Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Old Boys (Former Pupils)

The school that I went to was unusual in that it was a military boarding school.  At the time that I attended, all of the boys in the school (it was single sex then) were the sons of serving or ex-soldiers, as they had been since its foundation.

The school was founded in 1803 as the Royal Military Asylum with the purpose of educating the orphans, both male and female, of soldiers killed during the Napoleonic Wars.  The Royal Military Asylum was the second of the eventual three military schools in the UK.

The first of the schools was the Royal Hibernian Military School, which was founded in Dublin in 1770 and which was organised along similar lines to the Royal Military Asylum from the early nineteenth century.  When Ireland became an independent country in 1922, the school was moved to Shorncliffe, near Folkestone, before being amalgamated with the Duke of York’s Royal Military School in 1924.

The last of the military schools, Queen Victoria School, was founded in 1908 in Dunblane in memory of those who had died during the South African wars of the late-nineteenth century.  It is the only one of the three schools that is still exclusively for the children of service personnel and funded by the Ministry of Defence.

The Royal Military Asylum was initially located in Chelsea, London before it was moved to Dover in 1909, having become the Duke of York’s Royal Military School in 1892, at the same time that it became single sex.  The original school buildings and grounds remained in control of the Ministry of Defence, as the Duke of York’s Headquarters until 2003, when it became part of the Saatchi Gallery.

Once the school arrived in Dover, this is where it has remained, on top of the cliffs and a focus for just about every cold wind in the south-east of England, apart from two short evacuations during the First World War to Hutton in Essex and during the Second World War to Braunton in Devon.

Being the sort of school that it was, there was much emphasis on the military aspect of life.  In fact, when I first started at the school, we were issued with No.1 Dress uniforms and berets and we had ‘Military Training’ lessons timetabled at least three times a week.  In addition, we were expected to master the intricacies of drill, marching-up to meals and participating in ‘Church Parades’ every Sunday.

The two most important parades each year were Remembrance Sunday and Grand Day, the latter being when the school ‘Troop the Colour’ in a similar ceremony to that seen in London.  However, it’s the first of these two parades that I am going to talk about.

Every year on the Remembrance Sunday parade, as well as all of the pupils on parade, there was also an ‘Old Boys’ Contingent’, made up of the guys who had left the school, and in fact the entire weekend was known as Old Boys’ weekend.

I clearly remember my first of these parades as when the order “Fall-in the Old Boys” was given, there was a large number of Old Boys who made their way onto the parade square.  But it was also the manner in which they were dressed.  There were the older Old Boys, in their pin-stripe suits, British Warms and Bowler Hats, their numerous medals pinned to the chests, some First World War (it was 1978, just 60 years since that war had ended), some Second World War, some with both.  Then there were the next generation of Old Boys, again smartly dressed in suits or in their uniforms, some with one or two medals pinned to their chests.  Lastly, there were the ones that had just left the school and were at university, or in some cases polytechnic.  As I have said, it was 1978, so many of these Old Boys shuffled onto the parade square with long hair that would never have been allowed when they were at the school and dressed in ragged jeans, sheepskin jackets and beaten up old plimsolls.

However, when the order to “Quick march” was given, all of these Old Boys, suited, uniformed or ‘jeaned’ stepped off and marched immaculately down to the school war memorial.  But this was the last year that the it was possible to see this, as the School’s Regimental Sergeant Major in my first year retired at the end of that year and was replaced by one who was Grenadier Guards and would only allow Old Boys on parade if they were ‘appropriately dressed’ in a suit and tie or uniform.

After I left the school, I returned a few times for Old Boys’.  As one of the younger ones, it was a case of making our way to Dover on the Saturday, book into a guest house that we would see little of and then make our way to the pub, where we would drink to excess, fall into bed and then get to the school, suited and booted, in time to parade the following morning.

The older Old Boys’ would attend a black-tie dinner in Dover Town Hall before joining us in the pub after the event, usually in time for last orders, before they, too, fell into bed and attended the school the following morning.  I only ever attended one of these in the late-80s with my ex-wife and felt very out of place as I was about twenty years younger than the next in age to me.

However, due to living so far away and then my Reserve commitments, during the 1990s and 2000s I was only able to attend two Old Boys’ weekends, in 2000 when I went to the pub and in 2008, again at the pub (see Remembering).

