Irrational Encounters With The Modern World

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Airport Insecurity Measures

I recently owned a beautiful keyring. Elegantly designed, it was a slim metal cylinder with one rounded end. The other end butted neatly to a small metal cube which had a circular hole through it, above which the keyring attached. The cylinder could be unscrewed – a piece of precision engineering, with a nice weight and action to it – to reveal the spiral shaft of a corkscrew, the cylinder then sliding into the hole in the cube to become the crosspiece. It was sleek, but underused. In the two years I had it attached to my keys, alongside a bottle opener that has accompanied me for a decade, it served its hidden purpose only a handful of times.

In honesty, I had forgotten there was a corkscrew on my keyring, because I used it as a keyring more than as a means of removing the stops from wine bottles. I was only reminded of the fact in the same instance that I ceased to own it, in the moments when Bristol’s airport security identified and confiscated it.

airport blog - keyring picAbove: A keyring/corkscrew similar to the one I no longer possess.

In truth, it was a civil and almost pleasant interaction, as a female agent (surname Ilyas, if any journalists want to verify this account) checked whether she could return it to me. With only hand luggage, I would have to surrender the item. I could, she said, collect it on my return. I needed to point out that this was me returning, flying home to Glasgow after a weekend away. They could retain and post it to me, she advised, and in a decision I now regret I declined. They wanted to charge me shipping and a handling fee of six pounds, and I hastily reasoned that it would cost almost as much to just buy a replacement.

It is a shame that Glasgow’s security staff were not as vigilant. If they had clocked the offending object, I would have left it in their possession until my return. At a push, the person who dropped me off at the airport could have come back and taken it away for safekeeping. Glasgow Airport, however, home of a famously-thwarted terrorist attack almost exactly eight years ago, also allowed me to board my flight without once checking my passport.

Airport blog - kicked headlineAbove: One of the widely-shared headlines from the 2007 attack.

Permit me to repeat that. At Glasgow Airport, on Friday 3rd July 2015, I was able to effortlessly board my flight without having my identification checked and while – it transpires – carrying a restricted item.

How did I manage it? By checking in online, with no hold luggage to deposit at the desk. I took my hand luggage straight to security and merely scanned my boarding pass to gain access. At the departure gate, an airline representative again scanned my boarding pass, but without asking for or looking at my passport. On the plane, I was able to just walk in and take my seat.

I am certain that interested parties with the relevant clearance will be able to confirm this by studying the CCTV footage which must surely exist.

It says very little about the “security” measures implemented in airports, suggesting they are for show – and rely on sheer luck – as much as they depend upon intelligence and scrutiny. That keyring has flown on my person three times from Glasgow, once from Berlin, and once from Bristol. It was noticed ahead of the sixth flight it was bound for.

My carrying it on all occasions was purely an oversight, with no criminal intent. The realisation, combined with this complete failure to verify my identity – on the parts of both airport and airline – does not exactly instil confidence.

I can accept that a partly-concealed corkscrew will go unnoticed for a while. With the advancement of technology and the increases in legislation and prohibition, it is important that airports do not forget the basic age-old check of looking at passports. It should not be possible to board a plane using only a home-printed piece of paper.

Airport blog - corkscrew prohibited govAbove: It is actually the first thing on the list. Pity it failed to occur to me to check.


Customer Dissatisfaction Is Virgin Territory

Having sent this email and received a reply so brief as to be almost non-existent, which also continued in its failure to address anything I had said, I wrote back without particularly holding back:

Dear Mr Farress, “Customer Relations Consultant”,

I trust you had a pleasant Christmas, and presume that you over-imbibed: only the presence of a monstrous hangover can possibly explain the brevity of your latest reply.

The alternative is that Virgin Trains are even less interested in providing adequate customer service than they are in ensuring trains run punctually, or at all.

I have written two letters of complaint, totalling eleven full typed pages, and so far you have failed to directly address a single sentence. Putting in a modicum of effort is unlikely to kill you, despite how it might feel – suffering as you must surely be from your festive alcoholic over-indulgence. I would have been happy to wait until the New Year for a response, had it meant you were sufficiently clear-headed to send me an appropriate reply.

I see now why your previous letter was full of copied-and-pasted (albeit irrelevant) paragraphs – left to your own devices, you have misspelled the word “cancellation,” an error which seems glaring given how many times you must encounter it in the course of your working life. Furthermore, you have asked me to “send through the relevant tickets” – I attached photographs to my original email, and you will find them there if you peer closer through your booze-induced fug. I can send them again if you prefer. You have already wasted so much of my time, you may as well squander a little more.

To remind you of the facts, I had booked four Virgin Train journeys in the space of six days. Of those four trains, two were cancelled and one arrived late. You have completely failed to address any issues mentioned with the staff, the service provision, or the level of customer service encountered thus far – most of which has been unsatisfactory.

I understand that, as a major company and in line with others of your size, you do not need to particularly care about any given customer’s experience. We are all but drops in the ocean to you. However, you most certainly do not lack the funds to reimburse me for my tickets and for the inconvenience and distress caused. Even discounting the refund of the concert ticket, which you refuse to pay despite forcing me to miss the gig – my sole reason for travelling – you should still be held to account.

