Sunday, March 9, 2014

To or From

Mucho apologies to anyone who may have been attempting to reading these on a semi regular basis, for not having blogged for ages.
The trouble is, that though I absolutely love love love the nature of blogging - which is,  you can throw down your thoughts and then send them out into the stratosphere for anyone to pick up or bin (according to their preference) my appreciation of it completely gets in the way, once I sit down to write.

There's something so intensely personal about a blog. You can read when the writer is not being honest, or wants to impress, or is trying to hide something from you or from themselves.
With a blog the fact is, it's always best to say what's on your mind.
The problem for me is,  I often find the contents of my mind so seemingly random, that the idea of placing them into a blog for anyone to read, seems about as entertaining a prospect as emptying my Hoover bag out on the carpet and asking if anyone wanted to look through the contents.
With blogging, as with many things,  it's difficult to know where, or even when, to start.

So why now?
Well, Mark and I have been collaborating on this project called "Journeys to Glasgow" an online storytelling site about Glasgow, to coincide with the 2014 commonwealth games, along with some great friends of ours from old.
Everyone else involved in the project seems to do a whole lot of hard work, grafting, thinking, constructing, traveling, navigating through the early mornings and late nights caused by the time zones between us, based here in Los Angeles, and everybody else based 8 hours ahead in Glasgow.

My input has consisted, so far, of a bit of posturing saying stuff like, "Have you thought about that?' "Remember to mention this" and "You know your logo looks squinty?"
I figured the least I could do was write a little story about what I think of the city.

That should have been easy enough,  Glasgow is a place I absolutely love,  but when I sat down to write, I got as far as stating that Glaswegians are brilliant, and that I still think that when the sun hits off the red sandstone buildings after the rain, it is one of the most beautiful places on earth.

Though I was born in Cumbernauld, I lived in Glasgow for 8 years from when I was 18 till I was 26. As anyone over the age of 26 knows, a lot of stuff happens between the ages of 18 and 26 - way too much to put in any one blog.  But, long long before I ever moved to Glasgow, I knew it would be my home some day.

My parents were both Glaswegians, who moved us all out to the newly built town of Cumbernauld before I was born, with the promise of a better lifestyle and a bigger house.
They definitely needed a bigger house as their "room and kitchen" in Alford street was cramped, to say the least, with three young children and another on the way.
And though my parents loved Cumbernauld, they never lost their own affection for Glasgow, the city where they had grown up and their parents before them.

My Mum and I used to travel on the bus from Cumbernauld to Glasgow some Saturdays. I don't always remember why exactly we went.
Sometimes we went to go shopping, or to visit my Nana (my Mum's Mum) who seemed, often, to be in the Royal Infirmary - James Miller's giant imposing hospital perched next to Glasgow cathedral and - from my point of view on the bus - next to the biggest graveyard in the world.
(When I was a kid I reckoned they had the graveyard there to remind patients, that they'd better get better or else.)
Then the bus would wind its way down Cathedral street, past Strathclyde University, where my sister and brother - Janice and Scott -  were studying, finally coming to a stop at Buchanan Street Bus Station, where we would disembark.

Buchanan St Bus Station - which confusingly was actually on Killermont Street -  was always busy, serving busses on local routes, as well as coaches that would travel to further off places such as London.
As a child,  I never thought much about London. I'd heard that it was big and busy, but I couldn't imagine anywhere being bigger and busier than Glasgow.

At Christmas time we'd always head to Goldberg's - a huge department store that offered a new fangled thing called "credit" and had the best Christmas displays around. Animatronic elves would pretend to wrap presents, or reindeers would shake their heads from side to side in the window displays.
Inside the store was just as brilliant.
You could spot dark haired women with great make up and fur coats and great jewelry, or smart guys in suits with slicked hair and chunky gold identity bracelets. They talked loudly and had great smiles and huge arm movements. They were exotic amazing creatures, not like anything else I'd seen in Cumbernauld. Once, I asked my mother what  made  these people so different, and she whispered "They're Jewish."
 I had no idea what that meant, but I decided that I definitely planned to be Jewish some day.

