Dec 08

When I read this Shortpacked! strip today I couldn’t help but have a look at the site that it mentioned, Stand for Christmas. I thought the cartoonist was just making it up, or if the site existed he was perhaps exaggerating for the sake of the joke. I was wrong, and obviously underestimated the capacity some people have to generate outrage where no outrage has any reason to exist. What I love most of all is the fact that some of the people using the site are so angry that the spirit of Christmas* has not made it into their shopping experience that they get angry and feel the need to ditch any semblance of basic manners or decency in their rush to get on their computer and bitch relentlessly about a shop not playing the proper music or an underpaid checkout person not throwing in a “Hallelujah!” with every receipt.

Some of my favourite comments on the site are: “Too liberal! I’ll order online.” (that one was talking about Borders) and “I visited Babies R Us today. No mention was made of Christmas when checking out.” (that would be Toys R Us, but in all fairness their giraffe overlord might not celebrate Christmas). If you have five minutes and want to see what happens when a group of people who could give Daily Mail readers a run for their money get all stirred up and angry, go have a look. It all goes to prove a point that I would like to make by means of a diagram**:

Venn diagram

* I’m reliably informed this is stuff like love, kindness, compassion, understanding and what could be termed an overall sense of good fellowship. If my wife is reading this, it also involves BUYING YOUR HUSBAND MANY MANY COOL PRESENTS. And making him a sandwich when he’s sitting reading.

** The sad thing is, I am actually quite proud of the diagram even though it was just a matter of five minutes in Fireworks. That’s effort, that is, effort that you don’t often see in this day and age.

Dec 07

At the end of the year the internet, papers and TV schedules are always jam-packed with retrospective stuff. Who died this year, what happened this year, I loved 2009, all that sort of stuff. Some of it is good and some of it is bad, but it fills column inches/airtime and I suppose it allows Paul Ross to earn enough to eat for the next 12 months. With that in mind, I decided to get in on the action early and write about the things I had planned to do this year and didn’t. I may or may not offer excuses as I go along.

1) Learn to play piano

For my 30th my friends all clubbed together and bought me a USB keyboard I could use with my Mac. I’ve always fancied learning how to play the piano and so bought myself a book and DVD to start me on my way. The DVD featured a stern Australian woman who promised to have me playing the piano in no time (and believe me, she was stern, I was not about to argue with her). Of course, life being life things got in the way, things got busy, the keyboard was put to one side and hasn’t been picked up since. Trapped on the shiny DVD disk, I think the stern Australian woman is probably screaming like an angry Genie by now.

2) Lose weight

This was all part of a big plan for 2009. I want (and need) to lose weight. Couple that with my being a big SF fan and generally geeky person, you can understand why I planned that if I lost enough weight, I would dress up as the 10th Doctor for Halloween. Motivation for saddoes is a difficult thing to understand, but believe me this was the plan I set. Because, you see, when you’re my size and you wear a battered old pinstripe suit then the overall look is less this…

It's less this

And more this…

And more this

So given that I achieved just about 0% weight loss, you can see where that plan went. If I had pushed ahead regardless, I remain convinced that the overall effect would have been less “Last of the Time Lords” and more “Ullo John, got a new TARDIS?”

3) Start running

This is related to point 2. I had grand plans to get up early every morning and start the day with a run. Well, I say a run – at first it would be a moderately fast lumber, then I hoped to graduate up to a run as time went by. Plan derailed because a) I am lazy and b) Scotland is COLD in the mornings.

4) Read “The Republic”

I bought “The Republic” a while back and it’s a book I keep picking up now and again to have a go at it. I like to read – in fact, it’s one of my favourite things to do and probably contributed towards my failure in point 2 – but this one is a tough read…and to think I used to laugh at one of the guys at work, who has tried and failed several times to make it through Joyce’s “Ulysses”. I’ll keep at it, but at the start of this year it was on my list of books to have read by the end of the year.

5) Get better at DIY

I included this in my plans at the start of the year because I am terrible at anything remotely practical *. My wife is the go-to person in our house for DIY, changing plugs and all that sort of thing. At the time of writing I am still likely to electrocute/stab/impale/burn myself when doing anything that involves tools. I did manage (with my wife’s help) to put up curtain rails when we first moved in, but that wasn’t without some tension on my part beforehand and a hot cup of tea afterwards.

6) Write more

2009 was going to be the year for me to write more, to be creative and enjoy having a blog. Granted, very few people would read it (I’m pretty sure the wife only does so occasionally because of that hypnosis tape I play when she sleeps her love for me) but that wasn’t the point, the point was to get in touch with my creativity more and see what I could produce when I put my mind to it. I’m afraid to count the number of posts I actually made this year, but I think it’s pretty small.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all bad by any means – there is plenty I have managed to do this year and I am lucky in that I have time to have another crack at the ones in the list above. There is just something about this time of year that makes me think about what I had planned to do and didn’t make the time for. Someone should make a television show about that…hold on, I have to go, Paul Ross just turned up at my door and is worrying the neighbours.

