A Crumble by Any Other Name

I’m looking at an apple crumble made by Mum, complete with a dollop of clotted cream on the side. Because it’s homemade I have no idea when it’s use by is or, indeed, was. Because it’s me I don’t really care. It’s sweet and sugary and has fruit somewhere deep inside and in my world that’s all that matters. (Well, that and not being poisoned by it, of course.)

I debated whether to take a snapshot of the squidgy, crumbly, goo but then opted against. “The world will not judge my diet today!” I triumphantly thought, before typing up my eating habits for the world to read online.

I momentarily stop in creative passion to return my attention to more pressing matters. The beast calls for what it cannot grab from its imprisonment within. Like a puppet dancing on strings my hands respond to the master’s call. Ten twitching digits grab the faded bowl which had been lain on crumb-covered sheets, the dirtied spoon lifted from a used yoghurt pot beside.

“They cannot judge what they can’t see” I uttered to myself once again. A scoop of dessert piled high with cream onto the small tea spoon, the perfect combination of dry and moist. Each component would be lost without the other, and yet under the strain of such a mass the teaspoon could almost be heard squeaking for mercy. I happily donate my charity to the plea as I inserted the mixture into my mouth, eyes closed in anticipation.

Suddenly the relaxed, drawn, eye lids sprung open to reveal a very different emotion.

“The cream’s gone off.”

 

(Written in response to the prompt of the day: Crumb )

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7. A Surreal Settlement: Mortgage Conclusions

Disclaimer: names of individuals/financial institutions marked with * have been changed.

Same bank, same branch, same waiting room with the same generic music. The only difference was the day. Yet another meeting with BankUK* and advisor Katie*, yet another week in mortgage limbo.

“I should be in work now.” I thought.

At this point it’s worth noting how lucky I was to still even have sniff of the house I’d set my hopes on. The offer had been accepted by the seller in November, yet here I was in January with nothing more than a Chamberlain scrap of paper to suggest the funds were in place to buy the property. Since then there had been no requests for updates from either my solicitor or the agent which suited me to the ground. To tell the truth would be buyer suicide.

I walked into a different meeting room, this one blander than the others. The other rooms had photography with inspirational sayings on, this one had a single thank you card in the small, square, window which faced onto next door’s brickwork. The only ounce of personality in a white-washed cube. I half wondered if I was living in the Truman Show, that the same utilitarian chairs, desk and room was also used by dentists, consultants and middling management. As if at any moment a forklift truck would lift up the confined box and move it to different location, to film another character in an ongoing Soap which I was part of.

Such ponderings were brief, Katie walked through the door swiftly with all the relevant paperwork for signing.

“Before we sign the formal documentation for your mortgage, I’d like to sort out this business with your complaint.” Katie opened with.

“Ok,” I replied, “what’s the situation with that then?”

Katie went on to explain in detail the nature of my complaint, that the comments in the subsequent letter sent to head office had been fed back to her. She understood my frustration but told me it was something none of them could have predicted or prevented against, that their policy was underpinned by UK law. In other words, “our hands were tied, what could we do?”

In equally “I don’t give a stuff fashion” I nodded through her comments until she got to the bit we all cared about, what BankUK were going to do to shut me up. It was clear that I wasn’t going to let this drop easily, I’d already threatened further action on the phone and in my letters. I was looking forward to a big settlement.

“So, in light of all this, we’d be prepared to offer you a cash amount to the value of the administration fee on this mortgage. Given your original application was for a different mortgage at the same interest but fee-free, we believe this settlement to be fair. We are prepared to offer you £99 today. If you accept this now, we can close the complaint and move on with your application.”

Kate slid a prewritten cheque across the desk, signed by an unknown individual, presumably the branch manager.

Silence. I looked at the cheque and then up to Katie, then down to the cheque, then to Mum who was sat beside me for support. Her face was a mirror of mine.

“And the rest?”

“Sorry?” Katie blinked twice.

“Well, this can’t be the entire settlement. Given I’m not getting the full mortgage amount I was promised and after how much I’ve been messed about. I’m meant to be at work right now, not here. Besides, I should have got the fee-free mortgage in the first place. Thank you for this opening offer, but I reject.”

