I had a much-needed week off work this week, and many people commented how it would be nice for me to have a break. To rest after all the stresses of returning to a busy work environment and the trauma that life has been throwing my way lately. All I can say to that is – chance would be a fine thing.
I worked a double shift last weekend as the other part-timer was on holiday and the store is too busy now to be manned by only three people at the weekend. So, I worked a very long day Saturday and then all-day Sunday as well. Consequently, Monday I was already exhausted. But I had a to-do list that was bigger than my future, so I took a deep breath and psyched myself up to work my way through the whole list until it was done.
The first item was to contact my utility company and try to sort them out. There is no telephone number listed on their website so live chat it had to be and I duly typed my account number and name and told them what the issue was. Namely, that they had doubled my monthly payments and as a result, I was now in credit to them by £240. I would like my payments returned to a sensible level and a refund of the credit, please.
Four hours ticked by before I received a reply. They were very sorry I was experiencing difficulties, but they had looked at my account and could see that I was now in debt to them to the tune of £25. What?! I went back into my account and couldn’t believe what was there. Instead of the credit of £240 that had been showing on 18th April, it was now showing that as of 17th May I was in debt by £25. So, what they were trying to make me believe was that in one month I had chewed through the £240 credit, plus the £155 they took from my account, and another £25 on energy! Umm, I don’t bloody think so. I live in a tiny, terraced house in the UK and it’s Spring – not the Winter Palace in Russia in the depths of Winter. Looking at the bar graph, I could see they were claiming I had used more energy in one month than I had in the whole of the Winter!
Absolutely livid I went back to the live chat. Not possible, I furiously typed. I have never used over £400 of energy in one month. It was not possible, not even if I had the heating on full-blast 24/7 and switched on every single device we owned. Their calculations were wrong. In fact, from where I was sitting it looked very much like they were lying. Where had the £240 credit gone?
Another four hours ticked by before the reply came. Oh, it’s because we were using the readings from your smart meter instead of the meter readings you were giving us each month, and clearly, you are now saying they were wrong, so we’ve had to readjust your bill. What?! What bloody smart meter? I don’t have a smart meter! I used to have one about ten years ago, but it developed dementia and started claiming we were using 1.2 million pounds worth of energy in one day, then it started flashing error messages and then it died, so it was unplugged and slung in a drawer about eight years ago where it is still lying – so good luck getting any readings from that. And as for my actual gas and electricity meters, well, they are both a good twenty years old so certainly aren’t smart and don’t have Wi-Fi capabilities so again, have fun trying to get readings from them.
By this point, I was beyond angry. Luckily, I had taken screen grabs of my account showing the credit plus my meter reading history which clearly showed my meter readings duly given every single month – readings which exactly matched the readings jotted down in my notebook from where I had read them off the meters and written them down. Furiously – my typing at this point all over the place – I told them all this. You are lying! I stated. You have taken money from my bank account without my permission, you have falsified information on my account to justify stealing my money and clawing back my credit, and now you have invented some mythical smart meter to cover your arses. I want to speak to somebody higher up the food chain, please. Give me the organ grinder, because clearly, the monkey doesn’t know anything!
This exchange took all day because they were taking four to six hours to respond to my messages. I’m sorry, that’s not a “live chat” – that’s a séance.
Eventually, it got to 4pm and it was plain they were ignoring me. One of those headaches that feel as if a skewer is being shoved through your eye was brewing and I knew if I didn’t do something to lower my blood pressure it was going to develop into a full-blown migraine. The sun had come out, so I walked away from the situation and spent a couple of hours sweeping and tidying my garden and let the fresh air and the mindless monotony of the task blow away the cobwebs – as my gran used to say – before coming in to cook dinner. And that was Monday.
Tuesday. I did not have the mental energy to attempt to deal with the utility company again, and besides, sorting out the insurance claim was a top priority. Again, it wasn’t raining so I was able to go out onto my road and take lots of pictures to back up my claim. I took pictures of the shallow gateway that the stupid Yodel delivery guy attempted a three-point turn in with his enormous van. I took pictures of the locked gates at the top of the road to prove that no other vehicle could have entered the road from that end. I even hung out of my bedroom window and took pictures from above because it perfectly showed the narrowness of the road and the sheer stupidity of the man to even attempt to turn around there. It also demonstrated how his van would have blocked all access to the road so no other van could have hit my car because he was in the way.
Whilst I was hanging out of my window, a large white van bombed up the road at speed. Yep, it was him, making a delivery to the top of the road. I took lots of pictures showing how his van filled the road, and how there was barely enough space to insert a sheet of toilet paper between the sides of his van and the residents’ cars parked down both sides of the road. I got his number plate again and for good measure a picture of him for identification purposes.
