After several years dotting about the local comedy scene, which saw my 100 stand-up gigs documented in the blog that preceded this one, I have decided to do my first solo show this year. Poster, descriptions, and ticket links follow below. I hope you can make it along, I expect it to be a one-off.
If you buy tickets online in advance, you will be entered into a draw to win some comedy DVDs – details here.
Facebook Event Page: https://www.facebook.com/events/1488221281506109/
Dear UK Mail,
What an absolutely splendid job you are doing, of delaying my parcels by not delivering them and then – when queried – of dishonestly claiming to have attempted delivery. I trust this letter will give you some insight, although I suspect that – rather than enabling you to better the service you pretend to provide – you will instead learn to lie more convincingly.
I recently bought some record mailers, in bulk, and on the promise of next-day delivery. I bought them on a Saturday, and gave the company full leeway – perhaps they would not process the order until Monday, and I permitted them until the Thursday before enquiring as to the whereabouts of my parcel. Since I am presently working from home, you can maybe imagine my surprise when they informed me that, “The carriers have attempted delivery however they have advised each time there is no contact /access.”
Above: Some record mailers. Admittedly not the most exciting purchase of my life. Photo: Sounds Wholesale Ltd.
My response? “At the risk of calling them liars, the main door to my tenement building opens if you push it – there’s no secure entry – and, presuming they managed to overcome that small obstacle, it’s normal practice to leave a card when a delivery is missed. I have been checking every day since Monday – no parcel, no card.”
Subsequently, they managed to fulfil my order the next working day. I mentioned to the driver about the absence of a card, and he somewhat accusingly told me he had left one. Given that he seemed angrier about it than I had anticipated, I accepted that we were at an impasse and did not pursue the matter.
In the meantime, I had placed a second order with another company, for some stiff card envelopes. When these, too, failed to materialise in a timely manner, I contacted them and said, “My parcel should have arrived two days ago, by the latest estimate, and I’ve already had problems with UK Mail this week. Can you chase it up?”
Guess what they told me?
“We do use UK Mail for our Courier deliveries.
They have already tried to deliver your parcel on 2 occasions, but were unable to gain access to your building.”
Let me repeat that my block of flats has an unsecured communal entry. Access is available by PUSHING OPEN A DOOR, and your driver had previously managed that when bringing my record mailers. Had he somehow forgotten the process in the course of a few days?
More intriguingly, if he cannot operate a door then how does he get in and out of his vehicle? I presume he has a vehicle, and does not simply carry parcels around by hand. If that is indeed his method, it could account for the slowness of delivery.
Helpfully, this new company said they would ask for my parcel to be left in the foyer – that is, the close – which suited me fine. I live in a relatively quiet area, and trust my neighbours. Previous parcels have sat for days untouched outside my front door, circumstances being what they were.
Today, the next working day, I stepped out of the shower to discover a Missed Delivery card had been pushed through the letterbox. No sign of the parcel, and no details filled in on the card. Now I need to reschedule an already-late delivery, and I have just sold a whole load of stuff on Ebay that I am unable to post as the envelopes are somewhere in your depot.
To reiterate, I was told by one company that “each time” you had called there was no access, and the other company told me you had tried to deliver “on two occasions.” In both cases, a simple inquiry to them resulted in the delivery arriving the next working day.
I am calling you liars due to one key fact. If, as claimed, you had already visited my property twice, why did it take until the alleged third time before you actually left a card?
Far more likely, I feel, is that you claim to have attempted delivery because it is cheaper and less time-consuming than actually attempting delivery. Then you can force people to reschedule at a time when there is a greater chance of them being home.
I find myself in a position where I need to buy more packing materials, but am tempted to shop elsewhere purely so I do not have to deal with UK Mail again. This is hardly fair on the companies whose business you are impacting, however I suspect this level of service is indicative of your general disdain for customers. I need these products when I need them, and not when you can be bothered to physically turn up with them after having pretended to.
Without being wholly naive, I cannot expect this email will make the blindest bit of difference to your attitude or your business model. Unless, of course, this is a poor example of how your organisation operates and my local depot is just employing a lazy bastard or two.
Update: When I tried to send this, I discovered that the website does not offer an email address, and the contact form has a character limit which is less than half the length of this letter. Furthermore, when I input the card number and my postcode, to rearrange delivery, it told me there were no results found. The card has a promotional offer advertised on it, which expired six months ago – should that explain anything. Personally, I am done. If you ever get the chance to use UK Mail, avoid it.
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.
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 Trains cancelled my travel to Preston, UK, and that complaint can be read here. The following refers to that letter, their response, and the cancellation of a second train four days later.
Dear Virgin Trains, you are the Rolling Stones of cross-country commutes. I can’t get no satisfaction.
While I appreciate that, for a company of your stature, it is easier to throw money at problems rather than adequately address them, I had hoped for a better response. In addition to the cheque which you sent, reimbursing the first of my problem trips with you this past week, I had – perhaps naively – hoped you might address at least one of the many issues highlighted.
Your response, full of irrelevant standard paragraphs, assures me that you will be working hard on “improving the environment on board” two types of train “during 2014.” With two weeks of 2014 left, these proposed changes should have been enacted by now, unless you are planning a rush job – and it does not matter how comfortable your trains are if you cancel them and replace them with buses, as per the nature of my complaint.
As previously documented, in the six-page essay which formed the basis of complaint number VT-111214-xxxx, I had a train cancelled on Wednesday 10th December. A replacement bus eventually delivered me from Glasgow Central to Preston, and it was borderline unbearable. On Sunday 14th December, you then also cancelled my train from Manchester Piccadilly to London Euston. So much for your stated hope that “the work [you] are doing this year is reflected in [my] experience next time [I] travel.”
I have followed the band Combichrist religiously, pun fully intended, since 2005. Beginning as venue crew working for the local promoter and helping them load in their gear, I was instantly a fan of their music and of their live show, and have befriended them in the years since. I find myself in the rare and privileged position where my favourite band are as happy to see me as I am to see them.
They tour the UK annually and, since they changed promoter, I now make the effort to catch them a few times around the country during the one week in fifty-two that they are here. This is the sole purpose of my journeys to Preston and London recently, hence my annoyance when you punished my loyalty by hindering my travel arrangements.
With the poor experience of Wednesday behind me, my faith in your company was partially restored when – on the return leg the following day – your ticket office staff in Preston allowed me to travel on an earlier train home than booked, at no extra cost. In fairness, I was just happy to be able to take a train and not another excruciating replacement coach.
I then saw the band in Glasgow on Friday, with plans to see them in London on Sunday. This latter trip involved travelling with Scotrail, Trans Pennine Express, and Virgin Trains. Ahead of departure, I once again checked for any possible disruptions. It was absolutely imperative that I made it to London in a timely fashion.
On the Saturday evening, I had received a message from one of the band’s road crew (and drummer for their support act) saying he had mislaid his jacket in Glasgow and – with it – his passport. For an internationally-touring band on a strict schedule, this mattered. Could I, he wondered, help try and locate it?
Faced with the daunting prospect of tracking down a single black jacket from a gig that hosted four-hundred people wearing them, I offered suggestions and made enquiries. If the passport could be located and placed in my possession before mid-morning on Sunday, I would be able to carry it with me and return it in person.
It was a possibility, if the jacket had been lost or left in Glasgow. However, if it had been mistakenly taken home to Edinburgh or Aberdeen, then the band were looking at the prospect of either abandoning a core member of their touring party, or paying a hefty sum of cash to alter long-standing plans and amend bookings while waiting on an expedited courier to deliver it.
Against the odds, an appeal on their Facebook page resulted in its retrieval from behind the drum riser, where it had been safely hidden so well that it failed to turn up during two previous venue searches. Arrangements were hastily made, and I collected the jacket and its contents prior to leaving my hometown on Sunday. Together, we travelled to Manchester and alighted in readiness for catching the connecting train.
As I walked into the main concourse of Piccadilly, with forty-eight minutes to kill, I glanced at the departures board and saw that it did not yet list my onward journey. Looking around, I quickly spotted half a dozen of your red-coated staff dotted about and considered approaching them, to enquire if there had been any service disruption since I was last able to check. I quickly dismissed the idea as folly – sure, you had cancelled on me on Wednesday, but today there was not even a weather warning. It would be ludicrous to presume you could not do your job – so I thought.
I stepped out of the station momentarily, time being at my disposal, then made my way towards two Virgin trains sitting idle. I knew neither was mine, and yet I felt compelled to double-check. Imagine my dismay when, reading the information board, I learned that you had cancelled the 1515. Unlike last time, cancelling my travel was not just an inconvenience resulting in me possibly missing the gig. This time, the immediate continuation of the tour rested on this passport getting back to its owner.
By some stroke of luck, one of these two trains was bound for Euston. I decided I was going to board it, sick of the hassle you had so far caused me. Storming towards the station inspectors, with no intention of them stopping me, I was ready to tell them I was taking this earlier train. Your staff pre-empted me, and said I could get on.
Fighting through packed carriages, and crossing through the shop, I eventually found an empty and available seat. Three minutes later, we started moving. While joyful at the comparative ease with which I had managed to continue on my way, I remained furious that this had happened a second time.
With no idea when my new mode of travel was due to arrive, and aware that my tickets were booked for a specific train and thus not valid on this one, I opted to seek out the manager for clarification. The easiest way, I figured, would be via the shop. Sure enough, the chap serving there was able to provide our estimated arrival time. Then he confused me.
My ticket was valid, but my reservation was not. This, he assured me, would not pose a problem. If something is not valid, then surely that becomes a problem? All I knew was, I had two ticket-shaped pieces of paper, and one of them was invalid. Having failed to obtain the manager as requested, in the incorrect belief he had helped me, the presence of a sandwich-buying customer at the till-point cut short our conversation. I gave up, found the seat I had left, and tweeted to ask if you were taking the piss or just enjoyed my previous complaint letter so much that you want another one. In retrospect, you cannot have enjoyed it very much, or you would have replied to it directly and not in vague genericisms.
Reasoning that I should not be on this train, it occurred that I should definitely not be in First Class – so I went to sit there instead, seeking what little comfort I could from your appalling service. There, at least, I had a table and a socket where I could charge my phone. In truth, I fail to see the attraction – I had passed through emptier, quieter, and child-free, carriages to get there. The Wi-Fi might be free, but it is not up to much.
I had not been in First Class very long, before a trolley was wheeled through and free stuff handed out. I politely declined, reckoning that way you cannot accuse me of anything. In hindsight, I could have accepted a box of free shit – crisps or chocolate or whatever you put in it – and then, in this letter, pretended not to. The reality is I did not take anything, and it is probably this characteristic integrity and honesty which contributes to me being trusted to return American passports to their rightful owners, rather than clandestinely sell them to willing Russians.
Without warning, the ticket inspector appeared in the carriage ahead of me. I took a drink of water (which I bought prior to my journey, though I suspect I could have had some free while masquerading as a genuine First Class customer), and formulated the case I would present when handing my tickets over.
“You should not be in this carriage,” he would say, in the scenario I mentally concocted.
“If you look closer, I should not even be on this train,” I would contend. “Since the rules don’t apply, I will sit here, with a socket and a table and some legroom.”
If met with resistance, I would say, “Listen,” and gesture for him to sit opposite me while I relayed the tale which forms this email and the one which preceded it. Showing him the notes I had jotted down, I would give him the option of being a hero or a bad guy in this letter. He would obviously elect to be a good guy, and let me stay here, right?
How disappointed I was to be, when he simply took my tickets, circled the date in biro without question, and handed them back to me.
The mother at the adjacent table then engaged him in an involved discussion about the benefits (or not) of having a particular type of discount railcard. Having taken the time to relay the various merits, he turned back to me.
“Here we go!”, I thought.
His face showed a flicker of recognition. “I’ve done you, haven’t I?”
And he disappeared down the carriage, behind me.
What a hollow victory that was, Virgin. I had prepared my strategy and planned for battle, only to have my rebellion not so much quashed as unnoticed.
– – – – –
Once in London, my nostrils immediately assailed by the stench of piss which seems to define that city, I made my way to the venue. I found the stage door with relative ease, having once performed there myself in my occasional capacity as a stand-up comedian.
I could tell you how I came to perform stand-up comedy as a means of introducing Aesthetic Perfection, Mortiis, and Combichrist, to a thousand Londoners – in front of the band’s L.A.-based manager – but, frankly, given you all but ignore the content of my letters, you do not deserve to know.
[You, the curious reader, can find out a bit more on this post, over on my comedy blog.]
Suffice to say that it remains a life highlight, and a continuing source of personal disbelief, that – as the screen rose and a crowd of die-hard fans screamed for their heroes – all they saw was me standing there, microphone in hand, saying, “Yes, I know you want to see Combichrist. But first, a joke…”
This time, knocking on the stage door, I breathed the magic words: “I have Ben’s passport.”
