Monday 1 September 2014

IF YOU WANT TO UPSET ME, JUST UPSET MY 85 YEAR-OLD MUM!

You mess with her, you mess with me...
 
Readers of a mean-spirited bent might be delighted to know that after my recent rather smug piece about the Magic Button that converted my customer service debacle into a minor victory, everything went very wrong.
 

How sad is it that our expectations are now so low, that a customer finally receiving goods that he’s bought might be described as a ‘minor victory’?
 

If contemplating that makes me feel blue, it doesn’t compare to the way I felt last week, when I was hit with a double-whammy of consumer crises.
 

After more emails and letters than I care to contemplate, the rowing machine failed to arrive as guaranteed last Friday. I didn’t even want it delivered, but thanks to anomalies on the Argos website, I had no choice.
 

The following Monday night I was in London visiting my mother, when I received an email from 
Argos saying that the rowing machine hadn’t arrived in Ireland, but would be dropped in the garage in the village on Wednesday.
 

I replied saying that Wednesday was no good. I was away, the garage wouldn’t hold it for long and the Snapper was unable to pick it up, both time-wise and physically. Could they make it next week?
 

At 08:30 the next morning my mobile rang, showing an Irish number.
 

“Hello Charlie. I’m in Galway with a box for you from Argos. Where will I find you?”
“In London! You were supposed to be delivering last Friday, and as of last night you’re not meant to deliver until tomorrow! It’s confusing. Can you make it next week?”
 

He then dropped the box at the garage in the village, precipitating a shower of costly international mobile phone calls from me to the Snapper, the garage, Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama.
 

By the time I arrived at Mum’s house around 9:00 I was fuming. Never mind all that guff about being ‘a valued customer’. It felt like I was now working for Argos. Clearly they hadn’t a clue what was going on, so I was making the best of a bad job.
 

However, as soon as I opened Mum’s front door, my rage went in an entirely different direction. She was very upset. A man at British Telecom had just been rude to her on the phone.
 

In a nano second all thoughts of my comparatively petty troubles dissolved in a wash of sympathy and a flood of protective ire.
 

Who was he? What was his number and just let me at him! How dare he? Oooh and Grrrr and honest Mum, it’ll be alright.
 

“Well you can call him if you want, but I don’t think he’ll listen. He was thoroughly objectionable and actually, now that I think of it, he sounded drunk.”
 

While completely understandable, my mother’s lack of optimism was entirely out of character. When my lovely Dad was alive he used to find her relentless positivity slightly wearing, often calling her ‘Pollyanna’ when she tried to smooth over too many problems with platitudes, but my mother’s struggles with BT have gone on for over three years, finally exhausting her faith and patience.
 

Once or twice every year Mum’s landline stops working, at which point various engineers turn up, fail to find anything and go away again. You might think that an 85 year-old woman losing the use of her landline would constitute a priority, but sadly, in today’s society, the Corporate Entity is king, with we customers mere fodder, to be crushed and pumped into the Profit Machine.
 

For the last few weeks she’s been stressed and distressed as her phone has gone again. A few days before my arrival a BT team dug two large holes in the road outside Mum’s neighbours’ houses, leaving a sign saying the job would be completed in 3 days. 

I’d already called the number on the sign, only to be rebuffed by a woman refusing to accept any responsibility whatsoever. They were not BT, she insisted. They were the engineering wing of BT and anyway, work done on Saturday was not counted as ‘a day’ so could I call back next year, when she might give a damn.
 

All my Mum wanted was to know what was going on. She was terrified of going out in case she missed the BT engineers when they came. I took the phone number of this BT man who had been rude to her and then I breathed deeply, trying to remember that I was back in London, where aggression is inevitably met with more aggression.
 

Be calm.
Be nice.
Just get a result for Mum and all will be cushty.
 

A bloke answered the phone, unintelligibly garbling something. 
“Is that Ray?” I asked.
“That’s what I said!” the voice snarled back.
 

