Coloured Oscars?

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Over the last few days I’ve been reading so many differing views about the Oscars getting stuck in the midst of a racism row. Makes one think that in a developed nation with laws to protect minorities and especially in a place like the UK why is everyone still talking ‘colour’. So if you try to cut through all the chap these are some of the key points raised by people.

1. Lack of opportunities for blacks and other minorities within the film and theatre industry.

2. Low level of interest cultivation amongst minority kids.

3. Already a large existence of white folk in the industry who have a bias towards other white folk. (Seriously?)

4. Stereotypes formed. Superman and spiderman has always been white. Stock brokers are always white. Basketball players are always black.

5. Lastly, lack of black nominations for the Oscars.

When you actually read each of these points in the way I have summarised above, your first reaction is possibly either ‘Hell yeah!’ or ‘What the f@*&. Is this a joke?’ Having an Indian background I am quite familiar with the race debate. Back home in India, every time we come in second or miss out, we play the racism card. Although not everyone would agree with this theory but I think Indians are the most racist people of all. And we don’t even have to look at people from another country to look down upon. The northerners don’t want anything to do with the southerners and several political groups profess superiority of blood as compared to others. This is all apart from religious biases.

Anyway I digress a bit. Looking at the 5 points around Oscars above, I feel sorry to see all this being aimed at the film and theatre industry. Here is my perspective. At least in the UK, it’s a numbers game. Given everyone has equal opportunity, the coloured people in the industry should have the same proportion as the coloured population of the country. So what are these numbers? The UK has a population of 65 million and 3% of this population is black. So now the question is are 3% of all actors in the UK black? I think so. Idris Alba, David Oyelowo, Chiwetelu Ejiofor are just the tip of the iceberg. Amongst the women, Thandie Newton, Naomi Harris and Sophie Okinedo are to name a few you may have heard of. But there are many more.

So now the question raised in point number 5 remains. If so many black actors and actresses are there, why do they never win Oscars. Well for that you need to look at the facts again. How many British actors and actresses have actually won Oscars. And have 3% of these been black?

Unreasonable harassment by ASOS under the pretext of security

Picture this whilst at the mall.

You: Hi, I’d like to purchase these clothes.

Attendant: Thats fine, here let me scan them for you. Thats £252.99.

You: Sure (and you pay with your credit card).

Attendant (before handing you the bag): I’d like to see your passport and your bank statement and/or the credit card statement for the card you just paid with. Please.

You: What the… ?

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Funny right? Thats what I and a lot of others having been finding when shopping at ASOS lately. Under the pretext of ‘security validation‘, ASOS has been requesting several customers for these details. Usually businesses have valid reasons when they enforce something like this – because there is almost always a risk of sales falling or customers turning away when you ask them for personal details (let alone bank statements and passport copies!). So I tried to figure out what the reason was since I just couldn’t fathom why they would need these details. Here is the conversation I had over email.

ASOS:  We’re sorry we’ve had to cancel your order. After checking the information provided, we haven’t been able to validate all your details. What’s next? You’ll need to send us the following: A copy of your passport, ID card or driving licence and a copy of your payment card statement dated within the last three months, clearly showing your name and billing address. Please blank out your card number, but leave the last four digits visible. Please ensure that the billing address on your account is the address associated with your payment card.

Me: Why do you need this information?

ASOS:Thanks for getting in touch about your order number xxxxxxx. I can confirm the emails you received requesting additional information are legitimate. Every order placed on our website goes through a series of validation checks and sadly in some cases it is not always possible for us to confirm all of the details - this is why we have requested additional information from you.In order to clear your account, please reply to our email with the requested information.Don’t worry - all your documents will be destroyed once the checks are complete. I’m sorry we had to cancel your order but I hope that you’ll understand that our validation checks are in place to ensure the security of all our customers.
Me: You have still not answered my question satisfactorily. I am intrigued to know what validation checks does an online shopping portal need to do such that it requires my most private details. You have been paid. So send the goods. You are selling clothes for God's sake, its not a bank account which I could use illegally or weapons of mass destruction that shouldn't go in the wrong hands! I do not think I will be sending my passport copy and bank statements to all the online shopping portals. Truth be told if everyone required it (which by the way noone besides you does) it will only put people off shopping online. You say my details will be destroyed. Apart from your word how am I to trust you? Even the CIA and NHS get hacked and data today gets leaked as easily as water from a tap.
ASOS: Firstly, I'm sorry to hear that we have not been able to complete your order. All orders placed with ASOS go through a series of validation checks and regrettably in some cases it is not always possible for us to confirm all of the details - this is why we have requested additional information from you. Once the requested documents have been received and verified, they will be destroyed. I will then be able to advise you on how to re-order the goods you require. Rest assured that all your documents will be destroyed once the checks are complete.

I’ve highlighted the bit that they are trained to reply with every time someone questions the process. Based on the above its quite clear their customer service have no clue what these checks are and why customers are being asked for these details. They also cancelled my order without once speaking to me. So I am left high and dry just before my holiday (so much for all that faff about reliability and customer comes first promises!)

