Monday 14 January 2008

of course, in my case, it's more 'life's a bitch and then you diet'. Hm

I received a phone call at the shop this morning. "I'd like to order two pounds of parsnips and some sprouts" said a voice. "Hello, Bette," I replied - the Sage had put her up to it of course.

She told me that she had explained to our unhappy member that I had confirmed that we could not arrange things as she wanted, but that the lady concerned - let us call her Miss B. - would not accept the situation. Would I phone her, please? Yes, as soon as I'd checked the prices of aubergines and avocados and written up the new (lower) price of tomatoes.

Miss B was really quite difficult. She tried very hard to intimidate me, and accused me several times of discrimination. I was vastly polite, didn't rise to anything she said, was very regretful - this is true, I'd rather help than hinder any time and I honestly don't like anyone to be disadvantaged. I am a peacemaker at heart and would rather give in than make trouble on almost every occasion - but I didn't give an inch.

She changed tack several times, in fact, sometimes saying she could walk and climb steps and sometimes not. She also said she was deaf, and so needed to sit at the front. I said that there is a loop system - but she says she doesn't care to wear a hearing aid. She heard every word I said, but of course she may have equipment to amplify her telephone receiver.

The theatre in question is a very old building, and there have to be some concessions to that in the facilities that they offer, as it's a listed building. However, there is wheelchair access, with an automatic door, the controls of which are easily reachable from a wheelchair. It is possible to reach the auditorium without changing levels, there is a disabled lavatory and I think that it complies with regulations. There are six seats that can be removed and two, at least, wheelchairs can be placed there. Obviously, one would have to book them in advance.

Now, the theatre trustees also allow one wheelchair to be taken nearer the front. When we had to evacuate the theatre during a lecture because of a false alarm, we realised that, not only did our member cause a safety hazard because she couldn't vacate her seat, but that she needed a completely clear aisle to get out of the theatre. Furthermore, the place where there was room for a chair, in front of the side rows of seats, partly blocked the view of the stage if filled by a person in a wheelchair; the chair being higher than a theatre seat - this might not be too bad when there were actors moving about, but would be a considerable annoyance if you were looking at slides on a fixed screen. For those two reasons, our committee decided that, whatever the theatre policy was, we would insist that wheelchair users should use the designated area with removed seats. This would not put people at a disadvantage, as the views and acoustics are good throughout this small theatre, and in fact the back seats fill up far quicker than the unpopular front seats, because you don't get a crick in your neck (and you can make a quick getaway, important when you are paying £1.30 an hour for parking).

I explained this. She accused me of discrimination. I refuted this and explained the safety hazard. She accused me of discrimination. I refuted it and explained that we want to welcome her to the theatre and are very happy to accept her carer free of charge, but that we have to consider the comfort and safety of other members too.

Then she said that, in an emergency, she could leave by the door at the front of the auditorium. I said that it was too steep for a ramp. She said that she could walk down the stairs. I asked her if she could walk up them too - she said yes. I said that, in that case, we would be very happy for her to sit in the seat of her choice. If she was able to leave her wheelchair at the door, whichever door, and walk in, we would give her any additional help she needed and would be very glad that she could come and enjoy the lecture. She wanted to know why, in that case, we were discriminating against her by not allowing her to bring in her wheelchair.

You think I'm going on a bit here? This is nothing. I promise, nothing. I spent nearly three-quarters of an hour discussing it. I said that I'd raise the matter at committee, if she'd write to me outlining her case; I was telling her the decision made at committee following a similar situation. She said that isn't much good, when the lecture is tomorrow. I said that she could have asked before, rather than interrupting a committee member's Sunday lunchtime. This was the only time I sounded a note of criticism.

She said she would resign and wanted her subscription back. I refused. She said we'd taken her money under false pretences. We went through the whole discrimination thing again. I said that, in any case, we'd already paid her capitation fee to the head office. "You'll just have to be out of pocket, then, won't you?" she said. I said that we would discuss her individual situation in committee, but that we feel that we have made sufficient arrangements for each member to see and hear the lecture and so that there was no justification for returning her subscription.

In the end, she said she'd like the seats to be taken out, but that she may not come to the lecture, depending on the weather. I said that we would welcome her, and quite understand if she was not able to come - furthermore, if she felt able to walk to her seat then she would be welcome to do that, regardless of the removed seats. I added that I hoped to meet her tomorrow and that I hoped that she would decide to remain a member.

I haven't mentioned that she said she was going to report me to Head Office - I said that she was more than welcome to, but that each Society is autonomous, that I'd already checked the legality of the situation, and that she would be referred back to me.

I felt annoyed and harrassed at the end. She had wanted to bully me by calling me discriminatory and thought I'd be scared. I am quite indignant at this.

Anyway, afterwards I rang to make arrangements, and then went to have a lovely lunch at Mahsrae Teerts Efac. I had mussels, in a wine, cream and tarragon sauce and a very large glass of wine. Then I went to a music lesson at the High School - I was assisting at rather than participating in the lesson. Then I went back to the shop.

