Enthusiasms No 47|
A collection of shorter pieces on subjects of
interest, outrage or enthusiasm ...
or how two removal crates supposedly went from Southend to Basildon, and then from Basildon to Aberdeen, and then back from Aberdeen to Basildon, before arriving at their proper destination some 1400 miles and twelve months later
A removal company which screwed up is not something you’d normally read about in Musical Traditions, even when the screw up involved the loss of some rare and important LP records. However, the said records formerly belonged to Keith Summers R.I.P., and I appealed not long ago for information on their whereabouts . That appeal generated a tremendous response from Keith’s many friends and associates. Therefore, a full résumé is in order.
Before Keith died in March, 2004, he willed his large and eclectic record collection to Peta Webb, who unfortunately had nowhere to store it. Nevertheless, Peta was anxious to prevent it being broken up, since it was Keith’s pride and joy, and he had spent the best part of his life compiling it. Therefore, she asked me if I could accommodate the collection as a memorial to Keith. Being a record fiend myself, I was naturally delighted, but there was the problem of shipping the collection from Keith’s old address in Southend-on-Sea, Essex, to my home on Merseyside. We spent a frenetic bank holiday weekend boxing the stuff up, before soliciting estimates from several removal firms. Eventually, we appointed a Basildon based company called Jeakins.
Well, Jeakins came and collected and loaded and went. Excellent, except that they had told us that, being a part load, it would be sent on the next available removals van they had going north. Unfortunately, they forgot to mention how long that would be. What’s more, when they finally got round to delivering the stuff, Jeakins rang me just twenty-four hours beforehand, to tell me the delivery was on its way. And they never even bothered asking whether that would be convenient. I wonder what would have happened if I’d been on my annual vacation, shooting snakes in Samarkand, or tickling tigers in Tibet.
Fortunately, I was doing neither, and at this juncture I should explain that the entire load consisted of sixty-two boxes full of records, plus two removal crates, likewise full of records, and several pieces of furniture. There was no problem with the furniture. “Just put everything in the sitting room, except for the desk. That’s going upstairs”. There should have been no problem with the boxes and crates either, except that the removers failed to follow my instructions. These were to put the lighter boxes upstairs and leave the heavier ones below. Instead, they stacked the whole consignment into a cramped space in the dining room. Well, it was a scorching evening, and I couldn’t blame anyone for not wanting to mule that lot upstairs. Plus, these guys told me they had got to get to Aberdeen, in order to do a drop there. It was 7pm by this time and Aberdeen is three hundred and sixty miles away.
Even so, there should have been no problem, except that I couldn’t get at the load to count the boxes. Instead, I checked the invoice with the head driver, and signed it on his assurance that everything belonging to me had been taken off the van.
That was a bad mistake. The boxes were so tightly packed that several days passed before I’d emptied enough of them to realize that the two crates hadn’t been delivered. I immediately rang Jeakins. Now I know an invidious position when I’m in one, so I was most apologetic in explaining that the loss had only just come to light. Could the crates be still in the warehouse somewhere? A voice that would have cowed a herd of stampeding elephants told me that the load had been delivered, that I had signed for it, that Jeakins was not responsible, and that I had no redress under the terms of the contract, or the insurance, or consumer protection legislation. I opened my mouth to speak. The voice interrupted. I opened my mouth again. The voice interrupted again. When I asked if I could get a word in edgeways, the owner of the voice slammed the receiver down. I rang back immediately. Before I could say anything it shouted down the phone at me, “YOU WILL NOT SHOUT DOWN THE PHONE AT ME!”, and its owner slammed the receiver down again. When I rang a third time, the voice refused to answer.
