At this difficult time…

death-dont-mention-the-warThere are three words that Australians really, really don’t like using: died, death and dead.

Why do so many people find those words so unpalatable that, instead, they use old-fashioned expressions full of religious allusions they probably don’t even recognise? For a nation of an increasingly secular – if not irreligious – disposition, the deference we show to “the final act” is unlikely, to say the least.

“Pushing up the daisies” is a funny old thing, isn’t it? Well, no, not ‘funny’ exactly. More ‘curious’ than ‘funny’. “Pushing up the daisies” is a curious thing, isn’t it? It’s all around us and everyone experiences it some time, yet it’s also an intensely personal thing with intensely personal responses. In some cases it’s also an unexpected and shocking thing, all at once stressful, frightening, life-changing and distressing in equal measure. But it’s an inescapable fact of life that we all eventually “cease to be”. Whether the result of a tragic accident, a terminal illness, by our own hand or from old age, “the Pale Rider’s” bony finger comes to us all sooner or later.

More than 50 million people “shuffle off this mortal coil” every year, but millions more never want to mention it. Rather than knowing what their loved ones want when they “join the choir invisible”, they carry on as if “when the worst happens” is something they’ll never need to deal with, never acknowledging the reality of what “when the time comes” actually means.

What’s really strange is that when a person loses their life due to the actions of another, they’re almost always described as having been murdered; if they’re involved in a fatal accident, they’re said to have been killed. The connotations of both words are very much of something awful, distressing, even frightening. No one ever describes a murder victim or accident fatality as having “passed against their will” or that they “involuntarily passed away”. It stands to reason, then, that if the thing that rendered life extinct was awful, most people feel OK about freely and openly using awful words to describe it. But if the extinction of life was entirely natural – or at least of naturally occurring causes – the word used to describe the act has to be something flowery and inoffensive, as if to somehow take the edge off the reality. This effectively implies that a natural death is more awful than a fatal accident or homicide… can that be right?

So why is it all so taboo? Of course it’s sad when those we love go “wandering the Elysian Fields” and nobody wants to start imagining details of how and when it might happen. But everyone is “called home” someday and, in my experience, the conversation you should have – the one about what they want you to do with them once they “join the departed” and establishing if there’s anything you need to know about – is far easier to have when they’re not staring the Grim Reaper in the eye-socket than it is when his bony finger is about to go in for the final tap.

For as long as I can remember, people who “entered eternal rest” were said to have “passed on” or “passed away”. I was raised Catholic so I eventually put two and two together and I subsequently assumed that anyone who used either term was, obviously, devoutly religious. Indeed, the sobriety that invariably surrounds “going to the big house in the sky” is rarely a topic made light of, which is all part of the mystery because practicing religion in this country is something of a dying art (pun acknowledged). While people may claim to be one thing or another, the number of places of worship with greatly diminished congregations tells another story, so it seems improbable that the merest hint of “the stairway to heaven” should have so many Australians donning a hushed veil of clerical solemnity.

Everyone’s “so sorry to hear your sad news”; “thoughts go out” and “hearts go out” all over the place; people who’d never ordinarily pray apparently offer prayers up the ying yang, for you and your family, for the “recently departed” and their friends and almost anyone else they ever knew; distant relatives and occasional acquaintances who you never see from one millennia to the next appear, as if by magic, telling you to let them know if there’s anything they can do (though the parameters of “anything” are rarely, if ever, defined); and social media folk post comments like some awful hybrid of The Sermon On the Mount and a really bad Hallmark card: “May you find strength in knowing that he/she is in a better place”…. “our hearts/love/thoughts/wishes go out to you at this most sad/difficult time/in your time of loss”… OK, just stop it! Nobody ever actually says stuff like that face-to-face, so how come so many people say it in writing, just because someone’s “gone to meet their maker”?

Believe it or not, grieving people won’t actually break if you speak to them using normal language – that is, words and phrases which openly reference the fact that their loved one has “assumed room temperature”. Word to the wise: the grieving do actually know why they’re sad. All the whispering, banal euphemisms and priestly platitudes in the world won’t make them forget, they just make the “passing” sound like a bizarre secret.

And exactly when did this “passing” nonsense make the grade, anyway? It certainly seems to be the phrase du jour where “resting in peace” is concerned. Passed what, or where, I wonder? Unless you’re devoutly religious you surely wouldn’t use terms so clearly proceeding from religion? The etymology of “pass”, as it pertains to the act of dying, is most certainly a North American euphemism, so the spread of a more ‘global’ language via social media is, presumably, responsible for increased “passing” in Australia over the last decade? Either way, it sounds rubbish and it needs to stop.