I was ushered straight up the stairs and into the green room, and do not think I have ever been hugged so much in my life as I was that day. The band would now be able to leave for their ferry and continue the tour as scheduled, your cancellation of my train a mere blip on the route to this happy ending. Having travelled from Scotland to London every year since they played a one-off December show there in 2005, I was glad that it finally served a practical purpose: my appreciation of a good live music show prevented a lot of unnecessary expense and red-tape.
The gig itself, I enjoyed. There are minor differences in the set-list every night, and variations in the band’s onstage antics (every one of them is a showman and performer as well as a consummate musician), and I might not travel as much if they spent their evenings trundling out a tired wade-through of familiar crowd-pleasers. No, this is a highly energetic band who never seem to have less fun onstage than the audience do watching and listening to them.
I partied with friends – also fans – and then with the band after the show, leaving them to make their way to the coast and mainland Europe as I wandered into the early-morning darkness in pursuit of my 5:30am train back to Glasgow. Would you have cancelled it too? As it stood, I had booked four trains and you had cancelled two of them. This was your chance to pull back from being seventy-five percent shit and retain the reputation of only being half shit.
Hurrah! My train was listed as running to schedule. As soon as I was able, I boarded and took my seat, and you began slow-cooking me.
Firstly, I do not understand how you can call it The Quiet Zone when you broadcast loud announcements non-stop. You were making more noise than any of the passengers, repeating every destination twice per station – once on arrival and once (a minute later) on departure. And, my God, there were a lot of stations to stop at. The one positive was the sweet, blessed relief as the doors opened and a gust of fresh air blew in with each new set of customers. Sitting in a festering sweat-pit is not my idea of the “comfortable trip” you “aim to ensure” in the copied-and-pasted opening of the letter you sent regarding my Preston journey. I was that hot and uncomfortable I began to consider whether it could be the onset of the menopause, which I had never before thought my gender could even experience.
Having baked torturously for several hours, we finally arrived in Glasgow – late. Of four services in six days, you cancelled two and delayed one. That is a pretty poor record.
Furthermore, having made this journey annually for some years, I now know to allow myself a few days recovery time to get over whatever cold I invariably catch while travelling with you. It would, to my mind, be far more honest if “Air-Conditioning” was relabelled as “Recycled Breath.”
This year, presumably on the back of you effectively running an incubator of germs from one end of the country to the other, I have been infected with the most Hellish chest cold, which has impacted on my asthma and made every breath a chore and every cough a Herculean effort. Picture Patrick McGoohan on his deathbed in “Braveheart”, multiplied by Nicole Kidman in “Moulin Rouge”, and you have an idea of this discomfort.
In conclusion, then, I expect you to reply in a relevant manner this time and without resorting to your stock responses. I still request reimbursement for seventy-five percent of the price of the ticket for the Preston show, since you caused me to miss most of the gig. In addition, I expect you to reimburse my travel costs from Manchester to London, and from London to Glasgow, plus make a goodwill payment on top to cover the stress of having two time-sensitive journeys cancelled at zero notice.
For ease, here is a breakdown, in figures:
Preston ticket: £13.13 (75% of the £17.50 face value)
Manc – London: £35.50
London – Glas: £30.50
Which is a total of £79.13
Accounting for the discomfort and distress caused throughout this week by your failure to run trains – the sole expected duty of Virgin Trains – and taking into consideration the inadequacy of your previous response, I will be happy to receive a cheque for £120 to write off the whole sorry matter.
I look forward to your (this time personalised) reply.
Here is their lacklustre response. My reply to it is here.
Above: Their brief and misspelled reply. Read my response to it and them here.
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”
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.
Above: Their wholly uninspiring stock reply. Read my response to it (and them) here.
I am staying in a Travelodge this week, as I am working away from home.
Many of you will be familiar with their concept of uniform, basic hotel rooms. I arrived on Sunday night, unpacking properly as I am here for a few days – up at 5am and back at 8pm. On Tuesday night, I returned and noticed a shoe on the floor. This would be a very boring story if it ended there, and so I will inject an element of mystery. Specifically, the shoe is not mine and was not there previously.
Why has a lone item of footwear appeared in my hotel room in my absence?
It is a question I have posed many of my colleagues, and there have been a handful of suggestions. A couple of references have been made to Cinderella, a comparison that seems to rely heavily on my resemblance to Prince Charming and therefore a theory we can quickly discount. I lack his banality and cannot imagine falling for someone based solely on physical appearance.
The possible calling-card of a serial killer, I was extremely wary of sliding back the shower curtain this morning in case I found a body lying in the bath. Thankfully my fear was unfounded. It did, admittedly, come as some relief to find that the shoe was still there when I woke up. Had it disappeared overnight, that would have truly freaked me out.
I checked with others staying here, on the off-chance we all received one – a novel, if odd, complimentary gift. Proof of the existence of some kind of shoe-fairy? Or could it be a subtle insult from the hotel staff? In the same way that handing someone a solitary screw can be a veiled way of telling them to “go screw themselves,” the implication here may be that I should “hop it.”
One of our drivers thinks the maid has probably come in, taken her shoes off, and had a short nap on my bed. Waking later than intended, and panicking, she has abandoned one of her shoes in favour of rapidly completing her allotted task. Deciding that she will return for it after finishing her shift, she then realises that she has forgotten which of the identical rooms contains it. The shoe remains for me to find. The obvious flaw, in this conjecture, is that – even with flat shoes – you are still immediately aware of how many are on your feet. Unless this branch has Pippi Longstocking on their roster, any normal person would sense their balance was out as soon as they took a few lopsided steps.
Was the shoe already here when I moved in?
I do not believe so. It is under the desk, between my laptop case and some plastic shopping bags I unpacked that first night. Had I noticed the shoe then, I would have placed these items with more care. “I had better not rest this on that shoe,” is the thought I expect to have occurred, and which did not.
“Have you got shoes of your own in the room?” asked my boss.
“Yes, my boots.”
“Were they both there? Maybe she left her shoe and took one of yours, and will be back for the other tomorrow.”
“It seems unlikely that a woman with size two feet has opted to wear one of her own slip-ons and one of my heavy, size ten, calf-high New Rock boots with two-inch soles and metal detailing.”
Nobody has been able to shed any light on it, and not just because it resides in the darkness found under a desk. Tonight, we asked the receptionist if she had any explanation, but she just looked at her own feet and confirmed that she was wearing both of hers. My real concern now is that somebody has planted it, in advance of framing me for something.
The receptionist, incidentally, was accompanying us as my card no longer opens the door. Letting me in, she explained that the battery has died, and it should be fixed tomorrow. Between something materialising and electronics failing, this feels less like a short working holiday and more like the conceited foreshadowing in some B-movie horror film.
[Update: the lock is still broken. They said they would move me to another room, but I am scared the shoe will follow me there. Also, I am about to check out anyway.]
If you have any ideas as to how this occurrence can be rationally explained, I will be very happy to give them due consideration.
I am aware of, and largely unimpressed by, your inspired but transparent summertime marketing campaign. I am less interested in what forename is printed on the bottle label, and more in the bottle’s content. I only buy your product as an occasional sugary treat, without the intention of establishing an affinity with your packaging. Whichever name happens to be on it is irrelevant, and I have never wasted time selecting any bottle other than that which is closest or looks coldest. Personalised trash is still trash.
Today, by chance, I unpacked my shopping to discover that I had managed to pick up a bottle with, it looked like, my own name on it. Looked like, because closer inspection revealed that you had misspelt it in the most abhorrent fashion.
My name is Jordan. It has been Jordan for very nearly thirty-three years, and in that time I have never – never – met anybody older than me with this forename. I understand there are older Jordans in existence, only I have yet to personally encounter any of them. I could have resolved this, admittedly, but it seems a flimsy reason to attend a concert by the New Kids On The Block. Christ knows I would not be going for the music.
You can imagine, I am sure, that living with this name has had its ups and downs. Fortunately, I was at school when the basketball player Michael was cool, and happily accepted the nickname I acquired from the brand of footwear he promoted. Nearing the end of my state education, Katie Price turned up and ruined the name for every adolescent male Jordan left behind me in the playground.
My name has grown in popularity, transcending gender in the process, and there must now be Jordans who have reproduced and brought new Jordans into the world. So, in light of all this, what possessed you to print a label bearing the abomination “Jordon”?
Jordon is not a name, it is a misspelling; a source of constant irritation to me, as dyslexics and idiots throughout my life have insisted on unjustifiably changing the letters which form my name. Usually, this is a small detail – the substitution of the “A” for a second “O” – and a mistake made by recognised incompetents, such as the department of Glasgow City Council responsible for addressing my Council Tax bills.
I could retaliate in kind, as I did in opening this letter, but referring to you as Coco-Colo does not work as well when you consider that you are more commonly known by the shortened moniker, “Coke.” Is there some other way to resolve this issue? The “vegetable extracts” are supposed to enhance the beverage, not type (nor mistype) the list of people to whom you wish to sell your product.
I do not expect you to recall vast quantities of poorly-labelled soft drink, but perhaps you could amend the spelling for the next print run. Having accepted that the council will never manage to spell my name correctly, I refuse to believe that a company of your size cannot manage to correct this error.
Contrary to my stated disinterest, I will now keep a look-out for fizzy juice labelled “Jordan”, in the hope that today’s bottle just came from a bad batch and that somebody in the factory was simply not wearing their glasses that day. I concede that it might be quite a nice thing to possess, and am beginning to understand the appeal. I stand by my initial assertion that this marketing campaign, as much as I despise all advertising and marketing, is inspired. I am usually resistant to such tactics.
I look forward to your response.
I have never owned a set-top box, a freeview box, a digital signal thing, or whatever other gadgets are or were required to watch television in the past ten years. I buy or borrow DVDs to watch, and sometimes download things. The upside is that I save (or rather, do not spend) about £150 a year as I am not required to pay for a licence. The downside is that I miss out on things which all of social media is clearly watching. The most alienated I have felt, in this regard, was last week – when everyone else on the planet watched Germany destroy Brazil seven goals to one.
Similarly, I miss the source of the weekly outpouring of irritation, disbelief, and consternation which Twitter users hash-tag #BBCQT. The BBC’s Question Time seems to incite a lot of indignation, and so in that sense I feel I do not exactly “miss out” on the political discussion show – more that I “do not see” it.
Of course, there are occasional characters who crop up on the panel or in the audience. The eccentric, the ignorant, the misguided, and the plain wrong, all filter through to some degree, thanks in part to their dissemination via YouTube, Vine, and latterly Facebook and Twitter. This week’s unlikely hero, or anti-hero, has been Nigel the pro-union Passionate Highlander. Speaking passionately, thus justifying his own description of himself, he vowed – in the name of Jesus – that we will never change. Change being one of life’s inevitabilities, we will. Even if the No campaign win the referendum (God forbid, since we are now invoking deities), there are aspects to this new political movement which cannot be easily undone. Once you have collectively imagined a better future, it cannot be un-imagined.
That aside, Nigel’s proclamation, “In the name of Jesus,” is phrased identically to a sample used by the band Front 242 in 1988. Their track “Welcome To Paradise” – from the album Front By Front – took various snippets of speech from American Televangelists and incorporated them to great effect. It was relatively easy, as someone for whom that anthem was a gateway into the band’s extensive catalogue, to segue from one to the other. With the slightest of technical know-how, I hastily merged the Question Time footage with the song. With captions quickly typed and assembled, the end result is not the hardest-hitting argument you will hear in favour of Scottish independence. It is, however, light-hearted and true to my strong belief that we will all – Scots and English – benefit from an overwhelming Yes vote.
Here, then, is Nigel the Passionate Highlander accompanied by the Belgian pioneers of Electronic Body Music:
In a move presumably intended to embarrass Scotland on the world stage, “Team Scotland” have taken undue pride in unveiling athletes’ uniforms which will be worn during the forthcoming Commonwealth Games.
Dressed like extras from the set of Brigadoon, had that mythical village been inhabited entirely by the colour-blind, the cruel and unusual punishment of wearing the new outfits was forced onto a handful of the competitors.
“My brief from Team Scotland was to come up with a parade uniform that was high on impact and made a real statement, but also had a contemporary feel,” the designer said, her contemporaries evidently being a tin of shortbread and an outdated notion of a country under Stuart rule. Scotland in 2014 is a progressive, forward-looking nation, on the verge of voting on whether to reclaim its independence and be free from Westminster’s parliament.
This monstrous creation looks like it was accepted by a committee, all of them too polite to reveal their true feelings until – suddenly – they found they had agreed to its production. With luck, they kept the receipt and can return it for a refund.
Inspiration must surely have come on a summer’s day, when the designer vomited into the clear sky and thought, “That’ll work.”
Grimaces, bemusement, and fixed smiles were the order of the day, as illustrated by the photographs above. One can only suppose it is the designer who has come dressed as the Mad Hatter from Alice In Wonderland, since she is the only person who looks genuinely happy to be there. A couple of nurses lead the way, followed by a three-man “stag do” attended by barely-acquainted strangers.
