Thursday, 10 February 2011

The Lost Art of Gratitude (with thanks to Alexander McCall Smith for coining this phrase)

Many of you who follow me on Twitter will be aware that I have had 'sewage problems' of late. My next door neighbour and I were unamused to discover on Tuesday night that, only a month since the main sewage pipe into which our respective 'foul drains' discharge had been cleared, a further blockage seemed to be causing problems.

My poor neighbour had reached the stage where she was no longer able to flush her toilets. I was slightly better off and could still flush mine as my foul pipes have a longer stretch from the house to the sewer and so I had less build up of sewage to my house.

My neighbour and I are used to having to sort out building related problems for ourselves as we both have husbands who spend much time working away from home. However, in this instance, we gave a collective heave as we pulled off the heavy man-hole covers of our inspection chambers and stood, in the pitch darkness, shining my torch in to check on the extent of the problems therein.

Help was, however, at hand. The next morning I rang up Anglian Water to report a problem. The 'phone was answered after not too long a wait by an efficient lady who took the details, could see a plan of the sewage system I was referring to on her monitor, and informed me that, as my neighbour was unable to flush her toilet, someone would be out to us within 12 hours.

By late afternoon the man from Anglian Water arrived - a knight in a white van (if not on a white charger). With only rods at his disposal, he was unable to do more than move the problem down a bit so that my neighbour could at least use her toilet and have a shower that evening. But he arranged for a colleague to come the next day (today) and use a jetting hose to clear the blockage and move it on to the wider sewer on the road.

Mission was accomplished late this morning and I was very grateful that two extremely pleasant and efficient men had turned up, well within the time frames promised, and sorted out a distasteful problem.

So, I decided that I should get in touch with Anglian Water to express my gratitude to the two engineers they had sent out and my overall satisfaction with the service I had received from the organisation. This was when I encountered a problem. Nowhere on Anglian Water's website is there anywhere to leave a message of thanks. Nor is there any contact e-mail address given that I could have used. All I was able to find was an on-line query form which, judging by its wording, envisaged it would be used for bill queries and complaints. Indeed before I was allowed to send this form I had to find an old bill so I could quote my customer number (in the first field of the form). I just hope that the comments I made about the two gentlemen get seen by those they report to.

Is this what it has come to? Are we such an ungrateful nation of moaners and complainers that organisations such as Anglian Water assume the only reason we would want to contact them is to report a problem, query a bill or make a complaint? Is actually saying 'thank you' to people such a rare thing these days that no one who designed that website thought anyone would wish to do so through it?

Let me also, while I am on the subject, express my gratitude to Joseph Bazalgette (1819-1891, pictured above) the man who founded modern sewerage systems without which, I now believe, true civilization would not have been possible.