There are actually loads of euphemisms for death with clear links to religion. I’ve used a whole bunch of them already and – for reasons probably best explained by ‘listaholics’ – the Internet is littered with pages dedicated to listing (and, often, lampooning) death euphemisms. Many of these terms are actually derived from, based on or directly reference a religious belief or concept. But in a contemporary secular context, even though their usage continues their original meaning – and, almost certainly, their etymology – are lost, so it’s entirely possible that the religious connection is less intentional and more habitual. They get trotted out every time someone dies, so we just keep using them – could that be how it works?

People get so put off by the merest hint of death and go to great lengths to apologise if they feel they’ve unintentionally made even the slightest out-of-place comment. Six years ago my Dad was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. About a year later, at a friend’s funeral, another friend who hadn’t seen me for about six months asked how Dad was going. “He’s dead, actually”, I responded, matter-of-factly. My poor friend. I can’t really apologise for my response – my Dad really was dead, there was no getting away from it. I knew it to be so because I’d seen it happen with my own eyes so, to my mind, there was no other way to respond. But for my poor friend, whose mind probably functions more like the majority of people’s minds than my own does, it was a bit of a double whammy: here we were, already at the funeral of a friend who’d died at far too young an age and then, he imagined, he’d gone and put his foot in it in just about the worst possible way. I’ve never seen anyone try to apologise quite so profusely. For my friend, it truly was the definition of one of those horrible moments when you wish the ground would open up and swallow you. I didn’t think twice about it, though. Dad had actually died, therefore Dad definitely was dead. My friend didn’t do it, he had nothing at all to do with it; nor had I been in touch with him since Dad died, so he wasn’t to know. In fact, I had no feelings one way or the other about him asking me how Dad was. Anyone else probably would have lowered their voice, adopted a more serene whisper-like tone and advised my friend, with mouth cupped by hand, that Dad had “passed away” recently and sorry for not letting you know. I probably could’ve done that too… nup, that’s just not how I roll. I call a spade a spade.

We should all call a spade a spade. Life is life. Death is death. Loss is hard and grieving is forever. But let’s call it what it is. Last year a friend of mine – one of the bravest ladies I’ve ever known – came out and openly, repeatedly, acknowledged that her youngest son had committed suicide. She didn’t soften the blow by saying he’d made a “life choice”, she said he’d committed suicide. Her daughter also said it like it was in her wonderful blog too when she spoke about her brother killing himself. There was no delicacy applied to it, because none was needed. He’d done what he did and, as a result, he was dead. Saying he’d “made a life choice” wouldn’t have changed that outcome, just as choosing not to dress up what he’d done with flowery euphemisms didn’t change the way my friend or her daughter felt about their endlessly loved son and brother.

The sooner we learn not to be afraid of using the words openly and honestly, the better equipped we are to deal with life, death and all of their friends.

Pique Hour (or The Daily Commute And How I Came To Hate It)

Morning commute_Sydney_213297-max-dupainI loathe everything about the daily commute with a passion that’s quite possibly unmatched.

Now that I’ve clearly baselined the conversation, let’s get cracking.

Of course ‘the daily commute’ refers to the tedious daily routine of getting ourselves to and from our place of work. The whole idea of forcing a state of wakefulness and schlepping off to work every morning is sufficiently unappealing in its own right. But arguably everything that happens between leaving home and arriving at work is even more hate-worthy than anything that could possibly happen while we’re there.

‘The morning commute’ is a polite way of describing the process whereby thousands of zombie-like people all head in roughly the same direction at roughly the same time, to get somewhere they don’t want to go, to spend all day someplace they don’t want to be, doing things they don’t want to be doing, without being as awake as they need to be because they haven’t had as much sleep as they should’ve had, either because they’re responsible for too many offspring or because they were up too late the night before doing stuff they actually enjoy doing (or a combination of the two, if they’re not already thought of as one and the same – apparently for some folk that is actually possible).

Quite frankly, mornings are all a bit of a dog’s breakfast.

Morning commute_Sydney_people‘The afternoon commute’ is effectively ‘the morning commute’ in reverse, but exponentially more dangerous because by then the zombies are wide awake and raring to go. Their one goal is to stop doing the thing they don’t want to be doing and get away from the place they don’t want to be as quickly as possible, so they can get back to someplace they’d prefer to be, doing stuff they actually enjoy doing.

On balance, the afternoon commute has far more in common with a war zone than its morning counterpart.

