The snake swallows its tail

Having been away from the UK for 4 years, it was with a mixed sense of joy and dread that I returned to the country. The joy comes from experiencing Marks & Spencer food, fish and chips, the British sense of humour and the English countryside, particularly in summer. The dread arises from living in a regimented nanny state where every activity is legislated to the nth degree. Add to that the high levels of crime and stressed British people. I say ‘high levels of crime’, because I’m comparing the UK to safe and secure Denmark where I have lived for just over two years. Of course this isn’t a fair comparison and I’m aware that I’m ten times better off in the UK than in South Africa, but the return still caused stirrings of trepidation. There is an air of stress and tension about the country that is not to be found in Ireland or Denmark. Drivers are angry and impatient while rail commuters are stressed and rude. The UK corporate work culture is such that few employees will leave the office until the boss has gone home, which results in long working hours and consequently heightened stress levels.


Step 1 was to find a place to live. We began our search for a flat (a.k.a. ‘apartment’) shortly after arriving in the country. Apparently the rental market is the poor relation of the sales market, so agents are reluctant to get involved in it. As a consequence, you’re doing well if you get one reply back from four enquiries. After reviewing 10 flats, we found one that suited all our needs. (I refuse to say ‘ticked all the boxes’, because it’s a phrase over-used by pretentious nincompoops.)  I didn’t expect the renting process to be as easy as it had been in Ireland or Denmark. In Ireland, I rented twice, once a room in a house and the other a 4-bed house, on just a handshake. The owner of my beautiful house in Tralee said he could tell if a person was going to be a good tenant or not just by meeting them. In Denmark the contracts are brief, but equally without ceremony. Not the case in the UK. First came the pre-contract contract into which I inserted my details and where I had lived for at least the past 3 years. This the agent sent off to a another company who contacted everyone on my list of references and thoroughly checked my background. This, plus agency admin fees came in at a cool £400! Then came the actual contract, a 22-page document stuffed with legal jargon. That signed, I was told that I could meet with the ‘Check-In Clerk’ at the property on the day I was due to move in. I might add that the check-in clerk added another £115 to the costs before I had even received the keys.

I assumed that the check-in clerk would be a lackey from the agency who would give me the keys and bugger off. I was wrong again. The check-in clerk was an officious woman running her own asset inventory business and had been sub-contracted by the landlord. The check-in process began and went on for…… a HALF HOUR! We traipsed around the property behind the check-in clerk while she listed a myriad of inconsequential things that would never normally be an issue in any sane country, but this was England after all. That done, I followed her outside the property where she proceeded to take meter readings and record these meticulously on her chart, pointing out still more inconsequential things around the perimeter of the property. An hour later I finally had the keys for the flat and the promise of a thick inventory document to follow in the post. Now I do realise that there is merit to this process and that it protects both parties involved, but if that is true,  then how have Ireland and Denmark managed to get away with the sane approach for so long with no sign of changing to this bureaucratic nightmare?

The best example of this lunacy is the data protection act where companies are forbidden from disclosing personal details about the clients to anyone but the clients themselves. Again, I can see why this law was introduced, but there are inherent flaws in the logic that end up being counter-productive. Such a case occurred recently where one of the utility companies called to speak to me about an overdue payment on my account. The conversation went something like this:

Caller: “Hello sir this is Michelle from The Utility Company”

Me:  “Hi Michelle”

Caller: “Before I can speak to you about your account, I need to ask you some security questions.”

Me: “OK, shoot”

Caller: (confused) “Shoot, sir?”

Me: “Sorry, just my sense of humour. I meant to say ‘go ahead'”

Caller: (with no appreciation of said humour) “Thank you, sir. Please can you tell me the first line of your address and post code?”

I wrack my brain to try to remember what address they might have on file for me, as I had moved five times in four years. Finally I give one that I think should fit

Caller: “Thank you, but we have another address on file for you.”

I guess at another of the many addresses I have had in the past few years

Caller: “Thank you, but that’s still not correct”

Me: “Then I give up.”

Caller: “In that case I am unable to speak to you about your account.”

Me:  “Fine by me!”

The conversation ends with a confused utility company clerk realising that she has just been stymied by the data protection act. A classic example of the snake swallowing its own tail.


© 2016


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