We've just dropped the parents off at Stansted Airport, which is actually their local train station. We're all heading to Birmingham today, but, because they'd already booked their tickets, they opted not to come in the car with us. It turns out that Stansted airport have a draconian, money-grabbing system which means that you can't enter any part of the airport without paying. It comes to something when your local train station isn't accessible. My parents thought their only option was to clamber out of the car on a busy road to try to avoid a parking fee. We pulled up by the side of the road and, of course, a parking enforcement officer immediately pulled up in a car behind us. They obviously photographed us and will no doubt be issuing a fine. Great.
I called Empark who deal with these issues and the man I spoke to got really shirty and then suggested that I speak to customer services. "Can you put me through?" I asked, "no, you'll have to call this number..." He proceeded to read a number out to me. I called it and a woman answered. I started telling her the story: "I'm going to stop you now," she said, "because I was listening in to the phone call you've just had with my colleague who is sitting right next to me." This is the "colleague" who told me he couldn't put me through to customer services. What kind of bizarre, sick game is that? I tried to continue talking to the woman in charge of customer services but she spoke over the top of me and refused to let me get a word in edgeways, and then when I told her that the practice of her listening into other people's phone calls seemed quite sinister, she instantly hung up on me.
Sometimes all you want from a customer services representative is sympathy rather than belligerence. In the end I spoke to the boss of customer services at Stansted, one John Wilson, who seemed incredibly genuine and concerned and has promised to look into the way I was treated. It's so dull.
It was our friend, Stuart's 40th birthday yesterday and my parents took us all out for a fabulous meal in a local pub in the somewhat bleak countryside on the outskirts of Thaxted. Upon arriving, we were made to feel a little like it was a local pub for local people, especially when they denied all knowledge of our booking and told us we "might be lucky" to receive food because the chef "might" have gone home. As it turns out, he hadn't left the premises and the food he cooked us was absolutely delicious.
For the entire time we were there, we were the only customers in the pub. There were no careworn farmers propping up the bar, no ancient crones telling ghost stories and no freakishly well-built children in shell suits smoking outside with their cigarettes twisted into the palms of their hands. There ought to have been. There's witchcraft in them there parts.