There are many reasons why I despise local rail operator Scotrail, this is only the most recent.
I freelance, and am booked for work on a day-to-day basis. Due to a colleague’s injury, I have just picked up ten consecutive days covering his shifts, and the thought of relying on public transport for the duration does not appeal. I wracked my brain trying to think of any option that would provide me with a car at zero notice.
The army truck my sometime-boss owns, which I drove four-hundred miles for him, is stationed in Glasgow’s outskirts – I thought the hurdle would be finding secure parking for it outside my home, but I quickly learned that (although taxed and insured) the MOT is out of date and so I am unable to borrow it. My current work owns cars but they are on private land, and while I have just been insured to drive for them, the pool cars are untaxed. My brother-in-law has bought a second van for his apprentice, but in the course of past discussions it transpired its MOT is up too, and if has since passed then it will be so that the apprentice can use it daily. I considered the expense of hiring a car for the week, weighing the cost against the convenience and the fact I am earning – this plan was quickly shot down today when a phone call confirmed that I need to put a four-figure deposit on my credit card in advance: my immovable credit limit is half or a third of what they all require and, due to tedious past financial issues arising from not always having work to go to, there is absolutely no way for me to acquire a card from any other provider. It would appear the train is my only option.
This morning, departing before the ticket office opened, I tried to buy a weekly ticket on the train. The conductor told me I would need photographic identification, which is fine as I keep my driving licence in the wallet I take everywhere, but he clarified that what I actually require is a passport photo of myself to be used to create their document. That, unsurprisingly, is not something I habitually carry. I asked him to waive the fare, with the intention of buying a pass at the destination station, and he said there was no way that was happening. Trying another tack, I asked if I could have my purchase of a return ticket refunded in the office when buying my pass – this, I was told, would be at the discretion of that staff member.
Arriving in Dumbarton, I went straight to the manned booth and made the same enquiry, also gathering pricing information to allow me to make a comparison and check the potential saving. This very helpful gentleman talked me through the options, gave me the required card and talked me through how to attach a photo using the transparent self-sealing plastic to make it valid. He advised that it need not be a strict passport photo, in the sense of what is required by international customs, just that size. naturally, of course, there is no photo machine at the station and it is in an industrial area. I thanked him and left, frustrated that I had not known this yesterday when the full Art Department was in – I could have sent one of them a photo from my phone to print out for me.
The day progressed, my mind whirring as I figured out my options. On arrival at my home station, I nipped into the office and asked when they close tonight – one of the issues is that I am leaving every morning before the station staff begin their shifts, making it impossible to make the purchase ahead of boarding. The rather upbeat woman informed me, and we discussed the possible nearby locations of places (such as the supermarket) which may have a photo kiosk. Making a slight detour to check this out, I was suddenly struck by the recollection that it could be any photograph of the correct size, and the simultaneous realisation that I have several 6″x4″s at home showing me with one or other or both of my nieces. I quickened my pace.
I burst through my front door, digging through all available images – not wishing to butcher any nice ones, but in the end only finding one suitable. I tore open drawers to retrieve my scalpel, steel rule, and cutting mat, and reached for a fine-nibbed permanent marker. Taking the dimensions from the blank pass I had been handed earlier, I trimmed and attached my likeness then hurried straight back out – to find a sign in the window of the office saying that the staff member was indisposed elsewhere and that tickets should be bought on the train. I could see her in the back room, however, and she eventually came out to speak to me. I had been buoyed on my journey back, having overcome the problem and decided that, combined with her geniality, I would buy the pass and ask her to do me a kindness and refund me the return I had had to pay for today. This was a fine theory, but I had overlooked one thing.
Building on our rapport, we looked at the possibilities and viability for the seven-day pass. It could start from today, or from tomorrow, and what would suit me better? I explained the employment situation, and enquired if validity from today would permit me the return of money already outlaid for travel – oh! How the mask slipped. No way, not as a favour or as a niceness, she would have her “knuckles rapped” if she were to do that for me. However, now I was in possession of the correct card with its image of my likeness, I will be able to buy the weekly pass on board tomorrow morning. I asked if she was certain, since I had (it seems) already been lied to by one employee today – about staff discretion being any sort of factor. This was confirmed, but she offered to sell me it there and then as I was deciding whether to obtain it at that moment or in the carriage in the morning, and was unable to understand my reluctance – until I revealed my thinking: if I do not see a conductor on my way in, I do not need to pay to travel. Her demeanour changed instantly, “Oh well, if that’s the route you want to go down.” It was clear the conversation was finished, and I realised my key oversight – Scotrail are cunts.
I had my Twitter account permanently suspended for calling Scotrail cunts, in partial jest after I banged my head, due to terms and conditions which that social media Hell-site alleged I had breached – there was absolutely nothing in that statement contravening the terms and conditions they quoted at me, but they nevertheless refused to reinstate my account. I should still have the screengrab somewhere, to be posted below if I can find it.
Above: Far from my best work, but does this tweet breach any of the the rules mentioned?