The designer looks inordinately pleased with herself. While it was decent of her to take the blame, it is unfortunate that this public spectacle will be viewed by so many. If there is one positive to be found, it will come at the opening ceremony. With the arrival, on-screen, of several hundred athletes wearing this nonsense, it will be the first time in years that a commentator has had to utter those immortal words, “Please do not adjust your set.”
While I was passing my branch, I stopped in to see if they could help me – since my online requests were going in circles. I just wanted the “Esq” they had added after my name removed. Having ignored it for years, the final straw was when they addressed me with the suffix “Esq Esq”. There was the original complaint, part two, part three, and now – read on:
Hi [staff member’s forename],
Apologies for the delay in replying to your recent email. It has been a busy old time for me, and I plan to tie up some of your time by writing about it. For a start, I had to get a pair of glasses. I am not saying the Bank Of Scotland caused me sight problems, by forcing me to write so many letters on the laptop in a bid to resolve this once-trifling issue, but it is wonderful to finally be able to read what I am writing. Indeed, having read over my past letters prior to composing this one, it is heartening to note that I typed them all the right way up. I would hate to discover that the slight imperfection in my vision was the source of hitherto-unrealised embarrassment.
I hope you had a pleasant Easter. Personally, as a freelancer, I find it to be a huge inconvenience. There is a weekend in April – pick a weekend, any weekend; it varies annually – when suddenly everything useful is shut and everywhere else is uncommonly busy. Unless Jesus died on a different day every year, the whole holiday is a bit of a sham. Still, Easter Sunday was a good day for the Trussell Trust and the foodbanks it runs. On the back of an ill-considered article in the Mail On Sunday, their donations soared. I donated. I also rewrote the article to contain the truth, and it has now been read over 5000 times. Just think, five thousand people took the time to read something I wrote. If I had had a couple of fish and some loaves I could have attempted to feed them, which relates both to the messiah whose death we celebrated and to the nature of that Nazi rag’s disgust. How dare we feed the poor?
The following events took place on Tuesday 15th April, a day before you replied.
It was a great day for customer service, beginning with a visit from my postman. I missed a delivery on the Monday, and my parcel had been deposited at my local depot for collection. That depot is a four-mile round trip, and I usually make it on foot. My postman cannot possibly know that. Nevertheless, he did me a turn, and brought the parcel with him the next day in case I was home. I was. What a nice man, to save me that hassle. A rare display of exceptional customer relations. In addition, and again unknown to him, the parcel contained a trio of alarms – two smoke, one carbon monoxide. I ordered these after my good friend and next-door neighbour was nearly gassed, prompting me to finally get round to investing in this basic life-saving technology. So, to reiterate, the Royal Mail employee really did do me a favour, on a couple of counts.
My second encounter came with a visit to the local branch of a government office. How helpful the woman was! Although ostensibly there to enforce rules, we struck an easy rapport and discussed everything – from the failing policies of this unelected Tory government, to the Orwellian use of language in the way they now use nice names for things which are essentially draconian. We discussed the merits of Scottish Independence – I am strongly for it, to the point that I will be distraught if we do not obtain it, while she is undecided. To my mind, every “Maybe” is a Yes in need of just a handful more facts or just a little more easily-discredited Better Together bullshit. This country can be great, and I am voting not for a politician or a party, but for my country and the people in it. It is beyond evident that Westminster rule does not work for us.
I wondered if it would be possible to achieve the customer service hat-trick, and you were supposed to be the third encounter. Unfortunately, my email had not received a response. I refused to let that deter me, I knew Bank Of Scotland could do it if it tried. When I enquired of your Twitter colleagues how long I should wait, their reply – and yours – was swift. Too little too late, I am afraid.
Since I was out and about on a rare day off, I popped into [my local] branch to see if they could help me in ways you have not. It was unbelievable.
I was scarcely over the threshhold before Jane – I believe that is her name*, I went back later to ask, with a view to including it here – materialised, appearing in front of me like an angel. Could she help me, she asked. I truncated the full length of our correspondence, [forename of addressee], to the simple issue that started it all – I would like my name changed in your system.
Being thorough, Jane asked if I had proof of the name I wanted on my account. In a fortuitous turn of events, I had my passport with me, and duly informed her of the fact. I was led quickly into a small office, to elaborate on my request. Admittedly, although I do not recall doing so I think there is a very good chance that I handed Jane my card. This enabled her to find my account in ways you have not had the means to. I still question how you claim to be unable to locate my account, given the relative uniqueness of my name, but I will skip this for now – in the same manner that you have avoided answering that and other questions up to this juncture.
Within approximately two minutes, and I suspect it may have been less, Jane had removed the offending “Esq” from my account name. As if that was not enough, she then checked a quick detail with me, asking “does your phone number still end [last three digits]?”
Now, [forename of addressee], I cannot tell you how gobsmacked I was. You told me my number was not up to date, and did not respond to my questions about that. Here, it turns out, your company has had my correct number all along! Your searching capabilities are underwhelming, Jane found that detail so effortlessly that it left me incredulous. In trying to fathom this unexpected change in events, I blurted out “are you kidding on??”
Jane, equally nonplussed by my failure to comprehend how simple this task had been for her, laughed with me as she assured me the matter was fully taken care of.
[Forename of addressee], when I began formulating this letter in my head, I planned to say – perhaps partly in jest – that you have let your company down. I now feel that they have let you down. Why have they not adequately trained you? What does Jane, possibly in accordance with other customer-facing staff, know that you do not? Why are the Bank Of scotland keeping you in the dark?
This entire debacle has highlighted a complete lack of inter-departmental communication within your organisation. For instance, with regard to my phone number, you claimed it was both indicative of a “different geographical location” and “out of date” and repeatedly requested it. Do you know what I realised? I provided it, via private Direct Message on Twitter, before you ever read my initial complaint. It should have been passed to you, and was not. However, in that same regard, you later claimed to be unable to find the very number which was immediately retrievable when I went into the branch.
Were you trying to fob me off? You told me that you could not locate my account, then instantly said the number you held was suspect. How did you find a number for me while simultaneously being unable to find my account? That is no small discrepancy, and I like to have things in writing in case of such contradictions.
I have been wholly unimpressed with your responses thus far. You contradicted yourself, failed to defend that when challenged, did not satisfactorily answer any of my resulting questions, and sent very staid replies despite my attempts to inject humour into what has been a very tedious episode.
Can you confirm that, when Michael Schumacher injured himself earlier this year, they induced his coma by giving him some Bank Of Scotland emails to read? Frankly, I put far more effort than was strictly necessary into this communication, and have been left thoroughly bored as a result.
I would take this further, if I thought there was any point. Congratulations, incompetence and drudgery wins to live another day. You fought the battle well, successfully defeating the customer by blindly ignoring his questions asked on the back of your own inconsistent statements. Well done. They will probably promote you.
Jordan R.A. Mills Esq Esq Esq Esq Esq Esq
PS: I have published my first three letters to you online. They have totalled 118 views. If you want to get anywhere near the 5000 views I reached at the weekend, you need to be far more interesting or drastically increase your contentiousness. Your previous replies are so dull there is little merit in reproducing them. They would fail to set the world alight even if soaked in petrol and used as tinder.
PPS: If you can find an up-to-date, geographically accurate number for [my local] branch, you should call it. Maybe Jane will share some of her warmth and wisdom, and reveal to you how she was able to find my own phone number just by – shock, horror – looking at the same records you have access to.
*Jane is definitely not her name, I have changed it for publication.
In addition, I received a letter in the mail the day after I sent this, in which the complaint handler announced a stalemate and said he was closing the complaint.
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.
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.
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.
My complaint handler at HBOS then sent me a letter in the mail, which I realised he probably would. I sent him the following reply today, and got an out-of-office response. He has not yet seen the letter published below. Not only am I interested in his response, I was looking through my correspondence with the company on Twitter and note that I provided them with my mobile number on the first day, alongside a request for them to contact me in writing instead. I will include that information next time, while chastising them appropriately for the lack of communication between departments.
Here is the bulk of the letter he sent me:
Here is my response:
Dear [staff member’s full name including his middle initials],
Thank you for your letter dated 8th April, which I received in the post today. I expected it, and had correctly anticipated that you would largely reiterate the content of your previous email.
I wrote in the first instance because I wanted you (that is, HBOS) to remove the Esq that you place after my name. It was, to my mind, no big deal – an outdated form of address that I have never personally used, it makes sense to rid myself of it. The timing – why now? – relates to a recent letter you sent which added “Esq Esq” after my name. Verging on the ridiculous, I decided to address the issue before I find myself in a roughly similar situation to Catch-22’s Major Major Major Major.
I imagined, evidently wrongly, that putting my very simple brief in writing would enable you to fix the problem swiftly, and all I wanted in reply was a note essentially saying “done.”
Instead, here we are – five emails, a dozen-and-a-half Tweets, and one Royal Mail-delivered communication later – and still no resolution. Furthermore, you have given me immense cause for concern on two counts. Firstly, as you are unable (you said) to locate either of the accounts I hold with you and, secondly, because you appear to have lost my phone number.
Please check again, my mobile number ends [last three digits redacted] and the Bank of Scotland has contacted me using it, in relation to my online banking approximately eighteen months ago. Your assertion that the number you have for me “is not up to date” does not wash: I was given that number when I took out my first phone contract, with Genie, in or around October 2001.
Genie was taken over by BT Cellnet, who became O2, now owned by Telefonica. It is how businesses operate, except that unlike this Lloyds Halifax Bank Of Scotland nonsense they managed to keep hold of my one and only contact number in the process. So, again, given that I have had precisely the same phone number for twelve-and-a-half years, please comb your records once more.
I hold a Current Account with you, which I opened within the last three years. I also have a Savings Account which was opened for me sometime in the early 1980s, when I was too young to foresee the hassle it would cause me thirty years later. You explicitly stated that you are “unable to locate an account in [my] name to make the appropriate amendments.”
I do not know what to say, except “try harder.”
I have two accounts, and one name. I have signed my name to every email in an attempt to make it easier for you. Perhaps a search for correspondence sent this month to recipients marked “Esq Esq” will bring it up? There are very few people whose name matches mine – especially not when my middle initials are included. There should be remarkably few people banking with you in the name Jordan (or J.) R.A. Mills.
I only wish I had the ingenuity of Alice Cooper, whose bank tried to find his account for him. “We have twenty Alice Coopers” they said, when the results were returned. He had the intelligence, grace, and wit to politely reply “Yeah, mine will be the ‘Mister’.”
A distinguishing name ought to be most useful at this juncture. If you will trust the medium of email then I can send you my account numbers and sortcodes across, but it worries me greatly that you cannot find them of your own accord.
“Feel free to call me with the information”, your letter cheerfully offers.
Once again, I am forced to state that I do not really wish to discuss this over the phone – it is not terribly convenient for me – yet you keep insisting it is the only way forward. Are you so bored or lonely in your office that you just wish to chat? Or maybe you read these letters and feel you have found a kindred spirit? Granted, we both sign ourselves with a pair of middle initials, there is that connection. However, I try to make my writing entertaining to read, instead of blindly repeating the company line in copied-and-pasted paragraphs while singularly failing to locate vital customer particulars.
I know my tone is cheeky, increasingly so, but I refer you to my original complaint. I was hopeful you would quickly make the necessary changes, and instead you seem to have misplaced some extremely important personal details. Not only have we reached an apparent impasse, but you have revealed negligence that borders on corporate incompetence. You will be aware of Data Protection legislation, and know that the loss or careless handling of secure files would constitute a clear breach of the law. Find my accounts, and my number, and then you can phone me. Or, perhaps just quietly make the requested alterations as per my initial enquiry – no telephone conversation required.
I await your response with more interest than you pay on either of the accounts you have mislaid.
Jordan R.A. Mills
(or, using the unwanted alter ego you bestowed upon me, Mr J R Mills Esq Esq)
After sending a complaint to the Bank Of Scotland, a digital receipt arrived in my inbox. The next two emails were short and professional, and I will relay only the relevant information prior to reproducing the additional complaint it led me to write.
At first I was hopeful, noting of my new contact: “As you sign yourself with two middle initials, and given part of the nature of my complaint, I expect you to be broadly sympathetic. However, I have stated (via the HBOS Twitter account) that I would prefer to be contacted in writing, and not discuss this over the telephone. They tell me they have passed this request on.”
It was nearly 5pm on a Monday, and an automated out-of-office reply arrived immediately. This stated that the complaint handler would be away until 9am that same Monday – a clear anomaly. I consider that to be fuel for the fire. Despite allegedly being away from his employment, he then replied personally:
“I fully appreciate your express wishes to respond to and resolve the complaint you’ve raised however, I’m unable to locate an account in your name to make the appropriate amendments. We do not recognise corresponding by email about account specific information as safe and secure. As you have not provided a valid telephone number to contact you and the only number which I can find for you indicates a different geographical location, I am unable to safely speak with you.”
Gloves off, let’s go.
Your Twitter team have already assured me that it will be possible to have this matter resolved in writing. If you look at how you addressed me in the letter to which I refer, then perhaps that will help you locate my account?
I hold two accounts, both under variations of my name chosen by your company and both suffixed unnecessarily as detailed in the missive to which you are responding.
