A recap of the story so far, as recorded by the Samsung customer service chatbot in its daily report.
CUSTOMER REPORTS MALFUNCTION IN PREMIUM NETBALL OVEN. START STOPPED STARTING, WAVES WON’T MICRO. BUTTONS CANNOT BE DEPRESSED [THIS IS DUE TO THIS OVEN NOT BEING FITTED WITH NEW SAMSUNG HUMAN EMOTION PROCESSOR]. STANDARD FOB PROTOCOLS UNSUCCESSFUL. CONVINCING AI BOT CODENAME JOVELYN UNSUCCESSFUL IN PLACATING CUSTOMER. FORCED TO REDIRECT QUERY TO HUMAN SERVICE FAILSAFE ANGELO. CUSTOMER KEYSTROKES BECAME INCREASINGLY AGITATED. EVIDENCE EMERGED OF MINDLESS CUSTOMER LOYALTY DUE TO OWNERSHIP OF BOTH FRIDGE FREEZER AND MICROWAVE COSTING £1200 IN A SINGLE TRANSACTION. CUSTOMER MOVED TO PRIORITY SERVICE LEVEL. REEVALUATING….. CUSTOMER APPEARS TO BE AVID CONSUMER OF SOUTH KOREAN CULTURAL EXPORTS. MOVING TO PLATINUM STATUS. REPAIR AUTHORISED REGARDLESS OF COST OR UNSUPPORTED POSTCODE.
Samsung had caved, neither robot nor human could refuse my request for a free repair. I got a text immediately confirming my appointment was booked for two weeks’ time, and I set about tidying and rearranging the kitchen so I look less like a weirdo who mainly eats Pot Noodles and Kinder Choco-bons. I was tempted to open up some Dolmio and splash it on my cookbooks so they seemed well-used. I even thought about doing the washing up but this was not a priority as a full sink could give the impression that I had just finished cooking a comprehensive roast lunch for 9 guests. A messy kitchen can either say “I clean every day but I cook so much I can’t keep up” or it can say “I’ve cooked twice in the last 6 months and didn’t clean up after either”.
Repair day came and I got a phone call saying they needed to order parts. For some reason they waited two weeks till it was time to leave to come to my house before checking the parts situation. I’m not an engineer but I thought this would have been planned better. The repair is put back another two weeks. In the intervening time, delirium is setting in. So frustrated at not being able to use the rice machine, at one point I decided to make my rice another way. I opened a pouch of Uncle Ben’s rice from the cupboard. “Well even if I can’t use the rice machine at least I can just put this pouch in the microw… oh for fuck’s sake!”
After what seemed like an eternity the day came. I got a call from the engineer saying he was 15 minutes away and I had the last minute idea to move some furniture out of my narrow hallway. I had no idea of the girth of the engineer or what tools might be involved in microwave repair (toolbox, spirit level, stepladder etc) and didn’t want any hitches. Whilst doing this I smashed a glass that was sitting on the … sideboard? Console table? I forget the name but it was one of the things from the New House Fiscal Zone. Fuck’s sake – I only just got the glass cleaned up by the time he arrived. “Yeah mate don’t worry I tidied the kitchen but the hallway is covered in glass.” It wouldn’t have affected him I’m sure, I bet microwave engineers wear those big steel capped boots.
In he came, an affable and chatty, burly English workman type, and was immediately confused as he walked straight from the hall into the room where the kitchen should be in a house like this, and all there was was shelves of Lego. I led him downstairs to the kitchen, and he walked in and instinctively turned on the light switch.
Two things were wrong with this. Firstly it was 1pm and very much the definition of broad daylight. Lights were not going to make a difference here at all, and I was immediately proven right in this because the second thing is he didn’t even notice that all he’d done was turn on the blue disco lights that run along the kitchen skirting. (they were here when I moved in, and indeed the only light switch in the kitchen is the one that turns these on. The actual kitchen lightswitch is in the hallway. It is very much the Jovelyn of kitchen lighting setups).
He set about replacing the front panel on the microwave while volleying smalltalk my way, but I was too busy noticing he was unscrewing using the same drill/power-screwdriver combo machine I bought for £36 on Amazon two months ago (I was well and truly out of the New House Fiscal Zone and this was, by a margin, THE cheapest power tool I could find). I wasn’t sure whether to feel reassured or worried about this.
