Irrational Encounters With The Modern World

Letter

A Delivery Company Who Just Don’t Deliver.

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.”

record mailersAbove: 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?

UK Mail screengrab

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.

[Signed, me]

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.

uk mail not foundAbove: This is what happened when I tried to reschedule. In the red-lined box is a photo of the card I received. I have blacked out my postcode but be assured I entered it correctly.

 

 

 

 


Customer Dissatisfaction Is Virgin Territory

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

Dear Mr Farress, “Customer Relations Consultant”,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yours,

[Me]

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

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

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

 

 


Like A Virgin, Train Cancelled For The Second Time.

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.

DSC_3208Above: The passport and jacket at the centre of this tale.

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?”
“Aye.”

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.

Virgin letter - second replyAbove: Their brief and misspelled reply. Read my response to it and them here.

 

 


Going Off The Rails On Virgin Trains

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

Dear Virgin On The Ridiculous,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ASAP.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I await your response.

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

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

 

 


A Nice Meal And An Unwanted Free Gift.

I went to a local restaurant last week, and managed to get a skelf (depending on your location, also known as a splinter, spelk, or sliver) in the bend of my thumb. It came from the chair I was sitting on, but as my working life has involved moving lots of timber I was unphased. I have had and removed dozens of skelfs. This being the case, I sent the establishment a very tongue-in-cheek email about it – as always, for my own amusement. I half thought they might offer me a voucher of some kind, but instead they have neglected to reply.

Here is the letter I wrote:

I was in for a family meal on Tuesday night (9th September), and we were seated at tables opposite a banquette. At one point, in order to facilitate the duties of our waitress, I reached down to grasp my chair in order to move it forward – allowing her access between the chair backs and the wall.

Unfortunately, during this process of intended helpfulness, I felt a sharp pain in my right thumb. Without doubt, I got a deep skelf from your furniture. It went straight into the interphalangeal joint, a term I had to look up because hand anatomy is not my speciality, and I did not mention it at the time as I thought I had managed to successfully remove it.

On Wednesday, with the swelling that accompanied the wound turning septic, I was able to extract the remainder of the skelf – a splinter of several millimetres length.

As this small piece of wood is technically your property, I write to ask if you would like me to return it. I kind of hope not, since it seemed a poor souvenir of a nice evening and I binned it, before realising that it did not really belong to me. I can, however, send you a photo of the skelf (both embedded and removed) if this will enable you to have a replica made and reattached to the seat.

Let me know if this is of interest to you, and please accept my apologies for not being able to return the original.

Tomorrow is Thursday, and I am hopeful that the swelling (due to its location) will go down, allowing me to fully bend my thumb without discomfort once more. I trust the chair has exhibited no serious ill-effects.

skelf in thumb

Update: The restaurant never did respond, other than to add my email address to their mailing list. When I posted this on their Facebook, it was quickly deleted. I have not been back.


Fizzing At The Wrong Name.

Dear “Coco-Colo,”

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.

Coke label

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.

council tax card

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.

Jordan.

birth cert redacted

 

 

 

 

 


Banking On The Wrong Name – Part 4.

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.

Yours,

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.

 

 

 


A Vision Of Dreadful Customer Service.

Dear Mark Ross, Chief Executive,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Specs notesAbove: Editorial piece covered in my scrawled notes.

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

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

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

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

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

Yours,

[me]

 

 


Banking On The Wrong Name – Part 3.

My initial complaint and the first follow-up (part two) can be read by clicking those links.

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:

HBOS mailed letter

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.

Yours,

Jordan R.A. Mills

(or, using the unwanted alter ego you bestowed upon me, Mr J R Mills Esq Esq)

HBOS number sent DM


Banking On The Wrong Name – Part 2.

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.”

HBOS out of office

Gloves off, let’s go.

Hi [name],

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.

Yours,

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.

HBOS Lloyds TSB Tweet


Baguette Out Of Jail Free. (A Reply)

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

Good morning.

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Kind regards,
[name redacted]

Customer Services Department
Wm Morrison Supermarkets PLC


Banking On The Wrong Name – Part 1.

Bank of Scotland Esquire esquire, missing middle initialAbove: Correspondence received, click to see it in more detail.

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.

Yours sincerely,

Jordan R.A. Mills

Bank of Scotland Tweets


Baguette Out And Don’t Come Back.

This is a light-hearted letter of complaint. Read the reply I received here.

Dear [national supermarket chain],

I have previously complained about the sandwich department of my local store, a letter which I published (along with your response) on my blog and which you retweeted. It was read over a thousand times on the back of that. In contrast, when I wrote about magician Paul Daniels cutting my head off he retweeted it and it received only a hundred or so views. Granted, it is no longer the 1980s and your name is undoubtedly now more recognisable than his, to many. You may remember the missive in question, and it remains one of the most popular things I have ever written – barring the possible documentation of a future attempt at my live on-stage decapitation by Dynamo.

Today, I was feeling a little peckish, and lazy, and browsed the selection of freshly-made sandwiches on offer at your store. I decided to opt for the age-old classic combination of beef and onion, served on a baguette and thus a handy, substantial meal fit for a king. To be clear, I am not a king and neither do I have kingly aspirations. I do, however, have an appetite and the usual skeletal and biological means of sating it.

I purchased the sandwich in the standard manner, carrying it back to my home as it was unable to walk there of its own accord, being a sandwich. I put the rest of my shopping away – I had picked up a few other items, the goal of my trip not being the sole acquisition of some ready-made lunch – and prepared to devour the delicious feast you had carefully hand-prepared. Alas, upon removing it from the protective paper wrapper I realised that something seemed fishy. Specifically, it smelled fishy, and before I took a bite I used my years of experience to my advantage. I removed the top portion of the bread, and was dismayed to find, inside, that somebody had sneakily stolen the beef and onion filling and replaced it entirely with tuna and cucumber.

