Internet woes be gone!

I asked on Facebook back in April for advice as how best to get away from Virgin Media who provide our TV, landline, and internet since, in their wisdom, they had decided they deserved a huge pay rise. I disagreed that such an increase was due and so was looking around for other options.

Since then, the process of changing internet providers has exceeded my expectations of how painful it would be. And those expectations were pretty damn high. As I’d been warned, Virgin are by far the fastest with at least 130 Mbps and – as it turns out where I live – the only ones able to provide full fibre and therefore full fibre speeds. Sky was the next fastest at around 30 Mbps.

I therefore sat on it for a while because I do work from home a lot and depend on the internet. But I finally snapped when I saw that Virgin over and above the recent price hike were, and indeed are, planning to give themselves annual pay rises of RPI plus 3.9% every April forevermore (unbe-effing-lievable isn’t it?) and that Sky were doing an OK offer at £39pm for TV, phone, and internet and after investigation convinced myself that 30 Mbps should be just about OK for what I need. It also included basic Netflix for free which I was already paying £6pm for.

So I took that contract with Sky – but didn’t cancel Virgin at that point in case there were “issues” with Sky. This cynicism unfortunately proved very fortuitous.

The TV dongle thingy arrived very quickly and we were quite pleased with it. The Sky programming isn’t in the Virgin basic TV package so we weren’t used to it – and it was surprisingly good. We like “From” very much, and “Poker face” is the best series we have seen in a long long time. Love it. Love Natasha Lyonne. Cannot WAIT for another series. Just go and watch it. The main drawback was that there was no “record for later” facility like you get with Virgin and you had to pay £5 a month more to skip ads. I actually saw the lack of record as a positive as you just end up with a huge backlog to get through. The ads were annoying but Graham decided the skip price was worth it and so picked that cost up.

The fly in the ointment was the internet. First of all it took them over two weeks to come and install it. The engineer arrived at the crack of dawn (fine with me – let’s get it done), said that everything looked super simple as the phone connection box was just along the road and easily accessible, and he evidenced his confidence by installing a Sky socket in our wall via the phone line in readiness to pipe the internet in (Virgin monopolises the fast fibre connection so all other suppliers have to piggy-back on the slower phone connection). He tried to turn it on, and nothing happened. He disappeared for a while. I saw him pacing around and talking on the phone a lot. He came back and said that it turned out the phone line didn’t come from the accessible cabinet but was up a telegraph pole. Normally he could climb a telegraph pole, but this particular one had been decommissioned as dangerous and he had to wait for a cherry-picker to come and lift him up. It would be here in a couple of hours.

Time passed. I watched said engineer rise up in a cherry-picker with another man to the top of the pole where they started work. And worked. And worked. About an hour and a half later he came back and said that he could not locate my phone line. He could detect it from our house as far as the telegraph pole at which point it disappeared. He opined that since we had been with Virgin so long and not needing the allocated phone line that this had probably been misallocated to a building being split into flats, although this should not happen. The fact that if this was the answer then it was his company that misallocated it did not seem to occur to him. He said there was nothing more he could do and another engineer would have to come to put in a line underground. No, he could not give a time frame.

Time passed, a couple of weeks or so. An engineer arrived. I explained what I had been told by the previous engineer. She said that was nonsense and couldn’t understand what he was talking about, and that we had a strong phone line coming from a cabinet just up the road, and that she’d just go and turn it on. She disappeared for about an hour or so. She returned and said that in fact our phone line went to a telegraph pole and that that pole had been decommissioned and she was waiting for a cherry picker to take her up to the top where she could activate the line. I suggested that she might find that when she got to the top of the telegraph pole that she couldn’t find the line dedicated to our house, and that it had probably already been misallocated to a newly created flat. She said that never happened.

Time passed, a couple of hours or so. She returned and said she’d been up to the top of the pole and that she couldn’t trace the phone line past the telegraph pole. She pretended not to hear me when I suggested the line had been misallocated elsewhere but let me know that someone would be out to sort it out, probably the next day. “There is always a way!” she cheerfully chimed as she drove off.

Time passed, a couple of weeks or so. I received a text from Sky saying that Openreach (the firm that looks after the phone infrastructure) were having staffing issues and I would get advised of the date of a new visit in 3 days time.

