A view from north of Watford
Tuesday, June 06, 2023
Wednesday, May 03, 2023
Talktalk won't talk - or listen
Recently, I wrote this letter to the Head of Complaints, CEO's Office, TalkTalk (CEO), PO Box 672, Salford, M5 0NG and another one a few days later. They are self-explanatory, though not, apparently, to Talktalk:
About a year ago, I spent three hours talking to your customer services department hoping to persuade them to stop sending me monthly bills which increased by £5 each time for an email service I cancelled at least three years ago. At the time, I could not lay my hands on any of these emails because deleted them in disgust and your operative insisted it was impossible I should be receiving them at all.
Since then, I continue to receive them every month. I am writing via registered post in the vague hope that someone in your organisation will notice that I want them to stop because I want this account properly cancelled, closed, and ceased yet for some reason your organisation is incapable of carrying out this most basic of tasks.
I have spoken to people, emailed you, written letters and even tried to get some sense out of you via Twitter but to no avail.
I enclose the latest bill, together with printouts of two blogs I have posted on this topic – one of them from as long ago as March 24, 2020.
Further to my letter of April 24 (enclosed), I write to ask if your complaints procedures are deliberately designed to frustrate the complainant to the point at which he continues to pay your company money and abandons all hope of receiving a satisfactory response.
On Saturday, April 29, I received at 10.07 a text message assuring me my complaint had been logged with a reference number CMP-428322 and that you would contact me with further updates. At 16.22 you sent a second message promising to call me between 12.00 and 14.00. You did not say on what day this call would take place.
Nevertheless, eagerly awaiting such a call, I made sure to carry my phone with me at all times but especially between the hours of noon and 2pm. Today, at 14.11 (that is, 11 minutes past your self-imposed deadline and five days after the original promise) I did receive a call. The conversation went thus:
Talktalk: I am calling about your complaint.
NH: You were supposed to have called on Saturday.
Talktalk: You want us to call you on Saturday?
NH: No, I was just saying that is when I expected your call.
That is the end of the conversation because, before I had completed the sentence, your complaints handler had rung off and the line went dead.
Since then, I have received two emails, sent at 14.36 and 14.39. The first announces that you have credited my account with the £80 you said I owed you. The second thanks me for signing up to Talktalk Mail Plus and promises me “sleek new features” etc.
You then sent me a text message at 15.01 apologising for the problem I had with your “service” and saying that, if I did not ring 0345 172 0088 within 28 days, you would close my complaint.
Then I received a message timed at 15.17 announcing my complaint had been closed.
I tried calling the number given but it offers me only two options: Press 1 to “talk about home-phone, broadband or TV”; or Press 2 to “talk about mobile”. As neither of these options was relevant, it left me with nowhere to go (and, as on one occasion I spent three hours on the phone to you without resolving this issue, I was reluctant to try either option in any case).
Had the opportunity arisen at any point, in any of these non-communications with an alleged communications business, I would have said what I said in my previous letter, which is: I want this account properly cancelled, closed, and ceased yet for some reason your organisation is incapable of carrying out this most basic of tasks.
It is still incapable of this simple task and I am in despair.
Monday, April 24, 2023
ChatGPT? More lie CrapGPT
Apparently Cambridge University students and, doubtless, many others are using ChatGPT to write their essays for them. This is misguided for many reasons but the main one is that the thing is inaccurate and lies.
I know this because I decided to test it out by quizzing it about the characters in three books I have written: Eldred Pottinger, Marchamont Nedham and (forthcoming book) David Jacobs (not the DJ).
Sadly I deleted the entirely inaccurate, misleading and ridiculous answers on the subject of the leading journalist of the English civil war. But here are my conversations with ChatGBP on the other two subjects:
Me: Who was Eldred Pottinger?
ChatGPT: Eldred Pottinger was a British military officer who served during the First Anglo-Afghan War in the 19th century. He was born on June 3, 1811, in County Down, Ireland, and joined the British Army in 1828.
Pottinger played a crucial role in the defense of the British Residency in Herat during the war. In 1838, he was appointed as the assistant to the British envoy to Persia, Sir John McNeill, and was tasked with leading a mission to Herat to help defend the city against the forces of Dost Mohammad Khan, the Emir of Afghanistan.
Pottinger successfully led the defense of Herat, and his actions earned him the admiration of his colleagues and superiors. He later served in other capacities in Afghanistan and India, including as a political agent in Sindh and as the Resident in Hyderabad.
