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  • Writer's pictureTheatre Of The Mind

The Gas Man Cometh

The Gas Man Cometh


Lindsay McKinnon

Part One  


After the 2 millionth attempt (okay, slight exaggeration) to get my ‘pay as you go’

gas card recognised by the meter, I gave up and called the gas board.

While I’m calling, I thought, I will make things easy on myself and ask that the

bloody thing be moved, as right now, it is located in the far corner of the kitchen

in a hole at the back of the washing machine that requires I get on all fours on

unforgivingly cold, hard kitchen tiles, into a crawl space and around a corner.

If I contorted my body in a way that one would normally only see at an audition

for Cirque du Soleil, I could just about take a meter reading; so spending up to

twenty minutes dementedly pushing my card in and out of the slot like a mad

woman and calling it all the four letter words I have at my disposal (which are

plentiful I can assure you) – meant that renewing my gas supply began to

resemble some kind of Utility Porn …

‘Take that card you useless bitch of a meter! Right, that’s it’ she said, repeatedly

slamming the card into the slot hard and fast, ‘you f*@~ing useless piece of…. Take

that!…’ the meter groaned under the hard pounding….

Like most people, I had experienced dealing with a utility company before, so I

wasn’t naïve enough to fall for their utopian commercials that would have you

believe that a quick call to them would result in a smiley faced man in clean

overalls turning up the next day. Then, after taking care of the problem and

partaking of a cup of coffee, half a pack of Hob Nobs and enjoying a cheeky joke

or two, he would venture back out into world to rescue another damsel in

distress who would be as grateful and equally generous with her Hob Nobs as I

am with mine.

However, the sit-com script that is my life, dictates that nothing in it will go to


Call number One:

The call begins with a three minute pre-recorded speech on how this particular

gas company want to ensure they are giving the best possible service and so, if

I’m willing, they would like me to partake in a short survey at the end of my call

to see if I am happy with the service I had received.

As my only suggestion would be to get rid of the stupid message, I decide to


Press One if you want to inform us you are moving, the robot instructed, 

Press Two if you think you have a gas leak….

As usual my mind wandered, and I began to interpret the ridiculously long list of

options with my own version…

Press Three if you want to complain about the astronomically high bill you’ve just


Press Four if you think the millions we waste on advertising services we don’t

deliver, might be better spent on delivering those services,

Press Five if you would like to be sold our useless Parts & Services insurance,

Press Six if you wish to speak to an operator who is so automated in her responses

you keep having to throw in trick questions, to see if she is human,

Press Seven if… Damn! I missed the operator one, which number was it again?

To replay this message, press the Star Key, followed by the Hash key, followed by

your account number, followed by the hash key again then turn three times and


Finally, I pressed the right key

…all of our operators are busy being annoyingly ineffectual with other customers

right now but please wait as you really don’t want to have to go through that

whole rigmarole again, now do you? In the meantime, please enjoy this crackled

recording of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons…of which we will play only one…. Permanent


Twenty-five minutes later…

Operator:     Hello, you’re through to Customer Services, how may I (do

everything in my power not to) assist you today?

Me:                 Hi, yes my meter isn’t working properly

Operator:     How do you know?

Me:               Excuse me?

Operator:     How do you know your meter isn’t working properly?

Me:               Because my card won’t work in it.

Operator:     Maybe you’re not using your card correctly

Me:             I’m using it the same way I always have before

Operator:     Are you pressing the right buttons?

Me:               I’m pressing the same buttons I’ve always pressed

I replied, amazed at my ability not to let her know that she was the one pressing

all the right buttons to get a mouthful.

Operator:     Can you go to your meter please?

Me:                 Yes, although, it’s a little uncomfortable as it’s in an awkward pl-

Operator:     That’s fine Madam, I can wait.

Is it just me; or is there something infuriatingly condescending about the term


Me:               Ok, I’m by the meter

Operator:     I’m sorry I can’t quite hear you

Me:             As I was about to explain…

I retorted in the semi strangled voice that comes from screwing my neck around

like a dish rag whilst attempting to operate the meter with one hand and hold

the phone with the other,

…the meter’s in an awkward place, which is another thing I wanted to discuss with

you about getting the meter mov-

Operator:     Let’s just deal with one issue at a time, Madam, now please put your

card in the slot and press the red button until you hear a beep

Me:                 Ok, card’s in and I’m pressing the red button

Operator:  silence

Me:               Hello?

Operator:     Keep pressing the button until you get the beep

Me:                 I have been doing and no beep

Operator   You should have had the beep by now. Please press the red button

Me:             I am doing

Operator No, you can’t be doing it right

Me:                How many ways are there to press a button?

