The view from here (Bangalore)

A call centre in India is the perfect vantage point from which to view life in Britain today.

Mrs V P K Singh, who has been taking calls in Bangalore for many years, has passed on this scholarly and insightful article about the UK:

The first thing that strikes one on visiting Britain is the sheer vibrant energy and colour on the teeming streets of her cities. Everywhere you look, the crowds are rushing hither and thither with packages. They are all going to the post office to return the unsuitable goods they ordered by phone from the mail-order companies. The packages are like large padded envelopes and those who carry them are called “Jiffy wallahs”.

Mrs VPK Singh (orange sari) in full flow

Sacred cars wander about the streets at will and the people are so devoted to these cars that they pay large sums of money every year in the belief that this will prevent evil befalling them.

Britain is a land of contrasts where the old rubs shoulders with the new. Although it is advanced in many ways, it still has not shaken off the old caste system. There are still the untouchables who have no star button on their telephone and therefore no chance of making progress in life.

When making a telephone call, the British make a point of mentioning their caste, so, for example, they will begin a conversation with the word “high” – sometimes represented as “hi”. Members of the higher castes can be identified by their customer reference numbers.

Although there is great poverty and hardship, the people have an impressive dignity. Even those who may have to subsist on as little as 300 catalogues a year accept their lot with a calm resignation. This is based on their strong belief that they always have a number of options; there is always a choice of buttons to press. In Britain, however lowly a man may be, he knows his call is important to somebody.

When a girl reaches the age of 18 it is not uncommon for her parents to arrange car insurance for her with a company she has never met. This even happens with members of the educated classes. In most cases, the girl obeys without protest and dutifully takes on this lifetime commitment to premiums.

One is always aware of the strong spiritual element in British life. The numerous religions are a vital part of the culture. Everywhere you see the holy men who somehow manage to perform incredible feats of endurance, such as hanging on the telephone for as long as 40 minutes, listening to the ringing tone.

The basis of most religions is the notion that, in our life on this earth, we are “held in a queue”, but if we are patient and stoical, sooner or later a “representative” will be with us – probably in an afterlife.

Worshippers of the cruel and unforgiving god Vivaldi believe that in our lives all our calls may be recorded, then after our death – or expiry date, as it is known – these calls will be used to train future generations, so that, in a very real sense, we achieve immortality.

To me, one of the most attractive religions of that country is the one which says you may do whatever you please in this life because, whenever you choose to, you can have all your sins consolidated on one card and they will be gradually forgiven.

So this is Britain, with its centuries-old traditions, where the months and seasons are still measured out in direct debits, where families are held together by their respect for the household insurance premium, where every moment is “a particularly busy time”, where customs are valued and the ordinary people have a simple faith in 0800 and a fatalistic acceptance of the customer reference number that life has dealt them.

I am now going to read this back to you to see that everything is correct.

Now, is there anything else I can help you with today?

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Happy Birthday Molly!

Do my paws look big in this?

Today has been (its 10pm) Molly’s seventh birthday. Compared to past birthdays, and in particular her 2009 one, I’d like to think its been a pretty good day all round, and she’s certainly been fussed over even more than usual. She even had roast beef casserole for supper!

And dad had a lovely surprise on her birthday too. I’ve been offered a part-time role with the Environment Agency in Bristol as Head of Interactive Development, with the prospect of it becoming full time and permanent in about five months’ time.

The role is about sorting out corporate governance of the agency’s website and making it more usable for members of the public. ¬†Part-time isn’t really what I wanted, but this is such a great opportunity to work for an organisation I’ve aspired to web manage for a long time, that I believe its worth taking even for the short to medium term in the hope that it might turn full time and permanent ‘in a bit’.

Extra cuddles for Molly tonight!

10 things you probably don’t know about Thomas the Tank Engine

1] Up to 15 adults an hour suffer narcolepsy while reading Thomas the Tank Engine books to their offspring, warns a senior psychology lecturer. “We have heard disturbing reports of mothers and fathers drifting off mid-sentence and waking up to find that their child has grown-up and left home,” says the report. A wide-reaching conclusion suggests that to prevent sudden attacks of TTEN (Thomas Tank Engine narcolepsy) parents should stretch their legs every three to four minutes. Likewise, Thomas should never be read aloud during long car journeys, or while attempting sustained tightrope walks.

