Wednesday, 20 February 2013

The Customer's Always Right...

I used to work in retail, I've been a supervisor of a takeaway sandwich shop, a baker and counter-staff at a supermarket, a clerk in a video store, a barista in a coffee shop, a sales assistant and temporary manager of the online shop at a London museum, as well as a Christmas temp at a high street entertainment store. Out of all these roles I always enjoyed customer service, working with - and for - the public. Generally it's an enjoyable experience, and I've never really been bothered by "difficult" customers because I treat them as politely and helpfully as possible, therefore giving them nothing to butt heads against.

I was at a conference quite recently and there was a talk given by a customer service 'guru' that rubbed me up the wrong way. He opened his presentation asking if anyone has ever had a negative experience at a Walt Disney resort and then asking if anyone has ever had a negative experience at a service station, gas station, local shop or food store, and believing that the lack of hands raised for the former compared to the wealth of hands raised for the latter justifies his insipid, rambling, moronic guff spouting. Of course, these two things are incomparable, you don't go on a week long trip to Sainsburys expecting to experience Mr. Toad's Wild Ride or Space Mountain, nor do you pop to the Magical Kingdom to pick up some beans. Sure, both places, like most places, have people working there who will have to face customers, but then the structure around those people and the expectations placed upon them differs greatly.

In ethical argument this would fall under bifurcation, the idea that if only presented with two alternatives then one has to be right as a result of the other being wrong. This is very silly and ignores things such as mitigating circumstances, context, or, in this case, the two things being completely different, but, sneakily shunted under an umbrella of similarity. You see, it is not the places that are the same but it is the relative experiences, and by dint of this contrast the speaker is making the audience believe that one is showing exemplary customer service and the other is clearly rubbish.

But, overall, most people working in customer service - whether in the Magic Kingdom or the Michaelwood M5 services - want to do their jobs well, and most of the resentment from customer service employees is not from the employees to the customers, no, it's from the employees to their employers, their employers who come and listen to this 'guru' deliver bullshit speeches at their conferences and then, inevitably, fill out a post-conference survey where they gripe about the hotel staff's customer service.


Is there a veiled point being made by this 'guru' when, as he begins his presentation he jokes; "I'm going to make this quick, my girlfriend has larengitis and I don't want to miss a second of it." Or later, during his talk, he 'randomly' singles out one of the female delegates from a conference room of 160 men and about 4 women, pointing at her and saying; "What is your name my darling?" He requests of this 'random' person that they keep an eye on his water during his talk and that when it gets low they should run forward and refill it for him, perhaps he's 'playing a part' and trying to demonstrate something about customer service? I kept expecting him to refer back to this earlier section of the talk, revealing it to not be just an aside, but a point to show what excellent 'customer service' this 'random' person had shown, but, nope, never comes back, apart from when he later needs his water refilled and he winks in her direction, she refils his glass and then he whispers "Thank you" patronisingly. So, I can only assume that what he is demonstrating is that the customer (see; him) is often a cunt, especially with his remark to this delegate; "I need you to do me a favour, I drink like a fish, but I need to talk to these guys [referring to the other delegates]."

According to some research he presents to the assembled, the number one customer complaint about staff is 'rudeness', of course it's going to be 'rudeness', the number one complaint about having to interact with other people in general is always going to be 'rudeness', but you can't just sit the word 'rudeness' out there on an island and generally apply it to customer service by and large especially not without factoring in the 'rudeness' of a customer. Admittedly my technique for dealing with a rude customer was to be even nicer to them in the hopes of belittling and patronising them with kindness, nobody can go to your manager and complain that you were too polite. But, some people do take customer service personally, on both sides of the transaction, and outside factors play a large role too. I was told at one job's pre-start date training to make sure we left our life at home, not in a horrible robotic way, but that personal problems aren't for the work place, and if it is something that is going to be an issue request a day off.

He says that it doesn't matter what the product is, the service is the same, it's about people, he mentions two products; lingerie and Mars bars. I'm sure lots of girls remember the last time they had to go to a fitting for a Mars bar.

