Pass the parcel – part 2

Well, my parcel got a new number and duly re-entered the maelstrom (or should that be mailstorm?) that is “international logistics”.  I went back to the DPD tracking service and, lo, my laptop had been  “Collected” and then, later, it was at the “Sortation Facility” (a.k.a. Hub 3 in Birmingham).  That’s priceless.  “Sortation Facility”!  Do they mean sorting depot?  That’s almost as good as Amazon’s use of “Fulfilment Centre” – which is actually a warehouse, although it sounds like a house of a different kind.

Anyhow, after being sortated (sortate must be the verb from which sortation is derived), its status changed to “In transit”.  This might have meant it was in a Ford van on its way to Deutschland but, this evening, the DPD tracker has it back at the “Sortation Facility”, so maybe it just went round the block.  Sic transit gloria mundi seems all too appropriate!

Wait! I grumped too soon!  The second visit to the  “Sortation Facility” is to one in Raunheim.  I don’t think that’s near Birmingham.

05:19 28th – It’s on the van for delivery at the other end – Kesselsdorf, Germany (not to be confused, like I did, with Kesseldorf in Alsace!)

I looked up both places on Wikipedia and Raunheim is close to Frankfurt Airport.  The flightpath takes ‘planes over the town at 300m, so my apologies to the burgers there.  Kesselsdorf, on the other hand, is not far from Dresden (formerly East Germany) miles away – so it will be a while getting there.

09:45 28th – It’s there!


Pass the parcel – a tale of cutting edge customer service – part 1

My 8 month old Lenovo laptop broke but, being under “collect and return” warranty, I was reasonably relaxed:   it would be fixed and returned quickly.  Ha Ha.  Silly me.  I reported the issue to Lenovo but received a letter from a company called Medion Electronics, based in Swindon, with detailed instructions on packing and contact details of a carrier called DPD.  The letter included a label all made out to the repair depot in Germany and dire warnings, in red type, about the delay that would result from me not following the complicated instructions to the letter.

There was also a half a page of A4 disclaimer about Lenovo / Medion / DPD not being responsible for the data or programmes on the laptop: they recommended me to back up everything.  I had to buy a new external drive to copy everything to, and then learn how to do it.  Consequently it was a couple of weeks before I rang the carrier to arrange collection.  On Friday the carrier came at 4pm.  It wasn’t DPD but their local agent AJG parcels.  They left me details of the tracking number and said my parcel would be on its way that night.

On Saturday I thought I’d see how far it had got, and went ‘online’ to track it.  The tracking number I put in returned information that the parcel had been collected on 4th, not 21st, and that its status was “Awaiting receipt of parcel”.  I rang DPD to tell them, and ask who was “awaiting” and where?  DPD agreed the system was in error and said they’d investigate and ring me back.  They didn’t.  I e-mailed, twice, with queries about the discrepancies.  I rang Lenovo/Medion on Monday (all closed for the weekend), and DPD again.  Eventually it transpired that DPD’s local agent had returned to their depot too late on Friday to transfer my parcel to that night’s truck and, unaccountably, they had re-labelled my parcel (creating an entirely new tracking identity in the process) and sent it to Lenovo/Medion in Swindon instead of to the repair facility in Germany!  DPD suggested I ring Lenovo and warn them it was coming there.  This I did, and I was assured they would know what to do with it.  The whole process began to unravel as I am not DPD’s customer, Lenovo/Medion is, therefore such terminology as “customer reference”,  “consignment number”, “account number”, and “collected date” do not refer to me.  After six more telephone calls  (all to income generating 0844 numbers) and much recorded music I was at least able to find out that my laptop had arrived in Swindon.  Phew.

I then received replies from DPD customer services to my two original e-mailed queries (still with me?).  One was about my parcel, under its original identity, and told me they were still waiting to receive it (also suggesting I contact Lenovo to sort out DPD’s problem).  I told them that, far from waiting to receive it, they had delivered it (albeit to the wrong place).  The other was about an entirely different parcel, for someone else – nothing to do with me.  More ‘phone calls and embarrassed apologies from DPD.

