Telstra: Ship of Fools

This is the second letter to Telstra that has landed in the Dear Customer Relations  inbox this month.

It was sent in from Down-Under by Amy, who typed the letter back in 2009 as it was dictated by her father, Jack Mahler1.   Jack certainly has a way with words….

The Rightful Successor of the Late Sebastian Brant2
Captain of the Ship of Fools (AKA Telstra)
Slough of Despond3
Level 6 / 151 Clarence Street

3 December 2009

Dear Captain of the Ship of Fools,

I write seeking your advice regarding a logistics problem which has arisen through the apparently deranged activities of certain crew aboard your vessel.  It is my earnest hope that you not take my comments personally, but all of our friends whom we have acquainted with the circumstances upon which I shall elaborate below, have burst into hysterical laughter, had to be pacified because of their spontaneous anger and anguish when relating similar stories of their dealings with the Slough of Despond or, in extreme cases, had to be dissuaded from shooting themselves behind the Mulberry bush at the bottom of our garden where, I hasten to add, there are no fairies.5

This current matter began when one of your foot soldiers who had dared to answer the long-ringing phone offered us a new modem for our internet connection at no cost, together with twelve-months’ access at a 50% reduction to our current fee. Oh dear, how easily we misguided and lustful mortals are seduced!

Our new modem arrived in its cardboard box (which measured 130mm high by 310mm wide by 295mm deep – you will see later why this observation is important). It sat on my desk for a number of weeks as it had no installation instructions.  At some stage in this period when I had half a day to spare, I phoned the Despond number and pressed the speaker button on my hand-piece.  I then had breakfast, cut the grass (actually, I watched my wife cut the grass – it is only a small area of lawn and dandelions) and attended to a few other minor jobs before the phone was answered just prior to lunch.  This crew member seemed more akin to the pond-scum variety than the previous delinquent and I was told to get a technician to install said modem.

End of conversation.

The saga continued with the arrival of our next Despond bill, where we were charged for our modem, which seemed a little excessive for something that was free, together with two months of charges for the new service (which had yet to be installed or activated).  This was on top of the normal Despond internet bill that we were accustomed to getting once a month.  My wife phoned the Despond number, did a full pedicure, and then dealt with the charge for the free modem, had charges adjusted, advising the Despond deck-swabber that we would maintain the Status Quo at this point and that we didn’t want the free modem after all.  We were advised that we would have to return the modem in its box and that Despond would arrange for an envelope to be sent to us to facilitate this return. The envelope would arrive within five working days.

After five working weeks we had still not received any envelope, but we had received another bill for the modem and its related internet service, in addition to another bill for our normal internet service.  And so, yet another phone call to Despond was made.  The double-up of charges for internet services was duly discussed and after consultation with a Petty Officer, the additional charges were adjusted and, once more, an envelope was promised for the return of the unwanted modem.

We noted that the cost of these phone calls was starting to mount up, as calls to Despond are charged.  In the meantime, I was finding it increasingly difficult to prevent blood and mayhem in our peaceful abode.

And then joy of joys, in the mail this morning, there arrived an envelope addressed to my wife and stamped on the back Bigpond, PO Box 299 Ballarat 3353.  In the envelope was an unaddressed and unsigned letter, a copy of which is attached.  You will note that we have apparently requested a replacement modem or mobile card, which we might receive in the next day or so. Further we are asked to return our faulty device to the address printed on the enclosed padded envelope.

The penalties for not doing so are alluded to.  Charges are threatened.

I am also reminded that if this is a modem, I should remember to return the power pack and USB cable.  The dimensions of this bag are 210mm by 270mm. The envelope itself is flat.

The Ship of Fools is an allegory that has long been a feature in Western literature and art, as well as a reminder of what may befall the unwary6.  I have already noted that the ship’s inhabitants are deranged; they are also frivolous, oblivious of their surroundings and other people, seemingly ignorant of their own direction; passengers on a ship without a pilot.

