not quite what it says on the tin

Brent_Cross roundel

Some days things just don’t go according to plan; I had one of those last Saturday. I’d taken my Apple macbook out to Italy and connected it up with a mobile broadband connection which worked really well. However for some reason I lost the ability to open certain attachments and draft things in Word. I thought it was just a quirk of being abroad and would correct itself when we got back. But it didn’t. My son-in-law wasn’t able to resolve it so I decided to take the laptop to one of the Genius bars that they have within Apple’s stores. A friend had told me they were excellent help facilities and could cure most problems on any Apple product – mostly without charge.  It sounded just the thing.

First off it was necessary to reserve an appointment at one of the stores online. Because the car’s currently being repaired and at the garage (which is worthy of another posting) I was rather hoping to book a slot with an Apple expert at either the relatively nearby Kingston store or, if not that one, the main store on Regent St – the journey to which would be straightforward at least. But the only appointment  I could get was for 10am last Saturday morning at the Apple store in the bloody Brent Cross shopping precinct. Now for those not conversant with London store geography this is located way to the north of the centre of town out on the N Circular Rd beyond Golders Green. And we live in Staines, Middlesex close to the SW section of the M25. By car it’s about a 45 minute drive in Saturday morning traffic. By public transport it means a train journey into Waterloo and then a long trek up the northern line to Brent Cross tube station (and return of course).  With good connections I figured it would take around an hour an a half.

So early on Saturday morning off I trundled to Staines train station with my little macbook tucked in my grey (and rather gay) shoulder bag. To be honest the journey was OK – I’d read every page of my Independent newspaper en route and it was a few minutes to 10am as we pulled into Brent X station. Perfect timing. Er…not quite. I know it must sound like a mad man talking but I’d figured that I’d take the up escalator from the station and find myself stepping out into the concourse of the shopping precinct. It’s at least 20 years since I’d visited Brent X and I’d only been there in a car before but you’d expect the Underground station which serves the precinct and bears the same name, to be co-located wouldn’t you? Oh no. I exited the station to find myself somewhere in the suburbs – slap bang in the middle of rows of residential housing and no clues as to where the shopping complex lay. After a bit of a walkabout I spotted some heavy traffic at the bottom of one of the leafy roads which I figured had to be junction with the N Circular Rd. I walked briskly down to it and then could spot the complex over to my left – about three quarters of a mile away and over the other side of one of the capital’s busiest thoroughfares. Here’s the panoramic view that visitors face; pleasant eh! The shopping centre is beyond the furthest fly-over in the photo, which is about the halfway mark:

brent cross2

I walked the few hundred yards to pick up the pedestrian bridge to take me across. It was adapted for wheelchair access with shallow-rising slopes but there were no stairs so getting across the bridge required you to walk at least a quarter of a mile along the up and down slopes. At least I was on the right side of the road now. But there was more. It was now necessary to go alongside a foul-smelling drainage ditch, under two or three bleak underpasses, past a number of  upturned and abandoned shopping trollies as well as several once-pleasant houses which had been compulsorily purchased for the long-term widening scheme and were now boarded up and in ruins. I spoke to a young woman who it seemed was headed in the same direction to make sure I was taking the right route (oh how visitors to the UK must be impressed at making the visit to N London’s finest shopping facility). She confirmed that we were indeed on the main scenic route, the final bit of which required us to traverse a patch of scrubland which couldn’t have looked more like a mugger/rapist’s paradise if they’d had it designed by the Yorkshire Ripper. I was following and it must have been unnerving to hear my heavy footsteps behind her. I walked more quickly to try pass her and she almost jumped a mile as I turned to her to apologise as I drew alongside her shoulder. This was dreadful. Fortunately she was OK and the precinct was only about 250 yards away. It looked  like an oasis in an urban desert and the long day’s journey into hell and back was nearly over. Hats in the air, woo hoo!

The Apple store, of course, was at the very far end from where I entered the complex, sigh, and overall I reckon it must have been at least one mile’s hard walk  from the bloody tube station. The store was packed and I was hot and bothered and 20 minutes late for my appointment with an Apple genius. It didn’t matter because upon checking with the very pleasant concierge she informed me they were running at least half an hour late and I was third in line to be seen. Ah well she smiled sweetly as she called me Paul and apologised sincerely whilst pointing to my name on the big screen appointments list. I took a seat at the counter.

I have to say I was really impressed by the Apple crew; they were all polite, very patient and incredibly helpful sorting out all manner of seemingly difficult problems with various bits of Apple kit. I was very confident that they’d sort out my little difficulty in no time. And before long my expert came along, apologised again for the delay and asked me what the problem was. I powered up the machine and showed him the trouble opening attachments etc. I then heard the words you don’t want to hear after undertaking the Long March; ‘I’m really sorry Paul…(argh!)…the problem isn’t an Apple malfunction’. What? It seems the problem was a software issue with the Microsoft Office do dah and the Apple guys simply couldn’t do anything.

I understood perfectly and felt like I ought to be the one apologising for wasting their time. But I was still hot and bothered and now hugely disappointed and in need of a little rant at least. I couldn’t really go overboard like I normally do (check out the trip to Sicily posting) especially as they were so nice and reasonable and, well, just so Apple-pie wholesome. But I was hurting, not least because I’d just realised that I’d have to start the journey back through north London’s very own Helmand province in a few minutes. The only thing I could think of was that when I reserved an appointment online they asked for  some information on the specific problem. I rather lamely suggested that they could and maybe should have come back to me to say the problem wasn’t their responsibility, to save a wasted appointment and, you know,  save me from the trek from hell. He looked a little sheepish and apologised (again) admitting it was something they should look at. I had my little indignant victory  over the mighty corporation. 

I headed from the store and out of the ghastly complex vowing never to darken the doors to Brent Cross again. I can’t fault the Apple people at all to be honest and my good friend J has once again sorted the problem for me. But I got back home after a wasted journey lasting 4.5 hours and you can imagine my mood last Saturday. How TfL can possibly escape litigation under the Trades Description Act by calling this station ‘Brent Cross’ I’ll never know. I think they should call it something like ‘It’s the closest point in our system to the retail backwater which is Brent Cross but as it’s actually more than a mile away through a grim and desolate urban landscape, you’ll need stout boots, a can of mace to fend off the perverts and stick-up merchants and more true grit than John Wayne to brave the trek to it’ station. That’s what it ought to say on the frigging tin.

Grumpy old men? I invented the genre.



4 thoughts on “not quite what it says on the tin

  1. Sorry about the whole Genius bar thing! Likwise did the whole Brent Cross tube thing for the first time a few months ago. Could not belive what a #@*!ing shambles. And its only been open about 30 years.

    Checked your blog to see if you are still alive. Please call/email/write – something! Beginning to wonder if emails/voicemails are drifting into a black hole.

  2. Hi B

    The apple genius bar was great but you’re right about BX, it is a complete shambles – esp the access. Never again.

    Anyway have sent e-mail – sorry for delay, it’s been hectic!


  3. I know the walk – having once endured 6 months in Golders Green (not very green, more brick red). But since when did anyone go to Brent Cross on public transport? It’s a shopping centre, and the concept is that you go there to shop rather than for enlightenment! But seriously, that was a journey for the car!

  4. Hi john

    I guess you’re right but how do they attract tourists to the place? Anyway our car was in the garage being repaired at the time so I didn’t have a lot of choice but to use public transport. Never again….

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