Lockdown – The First 100 Days!  Yes, 100 days of lockdown. It’s hard to believe.

As we pass the three figure mark, bearing in mind those who are going through lockdown on their own, others experiencing lockdown without a garden, families stuck in high rise flats, I have to say, with huge dollop of trepidation, that for some, namely yours truly and our little dog, Woody, there have oddly been one or two plus points.

Last September, Woody, who in doggie years will soon be celebrating his 77th birthday, tore his cruciate ligament and underwent surgery.  It wasn’t successful and he had a second operation. 

This was followed by weeks of rehab. including hydrotherapy that would have done a Premiership footballer proud.  Thanks to vet Josh and pet insurance, Woody has made a miraculous recovery and since lockdown, he has never had it so good!

Company 24 hours a day.  Yes, he sleeps on our bed.  If he didn’t, he would bark at foxes all night and none of us would sleep.  Regular walks in woods where we barely meet a soul, he can sniff away to his heart’s content.  No more hangdog looks as Moya and I head out to the movies or to the theatre, to a restaurant or to friends. 

For the last 100+ days, where we have gone, Woody has gone.

What lockdown has done for me, who in human years am older than Woody, is that after a 10-year plus self-imposed writer’s block/exile, call it what you like, I have started writing again.

Why I stopped writing is a story for another day.  Suffice to say, that if I’m ever heard uttering the words, “I’ve had an idea for a TV comedy series” you have permission to shoot me.

Following Boris’ 23rd March edict, for some reason, don’t ask me why, I thought that during this nightmare lockdown, there could be mileage in a regular column written from the point of view of one of the vulnerable over-70’s – well over as far as I was concerned!

A perspicacious editor at the Telegraph Online picked it up, though I was a tad optimistic with the ‘regular’ notion. 

He commissioned a one-off article: ‘Layton on Lockdown’: a column, combining a blend of gravitas and humour, mostly self-deprecating – nothing new to me.  Something of a diversion from these troubled times.

I was back in the writing saddle, if only for one week. 

Being perspicacious, however, the editor extended it to four and ultimately seven weeks.

For years I have been driving Moya to distraction with my daily rants and for years her response has been: ‘For God’s sake, you and your constant moaning!  You’re driving me bonkers.  Write a blog!’

So, following my flirtation with the Telegraph, that’s what I am now doing.  Only, being old-fashioned, I call it a column.

And this week, I am reverting to what was the initial impetus for writing this column/blog.

A GOOD OLD RANT!!

So if you, along with my wife, would like to avoid a George Layton rant about unsolicited emails and the dangers of replying to them, I understand perfectly. I say farewell and hope to see you next week.

Here we go, and it is a bit convoluted:

On 23rd June, I had been working on that week’s ‘Life in Laytonia’.  In my case, ‘working’ effectively meant that I had been mostly staring out of my study window, watching two pigeons aggressively flirting as an alternative to staring at a blank screen.

I was drawn back to my computer by the welcome distraction of an email ping.

Anybody familiar with my musings over the past weeks, will know that I am the King of the Procrastinators.  The Procrastinator Meister.  I procrastinate when it comes to procrastinating!

I relish any excuse to put off work, be it seeking inspiration from Mr. & Mrs. Pigeon and their pigeon-toed tango of love, or the pleasing diversion of having to deal with an incoming email:

Hello George

Welcome to Avro Energy

Please find attached your Welcome Pack. We recommend you have a quick read and check that the meter details we have for your premises on page 3 are correct.

I HAD NEVER HEARD OF AVRO ENERGY. Why were they sending me a welcome pack?  I checked the details on Page 3 as recommended.

They were worryingly correct, down to the last digit of my bank account.  A Direct Debit had been set up without my knowledge!  I didn’t know you could do that.  Apparently I had opted for the “Simple and GoSave 12m” plan.

Had I, indeed?

I called the Avro Energy Customer Service, an 0330 number.  I hung on for over 43 minutes.  A waste of time but not too much money, I’m pleased to say.  0330 are virtually free, it seems.

Then I read on my Avro Welcome Pack: ‘If you’re happy with our service so far let us know via Twitter’.  

Did that mean if I’m not happy, I shouldn’t let them know via Twitter? 

I tweeted:

George Layton

@Thegeorgelayton

@avroenergy

Beware this company! Received an email thanking me ‘for choosing & switching’ to them. HAVE NEVER HEARD OF THEM! They have ‘acquired’ personal details and THEY have set up a new direct debit. If I leave my current supplier I incur financial  penalties How dare they?

