Wednesday, August 30, 2006

A Thank You to the Poor Role Models

I remember I couldn't stand the woman, but that manifested itself in the mind of an eight year old as abject fear rather than hatred. In fact, after being instilled with the concept of respect for adults since I could remember, I didn't think I had a right to pass judgement upon her like that--to not like her.

Mrs. Haynesworth--I'll never forget her. Because of a cruel twist of fate I would be placed under her supervision as one of her elementary school students twice. The first time was in first grade. I didn't have her as my full-time teacher. At the time, we shifted classes for math and we were organized in classes based on ability. The worst day of the week was Friday, and ironically enough, it was "game day." The class was divided into two teams--the X's and the O's. We would line up on either side of her cleared desk while she sat in the middle. She had a game cylindar in which she placed a pair of die. She'd shake them, then roll, and she would tell the student on either side of her to add or subtract the two numbers that appeared on the face of each dice, and the first student to write the correct sum on the board first would win a point for his or her team. Sounds simple. And yes, it was. However, she was absolutely notorious for berating students if they got the answer wrong or were sluggish to respond. Once, that happened to me. I had been absent during for the lesson that taught us the fact that subtracting a number from itself equals zero (yes, elementary concept, but then again, we were between 7 and 8 at the time). She rolled the die and two sixes came up. The other student rushed to the board to write the answer, and I, not knowing what to do, didn't make a move to respond. She demanded why I didn't know the answer, and before I could explain my having not been present to learn the concept, she hissed the result of the equation and a quick explanation. Then, she stopped and folded her arms over her chest. "Well?!" was the statement. I slowly made my way to the board and drew an '0' on it and then took my place at the end of the line. I remember how long that felt--it felt like ten or fifteen minutes when in reality, I think it didn't last more than two. I received sympathetic looks from my classmates, but that didn't alleviate the utter humiliation.

Luckily, she was subjected to the onset of pregnancy about mid-way through the year and had to disperse on maternity leave. We had a long term substitute in her place in the form of a Miss Boisclair, who was certainly an improvement on the attitude although she insisted upon donning long, parrot-shaped earrings a little too often as part of her set of wardrobe accessories.

Years went on, and I approached 5th grade. A vacancy among the teachers there opened up, and the aforementioned Mrs. Haynesworth took the place given the child she had to leave for was by then, between four and five. I had a one in three shot of getting her, and lo and behold, it happened. Instead of only an hour or so a day, I would have to deal with her in charge of the classroom five days a week all day save an hour when, in that case, there was a reversal of previous fortune and I would be transferred to another group for math in the same fashion as before. At least this time, I had the safety of an ally in the form of my best friend, Lindsay. This time, we saw how she operated in the classroom all day. She certainly had a "favored few" that enjoyed her sugary-sweet smiles and words of encouragement. However, neither Lindsay nor myself were among them--in fact, we were generally ignored. It wasn't until we completed a few projects to the glowing praise of the other two fifth grade teachers that she grudgingly acknowledged our contribution to the class. Given we had allies amongst the other instructors throughout the school by that point, it wasn't as easy for her to dislike us anymore or pull the same kind of thing she did when another "Game Day" came around.

The truth of the matter is that she was a very poor teacher--one among a few that I recall. She was in her early forties and probably not particularly happy. She was a socialite from an upper class, local society that taught people to favor some and snub others based on ludicris standards. This is what I know now, but it is surprising to me to think that way about an "adult" even to this day. I had a right then not to like her and to pass judgement upon her actions if I were treated unfairly, and looking back, I certainly have a right now. But it is always odd to reconsider those people that you "respected" in the past who truly didn't live up to that respect, but yet, as a child or given your position at the time, you had to give it to them. As you get older or your situation changes, it forces to to give some real color to people from your past. If I could go back to that time as I am now, I could have been one of her colleagues, and she wouldn't have out-done me age-wise by too great a margin. If I had seen her act the way she did to her students, I wouldn't have had a great deal of respect for her, and I probably would have thought that she was in the wrong line of work. But those are thoughts that do creep into our heads when we are in a position where that respect must nontheless be given. Many times, we are afraid of those thoughts because they break down all the golden rules of conduct that we were taught.