I therefore repeat my request that you issue me a payment of £120 to cover my expenses, the abomination of a service you barely provide, and the stress and worry caused as a result of your actions and inactions.

I would also like a full reply to my original complaints, regarding the failure of station and train staff to adequately convey information.

I would ask to “escalate” this letter, but am informed by your Twitter team that I must telephone to do so – at my expense. They inform me that escalation will also occur if I include the VT-reference number attached to my initial email, however (having already included it in my follow-up communication) that previously returned straight to you. It is hardly escalation if we continue going round in circles, all my replies answered by the same work-shy inebriate who has exhausted so much endeavour in celebrating Christmas that he has no inclination to perform his job with any degree of competence.

Nevertheless, I will play by your rules. Please ensure this letter is escalated, and – once your New Year hangover has subsided and you feel able to write with relevance – I will be happy to hear what steps you will be taking to resolve this. In addition to receiving the payment and reply asked for.

Yours,

[Me]

While waiting for a reply, I am considering sending the whole of my correspondence to the CEO.

Update: I plan to write a separate blog to conclude this tale, but the upshot is – three letters totalling twelve pages later – they have refunded me £24 in cash (cheque) and sent me £100 in rail vouchers. My Virgin Train tickets, for the journeys which merited these complaints, cost me £90.

Virgin reply £100 vouchersAbove: Resolution, in which boyband Jedward (see signature) ignore all the points of my letter and give me vouchers on the proviso I leave them alone.

 

 


Going Off The Rails On Virgin Trains

Post updated to include a photo of their reply, 22nd December 2014. A follow-up complaint, addressing this and the cancellation of my London train four days later, can be read here.

Dear Virgin On The Ridiculous,

It gives me no joy to write this, which – coincidentally – is precisely the same amount of joy (none) which you provided on my journey to England yesterday. As I anticipate that this will be a lengthy missive, I recommend that you make yourself a cup of tea before you begin reading.

My favourite band tour the UK once a year, and it has long been my habit to see them a few times in that week, up and down the country. I reason that, since I have to wait twelve months for a seventy-five minute show, it makes sense to see a couple of their gigs, knowing that once they leave I will have another year to wait for their return.

To give you some indication of how passionately I love live music, and this one band in particular, I have seen them twenty-nine times, in five countries, on two continents. It was never my intention to become one of those fans who travels to see a given band, nor to follow them on tour, it was a natural progression and just sort of happened over the course of nearly ten years.

I am due to see them another twice this week, although that hinges – in part – on you managing to get me to London on my booked trains. After yesterday’s debacle, I have lost faith in your abilities.

With the recent Met Office warning that has been dubbed a “weather bomb” – enabling this country’s diabolical media to focus their front pages on photographs of waves when, if they had any kind of conscience to speak of, they would be systematically dismantling every lie to emanate from Cameron, Osborne, and Iain Duncan Smith – I was worried that my travel might be disrupted. So worried, in fact, that I looked into buying travel insurance that would cover cancellation, and “tweeted” you on Tuesday to ask about any known issues. I was assured that my train should be running “as normal”, and I subsequently packed for my overnight trip. Although I enquired if you offered any add-on insurance that I could buy, this went unanswered. Factoring in the costs of my excursion (train, hotel, gig ticket), and weighing it against the excess due on the one policy I found for UK trips, I realised there was little point purchasing any. Abandoning the endeavour would see me reimbursed a mere fifteen pounds. I would just risk it.

On Wednesday morning, with hysteria and panic leading mistitled “news” reports about a bit of wind and rain in mid-December, I considered it pertinent to check again. The service, you replied via Twitter, was still running. At my request, I was then directed to a webpage where I could verify for myself, nearer the time, that there were no drastic changes. The last thing I did before leaving the house was ensure my train was scheduled and punctual.

Having dedicated a not-inconsiderable amount of energy, time, and effort, to ensuring it was worthwhile packing and making my way to Glasgow Central – tempering my enthusiasm for being at the gig with the knowledge that I might not make it there – you may perhaps appreciate my dismay when, upon arrival at the concourse, the departures board announced that my train had been cancelled.

Crestfallen, I headed straight for Virgin’s office. The girl behind the counter cheerfully informed me that – despite the apocalyptic storm that had threatened to thwart my plans – it was a broken-down freight train causing my chagrin. With everything now in disarray, I wondered what my options were. It was 15:20 and my train was due to leave at 15:40, arriving in Preston at 17:55 – with venue doors opening at 19:00.

Somewhat less than ideally, I would have to board a chartered bus to Carlisle, catching a train there to complete my journey. Estimating two hours of coach travel, the girl suggested it might be a further hour by rail after that. Not particularly enamoured with the idea of heading two-hundred miles only to miss the sole reason for going, it struck me as foolish to abandon my plans at that stage. Better, surely, to take the chance and hopefully catch some of the headline band, at least.

Your office was filling up with people idly awaiting the promised coaches. I elected to wait outside, at the Gordon Street entrance if you know the geography of the station, desperately hoping I might get on the first coach and make a speedy departure. Denied. The more I looked for the promised bus, the more it was not there. Equally scarce were any Virgin staff – presumably hiding from the wrath of other disgruntled and inconvenienced would-be passengers.

