Monday, 29 October 2018

Little Brexit

Much of the Brexit debate in the media is concerned with future relationships between the UK and the EU—the Norwegian model, the Canadian solution, and so on. The complete absence of any agreement between the UK and the EU equally presents much material for commentators. But the impact of these theoretical concepts on everyday life remains vague to the ordinary public, those most affected by the nonsense that is Brexit.

In an attempt to demonstrate the impact on the ordinary UK citizen and their day-to-day activities, Richard Corbett, an MEP, has created an ongoing blog post that contains a Long List of Little Things. And Little Things really do mean a lot: the practical problems thrown up by Brexit that will affect the lives of UK citizens in the following areas:

  • Health
  • Holidays and Travel
  • International Haulage
  • Agriculture and Food
  • Entertainment
  • Sport
  • Education
  • Technology
  • Miscellaneous Little Things
  • Many things that already cost more
As one commenter wrote, "Overwhelming. Depressing. The detailed small print doesn’t fit on the side of a big red bus so no one hears it."

Really, it is time for the ordinary folk to stand up against this Brexit foolishness. It's like a mass suicide, a sort of Jonestown on a national scale. For heaven's sake stop it before it is too late!

The link again, should you have missed it above: Long List of Little Things.

Thursday, 18 October 2018

Spanish bankers

Spanish bank Bankia logoThe Spanish bank world is one full of mysteries. The nicest thing that can be said about Spanish banks is that they do not function in the same ways as banks in countries to the north of the Pyrenees.

I have an account with Bankia.

I did not ask for an account with Bankia.

I used to have an account with Caja Murcia. That was taken over in a more or less orderly fashion by Banco Mare Nostrum.

The one day I went to the bank and it had turned into Bankia. No warning had been given. No information as to why or when the change would take place. No option.

The thing is, nothing worked. I was unable to pay for thing with my debit card and the bank itself was absolutely full of other customers in similar situations. There was no organisation of customers into queues, no attempt to provide extra staff, and the manager stayed carefully in her office behind closed doors.

How long would the problem last? No idea! What can be done in the meantime? Get money out and pay in the old fashioned way. Can you give me money? No, that's a different desk…

The problem lasted more than three weeks. The bank remained crowded with unhappy customers.

Now the Bankia website. It's okay. Nothing to write home about, but for checking your balance, fine. Try to add a fiscal residence (a legal obligation), however, and things go terribly wrong.

I speak and read Spanish and have always used the site in its Spanish form. I have never been able to add a fiscal residence.

I have spent far too much time on the phone from Belgium talking to Bankia customer support in Madrid trying to add a fiscal residence. All to no avail. I was pointed to Madrid from my branch office. Madrid finally said to ask my branch office.

No matter what I try, I am told:

  • We have not been able to complete the operation
  • Es obligatorio dar de alta el pais de res. de datos basicos

See the two languages?

That's because I had first tried in the normal Spanish version of the site and kept getting the error (the fully in Spanish). I thought that I was having trouble understanding, so tried the English version of the site. I should have known things weren't going to be any better when, at the start of the procedure, I received this piece of mumbo-jumbo:

You do not have declared no fiscal residence country.
For tax legislation, is necessary that provide fiscal residence your details, although you have as only residence country district attorney Spain. You can add up to a maximum of 5 fiscal residence.
From 01/01/2016, to comply with the standard CRS related to the automatic exchange of information in applicable fiscal matter to Spain, you must provide your/s residence/s district attorney/is via the signature of this Autostatement CRS of way fiscal residence compulsory, although you have as only residence country district attorney Spain. To obtain more information can consult the R.D. 1021/2015 of on 13 November 2015.

Pardon? Really, you'd think that an organisation such as Bankia could get someone to do at least a half-decent translation: this looks like a quick run through Google Translate.

Still, I carried on and ended up with the same error, only now half in one language and half in another.

I have searched and searched, but am unable to find anything about datos basicos (basic information). There's a section on personal information, but there my country of residence is already indicated as Belgium. I have emailed my Bankia branch on several occasions, receiving either no reply or no help at all. Their latest solution is for me to visit the branch when I am next in Spain.

If I had any faith in Spanish banks, I would try elsewhere, but experiences with others do not stimulate confidence. Can anyone suggest a bank that works well and does not require a mobile phone?

And have you been able to declare your fiscal residence online with Bankia?

Thursday, 6 September 2018

Optikit No.1

I was walking with my mother in Woolwich one dark afternoon, when we passed a large store in Powis Street. In the window was a display for a new toy called Optikit. It looked fascinating, promising that all sorts of optical instruments and experiments could be made and carried out with this new "construction kit."

Yes, I'm talking about a long time ago. Perhaps approaching Christmas 1960 or even 1959. Whichever Christmas it was, I soon became the more than proud owner of an Optikit No.1.

It was everything that it had promised to be: its instruction manual provided excellent guides on how to construct, amongst other optical instruments, a microscope, a telescope, a sextant, and its experiments provided a good grounding in basic optics for someone just starting grammar school.

Index page of Instruction Manual

The kit itself included metal sections that, when cunningly connected together, provided surprisingly robust frameworks for the various instruments, lenses of various strengths, lens holders, and other items required for either construction or experimentation. The quality was really quite exceptional: I played with the Optikit a great deal and it still looks good, as these photos show.

And to give some idea of the sort of instrument that could be built with this fascinaiong "toy", here's an illustration from the Instruction Manual showing a cross-section of the projection microscope—Lego and Meccano eat your hearts out!

So what became of Optikit? I have no idea. I only know that there was an Optikit No.0, which, presumably, was the first and less ambitious version of the set, but I know nothing about still more advanced sets—was there ever an Optikit No.2? Optikit was made by the Helio Mirror Company, of Belvedere, Kent. Helio was a defence manufacturing company, making periscopes, which was taken over in 1970 by USI (United Scientific Instruments).

I have checked with Google Maps and the store from which the Optikit was bought is no longer in Powis Street. The building is there, but it seems to have been divided between several new owners (one of the storefronts reads Travelodge). Mind you, looking around Woolwich with street view shows a vastly different town to the one I knew as a boy almost sixty years ago: the Gaumont cinema building is still there, but its function has changed (Gateway House is shown in large letters over the doors of the main entrance) and on opposite is the building that once housed another cinema, the Granada: that, heaven help us all, now seems to be some sort of evangelical church, the Christ Faith Tabernacle. What is the world coming to?