I’m a ranty old man so I obviously do my best to avoid both of them, for many and varied reasons. Most of my most savage grievances involve trains or walking, since that’s my usual morning and afternoon combination when getting to and from the office. To wit, 18 reasons that the commute piques my ire:

1. Old people in the central business district during morning rush hour: it’s a given that it shouldn’t be allowed, but why they’d want or even need to be in the middle of a city centre heaving with corporate zombies at 8:45 in the morning is another question entirely. I mean, I know they all get up at 5am for no apparent reason, but surely there’s somewhere else they can go?

2. Children in the central business district during morning rush hour: let’s not waste time on declarations of illegality where kids are concerned, let’s cut straight to the chase: fact #1: morning peak hour is always at least half as awful, if not even less so, during school holidays; fact #2: kids on trains, school buses and parents on ‘the school run’ already make a significant enough contribution to the awfulness of peak hour, so who the hell schedules school excursions that place entire classes of school kids in the middle of the CBD at 9 o’clock on a weekday morning? I know they generally would’ve started school by then, but seriously – they have all day to do this shit!

3. Walking on the wrong side of the footpath: not keeping left as a pedestrian is both problematic and illogical as a general rule. Anyone who routinely walks to the left knows all too well the pitfalls of navigating the rabbit warren of platforms, stairs, pedestrian walkways, escalators and subterranean tunnels that tend to run at right angles to each other over, under and around any number of our nation’s larger railway stations; when someone who’s not so attentive to the ‘keep left’ rule runs around a corner in a mad panic to dash up the stairs and onto the nearest train, the full impact is often borne by the left-keeper’s right arm or shoulder. On the road, it would be called a collision and parties are expected to stop, check for damage and exchange details, but pedestrians don’t even seem to notice when they nearly knock a fellow commuter clear off their feet. Why should road rules and footpath rules be different anyway? Cyclists are expected to keep left in their bike lanes, so it’s just illogical to not apply the same rules to the footpath.

Morning Commute_StandRight4. Standing on the wrong side of the escalator: it’s annoying and they’re ignorant fools… especially the ones who look back to see exactly what impact they’ve had on the hundreds of commuters banked up behind them, then choose not to move out of the way anyway. Ignoramuses. I know there are loads of tourists and foreign folk in Sydney and they may be used to things happening on the other side in almost every situation, but surely it’s not a huge ask for them to

open their eyes, read the signs or simply observe what everyone else is doing and act accordingly?

5. People who stop moving at the bottom of stairs or escalators: it’s also highly annoying, they’re also ignorant (and very likely stupid) and, at times, it’s just plain dangerous.

6. People looking at phones while walking: it’s not just annoying, it borders on perilous and should be illegal. That is all.

7. People cramming onto public transport before others have gotten off: a particular issue with the afternoon commute only. Oddly enough, in the mornings people seem all too ready to stand aside of train doors and allow existing passengers to alight before boarding (you can always tell the ones who don’t normally take public transport during peak hour – they’re the ones who push their way on board, regardless). In the afternoons, though, it’s a different story altogether. Woe betide anyone who tries to get off a train at any inner city station during the afternoon rush. So fixated are our zombies on getting away from the city as quickly as possible that they’re not about to wait for anyone, or anything. For anyone who tries valiantly to replicate the morning commute’s rules of courtesy during the afternoon commute, it’s a sad and sorry (and slightly embarrassing) state of affairs.

8. Travel tickets / passes that don’t work: it’s fine when it’s the fault of the infrastructure (frequently the case). But at this point I will specifically reference those who insist on leaving said ticket / pass in their wallet and are then surprised when an electronic reader doesn’t penetrate layers of leather, money and masses of other cards to successfully read their pass. Idiots. Lazy idiots.

9. Angry public transport staff: they’re everywhere. Their all-pervading hatred of their job is only exceeded by the utter disdain they display towards everyone around them, without ever acknowledging that they wouldn’t actually have a job were they not surrounded by the scum of the earth who clearly annoy them so very much. Anyone who’s ever caught a train (certainly here in Sydney) will have witnessed something. You get the narky platform announcements – generally when something’s gone wrong which is, of course, when the entire network goes into meltdown, along with all customers and, consequently, all staff. Or you frequently get the narky guard announcements, generally about something fairly basic like someone blocking a door, or feet on seats or moving inside carriages so everyone can get on the train. In most cases you know that the comments are probably kinda of valid, but those making them never seem to know how to control their obvious rage and target their audience. There’s always a word or a reference to something that’s just that little bit too ‘industry jargon’ or technical for the average train user to understand, whereby effectively invalidating the whole announcement. And in the end you know it’s always just so much window-dressing – they’re toothless tigers! They probably don’t even have the authority to do what their announcements make it seem is imminent.

