We require a legal document so rang the relevant court to enquire how to get hold of it. As expected, a form was to be filled in and a fee applied, nothing surprising there, it's standard fare.
Was the form available online? Nope, so a journey to the court was necessary. Having passed through the now ubiquitous security x-ray, I was directed to a glass window with a view into an office containing eight desks, two of which were occupied by women who - sorry if it sounds rude - reminded me of Vogons. There was no buzzer or bell to alert them of my presence and, being the polite sort, I waited until someone noticed me (forcing a cough occasionally and moving around a bit). As my wait approached five minutes irritation was building but as I was about to call out, one of the Vogons - without diverting her gaze from her monitor - spoke ... in a dull monotone.
"Julie, there's someone at the window", at which a younger girl finally appeared from the left and greeted me. It was clear that the one who pointed out my presence had been aware of me since I arrived but, perhaps because this Julie was out of the office, had not said anything since 'the window' wasn't her job (this is borne out later).
No "someone will be with you in a minute, sir", or any other polite acknowledgement of my being there, and/or reassurance that I would not be kept waiting too long. Just silence until 'window Julie' turned up.
After a brief pause while my mind struggled to comprehend such poor manners, I explained what I wanted and was given the form to fill in. Having done so, I paid the fee and asked how long it would take. Now, don't laugh, but I truly thought she would say that I could wait while they retrieved it. In hindsight, I feel very foolish for believing - in this age of technological advancement - that such a turnaround is achievable by a state agency.
"We don't keep the records here, so we will have to get them from our archive [30 miles away]", stated Julie.
"How long will that take?", I enquired "Because if possible we'd like to receive it quickly, we're prepared to pay for a fast-track service or something". Again, silly me for imagining such a concept existed.
"Well, we have to fax the form over; then they do a search and fax it back to us; and when we receive it, we'll draw up a replica and send it to you in the post. It should be with you by the middle of next week".
This was a Thursday, so we were talking almost a week. I optimistically asked if she could get it done quicker and she promised to mark it 'urgent'. Could they e-mail it to speed things up a bit? Of course not.
Fast forward to the following Friday and nothing had arrived, so I rang to ask how it was progressing.
"I'm sorry, sir, there is no-one in that department today, they're all off. You'll have to ring back on Monday". Yes, seriously. The whole section felt it was perfectly OK to take a Friday off and leave no cover whatsoever. On Monday I rang again, only to be told - by someone who sounded suspiciously like the first Vogon - that "the person dealing with that" was at lunch and I'd have to ring back in 45 minutes (not my job syndrome again). I waited an hour then had another go.
What sounded like the same Julie then went to check on the progress. She picked up the phone again and dourly announced, "I'm afraid we haven't received anything back from the archive office yet", meaning that after 11 days, all her office had done was ... send one fax.
I reiterated that it was required as soon as possible so could she give them a nudge, but the only comfort offered was that "I could re-fax it, if you like".
By now, irritation had peaked and my curiosity had poked its nose in, intrigued to ascertain the extent of 'couldn't-give-a-toss' I was dealing with here. As such, I requested that, yes, could she 're-fax' it and ask the assiduous bunnies at the archive office - again - to treat it as urgent, if possible.
That was on Monday, and having still received no document or phone call in relation to it, I contacted them again today only to receive the same unconcerned reply - that they had still received nothing back. That's when I do believe I detected the tiniest hints of embarrassment as she promised to ring them and hustle it along.
Now, this isn't a busy facility as far as I could see. On the day of my trip to the court, I was the only visitor for the twenty minutes it took. Yet here we are, two weeks later, still no nearer finding out when we'll receive what we have paid for, through a system they have devised specifically for the purpose of those who wish to obtain such things. The whole project is now set up and ready to go except for this one document.
Poor manners, no communication, apparently no system to flag up when a request is running late, no sense of urgency if they have missed their promised delivery time. And this in an environment where public sector workers are supposed to be fearing for their jobs ... I'd hate to see what their customer service was like in the good times.
Worst of all, though, is the fact that this information is held on computer systems paid for by our taxes, yet they can't deliver anything electronically, and the system is so laboured that, in this case, it takes more than 14 days to produce a one page document.
There was, however, a notice board on their wall full of shiny leaflets jostling for position to proudly detail their service policies and achievements in meeting targets. I think that whoever produces those professionally printed notices should be put behind 'the window', or sent to the archive office, as they seem to be doing their job extremely well if they can sell that guff to the poor saps who have to use the service.
And don't get me started on the high-ranking official, at the council to which our business pays rates, I spoke to at length today. He must think that lateral thinking and common sense are branches of mathematics! Maybe I'll tell you about that soon too, if I haven't lost the will to live by then.
If you're curious as to the title, see here