Beef tuna baguetteAbove: Proof, if proof be need be.

I considered the events of the recent past. Nobody had tampered with the sandwich in my home, as I live alone (hence having time to write letters like these). I had definitely not switched the contents myself, so that ruled me out of my enquiries. Nobody had approached me walking between the shop and my house, so it seemed unlikely that the subterfuge had occurred on the journey. That meant the culprit must surely be located in the branch itself. The cashier – I believe in giving my custom to humans and not to machines, so never use the self-service checkouts that too many supermarket chains now provide – she had an honest face and I am inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt. The answer – the guilt – must surely lie with whoever made and/or labelled the product. It would not be the first time.

A couple of weeks ago, I bought an alleged “corned beef slice” which, once my teeth were in it (I mean I bit into it, I didn’t take them out and add them to the mixture inside), revealed itself to be some kind of spiced steak pastry. It was not unpleasant, but it was also not what I thought I was buying. On that occasion I did not complain, admittedly. Anyone who thinks they are buying corned beef and who instead receives steak has, in the local vernacular, won a watch. At least you managed to mix up two types of meat from the same animal. Today’s mistake was just farcical.

It raises a few concerns, which I hope you will take the time to address and answer fully. This is very important to me, as a regular customer of several years standing. Obviously I am standing (or walking) when I am in your branches, and not rolling along the aisles on my sides like a child going down a hill in a park. That would be silly and I daresay your staff would politely ask that I stop. I mean, as you will have inferred, that I have given you a lot of money over a long period of time. My questions are valid and require answers.

So, regarding this tuna and cucumber baguette which was masquerading as a far nicer beef and onion one:

– Was this an ill-timed April Fools prank? If so, the joke is on you because I bought it on the 2nd of April.

– Is your beef dolphin-friendly?

– Did you deliberately substitute tuna for beef due to worries about BSE or its human equivalent CJD? If so, in future I would rather take my chances and not have that decision made for me. You can make my sandwiches, but not my decisions.

– Were you lamenting the passing of the horsemeat scandal, and thinking that you could engineer a tuna fish scandal under the misguided belief that “no publicity is bad publicity”? I am not falling for your ruse, if so. It was blatantly tuna fish. At least the horsemeat suppliers tried to hide the fact.

– Are you participating in some programme of genetic modification which involves the breeding of underwater cattle? Do you farm tuna fish on land, putting them out to pasture and letting them graze freely? Is this how the mix-up has occurred?

As a major retailer, you will be well-versed in The Sale Of Goods Act 1979 (as amended). This clearly states that, legally, items sold must be “as described” – you are evidently in breach of this statute. I think this incident may also be covered by the Misrepresentation Act 1967, whether the misrepresentation was fraudulent, negligent, or innocent. That said, I am not a lawyer. I am just an average guy who enjoys the occasional sandwich and who is sometimes too lackadaisical to make his own.

When I do make my own sandwiches, you can be certain that there is never – never, mind you – tuna fish in them. The only fish I ever eat is battered, although I don’t think it comes out the sea that way. I can’t say, I’m no fisherman.

Having established that I am neither a lawyer nor a fisherman, I am also not a binman. This comes as some relief to me at the present time, as that sandwich is going to start reeking soon. It went straight in the refuse, uneaten. Nice try, but you never got me.

As I see it, you owe me £2.20 and – more importantly – a series of answers to the questions I have asked. You can reply with your tongue in your cheek – I welcome that – but you can’t sell me hidden tuna fish in your sandwiches. I won’t stand for it, and that’s not an opportunity for you to bring out a chair.

I await your response with interest – quite a high level of interest, but not in the financial sense.

Yours sincerely,

[me]

Beef tuna tweetsAbove: Where the fun started.

 

 

 

 

 

 


The Work Programme And Me – 13 Pages Of Witty Hate

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.

[paragraph redacted]

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.

[paragraph redacted]

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.

[me]
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/

 

 


Creative Correspondence – A Reply.

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

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

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

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

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

supermarket DMs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fair play, Morrisons. Fair play.

 

 


Substandard Sandwiches.

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.

 

 


T-Mobile, Truly Mannerless.

I wrote a letter of complaint to T-Mobile, and was then given conflicting information about how to send it to them. Eventually, when my email bounced back and they confirmed that they have no public email address, I printed my letter and sent it via Royal Mail. I also posted it on here, and linked them to it via Twitter. I disputed the amount they requested from me to settle my account, and listed the errors they had made along the way.

T-Mob DMs

They must have read both entries as published here, because they then “direct messaged” me again, this time asking that I confirm a few personal details. I did so, and they linked me to a generic page on their website, here.

T-Mob help

I had already submitted my complaint, using the address that had been provided during one of many phone calls. This information was too little, too late, and I had also taken the time to write a separate and serious missive to the company’s CEO. His name was easy to find, firstly by using a well-known search engine, and verified by calling their head office on 01707 315000. The girl on the switchboard helpfully spelled his name for me too, and you can read about Olaf Swantee’s career on their site.

Two weeks passed, largely without incident. I enquired why they had checked my identity prior to supplying a publicly-accessible link, and they apologised for wasting my time. That is genuinely what they said. I have taken a fair few screen-grabs of all this back-and-forth chat with them. In the words of Chris Morris, here is “proof, if proof be need be.”

T-Mob dealt with

I decided against picking them up on their use of the words “dealt with”, and how that could be easily misconstrued if I was in the mood to prolong the fight. The implication of that phrase is that I am some sort of pest, Perhaps I was.