* Oddly enough, I am very good with flat-packed furniture. Seriously, you want a bookcase from IKEA building, I am your man.

Dec 02

So my mum wants to buy one of my brothers a laptop for his Christmas. Being the geeky one in the family, I’m the person that parents, aunts, cousins etc come to with computer enquiries* ranging from “This isn’t working!” to “What’s my WiFi password?” to “This thing is running slowly…fix it!” with all sorts of things in between. In this case, it was “Can you find me a good laptop at a reasonable price?”. I didn’t mind helping out, so I started to look around for a decent deal. The requirements were simple – a general laptop for basic use, nothing too fancy that needs to play games or anything like that, as the boy in question has a games console for that kind of thing. Fair enough, says I, getting to work.

As it turns out, it was the wife who found a laptop that fitted the bill nicely. It was in John Lewis, looked good, decent spec, and came to a price that suited my mum. Cracking, I thought. Done and dusted. Except that when Saturday rolled around and I went up to mum’s to show her the thing, it was out of stock on John Lewis’ website. Undeterred, we had a quick look at Amazon.co.uk. Out of stock there too. Now starting to feel a bit foolish, I checked Play.com and with no small amount of relief, saw something very much like the following:

When they say this...

In stock. Two words that don’t often raise a smile, but let me tell you, they did on Saturday. Without any further hesitation we put in the order and boom, that’s Christmas sorted for one boy. Except that it wasn’t. I mean, come on, you’re not stupid. You’re sitting here reading something called “Screw you, Play.com” so it doesn’t take the biggest feat of logical deduction to come to the conclusion that something is about to go wrong.

Monday rolls around, and I notice that the cost of the laptop hasn’t come off my bank balance. I phone Play.com’s customer service, and this is where several things happen:

  1. I almost make myself late for an important meeting.
  2. I get a headache. Seriously, I really did. One of those “pounding behind one eye” kind, the sort that makes you really nauseous.
  3. I come to realise that I am not getting this laptop.
  4. I find out how many times someone on the other end of the phone can repeat the same line to different questions.
  5. I consider going onto Google Maps to see how long it would take me to get to Play.com headquarters and swing for someone.

It turns out that between my clicking “Buy” on Saturday and the order going through, they ran out of stock. Or had run out of stock already, they weren’t too clear on that. Turns out that Play.com’s massive website, on which the entire company is based, isn’t updated on weekends but rather is updated on Mondays. The laptops were dished out on a first come, first served basis and despite my having ordered it in good faith with the whole “In stock” thing, what I could actually do was either piss off and buy a different laptop, or piss off and wait for them to restock. Which takes 28 days, according to their rep. So a perhaps more accurate Play.com would probably look like this:

They mean something a little more like this.

That’s right. 28 days. Because it’s not like there’s something that happens in December that is less than 28 days away from the 30th of frigging November, is there?

I’ll give the customer support rep her due credit to some extent. She did say that if she had the laptop, she would send it out to me. She does lose points for consistently refusing to let me speak to anyone else at Play.com, for talking over me several times, for not answering any questions I put to her, for saying that if our situations were reversed she wouldn’t mind waiting 28 days for them to restock that laptop and for saying something at one point only to immediately deny ever having said such a thing in the very next sentence, but I will give her a little credit for being sympathetic. A very little credit.

So the upshot of it all is, I have to cancel the order and then find another laptop that fits the bill. Which I did, but what annoys me – beyond the crappy website that apparently operates on a two-day delay compared to the warehouse – is the fact that at no point did anyone at Play.com think it would be a good idea to contact me and say “See that laptop you ordered? Sorry old chum, it’s out of stock and you might want to think about ordering up another one.” No, they were content just to leave it as it was. The order page on their site didn’t even tell me the damn thing was out of stock, it just kept saying “order taken”.

December is a busy month and most of us have money coming out of our accounts left, right and centre as we buy presents. It’s not impossible that someone could have ordered that laptop and never got around to chasing it up until it was too late, especially as “order taken” doesn’t give the impression that it actually means “we have done piss all, and won’t until after Christmas, so I hope you’re not holding your breath for this laptop”. Not only would this have made me look a complete tit come December 25th, it would also have delivered a fairly solid kick in the knackers to a young boy’s Christmas. I’m no retail magnate but it seems fairly basic courtesy to tell someone that the thing they have ordered is out of stock. Basic courtesy, however, is not something that a company like Play.com has to indulge in at this time of year – they know that they have the consumers by the short and curlies because people need presents at this time of year, and with shops going under quicker than swimmers with lead boots on, online retailers are fast becoming the best place to go.

Anyway. Crappy experience, solution found, spleen vented and if I was ever on that Play.com rep’s Christmas card list I’m probably off it now. I’ll just wind this up by saying screw you, Play.com! Your time will come and when it does, I’m afraid that any sympathy I may have will be out of stock.

* Every family has one of these people in it. Every single one. They’re the one that usually has their job description shortened to “works with computers” by older members of the family. Oh, and if you’re sitting there thinking, “Well, my family doesn’t!” then guess what? IT’S YOU!