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.


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.

What a Platt!

Well, thanks very much to John Platt from the Isle of Wight for taking up so much public money over his little tantrum. In case you missed it, he’s the loving daddy who pulled his daughter out of school for an incredibly important and crucial visit – to Disney World.

OK – I get it! Holidays are more expensive when the schools are off, but that’s just basic supply and demand. It does not give every parent the right to regard their child’s schooling as if it’s a bargain bucket from KFC, to be provided on demand and according to their whim. Schools do not and cannot work that way. At least the Supreme Court saw sense and realised that to rule otherwise than against Le Platt would be grossly unfair to the overwhelming majority of parents who stick to the rules and that it would create absolute wretched anarchy in our already rather chaotic schools.

Most parents faced with a fine would have just coughed up. We’re only talking 120 quid, which equates to about one day’s lunch at Disney, but there seems to be some streak of melodramatic masochism in Platt by which he wants to be seen as the victim. The drivel he came out with as he bad-temperedly commented on the Court’s determination was intellectually offensive.

He claimed that this judgement was about taking away the rights of parents to make decisions about their own children. He claimed that even being a minute late for school would be a criminal offence. What a load of bollocks! It’s neither of those things. It’s about safeguarding the rights of children to education – the single most important thing we can give them – as enshrined in Rab Butler’s Act.

Headteacher’s must always have discretion to allow children time away from school where it is merited, but the circumstances should always be exceptional. Meeting Mickey Bloody Mouse at low season prices does not meet that threshold.

Have some pride, man! Admit you screwed up, pay the fine and don’t be so bloody stupid in future.

Chump’s Major Misfire

I apologise if this blog is becoming something of a Trump-baiting exercise, but it is major-league scary that this highly ignorant and bigoted man is President. It should concern the whole world.

The Chump’s latest executive order is causing mayhem at ports across the USA and the rest of the world as people already identified as suitable to be landed there are refused boarding to aircraft or worse, they are refused entry and detained. The Governor of Washington has today issued a damning statement accusing the Chump administration of gross incompetence. Personally I think he was quite restrained and should have said “crass, blinkered, pig-ignorant and bigoted gross incompetence”.

The fact is that, popular or not, the Chump’s policy just will not work. Clearly it is a crowd-pleaser to show that he is being tough on terrorism, but it’s nett effect in that direction will amount to two fifths of five eighths of fuck all. Blanket banning muslims will only catch the people who are prepared to play by the rules. As with his wall, the policy is completely misconceived and wrongly aimed, and its detrimental effects outweigh by a country mile any limited benefits. The ones who will do you real harm won’t be travelling through JFK on a properly stamped Iranian passport!

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Rather these days “I turn the light off outside the orange door”.

A pointless vote …

Later this year we and our fellow residents of Surrey are going to be asked a rather foolish question by Surrey County Council – namely whether we want our council tax bills to rise by about 15%.

Personally, I took all of 20 nano-seconds to make my decision – and that’s before I’ve heard any of the “arguments” in favour of this absolutely mahoosive tax hike. My wages haven’t gone up by 15% so why am I being expected to cough up more? Besides which this is a Tory council, backed by a Tory MP with a Tory government. Whatever happened to the mantra that Tory candidates have spouted for generations – that the Tories are fiscally responsible and can be trusted to provide ever better public services for ever lower costs? Bilge then as it is still bilge, as way back when in the days of the unlamented poll tax they just fiddled the grant system to make places like Wandsworth and Westminster look like they were efficient. But I am getting rather a lot of schadenfreude from watching local Tories squirm about having to do the very thing of which they have been so critical for so long.

For all that, what exactly would we get for another £200 a year? Well, there’s access to the fire service, which I haven’t needed in the last 58 years, but I concede should be a publicly funded service. We don’t have any kids, so haven’t had call on the education service for several decades. We both have several computers and e-readers, so we haven’t used a library in nearly twenty years. There’s roads, I suppose, but given the pothole-ridden, dilapidated state that many of our roads are in you’d be forgiven for wondering where all the money went.

The proposed hike needs to go to a referendum following a change in the law in 2011. Judging by the online poll launched by the Sorry Error it’s not likely to succeed – to date 671 responses with 87% against the rise. Can we just take it as read and save the money?

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