I handed the cheque back to my advisor. My response to what Katie, her manager and BankUK had assumed to be a fair offer stunned the former who once again returned to the same nervous state witnessed in our first meeting.

“Urm, can you give me a moment? I need to talk to my manager.” Katie requested.

“Sure,” I said, leaning back in my seat. “Take all the time you need. I’ve got all day.”

She returned a short while later to after apparently speaking to the invisible bank manager which we weren’t allowed to meet.

“My manager wants me to ask you if you had a settlement figure in mind.”

“A figure?”

“Yes, something for us to work with. What would it take for all this to go away?”

“Can we meet the manager?” Mum chipped in. “I believe my daughter requested this on a previous email which you agreed to.”

“I would, but she’s in meetings all day today, but if you feedback to me I can pass any messages onto her.”

That was it, I decided. I’m officially banking with the mafia.

“Well I’d have to go away and carefully put a figure together. There’s money owed for transport, time off, stress of a house sale almost falling through and so forth. I think it’s best you tell your manager that I can’t be expected to pull out a random figure out of the air without some thought and analysis. It wouldn’t be very professional or fair to BankUK.”

“Yes, I suppose so.”

“But that said I would like to get this sorted today. So, in light of that, I propose that I take the £99 today (as this is money you owe me anyway) and I sign the mortgage documentation so I can get the ball rolling on my house purchase. Meanwhile, I want to keep that complaint open for me to take this further with your regional managers.”

In my head all I could hear was Aretha Franklin singing Respect. Part of me wanted to flick my hair storm out of the cube room right there and then.

“Let me speak to my manager.”

Those six words marked the end of face-to-face negotiations with the white collar mafia. They accepted this temporary deal (more than anything to get rid of me). I signed the paperwork and finally secured a mortgage. Not the mortgage I’d originally wanted, but a mortgage nonetheless.

After another month of further discussion via letter and email a more reasonable settlement was agreed. In digging about to prove they were in the right, BankUK discovered that Jack*, my first advisor, had actually been in the office for several days prior to his accident. Several working days where he’d forgotten/put off contacting me about my failed mortgage application. Coupled with the birthday card and Katie’s admittance that they’d failed me, BankUK had little to use in their defence. They’d have to give out more than £99, either through the imposing financial regulators or one woman and her persistent emails. They went for the logical option, firstly by offering the higher mortgage value I’d originally applied for, followed by a request for a final figure to close the complaint for good.

I collected all my receipts and carefully justified every penny of compensation but in the end no hard evidence was required. To say they handed me a blank cheque would be over selling it, but to say they cared deeply would be false. At the end of the day they’re a bank who would be taking interest payments from me and millions others in the years to come. They weren’t short of money then and they aren’t short now. The figure on the cheque wouldn’t make the slightest difference to them, but it would to me. Was it the greatest victory in the world of small claim settlements? Nah, of course not, but it was a victory nonetheless. I’d taken on the banks and won.

The icing on the cake was my demand to sign the settlement paperwork in no other location but Swindon. Previously an unthinkable request, BankUK shoved Katie in a car with a cheque and sent her packing to Wiltshire.

I signed the documentation, took the cheque and wished her well in life. It was the closest thing to a thank you card she or BankUK were ever going to get from me. After all the stress and frustration, I finally had a mortgage and could start formal proceedings on my house purchase.

 

This post is part of The First Time Buyer Diaries. To view the full series (so far) click here.

Facebook: The Importance of Unfriending

I recently did a feature article for The National Student on the notion of Facebook friends and why a clear out of them every so often is nothing but a good thing.

Check out the article here: Facebook: The Importance of Unfriending

What are you thoughts on friends on social media? Do we have too many? Are they damaging or do you see them as harmless numbers?

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(PS, this is really a more in-depth, more wordy, less bullet pointy version of an earlier blog post There’s a Reason Why I Unfriended You. However these guys wanted something more informative – don’t they know who I am?!)

 

A Very British Complaint Letter to Cadburys Chocolate

The below complaint letter got me a £2 compensation voucher. I mean sure it took a bit of time to put together and yes the postage stamp was close to the value of the voucher. Plus the fact the snack bars themselves cost £1. So technically I’m actually working at a loss right now. Hmm, note to self; you cannot make a career from witty complaint letters.

