xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Font of Noelage: 2016

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Television commercials: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

Normally I do not watch a lot of commercial TV so I do not see a lot of television adverts. However, I do watch the cricket on Channel 9, so I have to take the commercials that come with the cricket coverage.

Generally, TV commercials are all so hoh-hum that I watch them uncomprehendingly and when they finish I do not really know what it was they wanted me to buy. However, three commercials received quite a bit of screen time during the cricket which struck me as good, bad and ugly.

The good one is of an elderly fellow at the resort swimming pool who sets his iPhone on a table near a beautiful young lady wearing only a bikini and a bemused smile. The elderly gent sets the music on his mobile phone to what I believe can only be the grand entry march of the matadors at a bull fight. As the strong trumpet tones blast the air, to the accompaniment of an up tempo mariarchi band, the elderly gentleman strides confidently to the 10 metre tower at the end of the pool.

The stirring trumpet music wells up as the old man arrives at the top of the tower, reaching a throbbing crescendo as the he dives off and e He plunges  plummets towards the pool. He looks as if he is heading towards the world’s greatest bellyflop when, as the trumpet hits a powerful A above C, at the very last moment he adopts a perfect swallow dive posture. As the trumpet blasts with a clarion call that would make the Angel Gabriel very proud, the elderly gentleman splits the water with the precision of a gold medal Olympic diver. The girl smiles in appreciation. The elderly man emerges from the water. His phone plays on in magnificent stereophonic sound. Indeed, the commercial is about stereophonic sound for mobile phones. I though it was classy.

The bad commercial is really a raft of betting commercials that pop onto our screens with monotonous regularity, telling us that we can make huge amounts of money by betting on sports events. Apart from being annoyingly intrusive, these betting commercials aim to make us feel stupid for not having the good sense to whack our weekly pay on a hayburner at Randwick or some team somewhere in the world playing football, soccer, rugby, cricket, baseball, tennis or whatever. 

You do not necessarily have to pick the wining team. You can bet on who will score the first goal, who will take the first wicket, who will take the most catches or who will eat the most hot dogs before half time. OK. I made that last one up, but do not be surprised if it does not become a betting option in 2017. 

Sports betting is all so simple. You just need a mobile app that connects your bank account to the bookmaker’s cash register and you are away. Away with the fairies, that is, if you think that over time you will make more money than the bookmaker. It never happens. I can only hope that betting commercials on TV will one day go the way of cigarette and alcohol commercials. Far, far  away from our TV screens. Sports betting commercials are annoying.

The Ugly commercial has to be the inane and highly offensive effort from Kentucky Fried Chicken. It is finger lickin’ awful. The scene is a boulevard in Paris. Along comes a yobbo Aussie tourist munching on a large hamburger of dubious pedigree. This ockker then takes himself and his hamburger through the doors of a very plush Parisian hotel. Naturally, the refined and genteel people inside the swanky French hotel are totally underwhelmed by the slightly overweight, sun bronzed ANZAC, as he munches his finger lickin’ way across the plushly furnished hotel foyer. En route, he drops the greasy paper that held his hamburger into the pristine hand of a startled chambermaid. Then he swipes a napkin off a bemused waiter and wipes his face and hands on it before casting it aside. As he leaves the hotel, a text appears telling us two things. One, the boorish Aussie was munching on a Double Hawaiian Hamburger.The second caption appears as our Yobbo turns on  to the boulevard. It says, “Sorry, not sorry.” 

Presumably, this is the motto of the far too many very ugly Australians tourists that I have seen in full Barry McKenzie mode in London, Paris, Tokyo, Rome, Bali and New York. They are proud of their loutish behaviour. Apparently, KFC is proud of it, too.

Who in their right mind would pay large amounts of money to produce such an ugly commercial about their product. It certainly did not make me want to race down the street to buy a KFC Double Hawaiian. Far from it. At first sighting it made me want to vomit. It was revolting.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

The man who wasn't there.

A few weeks ago, I wrote how, when I was ten years old, my two older cousins produced a jar of Vanishing Cream, challenging  me to apply it to my face and make myself invisible. Well, the other day I had a slightly different experience. I felt like the man who wasn’t there. Oh, I was there alright, but the people and the organization I was dealing with just would not credit my actual presence or deal with me directly.

It all started when I received a letter from my bank informing me that after the 30th of November I would be charged $1.25 for each bank statement I received by mail. The letter further informed me that I could avoid this $1.25 charge by opting to receive further bank correspondence about my account in paperless eStatements.

I thought that this was a good idea. Not only would I save $1.25 each time a received an eStatement,  I would now be getting what the bank called “paperless bills”.  I would help reduce the number of trees being cut down for paper. Then I remembered that I would print out the eStatements on my printer because I would want to file them with all my other paid and unpaid invoices. The bank would save on paper but I would not. However, I still decided to go for paperless bills.

