Wednesday, 29 April 2009

I can't complain - and my humans hate doing it

Do you complain? I can't of course - well not without breaking a few rules! Like poor Woody sufferring under Sid's magnifying glass, I would have to put up with anything. Sometimes I think I am very lucky to have such good natured humans. Then again, sometimes I remind myself there were lots of other Figaros in the Disney Store in Liverpool when Mikki bought me and she chose me because I was the best. Sometimes I wonder what happened to all my brothers in the store - but mostly I prefer not to think about that.

I really have no reason to complain. I have nice beds to lie on; I go on visits to Walt Disney World where I have my picture taken with other Disney characters; I travel with the humans most times they go out in the car for any distance; and so on. I leave any complaining to the humans.

In years long ago (I am told: I am not that old myself), this was one of the big differences between the British and Americans. Britons never complained: Americans did as a matter of principle. Britons could be served rubbish at a restaurant and would not say anything for fear of upsetting somebody. Americans would feel their evening wasn't complete without an argument about the bill (check). I don't know it that story was ever true of Americans, but things have changed in Britain. Some of the humans here complain all the time. Andrew had a colleague at work who never came back from holiday (vacation) without telling everyone how awful things were and complaining to the tour company. He always got something back and thought he was very clever!

My humans hate arguments and rows. Only occassionally they feel driven to complain - and sadly there have been several examples recently.

The first complaint was to the bank - Barclays. There is no problem with running the account but Barclays were also holding some shares (stocks) for my humans. They decided to move them to another broker and the process seemed unduly slow. Meanwhile the holdings wre frozen and the markets (you may have heard about this) were dropping through the floor. After several complaints to the bank, my humans wrote to a national newspaper. The end result was that the bank never really admitted they had been slow about the work but did acknowledge they had not handled the original complaints well. They gave Andrew some money and Mikki a hamper. I think Mikki was very sceptical when offerred a "luxury hamper" but it turned out to be jolly nice - as my photo shows. There were 3 bottles of wine (one sparkling) and lots of well known luxury brand food items. So, yes, they could have done better in the first place but thank you Barclays for taking some effort to handle the thing well in the end (and another big "thank you" to Jessica at the Sunday Telegraph).

Next came the AA (a British vehicle breakdown service. A bit like the AAA, I guess). Andrew's parents were members and after his father died his mother wanted to change the membership to her sole name. After many telephone calls by his mother, his brother and Mikki, Andrew wrote enclosing a photocopy of 5 of the new membership cards that had been issued so far while the AA tried to get the thing right! That got a nice apology, a rebate on Andrew's mother's membership and - perhaps best - some confidence things won't start again next year. So, a small "thank you" to the AA.

Finally was a well known British national charity to which my humans have been making payments every year. The humans were pretty well worn out with two complaints when they had a weird telephone call from a marketing company working for the charity. It was like one of those heavily scripted telesales calls. My humans have ways of dealing with "cold cals" of that sort. I am glad to say those ways do not (yet) involve putting me by the 'phone and telling the caller please to continue because someone is listening very carefully!

Anyway, this call resulted in a complaint which got a letter of reply full of the word "sorry" but actually revealing more things wrong. My humans can't be bothered to follow things up more. They are still undecided whether to find a different charity to support in future. Meanwhile, I think they need a little cheering up. Here I am for a cuddle.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Characters 3 - Governor Ratcliffe

I thought it was time to go back to one of the pictures of me with another Disney character. I am missing my trips to Walt Disney World and have been talking too much about things in England. Yesterday was Budget Day here and I definitely don't want to talk about that.

This is Governor Ratcliffe holding me. We met him outside the entrance of Disney's Animal Kingdom - which is often a good place to meet characters you don't see much of. I can't remember now what he was saying to me. It may have been something about his spoiled dog - or he may have been asking me if I knew where the gold was. And don't tell me Governor Ratcliffe doesn't vocalise: he can talk as well as I can.

Radcliffe is from "Pocahontas", which is one of my human Andrew's many favourite films. There are lovely songs. There are beautiful images: Andrew says some of the backgrounds are of "Sleeping Beauty" quality. But the element he thinks really stands out is the absence of a traditional Disney villain. The "bad guys" are prejudice, ignorance and fear of the unknown. Some people would say that was quite sophisticated for a movie intended primarily for children.

Governor Ratcliffe is stupid, arrogant, greedy and vain - but he's hardly evil in the mould of Ursula or Cruella de Vil. Put simply, he's too incompetent. With governors like him, the surprise is that the British managed to hang on to the thirteen colonies as long as they did! When "Pocahontas" was released, Andrew worked in the British Civil Service. He often said he took it as a compliment when people said he was not a typical civil servant.

"Pocahontas" is, of course, a fictional movie. It may be based on historical characters (I think there really was a man called John Ratcliffe who was governor of Virginia in 1608) but Walt Disney never bothered too much about faithfullness to the original if the alternative was to tell a good story. Disney's Ratcliffe has heavy eyebrows and a dour face with turned down mouth. He has laughably optimistic expectations about future wealth. And when his predicitons don't come true (the men don't strke gold), he blames everyone else around him. Clearly, such an absurd character is only credible in a distant historical setting.