3:22 PM · Jun 23, 2020·Twitter Web App

Look at the time? 3.22!  My afternoon had been high jacked and I was fed-up. Having spent over 43 minutes trying to get through on the ‘phone, I sent off a strongly worded email to the Avro Support desk, then took a quick look at Twitter. 

Hello!  A reply from Avro Energy:

Avro Energy

@avroenergy

Replying to@Thegeorgelayton

Hi George. Thanks for your tweet. Could you please DM me the account number stated in the email or address so that I can load the details and take a look into this for you? Best wishes. ^Jak

3:29 PM · Jun 23, 2020·Zendesk

I was impressed that I had got a reply within 7 minutes.  But I’m a Twitter new boy, I’m still learning.  I don’t have the jargon.  ‘Could I please “DM” him the account number?’ I hadn’t a clue what he was talking about.  So I rattled off my reply:

George Layton

@Thegeorgelayton

I have just sent an email to your support address. How dare you ‘acquire’ (you know what that means) my personal details? How dare you inform my current supplier I am leaving? How dare you set up a direct debit on my behalf?! Why don’t you answer the ‘phone? Waste of my time!

3:49 PM · Jun 23, 2020·Twitter Web App

I called it a day.  I can’t concentrate when I’m in rant mode.

Next morning I decided to put the previous wasted day behind me.  Get on with some work.  Ping!  Oh dear, just when I’m in the mood for writing…

What’s this?  Oh – an email from Avro Energy!

Kayleigh M (Avro Energy) 

Jun 24, 2020, 9:44 AM GMT+1 

Hello, 
Thank you for your email.
I am sorry to hear this.
I can see your application came through via a company called
Look After My Bills, who provide us with your details to create an account. They are an automatic switching service, so I would advise to contact them to ensure this does not happen again…

So it hadn’t been Avro Energy that had been at fault, it’s a company called Look After My Bills.  I felt bad – for a nano-second! 

Come on Avro Energy, you could sharpen up your systems!  You should have contacted me to set up a Direct Debit, and then you would have known I couldn’t switch without incurring financial penalties.

‘Look After My Bills?’  Look After My Bills??  It rang a bell.  Writing would have to wait while I checked my inbox…

Yes, in January 2019, I had received an unsolicited email from Look After My Bills, telling me that I could save on energy bills if I switched providers.

Since I was out of contract, I made the cardinal error of replying, asking for more details, which involved emailing my address & postcode.

4 days later, look what happened:

Welcome to Tonik Energy! You’ve set up a Direct Debit

Tonik Energy Ltd
Important: confirmation of the setup of your Direct Debit Instruction to Tonik Energy.

Talk about Groundhog Day!  I had completely forgotten that following my email asking for more details, Look After My Bills had, without so much as a by your leave, switched me to a new energy provider, Tonik Energy.  Apart from giving my address & postcode, I must have given my bank details.  I’m an idiot!

As it happened, Tonik Energy was a total shambles, they never contacted my provider and the switch never happened.

I could have left it there.  I suppose I should have left it there. No, I sent one final email to Look After My Bills to say that I had merely asked for more details, I wasn’t very happy with their service, being switched to another provider without being told, etc, etc. 

Goodbye!!

4 days later:

On Tue, 12 Feb 2019 at 12:54, Shafi S <support@lookaftermybills.com> wrote:

Hi George,

I’m really sorry to hear that your customer experience has been less than satisfactory.

We’re still a relatively young company and growing fast. Your feedback is invaluable as it helps inform our constant efforts to improve our service.

Could you please inform us why you feel this service was not for you so I can bring them up in our weekly meeting to see how we can learn from this. If there’s anything at all I can do to help please do drop me a line. 

Once again, thanks for being part of Look After My Bills.

Best,

Look After My Bills team

“Thanks for being part of Look After My Bills”?  “Thanks for being part of Look After My Bills”???

The trouble with a rant – you never know when to call it a day.  You have to have the last word.  No wonder Larry David is my hero!  I had to reply:

On Tue, 12 Feb 2019 at 12:57, George Layton <my email address> wrote:

I am not part of “Look After My Bills” other than receiving unsolicited emails.

In response to one of these emails, I thought I would look into the choices available if I wanted to switch…yada, yada, yada.

So there you have it. 

The danger of the internet, unsolicited emails, computers, etc.  Once you reply, even if you tell them to eff off, you’re always in the system. 

It’s never Goodbye – it’s only Au revoir.