Saturday, 17 July 2010

The end of the shipping saga (almost)

On the day that I traveled up to London for my husband's birthday, I received a message from J.A. Coles Removals telling me that my shipping crate had been "rescued" from the dock in Felixstowe; all the shipments in it (mine and seven other people's) had cleared customs and were now sitting in the moving company's warehouse. All I had to do was pay the additional dock/processing fees (e.g., the fees that I'd already paid for the first time around, but which hadn't been passed on from the original company to the local company), and I would be reunited with my things. The total amount of the second payment was a "mere" $1900 (for anyone keeping track, that's a grand total of $5400 from start to finish--$4000 more than the original estimate). Rather than focusing on this unsettling detail, I just gave the company my credit card information and concentrated on the joy of picturing my things sitting safely in a warehouse rather than exposed and unloved and seconds away from destruction on a dock. I was told that the items would be delivered within a couple weeks, and that I would be receiving a phone call to arrange the exact date and time.

If you are as suspicious as I have become, you might be thinking that the local mover could have been in on the swindling scheme all along; in other words, I may have just paid someone an extra $1900 that he was not even owed. Originally, I was inclined to think that J.A. Coles was trustworthy--when I talked to the representative on the phone, he sounded genuinely miffed about all the trouble that GKrates International was causing with his business. He went off on a rant about how much time and energy he was putting into handling this crisis even though he wasn't being paid to do so, and it sounded extemporaneous enough that I was convinced it was actual frustration and not just a well-rehearsed performance. However, as I was putting together the documentation that I need to send along with my official complaints to various consumer organizations, it did occur to me that J.A. Coles could be in cahoots with GKrates and that they could so easily use their "I'm-just-a-nice-guy-helping-you-out" story to trick people like me into paying additional money, and actually paying them gratefully because we thought they were real heroes. Slimy, yes;

In keeping with my nature, I was completely consumed with worry over this idea once it had taken root in my brain. I wrote J.A. Coles and asked if I could have copies of whatever paperwork they had so that I could include it with my complaint "dossier." I received no response for several days--which makes sense if they had paperwork showing that my shipment had actually cleared customs shortly after arrival, and had been sitting in their warehouse all along. At this point I began panicking more earnestly, and sent a second e-mail with the same request. However, this time I added more information: the fact that I'm funded by the US government, that US government money had been set aside to pay for my shipping process, and that the people who funded me were assisting me with pursuing legal action. Technically, all of these things are true, though in reality none of these items is actually as threatening as I made them out to be. For instance, I'm merely given a stipend by the National Science Foundation, rather than being an employee of, say, the CIA. Additionally, although my NSF grant did include a request for shipping funds, I can't actually use that funding to pay for the shipping because my moving process began before the grant officially became active. Finally, I've received a bit of advice from my NSF handler, but the US government isn't actually helping me pursue legal action. But none of this matters if you choose the correct wording, and wouldn't you know that the very day after I sent that e-mail, I got a call from the Cornish movers who'd been subcontracted to bring my shipment here to Falmouth? Of course, this could be complete coincidence, but I am beginning to doubt it; after all, I still have received no response to my request for the Customs documentation. Eventually I'm going to have to threaten to report J.A. Coles to the UK consumer officials, who apparently are more stringent than the officials in the US. Hopefully it won't come to that, but if I don't hear from J.A. Coles by the end of the week, I'm going to have to take that route. Incidentally, you may have noticed that I mentioned yet another subcontracted company involved in this process. In case you're keeping track, that's a total of SIX different entities required to get my things from point A to point B: Global Forwarding-->GKrates International-->Local movers in Athens, OH-->Nilsson-->J.A. Coles-->Local movers in Cornwall.

Luckily, the last of these actually have their heads on straight. For the record, they are called Frank Tripp Removals of Penryn, Cornwall. They were helpful and friendly and--get this--they actually did what they said they would do. I got a call on Monday and was told that my things would be delivered on Wednesday. After hearing this news, I actually ran around my apartment and jumped up and down, after which I messaged everyone I knew in order to share the good news. The lady on the phone took the time to verify something I had been wondering about for a while: Was "my" shipment really my shipment, and was it there in its entirety? The most notable of my objects was a kayak, and after its presence had been confirmed I felt more relaxed. However, I was told that the entire shipment was 63 pieces, and for some reason I had the number 65 in my head--I think I do actually have a document somewhere with the number "65" on it, though maybe that is a typo or just bad handwriting. In any case, over the 2 days that I had to wait for my shipment to arrive, I nearly drove myself mad wondering about this discrepancy. Had two things been lost? Had two things been combined with other packages in order to make 63 from 65? Further, what did the lady mean when she told me there was a note about the "poor condition" of my order--had things been damaged? Would I open boxes only to find everything shattered and bent? I have a very vivid imagination, and I put it to good use coming up with a multitude of scenarios in which my precious belongings were mutilated or thoughtlessly discarded.