Grrrr and more Grrrr, yet I controlled myself. My pragmatist ruled the roost. 20 minutes later he was calling me ‘Charlie mate’, but sadly I suspect only because I have testicles and unlike my Mum, don’t sound like the Queen on the phone.
 

Later, I was explaining to one of the engineers working outside that this was about an 85 year-old woman who felt like a prisoner in her own home.
 

He nodded and tutted sympathetically, until my mother appeared on her front porch, as ever beautifully turned out and immaculately dressed. She then proceeded to glide down the steps and came to talk with us.
 

After meeting this graceful grandmother with mental faculties that fly in the face of age, the engineer turned to me with a big smile.
 

“Doing pretty well, isn’t she, for a prisoner, know what I mean?”
“Just as well,” I replied, “considering the way she’s treated; considering the way we’re all treated these days.”
 

...and so this was intended to end, but incredibly, minutes after writing the above, I receive a phone call from a courier company.
 

"Is that Charlie? We've a rowing machine from Argos that we want to deliver."
 

You have a what no no you're kidding me. 
Another one?!!?
 


©Charlie Adley
24.08.14.



Sunday 24 August 2014

AUTUMN EVENINGS OFFER THE CHANCE TO LEARN NEW SKILLS!

Rose Bay Willow Herb   


Sometimes I worry that my behaviour might be straying from slightly odd to fully eccentric. On my walks with Lady Dog this Summer I have been assaulted by clouds of flies, seven or eight of the buzzy blighters constantly bombing my face, ears and eyes. 

Occasionally a superstar of the bluebottle world scores a direct hit by taking advantage of my open-mouthed breathing to fly directly down my windpipe, only then to be gagged upon, wrapped in mucus and expelled back into the outside world, doubtless much debilitated and less able to fly, which must be tough for a fly.
 

In a bid to deal with these pests I took to waving a white handkerchief around my head, in flick-flack fashion, rather like a Tongan Princess I once knew, who had a mean way with her fly swatter.
 

As a visual definition of ‘eccentric’ the sight of this bear of a scribbler flitting and flapping at the air gaily with a cotton hankie would suffice, but sadly there’s more. Regular Colyoomistas might recall that my rowing machine has been broken, so in an effort to rebuild my floppy bits and work on my breathing, I slipped into the habit of slipping out of my t-shirt on those hot Summer mornings. My logic was of the very intimate and personal kind that only really makes sense to oneself, but it had something to do with a combination of visualisation, macho nonsense and a desire to feel like a wild mammal.
 

So now’s the perfect time to apologise to my smiling gentleman neighbour whose early morning walks coincided with those of this glorious Adley, nipples alfresco, hankie and flies combining as one.
 

“Nothing I haven’t seen before!” was his generous response to my embarrassed apology the first time we encountered each other, his low warm Ulster rumble causing the dogs tail to wag happily.
 

We both talked of the flies: so many more than any year before. Flies in their thousands, signs of a fecund growing season. Loads of sunshine, high temperatures and sudden heavy downpours bringing lush plant life, providing a feast for young livestock. Where there’s animal pooh there are flies and where there are flies, there are birds. For the last month our house has been surrounded by three clutches of swallow fledglings, providing a Hitchcockian perimeter fence of 400-500 birds at any given time.


Celandine - the first flower of the year around here...

Ireland's wildflower journey from yellow to purple is now complete. From the earliest bursting yellows of celandine in late January, through the daffodils, gorse and buttercups, gradually the West becomes a bluer place. Purple loosestrife strives to stand tall but is overshadowed by the splendid rose bay willow herb, towering above precious clumps of wild purple orchids and delicate pale blue harebells.
 



Purple Loosestrife 



White has come and gone in ethereal fields of bog cotton, but still prevails in the shape of dreamy clumps of meadowsweet and cow parsley, its white saucers of lace doily hanging in the air beside the encroaching mauve marsh thistles and eye-catching Emperor purple of spear thistles.
 

Of course there is still some yellow. The dreaded ragwort remains as prevalent as ever, yet just as the sun sets in an indigo blood glow, so too our West of Ireland Summer heads to death in flowers of a purple hue, while we long for its rebirth in the explosive yellow petals of Spring.
 