Today, it is a full two weeks since we last conversed on Twitter. It is four weeks since I spoke to anybody on the phone. According to my Twitter messages, it is seventy-five days since I queried whether or not they had correctly terminated my contract, without charge. This afternoon, somebody with a north-east English accent phoned me. He asked my name, and began discussing details of my complaint. No further identity checks were undertaken, a breach in protocol that would not be tolerated in any of the call centres where I have worked.

His tone was insincere, as he offered an apology that was as empty as the rest of his conversation. He was willing to waive the small charge that had been applied, for issuing my PAC code that let me leave them. I told him he could waive the rest as well, and that I had written to the CEO. He wanted to know if I had addressed my letter to just “The CEO” or if I had put his name. I told him that I had addressed it personally, although what difference it makes was not clear to me. In truth, I forgot Olaf Swantee’s name at this point, and even his nationality, mistakenly referring to him as “the Danish guy.”

The man on the phone pursued his scripted line of defence. It seemed to centre around the outstanding balance, of about twenty pounds, being “such a small sum” that it “seems a shame to mark your credit file with it.” The implication appeared to be that I should have saved myself some hassle by just paying a fee that I do not believe I am liable for, Frankly, my credit file is already marked, and twenty quid and the involvement of T-Mobile’s appointed debt collectors is unlikely to change much either way. I have bigger creditors to contend with.

To him, repeating himself in the absence of any meaningful debate, it was still “a shame” to have that on my credit file. As for it being “such a small sum”, it certainly is a small sum when your company took in revenue of nearly six-billion pounds last year. I would almost suggest that they should take the hit, rather than me. In fact, I did suggest that. I demanded it and refused to pay.

He persevered with his rebuttal. I suddenly remembered an article that I had been sent last week, from somebody who had read these blogs. He wrote of his own experience, and somewhere in there or on some other social media site, I had noticed that EE was being investigated by the BBC’s consumer affairs programme. I brought this into play.

“I heard you were featured on Watchdog this week.”

His answer astounded me. “Every big company is on Watchdog at some point.”

“Aye, fair play. Don’t let it bother you.”

That ended our discussion. As a “gesture of goodwill”, my remaining balance was wiped clean. Given the seventy-five days of mistakes, phone calls, letters, misinformation, and poor communication, I could have asked for more and maybe should have. They got off pretty damned lightly, for all of the inconvenience they have caused. Thinking about it now, they referred me to a debt collector, smeared my credit history, and then instantly wrote the debt off when I asked them to – while simultaneously implying that it was my fault for not paying them directly.  If I really owed them that money then they put up very little resistance, all told.

To recap, T-Mobile’s shop staff admitted that their coverage is very poor in the Greater Glasgow area. Their customer service department agreed that this lack of service provision was a breach of the contract I have with them. Due to this, they released me from my contract approximately ten months early, and without financial penalty. Having then taken two goes to supply the correct PAC code, they billed me for it – a charge which was not mentioned when I asked for the full terms and conditions to be explained to me in advance. This was the charge that I disputed.

it took me two-and-a-half-months, several hours of phone calls and even more hours of writing letters, but I finally got there. If you can be bothered persevering, persevere. If you have the option to not sign up to an EE contract, take it. Sign up to almost anyone else instead.

Big Olaf has not replied to me yet. I was far more formal when I addressed him, which makes for less entertaining reading. Therefore, I have not posted that letter here. However, if he sends me any kind of reply, I will be sure to publish it for all to see. In the meantime, you can write to him too. If everyone tells him how awful his company is, he will have to take note.

T-mobile envelope

His address is: Olaf Swantee (CEO), EE Head Office, Hatfield Business Park, Hatfield Avenue, Hatfield, Hertfordshire, AL10 9BW.


T-Mobile, Terminally Misinformed.

I recently wrote a lengthy letter of complaint to T-Mobile, regarding their inability to be of any use whatsoever.

About ten days ago, having finally spoken to one of their call-centre staff, I was informed that they do not and cannot accept complaints by email. She gave me an address to post it to instead. I queried this on their website immediately, giving my name as “Sir”, and within minutes I was provided with an email address – as can be seen in the screen-grab below. If it is too small to read, click on it.

t-mob chat

Once I composed and sent my email, published on here yesterday, I was surprised when I did not receive an automatic response saying that my communication would be replied to in due course. For my own peace of mind, I asked for confirmation via their Twitter page – a screen-grab follows.

t-mob tweet

Today, I received a direct message from them which said – guess? – that no, I cannot email them.

t-mob dm

Those of you who read my letter of complaint will know that there is no easy way to condense it to Twitter’s limit of 140 characters. While I amend it to include my postal address and details of this development, prior to mailing it to them in the old-fashioned way, I am putting this here to deter any would-be customers from suffering at the hands of this backward, contradictory company.  As the idiom has it, “they couldn’t agree on the colour of shite.”

 


T-Mobile, Triggering Misery.

Account Number [redacted]

Dear T-Mobile/EE/Everything Everywhere,

I wish to complain about the service you almost provided while I was contracted to you, and the nightmarish circumstances you created when I tried to leave your shoddy excuse for a network provider.

Since T-Mobile merged with Orange to become EE, your signal is more accurately described less as Everything Everywhere and more as Nothing Anywhere. I complained about this lack of service on two or three different occasions in the past few months (via your 150 phone service – “press every number under the sun, and once you have a blister on your finger your call will eventually be answered by someone who is unable to help meaningfully.”)

I grew tired of being asked if I had an alternate number you could contact me on. I only have one phone, as it did not occur to me that your service would be so dreadful. Had it, I would have been sure to take out a second contract with another phone company, in order that you could reach me on it when my signal disappeared – as it frequently did, often in the middle of calls to you. I could invoice you for plasters purchased to cover my blistered number-pressing fingers, but I chose to waive those fees rather than speak to further incompetent members of staff.

