Wednesday 28 March 2012

Option 1 - Give a damn about your customers!

The sun rose supernova tangerine. A thin seam of mist carpeted the treetops. Birdies went tweet and caw, and I was looking forward to a calm, peaceful day, just a couple of phone calls to make and then I’d be free to scribble, to walk, to do whatever I felt like.
Just a couple of calls: the first to eircom, poor eircom, up the financial Swanee, possibly about to go into receivership.
Before the call I felt warm towards eircom. They put a phone line into the new house, nailed boxes to poles and ran lines along the bohreen without charging me a penny for the installation.
By the end of the call my mind was melted, my spirit broken and only deep breathing, fierce strong resolve and an implacably optimistic nature propelled me onwards to calling the Revenue.
When people gather in groups these days we bitch, groan and moan about our dealings with domestic service providers, with good reason. Automated response and voice recognition software combine to intimidate, frustrate and inevitably infuriate us customers. We feel patronised and bullied, and by the time we’re able to do what we all want to do - which is to speak to a human being - we are in such a foul temper that the poor souls working in the call centres don’t stand a chance.
Well, they do, because I never lose it with them.
Not if I can help it.
So when I finally got through to a human at eircom, I garbled and babbled an incoherent stream of benevolent nonsense at her, trying desperately to explain that I’d been in such a good mood but after 20 minutes of being offered 8 options then 5 options the 3 options then 5 options then losing it completely with a computer that calls itself ‘I’ as if I’m meant to have empathic feelings for it, but so now god knows d’y’know the kind of way but so and I’m in a terrible state and it’s so unfair for you, isn’t it, because it’s not your fault and by the time we customers get through to you we just want to kill someone no no not really kill someone ha ha ha but you know what I mean, just that I’m sorry if I’m angry because it was your phone menu bastard menu voice system and not you, and what was your name again?
She told me her name once more, but now a cold calm suppressed her voice. Her interaction with me became understandably and suddenly very stilted. Evidently my efforts to come across as a compassionate, wronged yet generally wonderful person had failed so tremendously, that to her I sounded like a serial killer stalker sociopath having a bit of a dodgy day .
“Your enquiry?”
“Oh you’re asking me what I called about?”
But who could blame her? Tragically my opening statement had succeeded only in turning the human being I sought so long into a bloody human computer, who repeatedly failed to answer my real question. Trouble was, by this stage I had gone so far past caring that my give-a-shit cells were buried on a small asteroid somewhere beyond the Crab Nebula.
“Okay, ” I said, “let’s get this straight. There’s only one bill even though your very own computer voice thing told me I had already had two. The amount due on the bill is that big because the package I signed up for doesn’t start until the second bill, which in fact is this bill in front of me despite what you insist. The words on the bill that correspond to the sales pitch I was given say that ‘payment will be requested by direct debit from your account no earlier than 14 days after the date of the bill’, which to this man who makes a living out of the use of language means blogeddy splot, but sure looks a little as if it says that no money will be taken from my account without me getting a couple of weeks notice on a paper bill, but that’s now null and void, as the money has gone from my account, and on and on and on call me ron ronnie ron
So do I go for it?
Do I raise the game?
Do I insist on the …  Supervisor?
Not today. No no no not today, because I have just moved house and dealt with every service supplier known to the West of Ireland, the World, the Solar System, this side of the Cosmoverse and beyoooond. I have scrapped with Sky, dabbled with Digiweb, been through thousands of menus to speak to people at UPC, ESB, ABC, 123 baby you and me girl.
I’ve gone loopy loony loo. I’ve been lied to, ignored and ripped off, just as have all of you, and it makes us angry. Sometimes it has made me so angry that I have exploited my work as a freelance writer to try and right some wrongs, but only when I’ve either been lied to or robbed.
I hate doing it because it turns me into some sort of foolish and pompous Do you know what I do? bollox. Trouble is, it works, but only ever as a weapon of last resort. Why should it be necessary, when all we’re looking for is a TV service, an internet link, a waste bin provider; anyone working for any service company that means what they say when they sell to you, and then doesn’t keep you at bay by locking you away in a cell of talking computers and phone menu options.
Himself The Body tells a splendid tale about the time he was on the phone to eircom and losing it with their voice recognition drone machine. After he’d verbally exploded in a stream of ‘F’ words, the machine replied
“I may be a machine but I understand what you're saying!”

Hear me now providers all: you exist only if we use your products, but all of you are making us feel that we are Us and You, collectively, most certainly are Them.
As your call-holding loops forever remind us, we know that our calls are very important to you.
Now’s the time to mean what you say.

Tuesday 20 March 2012

A tale of testicles and tractors, of wicker baskets and woe!

