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19 December
Duff service: A Christmas moan

The small number of emails dribbling in at my postbox this morning probably indicates that rather a lot of people have given up serious activity for the Christmas/New Year break. I’ve still got a lot to do this week, though, and that’s a good thing, because it means I’m pretty much lashed to my desk, and not going out much. Which is useful, as someone has to stay in for deliveries we are expecting.

Actually, “expecting” is putting too positive a slant on it. We’re in the middle of the most severe downturn since the 1930s, with companies allegedly willing to kill for the honour of our paltry business. And yet for a couple of “service” businesses, the concept of service has strangely gone missing, in our experience.

I’ll not name names at this point, because there’s still a chance the two firms in question will redeem themselves in time. But come Christmas Eve, if they haven’t delivered, they’ll be outed. My opprobrium, which is a word I can spell but not pronounce, will know no bounds. Bah humbug for the Christmas spirit, as far as these two are concerned.

One of the companies is a grand old name of UK business, and we ordered, several weeks ago, our Christmas pudding from them, plus a few odd trimmings, over the internet. We duly got a delivery date for it, and I was in that day, but no delivery arrived. Phoning the company to find out what had happened then turned into an endurance test: up to an hour’s wait before they answered, and then the subtle click of someone putting the phone down on you. Finally we found out that they’d lost a whole batch of orders, ours among them, and would now “try” to deliver before Christmas. It’s fortunate that I like Christmas pud enough to eat it on any day, so if it arrives mid-January, I’ll probably still chew my way through it. But Christmas Day without Christmas pud isn’t really on. So I’m waiting in this week… in case.

The other under-performer really isn’t very important, and I probably wouldn’t mention it but for the fact that it makes great play of its service and delivery performance. It’s one of the gadget-y website places that promises to deliver stocking-filler-type bits and bobs on a 24-hour turnround. Well, it’s now about 24 days, and not a single one of those has gone past without the website sending me more details of its wares and their availability. And in the middle of this email bombardment was a note saying the single item I ordered back in November was still on order and wouldn’t be delivered when they said it would (I’d already gathered that) and probably not this side of Christmas.

In these circs, of course, there’s a lot to be said in favour of turning Russian Orthodox and having your Christmas some time in the first week of January. But it’s a bit late to do that. And I’m left to contrast this kind of service performance from service-sector companies with the huge progress made by manufacturing and other businesses in terms of customer focus. Chaps, you know who you are and you’ve got a week to get your act together.

5 December
Entertainment non-league style

I’ve watched enough lower league football over the years to know when a team is playing badly… and to know too that quality of football isn’t the same thing at all as match quality. Bad football can at times be entertaining.

My two visits to Millwall so far this season illustrate that: a drably competent 0-0 draw against Barnsley early in the season ranks among the worst matches I’ve ever seen; last week’s 3-2 win over Doncaster was far from error-free, but was highly entertaining. Last season, one of the dullest games I saw was a mathematical match at Chelsea which had several goals, though I’m now hard-pressed to remember any of them.

Anyway, this season I’ve been more concentrated in my attendances, having bought myself a season ticket to AFC Wimbledon, whose playing style is mostly pretty entertaining and direct, as befits the true inheritors of the old Crazy Gang legacy. So I’ve seen AFC Wimbledon about 10 times.

But I’ve also now seen Bath City four times. Bath City is the team of my youth - rather a long time ago now and geographically distant too - but a look at the current tables shows that, although they’re in the topmost division for non-league teams, they’re also doing pretty badly in that. Bottom, in fact. One win all season before last weekend (plus one in the FA Cup).

The reports have all been that Bath are not, actually, that bad, but they’ve allegedly been unlucky, and hamstrung as well by a shortage of attacking options.  That’s as may be, but I’d seen them three times this season before this past weekend and in two of those games, at home to Kettering and away to Ebbsfleet, their lack of an attack was embarrassing: and not good to watch. Neat football in midfield is all very well, but there was no edge or urgency.