I use the word “incompetent” advisedly.

It was confirmed in your Glasgow store that much of Greater Glasgow is suffering from poor coverage just now, as you are dismantling masts. Your shop monkey tried to take the edge off it by sympathising “even we don’t get much signal.” This was little comfort, as you may gather, and while I appreciated his attempt to sympathise it was sorely lacking.

To cut a long story short – the full version is a work-in-progress that will appear on my blog, in two or maybe three parts, with accompanying times, dates, and screen-grabs – after a dozen calls to you it was agreed that you would give me two options. Firstly, I could accept a fifteen percent discount, applied monthly until the end of my contract. My monthly bill never rose higher than twenty-five pounds, and I had zero signal to speak of. You would charge me (at most) £3.75 less per month, in return for which I could continue to suffer your appalling “service” for nearly another year? What a bargain! How about no.

Alternatively, you would release me from my contract early, having checked your systems and discovered that – yes indeed – Glasgow, the biggest city in Scotland and third biggest city in the UK, is not particularly well served by your network. That sounded far more appealing, given that you could not supply any kind of time-frame as to when your masts might actually begin working properly again. I was quickly given a PAC code, which I asked to be repeated to me as I knew how very difficult it had been to speak to somebody capable of issuing it, and I wrote it down.

At this time, having wasted three hours of my Saturday night trying to get enough signal to call you, and having been passed from department to department, I asked about the terms and conditions of transferring my number. It was explained to me, patiently enough as I made myself very aware of your procedures, that my PAC code (read and repeated for confirmation again) would be active for thirty days, and that my contract would not end until I used it. Failure to use it would see my contract remain unchanged. This seemed reasonably straightforward, and I made sure to equip myself with (I believed) all of the facts during this phonecall.

A week later, I found myself in Northern England. I went there deliberately, so it was no great surprise to find myself there. It was equally unsurprising to discover that your service/signal/network/coverage is just as bad down there. As I was there for seven days, armed with the PAC code that I had jotted down phonetically, and confirmed phonetically twice, I called into the shop of a nearby rival. Within an hour I had chosen a new phone and payment plan, agreed to their terms, and left jubilant that finally I would be able to receive calls as they were made. Hell, I could even send texts and browse online – all of the fundamental basics that you should have been supplying as contracted.

This other company informed me that my number would transfer within a few hours, maybe a few days. Four days later, I had to contact them to find out why my number had not been transferred to my new phone. The answer? You had given me an incorrect PAC code. I was condemned to keeping my old phone to hand for a longer period, until I would get back to Glasgow.

In the meantime – and really, bonus points for being utterly useless here – since being given my (evidently wrong) PAC code, you had begun sending me texts thanking me for signing up to T-Mobile. I received texts telling me all about your wonderful company which I had just left due to you not providing the service you were legally obliged to.

Once I returned home, I was met with written confirmation of my PAC code. It was different to the one I had been given verbally, and thus was not so much confirmation as new information. I duly gave it to my new supplier, who was able to use it and transfer my number accordingly. Shortly afterwards, I was able to use my existing number with my new phone, and for a brief spell all was right with the world. Then you spoiled it, as your ineptitude suggested you would.

I was sent a final bill, which contained a load of figures that seemed unwarranted. Rather than waste further hours of my life trying to contact you, and heartily sick of your inability to function anything like competently, I ignored it. I guessed that, if it was important, you would contact me again, and you did.

This time, in bold letters at the top of the page, you announced that I had an overdue balance. My account had now been disconnected from the T-Mobile network, you said, and followed “for your service to be restored, please pay the amount in full stated at the top of this letter.”

The quoted sentence is important. I did not want my service, such as it was, to be restored – and so I did not pay you any money. I did not trust you to not try and reconnect me, since – until this juncture – there was no acion on your part that instilled confidence in me.

You wrote to me again, three weeks later, an identical letter (save for the amount asked for) which opened the same way. Again, as I have no desire for you to restore my service, I did not pay “the amount stated at the top of this letter.” That said, as my hand had healed somewhat, I was willing to risk new blisters. I dialled your customer service number, and pressed all of the required keys to talk to one of your employees. She was very helpful, inasmuch as she was thoroughly unhelpful.

She went through my final bill, breaking it into its component parts. It includes a “notice period charge”, and she explained that it is the fee charged for providing me with a PAC code. I suggested I should be given a discount, since I was provided with an incorrect code and thus inconvenienced. In truth, I told her outright that I dispute that amount as at no point – during the conversation whereby I decided to leave T-Mobile – was I informed that I would be charged for doing so. It had been a lengthy conversation, given that I received my PAC code and confirmed it, while asking for all of the relevant information regarding the issuing and use of the code, and I am sure you can go back and listen to it for quality and training purposes.

I asked this new staff member for an email address, so that I could put this complaint in writing. Unbelievably, she told me that T-Mobile do not communicate by email, and I countered by asking which century you are operating in. Her argument, weak as it was, is that you prefer all complaints to be in writing and sent by post, so that you can keep them all in one place. As much as I refuse to undermine my argument by resorting to cursing, this sounds like complete bullshit.

She seemed to suggest that, rather than have my complaint sent quickly and directly, to be stored in as many locations as you wish to copy it to, making it instantly and easily retrievable, you would prefer that I type it, print it, affix a stamp, and entrust it to the Royal Mail. Perhaps your internal servers are as dubious as your network coverage? This is the only reason I can imagine which would necessitate the involvement of a postman to resolve this. Unless you have suddenly elected to support and reinvigorate the flagging reliance on their centuries-old infrastructure.