Eventually, one woman did come out, a woman with the dark-haired, craggy-faced look of Alice Cooper about her. I neglected to mention that, out of politeness, but said politeness was sadly not reciprocated. In answer to my question, about buses and destinations, she curtly said “I’m going in here,” as she failed to break stride while marching back into the office. I have worked in customer service much of my life, and learned long ago that basic manners cost nothing and – indeed – reflect well on a company. I could have said as much to this woman, hindered only by the fact she had strutted off before the thought formed. Whatever her mission was, it did not involve the provision of timely information.

Two coaches eventually arrived, people thronging first to one and then to the other, as drivers tried to determine where they were bound. The little red-jacketed Alice Cooper woman – your representative in this sorry episode – reappeared and held a hasty conflab with both drivers, only after a dozen doddery old pensioners had taken ages hauling their snail-paced carcasses on board the rear bus. Duly it was announced that this bus would go to Preston direct, the front bus making the afore-mentioned Carlisle stop. These ancient ruins then took forever carrying their coffin-dodging selves back off the bus, while I silently hated them – with nerves shot and blood pressure rising from the stress.

Little Red Virgin Jacket promptly disappeared again, leaving me with absolutely no idea if I should take the Preston bus or go to Carlisle and transfer there. I figured it made sense to make my way directly to the concert location, rather than risk being stranded in northern England, climbing into the second bus. Stressed – in local parlance – out my nut, the bus finally departed a full thirty minutes after the scheduled train departure.

With no idea how long I would be incarcerated for, angry and frustrated at being forced to use a method of long-distance transport I despise, we were off!

I decided many years ago to always travel by rail or flight, and I have generally been happy with the service you have provided. My first coach journey was a nightmare, my naive and inexperienced nineteen-year-old self trekking to London for the first time, to see another band. The nine-hour ride lasted a full twelve hours, entering the capital at the very moment the support band took the stage. I was panicked, lost, confused, and harassed. Fourteen years later, you successfully managed to revive those feelings.

I enjoy the simple things Virgin offers – the promise of a table seat in a quiet carriage, with phone charging facilities; the chance to have legroom not designed solely for Douglas Bader or, for a more modern reference, Oscar Pistorius. These basic comforts were denied me, any semblance of quiet and calm annihilated by the banal chatter of people I can most accurately describe as tedious bastards. I mean, infuriatingly boring people with nothing to say, yet quite content to say it loudly and without rest.

One of the many, many reasons I jettisoned coaches as a method of going anywhere is the apparent seat design specification which caters only for frail old women. In my boots, I stand at six feet and four inches tall; I am broad-shouldered; I could do with losing some weight, but am not so fat as to have been mistakenly hunted for ivory. These moulded seats are, to me, some intolerable and mediaeval torture. They do not seem equipped to accommodate anybody with an internal skeletal structure – the base of the seat juts firmly into my hip bones, putting strain on my lower back, and the top of the seat back serves to force my shoulders forwards in an extremely unpleasant manner. Furthermore, I had the added discomfort of balancing my heavy backpack on my lap, as there was no room overhead. Please enjoy this image, of a well-built, tall, broad-shouldered man, crammed into a space so small it would barely serve my seven-month old niece. With my knees up to my chin, my belongings weighing on my legs, the only thing missing – sadly, not missing – was an inconsiderate arsehole jamming me in.

See, he was there too, trying to occupy the exact location of my left-hand side. Had he forced me to sit any closer to the window I would have been outside. His sheer bulk allowed me arm room that a thalidomide baby would have found inadequate. Having fully engulfed his own seat and half of mine, he promptly dozed off, legs spread so wide that he must surely have testicles the size of watermelons. His right knee so firmly touched my left knee that it caused me to wonder if this was his fetish: pretend to be asleep and rub innocuous limbs against other commuters.

I was unable, try as I might, to take up less room. With severe cramp in my legs, I also experienced extreme muscle ache in my left arm, as I was forced to hold it in a painful, slightly elevated and unnatural position – whereas normally I would have rested it. It seemed inappropriate to balance my wrist on his bald head, the only other option which presented itself.

Squashed between the two armrests digging into my pelvis, causing untold pain in my lower back, I tried to alleviate the multitude of aches by sitting up straighter. Instead, my foot found itself atop a crushed drinks can left on the floor by some previous detainee of this Guantanamo Bus.

All of this was accompanied, naturally, by somebody – most likely the driver – blasting the most horrendous music, which offended my ears when it was Madonna, and compounded my new idea of Hell when the Christmas songs started.

Crusher awoke from his dozing, and fast discovered that he knew the people in the seat behind us. Friends Reunited lives. Suddenly I expected an appearance from Cilla Black, yelling “Surprise Surprise!” or, worse, Esther Rantzen giving them both a little gold heart like she used to do on – well, I think her reunion show was probably called Hearts Of Gold, and I refuse to demean myself by checking. It is bad enough that these things are still in my consciousness two decades after they last aired.

Thankfully – being grateful for small mercies – this conversational development quickly subsided, and I was permitted to hear Wham’s tinny radio rendition of “Last Christmas I gave you a shotgun and a single cartridge,” which I would actually have enjoyed listening to if those were the real lyrics.

It was around this point that I engaged with Crusher, offering to remove my leg with a saw if he could find me one. He declined, which was damned decent of him, but neither did it inspire him to close his legs any or encroach less on my breathing room. With his right elbow lodged hard against my left elbow, I accepted it was stalemate.

