Saturday, March 27, 2010

Amazon's gone wrong

Amazon are replacing the Royal Mail with something worse. No, don't laugh. I'm serious.

When the postal strikes kicked off last year and Amazon muttered about taking its business elswhere, I got quite excited. I had visions of Amazon turning abandoned retail units into local pick-up points, or doing something really radical and... Amazony.

Instead, they've switched to The Home Delivery Network, a rather drab courier company. And already the two partners are barely on speaking terms.

The difference between HDNL and the post is that HDNL require a signature. Which means you have to be in. Although, HDNL claim that it's Amazon who are asking for the signature... or, if you ask Amazon, it's HDNL who want the signature.

This means that the Home Delivery Network isn't any use if you're not at Home. At the moment I'm working in a Shoreditch Web Barn (effort hair and posh coffee). No problem, say the Home Delivery network when I call them, of course we can deliver to your work address. Just email Amazon and they'll tell us. Simple.

ME: Can't you do that now? While I'm on the phone?

So (Esther Rantzen tone on), I try "emailing" Amazon. It's not easy. I rootle around their site. Turns out that Amazon are fairly adamant they can't change the delivery address. I'll have to contact the courier. I ring them again.

HDNL: No, you have to speak to Amazon.

I do. I find a phone number. A nice lady is very helpful. No, she can't change the address.

ME: So neither of you can change the address of this package?
AMAZON: Good point. I'll give them a call.

After *a lot* of hold music, Amazon lady tells me that they can't change the address as it's in the wrong depot. But I can always pick it up from the depot. The depot is in Essex.

ME: So there's no way for you to deliver this parcel to me?
AMAZON: *awkward pause* We can ask them to keep trying.

I ask Amazon why this isn't flagged up on their site - Royal Mail are a terrible organisation, but my local postman is lovely and should win an award for actually putting things through my letter box rather than leaving snitty "you were out" cards.

AMAZON: We do still use Royal Mail for some things.
ME: What?
AMAZON: Well, the system decides when you order.
ME: So the system can tell me when I'm ordering? And then I can decide whether or not I want to go ahead?
AMAZON: No.... I mean, there's a fifty-fifty chance.
ME: So what about small books and CDs?
AMAZON: Oh yes. Those will go via Royal Mail. Or Home Delivery Network.

So there you go. Amazon want you to go to Essex. Or stay at home.

This is a whiny dull post, but it's kind of sad when a brilliant company tries to solve a problem with a bigger problem.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Lingua Franca

Some things are surprising. Some things you just want to boast about. This is both of the above.

Saturday went off the rails. There I was, in the middle of revising a project about the ghost of a music hall singer who fights demons, and suddenly, I'm in bed with a stunning French student.

Well, "suddenly" is nearly right. A site for interfiddling is on in the background while I'm searching for the words to the second verse of Jerusalem. Occasionally up will pop someone auditioning for Britain's Got Serial Killers, or someone from Ghana "looking for good rich friend abroad. I like travel etc. Chat me" you know, the stuff that can be ignored and just exists to prove that really, you have nothing better to do with your time than write a scene where a headmistress gets drunk with a ghost.

And then up pops The Stunning French Student who suggests I come over as he's only just up the road. I sail out, get to his apartment block and realise that I haven't got a flat number or his phone number. And facing me is a doorman.

"Yes?" says the doorman.

I realise. I'm standing outside a very posh block of flats and I have no idea of the Frenchman's flat or even his name. "I don't suppose there's a French guy living here? He's 6 foot 2. Nice smile, vivid imagination, wears Aussie Bums."

That's not going to work. And the Doorman carries on looking at me. Shrewdly. I suppose I could try "I don't suppose there's a guy who has a lot of male friends who only ever come round once, is there?"

Instead I shrug, and mumble something about "He's not given me the flat number, I'll email him," and wander off round the corner.

It is that point that I discover that, yes, my phone will actually connect to the site, but that T-Mobile think that the site contains adult content and I'll need to phone them to get it unlocked. What can I say to them? "I'm just a boy, standing in front of another boy's house, asking him to shag me?"

So, I stand in the street. And then, thankfully, my middle-aged nature kicks in. It is Saturday. I am in Islington. There's bound to be an antique store open.

And then the Frenchman texts. "Was that u?"

"Yes. Help."

He comes down. He is 6 foot 2, which is surprising (gay men having such trouble with knowing what an inch is), and you can tell he is from the continent. It's only the first day of Spring and he's dressed for the beach. An expensive beach. "Come up," he says. We walk past the Doorman. "Ah Georges, forgive me," purrs the Frenchman, "I forgot to tell him my number. I hope he has not put you to any trouble." And as George practically bows with apology, we sail away in the lift that has been waiting patiently for us.

