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.