“I’m telling you, and you’ll listen …

… you can’t play politics with people’s jobs and with people’s services or with their homes.”

That was Neil Kinnock at the Labour Party Conference in 1985. I remember it well. It was one of the bravest things I’ve ever seen a politician do. For those that have forgotten or weren’t here, he was taking the Militant Tendency head on. They had been running Liverpool City Council, had been in dispute with the government and ended up deliberately making their workforce redundant just to  make a political point. Kinnock went after them bigly, a huge risk at the time, but got a thunderous standing ovation from the majority of his party.

Kinnock had a very serious point to make. A person elected to  government has a serious responsibility towards those who invest their lives in providing services to the taxpayer. These people are never to be used as pawns in a game of political chess or become the victims of grandstanding. Unfortunately, this is a lesson that Trump and his lickspittles need to learn. That, and the fact that he is not a dictator.

American politicians are jealous of the British Parliament because, by their standards, it’s easy to get legislation passed. Some in the UK would say it’s too easy and we end up with one day of democracy followed by five years of elected dictatorship. But the American system of federal government was designed the way it is so that power is not concentrated in one place – in other words you need to build a consensus if you are going to make major changes. If he ever understood this Trump has now completely lost sight of it.

The President makes a huge fuss about the country desperately wanting the wall – you know – the one he said Mexico would pay for? But just because he thinks it doesn’t make it so.  Well, firstly he didn’t get a majority at the polls, Hillary did, and he’s only President because of that weird-arse electoral college which is a hangover from the horse and cart days. Secondly, there’s the mid-terms and the massive change in the lower house. If that wasn’t a verdict on him and his bloody wall then nothing is. The Emperor is suddenly looking rather naked.

Trump may still genuinely believe that the wall is needed, although he makes a complete pig’s breakfast of producing any convincing or credible evidence. What he hasn’t got and never did have is any kind of mandate to build the bloody thing and much less to land the American taxpayer with the bill it.

More to the point he doesn’t have the right to play politics with people’s jobs the way he is. Both he and the Republican Senators who refuse to reopen the departments currently shut down are showing us what a bunch of cruel and uncaring bastards they really are. That they are so cavalier about the  livelihoods of so many public servants is a national disgrace and they should hang their heads in shame. But I really don’t think they have any.

It’ so funny …

… how we don’t talk any more.

Not, to be honest, that we ever did. I come from a generation of “Big Boys Don’t Cry” and self- reliance and bottling up problems because they’re ours and and we can’t possibly show weakness by asking for help. That’s partly why suicide rates are so high among young men – they can’t answer the question “Who am I, really?” and asking for help would make them look feeble. My father’s generation was even worse. My father-in-law kept the illness that eventually killed him from most of his family until the last few hours of his life. I only found out that my own father had been diagnosed with dementia long after he had died.

That’s why the visit I made last Friday was both highly emotional and very uplifting. It was to a work colleague. I’ll call him Charlie, for reasons he will appreciate. Those who know him will realise who I’m talking about – for the rest of you his real identity doesn’t matter.

Three weeks ago Charlie was playing tennis. He got an ache in his leg which his doctor thought was a DVT. Sadly it was only a symptom of a much deeper and more serious problem. He has advanced pancreatic cancer which has spread to his liver. It is not susceptible to surgery or chemotherapy, either of which would only buy a few months more. Charlie has opted to receive only palliative care and has very little time left to him.

I knew nothing of this until last Thursday when he appeared on my chat contacts list after having been missing for some time. Of course I asked him where he’d been and the awful story emerged. I had been planning on going shopping for Alex’s Christmas present in Guildford the next day, but I went to see Charlie instead – a four hour train and ferry trip each way which is no mean feat when you’ve got your own terminal illness screwing up your lungs. But I’m glad I did, and for two reasons. The first and lesser is that if I hadn’t gone to see him before he dies I would beat myself up emotionally afterwards. The second was because of the long talk we had.

