Any sign of incompetence or a lack of professionalism in others is a major bugbear of mine. Normally a relatively patient person (I hear some of you scoff, but it’s true, I am), when faced with any form of ineptitude, I transform into a kind of repressed succubus who’s searing rage can barely contain itself. At times, I can literally feel the bile bubbling and hissing inside of me before it threatens to spew forth from my mouth, either in the form of actual bile or indeed it’s angry verbal equivalent. Most recipients are relatively unaware of my looming explosive state, detectable only by an increased sharpness in my tone, a blackening of my eyeballs, or, as a friend once pointed out to me, a tendency to stick my face forward like Ridley Scott’s/James Cameron’s Alien, preparing to bite someone’s head off.
It can be in the most prosaic of circumstances too, it all depends on my mood and how pressed for time I am. For example, the Doc and I recently escorted our little dumpling to her first day at nursery. Upon arrival, the place was in a complete shambles, with no one giving us the induction that we had been told to expect. There was no assigned coat and bag peg for her, no little paper hand with her name on it for registration, no welcoming staff member who would allay her anxiety, or ours. When we finally approached the head teacher, it became clear that none of the documentation I had sent weeks ago had been forwarded to them from the office. This, one would think, would be an instance for me to become perturbed, or even caustic, as another mother in the foyer clearly was. The Doc was certainly getting vexed. But somehow, though I may have bitched to him about it all later that day, I assumed it would all work out in the end and that the shambolic state of things was a once off.
Yet later that day, in a completely unrelated event, I contacted the hospital to have the time of an appointment rearranged. I called the number on the letter. The phone rang and someone answered.
Mmmmahahhmammammma…. Was the greeting I received.
“Um… I’m sorry,” I said, haughtily. “Have a called the correct number? Is the appointments administrator? ”
Mmmmmmahahahahahahmmama…. Was the response I got.
“Appointments, yes? For the (blah blah)?” I could feel my face completely screw-up. I suddenely wanted to push my fist down the phone line and punch this person in the face, hard. What kind of way is that to answer a phone in a hospital? I thought incredulously.
Yeah. The woman said back to me.
“Right, now that we’ve established you’re the correct place, I currently have an appointment on Thursday and I’m going to need to change it.” I desperately wanted to make a comment to the girl about her phone manner but I wasn’t sure how much power she wielded in terms of fucking up my appointments, so I decided it best to stick to just being a bit of a snarky bitch.
Okay, it’s changed, she said.
“To….when?” Waiting for her to volunteer more information.
To Friday 4th.
“Fine, Thanks. So just to confirm, I now have an appointment at 10am on Friday 4th?”
Similarly, I rang my local copy shop a few days ago with an urgent print job. Instead of the call being directed through to the copy shop, it went via a reception who seemed to speak with the speed of someone who had chewed an entire box of prescription painkillers.
“Who is calling?” He cracked painfully.
“My name is Willow, I’m a customer.”
“Willow.” I stated again.
“WILLOW.” I stated more forcefully.
“Yes. Willow, Like the tree.”
Pause. Dammit, I thought, now I’ve just confused the situation.
“W-I-L-L-O-W. Willow. Listen, this really is urgent, could you just put me though?”
“Oh, yes. sorry.”
In fairness, the building is a community-run rehabilitation centre so the poor soul on the end of the phone was probably employed under some back-to-work scheme and therefore deserving of my patience and support. Sadly he caught me at one of my less charitable moments.
I get that some jobs are just shit. I really do. I also get that there are days when clients, staff, everyone irritates you and you simply cannot be bothered with the basics. When I worked as an immigration officer, I was generally pretty good with clients, even though the job bored me senseless. But every now and again, I would have a client who would scream at me down the phone and I would spend the rest of the day taking it out on subsequent clients. Or, I would have taken one too many laborious enquiries with people who simply couldn’t understand the things I was explaining and by the time I reached the twentieth client of the day, my state had become one of interminable belligerence. It was in such a condition that I was once accused of being “a really bad officer” by an international student. I deserved it.
But as someone who has had to withstand years of working in customer service, from designer retail, to hospitality to the civil service, I cannot abide a basic lack of clarity or courtesy. Even at my most wicked and difficult, I always acknowledged people and annunciated my words clearly – perhaps a little too clearly at times.
But then, perhaps I ask too much. After all, to paraphrase the terminology of House Stark, it is the long winter in Britain: endless snow flurries and triple dip recessions leave little to smile about.