Sunday, 19 August 2018

Beautiful You

This week I read Beautiful You, by Chuck Palahniuk. Fresh out of college, the young Penny starts at a company producing highly successful women's sex toys. CEO Maxwell, however, is not just planning on being her boss- he wants her as her guinea pig. But what's the end goal? Penny might find out, provided she doesn't die of sex exhaustion.

A funny, twisty book, riffing off the successes of 50 Shades but self-consciously cliched. A fun read but not for the easily offended.

Saturday, 18 August 2018

I'm having to escalate my HMRC complaint

Over the last few Saturdays I've updated on an ongoing problem with HMRC: After my Disability Living Allowance was stopped, I was asked to apply for Personal Independence Payment. After initially being refused, I applied via mandatory reconsideration and was awarded about a third of what I was initially in receipt of under DLA. Not long after this, my Working Tax Credits were stopped. Following this, HMRC demanded £416 in apparent overpaid WTC. For many months, I received no valid explanation for any of this, and instead of explaining their processes, they passed this overpayment to a debt collector.

I've spent a few months receiving assistance from TJ, a Welfare Rights Officer. She's helped me to collate any and all information relating to my WTC claim: we've got paperwork, and now recordings of calls made to HMRC. The debt agency wanted nothing to do with my case due to my memory difficulties, and threw it back to HMRC.

This week TJ has called me explaining that the overpayment has been remitted. I should have been more inquisitive during this phone call, but my understanding is that 'remitted' in this sense means 'cancelled' as opposed to 'paid off,' as I definitely haven't paid them. So that's a relief. It isn't over though, by a long way.

HMRC are willing to pay me £70 for my troubles. £70 for months of bailiff threats, a total lack of explanation, numerous lengthy phone calls and still no WTC. TJ and I agreed that this isn't enough. HMRC say they aren't willing to reinstate WTC as Oldham is a Universal Credit area- a new benefit to which I'm not entitled.

We're going to debate this, though. TJ is escalating this to a Tier 1 Complaint, which 'provides for payment of compensation if a claimant has lost out financially, or suffered anxiety or distress, as a result of HMRC's error or delay.'

I've changed nothing. Same job, same hours, same pay, same home,same memory difficulties, same depression and anxiety. The only things that have changed are the massive levels of stress caused from the aforementioned situation and the benefit money that HMRC pay me, and that changed due to their actions, not mine. And I'm just one guy, out of 947,000 people, moved from DLA to PIP and dealing with the consequences. What's important, though, is that claimants- disabled people like myself- are transparent and have a voice. It's vital that we use the internet to keep the public informed of these situations without shame or fear.

Thursday, 16 August 2018

Abyssinian Baboon Attack

Mountain track, Abyssinia
The next instalment of my grand-uncle's war memoirs.

Spring 1941

A few months after settling down to a very nice standard of living, weather lovely and cool, so different from the Sudan, peace was interrupted by the arrival of a regiment, the Argyl and Sutherland Highlanders.

They had been chased out of Greece and Crete with terrible losses, heavily outnumbered, and had been sent down to Asmara to rest and recuperate. Every time we met in bars or cafes, their only remarks were, “Where were you lot in Greece and Crete? We were on our own, no help from you lot. You bastards.”

Fights started left, right and centre and in the end the OC Troops decided that the RAF and the Army would only be allowed out on different days of the week. This went on for a couple of months until the situation eased.

The Squadron played the local football team in the Post Stadium. We had heard about the local team, the way they introduced themselves and entered the pitch and the Squadron were ready for them. They ran out onto the pitch in single file, along the halfway line to the centre circle, right around the centre circle, across the middle to turn and face the stand. At a given signal they all raised their right arms and clenched their fists to give the Fascist salute. Trumpets, bugles, raspberries, drums and clappers sounded, drowning their salute. Our lads were just knocking the ball in the other goal. We beat them 4-1.

One of the flights had an aircraft which force-landed on an emergency strip about 50 miles into Abyssinia. Once again we loaded up the open 3-tonner, with the Cpl and driver in the front and four of us sitting in the back. It must be said that the Italians were good colonisers. In a terribly mountainous country they had built smashing roads up the sides of mountains with precipitous drops. Every water course was ducted under the road carefully. Heavy transport consisted of huge diesel lorries with often two big trailers behind.

We had been climbing and descending for about three hours when, slowly climbing up the side of a huge mountain, a huge male baboon jumped down into the middle of the road. Then another, then another, until there were about eight. Huge, snarling, menacing creatures. By the time the wagon had stopped we were about ten yards away from them. They were making mock attacks of a couple of yards, then retreating, barking all the time, fangs showing.

Then the main tribe came off the mountain across the road and down into the valley. Dozens of them. Mothers with babies hanging underneath. Always there were at least half a dozen big males menacing us. Some would move on only to be replaced by other males.

Back up,” we shouted from the open back of the wagon. This the driver did, freewheeling backwards down the road for another 10 yards or so. We had rifles, but if they decided to attack we would not have much chance to use them.

And so they all disappeared down over the edge into the valley. It was said they often used to raid the cultivated plantations in the valleys.

A complete plug change cured the problem on the sick Wellesley. A one night stay in a native's borrowed mud hut was sufficient and we were on our way back the following day after first seeing the aircraft airborne.

Monday, 13 August 2018

A Packed Weekend of Events

Manchester is very lucky this week- TONS is happening.

Friday night: Jack Fowler from Love Island is dropping into The Birdcage for a meet-and-greet. Love Fridays are always a fun night out whether you watch reality TV or not, so don't stay in. Get involved with the Manchester Cool Bars meetup.