This had all come along so suddenly that I didn’t know what sort of meeting it would be. From the time I worked with him, I recall Charlie as a highly educated man with an agile mind, and that is the way I will continue to remember him once he has gone. But there is a natural human tendency to feel bitter and lash out and/or slump into a whining heap of self-pity when life kicks you in the balls like this, so I was prepared for it to be an emotionally difficult visit. It was, but for good reasons.

What I found was calm acceptance. Charlie is undeniably angry at what has happened, particularly as, at the age of 55, he had finally got most of the ducklings in a row and was making his plans to retire. But he was dealing with a situation that he couldn’t change by quietly and efficiently putting his affairs in order and making his peace with this world. (I was most moved by his determination that some good should come from his passing by placing money in a trust to fund a university place for a young member of his extended family. That will be a fitting memorial for him.)

We were able to have a long talk about what had happened, how he felt about it and how he will approach the inevitable end. I was struck by the stark comparison between this and a situation I must have seen a hundred times before. As some of you may know I worked as a volunteer in our local hospitals for many years. Out on the wards I’ve so often seen the scene – a patient with their visitor(s) – the patient knows they are going to die, the visitor(s) know it as well, but they are sitting there in embarrassed silence because they are emotionally incapable of addressing the elephant in the room. We need, as a society, to be more open with each other about dying. How many times have you heard someone bemoan that they didn’t tell a loved one something while they were still alive. “If only” is one of the saddest phrases in the English language.

We none of us know how we will approach our impending death. I only hope that I will have the grace and manners to do it in the same calm and rational way as Charlie. I did not want to say Goodbye to him because that is so final, but we both knew that this was almost certainly the last time we would meet.

To my friend when the time comes I would paraphrase the late, great Douglas Adams – “So long, and thanks for all the chilis!”.

Ups and Downs …

Today has been rather extraordinary!

It has involved two of the most interesting men I have ever had the privilege of regarding as a friend.

It’s seen the wedding of a man I have known well in excess of a decade to his significant other, who I have never met. I’ve seen the first photos and they do look radiantly happy together. John and Siobhan, you make an exotic and lovely couple and I wish you very many happy years together, although I’m still disappointed that you didn’t ask me to be a bridesmaid.

Also today I have heard from a colleague that I worked with a couple of years ago. A very educated and interesting man and he told me why we haven’t seen him around for a few weeks. He has pancreatic cancer which is inoperable and terminal and he has only two or three months to live.

Life can be so beautiful and yet such a bitch at the same time!

It’s that time of year again!

Nowadays, from November until the “big day” itself there will be a steady trickle of stupid non-stories about councils banning Christmas, or having to say “Happy Holidays” or some such nonsense. Scratch the surface of this drivel and you usually find that the truth is far more prosaic than the headline promises.

Early off the blocks this year is Paul Vivian, an evangelical preacher from Grimsby. (I will resist the temptation to get all regionalist and say that they need some light and enlightenment up there … but ever since the great Austin Mitchell retired from Parliament they’ve been somewhat lacking!) Mr Vivian has got his little proselytising knickers in a twist over a billboard which has been doing the rounds and which wishes the public a “Mary Christmas” and invites them to the town’s “Supercalifragilistic Light Switch On”.

He was so shocked about it that he wrote to Grimsby Live (the local rag). He was full of “disgust and outrage”.  He says “The people responsible for inciting this offence are not in line with the law of this country or laws governing Human Rights, and I, as an ordained Minister of the Gospel request an immediate apology, and removal of this billboard!”  In his argument Mr Vivian cites Article 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which obliges countries to adopt legislative measures against “any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence”.

Now, call me old fashioned, but I would have said that inciting religious hatred would be something like advocating gassing Christians, or throwing Muslims off tall buildings – not equating the alleged birth of a person not proven to exist with the activities of the truly invented. (I’ll leave you to figure out which is which!)

Mr Vivian claims that “We need to lawfully and wholeheartedly respect all religions and their festivals, without preference or prejudice.

Err, like fuck we do! If that were truly the case we would not be having Christmas at all. There is no Biblical evidence that Jesus was born in December and no physical evidence for him at all. Given genuine respect for other cultures, we should be getting ready for the Winter Solstice – a celebration that 4th century Christians nicked.