The bank's letter assured me that I could register online to receive my eStatements. No trouble whatsoever. All I had to do was go to the bank’s website and follow the eStatement links.
Unfortunately, that was not all I had to do at all.

I opened the bank’s website and clicked on the eStatements link. I was asked to insert my PAN. I had no idea what my PAN was. I went to the bank’s FAQ site and was told my PAN was a series of numerals on the top right hand side of my bank statement, just under my Account Number. Actually,
the bank called them numbers, which is not mathematically correct. You would think a bank would know about things like that.

I typed in my PAN and then was prompted to enter my SECURE CODE. I had no idea what my secure code was so I typed in the PIN for my account.

“SECURE CODE Invalid. Please enter a valid SECURE CODE.”

So, I typed in a few more numbers and passwords that I use for various internet activities. They all were invalid. I then received a message. “You have used all of your chances to enter a SECURE CODE. Please follow the link to change your SECURE CODE online.”

Below this information was a link to Change Secure Code Online. I clicked on it and a message said, “Please telephone this number.”

A telephone number? What happened to getting my eStatement and changing my SECURE CODE online? I telephoned the number. It was a 13 hundred number, which are the very expensive calls. The automated voice of a young lady welcomed me and gave me various banking options which I could access by pressing numbers 1 through to 5. I pressed 1. The same automated lady gave me a few more options. I pressed 1 again. A different, more authoritative voice told me that I was in the telephone queue to speak to a bank officer about eStatements. The authoritative voice then informed me that my estimated waiting time in the queue was 4 to 8 minutes. I hung up.

I went back and had another try at registering for eStatements online. At length, I still finished up  having to ring the 13 hundred telephone number. So, I did. After going through the various options again and pressing 1 again I was pleasantly surprised that the authoritative automated voice was now telling me I only had an estimated waiting time of 2 to 4 minutes.

Almost immediately I was talking with a very pleasant bank officer named John, who seemed very pleased to be talking to me. Except before we could get down to business John wanted to know my IDENTIFIER. I had no clue. I asked if it was Ryan, my mother’s maiden name? it wasn’t. It wasn’t my father’s middle name, my first pet’s name, the capital city of Florida or the make of my first motor car.

John was determined to help. He asked me my home address, my date of birth, my mobile phone number, my home phone number and if I preferred red jellybeans to black jellybeans. I made that last one up, but I am sure it would have been next on the list, except that John said could I hold the line while he made some further enquiries.

Five minutes later John came back and said that I had given sufficient information to pass the security checks. He then told me my IDENTIFIER. It was part of a pass word I used to use about six years ago. John told me that I would need to tell the teller at my bank my IDENTIFIER before they could give me my SECURE CODE.

What? The teller? At the bank?  “Hang on, John,” I said, “I thought that we could do this online. Just tell me my SECURE CODE and I will be home and hosed." To John I was non-existent. He had to deal with technology.

John explained that he would not tell me my SECURE CODE I had to get my SECURE CODE from a bank teller, after I had handed over my credit card and told them my IDENTIFIER. John said this was for reasons of security and privacy and was in my best interests. He was such a nice fellow, even if he did not recognize me as someone he could do business with on a personal level.

I drove to the local branch of my bank. Upon entering, I noticed that there were only two tellers and six people waiting. I also noticed that the two people already doing business with the two tellers had calico bags. This meant they were from local businesses and were delivering the day’s takings. This could take some time. It did.

While I was waiting, I read all the signs in the bank, including one, on the wall right above the two tellers which said “For the safety of our employees this bank does not hold large amounts of cash. If you wish to withdraw a large amount of cash please give the bank 24 hours’ notice” Yes sir, banking has certainly changed.

Eventually, I reached a teller. I explained that I needed a SECURE CODE to register for eStatements. I handed over my credit card and I told her my IDENTIFIER.

“That’s quite correct, Noel,” said Ann. She had read the name on my credit card and I had read her name tag.

Then she said, “Do you have your mobile phone with you, Noel?”

“No. Do I need it? I was just told to bring my credit card.”

She smiled and said, “We send your SECURE CODE to your mobile phone.”

“But, I am right here. Can’t you just tell me my SECURE CODE?”

Ann smiled again and said, “For purposes of security and privacy we have just sent your SECURE CODE to your mobile phone.” For the second time in an hour my two friendly bank officers had refused to divulge my SECURE CODE to me personally. Even when I was standing right there in front of Ann, the very friendly bank teller, she refused to divulge what was going to appear as a text message on my mobile phone. It was Déjà vu. I wasn’t there, again.