The good thing about this is the idea that no matter who you have respected in your past, either because you truly throught that person deserved it or simply because that person figured as a superior in your life at one time, you can learn something from them. Unfortunately, it may not be how to become a better person in a direct sense. Instead, if you look back, a person like that can teach you how NOT to be. We all have role models that did something--or maybe a number of somethings--that demonstrated to us how to be better people and what that means. The best lesson that can be learned here is what it means to be worthy of that respect. I am sure that to this day, if she is still around, Mrs. Haynesworth hasn't thought once about whether or not she was worth the respect that we, her young pupils had to give her. It was probably enough to her that we gave her the respect in the first place. To her more thoughtful students, of which I am sure I am not the only one, we can look back and reconsider what she may have done or said that made her unworthy and how we as people can avoid making those mistakes in our own lives.

I want to say thank you Mrs. Haynesworth and others for showing me a true example of what I would never want to become. It's even more valuable in some ways than the good examples in my life. At least you gave me a picture of what I would be if I chose your example to emulate over theirs.

Friday, August 25, 2006

How to Have a Great Time with Newspapers and Crayons

Years ago, my parents insisted upon going to Block Island for two weeks every summer. This eleven-square-mile island off the coast of Rhode Island is a favorite day trip for Southern New Englanders because of its beaches, its rural roads, and its generally pastoral landscape. However, as you can probably assume, this does translate to absolute boredom for the average teenager with only a few precious weeks of freedom we call "summer vacation" on his or her hands. My first trip over was when I was fifteen, and I made absolutely sure I brought with me all of the books that high school teachers heartlessly impose upon their students for the holiday. The one advantage was that Block Island, especially after the last ferry left, taking the rest of the day trippers with it, was a quiet and safe place, so my parents didn't have a problem allowing myself and my siblings free reign to walk or bike around the island as we liked.

Passing the time was made easier by the visitation of friends from the "mainland." Lindsay joined me for at least a day or two every year, and every year, we came up with a different way to pass the time.

The first year, we were staying in a house on the far side of the island--meaning in a place away from the harbors and therefore, most of the temporary crowds. One night during her visit, we were sitting in the living room on the upper floor with a television that got two channels if we held the antennae at odd angles--and one of them, of course, was public access and had gone off the air promptly at 8pm. What we did have was the reminents of the several-times-read-over newspaper acquired that morning from one of two markets and a set of art supplies that my mother purchased for my little sister and some of her buddies, all of whom were fast asleep in a bedroom down the hall. Given the limitations put upon our options, we started "amending" the newspapers. Our inspiration was a baseball cap Lindsay always wore--the "cool and in" logo at the time was "No Fear", and she, with a little help from a seam ripper, had transformed it into "No Ear." We applied this strategy to the sections of the paper we still had in tact, changing headlines, ads, pictures, and parts of stories to create entirely new versions. Lindsay made the business section more interesting with its lists of stock prices while I created a "Where's Jack Reed?" storyline that extended throughout the local pages (Jack Reed, at the time, being our Congressional Representative).

This, of course, could only be done when all of the adults had enough of the papers. During the day, we had to find other amusements. One of the things it seemed that a lot of the other, similarly trapped kids on the island did was sell lemonade. We saw the occasional stand on the road, and we figured that it couldn't hurt to try the same thing. The only problem was our location--we were a long way from the majority of the tourists, but if we gave it a shot, it couldn't hurt. At one of the local markets, we purchased the necessary lemonade mix and Lindsay thought it may be worth it to try to add a trail mix in. It made our purchase more expensive, which was something my mother noticed right away.

We set ourselves up at the end of the driveway to the house. My brother also joined in, walking a little ways up the road for anticipatory advertisement as our human billboard. Instead of languishing, in fact, the business thrived. Our being outside of the usual realm of business competition put our stop into the "only refreshment for miles" category, and the more hard-core island bikers took that into account when they spotted our table. Within about an hour, my brother was proudly able to present my mother with full reimbursement for our supplies. We even had a bunch of lost New Yorkers stop and buy nearly everything we had on the table, giving us a personal check in return.

Two years later, we were put in a similar environment, but this time at least, in a better house. We were closer to town than before, and therefore, our competition was up. After a day of selling, Lindsay and I were sitting in the living room, again looking over the newspaper. This time, we alighted upon the personals section. As you would expect, we skimmed through column after column of "Looking for Mr. Right", "Daydreamer", and "Could Be For You" titles over run of the mill personal descriptions. Who doesn't like walks on the beach, or nice dinners, or a good conversationalist? Not surprisingly, they mostly all said the same thing, save one. The title was "Ugly, Ugly, Ugly" and was written by a guy who described himself as lazy, boring, unambitious, and "looking for a model type lady." We found this so amusing that we started to come up with personals ad titles ourselves, including "No More Nuns" and "Squirrel Eater." It was very similar to the time we found Lindsay's mother's thank you cards for Christmas gifts. You could have found all of the items she was expressing gratitude for in the local Job Lot--and I'll be willing to bet that 90% of it came from there. Lindsay and I made a list of the gifts and then composed our own, more frank thank you notes for our own personal amusement. We actually transcribed one of them inside a card in reference to a potholder we referred to as "the third prettiest" of the combined lot of already owned potholders and Christmas gifts of the same variety.