Yes, the trains are regularly late or cancelled, with stops frequently dropped to make up time (and the employees are, at best, grumpy or, at worst, liars) but at least all the money goes to a Dutch firm operating internationally instead of being used to improve service and infrastructure. There is an existing counter-argument, often posited on Twitter, that Network Rail is responsible for upkeep and maintenance of signalling and so on – not Scotrail. However, my view is that this is an unwelcome legacy of privatisation – companies charge passengers an extortionate amount to ride on a system whose upkeep is the burden of the government and, by extension, the taxpayer. Scotrail may not technically be required to pay towards the permanent fixing of issues which regularly delay them, but I refuse to believe that shareholders in Holland are of greater importance than commuters in Scotland when it comes to the allocation of generated revenue.
I continue to wonder how or if I can swiftly make the switch to four-wheeled self-driven transport.
This is probably my most dubious claim to fame yet, in this series of tenuous links to celebrity, owing to the fact that I have nearly no memory of it and am relying on documentary evidence to know that it happened.
I have recently been clearing out old paperwork, a task long overdue, as became obvious when I uncovered my first ever (and now twenty-year-old) P45. Most of my degree coursework has also headed into the recycling bin, but I have kept a few pieces relating to my current interests, and a handful of souvenirs. One of these is a small collection of theatrical programes listing me in the production credits – I started backstage in amateur dramatics at the age of thirteen, began paid work at seventeen, and studied the subject for three years in my early twenties.
I have looked through this paperwork several times in the past few years, never quite committing to ridding myself of it, partly out of nostalgia and partly because the coursework might yet prove useful for reference. One of the programmes is for a student performance of Liz Lochhead’s version of Medea, a small and low-budget version undertaken at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, my alma mater. While shows for the main stage and the studio theatre were allocated funds and staff to realise lavish set designs, shows in the AGOS (Alexander Gibson Opera Suite) were necessarily minimal in scope. Primarily a venue for recitals, the highly polished wooden floor and complete absence of space backstage meant that scenery could not be used, and it was relatively rare for drama to be staged there.
My role was sound designer and operator, although I also focused lights for the senior student who oversaw that element. We had meetings with the director – and I was sad to learn of his passing, when he died in 2014 – at whose behest, and to help achieve his vision, I recorded the lead actress unleashing primal screams for playback during the show. I might also have recorded the lead actor too, but that is gone from memory now. I still have the minidisc which once contained the finished result, but since replaced it with a different noise, the musical output of my one-time solo electronic project – aptly named AudioTwat.
Above: Still bearing the number of my college pigeonhole, this short-lived but useful media format now contains my electro compositions – which, if you feel particularly masochistic or curious, you can find on Soundcloud.
Reading the programme the other day, the list of names takes me back – although on two separate courses, the technicians and actors were constantly moving in the same circles, with a combined intake of only 50 or 60 people per year. We knew each other at least by sight, usually by name, spent a lot of time together or in the same vicinity, and – in at least one instance – two of my peers who met on the respective courses married and had a child.
I knew a few of the actors to chat to, was acquainted with others, but some were unknown to me – as has become obvious on my re-reading of this programme. One name stuck out this time, a lead played by Alison Brie, whose name I recognised from Twitter in its sharing of her response to the Me Too hashtag and allegations against her brother-in-law, James Franco. Was this the same person? A quick internet search revealed that, yes, it is.
I am largely unfamiliar with her body of work – of it all, I have seen just The Lego Movie, in which only her voice appeared, although Community is a favourite with friends and has long been on my list of things to watch (when the DVD boxset is available for less than £70. I buy DVDs, rarely download things, and never stream them.) Her face seems distantly familiar to me, clouded with time, and igniting a vague recollection of an American called Alison in the Medea cast. It was one of the few shows I did where there was a wider gap between cast and crew.
As sound designer and op, I had no requirement to attend rehearsals and only scheduled to meet with the actors I needed to record. Although I was present at both tech and dress rehearsals, and all public performances, I was located front-of-house – in a soundproof box, high above the seating bank and behind a thick window and a bank of equipment. I know I passed through the cast a few times, and would have said a courteous hello as I went, but – even if there had been wing-space to congregate in, I would have had no reason to be there mingling. In short, maybe I spoke to Alison Brie and maybe I did not, but we definitely shared the same air for a while.
Above: My name is on the same line as Alison Brie’s, by coincidence rather than by design, and that is as close as we have ever been. You can tell I didn’t write this, my middle initials have been omitted – a lifelong bone of contention.
Until this came to light, my chief recollection of that period is that it was the first time in my life that I ever worked alongside another Jordan – “Actor Jordan” as my technician friends knew him – and the new and resultant name confusion made me appreciate how lucky I had been to last so long without a duplicate in the room – unlike the Daves, Andys, Chris’s and Jims of this world.
As regards Ms. Brie, I remember having a few communal discussions over which acting peers we thought would break out and make it big – following alumni such as David Tennant, James McAvoy, Alan Cumming – and the talent of some of my contemporaries impressed me. It is either the unpredictability of these things, or a complete lack of good judgement, that led me to overlook one of the most successful to emerge from that era. I am going to rest my defence on our apparent collaboration occupying just five days of a three-year degree.
