I woke to a flurry of emails, some relating to recent posts on here; others to business matters. These included an innocuous-looking one from my energy supplier of choice – let’s call them Gas O’ Leck, to give the whole thing that Irish flavour – which I opened in a desultory manner as I waited for tea to mash and dog to evacuate outside.
‘Meter reading?! No problem!’ thunk I. ‘I’m a grown-up now! I can deal with this!’
Off I trotted, kitchen chair at the ready, to the meter boxes. Pen in hand, a light air upon my lips, dog’s claws clicking most irritatingly on the wooden floor behind me, I hoisted myself up, opened Box A and wrote down the number.
There was, I will now confess, a small hiccup in the above when, with my usual carthorse level of dexterity, I tripped over the smooth carpet (don’t ask!) and dropped the chair on my foot – but, nothing loathe, I carried on.
The numbers I obediently jotted down looked pretty damn scary to me. Maths is, and always has been, a serious weak point – and any plethora of the ruddy things brings me out in hives.
I rang the free number and, having negotiated the usual gallimaufry of asinine demands and cheeky attempts to talk me into buying yet another service, used my keypad, like a good little crone, to enter the digits manually.
I assumed this would be the end of it.
A tinny voice – with more than a touch of complacent smirk about it, if you ask me! – informed me that the aforesaid meter reading was much higher than expected and told me to try again.
Aware that my eyesight is not brilliant, and that I could easily have misread the tiny figures, I went back and looked again. Exactly the same digits met my horrified eyes.
Back on the blower, I held out for a real person this time, not wishing to engage with the electronic version of Miss Snooty Pants again.
By this time, I was convinced that my bill would exceed that of the National Debt and that I’d find half Glastonbury had somehow found a way to tap into my electricity and gas supply!
These matters don’t half bring out the latent paranoic!
Miserably, feeling obscurely guilty, I read the accursed numbers out once again and then, yellow key in hand, went and wrestled with the gas meter box in order to, as I saw it, drop myself ever further into penury.
I was then put on hold while the whole thing was mulled over. Not a happy stretch of time, that: By the time my helper came back, I was already in the modern-day equivalent of Debtors’ Prison!
To my intense relief, the original flagging up was just a warning system – and, in fact, my numerical nightmare was nothing to worry about. Collapsing like a hundredweight of limp spaghetti upon the chair, I let out a gargantuan sigh of muscle-relaxing delight and, sipping at a restorative cuppa, felt the weight of financial guilt lift from tense shoulders.
But, this I have to say: I loathe and detest having to deal with the inhuman element in this way. I hate being directed to online sites, or telephonic Tardises, which are about as much use as the proverbial chocolate teapot, take forever and cause one to have to leap through eight million loops.
Bring back real people, for crying out loud. These automated systems are not quicker. They are not more efficient. They do not save hassle. They are stress-inducing Leviathans and it is about time Big Brother realised this fundamental truth and did something about it!
Dante, at his most demonically creative, couldn’t have come up with a more Mephistophelian tenth circle of Hades than our automated services!