Horace rang again yesterday morning. Again, I was the unfortunate one to pick up the phone. This time, he was asking about waterproof covers for his caravan. His awkward lisp informed me he is missing at least one front tooth. His strong Aussie twang revealed he has lived in the bushfire-ravaged outback all his life. Even though he is invisible over the telephone, I could imagine his skin would resemble those of a bull elephant – dried and wrinkled, windswept and parched under the Aussie sun with only his Akubra hat as futile protection against the UV rays. “What’s that accent of yours?” He asked. “Oh, some guess it’s South African, some think it’s Kiwi. But I’m chuffed there are those who think I’m English or Scottish” was my reply. Many hide their racism and so I hide my race. There is no need to jeopardise a sale.
“So, it is a local product, yeah?” Horace drawled with a Northern accent. “Local?”, I asked. I reminded him we don’t even make cars anymore. They were legendary – the Holden HQs and HKs and let’s not forget the Toranas! Ford had their Falcon XAs and XYs – oh, those were the glory days! Horace, today’s Australia is simply incapable of making a basic thing like a caravan cover. A good reason is it requires polypropylene. The Greenies won’t allow it for a start! Do not think we will be allowed to produce thermoplastic polymers in this country – leave our pristine habitat alone. The unspoken message is let China do the pollution and then we will in turn shake our fingers and reprimand them. Horace is a typical customer of ours who has to use the phone to buy from an online store. Almost computer-illiterate, they can only type with their fore fingers, and I can always hear them bashing at the keyboard and cursing the damn computer under their breath. They often forget to hang up and I could hear them swearing at life’s many grievances. We are for that moment a grievance. Many of them do not know their post codes and occasionally they will ring back to say they got their State or Territory wrong. They think our website is Google, and thankfully for Google, we are usually ranked top in the products they are searching for. The pandemic has caused severe economic trauma, wreaked havoc on peoples’ livelihoods and even destroyed lives. Yet, internet-based businesses such as mine have not felt the down-turn apart from a brief fortnight in February. Maybe, people under lock-down have nothing to do and nowhere to spend their money – no dining out, no footy and netball matches to attend and no concerts to splurge on. The closure of borders means no one can divert any savings to expensive holidays or luxurious cruises either. Since COVID-19, our business has been pummelled with phone enquiries so much so that the Horaces of this world have even begun to haunt me in my dreams.
“Why did you send us a quad seat cover, we ordered a quad bike?”
Answer: You bought a Quad seat cover. We do not sell Quad bikes.
“But, how much is the Quad anyway?
“What does a pair of seat covers mean?”
Answer: Seat covers to fit both your front seats.
“Does a pair mean both front and rear seats?”
“Do your seats come with rails?”
Answer: We do not sell seats. We sell seat covers.
“What is a Refund Advice?
Answer: We advised that we have remitted a refund to you.
“Is that a refund or credit?”
“What is that buzzing noise?”
Answer: It is another incoming call (from another Horace).
“Where are you based?”
Answer: We are located in Adelaide.
“Where is Adelaide? I am in Perth”
“Where is my order?”
Answer: It has already been dispatched and we emailed you the tracking number. Would you like me to give it to you now?
“Oh, I already know it.”
“Your listing says it fits Honda Odyssey from 12/1999-9/2003. Does it fit my 2002 model?”
Answer: Yes (grrrrr).
“I ordered seat covers for my Audi Q5 2018, why does your invoice say it is for a RAV-4?”
Answer: Horrors, Horace. Let me fix it for you.
P.s. Your delivery address cannot be your email address, Horace. We have no means of shipping your parcel by email.
But, Horace is very likely in his late seventies, so I must remember to give him some slack. He is grumpy but he may have good reasons to be. He is parochial and seeks to buy-local only, but wanting to be a proud Aussie can’t be a bad thing. He is impatient but maybe his arthritic joints are killing him. He is irritated by the buzzing of my phone but maybe he is lonely. He is forgetful of his own address – perhaps he is a dementia sufferer? He is unhappy with his purchase but maybe that is because he had to forgo that pint of beer. He may be annoyed by me but who isn’t? His diction isn’t clear and he can’t hear me too well but could it be he has major dental problems and hearing impairment?
Horace, born in nineteen forty
A pre-war gift to his folks
They who loved scones and tea
Soon had no mood for jokes
The War didn’t end soon enough
The little boy a bundle of joy
Lives taken or broken, rough
’tis time to celebrate and enjoy
Then came the roaring sixties
Strong and handsome in his prime
The girls loved him to tease
A larrikin without any crime
Next came drugs and sex
Did it in barns and sacks
It was wild and it was free
But then came the kids, all three
In the eighties, pre-internet and computers
A burden with mortgage and children
His missus’ complaints always terse
Life is more caged and barren
Now he is turning eighty
His Missus left years ago
With a young bloke to the city
Horace, where will you goWu Yonggang
Despite Methuselah’s encouragement from Genesis, followers of the three relatively new religions that originate from the same Middle Eastern source are more likely resigned to accept the biblical life span of 70 years for urghhlings. Horrors for Horace, I wonder if he’s aware his life has been out of warranty for almost a decade. Horace made me gaze into the bathroom mirror this morning. After two failed attempts to mentally calculate how much time I have before my own warranty is voided by the manufacturer, I needed a machine to tell the answer is 3,000 days, or a mere eight Christmases to enjoy His warranty. Yeah, please don’t remind me – I know a warranty isn’t a guarantee. Horrors, Horace. I promise I will be extra kind and generous if you do call again. There is after all a Horace in us all.