Finally, given all of the above, and as my professional worth is dependent on remaining inconspicuous and unnoticed (to which end, I suspect I am probably undermining myself by publishing these blogs, despite my efforts to separate public and private), I sincerely doubt that Ms. Brie has any memory of me. The article below indicates that she does, however, fondly remember the show.
Above: Medea namechecked in an interview published by The Scotsman newspaper last year.
I think that cigarette-smokers are selfish and obnoxious in their habit; that people who vape are as bad, or worse, due to the vast plumes they exhale; and that I would be morally justified in spitting in the face of anyone who blows smoke into mine. I also dislike Scotrail, my local purveyor of late trains – I run a parody account on Twitter based in my dislike of them, I have been broadcast on BBC Radio 5 Live talking about my dislike of them. I do not want you to go away from this thinking, “Maybe he quite likes Scotrail” – no.
In a series of pointless endeavours, I think my favourite – in terms of sheer ineffectiveness – was Scotrail’s taking the time to post No Smoking signs across their open station platforms. Have you seen it deter anybody? I am constantly at various stations across Glasgow, and I have never once seen somebody, on the verge of igniting their cigarette, notice the signage and reconsider. Most days, I let it slide – easier to be silently annoyed than to engage with someone and ask them to act. The only thing less pleasant than the stench of tobacco smoke is a belligerent smoker who is being denied nicotine. Furthermore, in the absence of any visible staff, you are directed to make a complaint via the Information Point, essentially a speakerphone which offers no privacy and which broadcasts loudly across near-empty platforms. To do that invites a whole other level of conflict, as you plainly grass someone up, in front of them, rather than address them directly.
I have considered why Easter Monday was different. It is fair to say that I am naturally grumpy, and for a rare moment I found myself enjoying relative peace and quiet, on a deserted platform, on a bright and sunny and comparatively warm day. This brief enjoyment was interrupted by the new, unmistakable, and disagreeable odour of burning tobacco – the source of which was quickly identifiable as a woman standing opposite me across the tracks. I watched as the sole Scotrail employee, doing her rounds and wearing her yellow hi-viz vest, approached this person breaking at least the rules, and possibly the law (despite it not being an enclosed space, I think the legislation was extended to encompass it. Scotrail is certainly quoted in the media as saying they would involve British Transport Police in such instances, should anyone refuse to comply with the ban.)
There was no admonishment. The woman, who had since sat on a metal bench, looked up as the employee passed, and there was some simple greeting in that moment – a smiled “Hi”, a slight raising of eyebrows perhaps: a shared and friendly acknowledgement of each other’s existence. The employee continued on her way, reaching the nearest No Smoking notice just seconds later. It was at this point, having observed the behaviour several times before, and with time on my hands as I waited on my delayed train, that I took the main course of action pursued by many of us – and used social media as a means of complaint.
Scotrail’s online grouch responded quickly, wanting to know if I had “made the staff aware.” Aware of what – the rule of law? A gap in their training or in their enactment of it? Of the duties involved in carrying out the job for which she was being paid? I answered with a degree of cheekiness, expecting this conversation to go nowhere – as most complaints to Scotrail (and all of their cancelled trains) do. It was their next reply that firmly angered me.
“Our staff wouldn’t walk past somehow smoking and not say anything,” I was curtly informed, with the blind indignant allegiance often reserved for use by the parents of children who bully, or who otherwise commit misdemeanours. I know what I saw. I could have filmed the infraction, and provided visual evidence, but I am not given to this imposition on people’s lives – you do not want to be recorded doing your job unsatisfactorily, nor having a wee seat with your bags of shopping, neither do I and I have no desire to make such intrusive records of other people. There is likely to be footage, of course, thanks to the prevalence of CCTV cameras – all they would need to do is look at the coverage of Platform Two, from 2:10pm on Monday 17th April.
Our conversation proceeded exactly as predicted. Not content to merely disavow facts with a quickness to rival that of America’s premier liar-in-chief, they also mimicked President Trump’s use of the “gaslighting” technique. Finally, defending themselves by referencing my choice of vocabulary, I was promised assistance and promptly ignored – the wall was up, no correspondence would be entered into because I had written a sweary-word. I could let them know next time, they said, and they would act. I countered that I had let them know this time, but they had showed no interest. Why would I waste my time again? Why did they waste theirs, putting up signs that seem to be purely decorative? At best, complaints are discouraged (“Please use the loudhailer to alert the entire vicinity”) or mishandled, and, at worst, they are completely disregarded and your personal credibility will be disputed. I was eventually given a link, to make it formal, but I have no reason to believe it would achieve anything. Instead, I have written and will publicly share this, feeling better that I have used the experience creatively.
Having sent this email and received a reply so brief as to be almost non-existent, which also continued in its failure to address anything I had said, I wrote back without particularly holding back:
Dear Mr Farress, “Customer Relations Consultant”,
I trust you had a pleasant Christmas, and presume that you over-imbibed: only the presence of a monstrous hangover can possibly explain the brevity of your latest reply.