The Frenchman is not real. He is young, dashing, and lives in a flat that I'm not even sure I can afford to breathe in. He shrugs. "Drink? I have only water or champagne."

He apologises for not giving me his flat number, "I forget your way," and he explains why he's not told me his name. He's named after Justinian. "In France it is not so odd, but over here..." And he shrugs.

"Not at all!" I exclaim. "I've read a book about Justininian - he's the emperor who married a showgirl who was famous for an act where peacocks pecked grain out of her-"

Justinian gazes at me blankly. "As you can see, I have no grain," he shrugs. "Why are you telling me this?"

I smile awkwardly, shifting uncomfortably on his sofa, while trying not to mentally price it. It definitely didn't come from DFS.

"Come," he says, "I shall give you a tour of the flat."

Only it isn't really a tour of the whole flat. The curious, very curious thing I learn about Justinian over the next few hours is that, while his English is very good, he has one quaint linguistic tic. Instead of what I'm hoping is "Formidable!" he says "Awesome!".

It is wonderfully like being in bed with Captain Awesome from Chuck:

And then, at some point the sun has long set. He goes off to to drink an "Awesome" amount of wine with friends from Paris, and I head off to a dinner party. I turn up and Lucy is pulling a large bird from the oven. "In your honour I've stuffed a chicken and got a tart."

"Awesome," I say.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Let's do lunch

I have been invited to lunch. With a roomful of strangers. I am *UTTERLY* terrified.

I know it's fashionable these days to pretend to be sociopathic/aspergic/dysfunctional, but it's only when the invite turned up and I thought "how brilliant!" and then realised "I've not sat in a room full of complete strangers for... for..."

My brain rattles. I mean, clearly discounting evenings out on the gay, the answer is A Long Time. I have vague memories of being sent to a training day about networking in 1999 and sullenly standing in a corner.

Oddly, at some point in my 30s, I've become hermitised (there is a pun here about "hermitically sealed" but...). I don't even go out on the gay that much any more. I wonder if Brain has gone: "I have enough friends, and they're all brilliant. If they introduce me to their friends, then that's marvellous, but other than that, I don't have to pretend to like people any more."

I walked into a bar this week and a good-looking stranger started speaking to me. I was taken aback, until I suddenly realised he was too drunk to breathe. It was a curious feeling, "Ooh, surprise social interaction" vs "Nah, leave it." So I did.

Last night, some friends took me out to The Yard. I've pretty much always hated it as a gay bar. I don't understand why Londoners voluntarily choose to hang out in places that replicate the ambience of the Northern Line at rush hour. Yes yes yes, it's full of pretty people, but how do they meet each other? Do they just bump into each other, or jostle their elbows in a provocative way? What, exactly, is the fun in standing on a narrow parapet, being shoved quietly by strangers further out into the drizzle while you try and hold a freezing drink on one hand and a damp cigarette in the other?

So, after a while, we went round the corner to my club and sat down in front of a fire and drank pricey drinks and talked about mortgages and people we can't stand. That seemed much nicer.

On the way home, I cycled past the gays off for a night clubbing and then past the giant hole in the grouned where GAY used to be. And I remembered sadly that somehow the idea of standing in a vast disco barn full of balloons and strangers seemed marvellous. And I wondered if growing up is really that brilliant after all.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


Last night was the moment they'll talk about.

Previously my worst absent-mindedness was mistaking a fridge for a microwave. But this was worse.

Last night I discovered that, some weeks ago I'd unplugged the freezer. FOR NO REASON AT ALL.

I opened it and discovered a freezer full of rotten, damp food. This saddened me on several levels.

Let's start at:
A) I'm very mean. This is a real waste of money.
B) I'm very greedy. This was a real waste of food.
C) Why the hell did I do that? What possible reason?
D) As a hoarder this was such an affront. That treasured box of Prawn Toast for an emergency. Those breaded mushrooms for a special day. The trays and trays of dim-sum, the roasts that will never be, the leftovers stored like a wine cellar of vintage meals. All gone.

Thankfully, Lee was over. And so I didn't dare even see if any of it was even vaguely salvageable, but made a great show of binning it all immediately. And didn't even go down to the bins to have a check after he'd left. Not even once.

(well, full disclosure, I did say of one stew: "Oh, I think it's still frozen." To which Lee replied, "No, the white stuff covering that is mould." Ah well.)