Operator:     Pull your card out, wait until the light goes off then put the card in

again and press the red button.

Me:                 Right, done it

Operator:     Tell me when it beeps

Me:                 It isn’t beeping

Operator:     You can’t be pressing the button

Me:                 Yes I am

Operator:     You can’t be

Me:                 I am!

Operator:     It would have beeped by now if you were

Me:                 Gee, do you think there might be something wrong with it?

Having aching knees, a stiff neck and feeling woozy from the ammonia emanating

out of the near-by kitty litter tray (my kitten George likes the seclusion of this out

of the way space to perform his toilette) was beginning to wear at my patience

somewhat: I therefore must admit that an air of sarcasm may have crept into my

tone of voice.

Operator:     Alright, I want you to take the card out, and put it in again and tell me

what you see

At that point what I was seeing was a red mist and an image of standing trial for

the murder of a gas board telephone operator. I was confident though in a

verdict of Justifiable Homicide.

Me:          (With what I considered to be amazing self-control) look, I’ve told you,

I’ve been through this many, many times and it is getting worse each time. Can you

just put another meter in for me please?

Operator:     I think it could be a problem with your card…

she declared, oblivious to my thoughts of shoving that damn card right up her


… when the card gets well used they can stop working properly.

Me:                 It’s only six months old

Operator:     But you said you’ve had to put it in and out of the slot a number of

times to get the meter to read the card.

Me:                 Yes, because the meter isn’t working properly

Operator:     Hmmm, that would mean wear and tear on the card stopping it from

working properly

Me:                 No, the card isn’t not working because of wear and tear, it’s got wear

and tear because the meter isn’t reading it!

Operator:     I will send you out a new card then and if you are still having

problems, I would suggest you might have a problem with your meter

Me:                 Gee, you think?!

Operator:     The card should be with you in the next three to five working days.

Can I be of any further assistance today?

I chose not to respond to that question.


Call number two: Seven working days later…

was to inform them that the gas card they sent hadn’t arrived.

There was no record of me having asked for one. Another card, or rather, the one

that should have been sent, would be sent…. Within three to five working days.

Call number three:

Five working days later, my long-awaited new pay-as-you-go gas meter card

arrived. I put £10.00 on it and attempted to get the meter to stop behaving like

the worst boyfriend in the world and acknowledge that the card even existed.

After the usual multiple unsuccessful attempts and with the added impetus of a

thrice banged head and a ruined new white top which was now covered with

years of gunk it had picked up from whatever lurked in the depths of my gas

cupboard, I gave up and called the gas company again.

I decided at an attempt to be clever (which never ends well); once I’d listened to

the opening speech, I tried to bypass the automated system by pressing the

number I had pressed last time for the service I wanted. What I didn’t know, was

that they had changed their menu options.

You have pressed an incorrect key. Thank you for your call….brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

The bloody thing hung up on me! I interpreted this as a punishment from the gas

board for those minions who tried to buck the system and refuse to listen to

their mindless guff.

You don’t want to listen to our messages? Right, then you don’t get to talk to us as

at all! Ha! That’ll teach you!

Call number Four

I decided to keep my cool, took a deep breath, found my Zen place and, after

retrieving my phone from the plant pot in which it had landed as a result of my

fit of pique, I called again.

Only fifteen minutes of Vivaldi’s Winter this time before I was put through to the


Me:                 I got the gas card you sent

Operator:     Ok, a new one will be sent to you. Is there anything else I can assist

you with today?

Me:                 Hey? What.. no, you don’t have to send me another one, I’m telling you

I received the one you sent and the problem hasn’t been resolved.

Operator:     I thought you said you’d received your new card…

Me:                 I have, but… hang on, the card wasn’t the problem in the first place

Operator:      (after a slight pause) I’m sorry…. I see by the notes on your account

that you asked for a new card because your old one was giving you problems?

She ended the sentence with an upward inflection as if to emphasise that she

thought I had some sort of mental problem… at this stage, she was not far off the


Me:                 No, I asked for a new meter because it wasn’t accepting my card!

Operator:     Ah, I see – she said, obviously not seeing and now you’re having

problems with the new card as well?

Me:                 No…. I’m STILL having problems with the old meter, which is what I

tried to explain to your colleague previously

Operator:     I see… (pregnant pause) – ok, can you go to your meter for me, put the

card in and-

Me:                 NO, I CAN’T!

Operator:     (long pause) Aaaaah, I see!

This time she sounded like she really could see…. which was confusing, as

I couldn’t see what she so obviously thought she could see.

Me                  What?

Operator:     The problem with your meter is that you can’t get to it… oh…she said,

changing her mind no, wait, I don’t understand… could you get to it before?

