It's 9.30am and I have a teleconference requiring 100% concentration at 10am. I glance at my emails to find I've just ordered, from Amazon, a Nintendo Switch game, Mario Kart 8 deluxe, costing £55.80. I've then ordered another two copies of Mario Kart (£111.60) and two copies of Super Smash Bros Ultimate (£111.60). Then I ordered three copies of Lego Jurassic World (£119.64). Actually, I haven't ordered any of this stuff.
I nip to the website. I can see nothing about fraud or hacking. The only protective advice offered is about scam or phishing emails. Nothing about what to do if someone, somewhere, is using the facilities offered by Amazon to place real orders on your real credit card with your real bank. The website tells me I have placed no orders this year (correct). I find a bot, which asks me if I have an issue with my order for Mario Kart? It tells me I can cancel my order, by emailing the seller. I then have to do this with each individual order, and there are no other suitable options. The seller – no surprises here – is in the 'marketplace' under a name which is gibberish (a string of letters, numbers and punctuation).
What happened next is not that interesting. I finished my teleconference to find I'd ordered another two copies of Super Smash Bros (£111.60). I managed to speak to a human in the bank, who confirmed that all these payments had been charged to my card (which had been stored on the Amazon website. Yes, I know). After a bit of process, the bank accepted it wasn't me and cancelled these charges. Cue shoutout for Chris at TSB.
Back at the website, I finally hit gold at the end of all the 'you can cancel with the seller' rigmarole by typing in 'victim of fraud' to the bot's offer of help with anything else. This raises what looks like a real response and my account password is rendered inoperable. I receive an email about this, with a number to call but – you're ahead of me here – a recorded message when I do call tells me that, due to the pandemic, I can't speak to anyone. There is a lot of advice about how to learn to recognise spam emails in future.
In the next few days, I continue to receive messages telling me these items have been despatched. I doubt it. Today, I received one asking me to rate my experience of the seller, and hoping I've found this message useful. There is no box suitable for my rating of the seller. But I think I have an idea for preventing recurrence of the problem.
I’m missing the football. So, firstly, I am a season ticket holder, top shelf, Lisbon Lions Stand at Celtic Park. I live in Edinburgh and was born and raised in a wee place in central Scotland, which used to be Midlothian but was, some say cruelly, partitioned away into West Lothian at some point in the mid-70s. It also used to be solid red Labour and is now as equally sold nationalist.
My dad took a more fundamentalist approach in his football loyalties, sticking firmly to the junior ranks in supporting our local team (whose better days were well behind them). However, I had two brothers considerably older than me, the eldest of whom was a Celtic fanatic. My destiny and club loyalty was therefore sealed well before I was ever to know it and as the 'spoiled' baby of the family, his indulgence to me was an introduction from a very young age to the delights of Parkhead of a Saturday.
Had my dad been fully aware of what was going on, I would never have gotten anywhere within a mile of Celtic Park. Typically, I was one of these wee laddies stationed outside the pub with a wee bottle of lemonade and bag of cheese and onion, as I waited for my brother and his pal as they whetted their appetite for the game. When a wee bit older, I was spared that indignity by being allowed to walk to the stadium up from London Road on my own. Always one of the first in, I would claim my place at the front of the Jungle near the centre spot.
Anyway that was all a (good) few decades ago. I am missing things now, yes definitely the football itself, but equally the anticipation and almost ceremonial aspects of match day. Beginning with meeting my friend Chris at the end of my street, the bus to Waverly Station, train through to Duke Street via Queen Street and pit stop in what is by far the best wee pub in the East End and maybe even Glasgow itself – The Duke. Even for me as a committed non-drinker, this place is a haven, always met with a smile and a 'how are yous', they even forgive us for coming from Edinburgh and, of course, without fail the bar staff can rhyme off your order, sometimes before you have even thought it through yourself. Chris, who does like a beer and an occasional wee half, and I were only saying at a recent (though it seems like an age go) match that even though we live 44 miles away, The Duke is de facto our local.