Returning to the box and the envelope. We have now, in the same room, two items which should have a working relationship.  Mathematically this might hopefully be expressed simply as


in which “b” equals the box and “e” equals the envelope.

Now the dilemma is this:  Either the box is too big for the envelope or the envelope is too small for the box.  See paragraph 3 above.  Unfortunately, one of your deranged, frivolous or oblivious sail-trimmers believed that the mathematical formula, b>e, would work.

Oh dear.

I can identify a few possible solutions in the current circumstances.  I could slit two sides of the envelope which now renders the envelope into not just a non-envelope, but just a larger sheet of padded paper.  It still won’t cover the box.  Second – and cognisant of your saltie’s demand for the modem to be returned in its original packaging – I could take to the box and its contents with a sledgehammer (my neighbour has agreed to lend me his, provided I allow him to take photos of the entire event) which would have the effect of reducing the dimensions of the said box sufficiently to fit inside the said envelope.

Unfortunately, this may have a negative impact on the working capacity of the contents.

Upon reflection, I think I will use “e”, the envelope, to mail this letter and your correspondence back to you.  You may be able to ensure that another and, hopefully, appropriately sized “e” for envelope will be dispatched to us, for the eventual return of “b” for box.

As some of your barnacle scrapers have made abundantly clear, you are not happy with the notion of any creative solutions to this problem on my part and so I would respectfully ask that the ship’s pilot, if indeed such a beast exists, advises me on what I should do to resolve what I understand is currently referred to as a “logistics issue”.

In the meantime, we look forward with unmitigated joy to receiving the replacement for the faulty / non-faulty modem / whatever, which we didn’t ask for, but which we are assured is on its way to us from Deepest, Darkest Ballarat.

Please advise also how we might send back this second unwanted item after it arrives.  That is, if Australia Post can ever get it to us…but that’s another story.

Yours faithfully,

Jack Mahler.

 Now, if you have at least half an hour to spare, you really should read the other complaint letter to Telstra.  Cloaker Josh’s epic 11,000 word moan can be found here.



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  1. Jack Mahler is a pseudonym.  DCR has withheld the identity at the author’s request.  

  2. Sebastian Brant (1457 – 1521) was a German humanist and satirist and author of the satire ‘Ship of Fools‘ (Daß Narrenschyff ad Narragoniam) published in 1494 in Basel, Switzerland and harshly critical of the established Church.  The book is notable for including the first commissioned work by the great Renaissance artist-engraver Albrecht Dürer which some believe in turn influenced Hieronymus Bosch in his painting of the triptych entitled ‘Ship of Fools‘ (painted 1490-1500) which is now in the Louvre Museum in Paris.

    And you thought DCR was just about funny letters! 

  3. The Slough of Despond (also known as the swamp of despair) is a deep bog in John Bunyan’s allegory The Pilgrim’s Progress  into which the character Christian sinks under the weight of his sins.  An appropriate place for many recipients of letters featured on this site perhaps.

    This is turning out to be a very educational letter! 

  4.  NSW is New South Wales, a state in the East of Australia.  It was ‘discovered’ by Captain James Cook in 1770 (though the aboriginal population would tell you that they already knew about it having lived there for thousands of years) and was first settled by the British in 1788.   The largest city in New South Wales is Sydney, which has an Opera House and really good firework displays on New Year’s Eve.  

  5. In fact, it is not fairies that one might expect to find around the Mulberry Bush, but convicts.  It is said that the famous nursery rhyme, ‘Here we go Round the Mulberry Bush‘ was first sung by female prisoners at Her Majesty’s Prison Wakefield, England.  Apparently, a cutting was taken from a tree at nearby Hatfield Hall (now Normanton Golf Club) and planted in the women’s exercise yard where it grew to full maturity.  One famous prisoner (who I will not name) buried his dead budgie under it.  It is still there to this day (the tree that is, though what’s left of the budgie is probably still there too).  

  6. But you know that already on account of the previous, helpful footnote  

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