When I arrived home my SECURE CODE was on my mobile screen. Within two minutes I was a registered eStatements customer.

The experience of being in direct contact with people who refused to acknowledge my presence reminded me of the poem, Antogonish, by William Hughes Mearns. He wrote the poem over 100 years ago after reading about events in a haunted house in Antogonish, Nova Scotia.

Yesterday upon the stair

I met a man who wasn’t there

He wasn’t there again today

I wish, I wish he’d go away.

That Man Who Wasn’t There.

I know just how he feels, that man upon the stair who wasn’t there. But at least I know my SECURE CODE. My telephone told me!

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Putting a song in our hearts.

Bob Dylan is the 2016 Nobel Laureate for Literature.

When I first heard that news I was not shocked, but I was surprised. The Nobel Prize for Literature usually goes to well known authors like John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway, Harold Pinter, Doris Lessing, Alexander Sholzenitsyn and a lot of other famous authors whom I have not read and whose names I cannot pronounce.

When I thought a little more about it I rejoiced at such an appropriate choice. “Why not Bob Dylan?,” I thought. He wrote the songs that inspired a generation in the 1960s when the times certainly were a changing. He has continued to write song lyrics that are great poetry in anybody’s language.

I was in Toronto, Canada in 1962-64 and the times certainly were a changing. Every night on television we watched Martin Luther King Junior marching peacefully for civil rights against aggressive and brutal opposition. We watched President John Kennedy, against a background of riots and vicious slayings, tell the American people that unless all citizens enjoyed liberty and the pursuit of happiness, then no American was really  free. We watched as Robert Kennedy called out the National Guard to an enable African-American, James Meredith, to be the first negro to enrol at the Mississippi’s state university, even though Governor, George Wallace, was standing in the doorway to block his entry.

We watched Martin Luther King Junior tell over 100 000 people at the Washington Monument one very hot afternoon in August, 1963, about his dream to one day live in a country where a man was judged by the strength of his character and not by the colour of his skin.

He did not live to see that day. He was shot dead in 1968. So was Bobby Kennedy. Just like his brother, JFK, five year earlier. Oh, the times they were a changing alright. The answer was blowing in the wind. And Bob Dylan wrote words that inspired and challenged us all to try and make it happen.

Come writers and critics who prophesy with your pen
And keep your eyes wide, the chance won’t come again.
And don’t speak to soon for the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who that it’s namin’
For the loser now will be later to win,
For the times they are a changin’.

Dylan’s Nobel award started me thinking of other songwriters who would also have been worthy Nobel winners for a lifetime of creating notable poetic expressions with their song lyrics.
Leonard Cohen came to mind. I have seen Leonard Cohen twice in live concerts about twenty years apart. At that first concert after he said hello to the audience he expressed surprise that there were so many people there who so obviously “liked listening to music to slit your wrists by.”

I was first attracted to Leonard’s work when I heard him sing
“Like a bird on a wire
Like a drunk in an old midnight choir
I have tried in my way to be free

His words and music touched me. Then I heard him sing Dance Me to the End of Love.
“Dance me to your beauty like a burning violin.
Dance me through the panic till I’m gathered safely in.
Lift me like an olive branch and be my homeward dove.
Dance me to the end of love”

The music, the biblical references and the word pictures he painted made me a Leonard Cohen fan for life. Like Dylan, Cohen has produced a huge body of work that compares favourably with any writers of any century. He’s my man!

Bob Dylan received his Nobel Literature Award "for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition" It reminded me of the words spoken by legendary TV newsman, Walter Cronkite, way back in 1997, on the occasion celebrating the 100th birthday of America’s greatest songwriter, Irving Berlin. At that time, Cronkite remarked that ”Irving Berlin helped write the songs of this country, capturing the best of who we are and the dreams that shape our lives.”

I have enjoyed Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen’s music and poetry for many years, however, I am more a Bing Crosby, Perry Como, Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennet sort of music lover. I love tuneful melodies that also have great lyrics. So, it will surprise no one who knows me that I would have no trouble nominating Cole Porter and Irving Berlin as two gentlemen who combined wonderful melodies with lyrics that were often witty, enchanting or terribly sad.

After all, when we were very much younger, falling in and out of love, it was Cole Porter who gave us the words that woo.
You’d be so easy to love
Easy to idolize all others above
So worth the yearning for.
 So swell to keep the home fires burning for.
We’d be so grand at the game,
So carefree together that it does seem a shame
That you can’t see your future with me,
‘Çause you’d be. Oh, so easy to love.