The alternative is that Virgin Trains are even less interested in providing adequate customer service than they are in ensuring trains run punctually, or at all.
I have written two letters of complaint, totalling eleven full typed pages, and so far you have failed to directly address a single sentence. Putting in a modicum of effort is unlikely to kill you, despite how it might feel – suffering as you must surely be from your festive alcoholic over-indulgence. I would have been happy to wait until the New Year for a response, had it meant you were sufficiently clear-headed to send me an appropriate reply.
I see now why your previous letter was full of copied-and-pasted (albeit irrelevant) paragraphs – left to your own devices, you have misspelled the word “cancellation,” an error which seems glaring given how many times you must encounter it in the course of your working life. Furthermore, you have asked me to “send through the relevant tickets” – I attached photographs to my original email, and you will find them there if you peer closer through your booze-induced fug. I can send them again if you prefer. You have already wasted so much of my time, you may as well squander a little more.
To remind you of the facts, I had booked four Virgin Train journeys in the space of six days. Of those four trains, two were cancelled and one arrived late. You have completely failed to address any issues mentioned with the staff, the service provision, or the level of customer service encountered thus far – most of which has been unsatisfactory.
I understand that, as a major company and in line with others of your size, you do not need to particularly care about any given customer’s experience. We are all but drops in the ocean to you. However, you most certainly do not lack the funds to reimburse me for my tickets and for the inconvenience and distress caused. Even discounting the refund of the concert ticket, which you refuse to pay despite forcing me to miss the gig – my sole reason for travelling – you should still be held to account.
I therefore repeat my request that you issue me a payment of £120 to cover my expenses, the abomination of a service you barely provide, and the stress and worry caused as a result of your actions and inactions.
I would also like a full reply to my original complaints, regarding the failure of station and train staff to adequately convey information.
I would ask to “escalate” this letter, but am informed by your Twitter team that I must telephone to do so – at my expense. They inform me that escalation will also occur if I include the VT-reference number attached to my initial email, however (having already included it in my follow-up communication) that previously returned straight to you. It is hardly escalation if we continue going round in circles, all my replies answered by the same work-shy inebriate who has exhausted so much endeavour in celebrating Christmas that he has no inclination to perform his job with any degree of competence.
Nevertheless, I will play by your rules. Please ensure this letter is escalated, and – once your New Year hangover has subsided and you feel able to write with relevance – I will be happy to hear what steps you will be taking to resolve this. In addition to receiving the payment and reply asked for.
While waiting for a reply, I am considering sending the whole of my correspondence to the CEO.
Update: I plan to write a separate blog to conclude this tale, but the upshot is – three letters totalling twelve pages later – they have refunded me £24 in cash (cheque) and sent me £100 in rail vouchers. My Virgin Train tickets, for the journeys which merited these complaints, cost me £90.
Post updated to include a photo of their reply, 22nd December 2014. A follow-up complaint, addressing this and the cancellation of my London train four days later, can be read here.
Dear Virgin On The Ridiculous,
It gives me no joy to write this, which – coincidentally – is precisely the same amount of joy (none) which you provided on my journey to England yesterday. As I anticipate that this will be a lengthy missive, I recommend that you make yourself a cup of tea before you begin reading.
My favourite band tour the UK once a year, and it has long been my habit to see them a few times in that week, up and down the country. I reason that, since I have to wait twelve months for a seventy-five minute show, it makes sense to see a couple of their gigs, knowing that once they leave I will have another year to wait for their return.
To give you some indication of how passionately I love live music, and this one band in particular, I have seen them twenty-nine times, in five countries, on two continents. It was never my intention to become one of those fans who travels to see a given band, nor to follow them on tour, it was a natural progression and just sort of happened over the course of nearly ten years.
I am due to see them another twice this week, although that hinges – in part – on you managing to get me to London on my booked trains. After yesterday’s debacle, I have lost faith in your abilities.
With the recent Met Office warning that has been dubbed a “weather bomb” – enabling this country’s diabolical media to focus their front pages on photographs of waves when, if they had any kind of conscience to speak of, they would be systematically dismantling every lie to emanate from Cameron, Osborne, and Iain Duncan Smith – I was worried that my travel might be disrupted. So worried, in fact, that I looked into buying travel insurance that would cover cancellation, and “tweeted” you on Tuesday to ask about any known issues. I was assured that my train should be running “as normal”, and I subsequently packed for my overnight trip. Although I enquired if you offered any add-on insurance that I could buy, this went unanswered. Factoring in the costs of my excursion (train, hotel, gig ticket), and weighing it against the excess due on the one policy I found for UK trips, I realised there was little point purchasing any. Abandoning the endeavour would see me reimbursed a mere fifteen pounds. I would just risk it.