I then sat down and typed a four-page witness statement of the incident giving all the facts, dates, and times, and of his return visits when I managed to get his number plate and a good look at him so could give a physical description.
This took all of Tuesday morning, then after lunch, I tackled Sky. Luckily, they had a customer helpline number which I called. It took 56 minutes for the call to be answered, so I filled in the time catching up with my reading. A lot more success with Sky. A very nice young girl dealt with me and things were arranged to our mutual satisfaction in that I’m now paying a lot less and receiving a lot more. Sky is very much like a needy boyfriend – you threaten to leave them, and they promise you the earth and swear they’ll change, only please don’t leave me!
I had a few other housework and correspondence chores to complete and that was Tuesday over and done with.
Now, we had planned to have my parents over for lunch on Wednesday. Due to lockdown and the pandemic, they haven’t been to ours for well over a year and we were all looking forward to it. However, life had other ideas and once again put a turd in my teakettle, or rather in Miss F’s.
After handing in her final large assignment two weeks ago and receiving a grade for it, she was officially signed off college and was legally no longer a student there. She has her conditional offer from her university and has applied for student accommodation and finance. All she needs now is to pass her exams, but, as they were cancelled back in February and instead several complex and involved assignments were set which her tutors were going to grade the students on, and Miss F has passed them all with merits and distinctions on most, she was confident of a high mark on those.
Anyway, as she is no longer going to college or spending all her days on assignments, Miss F has increased her weekly hours at her part-time job to twenty and on Monday caught the bus out to the restaurant to do a 5pm to 10pm shift. At 7ish she rang me to ask me to pick her up at 9:30pm as it was quieter than expected. Twenty minutes later she rang me again and asked me to pick her up immediately.
I knew straight away from the tone of her voice that something was very wrong, so I jumped in my car and made the twenty-minute journey to the restaurant. With a face like a wet weekend in Bognor, Miss F climbed into the car and poured out her tale of woe. When she had gone to the staff room to call me to ask me to collect her early, she had noticed several unread messages from her friend. Had she seen the message on the college Facebook page, her friend wanted to know. The theory exam that had been cancelled back in February was going ahead, after all, next Monday! All the assignments they had worked so hard on had all been for nothing because they weren’t going to be considered at all! They had one week to cram a year’s worth of revision into.
Miss F was so devastated by this news that she had a literal meltdown at work and her manager told her to go home.
Once we reached home, she checked the Facebook message for herself. Yep, it was true. City & Guilds in their infinite wisdom had decided that the students hadn’t had a shitty enough year and that they should sit the exam after all. This is appallingly unfair. The students simply haven’t had the quality of tuition to take this exam and Miss F was certain they would all fail. After all, they had spent the past two months working hard on the assignments that City & Guilds had insisted they do so hadn’t had time to revise, and anyway, had not known they needed to. Lessons have been sporadic and patchy this past year. What with the tutors not having the technical know-how or even the aptitude to successfully handle online teaching, the students barely attending college in real life and the fear and stress of being in a lockdown in a global pandemic caused to our young people, it is criminally unjust to put this extra pressure on them.
I am also questioning the legality of the whole proceedings. The students have done everything that City & Guilds demanded of them, and more. They have worked extremely hard to complete several very complex and difficult assignments and I can personally witness how many hours Miss F spent on them and the quality of work she produced. These assignments were all handed in and marked two weeks ago, the students were signed out, and legally are no longer a part of that college. To now come back and force them to take the exam after all – an exam they are not prepared for when they have left the mindset of revising and learning behind them – is beyond belief. To further kick them in the teeth by informing them that all their hard work over the past two months has been a monumental waste of time … it defies belief!
I was angry for her but wasn’t sure what I could do. On the advice of a friend, I did send an email to our local MP, Jo Churchill, advising her of the situation. I got an email back from her aide advising me that Jo was going to email City & Guilds to gain more insight on the situation, but I have heard nothing since so assume she has not done anything about it. I guess it was naïve of me to expect a politician to give a damn about the people in their constituency.
Because they are no longer students at the college, they can’t even take the exam there, instead, they have to take it at home with their laptop camera turned on – which adds even more to the stress.
Six days is barely enough time to cram all that revision in, but luckily Miss F’s work was very understanding and told her not to come back until she was comfortable, she could. Sadly, we also had to postpone my parents visit for a week just to give Miss F an extra day to revise.
Wednesday, I got up bright and early and determined to sort out the buggery bollicking situation with the utility company. I was sick of everyone’s shit and was in no mood to be messed about by them anymore. I wrote down all my facts and figures, looked up the details of the utility ombudsman and managed to get an actual proper telephone number for my energy company by emailing Martin Lewis. For non-UK people, Martin Lewis is a journalist and TV presenter who runs a website called Money Supermarket. He is a staunch advocate in defence of people being ripped off by companies and his name carries a lot of clout. If a company is outed on his website or his TV programme, then it means a lot of bad press for the company. So, I sent a little email and twenty minutes later back came a reply giving me the telephone number of my energy company and wishing me luck.