On Saturday night I'm heading back to the Birdcage, this time with Singles Saturdays- Manchester. I'm again running the event, the first time I've done so with this Facebook group. Stopout Saturdays is the night. In both cases, ID is essential!

It doesn't stop there- oh no. Make sure you're properly scrubbed up. Sunday Evening sees SBJ Management hold a model scouting party in Spinningfields bar Menagerie. The modelling agency, ran by former Miss Manchester Sara Beverley Jones, will be looking for Manchester's next top models. Expect an array of talent. Again, Manchester Cool Bars is dropping in. Tickets are flying out at £15 a pop. Act fast! There are 10 people on the meetup so far so expect the event overall to be hugely popular.

Sunday, 12 August 2018

I have mostly been reading

By the end of the story, you, well, you'll understand the cover.

This week Northern Quarter stalwart Kosmonaut closed down, to be replaced with a beer house. A fucking beer house. Bullshit, man. I loved Kosmonaut's brutalist Russian look with elongated seats that reminded me of the top deck back row of an old bus: dark leather, half-pipe style. They had some good old-school hip hop blasting out most nights, a refreshing change from Manchester's staple soundtrack of Drake mixed in with Drake.

I finished Doomed, Chuck Palahniuk's sequel to his equally brilliant Damned. Snarky little dead girl Madison has found herself in Purgatory- out of Hell, but walking the Earth as a ghost. We learn more about what horrendous scenes landed her in the Fallen Kingdom in the first place, and who might actually have been in on it from the start. It's a great follow-up story, enriching all the characters (if you can call it 'enriching'- the majority of them are moral vacuums, and for good reasons). A very addictive, fascinating and totally gross follow-up.

My copy was signed.

Also today I dropped into meetup Talk About it Mate, a depression support group. I met with them a few months ago. A great meetup for men and women, with good chat, coffee, book recommendations and movie talk. If you think it might help, join the group.

Thursday, 9 August 2018

Avoid being captured by Abyssinian soldiers at any cost

Asmara during the British occupation of Eritrea

The next instalment of my grand-uncle Dick's memoirs.

And so we moved into 1941, the war going well. The army was advancing with the help of the South Africans and Indian Divisions.

Periodically we helped to load up the Wellesleys with packs of leaflets for dropping over the Eritrean and Abyssinian territory, written in Italian, Eritrean, Abyssinian and English. They spoke of the Allied Successes.

Bags of Marie Theresa Silver Dollars were also dropped by the aircrew to Abyssinian patriots to pay them to carry on the fight. This was an old Austrian Dollar, but because of its silver content it was used as an additional currency throughout the Middle East.

Our billets were now built of mud bricks made from Nile mud with simple wood moulds. They dried in an hour. We watched our NAAFI built and grow from nothing in a few days.

Incidentally in the camp there was a tree ringed with an iron railing stating that General Gordon used to ride out from Khartoum on his camel to pray. He was a very religious man.

Two miles away was a Free French Squadron with Long Nose Blenheims. We managed to arrange a hockey match with them and on passing the aircraft we noticed one Blenheim, with both engines completely nude, with not a cowling in sight. We found out that a sand storm the previous day had caught the ground crew completely by surprise whilst at 'tiffin' (lunch) and about twenty cowlings were now bowling across the desert fifty miles away, never to be seen again. I do not think that we ever saw that Blenheim move again.

Once a month, on Saturday morning, was 'de-bugging.' Wooden rope beds were taken outside and all the joints brushed with anti-bug solution and we would watch them crawl out to be 'assassinated.'

The army had now entered Asmara, Eritrea, shortly followed by the Squadron moving into the Italian Air Force Camp which had been bombed the first day of the war. Attached to a rear party I remained behind at Gordon's Tree to service a few Wellesleys on rectification. Finally, I climbed aboard one of the last aircraft and flew into Asmara.

Asmara was a fine city with shops, cafes, an Odeon cinema and a football stadium. The war was practically over with just isolated pockets of Italian troops, mainly holding out on mountains, scared to surrender, but only to the British. For an Italian to be captured by an Abyssinian was a fate worse than death. They say they were given to their women who cut off their testicles, put them in their mouths, and sewed their lips together.

British soldiers were told not to surrender their prisoners to the Sikhs who would offer to take them back behind lines. Some Sikhs had had their hair cut of by the Italians when taken prisoner, against their religion, a terrible insult. The Sikhs would slit their throats.

Sports teams suffered. It took a good few weeks to acclimatise ourselves to enable us to complete a game without chest pains and shortness of breath. We were 7000 feet up.

One problem on road traffic: we made them change their right hand side drive to left hand drive, resulting in the buses offloading their passengers in the middle of the road. It was dangerous when suddenly confronted with oncoming traffic. A couple of civilian deaths ensued.

Monday, 6 August 2018

Damned, and one upcoming meetup

Damned, by Chuck Palahniuk. The snarkiest little dead girl in Hell, Madison, finds herself in a row of cells accompanied by a gathering of inappropriately placed, not-so-bad individuals who are forced to cold call members of the living world, in an endless loop of market research.

After a breakout, they take a tour of the underworld to confront the devil himself, who has some unusual plans for our Maddy.

A great fun read, and very well-researched. Numerous demons from international folklore play their part, while Maddy's backstory- what landed her in the fallen kingdom- is gradually revealed to us.

I'm currently hammering my way through Doomed, the second in the trilogy. After a run of non-fiction books and short graphic novels, a novel like Damned by a favourite author was a refreshing change.

This week: Not much on the nightlife calendar to speak of, but Sunday morning has a Meetup with Talk About It, Mate, 'a non-judgemental environment in which to meet others who have experienced different issues.' Drop into Peter St's Caffe Nero for a chat at 11am.