It takes a particularly loathsome kind of individual to butt in whilst other people are speakins. So I was bound to be annoyed anyway. In fact, this novel approach to customer aftercare left me disgusted, speechless, angry, depressed, and violated. In short, I was livid. In short, it looked as though Jeakins’ incompetence had thwarted the whole point of the exercise; namely to keep Keith’s record collection intact in its entirety, in his memory. All the work of boxing up the discs, of coordinating the move, of sorting through Keith’s multitudinous papers, magazines, discographies and computer files, to say nothing of the problems involved in turning my own house upside down, felt as though it had been for naught. And I couldn’t even get a civilised answer!
From a legal perspective, it looked like I was on a loser. But nobody speaks to me like that, and especially not after the forking out of close on half a thousand quid for a botched up job. I decided to send Jeakins a flea in their ear the size of my local Trading Standards Department. That turned out to be a good move, for the officer I spoke to told me that my position was not as hopeless as it might seem. The onus in fact was on Jeakins to prove that they had delivered the entire load. This they couldn’t do, since I hadn’t been given a proper opportunity to inspect the same. Therefore, I was in a position to sue. All I had to do was to show the judge that the boxes had been stacked in such a way that I could not check them within a reasonable time-span, and while the removers were there; also that the damages sought were in line with the value of the records. It would then be up to the judge to decide which party was telling the truth.
Well, my integrity speaks for itself, and there was no problem about marshalling the evidence. I had kept all the boxes, and they were labelled and measurable, and of course I had the room measurements. It was a simple case of drawing up a plan to show how high the boxes needed to be stacked in order to fit them into the space available. Moreover, Keith had kept a meticulous database of all his records, so I knew exactly what was in those crates and I had a pretty good idea of their condition. Armed with this information, I solicited the professional expertise of a good friend of mine, who is in the second hand record business, and who specialises in its more esoteric aspects. He was kind enough to produce an authoritative estimate of their worth, which came to four thousand six hundred and eighty four pounds. That is not a sum to be trifled with, and it made the pursuit of a claim against Jeakins seem all the more imperative.
However, before a court would entertain the suit, I needed to explore all the alternatives. For starters, my Trading Standards Officer wrote to Jeakins and received a spectacularly ungrammatical denial of responsibility. Well, that had to be better than the ear-bashing which I’d got.
Next, we tried the arbitration service of the National Guild of Removers & Storers. No go. Both parties were so entrenched that the Guild, of which Jeakins is a member, did not think arbitration would resolve anything. Hang on, I thought the whole idea of arbitration was to resolve disputes between entrenched parties.
We also tried The Office of Fair Trading, in case there were any unfair clauses in the contract. There weren’t. And I tried to interest the police, in case the records had been stolen. The police weren’t interested. Apparently, the remover has to acknowledge that the loss has taken place, before it can become a police matter.
That left the question of the insurance cover and, as the premium had been paid along with the removal charge, there should have been no problem about filing a claim. No problem except Jeakins, that is, for when claim forms are requested, deaf ears seem to abound. In all, I made nine separate verbal and written requests to them. Every one was ignored.
Now we’ve all got problems and deadlines and priorities and, even in the best run offices, things get overlooked. Even so, I couldn’t escape the feeling that Jeakins were being deliberately evasive. Why? A solicitor I consulted opined that there might be something wrong with the insurance. Therefore, I suggested to my Trading Standards Officer that one of her colleagues at Chelmsford should go and check. She duly reported that, although Jeakins “are known” to Essex Trading Standards, her colleague had found nothing wrong with the insurance in this instance. What’s more, her colleague appears to have been told that, “Mr McCormick should ask us for a claim form, if he needs one”. Jesus Suffering Christ!!! No less than three of my letters had been sent by recorded delivery, and the receipts are stapled on the inside of my file marked ‘Jeakins’, as are the dates and times of delivery. I rang Jeakins’ receptionist and told her what Essex had said. Sometimes, usually when I’ve had too much cheese the night before, I wake up screaming at the memory of the reply. It was, “The directors are out. I'll check whether they will let you have one when they get back”.