I called Lenovo/Medion again, and spoke to yet another different customer agent.  Lenovo/Medion claimed that DPD had not advised them of the changed label.  Charming though they have been, until this morning, I haven’t spoken to the same individual twice, in any organisation, so I’ve had to tell my story over and over again.  Why am I, Lenovo’s customer, having to sort out problems between them and their suppliers?  Not good, DPD/Lenovo/Medion.  AJG claim it is DPD’s fault that they redirected my parcel to Medion’s HQ, because the computer system showed no return address – only “Various”.  I should say here that this is deliberate on Medion’s part: it is their instruction to state the ‘alternative address’ when booking the collection by DPD and put the return information inside the parcel.  AJG also tried to blame me for not contacting them instead of DPD.   Not only pass the parcel but pass the buck!

I’ve tried to explain to AJG and DPD that what I see on screen, as an “end-use” customer tracking a parcel, is not what they see.  It is different information because,  as far as the parcel system is concerned, I am NOT the customer in the transaction:  DPD is AJG’s customer, Medion is DPD’s customer and Lenovo is Medion’s customer.  For this type of transaction the whole system is facing the wrong way:  they need to sort that.

At time of posting this I have just heard the details of my parcel’s new identity (woo hoo!): it will get yet another one when it is put back in the system (I use the word loosely) in Germany for return to me.  No doubt it will be handled by another local agent there, so now I am convinced that,  with more changes of identity than Jason Bourne, all the ingredients are in place for my laptop to disappear without trace.  So much for the dire warnings of delay if I didn’t follow their instructions…….

By the way, the repair requires they undo a couple of screws, take out a dodgy DVD drive, plug in a replacement and test.  I could have done it myself in 20 minutes.  GRRR

A breath of fresh air?

I don’t suppose anyone thought that banning smoking in enclosed public spaces would mean that the only place you are guaranteed to get smoke-free air is inside said public building: no longer can you nip outside for a “breath of fresh air” because many public buildings have to be approached through a haze of passive smoke.

Amongst the worst places for that are airports because people are often there for hours, and one of the worst of those, in my experience, is Luton because the ‘gauntlet’ there is a long  ‘L’ shape and a good walk from the buses and car-parks.  I can’t hold my breath that long, not walking and towing a case, anyway.

Firewood – a story for children on Halloween


Wee Georgie McPhee, known as Dodie to everyone except his teacher, was a disagreeable child. “No”, “Will Not” and “Don’t hold yer breath” were often heard.  His favourite though, which he saved for when he wanted to be particularly rude, was “Speak to ma Grannie’s ear”, meaning she couldn’t hear, and neither would he.

People would say things like “That Dodie McPhee will come a terrible cropper one day” and “Yon little know-it-all is too big for his breeks” and “One day he’ll go too far and there’ll be no coming back”.

He’d say “Speak to ma Grannie’s ear”.

It was tea-time on the last day of October.  The nights were drawing in, the rowan berries were full on the trees and cool evening mists hung over the river.  Dodie wanted to collect fallen branches for bonfire night, the following week.

“There a pile of wood over the river by old Mother Meg’s bothy.  After tea I’m going to cross over the stepping stones and get it.”

“Not tonight Dodie, his mother said, It’s not safe to cross the river at night but especially not on Halloween, and extra especially mind, not on a full moon.  They say strange things happen to children in old Megs’s field on Halloween.”

“Speak to ma Grannie’s ear.  You told me that last year but I’m a big boy now, ken, so you can save the scary stories for the wee ones.”  His mother, not pleased with his cheek, sent him straight to bed instead of letting him go guising with his friends.

Later, though, when the house was quiet, he crept downstairs to the porch where he took his bonnet and lamp, and set off. “Grannie’s ear”, he said under his breath.

Around the bend in the river, out of sight of the house, he stood on the bank looking at the moon-bright stepping-stones in the swift flow.  He listened to the bubbling water as it pushed between the stones, and fancied he saw the swirl of a salmon in the pool on the far side.  It was a bonny night. The bright moon cast strange shadows in the trees on the far side and the stillness made the skin on his neck prickle.  He suddenly felt cold but said to himself “I’m no feart”.  He turned up his collar and, whistling a reassuring tune all the same, stepped out.

