Moans

Judgement

Who is to blame? It is a question asked every day by lots of people about lots of things that do not necessarily concern them, and, as long as the finger of suspicion cannot be pointed at them, they often harbour a guilty (or sadistic) delight in doing so. For serious cases where criminal charges can be brought or lessons learned, finding out who did the bad thing seems a sensible thing to do. But in other cases, a desire for answers can turn into a witch hunt if you are not too careful, and the nuanced complexities of a case where there are usually two sides to a story are buried beneath an avalanche of ill-informed public opinion. You do not need to be Einstein to work out that social media now provides the bandwagons that anyone can jump onto.

After blame has been established, and very often before, comes judgement. Some people just cannot help themselves, gleefully pouring a basket of their opinions over the head of some poor unfortunate target whose guilt is yet to be categorically proved. A clue that a judgemental pronouncement is about to be made is that they often start with the phrase “well, if you ask me…”, a sure sign that no-one has.

Now for the controversial bit. I shall dip my toe in the waters of potential vitriol, at great personal risk to myself. Ok here goes. I think the urge to judge other people is more prevalent in women. There, I’ve said it. May I rest in peace.

It is just that you don’t generally see groups of men discussing their neighbours or acquaintances and what they have done to their garden or how they are dressed, or what activities they might have got up to. Men don’t seem to worry about that stuff. My wife will sometimes point out that some friend of hers has just changed her carpet even though there was nothing wrong with the old one, or put new windows in, and wasn’t this a waste of money, and I will somewhat harshly respond “why do I need to know this? I don’t care”, whereas she plainly does. As far as I am concerned, Mrs Miggins can do what she wants with her carpets and windows, it is nothing to do with me. The male net of judgement seems to cast itself in a much closer proximity to their person, unless you are talking about football in which case they are happy to heap often abusive judgement on everyone from the ref to the reserve goalkeeper.

To me though, 98% of the blame and judgement that pollutes our lives is ill-informed and therefore slightly pointless, other than as oil for a conversation. Drawing conclusions without both sides of the story is a fool’s game and we all do it, but perhaps the world would be happier if we all reined in the blame and judgement until all the facts are known. As if that will happen!

Being Slow

Get out of my way! This is a phrase that quite often flits guiltily through my thoughts, and the reason for this is that I am a self-confessed fast walker. I just naturally bound along at a fair old pace, getting to wherever I am going as quickly as my legs will realistically take me, short of breaking into a trot. I can’t help it – I just can’t walk slowly. And I don’t want to either. Walking quickly keeps you fitter and saves you time. It’s a win-win, surely?

However, as I negotiate the people hazards around me, it is clear that I am in a minority. Most people seem to be happy to amble. This is even more accentuated if you live in a tourist town – which of course many readers no doubt do – as the last thing you associate with a tourist is a zippy mover. Tourism is all about dawdling, looking round you, wandering about (often aimlessly), and just breathing in the atmosphere of a different culture. That’s fair enough, I can excuse that. I’ve occasionally been known to do it myself. But what annoys me is people going about their daily routines who have no business shuffling along like a sloth dragging an anchor, particularly if walking three abreast on a narrow pavement.

I was once leaving my office at work and I spotted a chap I knew from another department heading through the door ahead of me. He laboured under the misfortune of being a remarkably dull man, and conversations with him were invariably tedious, so I thought I would hang back and give him time to disappear into the distance. I studied my phone for a few minutes, and after judging that sufficient time had passed, I strode through the front door, turned left, and there, no more than 150 yards ahead of me, was Mr Dull, mournfully dragging one foot in front of the other at a pace that I would have described as pedestrian, were it not for the fact that all the other pedestrians were quicker than him.

I had no option but to begin walking behind him, hoping he would reach the station before I did, but it was soon obvious that this would not happen. However slowly I tried to walk, I was rapidly gaining on him. It was almost magical how he appeared to be moving his legs yet not advancing any further along. In the end I nipped down a side street, went round the block, and still got to the station well before him.

This got me thinking about ‘slow people’. If they walk slowly, do they think slowly, eat slowly, take longer to do their jobs? Do fast legs translate into fast brains? Should prospective employers do tests for this? Or are fast people likely to rush things and be less careful? All questions which are probably unacceptable in today’s world, so let me immediately apologise for ‘slow-shaming’. Right, must dash!

Car Hire Charges

I hired a car the other day, using one of the Malaga airport car hire firms. That last sentence alone is probably enough to have many of you sagely nodding your heads, knowing what is about to come, based on the safe assumption that if nothing untoward had happened then I wouldn’t be writing about it.

I have hired cars from almost all the airport car hire firms over the years, and despite always going for the cheapest option and therefore painting a target on my back for the Nefarious Practices department of each firm so that they can get their money out of me, I have emerged by and large unscathed. Until now.

