Friday, 10 August 2007

What's wrong with the UK (part 3)

It's started.

People back home have begun asking me when I'm coming home... the routine and cost of London have started to bite... and, frankly, I've been tempted.

If I were back home, no doubt the funk would be dealt with by a drunken night out in Newtown with friends and some bad karaoke (is there such a thing as good karaoke?), but here that's just not an option. Instead, I've been fumbling from day to day, barely managing to keep it together, feeling hollow and... grey. There's even been a mini panic attack one afternoon at work. I'd say it was textbook depression, but I think it may be down to hormones in the drinking water here... it hasn't just been the mood swings, I've also had to start shaving more regularly. And I hate shaving. Perhaps it’s all due to the extra razor nicks.

For a while I thought there might be something behind the hormones in the water idea... perhaps an evil conspiracy run by the British government, or even Richard Branson (I’ve never trusted him. No one is that smug). But recent events have shown me that the Brits couldn't organise a piss up in brewery. They are incompetent at everything they attempt... even when they're trying to collect money from you.

First up, council tax. For those not familiar with this concept, council tax is the money you're forced to pay for simply living in London. In theory, it pays for rubbish collection, recycling services, and traffic wardens in your local area. Considering that rubbish collection consists of having to take my own trash to a large dumpster on the street, recycling services are practically non-existent, I can only assume that all the money goes on traffic wardens. Since most of the people you walk past on the streets of Westminster are in fact traffic wardens, I think I may be on to something.
Last Saturday (4th August), I received a reminder notice (dated 27th July) informing me that I had failed to pay my council tax, and that unless I did so within 7 days of the date of this notice, there would be unspeakable repercussions - spotted the problem yet? I was quite surprised, given that I never received the first notice.

When I call them and point out the flaw in their little scheme, that they never sent me the first notice, and the second arrived a week late, their response is: "Well yes, there HAS been a postal strike..." as though I should have known that there was mail coming to me, and gone down to the closed, picketed post office, and found it myself.

That would have been a bad enough start to Monday, but then I also had to deal with British Gas. In the same post, I also received a power bill for 79p. Yes, I know that's a fair bit back in Australia, but over here it won't even buy you a bottle of hormone-free water. I figured that I could actually afford to pay this, and dutifully went to their online bill payment system, verified my identity with a gruelling set of personal questions (does it really matter if someone else pays my bill?), handed over my card details and hit 'PAY'. The system responds with 'I'm sorry we cannot accept payments below £2.'

Ha bloody ha, I think to myself, how very amusing. I then call the British Gas bill payment phone number, and after about half an hour I finally get to speak to someone and the problem. He laughs. Once he collects himself, he tells me that I can’t pay anything less than £5 over the phone. The best he could suggest was simply not paying the 79p, and letting it roll over to the next bill. Sounded reasonable. Knowing that nothing is ever that easy, I ask him if my non- payment will result in threatening notices, late fees, or even disconnection. I know it’s only 79p, but I also know the British relationship to bureaucracy. The guy on the other end of the line, still laughing, says “The reminder notices and threatening letters are all sent automatically, but they won’t actually act on them for such a small amount." - I breathe a sigh of relief - "Probably” he adds before I hang up.

So if Branson’s evil scheme goes according to plan, it won’t be long before I’m left sitting at home in the dark, developing man breasts, and crying myself to sleep.