I am uncertain as to why you are writing from a Lloyds TSB address, when my complaint is with HBOS. If all four of these banks are united then I begin to understand the recent political phrase “all in it together.”
If I recall correctly, HBOS has called me to confirm details in the past, with regards to my online banking. Somewhere, alongside the two accounts you are unable to find, you have my number on file. It gives me no faith in your company to learn that both of my accounts are invisible to you, and I am starting to realise why the man in the branch who set up my second account said it would be nearly impossible to amend my name in your records. You do not appear able to adequately check said records, let alone update them.
I note that the names on my two cards differ slightly, and both also differ from the way you address communications to me about those accounts. Unfortunately, as you “do not recognise corresponding by email about account specific information as safe and secure”, I am unable to reveal what any of these names are. Suffice to say they are variations on a theme. Personally, I always sign my name the same way – in the evidently mistaken belief that it might avoid confusion.
My phone number is in your system, and I am not responsible if you feel it is playing hide-and-seek with you. I am worried knowing that I have entrusted my money to you, if you cannot safely look after digits that do not even have financial value. Furthermore, I am questioning why you have written from a Lloyds email address. You may be quite correct when you say this is an untrustworthy medium.
Although I have replied with my tongue slightly in my cheek, be advised that it is only slightly.
Incidentally, my previous reply was met with an automated Out Of Office reply which stated that you will return to the office on Monday 7th April at 09:00 – if you are returning in the morning before you have left, then I envy your mastery of time travel.
Jordan R.A. Mills*
*Here’s a clue, both of my accounts contain some or all of these letters. My phone number is in there somewhere. Good luck.
He wrote back by post, and I have replied to that too. Read it here.
I write occasionally about my friend who lives next door to me. We are very close, a fact physically represented by our respective front doors being only a metre apart. People have noted that we act like a married couple, and there is some merit to that – we love each other, we argue regularly, and there is no sex. When I asked if she was happy with that statement she said, “No, I hate you,” which I think sums it up well.
She popped in to see me today, and when she went home she thought she could smell gas in her hall. I crossed over our thresholds to check, initially not picking up on it. Eventually the odour hit me, and she insisted that we call the emergency helpline. I read the number off her meter, she dialled and then handed me the phone. I explained the issue to the operator, who asked me a series of basic questions before agreeing to send an engineer out. She provided safety instructions, and I listened as I walked from the living room into the bathroom – where the meter is located.
I obeyed the woman’s command, cutting the supply by giving the handle on the pipe a quarter-turn. As I pulled it from the vertical to the horizontal, my friend appeared in the hallway before me. “Don’t turn on any lights or use any switches” the call handler said into my ear, at the precise second when my friend switched the overhead light on. Timing, as they say, is everything. As I tried in vain to prevent the action, by making a cut-throat gesture, she instinctively and immediately turned the light off again.
I went home, and the gas van arrived quickly. The way it was reported on Facebook, “Scottish Gas guys arrived, checked my gas meter and said: “Girl. Glad you phoned us, cos you would probably die overnight from gas poisoning!! There was a serious gas leak.”
She texted me to say they were changing the meter, adding “that’s why I couldn’t breathe properly and my stomach hurt for a couple of days.” This was news to me, and I remembered that there is a carbon monoxide detector in the bedroom beside her boiler. I had looked at the boiler when I went in, but neglected to check the alarm. It is a safety device I have meant to buy for my own flat, and never quite got round to.
“Did the gas alarm in your bedroom not go off?” I asked.
She checked it. “The light changes from green to red. I had red for a few days, but I ignored that.”
Sometimes she terrifies me. She elaborated “I thought it must be like that,” adding further “but I was being sick every day, and my stomach hurt at night, and the breathing difficulties – now I know why!”
We had spoken today about her possibly leaving Glasgow. I am in no way ready for her to permanently leave the world.
The consensus online is that gas is dodgy, and any hint of a smell should be investigated and reported. This evening, especially, I am happy that she insisted on notifying the authority. Once the seriousness had passed, humour took over. One of my comedy acquaintances publicly admired her “strive for efficiency” in trying to blow the whole street up, and not just me.
She replied – in a way you would understand if you knew her – by saying that she enjoys group sex, and group death too. This incident happened to coincide with the gas main being replaced over the road, and it was nearly the perfect crime – they would have blamed the workmen.
Tonight, online, I bought a carbon monoxide detector and two smoke alarms. I like to feel I have learned something from this experience, besides having my nerves shaken when I read the Gas Safe information about poisoning symptoms and fatalities. It is disconcerting to know that someone I care so deeply about has been breathing in toxic fumes for a few days.
She always claims to be unlucky, and I will now forever disagree. Borrowing her trademark phrase of “face>desk”, the only real method of taking the edge off was to make further light of the situation. There is no other way. I doubt we were poised to annihilate ourselves in an explosion, but it is generally best to avoid inhaling noxious vapours for any length of time. At the risk of coming across all Michael Buerk in the 1990s emergency re-enactment series 999, it does not cost much to protect yourself.
I doubt I will ever be entirely certain, but it is possible that I may once have attracted the amorous attentions of the writer of a Golden Globe-winning, Gold-selling, chart-topping single. There is the distinct possibility that it was all completely innocent, of course, and that is the version of the story I hold to be true. The following is told without prejudice.
I studied at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, a degree which allowed me to arrange work placements in my final year. Many of my peers elected to gain experience with companies in Scotland, most notably Scottish Opera and the Theatre Royal. In my very finite wisdom – in hindsight, making contacts in this country would have been sensible in the long run – I decided that I would set my sights further afield than the venue which was literally across the street, and began applying for internships in America. Somewhere between a dozen and twenty emails later, one organisation replied offering me a place. Lasting nine weeks over the summer, it would count as two of my five allocations, contributing to my learning while also providing me with my first trip outside Europe.
As I would be studying throughout the summer of 2005, the payoff was time off during the preceding term – time spent hoovering up every available shift in the pub where I was ordinarily employed at weekends only. I saved hard, since the gig provided accomodation and nothing else, and booked my flights. A couple of months later, I was in the USA. I quickly befriended the Assistant Technical Director, bonding on the first day while talking about music.
“I like metal, but I like it messed-up,” he said. “Like Mindless Self Indulgence.”
“You should check out Combichrist,” I said, referring to an act I had discovered and seen a month previously. I saw them for a second time in New York City, about a month after this conversation, and Graham was at the gig with me. He was the only one wearing trainers (sneakers) and I was the only one wearing a kilt. MSI and Combi later toured together, and eventually remixed singles for each other too. On the way out of the venue I stole an event poster off the wall, which I still have. In December 2013 I saw Combichrist play live for the twenty-eighth time.
I found Americans to be friendly, happy to engage with the “crazy Scotsman” in their midst. The girls loved my accent, and there was at one time a photograph showing me at an opening night party, surrounded by four or five women. They were seen to be hanging on my every word, and what was never clear from the picture is that the word they were hanging on was “squirrel.”
“Say it again!” they cried, delighted as I truncated the “u” and rolled the Rs. Being a wind-up merchant of some years standing, it did not take long before I aped their pronunciation. “Say ‘squirrel’!”
I worked on a number of shows as a stage carpenter, learning a lot about life and professionalism (as well as my trade) in the daytime, and out-drinking most of the crew and other interns in the evening. I have a lot of fond memories of that time, and maintain a handful of friendships with those I met. It was a place outside NYC where new plays could air to audiences without the pressure of critical scrutiny, a safe workshop environment where – while I was there – a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright could test his latest script, starring someone who would later become a Muppets villain.
At some point, in all of this, I was introduced to the lovely Amanda McBroom. She was working on lyrics for a new musical adaptation of a film, having once penned a song – famously sung by Bette Midler – called The Rose.
We spoke a few times, on various occasions at company parties or in the production office, and she told me that she had visited Glasgow and eaten in Ashton Lane’s famous restaurant The Ubiquitous Chip. She was usually accompanied by her friend and stage manager, a pleasant Englishwoman who had served her time in the West End. Back then, I had vague notions of pursuing a career in that hallowed district – soon abandoned when I realised that I do not even like visiting London, and would find living there to be unbearable.
When the 7/7 bombings happened, I called home to check my wee cousin was okay – thankfully she was. The stage manager, having far more contacts in the vicinity than I, made frantic phonecall after frantic phonecall, visibly upset as she did so. I remember the callous – almost ridiculous – uttering of our production manager, a man with the unenviable knack of making you feel uncomfortable by merely speaking to you. He would look at you slightly longer than necessary, as if waiting or searching for a response, for some continuation of the conversation or expected answer which was not apparent. As this poor woman desperately tried to reach her friends and relations, his attempt at sympathy extended to a misguided “Now you know how we felt on 9/11.”
After a series of fun adventures I returned home, receiving an email shortly afterwards from the stage manager. Amanda was working on a new project based on Shakespeare’s female characters, and I was asked if I would record myself reading the Lady Macbeth lyrics. This would serve as a basis for her to practise and recite it in a broadly-authentic accent, taking into consideration that Macbeth was not Glaswegian and that US ears would need to comprehend the language.
Theatre being an industry that often thrives on favours, especially when you are a student of the craft, I thought nothing of it. I altered the perfect English of the writing to reflect the Scottish vernacular, changing the “didn’ts” to “didnaes” and so forth. As I recall, I read it aloud into a microphone and converted the digital recording into a file small enough to email across, including with it my version of the lyrics. I was careful to only reflect the local dialect, turning things like the “ofs” to “aes”, because however much of an ego you may think I have, it does not extend to redrafting the work of someone who only missed out on an Oscar nomination because her song predated the film that made it famous.
It was during this endeavour that the question was asked of me: “Why are you doing this?”
“I was asked to.”
“Aye, but – have you not got a lassie friend that could read it. Would that not make more sense, for her to learn from another female instead of a deep-voiced guy?”
I had given it no thought. Perhaps naively, I believed I was simply fulfilling a request that had been made of me, from someone who had been warm and friendly when I met her in a foreign land. The implication that she “maybe had a wee thing” for me had passed me by until that point. I genuinely do not know. Granted, I am tall, dark-haired, was then aged twenty-three, and had spent the summer wearing a kilt instead of shorts. However, I am not big-headed enough to presume that I did anything other than make an acquaintance.
Furthermore, dealing solely in facts, it remains the only time that a multi-award-winning songwriter – responsible for a world-famous hit – has asked me for any kind of collaborative input. I was happy to oblige.
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.
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.
Customer Services Department
Wm Morrison Supermarkets PLC
Dear Bank of Scotland,
Or, to address you in the same manner you addressed your latest letter to me,
Dear Bank o Scotland outdated suffix outdated suffix,
I would like you to reconsider how you word my name, and amend your records accordingly. I use both of my middle initials, not the one you assign, with valid reason. I do not require the “Esquire” you add after my name, and adding two of them seems doubly unnecessary. One recognised authority on etiquette suggests you have also used it wrongly, by placing it at the start of a written communication.
My name is Jordan R.A. Mills and, dear god, the abuse I have taken for electing to sign myself that way. Since late primary or early secondary school it has been viewed as an affectation, lending itself to the wonderfully tedious game whereby people guess what those two letters stand for. You can imagine, I am sure, that there were never any flattering or complimentary suggestions. It took me a regrettably long time to realise that the best and most effective way to shut that down was to simply tell the truth; that it is not immediately apparent that I sign my middle initials as they stand for the forenames of my two grandfathers – neither of whom lived to see me born. Now who is the “rotten arsehole”?
There are three ways people write this moniker for me – some take my lead and copy it verbatim, some disregard both initials, and – most annoyingly – some abandon only one of them. When I was occasionally performing stand-up comedy, and with reference to the second two options above, I made this observation:
“I’ve never understood why people find it acceptable to just jettison a key component of my name.
I’d never dream of doing that to someone, just going ‘You know what? I was going to write his name, but Jesus I can’t be bothered so I’ll leave a couple of letters out.’ Whatever time that might save. Yet it happens often.
Thankfully the birth registrar and the passport office, whatever their flaws, aren’t that desperately lazy. So it appears to be my legally documented name. If I’ve made the effort, and taken the twenty-odd years of abuse for signing them, there’s probably a good reason for their inclusion.
It also annoys me on automated bank forms and the like, where it says ‘middle initial’ and only lets you enter one character.
‘I’ve got two middle initials.’
Well, in that case, please decide which of the two dead grandfathers you never met should have their existence acknowledged in our records – one, or neither.
If neither had existed I wouldn’t be here. If there was only one I’d just be half the man I am today.”
This will explain, I hope, why your letter addressed to “Mr J R Mills” has irked me to the extent that I am contacting you.
Furthermore, for reasons that lie somewhere in the early or mid 1980s when my maternal grandmother opened this Halifax Savings Account for me, you have always added an “Esq” after my name. I have never been entirely sure why, and when I opened my current account a couple of years ago I was informed that it would now be difficult to remove from your systems.