A week or so passed with no message, and so did my patience. Luckily in all this I had not cancelled Virgin so could happily cancel Sky summarily without risking being without internet.

So I phoned up to cancel. I had to pick whether I was cancelling TV or internet so although I wanted to cancel both I picked internet (as the offending service). The guy I spoke to fully understood why I wanted to cancel when he saw how long it was taking and that there was no resolution in sight. However, he also said that he could only deal with the internet side of things and that after cancelling that he would need to pass me on to another team to cancel the TV and that since this was under another contract, and since I had been happily receiving that service for over a month and past the cooling-off period, there would be a cancellation fee for that service.

Well, I really really rarely bother getting annoyed with customer-facing staff. There’s just no point – they didn’t cause your problem and can’t fix your problem, but probably could if they put their mind to it make your problem ten times worse. But by this point I have to admit there was more than a hint of antagonism in my tone when I told him that I had been sold both services together, that the price for both services was dependent on taking both, and that swapping to a reasonably comparable offer with a competitor was dependent on taking both services together and I was not interested in his opinion as to whether they were two separate contracts or not. I was of the opinion that they represent one contract that Sky had not fulfilled and if any termination fee should appear it would be cancelled on the credit card and reported as fraud.

He transferred me. He transferred me to the nicest customer service telephone rep I have ever spoken to. I gave her the bare bones of the issue and she said, “Of course we would never charge you a termination fee in such circumstances! To hear that we’ve been so bad that you intend to go back to Virgin tells me all I need to know about how awful we must have been! I’ll go ahead and terminate both services for you now and there will be no termination fee. You’ve suffered enough.”

I went on hold for 15 minutes or so. She came back and said that because the service had been running so long she couldn’t cancel it as she had thought but would need to transfer me to another team! But, she was quick to point out, she would stay on the line and explain everything to them so that I wouldn’t have to and that they could then cancel the service. Please hold.

Time passed. About an hour. Listening to music that faded in and out just enough to taunt you into thinking your call had been answered when it hadn’t. Eventually some guy answered, “Hello! How can I help you?” “Er, hello?” I said, expecting the first woman to take over. “Er your colleague said she was staying on the line to explain everything – has she not?” “No, I’m afraid not. Perhaps you could run through it”.

So I did. And he agreed at least it should be terminated at no cost. But was unable to do so. The service had been running so long you see. Yes, I saw. He would have to escalate it. It should be fine and sorted by the technical team in a few days. So as long as it wasn’t activated in the meantime all should be well. No he wasn’t able to email that assurance to me – but he could send a text message confirming it? “Fine,” I said. The will to carry on breathing was ebbing out of me by this point so I decided just to assume it will be sorted soon.

Having largely navigated the leaving of Sky I turned my attention to getting a reduction out of Virgin without letting on I was effectively a captive audience.

This process was as much fun as you can probably imagine so I will spare you the minutiae and go for the highlights:

  • On the Virgin Media site I see an offer providing all the services I currently have *plus* those Sky TV programmes we’ve now grown used to at a special price of £38.50 a month! No, that’s for new customers only. (You see why I want to leave Virgin – they are just a huge FU to their existing customers). I’d almost rather pay more for the same service from someone else just so they don’t get my money.
  • Ok, if I sign up for a contract what can you do for me for the services I currently get. £67pm? No, too expensive. £62pm with your personal discount? No, I spoke to someone the other day and they offered it for £37 a month (I lie).
  • You can do it for £40? Ok deal.

This was yesterday.

Fast forward to 8 a.m. today and a knock at the door. I open it to find a beaming rather grubby-looking man in reflective-orange overalls and the air of someone who has recently been up in a cherry-picker. “Good news! We have connected your Sky internet and your service is all up and running!” His smile somewhat dimmed on viewing the appalled expression on our faces…

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why I hate dealing with internet providers, and Virgin Media in particular!

Kitchen calamity

Falafel salad200

Workplace perfidy inspired this. With apologies to Babes in the Wood.


My dears do you know – sad tale of woe!
How a salad of falafel and avocado
Was left in a fridge on a warm Thursday eve
To be enjoyed the next day, or so I believed.

The broccoli was verdant, the pomegranate inviting,
The hue of the beetroot was frankly quite frightening.
And on a bed of brown rice laid lovingly down
Two turmeric falafels – the jewels in the crown!