Imagine how excited I was to get a phone call the night before my shipment was to arrive and being told that it wouldn't be delivered at lunchtime, as first scheduled, but first thing in the morning! All I had to do was go to bed, and when I woke up I would have my things. I already felt like a kid on Christmas Eve, and now this metaphor was proving more apt--I'd wake up in the morning and Santa would visit! It was truly Christmas in July. I actually took a whole day off work so I could immerse myself in opening boxes and reorganizing the apartment and rolling around in a big pile of my stuff strewn across the floor (well, not really that last one, though I was tempted). In the back of my mind, I kept thinking that this might just be one more disappointment, and that something was going to happen to get in the way of this reunion, but--for once--I was not let down. I actually got my things.

The movers showed up at 9 AM and spent the next 45 minutes carrying each of my 63 items up two flights of steps, sweating and huffing and puffing, but not making a single complaint. They put things wherever I want them and even insisted on helping me move the furniture into its final resting place. They pointed out boxes that I should open and check immediately, in case there was damage, and they helped me figure out the mystery of the 2-box difference (the "65" had been a miscount--the original manifesto listed 63 items only). They offered to take out all the garbage that I was generating as I unwrapped and opened things. I had almost forgotten what good customer service was like.

I chatted with the overseer/manager a bit, and he told me that this was not the first time they'd experienced problems with orders from the US. Apparently, they'd recently delivered a pallet of stuff to another American woman in Cornwall (I'm not the only one?!), and she had found 38,000 pounds' worth of damage. That almost made me feel guilty for complaining about all my travails. Almost. Then I discovered that some of my dishes were broken, a leg of my coat rack had been cracked, and a leather handle on my antique trunk had been ripped, and I felt justified in being grumpy.

Once the movers departed, I busied myself with opening and examining everything, since we had a guest coming the next day and I wanted to try to get the apartment presentable by then. I was definitely in a zone; I did not even stop to eat lunch. All of the furniture and non-carton items were packed in padded brown wrapping paper, so uncovering my desk and sewing machine table, etc., was like ripping into giant presents. I filled the entire kitchen with an ocean of the paper, then proceeded to fill the living room with an ocean of boxes. Unfortunately, at the end of the afternoon I then had to make about a dozen trips down to the dumpster, carrying unwieldy boxes and balls of wrapping paper down two flights of steps and past two restaurants of gaping diners. I definitely got a thorough workout during the 8 hours it took me, from start to finish, to go through all my boxes and clean up the aftermath.

After having pretty much given up hope that I'd ever see this stuff again, I practically wanted to cry when I finally did. I swear I'm not materialistic, but it's hard not to have an attachment to things that come from special people or special places, and remind you of all the other years of your life that you have experienced up until now. I don't love my things because of what they are, or because of how they might make other people perceive me, but because they resonate with memories. Also, in this case, I was finally bringing a bit of myself here to England, so that I could stop feeling like a guest in my husband's home, surrounded by his things, and start feeling like an equal part of the enterprise. After I filled the guest room with my bureau, trunk, bedside table, desk, and hat boxes, I walked past the door and noticed that it smelled like home:

(The guest bedroom. To the left, where you cannot see, is my desk, covered with my Buddha collection and the many stuffed bird toys that I've received as gifts over the years. From this angle, you can see my grandmother's mirror on the bedside table; I used to be enchanted by this as a little girl and so my grandma gave it to me a few years ago. Next to it is an ostrich egg that miraculously made it over here without breaking. I received that as a prize for winning a road race at an ornithology conference when I was an undergrad. On the bureau are a bunch of pictures, including a portrait of my late kitties.)

Now, I have to admit that I probably have more possessions than a single person should, but I've been living on my own for a while now, and that requires a lot of stuff. Every time I move, I always find it surprising to open boxes and rediscover all the things I packed--I actually have so much that I can forget about it in between packing and unpacking. This time around, it was like greeting friends that I hadn't seen in decades, since some of the stuff was first packed as long as a year ago (almost to the day), when I made the move from Williamsburg to Athens. I had to run my hand over the cover of each of my cookbooks (all those recipes I can make again!) and admire all my shoes (so many more outfits I can wear!) and strum my guitar (yikes--seriously out of tune!). I assembled my shelving unit and put out all my baskets and boxes, rearranged the kitchen drawers so I could fill them with my silverware and cooking utensils, rolled out my rug in the living room, and started sprinkling decorations around the apartment:

(The new rug in the living room--it really ties the whole room together. You may also notice the Ellie Krieger cookbook on the end table. I bought it just before I left and didn't even get the chance to look through it before I shipped it off.)

