Instead of going on holiday this August, I've been visiting places I can't reach in term time. Such as the North Circular, the A1 and any road leading to a home improvement or furniture "superstore".
First stop, the Swedish shop that specialises in making you queue twice for self-assembly junk that refuses to self-assemble. One morning, I spent hundreds of pounds on unfinished shelving, newspaper racks (one for every room - well, they're sooo cheap!), a wardrobe with no doors (the doors cost more than a sofa) and a plastic CD rack.
Having paid the price of a holiday on Mustique for my loot, I naively asked at the checkout about "free home delivery". I was then sent to (guess what) queue again to give my details. Ten minutes on, I discovered that on top of my bill, the cost of getting their goods to my home would be more than 30 quid. Scouting around for a sympathetic face, I spotted the actor Jonathan Pryce gloomily trying to arrange for his own delivery. I tried to exchange a grim smile with him, but he looked as if he'd been told his future career depended on working opposite Martine McCutcheon again, so I left him to it. It was midday.
My husband bought a roof rack from the delivery desk to save money. When we opened the box with the rack in, quelle surprise! Out tumbled a mass of bits to be assembled. There were no essential tools - they had to be queued for. An hour and much sweat later, the rack was ready. But it was the wrong size for our car. Are you still with me? Wake up, this was traumatic, I'm having palpitations just writing this.
In a hand-clenching fury, I called for a manager to complain about our roof rack ordeal and demand "free" delivery as recompense for loss of equilibrium and holiday time, but was told: "We don't work for this store. We are a separate company. There are no cross-transactions available - do you see?" Jonathan Pryce was still standing gloomily in the same spot, studying the floor.
It was then that I realised just how catastrophic PPP will be in public services. Here were two companies serving one set of customers with no communication between them whatsoever. Customers with complaints generating from a poorly co-ordinated "service" are shunted between two sets of managers, each of whom refuses to acknowledge the other's existence. In short, it's a bloody nightmare.
Worse still was to come for poor Mr Pryce. The bloke on the booking desk said in a stage whisper: "Listen mate, if we deliver it'll cost ya more and won't arrive till tomorrow. That guy over there [he nodded towards a character with a clipboard] can get all your stuff to your door in the next hour for a fiver less!" Wink, wink. For a moment, the actor brightened. He had found a way out; an escape from Alcatraz.
At around 2.30pm, my husband and I drove home exhausted and beaten by the system. Our by-now-loathed purchases would arrive the next morning, nice and early. Sadly, the news could not restore our spirits, broken by hours of silent, powerless queuing.
Getting in the car, we passed the great actor for the last time. Head bowed, he watched as his possessions were shoved, crammed and crunched into not one but three different mini-cabs. Plaintively, I heard him say: "But you're charging me more than I was promised that you would . . ."
I shuddered at the coldness of the reply: "Well, I'm afraid you've missed the other delivery deadline for tomorrow, so you've got no choice now. We'll get this to you by tonight, though." Pryce looked as if he was going to say, "but you said within the hour", then he lowered his head, beaten. The man was going on: "Besides, he shouldn't have promised you a price or a time . He works for a different company to us."