First, a warning. this post is far more mundane than the Robert Ludlum-esque spy thriller title suggests. Oh it’s full of twists and turns sure, phone calls between strangers, masked men with specialist equipment, a hunt for a hidden pyramid, and a true David and Goliath scenario. But it’s also, at its heart, about domestic appliances and, at various stages, rice.
My friend and colleague Sima got me into this South Korean tv show, My Mister. I was open to the recommendation as I have long been a bordering-on-the-obsessed fan of Danish tv shows, so the subtitles would not put me off, and I’d never seen a Korean tv show. I started watching it and couldn’t stop. It’s tremendous. I even got to the point where it became aspirational and I wanted to BE and LIVE like the characters in the show. Problem is, none of the characters lead particularly aspirational lives. Two of the characters, working as downtrodden cleaners, can be seen enjoying little packed lunchboxes each day. I WANTED TO EAT LIKE THAT. I WANTED TO EAT LUNCH. They had a little pot with mushrooms! How do I get this exotic life?
I remembered that these mushrooms are available here. In the UK!! But the problem was the rice. I like rice, but cooking it at home has always been expensive. In fact it’s probably the most expensive dish I’ve ever cooked. About £20 per portion, so I was unable to afford to eat it often. If you’re wondering how that cost breaks down it’s about 50p for the rice itself then £19.50 for a new pot because rice is so burnt to the bottom I have to throw it away.
Of course, I could have microwave rice pouches, but there’s no way the guys in My Mister are getting that rice from pouches. They’re not eating Uncle Ben’s Savoury Chicken here. If I’m going to live like my screen icons I need to up my rice game. I went hunting for a rice cooker; almost bought one at about £100 then I spotted this very minimalist model, with a price to match. This one didn’t have any visible dials or buttons, and presumably ran on batteries because I couldn’t see any cables, but promised perfect rice every time. What was this futuristic machine that does something so advanced as make rice without burning, scraping and pot replacement, yet appears from the outside to have no moving parts.
I also bought a Korean cookbook to put on the untouched shelf with all my other cookbooks. I wasn’t kidding myself; however “simple” these recipes would be my chances of making any of them were zero; it was to go somewhere to sit in pristine condition and make me seem like I know more about kitchens and the happenings therein than I actually do.
The book was as expected, essentially a brochure of things I might ask for if I ever go to a Korean restaurant. A coffee table version of a takeaway menu. The rice machine was a revelation. It LITERALLY has all the electronics and gears and processors all invisibly hidden inside this thin plastic pot. It’s almost as if it’s making the rice purely using the vents in the top of the lid. And no batteries. You stick it in the microwave, add the rice and water and it just MAKES IT!
I ate rice for weeks. Weeks. It was a golden age in my culinary life. I don’t normally even eat lunch but I started just so I could use the rice machine. So enamoured with it I was, I bought a companion device, a soup machine. It’s like the rice machine, but mug shaped, with different holes. Again, all the electronics and cogs and pistons required for its functioning are concealed within its dainty plastic frame. I don’t fully understand the technology involved, but it manages to keep my soup within the container, rather than spreading it lukewarm around the inside of my microwave. Just to be clear in case that sounds outlandish, I am actually able to put all my soup in my mouth after cooking rather than mopping half of it up with a sponge. It was the biggest revelation since being able to cook rice without popping straight after to Wilko for a new pot.
Key to the functioning of my new kitchen equipment, and my new-found experimentation with this “eating at lunchtime” concept, was my microwave, which I bought when I moved last year.
Due to a sense of brand loyalty over their sponsorship of the Australian national netball side, I had opted for a Samsung. It was not a brand I associated with microwaves, but I was sure the South Korean electronics-making and girl-sport money-giving company would make a great one. I mean, you don’t go sponsoring elite sport if you don’t have the basics covered right?
It cost me £200.