 Noxious Ragwort - kills livestock if eaten after cutting

The time has come to admit Summer is gone. Looking over to my ragged, damp and windblown flower bed, I accept now that the plants look tired. There will be no more long Summer evenings spent idly dead-heading.
 

I was going to do just one more round of plucking the poppy seed pods, the mad bulbous Nigella spheres and the dusty cornflowers capsules, to encourage more flowering, to keep the colour alive: but no, the time has come to let everything go to seed; to save those seeds in envelopes for next year; to accept that the darkness is coming.
 

I do not dread it. There are some aspects of Winter that I love. There will be cosy evenings in the cave, our bodies fueled by stews and hotpots, our souls nurtured by the fabulous security humans enjoy when safe inside, beside a fire, while the world rages wind and wild sideways wetness outside.
 

We are nought but hairy mammals, so we change with the seasons too, but I’ve often marvelled how crazy we are to fight against our own nature, by trying to light up the darkness. We’ve converted a season in which we should be sleeping, waking only to eat high fat foods, fart and return to snoring, into the busiest, most stressful time of the year. 



The coming long dark evenings offer us the opportunity to learn new skills or improve those we already enjoy, so I’d be plain silly not to mention that I’m running another of my Craft of Writing Courses at the Galway Arts Centre, from October 1st.
 

I love teaching this course. We all write together in confidence-boosting lessons, enjoying ourselves while learning the serious skills of the writing craft. With over a million words published I’ll also offer advice on how to sell your work.
 

I only allow 10 around the table, so as to give all my students the maximum attention, so if you would like to improve your writing skills for business, pleasure or creative reasons, please book your place now.
 

In the meantime, slow down, smell the damp leaves and pluck a blackberry from a bramble bush - it will taste beautiful; it will taste of of Autumn.

Charlie Adley’s Craft of Writing Course.
7:30 - 9:0pm, from Wednesday 1st October for 8 weeks.
€110/100 concessions. Numbers strictly limited.
Contact The Galway Arts Centre:
Email: info@galwayartscentre.ie
Phone: 091-565886

Sunday 17 August 2014

PLEASE STOP SHOWING US WHAT WE’RE ABOUT TO WATCH!


 Given the pace of technological advance, there will come a time in each of our lives when we’ll feel left behind. For me that moment came a while back, when Netflix announced they were releasing the American adaptation of House of Cards, starring Kevin Spacey.
 

A big fan of the original BBC series and its dark yet brilliant anti-hero played by Ian Richardson, I’m sure I’ll love the series when I see it.
 

Were it not for the hamster on my roof that runs to provide my internet connection, I’d already have watched it. Suddenly I felt a little left out and I didn’t like it.
 

That perception of being excluded bought back memories of the days when there were only three TV channels in England; when you dared not miss the big show that everyone else would be watching. 

There was no taping, no rewind or pause. You had to be in front of the TV to see it, so if your parents didn’t happen to like M*A*S*H, you’d be fighting with your brother for control of the tiny and ancient black and white portable upstairs.
 

It was vital you watched what everyone else in your social sphere was watching at exactly the same time, or the next day at school would be a miserable exercise in bluffing away the fact you had missed both Monty Python and M*A*S*H.
 

Those excited chats everyone used to have about last night’s tele are what they now call ‘water cooler moments’. Away from live sporting events and soap operas, they have almost entirely disappeared. Unless you’re a fan of either balls or balls-ups, watching television is no longer in any way a sharing social experience.
 

We’re all doing our TV differently. While you’re catching up on the latest Storyville documentary on BBC 4, your friend is working his way through series 3 of his Breaking Bad box set, your mum is watching the gardening programme from last Tuesday. and the kids are off on You Tube, glued to the live broadcast of a pet chipmunk performing open heart surgery on its owner.
 

With the very welcome arrival of what’s known as ‘Long Form Drama’, (West Wing, The Sopranos, The Wire, Game of Thrones, etc.) the stars of the big screen have drifted from cinema to TV, attracted by quality scripts and massive budgets. For once the viewers are winners, as technology in the form of digital TV and DVD has freed us from forced-watching of mindless dross.
 

