My ancestors loved planting evergreen shrubs such as laurel and to a lesser extent, thank goodness, ponticum rhododendrons, to give more interest to the woodland walks. That of course was all very well when there where lots of men, as there where when I was a boy, who every year, armed with sickles, would trim the laurel growth back down. But then one day there was no money to pay such men anymore and the laurel and ponticum left to itself went rampant till the woodland walks became literally impenetrable jungle. For more than thirty years I have been happily hacking away at these evergreen monsters using them, in effect, as a form of outdoor gymnasium, and getting not only fitter and thinner as a result but also enjoying a feeling of immense satsfaction at viewing the resultant improvement in my woodland walks. A key part of the process is -of course - the bonfire. I suppose in the current world a whole generation is going to grow up who have never made a bonfire as either they have been forbidden under some Health and Safety rule or banned as contributing to global warming. That is sad as making a bonfire and getting one going to such a pitch that it will burn anything however green and full of sap it is that you can thow on it - is a noramlly highly skilled process. Not though at the time of writing. The hot summer has meant that bonfires virtually light themsleves and burn furiously within minutes. Oh what fun it all is and Oh how better my woodlands look because of the magic of the bonfire.
It takes a lot to get me up to London in the summer -especially a summer like this one - but if a an old firend asks you to come up to celebraste their 50th birthday - well - youv've just got to go. London and the heat do not go. However fortunately the night we spent in the metropolis was one of the cooler ones so we survived. Twice during our flying visit we hired a taxi and on both occaisions I was struck that all the good effects of the congestion charge in reducing congestion in central London seems to have gone by the board. I remember when the charge was first introduced the streets empties and suddenly buses roared around like sport cars. Not anymore they don't. what I just can't understand is why anyone would want to drive their car in London anyway? It seems to me to be such an utterly pointless and expensive activity that I am.forced to the conclusion that it is all really about showing off. So come on Boris -if you are short of money for something just do the sensible thing - double the congestion charge.
I am sure automated answer machines do -in the short term - boost banks profits - but only at a long term cost of infuriated and angry customers. So the moronic bank which I use, HSBC as you ask, returned a cheque which I had tried to pay into my account giving as the reason that 'the payees name has beem omitted' even though my name was wrtitten in big letters on the supposedly blank line. So infuriated I reached for the telphone - what a mistake - a disembodied automated voice answered - asking me to choose from a range of options and then yet more options until at last the inevitable message 'that all our operators are currently busy' to be followed by some truly appalling musical drivel - after about ten minutes of this - with my blood pressure nearing boiling point - some poor girl answered. Now what on earth does the HSBC expect the customer to do next? (a) to be grovelingly grateful that at long last you have an actual human being on the end of the line or (b) to be so furious that you vent your spleen on the unfortunated HSBC employee. Well my guess is that it probably breaks down into 50/50 and no prizes for which option I chose. Not that I am particularly proud of it but seriously what do the banks expect people to do? Sure they will say that by employing such practises it makes their operation more efficient and thus enables them to reduce borrowing costs by a fraction of one per cent. Actually they would have been able to reduce borrowing costs by a lot more than that if they hadn't made, in the case of HSBC, the moroinc business decision to buy an American bank some eight years ago specialising in lending money to people who were unlikely ever to pay it back - so far that has cost HSBC some £5 billion an counting - just think how many intelligent young people they could have hired to answere your calls promptly for a fraction of that sum? As the banks sweat about what new taxes and regulations are going to be imposed on them they might care to remember that every time a customer rings up and gets that disembodied voice asking them to choose from a range of options they have increased the num,ber of people who hate banks with a vengance by one.