My So-called Life: Cometitis: it's becoming an epidemic

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The Independent Online

Heavens, what an amazing response to last week's piece on Cometitis.

Heavens, what an amazing response to last week's piece on Cometitis. Tons of emails which just keep coming and which prove, perhaps, what I have long argued, largely to avoid getting the sack: that the tenth anniversary of Rwanda is all very well, but when it comes to what people truly care about you simply cannot beat an exploding tumble dryer followed by customer service of the sort that goes: "Press one, and then two, and then, sorry, I don't know a Natalie, but I'm Sharon and how can I best not help you today, rather than tomorrow, when I, too, will have ceased to exist if, that is, I ever existed in the first place, as we pride ourselves on offering the most Godot-esque of experiences. Madam, stop crying! Pull yourself together! You've only been trying to get though to us for 72 hours. Some people have been trying for months. One customer fossilised while listening to the muzak, which was bad news for him, but good news for us, as he's now the coat stand in the staff room at our new flagship monstrosity in Ashton under Lyne...".

As it happens, I believe I am, at last, on the mend. Yesterday I was even able to sit up and take a little soup. I hope to be up and about soon but my doctor says I absolutely must not rush it. Cometitis has a very debilitating effect on the whole system (See Lancet, volume 879, number 345) and it is always, apparently, a mistake to put yourself back out there while still weak and not fully right in the head.

I believe this is what happened to one of my correspondents, Mr Jon Brown, who, after a particularly nasty bout of Cometitis - caught from a portable telly - thought that he was well enough to venture forth. Alas, he almost immediately picked up what appears to be a related condition, Dixonsitis, from a faulty Scart lead. This, he says, put him straight back to bed with the characteristic thumping migraine, feverish rage and exasperated weeping. (The other most common related conditions seem to be BT Broadbanditis and Emeffiitis.)

So, I'm not a lone sufferer. On the contrary, Cometitis may even be an epidemic. Matt Soubin, a student, writes: "I generally find that I am reasonably tolerant with call centre staff as I am only 25 years old and don't like to be an 'old windbag', but I was nearly brought to tears by my dealings with Comet...."

Dr Neville Haskins, whose tumble dryer blew up in a cloud of smoke, says: "This led to four hours of being tossed back and forth between the service centre and the engineers. I even had a detour to the Hotpoint service centre who couldn't deal with me because Comet had taken responsibility for all warranty work." One reader's five needless days off work finally resulted in an offer of 100 lightbulbs as compensation, which she found somewhat surreal, while another actually stamped on his own VDU, which he found preferable to ever having to contact Comet again in the increasingly unlikely hope they would ever sort things out.

As for Mr Brian Morgan, I thought his missive particularly cruel: "Moral: always go to John Lewis. For example - tumble drier, bought this week, lovely assistant, 95p cheaper than Comet, free delivery, arrived quarter of an hour before time, lovely men took off copious wrapping, two years' labour, five years' parts..." Thanks for that, Mr Morgan. It's always nice to know there are people out there who, when you need them, will dance around your sickbed while gleefully rubbing your nose it. Do you work in any of the caring professions, by any chance?

I was also, I should add, contacted by Mr Simon Fox, the managing director of Comet, who wrote: "If you have recovered sufficiently from Cometitis, I would welcome the opportunity to meet with you to apologise both to you personally and to explain what we have done to address the issues you have experienced." I decided against any meeting, mostly because I felt I could not trust Mr Fox to turn up on the day or at the time specified, but did email him back with a number of questions about Comet policy (no surnames, no direct lines, high-pressure warranty sales - the usual stuff ). I have yet to receive a reply. (There's a thing.)

So, in the meantime, you may want to take a tip from Susan Elliot-Wright who suggests that when writing letters of complaint always insert the words "Freelance Journalist" into your letterhead and then start the letter with: "As a busy freelance journalist....." This always speeds things up nicely, she says. Alternatively, you may simply wish to cut out the following and send it to Mr Fox at Comet Group PLC, George Street, Hull, HU1 3AU.