With that impasse reached, I can detail my endeavours to obtain any sort of information from Virgin Trains verified Twitter account. Previously quite helpful, you shut up shop fast.

Keep in mind, please, that the sole purpose of my trip was to see my favourite band play their first UK show in a year. They have a new album full of songs I have never heard live, with new band members added to the line-up, playing instruments I have never seen (or heard) them use the past twenty-eight times. My only concern, at this point, was if I would get there in time to see anything other than the encore.

What I most wanted to know was the anticipated journey time. My train had been due to arrive about 18:00, giving me plenty of time to find my hotel in the dark, wet night. I needed to freshen up – a term I have never used in my life prior to this very sentence – then change, before attempting to locate the venue. I was confident I could find my way around but, not being Challenge Anneka, a strict deadline was an unnecessary pressure. I can send you the screengrabs, but here is the gist of this further miscommunication:

“Can someone – perhaps @virgintrains – check how long it’ll take a coach from Glasgow Central to reach Preston?”
“It will be a coach between Preston and Lancaster then train onwards, Jordan”

I appreciate you tried the personal touch in that reply, the only minor problem being that the rest of it related in absolutely no way to my question or my predicament.

Would I make this gig? How long should road travel take? I would have checked a popular online search engine’s maps app, only I am fast running out of my data allowance and – not being a Virgin train – this bus has no wi-fi facilities. Understandably, due to the variables involved, you were wary of committing: “However, they will try and get you there asap”

ASAP.

When is ASAP – is it 19:00? 23:00? Tuesday? January? I wanted a ballpark figure, and “ASAP” was not good enough – especially not when I had explained that I was on a tight and specific schedule. Instead, my tweeted requests for a figure, or for a “rough idea” were completely ignored. Like I said, you are welcome to screengrabs of all this, I saved it all.

Meanwhile, let us return to Crusher. At 18:34 – a hundred-and-forty minutes in – he finally swivelled in his seat, moving his legs out into the aisle. The joy of moving and stretching my own leg – a sensation I had nearly forgotten in the interim – was tempered only by how cold it felt once he ceased behaving like a human blanket. We continued on.

Seven P.M. came and went, the venue doors now opened for entry while I stared into pitch black motorway and wondered where I was, other than Sartre’s vision of Hell. I did not yet mention the stifling stench of feet, farts, and body odour which permeated our transport, as did the excremental fumes from the on-board cesspit – and added to by the further olfactory assault of crisps and similarly odoriferous foods. Three hours had passed, and the reek of sandwiches and ass gas had become unbearable. I would have opened a window but, coaches being how they are, it would have required a hammer. Having earlier established that there was no saw in the immediate vicinity, the likelihood of finding a hammer nearby appeared slight.

At 19:11 – and you will sense that I jotted notes for this complaint as I went – Crusher rose and made his way to the toilet. It occurred to me that a slow trickle of piss could have worked its way down, backing up as it filled his groin to capacity, and that that may explain why his legs were forced apart at the tops of the thighs. The poor man must have inflated, his legs widening as an alternative to his merely exploding in a stagnant burst of yellow spray.

There was no real time to note improvement, on his return, as we arrived in Preston at 19:32 – a mere ninety-seven minutes late. I checked with the driver that his arrival time will be logged, should you wish to verify it. I could not get off that bus fast enough. I have never had a good experience going by coach, and if I wanted to book a coach I would have done so.

Naturally, arriving so far behind schedule left me no time to eat. I raced for the hotel as quickly as I was able, trying to walk off the cramp that had built up. By the time I reached the venue it was gone 20:30 and with it the chance to see support bands and savour the atmosphere coming together.

I did manage to see the full set that, as a longtime fan and friend of the band, had been so important to me. However, it was entirely down to luck and you did nothing to ease my frustrations or worries.

I am annoyed at the shambolic handling of the coach boarding in Glasgow, the absence of informed staff (and of staff, full stop, out by the buses), and the further hold up caused by people being directed incorrectly.

I am disappointed that your once-helpful Twitter staff refused, point blank, to even attempt to provide the information I specifically requested, despite being told the reasons for it. Furthermore, they did nothing short of ignore my queries.

I am worried that you will fail me again. I am due to travel to London on Sunday, and – being considerably further away – there is no way a replacement bus will get me there in anything resembling a timely manner.

This entire experience was wholly unsatisfactory and unpleasant. In addition to the full refund I expect on my tickets, I think you should be reimbursing me for the gig ticket, given I missed all but one (thankfully THE) band, and compensating me for the utter discomfort which I have tried to document fully above.

I await your response.

Here is their response. My reply to it is here.

Virgin letter - replyAbove: Their wholly uninspiring stock reply. Read my response to it (and them) here.

 

 


A Vision Of Dreadful Customer Service.

Dear Mark Ross, Chief Executive,

Thank you for sending me some kind of in-house magazine by post. I note in your introduction that, as a company, you value my feedback. Please spare me the effort of recycling magazines I will not read by not sending any more of them.

I had no intention of using your company, and only had my eyes tested at Black & Lizars by mistake. There is another optician next door to the branch I called into, and on the day I opted to make an appointment I only walked as far as the first opticians I came to, knowing I was in the right locale of the smaller company I wished to give my business to.