It is clear to me that people don't sit down and use their creative abilities much anymore. I mean, what's the point? We have game systems that give us three dimensional worlds to explore, TV shows with near-to-real special effects, and the Internet showing us how many other people had the same idea we did....before we did. If you go to a bookstore, the "best selling authors" save a few, are on the "Da Vinci Code" Level--great thriller stories with one and two syllable words--the description entirely sacrificed for the action and pace of the story. Gone are the days anyone will sit through a two-page paragraph painting the image of the English countryside in your head a la Henry James in "Portrait of a Lady." On the subject of painters--where there was once a time when there were "great masters," the death knell of those days sounded simultaneously with the end of Picasso's life. Music? Heh, try younger and younger looking make-up caked and provocatively dressed children shaking booty for three minutes to a techno beat that could have been entirely produced by a synthesizer. Do I doubt that there are artists out there in all these fields, and more? Absolutely not. What I do doubt is society's ability to appreciate them as they deserve to be appreciated for a long-term contribution made with driven effort.

So go ahead people. Pick up a paint brush, pick up a pencil, put your hands in position on an instrument and see what comes of it. That doesn't mean we can't enjoy those aspects of the media that we like--the exciting TV shows and movies, the fast paced music, or computer generated versions of art. What it does mean is that however enjoyable those things are, we need more in our lives or else we run the risk of becoming as two dimentional as some of those media. And, there hasn't been one memorable person, either in our own lives or in society as a whole, who ever fell into a two-dimensional category. Maybe this is the key to transforming that lack of potential into being memorable.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Star Trek and the Lighter Side

I thought I would lighten the mood, and perhaps toss a friendlier pitch to the English folks out there by expounding upon something I am sure the English and the Americans can agree upon.

Star Trek: The Next Generation--an American show, but employing the incredible and undoubted talent of Patrick Stewart--aired between 1987 and 1994 (at least in the US it did; I don't know if those dates correspond in the UK) and was extraordinarily successful--so much so that the creators made the mistake of saturating the then-eager market with some sub-standard shows under the same brand name, including Deep Space Nine (introduced sometime around 1992), Voyager (aired 1994) and then Enterprise (who knows when it aired--did anyone actually watch it?). I know, I know, there are probably some folks out there who really like those other series and think they trump The Next Generation, and in some ways, I am sure they did, but they would have never been conceived without the success of The Next Generation to drive the market.

I'm not going to try and tell you why it was such a great show, but you'll find few out there who truly disliked it even if they favored other Star Trek series. The most interesting thing about it to me is regardless of how far forward we have gone in terms of media technology, I am very surprised at how it doesn't look all that dated. That may be just me, and maybe I'm farther behind than I thought. However, the shows are still enjoyable today; no matter how many times you may have seen a particular episode previously, it comes on TV (as some lately have on Saturdays here in the UK) and you think "yeah, I remember this one" and you still sit back and watch it (minus the hefty dose of commercials you get in America).

I remember a few years ago, I was sitting and watching an older episode on my father's office TV while doing some work on the computer. My brother came in on his way out to see some friends. The show had something to do with there being two Captain Picards (Patrick Stewart's character) due to a time shift and the episode very gradually and using perfect timing slowly revealed to us why that was---and it wasn't until the very end that all of it came together. Between commmercials, my brother came in and out to watch, and at the time, although we recognized the episode, we had no idea what was going to happen. He literally put off his friends, acknowledged that he would be late, and stayed around to see the outcome of the show.

Hats off to you, Next Generation, for making fifty minutes in front of the TV into a combination of an interesting story and not a waste of time. If only more shows that come out every year with the flash of amazing battle scenes in space or the melodrama of teenaged sex, relationships and life had the same longevity and were worth a look.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Why The British Should Complain More Regularly: The Case for Service

The British are famous for a lot of things--Waterloo, rolling fields, tea, the Queen, informative news programming, great cheese. . .a very impressive list of checked boxes in the "accomplishment" category. However, there is one thing that the British are a little lagging on.