But when Friday came round, so sad was the sound
Of soft lunch-time crying and sorrow unbound.
For swift in the night and with malice unbeaten
The salad was opened. The salad was eaten.

So ends a sad tale of a kitchen amiss
And if we learn something please let it be this:
To use a work fridge and to keep from a shock,
First place food in a lunchbox, then secure with a lock!

Post office services go postal

Post office

A visit to the local post office, where changes are afoot:

Me: Can you stick the address label over the existing address on the parcel please. I’ve just reused old packaging and it will be confusing otherwise.

Post Office worker: Oh we don’t produce address labels, just the postage label.

Me: OK, can I buy some sticky labels then to put over the address?

PO worker: We don’t sell sticky labels.

Me (slightly taken aback): But, but, you’re a post office. Surely you sell them?

PO worker (shrugs): We never have. I can give you a scrap of paper and some tape to stick over it if you like?

Me: Well, yes please – otherwise it will go to the wrong place. Can I buy a biro to write on it?

PO worker (grips own pen a little tighter): We don’t sell them.

Me: I, but, post office, thought, erm, can I borrow yours?

…PO worker hands over pen like it’s gold-encrusted and transaction continues and concludes…

PO Worker: Can I ask who provides your internet service at home?

Me (naively): You can but, why?

PO worker (eyes lighting up): Ah because we now offer a range of internet services, including latest optical fibre cabling at very competitive prices. We even offer insurance, mortgages, credit cards and more. We’re not just “the Post Office” anymore!

Me: Well, if you don’t sell pens or sticky labels or produce address labels don’t you think you should just work on being a better post office for a bit longer?

PO worker (snatches back pen): Have a nice day. NEXT!

Facing Facebook Book Recommendations

A while ago I asked my Facebook friends if they had to recommend one book (an almost impossible task, I know) which it would be. As I am aiming to increase the variety of what I read I summarised the responses and am slowly working through them (not to the exclusion of my usual choices though). What a great list it is turning out to be – which is no surprise given the erudition of my friends who span the globe. I thought others might like to see the list too. I hope I didn’t miss any, apologies if so.

Oh and my desert island book? That would have to be I, Claudius by Robert Graves. Anyway, here is the list (in no particular order):

cover title author
The Collected Stories of Stefan Zweig
Post Captain
Iacocca: An Autobiography


The End of the Affair
The Painted Veil
The Great Gatsby
The English Patient
How To Be A Brit
Three Men in a Boat (Three Men, #1)
Isle of Passion
Death Comes for the Archbishop
Oscar et la dame rose
The Unbearable Lightness of Being
The Fountain Overflows
The Pillars of the Earth (Kingsbridge, #1)
The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas
Odd John
Star Maker
Pilgrim's Inn (Eliots of Damerosehay, #2)
Jane Eyre
Don Quixote
Mémoires d'Hadrien
A Christmas Memory
Cold Mountain
Death and the Penguin
Il cavaliere e la morte
cover title author
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (Hitchhiker's Guide, #1)
Dune (Dune Chronicles #1)
Master and Commander (Aubrey & Maturin, #1)
The Sirian Experiments

Late-night Shopping

Multi-coloured clothes pegs

He shivered at my door
And in his hand he held
Multi-coloured clothes pegs which belied
The black around his tired eyes and
The whiteness of the knuckles that gripped them in desperation.

It was his final sales round he said –
As if we might imagine that door-to-door sales of clothes pegs
Hadn’t ended in 1979 with the garish caravans and bridled ponies that brought them.

He was sorry to knock so late.
He knew folk didn’t care to be disturbed after nine,
But it was our last chance for he was off to sell his wares in Orpington tomorrow.
Or was it Neasden?
He couldn’t remember but was concerned we might miss out
On an offer we couldn’t refuse.

He had lap-top screen cleaners too and,
Naturally, zip-lock bags. Everything you might need
At ten o’clock on a Monday evening.

My heart was full that night and
I had already been counting my blessings and taking the liberty
Of counting those of my friends and my loved-ones and
I had held Graham particularly close when we kissed goodbye that morning.

I said that the marker-pens in his bag looked especially lovely
And a large grin split his thin face as his pigeon-chest puffed out
With pride at the goods he had undoubtedly chanced upon
Hours earlier.