I do realise that this has overtones of the very old joke: “I need my eyes tested” “You certainly do, this is a butchers.” However, it is also true. Not expecting that there would be two practitioners in such close proximity, I arranged to have my eyes checked in the wrong one.

Your staff were, at first, welcoming. I noticed a small trophy displayed by the window, which stated that they had won a “best Black & Lizars award” from Black & Lizars. Who knows how an outside agency may think of them? Anyway, I had no initial complaint. The receptionist and the woman who tested my vision were both professional and pleasant. It was all very civilised.

Specs coverAbove: There is nothing about this that makes me want to read it.

My eyes have served me well. In my early school years I was prescribed, and rarely wore because I knew best, a pair of glasses most accurately described as “Clark Kent specs.” Since then, my sight has been fine – once even described as perfect – until recently. My suspicions were correct and, I was informed, I would benefit from wearing glasses at certain times. Those times related to specific tasks, you understand – it is not as if I was advised to don a pair of spectacles every day at, say, five past noon.

I was shown back to the waiting area which also serves as the main body of your shop, and told to discuss the recommendation with another of your staff members. She launched into her sales pitch, and seemed caught off-guard when I began asking simple questions like “how much is this going to cost me?” and “how does this work?” I appreciate that she sells frames every day and it will be second nature, but if this is the first time in your adult life that you have required a pair, the process is alien. She did not explain it particularly well, and definitely not in what could broadly be described as “layman’s terms.”

Furthermore, I felt the oxygen levels in the room shrink with her intake of breath when money was mentioned. It changed the atmosphere so fully it reminded me of – well, have you ever been in a chip shop on Sauchiehall Street at 3.30am on a Saturday night? It does not matter how happy that post-club queue of drunks is, lined up waiting to be fed, all it takes to make it unbearably tense is one arsehole walking up and down asking everyone “Rangers or Celtic?” Now, there is a rapid change in bonhomie equivalent to that witnessed when I dared to enquire about cost.

I freelance, which means I have to budget tightly as sometimes I have cash on the hip and sometimes I do not. I had no pressing need to explain this, it being my private business, and I was already annoyed and embarrassed that your staff member’s condescension was being brought to bear in front of other customers. With the action of a person I can only refer to as a snooty bastard, she held aloft the eyedrops it had been suggested I use. Revealing them and holding them forth like the prize in a second-rate television gameshow, these were, she said, a mere six pounds. Again, I had to squirm in my seat and meekly tell her that, at that moment in time, that too was out of my reach.

Specs notesAbove: Editorial piece covered in my scrawled notes.

Maybe she is one of those secret millionaires, but that should not stop the display of something comparable to empathy, understanding, or tact. Having now been condemned – to some degree publicly – as a Poor Person, she could not chase me out the shop fast enough.

When work picked up, guess where I bought the glasses I am wearing as I type this? That is correct, one of your rivals – a rival who, wholly aware of the competition, even advises in their well-known marketing slogan that I “should have gone” there.

I went in and stated outright that I had no idea what is involved, and was helpfully guided through the selection of frames available. While this felt a little rushed, I already had a rough idea of what I wanted. With zero interest in fashion, and no real sense of vanity, I just needed something functional. My only stipulations were that I needed something which would keep the lenses positioned in front of my eyes, to save me holding them there, and that I had no desire to wear anything that may have previously been seen accessorising Dennis Taylor.

What a friendly and painless process that turned out to be. I was very happy with the service provided – perhaps you could send some of your haughtier staff there, to learn how to retain customers rather than ensuring they will never return.

In short, I request that you save your money and your postage, and refrain from sending me any further junk in the mail. The attitude of that one woman has permanently lost you a customer.

Yours,

[me]

 

 


Baguette Out Of Jail Free. (A Reply)

I bought a supermarket sandwich which purported to contain beef, but which revealed itself to be mislabelled and instead held only tuna fish. This is the second time I have had an issue centred around the simple concept of bread with a filling, so I wrote them this light-hearted complaint. Below is their reply.
The previous, unrelated correspondence can be read here.

Good morning.

Thank you for contacting us.  I am very sorry that, again, you have been disappointed with your purchase of a sandwich from our [location redacted] store.  I would like to offer my apologies for any anguish caused when you discovered it contained tuna instead of beef. 

 

This is clearly not acceptable and therefore we secured the services of Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple, Magnum PI, Inspector Morse and of course those two lovely ladies, Rosemary & Thyme to get to the bottom of this mystery.  Although they could not identify the culprit, all staff involved in the preparation and packing of our sandwiches have been retrained in the correct processes to follow and we are confident that this type of situation should not occur again in the future. 

 

Please be assured that no genetic modification has taken place; we do not even use catfish or dogfish, never mind breeding underwater cattle!  It has simply been a case of human error, to which we as a species are prone occasionally, and I hope you can forgive this oversight. 

 

We would not want our customers to be disappointed with anything that they buy from us and we would not even think to pass our tuna off as being sea-horse meat.  In view of the fact that you are now out of pocket, I will be sending you a £5.00 shopping voucher which will be posted out to you shortly.