I am still quite baffled and frankly don’t understand why they need these details. Working with processes is what I do for a living and validating who you are selling clothes to seems a bit of overkill especially when you have already been paid. I could be an alien from outer space or someone who just popped out of nowhere. I could be a criminal even. Why does it matter who you are selling clothes to?

This entire customer data collection for analytics, marketing or whatever other ‘security’ reasons businesses have have just gone too far. It first starts with validating your email – which sort of makes sense – you want to make sure the customer is contactable and you want to make sure he hasn’t had a fat finger moment while giving you his email address. Next you are after his telephone number for supposedly giving SMS alerts. Fine, I’ll go along with that too (not sure why you have to email and SMS at the same time but hey – I dont represent all the customer base, right?) You already have my postal or home address since the goods will be delivered there. Its not like I paid for someone else’s shopping just to play a prank! Even if I did, wouldn’t you love having such a prank being played on you? Anyway the point being, what more is my passport and bank statement going to validate? You already know where I live!

I wonder what people will be subjected to next. Carrying your passport to Tesco’s to buy a bottle of water and some crisps?

EE sets benchmark for worst possible customer service

Losing your phone can be a harrowing experience. What makes it even more harrowing is if your network provider can not understand the gravity of the situation and can not empathise by just doing their job right. I personally hold telecom companies in the UK in very low regard when it comes to customer service. However this time, EE crossed all limits and proved that it deserves the first prize when it comes to bad customer service. Here is a list of things EE can not do when you have a problem.

1) They commit to sending you an email in 48 hours with the information you need (I needed proof that I am an EE customer using my phone and its make and model etc). However they cannot fulfil that commitment. I mean how hard is it to email some information right? Lets give them the benefit of the doubt here anyway.

2) Next when you point to them that they did not email you, they tell you they did but the email didn’t reach you perhaps. Fair enough, the postman loses the post all the time, can happen to email too. No problem, surely they can forward it again in a jiffy? Nope. Another commitment to send it in 48 hours. Me patiently waiting then…

3) Once the said time has elapsed I check my mailbox, still no email. So this time I call them in all optimism to surely get this resolved. A fine lad tells me that he has escalated this (AGAIN) and on priority and he assures me the email will be sent in the next couple of hours. Nope. EE cant send an email. (I must add I specifically asked him not to commit to something he didnt have control over but he insisted that it would only be a couple of hours)

4) Now I am really frustrated. So I try to speak with managers and supervisors and guess what? I am being told that people at EE can’t speak to each other. They are not allowed to pick up the phone and just speak to each other in order to resolve customer queries. How ironic! The whole enterprise prides in facilitating effective communication but for itself.

5) I also used their Live Chat facility at one point. The conversation I had with the agent there and her supervisor was particularly entertaining from a non-EE person’s perspective so I thought I would hit the ‘Email Transcript’ button there and share it with you. Guess what? They cant email transcripts. (As I write this, I am laughing and crying at the same time!)

(In case you are very smart and wondering – Yes I have checked my Junk mail and Spam mail and have been receiving all other emails regularly and on time)

So finally after almost 4 days of misery, I am no where near to getting the email I need from them with confirmation of a few account details for the insurance company. What is particularly interesting is that I also dont know what next step to take. Everytime I call them, they ask me to wait ‘a couple of hours’. I am totally left at their mercy and they are not doing anything to help me! Just excuses after excuses and a promise that some bloke somewhere in the world is slaving away trying to help me.

At one point another lady tried hard to convince me there was a problem with their email server sending these messages out! Its been happening for a few days. Thats convenient – she should have been in sales, I’m thinking. She would make a killing. I give her the benefit of the doubt but still cant trust her given what I had been through. So I reset my password online. Email comes in fine confirming the reset link! Am I really wrong in assuming these customer services guys are just a group of cowboys (and cowgirls?) who assume all customers are stupid and you can feed them any crap you like as long as you are polite and keep saying ‘thank you’ and ‘please’!

Some great management lessons in there I think. How processes can go wrong, how untrained staff can ruin a company’s reputation and goodwill and how poor customer service has such a profound effect on a sane person’s mental health and blood pressure. It took me 2 Ecosprins before I could write this blog and I think I need another one now. If you don’t hear from me in a couple of days I am probably busy personally couriering all my emails.

Further Updates

20 Jan: 10:30 am
I speak to another sorry agent and then get transferred to his supervisor. The supervisor seems like a nice chap and offers to call me after 30 mins with a solid update. No call received for an hour (Length of call – 30 mins)

20 Jan: 12:10pm
I call again since the supervisor didn’t call me. This time I speak to another guy named Aaron. His brilliant plan to end my frustration is raising yet another request and emailing the backoffice team. Fine, do it. This time I gave him another email address, just in case. He advised me that the initial request should complete by tonight and this new request should complete by tomorrow 5pm. So if I haven’t heard back from them by then, I should call customer services and ask to speak to him. (10 bucks says, he wont be working tomorrow or I will never be able to get through to him! Lets see!)

