Monday, 1 September 2014


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

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