This arse trumpet, sorry, 'guru', then goes on to tell a story about the customer service recevied by a friend of his when buying a Mercedes, of course, where someone buying a car differs to someone buying a Mars bar is in things like commission and the amount of money changing hands; the nature of the relationship. Often I walk around the 'lot' at my local newsagents unsure whether to go for a Twix or a Kit-Kat, and if I do get a Kit-Kat should it be the standard or the chunky... I never trust the opinion of the guy serving me, he's just thinking about that big fat kick-back he'll get from selling me the more expensive Kit-Kat Chunky, so, of course he's going to schmooze the pants off of me.

Conversely, to me, good customer service comes from a place of sincerity. I like going to my local corner shop, some of the staff there are very friendly, and I'm the type of customer that prefers to just drift in and out, but there's a jovial nature to the staff there that is appealing. But there's no real reason for them to act that way. There are staff members there who are very functional in their duties and barely acknowledge you. Don't mind, it's just a job, they can treat their service how they want, I'm just buying some milk. However, a car salesperson might offer you an insincere customer service experience in an effort to get you to feel at ease, to 'like' them and therefore be more inclined to buy their product. It's not about customer service for them, it's about comission, and your managers, your employers, and these conference speakers, who bandy around the term 'customer service' are using it as a 'euphemism' for their profiteering.

Indeed, a friend of mine was telling me recently about incentives offered during their Christmas temp job. If you up-sold extra items to customers at the checkout and managed to hit a target during the day you'd get a bag of sweets (a tiny Haribo bag no less, mmm, beef gelatin), alongside this confection you would also be singled out in front of your co-workers as having been brilliant that day, thus embarassing you and earning the contempt of your colleagues, and what do you have to show for it? Some Fangtastics.


The one sort-of-valid point this 'guru' makes, reinforcing something I said earlier, is you can't deliver good customer service if you yourself do not feel good. Now, if you're working a shitty job in shitty conditions for people who pay you shit all expect shit loads but don't give a shit about you, then you'll probably feel like shit. This was how I felt when I worked in a department store's coffee shop in Brighton, so I quit. (Unfortunately though, I was unable to get another job and ultimately had to move away from Brighton and live on a friend's sofa for six months, so quitting isn't a luxury available to everyone (especially more rational -and less impetuous - people than me)). However, when I worked in the gift shop of a Museum in London the staff at all levels were generally lovely and that was reflected in my behavior.

Having said that though, sometimes I would use my job as an escape from reality, here, in the workplace, I didn't have to face the problems outside of the store/warehouse/office, etc. I could be silly and carefree, and all I had to worry about was serving customers, tidying up, cashing out, locking up, etc. My existence could be left bundled up with my casual clothes in my locker. So, a workplace can be an escape, but only when your employers help foster an atmosphere that supports that, and the flimsy incentives most companies offer is no way to do that. We, the employees, all know, at the back of our minds, that, by and large, our employers are looking out for their profits and not the happiness of their staff.

He goes on to illustrate some workplace 'types' who he believes cause bad customer service. The first of which is someone who comes into work in a terrible mood - the reasons behind this mood that the guru gives are husband having an affair, teenage daughter pregnant again and teenage son on smack - now, clearly, this person needs some support and isn't finding it in her workplace, perhaps they don't have a support group outside of their family, and clearly their family aren't there for them to talk to, if she lacks friends then someone in upper management, or maybe even another colleague, needs to reach out.

As much as, in an ideal world, we should leave our emotions at home we do also have to earn a wage, and some people are afraid that if they take time off for personal problems then their workmates will resent them, which, according to this 'guru' they already seem to do, because she comes into work, she tries to shoulder her problems, but she can't help but feel awful, and I feel sorry for her, because she's got nobody and this chump thinks she should just put it under her hat and smile dopily at pictures of a new puppy someone's fawning over in the other corner of the office, well, no Mr. 'Guru', that's not how it should be, the only coda that would wrap up your version of events is the sentence "before turning the gun on herself" in the following day's newspaper.

The other four 'types' are the broadest of out-dated cliches created by people who probably only see human-shaped robots rather than actual people working behind desks.

He then goes on to get misty-eyed about the notion of saying thank you, he says "When you were a child you were told to say thank you all the time, when did that stop?" It stops when you shouldn't have to be told to say thank you any more, and you should be a decent enough human being to say it of your own volition. Almost all the people I know say please and thank you, they smile, they move out of the way, they give up their seat, they go out of their way for others, for friends and strangers, but in this 'guru's' bubble world everyone is a mean spirited, close minded "arse". Sometimes we see the world through a shade cast by our own eyes, if you're an arse then you'll either inspire arseiness in others or just assume that everyone else is an arse as well.