Once I thanked the girl for her assistance, having jotted down the postal address she furnished me with, I did as all modern-day endurers of appalling service do, and went online to register my disdain for your company. While there, connected to the internet by a rival company who manage to fulfil that contracted duty, I decided to find a number for your head office. I had hardly begun browsing your terrible website before a box popped up, inviting me to chat to someone. Here we go! I asked for an email address to make my complaint and – incredibly – it was immediately forthcoming, without hesitation.

tmobile

Why is it, then, that your advisors disagree on the methods of communication open to your customers? I resent being misinformed by the telephone advisor, only to be given the correct information online minutes later and without fuss.

Now, with the tools necessary to document my subjection to your poor standards and inconsistent policies, I could begin writing. I took my time, admittedly, since this is a lengthy complaint and one I wished to word well. The telephone advisor had said that she would make a note on my account, saying that I had called in and planned to discuss the amount you claim I owe. I was under the impression, perhaps misguidedly, that I had bought myself time to compose a letter worthy of all the hassle and stress you have caused me.

Today, 7th September, I received a letter from [redacted] Debt Recovery Limited. You can guess the rest, I am sure, but my account has been passed to them. The next step is that I need to contact them and explain that I am in dispute with you, regarding the amount allegedly owed. I look forward to that chat, it gives me buckets of joy repeating the same thing to so many of your employees and associates.

I propose an alternate solution.

You can immediately waive the £[redacted] “Notice Period Charge”;
You can also dismiss the outstanding amount*, in lieu of the hassle and inconvenience of addressing your repeated failings and inconsistencies;
You can re-word the opening of your standard letter, so that it does not suggest that payment of final bills will result in reconnection to your service. I am prepared to give this advice free of charge, and shall not charge a consultant’s fee for recommending it.

You will note that I have appended an asterisk(*) after mentioning the outstanding amount. Here is why:

A letter from T-Mobile, dated 02/08/13, gives the outstanding balance as £[redacted].
My final bill, dated July ’13, and a letter dated 23/08/13, both give the outstanding balance as £redacted].
This letter from [redacted] Debt Recovery Ltd claims that the balance due is £[redacted].

Prior to having spoken to them, I would expect you to clarify how much you believe me to owe your company. Although it is a moot point, as I stand by my request that you write off the amount in full and with immediate effect.

You are the worst telecommunications company I have ever encountered, unable to justify your existence or provide even the most basic of services. Not only is your network and signal provision a joke, but your staff repeatedly fail to corroborate the most fundamental information. Instead of chasing me for your mistakes, your finances would be better spent on improving your national systems and in administering training.

I anticipate a full response to this letter. Unlike you, I accept emails – although you may use Royal Mail if doing so truly is an altruistic act on your part. At the very least, I demand an explanation for your continued failings throughout this troublesome episode, and I would like it in writing (typed or joined-up) that I no longer owe you any money.

Thank you for making me waste another few hours of my life documenting all of this, yet again.

Yours insincerely (apart from the bit about waiving any amount outstanding, I am entirely sincere about that),

[me]


Instrumental Presents Of Mind.

Except where necessary, I try to avoid name-dropping while writing these blogs.

The many dubious claims to fame are deliberately chosen for being precisely that – dubious. Some of them are extremely tenuous, and the majority could have happened to anybody were the circumstances right. As far as possible, I try to avoid mentioning things that have occurred while I have been working in a professional capacity. An oft-condemned trait in the theatre industry is the tendency for everyday stage crew members to brag online about having “worked with” some star name. Working alongside, in the vicinity of, or for, are not the same as working “with” someone. Especially not if it is a touring show which only played in your venue for one night.

That said, this entry is about a nonsensical piece of writing that I wish to give a wider audience, and so I feel able to freely name the actor involved. He could have remained anonymous, but as I am quoting his joke in full it is courteous to credit the source.

Many Glaswegians will be familiar with Dean Park, either from his regular radio shows or from his comic turns on stage, most recently in pantomime. I worked on three pantomimes that he was in, and each year the cast and crew all contributed to a “Secret Santa” as we were working together over the Christmas period. Everybody draws one name from a hat, and buys that person a gift – thus, in a company of thirty people, everyone buys and receives one gift. My recipient was to be Dean.

He was playing the dame, welcoming the audience with a string of jokes appropriate to the range of ages who typically attend such shows. He told them how he was so poor growing up that one year all he got for Christmas was a dooroo-dooroo. He explained that a dooroo-dooroo is when you take an empty toilet-roll tube, put one end to your lips, and proclaim through it “dooroo dooroo!”

My gift to him, then, was in part a homemade dooroo-dooroo. I decorated a toilet-roll tube with several colours of glitter paint, making the piece of cheap cardboard look undeservingly ornate, and I fabricated a history of the instrument which I printed and enclosed. Having recently found it again on my computer, I decided to reproduce it here:

The History Of The Dooroo-Dooroo

The Dooroo Dooroo, the inside of a lavvy roll tube which one to puts to ones lips and proclaims “dooroo dooroo”, seems to have first come to prominence in late Victorian Britain. It was at this time, in the late 1800s, that parlour games first became popular as evening entertainment. Alongside parlour magic, séances, ‘Blind Man’s Bluff’ and ‘Hide the Sausage’, it became common for the landed gentry to spend hours listening to popular tunes of the day reinterpreted through this cheap and cheerful instrument. One of the most noted professional Dooroodoorooers was one Roger Twatt, who transformed himself –through his talent – from London street urchin to Prime Minister in 1898.

