The Joys of Modern Life; 63. complaining

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The Independent Culture
AS I recently upbraided a ticket collector for being reluctant to open the window in a train on a boiling hot day (why can't passengers open the windows themselves, as they used to be allowed to do?) the man beside me commented, resignedly: "You're a bit of a trouble-maker, aren't you?"

Indeed I am. Increasingly. I find there's little more satisfying than dipping my pen in vitriol and sending off a scorcher to the customer complaints department. As I lick the envelope of a furious letter of complaint, a kind of warm glow comes over me.

This year I've complained to Cable and Wireless, having hurtled back to BT after 24 hellish hours (result: a grovelling apology no doubt produced by pressing one button on a word processor); I've complained to the Cafe Flo, which used to be brilliant and now isn't (very huffy reply, with voucher for one bottle of wine, chucked into the bin); I've complained to the council about the state of the street (they promised to "monitor" the situation); and I've complained to Tony Blair about the bombing of Kosovo (no reply).

I complained to a private hospital in Wimbledon where I had the misfortune to spend four days (very stuffy letter back, rudely denying all my points); and I've complained to Virgin too many times to count (vouchers, though I've always said I don't want them).

In normal life I'm so reluctant to explode at people I care for that I think I reserve all my bile for strangers, poor things. Or perhaps not "poor things". They are, after all, trained to take it. Shouting at a stranger on the end of a phone won't do any harm; nor will writing to a customer-relations department. It does me good, but makes not a jot of difference to the person at the other end.

And I should know because, as The Independent's agony columnist, I'm often on the receiving end. And it's lucky that Disgusted of Wolverhampton can't hear me read out his letter to the entire office, screaming with laughter.

Of course, I know how to deal with a complaint. If it's justified I will, of course, apologise - and mean it. If it's just a wild rant, I have a horrible little number I run off which goes: "Dear X, Thank you for your letter. I think we'll have to agree to differ on this one! But it's always good to get feedback from readers, even when they disagree. Yours sincerely..."

And as I seal up the envelope, I hope that they're going to be driven mad with powerless rage. Indeed, the feeling (engendered by that horribly cheerful exclamation mark after the word "differ", I think) is almost as good as the one I get by writing a complaint myself.

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