Thursday, May 18, 2023

Going to Extremes

 I received a puzzling message from my energy supplier today and I need some time to decide how to respond.  Perhaps one of my readers with a better insight into modern corporate thinking can assist.

Hello Anthony,

 You've been in contact with us recently and I hope that I was able to help. 

 We're keen to hear what your experience was like so we can make improvements to our service. If you have a spare minute, please answer below and give as much feedback as you can.

Have a great day,

So Energy

And it ends asking me to click on one of three buttons, labelled Extremely Satisfied,  Neither satisfied nor dissatisfied and Extremely dissatisfied. I am not allowed to be mildly pleased or a bit miffed. It's the extremes or the middle.

Jolly nice of them to wish me a great day and my degree of chuffedness has undoubtedly risen a notch or two. But that is where the pleasantries must end, I fear.

Let us, if we can, pass over the "I was able to help" and the corporate signature; no name of any real person (or even bot) was appended to the missive, leaving us in some doubt as to who the mysterious "I" may be. I don't suppose they have a autonomous AI brain running the customer communications.

No, the issue at hand is that the reason I contacted them was of a problem entirely of their making. The facts are these clears throat, refreshes memory with a quick glance at notes, reassuring smile to the jury  Last summer, after much pleading on their part, I permitted the installation of a smart meter to monitor my use of gas and electricity, both being supplied by the aforementioned SO Energy. I was assured this process would be seamless with the previous billing system based on my reading the meters every two months or so, backed up by the odd1 visit from a man in a brown overall and a clipboard. 

Four months elapsed. My account was credited with the monthly direct debit that I pay them. But no charges for fuel. Consequently a hefty credit balance built up. When I looked at the account online there was apparently not a volt of electricity or therm of gas being consumed at Ramblings Towers. I emailed them to point this and was reassured that they were receiving my meter readings and it was all the fault of their dastardly billing team who would "reach out" to me very soon to fix the matter.

Three months later I politely emailed again if the team were now ready to do a bit of reaching, perhaps followed by a bit of pulling their bloody fingers out and doing some actual work to complete the apparently mind-bendingly difficult task of linking a meter reading to a customers account. A couple of months passed and I finally received a series of statements showing the fuel used since the meter was connected and giving me a correct statement of my account. Case closed, I thought. But no. Yesterday came this message

Hello Anthony,

Thank you for your email regarding bills.

Firstly we would like to apologise for not responding to your email query within our usual timeframes. We have received unprecedented levels of customer contact recently due to the ongoing energy crisis, which has meant we have not been able to keep to our usually quick response times.  

I've checked for you and I can see your previous query has already been resolved therefore I'm now closing this ticket.

and this was actually signed by a named person2

 Alright, it's taken them three months to acknowledge my email but I don't care because the account has been sorted out. End of story, yes? The ticket has been closed, the papers are filed away in a plain manilla folder marked "The Ramblings Affair" over-stamped with "Closed" in red ink, and in turn deposited into a heavy cardboard box along with similar cases, the whole being labelled "Embargoed until 2035" and placed in a high security warehouse somewhere near Loughborough.

 No, this one won't die. Today they are back in touch with the message displayed at the top of this column,  to say that they hoped they had been able to help in a problem entirely of their own making, and asking me to rate the "experience".

I don't know what I being asked to rate. The fact I had to chase them to bill me correctly or that they eventually got round to it? Is it the experience of raising the issue with the surnameless ladies of Customer Care? And how do I rate it? Wishy-washy, middle-of-the-road, don't rock the boat opinion or plump for an  "extremely", let them have it with both barrels as it were.?And that, my friends, is why I brought you here today and presented you with the full story. Over to you.


1. There was nothing actually odd about the visits per se. Or about the meter readers. It's just that they only came occasionally.
2. It was only a first name, as it happens, but it feels like I have been contacted by a real person. Or do they call their bots by ordinary English names?

Sunday, May 07, 2023

The Coronation - 6: The Day After

 Everything went exactly as planned, bar the weather which, typically, refused to supply warm sunshine and fluffy white clouds, and instead went all gloomy with a steady drizzle and cloud so low that part of the RAF fly-past had to be abandoned. The crowds cheered, the state coaches glittered, Chas and Cammy, surrounded on all sides by bishops charged with preventing their escape, managed to get through a fairly dull service in Westminster Abbey, albeit enlivened by some splendid traditional music plus some modern extras and made a triumphant appearance on the balcony at Buck House a little later.