Later, when I lived in Glasgow I would meet my mother at the bus station.  Though Goldberg's had long gone by then, we'd explore the random ridiculous wonder of Nash's, a magnificent wee stationary shop on Miller Street, that laughed in the face of modern technology.
Or maybe we'd go to Fraser's on Buchanan Street and snigger at the orange ladies,  their fake tan messing up the collars of their coats,  after the rain had managed to somehow make its way underneath their umbrellas.

We'd marvel at the selection of cakes - or "cream cookies" - with synthetic cream and a wee mandarin slice in the windows of bakeries, and sometimes go for lunch at one of the many emerging Indian restaurants.
Then, when it was time for her to go home, we'd head back to the bus station to wait for her bus.

Years later, so much has changed. I've travelled more than I ever thought I would and seen some ridiculously large train stations, airports in all different parts of the world, but none of them I've ever held in as much esteem as that daft bus depot on the side of Killermont Street.

So Mark told me that our photographer was out and about in Glasgow this week,  and was there something specifically I wanted her to shoot pictures of?

"Definitely, " I said, "Buchanan Street Bus Station"
He looked at me in that way that I always say, means that he thinks I'm an idiot, but he always says, he's just trying to work out what I've said.

"You heard me" I say, "Don't bother doing that look. Buchanan Street Bus station."
"Ok. But why? It's a bus station. There's amazing amazing architecture in Glasgow and bus stations are pretty much the same all over the world."
"Not that bus station. " I say, "I used to meet my Mum there,"
"I get that.  But that was a really long time ago, you're not going to see your Mum there now."

Of course he's wrong. In every single photograph,  I totally will.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Two wrongs. You're right.

When my kids get caught doing something wrong or have screwed up, I have this thing that I tell them to do - it's the same thing I was told to do when I was a kid: Admit your mistake and apologize.

Sorry. Begging your pardon. Let's sort it out and we can move on. Let's let bygones be bygones.
But that can only happen when you admit it's your mistake.
Otherwise the 'sorry' could really just mean  "Sorry, I got caught." "Sorry, you're such an arse." "Sorry, I have to spend my time talking to idiots"
My kids are 10 and 6. They understand this. Granted, they don't always live by it, but they understand it, perfectly.

If you follow me on Twitter, firstly thank you you gorgeously foolish thing,  and secondly, you may have noticed that the content of my tweets has included the odd barbed comment to @chasesupport about stuff going on with my bank account.
And I'd like to apologise.
Twitter isn't meant for stuff like that.  It's meant for cheekiness and important news reports.
Everybody's just trying to get through the day dealing with their own fair quota of assholes: bad drivers, wrong bills and annoying wee numpties whose sole purpose seems to be to annoy the Hell out of everybody.
Nobody needs to be brought in to some stinking wee gripe of mine.

BUT when I'm mad about something I talk about it. and I talk and talk until I'm not mad anymore. I think that may be why some of my closest friends are deaf. (True)
So, I figure I'd put it all down in a blog and that way, I'll get it off my chest, and if anyone wants to read it they can, and if they'd prefer to look away and smell some pretty flowers, or notice how blue the sky is today, or marvel at the sheer concept as to how many universes there are out there yet to be explored, then that's totally fine too.

OK, so here goes.

It starts in June 2012. I'm out shopping in LA for a dress.
I remember this for two reasons
1. Because I was shopping for an actual dress rather than jeans, pants or something made of flannelette,
2. Because the dress was for the premiere of Brave. I had sorted my kids with suits, my other half was wearing his kilt, so that just left me to be suited and booted. I was stressed.

I had tried on all sorts of stuff to no avail, (pressure) and was, not secretly, cursing the genes that had bestowed me the "child bearing hips" (they had proved useful twice in my life and otherwise were the proverbial pain in the ass.)
Having wandered around the stores most of the morning I found myself in need of a snack and passing a Panda Express (classy right?) decided that this would be the time to try there.
My brother-in-law Eddie, told me once, that whenever he visits the States he likes to go and have a chicken thing at Panda Express. I figure if it works for him it will work for me.  (We are a classy family)
So I ordered something chickeny, paid for it by card, sat down to eat, deciding that maybe I feel about Eddie's chicken stuff, the way that my kids feel about fresh green vegetables.
Anyway, the point is, whilst I was here in LA eating on something chickeny that I'd paid for with my Chasecard, someone had walked in to a branch in Texas, supposedly saying they were me, and had withdrawn thousands of dollars from the very same bank account.

