Of Saints and Sinners

6 12 2014

Funny how we like to draw opposites – real or imaginary – isn’t it?¬†Us and them. It’s become quite an artistic device.

Of Mice and Men. A book I had to read at school. A classic. So great, we studied it for weeks… and I can’t remember anything about it, except some guy dies at the end. I don’t actually remember whether mice played any part, but I strongly suspect not. ūüôā So… perhaps not so great after all? At least not if you’re 12 and consider the prime value of English literature to be in guiding you towards the correct construction of your Airfix model.

Of Monsters and Men. Great indie band out of Iceland.¬†Nanna Brynd√≠s Hilmarsd√≥ttir has an¬†amazing¬†voice I think. You know, the Icelandic music scene has produced some wonderful talent over the years. Well, OK, so really there was just¬†Bj√∂rk… but she was in the Sugarcubes first, so that’s almost three you’ve potentially heard of!

So, of saints and sinners then. The saints in this piece are the good folks at Marks & Spencer.

Marks_&_Spencer_Logo[1]

Wikipedia: M&S logo

For those not familiar, Marks and Sparks is the good old, solid, “go to” chain in the UK. They apparently had stores here in Canada until just before we immigrated here, so we just missed them. For about a year or so after we arrived you could get M&S biscuits, jam and the like at one or two supermarket chains, but I suspect that was just the logistic chain draining itself out to the general market. Obviously I’ve been out of touch for a decade and a half now, but it certainly used to be the place to get “sensible” clothes. Underwear that would outlast the wearer. Indestructible elastic. Reliable shoes. School trousers, work jumpers, that sort of thing. Nothing flash, just solid, high quality basics.

They also built their success partly on their no nonsense high quality customer service. Never an argument about returns, exchanges, etc. Well known amongst shop-lifters for accepting items for refund with no receipt. Outstanding, well respected customer service. Second to none.

From 1928 onwards, they used St. Michael as their in-house brand, to honour one of the founders, Michael Marks (who was actually Jewish, but then so was Jesus I suppose). More saintliness.

STMICHAEL[1]

Wikipedia: St. Michael logo


Anyway, you’ve no doubt noticed that Christmas is approaching. Even if, like me, you’ve given up on broadcast TV and now find your advert free entertainment on Netflix or other streamed media, you must surely be bombarded with¬†the contradictory images associated with the season in every shop window. Sadly, the US Thanksgiving shopping frenzy has now spilled over into Canada (which has its own Thanksgiving, a month earlier) and even the UK – which has no equivalent at all (unless you include the low-key Harvest Festival that is still celebrated in churches up and down the land.) Any excuse for a sale, I suppose.

So, in amongst all this, my dear mother – still resident in Blighty – calls us up and offers to send us some M&S goodies for Christmas, since they’re offering free shipping worldwide during the imported US Thanksgiving sales. Being from Yorkshire, free anything is a definite attraction, and suggestions for presents from the M&S website were duly made. Since the shipping was free, my mum decided to order and send the presents separately so that we could each open our own package, rather than getting a single consolidated shipment. Free shipping – why not? [By the way… there are five of us.]

M&S used the Royal Mail for shipping last year. Items duly showed up in the post via Canada Post at this end, or if they were too large and nobody was in, you popped up to the local post office and collected it at your convenience. No fuss or nonsense, and Рyou guessed it Рit was free shipping last year too!

So – enter the sinners.

For this part in the epic Christmas pantomime, we shall use DHL, as these are the people M&S have chosen to provide their free shipping this year.

567px-DHL_Express_logo.svg[1]

Wikipedia: DHL logo


Now I knew DHL was German (D for Deutsch), I didn’t know they had been bought up by the German Post Office though. Actually, in fairness, they use local courier agencies to do their drop deliveries, so the remainder of the tale is really only their fault as far as the stationary that’s used, and their chosen local business partners.

So anyway, a couple of days after the free shipping is invoked by my saintly mother the first two parcels arrive! Amazing service, one might think, and so it seemed. Great Teutonic efficiency, even if sub-contracted. Unfortunately, as can sometimes be the case, there was nobody in. They dutifully left a little pre-printed note apologising for missing us, and assuring us they’d try again next day. The problem was though, there would be fees of $37 and $43 for the parcels.