Morning Commute_bag on seat_2014052110. Bags (and other personal items) on public transport seats: again, like so many other aspects of the daily commute, just ignorant and uncool. It’s especially ignorant and uncool when the owner of the receptacle knows full well that it’s taking up the only remaining seat and they either still fail to remove it, or they huff and puff and roll eyes when you ask them to move it and/or when you motion to them that your arse will very shortly be on top of it if they don’t put it somewhere else. Shout out to women with over-sized handbags with this one. They’re far and away the worst culprits. No doubt because they’ve spent far too much on the said over-sized handbag and are (perhaps justifiably) paranoid about putting it on the floor of the train… too bad, Princess – don’t bring the f***ing thing out with you if you can’t suck it up!

11. 2 people / 3 seats: human nature is to avoid sitting in the seat immediately next to a compete stranger if there are other seats not immediately next to complete strangers available. Where the available configuration is three seats wide, most will leave a space between them and the person already seated there. Near the start of a bus, tram or train route this generally doesn’t present an issue, but it soon becomes clear to those joining the service later on that the remaining spaces are either virtually impossible to get to, or else are safely reserved for the rest of the journey simply thanks to everyone else’s equal fear and loathing of physical contact with strangers, meaning nobody even tries to reach it. What a waste.

12. Transport hubs with inadequate egress: railway stations / transport interchanges with only one or two escalators that are only two people wide but which allow two eight-car trains packed to capacity to arrive in the same place at the same time – that’s nearly 1,800 people all trying to get out at once. I’m not sure how many other places in the world these exist, but there are certainly a few of them here in Sydney. And let me just say this to you, CityRail, or Transport NSW, or Sydney Trains or whatever you’re called this week: the world’s slowest renovation of Town Hall Station, replete with odd choice of tile colour (gloss grey, anyone?) and shiny orange signage can’t negate the fact that this place is a death trap just waiting for the right opportunity! Mark my words, one day Town Hall Station will become the modern-day equivalent of King’s Cross Station in London… you know, the one where a fire started underneath an escalator from the underground platforms, killing 31 commuters, injuring a hundred and trapping several hundred others back in 1987? No, it’s an observation – not a terrorist threat.

13. Actual people making annoying announcements on modern trains that everyone knows are capable of playing only recorded messages: seriously, why do they bother? Recorded messages, where the words are always the same and the tone and volume (not to mention the voice itself) are always consistent always sound so much better. Then some douche standing by an open door screaming into the mouthpiece of an old telephone handset decides to tell everyone where the train’s going and what they can do at the next station… I’ll tell them what they can do at the next station. Hopefully it involves them leaving the train while I stay on board to complete my journey!

14. As per #13, but with far too much expression in their voice: as if it’s not bad enough that they’ve already ruined the pre-recorded ambience of the average journey, being too flowery and descriptive and saying the whole thing with an obvious smile on their face is ten times worse – a train guard who actually loves what they do! It’s just unpalatable.

15. People sitting on the aisle seat of two seats when nobody is sitting next to them: in fairness, this is likely the legacy of poor public transport design more than anything (the same thing happens in New York and London, but with less impact due to different configuration), but certainly train users here in Sydney seem to be highly sensitive to being trapped on the window seat of a two or three person seat and being unable to get out in time for their stop. It’s either that or, more probably, that Sydneysiders simply have a massive dislike of looking anyone else in the eye, let alone the dreaded horror of actually having to say anything to them (which also assumes they actually could if they needed to, which isn’t always a given). Most people would simply prefer to sit on the outside, forcing someone else to excuse themselves to get past, whereby not having to say anything to anyone when the time comes to make their own move.

Morning commute_Flyers_286581-elegantly-scant-lingerie16. People handing out flyers: when you walk the streets of almost any major city in the world, it’s a miracle if you get through the experience without someone having thrust something at you. Sadly, it’s generally not the kind of thing you woke up that morning thinking you’d love someone to thrust at you that day. During the morning commute people on inner city footpaths hand out all sorts of shit that I don’t want thrust in my face or at the general vicinity of my hands ever, let alone any time roughly either side of 9am. Even when I approach a polling booth on the day of a state or federal election I ignore the flyers, so I’m unlikely to accept one from some random on the way to work, but they continue to try anyway. Flyers, pamphlets, gym passes (but only if you’re already pretty and/or buff), coffee vouchers, cleaners, painters and handymen touting for business… it’s never anything I actually need or anywhere I’d actually go. They’re just advertising, I get that, but it’s the most offensive form of advertising. I already have enough of that stuff thrust at my eyes when I least expect it throughout the day, I don’t need it when I’m walking along a footpath on my way to or from work. Interestingly, it only tends to happen during morning rush or at lunchtime. Obviously, the response from the afternoon rush is heavily anticipated, so it almost never happens then. It should never happen.