I accepted this, it being no great shakes despite you being the only company in my experience to ever append it. Attention to detail is important, though, and I find it excessive that you used it twice in succession. Perhaps you were trying to butter me up by calling me “Mr J R Mills Esq Esq”, or maybe it was a piss-take by your admin staff – taking umbrage at the first Esq and sarcastically adding a second? Either way, I am happy for you to drop both of them in future. I have no requirement to be titled in such a way.
Incidentally, while researching (a loose term I use to cover a look on the internet powered by a world-famous search engine) the correct application of Esq, I found a BBC article on the subject. To quote directly from it:
“Esquire is more formal than Mr, and only used in written correspondence,” says Charles Kidd, editor of Debrett’s Peerage and Baronetage. “It’s more old fashioned, and you would only use it on an envelope.”
The article continues with an example which, adapted to this situation, clarifies: the envelope would be addressed to “Jordan R.A. Mills, Esq” but the invitation card itself would read “Mr Jordan R.A. Mills”.
At least, that is my interpretation of it. Some other sites question the abbreviating of full names to mere letters when the Esq suffix is added. They agree, however, that Mr and Esq should not be used in conjunction.
The upshot of all of this is, I have finally decided to try and have your records altered. The change-of-name page on your website came up as “unavailable” when I tried to access it this afternoon. I found another way to do it once logged into my online banking, and read through the instructions. Unfortunately, among the list of acceptable forms of identification, you do not list a passport. My passport is the only recognisable proof that I have to hand. Hence this letter.
Please remove the Esq suffix from my name, it has been there forever and there really is no need for it. I am content to be a plain old “Mr.”
As for the rest of my name, please add my second initial (preferable) or remove the existing one. As stated, I do not feel it is in your jurisdiction to acknowledge or deny the existence of half of my male antecedents.
Your cooperation in this matter is appreciated.
Jordan R.A. Mills
There have been two versions of the television show “Gladiators” screened in the UK. The first was hugely popular when I was a teenager, and the second was watched by nobody I have ever met. Both versions were based on the original American version which comedian Bill Hicks vilified, seeing it as a way for the government to keep the masses docile.
In the town where I grew up, a large local playing field was the site of an annual fete. I have no idea who organised it, or why, but there was the usual assortment of stalls, tents, displays, and the general family entertainments provided by magicians, jugglers, stilt-walkers and their ilk. The only year I remember going, the main attraction – in ever sense of that word – was a personal appearance by Diane Youdale, known at the time as Jet.
It seems strange in hindsight, that I joined a queue of however many others to catch a glimpse of a “celebrity” who was then a huge hit on national Saturday night television. Despite being a boy of 14 or 15, and thus the perfect age for it, I was one of the few folk I knew who did not have an almighty crush on her. Nevertheless, I stood in line with one or two of my friends, shuffling forward inside the kind of barrier arrangement normally seen in banks, post offices, or at airport security gates. Eventually we made it to the front, to the table at which she sat, and I was rewarded with a signed photograph and a friendly smile.
Thinking in my youth that celebrity meant something, I kept hold of the picture and probably still have it in a box somewhere. It will make a good illustration for this blog when I find it, so check back in five or ten years and see if I have had a clear-out by then. Jet, incidentally, is now a psychotherapist – as well as being the desired host of a proposed Alan Partridge programme.
My second encounter with a television Gladiator happened while I was doing some secondary work for my brother-in-law, who is a plumber to trade. He hired me for a few days when he needed a hand, and it emerged that the householder was in the show – which (true to my opening statement) neither of us had watched. She was extremely nice, and in the interest of maintaining her privacy I am not going into much detail. Her given title was Battleaxe., but she could not have been further from the traditional and insulting definition of that word.
While employed to work for her, a few jokes and turns of phrase sprang to mind – some in conversation, some while completing the tasks in hand. Within a couple of days I had a fully-formed routine which would slot straight into my stand-up set, comedy once being a hobby of mine. Grounded in fact, a little exaggeration or embellishment led to one of my favourite “bits” and one which almost always went down well with audiences. I am not a pro-active joke writer, and I take my inspiration where I find it. Given that it was the only time in my life I did any plumbing, it was fortuitous. Timing, as they say, is everything. Below is the material I came up with.
My brother-in-law is a plumber, and we recently did a job for one of TV’s Gladiators. Not one of the cool ones you’d have heard of, but from the new version which nobody’s seen.
So whereas in the old version it was “Can you feel the power of the Gladiators?” this was more “Can you fix the shower, and the radiators.”
I said “Where’s your boiler?” and she said “It’s up there.” I looked, and it was up a Travellator and across some monkeybars.
I said “What’s the access like?” She said “You just have to run the Gauntlet, and get past Wolf.”
John Anderson was there too. He said “Plumber, you will go on my first whistle. Gladiator, you will go on my second whistle.”
I don’t know if you have ever fixed a boiler while you are on a pedestal being hit with a pugil stick, but it’s not easy.
They hire professional athletes and it turned out this girl was an Olympic hammer-thrower, and she holds the record for the longest throw in Scotland.
It was my fucking hammer she threw. “I was using that!”
Took me a week to go and get it back.
I was glad she was a nice lassie though. See when I was at school, if the bullies took your bag off you they’d throw it over a wall or over a fence. If she took your bag off you it’d be [miming spinning a bag round head, like a hammer thrower, then letting go] Fuck ye! Off to France, going “Je voudrais ma bag back, s’il-vous-plait.”
[In reference to the mohawk I had] I reckon if I was a Gladiator they’d call me Nutjob. But then, that’s probably why there’s no Glaswegian Gladiators. “Contender, you will face Nutjob, Heidcase, Jakey, and Bam.”
Four big guys standing there going [arms folded, menacing] “What you wearing padding for, ya fuckin’ poof?”
Of the feedback I received after my various unpaid gigs, that piece was singled out for praise on a few occasions. I like it, and principally I write for myself and to hopefully be entertaining. So, if other people enjoy it I am happy. Here is some old and early footage of me nervously performing it while trying to stay within my strict five-minute spot on stage in Glasgow:
I did this material a lot, and eventually I gigged with somebody whose opening line addressed mine. He had written for the second series of the new season. In my defence, I was thirty that year, and cannot be blamed for no longer watching the same programmes that were required viewing when I was half that age. The fact that the most recent version was granted a second series means it must have had an audience. As every comedian knows or learns though, facts are not necessarily funny. Often they are just facts.
I kept my opening line as it was – nobody before or since has ever corrected it, which says as much about the viewing habits of the folk I have played to as it does about anything else.
Working for different film, TV, and theatre production companies, I have been based in various different stores and seen the facilities utilised by some of my colleagues for their personal kit. They vary in location and quality, but a couple of them have rented shipping containers on private land. It looks to be a convenient and reasonably low-cost option – shelved and racked on the inside to accomodate tools, equipment, and other occasionally essential gear.
One memorable job involved a visit to my friend’s lock-up. He has, or had, a place located down a side-street near Glasgow’s River Clyde. The short street was run-down, despite its proximity to the city centre, with the building that ran the length of one side displaying no intact windows. All were broken to some degree or missing entirely, with boards plugging the gaps behind the remaining shards. On the other side, two high Victorian buildings were both boarded up too.
Between these monuments, a connecting single-storey entranceway had been demolished, the rubble still piled high and adorned with illegally-dumped beds, mattresses, and other such junk. Our container was one of a dozen lined along the grounds, accessible by unlocking some Heras perimeter fencing, of the “mesh” type seen around every outdoor music event you have ever been to. Unfortunately, our ingress was prevented by half a dozen fly-tipped fridges. The abandoned white goods littered the kerbside directly in front of the only gate, and inevitably we would have to move them. “Let’s have some fun,” my friend said. “There’s spraypaint in the back. I’m thinking ‘robots’.”
We left the cab of our van, and manhandled the appliances into position. We stood them upright, and I dragged one onto its side and shunted it between others. Lying prone, I took rogue circuit boards and pipes and stuffed them into the door – the poor refrigerator’s guts spilling forth.
With our path cleared, the gate was duly opened and we walked the short distance to the line of units. Andy – everybody in this industry is called Paul or Andy, in my experience – proceeded to the first blue cabin in a line of red ones, their vibrant colours long since faded. He jammed the key into the padlock, and it yielded with ease. Removing it, he swung open the first of the double doors.
His store contains shelves and racking, powertools and crates of assorted gear, workspace and associated art implements. None of that was visible. There was only one thing in the container – a silver hatchback. The vehicle comfortably filled the space, and I became acutely aware of my surroundings. It was dark and wet, a Glasgow evening in a deserted and vandalised area – us alone by the ruins of an old building, by a length of shipping crates. Is this not how films start? I joked that I had better not find a dead body inside, shining a torch into the rear window and peering through. In my head, somebody silently appeared behind us, two bullets swiftly ensuring we could never speak of our discovery.
It was not much of a discovery, although I must admit I gave the interior only a cursory glance. I had no desire to lay my eyes on a corpse, nor on any conspicuous plastic sheeting. This was close enough to an abandoned docks to put me in mind of a dozen crime film cliches. The greater question, for Andy at least, involved the contents he had expected to see. The key fitted the padlock perfectly, and he had to wonder if his possessions had been stolen, then replaced with a car. It seemed an odd way to commit burglary, and was quickly discounted.
He had only been to this location twice before, and all he could recall was that he had a blue container. Resecuring Box Number One, he tried his key in Box Number Two. This padlock complied as well. In we went, retrieving the items for which we had come, while light-heartedly pondering our abilities to hotwire the motor next door – evidently these two containers had locks that shared an identical cut of key.
With our gear subsequently loaded onto the van and the location secured. we grabbed tins of spraypaint. This would be a fun end to the day. Andy set about giving the fridges eyes and mouths, and I liberally applied red – blood – to the deceased one. I tried to give it crosses for eyes, but the rain lying on it its surface hindered the effort. It was like painting a puddle, if you have ever attempted that or can imagine how ineffective it would be. Nevertheless, a few photographs were taken to preserve the moment, and we quietly disappeared into the night. The killer cannibal robot refrigerators stayed behind, gathered around their fallen victim.
After being asked to provide feedback, I composed this letter. I expected no response, and so I wrote freely and for my own amusement/pleasure. I rather like the result, and it saw me invited to meet one of the bosses to discuss what changes could be made. They refused to pay me a consultant’s fee, though, so this is all they got. Well, this and two years of my life.
Dear Work Programme/Working Links/[Company name redacted]/Whatever organisation I actually attended,
You asked for my feedback. Make yourself a cup of tea and come back to this, it is going to be lengthy.
For a start, why have you asked for “customer” feedback? I am not a customer, I was forced to attend mandatory fortnightly meetings. By definition, as I did not purchase goods or services from you, it is incorrect to address me in this manner. Had there been any element of choice, be assured that I would have avoided your organisation like the plague it so often seems to be.
Your survey asks about the welcome I received upon first attending [company name redacted]. I remember this clearly, as my hobby is stand-up comedy and in the beginning I was provided with ample source material. Having been required to attend a computer course, the level of which ensured that I knew not to stand on top of the monitor while typing, I was treated to the sight of the man next to me drooling over his keyboard. Meanwhile, two of your staff members demanded to know of an Iraqi gentleman with poor English if he was in this country legally. Given that we were all referred as JSA recipients, a benefit (before that became a dirty word) claimed by having a National Insurance number, it would suggest he had gone through due process to be (mis)treated in this way.
My confidence in your staff waned swiftly, after the lead tutor (and my initial advisor) turned from one desk and walked fully into a pillar into the centre of the room. I am not convinced that slapstick is necessary or conducive to your role, although the distraction was appreciated. I am not inclined to trust someone to help me find a job if they are not even able to simply avoid smacking into the architecture of their surroundings.
After this shambolic introduction to your services, during which I had to fill in a form that asked for full detail of my circumstances but which limited me (as I discovered after twenty minutes of typing) to a few hundred characters – thus preventing me from answering the questions asked – I was referred to a CV-writing course.
Call me old-fashioned, but if you are going to employ somebody to teach me how to write an appropriate cover letter perhaps you could ensure that their spelling is up to scratch and in line with accepted grammatical standards. I am not professionally successful enough to refer to myself as “a writer”, yet I do write often and am frequently praised on my output (without wishing to blow my own trumpet, this is just a fact provided for background) – and so it was insulting to have my time wasted by a writing coach who could barely spell the term “CV.”
I have kept a blog for some years now, on which I documented a few of the more absurd or frustrating elements encountered on your programme, and I will provide external links to these articles rather than re-write them here. However, in brief, my feedback will include:
– Your inability to provide the training I most need and which would render me extremely employable.
– Frequent, positive talk of jobs that failed to materialise (painting a factory, window-fitting, landscaping).
– Being accepted for a job that I was then told I could not take (parks department).
– Being promised four months of work, which turned into seventeen days and thus cost me money (Royal Mail/Manpower).
– Having my advisor changed several times, and having to re-explain my circumstances repeatedly.
– The suggestion that I might like to attend something that I later realised was mandatory.
– Being coerced into working in your call-centre under the guise of being “trained.”