I will not name the firm as to be fair it could have been almost any of the budget car hire companies. And to be honest, having managed, thanks to a rental search site,  to pay under £20 for two days’ hire of a nifty little VW Polo, I was on my guard for ways in which the firm might try to get a bit more money from me. First of course was the five minutes hard sell of their insurance, which would have cost me more than three times the cost of hiring the car. I already had insurance, so stood my ground as, seeing as how I was too dim to immediately accept,  the heavenly benefits of their policy were explained for a 4th time.

Eventually I got the car, and drove it extremely carefully. I was more than happy when I had returned it that it was in the same condition as when I picked it up. Then came the dreaded words of the clip-board wielding employee: “this is new!”  There was a hint of triumph in his voice. Shocked, I went to look at what he was pointing at. On the front left bumper, a small series of scuff marks. I had absolutely no idea how they had got there. They exceeded the allowed diameter of ‘damage’ by a couple of centimetres. I wet my finger to see I could rub them off but he cried ‘No!’ and physically tried to prevent me doing this, fearful that they might disappear, which I am sure with a bit of light scrubbing they would. But already he was on his feet and tapping into his PDA that I would now be fined 225 euros.

Of course he knew as well as I did that the marks would not be repaired. If light damage ever was repaired, you would never be handed a sheet with a diagram of the car and black crosses marking all the damage on it, would you. Every car you picked up would be good as new, fresh back from the repair shop. So it is partially fraud, as far as I am concerned – taking money under false pretences. Yet despite plenty of people wringing their hands, the practice continues.  Serves me right for finding a basement bargain? You decide.

Annoying Websites

There are well over a billion websites in existence, although it is thought that a majority of those are not actively maintained. For those that are, and more particularly for new launches, they way they look has been changing.

It seems that the preference these days is for a much more arty, image based, uncluttered interface. This means less text, larger fonts, lots of white space, perhaps an auto-playing video, and big photos of happy smiling people who have nothing to do with anything often pointlessly taking up most of the introductory page. Older websites tended to pack in a lot more information, links and data with images that, if they appeared at all, were much smaller so that anything that the reader was looking for could be immediately accessed from that first view. Now, endless scrolling is required.

This is in part because, for most companies, there are now few limits to creativity if they wish to make online ‘statements’ or are new start-ups promoting their out-of-the-box thinking, and their desire for flair often takes precedence over an understanding of what the poor visitor to their site is actually trying to do. 

The first thing that many website designers forget is that not everyone has superfast broadband, and even if they do, we all know they don’t always get the advertised speeds. Many of us also don’t buy a new PC or laptop every year so may not have a machine that will run an auto-play video as though you have just switched on your TV. I have found some websites, and the national newspaper sites are good examples, that are virtually unusable because the one little bit of news you want to read is lost amongst the loading adverts, pop-ups and preview videos that then take minutes to load, constantly refresh the screen, and generally drive you mad until you just give up and head back to Google to look for the news in a more simple format somewhere else. Particularly frustrating is where you have scrolled down, finally found the paragraph you are interested in, and have just read the first line when an advert at the top of the page suddenly loads and re-sizes the page so you are now viewing something else.

The second thing software designers forget is that not everyone has a huge desktop monitor like they do. Some of us are using a netbook or small laptop, which cuts off half the opening page. You get the useless photos to look at but no buttons to click unless you scroll down every time. Yet there is white space everywhere – why not use it? It screams inefficiency, as though the developers had decided not to put any thought into making good use of the space available, instead designating the customer to do the work required to navigate downwards and try to find what they are looking for through discontented scrolling and clicking.

So website designers, a plea: more information, less artwork please! Thank you.

Till Dividers

I know that cashiers in supermarkets across Europe have a lot to think about and are dealing with customers who are usually wishing they were somewhere else. However, in my view this does not excuse them from being able to understand how the ‘Next Customer’ divider batons should work.

Firstly, in some supermarket chains it is quite common to find only one – perhaps two if you are lucky – dividers assigned to a till. This means that the customers further down the queue are denied the use of a divider just when they need it, so are reluctant to put their shopping on the belt in case it gets mixed up with the person in front. Before they know it they are half way down the checkout belt with basket still in hand and people behind them in the queue blocking their route back to the empty basket stack. Confusion ensues. To address this some decide instead to hang back, leaving a big gap on the belt to the shopping in front and causing the queue to extend back further into the aisles.

