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Posts Tagged ‘scammers’

So, today is Monday. It’s cold and rainy. I’m ironing. I’m bleeding the radiators. I’m replying to a flurry of overnight comments on the blog. I’m pondering the next chapter of “A Lone Tree Falls”. Retirement is bliss, even on rainy days. Then the phone rings.

It’s a very well-spoken young man who’s concerned I’m missing out on loft insulation deals. I don’t quite get the angle, but anyway, he says my house has come up on his database as having a certain type of insulation. It doesn’t conform to the current regulations – tut tut – but not to worry. It means I can claim for,… well,… something,…

“If we could confirm your details, sir? Name, address, postcode?…

Now, I know very well what type of insulation I have, because I’m the one who put it in. So what I want to know from him is how come he knows so much about it. I’m a little more assertive than I usually am, but there are issues of privacy at stake here:

“If I could stop you there and ask: exactly – and I do emphasise the word ‘exactly’ – how you came by that information?”

I surprise myself. I seem to be settling in for a crossing of wits here, when I could as easily hang up. That’s what I normally do, though with a polite “sorry, not interested”, thereby extending courtesy even to ne-er-do-wells whose aim is to raid my life savings. Did I get out of the wrong side of bed or something? Where is your patience, Michael? Where is your joy of living?

Anyway, the line goes dead before the young man can explain himself – a fault at his end, I presume. But never mind, all is in its place again. God is in his heaven, and the scammers are sweating the phones.

And I have more important things to be thinking about, such as November 3rd 2019. Why? Well, that’s the day I took this picture:

It was a Sunday, the first dry day, after weeks of heavy rain. The gentle undulations of the meadows had become lakes, and in the early light of that morning, they were as beautiful as they were unexpected. I don’t know why the picture strikes me now, as it has languished on the memory card for years. Perhaps it’s more the date, marking a time just before the time everything changed.

My diary fills in the details:

I had bought a new lens for the camera, and was trying it out with this shot. I had also bought “the Ministry of Utmost Happiness” by Arhundhati Roy, from my local thrift shop. I was lamenting how I’d probably never get around to reading it, that it would languish on my TBR pile, which turns out, thus far, to be true. My hall table was also full of leaflets extolling the virtues of the Labour-party. I was delivering them in batches, around my patch, for the local party office. It seems I too was caught up in the heady Corbynism of those distant times.

Then, the day after I took the picture, I sat down with my boss and took pleasure in giving him a year’s notice. Of a sudden, I tasted freedom. I was as excited by that as the thought of an imminent, and long needed, change of political direction. Yes, politics featured large in my thoughts in those days, which I find embarrasses me, now, because it doesn’t feature at all these days. In fact, quite the opposite, I find I view such matters with a very cold eye, or perhaps that too could be called political thinking? But let’s not go there.

Covid was not even a rumour in November. The first cases would appear in China in the coming weeks. But it would be March before Britain, after believing itself immune, would be on its knees. Suddenly, I could not travel even to the next village without fear of curtain twitchers dobbing me in. As for our health service, it proved to be so ill prepared, hobbyists were in their bedrooms, churning out face-masks for doctors and nurses on their 3D Printers.

But back to the photograph. I wasn’t overwhelmed by it at the time. Perhaps it was because events overtook us, and everything that came “before” seemed no longer relevant in the world. Then I tried a different crop, and it seemed to speak to me a little more.
I remember the season came on with a record-breaking wet. The year after was the same. The water table rose, filling the hollows, spoiling crops of winter wheat and oilseed. Migrant birds enjoyed their new-found wetlands. But then each spring, came a drought that baked the land, first to iron, and then to dust.

The photograph tells me the world was beautiful then, as of course it still is. But I detect also now a more deeply entrenched fatalism among its people. There is a growing acceptance of the ruin, and all the casual corruption, and that there’s nothing we can do about it. It just is. And, as if by metaphor, while once upon a time we could avoid those of low character by avoiding a particular part of town at night, now they come at us in our homes, down our telephone wires, wherever we are, and there’s no protection, other than our wits. But such a wit as that risks also tarnishing the spirit and rendering it blind to the beauty of the world. It will make us cynical, it will tempt us over the threshold into the hell of a collective nihilism. And then we are lost.