(My faux-antique distelfink-style German Bible verse. I found this at the Williamsburg Antique Mall while shopping with my mother, but didn't buy it because it cost too much. I later went back after thinking wistfully about it for a good couple weeks, only to find that it was on sale for 50% off the original price. Destiny! I temporarily lost it during one previous move, so I'm glad to see it made it through this round unscathed. It is particularly cool because a) I love birds, and b) my mother's maiden name is Distel, so it reminds me of my family.)

(My dishes in the cabinet--now we have a full set of matching dishes, like normal grown-ups. Unfortunately, someone obviously dropped one of my boxes of ceramics, and I lost one of the bowls plus 2 of my collectible mugs--one from my department at college and another from a cafe we frequented as undergrads in Philly. Oh, well--I can just collect mugs from new places in the future, though as you can see, there isn't too much space to fit them in.)

(My shelving unit with storage containers. I love seeing an Ohio Longaberger basket in England. I also love the Chinese hat boxes, the larger of which is the first real antique I ever purchased myself. That was one of the things I was truly heartbroken about losing, back when I thought the shipment was gone forever. On the wall, you'll notice my samurai sentry/sentinel--I have hung him near the door of every apartment I've lived in. The tradition started just because that was where he fit, but now I like to think of him as guarding the door.)

Another interesting aspect of this was that I packed many of the boxes just after Christmas. I had all sorts of recently-received presents that I didn't even get to enjoy. When I ran across those things, I was almost surprised to find them: a microplane for zesting fruit, silicone cupcake holders, a pie sheet, a book I'd been promising myself I could read as soon as I defended my dissertation. Perhaps the funniest was this:

(My 2010 calendar. For years, my mom has bought me a new calendar each Christmas. This is the first year that I missed an entire 6.5 months of it.)

I also found some entertaining evidence of the length of time for which things had been packed and stored in Ohio. Most notably where the many desiccated lady beetles rattling around the bottoms of the cartons (for those not in the know, Ohio has unbelievable lady beetle infestations). After hearing a strange sound in a travel coffee mug, I peered in and discovered a dead cockroach (I should mention that things were stored outside at my parents' house--they aren't dirty people). The furniture, in particular, had many old cobwebs, and there were even some remnants of pawprints from my cats. *sniff* As you can see, it was quite a trip down memory lane. It was especially poignant to pull out stuff that had been handmade or hand-tailored in some way: the "necklace sheep," tea caddy, and desks done by my grandfather, the mirror and bookshelf done by my father, all the antiques picked out by my mother. Normally, I am not a sappy person, but sometimes when you realize how truly far you are from home, it is very reassuring to look around and have some reminders of where you've come from.
When I was unpacking the bookshelf boxes, I came across my photo album and was temporarily distracted by all the old photos. It was especially interesting to see the pictures of me during my first trip to England, a point in my life during which I would have laughed if you'd told me I'd end up marrying a Brit and moving to the UK.

Basically, all's well that ends well, as far as this little story goes, though all will be even better if I can make someone experience even mildly painful repercussions for ripping me off and making me wait a ludicrous length of time for my belongings. The only remaining evidence of the massive moving-in process are a few extra boxes (there's no more room in the dumpster!) and all my books awaiting shelving:

(A few of the seemingly millions of boxes that were crammed in here. You can't tell from this selection, but a good portion of the boxes were picked up from alcohol stores, and have brand names of booze written on every side. The movers probably think I am a massive drunkard.)

(My books, both those that have already been unpacked and those that are still boxed up. The scary thing is that I only brought a fraction of my total library over--the rest of the books are still at my parents' house because there is simply not enough room for them here. We have plans to purchase two new bookshelves, but that will just give us a place to put these volumes; if we buy many more, we're going to need to expand yet again. That is one drawback of putting two serious readers who are also serious academics into a single household. Luckily our tastes overlap, so we can share many purchases.)

The funny thing is, I had intended my next blog to be about all the rearranging/redecorating I've been steadily doing since moving in. Now I can discuss the two stages of that process: pre- and post-shipment-arrival. I've been working my magic on this apartment for over a year now, and it looks like we're finally coming to the home stretch. It's cleaner, it's better organized, it actually has some decorations, and now it represents both inhabitants. In other words, it's finally becoming a home.

No comments:

Post a Comment