We hope all our customers and potential customers are well. Understandably we are getting a lot of requests of refunds. Some polite; some not so. I shouldn’t have to say this but at this distressing time it is not acceptable to treat the guide and the concept of a tour as a punchbag. This Easter one irate punter has started an e-mail “Screw you”, called me a “dick”, and threatened me with violence. Why? Because I suggested that it would be a nice gesture to begin an e-mail with an inquiry after everyone’s health during this sad period when we all know someone who’s been struck down. Amazingly New Manchester Walks are actually getting e-mails asking for a refund without that simple piece of politeness and good manners.
Do we give refunds? It’s a difficult problem. It shouldn’t be but it is and here’s why. We started off happily giving refunds to anyone who wanted one. It wasn’t long before the system started getting abused. After a few months on eventbrite we found that a number of very strange people were buying tickets just to ask for a refund some time before the tour. It seems ridiculous and stupid but that’s what was happening. The guide would go round thinking “Wow, I’ve got 25 people coming. This is going to be a great tour”, only to find 20 of them asking for a refund two days before, leaving the guide with only a handful of people. Why would people do this in the first place? I have an idea but the laws of libel prevent me from elaborating.
We’ve tried all sorts of versions of giving refunds. What about up to a week before the tour? That didn’t work because there’d be a spate of requests a day before the deadline. Then there was the nasty brigade. “Give me a refund immediately”. When they didn’t get a refund within a few hours they would turn nasty on social media. Then we tried a policy of only giving refunds if there was a very good reason: the customer who had booked a train from Somerset, and a hotel, only to find the tour has been cancelled. Even that soon got out of hand with a variety of dog ate my homework sob stories.
So the upshot is, if you’ve bought a ticket for a tour, that’s what you’re going to get: a tour! At the moment, yes, all the tour dates have been banjaxed but they will all take place!
Now, about politeness
If you don’t believe me that some people come on tours just to cause a row here are a few examples. Perhaps it’s something to do with the very nature of tour guiding, but just like with other professions where the giver is trying to help people – teaching, the police, paramedics and fire fighters – there is a small, thank God only a small, section of incredibly rude and sometimes violent people. I know we tour guides have it a thousand times easier than some of the above professions but it still begs the question: why? Why do people behave in that way?
There are some very rude people out there and always I ask them to avoid tours. We only take nice people. Here are a few examples.
I once had three furious and very hairy looking guys from Bradford Town Hall on our tour of Manchester Town Hall. They went apoplectic with rage when they discovered, to their chagrin, that Manchester Town Hall was closed for tours that day. It wasn’t our fault. The Town Hall people were supposed to tell us and didn’t. Some 40 people were really upset but understood. They didn’t. They went ape-shit.
“How could the Town Hall be closed. Aren’t you official guides?
“Yes, we are, but we don’t work for the Town Hall.”
“Because if we were Town Hall staff we would have to answer to someone about the content of the tour and there is no one who knows more about the Town Hall than our guides. We want to do an honest tour. We wouldn’t be able to make any political statements if we were paid by the Town Hall.”
“Well, we’re official Bradford Town Hall guides and we don’t say anything political.”
“Well, what’s the point of a tour of a political building if you don’t get political? That’s a whole raft of stories you can’t tell.”
Sorry, Bradford, we’re right. Our tour is so interesting precisely because we can say what we like without a councillor breathing down our necks with the censors’ pen. They weren’t happy, which was fair enough, so I offered to pay their train fare.
“We came by car!” they screamed and stormed off as I shouted “I’ll pay your petrol!”
They then stormed into the Town Hall, demanding to see Richard Leese, Andy Burnham and even Alfred Waterhouse, I think, and put in a request using the Freedom of Information Act to ascertain how long in advance I knew the building was closed. It was only a tour f’rchrissake! I think they’re working for GCHQ now.
Meanwhile on Facebook, for about a year, there was spate of scams. They were so amateurish they were almost comical, though time-wasting. It was usually a Facebook post from someone in Chad claiming to have eight tickets for sale – “DM me” – when we had only sold four. Stupidly I started responding, telling them to stop scamming, but there were so many. Then it stopped.
There are some strange people out there. I recall the woman who wrote on Facebook asking for two tickets for “The Secret History of Manchester” as a secret present for her boyfriend. Now, if one doesn’t respond immediately on Facebook the sender thinks they’re being ignored, so given that I was waiting for a train back to Manchester on lonely Glossop station on a cold November night, I asked her to write in on email to sort it as it’s impossible writing very much legibly on Facebook, on a phone. Her response?: “Why don’t you fuck off, and when you’ve fucked off you can fuck off again.” I presume she never did buy the tickets.
Perhaps it’s me. I expect a little, just a smidgeon of courtesy and politeness from the customer given that they are going to get the best-researched, funniest, wittiest, most enlightening and entertaining tour they could ever imagine, wrought from months of work and practicing. This is not some dullard Blue Badge guide who has done no research since 1981 telling you the three stripes on the city’s coat of arms are the three rivers of Manchester or some such nonsense. Look at our analysis of why Central Library looks like the Pantheon. The Blue Badge Guides were telling people this for years without any explanation of why. So I did hours of research to trace every strand. That’s the story; excellent value for the public.
No fights please, we’re tour guides
But sadly there is a small minority of people who think a tour is an excuse for a fight. And I don’t just mean burly men with tattoos on their neck saying “cut here”. I’m still smarting from a group of ladies who with the brutality of the furies and with steam coming out of their ears launched a seriously vicious tirade when it was explained that the “Formidable Women of Manchester” was a walk, not a talk. It clearly says “tour” on the eventbrite category when you book, just like it could alternatively say “concert”, “football match” and so on. We are New Manchester Walks. On the very rare occasion when we do do a talk it will state it clearly on every medium: “talk”. Having been politely informed that it was a walk they went even more ballistic. What harm could it have done them to say: “Sure. Our mistake. Looking forward to the walk.” Instead all hell was let loose. No apologies ever. Extraordinary.
A lot of this is because some people – they know who they are – see red when they discover the guide is a man. They find the prospect of “mansplaining” worse than root canal treatment without anaesthetic. If I had known guiding in Manchester was going to be like this I would have gone for a gentler career, such as prison warder in Alcatraz.
I can’t tell you how looking forward I am to resuming tours and taking hundreds of people around. The tour you’ve booked will take place, so please keep your ticket. I know who has booked. There will also be some free tours to get people out the house.
If on the other hand we decide, for whatever reason, not to do the walk, or are unable to, customers will be refunded. If people can’t wait that long (!), send me a nice note, don’t call me a dickhead, and I’ll get on with it.