On Wednesday morning, with hysteria and panic leading mistitled “news” reports about a bit of wind and rain in mid-December, I considered it pertinent to check again. The service, you replied via Twitter, was still running. At my request, I was then directed to a webpage where I could verify for myself, nearer the time, that there were no drastic changes. The last thing I did before leaving the house was ensure my train was scheduled and punctual.
Having dedicated a not-inconsiderable amount of energy, time, and effort, to ensuring it was worthwhile packing and making my way to Glasgow Central – tempering my enthusiasm for being at the gig with the knowledge that I might not make it there – you may perhaps appreciate my dismay when, upon arrival at the concourse, the departures board announced that my train had been cancelled.
Crestfallen, I headed straight for Virgin’s office. The girl behind the counter cheerfully informed me that – despite the apocalyptic storm that had threatened to thwart my plans – it was a broken-down freight train causing my chagrin. With everything now in disarray, I wondered what my options were. It was 15:20 and my train was due to leave at 15:40, arriving in Preston at 17:55 – with venue doors opening at 19:00.
Somewhat less than ideally, I would have to board a chartered bus to Carlisle, catching a train there to complete my journey. Estimating two hours of coach travel, the girl suggested it might be a further hour by rail after that. Not particularly enamoured with the idea of heading two-hundred miles only to miss the sole reason for going, it struck me as foolish to abandon my plans at that stage. Better, surely, to take the chance and hopefully catch some of the headline band, at least.
Your office was filling up with people idly awaiting the promised coaches. I elected to wait outside, at the Gordon Street entrance if you know the geography of the station, desperately hoping I might get on the first coach and make a speedy departure. Denied. The more I looked for the promised bus, the more it was not there. Equally scarce were any Virgin staff – presumably hiding from the wrath of other disgruntled and inconvenienced would-be passengers.
Eventually, one woman did come out, a woman with the dark-haired, craggy-faced look of Alice Cooper about her. I neglected to mention that, out of politeness, but said politeness was sadly not reciprocated. In answer to my question, about buses and destinations, she curtly said “I’m going in here,” as she failed to break stride while marching back into the office. I have worked in customer service much of my life, and learned long ago that basic manners cost nothing and – indeed – reflect well on a company. I could have said as much to this woman, hindered only by the fact she had strutted off before the thought formed. Whatever her mission was, it did not involve the provision of timely information.
Two coaches eventually arrived, people thronging first to one and then to the other, as drivers tried to determine where they were bound. The little red-jacketed Alice Cooper woman – your representative in this sorry episode – reappeared and held a hasty conflab with both drivers, only after a dozen doddery old pensioners had taken ages hauling their snail-paced carcasses on board the rear bus. Duly it was announced that this bus would go to Preston direct, the front bus making the afore-mentioned Carlisle stop. These ancient ruins then took forever carrying their coffin-dodging selves back off the bus, while I silently hated them – with nerves shot and blood pressure rising from the stress.
Little Red Virgin Jacket promptly disappeared again, leaving me with absolutely no idea if I should take the Preston bus or go to Carlisle and transfer there. I figured it made sense to make my way directly to the concert location, rather than risk being stranded in northern England, climbing into the second bus. Stressed – in local parlance – out my nut, the bus finally departed a full thirty minutes after the scheduled train departure.
With no idea how long I would be incarcerated for, angry and frustrated at being forced to use a method of long-distance transport I despise, we were off!
I decided many years ago to always travel by rail or flight, and I have generally been happy with the service you have provided. My first coach journey was a nightmare, my naive and inexperienced nineteen-year-old self trekking to London for the first time, to see another band. The nine-hour ride lasted a full twelve hours, entering the capital at the very moment the support band took the stage. I was panicked, lost, confused, and harassed. Fourteen years later, you successfully managed to revive those feelings.
I enjoy the simple things Virgin offers – the promise of a table seat in a quiet carriage, with phone charging facilities; the chance to have legroom not designed solely for Douglas Bader or, for a more modern reference, Oscar Pistorius. These basic comforts were denied me, any semblance of quiet and calm annihilated by the banal chatter of people I can most accurately describe as tedious bastards. I mean, infuriatingly boring people with nothing to say, yet quite content to say it loudly and without rest.
One of the many, many reasons I jettisoned coaches as a method of going anywhere is the apparent seat design specification which caters only for frail old women. In my boots, I stand at six feet and four inches tall; I am broad-shouldered; I could do with losing some weight, but am not so fat as to have been mistakenly hunted for ivory. These moulded seats are, to me, some intolerable and mediaeval torture. They do not seem equipped to accommodate anybody with an internal skeletal structure – the base of the seat juts firmly into my hip bones, putting strain on my lower back, and the top of the seat back serves to force my shoulders forwards in an extremely unpleasant manner. Furthermore, I had the added discomfort of balancing my heavy backpack on my lap, as there was no room overhead. Please enjoy this image, of a well-built, tall, broad-shouldered man, crammed into a space so small it would barely serve my seven-month old niece. With my knees up to my chin, my belongings weighing on my legs, the only thing missing – sadly, not missing – was an inconsiderate arsehole jamming me in.