– Having my ILA courses booked, cancelled, and rebooked so often that I never used the funding available to me in the end.
– Having my time thoroughly wasted applying for a call-centre job for which I was not eligible.
Let us begin.
I learned to drive when I was eighteen, and was at a standard where I would have passed my test, as my instructor repeatedly told me. For one reason or another, I neither booked nor sat the theory test, and was therefore unable to sit the practical. Years later, when I realised how important my driving license would be in my chosen career, I sat the theory and passed it comfortably. Unfortunately, life intervened and I could not afford the necessary refresher lessons prior to taking the practical. Owing to its limited validity, I now need to take the theory test again.
Twice in my working life I have been in a position to pay for the few lessons and two tests it would take to immeasurably enhance my employment chances. The first time, I was hit with a backdated council tax bill for two-thousand pounds. The second time, I lost my job and was forced to use my savings to pay my rent.
From my very first day with your programme, and at every subsequent meeting and with every single advisor since, I have been asked what the major barrier is to my finding and staying in work. This is my answer, and it is always met with the same response – you do not fund driving lessons. Neither does the Jobcentre. I know this, believe me when I say that this is a conversation I have had easily a dozen or more times, and probably twice that. It turns out that I have a second major barrier to employment – your organisation.
My background is theatre. I have worked behind the scenes since I was fourteen, running shows from the legal minimum age of sixteen. It began as a hobby, becoming a paid hobby as I subsidised my everyday work with casual shifts, and when I decided to obtain a degree there was only one subject that interested me sufficiently to ensure I would put in the necessary work. I continued to work casually during my studies, later supporting myself with work in theatre, film, and television. My ambition, in my final year, was to obtain my own listing on IMDB, the Internet Movie Database. Having achieved that within six months of graduating, I now understand that I should have aimed higher.
My argument is that, by funding my driving license two full years ago, you would have spent more or less the same amount as you did on my case anyway, except that I would now be in a far better position to achieve and maintain employment. You have wasted your money and you have wasted my time. My advisors have told me that you used to fund it, or whatever else was required to get people back into work. It is disheartening to know that I am not worth the expenditure, and it is a sham that you ask what barriers are in the way of your “customers” finding work while effectively putting up a barrier of your very own.
The Work Programme is not about getting the unemployed into employment – it is about shuffling numbers.
There have been various moments of hope in the past two years, fleeting moments where your advisors have had information about work coming in and positively spoken of it.
I am available and looking for work. I was turning thirty years old when I was referred to you. This is, in theory, the prime of my life – I am still considered young, and about as fit and healthy as I am likely to be for the rest of my life. I did a degree in theatre, specialising in scenic carpentry, only to find that these skills are not easily transferable to the construction industry (itself in decline) as I do not hold any recognisable joinery qualifications. There was talk, at one time, of trying to obtain these, but your organisation would only go so far as to get me the most basic CSCS card, enabling me to be a site labourer. There is plenty of competition out there for site labourers, believe me.
I am educated, intelligent, diligent, polite, and good-humoured. Your organisation has no idea how to cope with this. I am no work-shy waster, I am desperate to be in employment, to be surviving off my own back, contributing to my country, and with my confidence, self-esteem, and sense of purpose restored. This is useless. I am willing and able to undertake virtually any job offered to me, the only exception being jobs to which I am not suited. I am not sure how much wider my scope could be, and yet in twenty-four months you managed to find me a mere seventeen days of work.
Please do not get me wrong, there was plenty of talk of jobs. There was the taken-over car factory/showroom that needed a complete repaint. There is a subtle pronunciation difference between carpenter and car-painter, but I was happy to overlook that. Despite my asthma, and the known irritant that is paint fumes, I was willing to do the job on provision of respirators and other appropriate personal protection equipment (PPE). It came to nothing.
When I was given my second or third advisor, he guided me through a complete overhaul of my CVs – I have two – and rang me up one day, all excited that he had found a window-fitter loooking to take someone on. This client wanted somebody with knowledge and skills, was willing to train them in all aspects of the job, had steady work lined up, and specifically wanted somebody a bit older – perhaps aged thirty – who would treat this as a career and not as a way to kill some time in their late teens. It sounded perfect, and was certainly talked up to be so. This positivity continued for approximately five weeks, before petering out exactly as the painting job had done.
Most recently, I spent six weeks dreaming of a job landscaping in and around Glasgow. There was a group overview from the employer, individual interviews, and then – nothing. Weeks and weeks of nothing. I later overheard that the employer had taken a contract with one firm, and then tried to avoid using their staff/clients. I can only presume that negotiations broke down somewhere, or that he was unable to provide the promised employment to the sixty or so of us who attended the overview session.
The Work Programme is a purveyor of false hope. It is very hard to be enthusiastic at the prospect of some new job that yet again fails to materialise. These are just three examples, the most memorable ones, indicative of the impotence of your organisation. You are very good at making empty promises, and little else.
On one occasion, one of these jobs actually transformed into something almost tangible. The council were recruiting for their parks department, on a strict six-month contract. Not ideal, but it was a start, and as I have stated I am prepared to do just about anything for apppropriate financial remuneration. Working in the parks in summertime? That would be, well, a walk in the park. I am not above picking up leaves and emptying bins. Provided with the right PPE, I would do more than that.
All went well. I was given the description and the application form. The group session was fine, as was my interview, and everything looked to be in place for the start date. I had filled in the medical form, giving details of my asthma and hayfever since those may temporarily affect my ability to do the job. Both are controlled with medication, and I was not unduly worried that it would prevent an offer of work forthcoming. I also noted that, in my teens, I had had a problem with my knee.
When I say that I walk everywhere, I mean that I walk everywhere. Shanks’s Pony. Having lived in Glasgow for nine years, I know my way about. My feet are cheaper and often faster than public transport, especially in the centre of town at rush hour. I currently live four miles from the heart of town, and I regularly walk home – it keeps me vaguely fit, it gives me thinking time, and it allows me to avoid the overpriced fares, slow maneouvring, and BO stench of public transport. I know all of the landmarks on the way, and can make it home in forty-five minutes or an hour.
This was of no interest to your organisation, who dismissed my application out of hand on the grounds that “the job involves a lot of walking and bending.” I had no opportunity to plead my case, although I asked to do so. It seemed, and seems, ridiculous to me that – in the interest of full disclosure – I managed to lose a job based on something that affected me seventeen years ago. There have been no recurring problems, no adverse side effects, and although it was over half of my life ago, I felt it best to be honest. The more I see of the world, the more I discover that honesty is rarely rewarded.
The Work Programme, it appears, will use the flimsiest pretext to keep somebody on their books. Whatever your motives might be, you would not allow me to appeal against the decision to not employ me – even though I was fit for the job, willing, and capable.
To your credit, you did find me work once. Unfortunately, it was an absolute farce that ended up costing me money. You claim ignorance and innocence, of course, and I cannot prove that you knew the full details – but somebody did, and we were stitched up properly.
The agency Manpower were recruiting on behalf of the Royal Mail, looking for Christmas staff. The hoops were all jumped through – meetings, application form-filling sessions, interviews, all the usual. As is standard, start dates were promised and changed, hopes were raised, postponed, dashed, and then finally – miracle of miracles – a contract was signed.
Throughout, your advisors assured us that this would be a few months of work – starting in November, and ending around March. Perfect! Four months of guaranteed work, regular hours, steady wages. Chance would have been a fine thing.
Off we went, me and (conversations revealed) a dozen or more others all from the Work Programme. In came the mail cages, lined up in neat rows, and the sacks were emptied. Small parcels were sorted into first and second class, with additional cages for foreign mail and bulkier parcels. There was a high turnover of work, a fast-paced environment where any delay caused congestion and build-ups as more lorries arrived and were unloaded.
It had been drilled into us, through you, that the best way to be kept on was to keep our heads down and work hard. I wanted to be kept on. Very quickly, I stepped up and began emptying the front cages in the row, into the sorting trays for others to separate, removing the empty cages and replacing them with full cages from behind. I ran the risk of being told to get back to doing the same work as the others, but instead I was instructed to continue. My job, then, became to keep the work flowing for everybody else – often I was left unattended, relied upon to shuttle cages around neatly, quickly, and efficiently. I emptied front cages, replaced them, and broke them down, before returning to do the same again. Every night I broke sweat, a fact regularly commented on by my supervisor, and I noticeably lost weight while working there. I am not clear how much harder I could have worked. I was determined to prove my worth, and in truth I enjoyed the job and the responsibility.
The work tailed off as Christmas approached, and on Thursday the 22nd we were sent home early and told to await a phone call. On the Friday, an hour before my shift was due to start, I ended up calling the agency to find out if I had a job to go to, or not. The answer, given rather curtly, was not. This four months of work had ended after seventeen days, at zero notice, on Christmas weekend.
Do you know anything about the infrastructure of the Department Of Work And Pensions? Or how it relates to Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit? You see, it is entirely possible that you can work enough to lose all of your benefits, without earning enough to cover your rent and bills. By the time I added up my earnings and took into account all of my outgoings, I owed my landlord just over a hundred pounds. It cost me money to work. And to work, as I have tried to demonstrate, remarkably hard.
Please remember, here, that “benefits” is not the bad word that the Conservatives and the Daily Mail would like you to believe. Housing Benefit in particular is available to those who are in work but on low-paid jobs, and if we were to stop and think about it then perhaps we would realise that work should pay enough to exist on without subsidy. Benefits, too, are drawn from the pool of money to which every person who has paid tax has contributed. We have all paid this money so that, in times of crisis or when there are insufficient jobs, we can claim some of it back and not be utterly destitute. It is a stop-gap, and I personally am angered that it is seen as shameful to briefly rely on a fund into which I have paid, and which I will pay into again once I find my feet. If we could get away from the propaganda for a minute, perhaps the truth would become evident.
The Work Programme expressed, or feigned, sympathy at my predicament. They had not known, they claimed, that the job would end so abruptly. It is my firm belief that somebody knew. Manpower could not have been less interested, although they did invite me to a meeting to discuss the issue. As it was one of their own who had been so ignorant and rude to me on the phone, I put little faith in their desire to actually pursue anything against him. My suspicions were correct, and the branch manager wrote to me on headed notepaper. As I was certain to get nowhere with it, and as she had printed her reply upside-down on the headed paper, I decided to write an entirely facetious letter of complaint. You can read it on my blog if you are interested.
The Work Programme, then, on the sole occasion it actually helped me into employment, left me financially worse off and more demoralised than I had been to start with.
This experience with the Royal Mail made me realise that my most recent advisor was effectively just a big drink of water, a streak of piss with no substance to him. Unbelievably, I was relieved to return to my original advisor, the one who had walked into a pillar on my first day there. We had spent much of the time since at loggerheads, until she miraculously revealed herself to be human after all on the back of this debacle.
We found a new understanding, something almost akin to friendship insofar as two people on opposite sides of your desk can be in any way “friends.” She sympathised, she almost empathised, and she changed tack. It is possible she now saw just how and why I feel so defeated by the entire process, and there was no hiding the strength of my desire to be in work and out of this situation. She enjoyed reading the very cheeky letter I had sent Manpower, and passed it round the office. In truth, that was the most that I had hoped to achieve with it.
She no longer works for [company name redacted], she left while I was in employment the second time. That was three months in a call centre which you provided no help in finding.
I have had other advisors too – the one who redrafted my CV for me and found the alleged window-fitting vacancy. You did not renew his contract.
There was the big guy that I have seen twice in two years, several months apart. There was the hard-faced woman who would not even given you the steam off her mince and tatties. There was the tall incompetent guy who had persuaded me about the benefits of the Royal Mail gig. He shrunk away quite fast after that, and has fastidiously avoided eye contact ever since. There have been various people who have turned up long enough to discuss specific jobs that have (of course!) never come to anything – one for the call centre fiasco (I will get to that) and one for the landscaping.
My most recent advisor has been comparatively helpful, revealing herself to be very human after a bumpy start. She sees that I do not need my hand held, and that this string of incompetence and falsely-raised hopes has coloured my vision of you and all who work for you.
The first time we met, she asked – as so many before her have – about my background, qualifications, and why I felt I was not in work. I asked her if she was joking, adding an expletive that I shall not include here for fear of undermining my point. The pair of us were stand-offish from the beginning, her wanting to know why I was being so sullenly defensive, and me demanding to know why she did not just read my file, which must surely by now contain every last detail.
Slowly, I began to explain everything that I have detailed here so far, and she accepted the reason for my demeanour. Once we got past that, we developed a healthy working relationship, although I am fully aware of the irony of using the word “working” here. If I was working, I would never have had to speak to her nor attend your utterly worthless organisation.
The Work Programme is a great place for meeting new people, and then being forced to explain your entire life story to each of them in turn – even to the ones that you only see once. If i ever see a job vacancy advertising for somebody to be a parrot, I will apply. You have given me a great deal of experience in repeating myself.
One of my many temporary advisors went to great lengths to make a local job fair seem appealing. He told me how wonderful an opportunity it would be, and I suspect that he could see my cynicism. I am past being able to hide it well, especially not within the walls of your office.