Since I have been with Emma, and because I no longer have Squadron commitments in Maidstone, we have been to Old Boys’ for the last three years, staying in the hotel that is conveniently located right next to the school and attending the black tie dinner that takes place in the school dining hall.

This year I travelled down with No.1 son, so that I could show him the place that had shaped me during my teenage years, so we headed off to Dover, booked into the hotel and then headed across to Dover Rugby Club where there is a rugby match between (normally) an Old Boys’ under-30 and a select Dover RFC side and an Old Boys’ over-30 side and Dover RFC Veterans.  However, this year, there was only one match as the World Cup had interfered with the fixture list and Dover was unable to produce two sides.

The matches are normally for the Christian Redman Memorial Trophy.  Christian was an Old Boy of the school; in fact he had been there at the same time as me although he was several years younger.  His father was also a teacher at the school.  He had been on a rugby tour with the Singapore Cricket Club’s rugby team.  In October 2002 had been on tour and was in Paddy’s Bar in Bali when a terrorist bomb detonated.  He, along with 201 other people of 23 nationalities were killed. 

This year the weather was miserable and it rained for most of the match.  Although the Old Boys’ got off to a good start, sadly the youth of the Dover side got the better of them and they were soundly beaten.

After a couple of beers in the bar with various friends (the advantage of having No. 1 son drive!) we headed back to the hotel to join Emma who’d driven down after us.

It was then a case of getting ready for the dinner, including my having to help Alec with his bow tie (I wouldn’t allow him to wear a pre-tied one and insisted that he have a self-tie) before jumping in the minibus to the school.

The dinner was pleasant and the company was excellent, the only complaint being that those of us who had decided to have the double-cooked belly of pork each received a piece of pork smaller than a post-it note.  However, the wine flowed, as did the conversation, with the after dinner entertainment being provided by a band consisting of Old Boys’ and named the Hong Kong Streakers Club (in honour of another of Chris Redman’s exploits).

After it was all over, we walked back to the hotel where I slept like a log, even though Emma (vey vey drunk!) woke me up to ask me something that I just couldn’t understand.

After a hearty breakfast, it was back to the school and the parade.  There was a good turn-out of both Old Boys and Old Girls, hence the contingent now being referred to as ‘Former Pupils’.  The weather stayed nice, with no rain, although it was chilly.  However, having elected not to wear uniform this year, I had the opportunity to try out the new overcoat that I had bought the previous week. 

After the parade, rather than attending the chapel service, I showed Emma and Alec around the school a bit before we said our goodbyes to everyone and headed home with plans to do it all again ‘same time next year’.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Lest We Forget

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

In Memory Of

Private Joseph Watt
S/4206, 1st Bn., Seaforth Highlanders who died on 10 April 1916
Aged 21
Remembered with honour on Panel 37 and 64
Basra Memorial, Iraq
Serjeant Thomas McIvor
S/8909, 9th Bn., Black Watch (Royal Highlanders) who died on 29 April 1916
Aged 30
Remembered with honour on Panel 78 to 83
Loos Memorial, Pas de Calais, France

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Good Riddance to Bad Rubbish (at long last!)

Warning!  The following post could, and probably will, turn into a bit of a rant, because finally, at long last, I have finished all dealings with the retarded oxygen-thief wastes of human skin that are the Child Support Agency (CSA) (I warned you!).

My first dealings with these examples of anencephaly occurred in 2005, when my then wife (we were separated but living in the same house) contacted the CSA in an effort to extort more money from me.  However, because we were living in the same house, she was entitled to nothing.

It wasn’t until the following year that I discovered just how brain-dead a person could be and still be employed by the Department for Work and Pensions, as in March 2006 my now ex-wife (decree absolute arrived on 28th February) absconded to Cambridge with her violent and unstable boyfriend and two of my three children, refusing to state where she was and denying me any contact with them.

Once she had left, she contacted the CSA who, in turn, contacted me and told me that as I had no contact with my children in Cambridge that I would have to pay the maximum amount.  The fact that the lack of contact was due to my ex-wife denying me access was beside the point.  There was no contact order, and until I had obtained one, I would be liable to pay.

