Tuesday, March 11, 2008

I'm not panicking. Oh no.

Four days to go, and still no hot water. At least I got the bastard odd-sized pipes sorted. Hacked the lot of them out with my big reciprocating saw. Ha ha! That'll teach 'em. Everything's all nice saggy plastic pipe now, and apart from the towel radiator the whole system's finished.

Except for the drainage, of course. But one thing at a time.

Oh, and the Horse Doctor and I picked the wrong cabinet off the shelves at IKEA, so I've not been able to fit the kitchen sink. Luckily she's going back down to Cardiff on Thursday for work.

But I'm not going to talk about my building woes today. No. Today I'm going to talk about communication. Or lack thereof.

Almost as soon as we exchanged contracts on the new house, which those of you with long memories will recall was back before Christmas, I contacted the lovely people at British Telecoms with a view to having the phone re-connected. I gave them this much time because I know the lines out here in the middle of nowhere can be a bit fractious. I'd heard a nasty rumour that they had run out of broadband in the village too, which sounded a bit odd to me.

Still, the man with the van came around on February 5th, whilst I was still busy breaking things. He wired up the connection from the box in the sitting room out to the nearest telegraph pole, then along to the next one too. Then he gave me a little piece of cardboard ripped from a box he had lying around, onto which he had written in gold marker pen my new phone number. I still have it here, in front of my laptop.

But the phone wasn't working. Oh no. Another man would have to come out and connect me to the exchange, I was told. It should be done by the end of the week.

Well, two weeks later, a man did finally appear. He'd been sent up from Neath - which, for the uninitiated, is pretty much another country. Phone line work was slow in Neath so someone with a warped sense of humour had assigned this poor chap to my neck of the woods. To be fair to him, he tried, but not knowing the local area, or where the lines ran, he didn't really stand a chance. When he left at the end of the day, I still had no phone.

So I made the mistake of ringing the BT Helpline.

I'm not racist, let me get that out at the start. I have a lot of respect for call centre operatives in Delhi or Mumbai or wherever they are - their English is a lot better than my Hindi. I do however have a difficult time with heavy Indian accents, as I am sure they have difficulty with my Home Counties. My anger is not directed at them so much as the management decision to outsource something as critical as customer support to a country many thousands of miles away.

Nevertheless, the helpline has been anything but. Usually it takes ten minutes to get through to someone, then another ten to explain the situation to them and make sure that they understand what I am saying. Then they put me on hold whilst they go and find out what the situation is - the longest so far for this was nineteen minutes. And finally they tell me that they will phone with an update at the end of the week.

Brilliant.

A couple of times they have actually phoned with an update, but each time it has only been to tell me that they are going to phone me with an update a week later.

Last week, they didn't phone when they had said they would, so, with a heavy heart, I dialled the fateful number once more. Oddly enough, this time I was put through to a nice lady who spoke English with an accent not dissimilar to my own. I restrained from asking her what she was doing in India, and was even more surprised when she told me I didn't need to spell out the address for her. She was, she claimed, Welsh.

She also explained exactly what the problem was. It seems that there are simply not enough physical copper cables coming into the village to service all the houses here. Back in the day, when they installed the system, most people were on party lines. Broadand requires that every house has its own dedicated line, and all the spare capacity has been eaten up.

So, my nice Welsh lady friend told me, they would have to put a new line in. And it was possible this would have to go before the planning department before it could be installed. Worst case scenario was six weeks delay.

Six weeks is a bit of a pain. We move in on Friday (or at least by Monday if we can drag things out a bit here.) That means for the first month and some we'll have no phone. Mobiles don't work up here in the mountains, so that's not an option. At least the nearest pub has wifi access, or so I'm told. It's about five miles away, but that's better than nothing. And it might even have beer. I thanked Myfanwy for being helpful and resigned myself to a month of blissful quiet.

Last night, when I got back from wrestling with pipes, the answering machine held a message from India. Apparently they are going to phone with an update on June 2nd.

Six weeks without a phone is one thing. Three months another altogether. I tried phoning the helpline for clarification, only to get one of the less coherent Indian call centre workers. He assured me that my line was connected and working. I assured him it wasn't. Eventually he gave up and told me to phone back in two days time. It's a measure of my good nature that I didn't shout at him, but I was sorely tempted. He kept asking 'Is there anything else I can help you with?' What the fuck is that about? I phoned with a problem. You couldn't solve it. You haven't helped me with this, what makes you think you can help with anything else? And if I did have anything else I wanted to ask, do you not think I would have asked it by now?

But no, he had his script you see. Had to ask. Only he kept forgetting he'd already asked.

When I put the phone down, shaking slightly with repressed rage, I typed a hasty email to the BT complaints department. Then I deleted it and wrote something a little less expletive. This morning a reply was waiting for me - from a gentleman with an Indian name, though that could just be coincidence. It confirmed that my phone number was connected and active, then quoted an address quite different from the house where the line is meant to be connected.

So I have sent another complaint. This time I have spelled out everything in as clear terms as I can manage. The way I might talk to a retarded Labrador.

I await a response with weary resignation. There's nothing to do but laugh now. I'm beyond anger and frustration.

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