Now, though the kindly Canadian customs organisation are quite good at turning a blind eye for a few tens of dollars here and there crossing over from the US as part of a day’s sightseeing trip, they draw the line at tobacco goods, alcohol, and excessive piss-taking in the form of wide screen TVs and other expensive items. The fact that these two parcels had import duty to pay was half-expected and not in and of itself a surprise. The fact it was almost $80 for the pair though seemed to imply that my mother had been unusually generous. (Don’t forget that she’d also already paid the UK government a VAT of 20% on these goods.) Anyway, we were excited now, so my wife stayed in the next afternoon. Unfortunately the dog was crossing her legs desperate to go for a walk and in the 15 minutes they were out of the house, we missed the second attempt. Attempt 3 happened before my wife was even back home from work the next day, so in desperation she went online to find out where we could pick it up, instead. And here things take a twist…

Online we discover two things. (i) we can offer an alternative delivery location. Great! We entered my work address where someone is ALWAYS available to accept deliveries. There’s even various options including the one we selected: “please leave at reception.” Discovery (ii) was less pleasant, but explained my mother’s apparent generosity. There was indeed import duty to pay on the items. Oh well, that’s the way it is. But the duty was only a fraction of the amount to pay…

One item, valued at ~CAD$70  incurred import duty of $12.71. Not outrageous, all things considered.

However, then the provincial and federal taxes are added. A total of 12% on the value (already including UK paid taxes of 20%) plus the import duty. This comes to an additional $10.

Not satisfied with this, there is then an additional $10 flat rate fee from the courier for “processing”.

Then, just to add insult to injury, there is a fee of $4.25 because it’s “cash on delivery”. Free shipping, but still cash on delivery. Again – straight into the pocket of the local courier on behalf of DHL.¬†$4.25, though annoying is reasonable for an agency to be inconvenienced for having to collect and verify payment on behalf of the government I suppose. The thing is… it’s not waived when the recipient goes to the trouble – as we did – to pay online and therefore avoid the inconvenience on behalf of the courier.

Oh well, at least we’d paid the fees now, and we’re safe in the knowledge that no matter what time the parcels are delivered, they’ll be signed for at work, and handed over.

Except they’re not.

Nope. We get home and find they’ve just been left on the front step for anyone to take. So much for using the online system to change the delivery address and explicitly select “leave at reception”. I guess now the government fees are collected and the courier on behalf of DHL has gouged us an additional $14.25, they no longer care whether we actually receive the items or not!

Now fuming that DHL and the local agent on their behalf have been totally cavalier with the parcels and gouged deeply for the pleasure of undergoing the risk of having some local oik steal them before we even get to open them, my wife emails the service operation of the hitherto blameless M&S. After a very laudibly short delay, the reply comes back.

Tough shit.

Of course, much more wordy (and in arguably less grammatically correct English), but essentially – that’s the way it is.

Seems things really have slid in the bastion of great service hitherto known as Marks and Spencer. The UK-resident shopper is blissfully unaware that by accepting the offer of free shipping on their Christmas presents to ex-pat friends and family, they’re actually surprising the recipient with a gift of paying over 50% of the original price, just to receive it! (The other parcel was slightly less at 48% – $43.68 on a gift of $89.35.)

Remember – the gifts were sent separately because it was free shipping. That small act of genuine thoughtfulness cost us an additional $14.25.

Daylight robbery!

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Latest in the line…

5 12 2014

So Air Canada are not what you’d call that innovative. A bit like Microsoft, they are good at following the leaders, but doing a good job at it since the leaders have learnt the mistakes to avoid.

After feel-good videos from WestJet and KLM, Air Canada has jumped on the bandwagon. This time they offered Canucks exiled in London a free trip home for Christmas.

 

[Edit: I forgot Zappos/Jet Blue]





I might be a fan of your insolence

4 02 2013

3.6km

25minutes

232lb

These three numbers need to change.

I signed up for the Vancouver Sun Run in April the other day. It’s 10km. The only time I’ve ever run 10km was… well, LAST Sun Run. I have walked 80km non-stop (well apart from pee breaks, but I hope you’ll¬†let¬†me off for those), but that was a few years ago when I was a bit younger and a lot lighter. Actually no – a lot younger and a bit lighter.

I bought myself a fancy running jacket at Christmas and this was only its second airing. I’ve not been running in about 6 weeks, so I was actually quite please I managed to run my usual route without stopping. It’s a slightly modified Canadian suburban block, so I reckoned it was about 4km, but Google maps tells me it’s only 3.6km, so who am I to argue? As we get nearer to April I suppose I should move to longer routes, but I feel no particular need to do another 10km, until the race itself.

The 25 minutes can come down a bit though. Once I get back into my swing, it should be around 22, I reckon. Tonight I was pleased simply for finishing without having to stop or walk.

