Thursday 2 December 2010

The "Can't Do" Culture

MPs famously bought goods from the John Lewis list for the same reason the rest of the Waitrose-classes do; they are supposed to make the whole business of buying homewares very simple. You - or we- pay them, they deliver and set up.

Hoping to experience what life is like in the Nomenklatura, I purchased a washing machine and paid the fees accordingly. Could I have got the machine cheaper by going through the warehouses? Yes, and saved at least £84, but the point about John Lewis is they are supposed to make life like their adverts.

The store offered me a delivery 'slot' of 7 hours, somewhere between 7am and 2pm. Fortunately, I don't have anything else to do but wait for deliveries - it's not like I've got a life or anything - and, anyway, the weather is a reasonable excuse for delay.

At just before 12pm - note, five hours in to the delivery 'slot' - they called and so when they arrived the door was open, the old machine had been drained (as far as possible) and disconnected, ready to go. The space was clear and clean, all the little valves were turned off.

The new machine was brought in, unpacked, the hot-fill pipe capped off with a brass screw-cap (it's all cold fill now) and the cold-fill hose offered up to the opening in the side of the sink unit. Due to an anti-flood device on the hose, the hole was approximately 3mm too small and need to be relieved .

"We can't do that, we aren't qualified" said the man. Things went very bad from there on.

It inspires utter contempt when a grown man says he can't file the edge of a hole in chipboard. It's not cabinet making. It's not even woodwork. It doesn't matter that strictly speaking, it's not their job. I could not hold myself out as a man, allegedly the possessor of a gentleman's plumbing, if I were unable to slightly enlarge a hole in a material which is only one-up from cardboard.

I would not expect to seduce women if I could not do even that. Heck, I would not expect to seduce men if I could not do even that. I would expect even the dogs and sheep to run away laughing, spurning my sexual advances when they found out I could not ease a hole in chipboard in a non-visible part of a kitchen.

We aren't talking about 3ml all the way round or making a hole from scratch; we are talking about nibbling at a couple of points on an existing hole so the anti-flood device - roughly the size of large matchbox on the end of the cold-fill hose - goes through.

"We can't do that" repeated the mis-named installer, sticking rigidly to the John Lewis liability line.

Thoroughly bad-tempered words were had with the customer service moppet at John Lewis, who asked if I didn't have somebody who could help me make holes in chipboard? I told her that as I had been waiting for five hours, if they had said they needed a 7.5mm hole, I'd have nibbled it out ready with a junior hacksaw.

We were talking, I repeat, about removing a couple of millimetres of chipboard on the edge of an existing hole. You could probably do it with determination and steak-knife. A century of feminism and 130 years of public education for all, and somehow it strikes an otherwise capable young woman as inconceivable that a mere female could slightly enlarge a hole in chipboard for herself if given due warning of the necessity of access. No, she must perforce throw herself on the mercy of her saw-bearing male relatives.

Miss Customer Service has probably passed all the customer communication courses but still failed to predict that "Haven't you got anyone who can help you?" is a) beside the point and b) tantamount to calling the customer an ugly old bag who can't get a man. This is unlikely to elicit a warm response, especially if true. We aren't here to argue about how well-connected I am to a tribe of obliging hole-enlargers; that is irrelevant. JLP charged a premium for the machine plus an installation fee then, faced with a few millimetres of awkward chipboard with photocopies of wood on top, gave up and ran off for an early lunch, looking for an excuse to not do their job but still get paid.

I then proposed to enlarge the hole myself and wanted to know when they were sending the installers back.
"They've gone to the next job now" said the woman.
"No they haven't. They are having a shufty fag as they've got some spare time now and I can see them over the road".

The young woman then made an offer she obviously thought was supposed to have me grovelling "Well, provided you can do it Right Now, we'll send them back".

I got the saw from the tool box and set about the nibbling. Thirty seconds later the installer appeared at the front door and asked when I'd be finished. I said - and I accept this was inflammatory - "Between 12 and 2" and told him to wait in the van until I called him. For some reason, JLP does not seem to like waiting for the customer, although of course, it's alright if you wait five hours for them. He very well knew it was about a ten minute job. He was scheduled to run a test wash - to make sure nothing was leaking - so all that stuff about having to go immediately was utter bollocks. He was skiving and was narked about being caught out.

