Plain English? – never heard of it!

Last week I did my “Secretary-at-a-distance” duties for two of the committees I have taken a sabbatical from. This involved sending out the minutes that another member of the committee had written and writing and sending out a Newsletter. Kept me busy for a day or two (stuffing envelopes takes too long – it is much easier to click ‘Send’ on an e-mail, but despite my best efforts about half the Newsletter recipients are still snail-mail).

I try to get them correct and always print them out and read them before posting them or e-mailing them but even then it surprising how often I can go back a month or two later and spot something that could have been written better or more clearly. However if I did that they would be out of date and not much use. For run of the mill messages sent from a laptop or smartphone it is even easier for mistakes to creep in – sometimes it is a challenge for recipients to work out what was meant as opposed to what was said.

A friend posted on Facebook “checked in to Old Trafford Manchester United Football Club.” to which one of his friends posted “I’m here to mate”. Made me smile – the lack of an ‘o’ in ‘too’ turned the noun ‘mate’ into the verb ‘mate’ – I was tempted to add a comment but thought better of it. He was obviously too excited at being at Old Trafford to ensure that every word was spelled correctly (assuming that his too-smart-phone hadn’t taken control of what he was writing) unless he was overcome with the prospect of mating that evening,  in which case the less I know the better.

When a recent credit card bill came in I saw that when I had paid the previous month’s bill I had misread a 6 as a 5 and so had underpaid that month by a whole £1. As a result my next bill included an interest charge of £5.01! I felt that was a little excessive so I put pen to paper and asked how that was calculated. I have now had a response. I am no wiser. Maybe I have to read the letter another dozen times with the mind of an accountant or lawyer. Or maybe I just need to read each sentence very very slowly and fully digest it before moving on to the next. It may take some time, but I have an appointment at CCHU in the morning, so I don’t think I have time to start that now.

I won’t quote the whole letter (I value your friendship too much) just one sentence. “If you pay the full balance on the current statement by the payment due date, but have not paid the full balance on the previous statement by the due date, then interest will be charged on the balance brought forward from your previous statement up until the date the full balance is received.” Now that’s clear enough isn’t it? Isn’t it? If I grab the back of an envelope and do a quick sum £5.01 interest on £1 for a month works out at somewhere around 6,012% a year.Under Julius Caesar interest rates in excess of 12% were considered to be usury. I hate to think what Julius would have thought of 6,012% – he would have probably have invaded Britain, oh hang on a minute, he did.

But to give credit to the credit card company they did end the letter “On this occasion, I have refunded the £5.01 interest applied”. I must think of a suitable way of responding – would “Thank you for your letter which I nearly understood and thank you for refunding the usurious £5.01 interest” be too complicated? Perhaps just “Thank you” would suffice.

Next postSo you want to know what my chemo session is like?

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