100daysofgrievances #49 THE COMPLAINT

I’m going to the cinema tonight (to see Trainspotting 2, in case you’re interested).  It’s been a while since my last big-screen outing, and that wasn’t the most uneventful evening I’ve ever enjoyed…

 

My friend and I went to see Bridget Jones’ Diary (don’t judge me) one Friday night.  Bear with me, these facts are pertinent.  Before arriving, we’d consumed a couple of cocktails each (it was a Friday night, remember? It may actually have been more than a couple of cocktails, but that’s not remotely relevant).  We subsequently purchased a couple of bottles of wine, and a cup of tea each from one of those scabby corner-shop hot-drink vending machines (the film was Bridget Jones, remember; wine was obligatory).  As we would NEVER drink wine directly from the bottle (or, rather, we had no desire to be forcibly removed from the cinema), we paid for cups of tea, disposed of the teabags and instead of filling them with hot water, we kept them as handy, be-lidded, alcohol receptacles. Utterly ideal for totally inconspicuous wine-quaffing bargain-hunting cinema-going shenanigans.  In our somewhat befuddled (be-cocktailed?) minds, this was an idea bordering on genius.

 

With only minor clinking and fumbling, we were soon seated right at the front of the cinema (not the best seats view-wise; I HATE having to look up to move my head backwards and forwards as I follow the action), but ideal in terms of ample floor space on which to lay out our makeshift wine bar.  It’s truly enlightening the percentage of a bottle of wine that fits into a large paper cup, and it is surprising how quickly one is able to drink it through the drinky-hole (does it have a name?) on the lid.  Before long, I needed the loo.  Of course I did.  I made my way carefully up the stairs (cinemas are very dark, lest you’d forgotten, and I was very slightly unsteady on my feet by this point) and out of the door.  Aforementioned door closed ominously behind me.  As I squinted in the harsh light, it took a few seconds for me to take in  my surroundings.  It took another few seconds for me to realise that I May Have A Problem…

 

The stairs weren’t carpeted; they were concrete.  The door didn’t have a handle on the inside and was firmly shut. There was no sign of any toilets.  I appeared to have taken something of a wrong-turning…  Not one to be fazed when faced with unfamiliar surroundings (I get lost a lot), I thought I’d best do a bit of speedy exploration.  Although I can’t remember which man Bridget chose in the end (those cocktails were surely stronger than they tasted), at that point in time it felt imperative that I get back into the cinema pronto so as not to miss anything vital. I rapidly descended the stairs until I came to a door (so far, so good…) A door that said ‘FIRE EXIT, ALARMED’ across it (a little bad).  At this point I will admit to succumbing to minor panic as I really, really had no desire to be the tipsy person who resulted in the evacuation of the entire cinema complex…And also, I really needed to pee.  So back up the stairs I trudged.

 

After what felt like an eternity, I managed to pull the door open slightly by inching my hand underneath it and yanking as I sat on the floor.  In retrospect, this possibly wasn’t hugely wise as the below-door gap was rather tight (presumably this was a fire door too), and I would have been in a far worse predicament had my hand got stuck, my bladder as full of wine as it was…  But it didn’t!  So off I skipped to the loo, and then back to my seat before Vicky pilfered my share of our remaining riches.

 

You are probably thinking that was the end of a not-particularly interesting story (I think you had to be there), but it ISN’T. Oh no.  About an hour later (a complete guess), I realised that Vicky was no longer sitting beside me, and possibly hadn’t been for quite some time (it takes a lot of concentration to follow Colin Firth to-ing and fro-ing across a large screen).  I carefully sat down my cup of wine…So SUBTLE – it looked just like I was drinking a large cup of tea…And off I trotted to investigate.  I quickly realised that the door I’d exited through earlier did in fact have a neon ‘Emergency Exit’ sign above it… Not one to disregard a gut feeling (or underestimate the predictability of an intoxicated person), I opened the door whilst being very careful not to let it shut behind me (I was tipsy, not stupid) and there she was.  Standing there contemplating the wisdom of hotfooting it back down the stairs and out of the alarmed door. Apparently I arrived to do my knightess in shining armour bit just in the nick of time.

 

And that, my friends, was a very roundabout way of getting onto the topic of this blog: The Email of Complaint.  Obviously, I wrote an email to the cinema (what if I had been a CHILD? What I had been stuck FOREVER? What were the chances of TWO people making the same mistake?  What film would I go and see if I got a couple of spare tickets out of my misfortunes?)  The reply I received was simply marvellous.  My favourite sentence was:

“However, as we rely on customers knowing which door they came through, we are aware that this mistake with the doors can be made”

Basically “You are a drunken moron but I am a customer services representative so can’t say so in as many words”.  Free tickets or no free tickets (alas, no free tickets), it made my day.