Credit to him, he was brilliant at selling all of the points and making it sound like a helpful and useful thing. Unfortunately for him, I did not appreciate his subterfuge and he had to resort to telling me explicitly that it was mandatory. I will not go into further detail here, I wrote a couple of blogs about it.
The Work Programme is a place where advisors try to disguise the compulsory nature of its role by making it appear like they are doing you a favour.
Another bone of contention with my original advisor came at the point when I was instructed to attend a fortnight of training in your call centre.
The training facility is in a place most accurately described as the middle of nowhere. It is a secret location reached only by taking two buses, in the kind of area where you can watch a man enthusiastically punching another man’s head in broad daylight. Once you alight from the bus, and walk a mile in the wrong direction, you will find a petrol station. Upon entering, you will be asked if you are looking for the [company name redacted] training centre, a sure sign that everybody follows the same route. A signpost would not kill you.
Upon arrival, it quickly became apparent that I would be doing a few days of training, followed by five weeks of taking calls. This sounds less like training and more like work. My argument, and I did argue, is that if it looks like work and it feels like work, then it is work and should be paid at a legal wage. Forty hours a week for seventy pounds does not equate to anything close to the minimum hourly amount set out in law.
While I was debating this with my advisor and with my trainer, I received a phone call from a friend (and sometimes casual employer) who posited that, instead of working for the Work Programme for nothing, I could go and work for his company for nothing instead – and at least be in the industry that I trained for.
This is a problem in my industry, everybody wants you to break your back in return for “experience” because it “looks good on your CV” – neither of which pay the bills. I did my time in that capacity, as did virtually every student on any kind of technical theatre degree. You quickly learn that the only thing it is good for on your CV is showing that you will work for nothing. Experience shows that, the less money that is involved in a given production, the more hassle you will have to put up with. Therefore, I decided a long time ago that my skills, knowledge, and experience are worth something. I do not work for nothing, be it for a call centre or for a chancing mate.
These points, eloquently put, convinced my advisor that the call centre was not for me. In the end, I found a job in a call centre of my own accord, and without mention of this episode.
Around the time I was removed early from your training programme, [details about a potential job offer redacted] It would be full-time, permanent, and paid at ten pounds per hour. It sounded ideal, not least because permanent jobs rarely turn up, and it offered everything that I wanted in a career – my industry, in an established firm, with job security and plenty of variety. There was, of course, one catch. It was being created using the Commonwealth Jobs Fund.
I did not meet the criteria to apply for a job that was virtually created with me in mind. The funding they applied for had an upper age eligibility of twenty-five, and I was thirty. I asked my advisor to check for loopholes, I called the council to find out if there was any leeway, I even wrote to my local MP to see if he would intervene. He did not reply, the council refused to consider my plea, and my advisor ran out of options. The job went to somebody else. He still works there.
My advisor’s best solution was to suggest that I go in to the office, speak to them in person, and offer to undercut the wage they were offering. The funding required that the position be created and paid at a living wage, the company were offering more than that, and I was advised to go in and say that I would accept less than the obligatory amount required by the funding small print.
This is the Work Programme, where my time and abilities have no value. The Work Programme, who could not help me to obtain a job that would have seen me in steady employment for the rest of my working life. A job that I was crying out to be allowed to merely apply for, but which I was denied by bureaucracy. The Work Programme – utterly impotent when it comes to having any say in anything that might have offered me a way out.
The problem with having so many advisors is that, among other things, they gave conflicting advice. I am entitled to ILA funding of two-hundred pounds, which I can use for one of a variety of courses.
What these courses are is a mystery, the website would let me search if I knew what I was searching for, but had no option to see what was available. There were no affordable joinery or welding qualifications, and I was told that upholstery was too niche (and again too expensive) for it to be viable. It was recommended that I get my CSCS card. This was duly booked, and cancelled, and booked, and cancelled again.
Later, I was informed that I would only be eligible for the most basic CSCS card, which would allow me on site to be a labourer and nothing else. To be a joiner, I would need to apply for another (or a different) card. I do not possess the joinery qualifications for that, and was dissuaded from acquiring the basic card as there is no pressing need for another entry-level site labourer in the construction industry.
Another advisor figured that I should apply for my SIA badge, and look for security or door work. He told me that it has a respectable number of vacancies just now, and that makes sense to me – as more people have less money, crime is bound to increase, and it seems logical to hire people to guard your property if you have it. I actually tried to apply to join the police, figuring that when the rioting starts I would prefer to be on the side with the weaponry, but as that industry is suffering from cutbacks and seeing the amalgamation into one unified force, they were not hiring at the time. I also considered the fire service, but my asthma makes me a liability.
With conflicting advice as to what would actually prove useful for me, and with interruptions as I left to work for seventeen days or when members of staff departed for pastures new, my ILA funding remains unused. I am still no clearer as to what I should use it for anyway. There was once talk of some new brewery-sponsored hospitality management thing. However, as so often with the Work Programme, it remained just talk. It never transpired into anything even vaguely approaching useful.
Speaking of massive wastes of my time, the one thing you are truly outstanding at, I think the pinnacle was the three hours you killed for me earlier this year.
I spent the last quarter of 2012 working in a call centre, a job which I sourced, applied for, and got, without your help. Unlike your call centre, this one was willing to pay me at the rate demanded by the government. I signed off, and went to work. It was a joyous time, the sun rose every morning and lit the world in a bountiful feast of colour. Birds whistled gaily overhead, small children skipped and laughed in the streets, and there was good cheer throughout the land. The girls were pretty, the guys were handsome, the food never tasted so sweet, and everything just felt right with the world. A general contentment settled upon me, and instead of simply existing I suddenly felt alive.
There is a small chance that I am romanticising here, but you get the gist.
I was amongst the first to be let go after Christmas. They took on in excess of six-hundred people, and could not sustain that level of employment. The company handle a lot of contracts, and a few months later I received a call from the Work Programme. An opportunity had arisen, and I was invited to attend your offices for a guaranteed telephone interview. There would, I was told, be an online aspect to the application, followed by the interview. It sounded simple, and easy. I gratefully accepted and headed in as arranged.
The online part, it turned out, involved filling in the appropriate form on the company website. Had I known, I would have done this in advance at home. I object to being made to use your computers, as I am reluctant to enter any personal details without knowing how secure my data is. Furthermore, in the course of completing one form (as it happened, the company had my details stored on file, all I had to do was log in and update my employment history accordingly) your computer system crashed three times. It was bad enough being forced to use your system, without having to suffer further by repeatedly waiting for the thing to reboot. A small mercy, I suppose, is that the majority of my form was already there for retrieval. Had I begun from scratch, I might still be there today, cursing the slow and unreliable nature of your terminals.
Having completed this aspect, and with my teeth now ground to a fine powder, it was time for a presentation. Hurrah, the Work Programme has discovered Powerpoint! Having emerged raring to go after submitting the form, I was instead treated to thirty minutes of the most tedious and uninspiring slides, described in monotonous detail by an advisor I had never previously encountered. He took my enthusiasm and deftly eroded it with pointless facts about the vocal cords, body language, and an illustration of the brain stem. Quite why this key part of the central nervous system was pictured is beyond me – I associated it in my head with Chris Morris’s brilliant satire “Brass Eye” and imagined that I was listening instead to Noel Edmonds describing the part of the brain called Shatner’s Bassoon. If you get that reference, you will know that Cake is a made-up drug.
When all of the energy had been unceremoniously drained from me, and with no acknowledgement that I had passed a telephone interview for the same company a few months previously, it was time to be interviewed. All I had to do was wait for twenty other people to be interviewed ahead of me, averaging ten minutes per call, and with only two phones available. What could be easier? Or less exciting? Good thing I was not in a hurry.
The advisor, another newcomer, took the phone from the person before me, and guided me along a corridor into a private room. He spoke to the interviewer, wished me luck, and handed me the unpleasantly greasy communal mobile.
The interviewer took my name, confirmed that I had worked for the company before, and accessed my file. She relayed the information visible to her – next to my name, where it asked “rehire?” it said “no.” Thus began my very long walk back to find the advisor, to present his confused face with the phone. I was as delighted as I am now being sarcastic at having so much of my afternoon wasted. A little advance research could have saved hours of our time, and saved you the cost of my travel expenses. What is four quid, though, if it keeps me occupied for half a day and permits you to check off the necessary paperwork?
I am no clearer as to why I was refused employment with them, by the way. To find out, I need to put my request in writing and post it to the operations manager. Rather than highlight myself in this way, I will continue to live in ignorance. My boss only ever spoke to me to praise my performance, with relative frequency and without prompting, and so I am confident that I conducted myself in a satisfactory manner. It must be some clandestine company policy that prevents me from reapplying so soon after being let go.
The Work Programme provides computers that are slower than a week in the jail, and which crash more than the average joyrider. The unnecessary (in my case) pre-interview training would render the most alert man catatonic, delivered as it was by an advisor unafraid of maintaining a speaking drone that failed to change in pace, pitch, or tone.
This is where I envisaged ending what has hopefully been an enlightening, if not altogether positive, insight into the Work Programme. However, there has been a development in the days since I began composing this essay.
I received a call on Friday, from another unknown advisor, alluding to some joinery work that has come in. The Hydro is behind schedule, and this new national venue requires carpenters immediately. It cannot open its doors as planned if those doors are not yet hung.
I was instantly wary, having observed and suffered so many pitfalls before now. He tried to allay my fears: it would not matter that I am not carded, no CSCS is required; I do not require a driving license, provided I can get my tools to the site; it is full-time paid work, for a few months.
I have zero faith in your staff or in their ability to actually find or help me into employment. However, I am in no position to turn down work, regardless of how unlikely it is to transpire. I agreed that he could pass my number on, listening to and then obeying his instruction to keep my phone switched on and nearby for the rest of the day. Unsurprisingly, the call never came. It never came on Monday either. I will chase it up on Tuesday, but I will not hold out much hope. Having singularly failed to help me while I was obliged to attend the Work Programme, logic dictates that you are even less likely to be of use now I have left.
I find it difficult to believe that a venue as high-profile as the Hydro is willing to take on emergency staff not in possession of the relevant safety qualification. [Edit: they weren’t. I was misinformed, unsurprisingly.] If they are, then it begs the question as to what purpose the thing serves in the first place – “you must have a safety card, unless we are pushed for time.”
My inclination is that this work will be uncontracted, with joiners booked on a week-to-week or even day-by-day basis. This is at odds with how the DWP operates – to sign off is a huge gamble, if there is no guaranteed number of hours per week. Work too little, and you cannot pay the bills. Work for just a fortnight and there is a chance you will end up losing three weeks of Housing Allowance. I have been stung twice before, once of my own accord and once with your help. I am unwilling to risk being stung again – I am unable to afford to live as it is, without accruing further debt and arrears.
I chased up this offer of employment, but my advisor could not tell me who had called me, and insisted that you do not have any contracts with The Hydro. She promised to investigate, aware of all the concerns I have listed above. It proved to me that I was correct to no longer raise my hopes on the back of anything you tell me. You have never achieved anything on my behalf.
To conclude, this has been the feedback you requested. It details, or addresses, every complaint that springs to mind when I think back over the past 730 days during which we have been acquainted. Two full years of empty promises, false hope, incompetence, ignorance, and downright inconvenience. I leave in exactly the same position as I started, only more bitter and jaded. You have achieved absolutely nothing, in my interest at least. You have wasted your money, you have wasted our time, and, since that first day when my future advisor walked into the pillar, nobody has even had the good grace to make me laugh.
I doubt that you will reply to any of this – for a start, it is going to take somebody an afternoon just to read it all. There is nothing you can really say anyway, save for a stock response about “taking my feedback on board.” If all you have is a stock response, please do not send me it.
Oh, your questionnaire asked, if I recall correctly, how likely I am to recommend the Work Programme to others. Not at all likely.
Not at all.
Glasgow, August 2013
References, listed on embracetheabsurdity.wordpress.com
Losing the parks job: https://embracetheabsurdity.wordpress.com/2012/02/20/hello-world-you-are-absurd/
An overview of the Work Programme: https://embracetheabsurdity.wordpress.com/2012/03/16/the-work-programme-doesnt-really-work/
Mandatory jobs fair attendance, and driving license funding: https://embracetheabsurdity.wordpress.com/2012/04/26/free-to-do-as-youre-told/
Why the jobs fair was useless: https://embracetheabsurdity.wordpress.com/2012/04/27/further-down-the-spiral/
Follow-up post about G4S and the jobs fair: https://embracetheabsurdity.wordpress.com/2012/07/22/the-work-programme-still-not-working/
I love a good practical joke, and it is that shared sense of cameraderie and physical humour which has always drawn me to working backstage and in related environments.
It is especially easy to get up to mischief when you have creative skills or the access to them. Very light things can be made to look identical to very heavy things, for example. One theatre I worked in has a polystyrene stage weight which – from a distance – is indistinguishable from the real thing. I had been there for a while before I saw it used, when the technical manager carried it level with the genuine weight in his other hand. He lowered and gently dropped the real one, then looked up and casually tossed the fake to the visiting production manager. I still remember the latter’s reaction, and am laughing at the recollection.
