Wednesday, as far as I am concerned, highlighted some of the best and worst traits of the British nation. On the face of it, the plans I had made for the day were sparse, even by my standards. To wit:
1. Take my jacket to the dry cleaners to be cleaned, ready for the gig I was doing in Exeter the following night.
2. Collect jacket from the dry cleaners.
(I appreciate that these two tasks could be combined into 'Have jacket dry cleaned', but I wanted to pad it out a bit, in case my wife's father ever reads this blog. He is of the generation that doesn't consider anything that takes place in one's own house as work. Therefore, writing isn't work. Preparing stand-up routines isn't work. Even the evenings spent driving around the country, to prostrate myself in front of strangers, to arrive home, exhausted, at three in the morning, only warrant the label of 'a hobby'. Indeed, he is often keen to point out that I could always go back to teaching full-time, without having to give up this hobby.)
As I live in a capital city, sort of, in the world's fourth largest economy, I had assumed that this would be fairly straightforward. I drove past my usual dry cleaners, as they do not offer an express service, and parked the Micra, unlocked, in the free car park that serves the shoppers in the region of Cardiff where I live, the 'gritty' (rough) district of Canton. I'm not sure that the car park would be as full as it always is if there was a charge to park there. The shattered car window glass that always covers the area, and the series of escape lanes that lead away from it, like the spokes of a wheel, do not inspire confidence. But, using applied Welsh reasoning, it's always a good idea to park there; it may be unlit, unsafe, unpatrolled and unsecured...but it's free.
I walked into Johnson's Dry Cleaners, Cowbridge Road, Canton, Cardiff (I told them that I would list their full address), carrying my jacket, and was greeted by a middle-aged, bespectacled, simpleton.I told her that I would like to have the jacket dry-cleaned, using their express service. She smiled in 'that' way, took the jacket and told me that I could collect it on Friday afternoon. I held onto the jacket, and told her that I needed it the next day, and that I would like to pay the extra to use the '4 Hour Service' that was referred to on the shop's sign. She looked at me as if I had suggested bathing her, and told me that I had missed the load for that day. I pointed out that it was 9.05am. She assured me that there was nothing that she could do, but that it would definitely be ready by Friday. I composed myself, and told her that that was the day after I needed to wear the jacket in a cleaned condition. She smiled, and once more began to take the jacket from me. I held firm and asked if there was anyone in authority/with all their chromosomes, that I could speak with. She looked at me with contempt, and shuffled into the back of the premises.
Stella*, tha manager, looked like she was the sort of person that, had I entered into the following conversation in a pub, would almost certainly have glassed me. She had thin lips (never a good sign), hard eyes and a tattoo of a Welsh Dragon on her wrist, near enough the forearm to be more frightening than cool. I will try to summarise our brief meeting in script form, so that you can role play it, and in so doing, get a taste of contemporary British customer service.
Stella: (Angrily) Have you got a problem?
Mike: (Now with a bigger problem) Yes. I need to get my jacket cleaned today.
Stella: (Pointing to dungeon-girl) She's already told you, you're too late.
Mike: (Pointing to dungeon-girl)I've already told her, that you advertise a '4 Hour Service'. That's why I came here.
Stella: (Blinding me with science) If I put that jacket in an empty drum, it will pull the buttons off. You'll have to wait until the next load goes in.
Mike: When will that be?
Mike: It's Wednesday morning.
Stella: We don't do any cleaning on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Mike: It doesn't mention that anywhere on your opening hours information.
Stella: We haven't done any on a Tuesday or Thursday for months.
Mike: How am I supposed to know that?
Mike: So why can't I have the '4 Hour Service' today?
Stella: You're too late.
Mike: At nine o' clock in the morning?
Mike: That's ridiculous. You don't do any cleaning at all two days out of six, and on the four days you do, there's no guarantee that you can provide the '4 Hour Service' that you advertise.
Stella: It's nothing to do with me.
Mike: It is something to do with you, you're the manager. Your sign says '4 Hour Service'.
Stella: The sign is nothing to do with me, there are 374 branches.
Mike: But you're the manager of this branch, so this sign is something to do with you.
Stella: It's head office's problem.
Mike: Do head office know that the information on your sign no longer applies to the operation of your branch?
Mike: Have you called head office to point out that your particular sign bears no resemblance to the service that your particular branch actually provides?
Stella: Not yet, no.
Mike: Then it is your problem.
Stella: No one else complains.
Mike: No one else wants my jacket cleaned today.
At this point, in order to avoid a criminal damage law suit, I requested that Stella write down the name and contact details of the regional manager for me, so that I could take matters further. She reluctantly did so, then summoned dungeon-girl to join her for a tea-break at the back of the premises, they had, after all, been on their feet for nearly forty minutes, leaving me on my own at the front desk. I phoned head office, but was unsurprised to hear that the regional manager is on holiday, but that he will contact me on his return. Unsatisfied, I proceeded out onto the pavement, to photograph the shop's signage. I will use these photographs as evidence in my future dealings with Johnson's Dry Cleaners.
On a happier note, the staff at Cathedral Cleaners, also in the Canton area, could not do enough to help. Despite not providing an express service at that particular branch they arranged for me to deliver the jacket to their Llandaff branch, and within three, yes three, hours, it was ready for collection. The helpful, full-lipped, manager, had even tightened a loose button at no extra charge. I was so pleased at my faith in people being restored by the good people at Cathedral Cleaners, that I offered to buy the homeless person selling the Big Issue outside the Llandaff Spar store lunch and a drink (I couldn't purchase a paper, as I had spent all my cash at the cleaners and only had a debit card on me). To my amazement he declined my offer of lunch. Evidently there is a more discerning class of vagrant in the Diocese of Llandaff. Unperturbed I wished him a good day, and headed home with my freshly laundered jacket and a tremendous sense of civic pride. My daily tasks had all been successfully accomplished. It was quarter to one in the afternoon. My father-in-law has got a point.
* Stella's name has been changed to protect her identity. Her place of work, physical description and tattoo details, have not.