That is: Service.

The Brits can poke fun at us Americans for dozens of things, and rightfully so. Yes, our currency is meaningless in comparison to yours--I pull out an American dollar bill and have to realize that it is worth the equivalent of a fifty pence piece. Our country is run by a man ignorant enough to think he's God's representative on earth and resembles an ape. There are lots of fat people in the US. We're, apparently, loud and boorish in comparison (however, we do have activites other than drunkenness to occupy our Friday and Saturday nights). However, in the US, if I need service, I get it with a smile no matter what I do or say to attempt another response from the server. It's very similar to poking around one of those Buckingham Palace guards that aren't supposed to move or speak. No matter what I do or say to an American service employee, I am still going to get fantastic, efficient service with a smile.

Not so here in the UK. Service here is horrible, save in chain stores that are American brands, such as Starbucks or Gap. You line up for absolutely everything. You may be in a line with seven people in front of you and the front-most person in line is having a debate with the counter clerk, but that clerk will not, under any circumstances barring fire or a hold up, call for back up to move the line faster for the customers. If you want to pay for something in the US, that's no problem--you can do anything as long as the money gets into the hands you're aiming for. When I tried to pay my credit card bill over the phone with my debit card--very standard practice in the US--I get a song and dance, a lot of excuses, and really, no explanation why that can't happen from the operator, but apparently, I have to send in payment in the form of check by post. I go to the library on campus--the signs say it closes at 5:15pm. Promptly at 4:55, I am ordered to leave the photocopy room so one of the employees can do the very physically taxing and time consuming task of turning off the machines, then gruffly told by one of the other employees that "We're closed" as I exit the room, regardless of the fact that every clock in immediate view says a range of times between 5:03 and 5:07. One Sunday, I went through hell and high water on the only-sometimes-efficient bus system in the city to get to Tesco. Upon arrival at 3:45pm, I was turned from the door by an employee explaining they were closing at 4pm--well, yes, I knew that, hence why I arrived fifteen minutes before closing. However, I still couldn't go in for the one item I needed, so I said to the guy, "And the reasons your country lost the American Revolution still persist today," while marching off.

In the US, service is key--it's the key to keeping your business going in the face of countless others. In any shopping center, there will be at least three stores all selling the item or type of items you're looking to buy, and the prices are all within about 10 USD of each other. As a result, what gets you to come back is how useful you found the staff, how willing they were to help you and how available they were, and just generally, how they treated you. If you were treated poorly, found no one to help you and waited in a long line at the counter, you may just leave behind what you were thinking of purchasing and then going into the store across the street. Although there are very many downsides to Capitalism, this is one of its best features. It forces a store to find a way to spend the least amount of money it can to operate while serving the customer as well as possible, and if that standard seems deficient, well, you never have to go back there again.

Not so in the UK. The way things are structured, you are FORCED to come back because that is probably the ONLY store for miles that is selling what you need or want. For example, the only sizeable drug store in York is Boots. It doesn't matter if they treat me like crap or as if I am descended from their royal family--I still have to go back there if I need painkillers or shampoo. Therefore, they treat you how ever they fancy. If the clerk at the counter wants to have a ten minute discussion with one of her regular customers, she can and she will because you may not wait in the line now, you may walk out in exhasperation, but you'll be back because you have to be.

My most recent poor service experience involves the bank--Barclay's Bank, to be specific. There are a lot of banks in York, so I cannot complain for want of suitable alternatives. It's more the principle of the thing that makes the difference.

Last month, I had to pay for my last housing installment at the University of York. This was a considerable sum--over 1000 GBP, and I had the money wired into my account from home to cover it. I was going to go back to the US for a short time, so I paid early by personal check at the office on campus, then went home.