Cole Porter reminded us how harrowing the gut tearing, yearning anxiety that separated love could be. Mimicking the endless tick, tick, ticking of the clock that makes time and separation the enemy of lovers everywhere he wrote
Night and day, you are the one.
Only you, beneath the moon and the sun.
Whether near to me or far
It’s no matter darling, where you are
I think of you
Night and day. Night and day.”

Of course, Cole was a rather cheeky chappy. He loved  the double entendre and giving quite risqué interpretation to his lyrics.
That’s why birds do it, bees do it
Even educated fleas do it.
Let’s do it. Let’s fall in love.

Cole Porter was married to Linda Porter and they stayed married despite Cole’s predeliction for male Spanish dancers and similar macho types. However, he remained devoted to Linda throughout his life.

Their relationship could perhaps be summed up in his song
But, I’m always true to you darling in my fashion.
I’m always true to you, darling, in my way.

Yes, Cole Porter would be a very worthy Nobel Laureate, but if you only get one pick, then it is Irving Berlin for me.

Irving Berlin wrote over 1550 songs. They are all good. Many of them are great and sold multi millions of copies. Some of them are incomparable. Berlin was born in Russia in 1897 and came to America with his parents when he was five.

In 1911 he wrote Alexander’s Rag Time Band. This rag time tune instantly became famous around the world. The next year he married Dorothy Goetz. Six months later she died from typhoid fever which she contracted on their honeymoon in Havana.

Irving Berlin was devastated by the death of his young bride. He wrote a beautiful song to express his heartfelt grief. Simple words that portray loss on a grand and sorrowful scale. It quickly sold over a million copies.
I lost the sunshine and roses.
I lost the heavens of blue.
I lost the beautiful rainbow, I lost the morning dew.
I lost the angel who gave me summer, the whole winter too.
Oh, I lost the gladness, that turned into sadness when I lost you.

He continued to express his melancholy in song. What’ll I Do encompassed the grief experienced when separated from a loved one either by death or distance.
What’ll I do with just a photograph
To tell my troubles to.
When I’m alone
With only dreams of you
That won’t come true,
What’ll I do?

However, despite this great sadness, Berlin’s life had a happy ending. In 1925 he married Elin Mackay, an heiress. They remained devoted to each other for 63 years before Elin died in July, 1998. Irving died two months later, in September, 1998.

Elin’s family was a catholic. Before the marriage, the family were not too keen on her interest in a young Jewish songwriter, so they sent her off to Europe to forget about him. However, Irving wooed his lover over the airways with songs such as Remember and Always.
Remember the night
The night you said “I love you?”
Remember, you vowed by all the stars above you?
Remember, we found a lonely spot,
And after I learned to care a lot
You promised that you’d  forget me not?
But you forgot to remember.

Of course, Always became a popular song at weddings.
I’ll be loving you, always.
With a love that’s true, always.
Not for just a year, not for just a day,
Not for just an hour, But always.

Like the rest of America, and the world, Elin could not resist such tender expressions of love. She came back to America and they eloped. Elin’s father was not impressed. Thinking Irving was after his daughter's huge financial inheritance he promptly disinherited her. Irving immediately assigned her the royalties from several of his songs, including Always, which is still played at weddings and anniversary celebrations. She immediately became very wealthy in her own right.

Mr Mackay refused to speak to Irving for several years. However his attitude mellowed during the great depression, in the 1930s, when he suffered severe financial hardship and his very affluent songwriting son-in-law bailed him out.

Berlin wrote a substantial part of the Great American Songbook. One of his most famous songs, of course, is White Christmas, which Bing Crosby first sang in a 1941 for a film called Holiday Inn. 
That  Crosby version alone has sold more records than any other song in history.

Irving Berlin loved America. And America loved him. It made him a very, very rich man. It is reported that on one occasion his accountant told him of certain steps he could take to minimize his income tax. Berlin exclaimed, “ But, I don’t want to minimize my tax. I like paying taxe. I love this country.” (Donald Trump, please take note)

Irving Berlin even wrote a love song to America. One of the most poignant moments in the aftermath of the Twin Towers tragedy of September 11, 2001, was the televised gathering of stunned and shocked US congressmen and women standing on the steps of the Capitol building and singing
God bless America, land that I love,
Stand beside her and guide her
Through the night with a light from above.
From the mountains, to the prairies,
To the oceans white with foam,
God bless America,
My home sweet home.

We must be forever grateful to Irving Berlin. Indeed, we must be grateful for the world of music. In this troubled world of ours, the times still are a  changing. Often, not in the way we would like. Let us be thankful then, that people like Irving Berlin, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Cole Porter together with Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen and all the other lyrical poets have given us words and music to lift our spirits and leave us with a song in our hearts.

As Walter Cronkite so eloquently said of Irving Berlin, they have indeed captured the best of who we are and the dreams that shape our lives.