Once upon a time there was a carrier company. . . . Let’s call it Feebledweeb. It’s been around a long time. I had a lively and robust, not to say ranting, dislike of it over twenty years ago, before I left the States. Before I discovered the true range of global carrier-company incompetence, creative perversity and aggressive unhelpfulness.
Feebledweeb made both of us crazy—although Peter bears crazy better than I do—back at the old house, when we were living out in the sticks of the sticks and there was a lot more hard copy in publishing than there is now. Feebledweeb at the time was, I believe, the only carrier that would pick stuff up in the sticks of the sticks of southern England and deliver it, more or less safely and in one piece, to a Manhattan highrise. And vice versa. Maybe. With a following wind.
They did, however, make their services coughcoughcoughcough as difficult and unservicelike as possible. They toyed with the concept of timed arrivals, and even at that they could never be pinned down to anything more exacting than before noon or after noon. But that was still better than ‘some time in April, and if you’re out, we’re going to reschedule you without telling you for some date which may or may not be at least six months in the future, oh, you have a deadline? You should have thought of that before you took your dogs on that totally gratuitous walk, shouldn’t you? And what do you mean by being so self-indulgent and unprofessional as having dogs that need walking in the first place? We may not reschedule you at all, you’re not our type.’ Which system is what they reverted to. All day, any day, whatever, if you don’t like it you can hitchhike to the coast and swim to Manhattan. But being cruelly imprisoned by a time frame of before or after noon was giving their drivers palpitations and random crying jags and Feebledweeb are totally committed to employee welfare.
And then Peter and I moved into town. And there seems to have been rather a boom in carriers, some of whom are no worse than dire and unreliable. But Feebledweeb, unfortunately, seems still to control the frelling transatlantic routes.
Now it will amaze you to hear this, but I am not the perfect client. I want to believe that I mostly behave myself with Merrilee, but Merrilee’s subrights department has little cause to love me, and it would not stun me with flabbergastery that there’s a doll hanging by the neck in a corner of the subrights department with a pin through her heart and a banner reading ‘Robin McKinley’. I lose things. I don’t remember ever having seen things. When I send things back it turns out I signed the wrong pages, or didn’t sign enough of them*, or I didn’t put the date on when I should have or did put the date on when I shouldn’t. And then New Arcadia’s post office exploded and was removed and rebuilt using reject Lego in the back of the village grocery, you’re no longer allowed to bring your critters with you to keep you amused while you wait in the endless queue**, and I, having been a borderline*** post office user since I moved over here†, became, um, pathological.
Re-enter Feebledweeb. Who will come to my house and fetch my botched, ill-signed documents, and cart them off to a subrights department across the Water, where they will be the cause of screaming and nervous breakdowns—only some of which will be because I screwed up (again).
Recently we’ve been having a nice little extended torment trying to get Feebledweeb to do what it says on the tin/envelope. Subrights and I got all excited—briefly—because according to Feebledweeb’s web site, subrights could include a prepaid return envelope with the documents I’m supposed to deal with in some way other than the way I will deal with them, and I can just pop them in the return envelope and post them in an ordinary post box, and Feebledweeb will take it from there.
Yes, they will. They will deliver it back to me again with large red marks and seals all over it declaring that I am a liar and a cheat and that I haven’t paid them and their dog is going to pee on my shoes††. We gambolled through this amusing cycle, I think, three times.
Okay. The next plan of action is that we are going to revert to the earlier system of their coming to my house to pick up the envelope of mangled documents.
Feebledweeb were supposed to come last Wednesday between ten and two [sic].
Nothing happened. Nobody came between ten and two and there were no postcards through my door when I returned after belated gratuitous critter-hurtling [see above].
Subrights emailed me anxiously that they had spoken to Feebledweeb again and Feebledweeb would now come this Wednesday between ten and two.
Monday I received a phone call from a very pleasant, very fluent young man with a very strong Indian accent, confirming that Feebledweeb was going to be fetching a parcel from me today—Tuesday. Er, I said. Wednesday. Tuesday, said the young man firmly. Okay, I said. Tuesday. What time? Noon to three pm, he said. Fine, I said, in fact, great, and wrote it down.††
Ten minutes later the phone rang again. This time it was a woman with an English accent. Confirming that Feebledweeb is picking up a parcel from you tomorrow, she said. Yes, I said, between noon and three pm. Certainly not! said the woman. You can ring up tomorrow morning at 9 a.m. and they will give you your allocated time slot. But— I said weakly, I have just been talking to someone at your call centre in India . . .
Ring tomorrow at nine, commanded the woman. We never give out advance time slots.‡
I was downstairs and putting my tea water on at eight forty five this morning, I hope you’re impressed. At 8:59 I rang the number the woman had given me. Another woman answered and asked for my tracking number. I gave it to her, watching an unmarked white van backing up the cul de sac and stopping in front of the cottage. We have no record— began the woman, and there was a knock on the door. Excuse me, I said, hope flaring in a sharp uncomfortable way, there is someone at the door.
I threw the door open . . . and there was a man in a Feebledweeb hoodie. YAAAAAAAAAY, I said, and thrust my envelope upon him. I may have said one or two things . . . particularly because this is a guy I know. Several of the regular drivers for the various carriers are regular enough that us (regular) customers say hi when we see them on the street. FEEBLEDWEEB MAKES ME FRELLING NUTS, I may have said. The guy held up his hands (my envelope in one of them), grinning. You are not alone, he said.
He departed. I picked up the phone and discovered . . . the woman had cut me off. Never mind. The package had gone. And she rang back to say that the driver had just confirmed pick up and tracking number and all was well.
Five hours later I received an email from the subrights department saying that they had just got off the phone from Feebledweeb, re-verifying that one of their agents will pick up my envelope tomorrow, Wednesday, some time between ten and two. . . .
* * *
* I start to lose the will to live after about the ninety-third copy. Why does the president of Dormidalump Multimedia Cupcakes and Related Pastry’s wife’s brother’s assistant’s hamster need a copy of the contract anyway? I’m not sure I like the idea of CHALICE being turned into singing apple strudel, even if Merrilee did get a paragraph in there about how they had to use honey. I should have held out for baklava . . . but that still doesn’t explain the hamster.
** It seems to me very sad that Pav may never have the fabulous experience of waiting in an endless post office queue.
*** Borderline as in personality
† THE POSTMISTRESS HATED ME. SHE DID. She also retired some years ago, but THE TRAUMA REMAINS.
†† Note that (a) the payment for this interesting process is coming out of the money that passes through Merrilee’s hands on my behalf and (b) apparently even if they believed they had been paid . . . they would still deliver it back to me again. Because they can’t read. Or because they can’t design forms that are readable.
††† He then asked me where I was from and acknowledged that he was Indian and calling from India. The thing that interests me though is that these overseas call centres have a very bad rep, which is mostly well earned, but allowing for the fact that Feebledweeb is messing him over as well as messing me over, the phone line was clearer than mine to Peter often is and he was intelligent and articulate and able to answer questions . . . off the sheet of bad info they had given him, but hey.
‡ Of course not. OF COURSE NOT.
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