Serial complainers lack the self-awareness to eat humble pie when caught out

There’s a big difference between unreasonable gripes and genuine complaints.

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Meet Linda and Tony Gilkes. They’re modern day heroes. Modern day heroes fighting for the rights of all those who desperately want to eat a meat pie before 9am. They battled against the massed Mordor-like forces of... Morrisons in Berwick Hills, Middlesbrough. And they triumphed! Now you, too, can eat a pie there before 9am. What a feel good human story... 

And that’s what the Middlesbrough Gazette thought when it jumped on the Gilkes’ complaints for a story headlined “Fury after Morrisons wouldn't sell couple meat pies before 9am”. 

Only in the world of local newspapers do minor gripes from folks like Linda and Tony rise to the level of “fury”. If those journalists were less inclined to hyperbole they might go with “Grumpy oldsters in meat pie gripe explosion”. 

Does it matter, though? After all, the Gilkes have got their pies and, in doing so, won a historic victory against some poor baker who was just trying to make pies at a time when most people actually want them, and the Gazette has been gifted with a viral success, a story that includes the Gilkes accusing Morrisons of “having [its] own agenda”. But, yes, it does matter — as you could probably have predicted since you’re reading a New Statesman opinion piece about it — because the Gilkes are serial complainers, people for whom no inconvenience can go unchallenged. 

A man who goes by the name of Paddy Sisyphus on Twitter pulled together an entertaining run through the Gilkes’ history of pettifogging complaints and it’s pretty eye opening. Sisyphus previously ran a blog called The Nether Regions, which he describes as dedicated to “[celebrating] the way local newspapers have to resort to reporting on tedious local happenings which are strangely entertaining, often funny, and kind of charming.”

But, as he concludes, the Gilkes’ tale is none of those things, “it’s just crap.”  

Because, as Sisyphus flagged up, if you take a trip further down the Google results related to Linda and Tony, you’ll find a Northern Echo article about the housing association in whose property the couple lives taking legal action against them back in 2004 to curb their tidal wave of complaints: 

“Campaigning residents Tony and Linda Gilkes have had the tables turned on them after years of complaining about anti-social behaviour.”

The couple have lodged a catalogue of complaints against neighbours on the Thorntree estate in Middlesbrough, but are now the subject of counter-criticism. 

Later this month, Erimus Housing is going to Teesside County Court to seek an injunction against the Gilkes, after receiving a 70-name petition from residents. The injunction seeks to prevent them from causing nuisance or annoyance to residents or their visitors, and to stop them making “malicious” complaints against Erimus tenants to the housing association or police.” 

It’s worth saying that Mr and Mrs Gilkes are quoted in the piece as being utterly baffled by the petition and the injunction, but they do admit “they had contacted Erimus and Cleveland Police on a number of occasions after claiming they were subject to anti-social behaviour, vandalism and threats.” 

The thing about serial complainers is that they are often totally unaware of their own faults. They are so heatedly focused on the failings of others that self-awareness is kicked right to the back of their priorities. For others, complaining is a business. Vanessa Gilby, feted here by The Sun, claims to rake in £400 a month in freebies from targeted and repeated moaning. 

TUI Travel, the holiday giant, runs a black list of persistent complainers to deal with the likes of the Gilkes and Gilby. If someone who consistently complains for what appears to be spurious or ginned up reasons tries to book holidays or flights with any of the group’s brands they rate simply told that it will be “unable to meet their expectations”.

There is a vast difference between consumer advocates like Martin Lewis, The Money Saving Expert, who encourage their readers and viewers to complain effectively and stop big businesses from getting away with poor or even negligent service and the serial complainers. Those who actively generate complaints or find fault where there really is none are effectively ripping the rest of us off. The cost of those frivolous complaints doesn’t come out of company profits, after all. It just gets slapped on the bills we pay. 

So what makes a good complaint? The Rs: 

1.  Reasonable grounds to complain — something you should have expected wasn’t supplied or didn’t happen 

2.  Reasonable requests for redress — you were due a free burger and didn’t get one? Don’t ask for a 5 course meal in recompense 

3.  Rational approach to blame — realise that you are the bad guy if you get a low paid worker in trouble for something they really had no control over. 

And yes, before you say it, I realise this is just one big complaint about serial complainers.  

Mic Wright is a freelance journalist and CEO and partner at The Means Agency.