He ends his presentation with a bit about 'special talents' and about how long it would take to learn the alphabet backwards, before engaging in a prolonged and convoluted story about an ex-warrior named 'Zee-Why', this story farts along with call and response bits which ultimately spell out the alphabet backwards, but, of course, this isn't someone learning the alphabet backwards, this is just a bunch of people being prompted into a short term memory game and, if you asked them 30 minutes later, they'd struggle to remember the story and, more than likely, the only way they would remember would be to recite the alphabet backwards, which is a far easier task than putting up with this shit.

He says that it's not about learning the alphabet backwards, which is true, but then he says that it's about those things that we think take a lot longer to achieve can actually be achieveable in a shorter time if we change the way we look at them, of course, learning this story would take as long as - if not longer than - simply reversing the order of the alphabet. Which I shall now try to do quickly:


One mistake, and that took me about 30 seconds, if that. So, learning that backwards would probably take me 30 minutes, and I could adapt it into a sing-song version, much like when you learn the alphabet as a child, and easily repeat it from memory using that.

Interestingly his final point refers to the idea of having a teacher at school who you didn't like and how that you may not now even like that subject. Well, I had a teacher at school that I positively hated, she was pretty much pure evil, and she taught English, something I went on to study at University and continue to enjoy. Maybe I'm the exception that proves the rule? But a good friend of mine had the very same teacher, hated her with a passion, and also went on to study English and become a teacher himself.

In summary, why am I writing about this customer service 'guru'? Well, beyond the fact that it actually angered me that this man gets paid a substantial sum to go to conferences and talk this utter bollocks at people as if there's any validity to it whatsoever, and ignoring his casual sexism and lazy jokes, I wanted to ultimately make the point that there is so much kindness, warmth and politeness in the world but those who don't see it often choose not to see it. Sure, sometimes you have a bad day and that effects you at work, but people, I believe, generally don't intend to take it out on others, they're just caught off guard, or things mount up; like your evening plans suddenly being ruined by an impending deadline or a late-running train.

Misery is infectious, it's strange how when I've been commuting that if there's one commuter being an audible grump it begins to bleed through into the other passengers, it's like Newton's Cradle, you shove one way, eventually someone will shove back. I think it's highly unrealistic to expect the world to be sunshine and lollipops all the time, Lord knows it'd be hypocritical of me to suggest that, but I do try to shrug things off, or laugh things off, and endeavour - whether my curmudgeonly face allows it or not - to keep smiling, even when faced with absolute cockhats like that 'guru'.

Thank you, come again!

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Secret Shatner

I'm not religious, so why do I celebrate Christmas? The story of how J├ęsus Christ realised his dad was Father Christmas doesn't resonate with me as it might with other Christmastians.

Instead I piggyback their religious holiday and use it as an excuse to give and receive gifts, eat lots of food and drink from the moment I wake up to the moment I collapse in a heap... Though, come to think of it, I already do two of those activites most days.

Anyway, a while ago I thought it might be fun to do a thing called Secret Shatner, because whilst I no longer believe in Santa Claus, I do still believe in William Shatner, and I thought it sounded like a funny play on words... Shut up, ok.

To try and motivate myself to follow through on my pun's promise I'm going to write down the 'Rulez' for Secret Shatner below so you can play along at home with your friends / lovers / fuck buddies / family members and pet ocelot.

Secret Shatner is much the same as Secret Santa, except there are two draws:

The first draw is from the 'Captain's Log', these are the names of everyone involved in the Secret Shatner exchange.

The second draw is from the 'WSM(aos)DB', otherwise known as the William Shatner Movie (and other stuff) Data Base. This contains an equal number of slips of paper, but these have titles of movies, tv shows, albums and the like from across the great man's career.

What you must then do, is give your chosen name a Shat-tastic gift that, in some way, associates itself with the Shatner project listed on your second bit of paper. Bare in mind, that it doesn't have to be exactly what's on the paper, it just has to, in some flimsy way, be associated with it... Though of course, the more Shatnerry it is, the better.

