I’m An Addict!

They say that the first step on the road to recovery is admitting you have a problem.  Well, here goes!  My name is WD, and I’m an addict.  Hard to believe, but it’s true.  Despite what you see, I’m stuck in a secret cycle of abuse.  Oh, I’m good at hiding it, denying it.  I only use it to relax – unwind.  I can quit anytime I want to.  But no, I can’t.  I’ve tried.  I’m an addict.  For me, one is one too many and even a whole series is never enough.

I guess my story’s the usual one.  It all started innocently enough; just a few schoolboys having a bit of a vicarious adventure.  I don’t remember who tried it first, but by the end of the summer, all my friends and I were doing it every weekend.  For a while, it was all we could talk about.  Fortunately, the habits of the young are fickle, and when school started, most of my friends drifted away to homework and hockey practice.  However, I remained, every weekend, watching black and white back-to-back reruns of Richard Greene’s Robin Hood and Roger Moore in Ivanhoe.  Soon, an hour a week simply wasn’t enough, and I began experimenting on my own – searching for a bigger thrill.  It was then that I discovered … Doctor Who.  I remember thinking, I’ll just try it; I can always change the channel.  But I didn’t.  I couldn’t.  I watched it all, even the credits, in the gathering twilight of an autumn afternoon.  It was a wonderful excitement, exhilarating and confused.  I was too young to truly understand what Time Lords were or the symbiotic relationship Who had with the Companion, but I wanted to know.  I wanted to open my perceptions to the sophisticated storylines, explore the language, and fill my senses with the ideas that I never found on regular TV.  I didn’t know it then, but I think I was already addicted — to British Television.

Emma Peel

From Doctor Who, it was easy to graduate to watching The Saint.  After all, Roger Moore was just Ivanhoe in a tuxedo – wasn’t he?  No, he was more than that — stronger, with deeper plots and worldly situations.  Then it was The Avengers.  Just as my pubescent friends were discovering the hidden fantasies of Barbara Eden’s belly button, I had Diana Rigg all to myself.  For a teenage boy, Emma Peel had a dizzying depth of character, compared to Anthony Nelson’s do-as-you’re-told Jeannie or the submissive Samantha Stevens.  She was my fee verte, and I was a slave to her.  Sated with suggested sex, mystery and espionage, when The Prisoner was broadcast in the early 70s, I was unable to resist.  I wallowed in its nonlinear drama, letting it wash over me, week after week, until — hauntingly unresolved — it ended, and left me empty and cold.

I should have stopped then – gone cold turkey — but I was ready for the hard stuff: Monty Python’s Flying Circus.  Speedball comedy with a walloping high so potent that even today I find myself laughing outrageously in its etherealic flashbacks.  The Pythons opened my mind to non sequitur, the absurd, the tilted storyline, bizarre characterization and oh, so much more.  I don’t know how many traditional motifs I abandoned that winter.  It’s all a blur to me now.  But at the end of it, I knew I was never going back to North American TV.  I was hooked.

Since those heady days, I’ve spent forty years searching, always searching, for more of the roll-off-the-sofa/pee-your-pants highs that the Pythons delivered.  Through Fawlty Towers; Black Adder; Yes, Minister; Red Dwarf; Ab Fab; The Office and so many others.  Even Mr. Bean!  That’s how complete my habit has become.  And it wasn’t just comedy; it was drama, as well.  Mysteries, espionage, political intrigue — I’ve tried them all.  Night after night, I’d tell myself just one episode, but hours later, I’d still be slumped on the sofa — covered in cookie crumbs and stinking of Earl Grey tea.  The only thing that saved me from utter degradation was I’ve always had a violent allergic reaction to Jane Austen.  Otherwise, I would have been up to my eyes in costume drama.  Then along came Downton Abbey and I was lost.

Today, British television is easy to find.  My dealers were always PBS and The Knowledge Network, but now there are so many other ways to feed my habit.  Netflix, Prime, Acorn, Britbox — they’re all there – whole seasons of Sherlock, Broadchurch, Vera (back to the days of David Leon) House of Cards (the original with Ian Richardson) and even Lovejoy and Agatha Christie — if that’s what you fancy.  This year, I watched all ten seasons of MI5 again, 60 years of murder with Morse, Lewis and Endeavor and, of course Top Boy and Shetland.  But it doesn’t end there because late at night when my skin crawls for long vowels, Manchester accents and proper pronunciation, I surf through YouTube for snippets of Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps, Cracker, The Inbetweeners and even grainy bits of Jimmy Nail’s Spender.

My name is WD, and I’m an addict.

Originally published 2013, and gently edited for 2020

Thoughts On Complaining!

One of the cornerstones of our consumer society is customer service.  That’s that horde of underpaid/under-loved folks on the other end of the telephone whose sole mission in life is to listen to you complain.  But they haven’t always been there.  In fact, for 99% of human history, the world worked on the Roman adage: Caveat Emptor.  (Let the buyer beware!)  Then, in the early 20th Century, along came a guy named Harry Selfridge (British department store/Netflix TV series) and, in a moment of sheer madness, coined the phrase, “The customer is always right.”  Customer service was born.  Since then, the industry has grown exponentially, and today billions are spent every year trying to answer the question, “What’s your problem?”  Unfortunately, that’s very difficult because most people don’t know how to complain properly.  So here are a few ideas that might help you the next time you feel you’ve been ill-used by capitalism.  Good luck!