Queen Victoria herself was a closet Dooroodoorooer, and loved nothing more than to stand by her beloved Prince Albert’s grave once a year playing solemn songs through a gold-plated Dooroo Dooroo (this was at one time part of the treasured Crown Jewels, kept in the Tower of London, but was eventually given to India as reparations after the British gave up their colonisation of that country).

The Dooroo Dooroo has gone from strength to strength over the years. It was used throughout both world wars to keep morale up and in the absence of a bugle it could be used for Reveille. Even during the Depression of the Thirties many families made use of hand-me-down Dooroo Dooroos to keep their spirits up. In the Fifties, it gave way to the electric guitar as the basis for popular music (having been used exclusively by The Count Basie Orchestra and The Glenn Miller Band until then). Its popularity was reinstated in the Sixties, however, and it continues to feature heavily in music to this day.

Over the years the Dooroo Dooroo has proved itself a versatile instrument. It has spanned musical genres, appearing in various popular songs, in the lyrics to further songs, and even had songs written about it. From Cab Calloway’s Minnie the Moocher (“hey de hey de hey de hey, ho de ho de ho de ho, dooroo dooroo” – the final line was edited from the version that appears in The Blues Brothers), to The Beatles Love Me Dooroo Dooroo. Its highest-profile appearance must surely be in the interminable Bryan Adams hit, from Robin Hood Prince of Thieves, “Everything I Do (I Dooroo Dooroo).”

Sinatra gave it credence when, in My Way, he sang “I did what I had to Dooroo Dooroo”, and even punk act Splodgenessabounds name-checked it in their classic anthem Two Pints Of Lager (And A Dooroo Dooroo Please).

As the new owner of this limited-edition Dooroo Dooroo, we hope it gives you many hours of pleasure and that you too can help carry on the tradition of this wonderful and under-rated instrument.

empty-loo-roll-710819Above: A rudimentary dooroo-dooroo.


Feeding Back And Being Fed.

My time on the Work Programme has come to an end, after two fruitless years.

I was part of the first wave of people to be referred to them, and so am among the first to leave. My time there has not instilled in me any desire to praise them, instead leaving me even more cynical than I was to begin with. I am left, too, in precisely the same situation that I was in when i began attending fortnightly mandatory meetings. You can find several past blogs about my time there, listed at the bottom of the home page..

As part of my final appointment, I was told that I may be asked to provide some feedback. When the email arrived, requesting to know my opinion of the Work Programme, I was happy to reply in full, not least because the email addressed me as a “customer”, suggesting there was some element of choice in my obligatory attendance there.

I have not yet decided whether to make the full thirteen pages that I wrote available publicly. However, each section ended with a summation, and I wrote an overall conclusion, reproduced below:

“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.”

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that, despite my suspicions, there was no character limit on the website form that I was directed to use to submit my comments. I copied in all thirteen pages of scathing, witty, but wholly negative documentation, and figured that would be the last I would hear. I am not interested in receiving stock responses, as I made clear above and as sadly ignored previously by RBS and the Co-Op, to name two.

Of all the outcomes that I anticipated, I did not foresee the phone call that I received less than forty-eight hours later. Their head of employability telephoned, inviting me to meet with her and expressing admiration for my writing and gratitude that I had taken the time to reply so thoroughly. She wants to talk through my experiences in order to improve the service that they provide all the other poor suckers following in my footsteps, which sounds like “taking my feedback on board” – but at least it was not a stock response. Unless they have some kind of written-word-based vacancy, it is unlikely to benefit me particularly, beyond having my lunch bought for me somewhere local. This was an unexpected development though, and who knows what may happen next?

That said, presuming it is on their expense account, let’s hope the place sells steak and champagne. I might as well enjoy it for what it is, given they are probably unwilling me to pay me a consultant’s fee.


Pubs, Offensive Shirts, And Invisible Children.

A letter to a national pub chain, after I was asked to remove a particular item of clothing in one of their bars. Nobody has previously complained about the garment in question, and so I curiously asked what the problem was. Instead of a reason, I got attitude. With all business names redacted, here is the letter I have just sent to their customer service department. Some of the facts, humour, and phrases have been lifted from my recent blogs, but I think they were worth reusing. I am very interested to see how, or if, they reply.

To Whom It May Concern,

I wish to make a formal complaint about the manner in which I was spoken to in one of your Glasgow pubs recently. I am not sure if the staff member in question is a manager or supervisor, but I do know that he was overly aggressive in his tone. This happened at 5pm on a Wednesday, as I was enjoying my first drink of the evening, and will require some background context.

You have perhaps noticed on the news that a former UK prime minister died recently. They tried to cover it up, but I think the story slipped through. Her name was Margaret Thatcher.

On the day of the funeral, I had elected to exercise my democratic right to protest. This is, in part, because I would like to exercise my democratic right to government – in my country, we elected one solitary Conservative MP. As there are five million of us, voting in 59 MPs at a general election, you can see the numbers are disproportionate. Scotland has more pandas than Tory MPs, and the pandas have a better chance of increasing their number.

Having recently decided to take a stance against this thoroughly unjust distribution of power, inspired by the constant and unworkable cuts being imposed upon us by a parliament of millionaires, I have taken to joining marches and demonstrations. I believe the time is right for growing public dissent to become more visible, and am doing what I can to swell its ranks. After all, if I don’t stand up for what I believe in, who will?

With this in mind, I have begun wearing a shirt that I made shortly after the general election in which Cameron was not fairly elected by majority, but managed to get into the top job regardless. On the back of my shirt, taking my lead from the DIY ethic of the original punk movement, I wrote “FUCK THE TORIES.” I am not often given to defacing my clothing, but this was heartfelt and I am quite happy to display my disgust with them and all they stand for. That was my reason for attending this rally on the day of the funeral which, at a time when there is no money for hospitals or education, cost approximately ten million pounds. It is no odds to me that Thatcher is dead, she was dead to Scotland decades ago. However, I genuinely hope that more people will follow my lead, rather than registering their discontent with the Conservatives by merely clicking on and sharing Facebook images. The rising unpopularity of this government needs to be made very obvious.