They were his favourite and he could certainly do us a deal
If I wanted the lot – although it would be hard to part with such items
At such a price. I had a kind face and it was late and his family was waiting.
For the move to London, I presumed.

I gave him a note, too big for the price, and as I passed it to him
Our fingers touched briefly and in that moment I knew
That he knew and he knew that I knew.
And I hope he knew that I wished him luck.

Toe trauma

Stubbed toe

You rushed along,
You were too quick!
Your toe stuck out a little bit.

Your foot missed its mark
And caught the frame.
That bloody floor-polish was to blame.

You see toe strike.
You feel sick.
The clock holds back its final tick.

You stare in horror
As time slows down.
The air grows thick and close around.

You see toe crumple
At a monstrous angle.
Bits of nail appear to dangle.

You grit your teeth.
Blood at temple pounds
Blotting out all other sounds.

You know what’s coming
But all stays still.
Can pain be deferred by pure act of will?

A second’s grace
Seems to stretch for hours
As you invoke your superpowers.

But a clock’s second-hand
Won’t long be stayed
And the next minute thereby is now displayed.

As pain explodes
Your tears are streaming.
You’re surprised to note some distant screaming.

One single thought
Now ousts all others;
A piece of sagely advice of Mother’s.

What did she say
When we were nippers?
Do not run, and wear your slippers!

Yogi Eulogy

Yogi Bear

A eulogy for JOLINIQUE Yogi Bear, 29 November 2001 to 2 March 2017.
He came to us as a tortured soul, but left loved and loving.

The day Cats Protection dropped Yogi Bear and his sister Yasmin off to us at the relatively tender age of 3, Yogi prowled around the room inquisitively sniffing the new surroundings. “That’s unusual,” Beverly the Cats Protection lady said, “he’s been hiding in corners the whole time he was at the foster home. He must be coming out of his shell!”

He wasn’t. We barely saw him for the next 5 years or so. He took up residence behind the sofa in the spare room (with a convenient radiator behind it) and there he stayed. After a year we might see him come down in the evening to eat and drink, or use the litter tray, but this generally happened during the day when we were at work, or during the night. The only evidence that we had a cat, other than his more gregarious sister, during that time was a poo on the wooden floor in the corner of the kitchen. Or occasionally in front of the TV or, just to keep you on your toes, in front of the bathroom door. We started leaving lights on at night to ensure safe passage from bed to loo to avoid treading in any evidence of Yogi’s existence. Luckily he always pooed on a wooden surface which was easy to clean, and never weed anywhere other than in his tray. If he had weed with the gay abandon with which he pooed our relationship such as it was would have come to a very abrupt and early end. His name evolved from Yogi Bear to Pooh Bear to Yogi Poo. He would answer to all three, or not, as was more usually the case.

We saw more of him in years 2 to 5, but the slightest noise from the outside would send him scurrying to hide (he had a particular horror of crying babies, but I think we can all forgive him that). Given that we live on a busy road and our front door opens straight onto the pavement, this happened a lot. If anyone should so much as knock at the front door, much less enter, he would not only hide but not reappear for a good 24 hours. People thought that we had made our other cat up.

He and his sister had never been close. When we first had them they were so scared that they would hide in a corner and literally lie one on top of the other so they could squeeze into as small a space as possible. We had assumed from this that they got on. However, it soon became apparent that they couldn’t stand each other. Other than the nightly spot-the-poo competition, the other main evidence of his existence was clumps of fur sticking out of Yasmin or a new scratch on her nose. He was a bully in almost the full human meaning of the word. Cowardly in his own interactions with the world, he was jealous of his more confident, smaller sister and punished her for the love and attention she received that could have been his for the asking.

After 5 years when he was around 8 years old he started to mellow a little bit. We saw more of him in the evenings and he would sometimes sit in close proximity – never touching us – but near enough to join in with the family vibe. A knock at the door would still send him scurrying to hide but he would reappear within hours rather than days (unless the guest stayed – people outside of the family would still not believe we owned a second cat). He became more affectionate towards us and we discovered that he loved kisses rained down on the top of his head – much as you might imagine an 18th century lothario repeatedly kissing the back of his beloved’s hand. He became very vocal and had the loudest miaow of any cat I have ever owned, particularly if he wanted Dreamie treats which were his favourite.