Finally the one divider – by now the focus of all in the queue – reaches the front of the belt as the first customer’s shopping is scanned through. Does the cashier immediately pick up the baton and sloosh it down the runner so a waiting customer can use it? No, they wait until they have taken the first customer’s money and are ready to start scanning the goods for the next one. Only then will they pick up the divider. However, further disappointment for the expectant queuers awaits as the cashier then either places it right at the beginning of the track, or makes a half-hearted attempt to push it along a little bit, which results in it moving approx 5 inches. The onus is now on you as the next customer, with the eyes of the queue behind boring into you, to retrieve the baton. This can only be achieved by awkwardly stretching over someone else’s food purchases, leaning across with coat sleeves brushing into their chicken thighs, and triumphantly grabbing it. Note that the customer in front of you, despite having just gone through the same procedure, rarely feels any obligation to help out at this point despite being closer to the baton than you are.

You now have your goods on the belt and safely segregated from the person in front. You can relax. The problem is now handed – much like a baton in a relay race, ironically – to the person behind you.

Even though the cashier must have noticed customers having to perform this manoeuvre over and over again, they seem unable to deduce that there is an issue, let alone that they could easily sort it out themselves. So it causes tension and frustration at exactly the point where supermarkets should be wanting customers to leave their stores with a good impression. It is a small yet easily remedied problem, is it not?

Nuisance music

A while back, I took a bus to the next town. Well, the driver did, I was just a passenger. As we moved off a young man sat next to me and decided to forcefully entertain all the passengers, but me in particular, by blaring some tinny drum beat ‘music’ out of the woeful speakers on his phone. My plans for a dreamy stare out of the window were put on hold as this awful noise assaulted my ears.  This scenario has since repeated itself on a number of occasions, although of course sometimes it is just a conversation, where a witless numpty who has decided it is too much effort to lift a phone to their ear, puts their mobile on speakerphone and shouts at it for the entire duration of the journey.

With regard to that young phone DJ, it got me thinking what it is about human beings and their selfish need to impose their musical tastes on others. Hardly a day goes by when you don’t see a teenager loping along with music blasting out of their hand (via a phone), and in Spain I regret to say I have seen quite a few old gents doing this too now as they shuffle their tunes as well as their legs in an effort to keep fit. It is not as though they benefit from superior sound quality through this approach, indeed quite the opposite, so why do none of these people use headphones? It can only be the same primal urge that persuades young men in their first cars to open their windows and pump up the volume to prove that…. well, what does it prove? In the 1980s, you might want to show off a big sub-woofer you had just spent the weekend attaching to your parcel shelf. These days, almost all cars have decent speakers as standard so rocking the street in your standard issue Seat Ibiza isn’t going to impress anybody. But here’s the thing – when people look at you in your car because you are banging out what you think is a top tune nobody is impressed anyway. They are looking at you because they are thinking ‘prat’, not ‘legend’. So perhaps it is all about dominance. I’m a top dog, you lot are going to listen to my sounds whether you want to or not (that still doesn’t stop us all thinking you’re an idiot, mate).

At least with buskers, they are making their own sounds and a degree of skill is involved. Also, they tend to play more pleasant tunes as opposed to, say, drum and bass or heavy metal, because they want people to give them money, not poke them in the eye.

But people walking along the pavement wasting their batteries blaring out music because they are too lazy to put headphones on may as well be holding a big sign which says ‘I am a nuisance and a fool’ to complete the effect. On second thoughts, maybe you don’t need the sign.

Consideration

I was in England, walking a little distance behind a large young woman with a pushchair. Her hair was slicked back into a fiercely tight ponytail; her leggings struggled to contain her wobbling limbs. I could see her rummaging in a plastic bag hanging from the handle, and before you could say ‘chav alert’ she had pulled out an empty beer can, and without looking around to check who might be watching, tossed it casually onto the grass verge next to the path. Not content with that, she then extracted a plastic bottle and flicked it into the hedge before waddling on. Her demeanour gave the impression that this was normal behaviour for her, and who gives a brass monkey if anyone doesn’t like it.

I was too far back to rush up and confront her, and in any case she was approximately twice my size so I didn’t fancy my chances. But I did tut loudly, which is the British thing to do in these situations, and not in any way diminished by her being out of earshot.

My anger at the idiocy and inconsiderate nature of this woman later prompted me to wonder about why some people are inherently selfish and have no consideration at all for others.  For example, I have had neighbours in an apartment block who were once leaving for a holiday very early on a Sunday morning. Most people would have tip-toed around trying not to make too much noise, but these people were shouting to each other, slamming doors and making no effort at all to be quiet even though it was 5:00am and all their neighbours would quite obviously be asleep. These people were either a) so stupid that they had no idea that their actions were waking everybody up or b) they just didn’t care. There can be no other options and yet whichever one you choose the noisy neighbours are painting themselves as self-centred idiots and stoking up the anger of people they ought to be wanting to get along with. Do they not realise that? On reflection, it is quite possible that they are stupid AND selfish – the two often go together.

