Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Phone our helpline; it only takes a minute, girl

Readers, I have been driven mad by a telecommunications company. Last Friday night, I decided to try for the millionth time to sort out my phone and broadband connection. Now, you may wonder why I chose a Friday night. I didn’t; it chose me. I found myself alone with the obligatory bottle of Pinot Grigio and thought that I would at least do something useful.

I have been battling for an eternity with the company in question. I am surprised that they haven’t put caller recognition on every one of their phones in every single call centre (which are mostly, it seems, in Scotland) to avoid me. Some people connect with the outside world through social networking sites; I spend my time being passed from one department to another during 20-minute phone calls which never, ever come to anything.

I drank another glass and reached for the handset. I always find that squiffyness aids these situations so I dialled with jaunty confidence and waited. And waited. And waited a bit longer. Ah, here we go: “Key 2 on your keypad to talk to one of our customer service advisers.” Righty-ho. I press ‘2’. And it rings, it rings and ...Ah, ‘Sharon’ answers.

I psyche myself up; I know the ropes by now. I ask Sharon to send me the paper form again. “It says here that it was sent to you on the 9th.”

“Yes, I know but I haven’t received it, so I need you to send another one.”

“I can’t give any account details over the phone as you need to send the form back.”

“I am aware of that fact – that’s why I need another form.”

“Well, as we don’t have the form back I am not able to process anything on your account.”

“Err, well I would have sent the form back, had I received it. I need another form, so will you send one?”

“Let me put you through to my colleague in ‘Account Services’.”

Dear God; please let me get through this.

So, Sharon puts me on hold. We run through various jaunty ditties written by some two-bit composer on his Yamaha to pay his bills (probably his phone and broadband bill). I neck another glass. How long can this possibly go on for? Still, it’s on a loop so I’ll be able to hum along in a bit. The loop stops and a crackle, at last – I am going to talk to someone.

No, the music has just changed to Christina Aguilera, now Spandau Ballet and of course, kings of the ‘on hold’ music scene; Take That. It Only Takes a Minute, Girl is blaring through the phone. Seriously, does someone somewhere get paid to choose this music? And, if so, they are obviously someone with an incredibly ironic sense of humour as I have now been on the phone for 22 minutes. And counting.

“Hello, Miss Saffery?”


“I’m afraid ‘Account Services’ have all gone home for the evening – you’ll have to call again in the morning.”

My eye flits over to the remaining Pinot Grigio as I say “Thanks Sharon, do you realise you have me trapped in a Kafkaesque nightmare? Is that the company’s intention?”

“I’m sorry Miss Saffery, you need to call Account Services in the morning to release your form”.

Release my form? I need to be released, for pity’s sake. My hand reaches for the bottle as I hang up on ‘Sharon’ and slowly sink to the floor. Read more by Naomi.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Dating: what's the hurry?

Who on earth came up with the idea of speed dating? I mean, actually think about it: a room full of insecure and slightly desperate singletons, all fuelled by varying levels of Dutch courage, trying to sell themselves in three minutes. Is this not your idea of a nightmare? How did I even find myself there? How did I get caught up in the supposed glitz of it? I'm not even looking for anyone! It was one of those arrangements you make without actually any intention of properly following it through, you know, like going to the gym or drinking two litres of water a day. “Why not?!” I said, when a friend casually mentioned it to me. Throwing caution to the wind, I exclaimed: “It’ll be a laugh, right?!”

So it was only when my friend actually booked it, and I got the confirmation email doused in glittery love hearts and cheap innuendo, that the wave of fear came over me.

My question is this: why would anyone put themselves in a situation where they can so openly be judged and scrutinised? You see, I come from the old school of denial so the idea of speed dating is all a bit too open and honest for my liking. Conversations and people are whittled down to a “yes” or a “no”. Or, of course, there is the ever-so-slightly patronising “friend” box which has an extra space for any additional comments. So, while my additional comments boxes were full of factual nudges such as “works in finance”, “a bit superstitious” and “mind in the gutter”, my friend filled hers with brazen comments such as “too small”, “has odd teeth” and the slightly snobbish “common”. While this was highly amusing to read, it filled me with terror to think that there was some male equivalent, writing equally disparaging comments about us.

The storyteller in me wanted the night either to be really bad or really good, but it was a beige shade of mediocre. I was left with oddly the same feeling you get after eating a stodgy pasta bake: bloated and indifferent. There were several kinds of conversationalist: the ones who pitched themselves as “zany”, asking questions such as “how many coppers could you get in your mouth?”, the clich├ęs who, replete with an arched brow, asked questions like “if you could make three wishes, what would they be, babe?” and the last-resort wife-hunters, those who, having fallen out of favour with society’s “normal” (whatever that means) ways of finding a partner, resorted to asking questions soaked in desperation such as “so do you want kids and a mortgage?” or “where do you see yourself in 10 years time?”

The idea of meeting a Zach Braff type and laughing the night away was a tad unrealistic, I grant you, but still, just where do all the original, interesting people go? I was left surrounded by these vaguely nice people, all trying to rifle through the other cast offs in the room. Where do I fit in with these people? (Note: this is a strictly rhetorical question. No need for answers on a postcard here.)

And so while date number eight was telling me about his goldfish business, all I kept thinking was: are these supposed to be my glory years? Are these the rebellious youthful days of sunshine I’m going to tell my hypothetical grandkids about?

It made me think about society’s need for speed, for fast service, fast food, fast living and now fast romance? Is this the best I can hope for, three minutes of hurried conversation, a sleazy wink on exit and a choice of three boxes to record the occasion? Can we all just slow down a bit? Instead of diving into everything head first at manic speeds. My head is spinning.

I’m not saying speed dating doesn’t ever work, and I of course saw the ironic and fun side of it, but it’s all a bit random... which is equal to just getting out there, when and if you want to, right? It all amounts to the same socially awkward thing at some point.

I figure that by taking the slow way, I might at least be able to enjoy the view ... especially if Zach Braff comes walking around the corner... Read more by Selina.