Football pales into insignificance when it comes to protecting society from coronavirus, so the loss of watching a match, though it is surely a loss, can be borne with steadfastness. However, the wider issue of social distancing can be that much harder to bear at times. Except perhaps at the end of last year when on being beaten by our rivals, we came back to the pub to be met with the majority of the regulars noisily celebrating the victory imposed on us by their team, yes, the other ones in Glasgow.
Stuck and alone – no kids to self school, no aged parents to tend, no wife to boss me about – so start projects like throwing out old papers, travel insurance for holidays the like of which will never return, and bank statements a decade old one has never got round to shredding. Among the litter of the years, I found a recipe book which belonged to my mother and must be over 60 years. It was compiled by the Young Wives and Mothers' Group of Bearsden North Church, contains some 200 recipes and has lots of advertisements from local shops. They are from the lost world of before ready meals and some of what we take for granted now is presented as distinctly exotic – a recipe for minestrone soup no Italian would recognise, haddock and mushroom casserole, chilli con carnie (sic) and best of all corned beef Italiana with a fish dressing and grated cheese on top. Surely corned beef was never known to any Italian cook. But the corned beef vegetable quickie submitted by Mrs M Dick is a triumph of invention.
As a social document it is extremely penny wise, opening with advice on how to skin tomatoes or how to make cream go further by adding egg white – something unheard of now – to the cream and whipping them together. Then there are the things to bake. Being deprived of Mr Kipling, I have turned to baking and the Bearsden ladies were frugal to say the least, especially when it comes to fruit loaf. Mrs S Eason submitted the one I tried – two cups self raising flour, one cup mixed fruit, half a cup of sugar, one egg, and milk to mix. You put the dry ingredients in a bowl, add the egg, and mix into a doughy paste by adding the milk until it has a nice 'soft constituency'. The gooey mess is put in a greased baking tin which is placed in a moderate oven – gas mark 3 – for 45 minutes. No margarine or baking soda or mixed spice required, as some more lavish recipes proposed, let alone another egg.
Mrs Eason knew her baking. The result is delicious warm, and with a little butter, equally delicious cold. Any fool can bake it. I did. Eat your heart out Mr Kipling. I have now acquired some glace cherries so cherry cake next.
The introduction also says something about ladies of the time as it contains instructions on 'how to cook a husband'. According to this, a good many husbands are utterly spoiled by mis-handling as some women constantly keep them in hot water, while others let them freeze by carelessness and indifference, others roast them, and yet others keep them in a pickle all their lives. It goes on to offer this advice: 'In selecting your husband, do not be guided by appearance alone and be sure to choose him yourself as tastes differ. It is far better to have none, unless you will patiently learn to cook him'.
To ensure our spirits remain down in these dismal times, here is another absolutely true story.
The strong man entered into the theatrical agent's office.
'I am the strongest man in the world,' he said as he casually ripped two large telephone books in two, 'I have a great act...'
'Get out of here,' fumed the agent, 'My books are full of strong men. It's a dead end act.'
'Ah, but I am special. I can lift six men with one arm...'
'Look, variety is dead. Can you sing, can you strum a guitar? Don't waste my time, get out of here.'
'Oh, look, please,' pled the strong man. 'I haven't worked in months. My wife and children haven't had a proper meal in ages. I desperately need something...'
'I'm not a charity. I'm a theatrical agent. Get out of here.'
Disconsolately, the strong man left. As he sauntered aimlessly down the road he realised there was a commotion at the crossroads. An old cart horse had dropped dead in its tracks as it pulled its creaky old cart – and dropped dead right in the middle of the road causing all the traffic to pile up around. Horns were honking and people were shouting and becoming increasingly angered. A harassed policeman was attempting to restore order and the owner of the cart horse was receiving dog's abuse.
'I'll sort this out,' said the strongman to the owner, 'leave it to me,' and he picked up the dead horse and the cart and lifted them over to the verge, clearing the way for all.
'That was marvellous!' declared the owner. 'You were wonderful. I'm so grateful. Look, please accept this as a token of my thanks.' And he gave the strongman a £100 pound note. Just before the strongman could take it though, a hand came over and snatched it.
'There you are,' said the theatrical agent whose hand it was. 'You sign up with me and already you have earned yourself £90.'
(the writer from Glasgow! – Ed)
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