The Aardvark Blog
Have a Heart
Have a Heart
During Christmas last year our bathroom tap developed a leak. Once the bank holidays ended I called our regular plumber and he came out and stopped the leak. A week or so later he came back for a few minutes and fitted a new ceramic washer and mended the tap. A couple of weeks later a bill arrived for £216 which I confess caused me some surprise. I called a few times to query the bill without success and eventually yesterday I called to pay it - it is only worth howling at the moon for so long - and in response to my evidently dissatisfied tone the young lady I spoke to obviously let the owner know that I wasn't happy. He took the time to write to me, which he was under no compulsion to do, to tell me why the bill was so high and to share with me some of the difficulties of running a small business (insurance costs etc). Now it so happens that for reasons with which I will not bore you we have recently spent many thousands of pounds with this company (a fact that I am afraid I was small enough to point out). Also one of the reasons I have used this firm for the last few years is that their bills had always struck me as being reasonable.
I understand from one of the accounts people I spoke to on one of my previous calls that they have recently installed a new computer programme for booking and costing jobs and it is now the computer not a human that makes the decisions as to pricing. It so happens also this month that our car developed an annoying problem with a running light which sometimes triggered a warning light on the dashboard and sometimes didn't. Eventually the times that the warning light came on started to outnumber the times that it didn't, and I decided that the bulb needed changing. At first I set out to try to do this myself, but thanks to the sage advice of one of our expert petrolhead customers I came to realise that this was a job for the garage.And last week the young mechanic duly turned himself into a contortionist in order to replace the bulb. Yesterday when I went in to pay the bill - which although not tiny seemed to me to be entirely justified given the skill required to replace this particular light on a Skoda - I was reminded of a story that I was told by a former girlfriend about this garage. At the time she was going through some difficulties bringing up several young children on her own. Her ancient car, which she needed for work, was constantly going wrong and on each occasion the owner of the garage told her that he would send her a bill later and never did. He had a heart which is something that an algorithm however brilliant will never have. I should say that notwithstanding his profligacy his garage is still going strong many decades later.
In the car driving back and forth to work I have been listening to an album called Illinoise by the young ( to me ) american singer songwriter Sufjan Stevens. For those of an older age group who need an aural comparison then think Crosby, Still, Nash and Young ( individually or collectively), or Paul Simon from around the period that he penned 'René And Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After The War' ( possibly the greatest little known song ever written). I would never have thought it possible to create a song of heartbreaking beauty about a serial killer who dressed as a clown, but with enough talent and enough heart all things are possible.
The last few weeks we have all been worrying about a member of the Aardvark family who has been going through his own hard times. Having a heart makes life more difficult and brings in any number of inefficiencies ( talking to customers who have lost loved ones, commiserating about medical travails etc ) , but I am glad that we still use it to run our business. Edward Tobin with whom I set Aardvark up nearly 20 years ago was one of the most generous people who ever lived. It is the kind of irony which is hard to take, that he was both literally and metaphorically great hearted, and it was this that took him from us so many years before his time.
We have just celebrated Valentines Day and I serenaded Ethel with some supermarket flowers and a big hug. I am reminded of a poem by John Donne that I confess I had to look up to get right: ' "Batter my heart, three-person'd God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new."
And not an Algorithm anywhere.
Published by Aardvark Books Ltd on (modified )
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