Virgin Mobile does it again

Dear Mr Mockridge

I should have known better after the last time I tried to order a phone from you. (Before you get too stuck into this, some bits of your business work really well. I cannot fault your broadband service, and upgrading that was a pleasure. It’s such a shame that your mobile division can’t work to the same standards.)

I placed an order for an upgrade on Sunday – Order reference: ***************. I specifically asked for delivery today because I knew that I would not be around later in the week. At about four this afternoon I checked Yodel’s website only to find out that it had arrived at their depot, but had not been put out for delivery. I asked them on their web chat why this was. I was told that you had instructed them for delivery within 24 hours, but they had only received the phone this morning and that it would be delivered on Wednesday – when I won’t be here to accept it. They then told me that it was in a locked cage waiting for you to instruct them to deliver it. Yodel apparently say that the delivery rescheduled by me. This is a lie – IT WAS NOT.

I then tried to contact your 789 number to cancel the upgrade. If I’m not getting it today I don’t want it. And frankly, had I known what a shambles this was going to turn into I would have just gone down to Argos and bought one. After numerous questions to establish who I am, although I was ringing from the mobile I wanted to sort out, the agent said that she needed to check something and put me on hold for fifteen minutes before cutting me off.

So I tried your text service. Another hour and twenty minutes wasted as I was told that you would not cancel the upgrade until I had taken delivery of the pone and returned it to you. I fail to see why I have to rearrange my schedule to accommodate your company’s failure to deliver on its undertakings.
So I then tried your “Retentions Team”. I admit that, by this point I was beginning to get REALLY annoyed and my attitude and language were bad, for which I apologise, but it REALLY would help to keep the customer’s blood pressure in check if your account agents were to actually LISTEN to what the customer tells them. I was told that the upgrade could not be cancelled because Yodel still had the phone. (I would have thought that as you are their customer it would be a very straightforward thing to tell them to send it back to you, but they’ve never been the brightest chisels in the box. Why you continue to use them is beyond me.) This is not acceptable, because if Yodel screw up again I’m left holding the liability. After repeated, and I do mean REPEATED requests to speak to someone more senior I was again cut off.

For the avoidance of any doubt, I am exercising my right under the Consumer Contracts Regulations and cancelling the order for the upgrade. I will not accept delivery of your phone and I will not be responsible for it should Yodel attempt to deliver it to a neighbour in my absence.

So, unless you can get someone to sort this out immediately and come up with a convincing reason why I should put up with what I think is really shoddy customer service, this time I’ve had enough.
Would you please arrange for port authorisation codes to be sent to me immediately for mobile phone number 0**** ****** as I wish to transfer the number to another provider? The other number will remain with your for the moment as the contract still runs until December.

Yours sincerely

Currys Dixons W****house Does It Again …

Open email to the CEO, Currys Group Limited –

Dear Mr James*

I really should have learned from the experience of trying and failing to buy a mobile phone from your company in April that you could not be relied upon.

We visited your Crawley store on Thursday to look at cookers as we are refurbishing our kitchen. While there we found and bought an American style fridge freezer at a very good price. Nicola, the assistant, was very helpful and efficient. Such a shame that your delivery agents are crass, rude and ignorant.

After defrosting and cleaning the current fridge freezer yesterday we waited in for four hours today. About one o’clock two persons arrived in a white lorry. These creatures were clearly uninterested in what they were doing and just point blank told me that the appliance would not go through the front door. (I have tested this with a floor plan and they are wrong – it would.) The other option would have been to bring it through the back garden. They stood thirty feet away from the gate and told be that it wouldn’t fit through. (I’ve measured the gate – it would.) They claimed that it weighed 150kg – they were wrong, it’s 95kg. Their attitude stank!
After I had been back to the store to complain about all this they then claimed that there was no safe path into the house. Odd, then, that I managed to have two three-seater sofas and an armchair delivered that way two days ago! We were not even given the option of a kerbside delivery as they refused to offload it from the lorry.

