Saturday, 31 December 2011

Ghosts of Christmas Past

Putting the hectic school routine behind me for what will amount to almost a month and consigning my HBOS battling files to a cupboard for a similar period, has meant I have finally been able to turn my attentions to preparations for our much anticipated family focused Christmas. However, being someone who has always enjoyed the pleasure of giving, Christmas continues to prove challenging on this front due to our much reduced financial circumstances. Taking solace in the middle eastern proverb that suggests, “If you have much, give your wealth and if you have little, give your heart” I have endeavoured to do the very best I can with the limited resources available to me by applying a completely different approach to our festive celebrations which makes good use of both my heart and my head.

In the past I would have purchased Christmas wreaths, garlands and table decorations to decorate my home and give to my friends. However this year, instead of parting with any hard earned cash in exchange for these wholesome signs of Christmas, I held a table decoration making lunch for a few of my friends and neighbours. Because foliage arrived with each guest and (courtesy of the M & S waste-sale) I was able to supply the receptacles for our floral masterpieces along with a light lunch, I was also able to create an abundance of decorative displays for no financial outlay.  In addition, my children were kept cheerfully and productively entertained by this hive of kitchen industry which  turned a thrift driven exercise into wonderfully social pre- Christmas event that all those who attended are keen to repeat next year. My home has never been better dressed and friends to whom I have gifted my hand made creations have been delighted with a caringly constructed illustration of just how much I value them.  

In the past I would have not only made a Christmas cake but I would also have bought only the best cuts of meat along with a variety of luxury Christmas produce to share with family and friends over the festive period. This year a close friend arrived mid December with a beautifully decorated Christmas cake she commissioned her daughter in law to make me as a gift and, instead of competing with the supermarket crowds, I have managed to ear mark and freeze M & S waste sale produce over the past few weeks for consumption during the festive period. By avoiding the madness of pre-Christmas shoppers,  not only have I had time to create homemade Christmas fair that has ensured all our  guests have been fed like Kings, but I have achieved this without any extra expense.

In the past I would have tried to fulfil the majority of the requests on my children’s lengthy Christmas lists and yet still regularly failed to deliver something I had not realised they had set their hearts on. This year just as I have done over the past two, I managed my children’s expectations by reminding them of our reduced circumstances in an effort to avoid disappointment.  I asked relatives to gift them money rather than presents and promised my children an opportunity to spend it in the January sales in ensure purchases of even greater value. This has left me free to buy five children and six grandchildren a few inexpensive trinkets I know they will enjoy and in so doing resulted in a happier and more balanced attitude to present giving all round.


In the past I would have happily thrown several pounds at a time into the charitable collection buckets found on every corner during the run up to Christmas.  However, for three years consecutive years I have squirmed in discomfort at my inability to help the less fortunate in any way. Nevertheless, this year my husband and I received the most heart warming opportunity of all time and it gave us the chance to do something positive for those people who, unlike us, will not be sharing in a family focused Christmas this year. Thanks to the compassion of one M & S manager who, no doubt, was equally as disgusted my husband by the mountains of un-purchased fresh turkey he had been instructed to throw away, my husband was permitted to have a trolley full for our personal use. It was in this way we were able, at eleven o’clock on Christmas Eve, to redirect twenty of the thousands of M & S turkeys destined for disposal as compost, to the kitchens for the homeless via a friend.

Mother Teresa once said, “If you can’t feed a hundred people then feed just one.”

I am hoping, thanks to my husband’s efforts, a little humanitarian Christmas spirit and several Marks and Spencer’s turkeys, several hundred truly poverty stricken individuals far less fortunate that ourselves will benefit from a hot meal this Christmas.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Rot and Regulators

Marcus Aurelius once said, “Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth” and having opened an email from the Ombudsman’s adjudicator, I am endeavouring to focus on the wisdom of this Ancient Roman Emperor’s as I contemplate my appointed FOS representative’s thinly veiled words of contempt for my fourteen page letter asking for her help.
While the FSA are happy to spend tax payers money by the million on “shaped” investigative reports that avoid holding RBS executives to account and David Cameron continues to trade on his selective Christian principals to explain how “quick [he] has been to forgive the bankers” along with his “biblical” reasons for not seeking retribution, it seems evident the circling of waggons to protect the select few is high on the Financial Ombudsman’s Service’s agenda too. I have grown used to the obstructive attitude of the complaints business as a result of my pursuit of a full, formal and detailed investigation into the unnecessary forced sale of my home by HBOS.

Since I initially contacted the FOS for their help in April 2011 I have been told,

·       They “cannot interfere with the commercial judgement of a business” despite the fact that it clearly states on their web-based consumer fact sheet that, “In some ways we are like a court of law- and our Ombudsmen are like judges.”

·       It is not their job to look back at a situation “with the benefit of hindsight” and change the outcome in spite of their consumer fact sheet stating, where an individual has lost out because of a business’s actions, “we can tell the business what to do to put things right”.

·       They cannot see how “exactly [I] expected [HBOS] to contact me directly” with regard to the mortgage arrears that led to repossession of my home even though I have on good authority HBOS have a legally binding “duty of care” to me in this respect.