Have to admit, I absolutely love digital TV, as apart from news and sport, I hardly ever watch live TV. My digibox is loaded with everything from Cheers to Simon Schama, so whatever my mood, there’s always something there I feel like watching.
 

No longer a slave to commercials, I’m king of the fast forward button, straight through the ad break, luvvly jubbly! 

Series link? Yes please!
 

The change of the season is heralded by the TV networks advertising their Autumn schedules. Whatever wonderful or woeful programming they offer, of one thing we can be sure: they will be treating us like idiots.
 

Since the arrival of the TV remote control (yes kids, there was a time...) our attention spans have shrunk to something comparable to a squirrel on speed, but that doesn’t mean our brains have become indistinguishable from walnuts.
 

So why do the networks feel the need to talk down to us as if we’ve all had frontal lobotomies?
 

The first 5 minutes of every programme consist of a preview of everything we’re about to see, so that in effect, we don’t actually need to watch the programme at all.
 

Indeed, if we do decide these tasters are appetising enough, we tacitly accept that by choosing to watch the show, we are condemning ourselves to seeing all those clips again, represented to us as if we’d never seen them before.
 

The other night, at the start of RTE’s Six One news, Sharon niVol o’Vent squiggled on her seat as she ran through the day’s headlines. 

We were shown a long and tedious clip of yet another crooked politician somehow found innocent, reading a statement on the courthouse steps. It was painful the first time, but one minute later we had to watch and listen to the gobshite reading the same mind-numbing nonsense all over again.
 

As far as ‘dumbing down’ goes, the BBC are no better. I recall Fiona Bruce reporting on their 6 o’clock TV news how census results showed that Scotland’s population is growing.
 

“Experts say that this is a result of more people being born than dying in Scotland, and more people coming to the county than leaving it.”
 

Thanks Fiona - if you hadn’t explained that to me I’d have lived the rest of my life thinking that new Scots were spontaneously erupting into life, or being grafted onto planet Earth by space aliens.
 

Thankfully there are still some channels which offer the mind stimulation. Ah look, there’s that nice Tony Robinson chap, about to present a Timewatch Special about Stonehenge.
 

Oh no! Please no! He’s at it too.


“Coming up - we’ll reveal faaaascinating secrets about Stonehenge that nobody has ever seen before, except you now, in this preview. In fact we’re going to show you the key points of the whole programme in 30 seconds, so here’s the interesting bit about the stones being a healing place; now we’re telling you how the blue stones came from Wales; there’s the skeleton we found of a significant archer and a man murdered by Druid security."
 

Now sit back and enjoy the fact that when you see all those juicy morsels in a wee while, they’ll already be memories rather than revelations.
 

The best show in town never changes: hitting the off button; watching the fire’s flames lick over the turf; listening to the wind howling outside and the dog snoring at your feet.


©Charlie Adley
06.08.14.

Saturday 9 August 2014

WHY CAN’T EVERY CUSTOMER HAVE THE MAGIC BUTTON?




My body weight doesn’t grow or shrink much, but there’s so much of me that I change shape in quite dramatic fashion. 4 days a week I’ll do a 10 minute warm-up on my rowing machine, followed by a 3 mile walk with Lady Dog. On the Snapper's day off I sweat for a two hours mowing the lawn.

All good and triff, as long as the rowing machine isn’t broken. A month ago the belt went, and now my body is falling to bits. No, sorry, my bits are still intact and attached, but everything has fallen out. 

Watching tele with my arms resting on my belly is not good for morale. Buttons zinged off 2 pairs of trousers that were giving me an inch of spare air only a fortnight ago. Worst of all, pecs the size of small continents are inexorably morphing back into what my beloved wife once described as 

“14 year-old nubile breasts.”

There cannot be a less attractive look.

So off I went to find a new rowing machine pronto. Visiting a major catalogue store’s website I found a €490 piece of kit on special offer, going for €220. Great! I’d simply drive into Galway City and buy it, but first I needed to check whether it was in stock.