Morning commute_img-thing17. Coffee breath, morning breath and/or BO: within the confines of a packed bus, tram or train at some time before 9am, there’s virtually nothing worse to contend with than morning breath, coffee breath, or BO. Sometimes it’s a 2-for-1 combo. Sometimes, if you did something really awful the day before, karma comes back to bite you and you get all three, right in your face! It’s awful. How can people be so lacking in awareness of self and surroundings? Or their own stench? Seriously, it’s disgusting. Go do something about that!

18. Buff corporate wankers with giant oversized gym bags: what are they carrying in those giant bags, anyway? A full cricket set inclusive of pads, bat and three stumps? And why are they all branded Country Road? Of course, many of them are corporate hipsters with big beards and hugely slicked hair, so it’s entirely possible that the entire content of said bags is hair product and combs, so they probably just use the gym for the change rooms and mirrors. How very metrosexual.

After all these years, I think I just came to a critical conclusion: I don’t like people, I loathe the corporate world and I should do a job where I never have to interact with another person again. Either that, or I should work for a brewery, vineyard or small bar. Maybe I should open my own boutique place? Or else, find some way of making ‘mattsoldmanrants’ actually generate me an income. Pretty sure I know which one is more likely to happen first, if at all…

Collateral damage

Break-upBreakups are awful, especially if you don’t see them coming. Tears. Aching hearts. A wrenching sense of loss. It’s awful.

It’s a very real grieving process, adjusting to a new world order while still haunted by the old one.

What makes it so hard is that it all just stops. Sometimes it’s like everything’s exactly the same, but every so often reality deals a sucker punch. The happiest times keep bubbling to the surface. Night time is the worst – like some unknown force keeps pressing play on a YouTube playlist of everything you ever did together, looping ad infinitum in your mind’s eye just as you’re nodding off to sleep.

At first it’s hard to grapple with. How can so much have changed when it was all exactly as it always had been just the other day, only last week, this month, last month? Then come the recriminations. Bitterness and resentment kick in. After a time, the sense of loss and helplessness turns to anger. Eventually, the combined forces of loss and anger become an almost perverse source of strength. ‘I will survive’, ‘because you loved me’, ‘my heart will go on’, ‘it must have been love’ and other phrases that all sound like titles of classic ballads and empowering disco favourites come to the fore. Then one day you wake up and realise you’re actually OK.

That’s how it was for me recently. I was a melting pot of emotions: gutted, surprised, shocked, sad, lost. What to say? What to do? Where to go from here?

Of course it’s entirely my own fault. I was always going to feel like that. I can’t help myself. See, I have this absurd tendency to become really good friends with couples. As far back as high school it’s been like that and it’s always come back to bite me in the arse eventually, just like it’s recently done once again.

Me playing the role of “third leg single friend” – that’s the one constant throughout many of my closest friendships. In the moment they’re always wonderful. When it’s actually happening it’s brilliant. Everything chugs along nicely for years until the day that dreaded three word announcement is inevitably made. Break up, split up, whatever – just variations on a theme, but the outcome is the same: “all out, all change”, as they say on the railways.

Well fuck that then. Stupid couples. Stupid couples and their stupid need to nest and their stupid inability to choose the right other half and just stay together. Fuck them! And fuck this! It’s so unfair and so fucking inconsiderate! Don’t they give any thought to how hard it will be for their friends? Can’t they just try to work through it for our sake? How hard can it be for them to work things out? Paint over the cracks and just get on with it – as options go, how bad could that really be? I was always told I’d make a good psychologist – bring me in as a mediator, or a relationship counsellor, or anything that would help me avoid having to navigate that awful minefield of emptiness, sadness and loss again.

So I get it – they obviously had their issues. It might’ve been one-sided, or it might’ve been as obvious as the leaves on the trees to anyone with even the most significant vision disorder. One or both obviously concluded that getting out was the only option, I understand that… but where does it leave me? Right now I feel as though I’ve been involuntarily removed from a significant part of my own social life. Where was my invite to the negotiation process? I didn’t even get a look-in. I wasn’t consulted. I didn’t have any say at all. It was just ripped away from me, like some narky kid stormed in, grabbed his bat and ball and went home coz he didn’t want to play anymore.