Baby on the Tube

If you’ve ever visited London you will agree that the most morbid place in the city is none other than its lifeline – the Tube (or the London Underground as its known elsewhere). And if you are a Londoner then you will probably know why. The only place where no matter what happens, nobody talks to each other, nobody looks at anything else but a gadget or newspaper in their hands and nobody most certainly will smile back at you even though your bodies are literally stuck to theirs. Maybe that’s the reason why! But in general no matter how happy you are, the Tube can always shoot your spirits down.

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However I witnessed the strangest thing the other day. My wife came to visit me at work with our new born daughter and we decided to go back home together on the Tube. The entire experience of going on a 45 min Tube journey with a little infant was fascinating. Firstly people were kind. Instead of elbowing us away like they always do, they actually made way for us to get in first. Next, you notice that almost everyone who can, will want to get a glimpse of the baby. As if its an alien from outer space who’s escaped from the highly restricted facility. And obviously, nothing pokes the deepest cockles of your heart than the beautiful smile of a baby. This instantly changes the mood in the carriage and suddenly everyone wants to talk about her. “How old is she”, asks a brave old lady trying to break the silence. Almost as if it was the question everyone had on their minds but she was the only one to take the initiative to actually ask. “Three months”, says my wife and a couple of other ladies go “Awww”. And that’s it. Suddenly everyone’s talking about her, to her and also creating all sorts of fiction like “She loves the underground” or “She is so comfortable” or even “She is such a calm baby”. I think there is a secret code all babies share. Just like a software will stop working as soon as you have to demo it to an audience, a calm baby, if called calm will always prove you otherwise! Somebody made the eternal mistake of touching the calm baby on her hand and that was it. The next thing you know she is wailing her lungs out – so much so that I was actually contemplating getting off at the next stop. Silence again. Some others who were blissfully unaware of all this now actually look up from their smartphones and question our parenting skills with murmurs about how some parents can’t keep their kids quiet. They perhaps don’t have or have never had children is what I positively conclude and ignore them.

Two more stops and the missus is successful in getting the calmer incarnation of the baby back. Phew. That’s when I realise I have never heard so much noise of the underground before. It’s amazing how you almost never see little babies on the Tube on weekdays during commuting hours. But this experience truly shows that we Londoners are not a weird self-involved narcissist robot species after all. All it takes is a little infant to get our human side back!

ILR Application at Birmingham (Solihull)

A rather dry topic for my second blog! But my readers might realise that marriage does squeeze out everything interesting about you and in turn leaves you with limited interests. So forgive me and read no further if you are never going to be applying for an ILR or will never have to seek the government’s permission to sleep with your wife daily (as if asking her dad wasn’t hard enough already!!)

Being a Londoner one gets spoilt for choices. On the other hand queues are a part of life. Two very different things, I know. But although we live in a first world developed country, when it comes to showing foreigners how developed the UK is, the Border Agency leaves no stone unturned in proving otherwise. Since you are still reading you are familiar with (or rather should be) what a monumental task it is to get a (supposedly) premium appointment for applying for a visa in person (if you need a date urgently, that is). You have a slot between 12am and 1215am when the dates for new appointments open. Only a single day opens each day -this day being 42 days in the future. So if you try booking an appointment on 1st Jan, expect to see available dates only for 12th Feb. Everything upto 11th Feb is already booked and 13th Feb won’t open until tomorrow!! The 12th Feb dates will be gobbled up in 15 mins by people trying to stay awake at midnight like hungry scavengers waiting for the butcher to throw the leftover skin and wastes out at night. Either be a scavenger or apply by post and wait for at least 6 months for your passport. I had travel plans so…..

Anyway, a friend suggested that getting an appointment in Birmingham was easier. I immediately took the advice and managed to snap up a nice 9am Friday slot for myself and a1pm slot for my wife. I must say that the whole experience was very good, contrary to everything I had heard about the Croydon visa office. I was taken in at 0830. First in the queue. Documents submitted by 9:05. That’s when I mentioned about my wife waiting outside. The case officer was kind to ask me to get her in as well so her slot got bumped up immediately. However once all documents were submitted, the case officer started questioning whether we have filled the right form!

CO: Who asked you to fill the FLR(O) form?

Me: (without batting an eyelid) The UKBA website.

CO: Its the wrong form. You need to fill the FLR(M) form.

Me: (wanting to kill the guy who made the questionnaire based form suggestion tool). Ok, that’s not what the website said but I’m happy to fill the other form if you can give us some time.

At this point, I was in no mood to create a scene. I wanted to be simply done with it and went into crisis resolution mode. To my surprise, the CO was so friendly and even gave us directions of the local library where we could print a copy of the form and fill it. He did give us a 3 hour deadline to come back which was more than generous.

After printing and filling the form carefully and taking a much deserved sandwich and coke break, we headed back to the visa centre after about 2 hours. Our forms and biometrics were taken and then started the awful 2 hour wait when they deliberate over every little detail mentioned in the form and do the necessary checks.

Finally a lady came out and handed us our approval letters and we heaved a sigh of relief. The drive back home to London didn’t feel long at all !