The British Gas Years

Sunday night, our heating and hot water randomly stopped working. In the old, low-tech days, I could relight the pilot light on my boiler, but now it's just a bunch of circuit boards probably made by people in Korea paid a dollar an hour, so I can't fix it.

I call British Gas on my (utterly pointless) Three Star Service Contract. They say they'll come between 12 and 6 Monday. I pretend to have a job to go to, but they won't budge. Martin turns up and 2pm and fixes it by turning it on and off again. I ask him why that didn't work when I did it. He implies that he can do the special British Gas Laying On of Hands. He leaves.

Thirty minutes later, no hot water. I call the Call Centre again, tell them my whole life history, and ask them to send Martin back. They get him on the other line, and he says it's clearly my circuit boards, and he'll order more and be back tomorrow. We book another 12 till 6 appointment. They concede an hour and say 1 till 6.

2pm Tuesday, Graham arrives. He's lovely, but doesn't have the part. He knows nothing about it. He says it needs a new circuit board and he doesn't have one. I imprison him in my house whilst I call the Call Centre again, and they say we never had the conversation yesterday, and there's no part on order, they'll order it and come back tomorrow. I'm angry. I ask to speak to a supervisor, and am told that they will call me back in 90 minutes. (Doesn't 90 minutes make it sound like a football game, or a first round finance period for a dot-com?). Graham tells me the engineers can only order the parts if the Call Centre sends the job back to them, so they can't have done. I ask him if he can do any kind of temporary fix, and he says no, impossible.

I'm so angry that I call the MD's office at British Gas and talk to Adrian. I ask him to get someone to my house, with the part, before 6pm. It's 2.30. He calls back 10 minutes later, and charmingly tells me my wish is his command, and they will be here by 6. Also, a cheque is in the post for £50. I am impressed and my faith in British Gas is restored. Penny, the supervisor, calls me back from the Call Centre and I tell here everything is under control. She tells me it's the engineer's responsibility to re-open the job and order the parts.

At ten to 5, I think I'll just call Adrian, and get a reference from him, as I'm sure he'll close his office at 5. He says he'll check and call me back in five minutes, although there' s no need:if they get instructions from the MD's office they do them. I say I'm just not feeling very trusting. At 5.30, I chase him up, and the number is unobtainable (department closed, but no message).

I chase around the remaining employees still there, track him down, and he tells me there is a problem. The Call Centre has mysteriously cancelled my job. I am angrier than the angriest person I know, with high blood pressure thrown in. Adrian tells me he'll get someone there to do a temporary fix. I say they couldn't do that at 2pm, why should they do it now? He says he's not an engineer. I say their service is shit (only not in so many words.) He says the part will come between 8 and 10 tomorrow, and he'll call me to check it's OK. I ask him what time the engineer will come that evening (Tuesday) and he says he has no idea. I ask if I should cancel my evening's arrangements. He doesn't think it's funny.

Jim arrives at 7pm, turns my boiler on and off again and it works. He is the area's Chief Tech Person. "It's clearly an intermittent fault", he diagnoses. He confirms that the Call Centre needed to send the job back to Graham, and apologises, but refuses to give me his mobile number. I say he is the only person in British Gas I trust. He still refuses. I suspect he is a wise man.

Wednesday morning, Graham comes back, with part, changes it. It works. I'm happy. It's over. I'm so happy I don't notice that Adrian from the MD's office didn't call to check I was OK.

8ish, my flatmate J gets home, and and has a celebratory shower. Ten minutes later, I hear her squeal. The hot water just stopped. I turn the boiler on and off, just like the engineer. No change. I call the Call Centre, speak to Amar, who promises me a supervisor will call me back in 90 minutes. As I'm going round to M's house, I put my phone on vibrate, and stick it down my cleavage (an old hunting trick). But no one calls. When I get home at 11.30, I call and speak to Penny (different Penny) who says someone will call back in ten minutes.

It's an hour later, now. I'm beyond angry, just want a shower in my own house, and have met four British Gas engineers and have been waiting in since Monday.

There is one good thing about this story. I've gone to the gym every morning to get a shower, and then felt embarassed about going straight to the shower. So I've done an aerobics class every day this week. I actually did two on Tuesday. My lactic acid build-up has never been better. I suspect British Gas are subsidising a Get Britain Healthy Campaign.

Thursday: As I wait for my FIFTH British Gas (don't be fooled by the friendly tone of their website) Engineer in so many days, I wonder if, in the future, I will refer to this period in my life as The British Gas Years.

BRITISH GAS UPDATE: (Friday) I now have a small convention of engineers in my kitchen. It's like ER, but with boilers. Oh, and they're not quite so good looking.

So there you are: a week in the life of a British Gas customer. Read it and weep, eh?

April 2002

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