Big issue

So here in Stratford uA there’s a resident collection of street beggars, buskers and the like.  Every town has them I guess. They seem harmless enough though I do sigh each time I pass by some young lad who seems to be fit and relatively healthy. I always imagine they could find a job if they put their mind to it. But I admit I don’t know their back story. There’s an older guy who sleeps on his cardboard stack outside Boots. He’s quite a character, By 1-2pm he’s usually loaded and serenading the shoppers and tourists with his drunken ballads. He always attracts a curious crowd. Bless him.

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Modern marketing

I’m having a problem with my blogsite platform at the moment. Run by WordPress it’s hardly ever given me any issues since I started writing Pasta Paulie in 2007. Now, and over 1000 posts later, it’s suddenly started playing up and it’s driving me mad.

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Vexed with Next

I’m sure I told you we had to vacate our previous property in Brackley because the owner had had a difficult lockdown and needed to sell. We were sad to have to leave because we so enjoyed living there but once we’d found this new place in Stratford-upon-Avon we were keen to move on. Two of the very smart things we did before moving were to sell off a lot of furniture  and household items that we knew wouldn’t really suit this new place, it also made moving half as difficult. The second thing was to order a beautiful new sofa and snuggle armchair. We only had to inform the makers (M&S and Next respectively) of the change of delivery address and as luck would have it both items were scheduled to be built and ready for delivery v shortly after our move.

This was welcome news because we managed to sell our old sofa and armchair a week or so before we packed up. That meant we were sitting on dining chairs for nearly two weeks before the first item, the snuggle seat, was due to be delivered by Next about two days after we moved in. We couldn’t bloody wait to get it and sit in something which was completely relaxing again. Dining chairs have their role but they aren’t the solution when your backs are beginning to ache badly.

Now the interesting thing about the new road we live on is that it’s a fairly traffic quiet but a narrow one-way lane, especially right outside our new property. Moving in was quite a performance because we parked our van up right outside, moved two or three items into the house than moved the van down the road or around the block to allow the 3 or 4 cars that had started stacking up to get past. We spent about 4-5 hours doing it but not one person complained at the slight delay as everyone could see what we were doing and were sympathetic I’m sure.

Over the next few days, and ever since, we saw delivery drivers pull up regularly to drop off goods and groceries etc. Also the municipal waste and recycling lorries pulled up to empty bins from all the residences and our neighbouring heath centre and care home 3 times a week. And every time of course they’d stop for 5-10 minutes or so to load/dropoff and then set off and allow any traffic which had built up to move on. All very mannered.

And the day of the expected arrival of the Next chair dawned. I swear I could feel my back weeping tears of joy at the prospect. Knock at the door. Oh thank you baby Jesus. I opened it with a huge smile on my face. Outside was a delivery driver alright but looking rather anxious. Are you ok I asked? Speaking with a heavy accent he explained that the road was narrow. Yes I know I said but what’s the problem? We can’t park here and unload because we might delay traffic and that’s an offence. But you’re a delivery service and you’re allowed to make a temporary stop to unload aren’t you? No sir it is against traffic laws and we have strict instructions about delivery rules. Eh? Look I moved in with a van parked up temporarily and refuse vehicles have to stop to load their rubbish bins almost daily.  It’s allowable to make a brief stop. No sir. Oh lord, I thought, it’s a Mexican-cum-Albanian stand off. Look, where’s your van anyway I asked? Round the corner. Well go round the block and bring it up outside and just drop the chair off – our front door is literally just over a metre from the road, it’ll take you and and your mate less than two minutes to offload the chair and bring it into the house. Sorry sir we cannot do that. Well park it down there outside the health centre where the road’s a bit wider and drop the chair off and I’ll carry it to my door.  Sorry sir you aren’t insured and we could get sacked if there was any damage caused. What? That’s just an excuse. Look, in the time we’ve spent debating the delivery laws not one single car has passed by and you could have unloaded a house full of stuff. Sorry sir but I think you should speak to my supervisor, as he passed his mobile phone into my hand. Hello sir this is Next Despatch Manager Sally Gruppenfuhrer (or something like that); my chaps have explained the situation and I’m sorry but we cannot deliver your armchair in the vehicle supplied. I had another go at explaining that deliveries/temporary stoppages take place all the time along the lane without a problem but to no avail. Sorry sir we’ll have to return the chair to the depot and re-schedule it for delivery at a later point in a smaller vehicle. Why, what difference will that make? Well perhaps they can pull into a safe parking space. And when’s that likely to happen? I said. We’ll have to re-schedule the delivery sir, our current schedules are fully booked for at least a week or two. We’ll just have to get back to you. Sigh.

