Friday, 18 July 2014

Dealing with my first request for sex; Earl Spencer speaks of decapitation; and my State Pension claim hassle

A bit of a miscellany today! None of these things warrant a post on their own, so I've bundled them together.

Approached in the street for sex - the first time I've ever been asked
Well! This could have been my big moment. But it's not a memory to cherish. Yesterday evening, I was in Hove at about 8.30pm. I was going to have a seafront walk. It was warm and calm, and there were lots of people around with the same thing in mind - if they weren't actually enjoying a barbecue on the shingle beach itself.

I'd just parked Fiona, and having been stung for parking fines before in Hove, I was peering around, looking for a sign that confirmed that (a) Fiona was in a parking space I could use without penalty, and (b) there really was nothing to pay, as was usual after 8.00pm. (The local authority has reduced me to paranoia on this subject)

Well, I must have looked like a cute (but available) girl in a summer dress to the two young men who were crossing the road, one of them rather tipsy. The tipsy one was wearing a suit, but still managed to look dishevelled. I tried not to catch his attention. But he lurched towards me and said: 'How about it, darling? I haven't had sex for ages.' With a chat-up line like that, it wasn't surprising. I wasn't so much insulted, but peeved at having to cope with this idiot. I'm afraid my irritation was plain. 'Oh, go away,' I said, quite sharply. Rather to my surprise, he did. Just like that. So my unsubtle reaction did the trick.

I wondered what on earth had been in his mind. Had he expected me to say, 'I'm so glad you asked. I need sex too. Look, there's a nice patch of grass: let's rip these clothes off, and get down to it. Just no kissing, and no vomit.' Or (running away) 'No, no, no, leave me alone, I don't want sex with you!', which of course would merely trigger Chase Mode. There's no knowing what he was thinking.

I kept an eye on them as they walked up the road. They fell into step with another woman a hundred yards away. I wondered if I should abandon my stroll, and be on hand to intervene if necessary. The sisterhood thing. But she just ignored them, and they gave up. No rescue was needed.

Sex in the City. Huh.

Earl Spencer
Lady Diana's brother, whose bad boy image when younger was transformed in a stroke by his forthright address at Westminster Abbey, on the occasion of Diana's funeral in 1997. I'd somehow overlooked him when booking my tickets for the Appledore Book Festival. He had a mid-evening spot one hour after Irma Kurtz had discussed her life as an agony aunt. Just enough time for fish and chips. He was going to talk about his new book, on the infamy of King Charles I's execution at the bloody hands of the Commonwealth Men. Right up my street.

I discovered this booking omission this morning, immediately got onto the website, and bought a ticket before the hoi polloi collared the whole lot. Because this was the morning that all and sundry could apply for tickets, not just Friends of the ABF. That'll now be thirteen Festival events to attend. Maybe I'll get a prize for being the most assiduous event goer? 'A magnum of champagne, Miss Melford, the least we can do in recognition of your support.' Oh, thanks! How nice!

State Pension claim hassle
They don't let you claim until your pension start date is less than four months away. I met that condition on 6 July. I've been waiting daily for the letter that's supposed to be sent from the government's Pension Service, inviting me to claim. You do have to claim - payment isn't automatic.

Well, I was getting tired of waiting for that letter, and more and more inclined to take matters into my own hands and push things along. Give them a poke. So I phoned the Pension Service this morning. A nice lady answered. 'Oh, I don't think the batch with your letter in it has gone out yet. It only says that you have a choice to claim or defer. If you want to claim now, and if you're doing it online, just say you've had the letter, and go on from there'.

Right! I'll make my claim online. Sounds so convenient! I just need to remember to put 'Yes!' in the box that says 'Now are you absolutely sure that you've had your letter?'. Easy peasy.

It wasn't easy peasy of course. The next question: are you registered for the Government Gateway? I was! Merrily I typed in my user number or password. What next? My name, date of birth and National Insurance number. I knew these by heart. recognition. I re-entered the details. But I was still bounced.

So it was back to the Pension Service. A different nice lady this time. This person had a Scottish accent, and somehow I had more faith in her. All was well until she entered my National Insurance number. No access to my records. She tried twice. No, she definitely couldn't access them. It would have to be done manually, using a paper claim form. Did I mind? No, of course not; in fact I rather preferred doing it that way. She will send the form out today, and I should get it early next week (this being Friday).

Thus stands the saga so far. I'm beginning to have grave doubts about the government's online services. I always had suspicions about systems that steer you away from good honest paper forms, with real writing on them, and a signature - a tangible thing that the person on the receiving end will treat differently from a boring screen full of standardised typed-in letters and numbers; and maybe with more respect and attention.

I want that respect and attention. Because I want my pension to get set up without hitches or mistakes.

It's funny how, sooner or later, you have to set aside the machine and the Internet and do it the old-fashioned way. I've noticed that when something goes seriously wrong, top people will send letters to each other. 'I have today written to the Home Secretary seeking an explanation...' 'The minister has given me her assurance in a letter that...' Something that involves handwriting. Something that can be physically filed away, and kept. Archaic things, letters and forms. But this is the method of choice when anything really important is involved.

That's why I don't mind that something as important as my pension will have to be claimed in writing.


  1. Although I hardly ever post comments, I do often read your blog.

    There can be an issue with the DWP and them restricting accounts so that low level employees can't access them. This is due to privacy laws and people that have have a GRC are usually automatically set to this status. It is a source of constant irritation amongst the trans community, it has led to people having no access to benefits for months due to Jobcentre staff being unable to access their details.

    There is much discussion on Facebook within certain groups about this, but there doesn't seem to be any easy solution to this that I can offer. I hope however that knowledge of the problem is of use to you


  2. Thank you for your comment.

    Yes, I had heard about the 'GRC problem'. You get around it, apparently, by explaining that you possess a GRC and that a senior officer can get access to your records, if the call is put through to them. But of course, who wants to endure that rigmarole every time you phone up?

    Once my State Pension is set up, I'm hoping it will run without need for regular intervention from ordinary DWP staff. Fortunately it's not the sort of payment that requires constant reauthorisation. It's for life, once set in motion.

    My tax affairs are handled differently - they've transferred me to a special tax office, for the attention of special staff. That seems a better way.



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Lucy Melford