Apart from miscellaneous aches and pains Age brings Wisdom, and sometimes a desire to put the world to rights. Once too often someone pushes past you in the queue or starts talking on their mobile phone in the Quiet Carriage on the train. The steam rises, the blood boils and you find yourself having a go for Mankind, or Womankind. Never mind personal safety, you just have to confront the miscreant, and sometimes they actually take notice, even the ones who elect to give you a mouthful of abuse.
In Him Outdoors’s case this need to sort out Injustice extends to officialdom and commercial organisations. In fact I have been known to take action myself – for instance when my new car’s Bluetooth system failed to connect with my mobile phone. I won that one – got my phone replaced free – but at the risk of serious damage to my mental health and well-being. Most of the time I get my nearest and dearest to take on these battles, quite simply because he is Good at it, or at least that’s my excuse.
Take the story of the Millennium Centre, the major venue for culture in Cardiff. HO was fed up about the charge for using a credit card to buy tickets, and discovered that this booking fee applied to all purchases, even if you went in with a sack-load of pennies to pay in person. Why not include these ‘extra’ charges in the ticket price, he said, and why not indeed? The argument with the management was escalated, as HO is expert at doing, and ended up on the desk of the Director. An interesting email conversation ensued until one day we found ourselves having a personal guided tour with the man himself (and a security officer in case we started becoming violent). We learned a great deal about the workings of the Centre and even brushed shoulders with one or two celebrities, including Michael Sheen. Net result was that the booking charge was modified, or at least made more transparent. Result? Possibly. The tour was brilliant and we had a free coffee.
Now we come to the Affair of the Mushy Peas. See us in Marks and Spencer’s, joining the other silver shoppers dining at the cafeteria. On the walls, notice boards, everywhere in fact, are painted signs in large letters exhorting customers to enjoy food and ‘ingredients’ all of which can be purchased in the Food Hall. HO has already stocked us up with edible goodies, while I browsed the bras and knickers and bewailed the fact that the prettiest stuff never comes in the more generous sizes. Of course I haven’t complained about this to the manager, or even an assistant. In the shopping bag there are two nicely packaged meals of easy-cook fish and chips to be eaten next day. HO decides to order fish and chips from the cafe menu, and is thrilled when it arrives. The slice of lemon is superfluous (we prefer vinegar), but there is a large portion of mushy peas, a treat we have always relished with our Northern roots. He eats the food with pleasure and then checks the packs in the bag. No mushy peas. He races off to inspect the food shelves. No mushy peas. He asks an assistant. Sorry Sir, I don’t think we do mushy peas. He calls the Food Hall manager. Red-faced, the manager agrees that mushy peas are not offered for sale in the Food Hall. Presumably something to do with Health and Safety? Oops.
Meanwhile I spin out my cup of tea until he returns, triumphant. Did we get a free meal, a gift voucher, a trip to inspect the warehouse? No, actually, we didn’t get anything except a mumbled apology. But there was a delightful few minutes as we worked out a solution, to be applied to all the cafeterias, in all the M&S stores around the UK, and abroad if necessary. We’re waiting now to see the repainted signs: ‘All our ingredients can be purchased in the Food Hall, except mushy peas.’