Monday, 11 May 2015

Minor mishaps, gentle charms of an encounter with officialdom

On Friday I had a call from a government organisation with whom I had an appointment today.

“I’m ringing to confirm that we expect to see you at 12:00 on Monday,” a well-spoken woman told me, “please go to the second floor and see Jackie.”

I should explain to any American readers that over here the first floor is the first above ground level. The second floor is what you call the third.

I turned up quarter of an hour early and climbed the stairs to the second floor. Some of the desks displayed names: Paula, Mary, Gloria. No men, I noticed. But also no Jackie.

So I approached a security guard. He was from a private company but seemed to know a bit about the place.

“Jackie? First floor,” he told me.

“First floor? They told me second.” 

He shrugged and made a gesture with his hand, like a mouth opening and shutting.

“Sometimes people say any old rubbish,” he explained. Helpfully, I felt.

Down I went. Again, though, I couldn’t find a “Jackie” nameplate. Fortunately, I did find another security guard.

“Jackie? She’s over there,” he told me.

She was busy with the woman she was seeing before me.

“Is this your first appointment here?” the security guard asked me.

“Yes,” I confirmed, though it was pretty obvious, I thought.

“Ah, you need to go to the third floor first anyway.”

Up I climbed.

Second floor? First floor? Third floor?
At least I was getting some useful exercise...
“I have an appointment with Jackie, but I was told to come and see you first,” I told the pleasant woman who greeted me.

She riffled through some papers and glanced at a screen.

“Yes, you have an appointment with Jackie at 12:00,” she told me, rather unnecessarily.

It was five to. I was beginning to run out of the time margin I’d left myself.

“Should I sort out what I have to do with you first?”

“Oh, no, Jackie will deal with it all. She’s on the first floor.”

I must have looked a little exasperated, because she immediately made an offer which was surely beyond the call of duty.

“Shall I take you down there and show you where she sits?”

Very good of her, I felt. But unnecessary, since I already been there once.

Down I went again. By the time I got there I was bang on time. But Jackie wasn’t ready: her previous appointment was asking lots of questions that, in my opinion, seemed completely irrelevant but Jackie was answering with, it seemed to me, great forbearance.

By five past twelve, the inquisitive woman could think of no further questions for Jackie and left. I stepped forward, but Jackie’s manager slipped in before I could get to her. There followed a ten minute discussion about abstruse functions, clearly not working as one might expect, on the computer system they were using (software that doesn’t work precisely as specified? Who ever heard of such a thing?)

Finally, at a quarter past, I got my appointment.

It went smoothly and easily. Jackie was polite, helpful, well-informed and even, since the appointment lasted longer than I expected, ate into her own lunch hour to give me my allotted time.

I have no complaints at all. In fact I was delighted with the excellent service.

As well as amused by the way it started.

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