See, he was there too, trying to occupy the exact location of my left-hand side. Had he forced me to sit any closer to the window I would have been outside. His sheer bulk allowed me arm room that a thalidomide baby would have found inadequate. Having fully engulfed his own seat and half of mine, he promptly dozed off, legs spread so wide that he must surely have testicles the size of watermelons. His right knee so firmly touched my left knee that it caused me to wonder if this was his fetish: pretend to be asleep and rub innocuous limbs against other commuters.
I was unable, try as I might, to take up less room. With severe cramp in my legs, I also experienced extreme muscle ache in my left arm, as I was forced to hold it in a painful, slightly elevated and unnatural position – whereas normally I would have rested it. It seemed inappropriate to balance my wrist on his bald head, the only other option which presented itself.
Squashed between the two armrests digging into my pelvis, causing untold pain in my lower back, I tried to alleviate the multitude of aches by sitting up straighter. Instead, my foot found itself atop a crushed drinks can left on the floor by some previous detainee of this Guantanamo Bus.
All of this was accompanied, naturally, by somebody – most likely the driver – blasting the most horrendous music, which offended my ears when it was Madonna, and compounded my new idea of Hell when the Christmas songs started.
Crusher awoke from his dozing, and fast discovered that he knew the people in the seat behind us. Friends Reunited lives. Suddenly I expected an appearance from Cilla Black, yelling “Surprise Surprise!” or, worse, Esther Rantzen giving them both a little gold heart like she used to do on – well, I think her reunion show was probably called Hearts Of Gold, and I refuse to demean myself by checking. It is bad enough that these things are still in my consciousness two decades after they last aired.
Thankfully – being grateful for small mercies – this conversational development quickly subsided, and I was permitted to hear Wham’s tinny radio rendition of “Last Christmas I gave you a shotgun and a single cartridge,” which I would actually have enjoyed listening to if those were the real lyrics.
It was around this point that I engaged with Crusher, offering to remove my leg with a saw if he could find me one. He declined, which was damned decent of him, but neither did it inspire him to close his legs any or encroach less on my breathing room. With his right elbow lodged hard against my left elbow, I accepted it was stalemate.
With that impasse reached, I can detail my endeavours to obtain any sort of information from Virgin Trains verified Twitter account. Previously quite helpful, you shut up shop fast.
Keep in mind, please, that the sole purpose of my trip was to see my favourite band play their first UK show in a year. They have a new album full of songs I have never heard live, with new band members added to the line-up, playing instruments I have never seen (or heard) them use the past twenty-eight times. My only concern, at this point, was if I would get there in time to see anything other than the encore.
What I most wanted to know was the anticipated journey time. My train had been due to arrive about 18:00, giving me plenty of time to find my hotel in the dark, wet night. I needed to freshen up – a term I have never used in my life prior to this very sentence – then change, before attempting to locate the venue. I was confident I could find my way around but, not being Challenge Anneka, a strict deadline was an unnecessary pressure. I can send you the screengrabs, but here is the gist of this further miscommunication:
“Can someone – perhaps @virgintrains – check how long it’ll take a coach from Glasgow Central to reach Preston?”
“It will be a coach between Preston and Lancaster then train onwards, Jordan”
I appreciate you tried the personal touch in that reply, the only minor problem being that the rest of it related in absolutely no way to my question or my predicament.
Would I make this gig? How long should road travel take? I would have checked a popular online search engine’s maps app, only I am fast running out of my data allowance and – not being a Virgin train – this bus has no wi-fi facilities. Understandably, due to the variables involved, you were wary of committing: “However, they will try and get you there asap”
When is ASAP – is it 19:00? 23:00? Tuesday? January? I wanted a ballpark figure, and “ASAP” was not good enough – especially not when I had explained that I was on a tight and specific schedule. Instead, my tweeted requests for a figure, or for a “rough idea” were completely ignored. Like I said, you are welcome to screengrabs of all this, I saved it all.
Meanwhile, let us return to Crusher. At 18:34 – a hundred-and-forty minutes in – he finally swivelled in his seat, moving his legs out into the aisle. The joy of moving and stretching my own leg – a sensation I had nearly forgotten in the interim – was tempered only by how cold it felt once he ceased behaving like a human blanket. We continued on.
Seven P.M. came and went, the venue doors now opened for entry while I stared into pitch black motorway and wondered where I was, other than Sartre’s vision of Hell. I did not yet mention the stifling stench of feet, farts, and body odour which permeated our transport, as did the excremental fumes from the on-board cesspit – and added to by the further olfactory assault of crisps and similarly odoriferous foods. Three hours had passed, and the reek of sandwiches and ass gas had become unbearable. I would have opened a window but, coaches being how they are, it would have required a hammer. Having earlier established that there was no saw in the immediate vicinity, the likelihood of finding a hammer nearby appeared slight.
At 19:11 – and you will sense that I jotted notes for this complaint as I went – Crusher rose and made his way to the toilet. It occurred to me that a slow trickle of piss could have worked its way down, backing up as it filled his groin to capacity, and that that may explain why his legs were forced apart at the tops of the thighs. The poor man must have inflated, his legs widening as an alternative to his merely exploding in a stagnant burst of yellow spray.
