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Couriers - they won't enter the 21st century without a fight

PUBLISHED: 11:19 23 February 2010 | UPDATED: 08:21 02 July 2010

Stacia Briggs

It's said that on one's deathbed, no one wishes they'd spent more time at the office.

It isn't said, but it should be, that no one about to croak would also wish that they'd agreed to spend more time waiting in all day for a courier to arrive to pick up yet another piece of cursed electronic kit that's gone wrong.

Couriers - they won't enter the 21st century without a fight

It's said that on one's deathbed, no one wishes they'd spent more time at the office.

It isn't said, but it should be, that no one about to croak would also wish that they'd agreed to spend more time waiting in all day for a courier to arrive to pick up yet another piece of cursed electronic kit that's gone wrong.

This week, disaster struck when the screen on my daughter's mobile phone stopped working - this in itself was trying enough, because although she could see the text messages queuing up in her inbox, she couldn't access them.

Imagine the horror of being stuck in the hell that is the February half term holiday with a high school age child that can't read their text messages; I think I may have unwittingly rewritten the Oxford English Dictionary's definition of misery.

I was initially impressed with Virgin Mobile's customer service. A very pleasant man told me that the phone would be exchanged in a 'hand-to-hand' transaction that involved me giving a courier the damaged phone and the courier giving me a shiny new phone.

“You'll receive a call confirming when the drop-off is within the next 24 hours,” he said, and, like a fool, I believed him.

No call came, no arrangement was made. A day and a half later, I called and spoke to someone equally pleasant who informed me that a text message had been sent confirming the time and day that the handover would take place.

The text had, of course, been sent to the broken phone. When I pointed this out, I was told that Virgin Mobile was “unable to send texts to phones that aren't on our network” - lest you forget, this is a communications company we are dealing with.

The handover had been arranged for a day when no one was in the house, during a time window that spanned from 8am to 6pm: how I love the fact that because you've been sold a piece of rubbish, you have to pay twice - firstly in cash, secondly in time, stress and rapidly diminishing goodwill.

Couriers are, of course, forbidden to carry mobile telephones that can make outgoing calls to customers or give you any indication as to when they might arrive - they could arrive at any time during a 10-hour window, they might not arrive at all; it reminds me of the bad old days when I had to use buses.

By the time you realise that no one is going to turn up, there won't be anyone left in the office to complain to because, unlike you, they can't hang around for 10 hours straight on the off-chance that something might happen.

If your courier does actually arrive - at any given point during their vast window of opportunity - they are contractually obliged to knock on your door with all the force of an arthritic spider, ensuring that unless you're within two feet of the letterbox, you won't hear them.

Frankly, it's less nerve-wracking waiting for exam results or for a loved one to come out of an operation, with the added bonus of knowing that your fate doesn't rest in the hands of an academic or a highly-trained medic, but in the paws of a swarthy youth with 'I wish my wife was this dirty!' written on the back of his van.

While you wait for the knock on the door, even a trip to the toilet becomes like a dangerous game of Russian Roulette - to be on the safe side, it's best to drink nothing, lie in a sleeping bag under the letterbox and set up CCTV cameras outside your front door just in case you take your eye off the ball for a nano-second.

The last time I surrendered an entire day to the interminable wait for a courier's knock, I couldn't have a bath, I couldn't go and get a paper, I couldn't do any work because the computer is housed about half a mile from the front door - it was like being under house arrest.

Of course the alternative to sitting in silence with an eye trained on the door is far more terrifying.

The courier, unlike the postman, never rings twice. If you find a calling card from a courier service, you have instantly erased yet another day from your precious holiday entitlement while you wait around listlessly for another 10 hours in what feels like the most boring Groundhog Day imaginable.

Calling the depot and asking if anyone can give you even a rough estimation of when the van might be arriving is as productive as attempting to make a matchstick cathedral on Cromer Pier in a force eight gale.

Yes, the depot knows where the courier is. No, they can't divulge that information. Can they guarantee not to arrive while you're out of the house for 10 minutes on the school run? No. Can they at least tell you whether the courier will arrive in the morning, afternoon or early evening? No. Is there any chance the courier could give you a quick call when they arrive at the address on the list before your house? Preposterous. No.

There's nothing like having to really work for your statutory rights to make you feel like a valued customer.

·Late update: 31 hours after being promised a call back 'within 24 hours' I am still none the wiser as to when Virgin Mobile will deign to deliver the new phone. I've given my daughter two tin cans and a piece of string. She can tap out texts in Morse Code.

Curling - Cleaners on Ice

I know that it's essentially just 47 different ways of sliding, but I do find the Winter Olympics strangely compelling.

For a start, the Canadian time difference means that footage from the slopes/rinks/track is practically the only thing on telly at precisely the time I'm trolling through the channels looking for the televisual equivalent of barbiturates.

Secondly, I am quietly impressed by any professional sports person who turns up to do their event in a pair of ripped jeans (yes, it was a snowboarder, but still) - it shows a level of dedication that even I could replicate.

The curling is, of course, an enduring joy. Competitors hurl a vast stone, which - I learned during the last Winter Olympics - is the weight of a large television, across the ice while two mop-wielding, wild-eyed heavyweights polish the ice to ease its passage.

I had, somewhat crudely, imagined that this was the kind of sport you could train for by throwing unwanted furniture into skips or vigorously defrosting the freezer, but apparently it requires lots of time in the gym (yawn) and a strict diet (double yawn).

Curling is an extreme sports version of bowls, in the same way that figure skating is the extreme sports version of ballet. Slow motion replays are so tedious that it can only be a matter of time before they're prescribed to insomniacs.

Apparently, the sport was devised by farmers in Scotland who used to throw stones across frozen rivers during the winter months. On this basis, it's incredible that scarecrow making isn't an Olympic sport - I'd rather see that than synchronised swimming though, to be fair.

Water load of rubbish

I was trawling through our library system the other day when I came across a front page I wrote in 1997 about the proposed Riverside swimming pool.

These were the days when I was the Evening News' chief reporter on newsdesk, on the frontline, on shifts that were so horrendous that I quickly had a baby and took a job in the Monday-to-Friday, nine-to-five features department, instead.

Under the tantalizing headline “WATERWORLD!”, I urged readers to join a campaign to secure enough National Lottery cash to start work on a pool which I said would, and I quote, “make Norwich the envy of the nation”.

This modern-day Atlantis would include an Olympic-size swimming competition pool, a leisure pool with water slides, flumes and a hot bubble pool, moveable floors and walls to create pools of different sizes and depths, seats for 500 spectators, a restaurant overlooking the River Wensum, an adventure playground for children, a dance studio and meeting rooms for the community.

All that was missing was regularly scheduled dragon flights to Narnia and an IKEA concession in reception.

Thousands of people joined the campaign, probably on the basis that this pool sounded really great: hot bubble pools? Yay! Flumes? Awesome! Moveable floors and walls? A bit random, but yes, if you say so.

I went to our “WATERWORLD!” the other day and, I have to say, I may have misled you somewhat.

For hot bubble pool, read 'spa bath'. For flumes, water slides, moveable floors and walls, adventure playgrounds and Olympic-sized pool, read 'avoiding leathery-skinned pensioners grimly ploughing up and down a 25m pool and a few inflatables'.

What can I say? I copied it off a press release: I'm having that put on my gravestone.

·Stacia Briggs will be away next week trying to come to terms with the loss of the WATERWORLD! dream. She will return on March 8, a better and wiser person.

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