Football loyalty is not about results, though, so on Saturday I went off to Bath City’s home match with Telford – and saw one of the best games I’ll see this year, full of good football, thanks to Bath. City have evidently decided that caution is, in their position, no longer an option, so they attacked: constantly, continuously, in strength and numbers. Their defence looks like the kind of thing that’s always going to concede a soft goal some time or other during the match, so the tactic now is to ensure that they themselves score more than one. On Saturday they had 25 shots, 12 of them on target, and only Telford’s remarkable goalkeeper, flinging himself skywards to keep at least three shots out, denied them a big win. As it was, they were full value for 3-1. And yes, there was a lapse in defensive concentration that allowed Telford to score.

If you look at the table now, after this latest game, Bath City are still stuck to the bottom. Maybe they’ll stay there, maybe not. But at least they seem to be giving it a go, playing some good stuff, and entertaining their spectators at the same time. I’d rather thought that, if they produced as flabby a performance on Saturday as they had against Kettering and at Ebbsfleet, then that would be me over for another season. I’d stick to Wimbledon.  But now? I will probably be back to see if the Great Escape can be done.

2 December
Beleaguered of London SW

Paranoia rules in freelance land, where you worry when people aren’t talking about you and worry even more when they are. But some paranoia is perhaps justified when you don’t have the protection of IT departments and other folk on to whom you can offload responsibility (actually, blame).

Yesterday afternoon, however, all my unreasoning paranoias came together. In the space of an hour, I got my debit card refused at a hole-in-the-wall machine, which was followed by several phone calls from the bank querying my recent transactions, and then an unwise click on a website unleashed a virus on my main computer that has, apparently, sashayed its way through my hard disk, laying waste all about it. 

Are these things linked? The bank, or rather its automated “fraud prevention” system, has been on the phone again this morning, but as you can never speak to a real person it’s not clear whether anything is going on or not. In the absence of an IT department, the computer is now at the shop around the corner which has rescued it before when it’s had episodes, and it may or may not be  recoverable this time. I’m currently holed up in a safe house (all right, my own, but is it safe?) in London SW using my mini machine, where the keyboard is so small it types two letters every time I try to press a single one. It’s a pitiful sight.

And paranoia rules. Well, up to a point. The thing is that, if I am being targeted by an international crime syndicate bent on causing havoc by stealing all my passwords and using them to bring down world order, they may have chosen the wrong route. My hard drive contains mostly dull but worthy journalism; my bank accounts are largely empty; and world order seems to be self-destructing anyway with minimal input from me.

I should worry? I don’t think so. Well, no more than the usual paranoia anyway.

1 December
Neglected asset

I’ve said before that any contributions I make here have to come after I’ve done all the other things I need to do, some of which might possibly help to pay the bills. So my absence over the past four weeks can be put down to busyness: lots of work to do, and no time to come here. And I’d only be kidding myself if I thought anyone would notice. A few people have passed this way in the past month, but only a few. I haven’t even looked in myself…

So should I return? Or just let this blog wither away to zero?

Actually, as I’m in the usual freelance position of having a fairly clear December, and as I’ve accumulated, in notebooks and on tape, lots of material for the November busyness that will never see publication because of confined word allowances in most of my usual outlets, I’m going to try an experiment. Once my real stuff has been published by the people who’ve commissioned me, I’ll try to come on here more regularly and put up longer versions, or different versions, of some interviews. I’ve seen and met and talked to some interesting folk in the past month, and limited wordcounts elsewhere do not do them justice. Let’s see if I can balance that out a bit here, without treading across the territory of the publications who pay me.

Most of my November stuff should be printed and sent out in the next couple of weeks or so. And then I’ll start posting here. Meantime, to get in the mood, I might just possibly write about Bath City, under-performers like me, where I’m due to take in my second home match of the season this coming Saturday. You know you’re interested.  Really. You are.

Oh, all right then.

>Back to November 2011