1 – Be honest (with yourself) – Do you actually have a complaint?  The truth is the vast majority of people who phone customer service don’t – and they know it.  They’re usually frustrated, angry, naturally grouchy and sometimes even dishonest.  Most people just want to vent, and customer service is a captive audience that can’t tell them to shut up and go away.  So, before you waste a lot of time (mostly your own) make sure your problem is legit.  (Helpful hint: you were the one putting on the brag about how smart you were buying a cheaper product!)

2 — Collect your information – If you bought something, you have a receipt.  Find it!  It has all the information you need – who, what, where, when and how much.  (Nobody cares why. See point 3.)  Without the facts (readily available) you’re goin’ to sound like an idiot, and that’s not going to help your cause. (Helpful hint: no receipt?  Your life just got a whole lot more difficult.)

3 — Be specific/Be brief – Nobody cares why you bought a new toaster– especially not the stranger on the other end of the phone.  They’ve heard more rambling stories (eight hours a day/five days a week) than you’ve had hot meals.  So, unless your previous toaster was abducted by aliens, forget the tale of woe, and get to the point!

4 — Don’t be a bully – Remember the person you’re talking to is trapped, and they can’t fight back.  They don’t own the company and they haven’t personally set out to cheat you.  Nor were they put on this Earth by Satan to thwart you.  Trying to push them around just because you can is not a good look — and that includes swearing, being vulgar, calling them names and/or threatening them or the company they work for.  Besides, when was the last time you went out of your way to help someone who just called you an asshole?

5 — Offer a solution – “So what are you going to do about it?” is not a solution.  It’s a playground challenge.  Here’s the deal.  If you haven’t figured out what you hope to achieve from calling customer service before you pick up the phone, don’t pick up the phone.

6 — Be reasonable – I had a friend who was a travel agent (back in the day when such things existed) and she told me a customer once called her and demanded a replacement vacation because it rained the week he was in Mexico.  Grab a brain, boys and girls: you’re not going to get a new house just because your doorbell breaks.  The one thing you need to do throughout this whole process is remain on the reality train.

Because:

7 – The Harsh Reality — The minimum wage voice you’re talking to has no authority to do anything except maybe – MAYBE – offer you a replacement or give you your money back – never both.  Normally, they’re just there to gather your information (see items 2 and 3) give you a bit of a verbal cuddle, and pass it all up the ladder.  That’s it!  So, the only rule of customer service is if, at any time, anyone suggests they’re going to give you more than that, take it, say thanks and get on with your life.

Summer 2020

I may have mentioned in these pages that I’m not very fond of summer.  As my least favourite season, I’ve even been known to complain about it.  Plus, every year around Labour Day, I jump the gun and start singing the praises of autumn.  And – well – this year isn’t going to be any different, except … I have a confession to make.  The summer of 2020 hasn’t been all that bad.  That’s right, the worst summer this planet has seen since Marvin the Mongolian brought his pet rats to Genoa in 1347, was actually not as godawful as originally advertised.  Hold it!  Before you start gathering the torches and pitchforks, hear me out!  Here are a few reasons why, even though the Summer 2020 isn’t anything I ever want to do again, it was certainly better than expected.

We’re learning social distancing

1 – People kept their clothes on.  Normally, summers are awash with untethered flesh, wiggling and jiggling and … “Oh, God! My Eyes!”  I don’t know what happened, but somehow a lot of us started channeling our inner dignity.   

2 – We discovered what the word “brave” really means, and it’s got nothing to do with some celebrity playing victim on Twitter for twenty minutes.

3 – And speaking of celebrities, wasn’t it cool when they all shut up and went home?

4 – There were more regular people on the streets — walking, running, riding their bikes — and even though they kept their distance, they were friendly.  Neighbours waved to each other, asked how things were going and called each other by their first names.  (I didn’t even know the guy down the street had a name.)

5 – There was, on occasion, quiet.  The parks and beaches and backyards weren’t constantly haunch to paunch with obnoxious crowds of loudmouths, cremating their meat to the 4,000 decimal beat of a heart/lung machine that somebody once mistakenly called “music.”

6 – It didn’t feel quite so hot without those penis envy motorcycles roaring through the afternoon like recently castrated lions.

7 – Zoom

8 – Professional sports didn’t show up until later, so we didn’t have to endure an endless, meaningless, boring parade of nobody-cares-who-wins baseball games.

9 – We all began finding out how much junk we’ve accumulated over the years, and not just useless household junk — emotional junk, lifestyle junk, ideas junk, even people junk.  Last spring our world got ambushed and a bunch of stuff changed, so most of us have spent the summer — consciously or unconsciously — reassessing what’s important in our lives and what’s just junk.

And because of that:

10 – Even though it might not feel good right now, the best thing to happen this summer is a lot of people started thinking about, talking about and trying to do something about things that actually matter.