Johnny Anger
Johnny Anger

Subscription rage

Whenever I see a certain former editor of the Mail & Guardian (who may or may not have a missing tooth), a small shiver of guilt shoots up my spine. If, from a karma perspective, one’s bad behaviour comes back to bite one in the ass, then my ass has teeth marks.

It started with Anne Taylor complaining that the New York Times had been evicted from the Sunday Times’s upmarket Lifestyle section. Now slumming it in the Times’s Friday paper, she argued that this punished people in small towns, because the Times doesn’t reach them — that is, us.

Times editor Ray Hartley assured Anne that the Times does go to Grahamstown subscribers.

I buy the Sunday Times every week and if I could get it delivered with a daily newspaper thrown in to boot, then I guess it makes sense to subscribe. I’d temporarily forgotten that I’d once vowed never to become a subscriber. Why?

Well, in the mid-1990s I took out a subscription to the Mail & Guardian. At first everything was fine. On Friday mornings I’d find my newspaper in my postbox. Then, one morning, the newspaper wasn’t there. I phoned the subscription aunty, who promised to sort it out. The following Friday it wasn’t there, nor was it there the week after that. Or the week after that. The subscription aunty assured me that she was giving the delivery guy hell.

After a month of enduring subscription-aunty hell, the delivery guy decided to take matters into his own hands. The following Friday at 3.45am my buzzer buzzed. I stumbled to the intercom. “Er, yes, er, hello?” I stammered.

“Your Mail & Guardian is here,” he bellowed. There was definitely a smirk in his bellow. And so the poor subscription aunty got another Johnny Anger blast later that morning. “I’ll speak to him,” she said.

But the delivery guy didn’t care. He’d declared war. At 3.45am the following Friday my buzzer buzzed again. His smirk was even louder.

I duly phoned the subscription aunty; I could hear a shrug of helplessness in her voice. Again, she said she’d “see what she could do”. I’d spent most of the following Thursday night–Friday morning wide awake, waiting to see if the delivery guy buzzed. 3.45am came and went. The subscription aunty had done it, I thought! I resolved to send her flowers.

Believing that the war was finally over, I drifted off to sleep. The subscription aunty could well do a lot of things, but she couldn’t stop this delivery guy’s war of terror. At 4.15am, my entire being now deeply asleep, the buzzer went off. BBBZZZZZZ. B-B-BZZZZZZ.

I decided to up the stakes. I got hold of the home phone number of the former M&G editor, who may or may not have a missing tooth. The next Friday when my buzzer buzzed in the middle of the night I phoned the M&G editor, who may or may not have a missing tooth. “Er, yes, er, hello?” he answered, Sleepy-the-Dwarf style.

“Do you like being woken up in the middle of the night?” I thundered.

“What? No. Who is this?”

“This is your subscription nemesis,” I said. “Next week, when your delivery guy buzzes me, I am going to phone you,” I told him.

“What? Who? When? Where? How? OK. I’ll have a word with him,” said the editor, who may or may not have a missing tooth.

One word from the makhulu boss did the trick. But it was a hollow victory. There were no more buzzes — there were also no more Mail & Guardians either. I decided, though, not to complain again. A few weeks later Mr Johnson, a tenant in my building, moved out. That Friday my Mail & Guardian was back in my postbox. Nevertheless I didn’t renew my subscription when it expired.

So, after about 15 years of being a confirmed non-subscriber, I took the plunge with the Sunday Times.

I tried setting up a subscription online. Hah! That was a disaster. I phoned the “hotline” and spoke to Joseph. I asked him whether the Times came to Grahamstown. He said he’d check and get back to me in a few minutes. I never heard from him again.

A few days later, I spoke to someone else, who said she guessed the Times did go to Grahamstown because it wasn’t on the list of places that it didn’t. I gave her my credit-card details and — voila — I became a subscriber!

That Sunday I waited for my copy — eagerly checking the doormat every few minutes so that I could get a WH fix.

I was too scared to leave my home in case the paper was delivered. I waited in vain. Eventually, at about 6pm, having come to the sad realisation that the newspaper wasn’t going to come, I went to the shops to buy one. All sold out. Next day I phoned the subscription hotline to complain. The woman who answered promised to sort it out and get back to me. Well, she didn’t.

The newspaper didn’t come the following Sunday either. Before I could complain, some hapless telesales soul from the subscriptions department phoned to ask if everything was going smoothly. I ranted. I raged. I fumed. This was Johnny Anger in full rage. She was shell-shocked. She promised to sort it out. The following Sunday came … still no newspaper.

The worst part is that I am still holding on to the belief that it will come. Every Sunday I stay at home, waiting for it to plop on to my stoep. For 18 hours I’m under house arrest. I do time on Sunday. (Can anyone give me Mondli’s home number?)

Maybe I’m on some sort of subscriber blacklist. Or maybe, despite all its good intentions, the Sunday Times, just like its columnist David Bullard regularly accuses the government of failing to do, doesn’t have the capacity to deliver.

PS: To the former M&G editor, who may or may not have a missing tooth, but doesn’t, I’m really sorry. Please forgive me. I was desperate. Still am.