Coco Khan

I love com­plain­ing, but real grownups know a let­ter is just the be­gin­ning

The Guardian - Weekend - - Contents -

Com­plain, me? Plus Cross­word and Quiz

“Dear Sir/Madam, I am writ­ing to com­plain about the bins.” Ah, adult­hood. It sure comes at you fast. One minute you’re stay­ing out all night with your friends, the next, you’re spend­ing Fri­day evenings writ­ing fu­ri­ous let­ters to the coun­cil about refuse col­lec­tion or rant­ing to a com­pany’s head of­fice.

I love a com­plaint let­ter, though. I get a real kick out of them. My log­i­cal brain knows they’ll go straight into a bin, but when I’m writ­ing them, my heart soars.

“He­hehe,” I think as I’m typ­ing, “I’ll show them.”

I imag­ine the re­cip­i­ent read­ing it, their brow fur­row­ing as their jaw drops to a gasp. “Quick!” they’ll say, jump­ing to their feet so every­one in the of­fice can see them. “Some­one, read this! What are we go­ing to do?!” Few let­ters have such power – maybe one from the White House, or one of those ran­som notes made with cutouts of mag­a­zine head­lines – but my let­ter say­ing I may speak to the lo­cal pa­per and even trad­ing stan­dards, well, that’s sure to set the world alight.

Of course, I wouldn’t ac­tu­ally do ei­ther of those things, be­cause my com­plain­ing abil­i­ties stop at let­ters. I can’t bear phones, and face-to-face I’m even worse, back­ing down at the first sign of re­sis­tance. Not like my very, very English boyfriend, for whom com­plaints seem to be a sport. He’s good at them, too, win­ning more of­ten than not. His great­est strength? En­durance.

Take the lo­cal coun­cil of­fice, seem­ingly an en­tire citadel de­signed with de­flect­ing com­plaints in mind. There’s the queue to take a ticket to join the main queue: that weeds out the weak­est com­plain­ers. Then there’s the main queue it­self, a slow-mov­ing slog in which queuers are ground down by the sound of shout­ing pa­trons at the front; a glimpse into the pain to come. There’s the mas­sive clock star­ing down at you, which al­ways seems deaf­en­ingly loud, re­mind­ing you of how much time you’ve lost and will never get back (“Cut your losses and leave,” it in­sin­u­ates with ev­ery tick).

By now only the most ded­i­cated have made it to the area of reck­on­ing. This is the great­est test of your for­ti­tude.

You must hold your nerve – not scream, not shout – while the per­son at the desk rig­or­ously gaslights you, speak­ing to you as if you’ve lost all your fac­ul­ties (“Are you sure you sent this pa­per­work off ?”)

I see my boyfriend as he stag­gers out of the town hall, his eyes squint­ing against the sun, bro­ken, weak, but vic­to­ri­ous. He clutches the park­ing per­mits valiantly. He did it! He sur­vived the coun­cil of­fice. I could learn a l lot from him

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