However, only two of my three children were living with her, so I put in a counter-claim for the third one, a claim that was granted, before commencing the payments that had been calculated by these cretins.

After a couple of months, I noticed that although I was making regular payments, my ex-wife was paying nothing.  I therefore had several very frustrating conversations with these retards where I objected to the fact that I was paying but my ex-wife wasn’t and they didn’t seem to be doing anything about it.  The final straw for me was when I was told that “We’re here to get money from the man, not from the woman”.

I argued that this was discrimination and, after another couple of months of paying but my ex-wife not doing so, I stopped my payments.  I received various threatening letters and finally one threatening court action, which I told them that I would welcome, as it would give me the opportunity to publicise both their discrimination and utter incompetence in open court and ensure that they received the much deserved adverse publicity.

The outcome was that we didn’t go to court, but they did and this resulted in my payments being deducted direct from my wages by Court Order.  Eventually, my ex-wife also had a Deduction from Earnings order granted against her as well and she even began paying, for one month, until she made herself unemployed, meaning that she only had to pay £5.00 per week as she was on benefits.  Even then I struggled to get these brain-dead individuals to obtain even this small amount.

By this stage I had been transferred to have dealings with the office in Belfast.  This office was clearly staffed by the people too stupid to be allowed to work anywhere else.  In fact I suspect that most of them would require an iPod in-situ repeating “breathe in, breathe out” just to keep them alive.  At one point in one of my many letters to the various Secretaries of State for Work and Pensions, all of whom were as equally useless as each other, I suggested that the staff at the CSA in this city should all be sacked and that there be a recruitment drive in the Monkey House at Belfast Zoo, as I firmly believed that the efficiency of the Agency would be greatly improved.  This was not well received by those at risk of primate replacement, but I suspect that this was because all concerned knew that it was actually true. 

Due to the CSA’s overwhelming incompetence, I gave up trying to deal with them directly whenever there was a problem and resorted to writing directly to my local MP and the Secretary of State.  The MP, Greg Clark, has usually been reasonably helpful, but the Secretaries of State have been less so, particularly James Purnell, and Iain Duncan Smith, both of whom could probably get a job in the Belfast office, particularly Purnell.

In moments of clarity, I can understand that the CSA have a difficult job and that there will be mistakes that occur.  However, they need to acknowledge their mistakes.

As mentioned in my post of February 2009 “Same sh1t, different day”, I received a call from one of the imbeciles informing me that the amount that I was paying was less than it should be having been reduced some months earlier.  At the time I had said that as the money was being deducted from my wages, I suspected that either my salaries and wages department (slightly more competent than the CSA) or the CSA themselves had cocked up.  

It turned out to be the latter, as I confirmed in 2009, but rather than admit that it was their mistake, Darren Marner, the imbecile who’d phoned me attempted to make it my fault because I hadn’t informed them that they had made a mistake.  I did tell James Purnell, in my subsequent letter, that if they wanted to pay me to do their job for them, I would be happy to do so, but otherwise I would expect them to do it.  I suppose that in some respects it was my fault as I had expected them to be able to do their jobs competently and without screwing up.

And this level of feeble mindedness has continued for the remainder of the time that I’ve had to deal with them.

In late-2013 I received a telephone call from these simpletons, informing me that they had been trying to get hold of me by post for some time, that I was in arrears, which they had been trying to contact me to recover, and that they wanted me to pay this large sum of arrears immediately.

The first clue that I had that they, again, had cocked-up was when they asked me the security questions.  When it got to my address, I gave the fucktard the one that I had moved into in the April.  There was a confused silence.  He then asked me my previous address, the one that I had moved into in January 2012, which I gave him.  Another confused silence, before he asked me the address before that.  It appeared that these halfwits had the address that I had left almost two years previously.

Of course, despite my informing the dimwit that I had told them of my address changes, he would not have it and suggested that I had deliberately been trying to avoid them and informed me that they had no record of me contacting them in the previous two years and they would be subtracting the arrears from my next wages, which would have left me with no money for the month.  It was only when I went home and copied not only the letters that I had sent to them informing them of my address change, but also letters that I had received from them to each of the two addresses that they claimed that they knew nothing about did they finally concede that there may have been an error on their part.  May?!?  The iceberg that sank the Titanic may have been big.  The likelihood of the CSA making an error is definite!