I was wearing this shirt on the day of the funeral, over a T-shirt, and as the rally to “Remember Thatcher’s Victims” against the tide of rose-tinted eulogising was taking place in George Square, I arranged to join one of my friends beforehand. We met in [pub name redacted], as it afforded us the comfort, prices, quality, and drinks selection that encourage us to be repeat customers of [name of chain redacted]. I also regularly visit [other pubs owned by the same chain] in this city, and have come to expect a certain standard of service from the pubs bearing your name. On this occasion, I feel badly let down.

I had been at the bar for approximately half an hour, enjoying a pint of Thatchers Gold cider as I have a keen sense of humour. We could see the Square through the window – one of the key benefits of windows being their inherent transparency – and watched as the crowd outside grew in number. Stepping forward, we tried to get a better look at the bus from which the speakers would address us. Then we returned to the bar, and I resumed the position I had just left, standing with my back resting against the counter as I faced the door onto the Square.

This was when I was suddenly and angrily accosted from behind, by someone whom I presume to be the manager due to his shirt and tie. He looked like he would have been more at home wearing a tracksuit and sovvy rings, accessorised with a half-drank bottle of Buckfast and a Burberry cap, but I try not to be prejudiced. He aggressively enquired “Could you take your shirt off please?”

Although he did use the word “please”, it was evidently not a polite request. I am not much of an exhibitionist, and don’t usually take my clothes off in public. At the very least, I expect to be handed a couple of notes if that is all you want, or if you want more then you can buy me dinner and a few drinks first. I have my morals. In truth, I now regret that I did not immediately comply in a mock-seductive manner, while whistling that well-known piece of music, “The Stripper.”

Instead, being a rational human capable of intelligent and reasoned debate, I questioned his request. I have been wearing this shirt for about two years – although I take it off and wash it quite regularly, as I take a pride in my personal hygiene. In all of that time of wearing it in the streets of various cities, in numerous shops, to music and comedy gigs, in the vicinity of members of several police forces, and in dozens of pubs and clubs – in all of that time, in all of those locations – I have received no complaint about the message it contains.

Indeed, the only time people pass comment is to register agreement. This ranges from “Nice shirt” to “Do we add a tick if we agree?” to “Hear hear!” and sometimes just a nod and an “Aye.” The broad spectrum of society to have approved of the sentiment include families with small children, little old ladies, office workers, manual labourers, weekend shoppers, huge numbers of pub drinkers, and – while sworn to not display an opinion – nobody in the constabulary in Glasgow, Manchester, Nottingham, London, or Brighton has spoken to me about it.

I was taken aback, therefore, to be asked to remove this garment in a pub where I had been drinking for thirty minutes without incident. I certainly did not anticipate that the demand would be issued so rudely.

I asked the manager (as I will presume him to be) what the problem was. I was very calm, and eager to discover the cause for the sole disapproval I have encountered against the sentiment expressed across my attire. He could have politely explained, however his Napoleon complex must have kicked in, as he just glared at me and in an equally hostile tone said “I don’t want it in my pub.”

I don’t want my country governed by a party nobody here voted for, but we don’t always get what we want.

I want to say that he was jumped-up, but had he jumped up then maybe we would have seen eye-to-eye. I do not want to say that he was short, but if you want to promote him to the next level you can do so by giving him a crate to stand on. I do not like to get personal, but nor do I expect to be spoken to in such a way when a clear and polite request would have sufficed,

His argument, and he was unduly keen to argue, was that “I’ve got kids in this pub.”

Whether they were his kids, underage drinkers, or if they had read a statement that – really – they should be educated in the socio-political background of, was not apparent to me. Words are not offensive in or of themselves, it is context that gives them meaning. I thought that perhaps I could try and explain that to these young and impressionable minds. However, I quickly glanced around, and could only see people that I would comfortably assume to be adults. It is possible that these kids had tried the old Beano comic trick, of sitting atop one another’s shoulders and donning a large raincoat, in order to slip into your pub unnoticed. If so, your employee must be commended for his eagle eye, as I failed to spot them.

This interloper – your employee – was evidently not in a mood for any form of casual conversation or meaningful debate. I tried to explain that I was just leaving anyway, but he glared at me with such vehemence that the best example I can provide by way of illustration is that of General Zod in the second Superman film. As he tried to penetrate me with his evil rays of Heat Vision, I decided that I was now bored with attempting to engage him, and simply left.

I joined the rally, where nobody complained about my shirt, and stood still for the numerous amateur, hobbyist, and professional photographers who asked if they could take pictures of it. This has become the norm, I have discovered. There must be close to a hundred photos of my shirt now in the possession of strangers. Some of these photographers have been children with camera phones, and at the “Axe The Bedroom Tax” march a fortnight ago one mother asked if her ten-year-old son could take a photo. My shirt is not offensive, the policies and dogma of an unelected government are. This is just a succinct way of summing up wide-reaching disgruntlement.

After the rally, I went to another pub not owned by [name of chain redacted], and asked the barman outright if my apparel would pose a problem for him. He laughed as if it was the silliest question he had been asked all day, which – being in a Glasgow pub – it probably was.

I do not expect that you will do anything regards this complaint, and certainly do not foresee any admonishment of the staff member involved. I just wish to register my unhappiness with the way I was spoken to in a pub chain that I previously held in very high regard. I will not be back in [pub name redacted] in future, and I think from reading this letter you will see that I have the conviction to stay true to that. If your employee believes that the invisible children in his pub are more loyal customers than me, then he can rely on them for his custom.