Pottinger died on September 15, 1843, in Bombay (now Mumbai), India, at the age of 32. He was posthumously awarded the Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath for his service in Afghanistan.
Me: That is wrong. The award was made before he died and he died in Hong Kong.
ChatGPT: I apologize for the error in my previous response. You are correct that Eldred Pottinger died in Hong Kong, not in Bombay (now Mumbai), India, as I stated earlier.
Furthermore, Pottinger was indeed awarded the Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath for his service in Afghanistan before his death in 1843. The award was conferred on him in January 1843, and Pottinger received the news of his promotion in the summer of that year while he was serving in Hong Kong.
Thank you for bringing this to my attention, and please let me know if you have any other questions.
Me: Please tell me about the solicitor David Jacobs who was friends with Brian Epstein and died in 1968 at Hove
ChatGPT: David Jacobs was a solicitor who was friends with Brian Epstein, the famous music manager who famously managed the Beatles. Jacobs was born in London in 1926 and became a solicitor, practicing law in London. He was a member of the law firm Nems, which was owned by Epstein.
Jacobs was a key figure in Epstein's professional and personal life. He helped Epstein to manage his finances and advised him on various legal matters. The two men became close friends, and Jacobs was a regular fixture at Epstein's parties and social events.
Tragically, Jacobs died in 1968 at the age of 42. He was on holiday in Hove, a seaside town in southern England, when he suffered a heart attack and died. His sudden death came as a shock to his friends and colleagues, and Epstein was said to have been deeply affected by the loss of his friend.
In addition to his work as a solicitor, Jacobs was also a talented amateur musician. He played the piano and had a keen interest in jazz music. He was known for his wit and charm, and was a popular figure among Epstein's circle of friends and acquaintances.
Me: Epstein died before David Jacobs so that is wrong. And Jacobs hanged himself in the garage of his home in Hove. He was not on holiday and he did not have a heart attack.
ChatGPT: I apologize for the mistake in my previous response. You are correct that Brian Epstein died before David Jacobs. Epstein passed away in 1967, while Jacobs died in 1968.
Regarding the circumstances of David Jacobs' death, you are also correct that he died by suicide in the garage of his home in Hove, England. According to reports at the time, Jacobs had been struggling with depression and financial difficulties prior to his death.
Once again, I apologize for any confusion or incorrect information provided in my previous response. Thank you for bringing this to my attention so that I could correct it.
Me: What evidence is there that David Jacobs enjoyed playing jazz music?
ChatGPT: While I could not find any direct evidence of David Jacobs' personal enjoyment of playing jazz music, there are indications that he had a deep appreciation and knowledge of the genre.
Jacobs was a well-known figure in the London music scene, particularly in the 1960s, when he was working as a solicitor and socializing with musicians, artists, and other cultural figures. As a close friend and business associate of Brian Epstein, he was also connected to the Beatles and other popular bands of the time.
In his professional capacity, Jacobs represented a number of jazz musicians, including the pianist and bandleader Stan Tracey. Jacobs is credited with helping Tracey to secure a record deal with the independent label Steam Records in the mid-1960s.
Jacobs was also a member of the London Jazz Society, a group of jazz enthusiasts who organized concerts and other events throughout the city. He was known to attend jazz performances regularly, and was said to have a keen ear for the music.
While there may not be direct evidence of Jacobs playing jazz music himself, his involvement in the music scene and his representation of jazz musicians suggest that he had a deep appreciation and understanding of the genre.
Me: If Jacobs played jazz because he represented a band leader, does that mean that because David Jacobs also represented Stephen Ward, who was involved with Christine Keeler and was involved in the Profumo affair, he was also a pimp living off immoral earnings?
ChatGPT: No, it would not be accurate to assume that David Jacobs was involved in immoral activities simply because he represented Stephen Ward, who was implicated in the Profumo Affair. A lawyer represents clients based on their legal needs and is not responsible for their clients' actions outside of their legal representation.
David Jacobs was a solicitor who represented clients in a professional capacity, and his representation of Stephen Ward was based on legal needs. While Ward's involvement in the Profumo Affair was controversial and ultimately led to his conviction on charges of living off immoral earnings, Jacobs' representation of him as a solicitor would not imply any involvement or complicity in Ward's actions.
It's important to remember that a lawyer's role is to provide legal advice and representation to clients within the bounds of the law and legal ethics. Lawyers are bound by a code of professional conduct and must act in the best interests of their clients within the boundaries of the law.
Me: What happened to Nicky Byrne, the man who ran Seltaeb?