With the end approaching, I thought that it would be easy, but even that seems to be complicated.  My ex-wife informed these buffoons that my daughter was no longer living with her and they communicated this to me, with the date that she moved out being stated as 18th July this year.  I also received a letter from them informing me of this.  The letter also stated that they would be looking to see if there was any outstanding money due and that they would inform me by letter of the final payment/payment date.  And then I heard nothing, although they took the usual amount from my wages at the end of July.

In an effort to find out what’s happening, I telephoned in early August.  I got through to the Birkenhead office, who informed me that my case was being dealt with by Belfast and that the records show that the case is closed. She also told me what the outstanding amount was (my usual monthly payment) and she finally told me that she would email Belfast to prevent a payment going out in September and my having to fight to recover it.

But when I called back at the end of August having still heard nothing and after what I thought had been the last payment, this time getting through to Dudley, the person whom I spoke with informed me that my account was closed (knew that), told me what the outstanding amount was (a larger sum than two weeks previously) and told me that the majority of that would go out at the end of September (contrary to what I’d been told) and that I would then be contacted by phone to pay the remaining £20-odd by card.

So even now, nine years after dealing with these fuckwits for the first time, they are still as incapable as ever.

Having still heard nothing, I again telephoned at the beginning of October and was again put through to Dudley.  After I’d explained everything, the person I was speaking to told me that there was a “task” that he couldn’t open, which was probably the money that was taken at the end of September.  However, he did confirm that the outstanding amount was the same as the previous person had told me and told me that the outstanding amount, minus the September payment, meant that there was a matter of £20-odd that would need to be paid.  He then informed me that he was putting me through to another person who would take the card payment for the outstanding amount.

But he was wrong.  The lady that I was put through to (still in Dudley, judging by the accent) informed me that as she could not access the “task”, she could not confirm that it was the payment from the end of September.  Apparently, the task was in someone else’s work queue, probably one of the Belfast Brain-dead, and the she would need her supervisor to unlock it and allocate it to her, the problem being that her supervisor was in a meeting so it was unlikely to happen today. 

It was therefore left that she would call me a couple of days later to take the card payment, and she assured me that she would also stop the Deduction from Earnings order before the next payment at the end of October.

Having heard nothing, I called again the day after I should have been called, getting through to someone in Lancashire.  This person was next to useless and could do nothing, advising me to call back the following morning and get put through to the Belfast office as they were dealing with my case.  She also told me that as far as she could see, I’d made an overpayment of just over £7.

Interestingly, she also informed me that the person with whom I’d spoken on the Monday had not mentioned in her notes of the call that she had said that she would call me back, but had stated that she had put my call through to the Belfast office.  Clearly a case of falsification of records.

So, as advised, I called the following morning, was put through to Birmingham (perhaps it was Dudley) and was told that the Belfast office has been closed for a while as the staff were all being trained.  Tempted to ask if they were being trained to be useful fucking human beings as I was, I didn’t.  However, Alison, who I was speaking to, informed me that all of Belfast’s work had been transferred to Birmingham and the person dealing with my case was in the same building as her and she would get them to call me back.

Much to my surprise, I did actually receive a call from Jyoti Dabhi, who told me that she was calling me to take a card payment and then asked me for more than £300!  When I asked her where she’d got that figure from, it was apparently on her screen. 

She then tried to explain this large sum by telling me that my account had actually been closed on 17th July and that when it had been closed, there was an outstanding balance of just over £1000.  When I pointed out to her that I had paid more than £1100 since that date, she tried to tell me that I had had a refund.  Where and who this refund had gone to, I have no idea.  And clearly, neither did she!

But then she informed me that she had three screens in front of her, one showing that I owed over £300, one showing that I owed £23 and one showing that I was owed £7.  She informed me that she was slow (no disagreement there) but thorough and that she would need to look into it further before calling me back.

An hour later, I received the call, but not with the good news I had hoped for. Oh no! This was to inform me that it appeared that she had found a fourth sum, although “to avoid confusion” she didn’t reveal what it was.  What she did say was that she needed to refer my case to some specialist (or should that be special needs) colleagues and that it would take about a week to sort out. This meant that nothing would be done before I got back from Malta, but to ensure that the case was moved on, I wrote another letter to Greg Clark and told Jyoti Dabhi that I would not be available to receive calls until the week commencing the 26th October, after I was back from Malta.