 

Please let me apologise to you once again and I sincerely hope that we may retain your valued custom; and trust that all your future purchases will be entirely satisfactory, with the contents being exactly as described on the label. 

 

Kind regards,
[name redacted]

Customer Services Department
Wm Morrison Supermarkets PLC


When Gas Is Better Than Water.

Two weeks ago, a couple of guys from the water board chapped my door and asked me to check if my cold water was running.

There has been an issue with the pressure in my tenement, and they were trying to ascertain – not for the first time – if the boundary stopcock outside the close entrance was affecting supply when they turned it. On that occasion, it was not. I still had water coming from my taps – in truth, the best place to have water coming from when it is in your home.

The guys thanked me and, as I left some minutes later to go about my day’s business, I passed them spraypainting around the metal plate on the ground outside. I thought no more about it.

On the other side of the street, a digging crew has appeared recently and begun laying a new gas main. I surmise it to be a gas job on account of the size and length of trench they have dug, and due to the large yellow plastic piping that is on site. Their workspace is cordoned off using orange and white striped barriers. Last week, an unmarked white works van pulled up outside my front window and offloaded half a dozen blue plastic barriers and a couple of temporary traffic signs. I was curious to know what was going on, having received no notification of work to be carried out in the vicinity.

I presumed it to be preparation by Scottish Water, given that they had marked the ground, due to the different type of barrier and the quantity left, and because the crew working over the road are – well, working over the road. It made no sense for them to mark out a second site while tied up with the first, the replacement of the main clearly some way from being completed.

If water maintenance was required, it would mean erecting barriers that would severely impede access into this building. If I was also going to lose my supply, I would like to know when and for how long, which I do not think is an unreasonable request. Shortly after the equipment was delivered, I called Scottish Water.

“Are you about to dig up the pavement right outside the front door?”

The girl checked her computer. “No, the only work in that street is for gas. Phone the Scottish Gas Network.”

I thanked her and called them.

“Are you about to dig up the pavement right outside the front door?”

“No, that’s not us, we’re working over the road. Try Scottish Water.”

I called Scottish Water a second time. I explained, again, why I initially thought it was them and why my call to the Gas Network confirmed my suspicions. The girl this time checked another system available to her.

“Oh yeah, it is us.”

“Am I going to lose my water supply, and if so, when?”

“We usually put letters through before we start work.”

“And you usually don’t drop barriers at a site until you’re ready to start work.”

“I’ll see if someone can phone you back.”

“Try that, but I’m not convinced they’ll be able to work the buttons.”

I posted the above summation of two hours of conversations onto social media. A friend revealed she works for the water company, and informed me that these days many works can be done without switching the water off. When I gave her more detail she provided an in-depth explanation. I was grateful for that, because Scottish Water never did return my call. The pavement was dug up the next day, after I had gone out, the disruption not affecting me personally as the job was done by the time I came home. Considering they were replacing a communication pipe, their own communication was sorely lacking.

Full credit to the Scottish Gas Network though. They had an engineer contact me promptly, from an unblocked mobile number, to say that the barriers were not theirs but that they would be working on my side of the street at a later date. On my side it will only be a partial replacement, and he did not have details to hand about whether that will involve loss of service. As promised, he did then check the blueprints the next morning and left me a voicemail (and his direct contact number to field any questions) to say that this future work will not involve my tenement or the two east of it.

It is not difficult, in this technological age, to share information effectively or communicate easily. Too many large corporations have yet to master it.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Creative Correspondence – A Reply.

My previous post detailed a letter of complaint to my local supermarket, written principally for my own amusement and regarding a sandwich I bought which turned out to be stale. They replied with a cut-and-pasted stock response, which led me to follow it up with this:

“Thanks for cutting and pasting a totally impersonal response. It’s a genuine shame that they don’t permit you to function as a human and compose a reply of your own. The very least I expected was an acknowledgment that my carefully-constructed letter had made you smile. Or not.

Thanks for the offer of a voucher. As you don’t have my postal address, I don’t see much point in you sending me it. Give it a shot, though – my name is reasonably unique in this part of the world – especially if you include my middle initials. Certainly, with only my name and general geographic area written on the envelope, finding my location will keep the Royal Mail busy at this otherwise quiet time of year for them.”

For that last sentence to make sense, you need to know that I wrote this in December.

It occurred to me that their Twitter account might be a better way of contacting them, in pursuit of a satisfactory reply. They quickly asked for my email address, which I provided. Then it all went a bit quiet.

supermarket DMs

Credit to them, their reply – which arrived yesterday – was well worth the wait. Once you have read my original letter, you will understand and appreciate this reply:

Thank you for contacting us and please accept my apologies for your disappointment with the response you have previously received from us and for the problems you experienced with the long awaited, greatly anticipated Meat Feast Sub Roll you purchased from us recently.

I do concede that from purchase of this roll, to the time of placing it into your fridge, it could not have degenerated in such a short time frame (unless your fridge was conspiring against you)!   

I assure you that I was most aggrieved to learn that you were unable to fully enjoy this roll as you had hoped and therefore would like to give you the reassurance that this will be addressed in store to ensure that we only sell the best quality products that please our customers and that we continue to maintain the highest possible standards.