"Well, if that's your attitude, I won't try to help you"

At this point I just stared and said "Help?"

Did this man think was doing me a favour, that he had not in fact been paid the agreed price to install a machine but was here as a voluntary washing machine installer. How he was helping? Helping would have been to whip out a Stanley knife such as they use on the van to slit the packaging (not that he thought to bring in a pair of scissors to cut the polythene) and set to relieving the hole that few millimeters, possibly whilst saying 'This is not really my job, but if you don't tell anyone, I won't'.

Or, if feeling very worried about the company line and possible liabilities, then he could have said 'Look, can you cut out that bit quickly? Only I'm not insured. I'll have a sandwich as it is snap time, then do the installation'. A brave man would have done the former, even a lawyer would offered to do the second.

This was waiting for the customer to sort it out and then trying to act like the big man for finally, finally condescending to do one's job, but only under perfect conditions. This is the Can't Do Culture.

I've known fey gay hairdressers to have more guts. 'Pass me the Big Rasp, Julian, the one we normally use for your toenails, I just have to adjust this access port'.

You wouldn't get a Pole talking cobblers about it not being his job; he'd punch a hole with his bare fist and then shrug: 'You want hole bigger, I make hole bigger. In Poland we have hardwood kitchen, not chipboard, not since Soviets.'

You wouldn't get an Afghan tribesman taking nonsense from a kitchen fitment. Admittedly their standard answer is to shoot the hole bigger with a Kalashnikov and then wonder why the cold water is spraying everywhere, but they would hold their manhood cheap if intimidated and defeated by 3mm of compressed sawdust.

Since I refused to give his ego a blow-job and be abjectly grateful for being allowed a few minutes of his valuable time, the installer flounced off. I'm not really sorry; I didn't trust him to do the job at all.

This is the job being done. I nibbed out the unwanted material, cutting it in little triangles. Following the installation instructions I completed the job (the transportation bolts had already been removed but I found I could have managed it as they give you a special spanner) then called a grown-up plumber who stopped by to check I'd done it correctly. It is three connections, four if you count screwing the cap on to the redundant hot water valve. Anyone can plug in the electricity. Screwing in the cold valve is fiddly, but no worse than a bottle-top. Connecting the waste hose is just pushing a hose on to a tapered pipe so that it fits snuggly. A spirit level helps tell if the feet need to be adjusted. You can tell when it is working properly; the clothes get washed and the floor does not flood.

The most difficult part turns out to be the sheer handling of the weight and tomorrow I will get glides to help move the machine in to its housing.


Electro-Kevin said...

Looks like you did a cracking job of it.

How annoying. Worthy of Watchdog I would think.

banned said...

Congrats Ms. Raft, I do hope that you send a copy of this to much vaunted JLPs in-house magazine.

I've managed to survive five decades, thus far, without recourse to John Lewis, nor indeed Waitrose which would involve a hazardous venture to Sidmouth.

Richard said...

Sorry to hear of your troubles, but this story made me laugh. It's back to the worst days of the 'demarcation disputes' of the 70s, only then the reply would have been "I can't touch that - that's a joiner's work, that is".

Make a fuss. Embarrass JLP as much as possible. Customer service has progressed so much since those days, it would be a shame to let it slide back. This episode is disgraceful.

Submariner said...

This is exactly what James May is on about: the dire need for the modern male of the species to get a grip and start re-acquiring the ordinary skills of everyday practical life.

What indeed is the point of Waitrose selling white goods if they can't enlarge a little hole by 3mm? And your delivery / fitter bloke should be strung up by his hose connection, for bringing the whole gender into disrepute.

JuliaM said...

"..."Well, if that's your attitude, I won't try to help you"..."

I admire your restraint.

At that point, I'd have found another use for that junior hacksaw and be holed up in a bedroom, screaming 'Come in and get me coppers!' to an armed unit a few hours later...