This woman also informed me that she would put a stop to the deductions from earnings order so that I did not pay in October.  When I informed her that this had already been done by her colleague the previous Monday I was told that this hadn’t happened. Not only had the useless incompetent falsified her records, she had also lied to me (Oh! What a complete surprise!)

Despite my telling her not to call, I received one call whilst I was still in Malta (I didn’t answer) and two further calls, one each on 22nd and 23rd October (again not answered).  I’m not sure how really brainless these people have to be to be so incapable of following a simple instruction.  However, during my absence, I received a letter from the CSA informing me that I was owed £7 by them and that I would need to contact them with my bank details in order to receive this refund, which I did on my return to the UK.

On my return to work, the first thing that I discovered (I’d like to say that it was a surprise, but having had the dealings that I have with these fuckwits for as long as I have, it wasn’t) was that my usual monthly payment had been taken from my wages. 

During my conversation with the Dabhi woman prior to my holiday, she had told me that she would send the letter to stop the Deduction from Earnings order the following week.  I had explicitly stated to her that she needed to send it that day, as the following week would miss the cut off for my wages department.  Despite this conversation and her subsequently assuring me that she had sent it on the day that we had last spoken when I called up to ask why another payment had been taken, when I called my wages department, they revealed that they now had the letter, but that the date of it revealed that it had been sent the week after my instruction to Dabhi that she send it out immediately.

She could also not account for the fact that she had called me the week prior to the 26th October, merely stating that she had a reminder in her calendar to call me and so she had.  However, what I found incredible was that, during the conversation, she referred to the fact that ‘someone’ had called me asking for more than £300 card payment.  When I stated ‘Yes. It was you’, she would not admit that it had been her and kept repeating that it had been ‘Someone from our Agency’.  None of these morons are prepared to take responsibility for their actions and seem to be unconcerned that their daily life consists of making one mistake after another.

Later that day, I received a telephone call, again from Jyoti Dabhi, informing me that the payment had all been approved and that it was being passed to the department that would authorise release of the funds. Good, all done and dusted.

But no!  The following morning I received a phone call from this joke of an agency, which I couldn’t take as I was driving.  However, when I called back, I explained that I had been called and that it was probably Jyoti Dabhi.  My heart sank when I was told that it was actually another waste of skin oxygen thief by the name of Heather Ritchie who needed to speak to me about my “alleged” refund.  Unfortunately, the Ritchie woman was unavailable, so the woman I was speaking to was given explicit instructions to get her to call me back the following day.  I also shocked this person by explaining, quite forcefully, that there was nothing alleged about the refund, in exactly the same way that there was nothing alleged about their incompetence that had led to them owing me money in the first place.

Heather Ritchie did indeed call the following day.  The bad news?  She was from that centre of stupidity that is the CSA Belfast office.  She again referred to an alleged refund, and she was told that there was nothing alleged about it.  She then informed me that the agency would have to recover the money from my ex-wife and asked if I was I happy for them to do so.  I explained that of course I was.  It was their incompetence that had led to my ex-wife being paid this sum, so it was down to them to recover it.  I did, however, explain that I would not be waiting for them to recovering the sum from my ex before I received my refund.  I was assured that it would be in my bank account in the next “three to five working days” and I assured her that if it wasn’t that she would be hearing personally from both myself and my MP.  However, much to my surprise, I was actually given some correct information by the CSA and four days later, it was paid and my dealings with the most incompetent organisation in the UK came to an end.

So, now that I finally no longer have to have any dealings with these retards I have a perfect solution as to how they can not only be gainfully employed, but actually be of some use. If the Government really wants a solution to the problem of Islamic State, then they should parachute ALL of the employees of the CSA into IS held territory with a brief that they should take over all the admin tasks.  IS would grind to a halt within days.  And you needn’t worry about these cretins being beheaded as a) It would be no great loss to humanity and b) They don’t need brains to function, or at least they haven’t for the last nine years that I have been unfortunate enough to have to interact with them, so they would be able to continue fucking-up until they died of starvation, like cockroaches.