I am so very pleased that the roll was safely disposed of in your rubbish bin (I mean your very nice bin designed to accept rubbish that has served you so well) and that no mishaps occurred whereby it was accidently dropped on a small child!  We would certainly not want to learn that you were up on manslaughter charges due to you innocently purchasing some lunch!

At this point, I would like to say that yes, I was most amused by your comments and your eloquent description of events certainly did make me chuckle to myself.

That aside, I am extremely sorry for the crushing blow you have been dealt and I am happy to send you a £10.00 voucher as a gesture of goodwill and in recognition of the time and trouble you have taken to bring this to our attention.   Rather than leaving the guesswork to Royal Mail, would you kindly provide me with your address details so that I can arrange for this to be posted out to you.

Thank you again for bringing this woeful tale to our attention and I look forward to hearing from you shortly.

Fair play, Morrisons. Fair play.

 

 


Helping Those Who Help Themselves

I have recently joined a new mobile network, my third this year. They offered cheap and unlimited internet access for my laptop, for a reasonable price. As ever with these things, though, there were a few teething issues.

I have put my new SIM card into my old phone, which is now permanently connected to the computer. I use it as a modem, sharing my signal with the laptop through a process known as “tethering.” I did this before, but having now unlocked my phone and joined another network, I am finally permitted to. Being acceptable under the terms of my contract, I phoned the company’s technical support line to get some help understanding why it was giving me problems. To her credit, the girl I spoke to was able to guide me through the process, and she sent me a text for future reference.

As I read it, this message tells me that to get help using my phone as a modem, I need to go online using my phone as a modem. A lovely paradox, and a fittingly absurd entry for this blog.

three tetheringAbove: “To get help with tethering, tether your phone to your computer.”

 

 


Disorganisation And Misinformation – The Jobcentre

I changed my phone recently, a saga that will merit one or possibly two blogs of its own. My new data allowance is a meagre 750mb/month, and I managed to use it all within four days. As this is my sole means of getting online, it is not exactly ideal.

During this transitionary period, my access was slowed to an unpleasant crawl and I was forced to rely on the germ breeding-grounds of library computers (with their one-hour usage limits, and surrounded by unwashed heavy-breathers.) It had an effect on the time I was able to put into job-hunting online, and I resorted to other methods in order to fulfil the mandatory minimum of twenty hours’ searching per week. Last week, for example, I printed CVs and handed them into various suitable establishments.

On Monday night, in the small hours, my phone decided that it would ease up on the throttling, allowing me an unfettered 3G signal. This happens periodically, with no rhyme or reason, and it is extremely volatile. I seized the opportunity, jumping onto the app of one renowned job site, and applying for the first appropriate vacancy. As seems increasingly standard, I was required to create an account on the employer’s page, going through a number of different forms and saving them all as I went. The norm is that, upon completion of several different sections, you can only then submit your application. I duly began typing, using a smartphone that I hate using and which has difficulty responding to touch.

Three hours later, and I dearly wish that that was an exaggeration, I had finished describing why I want to work for them, with plenty of reasons why I am an exemplary staff member in every conceivable way. All I had to do was upload my CV, and this is where it all fell apart. My limited data policy would not let me transfer a file, regardless of size. I was due to sign on the next day, and as the jobcentre recently revealed that they have computers for “customer” use (I reject that word with reference to the context in which they use it), I decided I would take my CV along on a USB stick. It would be a simple matter to add it to my saved application, and theory is a wonderful thing.

job-centre-plus-isnt-workingAbove: Image taken from lawblogone

My signer combed my job diary, checking that I had listed all of the jobs that I look at, whether or not I can actually apply for them. She questioned why I had noted seven hours of handing out CVs. I explained my situation, which led to a conversation that leaves me incredulous. She began by referring to a condition of claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance:

“Handing out CVs doesn’t count as Actively Seeking Work.”

Shall I repeat that? Read it again. Handing out CVs does not count as Actively Seeking Work. I asked the obvious question:

“How much more active can I be?! I spent seven hours traipsing the city centre!”

“Yes, but that is not in your jobseeker’s agreement. You’ve agreed to spend twenty hours a week looking online.”

I handed my CV in to businesses operating within industries where I have previous experience. The Jobcentre instructs me that my time would be better spent looking at advertised vacancies, regardless of how inexperienced, underqualified or under-skilled I am.

“That reminds me,” I said, “my advisor wrote into my agreement that I have internet access at home. I don’t. She asked if I had a computer at home, which I do. It’s not connected to anything though.”

This was corrected, and I signed the amended form. I asked if I could use their computers to upload my CV, complete this particular application, and submit it. Having spent three hours on it at home, ten minutes would be enough to send it off – once I also double-checked that auto-correct had not embarrassed me.

“I can book you in, certainly. The first available slot is on Friday morning.”

Friday morning? That was a full three days away, and I could have taken my sweet time over the form rather than rush to complete it. I had gone to bed at 4am, prior to my 10am appointment. This signer, incidentally, had previously “helped” (read “hindered”) me when I needed a Tax Rebate form stamped. On that occasion, one of the security guards had approached me when she left to photocopy something, looking at me sympathetically and confiding “she’s murder, mate.”

Curriculum VitaeAbove: Like everyone else on earth, I work well on my own or as part of a team.