The move is made. Hallelujah! The move is made the move is made, diddly iddly aye da doodaah the move move move is made.

Now I’ve got that Wizard of Oz tune stuck in my head - Tra la la la the witch is dead -
which is most apt, considering the sexuality issues attributed to that movie, as this colyoom is a tale of testicles and wicker baskets, of tractors and woe, where I play both the heroine and the hero who can't decide exactly which man I am.

My manhood was first challenged by the anti-man toilet seat in my lovely new house. It doesn’t stay up, forcing me either to drop my kecks and sit down, or to stand and take my chances.

Long-suffering colyoomistas will be well familiar by now with my feelings about the issue of toilets seats. It seems to me spectacularly clear that there is no default setting for the position of the toilet seat. Unwittingly and somewhat unwillingly, by reflex I always lower the seat after doing what men do, because it’s the acceptable social norm, but it ain’t right. 

Gender equality is a strange business, and I have never understood why it is only men who are expected to touch the treacherous germ-infested toilet seat. After we do our business we lower the seat so that women can sit on a clean dry seat, as they must and should. But why, pray, do they have the right then to walk away? If we are expected to lower the seat for them, why might it be asking too much for them to lift the seat for us?

My mentor, teacher and friend Iris Leal, whom I first met when I was a militant feminist in the mid-1980s, has suspicions that I have now become a misogynist, but nothing could be further from the truth. As you’ll see while this tale unfolds, I’m a reconstructed deconstructed misconstrued mélange of ‘New Man’, Silverback Gorilla, Alpha Male and old-fashioned gentleman.

I just can’t be arsed to sit. Many moons ago I went out with a beautiful German woman who insisted when I was visiting her that I sit down to take a pee. I was outraged. I told her she couldn’t mandate how I might urinate any more than I could dictate when she would menstruate.

However, I’m in my 6th decade now, so I know that a stream of liquid doesn’t suddenly stop mid-flight. Unless you’re hovering right over the toilet bowl your manly peeper is going to hit the seat with something. Unashamedly a gentleman, I cannot leave any trace of my outgoing account for the Snapper or others to find, so I wipe with a piece of toilet paper, flush and wash my hands.

I will miss the gay (sic!) abandon with which I could use the downstairs loo in the old house. Such was the general ergonomic layout that one could stand astride, legs over each side of the bowl and perform a hands-free evacuation. Standing with hands on hips looking out the window, I felt all liberated and free. 

But I’ll take this house over the last a million times over. I’m once more in the country, looking out to green fields, stone walls and the lake, yet under half an hour’s drive from good old Galway. The Snapper is commuting to her job in the city, so I am reunited with my old friend, the long country day.

I bloody love it, although moving house being such a traumatic exercise, this is the very first day for several weeks in which I have time to do two things I love: to walk along a country lane and to sit and write.

Inbetween unpacking boxes I’ve been performing the usual domestic functions, including doing laundry. Now that I’m back in a rural setting once more, I can hang the washing on a line, and the house came with a lovely long low-lying wicker basket that was born to transport wet clothes from machine to back garden.

So there I am on the back doorstep, carrying a laundry-laden wicker basket, about to step into the sunshine and

and I stop.

I stop because there is my new Landlady’s brother driving his tractor and plough down towards me across the home field, and over there is the other neighbour driving his own JCB to extract giant boulders from his field, in order to build stone walls with them, and here am I, a long laundry-laden wicker basket tucked into my hip, my arm outstretched to hold the other handle, feeling oh-so much like the heroine of a Walter Macken novel that I have to resist a strong urge to rush off and accidentally and tragically lose my left arm in a mangling machine.

What will these real men think of me if I step out of the door and hang laundry from a wicker basket? Were I living on my own I scarcely think I’d spare a second to think, but both these men know that I’m a married man. They are Country with a capital C and country men don’t hang laundry from wicker baskets. They drive tractors and JCBs and get over yourself Adley, for god’s sake, you’re losing the plot.

So out I step, testicles a-tingling, hanging the laundry, and half way through sure and doesn’t himself the Landlady’s brother wave a manly arm at me and yell

“Lovely day - windy though!”

To which I resist (so much resisting, it can’t be good for me!) the urge to yell back

“Great day for drying those thicker sweaters, d’ya know!”

Because that might just sound downright girly.

God knows what I was worried about, as a half hour later I’m dashing around in pouring rain like a seven year-old on a sugar rush, trying to wrestle sodden twisted clothes from the line.

Manly? No idea, but what could possibly be more Charlie than doing the shopping, cooking, dishes, laundry and hoovering, whilst scribbling and walking the bohreens?

Dammit - I’m more of a man than any woman I know!