There was no real time to note improvement, on his return, as we arrived in Preston at 19:32 – a mere ninety-seven minutes late. I checked with the driver that his arrival time will be logged, should you wish to verify it. I could not get off that bus fast enough. I have never had a good experience going by coach, and if I wanted to book a coach I would have done so.
Naturally, arriving so far behind schedule left me no time to eat. I raced for the hotel as quickly as I was able, trying to walk off the cramp that had built up. By the time I reached the venue it was gone 20:30 and with it the chance to see support bands and savour the atmosphere coming together.
I did manage to see the full set that, as a longtime fan and friend of the band, had been so important to me. However, it was entirely down to luck and you did nothing to ease my frustrations or worries.
I am annoyed at the shambolic handling of the coach boarding in Glasgow, the absence of informed staff (and of staff, full stop, out by the buses), and the further hold up caused by people being directed incorrectly.
I am disappointed that your once-helpful Twitter staff refused, point blank, to even attempt to provide the information I specifically requested, despite being told the reasons for it. Furthermore, they did nothing short of ignore my queries.
I am worried that you will fail me again. I am due to travel to London on Sunday, and – being considerably further away – there is no way a replacement bus will get me there in anything resembling a timely manner.
This entire experience was wholly unsatisfactory and unpleasant. In addition to the full refund I expect on my tickets, I think you should be reimbursing me for the gig ticket, given I missed all but one (thankfully THE) band, and compensating me for the utter discomfort which I have tried to document fully above.
I await your response.
Here is their response. My reply to it is here.
Above: Their wholly uninspiring stock reply. Read my response to it (and them) here.
My previous post detailed a letter of complaint to my local supermarket, written principally for my own amusement and regarding a sandwich I bought which turned out to be stale. They replied with a cut-and-pasted stock response, which led me to follow it up with this:
“Thanks for cutting and pasting a totally impersonal response. It’s a genuine shame that they don’t permit you to function as a human and compose a reply of your own. The very least I expected was an acknowledgment that my carefully-constructed letter had made you smile. Or not.
Thanks for the offer of a voucher. As you don’t have my postal address, I don’t see much point in you sending me it. Give it a shot, though – my name is reasonably unique in this part of the world – especially if you include my middle initials. Certainly, with only my name and general geographic area written on the envelope, finding my location will keep the Royal Mail busy at this otherwise quiet time of year for them.”
For that last sentence to make sense, you need to know that I wrote this in December.
It occurred to me that their Twitter account might be a better way of contacting them, in pursuit of a satisfactory reply. They quickly asked for my email address, which I provided. Then it all went a bit quiet.
Credit to them, their reply – which arrived yesterday – was well worth the wait. Once you have read my original letter, you will understand and appreciate this reply:
Thank you for contacting us and please accept my apologies for your disappointment with the response you have previously received from us and for the problems you experienced with the long awaited, greatly anticipated Meat Feast Sub Roll you purchased from us recently.
I do concede that from purchase of this roll, to the time of placing it into your fridge, it could not have degenerated in such a short time frame (unless your fridge was conspiring against you)!
I assure you that I was most aggrieved to learn that you were unable to fully enjoy this roll as you had hoped and therefore would like to give you the reassurance that this will be addressed in store to ensure that we only sell the best quality products that please our customers and that we continue to maintain the highest possible standards.
I am so very pleased that the roll was safely disposed of in your rubbish bin (I mean your very nice bin designed to accept rubbish that has served you so well) and that no mishaps occurred whereby it was accidently dropped on a small child! We would certainly not want to learn that you were up on manslaughter charges due to you innocently purchasing some lunch!
At this point, I would like to say that yes, I was most amused by your comments and your eloquent description of events certainly did make me chuckle to myself.
That aside, I am extremely sorry for the crushing blow you have been dealt and I am happy to send you a £10.00 voucher as a gesture of goodwill and in recognition of the time and trouble you have taken to bring this to our attention. Rather than leaving the guesswork to Royal Mail, would you kindly provide me with your address details so that I can arrange for this to be posted out to you.
Thank you again for bringing this woeful tale to our attention and I look forward to hearing from you shortly.
Fair play, Morrisons. Fair play.
I love this city. Although I was born and brought up some eleven miles away, I quickly realised upon moving here that I was always Glaswegian – I had just been trapped elsewhere for twenty-three years. This is the best, although sometimes the worst, city in the world, and I cannot imagine living anywhere else. I would miss the people, their sense of humour, and the civic pride. See, the people of Glasgow love Glasgow. This was demonstrated beautifully earlier today.
Glasgow embraces its flaws, like the fact the Science Centre Tower is destined to never properly function. This trait is even summed up in the city’s coat of arms, as one of my friends brought to my attention: Here’s the bird that never flew, Here’s the tree that never grew, Here’s the bell that never rang, Here’s the fish that never swam. Supposed to depict miracles performed by Saint Mungo, it instead just sounds like a host of things that do not quite work. Further, there are areas of this city where there is no work at all, since the decline of heavy industry, yet people are quick to come together when the things we love are challenged.