 

I do like a good email of complaint.  Nowadays, I don’t have to faff about hunting for envelopes or procuring overpriced stamps; a quick bit of typing, the click of a button and my gripes are zapped off into the ether.  British Rail used to be the worst.  For anyone who has ever attempted to claim back for a disrupted/delayed/cancelled train journey, you will know the pain to which I refer.  Every letter and ticket (the actual ticket, not a photocopy, mind), had to be sent recorded delivery, lest they claimed (as they always did) that they hadn’t received it. Their complaints procedure training manual clearly stated: Do everything in your power to make the complainant lose the will to live and, therefore, the required energy to proceed with their complaint. In contrast, these past few months have shaped up pretty well in terms of recent responses (not least from Vue)…

 

Firstly, I emailed Denby.  I like Denby, I like Denby a lot; especially after the reply they sent me to my email.  My gran buys me posh cooking-related paraphernalia every birthday/Christmas/visit.  It’s great, she happily treats me to brands that I could never feel  entirely comfortable treating myself to, Denby being one of her favourites.

 

Having moved house (may or may not be entirely relevant), I noticed a crack across my biggest Denby lasagne dish.  I duly emailed Denby and informed them that the crack suddenly appeared upon removing the dish from the oven (may or may not be entirely accurate), and lovely Denby instructed me to pick a new one from their website.  Any niggling guilt I may have hypothetically been experiencing (I’ve actually no idea how the dish came to have a crack in it, although I do know it was bought from an outlet village so may well have been a second), immediately evaporated when I realised that these dishes retail at an eye-watering £52 each – daylight robbery or what?!

 

I also recently emailed the place where we had consumed cocktails before that fated cinema visit.  Hell, I’m going to name and shame – it was Browns, the chain food/drinks establishment. The Reading branch. Before you ask, no I was not emailing to blame them for my cinema stupidity (although, technically-speaking, it was ever-so-slightly their fault)…  In a nutshell, their cocktails were delightful (and potent), their food was a disgrace. “This is meant to serve three of us… THREE of us?! No, waiter, I don’t think it WOULD look like more on a bigger plate.. One might even suggest that the opposite would be more likely… No I would not like a free shot of sambuca, thanks all the same; did I not just say we needed to soak up some of this alcohol and that’s why we ordered food?… Are you SURE you didn’t give us some plates that had already been eaten off and were on their way back to the kitchen?… People complain about portion size all the time you say? Interesting… It’s all Head Office’s fault, is it? They have strict guidlines pertaining to there being no more than 7 chips in one of those cup things, do they? Hmm…”

 

They didn’t reply to my very well researched email (I included a choice quote from their website about how, allegedly  ‘customers never leaving feeling disappointed’,  and pointed out the glaring disparity).  It was a good email, I was proud of it.  Not one to be deterred with their lack of response, I waited a few weeks and fired off a second email.  This time I made reference to pictures of bigger portions sold in other branches of Browns on Trip Advisor –  a whole 12 chips in one case!  It’s not that I possess any kind of confidence in the reliability of Trip Advisor  but sometimes needs must.

 

Browns sent me a £25 voucher.  No apology, no comment, no communication at all. I was happy with that.

 

It’s not only actual emails of complaint that I indulge in; I also feel compelled to fill in all those email ‘how did we do’ survey thingys.  I think it’s only fair – a company bombards me with junk emails, and it return, I fill in their surveys (that sounded vaguely logical in my head…).  I would like to point out here that I always answer these things truthfully: if I have had good service, I say so (it just so happens that this is frequently not the case…)

 

Last month, I un-joined the gym.  The reason for this is twofold:

  1. I don’t feel I’ve been getting my money’s worth of late (I can no longer convince myself that one half-hour class a week is worth the membership fees).
  2. I answered one of those email survey things when in a Bad Mood.

Generally speaking, I let the ‘not getting my money’s worth’ gripe fester on for a year or so before actually biting the bullet and cancelling the direct debit for my under-utilised gym membership (I’d say this happens on a rolling 2 year cycle).  On this occasion, however, the process was sped up when I answered the questions in the aforementioned email survey.

 

They tricked me, you see.  These surveys appear really anonymous – you know the type: ‘on a scale of 0-10, how likely are you to recommend this gym to a friend?’ (big fat zero). ‘Please comment’… It is at this point that my mind goes a little blank… I know I bemoaned the fact that they keep sending me ‘motivational’ emails (yes I am QUITE aware I didn’t darken your door last week, I really don’t need reminded as I check my emails on my phone, bowl of popcorn on my lap)… I’m pretty sure I mentioned the really annoying key-code entry system (this from the girl who failed to access the office on Monday as she couldn’t remember the door code.  The door code that hasn’t changed in the 8 months she’s been working there. The door code she had to pretend wasn’t registering properly for reasons unknown when she had to buzz a colleague to come to her aid.  The door code she may well have remembered had she not been back in Scotland killing braincells using a lethal combination of saturated fats and Tenants lager for the 6 days prior…).  Anyway, definitely complained about the crappy access system.  Also may have mentioned the awful music they play in the gym.  May have used the rather middle-aged phrase ‘at intolerable levels’ (there’s a DJ at weekends FFS)  Yep, pretty certain I said that…

