40. Holding’em, folding’em – or going nuclear.


A man must know his limitations.

Some days you’re the windshield, some days you’re the bug, according to Mark Knopfler. When tackling a large outfit like a utility company, be assured, everyday you’re the bug. And when tackling the NHS, they are the Louisville Slugger and you are the ball, as Mark would put it.

Sometimes it pays not to fight on too many fronts at the same time – just ask Hitler.

One of the battles not to fight is with a large corporation. Private or public sector, it doesn’t matter, don’t tangle with it unless you have unlimited resources, a firm of lawyers and preferably an enforcer who works through ‘unofficial channels’ e.g. by re-arranging peoples kneecaps. And I don’t mean an orthopaedic registrar.

For example, though I should know better, I am locked in a pointless battle with Ovo Energy, which will only end one way. Every time they read the meter they record the night as day and the day as night, essentially adopting the world view of  a nocturnal creature. They purport to be a green outfit, and I suspect they are trying to be fairer to owls and badgers, who cannot at present benefit from Economy 7.

Large organisations are groups of thousands of people, with massive resources. You are one person with very little time and money, even if Erin Brockovich is your favourite movie.

There are several ways that people get hurt when they interact with large organisations, but the main effect is that of learned helplessness. Even Kim Kardashian can’t get British Airways to accept they have taken items out of her bags. Veteran complainer Clive Zeitman resorted to sending British Airways’ mouldy strawberries to their CEO by courier service*. As a result his daughters were invited to Heathrow to inspect the catering facilities. Personally I’d have suspected they were walking into a trap, like Clive might receive them back, also by courier, but not in one piece.

You might get an apology – but does an apology on behalf of a vast organisation actually mean anything? Customer relations usually frame an apology in a twisted way like ‘We are sorry that you feel unhappy and dissatisfied with our service’. The implication is that your feelings of unhappiness and dissatisfaction are your problem and relate to poor early life experiences.

They might as well add, ‘we hope with adequate therapy you manage to resolve your issues with your over-involved yet emotionally detached  mother.’

You might get carried away and become a single issue fanatic and pub bore. The organisation might even have you designated a ‘vexatious complainer’, which means they acknowledge your letters but don’t otherwise respond to them (no change there then).

And finally, having gone too far, having got personal with some hapless call centre employee, having bogged yourself down in nitpicking details, you are consumed with guilt and remorse and you realise you have turned into a monster. For instance in suggesting that there is really only one essential item in the meter readers’ toolkit of skills.

Worst of all, it might turn out you were wrong all the time. I have checked that meter so many times. I have taken photos of it and mailed them to Ovo. My dream is to get an eminent person – Desmond Tutu would be ideal – to visit the house during the day and observe the meter’s steady advance as I turn on all the appliances, then sign an affidavit as follows: ‘I Desmond Tutu, Archbishop and veteran human rights campaigner, winner of the Nobel peace prize in 1984, solemnly confirm that Reading One is Economy 7.’ How you like them eggs, Mister Ovo? [ovo=egg, gettit?]

Instead of signing, Desmond would probably advise me that the relationship between the strong and the weak, the big and the small, is far more complicated than a simplistic perpetrator / victim scenario. Butterflies should take care not to break the wheels.

As a participant in Capitalism, which is the only game in town, it is better to regard yourself as playing a game rather than conducting asymmetrical warfare. The paradigm of gaming means you choose your opponent wisely and play when it suits you. If you lose, its only a game (sucker).

Why do people hate large organisations so much anyway?  Perhaps there’s a limit to the amount of ‘putting you on hold’ people can take, even with Vivaldi in the background. It is very difficult, even for an able -bodied, able-minded person, to penetrate the ‘choice architecture’ that creates a force field around organisations. How difficult must it be for a person with impaired abilities to deal with ordinary issues like trying to minimise energy costs?

Is there such as thing a Corporate Psychiatrist? I don’t mean a psychiatrist who wears a smart suit, drives an Audi and carries a Blackberry, because there are none. No, I mean someone who can diagnose and treat ailments that affect large companies.

For instance, the power companies suddenly became incredibly unpopular and possibly evil.  Could that be seen as a kind of disease process? I have a friend who works for an energy company, who assures me the industry is not evil, not particularly profitable and not guilty of the various price-rigging allegations that are being promoted in the media. He hasn’t tried to sell me any energy yet, but I accept he might be working a long con.

My theory is that society has a certain quantity of Stigma within it, which is probably a constant total. Now that Stigma cannot legitimately be attached to disability or minorities, it has had to go somewhere, and seemingly it attaches itself to arbitrarily and lazily designated villains-de-jour, such as banks, newspapers or power companies.

If there is hope, it probably does not come in the form of EDF, but I am hoping that nuclear electricity will boil my kettle faster, so I am changing over. We are heading toward judgement day for the meter, as two giant companies slug it out in the cellar. Desmond, you could have stopped this.



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