London, June 2003.
While my then-housemates, Orange and Lucie, were in the last stages of preparing for a month in Ibiza, in celebration of Lucie’s 21st birthday, I had problems of my own. Specifically, I had no cash for the ticket.
I would trundle into work, cursing it for all I was worth, and trundle back again, drink Stella and waste time on my Mac in the evenings, getting neither richer nor poorer. I felt I was wasting my time. Any job that doesn’t allow you one decent holiday a year is not worth doing.
My housemates would ask me time and again if I was going to go. I was full of ‘Well, if only’ and ‘Still thinking about it’ but the fact was they were all coining it in except for me. Orange was a qualified technician and Lucie a pole dancer in Spearmint Rhino.
How I cursed at having done an Arts degree. All I was cut out for, it seemed, was answering the phone.
* * *
Salvation arrived in the form of a text message that said
CONGRATULATIONS!!!! YOU HAVE WON 2 FREE FLIGHTS TO IBIZA!!!!!! RING THIS NUMBER TO CLAIM YOUR PRIZE 0906 **** ****. P&J promotions, SO15.
Yoinks, I thought. How lucky is that?
I tried calling the number from work but the tightasses had put a block on premium calls. So in my lunch hour I hunted down a pay phone in Tower Hamlets and listened while a recorded message d r o n e d o n v e r y s l o w l y a b o u t t h e g r e a t p r i z e I h a d w o n a n d t h e f u n I w o u l d s o o n b e h a v i n g o n t h e W h i t e I
The call cost nine pounds fifty.
* * *
At home, I waited breathlessly for the postman to deliver my prize, before blacking out due to oxygen starvation.
* * *
I regained consciousness some two weeks later, when the corner of an envelope bearing my name was thrust through the door and jabbed me in the eye.
Trembling, I ripped it open to find my Official Competition Winner notification on a piece of card decorated with palm trees. Close inspection of the terms and conditions proved I was an utter fool who had been taken in by an SMS spam scam.
Two free flights would be mine if I stayed in one of three 5-star hotels on the island, the cost of which each night was more than a return flight. Some other company was running the deal, but I still had the original text buried somewhere in my Nokia Inbox. I paged through, looking for some contact information, but all there was was P&J Promotions (not their real name), SO15.
Detective work on my part, using the internet and some Royal Mail business finder, gave me their company address. Quite by chance, the name Icstis had lodged in my mind somewhere as the regulatory body overseeing complaints about exactly this sort of thing.
“Screw me out of nine pounds fifty, will you?” I said, filling in an online form.
* * *
Not too sure what happened that July. My mates had a fantastic time in the sun, hobnobbing with Pete Tong and having debauched villa parties. I think I managed a weekend in Leicester and a couple of aimless strolls around Hyde Park.
In August, however, I got a letter from Icstis informing me they had investigated my complaint, found P&J in breach of their regulations and had fined the company five thousand pounds. They also gave me the company director’s name, home address and mobile number should I wish to pursue matters with him myself.
I was amazed. For once it seemed, the system was working. It was also on my side.
* * *
That weekend, I took the train to Southampton and pissed through his letterbox.
Then I did a crap on his BMW.