All in all, I found it to be a very disappointing experience. Although, not quite as disappointing as the media’s canonising of the woman who destroyed communities with her disregard for the lives and the livelihoods of the miners and the steel workers; who condemned Nelson Mandela and strongly praised General Pinochet; who covered up for the injustices seen in the wake of Hillsborough; and who died with the blood of the Belgrano on her hands.

If you would like to reply to this, I will be keen to read your response. Certainly, you may like to go some way to restoring my faith in your brand – if indeed you would prefer to retain my future custom.

Yours faithfully,

[Me]

 

 


Horsing Around With Supermarket Pricing.

Earlier this week, I was in my local branch of a mid-sized national supermarket chain. I happened to see an offer on burgers, and took a photo of the sign in order to make a silly joke on facebook, with reference to the UK horsemeat burger news story of last week. One of my friends looked beyond the cheap gag, and pointed out that the pricing information on the sign was arithmetically incorrect. I decided, for my own amusement, to write a complaint to the company in question. Ostensibly, it would be about the news story, and I would fill it with as many puns and as much wordplay as I could, before making a comparatively serious point about mathematical standards. This is the letter I sent, after the photo that I took.

BirdsEye Burgers

Hay there,

Unless you have had the blinkers on, I am sure you will be familiar with the major headline story last week. On the back of the recent news reports about “beef” burgers and their contents, I’m afraid I wish to register rather a serious complaint regarding one of the products you offer for sale. I saw it, and took the attached photograph, in a branch in Glasgow, on Monday 21st January.

I understand that this brand, Birds Eye, was not caught up in the recent ‘horsemeat’ scandal. I can only presume that this is because they use their name to alert consumers to the possibility that their burgers may contain alternative types of meat, for example avian ocular organs.

I am aware that, by law, burgers must have a minimum meat content, and I absolutely trust that the majority of burgers do contain a minimal amount of meat. Listening to the naysayers, this issue seems to be less about eating Red Meat, and more about inadvertently eating Red Rum.

I understand, too, that – while your business may have stable suppliers – it is not your mane duty to vet all sources of meat used in the products you sell. I do not mean to nag, nor to stirrup trouble, and trust that you will not trot out a generic answer to this statement of concern.

Selling these particular burgers at half price, after this (without wishing to sound too grand) national outrage, seems – in a manner of speaking – a little like you are shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted. It is almost as if you do not wish to be saddled with this remaining  stock.

Having had free rein to bring this to your attention, I am now champing at the bit to explain the nature of my complaint. It relates to the advertising sign attached to the shelf edge in the photo, and I am not sure how it got pastyour quality control department.

Specifically, as you will see, the sign pronounces “Half Price” in large, bold letters. The original selling price, as stated and struck through, is £2.70.

You are offering this pack for sale at £1.29. I am not sure where you learned division, but it does not take great dexterity to realise that half of £2.70 is £1.35.

I realise that it is too late to amend this sign, and merely suggest that greater care is taken in future when calculating differences in price. Indeed, you could have made this offer seem more attractive to the potential consumer, by pointing out that it represents a saving of MORE THAN half price.

As you may gather, from reading this email, I am presently (like so many others) unemployed. I will be happy to come in and do basic maths or proofread signs for you on a regular basis, for a small fee. I am also available for any writing vacancies you may have, for example in public relations, subject to appropriate remuneration.

I do hope that you will give this some serious consideration, and await your reply..

—–

If a reply is recieved, be certain that I will post it here. I sincerely hope that they will reply in the same spirit in which this was written.

Edit, 2nd May 2014: Fourteen months after I questioned their maths, to which no reply was forthcoming, they have still failed to grasp basic concepts. A three-day weekend is fifty percent longer than a normal one. They are eight hours short.

co-op maths

 

 

 


The Email Of The Species Is More Silly Than The Mail.

I started a new job recently. I can’t say anything that will identify the company, because this is in the public domain. I work in Customer Service for a high street chain, and my role involves answering calls and emails. I have quickly learned that the best part of my job is seeing what other people have previously written to customers, whose replies I am dealing with.

My favourite so far is a complaint from the other day. In the earlier replies, including the original communication, I saw that the customer had tried to contact one of our other departments six times, and each time the email had bounced back.

The reply to him ran along the lines of “I am sorry to hear that your email was returned to you six times, and apologise if this was inconvenient.”

IF this was inconvenient.”

Brilliantly understated. I imagine that, if you compose and send a time-sensitive email, have it returned and then resend it on six separate occasions – maybe it’s just me, but I’d be inclined to presume that was indeed inconvenient. Inconvenient to the power of six.

Not as inconvenient, however, as a more recent reply from another colleague. “I am sorry to hear that your email bounced back, but you have sent this to the wrong department. Please send your complaint to…” and then provided the same email address that had returned the customer’s mail in the first place.

My resolution, such as it was, was to supply the customer with a phone number instead…

 

There was another time, when I looked at the notes on an account, and sought assistance from my manager before answering. The issue had been dealt with by another agent, who hadn’t correctly addressed the problem at hand. I pointed at his name on the screen.

“Do you know this idiot?” I asked my boss.

“We are all idiots at some time or other,” was his unhesitating, diplomatic, and insightful response.

All I could say was, “That’s irrefutable.”

It is. We all do idiotic or silly things to some degree or other.

I like my job. It’s nice to get paid for doing things that I enjoy – rational thinking, problem solving, and writing. I just wish they were transferable skills, as it would be useful if I could calmly and rationally solve my own problems too.