This has been demonstrated recently, with the announcement of plans to renovate George Square. I remember the square before its transformation into how it looked for the past fifteen years – it was a green and leafy place in the heart of the city, the kind of place where somebody could steal the baby Jesus from the nativity scene. It then became a vast expanse of reddish-brown and bobbly tarmac – which led to me writing a joke about standing in the middle of it and kidding on you are a Borrower in the centre of a huge square sausage. “It’s great fun, until some junkie hits you with the brown sauce.”
The proposed changes were quickly condemned and subsequently dropped, with the consensus being that – if alterations were to be made – then it should be restored to how it was previously. Fancy fountains are all well and good, but the last thing Glasgow needs is a water feature. We have one already, suspended in grey clouds that regularly deposit their load upon us. Today, civic sensibility again won out – this time with regard to the Duke of Wellington’s traffic cone hat.
A fixture upon his head for so long that it has become a cultural icon, adorning clothing and postcards and making it into a Lonely Planet guidebook, there was outrage when it was suggested that the practice should end. The intention was to raise the plinth by about a metre, making it harder for people to place the cone upon Wellington’s head. “Challenge accepted” was one response I read.
I happened to catch this news story as it broke, courtesy of the Twitter feed of Brian “Limmy” Limond. He had gone through the original STV article, highlighting certain phrases and drawing attention to the instigator of this ill-considered idea. Rachel Smith, he discovered via LinkedIn, hails from Edinburgh. There is famously no love lost between our cities, and a great divide in our cultures and senses of humour.
Meanwhile, word was spreading. My wee cousin linked to a petition that was set up (currently at nearly 10,000 signatures), which called for a re-think and linked to the Lonely Planet article mentioned above. Comedian Greg Hemphill got involved, mentioning drily how every Glaswegian loves being told what they can and cannot do. Then I saw an unintentionally hilarious post, from someone bemoaning the raising of the “Duke of Ellington” statue. I took that and used it, complaining with tongue in cheek that I “Can’t believe they’re gonna stop you putting a cone on Duke Ellington’s head. That’s totally racist.”
Duke Ellington is not the Duke of Wellington, and Jack Skellington is also someone different.
An English friend pointed out that Wellington’s Cone is the one sight she remembers from her visit here, while comedian Jim Park announced that “The Duke of Wellington DID wear a traffic cone on his head at the Battle Of Waterloo, so there is a compelling historical argument.” Over on Facebook, groups were being set up to protest the decision, and a demonstration was hastily arranged for the next working day.
On there, as on the petition page, people were questioning the estimated cost of £65,000 for the work involved. Various graphics appeared, supplying departmental phone numbers and email addresses for registering discontent. This money could be better spent fixing potholes, funding community projects, or as a donation to the Philippines Disaster Fund. The article claimed that it costs £100 a time to remove the cone, which was disputed on the petition page and which outraged Limmy.
The original article was posted, according to the STV site, at 13:07. The outrage and humour flew on social media, with it being regularly mentioned that the cone embodies the defiant spirit of fun that permeates our city’s attitude. It’s part of our “get it up ye” culture, proclaimed Janey Godley.
Having casually followed the general outcry for most of the afternoon, by 22:56 the game was over. The BBC published an article describing the day’s events, in which they claimed the council is very likely to back down. It seems a sensible move, from a governing body that uses on its own website an image of the very thing they wish to ban. Amazingly, the statue (with cone) appears to be listed there at the very top of a section headed Objects Of Inspiration. I mean, really. This shower of dunces should be made to wear conical hats themselves.
In fact, if you have a cone of your own handy, the demonstration tomorrow will now be a celebration. I love that too, that we are all going to get together anyway and just celebrate the cone on the statue’s head. It is the mentality that appeals to me – an outpouring of shared affection for one of the most endearing sights in the town centre. A triumph for common (non)sense.
There you go. One afternoon was enough to (almost certainly) reverse a new policy – that is fast work, the vocal majority reminding the cooncil to stop messing with things that make Glasgow Glasgow. If only it was always this quick and easy.
Here is a short video clip Limmy made eight years ago, in which he plays an east-coaster who has come through to Glasgow just to see the statue with the cone. There is no cone to be seen, leaving our hero confused and disappointed.
STV (via Limmy)
Change.org (via Rachael)
Glasgowlife.org.uk (Stu Who via Eddy Cavin)
Twitter and Facebook (Limmy, Greg Hemphill, Jim Park, Janey Godley, Lauren, John McLarnon, Gary Cassidy, Ray Bradshaw, Ailsa Comrie)
Coat of arms observation: Sarah Crone
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.
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.
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.”
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.
His address is: Olaf Swantee (CEO), EE Head Office, Hatfield Business Park, Hatfield Avenue, Hatfield, Hertfordshire, AL10 9BW.
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.
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.
Today, I received a direct message from them which said – guess? – that no, I cannot email them.
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.”