When I was studying, the lead carpenter convinced the designer that she should step inside the coffin they had built. He even managed to explain away the reason for placing the lid on top, and by the time the other guys had begun screwing it in position it was too late for her to do anything but accept the fact.
Those are my favourite jokes, the daft ones that involve everyone. No victimisation, no malice, just inclusive good fun. Today it is you dribbling juice on yourself because somebody pierced a hole near the top of your soda bottle. Tomorrow it is me trying to retrieve my hooded top, from its position tied to a flying bar stationed eight-feet above a freshly-painted stage floor.
The very best jokes, though, are the ones that are set up months or perhaps years in advance. Sometimes you do not even see the pay-off, but if someone else does then it is all worthwhile. I know of a theatre workshop which houses five identical adjustable spanners, one of which is plastic and came from a childrens play set. Its handle is taped and spraypainted in line with the real articles, and it was to my delight that I once witnessed a visiting crew member rush in and grab the kid-on one. A rare occurrence, but they keep it there just for that chance moment and I love that.
I consider myself pretty canny, not least because my keen wit means I instigate at least as many japes as I am party to. It is still possible to catch me out though. Recently, during a day working in the Care Home set of a local soap opera, my colleague (a permanent staff member there) asked me to open the door at one end of the room. I was suspicious – his ruse was not completely believable – but I was willing to play along. When I pulled the door handle I discovered that it, and the frame into which it was built, was a standalone unit. It is just a door in a frame, which can be positioned against any blank wall to give the illusion of further access points. “I love getting people with that,” he told me.
My birthday is in September, and one of my closest friends now lives next door to me. When I returned from running an errand on the day, I found that she had been busy in my absence. The dying bunch of flowers which had been destined for her bin were instead seconded and used as decoration. They joined a scribbled note which proclaimed “oontz” once in lipstick and ten more times in ink. When I walked into our close, the first thing I had noticed was the candle lightbulb on the floor. She had added it because it looked “industrial” (the type of music that we met through the love of), but its weight had defeated the sellotape used to attach it. I laughed hard at her efforts, and appreciate them more than she maybe knows.
Within a week, I had decided how to get her back. I hit upon something simple, easy, and guaranteed to entertain her – all I had to do was wait until Christmas. For three long months I held on, not daring to share my plan with anybody in case word got back to her. If you know me at all, you know that I can be trusted to keep your most precious secret safe for eternity. However, I find it very difficult not to share jokes, laughter, funny stories, or any other form or source of wit. I can be the worst conspirator, as I find it hard to keep a straight face at times – especially in the final build-up.
Weeks and months passed, during which I hinted that her door would be attacked at Christmas time. I knew that she would never expect what I had in mind, and I bluffed by attaching a tacky foil wreath to her door while she was out one day. Finally, after the longest time, I was able to enact my plan. I took the necessary measurements, prepared everything, then quietly set to work. On the morning of the 25th of December, the entrance to her flat looked like this:
Sadly, she did not respond to my knocks. I had to carefully peel up the bottom right corner, chap, and then quickly tape it back down before she answered. She did not answer, and I had to leave before she eventually emerged. I had wanted to capture her reaction on video, but I would not have seen it anyway, hidden behind a wall of paper – paper that she had already described as “the gayest” (she was with me in the shop when I bought it, haha. There is unsuspecting for you.)
Today, late on Boxing Day, I finally saw her. She said that it took her by surprise, as she only saw it as she was running out the door. She told me that she burst through it by punching her way out of it, which I regret not seeing. Like I noted above, though, my favourite jokes are the ones which take time to set up and which work whether they are seen by others or not.
I am certain that, upon posting this, I will remember other examples from my eighteen years in and around the industry. It is hard not to love a job, or hobby, which allows you such a degree of fun in the breaks while you are otherwise conducting yourself professionally. Just do it, lighten your co-workers’ life. Or your friend’s, or anybody else’s. Smile and the world smiles with you. It does not take much to brighten your day.
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.
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.
My tongue-in-cheek letter of complaint to the local supermarket. Submitted via their website. They have since replied.
I enjoy the range of fresh sandwiches that is generally available from my local store. A particular favourite is the recently-introduced “meat feast” sub roll, a hearty and satisfying combination of meats, cheese, sauce, and salad.
It certainly seems to be a popular choice. As often as not there are none of this specific sandwich left on the shelf when I call in for whatever messages I have decided to populate my fridge and cupboards with. You can imagine my delight today when, with a hankering for just such a concoction, I discovered one lone remaining “meat feast” in the chiller cabinet. I deftly transferred it to the basket in my hand, and proceeded to do the rest of my shopping.
I would not say that I was in your shop a terribly long time, and when I returned home some minutes later – I live in very close proximity to your store – I put the sandwich straight in the fridge, along with other chilled and perishable goods.
With the sandwich safely in my possession, carefully stowed in a cool environment, I went about my business until the moment when hunger struck. I let the pangs build, until my longing to satisfy the craving was beyond control. Then, and only then, did I retrieve this delicious morsel from its chilled home – and that is, sadly, where it all went wrong.
The sticker on the front of the packaging alerts me, proudly, to the fact that it was “prepared in store.” Unfortunately, it does not suggest precisely when this might have been. Judging by how stale the bread was, I would imagine that it was prepared some time in the past fortnight. What crushing disappointment!
I had dreamt of that sandwich, I had held off to the very last moment to savour it, and here it taunted me by being virtually impenetrable. Not wishing to cause myself the need for expensive dental work, I did not immediately bite into the end of the roll. Rather, I used it to hammer in a couple of nails in the hope that that might soften it sufficiently to render it edible. No such luck.
The filling was every bit as tasty as I had imagined, I was just saddened that I had to remove it from the normally-delectable sub roll in order to consume it. The bread roll was a write-off, unfit for purpose and swiftly consigned to the rubbish bin. To clarify, that is the bin for rubbish – it is not in itself a rubbish bin. It is actually a very good bin, which has served me well and which I am as fond of as any sane person can reasonably claim to be fond of a refuse receptacle.
I am no scientist, but I find it difficult to believe that the roll achieved this level of staleness in the time between it leaving your fridge and entering mine. I admit that it was the first thing that I put in my basket, but taking it for a stroll around your shop should not have induced such rapid onset of inedibility. Similarly, two or possibly three hours in my refrigerator ought not to have adversely affected it in this way.
I did consider returning it to the store in question, but I am not in the habit of taking sandwiches for walks. Certainly not twice in one day, as that is a level of commitment beyond which I feel mere food deserves.
Equally, I felt no compulsion to confront your staff with the decimated remains of a rock-hard lunchtime meal. There is only so much sympathy one can expect to elicit in such circumstances. I am also a regular customer of yours, and saw no need to embarrass myself by indignantly brandishing a stale roll while loudly demanding my two-pounds-fifty back.
When it comes to purveyors of traditional lunchtime fare, my local area is very well served. I placed my faith in your ability to provide a worthy alternative to the options available from nearby bakers and food chains. You have let me down.
Please have a word with your quality control department, to ensure that supposedly fresh goods are indeed fresh. Had I accidentally dropped that sandwich on a small child, I could easily have killed him or her. As it was, I was grateful that I had elected to wear my steel-toecapped boots. Who knows what injuries your stale sandwich could have inflicted, had I not taken such precautions. Broken toes, cracked legs, structural damage to the floorboards – it hardly bears thinking about.
In conclusion, the bread was stale and I threw it in the bin. The rest of this letter was written with humour, to make you smile. Let me know if I succeeded.
Read their reply here.
I love this city. Although I was born and brought up some eleven miles away, I quickly realised upon moving here that I was always Glaswegian – I had just been trapped elsewhere for twenty-three years. This is the best, although sometimes the worst, city in the world, and I cannot imagine living anywhere else. I would miss the people, their sense of humour, and the civic pride. See, the people of Glasgow love Glasgow. This was demonstrated beautifully earlier today.
Glasgow embraces its flaws, like the fact the Science Centre Tower is destined to never properly function. This trait is even summed up in the city’s coat of arms, as one of my friends brought to my attention: Here’s the bird that never flew, Here’s the tree that never grew, Here’s the bell that never rang, Here’s the fish that never swam. Supposed to depict miracles performed by Saint Mungo, it instead just sounds like a host of things that do not quite work. Further, there are areas of this city where there is no work at all, since the decline of heavy industry, yet people are quick to come together when the things we love are challenged.
This has been demonstrated recently, with the announcement of plans to renovate George Square. I remember the square before its transformation into how it looked for the past fifteen years – it was a green and leafy place in the heart of the city, the kind of place where somebody could steal the baby Jesus from the nativity scene. It then became a vast expanse of reddish-brown and bobbly tarmac – which led to me writing a joke about standing in the middle of it and kidding on you are a Borrower in the centre of a huge square sausage. “It’s great fun, until some junkie hits you with the brown sauce.”
The proposed changes were quickly condemned and subsequently dropped, with the consensus being that – if alterations were to be made – then it should be restored to how it was previously. Fancy fountains are all well and good, but the last thing Glasgow needs is a water feature. We have one already, suspended in grey clouds that regularly deposit their load upon us. Today, civic sensibility again won out – this time with regard to the Duke of Wellington’s traffic cone hat.
A fixture upon his head for so long that it has become a cultural icon, adorning clothing and postcards and making it into a Lonely Planet guidebook, there was outrage when it was suggested that the practice should end. The intention was to raise the plinth by about a metre, making it harder for people to place the cone upon Wellington’s head. “Challenge accepted” was one response I read.
I happened to catch this news story as it broke, courtesy of the Twitter feed of Brian “Limmy” Limond. He had gone through the original STV article, highlighting certain phrases and drawing attention to the instigator of this ill-considered idea. Rachel Smith, he discovered via LinkedIn, hails from Edinburgh. There is famously no love lost between our cities, and a great divide in our cultures and senses of humour.
Meanwhile, word was spreading. My wee cousin linked to a petition that was set up (currently at nearly 10,000 signatures), which called for a re-think and linked to the Lonely Planet article mentioned above. Comedian Greg Hemphill got involved, mentioning drily how every Glaswegian loves being told what they can and cannot do. Then I saw an unintentionally hilarious post, from someone bemoaning the raising of the “Duke of Ellington” statue. I took that and used it, complaining with tongue in cheek that I “Can’t believe they’re gonna stop you putting a cone on Duke Ellington’s head. That’s totally racist.”
Duke Ellington is not the Duke of Wellington, and Jack Skellington is also someone different.
An English friend pointed out that Wellington’s Cone is the one sight she remembers from her visit here, while comedian Jim Park announced that “The Duke of Wellington DID wear a traffic cone on his head at the Battle Of Waterloo, so there is a compelling historical argument.” Over on Facebook, groups were being set up to protest the decision, and a demonstration was hastily arranged for the next working day.
On there, as on the petition page, people were questioning the estimated cost of £65,000 for the work involved. Various graphics appeared, supplying departmental phone numbers and email addresses for registering discontent. This money could be better spent fixing potholes, funding community projects, or as a donation to the Philippines Disaster Fund. The article claimed that it costs £100 a time to remove the cone, which was disputed on the petition page and which outraged Limmy.
The original article was posted, according to the STV site, at 13:07. The outrage and humour flew on social media, with it being regularly mentioned that the cone embodies the defiant spirit of fun that permeates our city’s attitude. It’s part of our “get it up ye” culture, proclaimed Janey Godley.
Having casually followed the general outcry for most of the afternoon, by 22:56 the game was over. The BBC published an article describing the day’s events, in which they claimed the council is very likely to back down. It seems a sensible move, from a governing body that uses on its own website an image of the very thing they wish to ban. Amazingly, the statue (with cone) appears to be listed there at the very top of a section headed Objects Of Inspiration. I mean, really. This shower of dunces should be made to wear conical hats themselves.
In fact, if you have a cone of your own handy, the demonstration tomorrow will now be a celebration. I love that too, that we are all going to get together anyway and just celebrate the cone on the statue’s head. It is the mentality that appeals to me – an outpouring of shared affection for one of the most endearing sights in the town centre. A triumph for common (non)sense.
There you go. One afternoon was enough to (almost certainly) reverse a new policy – that is fast work, the vocal majority reminding the cooncil to stop messing with things that make Glasgow Glasgow. If only it was always this quick and easy.
Here is a short video clip Limmy made eight years ago, in which he plays an east-coaster who has come through to Glasgow just to see the statue with the cone. There is no cone to be seen, leaving our hero confused and disappointed.
STV (via Limmy)
Change.org (via Rachael)
Glasgowlife.org.uk (Stu Who via Eddy Cavin)
Twitter and Facebook (Limmy, Greg Hemphill, Jim Park, Janey Godley, Lauren, John McLarnon, Gary Cassidy, Ray Bradshaw, Ailsa Comrie)
Coat of arms observation: Sarah Crone