Monday, January 05, 2009

Wellington. And on. And on.

Derek Smith had non-specific urethritis.

When he passed water, it was like a wasp up the pipe. A course of fluxocillin would be the best option, I concluded.

Hang on. How did I know this? And what was I doing wandering through labyrinthine shelving , stacked to toppling point with fusty, dusty manilla folders, holding the results of Derek's urine sample with one hand and looking for his medical notes with the other eye.

Hmmm.....I should start at the beginning, really, shouldn't I?

(Rentaghost-style wobbly flashback sequence)


1.Windy Wellington - Living There Not A Breeze

Wellington is a great city: vibrant, arty and modern, with a sunny, airy disposition and well-designed waterfront. By rights, it should have been a breeze living here. But for a number of reasons, Wellington has been a struggle from day one.

First, there was the apalling hostels: Worldwide with its compulsory noise policy. Then Rowena's with its compulsory nutcase policy. Then there was the difficulty in securing employment: blank-eyed, I-Bought-My-Suit-At-River-Island, twentysomething recruitment consultants who would gladly parry you into a job cleaning baboons' arses at the zoo if it meant getting you off their back. And, of course, collecting their 10%.

After 6 weeks, we finally thought we were making headway: we'd managed to secure a flat above a corner shop in the centre of town; we'd established a circle of friends whom we saw regularly for the pub quiz; I'd finally got a job in Wellington Hospital's Medical Records Department, marrying up Derek Smith's urine test with his medical records.

Hey, it was all I could get - the recession was biting and cash-strapped ad agencies in Wellington are only ever about 12 people strong (as opposed to PHD which has close to 250) and thus had little room for some chancer from the Midlands turning up on spec. Nevertheless it was a job.


2.Trouble and Strife

But there were more problems ahead. The day I was offered the job at the hospital, I was also offered a job at Borders, that fine purveyor of over-priced books and CDs. I opted for the hospital job as it paid better, but on starting the following Monday, was told the job was actually only 3 weeks long. As the beardy immortal Knight at the end of Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade says: "You have chosen.......poorly"

So, I'd ended up a mind-numbing job and, overall, less money to show for it. My equally un-chuffed partner in crime was Kevin, who had just finished his Masters In Clinical Microbiology at Nottingham University. And so day after day, two post-graduates sat sifting through records detailing ulcerated colons, drunken domestic punch-ups, MRSA and endoscopies, and moving them from one place to another. Both our MAs being put to good use there, then.

As if that wasn't enough, it was around this time too, Louise and I became potentially homeless. We'd taken the room above the shop on the basis that a gap a between one absent flatmate returning, and one currently present now leaving, was such that a simple room swap would allow us to continue living there. So when that gap altered in such a way that there was more people than rooms, we started feverishly casting about looking for new accommodation.

And so whilst I shoved a piece of paper detailing Mrs Williams's rectal anomaly into a space on the Meccano shelving unit, and balanced on a rickety kickstool, I contemplated what it would be like to have a place to live, and I also what it would have been like to work at Borders.

Yes, a book shop would have been nice: an intellectual environment, surrounded by people drinking coffee, exchanging ideas. Just like Paris in the 1930s.

Actually, I was find out how far from the reality this idle notion was.


3.Borders

I recontacted Borders the day I found out about my curtailed contract at the hospital. Thankfully, I was welcomed back like the Prodigal Son, and I agreed to start a few days after I'd finished in Medical Records.

Borders was not the crucible of creativity and education I was hoping for, however. In fact, the most important thing I learned was that customers are arseholes. Oh sure, 90% of them are polite and cheery enough. Unfortunately, it's the other 10% who leave a lasting impression - forever seared into your consciousness, like the blast of a flashbulb on your retina.

Bad Borders customers can be broadly categorised three ways. These three categories overlap like a Venn Diagram, meaning if you're really unlucky you'll meet someone who can occupy all three categories:


i) the rude bastard

Someone once said "rudeness is the weak man's strength". Yes, indeed, there are some customers who feel they have inaliable right to be rude by sheer dint of the fact they are the "customer" and you are the "employee". Predominantly, these people lack social skill and have to fall back on what they see as their natural superiority to get them through the encounter.