Typically self-absorbed, self-obsessed, self-interested couples. Selfish! That’s what it is, plain and simple. So typical and so fucking selfish.

One moment please: inhale – exhale – inhale – exhale… deep breath and relax. Sorry about all the swearys. It’s a bit much really, isn’t it? I’m clearly a little overwrought about all of this. Maybe I just need to get over myself a bit. It would be good to do something useful, something a bit proactive. I’ve been on the brink of setting up a support group in the past. ‘VORBSA’, I was going to call it: Victims of Relationship Breakups Support Association. Didn’t have much of a ring to it, though. It sounds more like something you’d use to medicate a sexually transmitted infection than a support network for needy grieving single friends of ex-couples.

Still if there’s any consolation to be had, I suppose it’s nice to be occasionally reminded that the ranty old man does actually has a heart. I just wish it didn’t feel slightly broken right now.

What to do when Dodo don’t do diddly?

And so my ranty old man crusade against appalling customer service continues.

When I ponder my future, I’m convinced that two things will forever elude me: fiscal responsibility and a telecommunications provider that isn’t utterly shite.

These days so many service providers drop the ball on basic customer service, but none more so than telcos and ISPs. I’ve tried quite a few of them over the years and many of those have greatly tried me in return. I’ve ranted before about the contempt I hold for most of them and I’ve spent so many happy hours* escalating complaints to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) that I’m probably flagged as a telco-hating serial complainant. Even so, no matter how often I experience their untempered awfulness, it still manages to surprise me.

I don’t start out having such little regard for them, but I inevitably walk away thinking if I never heard from them again it would be too soon. I don’t go out of my way to cause, find or become a problem for them. It’s not my sole intention to make bizarre requests that would be virtually impossible to get right. It’s just ordinary stuff – changing account settings, updating details, connecting new services – but something’s gone wrong after virtually every interaction I’ve had with a telco or ISP since 2007. And not just ‘a bit wrong’, we’re talking ‘quite a lot wrong’. How can so many of them be so bad at such fundamental stuff?

Here’s the latest installment. It’s a long one, but go with me on this…


Dodo… more like Dodon’t

Last year I started moving my Telstra services to other providers in the hope of cheaper prices and better customer service. First I switched my internet to Dodo. I hadn’t heard any horror stories and they offered much more than Telstra at less than half the price.

In August this year, I also convinced my mum to give Telstra the flick and save some money too. My transition to Dodo had been smooth and the first year with them had been relatively trouble-free so I was eager to get mum signed up to one of their impressively inexpensive bundles. But trouble was brewing right from the off… and it’s a slippery slope from there! This is how it all panned out:

  • DAY 1 (Part 1): Dodo’s online application keeps saying mum’s address isn’t valid
    [Editorial comment: if you’ve ever told someone your name and then been asked “are you sure?”, you’ll understand how odd it feels to be told that something you know to be real and valid actually isn’t].
  • DAY 1 (Part 2): the application can’t be completed by phone either. Dodo guy Marco** promises to call back next day.
    [Editorial comment: it’s worth noting at this point that lots of service providers and business have had issues with mum’s address over the past ten years, be it online, in maps or in databases. We’ve known of an issue but never understood its cause; nonetheless, I assumed this was the same thing and it seems likely that this outcome wasn’t just inevitable with Dodo, but probably would’ve happened wherever we’d gone].
  • DAY 2: Marco calls back. The problem is at the Telstra exchange and Dodo has to wait for Telstra to fix it.
  • DAY 4: SMS from Dodo: the process of requesting the landline service from Telstra has finally begun.
  • DAY 14: SMS from Dodo: mum’s landline is finally a Telstra-free zone. The ever-effusive Marco calls back to start setting up the ADSL, but – surprise, surprise! – that doesn’t work either. He promises to call back on Monday.
    [Editorial comment: Dodo advise up-front of a 7-10 day turnaround time to port landlines from another telco, but it’s still a bitter pill in an age when mobile numbers can be ported from carrier to carrier within minutes. And just for the record, no I don’t know why we didn’t just give up at that point either].
  • DAY 17: Marco calls back, but with less enthusiasm, hurriedly telling met Dodo can’t establish an ADSL service for “technical reasons”, that mum will need a new phone number and that he’s transferring me to his supervisor to discuss. My ire is on its way to being raised but, thankfully, the “supervisor” seems in control. His explanation of what’s going on makes sense in light of earlier similar issues, so I’m comfortable with his promise to call back the next day.