Also remember to exchange Shatner-styled greetings cards and wrap your presents in Shatner themed paper, enjoy a nice cup of Shat Nog and sing the traditional carol 'Jingle To Maximum Warp, Mr. Sulu'.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Virgin Media Shorts 2012: Day 2

(Sean Connell and Jamila Jennings-Grant in 'Forwards')

Today was pretty much a disaster, well, not a disaster, but a non-event.

Unfortunately I have been unable to get the footage off of the camera into a workable format and have had to cancel the looping session with Sean and Jamila.

It doesn't look like I'll be able to get the footage to a point where I can sit down and properly edit the film until next weekend, which is a mild frustration. However, it'll give me some distance from the film and I'll be able to approach it with a fresh outlook.

Additionally I think a few pick-up shots will be required and Sean and Jamila are being absolutely wonderful with regards to their availability and willingness to help finish the film properly.

So, hopefully will have better news to report this time next week!

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Virgin Media Shorts 2012: Day 1

With filming scheduled to start at noon I had a nice little lie-in before getting up and heading to the Kenton.  I was undoubtedly relieved that the weather was nice as I was hoping to film in the pub's 'deer' garden, rather than sitting inside and having to be the grumpy director who has to ask the staff to turn the music off.

Rather fortunatley there were a few people in the pub, so I had some 'extras' for this scene, but, as would continue to plague me throughout the day, I was concerned that the background life of the film would be too quiet and this would effect how clearly the concept and 'trickery' of the picture would come across.

Sean and Daniela did a great job with the first scene, I was quite pleased that they quickly decided to just accept that I had a clear image in my head of how the scene would play out, because the way they would be performing it is quite unnatural.  I think I was a bit overzealous on the amount of grape juice I poured into Daniela's glass for her to down, so I let her be in control of all subsequent measures.  I do seem to have a habit of making actors down rather full drinks!

It took about 45 minutes to shoot that first scene, then Rosie and Jamila turned up and we headed to the park.

Unfortunately the park wasn't that densely populated with people enjoying the nice weather.  I tried to encourage takes to happen as people were passing by, but they either zipped past very quickly or politely stepped behind the camera.  Curses!

Rosie had supplied her own intentionally sloppy and messy sandwich for her role, and it looked gloriously grotesque, I was very pleased that she was more than game to take a massive bite and chew in a pretty unflattering fashion!

I was then impressed by Jamila's ability to jog in reverse, but that'll make more sense when the film is finished.

Unfortunately the next location was way down in South London as I needed the assistance of a friend with a car and didn't want to make Carl drive all the way up to Hackney.  However, there were railway replacment buses to negotiate and Carl was only free until 5pm.

Fortunately we got there around 4pm, but shooting the car scene proved slightly troublesome and I don't think I did a very good job of articulating or enacting how the shot should look.  I think sometimes the way something works in your head and the way your body actually performs can be very different, and though, even if you stand there and run it through yourself, it may feel right, once you see it from an objective point of view it isn't what you had envisioned.  Nevertheless, I decided to cheat the shot, and hopefully it'll look allright in the edit!  Eek.

We were lucky, though there had been spits and spots of rain as we waited at train stations it seemed to have passed.  Unfortunately the battery was now flashing 32 minutes and we didn't have a spare or a place to charge.  The next scene was, worryingly, the most crucial of the entire film and the dialogue was lengthy and complex.

On the plus side I think having a short amount of time helped Sean and Jamila not worry too much about the technicalities of what they were saying and maybe eased the pressure in a strange way, but, not being able to take our time over it meant that I don't know if I've got all the shots I need and I'm not 100% certain whether the dialogue is going to work.  But, fingers crossed!

Finally there was a small scene to shoot in South West London at my office.  Jamila was done for the day, so headed home.  Sean and I got on another railway replacement bus and headed across South London.

Suddenly though I realised a massive error on my part.  I had woken up and, as I usually do of a Saturday, taken my work keys out of my pocket and put them on the bedside table.  This morning I had completely forgotten to remember that I would need them to get into this final location.  I, obviously, felt like a massive idiot, but fortunately both Sean and I could stay on the bus and head to London Victoria and I figured I'd either try and shoot the scene with my bedroom substituting for an office tomorrow, or depending on how the edit goes, leave it out completely.

As the bus journey continued I remembered a few more little shots here and there that I wanted to grab, that I hope I will be able to shoot when Sean and Jamila come in to do some looping on Sunday.  There is also a possibility that we may have to reshoot the ending if things have gone totally awry!

