OK so here’s my anti-Marketeering rant for this year. have really pissed me off. I made an enquiry about Life Insurance – the kind with critical illness cover. I guess I was getting worried that one day – heaven forbid – the pesky back might really go awol and cripple me. It’s not likely, tbh, I’ve been managing it well for more than two decades and this was just a bad year, but I thought I’d investigate the prices, etc, anyway. So after loads of paperwork and emails and phonecalls, eventually I get a reasonable quote, am
reasonably satisfied, and prepared to go ahead. Then all of a sudden the insurer sends another letter saying they’ve thought about it, and decided not to cover me for ‘disability’ of any kind. Basically, they won’t cover me for the only thing that’s likely to even potentially be a problem. No point in having the insurance then, really. So in the next phonecall I tell the girl I’ve decided I don’t want the policy after all. I’ll repeat that – I TELL THE GIRL I DON”T WANT THE POLICY AFTER ALL. She starts into trying to persuade me different and I keep saying NO. Then the signal goes and the call dies. She leaves a message, while the signal is dead, saying she’ll send the paperwork anyway. Then, I go away to Peru. I leave an answerphone message for any callers – “i’m in Peru, won’t be taking or making any calls until September.” Yep. You’ve guessed it. Two or three mornings a week, for the next three weeks, and I mean 4am in Peru, she calls me. She sends text messages asking me WHEN I want my policy to start. I respond to the text messages, but these are clearly generic and not getting
back to her. She calls again. Of course I don’t answer – would you answer the phone at 4am?? There’s more text messages. I write to the email address I got the emails from – to no avail. reserve
the right, clearly, to contact you in whatever way they see fit, by email, text, and by phone, but the only way you are allowed to communicate with them is by phone, to their phone number, which at International Roaming Rates I am NOT prepared to pay, when all it is is to say AGAIN that I DO NOT WANT THE POLICY.

Home at last, I find a letter from them, which arrives the day after I return, wanting me to tick boxes and add comments, suggesting they’re not going to contact me anymore unless I want them to. At last! So I tick the boxes saying NO, and leave a terse message reflecting my annoyance at the way they have harrassed me whilst I was away on holiday. And this morning, still fighting jetlag, having got to sleep at about 5am, they call again, at 9.15am. Of course I didn’t answer. I will never have ANY THING to do with confused-dot-anything ever again – and will tell anyone who cares to ask that this company will HARASS YOU TO THE GRAVE if ever you dare give them your mobile phone number.

I have created a silent ringtone in GarageBand on my Mac, and transferred it to my iPhone, and made it the custom ringtone for the ConfusedLife phone number they always ring me on. I will never hear them call me again.

UPDATE: 3/10/10
Got a letter from apologising, with £50 of Capital Bonds vouchers to spend as an ex gratia payment to sweeten the apology. Credit where credit’s due, I think they’ve done very well with this, as I didn’t expect anything – just wanted to register my annoyance! Clearly they want to maintain their image as a caring company, and I am assured by their letter that they have learnt lessons from my experience. Good!

Haiti’s Faults Failed As We Failed The Earth in Copenhagen

Haiti Earthquake By Carlos Latuff OK so Copenhagen was a failure, but there’s hope at least of some grassroots reaction to get on with it anyway. And then all eyes turn to Haiti. And yes despite silly actors queering the pitch for serious debate there is considerable support for the idea that global warming science links climate change with increased incidence of earthquakes. At this crucial time of fundamental change, our nerve fails at our peril.

Pivotal Moment We seem to be discovering, at the same time as we warm up our own planet to dangerous levels, that billions of years of ago Mars was possibly as habitable as the Earth used to be till we started mucking about with it.
It suggests that there is evidence ‘next door’ in the solar system of
the dangers of climate change. This at a time when, as a community, the human race are making momentous decisions about our long term future. And yet some are arguing for us to abandon the Earth and try and set up home on Mars!
Let us hope that as the coming weeks unfold, the people on whose watch this crucial time has fallen have their feet on the ground – for all our sakes.