About half way across Dodie thought the river sounded like it was chattering or giggling, rather than bubbling, and he had the strangest feeling of being watched.  He stopped to look back, but the mist had closed in behind him and he could see nothing.  He looked forward and the far end of his path had also disappeared into the mist.  Using his lamp, though, Dodie could still just make out the stepping-stones and got to the other bank alright but, as he reached the far side, he slipped and had to grab at an overhanging branch, to haul himself up.  It seemed, ever so briefly, that though he let go of the branch it did not want to let go of him.  It was only his imagination, of course, but in the struggle to free himself he lost his grip on the lamp, and it fell into the river.

The mist hung close to the river like a wall but, even without his lamp, Dodie could see Old Meg’s bothy and his goal, the pile of firewood beyond it, clearly lit by the moon.  The walking across Meg’s field was slow.  True, the grass and brambles snagged at his legs but, even after a while, it seemed he got no nearer.  He tried to walk faster, but it seemed to make no difference: he got no nearer.  Then, while he stopped to get his breath, he saw a flickering candle in a window and a figure there beckoning to him.  Suddenly Dodie seemed to be flying towards the bothy and, in an instant, he was standing beside the door, which swung open with a creak.  An old bent woman in a shawl and apron stood before him holding a long cromach: It was Old Meg, and he found he was afraid after all.

“Ah”, said Meg, “Young George MccPhee.  At last.  I’ve been expecting you.  You’ll be wanting some wood for your bonfire; let’s see what we have.”  Meg took Dodie’s hand in hers, her long fingernails digging slightly in his plump flesh, and walked him to the woodpile.  With the cromach in her free hand she reached up and pulled down a log, passing it to Dodie.  “Will this one do?”

Dodie looked at the log.  It was strange, all twisted and gnarled, not like the logs in the fireside basket at his house.  It didn’t look or feel like wood at all. “I don’t know, I suppose so,” said Dodie, his voice a little trembly. “Are you sure? Look more closely, George” Meg insisted.  Dodie looked again and saw, to his horror, that the log appeared to have a face, a child’s face, a pleading face formed in the bark.  Dodie dropped the log at his feet and whimpered.  “Don’t you like it, my dear” said Meg, “perhaps this one will suit you better?”  She handed him another.  It was the same, only with a different pleading face, and Dodie dropped it too.  And another, and another, and another; faster, and faster, Meg handed him logs that had faces, some he knew and some he didn’t, all pleading to be set free.  “These are my naughty children, but they are all well behaved in here.  They don’t run away, they don’t talk back.”  Then, finally, she showed him the last. “I think this is the one for you, it will do  very nicely”.  It had no face.

Dodie struggled to escape, but he was already up to his waist in the log children, becoming part of the woodpile himself.  He wriggled and pulled and then, with one mighty effort, broke free and ran.  He ran across the field, without looking back once, knowing that Meg was right behind him, ran back to the river, ran back across the stepping stones, ran crying out all the way “Leave me be, I don’t want to be a log, I don’t want to go in the fire!”  He cried out all the way back to his home and right under his bed.

He was still crying when his mother woke up and came in.  “George McPhee, what is all this commotion.  Come out from under there this instant. Is this because I sent you to bed early?”

Dodie explained everything in a rush, the words tumbling like the water in the river.  “It was Old Meg.  I went out over the river to get wood, and she came out of her house and caught me and tried to make me into a log.  She’s a witch!”

Dodie’s mother laughed.  “What a tale, Dodie! You must have been having a nightmare That’ll teach you to go to bed upset.”

“Ma grannie’s ear! Not a chance!  It wasn’t a dream.  I saw her, touched her, she held my hand!”

“Are you still arguing, Dodie?  Will you never learn?  Old Meg has been gone these 100 years, and the bothy a ruin for nearly as long.  Now, stop your nonsense and come down by the stove.  You’ll have some hot milk, and a biscuit, to settle your mind, and then back to bed you go.

Later, in his room warm and safe, Dodie drifted off to sleep mumbling “Witches?  Ma Grannie’s ear”, while Mrs McPhee made up the stove downstairs.  She took a piece of wood from the top of the basket, but something about it made her stop.  “Well, look at that!  It looks just like Dodie’s face.  I’ll keep it back and show it to him tomorrow, he’ll like that.”