Once home I tried capturing the footage from the camcorder, unfortunately, as it's not my camera, I didn't have the software to do so, and certain camcorder manufacturers don't like to use codecs that are familiar to professional software like Premiere CS4.

Luckily I managed to find a workaround, but it was slow going, and the clips were rendering out all night.  Fortunately I was a bit restless, so woke up every now and then and started a new batch rendering for the edit on Sunday morning, that will hopefully be done by the time Sean and Jamila arrive to dub lines!

Friday, 22 June 2012

Virgin Media Shorts 2012: Day 0

Last year I decided, at the very last minute, to make a film for Virgin Media Shorts called 'Clone Alone'. It wasn't about the contest for me, it was about the limitations and having a deadline. The film could run to 2:20 max and I had to get it filmed and finished in about four days.

This would have been pretty easy if I hadn't decided to make my film about a guy who gets addicted to cloning, and therefore every other shot involved some form of special effects malarkey.

Watching the film back now I remain quite proud of it, for something done very off the cuff, just me, my housemate Sean and his little HD camera I think it looks pretty good, and whilst some of the effects shots really don't work I don't think any of them are too jarring if you're watching the film casually.

So, this year, I thought I'd enter once more. Again, it's not about the prizes (yeah, that's what all losers say), but I can become a little undisciplined or find other projects bogged down by organisational stumbling blocks or technical glitches, with this contest it encourages me to work quickly, get it shot, chopped and online as soon as possible.

Though I have been a little more ambitious this year...

For starters the cast is larger, my old housemate Sean Connell (from 'Clone Alone' and 'The Usual Boyfriend') is the lead once more, Jamila Jennings-Grant (who I worked with on a film of Sean's called 'Bright Eyes In The Snow') is the main supporting role, Daniela Heinisch (who I found through posting an ad on casting website takes another part, Rosie Martin (from my band Giant Burger) plays a small role and I have a cameo.

Furthermore the locations are broader, there's The Kenton pub in Homerton, Victoria Park in Tower Hamlets, a street scene in South London and an office scene at my day job workplace.

It also relies quite heavily on the weather being good, which usually at this time of year wouldn't be too much of a concern - though in the UK it's always an issue - but lately we've had rather a lot of rain. Whilst the forecast for Saturday is decent I'm tentative at best.

However the biggest challenge facing the actors relates to the film's concept. I've had to write three different versions of the script to accomodate for how this will effect the shooting of the picture and had to address some fears from my two leads about the complexity and difficulty of learning their lines!

It's going to be a very peculiar shoot, and hopefully, if all goes to plan, with shooting scheduled for tomorrow, the film will be online this coming Monday. I'll keep you posted...

Thursday, 14 June 2012

You Get What You Give

I think one of the key things in life is give and take, being as nice to people as you would hope them to be in return. As the title of this waffle suggests you 'get what you give', you 'reap what you sow', and other such song lyrics.

I read a blog post recently about someone who received 'terrible' service and I couldn't help but think about how it's not always a one way street, sometimes the perceived poor service is entirely exacerbated by the person being served, or, in some extreme cases, actually created by someone who doesn't know how to relinquish control, someone so arrogantly self-assured that they think they have to be in charge, they know best, etc. etc.

I imagine an employee's joy in their work and their willingness to go that extra mile, to do better, to exceed expectations is not always entirely based upon how much they enjoy their job, but upon how much they respect their employer.

Sure, everyone resents their boss at times, it's part of the fun of being a boss, nobody wants to be told what to do and if it's your job to tell people what to do then people are probably not going to respect you all the time. But, there needs to be a line, you need to make people feel worthwhile and valued, and not by rewarding them with bonuses (though that's nice too) but by communicating with them on a person-to-person level and not treating them like an idiot (it all seems so obvious when you write it down).

It's like that scene in the film Phone Booth where the pimp is harassing Colin Farrell and Farrell tries to give him money to get rid of him, then he tries to give him his watch and then Keifer Sutherland shoots the pimp with his sniper rifle. Y'know, it's just like that. Except, in this case, Keifer Sutherland is a metaphor.

I've had plenty of awful retail and warehouse jobs, but my willingness to work harder, and my ability to enjoy what I was doing, no matter how menial, was based more upon how I felt about my employers than about my employment.

