The chief hell of moving into a new home comes from having to ring up energy and systems providers on automated phone lines. The people on the other end of the phone represent exactly the same kind of British workmen sung about so plaintively in the 1960s by Flanders & Swann.
‘Twas on a Monday morning the gas man came to call.
The gas tap wouldn’t turn – I wasn’t getting gas at all.
He tore out all the skirting boards to try and find the main
And I had to call a carpenter to put them back again.
Oh, it all makes work for the working man to do.
‘Twas on a Tuesday morning the carpenter came round.
He hammered and he chiselled and he said:
“Look what I’ve found: your joists are full of dry rot
But I’ll put them all to rights”.
Then he nailed right through a cable and out went all the lights!
Oh, it all makes work for the working man to do.’ Etc.
British workmen are still dire, but things have changed, coupled to their lazy incompetence we now live in an age which is post-common sense. Yesterday British Gas arrived to check my boiler. I thought this was a service, but no, it was apparently to see if the boiler matches up to their new stringent regulations and can in fact be taken on by them on one of their very expensive policies.
My workman looked very gloomy and told me the boiler is all wrong. I was surprised that he could tell this from a glance at its outside but he said he couldn’t take the front off as it is all boxed in. Unlike the reckless gungho workman of yesteryear he refused to tear anything out. He said he was not allowed to touch anything in case I sued British Gas.
I knew he was on the way out and rather than see him disappear and wait for another to come I climbed up onto the work surface and using his long but largely unused screwdriver removed all the boxing myself, while he watched.
My attempt at carpentry didn’t inspire him to lift of the casing, instead he looked underneath, muttered that bits were missing, they’d been deliberately ’rounded off,’ obviously an act of sheer vandalism committed in some mad act of boilercide. He would have to get new parts. He looked at his iphone and declared, as I somehow knew he would, that after consulting the world- wide web no such parts were available. He had to leave then, as he said he ‘had an old lady to go to.’ I was tempted to say, ‘lucky you,’ but he was so morose it would have been wasted. As he left he said he’d contact me to make a second appointment. He didn’t.
Today I put in two calls to British Gas who said they had no time put down for a revisit. A third call at 11am revealed it was down for between 8am – 6pm. I waited in, foregoing a chance to look around my new home city with a friend. No one came.
When he refused to remove the boxing around the boiler I did mention that his refusal to do anything reminded me of the NHS. He looked blank. ‘That’s nothing like this!’ he said suddenly in a tone that I took to mean, this was of a much higher order of importance. But it did remind me of a day I spent in 2010 waiting for a district nurse to come to give me an injection to raise my blood count. I waited in all day, and by the late afternoon had begun calling my doctor to see if she was on her way. I pictured some friendly looking woman on a bike. The voice on the phone was reassuring. They had texted the district nursing agency. Nurses were no longer connected to the practice, they had been privatised. The hospital had also contacted the nursing agency which had a witty name which I can’t remember. By 9pm I had almost given up, when two haggard looking nurses arrived. Their agency was called something like ‘Night Owls,’ and they hadn’t been given any information about me from their day staff, but more importantly they didn’t have ‘a letter’ so they couldn’t give me any injection. They told me to do it myself, while they watched. That time it was a syringe rather than a chisel, and I was so desperate for the tiny service they offered I set about straight away and did it myself.
That is now the modern way. It’s probably not true that anyone has ever sued British Gas for touching wood around their boiler, or the NHS for giving an injection which they badly needed. But the stupid, poorly educated clots who now run our public services believe that they might and they have a kind of modern moral duty to abide by these mythical rules, and doing so gives them a special kind of importance. Besides that, there are now so many rules, regulations and statutes about everything, that even a mighty good brain would be hard pressed to keep up, in fact after dealing with public utilities in the UK for once counselling is genuinely required.