After a few moments’ thought I quickly realised that it would take more than a few moments’ thought to solve this. There are so many reasons for selfish behaviour that if you are looking for swift answers and easily solved root causes you have about as much chance as if you were trying to get every politician to harmoniously agree on Brexit. So I will sum it up in a sentence that just trips off the tongue (and lands in a heap on the floor): all things considered, I do think that people should give considerable consideration to being more considerate.  Thank you.

Familiarity Fatigue

I have lost track of how many times I have watched Johnny Depp pointlessly drive into the desert, get a shovel out of the boot, and bury a piece of jewellery while his voice-over emotes in a language only understood by perfume advertisement copywriters. That ad has been running for years now and regretfully shows no signs of stopping. And yet despite being forced to watch it so many times, I have no recollection of which particular smell in a bottle he was trying to make me buy, and even if I did, I wouldn’t buy it because of the pretentiousness of the ad. Also, it is bound to be expensive to pay for all that advertising. So why do advertisers think it is effective to throw good money after bad and keep showing the same advert over and over again? Has anyone ever seen an advert for the 451st time and suddenly thought ‘hang on, I see it now – that piece of oak furniture is just what we need after all. Deidre, start the car’.

Some programmes are particularly prone to advert repetition. I always watch the Tour de France highlights on ITV4 every year, and you can guarantee that they will show you the same medley of adverts in almost every break, day after day, for three weeks. Do the advertisers think their audience are so dim that a form of Chinese water torture is the only way to hammer home the message? Has it not occurred to them that by forcing the poor viewer to repeatedly watch two sets of dishes being washed, one with a ‘leading competitor’ and one with new Gnomey Fluid, that it will not be long before we’ll be sick of the sight of their product? It is pretty obvious that the same audience will be tuning in every day.

The TV companies themselves are not much better. The BBC inserts trails for upcoming programmes with gay abandon, seemingly unable to comprehend that most people do not just watch once a week. So in the many weeks before RuPaul’s Drag Race, for example, the same trailer was played over and over and over again, at every available opportunity. Look at us, being so diverse and inclusive! Shout it from the rooftops! Then, they finally broadcast it. Hurray! No more trailers! Wrong. Now the programme is available on catchup, so what a great idea to resume playing the same trailer over and over and over again, but add a bit about catchup on at the end. It might be a great programme, but I refused to watch it on principle.

I do wonder whether the executives involved, when determining how to schedule adverts and trails whether on TV, radio or online (Grammarly on YouTube, anyone?) consider not just the ‘packages’, audience reach, demographics etc, but also put themselves in the viewers  and listeners’ shoes now and again and consider ‘saturation’ and ‘familiarity fatigue’. Me, I usually consider myself saturated after one viewing, especially if it is a perfume commercial.

Coming Up!

“Coming up….!” These are the two words I dread when watching any TV programme these days. Producers seem to think that every programme, whether it be drama, news, documentaries, car shows, holiday programmes, you name it , has to be prefaced with a summary of what you are about to watch so that you can see what you are going to see before you see it.

This never used to happen. You used to be able to settle down in front of the television secure in the knowledge that you could watch a programme from start to finish and enjoy what was to come without having already been told, against your will,  what was about to unfold. But now TV schedulers are so desperate to hang on to their short-attention, flick-switching, phone-fixated audience that they feel they have to lure them in and sprinkle little snippets of enticement into their eyes before the programme has even started. This ruins the surprise element that forms a major part of the enjoyment of most TV viewing. “Coming up, Jeff and Linda love the third house we show them and put in an offer”.  “Coming up, we talk to Mark and learn how his training helped him win the race we haven’t shown you yet”. “Coming up, will the ambulance crew rescue a man from a bridge?” (accompanied by a clip of the man being rescued). “Coming up, TV viewer smashes set in frustration at being told what is coming up”. You get the picture.

Cliff-hangers at the end of each drama series are also ruined when the programme ends with a ‘next week’ teaser segment which shows the heroine has clearly survived falling under the horse because there she is, right as rain, running after a handsome man.

The BBC News hasn’t helped the situation by giving a 5 minute news summary at the beginning of every 30 minute news bulletin, accompanied by the heartbeat theme tune for dramatic effect. But do you really need to hear lengthy preview extracts from interviews and correspondents that you then find yourself watching again almost immediately? Couldn’t the time be better spent with a more in depth news coverage later on?

My theory as to why this has evolved is that it is borne from greater choice. In those golden olden days when you had just three channels, you stuck with a programme without knowing what was ‘coming up’ because you knew that there was nothing better on the other two channels. Nowadays, if the first minute of something you are watching is not tickling your fancy and you have the attention span of a weevil, you have options. You can channel surf until you drown.  So programme makers feel they have to give you a carrot on a stick. The problem is that they have ended up feeding you most of the carrot almost before you have had time to sit down. 

Now, coming up later in this article there won’t be anything because I’ve finished now.