How to Win Friends and Influence People – The Wokingham Borough Council Way

Wokingham Borough Council — continually plumbing new depths

Some readers of this blog will know that I volunteer as an Assistant Cub Scout Leader. Some locals to the Twyford area will know that there has been a lot of roadworks going on lately. Whilst these are an annoyance in many, many ways, they are very necessary.

My problem is not with the roadworks.

Last night, going to help lead the Tuesday night Scouts session, there was road resurfacing going on on London Road. The actual work started just north of Loddon Hall Road, where the Scout HQ is. However, the road was blocked off both at the crossroads, and just south of Loddon Hall Road. It appeared, to a casual glance, as if the Scout HQ is inaccessible.

My problem is not even the sinage.

Today I thought it would be wise to email parents of Cubs attending tonight’s session to tell them that the HQ is accessible. I also thought that it would be wise to check first that it will be accessible. So I called Wokingham Borough Council. I started as number 3 in the queue, and waited about 10 minutes with some of the most godawful hold music in the world before the phone was answered.

My problem is not the hold music.

Part way through explaining the situation and the information I wanted, the woman at the customer service desk hung up on me. Hung up on me. I was a little mystified. I hadn’t been belligerent, or unreasonable, or even critical. I was just explaining the situation, and what it was I was looking for. I have no idea precisely how long I was talking to myself for. I then tried to call back, to be greeted by the same hold music, as well as:

You are currently number five in the queue

My problem is this terrible standard of customer service.

I’ve listen to residents complain before about the way the council treats them when they make contact with it. As for myself, this was my first cause to call them — excluding one occasion when I reported a fallen tree blocking a road, when I recall they were more difficult than the situation called for, too — so I had expected it was just the stress of complaining about difficult situations.

But being hung up on mid-flow is just rude. I’m always at pains to be polite and reasonable when talking to someone on the phone, so I expect the same in return as simple common courtesy. To be blown off so radically by a taxpayer-funded organisation is mind-boggling.

Our councillors go on about the need to keep the tax burden on residents to a minimum. Maybe they should look at spending the tax they do take a little more wisely.

And for any Cub parents who may be reading this: Cubs is going ahead tonight. Loddon Hall Road and the Scout HQ may be accessible. If you want to make certain, you might want to call the council to check.

But I wouldn’t advise it.

Out with the old…

So there goes 2011. Another year behind us, with all the experiences it brought. Honestly, I’m not sure where it all went.

But a lot has happened in the life of me, the vast majority of which has gone recorded in this blog. Looking back, I’m not sure where to start…

  • I finished university. Yep, after three long years of study, I finished my exams and in July graduated with an LLB from the University of Sussex. I’m as surprised as anyone, to be honest. But I even managed to cross the hall and receive my degree without tripping over. I have video evidence!
  • Having, at the beginning of the year only dreamed of it, I ended up standing for election this summer. Following the conservative incumbent’s resignation a mere five days after the local elections in May, I stood as Labour candidate for the ward of Remenham, Wargrave and Ruscombe. And despite the staunch blue shade of the local politics, I managed to poll well and come a not-too-distant third.
  • I’ve been writing, as always. I’ve only had the one story acceptance this year, sadly, but I put that mostly down to the need to focus on university for the first half of the year. One 2011’s highlights was definitely taking part in the excellent Halloween Shorts project, alongside my fellow writers Jennifer Williams, Kev Clarke and Andrew Reid.
  • For the last few months I’ve been volunteering, part-time, for the political blog Political Scrapbook. I’ve learnt a lot from it, and had the pleasure of working with a whole host of great people. Hopefully, the new year will herald the arrival of a “proper job” of some form.
  • I’ve also been volunteering with the local Scout group. Honestly, this was always likely to happen. I was a Scout as a child, my mother is a Cub leader, and the path towards the leader’s uniform has already been tread by my brother. But it’s a great experience, and hopefully I can make the difference in the lives of the lads I’m working with that my leaders made to me.
  • I have, after much procrastination, joined the British Fantasy Society. This was only a week ago, so not much has yet come of it, but I’m excited and inspired. And, of course, looking forward to my first FantasyCon, in September next year!
  • And finally, yesterday marked the end of a third year spent with my wonderful Ashleigh! We celebrated by spending the day in London, at the Saatchi Gallery and Forbidden Planet (of course!), followed by a beautiful meal at Manna vegetarian restaurant. I know it’s a cliché, but I couldn’t be happier.

So that’s the highlights of my personal year. I could have done a political rundown, or a writing run down, but there are other people doing that. For today, I want this to be a record of my year, of what I’ve managed, what I’ve tried, and where I stand on the cusp on 2012. I’ll start looking forwards tomorrow.

All the Fun of the Fayre

1st Twyford Scouts' and Cubs' contribution to the St Mary's Christmas tree fayre (left) and 1st Twyford Beaver's tree for the group's centenary last year

Tonight was spent by myself at the traditional Twyford Christmas street fayre. This is the first year I have properly experienced the phenomenon, since last year myself and Ashleigh arrived from Brighton on the train as it was in full swing, and only passed through on the way to the car- picking up some food on the way.

This year I was in the thick of things. As the newest addition to 1st Twyford Scout Group’s ranks of leaders, I took my place at the barbecue, ready to get cooking! In actuality I didn’t do any cooking, instead taking partial command of the central station, taking cooked sausages and burgers from the grillers on each side, and passing them forward to the front-of-house people.

The end result was that I stink of smoke, and spent much of the evening shouting for either burgers or sausages (or, for one fraught stretch, onions). But we sold out at about ten to eight (the fayre ran 6 ’til 9). I’m not sure how much we made for the Scout Group, but we certainly fed a lot of Twyfordians.

The early finish gave me a chance to really have a peruse through the festive stalls. There were a lot of different things, and a lot of samples. The folks at the Bird in Hand pub do a particularly fine mulled cider. I was also able to wander up to St. Mary’s Church, to see the Christmas trees display.

The church had invited lots of local clubs, organisations and businesses to make their own Christmas trees for a display over the weekend. I must say, it makes for an oddly heartwarming visual representation of a community. The Scouts contributed our own; a pioneering-style contraption, suspended from a gallows-like arrangement. The decorations were put together by the Cubs, and the Beavers’ impressive effort from 1st Twyfords centenary last year was also on display.

If you’re at a loose end in Twyford this weekend, you could do worse than going and taking a look.

But of everything I saw, nothing can quite equal what I beheld at the local Lib Dems’ stall. I know times are hard for everyone, and we all must all seek whatever ways we can to make money- but whatever other problems we face, at least Twyford & District Labour Party can say we’ve never resorted to selling adult books!

Liberal by name, liberal by nature *

*There was, of course, an identical sign at the other end of the stall, proclaiming “children’s books”, but sometimes a photo is just too funny not to take. I hope that my Liberal rivals will take this poke in the jocular fashion it was intended.