© Andrew Gold September 2012

Circus Maximus

What is it with drivers and roundabouts these days?  I know that they are a relatively new phenomenon in the Highlands, and I know it takes time to adjust.  In fact I can remember the first on Lewis quite well, and around Inverness, that can’t be more than 30 years.  Only 30 years of new drivers being taught the rules of the road, going to other places where they have these weird obstructions – like traffic lights and box junctions.  Only last week I came across a woman driving the wrong way round a roundabout; having realised what she had done, instead of exiting at the adjacent exit, she reversed towards where she had entered the roundabout but, because she couldn’t reverse either, she ended up on the traffic island!  Saints preserve us.  It seems that approaching a roundabout increasingly requires you to adopt the mindset of Ben Hur in the Circus Maximus: charge right in and devil take the hindmost.  I’d love a set of retractable scimitar blades on my hubcaps.  Very James Bond.

What happened to “Give way to traffic approaching from the right or already on the roundabout” or “Signal”?  Signal?  You’re lucky to get any signal, never mind one that is appropriate or timely; I assume everyone is an idiot, and wait to see if they really mean it, but maybe it’s not their fault.  Perhaps it is something to do with these warning signs that say “New Road Layout Ahead”:  you know, the ones that have been there since forever?  How long do they need to be there to capture all the local drivers? 3 months, 6, 9, a year at most?  I suppose drivers must see the sign and get confused: perhaps they think it has changed again since this morning or last night and forget what lane they should be in.

In over 45 years of driving I’ve never been hit by, or hit, another moving object and I don’t intend to start now.



“Hi Guys”

I really hate it when someone approaches us in a shop or restaurant with a cheery “Hi Guys”.  If  I were on my own they wouldn’t say “Hi Guy”.  More often than not I’m with my wife, and the last time I checked her gender was female – so she’s not a “Guy” either.  What the heck is wrong with Hello, or Good Morning / Afternoon?  I’m not looking for obsequiousness, I’m uncomfortable with Sir and Madam, but nor do I want bland trans-national ubiquity.   It’s not as if they actually want to form a relationship with me, they just want to get my order (which often is not delivered because they haven’t actually made that connection and been listening)!   Straightforward, standard English polite would do very nicely.  Have a nice day.




I Surrender


I came to you

 lost in pain and vulnerable;

with open wounds of self-betrayal,

offered to the soothing rain

of your tender violence.

Spent in battle,

 weary searching for the grail of inner peace,

seeing only shadows of the honourable,

I stand before you tattered

and in grieving silence.

With stinging kiss

you lift the penance from my soul.

And so, made briefly indivisible,

we are together, whole, behind the veil.

School Dinner

School Dinner

It is a hot June afternoon, the last-but-one lunch of term, and the dinner queue is impatient for playtime and the holidays.

She fidgets from foot to foot, scraping at the worn wooden floor and absent-mindedly teasing the torn edge of her dinner ticket while she looks for her friends.  Jackie is nearer the front and calls to her “Marion, come on, it’s sausage and mash and chocolate pudding,” and she half wonders about jumping the queue to join her, but Billy, Vanessa and Christine are in front of her.  Billy, held back from the previous year, is the oldest and biggest in the class and Vanessa and Christine hang doe-eyed at his elbow.  She thinks they are silly but together they are a formidable trio and, as they will all be going to the seniors together in September, she decides to wait.

The queue shuffles forwards but she is captivated by lazy motes of dust that drift across the high Victorian windows.  They speak to her of summer, more than ice cream and thin cotton dresses ever have. While she drifts with them she does not notice that the queue has moved on, or that Wilf has moved to fill the gap between her and Billy.  Billy’s crushing fist comes down on the hapless interloper, knocking him to the ground:  he glowers over him.  “That’ll learn yer to wait yer turn, come on Marion” and he grabs at her hand to pull her past the prostrate form.

