Letter of complaint
With the department mail I received a letter of complaint from a customer who had arranged a balloon outing for some of his important clients; and to put the icing on this event he had purchased a large picnic hamper from Trewins (JL Watford) and filled it with goodies.
Imagine his surprise and disgust when the entire contents fell out and became lost due to the bottom of the hamper being consumed by some strange creature. He claimed that the day had been completely ruined and held my department responsible, and also that he required suitable compensation.
With the letter, he attached a form from the Three Rivers District Council Pest Control Department together with an example of the beetle, in a small plastic bag, and a careful analysis identifying the creature as a “Wicker weevil.”
I would investigate the matter carefully
The customer was immediately sent a letter apologising, saying that I would investigate the matter carefully and come back to him urgently.
I sent a form to the MTL (Merchandise testing laboratory) for advice. Within a day or two they informed me that the creatures are able to do a lot of damage but that there had never been a case of them breeding in the UK.
I contacted the Central Buyer who was most helpful but could not give me any advice as to what action to take. She arranged for an investigation of stock at the Stevenage warehouse and suggested that I checked my hampers.
I sought advice from the legal department. Guess what? I became more and more confused. I started to get questions from other Kitchenware DM’s across the Partnership asking for photocopies of the beetle. So far they had been unable to find similar miscreants in their stocks.
One of the most interested colleagues was Tony, DM of 001 (Oxford Street) who wanted to know how I was checking my stock of some 100 hampers for beetles. It was likely to be a massive undertaking at Watford, however at Oxford Street with over 1,000 hampers in the stockroom at any given time, the problem was gigantic. How was I proposing to pay for the partners overtime?
Gas mask and rubber gloves
The episode dragged on for weeks. Eventually the service manager Mr Peter Mathews came down to me and asked me for a “quiet word”. He said he had arranged with Rentokil to call that evening to fumigate all my hampers. So as not to create an issue, it would be most helpful if I would personally move all stocks from the stockroom after work and group them together in a different spot in the atrium area of my department. It was essential that my staff did not know as this might cause unnecessary concern. He also suggested that I should wear a gas mask and rubber gloves, so I didn’t ingest any dust from the hampers as it could be dangerous. Having said goodnight to all my partners, I began the arduous task of moving the 100 hampers to their new location.
Ever been had
Complete in my second World War gas mask, sweat pouring from every part of me, I marched on with the task. Forty five minutes or so later, I was just finishing when suddenly I became aware of an intercom announcement from Sue Graham the General Manager. “Peter Watts, have you ever been had?” as clear as a bell.
I remember standing up, removing the mask and looking up into the atrium. Approximately 200 partners were clapping, cheering and blinding me with the flash of their cameras.
The ultimate wind up
I subsequently discovered that the whole thing was set up by Nigel Brown, Floor Covering DM at Watford; who seconded the Buying Office, MTL, all Kitchenware DM’s in the other branches, pest control officers at Three Rivers, not forgetting of course many of my fellow managers at Watford. I am sure any one would have fallen for this ultimate wind up, or am I just too naive? But you must be impressed how no one let the cat out of the bag, only the Wicker weevil!