Vir Cantium

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Category Archives: Various Other Stuff

Whither the Tuppence?

Busy today, so just a quickie for now:

Sweden pays its last respects to the öre

The 50 öre, a little 3.7 gramme copper coin which since 1991 has served as the lowest denomination of the Swedish currency, the krona, was rendered expendable by Sweden’s Riksbank in December 2008. On Thursday, September 30th this decision came into effect.

So what? Well, 50 öre is worth a fraction under 5p in Her Britannic Majesty’s coinage. Now ask yourself: when was the last time you bothered to find a copper in your pocket or purse when paying for something? When do you handle such coins these days except when they’re given in change?

How long before we wave goodbye to the 1p and 2p piece?

First Sign of Spring

Forget your robins and daffodils; Spring is definitely on its way. I know this because I saw the Kent Spitfire yesterday – presumably doing air testing – flying back home to Biggin Hill.

Lump in throat and all that.

How old am I again?

Snow Chaos

Tut tut. We are so rubbish in this country. A few flakes of snow and everything collapses.

I mean, in countries like Sweden they’re used to this. Their transport systems and public services don’t grind to a halt do they?

Keep Calm and Carry On

keepcalmcarryon

I’d seen the “Keep Calm and Carry On” posters around here and there, but had never actually got around to looking into the background. I guessed they were a wartime effort, and the stoical, understated tone is one that suits almost any situation. Stiff upper lip, keeping your head when all about are losing theirs and all that. It’s like the attitude of the British Troops in the Gulf in 1991 who, on learning that Operation Desert Storm had commenced, decided that the appropriate response to the news was to put the kettle on.

So I Googled and found this site, which traces some of the history. It seems the poster was the third in a series, reserved for distribution in the event of an invasion by the despotic tyrant Hitler. The immediately preceding effort ran “Freedom Is In Peril”, and of course you just know that “peril” would have been pronounced with a rolling “r” and to rhyme with “hill”, not the modern, lazy “perul”.

Anyway, I soon came upon this article from the Grauniad last March, which expands on the history of the poster, and inevitably gets some sociologists to pretend to be useful by offering their insights into the poster’s modern popularity.

Dr Lesley Prince, who lectures in social psychology at Birmingham University, is blunter still. “It is a quiet, calm, authoritative, no-bullshit voice of reason,” he says. “It’s not about British stiff upper lip, really.

Oh dear, he couldn’t get past the second sentence without sneering at the “stiff upper lip” which, even if it wasn’t necessarily a reality among the general population, is surely a noble aspiration? And then of course, the good doctor launches into the trendy delusional lefty meme of “capitalism is dead”:

The point is that people have been sold a lie since the 1970s. They were promised the earth and now they’re worried about everything – their jobs, their homes, their bank, their money, their pension. This is saying, look, somebody out there knows what’s going on, and it’ll be all right”.

Outside the cosy publicly funded academic bubble, however, it seems that, far from being a reaction to the financial Armageddon, the poster has been selling steadily since, errr, 2001 when the proprietors of Barter Books in Northumberland, having found an old copy, started to sell reprints of it.

It seems some in the media are still getting worked up into a panic over the current recession. Perhaps those reporting on the poster’s success should heed its message.

Acute Accent

We all know about off-shoring, more specifically the use of call centres overseas, particularly in India. In some cases, these have been less than successful and are now being brought back into the UK – indeed, some organisations are now using the fact that they are using British call centres as a selling point. There were a number of problems with using Indian call centres, but among the top gripes was the accents that made things tricky. One doesn’t have to be a racist to have problems on a line that might be less than optimum quality, making out the accent of “John” in Mumbai.

So back to the UK the call centres are moving. But there is a problem here too. Partly it’s that the location of the centre isn’t the only issue – the fact that the centre was moved at all doesn’t indicate an organisation dedicated to customer service. Nor does it deal with the sort of issues that really drive customers away – the failure to deal with product or service quality that caused then to call the centre in the first place – the failure demand.

No, there is still another problem which has remained for too many call centres. The accent.

This evening I had a call from a friendly enough chap from my telecoms provider. I couldn’t tell you which because firstly “telecoms provider” could cover about three different companies in my case, and secondly because the guy calling me had a near unintelligible Ulster accent. I have no doubt he was in the UK, but since I was probably call number 342 he was by now racing through the script with his best Naarnirish lilt.