 

It turns out the anonymous survey wasn’t all that anonymous after all…Today I answered a phonecall (a local number, not a withheld number; I’m not that thick). “Hi, my name’s Kayleigh-Rae” (clearly I’m guessing at the spelling, it could be K-Lee Reii or Kaeleigh Rayy, or any other abomination) “I’m calling from the gym…” (my first thought was that they had failed to up my attendance with their irritating emails, and had now moved on to phone-based harassment) “I believe you gave us some feedback?” (my heart duly sank).  I made my excuses, hung up, logged into my internet banking and cancelled my gym direct debit.

 

A hasty action?  Absolutely not.  You’re forgetting that this is the gym that sends me a Warning Email if ever I miss a pre-booked class (an email of the ‘do it again and you’ll lose your right to book future classes’ variety).  They know when you’re in their overly-loud, abundantly lycra-ed circle of hell.  Kayleigh-Rae might approach me post-class (when my defences are down) to discuss my feedback.  I can even picture what she looks like – she’s one of those shiny blonde ones who always tries to force vile-tasting protein drinks at me as I scuttle off home (WHY am I completely unable refuse a free sample, regardless of what is being proffered?!)  Can’t have that – the gym is stressful enough as it is.

 

The other occasion I fell foul of an automated ‘how did you rate your visit?’ email was after dining out for Burns’ night a couple of years ago.  I vaguely recall running out of space and having to edit the ‘Any other comments?’ section to allow my complex critique of the evening to fit.  If memory serves correctly, it was probably similar in length to this blog post…  I sent it off and promptly forgot all about it.  Okay, that’s a lie, I thought about it for all of about two weeks during which I wondered on a regular basis what the likelihood was of them sending me a voucher, and what I would spend it on.  But then I really forgot all about it.

 

That is until the following year when we returned to said establishment for Burns’ night…

 

An annual Burns’ night shindig at this particular restaurant was something of a tradition until this fateful evening.  To be fair to the staff, they had successfully resolved the majority of the group’s gripes during the previous visit (it’s surprising how far a few free whiskies can go in terms of taming tempers);  I wouldn’t have complained had I not been sent an email  INVITING ME TO DO SO.   So we got there the following year, sat down and began to peruse the menu.  I casually asked the waiter if the Cullen Skink had non-traditional  mussels in it this year (mussels are NOT a traditional ingredient of Cullen Skink and I was allergic at the time*).  There was an ominous silence before the waiter (who actually turned out to be the assistant manager or suchlike) looked at me steadily and said “you wrote an email, didn’t you.”  It was a statement as opposed to a question and silence fell round the table as I scrabbled in the recesses of my memory to try and remember exactly what I’d written.  For the remainder of the evening, the service was completely over the top and fantastic (in contrast to the previous year), but I was completely unable to relax.

 

What I’m saying, boys and girls, is that complaining can occasionally backfire **

 

In summary, I’m hoping that tonight’s cinema visit will prove uneventful.  I will resist the urge to a) spend my Brown’s voucher before going in, and b) taking any of these in with me (given the theme of the film, I think it could have been quite fitting…) :


(But only because you can’t buy them down here).

 

*Remind me to tell you sometime how I have OVERCAME my mild intolerance to seafood, I promise it’s a story as exciting as the locked-out-the cinema gem above.

 

**Like the time I accidentally complained about the service in an Italian restaurant.  Basically, I muttered to my dining companion about how rude the staff were and when the manager overheard, he took it upon himself to give us exemplary service for the remainder of the evening.   Come dessert time, I passed comment on the fact that Italian restaurants seldom have a cheeseboard option.   The cheeseboard bit wasn’t a real complaint, it wasn’t a complaint at all.  It was a mere passing comment, I didn’t even have room for any cheese (an almost inconceivable state of affairs).  Unfortunately, that didn’t stop the manager bringing me a bespoke cheeseboard that he had requested the kitchen make up especially for me – think copious warm, stodgy doughballs and huge portions of every cheese a pizzeria has to hand (not cheeses that necessarily lend themselves well to a cheeseboard):  mozzarella, parmesan, ricotta, etc.  It truly was a sight to behold (as the ricotta dripped over the edges of the board and I had to rescue doughballs before they rolled onto my lap).  My dining companion sat back smugly, glass in hand, not even having to utter the words “that’ll learn you” as I frantically wondered how many doughballs I could hide in my handbag so as not to appear rude.

 

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