 

Cadbury UK Consumer Relations,
Bournville, Birmingham, B30 2LU

 

Dear Sir or Madam,

I’ll keep this simple and to the point (because as riveting as complaint letters are, we’d all rather be somewhere else right now). I recently bought a box of Chocolate Chip Brunch bars and they are a bit pants.

As I know ‘pants’ can be used to describe a variety of situations from cold tea to literal pants, let me diversify. I bought a six-pack box in Poundland in Swindon (bear with me, that’s not the pants bit), however upon biting into the first bar at work I noticed the snack didn’t quite taste right. I opened the bar fully to discover it had gone off. I checked the sell by on the wrapper but the Brunch Bar appeared to be well within date. This is what it looked like:

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You can imagine the disgust and horror when I realised my hard-earned pound had gone to waste. I need my chocolate hit so very badly, it is often the only thing standing between me and a terribly put together advertising campaign. Imagine if, instead of a Gorilla, Cadbury had decided to use a dancing Stingray reading a recital of Keats for the iconic advert? Besides making for a difficult display in Cadbury World it wouldn’t quite make the mark. That is how crucial a mid-morning snack is to both me and my company’s marketing strategy. It’s ruddy big stuff.

All things considered I think you’ll agree that these Brunch Bars are of a pretty pants standard. Please can you check standards of production and do whatever needs fixing, pronto.

 

Yours Faithfully,

Alice E. Bennett

Famous Speeches Reimagined with Tea

Because the world would be a better place if we let out the hate and let in the tea.

 

Speech to the Troops at Tilbury Fort – Queen Elizabeth I

I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a strong tea drinker, and of a tea drinker of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade my beverage stocks on a Monday morning…

 

Address to the Army at the Beginning of the Italian Campaign – Napoleon Bonaparte

Soldiers, you are naked and ill tea-ed! Government owes you much and can give you nothing. The patience and courage you have shown in the midst of these rocks are admirable; but they gain you no renown; no glory results to you from your endurance. It is my design to lead you into the most fertile tea plains of the world. Rich provinces and great cities will be in your power; there you will find honour, glory, and rich beverages. Soldiers of Italy! Will you be wanting in Breakfast or Earl Grey?”

 

We Shall Fight Them on the Beaches – Winston Churchill

We shall drink tea on the beaches, we shall drink tea on the landing grounds, we shall drink tea in the fields and in the streets, we shall drink tea in the hills; we shall never surrender…tea

 

I Have a Dream – Martin Luther King Jr.

I have a dream today. I have a dream that one day every valley shall be replanted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made green, and the crooked places will be made straight rowed, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. This is our hope. This is the faith that I will go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation’s into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, coffee drinkers and tea lovers, knowing that we will all have tea one day.

 

Chairman Mao Zedong

An army without tea is a dull-witted army, and a dull-witted army cannot defeat the enemy.

 

Neil Armstrong (on the invention of fruit tea)

That’s one small step for tea, one giant leap for mankind.

 

Dali Lama

Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own action to make a good cup of tea.

 

Presidential Inauguration Speech – Donald Trump

From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this moment on, it’s going to be only Tea First. Tea First. Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs, will be made to benefit American Teabags and American Tea drinkers. We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our caffeine, and destroying our mid-afternoon breaks. Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength. I will fight for you with every breath in my body and I will never, ever let you down Mr PG Tips Monkey.

 

You get the idea.

Written in response to the WordPress prompt of the day: Tea

Home is Where the Prosecco is: A Simple Guide to the Cotswolds

This week I found myself in the unusual position of having to take annual leave simply because I worked nine months solid without any time off and now its caught up on me. Having made no big plans and no partner to do anything with (#ForeverAlone), I’ve spent the last few days going about some of the local towns and villages in the area. The plan; soak up the history, cream cakes and tourist sweat the region has to offer.

To back track a little, I was born and bred in the county of Gloucestershire, near the little market town of Chipping Campden.

