Adrian Sturrock: ‘If you want to know how stupid you’re perceived as by big business, check your junk mail.’

I’ve just been congratulated. By post. Apparently, I’ve been ‘pre-selected’ for congratulating. So, that’s nice.

     ‘Who’s congratulating you?’ asks Nat.

     I scan down to the bottom of my congratulations letter. ‘Catherine Lewis,’ I say.

     ‘Who’s Catherine Lewis,’ she asks, ‘And what’s she congratulating you for?’

     ‘Um,’ no idea, and … nope, no idea,’ I say. ‘She hasn’t really gone into detail about what I’ve done to deserve her congratulations, but the fact that she’s congratulating me is good enough for me.’

     ‘Give it here.’ Nat motions to take the letter from me, but I’m too quick for her (which is something I inwardly congratulate myself about).

     ‘The main point is, I say, ‘whatever I’ve done, Catherine – or Miss Lewis – has deemed it worthy of her praise. And she’s offering me a prize for it.’

     ‘Ok,’ says Nat, already visibly beginning to tire of our conversation, ‘What’s your prize?’

     ‘It’s a … it’s a credit card.’

     ‘Why do you want another credit card?’

     ‘I don’t’ I say, ‘but I don’t want to appear rude, especially as Catherine has gone to all that trouble to pre-select me.

     ‘I don’t think she actually ‘pre-selected’ you, herself,’ says Nat, wiggling her quotation fingers at me. ‘I think she might have used an algorithm generator for that.’

     ‘Don’t you disparage my pre-selection,’ I say.

     ‘You’re right,’ says Nat, ‘Congratulations on your achievement, and on the official recognition of your worthiness for such a prestigious prize. I shall look forward to seeing you on the front cover of Junk Mail Weekly, in the coming months. In fact, in the words of Yazz and her rather musical chart-topping backing combo, The Plastic Population, ‘The Only Way is Up!’’

     I consider the possibility that I may be detecting a degree of sarcasm in Nat’s voice, but I refuse to diminish my own achievement here by succumbing to it. ‘I think you’ll find that ‘The Only Way is Up!’ was a hit way back in 1988, and therefore has no specific relevance to this moment in time.’

     ‘Tell you what,’ says Nat, ‘I’ll leave you to enjoy your moment in time, while I take a shower. Oh, and don’t forget that it’s bin day, today. Can you put the bins out, please?’

     ‘To be honest,’ I say, ‘since receiving official confirmation of my personal selection … about twenty three minutes ago,’ (I check my watch), ‘I feel that putting the bins out is now a little below me.’

     ‘No worries,’ shouts Nat, from the bathroom, ‘You can always use your new credit card to pay for the pest control people to come round to curb the rat problem we’ll have when our rubbish mounts up.’

     ‘I’m just on it,’ I shout.

* * * * * * * *

I shall probably politely decline my prize, though I really should thank Catherine for taking the time to congratulate me, and, of course, for going out of her way to pre-select me. I might also enquire into what it was that I have done to deserve such pre-selection; what it is that puts me above the un-preselected, unwashed masses. Who knows, it might even be CV-worthy.

     I decide to draft my reply to Catherine while Nat is in the shower, so that Nat can’t continue mocking me. I pour myself the remnants of the coffee pot and settle down with my laptop: ‘Dear Catherine …’ No, best change that to ‘Dear Miss Lewis’. Nope, best not be presumptuous … ‘Dear Ms Lewis’ – better to keep things business-like, at least until we get to know each other better.

     I search for a return address, but it’s not obvious from her letter. Eventually, I find an address amongst some small-print at the bottom of her first page to me. Technically, the address provided is to be used in the event of my ‘not wanting to be contacted for marketing purposes’, but once they realise who I am, I’m sure that they will quickly let Ms Lewis know that it’s me, and pass my letter swiftly on to her.

     It’s only when I re-read her message that I realise my prize isn’t as automatic as I’d first thought. It turns out that what I have won is the right to apply for my credit card, though I note that Catherine has added a personalised password for me to use online (a secret code between us both, perhaps),  in order that my application can be fast-tracked. It’s almost as though she wants me to receive my credit card as soon as possible. I am already warming to her; I shall thank her for this, in due course.

     I admit that I’m a little disappointed to learn that Catherine has ‘already helped over 4 Million people in the UK get the credit they deserve.’ This somehow takes a little of the shine off my own sense of achievement here, as I find that I wasn’t in the absolute forefront of her mind when she put her initial list of names together. On reflection, however, I decide not to be precious about things, after all, she did come clean about this in her very first letter to me. This transparency deserves my respect, I conclude. It’s also nice to see that she has granted me 24/7 online access to her, though I do hope that she will have help with this, as being on-call all the time must be draining. (I resolve to only contact her during office hours – unless I have a real need to speak with her … or unless we get on really well.)

     ‘What are you doing?’ asks Nat, appearing behind me, draped in a towel and rubbing her wet hair.

     ‘Nothing,’ I say, and close my laptop.

* * * * * * * *

A few days have gone by since I began my reply to Ms Lewis. I find her initial letter in the back pocket of my jeans as I’m turning out the pockets ready to put them in the wash. I unfold the letter and glance at her name again. Beneath her signature are the words ‘Customer Service, Vanquis Bank’. Something doesn’t feel right. ‘YOU COULD BE APPROVED TODAY’ is written in big letters to the right of her main message to me.

     ‘Nat? Do you think that there might be something a little insincere about Catherine’s – I mean, Ms Lewis’s – letter to me?’

     ‘Who?’

     I hand Nat Catherine’s earlier correspondence with me.

     ‘Is this your ‘Congratulations’ letter from the other day?’ (She’s doing that ‘quote’ thing with her fingers, again.)

     ‘Yes,’ I say.

     She looks at the letter, then up at me, before crumpling the letter into a ball and bouncing it off the side of my head.

     ‘… Is that your final word on it?’ I ask.

     ‘Uh-Huh,’ she says.

     ‘… I think I see your point,’ I say.

     I’ve gone off Catherine a little. I bet she doesn’t even know what it was I was doing on the day she congratulated me.

* * * * * * * *

 

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