True gripes: No room for service

Why do plumbers and accountants fob us off with fibs?
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The Independent Culture
"We'll be there between eight and one," promises the plumber (also read delivery man/electrician/meter reader/carpenter etc), so I get up half an hour early and start the long, long wait.

By noon, every cornice is dusted and teacloth ironed and my toenails are sporting a fetching shade of red. By 1.30pm I'm doing a fine impression of King Lear raving on the heath.

This is after four phone calls to the company and four assurances that Gavin/Terry/Pete is on his way, and will be with me in 10 minutes. Why don't they just tell the truth: "He's still on his second job and you are number seven. Don't expect him before teatime."

When, or if, he does turn up, he ignores the madwoman at the door and goes about his business with not a word of apology, just a casual reference to "traffic" and a meaningful look towards the kettle.

Why does every encounter with the "service industries" have to include lies, fob-offs and excuses? Why, because they can get away with it. Country folk are cushioned against this by local reputations to maintain, but here in the city there's always another sucker who will fall for the smart ad in the Yellow Pages. The garage, the dry cleaners, the shoe repairers: they all rely on the great British fear of Making a Fuss. To hell with integrity, it's easier to tell a barefaced lie than apologise, because who will dare argue if you stand your ground?

Accounts departments employ a more sophisticated method of driving you up the wall: it's called "pass the punter". Whiling away their working hours in utter tedium, their moment of power comes when I ring up to chase a cheque. Darren transfers me to Sharon, who transfers me to Wayne, who reckons it is Karen's area. Karen says yes, the cheque I had been promised was in the post last week is still here as it didn't get signed by Mike, who signs only on every third Thursday (and he had a cold that day) but it will be in the post tomorrow. A week later I go through the same procedure, only Karen's on her lunch break. Eventually I get through. The (unsigned) cheque is winking at her on her desk but it's 4.50 and she has a train to catch. Can I ring tomorrow?

Game, set and match: I book into a sanatorium to recover and Karen gets her train. One consolation though. I'll get the money eventually but, with an attitude like that, Karen is going nowhere.

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