Although a small minority may dispute my background, I’ve always very firmly stated my origins as being North Cotswold through and through. One of the many problems with Cotswolds is that it’s not an area defined by fixed boarders and fences. One person’s Cotswold is another’s Vale of Evesham. For example, the most recent controversy in my home village is the upcoming development of an airfield in neighbouring Warwickshire. Everybody with an ounce of common sense knows Warwickshire isn’t a Cotswold county, Cala Homes can ruddy well do one on that front.

Anyway, back to the point, because I have been on annual leave I’ve had the unique chance to go around some of the places I don’t normally see. Don’t get me wrong, Swindon, a town located in the heart of the Cotswolds, does have some unique shopping delights…

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…But it’s never quite been embraced as fully ‘Cotswoldian’. To counter balance, this week I have been visiting the towns of Chipping Campden (obviously), Cirencester, Painswick, Stroud and Bourton-on-the-Water. A mixture of the famous and under the radar. So here it is, a (very) simplistic guide to the sights of my home region.

A (Very) Simple Guide to the Cotswolds by Alice E. Bennett

The first, most important thing you need to know about the Cotwolds is that it’s habitants operate like a well oiled machine. Not necessarily a technological machine, we’re still a bit behind in that department.

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No, it’s more a traditional machine. A machine oiled with prosecco, gallons and gallons of prosecco.

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To be honest, before prosecco was a thing our family unit was in deep crisis.

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That said, the average Cotswold resident isn’t too picky, just know that any alcohol of reputable quality is embraced. So long as it’s not Gordon’s and located on the top shelf.

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If you do decide to rub us up the wrong way (e.g. playing your music at 9:15pm, voicing your love of the Labour party at a Church fete, ignoring our carefully placed signs…)

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…we will tend to express our frustration in one of three ways. The first, adopted by the minority youth culture, is to be witty by trying to make it a joke or pun-tastic:

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The second approach adopts some of the attributes of an open letter, however because we do things old school we treat an open letter in the most literal of senses. It’s quite common to have locals tack up posters in the middle of village squares:

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The final method we’ll voice anger is by taking our complaints to the local press. God have mercy on your soul if that happens. To prompt such an action, you really have to do something utterly criminal.

What the Cotswold towns and villages lack for in subtly they most certainly make up for in shopping. As we will tell you, our shops outclass yours 10-1, including our charity shops.

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People actually get excited about the mere thought of browsing through our used crockery and underwear, that’s how superior our stuff is.

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Bask in the used glow.

Our shops also boast some of the best opening times in the country and are run by the fittest and most able of patrons.

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With window fittings so majestic you’d think they were lifted from Oxford Street itself.

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Our shop names may make no sense, but the way we say and present them will ensure you walk away feeling like the stupid one in this relationship. That and an overpriced t-shirt.

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(The same rule can also be applied to house signs. Sign material comes at a price around here.)

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Speaking of clothing, we are the fashion trail blazers of the world. Move over Pairs, get out of here London, if you want to know what is going to be ‘in’ this season you need look no further than Stroud’s High Street. Two words: ‘Butterfly Boob’.

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Two more: ‘Gym Cats’ (alias ‘Crotch Cats’), perfect for Rio 2016.

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Urm…’Sombrero Dad’?

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‘And This’:

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If clothing isn’t your bag (or hat or scarf), then our shops do stock the most delightful alternatives including piles of biscuits which are, frustratingly, not piles of biscuits and witty sayings which aren’t witty. Because as any Cotswold home owner knows, any coffee morning or house visit isn’t complete until you’ve made you guests feel suitably inferior to yourself.

And what kind of animal are you if you leave without buying something for your cat?

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If you find yourself in a sticky situation or engaged in conversation, use these buzz phrases to steer yourself into safe waters:

  1. “Where is the nearest Waitrose?”
  2. “Too many immigrants in this country if you ask me”
  3. “I was just talking to my wife Florentina about that”
  4. “Isn’t the weather ghastly today?”
  5. “In my opinion if it’s not Tory, it’s not for-me”
  6. “It’s mainstream shops like Pry-mark that are driving the price of good quality chinos into the ground. It’s an utter disgrace”

And there you have it. Follow all of the tips and advice above you’ll be right on your way to being just about tolerated by the Cotswold community. When you come to depart our happy region we only ask you to remember one thing:

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We wouldn’t want you taking our middle class mannerisms with you now, would we?