2] After a ten-year study conducted under laboratory conditions, a report from the Department of Contextual Analysis at Lochboisdale University reveals that 90% of Thomas the Tank Engine stories involve a train or trains leaving the line before, three pages later, being put back on. “It is a sad reflection on the nation’s children that this fact has remained undetected for so long,” concludes the report. However, a little known early Thomas story, Gordon Goes Off The Rails (1956), finds the normally reliable Gordon in a dramatic break from the norm. Gordon, generally considered the fastest and most reliable of all the trains, throws it all in to hang around coffee bars in Brighton, mixing with unsavoury types such as Serena the Topless Engine and Arthur the Angry Young Diesel.

3] In a follow-up, Gordon Kicks Up a Racket, Gordon sings rebellious skiffle songs until the early hours of the morning before beating up Mods on Brighton beach. Both volumes have since been withdrawn by the Thomas estate, though a film by Michael Winner based on the second volume, This One’s For the Sir Topham Hatt is believed to be in pre-production, with Vinnie Jones tipped to star as Gordon, and Jordan as Serena.

4] The only other Thomas story to have been withdrawn from circulation is the 1967 cult classic Thomas and the Pigs, in which Thomas becomes involved in an anti-Vietnam demonstration and ends up in the magistrates’ court facing a ¬£25 fine for damage to public property. The volume is rarely mentioned in studies of the Thomas oeuvre, owing to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act.

5] In a little-known Thomas book, Johnson the Diesel Gets Tough, the present Home Secretary makes a youthful appearance, successfully clearing beggars from railway sidings and placing them in the Isle of Sodor Penitentiary, thereby earning the eternal gratitude of the Fat Controller.

6] Mavis, the feisty black diesel engine who works with Toby and is known for her high-spirits, was born Michael, but never felt easy in her gender. Mavis’s first public appearance in her new identity was on the Kilroy show in June 1991. “It feels like a terrible weight has been lifted from my shoulders,” she confessed, tearfully. “Take a deep breath,” said Kilroy, “We’ve got all the time in the world.”

7] The creator of the Thomas the Tank Engine books, the Rev A W Awdry, is thought to have come up with the idea in a moment of boredom. “It was my heart’s desire to re-create that moment in prose and pictures,” he later explained. And he obviously succeeded: during a live reading of the Thomas stories by veteran actor Robert Hardy at Wembley Stadium in 1978, it was estimated that over two thirds of the audience found their minds wandering after the first two sentences.

8] Daisy, the attractive but highly strung engine who once refused to pull a container car, believing it beneath her, was married to Po, the leading Teletubby, in March, 1999. Sadly, the pair found the strain of living in the celebrity spotlight too much, and parted in November 2007, citing “irreconcilable differences”. Insiders suggest that Daisy had been conducting an on-off romance with Thomas, while Po has been seen screened by hidden cameras holding hands with Laa-Laa.

9] Sir Topham Hatt was born Reginald Perkins in Chilton Foliat in 1934, but changed his name by deed poll upon deciding to enter local politics in 1957. In the late 1960s, Sir Topham became a flamboyant Liberal MP, narrowly escaping prosecution for his role in the Scott affair after one witness claimed to have overheard him suggesting they should tie the former male model to Percy’s undercarriage to scare him off. His career never recovered. At present, Sir Topham is ranked the 17-1 outsider in the race to be the next Chancellor of Oxford University.

10] After a bout of adverse publicity earlier this year concerning his struggles with his weight, the Fat Controller contacted top PR guru Max Clifford. Two weeks later, a front-page exclusive in the Sunday Mirror was headed “Medium-sized controller dates Geri Halliwell”. It pictured the railway moghul frolicking on a beach with the scantily-clad former Spice Girl. Media experts suggested that the following weekend’s scoop – “Thomas the Spank Engine” – may have been placed there by Clifford as part of a tit-for-tat agreement with the newspaper.