange of ideas, and asking for help and being asked for help and, well, the company, really.

So for all these reasons, for me, this working at home malarkey? It’s not working. Hence this.