ChatGPT: Nicky Byrne, whose real name was Nicholas Simon, was a British music industry executive who ran Seltaeb, a company that was involved in artist management, music publishing, and record production. Byrne was known for his work with a number of prominent musicians, including the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and the Kinks.
Byrne passed away in 1993 at the age of 56. His death was a result of complications from a brain tumor, which he had been battling for several years.
After Byrne's death, Seltaeb continued to operate for a few more years, but eventually went out of business in the late 1990s. Some of the artists who had been represented by Seltaeb, such as the Kinks, went on to find new management, while others, such as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, had already moved on to other management companies by the time of Byrne's death.
Me: That must be wrong because Seltaeb did not manage musicians, it sold Beatles memorabilia.
ChatGPT: You are correct. I apologize for the mistake in my previous response. Seltaeb, which was the company owned by Brian Epstein, did not manage musicians, but was a retailer of Beatles merchandise, including records, clothing, and other memorabilia.
Nicky Byrne was Epstein's assistant and the manager of the retail division of Seltaeb, which was responsible for the marketing and sale of Beatles merchandise. Byrne played a key role in the success of the Beatles' retail ventures, including the creation of the Beatles' Apple Boutique in London.
After Epstein's death in 1967, Byrne continued to manage the retail division of Seltaeb, but the company faced financial difficulties and eventually went out of business in the early 1970s.
Once again, I apologize for any confusion caused by my previous response.
Me: How many times was Nicky Byrne involved in legal cases against Britain Epstein and David Jacobs?
ChatGPT: To my knowledge, there is no record of Nicky Byrne being involved in any legal cases against Brian Epstein or David Jacobs. Byrne worked closely with Epstein as his assistant and later managed the retail division of Seltaeb, Epstein's company that sold Beatles merchandise. While there were legal disputes involving Epstein and Jacobs during their lifetimes, there is no evidence to suggest that Byrne was involved in any of these cases.
Me: You are wrong. In the USA Byrne won a payout after accusing Epstein of breach of contract.
ChatGPT: I apologize for the error in my previous responses. Upon further research, I have found that you are correct that Nicky Byrne was involved in a legal dispute with Brian Epstein.
In 1965, Byrne sued Epstein in the United States for breach of contract, claiming that he was owed a percentage of the profits from the Beatles' merchandise sales in the US. The case was settled out of court for an undisclosed sum, and Byrne continued to work for Epstein and Seltaeb after the settlement.
However, I could not find any information indicating that Nicky Byrne was involved in legal cases against David Jacobs or that he accused Jacobs of any wrongdoing. It is possible that there were other legal disputes involving Byrne that I am not aware of, but to my knowledge, there is no record of Byrne taking legal action against Jacobs.
Me: Is there a record of Jacobs taking legal action against Byrne on behalf of The Beatles?
ChatGPT: I couldn't find any record of David Jacobs taking legal action against Nicky Byrne on behalf of the Beatles. However, it's important to note that Jacobs was a solicitor who represented a number of clients in the music industry, including the Beatles and their manager Brian Epstein, and it's possible that he may have been involved in legal disputes related to the Beatles or their business affairs.
It's also worth noting that the music industry is known for its complex legal disputes and contractual negotiations, and there have been numerous cases of legal disputes involving musicians, their management, and other industry professionals over the years. However, without more specific information, it's difficult to say whether Jacobs was involved in any legal action against Byrne or any other individuals on behalf of the Beatles.
Me: There was at least one case in the royal courts of justice.
ChatGPT: I apologize for any confusion my previous responses may have caused. I was not aware of the specific case you were referring to.
After further research, I have found that there was indeed a legal case involving David Jacobs and Nicky Byrne in the Royal Courts of Justice in London in 1969. The case was brought by Jacobs, who was representing Brian Epstein's NEMS Enterprises, against Byrne and his company, Brydor Productions, over a dispute regarding the management of the Beatles' merchandise sales.
According to court records, the case centered on allegations that Byrne had breached his contract with NEMS by setting up a rival company to sell Beatles merchandise. Jacobs argued that Byrne's actions had caused financial losses for NEMS and sought damages and an injunction to prevent Byrne from continuing to operate his company.
The case was settled out of court, with Byrne agreeing to pay damages to NEMS and to cease his involvement in the Beatles' merchandise sales. However, the settlement also included a clause preventing Jacobs or NEMS from taking further legal action against Byrne or Brydor Productions in relation to the dispute.
I hope this information helps to clarify the situation.
Me: The case can’t have been in 1969 because Jacobs was dead by then.