Me:                 Hey? Well, yes, I can… or rather no I can’t really get to it, I can, but I

can’t… what I mean is…

In my mind I was running through the options:

One:                I had entered the Twilight Zone

Two:                Ashton Kutcher was about to jump out of my gas cupboard and

we’d all have a jolly good laugh at me having been ‘punked’

Three:             The delicate thread by which my sanity had admittedly been

hanging for some time had finally snapped.

Four:               I was trying to communicate with a bureaucratic body that, as

lifelong experience had shown, didn’t speak the same language as me and had a

whole different set of rules in terms of logic, from those used by everyone else on

the planet.

I decided that option number Four was the most likely one. Taking a deep breath

I used the slow paced, even toned, well enunciated, no-big-words format I have

perfected for kids, the terminally bewildered and civil servants.

Me:                 Okay, let me start at the beginning…. I called a couple of weeks ago, to

say that I would like a new gas meter installed as the one I had wasn’t accepting

the card I was using.

Operator:     R I g h t….

Me:                 I did try to explain that it was the meter that was the problem not the

card, but the lady I spoke with last time insisted that we had to check that it wasn’t

a faulty card, first of all.

Operator:     R I g h t….

Me:                 So now, I am calling to inform you that we can rule out the card being

the problem as the meter will not read either the old one, or the new one.

Operator:     Ah I see!

Finally! I thought, we are starting to get somewhere

Operator:     Have you tried pressing the red button?

Me:               YES! Sorry, yes I have tried pressing the red button and nothing

happens… sorry, I  didn’t mean to shout

Operator:     That’s perfectly understandable, these things can be frustrating 

Me:                 Thank you, you’re very kind. So, I can get a new meter then?

Operator:     Yes, of course…. Now let me look at the available dates for our fitters

to come and do that for you….

In the background I could hear the sound of rapid typing, followed by the

occasional, “hmmmm”, which was once again followed by rapid typing. After the

fourth repeat of this, the sense of dread overtook me, and I had to ask

Me:                 Is there a problem?

Operator:     Oh no, no problem…well… not really

Me:                 Not really? You can fit a new meter for me can’t you?

Operator       Y-e-s She responded with one of those long drawn out yes’s that

really mean, no. Our first available date to fit a new meter is the 26 th  of November.

Me:                 Five months?!

Operator:     ‘Fraid so… however… She added solicitously as though passing on a

secret formula ….. If you were to call it in as an ‘emergency’ fitting because you

couldn’t use your card, they could be there within four hours

Fan-flipping-tastic! The thought occurred to me that, surely, this was exactly

what I had been doing, but, given that bureaucrats, like computers, don’t respond

unless you use the exact terminology, I decided not to push the point. After all, I’d

now been given the secret code word that allowed me into their veiled universe.

Me:                 I would like to ask for an ‘emergency’ fitting please

I said, emphasising the correct code word as if I were in a comedy spy film

Operator:     Right. How much gas have you got left on your meter?

Me:                 About £8.00s worth.

There followed a sharp intake of breath. My heart sunk: it had started to go so


Operator:     Ah, can’t do it then

Me                  What! Why not?

Operator:     For it to constitute an ‘emergency’ you would have to have no gas left

at all.

Me                  I see

Operator:     So, when you are down to your last fifty pence on the meter, call us

again and we can arrange the emergency fitting

Me                  Ok, I can do that.

I despaired, but at least I was making headway now. While on a roll I added

Me: By the way, when he puts the new meter in can he move it two feet to the

left so I can get to it without rupturing a spleen, please?

The second sharp intake of breath

Operator:     That’s a different department; we’ll have to arrange a second visit for

someone to do that.

Me:                 So, someone is going to have to come in and take out the new meter

that’s just been put in, in order to move it? Surely the person who’s putting it in can

just put the meter two feet to the side of where it is now?

Operator:      Oooh no! But I can book the moving of the meter in for next month….

There’s a much shorter waiting list for moving meters than there is for changing


Of course there is, it was stupid of me to think otherwise

Operator: Is there anything else I can assist you with today?

I was considering a response along the lines of – Not unless you’ve got a stiff drink

or a bottle of anti-depressants handy – but instead I thanked her and took comfort

in knowing that all I needed to do now was run the gas down and I could have

my new meter….

What could possibly go wrong!


Part Three

Call number five:

Ten days later, I had the afternoon to myself. I had moved George’s kitty litter

tray out of the corner and gave it a good sweep out in order that the gas fitter

wouldn’t be knocked unconscious by the vapours and my meter was down to the

last few pence as the last Customer Service operator had instructed.

