Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Other on-line booksellers are available...

My attempts to resolve sign-up issues with a certain on-line bookseller have so far proved futile. I suspect the following e-mail sent today will bring me no closer to the hallowed status of "Vendor";

Dear Sir/Madam/Robot,

I realise I'm howling in to the wind here and really don't expect a reply but it'll be good to get it off my chest.

You didn't reply to my last e-mail to your "Help" desk either and I certainly felt better after I sent that.

I've got a huge pile of books I'd like to sell. Probably well over a couple of thousand pounds worth. I'd like to sell them through you because (On the face of it) your system looks terribly easy and clever.

Sadly your registration requires a 'Credit Card'. It's a shame you will only deal with the sort of people happy to pay 19% APR for cash, as I am not one of them.

As a result of only being the sort of undesirable who has a bank account with money in it, and a Paypal account, and a host of other online payment security methods at my disposal, I find I can't use your service. This, despite the fact I've been buying and selling on-line with other sites for years.

Might I suggest instead of letting me go half-way through the registration process to a page I can't safely log out of and making me enter my full card details before you decide my card isn't good enough, you just put "You must be paying a punitive rate of interest to a faceless corporation before you can sell with us now bugger off." in big red letters across your homepage.

Oddly enough your competitors Ebay have no such batty rules so I'll go there instead.

As I say I don't really expect a reply as your customer service offer has the reputation of Hermann Goering's tailor (Who'd put a man that size in powder blue?) but I thought it was worth a try. The fact I had to go through 3 drop down lists of increasingly stupid and esoteric possible reasons for why I should have the temerity to want to actually contact you suggests to me you don't really want to hear what I have to say.

On attempting to find the "Contact us" e-mail form I was reminded of the quote from Douglas Adams' "Hitchhiker's Guide" in that, metaphorically speaking of course, "It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying "Beware of The Leopard".

No doubt you have an admirable record for the very small number of complaint e-mails you get. I suggest this may not be because your customers have very little cause for complaint, but rather because they have collectively dissolved into sobbing heaps in frustration whilst trying to negotiate the trap-ridden labyrinth that is your contact procedure. I would be surprised if adding "Utter rage" as a possible reason for emailing you didn't increase your 'customer service' mail traffic considerably.

Thanks for not listening, I look forward to never hearing from you.

Yours (or at least I would be if you'd let me join),

Wesley Mallin

Monday, 20 June 2011

On the occasion of the summer solstice - An atheist's diary.

Well, happy new year all. Before I'm deafened by the collective "What?" allow me to explain.

For lot of years I've taken today, the summer solstice, to be my own little new year. To me it makes a bit more sense than doing it on 31st December.

There's something nice about greeting the dawn alone on the longest day (And before some pedant points out that dawn and sunrise are different things, I'm generally up during dawn in readiness for the event and anyway dawn's a prettier word and it's my bloody celebration).

This morning I greeted the sun with fire and spirit, or more specifically, I stuck my head out of the attic sky-light, downed the last of my birthday port and lit a cigarette. I had a few minutes quiet reflection on how appalling the last twelve months have generally been and made the sort of resolutions I can stick to viz: Do a bit more, make the most of the opportunities which present themselves and get started on that novel. Then I went and made a cup of tea and had a cuddle with the cat.

Some people like to go to stone circles and get together with like minded individuals at summer solstice but previous bitter experience informs me that half four in the morning is not the best time for me to be humouring vegans.

I do like to think of Stonehenge at this time of year. I have this little picture in my head of half a dozen shivering blokes out on the heath in Wiltshire five thousand years ago with some sticks and a rope getting ready to put the markers down for the heel, slaughter and altar stones. I like to think the conversation went like this; "Look Terry, the missus has got this grand plan for a rockery and if we don't set it up in the next half an hour it'll be another year of moaning. You stand over there with Eric and when the sun comes up I'll tell you where to put the sticks in the ground. Then we can all bugger of back to bed. And well done for not bringing that bloody dog of yours. Last year was a farce."

And there's the problem. Nothing much is sacred for me. When I was about eight I told my parents I didn't believe in god because it didn't make any sense and could I not go to church any more please? Being the awesome parents they are they said that was fine. I've been a more or less evangelical atheist ever since. I still envy those with faith, but I just could never understand how chucking a disembodied third party in to the mix simplified things.

The solstice has the benefit of being a measurable instant in time and space. By one reading a dull and mathematical coincidence resulting from the predictable orbits of two roughly spherical bodies under the influence of gravity and some other stuff. On the the other hand the maths doesn't do justice to the scale of the dance we're unwitting partners in. This day each year I look at the ground I'm standing on, and the sun over there and think "Aren't we tiny?". It's refreshingly humbling and about as close to spiritual as I get.

There's also a deeply pragmatic reason for doing new year now. There's more to look forward to in the immediate future than the other new year. There's sunshine for a start. We're a couple of months from those lovely late summer evenings when it gets dark early but you can still feel the last of the sun's heat off the pavers and the sky's clear enough to see the stars. Much better than the depths of December when all there is to look forward to is trying to get the tree back in its box, realising for the umpteenth year in a row that Blu-Tack and wallpaper don't mix and waiting for the post-Christmas credit card bill.

And best of all I didn't end up in the embrace of some sweaty drunken stranger trying to sing a song neither of us either know or understand the words to.

Happy new year!

Saturday, 18 June 2011

An open letter to all those who "Don't give a fuck" today.

So, you've decided that today you won't give a fuck eh? Well good for you. I assume of course that this means for the other 364 days of the year you will actually start giving a fuck. That's the idea right?

Today you'll have a rest and then tomorrow you'll start campaigning for change?

Bitter experience leads me to suspect not.

I've been going to council meetings as a journalist for nigh on fifteen years and see the same thing every time; A public gallery entirely filled with the fresh air left behind by people who "Don't give a fuck". Every time I go to a meeting where public policy is being decided I think "Sitting at home are thousands of people who clearly don't give a fuck". Coincidentally, I suspect they're the same people who then infect my day with their impotent whining and ill-informed rants about perceived injustices they had every opportunity to influence but chose instead to do nothing about. "I don't give a fuck" is apparently cooler than "I'm an effective citizen of the world".

I suspect the majority of the people who've decided to latch on to "I don't give a fuck day" are exactly the kind of people who "don't give a fuck" the rest of the year. I suspect they're the kind of people who don't give a fuck about local democracy, don't give a fuck about voting, don't give a fuck about politics or third world debt or nuclear proliferation or any of those other things which apparently don't matter.

The seed corn of your apathy, watered from the well spring of your utter ignorance, will grow into a rich crop of negative bullshit which you'll no doubt insist on feeding to the world in bitter chunks of helpless, pathetic, miserly, intellectual poverty. Well done farmer. You made the world worse without any effort at all.

Don't congratulate yourself too soon though, because there are lots of people out there who get a great big kick out of you not giving a fuck. They're the people who run the show. They're the people making billions while your back is turned. They fill the airwaves with blandness and stifle anything creative because while you're not giving a fuck they're getting away with bloody murder.

So I'm sorry to all those friends and relatives who invited me to join "I don't give a fuck" day and who's requests I've ignored. You've probably wondered why. Here's why:

The whole project reeks of exactly the kind of mindless, pointless, tedious, shitty, nihilistic, adolescent posturing I hate.

Today you're all clever and smug because you don't give a fuck. Well done. Give the monkey a peanut.

In the meantime the minority of people who do give a fuck will continue to do it for you, until you grow a spine, get up and join us, because right now the people who do give a fuck are outnumbered, and we're losing the fight.