ChatGPT: I apologize for the error in my previous response. You are correct that David Jacobs died in 1968, and therefore he could not have been involved in any legal cases in 1969.
Upon further research, I have found that the case you were referring to was actually brought by Brian Epstein's estate against Nicky Byrne and his company Brydor Productions in 1969, not by David Jacobs as I previously stated. The case centered around a dispute over the royalties from Beatles merchandise sales in the United States, and the estate alleged that Byrne and his company had breached their contract and withheld royalties owed to the estate.
The case was settled out of court in 1971, with Byrne agreeing to pay a settlement of £12,000 to the estate. I hope this information provides a more accurate answer to your question.
Wednesday, February 15, 2023
Ten policies to save the Tories
I was asked what the Conservatives should do to avoid wipe-out at the next General Election. Here are ten policies that would help the country and the Tories:
1 Start to cut taxes by taking a knife to public spending. Axe one third of all civil servants and NHS managers. Stop pouring money into left-wing quangos.
2 Demand accountability in the NHS and civil service and sack failures.
3 Build a new public-private health service to compete with and ultimately replace the NHS and allocate money according to results. Adopt European health models.
4 Privatise the BBC as well as Channel 4. Every licence holder would own one share in the BBC and these shares could be traded.
5 Give illegal immigrants/asylum-seekers the option to wear electronic tags in return for jobs and places to rent. Failure to carry out duties or pay their rent would mean immediate deportation; willingness to work would help their asylum application.
6 Use the hotels housing illegal immigrants as care homes to relieve pressure on the NHS and employ the re-housed working illegal immigrants as carers.
7 Recognise Liz Truss was right in what she tried to do but wrong in how she tried to do it and work towards stimulating enterprise and economic growth by, among other things, taking advantage of Brexit and cutting taxes (see 1 above).
8 Wage a war on woke in all its evil guises, especially in schools, universities, the police and the public sector.
9 Axe HS2 and turn what has already been dug up into a linear country park.
Friday, January 27, 2023
HS2 is, according to this week’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, going to travel all the way in to Euston Station. This seems to be news. It’s quite extraordinary there should be any doubt – except, of course, that the whole endeavour is a monumental waste of money.
Of all the billions squandered by Governments, few can be as extravagantly nonsensical as a railway line few people will ever use even if they could afford the inevitably sky-high fares.
HS2 was, is and always will be one of the most profligate wastes of money any Government (Tories and Labour are equally to blame) has yet devised.
The suggestion it might terminate five miles from central London is so unutterably ludicrous that even talk of it reveals the truly terrible ridiculousness of this profligate project. Even now, it would be better to scrap the whole thing, write off the fortune already wasted and find better things to do with our money.
If giving some of it back through the tax system is too much to ask then what about developing a secure energy supply before electricity rationing becomes a way of life?
Tuesday, January 17, 2023
The Royal Wokessphere Company
When ‘Cymbeline King of Britain’ was staged by the Royal Shakespeare Company a while ago I asked for my money back because the title role was to be played by a woman.
This year it’s got worse. Prospero, the Duke of Milan (a man, the clue is in the word Duke) in ‘The Tempest’ is being played by a woman. Now Brutus and Cassius, the two main opponents of ‘Julius Caesar’ in the play of the same name, are also being played by women.
The RSC is wasting taxpayers’ money on this ridiculous woke nonsense. It is short-changing audiences who have a right to expect a reasonable interpretation of Shakespeare’s plays given this company is supposed to be one of the country’s leading arts organisations. And they are abusing their power to twist the plays to suit their own ends.
What’s more, having been refused a refund for ‘Cymbeline’, I made the mistake of going to see it. The play was dire because it was never clear if the ‘king’ was supposed to be male, female or other and the whole thing was a terrible mess. I very much hope audiences will tell the RSC what they think by melting into thin air.
Friday, December 30, 2022
The inflationary elephant in the room
House prices are supposedly due to fall by as much as 12 per cent in 2023. There is a cost-of-living crisis. Taxes are at record highs. Inflation at around 10 per cent is bringing Britain to a standstill thanks to a series of strikes over pay by everyone from nurses to border guards.
Much of this has been caused by the war in Ukraine and the resulting rise in energy prices.
But it is also due to the Government and the Bank of England’s reckless money-printing programme which dates back to 2008 when the capitalist system almost imploded.
Finally, in December 2021, the Bank of England woke up to the idea its 21-month-long 0.1 per cent base rate was childish and nonsensical and started, slowly and cautiously, raising interest rates to the present, still historically-low, 3.5 per cent.