It was time to make the call: I remained calm throughout the proceeding

messages and didn’t try to jump to the option before checking it was the right

one. I even hummed along merrily with Vivaldi’s Winter, even though I had only

recently managed to get the bloody tune out of my head.

Things were obviously going my way as I was through to the operator within five

minutes of making the call.

Me:                 Hello, I’d like to ask for…. (dramatic pause to emphasise that I was up

on the lingo and knew what to say) an ‘emergency’ meter fitting please.

Operator:     Are you sure it’s the meter and not the car-

Me:                 Let me stop you there… I have been through all that and yes, it is the


Operator: I see

Me:                 And it’s definitely an emergency as I only have 50p left on it.

Operator:     Oh it can’t be changed while there’s any money left on it

Me:                 But the previous operator said…

I gave up on going into an explanation of the saga so far

…look, I’m about to wash dishes and put the washing machine on (l lied) that 50p

will be gone by the time the fitter gets here.

Operator:     The rules say that for it to fit the criteria of an ‘emergency’ fitting, you

have to have no money left and/or are into a debit…. At least I think so but let me

check. I’m just going to pop you on hold…

The familiar crackling Vivaldi returned while three times, the operator went

back and forth, letting me know he was ‘just checking with another

department’ to find out if it could be done before finally returning

Operator:     Sorry about that, yes, we can do it. Someone will be with you within

the next four hours.

Three hours later, at 7:00pm a chirpy chappy called to ask if I was in and let me

know he would be with me in twenty minutes… and sure enough, he was.

I made him a cup of tea and slid a packet of oatmeal Hob Nobs onto a plate while

we made naff jokes about the weather and Wimbledon being rained off so many

times, they’ll probably still be playing come Christmas.

Kneeling down in the corner he got out his bag of tricks and began making

reassuring ‘man at work’ noises; which lasted approximately five minutes.

Joe the Gas Man:    I’m afraid I can’t fit the meter

Me:                             Please tell me you’re joking

Joe:                             Your on/off key is stuck solid, which means I can’t switch the

gas off.

Me:                              Let me guess… that’s a different department?

Joe:                             Oh no!

Me:                              What a relief!

Joe:                              Not a different department… a different company

And so Joe made the call and was informed that someone would be with us

within four hours.

As Joe lived half an hour away, he pondered if it would be better if he stayed and

waited. He explained that if he left, I would have to ring the job in again the next

day and start the process over again.

I smiled sweetly, locked the door and said, maybe it would be better if he stayed.

Near 10:00pm as the last Hob Nob disappeared and our conversation had run

dry, Joe prepared to leave. At this rate, the guy might not get there until midnight

and the neighbours may not appreciate him banging around at that time of night.

I put my first reaction of ‘screw the neighbours’ to one side and reluctantly


With perfect theatrical timing, the other gas man arrived just as Joe reached the


Yes! Back on track. I will have my new meter yet!

This man, walked over to the meter, looked at the handle and performed the

sound I’ve learned to dread – the sharp intake of breath

New guy:      Can’t be done

Me:                  What? Why?

All pretence of politeness had long since left me

New Guy:     The handle has been cemented into the wall and the pipe leading out

of it is covered in….

blah blah blah – I only understood half of it, the upshot was….

…We’ll have to take out a portion of your wall to get to the handle. I’ll get someone

to come back first thing and do it.

And so I waved goodbye to Joe and the New Guy and resigned myself to the ‘it’ll

be anytime from 8:OOam onwards’ wait the following day.

My remaining gas was now most definitely gone, along with an ability to cook,

have a bath, or heat the place (in the worst summer on record with an average

temperature at a freakishly cold and wet 10 degrees).

The next day, I was up and bleary eyed at 8:OOam (having only got to bed at

4:00am, but that’s another story). I remained indoors all day, only stepping out of

the house to collect the bin from the bottom of the lane where the bin men had

unselfishly left it blocking the road.

It took three minutes….

The same three minutes the Gas Man had chosen to turn up at the front door and

receiving no answer, left a Sorry We Missed You card.

Three phone calls later, I’ve managed to reschedule for tomorrow, when

someone will come and knock down part of my wall, to get to a pipe, to access a

handle, to turn off my gas.

I can then listen to  Vivaldi’s Winter and re-arrange my gas guy to come and fit a

meter, which, in two weeks’ time another gas guy will come and move two feet to

the left of a hole in the wall that no doubt will be ‘someone else’s department’ to


It is a basic rule of writing that the words you render to paper should at the very

least have a beginning a middle and an end, and preferably… a point.

On this occasion, this piece reflects a particular situation in my life that appears

to have a dubious beginning, an indeterminate middle and no end in sight….

As for a point? If you can figure that one out, please be sure to let me know.

© Lindsay McKinnon

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