I know. I can't believe there was actually thousands of dollars in our bank account either, it was a fluke, honest. But the point is, someone went into a bank in a completely different part of the country from where I live and withdrew it-  cash first and then a bankers draft.

I know what you're thinking. Chase are a big respectable banking institution, surely they noticed, or maybe called to double check I was me? No.  Not at all. Money gone.
We called the bank to point out there was money missing. They told us, that I had withdrawn it. I had gone all the way to Texas, gone into the branch with my driving license and credit card and cleared out all the money.
Mark and I went into Chase bank here in LA to prove who we were - me breathlessly clutching a Panda Express receipt for sweet and sour chicken balls.
Then I saw the withdrawal slip for the money taken.
Not only did the thief not bother copying my signature, it didn't even look like my name.  In fact, if you had a pet mouse and you dipped its feet in black paint and let it run across a piece of get the idea.

But the woman (if it was even a woman) supposedly had my driving license and credit card. Yes, but the driving license given was a completely different driving license number from mine and more importantly, a completely different  number from the number Chase have on file as mine.

In short, a person went into a bank of Chase bank in Texas with my bank account number, said they were me, doodled (badly) on a slip of paper, handed over the wrong proof of ID  and the teller cleared out the bank account without a blink of an eye.
The irony being if I went into my own branch - where they know me-  and asked them to give me more than $500 at a time, they'd react like a I wanted a kidney.

(If you're reading this and your name is Lynn Ferguson and you have an account with Chase bank, it's completely understandable to crapping it right now)

So, back to June 2012. the bank 'helped' us change all our bank accounts to different numbers and gave us back our money (which we, pretty much instantly, moved somewhere else for safe keeping).
Though the staff in our branch were embarrassed about how appallingly easy it had been for a complete stranger to clear out our bank account, they did their best not to show it. They told us that "Chase take their security very seriously"
Chase would look into what happened. there'd be an investigation. It wouldn't happen again.
Problem over right? Wrong.

New bank account number. Less than a year later. Repeated $250 charges at Macy's in Texas, (running theme here, right?) supposedly made by me whilst I was using the very same card to buy cupcakes for a school picnic here in LA.

Again WE are have to inform the bank. Chase hadn't noticed. but they do take their security very seriously.

Though they did notice when my husband used his card to buy a a new water heater from Home Depot and denied the payment. That's right, because on Chase banking system, the purchasing of a water heater, in a home improvement store less than 5 miles from your home, is A LOT more suspicious than having a sudden unexpected $750 shopping spree in Macy's in a completely different state, whilst simultaneously grocery shopping in LA.
Chase apologize. They assure me, they take their security very seriously.

So if all this happened then, why am I angry now? Surely, I moved banks or something? I must have done. I mean what idiot would still have an account with a bank after that. Hands up. Yes. That would be me.

So, two weeks ago I get a letter from Chase bank. It tells me they have been informed by the FBI that my bank account details AND my social security number have been discovered as part of a fraud ring that they've just busted. Chase have been advised by the FBI to inform me. And Chase take gottit.
Chase tell me that - despite the fact that it's nothing to do with them and completely and utterly not through any failing on their part, they are willing to put extra security measures in place.
"Extra security measures? Oh why thank you. Surely you put them in place after the Texan cleared out all the cash?..oh you didn't?"

I don't know whether to be flattered or astounded. I've been in the country less than 5 years, have had a social security number less than that and yet here I am, getting a message from the FBI that it's already compromised.
Look at me, Mrs Popular.

But it's nothing to do with Chase apparently. Nothing to do with them that the fraudsters have my social number and my Chase bank account details - but  not any other bank. Chase tell me how bank fraud happens all over the world and just because these criminals obtained all my Chase bank details - TWICE - how can it possible possibly be anything to do with them. They take security so incredibly seriously.

Now I have dealt with quite a few of their staff in customer services and actually they seem like pretty sweet people,  just trying to get on with their day, solve a few problems,  make a living and avoid taking on too big a quota of assholes.
I've also talked a very nice lady from their executive office who looked into the complaint and guess what she discovered?....that's right. Chase. Security. Very seriously.