The delivery guys walked off and our lovely comfortable armchair went off with them back to the safe keeping of Ms Gruppenfuhrer. I went back inside and instantly called a lady in Next customer services, Sally Sympathy (or similar), who was actually rather nice. She said she’d do what she could but admitted to feeling a bit powerless to sort something during the company’s  changed rules under the covid situation. Probably the best thing I could do, she advised, was to fill in a formal complaint via the enquiry box on the website. That was ‘guaranteed’ to be answered. Which is what I did. 3 days later I’d heard nothing then out of the blue Sally Sympathy called back to say a revised delivery date had been agreed for about 10 days later. I appreciated her help but rather acidly said our 70 year old backs would probably give in before then. She said she’d try and send some vouchers as a gesture towards compensation. It was something but I couldn’t stop myself from saying thanks but I shalln’t be ordering anything else from Next, so the gesture was an empty one. I’d far rather they used the money to hire a delivery van to get the chair delivered to me immediately. She admitted she couldn’t do that. But don’t you see that’s the way to most effectively deal with this issue, I replied. That’s how to win back my brand loyalty. I know she said but I haven’t the authority to arrange that. Then what’s the point of your role I wondered.

So it felt like that was that. But you know me, if I sense I’ve been wronged I become a seeker of truth and justice and get on my high horse, compose an indignant missive and direct it to the highest levels. My old work mates and regular readers Alan and Simon will attest that if you had an issue with BT, the best way to get it addressed was to write to the Chairman’s office. He had a small team of people who took these complaints, re-directed them to the appropriate manager in the business with an instruction to deal with them instantly and responsibly. This was a good word because it kind of meant don’t admit any liability but use your years of experience and wisdom to make the problem go away and make the Chairman look like a hero for getting things resolved. I’d literally only just returned back to BT as Head of Sponsorship after 13 or so years in the mobile arm Cellnet/02 when I got a call from the Chairman’s Office to deal with an enquiry raised at the recent AGM. A shareholder had asked, not unreasonably given that the the company was having a torrid time with credit ratings downgrades etc, can the Chairman please explain why the company is continuing to spend over £1m per annum sponsoring an art collection at Tate Modern when the share price has fallen 250% and assets are being sold off in a firesafe?

Well, I explained to the Chairman’s hit man that having just returned to the company, it hadn’t been my decision to sponsor Tate’s permanent collection. I understood that the Chairman’s predecessor, an art appreciator, had nudged the company into the deal as it was a civilised thing for a large organisation to do – corporate largesse I guess which was great when the company’s financial performance was strong. Well that’s all fine and dandy, he said, but you’re the Head of Sponsorship now and you have to respond and can’t blame the previous Chairman. You have to deliver a reply that makes the company look rational and smart and the current Chairman as responsibly decisive. And reply today please.  FFS… no pressure then.

Now I know I’m going a bit off track here but when I re-joined BT and inherited the Tate relationship, I told my boss S that I thought it was untenable and an example of old school thinking. BT sponsoring the permanent collection was inexplicable from a business perspective and if we were to achieve credibility from our sponsorship activity it had to deliver measurable results like every other form of marketing. S was absolutely sold on this but the problem was our Board member who loved the arts and the Tate relationship dearly. Now I’m nothing if not an opportunist and crafted a response back to the AGM complainer, copy to Chairman’s Office and our Board Member, which said something like…the deal with Tate had been struck to celebrate the opening of the fantastic new Tate Modern and the exposure for BT with a cool artistic icon and been incredible. Over 5million people a year had witnessed our contribution and the value of the deal had been assessed at £3m pa. But with that success behind us the current Chairman wishes to move the relationship into a new area in line with our ambitions to be at the vanguard of the broadband revolution. And we’d like to invite (the complainer) to attend the opening event at our new relationship once announced (and he did).

In other words a change in the relationship would come but without giving away what that change might be. The Chairman’s Office was v happy with the response as was my boss, and our Board member had no option but to go  with the flow. We were able to open an entirely new conversation with Tate which saw us switch our investment to massively supporting their online capability with BT’s sweep of technological prowess. And it became a huge success with 20 major awards over the next 5 years and no shareholder issues, so far as I became aware. And our Board member loved it, of course, as we were delivering fantastic high profile results and he could still indulge his artistic thang having lunch with Sir Nic at Tate Modern.

So back to the real point of this posting; target the main man to get results. In my days doing sponsor finding I came across this website which delivered the business email address of virtually every CEO/Chairman of every major company in the UK. So I checked out the Next listing. It showed that the CEO was Simon Wolfson, or Lord Wolfson of Aspley Guise to his gentry mates, and son of the previous Chairman. Gosh an amazing co-incidence that he inherited the top executive job eh. Anyway I wrote an email explaining how pissed off I was by the attitude and lack of initiative of the drivers, the poor, dismissive and unhelpful response from the despatch manager and the welcome attitude but largely unhelpful reaction from the customer service responder, whose pledge of vouchers, which I didn’t really want, had so far failed to materialise. Plus I criticised the lack of any reaction at all from the formal enquiry mechanism and asked for some reasonable gesture of compensation.