By this time I was wondering whether I’d feel more at home in Alice in Wonderland or Catch 22, when I had a letter from Jeakins. It read,
That would have been dandy, except that I had absolutely no idea who the brokers were. Jeakins had conveniently given us no paperwork to identify them, and they weren’t handing out any clues in the letter. What’s more, I can find no evidence that Jeakins had informed their brokers of “this matter”. Now I’m no philosopher, but I’d have thought anterior knowledge of any problem was an essential prerequisite of its resolution. In other words, how were the brokers supposed to deal with “this matter” if nobody had told them about it?
By this time, my demeanour had come to resemble that of Basil Fawlty during one his more manic interludes. Then I had a eureka moment. Might it be possible to trace the brokers via an Internet search? Ten minutes later I was pouring out my story to a Mr David Bathgate of Pendleton May Ltd. This was clearly all news, and surprising news at that. According to him, Jeakins had an excellent insurance record. In fact, he assured me that they seldom get claims from Jeakins’ customers. Well, if my experience of trying to get a claim form out of them is anything to go by, that doesn’t leave a lot to wonder over.
He was also doubtful as to whether the insurance would pay out, since losses have to be reported at the time of delivery. I suggested that he short-circuit Jeakins and send me a form direct, which I would return with a covering letter. “If that doesn’t work, you can tell Jeakins from me that I’ll see them in court.”
That was when I started to get the breaks. A few weeks later, I got a call from one Mark Doolan of LGSA Marine. He is an insurance surveyor, based in Liverpool, who had been asked to look into the matter by Jeakins’ insurers. We had a free and frank discussion at my home, during which I was able to show Mr Doolan the size of the load, the layout of the room, and exactly how the load had been stacked. He told me that he had already spoken to Michelle Jeakins, the Company Secretary and part owner of this singular enterprise. He asked her whether the records could have been unloaded at the team’s Aberdeen drop point by mistake. Michelle Jeakins does not sound like somebody who minces words. "There is no way that can happen”, is what she is said to have told him. “There is no way that can happen.”
I have no cause to question Ms Jeakins’ veracity on this assertion. Nevertheless, you should keep it in mind, whilst I explain what we planned to do with the money, if we ever got any. You see, I had agreed to take the collection on the specific understanding that I would not profit financially from the dispersal of any part of it. Yet, by accepting an insurance payout I would, de facto, be doing exactly that. Therefore, Peta and I agreed that the best course of action would be to donate the settlement to Fair Havens, which is the hospice where Keith ended his days. That was not just an equitable gesture. It was also a humanitarian one. The hospice movement brings a lot of comfort to people in their last dying days, and the overwhelming majority of its support comes from public subscription. Believe me, they need every beneficent injection they can get.
I mentioned this to Mr Doolan, pointing out that, whatever the outcome, I had nothing to gain. He seemed fairly satisfied with my side of the story and, in the fullness of time, rang me to say that the insurance company had reached a decision. They were willing to settle for £2,342 or half the estimated value of the missing LPs, providing the cheque was made out to Fair Havens. There was no problem with that last bit, and the offer seemed about as generous as we could expect. Peta and I went for it and, when I received a letter telling me the cheque was about to be released, I emailed Fair Havens, relaying the good news. By this time, the best part of twelve months had passed, and I was feeling immensely relieved that the business was almost behind me. Of course, the people at Fair Havens were delighted.
But hardly had I sent that e-mail when I received another call from Mark Doolan, and I swear I am not making this up. After all the vehement negations and claims that they couldn’t have been sent to the wrong address, Jeakins had contacted the insurance company to say that the records had been found - at that self same wrong address! According to this new version of events, the very thing which Michelle Jeakins had sworn couldn’t happen, had happened. The two crates were, allegedly, dropped with the Aberdeen load by mistake, and left in the garage for almost a year, before the people there discovered them. Even more surprising, the crates were at that very moment back in Jeakins’ yard awaiting delivery to me. Of course their discovery voided the insurance claim, which meant we couldn’t make the promised donation to Fair Havens. You can probably imagine how I felt having to pass on that piece of information.
