AT LARGE Fess up time

AT LARGE Fess up time

I admit it. Every once in a while, I've said things in this column, and out of it, that might be interpreted as criticisms of the IT channel. I could try to deny it, but the truth will out. It's time to come clean, to confess, to cleanse my soul. Cathart.

I've been unkind. I've tried to be fair, but from time to time I've used words like "shonky", "dodgy" and "whacky". I've also used words like "cathart", but that's a whole other thing. My intentions were honourable. I saw the IT channel as a basically good system, but desperately in need of improvement.

Then I encountered the toy channel. The process of buying toys is not a particularly complex one. You go to a toy store and you find whatever looks like fun. Hand over your money, and you're out. You don't think too much about the process by which some toys are on the shelves, and some are not.

I didn't, anyway. That is, until I wanted something that wasn't there. You see, a few months ago, I spotted a 12-inch Obi-Wan Kenobi action figure on the shelf at a department store. Naturally, I didn't buy it - way too old for such things, you know. It was the Episode I version of Obi-Wan, not the classic trilogy with Alec Guinness, just by the way.

As time went by, I decided that it would be nice to buy such a thing for, erm, my young cousins who are into Star Wars, and, erm . . .

OK, I'm in the confessional here. I wanted it, alright? I wanted it for myself, to go with all my other Star Wars toys, OK? You happy now? Actually, you know, that feels much better.

I went back to the very spot where I saw it, and it was gone. Could the department store order it for me? Of course not. Department stores don't work that way, and there's nary a thing they can order individually. Everyone knows that. I tried going to a few smaller specialty toy retailers - no luck. And they couldn't order it either - some deal with the distributor that meant they got their stock in big jumbled boxes, and they had no idea what would be in or when. They suggested a larger chain, like Toys R Us.

The larger chains were even more fun. They could order the thing in, IF and ONLY IF they had had it before. Was I sure they had had it before? No, I've not set foot in a Toys R Us for years. Could they not find out on one of them new-fangled computers whether they'd had it in? No, they can only check the computer if someone wants to place an order, and they can only place an order if they know they've had the item before. I went around in this circle for a little while, before I asked to speak to a manager. The manager, clearly in possession of one of humanity's great minds, said without a moment's hesitation that Toys R Us had never carried such an item, but would I like a Princess Leia instead?

So I phoned World 4 Kids, where a computer was checked (apparently they don't have the Catch-22 virus described above). I was told they had carried the item, but could no longer get it. Try Hasbro.

Now, as a channel devotee, it's abhorrent to me to skip up the chain and call the distributor. Especially when the distributor is a wholly owned subsidiary of the manufacturer, as is the case with Hasbro. But this had gone well beyond a mere action figure - it had become my quest.

Hasbro told me that all they had were big jumbled boxes waiting to go out to toy stores. They did not know what was in any given box, and they had no way of finding out. No computer held the information, no magical individual somehow knew. And no, in case you're thinking what I was thinking, they could not open up one of the boxes.

The very helpful person at Hasbro gave me a telephone number for someone she said was a "big-time" Star Wars collector, saying he would be able to help me. I'd gone to the manufacturer, against my better judgement, and been sent away to a consumer. I felt as if I'd gone to the horse's mouth, and the horse had said "ask my butt".

So I'm a convert. Compared to this, the IT channel is a well-oiled, hyper-efficient machine. With all of you as my witness, I swear I will never say an unkind word about the IT channel again.

Matthew JC. Powell typed that last bit with his fingers crossed. Counter-accusations can be sent to

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