Katy Guest: The revenge of the frustrated consumer

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The Independent Online

Surviving modern life relies upon the ability to tolerate a fairly constant level of impotent fury. When the average journey to work involves standing for hours on a heaving platform hearing that the underground network is currently experiencing a "good service". Being told that "your call is important to us". Bus drivers.

All of these things are designed to turn us into Mr Angry, tearfully yelling at switchboards in the certain knowledge that They are doing these things because They can get away with it. No, we can't send another letter to head office carefully detailing our complaint: we have jobs, and they don't allow us to spend most of the day listening to Vivaldi.

This is why the current stampede to reclaim bank charges is the best thing to happen to this country since King Harold neglected to tick the box about arrow-proofing and discovered that he wasn't entitled to a refund. Something weird is happening to the British: we are becoming a nation of complainers, and finally getting one over on Them.

According to Credit Suisse, We have forced Them to give back £200m of our hard-earned money in the last six months alone. Experts anticipate that claims will more than double by the end of the year, being further swelled by reclaimed mortgage exit fees. That's hundreds of millions of pounds that They have taken from Us, unfairly, and now We are getting it back. Not cursing into the phone long into the night, or twitching ourselves to sleep wondering how the scumbags manage to live with themselves. Just writing to the banks and saying, "Excuse me, but you can't do that any more. That'll be £1,000, with interest, ta."

Actually, this bizarre transformation of the British temperament is not due to the sudden growth a collective backbone. It is largely down to a quiet little Office of Fair Trading judgement about credit card charges, and the crusade of one man.

Martin Lewis, the man behind moneysavingexpert.com, is one of those people who can lead you through big decisions involving huge amounts of money as if they are laughably unscary. He is a modern-day Robin Hood, and I may love him more than Phil Spencer from Location Location Location. If Lloyds TSB ends up paying me back in full, I undoubtedly will.

What brought joy to my heart when I read his soothing website was the section about using the Small Claims Court. If I had known it was that simple, I would have sued the smug so-and-sos who charged me extra for insurance when they posted me a concert ticket and then refused to claim on the insurance when the ticket never arrived. I'd have had the evil-doers who offered me a "free" trial and then wouldn't cancel my debit card subscription. I'm sure I would even have found a way to get the bus drivers.

Being done over by big business feels like being picked on at school and never being able to find a teacher to tell. The more you scream about the injustice of it all, the more you feel six years old with your pigtails pulled and nothing to do but shout "It's not fair!" Now, finally, we have told the teachers, and the bullies are doing lines - 200 million of them.

Surely the new Prime Minister ought to capitalise on this tidal wave of righteous relief. He should call a snap election, during which registered voters can ring a call centre and "press one to electrocute your MP". Justice will break out all over the United Kingdom and people will no longer seethe pointlessly. We might even stop blaming him for the weather.

Honestly, who would bat an eyelid?

Who was the woman who complained to the Advertising Standards Authority that L'Oreal's mascara advert was "misleading"? When she saw Penelope Cruz's stunted lashes transformed into a billowing crow's wing of feathery loveliness, did she really believe it was all down to the special wand? Was this credulous viewer also confused when her new tights failed to stretch her legs to twice the length of her body? Did she expect her moisturiser to airbrush years from her skin?

As advertising trickery goes, this is hardly damaging. In fact it makes a lovely change. If L'Oreal want to cheat to make a part of their model look plumper, thicker and wider than the reality, shouldn't we encourage them to go further?

* When The Walker is released in a couple of weeks, a certain type of man is going to have to take his phone off the hook. The film stars Woody Harrelson as escort to powerful Washington wives - Kristin Scott Thomas and Lauren Bacall - and already women are cottoning on to this awfully clever arrangement.

The term "walker" was coined for Jerry Zipkin, who squired around the likes of Nancy Reagan when their husbands were busy running the world. The modern equivalent is My Pet Gay, the amenable gay friend who increasingly finds himself dragged along to parties, weddings, "accidental" meetings with exes...

Now fair enough, a single girl at a party needs a man for his pockets and to reach snacks that might be high up, but one too many hen nights and they're going to start making like the movie and charging us.

Interviewed about the film, Bacall said: "I knew Jerry Zipkin. He was funny, gossipy, a great escort... But that's not my life, I'm not like that." Please can we all try to exercise similar restraint?

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