It was strange to see the blend of religious service and political rite-of-passage. When he arrived at the West Door, Charles was greeted, not Archbishops and Deans, Dukes and Marshalls, but by a young boy, a chorister, who effectively asked him what he was doing there.  His reply was that he was there to serve. (It should have been "This is my personal church, young fellow, and if you don't want my beefeaters to rough you up, I suggest you get out of the way"). Charles, keen to not just endorse Henry VIII's title of Defender of the Faith but to be all things to anyone believing anything by being Defender of Faith, spent a fair amount of time affirming the privileges of the Church of England and the truth of the Protestant religion. Oddly, various clerics participated with readings from the Bible, including some whose faiths do not acknowledge it at all. The one who played the least part in proceedings was the Chief Rabbi, bound by hundreds of years of tradition that forbid Jews participating in the religious proceedings of others. But at least he was there, processing in with the others and being greeted at the end by the newly-crowned monarch.

I was looking forward to seeing the massed ranks of the peerage swearing homage, wearing their ermine state robes and flaunting coronets and tiaras but there were none - modernisation has relegated them to mere onlookers wearing similar gear to everyone else. Only the Archbishop of Canterbury and then the Prince of Wales made a personal act of homage - the rest of the congregation and all of us watching were invited to take a mass oath. 

And now I must revise one of my earlier pieces in this little series, where I opined that not much seemed to be happening locally. Mrs C and I strolled into the heart of beautiful Ruislip this afternoon and saw three roads closed off for street parties. One was rather discreet -

but closer to our house, our near neighbours made their usual exuberant expressions of loyalty 

and, fortuitously, warm sunshine and fluffy white clouds graced the scene.

Friday, May 05, 2023

Covid - All over?

 Amidst the final build up to the Coronation and the news about the local government elections, here is a story that could easily be missed but which is of huge significance

BBC website

The pandemic may have finally declined to the point that 500 people dying from it every day is not seen as a global problem but the sting in the story is the drastic underestimate of deaths and the continuing threat.  Certainly in the streets of London there are very few signs left of the disease which three years ago brought normal life to a halt - the occasional mask-wearer, and some of the signs about keeping one's distance are all that remain to remind us. Those suffering from the effects of long Covid are invisible. Are we as a society becoming complacent? The health service workers clapped by people coming out of their houses on Thursday nights are now out of strike, trying to obtain a fair pay after years of freezes and inadequate settlements, whilst the government boasts about recruiting more. It leaves a feeling of desperate unease.

I did not write a great deal about impact of covid (at least not in this blog; I did keep a private journal of the lockdown period) and I hope never to have to mention it again.

Wednesday, May 03, 2023

The Coronation - 5: The Excitement is Overwhelming

 Just three short days to go until my old mate Chaz can stick a fancy piece of jewellery on his bonce and nobody will laugh. Surely, one would think, the streets will be awash with flags and patriotic symbols, there will be bunting festooned between the houses, there will be memorabilia galore to buy and display, there will be a flowering of the magnificent artistic talents for which this nation is rightly renowned?

As a litmus test of the extent to which the Coronation is gripping the entire country, I opted to do some hard-hitting, in-depth research here in beautiful Ruislip. I carefully selected a shop representative of the town - Sainsbury's in South Ruislip - and thither I conducted myself on this pleasant spring morning.[You do your regular shopping there anyway, don't you? Ed]. The results, I fear, were less than overwhelming. I took two photographs and these encapsulate the entirety of the impact of the forthcoming event.

Tucked adjacent to the stationery and computer bits shelf, a little display with a few Chaz'n'Cammy masks. Strung up along some of the cash tills and the self-scan checkouts a few strings of Union Jacks. And, as I have already noted, nothing else at all in the store to mark this day out as in any way different from any other early bank holiday. And that's not the royal purple on the placards behind, its just adverts for Sainsbury's Nectar card prices.