We need a powerful formula to keep the shine on things, and to keep believing it all means something. For myself, I trust it is sufficient never take our eye off the beauty of the world, never to let it be diminished in our souls, that therein lies the path to truly better days.

Now, please excuse me, the phone is ringing again. Perhaps it’s that young man with his explanation.

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Les joueurs d’echecs – Honore Daumier

So, I’ve decided my name is Thomas Marston. I was a Captain in the Queen’s Royal Highlanders, and I’m a hundred and forty-one years old. My birthday celebrations have been somewhat muted since everyone I know is long dead. Also, the ongoing pandemic in the UK is still making it difficult to get people together – not that I bother much with birthdays anyway at my age.

We’re into our third year of quarantine now, with most other countries, bar the States of course, pretty much back to normal. But if you have a fully stamped CV passport, with all the known mutations up to date, you can at least get into town now and then for a coffee, which is what I’m doing here. Before all this kicked off I’d fallen into the bad habit of shambling into town wearing any old muck. Nowadays, I polish my shoes and press my trousers, like it’s a special occasion, which I suppose it is, mostly on account of its rarity.


The café is quiet this morning. There’s just this fierce looking woman, sitting over there in the corner. She appears to be glowering at me over the rim of her teacup and looks vaguely familiar, but I can’t place her. Then there’s that old guy, sitting by the window. I spotted her before I spotted him. I don’t know what her problem is. Could we have met before, and I was inadvertently rude or something? Might we have had a relationship at one time? The latter seems unlikely. For all of my advanced years, I have no problem with my memory and I clearly recall the last woman I courted was in nineteen fifty two.


Relationships are a particular problem, as you can imagine. I’m told I’d still pass for forty – which is the age I normally claim – but romantic entanglements tend to fall apart when the lady in question finds out how old I really am. It’s not that I’m bothered much about that sort of thing any more, though at times I feel the company would be pleasant. Anyway, she’s definitely not an old flame – I mean most of those would be very old indeed by now. Something about me interests her though, and it doesn’t look to be in a good way. Perhaps she mistakes me for someone else.

As for the old guy, what’s interesting about him is he’s got this little fold-out travelling chess set, and he’s playing both sides of the board. You’d see that a lot in cafés, and on long train journeys, once upon a time, but not any more. Now we just flick on our phones. He has an old-world look about him – nudging eighty perhaps. He sees me looking, unhooks his mask and gestures.

“Do you play?” he asks.

I do, actually. My game is unimaginative, but solid. After all, I’ve had a longer time to practice than most people, and you can’t help picking up a few tricks along the way. He’s well-dressed, a tweed jacket and tie sort of guy, and he has a kindly sort of face. He’s probably lonely, so I see no harm,…


Then my mobile rings, which pulls me up a bit. It rarely rings, since very few people have my number. So, if it does ring, it’s usually a scam, or a cold call. I note it’s a London number, and I don’t know anyone in London. Okay, so here we go: it’s an automated voice purporting to be from HMRC, the UK tax authority. They’re threatening criminal action against me for fraud. I make a note of the number, block it, then mail the number out to the government’s cyber-security service. I’m sure they do their best with this sort of thing, but I can’t help imagining they must be overwhelmed.

So, then I set the phone aside, bring myself back into the moment, but by now the old guy has gone, ditto the woman, and the café. Instead, I’m sitting at the dining table in front of the laptop, blinking into the morning sunshine through my window, chasing the tails of a story as it slips back into the unconscious.

I suppose there were scammers a plenty, even in Marston’s younger days. But we seem more vulnerable to attack now, the shady ones turning up in the middle of our thoughts, in the middle of our living rooms and leaving dirty footprints on the carpet. They hit you with a carefully crafted line to get your attention, then it’s on with their nefarious patter. If only such ingenuity were put to good use, we would surely have solved the millions of problems that vex mankind by now.

It’s easy to think no one would ever fall for such things, but the innocent and the unwary do, and clearly often enough to make it worth the while. As for me, it spoiled the taste of my coffee. To remain innocent and trusting throughout life is surely a virtue worth protecting, and one of the unspoken crimes of the scammers, even against those wise to their tricks, is to render us cynical and suspicious of the world.


Anyway,… Captain Thomas Marston. I’ve used him before. Interesting. I thought we’d done with each other but apparently not. And if not, then I’m sure I’ll catch up with him later on, find out what else he has to say for himself.

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