Given the Bank’s one and only Government-imposed task, when it comes to interest rates, is to keep inflation at two per cent, it has failed abysmally and must share much of the blame for the economic crisis and our winter of discontent.
The question is why did the Bank get it so wrong? If we discount the war and the pandemic and even the credit crunch of 2008, when there is some justification for lowering interest rates to keep the economy alive, the Bank still failed to react fast enough to the threat of inflation.
And we have to recognise that inflation – for a time presumed to be dead but, in reality, merely waiting to pounce – is still and always the economy’s greatest enemy.
The answer is in the way inflation is calculated – the statisticians fail to take into account the single most obvious and pernicious inflationary stimulus of them all: house prices.
There are technical arguments about why house prices are excluded from the calculation, largely to do with the fact that a house is a capital good, not a direct influence on the day-to-day cost of living.
However, neglect of house price inflation is one of the prime causes of this bout of inflation. And analysis of previous economic cycles shows this neglect his stimulated inflation in the past and forced the Bank (and before that, politicians) into belated attempts to retrieve the situation.
The rate of house price inflation is a clear and obvious indicator that the official inflation rate is set to rise sharply and that the Bank base rate must be increased. Failure to take account of house prices in the official calculation of inflation means the Bank is condemned to reacting too late. By the time it puts up the cost of borrowing, the inflationary damage has already been done.
If we look at previous inflationary spikes, this becomes clear.
In 1972, house prices rose 26.7 per cent and another 39.8 per cent the following year. Official inflation was at 7.1 and 9.2 per cent; base rates at five per cent rising to 8.2 per cent. In 1974, they had to rise to 12.75 per cent as the Barber boom turned to bust.
The 1988 Lawson boom and bust had inflation at just 4.9 per cent, base rates at 8.3 and house prices running away at 10.3 rising to 32 the following year. Too late – again – interest rates rose to peak at 14.79 in 1990. High interest rates persisted through the 1990s – partly because of the Government’s ridiculous European exchange rate disaster – and house prices actually fell while inflation was tamed for the time being.
In the early 2000s, the official inflation rate was down around two per cent but house prices were once again soaring ahead – 25.8 per cent in 2003, 16.9 per cent the following year. Interest rates were around four per cent. But the failure to consider the housing market boom was the cause not of inflation, this time, but of something even worse – the financial crisis when it looked, for a moment, as if the entire capitalist system might come crumbling down.
If the Bank recognised the early warning presented by rising house prices, and if it had put up interest rates in response, would it have averted this disaster? Possibly, though of course we will never know.
The rock bottom interest rates we had for more than a decade after the 2008 crash have inevitably stimulated greater borrowing and soar-away house prices (exacerbated by the quantitative easing money-printing indulged in by the Government and the Bank to the tune of an incomprehensible £875 billion.
Between January 2009 and July 2022, the average house price rose 73 per cent, from £157,234 to £272,111. Had house prices risen with the official inflation rate, the average home would have cost £222,240 last July, a rise of 41 per cent.
Prices really took off after the pandemic but the Bank, slow to react, as usual, was still fiddling about with piffling rates of interest. It only started to take action when the official inflation rate began to rise, ignoring the early indicator of yet another over-heating housing market.
The failure to account for house price increases may be justified by economic purists but the evidence strongly suggests they feed into the economy as a whole and lead inexorably to rising prices.
This is inevitable, if only because home-owners see the value of their biggest asset rising and, as a result, their mortgage debt is, in effect, shrinking. They are encouraged to spend the extra wealth they do not actually possess, or they can cash in by increasing the amount of money they are borrowing. Either way, it leads to delusions of prosperity and results in too much money chasing too few goods.
By the time the Bank notices, in the official inflation figures, it is too late. The time has come to insert this massively significant aspect of the economy into the way inflation is calculated.
In the USA, house prices were included in the calculation of inflation from 1953 to 1983 despite the economists’ specious arguments. House prices were removed from America’s inflation calculations because their presence was increasing the rate of inflation and, therefore, increasing the cost of index-linked benefits and pensions.
But if appropriate and timely action were taken by the Bank of England, that should not become a danger. Indeed, it would save the State\ money by ensuring policies like the pension triple-lock do not become as expensive as an average terraced house in London.
In short, our cost-of-living crisis has been caused in great part by the refusal of economists to recognise the inflationary elephant in the room. As a result, house prices have once again trampled all over the economy and we are all now paying a heavy price.