Make Copenhagen Count

Copenhagen Mermaid
The world’s climate scientists are warning that in our lifetimes,
there could be five degrees of warming. Such a change would make our
planet uninhabitable for the 6 billion people now populating our world.
Very few of us would be able to survive. This December, there is a
chance for us to spare ourselves this fate. This petition urges the
Prime Minister to ensure that in Copenhagen, when creating a replacement
for the Kyoto Treaty, the world resolves to make substantial and
binding cuts to keep our global ecosystem from collapse. The EU Market
mechanism of carbon trading, and so many other initiatives, have proven
to be missed opportunities. Copenhagen could well be our last chance, a
final opportunity, NOT to be missed. So please, Make Copenhagen Count.

California trip #5 – Humboldts National Park

Sutter Creek saloon I stopped overnight, some two hours north of Tuoloumne Grove and the Yoesemite National Park, at the Hanford House Inn, in Sutter Creek. This was a lovely guest house – plush luxury for two-thirds the price of Wawona – about the same standard as the Marriot in San Francisco, for half the price. Sutter Creek is one of several old Gold towns on Route 49 north from Yosemite, but its tourist industry has preserved much of the charm of the old west town better than most. Well worth a visit, though I didn’t have time to go down the Gold Mine that looked curiously inviting!

Dashboard of Hire Car showing 100deg F
Driving up the Gold trail today I discovered that the heat of northern California in August really is bigger down in the valleys than it is up in the high peaks of Yosemite. Past Sacramento and on up to Clear Lake I followed the suggestion of one of the tourist magazines to stop for lunch at Lakeport. This, however, proved very disappointing – much more run down than Sutter Creek, and the only lakeside eatery I could see was part of a Motel that didn’t look very inviting for casual drop-in guests. I skipped lunch and drove on, choosing instead to take the scenic route further on Route 20 west to the coast, in order to take the old Route 1 north to the Humboldts National Park. I’m glad I did. A late picnic lunch at a little campsite in the heart of the Jackson
Demonstration National Forest proved very peaceful – indeed the whole forest was cool and peaceful, on the road west, and when I finally reached Route 1 the scenic views of the Pacific were well worth it.

Pacific beaches

Legett drive through tree
Arriving in Redwood country in the early evening, the first tourist trap to greet one is the Legett drive through tree, which was frankly exploitative, and clearly hacked with a chainsaw – and that not so long ago. But soon after the Avenue of the Giants proper begins, and the magnificence, the majesty of these enormous trees, proves truly awe inspiring. My room at the Myers Inn in Myers Flat was comfortable, the hostess fabulously enthusiastic, informative and helpful, and after a rather stodgy meal at the only restaurant for 10miles, I spent an hour simply wandering among the trees, in the cool of the evening, thankfully all to myself. It was quiet, peaceful, like a cathedral closed to the public, cool, and yet very, very much alive, albeit in a slow,
ponderous, very slowly pulsing way. These Sequoia trees – the ones in Yosemite, these clinging to the northern Californian coast, and a third group in the wilds of China – are all that is left, according to the
fossil record, of a Redwood forest that once covered almost the entire planet.

Hire car at foot of Giant Redwoods

California trip #4 – Yosemite National Park pt2

View from Glacier point
A whole day discovering more of Yosemite, after leaving Wawona in a bit of a huff – woken at 5.30am by hoovers downstairs, let alone the couple nextdoor pee-ing all night in their bathroom which was next to my room, through a door in my room that was locked. Don’t get me wrong – the Wawona is ok, for £40 a night. For £100 a night, it is a rip-off, and this rather spoilt my stay. Never mind – away promptly at 8am, I drove first up to Glacier Point. One often comes across hyperbole on tourist info boards – especially perhaps in the insular-minded USA. But I have to agree, at Glacier Point one is indeed treated to one of “the most spectacular views on earth”.