Elby the Beserk said...

And we wonder why UK PLC is fucked?

My best tale along these lines was when my ex and I bought our first house in Oxford. It had been more or less gutted by squatters, and had had all the utilities switched off when we took possession.

Lecky no problem. Ring them up, and got re-connected in a couple of days.

Gas. Now, that's another story. Call them up asking to be re-connected. Have you got any gas appliances, they ask. No, say we. Ah, sorry, then we can't reconnect you.

So we buy a gas cooker, which we had to anyway, and ask them when they can install it.

Is your gas connected they ask.

No say we.

Ah. Then we can't even deliver it.

Some severe telephone head-bangings later, they reconnected the gas.

Long slow sigh...

Well done, Ms. Raft. I think you got a bad egg there, as our JL washing machine installers were most helpful.

Bill said...

Happened to me!
Seems some twonk in Centrica or National Grid as they are now called didn't record a delivery of faulty gas meters correctly and they went out to customers homes.
All that was wrong with them was the measuring gadget inside didn't work so people were getting free gas, heaven forbid. Turns out they had to change 10,000 meters to make sure they got all 80 of the faulty ones!!
Anyway National Grid man comes to change the meter and as the meter is inside a specially adapted cupboard and the new meter is a different size to the old he refused point blank to enlarge the cut out in the cupboard by an inch.
One 3 minute saw cut was all it took me whilst he explained it is 'company policy' dreamt up by a coagulation of solicitor, accountant and H&S nutcase none of who have ever fitted a gas meter in their lives and have no idea what the job they rule on entails.

You have my every sympathy and showed remarkable restraint in the circumstances.

lilith said...

Well done Mrs Raft. I have even managed to get the machine back into its housing by squatting and rocking it back and from side to side a few centimetres at a time. Not elegant but I managed it :-) On the other hand glides would be handy for when you need to pull it out to get the dog hair blockage cleared from the outflow. I bought a new machine from JL because the last one stopped working. Turned out to be dog hair/tissues in the outflow and the old machine worked perfectly well...

will said...

As a kitchen fitter with full public liability insurance I can tell you that there is no qualification required for the fitting or modification of kitchen units. There are carpentry and joinery qualifications but they are not legally mandatory like gas safe (formerly corgi) registration. They are not even a requirement for the insurance.

Anonymous said...

You don't need glides.

Any water based cleaner containing surfactants applied in the pathway of the appliance's feet will work to cut down friction in the short term.

I've moved equipment three times my weight using that trick.

Stabledoor said...

I've given up on John Lewis for white goods for that very reason. Hughes Electrical are much better - they will match John Lewis price, deliver and install the new one and take away the old one plus the packaging

Albert said...

Well done on your chipping away at the wood.
We went into John Lewis for a flat screen tv hd 1080p whatever tv 32"
and they tried to flog us a 42" 720p,it was like talking to a brick wall,companies don't make that size (on their own web site),the idiot got quite ratty when we walked away in disgust,went down to Tesco and got what we needed,would have had one from Aldi if they had any,just for their 3 year warranty.

Electro-Kevin said...

Had you offered them a cup of tea when they first arrived ?

Not that it makes them any better at their job - but it makes me feel good having something to take off them when they don't comply.

Woman on a Raft said...

The thing is, E-K, you are the kind of man who takes two hiking poles and a waterproof cape and proves that it is perfectly possible to survive on a mountainside, albeit for a limited time, without recourse to a 4* hotel.

To you, you see a piece of chipboard with slightly too much material; less than half half-a-biscuit's worth, and not very much harder than a stale biccy, either.

The only question in your mind would be whether to go and get the hacksaw or tackle it with the mini saw-blade on a Swiss Army knife. The idea of not doing the job is unthinkable to you. It's not so much a matter of compliance as honour; you know all the yada yada about liability, but screw that, there is a teeny-weeny problem which can be solved in five minutes flat at no risk to anybody, so you'd do it. That is what 'finishing the job' means to you, and if HR don't like it....well, don't tell them.