I settled down with a drink, my Kindle, and a notepad and pen. Thirty minutes later, the phone was answered, and I was talking to a real live person. I kept calm. I knew the person I was speaking to is not the person who runs the company, they are not the one making the rules, they know nothing about me or what has been done. Coolly and calmly, I told her I was extremely angry with how I’d been treated and that this was her company’s last chance to sort the matter out. That I had the ombudsman’s details in front of me and had already contacted Martin Lewis and would not hesitate to pass the matter over to them if I didn’t get satisfaction. But I assured her, I would not get angry with her because I knew it wasn’t her fault.
Fair enough said Nicole, how can I help you. I told her what had happened. When I told her that according to her company, I had used over £400 of energy in the past month, she laughed and enquired if I lived in Buckingham Palace. When I had finished explaining everything, she agreed that my monthly payments were too high so she would immediately put them back to the level they were, if that was all right with me. Also, she could see that I had given a meter reading online every single month – she couldn’t see any smart meter readings on my record – and she could see that the meters I had were old, general meters and certainly weren’t sending information directly to the company. She couldn’t understand why I’d been told that smart meter readings had been used and would get my bill reassessed and any monies outstanding to me would be recredited to my account.
This is why I always prefer to speak to a human being rather than try and communicate via email or live chat. If you are talking to someone it’s harder for them to fob you off and lie to you and much more gets done. Sure enough, less than an hour after hanging up from Nicole I received an email informing me that my direct debit had been changed back to £88 per month.
And that was Wednesday.
Thursday, I did do something for myself. I went out to lunch with a friend I hadn’t seen in months. It felt odd walking into a restaurant like normal, although the prices came as something of a shock. We shared a starter platter between us with a pot of fries and had a bottle of the house white. Then we had a dessert each. That was it and it came to £60. Lovely though it was, I don’t think I’ll be eating out too much in the future. When a small meal for two costs as much as a week’s grocery bill for two, it might be time to think carefully about what I spend my money on.
Friday morning, I had a lot of niggly chores to do, including having to chase after Amazon again about my tablet. They had promised that the moment it was scanned at the post office they would send me a replacement. It has been two weeks since I posted the faulty tablet back to them and no sign of the replacement so we tracked the parcel on the Royal Mail website and could see that it had been signed for on the 9th of May. So, back onto yet another customer live chat helpline we went. The operator we got seemed very confused by the whole situation so passed us onto someone else who also appeared bewildered. Replacement? What replacement is that? Anyway, they told us they would need at least 48 hours to investigate it and would get back to us.
Why does everything take such a long time? Life would run more smoothly and be a lot more pleasant if people just did their bloody job and got on with things. Why is it always up to us the customer to chase and chase and constantly enquire? Our time is precious, and most people don’t have enough of it to be always wasting it chasing after company’s and begging them to simply DO THEIR JOB! Come on Amazon, you promised me a replacement. The damn thing is faulty. It’s your product so there are no issues dealing with a third party. Simply do what you said you were going to do two weeks ago and send me another tablet.
Friday afternoon I did spend a very pleasant few hours chatting with my local author group via zoom. Miss F’s shift had been cancelled – whether that was due to low bookings or them simply not wanting her back until after her exam, I don’t know – but that meant I didn’t have to drive out late in the evening to collect her, so I cooked a lovely roast chicken dinner and opened the wine.
And now it’s the weekend and I have barely two days left of my holiday. Well, I say holiday, but as you can see, it’s not been much of a break for me. It’s coming up to 11am on Saturday and I’m sitting here chatting with you and beginning to think longingly about coffee. The rest of the weekend is already fully booked with things to be done. I have a book I need to start beta reading, there are beds to be stripped and laundry to be done. I want to have a go at making a lactose free cherry cake as Miss F has been seriously craving some. I also have some niggly author chores that I’d like to get done before returning to work.
Next week I am back to work for two long shifts on Monday and Tuesday. There will be shopping to collect after work on Monday and my parents will be coming to lunch on Wednesday. On Thursday I am visiting my favourite cousin whom I haven’t seen since December 2019, which I am hugely looking forward to, and then, oh yes, then, I have two days off on Friday and Saturday before returning to work on Sunday.
But there will be my blog to write. Plus, I need to sort the desk out in the basement ready to advertise the room again in June, and I’m sure there will be the usual round of housework, cooking, and laundry to be done.
Maybe one day I will have a day with nothing at all to do. Umm, maybe not.
Take care everyone and I look forward to chatting again next week.