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What a country! | by Fray Bentos
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What a country!

It was getting on for ten years ago ...Monday 23rd September 2002. For the trip I had treated myself to one of the new digital cameras, my first, a Sony DSC-P71 with a monster 3.2 megapixels. I resisted the Comet assistant's attempts to sell me extended warranty and insurance but after the unavoidable purchases of a USB hub, a memory card of practical capacity and a set of rechargeable batteries it set me back 443 nicker. But never mind; I'd just banked a cheque for £6,000 ...my share in the payout from the BEST (Bus Employees' Superannuation Trust ...i.e. the National Bus Company's pension scheme) surplus, illegally appropriated by the Treasury when the NBC was privatised in 1986. The matter had been successfully contested in the courts by the Scheme's trustees and it was now snouts-to-the-trough time. Very welcome too. Once bitten in the 1980s endowment mortgage brainstorm, I was shy the second time around and was comfortably into the downhill half of a repayment mortgage. The BEST windfall, when added to the modest credit balance in my account at the Midland, enabled me to pay off the house. Can't say I've ever noticed being better off since though.

I think it was G. K. Chesterton who remarked of the illuminated signs on Broadway that they would be an impressive spectacle if only you couldn't read. We were staying with friends of Mrs B's who lived at Montclair, New Jersey ...really a suburb of New York. At the time of the photograph I had just emerged with relief from a "diner" where, as I discovered only after ordering and committing myself to stay, the waiters and waitresses sang to the customers. So it was fixed smiles between my forkfuls of omelette and homefries. Evening was coming on and we had to get back. At the Port Authority Bus Terminal it took us some time to work out that we were required to buy tickets from the booking office. This measure, we learned, was to deter robbery of the drivers. We caught the bus by the skins of our teeth. Back in Montclair our hosts settled to watch a television programme in which a big-haired, power-dressed female "animal psychologist" purported to read the minds of pets. Owners shifted uncomfortably on the studio sofa as their pets' often censorious opinions of themselves were related. This sort of thing leads any thoughtful person to ruminate on the reasons for national differences.

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Taken on May 8, 2009