While I was at home, I received a very brief e-mail from the bursar's office at the University. Apparently, my check had been refused for the funds, and the explanation had come back to them as "suspected fraud." The bank, of course, had not notified me at all--I was left in another time zone with only this piece of information to go on. I waited until a suitable time, then called the bank. The first issue was figuring out which number applied to my situation the best. I tried three of them, and each time, I had a teller give me a new number to try. By my third or fourth phone call, I finally got someone who had the information to help me and who was with the right department. I explained my situation--just the information I had via the e-mail. I asked why I had not been informed about it, with the reply that it wasn't bank "policy" to inform customers if their accounts were under inspection for fraud. Eventually, he transferred me over to a manager or some such supervisor named Paul. Paul at least had more answers. He had three of my most recently written checks in front of him as I spoke to him--all written between the beginning of June and mid-July. He told me that they expected all three of them of fraud because of how they looked. Why, then, did they allow two of them to clear without complaint and only stopped this one? He had no answers, only that they were "trying to protect and serve me as best as they could." Since there weren't going to be any explanations forthcoming in that capacity, I moved on to what could be done to clear the latest payment. He kept telling me what they looked like, as if that made them suddenly become invalid and fraudulent in the face of all I was saying to him to the contrary. Finally, he "relented" and agreed to redraft the refused check, and in addition, to stop this from happening again, he issued me a new checkbook.

Problem solved, right? Absolutely not.

I returned to York about a week later. As I deplaned in Manchester Airport, I noticed there was a message on my UK cell phone. While standing in the nearly endless immigration line at the equivalent, for me, of about 4am, I listened to it. It was from the bank. A woman who didn't audibly identify herself well said that she was from Barclay's Bank and wanted to talk about something having to do with the account, leaving me a number to call which I swiftly wrote down. The line, with at least seventy-five people ahead of me in it, had not moved up more than a foot or so in the meantime, so I was in no danger of being called to the podium in the near future. Instead, I called the number she left me--I even double checked the number several times on the message. The number, according to the operator's recorded voice, did not exist.

A few hours after returning to my room at the University, I called again, this time, the number that had finally been resolved upon when I first called the bank after I found out about the fraud charge. At first, although the teller could bring up my account on the screen, no one had any idea why I had been called, and I was put on hold for about ten minutes. Finally, someone apparently found something out because I was picked back up and then assured that I would speak again to the same Paul as before. When I finally got on the phone with him, he told me that they tried to redraft the check and could not, no explanation given. I asked him how he expected me to pay the department with an invalidated check book on my hands. Paul assured me that if I did write a check by this same means, he would clear it. Given the number of concrete answers I had received from Paul to that point to rather weighty matters, I decided not to risk it and paid the bill with my debit card instead.

Things got even more interesting when I went to the bank. Since the buses on my line only allow for payment in correct change, I regularly go to the bank to get one pound coins. That day, I used the end of my remaining English coinage to get to town, then went to the bank as usual to replenish my supply. As soon as I got to a teller and had my card swiped, there was a problem. A lot of numbers and letters on the teller's screen alerted her to a hold put on my account, stating that no transactions could occur on it. She checked with a manager, I explained what happened, and the transaction passed. I thought that I had seen the end of it.

I was very, very wrong.

The next day, I thought to do the same thing in order to ensure I had enough to do laundry. Right before I went into the bank, to make the transaction more simple, I took 100 GBP out of the cash machine on the side of the bank building. Then, I went inside, stood in the line, presented my card to the available teller. The same problem came up on my account again. This time, when a new manager looked at it, she wouldn't allow the transaction to follow no matter what I said, and proceeded to take me to the next available personal accountant. The manager stood there while two women looked at my account. I sat in a chair and listened to them talk in such a way to ensure that I said or asked as little as possible. No, there was nothing wrong with the account--it looked just fine--the whole issue was explained having to do with the check book. So, why was it affecting my card if it was check book oriented? It had to do with the whole account, so a block had been put on all transactions. So, why could I take money out of the machine? No real answer to that one. How come I was not notified when the check was suspected to be fraudulent? Because I may be committing fraud on my own account. With my own funds? What is the statistic of that happening? Sometimes it happens--it isn't bank policy to notify you. So, if you suspected fraud, why did your bank allow two checks that were believed to be fraudulent to pass through only stopping the third? My reply to this one was a quick change of subject that someone with a lower IQ would probably have still noticed. The "speaker" of the two female accountants was rather tiring of my questions, probably because she didn't have suitable answers to them, and thought that I would be satisfied if I were allowed my transaction to pass and sent on my way.

Well, the conflict of interests here was more than clear. I wanted to know the whys they didn't have answers to because I wanted the problem to be solved so I could go to a teller in peace. They thought that as long as I got what I came in for that day, that my temporary quick-fix satisfaction would be enough to carry me through the situation.