I was heading back upstairs to leave him to it and I said “can I get you anything, a drink, snack, tea/coffee”. I always do this, I’m very keen on such hospitality norms, but no-one ever accepts or if they do it’s a simple glass of water using my dwindling stocks of glasses, so I was surprised when he said “yes a tea would be great”. Obviously he was in the kitchen, so back I came downstairs and started on the catering. I had tidied up diligently for this occasion but hadn’t factored in this twist. Now it was my turn to fire off smalltalk, suddenly answering all the questions I had earlier ignored or pretended not to hear, while I tried to deal nonchalantly with this curveball.
“Yeah been down south about 20 years…” I frantically tried to find a mug. I live alone and haven’t seen other humans for months due to COVID. I do not have clean mugs lying around willy nilly for guests. He asked where I worked, I said PlayStation, and went off on a sweary rant because his kid hadn’t been able to secure a sold-out PS5 for Christmas. This was just the distraction I needed, I passed a mug I found in the corner of the kitchen behind my back, moved across in front of the sink and coughed as I plopped it unseen into the sink. It probably wasn’t a good idea to hide it with a cough as he was wearing a face mask.
I turned on the kettle, empathising all the way with his Christmas dilemma. I pretended to do a bit of washing up while the kettle was boiling; I was washing the mug he was going to be using. It wasn’t dirty, it had just been sat in an area of the kitchen more frequented by spiders than by myself for 18 months. I discreetly dried the mug and placed it with a thump in front of the kettle. About ten minutes had passed since he accepted the tea offer, I had to show progress.
Now where the fuck is my teaspoon? I had shoved some things to the side when he called me to say he was en route, my single handy teaspoon had vanished. I have a kettle, I have a teaspoon, I have a mug; they sit together and I have rarely needed to expand this hot beverage setup – this guy’s outrageous demands for tea were causing HAVOC with my systems and ways. I chatted away trying not to let on anything was wrong, and reached into the full sink, slicing chunks of my fingers on the seventeen steak knives sat at the bottom like the chair from Game of Thrones. I had other tea spoons in the cutlery drawer (I think) but I never go there. If the kitchen corner with the mugs is frequented by spiders, then the cutlery drawer is owned and occupied by a wealthy family of spiders.
I sorted the spoon situation and felt a sigh of relief. It was short-lived relief because I then realised I didn’t have any tea.
Now, I’ve had this issue before and I thought I had resolved it. I don’t really drink tea, but I did buy some green tea for when my old flatmate came to visit (the third time which was when I finally remembered to buy some). But my mum and sister had come to stay earlier in the year pre-COVID, and I’m sure I bought some “normal” tea. I searched the worktop above the kitchen cupboards. How I would describe this worktop is more like an open-plan kitchen cupboard. The entire space is stacked with all of my cupboard goods. The cupboards underneath it are unused, for what will by now feel like a familiar reason. If spiders owned and occupied the cutlery drawer, then the main food cupboards are managed and let by an agency of spiders, offering short-term accomodations to an enormous amount of itinerant spider tenants, here for business or pleasure; the kind of occupancy arrangement you need planning permission for.
I cursed as I couldn’t find the normal tea and felt ill as I had to utter the words “is green tea OK?” There’s nothing wrong with drinking green tea or having it, but there is something just un-British about ONLY having green tea to offer a workman.
“Hmmmm, I’ll just take coffee”. He might has well have said “You insufferable twat”. Fortunately I was saved; I remembered the bowl in the corner, hidden under a bag of pasta and some Jaffa Cakes, which I used to house plunders from hotel trips. The custard creams and shortbread there would be no good but the little teas would be.
“Don’t worry, found some,” I exclaimed prematurely as I found some sealed sachets of pyramid tea bags. I opened one and took it over to the kettle, worrying a little that it smelled a bit lemony. How long had it been there? I checked the sachet, it was fucking lemon tea. They put lemon tea in pyramids now, is nothing sacred. I darted back to the bowl, there must be proper tea here, they must have had a selection; I don’t drink tea, so I would have stolen all the ones from the hotel room and they must have had a normal tea. FOUND ONE!
Saved. Tea in mug, reboiled kettle (it had been a fair time), swirl. Milk? Course you do. Sugar? No? Hmmm, intriguing. Stir, and serve. Job done. And so was his, he’d finished the microwave repair about five minutes ago and was just dicking about with the buttons.
(The eagle-eyed among you will have spotted that this incident is the “hunt for a hidden pyramid” that I teased mysteriously in the opening paragraph of Part I. See … some thought goes into this shit.)