The 232lb? Yeah – not sure where that came from. I’d like to be around 200lb really – despite not seeing that since before I had kids (they do say it’s hard to regain your figure afterwards. ūüôā ).

I hovered around 215lb for long enough, but post Christmas I seem to have been pogging out a bit. Anyway, in the spirit of disclosure keeping us honest, I figured that if I publicly announce my weight/times you lovely lot will cajole and embarrass me into altering the numbers accordingly. The first up, the other two down. Deal?

You may recall my offspring bought me some lovely earbuds for Chrimbo. They’re a great sound, but the silicone inserts kept falling out of my narrow ears, so I replaced them with the manky old neoprene ones from my broken earbuds. Perfect. Not a hint of slip for the whole run, and excellent reproduction from the new electronics.

And the soundtrack for my exercise?

Not quite as gloomy as it might seem! My MP3 player takes a random sample of the 20,000+ tunes on my hard drive when I recharge it. Playing them alphabetically gives a suitably random performance of bands and styles. I just happen to have got into the D’s!





Of Feta and Pennies

25 12 2012

I really struggle with Christmas.

I used to be able to “go with the flow” when the kids were smaller, yet, ironically, longer in name. Back then they were kiddies, kidlings, sprogletts or other things longer and more intricate than mere kids. Now they’re proto-adults though, the¬†mystique¬†has evaporated. They’re just as¬†materialistic¬†now as their peers – lost to the tidal wave of marketing and consumerism we wallow in, in the West.

But every now and then, I see little peeks of the great human beings they really are (despite my hand in their parenting!). The things they unexpectedly do that bucks the accepted trend of “me, me, me”. Like First-born the devout vegetarian being more than happy to take on turkey-cooking duties to give her mum a break. (I have a sneaky suspicion that her 4-month stint in Switzerland has brought her back from the Dark Side… she ate bacon yesterday!) Like second-born giving me a hug. Rare, unexpected, but so very obviously heartfelt. And third-born. Well… at least he’s not making more mess just now while he plays his festive gave of Shoot-em-up.

Second-born shared an interesting little dish with us in that never-never time between “normal lunchtime” and “Christmas lunchtime” which can be any time¬†up to¬†and including 6pm, on past experience. This is created by taking ¬†slabs of Feta cheese and baking them in olive oil in the oven for 8-10minutes, then pouring a little honey on the top and grilling them for a little while to brown slightly. Eat when hot (It’s perfect for removing the roof of your mouth before the real meal begins…) with some crackers. Tr√®s yummy.

So you may recall I mentioned a local wag leaving pennies around on the park benches yesterday. I was out in the Christmas Day snow this morning, walking the dog again. I have no idea of their motivation for placing them, but today I felt a little saddened that about half of the pennies were no longer there. Then I remembered that one potential motivation was to place them there for some poor soul to whom a mere penny or two might make a difference. If that really was the motivation, then it was totally fine for the pennies to be gone. That indeed was potentially the point. Ignoring my more base instinct that some thieving sod had simply run off with them, I chose to add the few pennies in my own pocket to the missing slots as I negotiated the pathways of our little park, occasionally engaging other people in brief exchanges of potentially sincere goodwill as I did so.

It just seemed appropriate.

Us weirdos need to support each other. Even if we don’t know why. Just because it’s different. A stand against¬†homogeneity. And especially because ultimately, it’s Quite Irrelevant.

The clatter of serving spoons on pans and dishes is beckoning me to the annual festival of gluttony. I wish you all a healthy New Year, and commend “The Random Act of Kindness” to you. Smile at a stranger. Put a tin of food in the food bank. Whatever you feel like. Something that makes a positive difference to someone else. Unexpected. And ideally anonymous.

Bugger Christmas – we should do it every day.





Christmas Tradition

22 12 2011

OK, so let’s say you want to do something a bit “unique” for Christmas. The Douglas Fir’s just not cutting it for you any more.

OK – well how about making one out of Lego? Actually – it’s been done. Really. St. Pancras Station, London. 33′ tall. Unless you’ve got seriously high ceilings, you can’t compete. Move along…

CBBC Newsround – The giant Christmas tree made entirely out of Lego.

OK, but it was a good idea – well how about a Father Christmas out of Lego then? Still a bit sedate? How about a Dalek Father Christmas out of Lego? Now THAT’s unique. We could put a white beard on it, and a floppy red hat too.

What do you mean it’s been done?!

BBC News – Lego Dalek Santa is ‘Christmas tradition’ for Huntingdon family.

It takes 100,000 bricks and two months to build, is 7′ tall… and they claim it’s not an obsession?! I think Calvin Klein might disagree…