The situation was reflected when facing customers, if I ever had a disgruntled punter approach me I would never get angry with them or snippy, I'd be pleasant and courteous. You might think that's obvious, but I have had to step in and defuse a number of situations where staff members have matched a customer's grievances with their own frustrations, it doesn't help resolve matters when someone acts like that.

Obviously sometimes you get customers who just seem to be angry at you to compensate for some gaping insecurity in their own pathetic little life, and the correct procedure for dealing with spoilt brats is to just be even nicer, to make your voice pleasant to the point where it's just teetering on patronising (but never stepping over that line) and being as helpful to their every sad little whim as possible, to the point where they have to begrudgingly say 'Thank you' before storming off to complain to the barista at the coffee stand that their coffee is the wrong shade of brown.

If someone does something 'wrong' (because wrong does not always mean it's incorrect, sometimes it means it's just not to your tastes) you shouldn't treat them like they've inconvenienced your life terribly, that they're an idiot, you shouldn't whine like a toddler who wants that comic book that you've already got but this one has a different set of stickers on the front, no, you should just say something simple like; 'Thanks, but next time could you...'

Especially if the thing your whingeing about is something you only want them to change because you're a lazy, burbling, fuck nut. I guess at a certain level some bosses do like to become stubborn, porky children again, unable to do the most simple of tasks, preferring instead to delude themselves into thinking their time is more precious than anyone elses and assigning utterly demented jobs to their underlings that create twice as much work for all involved, including the aforementioned adult-baby-hybrid creature.

For example, I used to work for an animation company in Soho and one day my boss asked me to call his mobile phone company to change something in his account. That was all the information he gave me before sitting at his desk on the other side of the room and popping his headphones in. I called them and, as it was his mobile phone, I had to then pretend to be him, but every time they asked me a question like 'What is your home address?' or 'What type of contract are you on?' I had to sound like an absolute moron by saying "Hang on one second." putting the phone on hold, getting my boss' attention and asking him for the info before turning back and continuing the conversation.

Ultimately, it would have been so much easier for him to have done it himself, but he had ascended to that special level of bossiness where everything and everyone is beneath you including yourself I would imagine. It's a special level because you don't realise you act like this, and the sad thing about being stubbornly pleasant and courteous to these people (I firmly believe the same rules apply as serving an evil customer, but, trust me, I seethe on the inside) is that they are so deluded and esconced inside their bubble that they will never realise that they're being a blithering baby monster.

When people complain about bad service I always wonder about the other side of the story, sure, there are going to be times where someone hates their job and doesn't mask it, they can't hide their hatred for you, but that's not entirely because they're evil, it's still give and take, they're not being an indiscriminate shit (some are), they just can't be bothered with tolerating the incessant demands of people anymore, and I envy them, I really do, I wish I could throw off my courteous shackles sometimes and just hold a mirror up to the bastards of the world, but, I don't want to sink to their level. It reminds me that I'm better than them, which might sound arrogant, but it's true.

So, in fact, don't change your ways employers and customers of the world, keep being utter trumpets, it just serves to remind me of how great I am*. Thanks!

*In comparison to an arsehole, compared to regular, nice people I'm a bit of a tosser as well.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Taking A Dump

I had to end a relationship recently. I'm not very good at the whole dumping process because I always worry that the person is going to take it so personally, and it's never because that person is without merit, and it's never because the feelings I felt previously no longer really apply. I will still feel that that person is as smart, funny, interesting and attractive as I felt they were when we first met, but, for whatever reason a relationship wasn't working for me.

One of my friends recently had a relationship end as well, he was on the receiving end of the dumpage, and his current state of mind seems very similar to how I felt when a long term relationship came to a slow, trundling, painful end in 2007. Except in that instance, I was the one responsible for the end of things.

I've been wondering, since having to do the dumping, about the perceptions of the act, and whether it's worse to be the dumper or the dumpee. It does all depend on how you feel about the person, but I'm savvy enough to generally date people that I care about and so having to end a relationship with them isn't exactly my idea of fun.

For me, it's a rather awkward, difficult and painful process and I feel a lot of remorse and guilt about it afterwards. I almost feel like I shouldn't dump someone who still feels that the relationship is working, that I should plough on and try and make it work, but, what if it never works? Maybe they'll be happy, but how much time should I put into trying to fix things especially if the 'things' are a general feeling of it not being quite right?

