Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Please bring back the humans

Going to a petrol station to fill up my old but trustworthy car is not one of my favour¬ite pastimes. I have no idea what petrol costs now but it definitely costs a lot. Whether the minister hedged or not or whether Enemalta should have stored or not doesn’t really bother me except while my petrol tank is filling and I fantasise some sheik or Gaddafi-wannabe feeling great while his coffers are, drop by little drop of my petrol usage, being replenished. Oh to get that electric or gas car industry going. What’s humanity waiting for?
I am the old-fashioned type. I hate filling my tank myself and love getting others to do the job while I savour and sniff the smell that is hardly there any more. More deprivations of the modern world, I suppose.
Where’s the smell gone? Or is it my olfactory powers diminishing? I admit I have used the automatic pumps and even managed to occasionally, so although I am a complete idiot with any modern gadgetry I do accept it in cases of dire need.
I have regretted it when my euro notes keep getting rejected, making it seem as if I had just printed them in my own mint, which you definitely need to keep any car going anywhere these days. Maybe Arriva, after it stops apologising, will solve all our woes and worries.
Mentioning mint a few words previously brings to mind the other old dinosaur Dom Mintoff who would surely have raved and ranted against petrol pump automation if he were still, God forbid, leading and saving this land of ours from all strange and modern ways. If he ranted against computers taking the place of humans and so depriving us poor Maltese souls of precious employment, he would likewise have ranted against petrol pumping by machine. Anyway, besides rejecting notes, said machines seem to habitually take your notes but give you no fuel, as has occasionally happened to me and to members of my family, making you carry on your journey fuel-less, hoping you will make it back home or to the next pump. All ends well as the filling station owners are all nice and generous and honest and will reimburse all missed fill-ups.
So let’s work this out: I’m in Mellieħa with my tank pointing close to empty. I try putting in €10 worth to keep me going. Petrol does not come out. So I proceed with caution back home to Sliema (or wherever). I swelter in the car as I try to save my pocket, the environment but, especially, fuel. The day after I go back to Mellieħa to retrieve my tenner or whatever a €10 note is called today. On my way in my mind’s eye I see people sniggering – the desert sheiks are grateful to me for guzzling a few more pints of their precious liquid. And off they go with my money to buy some new diamond-covered Porsche or some silly footballer.
So a question for whatever emeritus person usually answers these tricky questions: Should I let the money go and help the poor petrol station owner make some more profit? Usually they claim they are deprived and all seem to be working at a great loss, judging by the way they keep on asking for higher percentage profits.
What I should have done was made sure there was a human to assist me and got him or the occasional her to do it for me. Is this job in fact openly open to the fairer sex? Oh no I said fairer. I don’t think that is quite fair is it? I mean isn’t it awfully mean that some writers and comedians still refer to the female sex as the fairer one? Will I now be arraigned by the anti-sexist brigade and placed in some square to be pelted by all members of the politically correcting brigade?
Anyway I prefer humans, of whichever sex, to assist me and to be ready with a smile and an apology if my euro-tenner is a dud. I am a bit like Mr Mintoff maybe and do like real humans to be there, ready and willing and sometimes, or in reality often, surly and grumpy.
Talking of human-assisted assistance, I don’t enjoy phoning establishments and finding recordings that get you to press so many numbers you end up with finger fatigue. The mind boggles at the amount of extra calls that are made on a boringly regular basis to get our message over. Like the sheiks and the petrol stations, the telephony companies are given a boost through all the calls that are lost, all the number-feeding and then the realisation that you are getting connected to the wrong machine or you are told by this super-efficient and supercilious voice to please hold the line. Yes, I will hold the line but with each second of me holding their line it is I who is paying for the pulses. My heart and pulse race away thinking of more coffers being filled and more pockets emptied – notably and worryingly mine.
Maybe Mr Mintoff was wrong in most of what he did but oh to have had him save us from this infernally automated future. Today, we all complain how expensive water and electricity bills are. Back in Mr Mintoff’s time we hardly had any water in our taps. So he saved on the earth’s resources and saved us from paying a packet. Bring the man back: we need saving again.

This article appeared in The Times July 19 2011

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