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.
I love a good practical joke, and it is that shared sense of cameraderie and physical humour which has always drawn me to working backstage and in related environments.
It is especially easy to get up to mischief when you have creative skills or the access to them. Very light things can be made to look identical to very heavy things, for example. One theatre I worked in has a polystyrene stage weight which – from a distance – is indistinguishable from the real thing. I had been there for a while before I saw it used, when the technical manager carried it level with the genuine weight in his other hand. He lowered and gently dropped the real one, then looked up and casually tossed the fake to the visiting production manager. I still remember the latter’s reaction, and am laughing at the recollection.
When I was studying, the lead carpenter convinced the designer that she should step inside the coffin they had built. He even managed to explain away the reason for placing the lid on top, and by the time the other guys had begun screwing it in position it was too late for her to do anything but accept the fact.
Those are my favourite jokes, the daft ones that involve everyone. No victimisation, no malice, just inclusive good fun. Today it is you dribbling juice on yourself because somebody pierced a hole near the top of your soda bottle. Tomorrow it is me trying to retrieve my hooded top, from its position tied to a flying bar stationed eight-feet above a freshly-painted stage floor.
The very best jokes, though, are the ones that are set up months or perhaps years in advance. Sometimes you do not even see the pay-off, but if someone else does then it is all worthwhile. I know of a theatre workshop which houses five identical adjustable spanners, one of which is plastic and came from a childrens play set. Its handle is taped and spraypainted in line with the real articles, and it was to my delight that I once witnessed a visiting crew member rush in and grab the kid-on one. A rare occurrence, but they keep it there just for that chance moment and I love that.
I consider myself pretty canny, not least because my keen wit means I instigate at least as many japes as I am party to. It is still possible to catch me out though. Recently, during a day working in the Care Home set of a local soap opera, my colleague (a permanent staff member there) asked me to open the door at one end of the room. I was suspicious – his ruse was not completely believable – but I was willing to play along. When I pulled the door handle I discovered that it, and the frame into which it was built, was a standalone unit. It is just a door in a frame, which can be positioned against any blank wall to give the illusion of further access points. “I love getting people with that,” he told me.
My birthday is in September, and one of my closest friends now lives next door to me. When I returned from running an errand on the day, I found that she had been busy in my absence. The dying bunch of flowers which had been destined for her bin were instead seconded and used as decoration. They joined a scribbled note which proclaimed “oontz” once in lipstick and ten more times in ink. When I walked into our close, the first thing I had noticed was the candle lightbulb on the floor. She had added it because it looked “industrial” (the type of music that we met through the love of), but its weight had defeated the sellotape used to attach it. I laughed hard at her efforts, and appreciate them more than she maybe knows.
Within a week, I had decided how to get her back. I hit upon something simple, easy, and guaranteed to entertain her – all I had to do was wait until Christmas. For three long months I held on, not daring to share my plan with anybody in case word got back to her. If you know me at all, you know that I can be trusted to keep your most precious secret safe for eternity. However, I find it very difficult not to share jokes, laughter, funny stories, or any other form or source of wit. I can be the worst conspirator, as I find it hard to keep a straight face at times – especially in the final build-up.
Weeks and months passed, during which I hinted that her door would be attacked at Christmas time. I knew that she would never expect what I had in mind, and I bluffed by attaching a tacky foil wreath to her door while she was out one day. Finally, after the longest time, I was able to enact my plan. I took the necessary measurements, prepared everything, then quietly set to work. On the morning of the 25th of December, the entrance to her flat looked like this:
Sadly, she did not respond to my knocks. I had to carefully peel up the bottom right corner, chap, and then quickly tape it back down before she answered. She did not answer, and I had to leave before she eventually emerged. I had wanted to capture her reaction on video, but I would not have seen it anyway, hidden behind a wall of paper – paper that she had already described as “the gayest” (she was with me in the shop when I bought it, haha. There is unsuspecting for you.)
Today, late on Boxing Day, I finally saw her. She said that it took her by surprise, as she only saw it as she was running out the door. She told me that she burst through it by punching her way out of it, which I regret not seeing. Like I noted above, though, my favourite jokes are the ones which take time to set up and which work whether they are seen by others or not.