I decided that I would go to the library, taking my chances that I might get online sooner than seventy-two hours. Sitting down at a computer, having been struck by just how very empty the place was, a staff member apologetically informed me that all of Glasgow Libraries’ computers were being upgraded and thus unavailable “today and tomorrow.” Thursday would be the earliest I could get online. By Wednesday afternoon I had had enough of this ridiculous situation, and called the Jobcentre to speak to my advisor. I needed, and her title suggested she should provide, advice.

It was her day off. I spoke to an alternate member of staff, who listened to me.
“I have an agreement that says I need to search for twenty hours a week, online. The library is open six days a week, and the maximum computer time per person per day is two hours. I can go in every day and still be eight hours short. I can use your computers, but only once this week. Other forms of job search are discounted. All I want to do, at this point, is submit an application for a job that I have seen advertised, and want, and have already filled in the form for. They are not going to wait for me. What am I supposed to do?”

I can go in at 9am tomorrow and he will sort it out for me, making him the single most helpful member of staff I have yet encountered within that (dis)organisation. As it happens, I have newly taken out a contract for mobile internet, from a provider whose cheapest deal means that I have a new SIM card in my old phone, connected to my laptop and used as a modem. Being essentially a second phone contract, I realise that I should have shopped around instead of taking the primary one I agreed to two months ago. This new phone has enough inclusive texts and minutes to cover everything I would comfortably use within a month. So now I have two phones: one that I hate and struggle to use, both because it is unwieldy and because of the poor data allowance; and one that sits untouched on my table, connecting me to the outside world and to all the jobs advertised there. I am paying twice what I need to, two-thirds of it to a company whose services I do not require.

I cannot afford to be connected to the internet but, more importantly, I cannot afford to not be connected.

Today, I told my friend about this CV-handing-out anomaly – how looking for work no longer counts as looking for work.

“I was in that Jobcentre last week,” she told me. “They said that instead of just looking for jobs online, I should go round places handing my CV in.”

You know what? If they spent half as much time and resources on creating jobs as they do on clamping down on those desperate to find work, perhaps we would be in a better state. As it stands, the United Nations is now investigating the policies of this Tory Government. It is time for change. I am voting for independence.


It Takes The Donations Of Millions To Move Us Forwards.

Like eighteen million others, I am now on the Organ Donor Register – but not by choice. This is surprising, as it seems a very personal decision to not be consulted on.

I have had plenty of chances to voluntarily sign up for donation, and have avoided all of them for no rational reason. I simply omitted to give it any thought, beyond the fleeting ones that occurred naturally, and those providing me with images with which I did not wish to contend. It was preferable to completely skip the issue, with its grisly reminder of mortality, and focus on something relatively cheerful instead.

It is five years since I first registered with a GP in Glasgow, and I have moved flat twice since then. One of my friends has just moved into my neighbourhood and, as she needed to find a practice to join, I took the opportunity to accompany her and sign myself up with a nearer surgery. The form had a section enquiring about one’s desire to participate in organ donation after death, and I bypassed it as I always have before. It is my understanding that Scotland, if not the entire UK, operates an opt-in scheme rather than an opt-out one; that is, you ask to be added to the scheme, you are not automatically added and then required to ask for your name to be withdrawn. The proposed mandatory inclusion is frequently subject to debate, but – as yet – consent is not presumed.  That said, Wales has recently voted to introduce it.

donor card

Two letters in identical envelopes arrived in the post yesterday, one addressed to me and one to my friend, who provided this as a care-of address during a recent transitional period. My letter thanks me “for joining the NHS Organ Donor Register through the GP service,” which I absolutely did not do. I jotted a note asking whether she had agreed to this, attached it to her mail, and popped it through her door when I was passing. The answer was no, or more specifically “what the fuck?! I haven’t signed anything like that.”

Either we both managed to misread the forms, agreeing to something that neither of us had a desire to volunteer for, or the receptionist or other unknown staff member ticked those boxes for us once they were out of our possession. It is nice to feel wanted, but disconcerting to think that only specific bits of us are wanted, and then only after the necessary precursor of death.

It has been pointed out to me that I can have my name removed if I wish. I am unable to think of sufficient justification for that, though. “Sorry, I have decided to keep all my organs once I have no further use for them. Tell those suffering that I’d like to help, but I’m not going to.” Better, I feel, to just concur. Among other vital parts, they want to take my heart, lungs, and liver – so I might save a few lives, and if not then they can cook up a sizeable haggis for the wake.

Above: My only previous encounter with Organ Donors.

My friend was equally pragmatic and shared my gallows humour, taking to Facebook to complain about the surgery’s apparent amendment to our completed registration documents. She added, referring to her party lifestyle, that “when I die, I won’t care what will happen to my body, so actually they can take whatever they want. Apart from the liver, cos I don’t have it any more.”

My sole objection, taking a very broad overview, is that I firmly believe the world is drastically over-populated; that there are already more people than the earth’s resources can sustain and it does us no favours to prolong life. However, reducing it to individual cases, I can only begin to imagine the difference that it must make to those who receive transplants, and the improvement to the lives of those who love and care about them. Condensed to that level, and being largely compassionate despite my inherent cynicism, I have no complaints. My name will remain on the list of potential donors.

If you want to register, or find out more, you can do so:
http://www.organdonation.nhs.uk/