I tell you this not because I want or expect you to do anything about it, but only because a man in your position should know how craply his organisations is behaving. If the delivery grunts you choose to employ are indicative of your company’s approach to customer service then I can only conclude that you remain in business through sheer weight of numbers.

We will go elsewhere.

* Sebastian Richard Edward Cuthbert James, scion of Baron Northbourne, Eton, Magdalen College, Oxford, Bullingdon Club – you know, just your average normal bloke …

Carphone W****house

An open letter to the MD of Dixons/Carphone Warehouse –

Dear Mr Fennell

Forgive me for writing to you directly, but I think everyone at the top should be reminded every now and then of how well or how badly their staff are doing. The reason for the congratulations? The fact that your company failed three times today to sell me a phone.

I’m not after much – all I want is a sim fee Samsung Galaxy J5 (2016) in black – so I went looking for one, but failed to get one, despite your website showing it as available at all three of the stores I went to.

First stop – N* E*, C******. The sole assistant there was chatting to her friend and leaning against the counter with an expression that can, genuinely, be described as a bulldog chewing a wasp. Didn’t go in there!

Next stop – W* C*, C******. And here your staff’s customer service “skills” are shown off at their glorious worst. (I’ll overlook being addressed as “Alright, Mate.”.) I explained what I wanted and was referred to a “sales person” who was seated at the desk at the end of the shop. I don’t expect to greeted with obsequious glee, but some form of courteous greeting would be nice. I do not expect to be addressed virtually in mono-syllables by someone who cannot even be bothered to sit up straight, much less actually smile. I also expect to have the sales person’s undivided attention and not for him to go mucking around with the printer. As he seemed so disinclined to any form of reasonable politeness I got up and left.

Final stop – R******. Here things were only marginally better. A fair wait while your two staff dealt with other customers, one of them doing a pretty good job of unselling your merchandise, but I persevered. I explained what I wanted and he went out the back to check. Now, remember that I said your web site stated that the phone I wanted was in stock at all three stores? Well, after about five minute wait under a heater unit set to “saharan” he came back and announced that he didn’t have any at all. Either he was telling me a porky-pie or your website was. I checked again when I got home. Yep! Still in stock. Now, in my days in customer facing sales roles the correct approach would have been “I’m terribly sorry, sir, but we don’t seem to have one in stock. I can order one in for you and it will take blah-blah days to arrive.” Not to shrug and say “We haven’t got any. I can order one in.”

I know it’s only a hundred and eighty quid, which to Dixons must be peanuts, but you’ll forgive me if I take my money elsewhere.

Regards

Wicked Wickes

When we moved into this house nearly thirteen years ago we wanted to redo the bathroom. We found a nice suite at Wickes in Dorking and bought it in plenty of time to fit in to our timetable to work on the house before moving in. We were given a “guarantee” that it would be delivered at the agreed time. Anyway, fast forward a month and the day before the agreed day I get a phone call apologising, but they wouldn’t be able to deliver for another fortnight. I cancelled the order and went and got a suite off the shelf at B&Q. It wasn’t as nice, but we didn’t have time to piddle about.

NOW, fast forward again to today. We need a new shed. Nothing fancy, just a common, or garden, shed. (See what I did there??) But it has to be a sideways on one, you know, with the door on the long side because of where it has to go in the garden.

Wickes advertise just the thing, and about the right price, and it just so happens that they have it in stock at their Dorking store for collection. So we ordered it – even arranged for my bro-in-law to go and collect it in his lovely new van. Plan in place to swap the old and new sheds over the long weekend.

And then the curse of Wickes struck. Twenty minutes after placing the order I get a phone call from the chap at Dorking. They didn’t have our shed, they never had had our shed and they had no plans to get us our shed.  All they were prepared to do was cancel the order – no offer of an alternative (read upgrade), nothing.

I call that piss-poor customer “service”.

Well, Wickes, if you don’t want to sell me a shed we’re happy to go somewhere else – as we will for the major kitchen upgrade later this year.

Middle Aged Middle Class Ranting

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