I am certain that, upon posting this, I will remember other examples from my eighteen years in and around the industry. It is hard not to love a job, or hobby, which allows you such a degree of fun in the breaks while you are otherwise conducting yourself professionally. Just do it, lighten your co-workers’ life. Or your friend’s, or anybody else’s. Smile and the world smiles with you. It does not take much to brighten your day.
I seem to only ever succeed at failure. It is a bittersweet irony.
The latest, and most spectacular in some time, involves a trip to Germany over Christmas. So far it appears to have cost me several hundred pounds, a close friendship, and a job that I have longed for over four years to resume. It looked like it might cost me another job too, had the holiday request that I submitted not finally been accepted a mere six days before departure.
On the back of this, and it is a longer and more intricate story than that single paragraph suggests, I have I recently become the benchmark of failure. I know this because a friend said to me “Whenever things go wrong for me, I will think ‘At least I’m not Jordan.'”
By that reckoning, my main problem is that I am Jordan…
A couple of winters ago, I was living in a different part of the city. You meet a different type of person on the buses that go down Paisley Road West than you do on the buses that go up Great Western Road, which is a statement of fact and not a judgement, and this involved the former. It was a cold December night, a few days before the major celebration of that month, and the bus was packed full. I sat next to a black man of average build, who was in the window seat. Directly behind him there was a bigger-built black guy with a mean look on his face, and next to this guy was the evening’s Bus Arsehole – a drunk, mouthy, Glaswegian woman of forty or fifty.
The guy next to me was having a conversation with the gent behind him, I presume in their native tongue but short of knowing that it wasn’t English or one of the main Romanic languages, I wouldn’t like to hazard a guess as to precisely which dialect they were using. The big guy was happy enough when leaning forward and chatting this way, but he didn’t like the interjections from the Bus Arsehole – and it wasn’t hard to fathom why. She sat behind me, tutting loudly every time they spoke, and making a point of doing so in such a way that they would notice her disgruntlement.
The guy next to me was very affable, and starting talking to the woman in English – apologetically, for reasons I will come to. Whenever those two spoke, the big guy sat back into his seat, his demeanour changing and his engagement in social interaction replaced with the kind of scowl that suggests you will have the fuck knocked out of you if you even looked at him.
“Yous should talk in English,” the woman told the guy sitting diagonally in front of her (and next to me.) I bit my tongue and didn’t point out that we have our own recognisably distinct version of English – Scots – which made her remark a little hypocritical. Instead, I listened as the guy next to me apologised profusely and tried to explain why they were talking in their own language – as if it somehow needed justified to this inebriated stranger.
“Yous should speak English, so’s that other people know what yous urr saying,” she said. That was the moment when I joined in, siding with the guy next to me. “Mate, it’s none of her fucking business what you’re saying, don’t apologise!” Technically I had been doing as she wanted to – listening in to something that didn’t involve me – but since I was in such close proximity there was no way I could have reasonably been expected to have avoided it.
“Whit you sayin’ tae it?” she demanded of me, refocusing her attention and launching into a tirade of personal abuse, to which I responded by calling her an Earywigging Bastard. The big guy sat there next to her, stony-faced and saying nothing, and the man next to me continued to try and humbly defuse the situation. I wasn’t rising to it though, I can handle myself well enough against verbal abuse from drunk arseholes, and especially in my home city. Could you imagine that she would go to some far-off country with a friend then speak in that country’s native language and not her own? No.
I stayed calm and ignored her, and a few stops later when it was time to get off the bus I embraced the “Goodwill To All Men” spirit of the season. As I got out of my seat and headed towards the door, I turned and said to her – cheerfully, with a warm smile, and knowing it would probably wind her up even more, me being something of a wind-up merchant – “Have a good Christmas.”
“Have a good Christmas?!” she asked, as if that was the biggest insult she had ever taken. If she answered back to that, I didn’t hear it as I had already stepped off the bus. I have never experienced anything like that before or since, someone being so blatantly rude, arrogant, and nosey – “talk in my language so I can understand what you are saying.” Fuck off, it’s none of your business! Arseholes like that bring this city down.
A week later, I was in the town meeting a few friends and acquaintances and – small world that it is – the guy who had been sitting next to me was working in the pub we went to. We remembered each other, and shared an acknolwedgement of where from and a brief hello. I haven’t seen him since, but I hope he no longer excuses himself for holding private conversations in whichever language he sees fit.