Now in actual fact I usually like the Ulster accent to listen to. It’s a good no-nonsense accent. However, after asking him to repeat twice which company he was calling from I told him it wasn’t a good time to call and could he call back please, putting the phone down just as he was saying something like “ … coo’ ias whayuuuravaugmuornthlyspeandisthur soitis?”. He may have been trying to sell me something, it may have been to my advantage – I’ll never know.

So as the call centres return to the UK, perhaps the next step is to send the operatives on elocution lessons to adopt a more universally understandable accent – though I am a proud southern softie who would prefer good old received pronunciation, I would be quite happy with a mild Yorkshire or Brummie – and also to teach them to slow down. I’m sure this Kentish man is not the only one – surely a motormouth speaking with his best Thames Estuarine would be equally unintelligible to a Glaswegian.

So what does this make me – regionalist? Accent-ist? County-ist?

Eurovision's Coming

Ah, Eurovision. Who needs by-elections when you get all the excitement of an early hours election count, but combined with cheesy music and thinly veiled medieval tribalism to boot?

Now I know it’s a joke over here. After all, if anyone has any real talent they have half the global music industry based in the U.K. to pick them up and make a few bob out of them, but to our neighbours beyond the White Cliffs, Eurovision is where it’s at.

Even so, it’s good old fashioned patriotism and racial brotherhood that is more than a passing factor in the Eurovision voting, especially since nowadays it’s all done by the viewers.

The trouble for Eurovision itself is that the major broadcasters, such as the BBC, make significant contributions to the running of the contest, in return for which the British acts get a free pass to the finals. Without the likes of Auntie, the thing would possibly collapse.

Now I am not a fan of Pop Factor, X Idol, Britain’s Got (No) Talent or any of the other reality talent shows, but I suspect, judging by their popularity, Eurovision would still garner some audience over here. I’ll be honest, though, if it wasn’t for Terry Wogan liberally pouring on the sarcasm, it just wouldn’t do it for me – and a good few others I suspect. Sadly, it’s a fact of life that Ol’ Tel won’t be around forever, and unless they can replace him with the likes of, say, Jack Dee or Bill Bailey, then that’s it for me. So if Terry goes, it will dent the audience, which makes it a bit harsh for the director of Eurovision television to complain about the tone of the Togmeister’s coverage. Of course, to be the boss of Eurovision I guess you have to take the thing unnaturally seriously, but does he not realise that without Terry, he might lose one of his major stakeholders? (Actually, he probably doesn’t care: he knows that the BBC, being just a teensy bit pro-European in its outlook, would probably still find the cash somewhere milk the licence payer for the necessary.)

So, where was I going with this? Ah yes, the voting. As a low-ranking psephological anorak, I have given some passing thought to how to sort out the Eurovision voting. Eurovision should be taking the voting problem more seriously because sooner or later, some of the old Europe nations, who do still think the Eurovision is where it’s at, will get fed up and take their balls with them.

Here’s my solution: regional finals, followed by the main final where each country still votes as at present, except they are barred from voting for their region’s entry – in the same way that they cannot vote for their own country’s entry now. That would put paid to the Balkans, Baltics or Scandinavians voting for each other. The sticking point would be drawing up the regions to be roughly equal in number of countries. We could take advantage here and do the football/rugby thing and send up four separate entries (or maybe six, including CI and IOM) – so we could possibly scrape together a British Isles region.

Anyway, problem solved. Next!

Numemmerac-what?

It’s alright for me, I’m an accountant. I do numbers’n’stuff.

So I can laugh at this, via The Register:

… Levenshulme’s Tina Farrel, a 23-year-old who admitted “she had left school without a maths GCSE”. She explained: “On one of my cards it said I had to find temperatures lower than -8. The numbers I uncovered were -6 and -7 so I thought I had won, and so did the woman in the shop. But when she scanned the card the machine said I hadn’t.

“I phoned Camelot and they fobbed me off with some story that -6 is higher, not lower, than -8, but I’m not having it.

“I think Camelot are giving people the wrong impression – the card doesn’t say to look for a colder or warmer temperature, it says to look for a higher or lower number. Six is a lower number than 8. Imagine how many people have been misled.”

The saddest thing, though, is not the lack of numeracy among non-dyslexic Mancunians, but the fact that Camelot caved in and withdrew the game.