Since then you’ll be pleased to note that:

  • I still haven’t received any response whatsoever from the enquiry line;
  • the sofa from M&S turned up (thank God) about a week later. The guys parked up their huge van outside and off-loaded the sofa and brought it indoors. It took 4 minutes. Just one car was held up for about a quarter of that time. I told them about the delivery-shy Next drivers and they were incredulous. They said that every delivery driver is allowed 15 mins stoppage and they just said they were probably playing the system. They were super representatives for their company and I gave them a decent tip;
  • we did get a response from Sally Sympathy several weeks later who sent through some Next vouchers to be fair – yet to be redeemed;
  • the most gratifying thing was that Lord Wolfson took on board all my comments and noting how his company’s formal enquiry line had failed to respond, took it upon himself to write… absolutely jack shit. Yes completely nothing in response. Nada from Next. What a tosser.

So when I said in the last posting that I’d succumbed to a feeling of Can’t Be Arsed about challenging corporate UK you’ll understand why writing to Waitrose about a crossword clue issue didn’t seem so crucial. But Next…I hate them. Btw the armchair turned up 10 days later as advised. The van was no different and the guys parked up outside and held up maybe one car I think.  We actually love the chair but still hate Next

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Crossword crazy

So I’ve been doing lots and lots of newspaper crosswords and sudoku-type puzzles during lockdown and, excuse my immodesty, but I’m not half bad at them. After I’ve checked out the recipes I also do the ones in Waitrose’s Weekend news sheet. They’re usually fairly easy and, dare I say it,  I’ve never been stumped by even one of their clues. Until this last week. Gggrrr.

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Never heard of it!

Picture the scene; one minute I’m fast asleep in bed, the next I’m shocked awake having landed elbow first on the floor with my face smashed into a basket of toiletries. Bang. I hadn’t just rolled out mistakenly; there’s a sixth sense that stops you doing that. I think I’d been dreaming and had leapt out. I have this recurring dream that I’m being attacked by a gang of people armed to the gills with axes, machetes, knives, hammers etc and I have to fight them off night after night. And I always just about do that but often I have to leap out of the way of a slashing blade. I’m sure that’s what was going on when I leapt subconsciously from my bed.  There’s probably some deep psychological issue waiting to be explored but it can wait. Anyway I didn’t die of shock, obviously, but I did give myself quite a start plus a scratch or two to the face and one pretty sore elbow.

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Animal rescue

So regular readers will know I’m not a big animal fan. Actually that’s nowhere near correct. I’m just someone who doesn’t like the concept of pets and having animals in the home. I love animals in their natural habitat and can live with animals being farmed for our consumption provided it is done respectfully. I don’t like zoos. But I appreciate the conservation work.  I confess, I am a bit of a protectionist when it comes to animal care and I abhor the harm that comes to some poor creatures especially deliberately. But sometimes, indeed often,  animals become harmed by their environment. And there are clusters of people who are there to care for animals who became hurt. I couldn’t do it personally but I applaud them. Continue reading

New norm

Yesterday was a little bit of a special day. You see I’m a big sports fan and yesterday afternoon I found myself watching the F1 GP qualifying sessions and between times catching up with England’s progress in the Test match v the W Indies. And then I checked into Sky’s Soccer Saturday and gorged on Jeff Stelling and the footie all afternoon. For the last 3 months we haven’t been able to do any of that of course and it felt decadent and good at the same time. Ah welcome back top level sport that we are pretty darn good at. Do you ever wonder what it must be like doing that if you’re say Scottish or Welsh? Ha! Cheap joke sorry.  And not that funny. And a bit offensive. Sorry again. Well slightly amusing.

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NHS; the good, the crazy and the comm’s overload

So I’ve not been posting for a while. I always admit that this thing comes and goes like our bloody weather. But I’ve had an excuse as I’ve been under the weather a tad. I posted a few weeks ago about a painful back/chest condition which necessitated a visit to my local A&E where I was diagnosed with something called costochondritis – an inflammation of the breastbone area. It was nothing too serious and I was prescribed with painkillers and ibuprofen. But after 3 weeks I felt no better, in fact the pain was worse. In the meantime I received a letter from Chelsea And Westminster Hospital Trust, who handled all my cancer surgery and chemo treatment and follow up, that due to a change in Trust guidelines, my colonoscopy procedure scheduled for 20121 had been cancelled. Nothing more than that other than if I had issues I should take it up with my GP. Oh, thank you and good night.

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