By the way, did I tell you that while we were in Bermuda we heard that John Rolfe, the man who married Pocahontas, was on the "Sea Venture" the ship that was wrecked in Bermuda resulting in that colony being founded in 1609.

I don't have eyebrows.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Easter Weekend Away

We all went away for the easter weekend. My humans wanted to spend time with Andrew's mother. Floppy Figaro and I went with them. For some reason, Mikki likes to take Floppy with her when she goes away overnight. We stayed at a lovely country house hotel outside Harrogate called Hob Green. This picture is of us two Figaros on our bed - a four-poster. There was a lovely view from the window too - but we didn't take any pictures of that. The room was on the first floor (which in England means it is upstairs. Below was the dining room and a terrace where people could sit out during the day and have cups of tea in the sunshine and things like that.

The humans spent a lot of time with Andrew's mother who is planning to move to a smaller flat (apartment) so we toys spent a lot of time on the bed. But I did visit her: she always likes to see me.

Andrew's brother and his wife also stayed for two nights at the hotel and they all ate two lovely dinners and two lovely breakfasts. Mikki got especially excited about scallops one evening and a rhubarb sorbet the other one. Then there was a lot of strange talk about lambs' kidneys for breakfast. Anyone would think we toys are missing out on something by not eating.

While the humans were eating their dinner, a nice human came into the room and turned down the bed. This meant we were moved. Put another way, it meant we could play happily while our humans were away and not worry about getting back into position when they came back.

I think we may be spending a lot more time visiting Andrew's mother until the move is completed but I think most of the other visits will just be day trips. In fact, we have already made one day visit by the time I write this post.

Well, it was a lovely weekend.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Fairy Tale Police

My humans have kept me busy again - and I will tell you about that soon - but I had to rush to tell you about the latest attack on "my" film. It was reported in the latest "Sunday Telegraph" under the headline, "Pinocchio sending out the wrong messages, say the fairy tale police".

It's a report of work by psychologists at Carleton University in Canada. I am sure it is an excellent university - and not just because I think one of my humans' relations may have studied there (in a different Department).

The researchers reviewed films several times, often using pause or slow motion features to capture the content fully. They place "Pinocchio" in a group where childlike characters are in "risky situations" where strangers approach with "hidden malevolence" and promise rewards in exchange for their compliance. They say Pinocchio had been "groomed" by Honest John and Gideon.

At least the research (as reported in the "Telegraph") does not blame everything on the kitten who started the whole thing off by opening the window and letting the Blue Fairy in!

I wonder if the researchers had spent a little less time on the pause feature and a little more watching the story, they might have noticed that Honest John and Gideon are the villains. There is nothing about their malevolence that is hidden from the viewer. "Don't go off with strange adults" is a pretty strong message. As for the danger that it will "influence children to believe it is unnecessary to tell a trusted adult", isn't there something in the film about the benefits of telling the truth? Geppetto is just the sort of role model trtustworthy adult who asks where you have been today.

OK, I may sometimes be a bit dismissive about the insect (Jiminy) but I think he is an adult character (the fairy tale police aren't going to hold his size against him are they?) and a lot of Pinocchio's woes come from not trusting and telling him.

I wasn't surprised to see the newspaper article ended with a note from Disney Company that they hadn't studied the academics' report. Mind you, I'm sure they did study the newspaper article long enough to verify that the large picture of John with his arm round the wooden boy carries the proper copyright mark. Incidentally, the picture illustrates perfectly that Pinocchio looks uncomfortable about this contact. I also suspect Disney will not be too sorry to see that on a holiday weekend the paper has a huge picture of two of their most recognisable characters in a news story. By the way, the DVD has just come out again. Gosh, my character is 70 years old!

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Back from Bermuda

Hello, everyone. My humans and I have been back from Bermuda for a couple of weeks now but they have been busy with other things as well so I have only now been able to get back to the computer to put some more news on this Blog.

Bermuda was lovely and we were all treated very well. Mikki told me this was the picture I should show you because she said the colours are so accurate on it. I admit I wasn't there when the picture was taken because the humans went out on a boat and I'm not a ship's cat. All that water would just worry me. It was also one of the best days while we were there - with lovely sun and little breeze. I should add that it was no accident that they went out on the sea on a good day. The friend who was captaining the boat kept his eye on the forecast.

Bermuda is very pretty. All the houses are painted nice pastel colours. Mikki thought they all looked especially good in the sun. I won't comment: I think black and white are just fine as colours.

It is quite a small island - and one of the most densely populated places there is. There is no real countryside of the sort my humans can drive me around here. Visitors can't hire cars. I am not sure what the real reason for this is. Some say it is just one of the ways they keep the total number of cars down. It is a small island formed on an extinct volcano and a lot of the land is steep. Most of the roads are narrow and many steep or twisting. Some Bermudians also point out that most of the visitors are Americans and they don't understand the difference between driving on the right (correct) side of the road and driving on the right (hand) side of the road. Also, they have roundabouts in Bermuda. They don't want more accidents. They will hire scooters to tourists but my humans wisely kept well clear.

The humans had a very busy time visiting a family Mikki has only recently discovered she has. It was quite exciting for her - and all the rest of us.

We took lots of pictgures - although I didn't appear in as many as when we are Walt Disney World. I may show you some others in later posts.