Delivery to the Dark Side

As anyone who has ever built their own house will know, particularly if they’ve taken a fairly hands on approach to the project, you will spend a disproportionately large amount of time ordering things, and then a greater part of your time stressing about the delivery…….worrying about whether they’ll arrive in time, will they be the right size/colour/quantity, will they be what builder/plumber/carpenter specified….?

For my barn, I can add a couple of extra stress points – Will they be able to find me? Will they make it up to the track? Or will they just point blank refuse to deliver????

I think I might have mentioned that my barn is in quite a remote area of Scotland. You know the kind of thing – if you zoom in on Google maps you just get masses of blank space; the names on the signposts aren’t villages, they’re farms or individual houses; the roads are, theoretically, supposed to be wide enough for two cars to pass – as long as you tuck in your wing mirrors and don’t mind driving along the verge or in the hedgerows; and the strength of your mobile phone signal depends on which way the wind is blowing and how cloudy it is.

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But, and this is quite a key point, I DO live in the UK, and more precisely, I do live on the UK mainland. So why is it then that I am always so royally shafted when it comes to getting things delivered?

I get enticed into websites by promises of “Free UK delivery if you spend more than £xxx”. Excellent. Sounds like a deal. And then you notice the sneaky little * at the end of the sentence. Scroll down to the bottom of the page and you’ll find it in size 2 font – *Except the Highlands & Islands of Scotland.

Well that’s OK, I don’t live in the Highlands & Islands. I live in Perthshire (or Angus – depends which road you drive up to get to me). On the border between the two – either way, it’s not the Highlands & Islands. But by the time I get to the checkout, and put in my postcode, apparently the delivery companies have reinvented the geography of the United Kingdom and decided that the borders of Perthshire and Angus do constitute a part of the Highlands and Islands. So not only will my delivery not be free as promised, but it will be far more than the normal standard rates. In fact, it will be extortionately inflated.

One memorable and outrageous example, I was looking at ordering a couple of glass balustrades for the galleries upstairs. Since nothing in my barn is on a small scale, these balustrades needed to be over 4m metres in length. The delivery charge was quoted as £350. Out of curiosity, I put the same order in but with a London postcode. The delivery charge was only £50. The warehouse was in Manchester – so it’s not like mileage was the issue. I decided to look elsewhere.

What is it about Scotland that scares delivery companies? There must be people living on narrow roads in rural England…..

There was an interesting point raised during the recent(ish) Scottish Indy referendum, when a bunch of high street names started predicting doom and gloom for Scotland’s internet shoppers in an independent nation because prices would have to rise to accommodate the logistical demands of operating in a largely rural environment.

“Scaremongering” bellowed the Ayes. “Reality” yelled the Nae’s.

Well I’m not about to get all political on this blog, but you try ordering anything North of the border and you’ll soon find out that the discrimination is already happening, so Independence wouldn’t have made a jot of difference. There are already a frightening number of companies who clearly believe that Scotland is on another planet.

But cost is not the only delivery issue. Assuming I’m willing to pay through the nose to get my goods, I then spend all my time wondering whether they will actually find me.

Satnav is not an option, though it is getting better. It used to dump people in a field about 5 miles away. Nowadays it at least gets you onto the right road – though it still tends to come to a confused stop at a cottage about a mile away. So as a precaution I have taken the trouble of measuring the route so I can direct people in from the nearest main road. Which would be great apart from the minor issue of erratic mobile phone reception. I tend to spend delivery days walking up the hill every 15 minutes or so, to the 4th fence post up the field where you get the best phone reception….

Still, assuming I can get my phone working, and Mr Lorry Driver can get his phone working, I can at least give precise instructions on how to find me. Which means it’s all good – until they get to the bottom of The Track…..

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It always worries me when the small print of the T&C’s that come with your order state ‘Kerbside delivery only’, because technically my kerbside is half a mile away, at the bottom of the track. Fortunately, to date, nobody has ever actually been quite that pedantic.

But it is at this point that I usually get the most cursing. Turning on to the track is so tight it’s practically a U-turn. Drivers of large lorries have to keep driving until they can find somewhere to turn around so they can come at it from the other direction. The more adventurous try to reverse all the way up – they usually regret trying that…

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And then of course there’s the state of the track itself. In the recent torrential rain we had, the track turned into a river and dumped all the surface scree at the bottom, completely cutting off access from the road. My neighbours and the local farmer helpfully shovelled it all back again, but it has left a very precarious road surface to negotiate.

In the snow, said track turns into a ski slope with hazards – a burn on one side, a dry stone wall on the other, and a few inconveniently placed telegraph poles ready to stop you when your car (or delivery van) starts sliding out of control. A builders merchant did once, somewhat unwisely, attempt to deliver to me after a snow storm. Three farmhands, two tractors and a Landrover were needed to get him out of the ditch.

I’ve stopped ordering things in Winter….

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