I still have no idea how the records were supposed to have got back from Aberdeen to Basildon, a distance of about 560 miles, in such a short time. All I know is that, some time after that phone call, I received an e-mail from Jeakins telling me the crates would be delivered on 24 May 2005. Great. The load was intact and the records were clean and dry and free from dust. In fact they looked just the way I remember them, from when I’d stacked them in the crates 51 weeks earlier.
Anyone who has handled LP sleeves, which have been exposed to even a mildly damp atmosphere for any length of time, knows what they feel like. The cardboard loses its smoothness and rigidity and the surfaces often become slightly coarse and tacky, as though impregnated with a fine sticky dust. These sleeves did not feel to me as though they had spent twelve months in a domestic garage in open crates all through a rainy Aberdeen winter.
Now I’m not an ex-management consultant for nothing, and I have often found myself in situations where strange occurrence outweighs hard evidence. When that happens, one can only hypothesise - and here, for what it’s worth, is my transcendental reconstruction of this chain of events. It is that the records were left off the van at the depot, that Jeakins knew where they were, that they didn’t want the hassle of sending them on, and that their 11th hour “discovery” was just a face-saving exercise for the benefit of the insurance company. I must of course emphasise that that is just conjecture on my part. For all I know, Jeakins’ story might be correct, and the present debacle might be no reflection at all on their dealings with other customers, and the Essex countryside might be strewn with satisfied Jeakins customers. But good or bad, their record elsewhere does not excuse their inefficiency here - or their attitude in this instance. Nor does this incident do anything to enhance their corporate reputation. Would I ever, in my wildest dreams, contemplate using Jeakins again? Not a chance. Would I consider recommending them to my own worst enemy? Yes, I think I would.
One way and another, the whole business has left a very nasty taste in my mouth, but what of the future? Well, I already had one massive record collection. Now I’ve got two. By a lucky happenstance, and although Keith and I had similar tastes, there isn’t all that much overlap between them. That is because where Keith tended to buy commercially recorded material, I have always veered towards non-commercial field collections; and, where I have concentrated on Europe and Asia, Keith was drawn towards Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean. What’s more, back in the ‘70s, when I was buying Irish music like there was no tomorrow, Keith was stacking his shelves with old time country music. And where I couldn’t get certain American labels for love or money, they seem to have been dropping from the skies down Keith’s way.
Between us therefore, we have a truly global aggregate, which covers virtually every country and culture area in the world. Discounting duplicates and the junky items which record collectors always seem to acquire, to say nothing of masses of stuff which I haven’t yet identified, it embraces around 7,000 discrete pieces of media - CDs, LPs, cassettes, and a small number of videos. I am spending a lot of time listening to this new material of course, and I’ve practically reorganized the whole house to accommodate it. What’s more I’m copying all the audio analogue material to CD for safe keeping and will eventually be copying the videos to DVD. I’m also compiling a comprehensive database. This enables me to catalogue everything in both collections, and its fields include the record title, the catalogue number, the track listing, the performer’s location, the recording location, the collector, the discographical and personnel data, and the usual song index numbers. That is something I’ve been working on for many years with my own records, and I’ve been doing it mainly so that I can find stuff. However, I have already willed my own collection to the Institute for Popular Music at Liverpool University, and it will encourage its use there if the contents are properly listed. Naturally, Keith’s collection will be donated along with mine, although its contents will be identified separately. I predict that the overall entity will make an unequivocal resource for the study of twentieth century vernacular music on commercial record.
And I am making plans to be good from now on. It’s not the fires of hell which bother me. It’s the thought that I might meet someone down there who’s even harder to deal with than Jeakins Removals. What was that song Lil McClintock used to sing? “If ever there was a devil born without horns it must have been a furniture man.”
Acknowledgments - My grateful thanks are due to the following people:
Fred McCormick - 26.8.05
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