Except. They don't. Because saying something over and over again doesn't make it true.
(Or else my name would be Mrs Lenny Kravitz  and Wolf Blitzer would really be a wolf.)

The fact is that Chase are so busy posturing about their supposed security, they have no room for accountability at all. When you make yourself blind to the fact that you might have faults, then you never have to look and see.

Just like I was so busy being outraged by Chase, that I started demonstrating on Twitter how it's possible to be passive aggressive in 140 characters - a quality I enjoy as much as ...well as my kids enjoy fresh green vegetables.

You know, it's been a tricky week all round. My 10 year old had to 'fess up that he'd 'omitted' to do a school project that should have been done and he was now in trouble with his teacher.
I told him I was disappointed. that I trusted him and he'd let me down, but I appreciated that he'd 'fessed up.

"I've been an idiot" he says.
"Me too" say I.

And as he sits at one side of the desk doing his school report, I sit at the other changing banks.

Monday, September 23, 2013

First blog of the season.

Felt like Autumn when I got up this morning and I felt guilty.
Because, despite claiming I'd be writing weekly or even regularly, I haven't written a blog all Summer.
In my defense, it has been quite a Summer.

Firstly I got ridiculously sick with sinusitis and the drugs they gave me to combat it, not only didn't cure my sinusitis,  but also gave me tendonitis and gum abscesses to boot.
All that wheeziness and shuffling made it impossible to write a blog. OK, so it didn't affect my hands but...
"Dear blog, I feel crap. That is all"
No, you are welcome. For the sake of everybody, I shut up.

Anyway, it has given me new respect for people suffering long term illnesses. Not just the illness itself, not just the relentlessness of it all, but for not being able to tell people EXACTLY how you really feel, whenever they ask. (because it's generally not 'fine').

I don't mean to be a conventional health batterer, but what six weeks of fearsome antibiotics couldn't cure,  was suddenly and most spectacularly cleared up by just two sessions of acupuncture. I've taken this as a sign that, in future,  maybe I'll head in an alternative direction first and the conventional second. And if neither of those work, I'm going to tell people how I really feel whenever they ask , and pretty soon one of them will be forced to put me out of my misery.

On the up side, because I was too sick to fly we went on family vacations where we could drive. Big Bear - adorable. (Lady Gaga has a house there, which makes me believe she's not really crazy after all)
Las Vegas - where my 10 year old, immediately alarmed, said we had to escape from, because "everyone around us was secretly really unhappy." and to Utah - a place both boys loved, though my youngest informed me was "full of Normans"

There were times of incredible ups, for example I became  involved with the Moth  - delectable people who tell stories. I saw my friend Kemp's first play being performed.  I loved it because it's a great piece, about an amazing moment in history, and because it was brilliant to watch a stage full of real-life black actors doing real, proper acting without any of them having to say  "Massa." We are, all of us, infinitely more interesting than our skin says we are.

I went to New York and had a home-cooked meal with my Auntie Susan and Uncle James, and it made me remember how much I miss my Mum and Dad and how grateful I am for what they left behind.

I watched my friends Colette and Diane deal with the loss of a, much loved, husband and son respectively with agonizing practicality and dignity.
And how friends Cherie and Todd proved, that for a baby to become part of a family, it really doesn't matter who gives birth.

This was the year too, when my eldest started 5th grade - the year before middle school - and my youngest Kindergarten. Watching them both go off to school on that first morning,  I had to remind myself that 'the end of Summer' was not a metaphor,

My youngest loves homework - it's early days obviously, but he relishes it, saying, "I have a lot to learn Mom. I know a lot already, but I have a lot to go." (sadly one of the things he'll learn, no doubt, is that nobody really loves homework)
My fifth grader has a ton of reports to do this year, one of which is to write four things that happen to him each month and how he felt. It made me think of the Summer when I was 10 and how, weirdly, that doesn't seem so long ago.

We discovered as a family, that: pancakes on a Sunday morning, work. Nobody likes getting up for school. Flies in America are a lot more persistent than those in the UK.  Grilled cheese is the same as 'toast and cheese' but 'toast and cheese' sounds better,  and the best way to have dinner is Chinese take out in the living room, whilst Doctor Who is on tv.

The Summer is over, but the sun's still high in the sky.