At home, I called the bank again. I spoke to another teller, who explained to me that the computer revealed a claim on the account that my personal banking information had been removed from my room. I asked the teller when this claim had been made and she said the date was the 20th of July--the same date I had called up the bank the first time right after receiving the e-mail from the bursar's office. I insisted that I had never said anything about that at all--and now, I was starting to get, very simply, a bit pissed off. First, the bank charges my account with fraud that wasn't the case, even suspected my account of it two checks before stopping the one that they did without doing anything about it and still insisting they were trying to "serve me as best as they could." Now, "Paul" had made the mistake of restricting my card transactions as well with a completely different problem that yet again, did not exist. The teller I was speaking to on the phone said to me that "my complaint was noted, but there was nothing he could immediately do about the problem." Surprise, surprise.

About twenty minutes later, the phone rang. It was another associate at the bank to which my complaint had been passed. She told me the same thing the teller had less than half an hour before, then explained it would be cleared up by Monday. I was even called on Monday morning by the same woman who said to me that "everything had been cleared up" and asked me whether or not I wanted that in writing. My reply? "Hell yes, send that right away."

To test this new assertion, I proceeded again to the bank. This time, I got a teller who recognized me and knew the circumstances. She put through my transaction only to find the same problem come up on her computer again. Since she knew me, I could get my money, but she suggested that I see one of the accountants on my way out and mention it, along with my recent phone call. I went to the podium, amply supplied with a large, blue sign that said "I'd Be Happy To Help" by the door. A young man was standing there. As soon as I got up to him, I handed him the card, saying to him "Your day and my day isn't going to get much better unless this gets cleared up." He told me, "My computer isn't working well, so I may not be able to see what is going on. My reply to him was "Well, then, you'll be finding another way to solve this problem." He swiped my card on the computer--nothing was showing as wrong. I took him to the teller myself, and she showed him what it said when she tried to put a transaction through on it. Basically, he had no idea what was going on. He stuttered that perhaps it took a day or two for the computer system to completely register any changes made to the account. I left, with the full intention of coming back the next day.

And, the next day came around, and I took my now daily stroll to the bank. I got to the same teller again. Not surprisingly, the same problem occured, and she told me to go to see the accountants. So, I did.

Finally, I got someone I had been through this song and dance with before at the "I'd Be Happy To Help" stand. It was one of the two women I had spoken to earlier, but this one wasn't the one who insisted upon talking to me then and refusing to answer my questions satisfactorally. I handed her the card, explained the situation, and she remembered me. Instead of asking me questions about why the problem continued, or what she could do about it, or showing me any sign of her being "Happy To Help," she insisted that all had been explained to me before and tried to hand me back my card to close the conversation.

That was it. I HAD it.

I looked at her straight in the eyes and said to her: "Look, I don't know how many times I have to come in and be a pain in the ass, here, for this to be resolved."
I stood still in front of her podium, making it clear through eye contact and body language that I was NOT going to be put off and I was NOT going to continue to deal with this.

She sighed, almost huff-like, and went behind the counter to find out exactly what the computer was saying. She returned with my card and a piece of paper with some writing on it. She explained that she would be just a minute, she had to call the bank branch in London. I heard her go behind the counters through a side entrance and say something in an exhasperated tone to whoever was there to listen to her. I know it had to have been something none-too-complimentary about myself, but I didn't care. She was actually doing something about the problem. Eventually, she came out again and gave a few pieces of paper over to another accountant who was sitting in front of a computer and brought up my information. The other accountant, another, more pleasant woman, picked up the phone to make a call, then, beckoned for me to join her while the previous, less "Happy To Help" accountant pointed me in her direction and resumed her place behind the ironically labeled podium.

The other woman spoke to someone at the London branch and explained the whole thing. Suddenly, within a few words, the problem was solved. She told me that if I had any more problems, to come to her directly on Monday and she would sort them out in person with me.

So, what's the moral of the story here? First, the irony of the line "We're trying to serve you as best as we can." NO ONE save the last woman and the very understanding, but limited in action tellers, served me as "best as they can." The accountant who was with me twice--she is the one I have the biggest beef with, but not only because she was so dissatisfied to help me. It was because she was there, steps and steps ago in this process, and she obviously knew how to take care of the problem. She didn't, for the sake of convenience for only herself, do anything for me until I stood there and literally made a scene. Only then was she forced to take action, but I don't think she realized that never would have happened had she done that in the first place.

Well, my British friends, on so many fronts, you one-up your American counterparts, but I'll tell you, this circus never would have happened in the US. Perhaps if the British learned how to complain, which never seems to happen, then something may be done.

At least if you make a scene, you'll have a good story to tell about it.