I usually get the same reaction when I tell people this. Like I’ve just said I went out to buy a pint of milk and it cost me £72.50. (Or when I say a portion of rice costs £20.) But you have to understand, I was in the New House Fiscal Zone. An unprecedented period of time where I simultaneously had absolutely fuck all money, was more in debt than I’d ever been in my life, and yet … yet … had an unlimited budget to buy things on cash or credit as long as I could justify them to myself as being “for the house”. For about a month, I’d been trying to find that perfect balance between things I wanted and things that could be considered homeware. I bought a new hoover. A Dyson. I just wanted it. I had a perfectly working hoover. A Dyson. I now have two hoovers. Dysons. They were for the house. It’s ALLOWED.
Anyway, this microwave does so many things that I cannot, at time of writing, without checking the manual, confirm that it does not also hoover. It has a grill in it, it has an oven in it. It can make yoghurt. It has sensors that apparently can detect what you’re cooking and if it’s ready. I don’t use any of them, never have. I only needed a microwave. There was no need to spend so much money getting something so feature packed and fancy. But you know, it was for the house. The house had been through a lot and deserved a treat.
Well the house was very disappointed when, after just 18 months, and now out of warranty, it broke. In fact the house was beside itself (at which point I had to move next door). Yes, the buttons on the front, for examples buttons called things like “Start” and “Microwave”, just stopped responding. They had been fiddly for some weeks, sometimes working sometimes not. I’d wondered if I’d somehow pressed one of the other modes by mistake and it was in the wrong mode or something. Eventually with some pressing it would work. But now it was done for. Ironically, the lunch phase hadn’t lasted and it was probably the first time in about a month I made something at lunchtime. And half an hour later, the soup machine was in the fridge and I was too agitated to make anything else.
But it can’t have broken after eighteen months. South Korea makes a tv show I like. How can their microwaves break? Samsung sponsor netball for fuck’s sake! It made no sense. Although I did then realise they didn’t renew their sponsorship this year, and wondered for a few minutes (fourteen) if these were connected. What if the netball powers got wind that Samsung had been making ropey ovens, and for the sake of the sport’s image severed the lucrative connection. I then thought my efforts would be better wasted trying to complain about this to anyone who would listen.
A quick search for reviews of the microwave uncovered people with similar problems (I know, most normal people look at reviews before they buy and not eighteen months in, but I told you, things are different in the New House Fiscal Zone. Samsung only make one microwave > they sponsored netball > it was for the house. That was the whole process.) The reviews went along the lines of “Bastard microwave, buttons broke after 18 months, Samsung refused to do anything”. Yes, several even were at the exact timeframe, leading me to wonder if the timer cooking my rice was not the only timer built in to the oven. Oh that was the other thing; not only were the buttons not working, but for months the dial you use to turn up the timer had been misbehaving – you turn it clockwise and sometimes it would increase the timer, and sometimes decrease it. It was like a game, requiring concentration and dexterity. When I tell girls I just spent hours using my skills in the kitchen, they usually wouldn’t assume I meant fiddling with the dial to microwave my rice.
I got frustrated at the reviews and the growing feeling that I was going to have to pay for this or buy a new microwave, but I decided to see for myself. I went onto Samsung’s website, rifled support documents and then onto Live Chat. I initially chatted with a robot – at least they had a little bot icon on their profile picture indicating this. SamBot asked me to describe my issue. Really, I needed to make this so obfuscating that the bot would have nothing in its preprogrammed repertoire to handle me, and would have to cave in and let me through to a human ASAP.
“I bought a microwave 18 months ago on the back of your sponsorship of the Australian Diamonds netball team, and I’m using my rice machine to eat like the cleaning guys from My Mister, but the dial thinks it’s going counter-clockwise when it’s going clockwise and the Start button won’t start.”
“… PLEASE WAIT FOR ONE OF OUR SUPPORT TECHNICIANS”
“Great. While we’re waiting, do you think there will ever be a computer that can beat humans at netball?”
I got no answer and moments later, possibly due to some kind of AI panic button being pressed, I was chatting to someone who introduced themselves as Jovelyn – an interesting name which I fully embraced “Hi Jovelyn, thanks Jovelyn, appreciate your help JOVELYN” – it was like Jocelyn, a name I knew, but with a V instead of a C. Quaint. Only while writing this have I realised that V is right next to C on the keyboard, and chances are Jovelyn did not have a quirky name at all, just mistyped it when she introduced herself. Oh well.