But to these men the job was impossible in their minds. The housing was made of granite. They'd be sacked They'd miss their delivery targets. They'd rather haul a machine back to the depot (which can involve a penalty charge to the customer) because as far as they, and indeed John Lewis were concerned, they had a solid excuse to do so.

The whole thing was clearly my fault for not being psychic and failing to enquire what "being compliant with any aquaflood device" means.

The serious deficiency with my fit of pique was that two grown men have now been confirmed in that helplessness; more than ever they think that simple competence beyond them. One of them will be standing in a pub, complaining about the unfairness of people who don't make sure that holes are the right size before they get there.

We've spent years schooling people in to the "can't do" culture. Really it is a bit cheap of me to take a shot at a pair who are only doing what they have been taught.

I promise you the following is true. A teacher at a local school who teaches what used to be called woodwork and metalwork and is now called "resistant materials", made a couple of lads chip chewing gum off the underside of desks as a punishment for inattention.

Thus they learned to handle a range of tools such as mallets and scrapers. The teacher was suspended for a fortnight. He was not allowed to impose work on children which should have been done by 'qualified' employees (human rights) and they were not insured to do this work even if they had volunteered for it (Health and Safety).

The boys learned that instead of redeeming themselves and taking responsibility - and they were pleased with themselves for doing a proper job instead of making another toast-rack - anybody who tries to make them do so may well be out of a job.

killemallletgodsortemout said...

You don't understand.

It's the likes of these delivery "men", former car plant workers, former miners, former shipbuilders and former steel "men" who have made Britain the nation that it is now.

*sharp intake of breath through pursed lips* "No, can't do that, that's tradesman's work, that is".

"Can't change that light bulb. That's an electrician's job, that is".

These days, the fallback position is Health & Safety.

We lease a Konica printing machine for our office. Got the machine delivered and it was carried up a flight of stairs - in bits - to the first floor. Nailed together - lovely job. We paid.

Then - we moved offices.

To get the thing dismantled and carried downstairs, we had to complete an 18-page risk assessment.

To get the thing taken back upstairs in the new place, we had to complete another 18-page risk assessment.

Funny how we didn't have to complete a risk assessment before we had paid for the thing, but once payment had been taken, the bastards made life as difficult as possible.

"Isselfunsafetymate. Didn't know there was a turn in the stairs."

"It's shown on the drawing we had to provide"

"Snotmyfault. Isselfunsafetymate".

"Will a £50 note help you to get the printer upstairs?"

"Wherejawannit, guv?"

Elfunsafety, bloodymindedness, laziness, ignorance and stupidity. It's what makes Britain great.

Elfunsafety - as ubiquitous as "Jerrwannabag?"

The country, my dear WOAR, is fucked.

Mark Wadsworth said...

What isn't clear to me is how you squeeze a matchbox sized thingy through a 7.5mm hole. (I can't see the pictures when I'm at work).

Mark Wadsworth said...

Aha, I can see the pictures now. What you mean is 'chop about half an inch off the bottom'.

Lola said...

Look, I am a very handy bloke. I can fix stuff. Start cars that won't. Drill holes in the right place. Saw a straight line. I can even rebuild gearboxes. I can even do complicated calculations about beams and trusses and stuff (actually they are not that complicated - it's all triangles, and if you have a 'puter your uids in) But what do I do now? I do money stuff. Nothing useful. Why not? 'Cos handy stuf IS NOT BLOODY WELL VALUED.

I feel your painm - as does Mrs Lola (another whole and sorry story)

Woodsy42 said...

I assume there was a good reason why the hose couldn't have been fed through from the other direction and thus elliminated the need to post the anti-flood device through the chipboard's hole?

Richard said...

There speaks a proper bloke.

Woman on a Raft said...

The cold-fill hose is manufactured-in at the machine end in a "don't mess with me" fashion. I wasn't confident that if I got the plastic cover-plate and hose off, I'd be able to get it back on again.

A proper bloke would undoubtedly have done it, but I took one look and decided that I was better-off dealing with the hole, which also means that it will be easier to take the hose out again if I have to.

Anonymous said...

Mrs Raft - could you e-mail me again? My e-mail to you is being returned.......