Friday, 2 October 2009

Yeeeeeaaagggh Boyyyyy! Fuck da HMRC and da Royal Mail!

When Chuck D proclaimed to all that we should "Fight the Power", I never thought he meant I should start hating on Her Royal Majesty's Revenue and Customs. But now I know that I have to, for all that is good and just in this world to remain just so. Except, testament to my lifelong problem with lack-of-a-spineitis, I failed spectacularly at the first hurdle. Sorry Flav, maybe next time you can provide some useful Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos.

I shall start at the beginning. A number of weeks ago I was shopping online for gifts for my ladyfriend, to celebrate our 3-year anniversary. And spying two pairs of absolutely darling pearl earrings on the amazing 'hand-made ebay' website Etsy, I jumped at the opportunity to get them. As in any other transaction that takes place on the grizzly old interweb, I paid an acceptable delivery fee to have the goods shipped from America, aiming to have the goods arrive in the next week or so (leaving plenty of time before the 30th of August, the fateful anniversary date). So far, so ordinary. Not until a week later does this tale gain momentum.

So, a week goes by, uneventful but pleasant (if I remember correctly - perhaps I fabricated this pleasant week during the upcoming trauma to make my experiences feel just that little bit worse) and I run giddy to my door! Nothing! Not even a special red note from that wonderfully dedicated institution, the Royal Mail, informing me that they were unable to deliver my mail because I was not in (read: the postman couldn't be bothered to wait 2 minutes) . Oh. Oh well, my brain chimes - surely tomorrow will bring brown-paper parcels of liquid joy to my door? Surely.


As every day went by, the usual feeling you have for Royal Mail began to set in - pure, blossoming despair. A week went by and then an ominously grey Royal Mail note is popped through the letter box. What can this mean!? I have never seen a grey note before - the mystery seems to dribble in, following the note. The Duckett hallway is clogged with it by the time I take the note in my hands.

"We are unable to deliver your package because a customs charge needs to be paid."

Wait. A what? What charge is this? I have already paid for the item, and paid for delivery. Surely that should be it? And an extra charge of £12! In an addled daze I emailed the seller, inquiring about any possible problems with the delivery, or a charge I was unaware of. And now my deadline was thoroughly shot to pieces, and I had to whisper sweet lies to my girlfriend about it turning up in the next few days... I know, I promise, definately, truly.

A week of emails between myself and the seller, and myself and the Royal Mail occurred. Except that it was just the one email between myself and the Royal Mail - they never bothered to get back in touch (whereas the wonderfully helpful seller responded to the 3 or 4 emails I sent within a few hours of sending them). So I eventually gave in and called, only to be promptly and rudely informed that any customs charges have to be dealt with by HMRC, and the Royal Mail take no responsibility.

Great. My sage-like nature is wearing thin, as the despair feels like a sucking quagmire tugging at my legs, willing me to give up and pay the ridiculous charge. Which, to cut an increasingly long and, in retrospect, rather uninteresting story short, is exactly what I did. The charge was VAT on items valued at over £18 - £3 for me, but as the Royal Mail love their customers and love doing everything they can for them, they proceed to charge you £8 for the privilege of them collecting it (which surely they would normally have to do?) and paying the £3 charge (which I would happily have done, if informed of its existence).

Nice scheme they have going. And oh how I wish I could have rocked the boat - complained, shouted, screamed, gone postal in the Finsbury Park Sorting Office! But unfortunately I caved - I just couldn't be bothered, and I kind of wanted my girlfriend to get her anniversary present at some point before the 2010 4-years rolled around. Oh well. Maybe next time. Fuck 'em. Autumn's here! Time to spend days reading in Finsbury Park, as the trees lose their clothing in spectacularly vivid colours.

More music chums? This week, St. Vincent peaked my fancy. An enigmatic Kansas native, Annie Clark (who plays under the moniker of St. Vincent for her solo outings) had previously played with Polyphonic Spree and Sufjan Stevens. Her debut album, 2007's Marry Me, was a wonderful introduction to the multi-instrumentalist's wonderfully oddball pop music. With lashings of feedback-heavy guitar, a superbly inventive lyrical range (from the wonderfully upbeat Marry Me to the increasingly dark Landmines) and an eclectic range of instruments, Clark raises this album high above other similarly quirky pop outings.

Actor, Clark's second album, seems to have cemented her firmly within the alt-pop indie movement of the moment. Touring Europe over the next few months, and supporting indie favourites Grizzly Bear at a number of UK shows, this seems like it might be St. Vincent's year. And with loud, even angry sing-along tracks like Marrow, the ethereally melancholic songs still manage to maintain their delicate beauty, thanks to Clark's disarmingly charming voice. A great follow-up which manages to sound different (Clark clearly has a superb band behind her, if the album and live tour recordings are anything to go by) from Marry Me, but retains the playfulness of her first solo outing. Hopefully this bedroom-whinger can wrangle a live ticket...

Listen to: Laughing With a Mouth of Blood, Marrow, Marry Me & Landmines