She moves but, like everything else, now in slow motion.  The smell of fried onion mixes with floor polish; the dust motes, made briefly frantic by the turbulence, seem to hang, somehow brighter in the shafts of sunlight.  A circle of children is mouthing “Fight, Fight” but the chanting is drowned by a buzzing sound; even the rushing dinner ladies, wielding flashing fish slices, seem to be standing still.  Her dinner ticket slips from her fingers, fluttering down, and then she is moving away from them all, faster and faster into warm, wet, darkness.

When the light returns the nurse is gently sponging her legs, with water that slops from a chipped enamel basin. “No more school for you today, poor little lamb.”  She does not know that this will be the last time someone calls her that.  Her mother, somehow different too, brings a long coat for her, even though it is hot.

Now it is the last day of term and she stands apart in the dinner queue; there is a gap behind her and one in front that no-one moves to fill.  Everyone is looking at her, or so she thinks; some in awe and some disgusted.  Vanessa and Christine are whispering behind their hands as if she cannot see, as if she isn’t even there.    Billy, who might understand what it is to be different, is not there: suspended for his last day.  Only Jackie saves a place for her at the table, and she is a child for one more hour: “Roast beef and gravy, and semolina with jam for afters!  Don’t you just love school dinners?”


© Andrew Gold June 2009

Right place, Right time?

Right Place, Right Time?

I’ve had more than my share of dealing with emergencies.  I’m not talking about the ‘losing your car keys’ or ‘dropping the mobile down the loo’ kind of emergency; I’m talking life and death here.  I’m talking about being an ordinary person minding my own business, when ‘WHAM’.  It was such a regular occurrence that I even got a bit ‘why me’ about it and decided not to react.

The first time it happens I’m getting a lift in a truck on a Bavarian autobahn.  A VW passes us as we move onto a viaduct and, caught by a side wind, it somersaults right in front of us.  I jump down.  First one there.  The door handle comes away in my hand, but the old couple inside crawl through a window and walk away from the upturned Beetle without a scratch.

Then it is Christmas in London and the man who falls out of a window.  Right in front of me, there he is, writhing at my feet.  What has this folded lunatic been doing? Cleaning his windows by standing on the outside ledge.  In the winter.  In his slippers.  He wants to get up.  “Stay put mate,” I say “falling that far and landing on your feet: a broken pelvis would be a safe bet.”  The police dribble up but don’t seem to know what to do, so I organise warmth and rescue, and protect him from the falling snow with umbrellas redeployed from a nearby pub garden.  He has a broken pelvis: six weeks in hospital.  Happy New Year.

Then a friend, playing a game at college, trips over and bangs his head.  It’s quite a few seconds before we realise that his tremors aren’t an elaborate act.  He’s been chewing gum and it’s lodged in his windpipe.  I do the wrong thing in hooking it out with my finger, but it works and he survives.

A herd of black cows decide to walk across a dual carriageway in Devon.  In the night.  That’s interesting, if chaotic.  How I don’t hit one I’ll never know, but others aren’t so lucky.  Trying to get them off the road I’m accused of being the errant cowherd; must be my beard and woolly hat.

My mother-in-law collapses in her new flat.  It’s so new that the ambulance service can’t understand the path layout.  It takes them half an hour to find us, just me and her; half an hour of solo cpr.  She dies.  Is it me?

Two immediate neighbours have accidents.  On one side there’s Hugh.  He falls two and a half floors from his roof when a ladder breaks; the broken end goes right through his arm.  That’s just a mad dash to A&E.  He’s lucky, apart from them picking splinters out of him for months afterwards, there is no lasting damage.  On the other side there is Guy.  Aneurysm.  More cpr, and another death.  Now I’m getting paranoid.

So, living by the sea, I see a yacht.  Its lurching motion suggests that it might be in trouble but I’m just watching.  It might be just novices; they’ll have radio; somebody else must be seeing this. I’m still just watching as it slowly disappears behind another headland.  There are no flares, no other obvious distress signals, so I think no more about it.  Until, on Monday, morning I see the lifeboat hurrying by.  The yacht has sunk, leaving the crew clinging to a cliff until one of them bravely swims to raise the alarm.  They have no flares, no radio and only I see it.  I see this incident unfold and ignore it, with near disastrous results.  All saved, but no thanks to me.   Days later the Maritime and Coastguard Agency advertise for auxiliary staff and I respond.