One customer slapped his purchase down on the counter, snarling at nothing in particular and when I asked him if he required a bag, just continued to sneer and growl disdainfully, as if he was terribly affronted that I had the audacity address him directly. It was left to his wife, who peered out from behind his globulous torso, to decline the offer on his behalf, her tone carrying a subtle hint of apology.

I got off light. That same day, Todd the manager, upon enquiring whether a customer required a bag was told to "get fucked". Charming.


ii) the Hard-Done-To customer

Some assume Borders is nothing more than an unfeeling high street multinational, whose sole purpose is fleece the little man via lowdown trickery and skulduggery. Well, that may be true some of the time. But, believe it or not, it is possible for a company such as Borders to have customers' best interest at heart.

Borders charges 10c for plastic bags. I'm sorry they just do. They are so environmentally unfriendly that chain stores the world over are adopting a similar policy. Moreover, to prevent accusations of profiteering, the 10c goes to charity. But that doesn't appease some people. Oh no.
Me: Would you like a bag for 10c?

Customer: You're charging me for my bag, are you? You're selling me a bag. Is that what you're doing? What bullshit.

Me: Well, we want people to discourage people from taking a bag if it's it's not necessary.

Customer: Bullshit. You're just trying to make money out of me

Me: No, the 10c goes to charity

Customer: Yeah? Bullshit!

Me: It does.

Customer: Bullshit. That's just bullshit.

Me: Well....

Customer: Bullshit!

I can only assume that this guy lived on a farm.....

Similarly, customers are also frequently disgusted at what they see as your inflexibility. For example, our $10-off vouchers were designed to stimulate trade during the post-Xmas slump in January. Thus, stated very clearly across the top of the voucher, was: "Offer valid 1st to 31st January".

But that wasn't going to stop some haughty battle-axe from trying it on, explaining: " ... I came in your store last week and picked up one of your $10-off vouchers, but I've booked a holiday for January now, so I'd like to come in and spend it over Christmas......"

When I told her this was not possible, she exclaimed "That's not what I call customer service".
Oh, piss off, you ratbag.

Finally, I had one woman who claimed she was absolutely "horrified" that we didn't stock a particular Bernard Cornwell novel. "Horrified". Some people are horrified by the genocides in Rwanda, some by Israel's encroachment into the Gaza Strip. Not her. She was "horrified", because we didn't have a copy of Sharpe's Revenge.


iii) The Very Specific/Very Vague Customer

Some customers are completely clueless and assume you have the power of all literature at your very hands.

The Very Specific customer thinks that if they can even conceive of a book, then that very thought is enough to bring that very book into existence. And I'm the poor sod who is expected to know where to find it, regardless of whether or not it actually exists.

One customer said: "I'd like a book about China. I want it to have photos. I want it to have some writing about this particular subject. I don't want it be a travel book. I want it to be this big and cost this much"

Me: Sorry - does this book exist?

Customer: Don't know.

Another customer asked "Have you got any books on volcanoes for children?". When I searched the computer I discovered that, not only was there a book explaining how volcanoes worked, but that she actually had the copy in her hand.

"Ah yes" she responded "...but this is for 10-12 years old. I wondered if you had one ages 7-9"

I also had a woman ask for a book on "how to draw cats". Pure Little Britain. Margaret?!

Then, sadly, there's the Very Vague Customer. This is genuine:

Customer: "I've seen a book in the paper. I don't know the title or the author."

Me: Well, we have 200,000 books here. Without the title or the author, we don't really have anything to go on.....

Customer: But it's in the paper........

Amazing - if they've seen the book in the paper, why the hell didn't they take note of the author and the title. What did she think was going to happen? "I've seen a book in the paper. I don't know the title or the author." Me (grabbing the first book to hand): Is it this one? Yes that's it! Well done.

I must point out that the vast majority of customers are sound. Polite, courteous, friendly and patient. But what frustrates me is the perceived relationship between the customer and the retailer. Frankly, the customer is not "always right". In fact, not only is the customer often bang wrong , but also deserving of a slap. This of course is generally considered to be not conducive to trade, however.

Next time you're in a shop, remember to be reasonable and polite to the staff. It could be someone just like me.

Unless, of course, they've really, really ballsed up. Then let 'em have it.


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