Several months ago, I ordered flowers online.
I read and re-read the small print, to make sure I ticked all the right boxes.
‘We’d like to get our hooks into you,’ it said. ‘We’ll plague you with special offers, inappropriate sales pitches and cheesy free* gifts for the rest of your life. You’ll rue the day you bought these flowers, because you’ll be trapped in database hell – forever. If you’d prefer not to do this, please tick this box.’
So I did. But there was more.
‘We’d like to pass your name on to anybody who pays us huge amounts of money for qualified sales leads (or ‘carefully selected companies’, as we prefer to call them). Once you’ve crossed that line, there’s no going back. Your details will be spawned from one list to another, and you’ll have mountains of junk mail on your welcome mat. If you’d prefer not to avail of these wonderful opportunites, please don’t tick here.’
So I didn’t.
A month later, a catalogue arrived. ‘Flowers for every occasion!’ it gushed. I ripped off the plastic cover and looked for a contact number.
“Hello,” rasped a smoker’s voice, “this is Joyce speaking. How can I help you today?”
So I told her. In fact, I brought up my account details online, and sure enough, the box that I had ticked was still ticked, and the one I hadn’t wasn’t. So why had I got the catalogue?
“Unfortunately,” said Joyce, rolling catarrh from one side of her throat to another, “I can’t see those details.”
What, her own database?
“Yes,” she deadpanned. “That is correct.”
So how could she explain it? She couldn’t. And what could be done about it? She wasn’t sure.
“All I can do is apologise,” she said in a take-it-or-leave-it voice. “Can you give me your details?”
What about the reference number on the catalogue, I wondered. Wouldn’t that bring up my record?
“Unfortunately…” and she was off. Different systems, not integrated, no idea what the web people were doing, not her department. Could I spell my surname? And what was the name of my road? And was that a B or a V in the postcode? And yes, certainly, she’d pass on the details to the mailing department.
“But it could take up to six weeks,” she said, “for you to be taken off the list.”
But it only takes an instant for me to be put on. Just a tick, really.
“Can I help you with anything else today?” she cut across me.
Well, actually, Joycey, you haven’t really helped me at all, I thought. It was pointless saying it. So I said it anyway.
One morning eight weeks later, I came down the stairs to pick up the post. And there it was. ‘Flowers for every occasion!’ it declared brightly.
I took a deep breath.