There might have been mugs adorned with the royal faces. There could have been colouring books of crowns, beefeaters and princes for the tinies and build-it-yourself models of the royal coaches for the older kids. There might have been long, pull-out maps of the royal route, coronation quiches piled up in the deli section, full length costumes of crowns, ermine, robes, stars of the garter etc for loyalists to don whilst they chanted the "Homage of the People", perhaps books in which loyal sentiments could be inscribed before being sent off to Buckingham Palace.  There might have been many sights and wonders, plus opportunities for shrewd entrepreneurs to sell loads of cheap tat provided it was described as "Right Royal" and adorned with flags.1

But there was nothing other than what you see in those photos. When the grandchildren of the nation ask plaintively in years to come "What did you do to celebrate the coronation", the answer will be "I put on a comic mask with the King's face on it" and they will look puzzled and sad.


1. Absolutely something we at Ramblings would never do, our cheap tat only comes with one flag.

Monday, May 01, 2023

The Coronation - 4: Of Oaths and Allegiances

 The Coronation, that has already brought us the delights of the Coronation Quiche, continues to delight with novelties. The latest story concerns something that really is an innovation - a "Homage of the People". This will be a slot during the ceremony when all of us, peers, clergy, commoners, believers and atheists, even the editorial staff of Ramblings, will be invited by the Archbishop of Canterbury to recite a brand new declaration that goes as follows:

I swear that I will pay true allegiance to Your Majesty, and to your heirs and successors according to law. So help me God.

Well, OK, the atheists get the usual raw deal but can always substitute something for the word "God" should they wish. In my case "The statistical probability that the universe exists because there is a chance, however unlikely, that it can come spontaneously into being and therefore, given that we are here, that that chance has actually materialised, as it happens, and just as well too if you ask me". 

There is a real meaning behind the swearing of allegiance to a king. William I summoned all his peers to Old Sarum, a few years after the conquest of England, and made them swear allegiance as a reward for holding land. All titles in the peerage derive ultimately from that moment. But the oath never applied to the rest of the country, the 3 million or so English men women and children who were merely the subjects of the king.

So, as us cynical columnists might put it, "What's in it for us, Charley-boy?" Do we get tracts of land courtesy of regal graciousness? Do we get fancy titles, the right to coats of arms and to fortify our houses with walls, towers, moats and arrow-slits? Nope, we do not. 

Nit-pickers might also ponder the distinction between true allegiance and plain ordinary allegiance. Is there such a thing as false allegiance?  

As soon as the oath has been taken and a fanfare has sounded, the service continues:

The Archbishop of Canterbury will then proclaim “God Save The King”, with all asked to respond:“God Save King Charles. Long live King Charles. May the King live for ever.”

For ever? Can he be serious? Is he really asking God to make the King immortal? Why not leave it at Long live King Charles - that's fair enough, he's waited a hell of a long time to sit on that throne, he deserves a few years at least to wriggle about it, get really comfy and then get down to some serious reigning. And then, like his ancestors and indeed just like the rest of us mortals, his soul will depart to a higher plane (or whatever). 

That is what is going to take place inside Westminster Abbey. But what of the nation outside? How, exactly, will be we making our homage? We will all, of course, be watching the ceremony on TV or on suitable internet-enabled devices, and most of us will be indoors. Are we expected to go outside to share our homage with our neighbours, in a manner similar to the "Clap for Carers" campaign that enlivened the darkest days of the covid lockdown? Should we be upstanding, hands over hearts in the style so familiar from watching football teams in international competitions as their turgid national anthems are ground out over the loudspeakers? Or, in true Norman style, down upon our knees, heads bent toward the shimmering figures on the screen? Is this the moment for a selfie, to be distributed on Facebook and Instagram, showing the world that we are indeed true liegemen of his gracious Maj and truly grateful for the extra Bank Holiday his crowning has blessed us with?

After some considerable and learned discussion here at Ramblings Towers, the consensus is that a healthy swig of some suitable British ale, accompanied perhaps by a portion of peanuts representing the Commonwealth, is a worthy expression of our allegiance, nay, our true allegiance, and a fitting prelude to the quiche that will the centrepiece of the banquet to follow. Drinking, a slap-up lunch and a holiday - what a great start to His Glorious Reign


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