Thursday, 25 June 2009


Flushed by two recent consumer-action successes, which led Mrs Blackpool Tower to call me "The Male Esther Rantzen" (she meant it as a compliment), I humbly submit my...

Top Tips for Complainin'

* Don't be an arsehole. They're human too. Cliched but true.

* Be Honest. It's a tiresome old process, so you need a bit of righteous indignation to sustain you. That won't be possible if your indignation is fake. Consumer Action for Fun and Profit isn't my idea of a good time, which is why I only make a fuss if I feel genuinely aggrieved.

* Have an Objective. An aimless rant only gets you so far, but if you have firmly in mind what you think is appropriate redress, you'll be far likelier to get it.

* Be Professional. If your complaint becomes a row, you've probably fucked it up. The more emotional you get, the easier it is to dismiss you as a nutter. Taking it personally makes it impossible to objectify the situation (see below). 

* Write stuff down. Have specifics. A printed document laying out your experience of the company will scare the crap out of most employees, because they can imagine it in the hands of their boss.

* Make your complaint about you, not about them. It's not a personal attack. The last thing you want to do is make them defensive and embattled. Remember you're trying to move them towards giving you what you want. Keep your language un-aggressive, and focus mainly on how you feel. If your whole argument rests on "you did this, then he said that, really rudely, yeah?" all you'll get is a debate about who said what. Remember that you're a valued customer and tell them how you're feeling: "I was told that it wouldn't be delivered on time, which made me feel frustrated and angry, and not like you wanted my business". Hard to refute, and all about your status as a customer.

* Talk about recommendation. Remind them that you're one customer but can deliver others

* Make it easy for them. Invite them to take the opportunity to turn you back into a happy customer and advocate.

* Use their vocabulary. If their website says something like "Hey guys, talk to us! We want to know what you think" then tell them, and remind them that they asked in the first place.

* Be a good winner. Say thanks when you win.

There. Easy.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

How to Make a Roman Shield for a Six Year Old

This may turn out to be one of those gift projects that's more fun for the maker than the recipient, but young L likes his Romans, so I decided he needed a shield for his sixth birthday (now weeks past, natch). Here's how it works:

1. Buy two sheets of hardboard. I got 4mm thickness, but thinner would be better. B&Q sawed mine to size, which was v.handy. Get one sheet cut slightly narrower than the other: 900mm x 400mm and 900mm x 395mm. Give all the edges a quick sand. Don't need to round them off, just make sure they're not too sharp and, you know, edgy.

2. Prop the edges of the wider sheet on something 40mm high, shiny side down. I used books, but ideally you'd want a couple of long chunks of wood or something. Spread lots of PVA wood glue on, and put the narrower sheet on the top, making sure it's centred.
Weigh the board down the middle, so it bows downwards and just touches down on the surface beneath. I used heavy dumbells - you need a lot of weight. Leave overnight.

3. Take your now curved board (we'll call it a shield from now on, I think), marvel at how the edges of the two layers just about match, due to pi and that. Sand off the excess glue and ram a bit of pollyfilla in anywhere there's a gap between the layers. Sand off when dry to leave a nice smooth finish.

4. Apply primer to the edges of the shield and the front. Bit tricky to mask the back, because of the rough texture, but worth a go so you don't get messy edges.

5. Drill holes for the bolts which will secure the handles. I used M6 x 12mm Homebase Roofing Bolts, and a 6mm drill bit. Where to put the holes depends a bit on the nipper in question, but about 20mm down from the top edge is about right for the top one.

Try to drill in towards the centre of the curve, so the hole is perpendicular to the surface. You can do fancy stuff with a spirit level if you want, to make it more accurate.

6. First coat of paint is yellow. This is actually the detail, rather than the background, but the background's red and that's a stronger colour, so hard to paint over. Bung on bright yellow gloss, edges first, then the rest.

7. Then you have to apply masking, to protect your details while you paint the red 'background' on. I used Frisket, which has a backing, so is great for drawing on in pencil, cutting with scalpel and repositioning once on... but is mainly for masking airbrush jobs and turns out to suck big time when it comes to being daubed with brushfulls of gloss. Lesson learned: masking tape next time.

8. Slap on your gloss red over the masking. Leave to dry.

9. Handles go on next. I got a belt from a charity shop and cut lengths from it. About 25cm for the larger handle (a looser strap, to put your forearm through), slightly shorter for the other one, held in the hand. Drill or somehow gouge holes in the belt where the bolts are going to go. Put in your bolts. Round bit on the front, nut on the back. Use a washer to spread the pressure of the nut on the strap.

Fill the Xs on the bolts with polyfilla, and paint some primer on them when dry.

10. Paint the bolts and retouch the other details.

11. Apply a coat of clear gloss varnish.

12. Wrap, present to child, beam with pride, set about child with improvised weapons such as wooden spoons and frozen peas to demonstrate efficacy against swords, hails of arrows etc.