Are there concrete and valid reasons to ever dump someone? Y'know, beyond; "You slept with my mum at my birthday party." or "You used my pet hamster as a football." Do you really need a concrete reason to end a relationship? I guess that depends on how long the relationship has gone on for, but, regardless, it's not going to feel like much of a reason to the dumpee.

I've been dumped a fair few times, the first one that sticks out in my memory was a girl who was a few years older than me, I had recently finished my A-Levels and she had recently finished University. One day she came round and ended things, I asked for a reason, she said "Gut instinct." Fair enough.

A week or two went by and we got back together, but, it didn't last much longer and this time I was the one ending things. When she asked for a reason I tried my best to explain myself and all the things I felt (which, unfortunately for the sake of this article, I've forgotten), but she told me my reasons were rubbish.

But, rubbish reasons or not, you can't force a relationship to continue.

More recently I found out that a girlfriend wanted to end things with me when she sent me a text intended for someone else by accident. Karmically this felt justified, because I had done a similar thing in the past. I was just a bit miffed to find out that they had felt unhappy in the relationship for 'a couple of months'. How long are you supposed to trudge along hoping something is going to miraculously improve? A sense of malaise will only autonomously produce more malaise.

I accepted that there was nothing that could be done, and that if that's how they felt, and had felt for a while, it probably wasn't worth the effort to try and repair the relationship. It would have been like putting a sticking plaster over a gaping axe wound, maybe, for a little while things would have been ok, but pretty soon your guts would fall out... metaphorically.

Selfishly, with some break-ups, I have worried about how I am being portrayed by the dumpee to their friends and acquaintances, sometimes these are people I have known as well, irrespective of the relationship. Knowing the 'full facts' I can't help but feel pangs of annoyance that they might be skewed in order to cast my ex in a better light, that she might have the opportunity to distort the story to only reflect her side of things and those she tells, being naturally supportive, will agree that I am a massive douchebag. Which is true, but still...

Obviously, this is fair, when a relationship ends you want your friends to be on your side regardless of whether you were the dumper or the dumpee. Though it is interesting to find out, after you break up with someone, how your friends have actually felt about you and your ex all along. I've had it revealed to me in the past that people haven't really liked some of my exes. I've also been told that some of my girlfriend's parents didn't like me and I'm sure plenty of friends of girlfriends haven't liked me either.

But, really, regardless of what others think, a relationship is about that connection between two people and to a large extent it shouldn't matter what others think about a couple unless it's something along the lines of: "I think I saw your girlfriend on Crimewatch yesterday."

"It's not you, it's me."

So, when someone wants to end a relationship of course you're going to take it very personally, because it's not about outside forces, it's about your opinion of one person. However, sometimes you realise you just don't want to be in a relationship with someone, it's a cliche to say 'We can still be friends!' but it's something I genuinely mean (and if I don't mean it, I won't say it), and in a few instances people I began seeing in one way I am now good friends with. So yeah, in your face When Harry Met Sally.

Of course, it's easier to be friends if the feelings behind the break-up are quite mutual, or, if the relationship was in the very, very early stages, y'know, where you're just dipping your toe in the water to see if it's hot or cold... that's not a euphemism for anything kinky.

For me, it's quite to difficult to know if I'm just being impetuous and fickle, or if I'm struggling to really get over things from the past. In talking to my recently dumped friend I don't think I've been particularly encouraging in my post-break-up advice, especially as I feel he's in a similar state of mind as I was when a relationship ended a while ago, and it took me a very long time to get to a point where I felt like I was moving on, and, to be honest, it's something I don't think I'll ever get over completely, and that's not a slight on anyone else I may meet after that, and it's not a bar that people have to meet or vault over, but, it's a feeling in the past, you can't erase your past and there's no reason why you should, as long as it isn't crippling you in your present.

I think that's something that people forget and fret over, they worry how they might compare to someone else, or they worry about what the person they are with might think about them, and other such neuroses, but, you have to try and leave those worries behind and enjoy the moment as much as you can.

Yet when someone breaks up with you all those worries come back up to the surface, and you analyse yourself, you think about all the things you must have done wrong, but, for the most part, you probably didn't do anything wrong.