Sunday, 21 April 2013

Gone solo

There are any number of things that I'm quite good at.

OK. I accept that was a little ambitious. I'll try again.

There are some things I'm quite good at.

Still too much?  I'll try again.

There are one or two things I'm quite good at. But there is something new I need to add to the burgeoning 'Not Very Good at This' pile.  I would make a lousy hermit.

On the face of it, being a hermit sounds quite reasonable. You get plenty of time to yourself. It's nice and quiet. You don't tend to get people calling you up about PPI reclaiming. In many ways, hermiting has a lot going for it.

Yes, that's a word. Because I said so, alright?

But I'm not cut out to be a hermit. Mainly because I'm not very good spending prolonged time on my own. And as far as I'm aware, you can't be a hermit that goes and mixes with people during working hours. That won't do. That's not hermiting.

My inability at spending time by myself has been brought home to me this weekend. She Who Must Be Obeyed has been away since Friday morning, visiting relatives in Southampton.

(I need to digress here for a second. I mentioned to someone last week that Katie was going to Southampton. "Lovely," they said. "Have you ever been?" I asked. "Well, no, I haven't," they said brightly, "but I've been to Northampton." True story.)

Anyway. My wife will have been out of town for three whole nights before she returns tomorrow.  I am in the house on my own. And at first it sounded like it could have been a blast. I could have drunk beer and eaten unhealthy food, for instance. This apparent freedom is only lessened by the fact that we do that when she's here anyway, so no change there, then.

I had a disgustingly long lie-in yesterday morning. But we tend to have long lie-ins at the weekend in any case. I lounged on the sofa for a significant proportion of the day.  Again, nothing new there.

But I was beginning to notice the difference. I went hours without speaking. And telling the cat off for bringing in another bumble bee from the garden doesn't count. It's not a particularly memorable conversation; the cat doesn't really go in for snappy comebacks.

I'll tell you this. Our house is scarily quiet when there's just me there. After I'd derided the cat for another insectoid murder, we settled down. Eric scuttled off to his radiator-hammock-bed device, doubtless wondering why the smellier of the two humans he owned was alone. I tried to read a thrilling article on the internet about World War 2 artillery shells.  I have no particular interest in the subject, but I thought I should try and do something different.  But the silence was overwhelming.  Really oppressive, and ever so slightly unnerving.

I went out. I came back in. I find it best to do those two activities in that order. If you try to come in before you go out, you're essentially circling yourself in the hallway of your home. And that way lies madness. I came back in to a silent, forbidding house. I never realised the sound the central heating boiler made when it comes on. When the fridge-freezer kicked in I almost jumped.

Tomorrow evening, Katie will be home. She'll be talking to me about her weekend, and checking the house to see whether I've managed to break anything. There will be Something Wrong that is my fault, and she will remind me of this fact. Whether it is my fault or not, she will, of course, be right.

Good. Because I think my short hermitage is sending me slightly mad.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

The working week

Don't think of this as just a blog post. Consider it instead an open letter.  I'm aiming this at the utility companies, people who offer domestic services, like plumbing, electricians, etc.

Chaps. I'm going to tell you something that might just blow your mind. It's this.

You know your customers? You know, the people to whom you send bills? Those folk who ring you up and ask daft questions? Yep, those people. A lot of them - I'd guess a good proportion - work Monday to Friday, during what we'll call, oh, I don't know, working hours.

So if you want to provide a service to these customers in their homes, here's a rather novel idea. How about offering it at the weekend?

I know. It's dangerously radical. But it might just work.

I mention this because we've been getting letters from a company called E-On. For the non-Brits reading this, E-On is a major utility company in the UK that evidently allowed the Marketing Director's 8-year-old to come up with their corporate name.

The good people of E-On had been writing frantically to me over a period of about 12 months. I didn't owe them any money, which makes a pleasant change. They were writing because they wanted to change my electricity meter. Apparently there's a law. By all accounts, you have to get it changed every 10 years or so, in order to make sure it remains accurate. We've lived here for 16 years, happily motoring along with the meter that was here when we moved in, but who am I to get in the way of progress?

As it's not considered wise to go mucking about with what is essentially the main electricity supply to the house, they would need to cut power for 20 minutes while they swap meters. So the letters asked us for a convenient time when we'd be here.

They're really flexible, these E-On bods. I could pick any day, from Monday to Friday. Morning or afternoon. Positively bending over backwards to help, they were.

In the working week, between the hours of 8am and 6pm, this house is occupied by a cat. And while Eric is reasonably intelligent, I think it would be unfair to expect him to negotiate with an electrician.

So what did I do? I ignored the first letter. And the second, third and fourth, despite their increasingly desperate nature. My lights still worked. I was still receiving and paying the bills.

Eventually, I took pity on E-On. I made contact to tell them that we have this really weird practice in our house, called 'going to work' and what could they do about it?

"Oh, no problem. Let's get you a weekend appointment arranged."

"I'm sorry? But your letter, sorry, letters, don't mention weekends at all. They make it clear that it's Monday to Friday, or nothing."

"Ah yes," chuckled the operative, "we can do this on a Saturday or Sunday.  But you see, we don't mention weekends on the letter. Because if we did, people might want to book the appointments for then instead."

At this point, I actually took the phone away from my ear and stared at it. You know how, in old caper-style films, there'd be that bit where an old drunk witnesses something unlikely, then looks at his bottle of whisky in confusion? It was like that. Only with a phone. Not whisky.

"Yes," I said. "I suppose they might. Given the chance."

"Now sir," she said, not detecting my raised eyebrows over the phone, "I'll pass your details to the team that books weekend appointments." They have a team for this? Who knew? "They'll be in touch."

Which is how, a week or so later, on an early evening, I found myself speaking to the Weekend Meter Changing Appointment Booking Team. I'm not sure if that's their official title.

"Oh, I am glad we've been able to contact you sir," E-On's Emma said.

"I'm sorry, what do you mean?"

"Well, I've been calling your home number all day today to book your weekend appointment. But there hasn't been an answer."

"You've been calling me at home?"


"Because you need your meter-fitting-bloke to come round at the weekend?"

"That's right," she said, brightly. 

I briefly stared at the phone again. It seemed the right thing to do, in the circumstances. Come on Emma, I thought. Work with me here. I spoke slowly. "We need a weekend appointment as we're not here in the week. It's Thursday. You've been calling my home number all day and you haven't been getting an answer. Because.....?"

Nothing. Nada. Rien. The penny was not for dropping. I swear I could hear the sound of tumbleweed. In the distance, a lonesome coyote howled. This is how Kafka got started.

"Never mind, Emma. It's not important. How about Saturday next week?"

So, companies of Great Britain. Think about the weekend, why don't you? It doesn't have to be difficult.

Well, not unless you deliberately make it so.


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