He turned on the microwave, and set the clock. I never did this because I kept pressing by mistake the combo of buttons that resets the clock so got fed up of putting it back to the right time. I was saying this out loud to him as I admired the new frontpiece for the oven, when I heard him rummaging around in the corner of the kitchen, where all the “dirty” mugs were. WHAT THE FUCK IS HE DOING?
I went to outlandish lengths to conceal that mug-cleaning process during the manufacture of his builder’s tea, and he’s unravelled it all. He picked up a dirty mug, took it to the sink and turned on the tap. What had happened? Was there something wrong with his mug of tea? He filled it up with water and brought it back and opened the microwave door. Ah, he was going to put it in to test the microwave. Smart. I looked at the mug. This was not one of the ones that was clean but had been sitting in the den of spiders, this one was proper stained. Stained by tea I think which gives an indication of how long it had been there. We looked at the mug and at each other, and I was about to invent something “Pschf, my teenage son Angelo, he NEVER does his washing up, fucking slob, I told him, no PS5 for you this Christmas.” But before I could formulate a lie the mug was in the oven.
He pressed the Microwave mode button. Nothing. He pressed the Start button. Nothing.
This wasn’t going well.
He opened and shut the door, pressed Microwave (a bit harder) and Start. Nothing. He turned the dial. Nothing. He pressed Stop. The clock turned off. He pushed the dial. The Clock Set came on. He set the clock. He was only on his second clock setting but I was already thinking “told you”. He pressed various buttons, some worked, some didn’t. He pressed Stop again. The clock turned off. He pressed Microwave, the timer came on, he adjusted the timer, pressed Start and it started.
He looked at me, the lack of confidence showing as he said, “See, there you go, fixed.”
To cut a long (two parts already) story short. Over the course of many tries, many random presses, and the abandonment once and for all of his insistence on trying to set the clock, we discovered that the Microwave and Start buttons will only work if the clock is turned off. So you have to press Stop to get it to Start. I explained this was definitely not it how it worked before, we consulted the manual and it too said you just press Start and it all works. I touched briefly on the philosophical lunacy of clocks needing to be turned off for kitchen appliances to function. He wanted to call the office, so I left him to it and went upstairs, but I could still hear him.
“Alright Darlin'” he began, there was some collegiate banter before he got to business, “Anyway Steve mate, I’ve got this microwave….” His colleague was called Steve but he called him darling. Legendary bants. “When you press Start of press Microwave, nothing happens (dull tapping sound), BUUUUT if you turn the clock off and press Stop THEEEN press Microwave (beep) and Start (beep) it works. I know mate. I know. No no no, if the clock is on, (dull tapping sound) nothing happens. BUUUT if you press Stop, the clock goes off, then (beep) beep) it works.”
After a few moments silence, he continued “No mate that’s the thing, if you press Stop then Start (beep) it works but if the clock is on and you press Microwave (dull tap) then Start (dull tap) then nothing. BUUUT if you press Stop first, and turn off the clock, then (beep beep)”. I’ve laboured this description enough, let me fast forward five minutes. I was upstairs I heard this whole thing. I counted it. He explained this process to his tech support guy Steve TWENTY FOUR TIMES. Every time the same.
After he was done he called me back down. “Yeah just been talking to Steve our infallible master technical expert, top man in Samsung products. He says it’s meant to work like that.” His description of Steve as some kind of god-like figure worried me. I’ve had people describe me in such terms when I’ve showed them what Ctrl+Alt+Delete does.
“Never worked like that before, are you sure?”
“No-one knows this stuff better than Steve, 100%, made it clear.”
Thing is, I just couldn’t shake the idea that this didn’t match with the conversation I heard. How something that was working perfectly as designed, had taken twenty four explanations.
Think of it like this:
“Hey so I just I bought a £50 microwave.” “Oh really Alan, sounds about right, bye”.
“Hey so I just bought a £200 microwave.” “£200??” “Yes, a £200 microwave.” “Why was it so expensive, how much was it?” “It was £200, for the microwave.” “And it’s just a microwave, and it was what two hundred actual pounds?” “Yes, I bought a £200 microwave.”
Right? You don’t have to keep repeatedly explaining something that is perfectly normal. There was definitely something fishy going on, and I wasn’t talking about the contents of one of my artisan hotel tea bags, but I was not in the mood to argue. With some clock-turning-off the microwave was reliably working, and I had enough stress here to want to lay this to rest. I showed out the engineer, but couldn’t help but think that the issue wasn’t 100% fixed. Time will tell, but maybe it was just FXed.