I clicked on the drop-down menu beside ‘Check stock in your area’ - entered ‘Galway’ and up came a big tick and words saying ‘In Stock’. On the other side of the window it advised me that if I wanted home delivery, it would be done in 10 days.

But I neither needed nor wanted home delivery, as the rowing machine was in stock in Galway.

Eager to look more like a man than a schoolgirl, I drove into the city, filled out the slip in the shop and presented it to the checkout server, who said I couldn’t buy this rowing machine in the shop. 

When I told him I’d just driven all the way into the city because their website specifically said it was in stock in Galway, he assured me that yes, it was in stock, in a warehouse in England. If I wanted it I’d have to go for home delivery, but I’d have it within two weeks. 

Living in an obscure spot, I try to avoid home delivery at all costs. I pointed out that everywhere I looked delivery times were estimated within 10 days. He shrugged. I asked him to go to the product’s website page and follow my click trail, which he did and then said:

“Oh yes. I can see why you thought it might be in stock.”

Why I thought that? 

Why I thought that a search for stock in their Galway shop resulting in ‘In Stock!’ showing below a great big tick might lead me to believe it was in stock in Galway?

I paid for the item and went over to the shop’s customer service counter, where the server told me she couldn’t help me as I needed customer service. Standing back I pointed to the sign above my head and then she explained that customer service for the website was different. I showed her my website journey once again and she said that it was confusing.

“It’s not confusing,” I assured her, “It’s just wrong; a lie.”

Back at home I called to set up my delivery and was told that the next available delivery date was just under 4 weeks later. Worse, it was coming on a Friday, sometime between 7:30 am and 6:00pm - a window that in this day and age is anachronistic and ridiculous,

Holding my breath I told her that Fridays are busy days in my life and to be stuck in all day would prove extremely inconvenient. I asked if the driver could leave it at the garage in the village, to which I was told that yes, that could be arranged, but this delivery would then have to be cancelled and a new delivery organised, and the nearest date for that delivery might be even further away.

At this point I sort of lost it. I told her that nobody expects their customers to wait in an entire day any more. Their customer service ethic and delivery service was stuck in the 1970s.

So I called their customer service team to make a complaint and after waiting a long time in the queue I spoke to a woman who was frankly pretty confrontational. Unlike the staff in the store, she adamantly refused to see that the website was at fault. She raised her voice and dug her feet in. I asked to speak to her supervisor and she was much more conciliatory, yet could not offer me any solution. 

Later that day I received a call from a UK number on my Irish mobile, so I didn’t answer. The message left advised me to call urgently about this order, as some new information was available. 

Believing it possible that someone had worked miracles, I sat on the phone, waiting in long queues all that afternoon and twice the following morning, until eventually I got through to a human, only to be advised that they had no idea why I’d been asked to call, because there was nothing new. 

They said I’d probably got a call from the automatic dialler. 
Great! More valuable hours wasted waiting on the phone for no reason whatsoever.

So I pressed my magic button, available only to those willing to make enough noise or write about consumer debacles in newspapers.

Within a couple of hours of sending an email to their media department, the entire matter was resolved.

The rowing machine arrives next week, for which my body and those around me are truly grateful.

What bugs me though, each time things like this happen, is that if they can do it for me, just because I’m threatening to write about it, why can’t they do it for everyone?


Charlie Adley
31.07.14.

Sunday 3 August 2014

ONLINE GAMBLING DOESN’T COMPARE TO THE OLD BOOKIES!


About a mile from my childhood home there was a cluster of shops around a crossroads that served the local council estate. To this middle class boy, they looked strange and mysterious, inevitably tempting.

Side by side stood the transport cafe and the bookies. The concepts they represented were not strange to me. I had eaten in restaurants and both my father and my grandmother liked to place a bet on the horses every now and then. They lifted their phones and called their bookmakers. It was all very efficient, but somehow rather cold and distant.

