Friday, 12 January 2007

Corporate Personas and Cab drivers


Certain companies adopt the corporate persona of what I like to call ‘the friendly face of capitalism’. My DVD rental service ‘Love Film’ for example, likes to portray itself as an amiable friend; the kind who knocks on your door and asks you if there is anything you need and, by the way, would you like the spare toaster they keep in their apartment?. Love Film is always sending me bubbly emails telling me things like ‘not to be a bad santa’ this Christmas whilst helpfully offering me free vouchers, informing me of DVDs I might like to watch and generously offering me discounts. In contrast, my gas and electricity company ‘Southern Electric’ has clearly modelled itself on the rampaging hordes of Genghis Khan. Much like the peaceful townsfolk of medieval Muscovy one is sitting there quite happily minding your own business when a nasty demand for tribute deposits itself through the letterbox. If it is not paid, reads the notice, my gas and electricity will be ruthlessly cut off, my assets abruptly seized and Barnet County Court will sue my remains for good measure. I wouldn’t mind so much but the impertinent bastards at Southern Electric never send me a bill in the first place, instead they choose the ‘zero tolerance approach’ and send me a final demand notice. I had thought that to be ‘final’ by definition, the demand should be been preceded by other demands, but then I’m a stickler for detail. My life would be so much simpler if I simply blocked up my letterbox with pollyfilla. I wouldn’t be able to receive dvd rentals from Lovefilm but it would be worth it for the peace of mind.

In November I was given an interesting lesson in what happens when you attempt to cut corners and economise. It was the day Katie was due to leave for the U.S and we were preparing to leave the flat for Heathrow airport. Traditionally these occasions are a bit fraught to say the least. We tend to leave packing till its almost too late, pile a bunch of stuff in a suitcase at the last minute and wing our merry way to the tube stop weighed down by our worldly possessions like a couple of Kurdish refugees. We were on our way out the door, about to repeat this onerous process when Katie glanced at the sideboard next to the door and noticed a card advertising a mini cab service to the airport for the unbelievable sum of £20. Mini cabs are something of a mixed blessing. On the one hand they are ridiculously cheap. On the other, if you use one you run the risk of being robbed, sexually slaughtered or forced to wear a tasteless orange jumpsuit and ritually slaughtered in an Islamic Fundamentalist’s home video. We decided to ring the number and sure enough a swarthy looking chap showed up on the doorstep and gestured us over to his vehicle. I tentatively climbed into the back seat and was confronted by a repulsive odour, the kind of smell one can only achieve by getting a dog to bathe in its own manure for a full day and spend the night in the back of your car having ingested large quantities of baked beans and chickpeas.

We climbed in and sure enough as soon as we were sitting comfortably, the chap got out of the car and ran off behind my neighbour’s property. I tensed up for a bit; this kind of thing only happens in assassination thrillers when a bomb is planted in the target’s vehicle and his driver is in on the plot. We sat there bemused for about ten minutes before the mini cab driver returned. He was apologetic, sweating profusely and suspiciously doing up his trousers. To my horror and disgust I realised he must have been caught short and had defecated behind the neighbouring block of flats. There was no mistaking the way he had sprinted off; it was the run of a man who has dined well on curry and beer without being mindful of the consequences. Aside from that, the ride was moderately pleasant, interspersed by the odd moment of terror. The car occasionally gave up in disgust and stalled, leaving us stranded in angry traffic. On the road into Heathrow we were inches away from being hit by a car. The ride was cheap, but as happens so often in life, you get what you pay for (although this maxim is often used as a justification for downright extortion).

And so it was on the ride back from the airport, having been in the States for a while we decided to take a good old-fashioned London Cabby home to Hendon. Sadly good old-fashioned cabs do not charge good old-fashioned prices and we were stung to the tune of 70 quid. So often life only offers you a series of bad options to choose from. Either a cab driver shits all over you neighbour’s property or he shits all over your bank balance; there is no happy medium.