Maybe the centuries old mobile should’ve been a warning, if the name already hadn’t been…

So, we were up to 17 days and, to be fair, so far it’d been a bit of a dog’s breakfast. But just when we felt like we were getting somewhere, we discovered that we couldn’t have been more wrong. See, I could say the “supervisor” called back the next day as promised and I could say the whole thing was sorted, but saying it wouldn’t make it true. In fact for the next 5½ weeks I had no contact from Dodo at all. Alors…

  • DAY 47: I send a written complaint to Dodo, allowing ten calendar days for them to resolve the issue. In turn, they send me a confirmation email with a 2 day response turnaround time.
    [Editorial comment: the last time I’d received the same confirmation email I’d had to chase them 12 days later to find out where the response was, so it’s fair to say I didn’t have much faith in Dodo adhering to their own timeframe, though I was happy to be proven wrong].
  • DAY 50: 3 whole business days pass without any contact from Dodo.
    [Editorial comment: my scepticism was justified].
  • DAY 56: Surprise! Dodo contact me on the last of the ten days I’d allowed for. I miss their call and almost immediately receive an SMS with a reference code and a request to call them back, which I do within 15 minutes. But rather than speak with someone familiar with my complaint – I mistakenly assume that would be the same person who’d just called me – I speak to a woman who not only sounds wholly disinterested and unconcerned, but who also hasn’t read a single word of my complaint. Worse still, neither does she take any time to familiarise herself with the details, instead asking me to explain the situation because she isn’t familiar with it. Things rapidly go from bad to worse when she states no ADSL application was made, but rather than suggesting error or oversight on Dodo’s part she implies that I am somehow mistaken. Unsurprisingly, I end the call and escalate to the Ombudsman.
    [Editorial comment: apparently this is how Dodo responds to formal written complaints. With hindsight, I should’ve just read my complaint letter down the phone to her. As for the inference that I’d somehow imagined it all, or made the whole thing up – really, Dodo?? What would that even be? Some bizarre form of Munchausen Syndrome where a customer induces real or apparent failures in a telco’s customer service just to bring attention to themselves??? I’ve never heard such arrant nonsense!]
  • DAY 60: Betty*** from Dodo’s TIO complaints department calls. Again I miss the call, but phone back almost immediately. She asks for my mobile number. She then transfers me to Tech Support, where Mr Tech Support (not his real name) has been lead to believe (by Betty) that they need to resolve a complaint about my modem. In under a minute I end the call out of sheer frustration and contact the Ombudsman again to ask what to do next. They somehow convince me to continue negotiations with Dodo and, through a twist of either fate or inevitability, I’m answered by the lovely Betty again. She explains that because I provided her with my mobile number (which she asked for, let’s not forget) she assumed I was talking about my own account and assumed I was calling about my most recent enquiry and assumed I needed to speak to Tech Support. In turn, I suggest that making so many assumptions was pretty rubbish, given her job is to respond to serious Ombudsman complaints. Sensing some resentment from Betty I tell her – somewhat passive-aggressively, I admit – exactly how she can help me. Betty asks if I still want to proceed with the ADSL connection and I have no words. Unable to process how she could possibly imagine, in her wildest dreams, that I’d want to proceed with anything after all of this, I effectively back down from everything outlined in my letter and state, as my only remaining actual requirement, that I don’t want my mum slugged with any contract-breaking fee bollocks when we move her landline to another provider. Betty advises it will take her 3-5 days to review the matter and I don’t even flinch. By this time I’ve ceased to really care, most likely because I actually won’t believe anything Betty tells me anyway.
    [Editorial comment: this should’ve been when things started to look up and when I should’ve felt that I was finally getting somewhere because I was actually speaking to someone who wanted to get the thing resolved. Except, of course, Dodo sent in Betty to resolve our complaint. Yes, all of this really was Dodo’s farcical response to a serious third-party complaint. The extent to which it, and Betty’s part in it, went wrong almost defies number. To say I was flabbergasted would be quite the understatement. The fact that I actually called the Ombudsman for a “where to next?” pep talk says a whole lot about how stuck I felt. It’s rare that I can’t decide what to do next, but the unmitigated shittyness of this thing had moved it somewhere beyond my realm of comprehension. That the second conversation with Betty commenced with an explanation that was based entirely around her making multiple baseless assumptions says a great deal about the way this mob does business – in fact it should call into question why Dodo is allowed to do business at all. As you might expect, to a ranty old man Betty was like the proverbial red flag. No, a massively passive-aggressive reaction from me was never going to convince a complaints officer who already clearly didn’t think much of her job or her customers to try any harder, but by this stage I felt like a human balloon in the latter stages of a slow leak. I truly wanted to take Dodo to task and really hold them to account and, ultimately, to extract an apology from Betty, or at least an acknowledgement of how exceedingly crap everything had been… but I just couldn’t be arsed. Relenting from every point I’d raised in my thus-far unread complaint was the only option I felt I had left, lest I risk dragging this thing out for the rest of eternity. I felt utterly defeated, having lost all desire to say a single word more to anyone at Dodo. It was a pretty sad state of affairs.]
  • DAY 67: Betty calls back to ask how I’m going with moving mum’s landline to another provider. When I tell her I’m waiting for her to get back to me and tell me when it’s ready to happen, as per her instructions, she tells me that’s not what she said at all! On the plus side, she advises that there was indeed some form of “human error” at Dodo’s end and that an ADSL order hasn’t actually been placed. I’m relieved by her acknowledgement – even if only begrudging – that I really had requested a connection and that I actually wasn’t the cause of the whole kerfuffle, but she still can’t bring herself to actually apologise.
    DAY 78: It’s finally over. After eleven weeks, no more Dodo. Everything’s back to Telstra, almost exactly as it was in mid-August, as if nothing ever happened.