My first job was milkman's boy, jumping on and off the float to pick up the empties. Jim showed me how to make sixpences dance around his fingers, blatantly lying to me that it made the housewives laugh. I knew well he was doing it to shortchange them but I didn’t care because I was 10 years old, unable to discern such adult rights from wrong.

After we finished the round, Jim took me to the transport cafe. I loved it, made a complete fool of myself and actually enjoyed all the men laughing at me when they heard my clipped accent. In there I felt no pressure; no expectation and more, enjoyed an acceptance of some kind, powerful enough to change my life in later years.

After drinking several mugs of steaming strong sweet tea and snarfing down a fried egg sandwich (two slices of toasted white slathered in butter and ketchup, dripping yolk and dropping white as you ate it) Jim would lean back in his chair and belch incredibly loudly.

His burp sounded like mix of someone being sick and an opera singer tuning up, which all seemed to me a bit behaviourally extravagant, seeing as how we were in public. To my bourgeois mannered amazement nobody twitched an eyebrow.

“Right, Charles me boy! On your toes son! Just got to pop next door and then I’ll return you safe to your mum.”

Fantastic! We were going to visit the bookies next door. The not-very-swishy strips of filthy dirty plastic hanging over the bookmaker’s doorway acted as a portal to another universe.

Being in the bookies was like watching tele, which was black and white in those days. There was little daring to declare itself beyond monochrome in the scene before me.
 

Men in flat caps talked to others in boiler suits, rollies permanently stuck to bottom lips, staying lit, being drawn on every now and then.

There was a long queue of men trying to put money on a race that had already started and a very short queue of men (rarely more than two) who were trying to pick up their winnings from the last race so they could put a bet on this other race, the one that the other men wanted to bet on, even though it had already started.

It used to make me giggle. These grown men doing the same silly thing every day. They knew that the bloke behind the counter would tell them they couldn’t place their bets on a race that had started and everyone knew well that everyone else knew that was the case and every day everybody ignored it.

So ferociously eager was the mens’ desire to bet after the race started, I used to wonder if there wasn’t some kind of magic involved. There was no question of cheating. The bookies at Brockhurst Corner wasn’t a launching pad of cutting edge technology back in 1970. 


It was a smoke-filled litter-ridden mixture of hope and loss, testosterone driven dreams and nightmares, where lives might be riven between success and failure, by luck and a little knowledge being a dangerous thing.

Thankfully, it was also a place where men went to have a laugh and behave like children. So as soon as the wire rose or the stall doors opened, just as the field galloped into the first furlong, all of them would race over to the betting window, waving their wads, shouting the name of their horse, screaming the particular odds they wanted, as if their’s was the only voice in the room; in the entire world.

Every day the bloke behind the counter would wave them away, shout back some blue abuse and then, just to wind the crowd up into a blind frenzy, he’d take a couple of bets from those closest to the window, agreeing preferential odds which fuelled loud guttural grunts of “Fix!” and “ He’s on a bung, the dirty little bugger!”

Despite the pure farcical and wonderful comedy involved in this maelstrom of a floor show, the real fascination of the old bookies for me was the bloke who worked the chalkboard.

With the radio going in the background and messages coming from the back room, he’d write out the runners and riders by hand on the blackboard, and then work out the odds right in front of you, doing the maths in his head, rubbing out the 3/1 and going Berlington Bertie 100/30 on No. 6 in the 1:45 at Haydock, move on, rub out, rewrite, keep calm while wiping the hair down on the back of his head.

Using what seemed to me like a planet’s worth of mathematical ability, he did all this while also having a bit of a laugh and a chat with the lads, rolling his Old Holborn into liquorice papers while taking a swig of Tizer from the bottle.

Gambling these days is unrecognisable from those. The way having a flutter stands today, you're more likely to sell your bet to someone else than bet on a horse’s nose.

Online betting has become just like my Dad’s phone call to his bookies: efficient but cold and distant. Part of the thrill of having a flutter on the gee-gees was being in the bookies, shouting and cheering with the crowd. There was a thrill of excitement to share, even when you lost.


©Charlie Adley
26.07.14.