The job entails being ‘on watch’ at the Coastguard Station: a trembling wooden shed on top of the cliffs overlooking the harbour entrance.  My role is to assist the regular Coastguard officers by manning telephones, doing clerical work and, most importantly, monitoring the radio and recording what I hear in a log-book.  For this duty I train as a Search and Rescue Radio Operator.  We  auxiliaries come from all walks of life.  Some are housewives, some are unemployed, among us are a couple of crofters, a poet, a teacher, a solicitor and an architect.

I have a full time job so I only take shifts at weekends or in the evenings.  The duty rosters are arranged in 4 shifts of 6 hours.  The regular Coastguards work rolling shifts, six hours on and twelve hours off, which means that every successive period of duty for them begins at a different time of day (or night).  With a little manipulation, it’s possible to share a watch with someone interesting.  Sitting for hours on end, sometimes in a dark howling gale, and with little or no radio traffic to hear, it’s really important to share a watch with someone with something to say.  Anything to say.  The worst watches are those when the regular officer falls asleep; to be fair, the terrible rolling shifts play havoc with their sleep patterns.  I find myself in control of the whole of the west-coast network, when the Greenock control centre is evacuated due to a bomb scare.  “We have Bikini State Red,” the voice on the phone says, “you have control.”  I think we’re at war and the regular officer is asleep!

Now I’m involved in another rescue.  It is December and I come on watch just as the Captain of 100,000 tons of oil tanker, the ‘Maersk Angus’, radios about a potential emergency.  His ship, empty and en-route from Milford Haven to Dundee, has lost engine power and is drifting off the north-west coast.  Not in immediate danger, he has not broadcast a ‘Mayday’ (indeed declines the offer of a nearby tug), but I know that very large ships drift at surprising speed, in effect sailing due to the action of the wind on their enormous bulk.  I am good at navigation and chart work so I go to the chart table and work out the predicted drift.  It is not good news: if unchecked there is a real risk that ‘Maersk Angus’ will run aground on St.Kilda.  There is an obvious risk to the lives of the 32 crew aboard, but that is not all.  Although empty of cargo, the ship carries 4000 tons of oil for its massive engines.  Any spill of that will be devastating to the unique wildlife of those islands.  Perhaps the master of the ‘Maersk Angus’ is acting under the instructions of his owners to avoid a salvage claim by not accepting help, except from another ship of the same company?  The Maersk company dispatches its own tugs, the ‘Maersk Ranger’ and the ‘Maersk Retriever’, from Aberdeen and Peterhead, but they are on the wrong side of the wild Pentland Firth.

The master steadfastly declines assistance until it is beyond doubt that help is  not coming in time: he concedes that his crew are at risk and asks for a helicopter to lift them off.  As the duty radio operator I am the link between the Coastguard and the two Sea-King helicopters that are scrambled.   On television people are regularly scripted to say “Over and Out” – which means “I expect a reply, but I’m not listening”.  I am trained; my radio procedure is clear and concise.   The helicopter pilots are better, masters of brevity.  Acknowledging messages with one word, they make me feel clumsy. Now, hovering over the stricken ship, they maintain radio silence, to allow the pilot to concentrate.  Imagine the tension in the watch room.  We are listening, straining intently, at  the blank hiss from the radio set mingling with the shrieking gale, wondering what is going on out in the heaving darkness of the Atlantic.  The rescue is successful and the ship is taken in tow by a Maersk tug, but not until it has drifted past Stac an Armin, an outlier of the main St. Kilda island Hirta, missing by just 2km – about 8 ship lengths.  I am so carried away by the excitement, and wide awake with adrenalin, that I overshoot my change of watch and am very late home.

It doesn’t happen so often now.  The last time?  Maybe it’s that car crash on the A9: first on scene again.  No, it’s that small plane that’s missing.  I’m the last one to see it before it crashes.  Right place, right time?  Next time? I don’t know, but I do know that I won’t turn my back.  It seems that events choose me, not the other way around.


‘My Story’

BBC TV Competition

December 2009