What a debacle! Nearly 80 days since our first attempt to apply online with Dodo and what had we ended up with? Aside from mum having the exact same telco and ISP as she did 80 days previously, without having realised any of the hoped-for savings on her internet plan and now with a landline costing 50c a month more than before, all we actually got from Dodo was some of the most appalling customer service I’ve ever been a party to and a hugely flawed complaints process where the only resolution achieved was that I simply gave up, too brow-beaten to be bothered taking it any further.

So what do you do? Obviously you lessen the blow by assuming that all telco and ISP interactions will be generally unpleasant and will probably go wrong. You just assume that you’ll need to escalate inaction, chase people up and trot out threats of third-party referral just to get stuff done. But in the end what does all of that fuss a bother actually achieve aside from elevated blood pressure on the part of the customer? After my experience with Dodo, I’m not even convinced the Ombudsman folk have much faith in the process. Certainly, the guy I spoke to would benefit from some lessons in empathy – maybe he and Betty could go to classes together?

So why is customer service in Australia as bad as it is? Simple – as a nation, we don’t like complaining. We don’t like confrontation, even if we’re only questioning the quality of a product or service that we’ve paid good money for. We also don’t like being thought of as whingers, even though that’s actually what we should be doing more of. But over and above all that is a very real sense that, to a great extent, many organisations have so little – if any – competition that they effectively have us over a barrel. We can complain all we like but, ultimately, regardless of whether we get the resolution we want, where else are we going to go? And even if there is somewhere, what’s to say their service will be any better?

And then comes the clincher: in the end, most people just can’t be bothered making the change at all.

It’s so easy to feel defeated by it all, but as a nation we must do a better job of holding companies to account. If they make a promise, make them stick to it and if they break a promise, call them on it. If they’re not giving you the best deal, question them about it and if they’re not treating you the way a highly valued customer should be treated, whinge about it. It’s one thing for them to spout endless marketing rhetoric about how much they’ve changed and improved and how we are their number one priority and how they’ll only ever give us the very best of everything, but the reality of actually delivering on those promises is often another thing entirely. The less we say, the more we endorse their contemptuous attitude towards their customers.


Even Dodo’s dodo’s dazed and confused by this one

By now you may well be thinking “FFS, get over yourself! There are so many far more important things going on in the world”. Yeah, there probably are. And no, this really isn’t that big of a deal. But it’s the principle of the thing.

Regardless of how many more important things are going on in the world, Dodo won’t change their position on customer satisfaction being top priority. Can you imagine: “Our much-loved customers are welcome to complain about any sub-standard service they receive, but there are so many far more important things going on in the world that Dodo can’t guarantee provision of service that our much-loved customers will be satisfied with” – nup, I can’t see that happening. So if companies aren’t going back-flip on customer satisfaction, neither should consumers start believing that poor service doesn’t matter. Poor service does matter and we must continue fighting the good fight whenever satisfaction is in short supply, either for as long as it takes to get the outcome we want, or for as long as we can hold out without curling up in to the foetal position and rocking back and forth in a corner.

Am I going back to Telstra? Probably not, unless I absolutely can’t avoid it. Will I stick with Dodo? Probably, for now at least. Let’s just hope I never have to speak to them again.

Meanwhile, I still haven’t told Betty that we’re all sorted. Let’s see how much she likes never hearing back from me!

* note ranty man sarcasm

** not his real name, even though I’m unconvinced the name he gave was actually his real name anyway

*** not her real name (see ** for more detail)