The Simple Things

There are some simple things in life that really aren’t that hard to get right. This blog is about one of those things – customer service.  The basic premise for me, which holds true for many situations, is that if you promise to do something, then do it, or explain in good time why you can’t do it. The measure of good customer service is not just whether it is 100% perfect first time but how, when things do go wrong, it is dealt with.

Here are two recent examples that illustrate my viewpoint.

We are told that we are living in hard times, and small businesses are struggling. Support your local trader, they say. I used to support my local grocery shop until the first time we had a really bad snow fall, with roads blocked and traffic at a standstill. Then, to support the people he had previously asked to support his business, the owner of the shop raised all his prices. He’d had deliveries because he was on a main road. He just chose to support his profit margins rather than the loyal customers. He went out of business a little while later because we all stopped supporting him.

It sometimes seems, based on the level of customer service, that many traders don’t really need our business. In fact, it seems that they only provide us with a service out of a noble, charitable sense of duty. So when I went looking for someone to replace a gas fire and back boiler, I should have been eternally grateful that anyone was able to offer that service. And I was. He turned up, looked around a bit, muttered some technical stuff and then said he’d get back to me with a quote within a few days. That was four weeks ago. Clearly a more deserving cause came along and mine was relegated to a back burner. Or boiler?

The bigger companies are more financially sound and are able to help more people out of goodwill alone. So when I went to a big company to ask them if they would consider selling me a kitchen and fitting it too, I was a little more hopeful. And to it’s credit, the big company said “yes, we’d love to sell you a kitchen and we can get someone to fit it as well”. They did a good job of designing a kitchen just the way I wanted it. And since I’m not very good at that sort of thing, they also steered me away from the bizarre and unworkable ideas I’d had and gave me a practical solution. But silly me, I went away and decided that I couldn’t afford the quote and needed something a little less expensive. So I rang them up to ask if it was possible to save some money. Well, I tried ringing them up. But the first number I was given turned out to be a local insurance company, who explained that they didn’t offer a kitchen design service. I used the general number for the big company and for two days running, every time I got through someone picked the phone up and put it down immediately.

Not easily deterred, I finally got through on a different number they had forgotten to hide from me and explained to someone that I needed to save some money. I asked if it would be possible to do this when they came to my house to do a final measurement. They said yes and gave me an appointment, 11am today. I even checked that they had my address, to which the person said yes. Imagine my surprise when I had a phone call from the big company this morning to ask what I wanted from our meeting, and found out that the meeting was for midday, not 11am, and that no one was coming out to see me. I would have to go to the big company. Again.

Maybe I’m a fool, But I went. And to it’s credit, the big company managed to retrieve the situation. And that’s the measure. Yes, they shouldn’t have got things wrong in the first place but it was a simple mix up. The measure was that when I turned up a little annoyed at the big company, the gut I dealt with apologised, explained how he was going to make sure that didn’t happen again and provided a swift and pleasant service changing my design. The result – I placed an order with the big company, because they got their customer service right. And an added bonus is that they might be able to get me a gas fitter to do the fire and boiler.







History on your doorstep.

I’ve always been interested in local history. While I was still in school, I attended local history lessons and since then I’ve taken an interest in the subject. I never studied history in school and that’s one of my regrets. I’m particularly interested in the military history of the area and that probably stems from the stories my mum used to tell me of the Swansea Blitz in February of 1941.

Swansea Bay Pillbox

Swansea Bay Pillbox

Swansea was used as a staging post for troops involved in the invasion of occupied France on D-Day. The bay was full of transport ships and the farmland around was full of American soldiers. Very little, if anything, of this remains today. Most of the visible signs of the area’s war lie in ruins. There’s a pillbox on Swansea Bay, opposite the University. I haven’t been able to find anything out about when it was built or if there were others, but it sits alone, half buried in sand. It’s seaward face has no embrasure and it was clearly intended to provide enfilading fire, that is to shoot at the enemy from their sides. You see it on the German defences on the beaches of Normandy and elsewhere.

A now ruined radar station sits of Rhossili down. Another is sited near Oxwich Point. A third sits overlooking Port Talbot. All kept watch on the Bristol Channel.

Clyne Pillbox

Pillbox at Clyne

More pillboxes defend a possible invasion route from the west towards Swansea along natural obstacle of Clyne Valley. One is hidden opposite the Railway Inn in Killay.

Mumbles Hill Heavy AA Battery

Mumbles Hill Heavy AA Battery

There are a number of anti-aircraft gun emplacements on and around Kilvey Hill, protecting the oil refinery and industrial areas of Swansea nearby. My mum told me of an anti aircraft battery, including ‘Z’ rockets (unguided surface to air missiles) sited on the playing fields near Singleton Hospital. The rockets were secret at the time. Another battery of heavy guns were sited on Mumbles head, above the Yacht club My uncle recalls that the sound of these 5″ calibre guns firing was totally different to the smaller 3″ guns nearer the city.



Mumbles Head Searchlight House

Mumbles Head Searchlight House

Lower down on the slopes, on a now flat and empty piece of the hill overlooking the lighthouse, a battery of anti shipping guns were located.

On the tidal island which is home to the lighthouse, there are searchlight houses.

Mumbles Lighthouse Fortress

Mumbles Lighthouse Fortress

Part of the buildings that for the lighthouse were originally a 19th Century fortress and gun battery.

Swansea airport was originally built as a fighter station in 1941 on land that was so boggy it had to be filled in with thousands of tons of industrial waste and rubble (which took a year to complete). Over the war years, it was home to a number of squadrons and became  a base for anti shipping strikes, night fighters and eventually the home of a weapons training facility.  The aircrews would practice shooting, bombing and strafing on nearby Whiteford and Llanmadoc bays. Fragments and unexploded ordnance is still being found there – last year an old gas shell was still potent enough to affect the ammunition technician sent to dispose of it.

Infantry trench

Infantry trench overlooking RAF Fairwood Common

Recently while walking around the area with Rufus, I came across several reminders of it’s past including an area of slightly higher ground which seemed to have been a defensive point. The faint indentations of several trenches could be seen, along with a deeper concrete lined one and the mounting for a small artillery piece of heavy machine gun.

Fighter dispersal pen

Fighter dispersal pen. Each metal feed trough is placed where a twin engined fighter bomber (probably a Beaufighter) would have been parked. The earth bank between them would have protected them from bomb damage.

Until a few years ago, I had an old Anderson shelter in the garden. I remember as a boy seeing several such shelters in back gardens around the area, most still buried as was suggested when they were issued. The wall of the old police station in Swansea is pitted with shrapnel damaged bricks from a bomb that fell in the street. Looking at the records for the bombing of Swansea, at least one house near me was destroyed by a bomb, and many others were damaged. There is a story that a stick of bombs fell close to the nearby further education college and a rumour persists that one landed in the marsh on which the college is now built, and failed to go off.

There are many such structures in the UK and many more that have been lost over the years since they were built. They are a valid part of our history in the same way as castle, churches and bridges are. I hope we don’t lose sight of that just because they are a reminder of an unpleasant chapter of history.