·       They cannot see “how it would have been possible for [me] to have dealt with these arrears on my own even if [HBOS] had managed to contact [me] directly” or make use of this information to avoid the repossession of my family home, despite in clearly stating in the HBOS Mortgage Conditions Booklet that letting an HBOS mortgaged property is an option albeit “with the lenders permission”. In fact the FSO’s own technical note explains, in detail, how they investigate a complaint about premature or unnecessary repossession.

·       They “cannot see there is anything to be gained by addressing each of the points within my complaint individually” even though it clearly states in their fact sheet they “don’t take sides and always take a fresh look at the situation.”
Yesterdays FSO correspondence now states,
·        “As [HBOS] initially stated that the complaint was outside of the Financial Ombudsman's jurisdiction, it is likely that this element will need to be dealt with first [and] as such it is likely to be sometime until this is finalised” and my case passed on to an Ombudsman for investigation.
Astounded by the throwing of an HBOS favouring spanner into the works and further outraged because I believed I had addressed the issue of juristiction and laid it to rest at outset, I cannot pretend to be surprised I have unearthed yet more evidence of regulatory tolerance for banker’s criminality. Furthermore I was  completely unprepared to find the Financial Ombudsman Service would, like HBOS’s own complaints department, be unashamed of their tainted allegiances and unrepentant for their acts of discrimination against me to the extent they would put it in writing.

Having compiled my reply I remain in wait, once again, in the hope my HBOS compliant will  receive the airing I believe it deserves while I marvelling at those who believe we are best served by watered down banking reform and regulation. With David Cameron descibing himself as an intermittent but practising Christian who allows himself to “ignore the biblical passages concerning the sick and the poor”  there is little wonder the way is left clear for our regulators to feel empowered to protect the favoured few.  Bureaucratic endorsement of regulatory apathy and injustice for the majority not only ignores basic human values in favour of supporting the prosperity of the self appointed elite but the self-interest of government driven directives to forgive the criminal actions of the casino bankers avoids their prosecution and leaves their swag bags bloated an untouched.

Thomas Jefferson once said,“ Is it less dishonest to do what is wrong because it is not expressly prohibited by written law?” I for one cannot imagine this is a conundrum the greedy bankers, David Cameron or his puppet regulators spend any time whatsoever deliberating over. For the favoured few the law, government guidelines and codes of conduct created for the benefit of the greater good are completely irrelevant.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Needs Must

Emperor Claudius (10 BC- 54 AD) once said “beware, lest in your anxiety to avoid war, you obtain a master” and I appreciate a potential Eurozone collapse together with endless examples of regulatory incompetence in the banking sector means  I will certainly not be alone when it comes to locking horns on every front as I battle against the banks while simultaneously maintaining equilibrium in a life where I have made responsibility to my family my master.
Fully aware there is no such thing as a free lunch when I accepted three bursaries for my youngest daughter and two son’s private education, it was no surprise to discover I had sold my soul to my children’s school when I agreed to become the Chairman of the Friends Committee. This term so far I have given a recruiting speech to parents of the whole school, written the text for the Friends website and school magazine, hosted a quiz night with a sit down meal for thirty and organised fund raising stalls, refreshments and a disco at the schools bonfire night function.

In addition to this I have implemented and run a Christmas Market for twenty stall holders where there were hundreds of children, parents and local people in attendance.

For this event alone I have been required to,

·        supply, print and distribute the advertising material without spending any money

·        plan and set up tables, seating, music and Christmas decorations for the event without any guidance

·        spend thirteen hours on my feet meeting a veritable plethora of Friends and market traders needs with very little assistance

·        referee helpers enlisted to sell refreshments and raffle tickets while thwarting all power struggles and keeping ruffled feathers to minimum

·        eat humble pie as a method of damage limitation when dealing with traders who didn’t check vehicular access to our event in the hope they are not tempted to blacken the school’s reputation because of their own oversights.

During the same period I have written, another letter of complaint, this time to the Department of Energy and Climate Change in response to their ten page letter to me dismissing my case for provision of a new boiler under the governments Energy SavingTrust scheme.

Once again I have,

·        told them they are wrong not to uphold my case of eligibility

·        reminded them their administrative shortcomings should not result in my being disadvantaged

·        requested they send me a copy of the heating and insulation guidelines that were in place at the time of my application

·        enlisted the help of my local MP to ensure I am provided with a meaningful response.

On top of this, and ever hopeful that the regulatory authorities will eventually step up to the mark in my case against HBOS,  I also have emailed the FOS this week, this time to tell them that according to their latest letter they have,

·        set up a third reference number for my Bank of Scotland complaint that bares no reference to my ongoing dealings with them

·        returned my 14 page letter  to me (which cost me £5.90 to send them by registered post), with a new complaint application form

·        still not replied to this self same letter, which they originally insisted should reach them no later than 7 November or else not be proceeded with  

Faced with over whelming fury on the part of my eldest child (now age thirty four), I have endeavoured to use the best of my literary skills to explain a decision I made twenty three years ago when, at the age of thirty, I chose to keep the details of my first husband’s paranoid schizophrenia and subsequent suicide from our then eleven and eight year old daughters.  At the time I spoke only of his passing.

They say the hardest battle ever to be fought is the one in which you try to be yourself. Ever mindful that I am not a failure just because I continue to fail, I take solace in the fact that “continuing to try” is my success. For this reason I have decided it is time to focus on living simply, loving kindly and caring deeply. With this in mind and for the time being at least, my battles can wait until after I have mastered the fast approaching and much anticipated family Christmas.