Now, Al and family are home and they have had a lovely time. My shopkeeping duties are over for now, and nothing went wrong. And my sister and I have spent the last hour on the phone together, resulting in near-hysterical laughter, largely because that's better than crying. Not that we felt like crying, it was more a 'life's a bitch and then you die' scenario.

Goodnight, sweeties
xx z


luckyzmom said...

This woman is obviously perceiving discrimination where it doesn't exist and is too full of herself, disabled or not. I think you have handled the situation beautifully.

Anonymous said...

You handled the situation wonderfully. Make sure your head office gets the information from you in writing, so they can back up what you said. The lady wouldn't be happy with anything you and your group did. She sounds like a person who is angry at her lot in life and takes it out on everyone. So, stand up straight Z, be proud of yourself because you took care of the problem in a most professional yet kindly manner.

Monozygote said...

What a palaver.

It strikes me that this woman would try the patience of a saint. There's always one, isn't there? I reckon she's got Issues. And I reckon you deserve a medal for that fine performance, as well as a large glass of wine.

badgerdaddy said...

It's like I always say: "Fuck 'em."

Except you handled it far better than I would have. Sounds like one of those rare conversations that deserves a round of applause afterward. I had one of those once. Just the once mind.

Dave said...

I get that kind of annoying conversation at least once a month. Given my position, I am not expected to swear, or lose my temper.

I did find a slight edge to my voice last week, when someone was being factually incorrect in their complaint, and was delighted to refer them to the exact regulation they had got wrong.

Z said...

Like Dave, I wouldn't swear or lose my temper in such a situation, nor would I be tempted to. I'm very sympathetic to her situation, although not to her behaviour. It is very frustrating to have to give in to increasing age and disability and sometimes becoming more stroppy is the way a strong-minded person can best cope.

The particular lecture she wants to come to today is on Caillebotte, her favourite artist. But she had her membership card back in August - if only she had come to us earlier, we might have been able to meet her and see if there was anything that could be done to make everyone happy. But Sunday lunchtime is not an acceptable time to ring anyone on business and a weekend two days before the event is too late to do anything.

In any case, it's raining so she may not turn up. I hope not, as I wouldn't put it past her to try to take her wheelchair to the front anyway.

Georgie, I will indeed contact head office - but I'm not answerable to them; it's more to forewarn them, poor things.

heybartender said...

I'm with you, badgerdaddy. Of course, that's why i am a bartender and not a person who works in the civilised world. Z, you are a saint. There is no way I would have remained calm after all that time.

The Boy said...

Power is a funny thing, people try to find it wherever they can. In this case she's found her only power in her disability. The word "discrimination" holds a lot of power. Clearly her bitterness has led her to abuse the one power she can grab hold of, and that's sad. You clearly recognized the type and responded well.

What's even more sad is that with the right attitude I expect you and those around you would move mountains for her.

How do we know said...

:-) thats one toughie all right!

Z said...

She did turn up and I welcomed her as if we'd had the friendliest conversation, shook her hand and led the way to the seating area. She said it looked fine.

'Course, I'll have to ring her up and ask her what she thought. *sigh*

lettuce said...

its sounds as though you were wonderfully restrained

i mean, only ONE large glass of wine?

Anonymous said...

I still don't understand why she thinks it's your group's problem. You only hire a hall. Health and Safety Regs won't allow anyone non-ambulant to occupy a seat, if they can't leave quickly and unassisted in case of fire.

If she thinks the hall hasn't met the DDA requirements for accessibility, then let her find someone to check it out (what I was suggesting yesterday).

And why ring her after teh event? To give her the opportunity to moan and complain some more and waste more of your time? In my opinion it would be polite for her to ring *you* to thank you for your endeavours! Some things are beyond the call of duty.

You're much more patient than I would have been!

Z said...

Lettuce - oi! Mind you, it was 250 ml, which is a third of a bottle, so restraining myself to a single glass is no virtue. I did have to cycle half a mile or so to school afterwards.

BW, she accepted in the end that she couldn't get out of her seat, but she still wanted to bring her chair down near the front. The theatre allows that, but we decided not to as, having had a fire alarm, we still felt it wasn't safe. She may follow it up, but there was no time to do so before today's lecture, which was one she particularly wanted to attend.

She has, I have found, a reputation for being quite demanding and self-centred, but I've often found that treating someone with courtesy and friendliness, especially if they are not used to that, can bring out their better side. On the other hand, I'm not a mug and will not get landed with looking after her.

heybartender said...

This reminds me of a story i heard about a waitress here in the U.S. who always had to wait on this particular customer. He was a huge pain in the ass and everyone else at the restaurant refused to deal with him. So she did, and when he died he left her fifty thousand dollars and a car. Perhaps you can keep that in mind during your inevitable phone call?

Z said...

I always think of a grumpy person as someone to win over. If people are nicer to them, they aren't so grumpy.

Ivy said...

What patience you had, well done