My picnic lunch spot
From there I went down to the Yosemite valley floor, got some grub from the Village Store, and drove back to Cathedral Beach, to enjoy a picnic by the river. This was as idyllic as you could ask for!

Finally, then, I headed out, and stopped off to take a look at the Sequoias in Tuolumne Grove. They were smaller than the ones in Mariposa Grove, but there were less people, and it was a better experience. And
then, in just a few moments, the entire trip to Yosemite changed. Flowers just before the corner where the cactus-tree stood On the way back up. At a corner, already a little out of breath, I was again alone.

I saw, in passing, in the corner as the path wound up the hill, was a dead tree, barely taller than me, but in the classic shape of a cactus, tall straight trunk up to the middle, then a U-bend of two curving branches reaching up to left and right, the one on the left about two-thirds the height of the one on the right. In the middle, just below the split, was a very small protruding branch, broken off, gnarled. Suddenly I realised that the little broken off branch looked like a face – the face of a wise old man of the forest, standing proud, arms upstretched. I stopped, surrounded by the silence, transfixed by the old man of the forest. My hands felt tingly, heavy and electric, and the forest around me almost crackled with life in the silence of the wood, as my feet felt suddenly rooted deep, deep into the forest floor. I lifted my right hand to my solar plexus and breathed a deep sigh of contentment, a huge smile spread across my face. It felt as if for a moment I had touched the Mind that had made this amazing land, long before the arrival of Man. Butterfly at Yosemite
I spoke aloud, thanking this Great Spirit for this moment when it seemed he had revealed himself to me. A cricket chirruped loudly in response, and a large butterfly appeared, circled around me, and disappeared off into the wood. There was a rustle and all of a sudden one of those little striped squirrels came running out of the forest straight toward me, skirting around me just in time to dash across the trail and disappear into the forest above. It was sheer magic. You couldn’t ask for better. I breathed another huge sigh of contentment,
and began to tread the trail again, up the hill, as the voices of excited Dutch children ahead began to bring the 21st century back into focus.

California trip #3 – Yosemite National Park pt1

Squirrel at Yosemite National park
For just a short, brief moment – maybe two or three minutes – today, I tasted solitude in the ancient wilderness. I was alone, for a few minutes, on the trail, and stopped. All I could hear was the rustle of the pine needles, and the scuffling of a tiny squirrel nearby. Its mate stood upright, watching me intently. A black-headed green bird pecked at the ground. And the giant sequoias around me rose up, up, up into the sky, majestic, silent, brittle, in the dry, dry heat. It was a sweet moment, and I will cherish it.

The rest of the day was filled with people, cars, the busy to-ing and fro-ing of Californian life and of the immense tourist machine that is Yosemite National Park. The drive was reasonably easy – initial nerves some nine months since I last drove on the right-hand side of the road, in Portugal last November, were quickly overcome, and the automatic hire car was very easy to drive, and I was, of course in no hurry, happy to keep within the low speed limits of North America. Wamona Hotel, in South Yosemite, is a lovely old place, and a welcome respite from the heat, though I have to say my bathroom-less, window-less room is grossly
overpriced at $150 per night, though I’m not sure I wish I’d spent the $220 on a room with a bathroom and window. After four nights at $225 per night in the luxury of the San Francisco Marriott, it’s perhaps no bad thing to be spending a little less.
Wawona Hotel

Mariposa Grove, and the Grizzly Giant, the Bachelor and the Three Graces – the largest of the trees here in the South of the Park, were all sights worth seeing, despite the crowds around them, made all the more worthwhile by my moment’s solitude with smaller trees and the wildlife, on the way up the hill. Sitting on the veranda of the old wooden hotel building, in the cool of the evening, full with good homely fare from the hotel restaurant, I am content with a day well spent, experiencing the natural wonders of California, a landscape filled with beauty, if not with much in the way of human history – certainly none that the tourist machine tells of, beyond the early 19th century.
The Three Graces