After many troubleshooting steps, which I’d already done but did again, and a procedure that involved pulling the microwave out and reading serial numbers, Jovelyn told me that it was out of warranty and the best she could do was give me the number of the local service centre. She gave their name and number as I was muttering about how it would probably be cheaper to buy a new microwave, my disappointment, something something international netball federation ombudsman…
I had the details of Group FX – the repair company which sounded like they specialised more in blowing stuff up than fixing it. Or FXING it. Their motto was probably “there’s no I in FIX”. I went on their website to do some checks. They had a list of postcodes they cover. This had every area postcode in a ten mile radius, except mine. So I called them and asked, they said that’s right they specifically, and without giving a reason, service everywhere in fucking Kent, except the small part of it that I live in. But they gave me the number of someone who did.
So I called the alternate company they gave me. Their name was more generic, initials (probably of the owner)-Repairs Ltd. It wasn’t funny so I’m not going to make a meal of it. Although I’m not really making a meal of anything at the moment because my fucking microwave is broken, and neither my rice machine or soup machine seem to heat up without it. I called the new place. It started with an automated message, I zoned out for a few moments. Something something thanks for your call, something something COVID, the usual preamble, probably mentioning there may be delays, staff are working from home, please be patient, your call is important to us, have you checked our website etc. And then the automated message hung up on me. Wait what? I called back, this time I listened to the message; in a nutshell “we’re not answering phones, e-mail us”.
I e-mailed them and they got back pretty quick “We wouldn’t service a microwave as our call out charge is £108”.
… ‘S SAKE!
I was enraged. I was livid. I was not standing for this. I immediately googled Martin Lewis.
I didn’t need advice I just needed to check if his name was spelt with an I or a Y for when I namedropped him to Samsung. I was planning to get back on that chat, get past that bot again, get back onto Samsung and then furiously type a series of messages which would contain the following phrases in no particular order: “I know my rights”, “Expose”, “Martin Lewis”, “SAD FART” (look it up) and as back ups “Gloria Hunniford”, “Angela Rippon”, “Julia Somerville”, and maybe “Steph McGovern”. I could just imagine their faces when a camera crew turned up outside their office with my microwave, and some hastily put together satire on the side of a van (“Scamsung” is the best I could think of). Only to discover they’re all working from home because of COVID and the office is empty. Hmmm.
I was back on the chat. Jovelyn had moved on, I was on with Angelo now. Although it may have been Angela. It was a fairly slick operation, they had all the details of the previous chat. I told them about the £108 quote and how unacceptable it was. I followed through with how it was my first Samsung purchase, heart-broken, expected more, but before I could move onto asking how they passed Netball Australia’s infamously strict corporate due diligance, Angelo started asking me more about when/where I purchased it and if I had my receipts. This was not the fob I was expecting. I excitedly dug out my e-mail receipt from the new house acquisition spree at AO.
Located on my receipt was a detail which started to really swing things in my favour.
Just above the £200 Samsung microwave, was a £1000 Samsung fridge freezer. Yes, the pricey microwave was a mere add-on to my netball-inspired kitchen appliance jamboree.
It was mere moments before “out of warranty” was a thing of the past and phrases like “as a loyal customer” were coming in. Next thing a manager was being spoken to about an exceptional free-of-charge repair callout, and I was going to be contacted by their service agent who would come out and fix my microwave, admire my fridge and empower my rice and soup machines.
An hour later I had a text confirming my repair appointment. From … none other than Group FX, the guys who definitely didn’t cover my postcode. The ones who so definitely didn’t do my postcode they took the trouble of putting it on a website, and turning my business away explicitly on the telephone to a competitor. My repair was booked for two weeks time, and I felt I had emerged victorious from my consumer rights battle.
This was expected to be the end of the story, but before publishing this McCannecdote which I wrote a couple of weeks ago I thought it might be worth waiting till the actual repair visit had taken place, in case there were more shenanigans. They came yesterday, and there were. So many that after finishing writing this story it became too weighty for a single post, and for your convenience I have split the repair story into the less enigmatically titled The South Korean Shenanigans, Part II…