Although he seemed to enjoy being stroked for a short while, he could never stand being brushed. For a short-hair cat his fur was long, but personal grooming was never top of his priorities and his fur grew matted and clumped. During a check-up with the vet when he was around 12 we asked if the vet could help with this and she suggested shaving him. We agreed, and when she finished the pile of fur removed easily towered higher than the rat-like cat that shivered beside it. We hadn’t timed this well and the weather was cold. Yogi therefore discovered for the first time the benefit of getting beneath a duvet. He couldn’t work out the difference between the edge of the duvet and a wrinkle in the top and would paw randomly at the cover until either he was able to flip it up to get his head under or we held it up for him. Spooning with a purring cat was an unexpected experience but he seemed to enjoy it and his temperament improved further. I hate to think that for all those years at least some of his grumpiness could have been down to matted fur (which can irritate the skin beneath) but we’ll never know.

At the age of 13 his sister died suddenly (probably from cancer but it was so quick there was no investigation). We were told that Yogi might go into decline at the sudden loss of his companion. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Almost overnight he became much calmer, more loving, and much more confident. A knock at the door would send him to the stairs (a pivotal point from which to continue to flee if the visitor turned out to be the cat-attacking sort) but he would soon come down and ask for food or use his tray. Guests were amazed to find out that Yogi Bear really did exist and was not simply a figment of our fevered imagination. Over the next year it got to the point where a knock at the door would do nothing more than make him raise his head to see who might be coming in – after 11 or so years of the scardiest cat I’ve ever known the difference was startling. The death of poor Yasmin really was the start of life for Yogi.

During this time he was diagnosed with pancreatitis. This manifested itself generally in vomiting. Since much of our house is wooden-floored, and we were used to the poo situation, we took this in our stride. Literally. Scoop, spray, wipe was second nature to us by now and since we had a loving, attentive cat to show for the effort we didn’t resent it. However, Yogi’s weight slowly but inexorably went down – much as the weight of the other members of the house went up. Yogi had always been a fussy eater but he started begging for food, eating a tiny amount, and then begging for more a few hours later – constantly and throughout the night. He would walk around licking the floor and the French windows and became bedraggled-looking and rather forlorn. Graham took him to the vet’s and the nurse felt a small lump in his abdomen. He would need to go back the next day for an ultra-sound which the vet would need to perform. Best case scenario was that it was poo (which would have been ironic). Worse case was… well, clearly cancer.

That was today.

The ultra-sound showed that it was a tumour situated by the pancreas. The pancreatitis, the weight-loss, the neurotic licking behaviour, everything indicated pancreatic cancer. Only opening him up could confirm this for sure – but we decided that even if it were cancer we wouldn’t go for chemo-therapy. It wouldn’t have been kind at his age. Pancreatic cancer is aggressive and painful and the palliative care itself unpleasant. So we made the hardest decision we’ve had to make, and made the call to have Yogi Bear put to sleep. The decision to end the life of a being that would, at least, have had days, maybe weeks, possibly months of OK life – but also likely have had a time of uncomfortable treatment and unhappiness – tore us apart. Was it for our comfort and convenience or his? We agonized but made that call. And now, several hours and rivers of tears later, it feels right. So right that I can draft this eulogy for the tortured soul that had been Yogi Bear and for the loving, comforting, and joyful companion that Yogi Poo became.

Art imitating life imitating art

Phone message2

The following was written by iPhone next-word text prediction. Punctuation only has been added by human hand.

You are a lovely day to be happy with –
The best day ever.
thank him
So happy for your birthday, love.

It is a good night for me and my family
love me
So I hope you’re ok, thanks.
So happy to see your beautiful baby and
thank him
So happy for your birthday, love.
love him and thank him
So happy birthday, love.

Him and I love your music and
thank him
So happy for your birthday.
love me
And I love your music and I hope he is your happy; happy for me.
please love him
So happy for your birthday,
love him
So happy for your birthday,
love me
So happy birthday to me.

A great birthday and a good birthday
And thank the love of your life.

That night’s gonna last forever


You must be so weary of living.
A life in self-service does not make you whole.
When the price of appearing important
Is your soul.

And that life’s gonna drive you crazy and
That life’s gonna get you sold
Down a river whose rapids are stagnant
Pools of mould.

Think twice before you act unkindly.
Reflect that if you turn into fun
The feelings of another person
Have you won?

And that night’s gonna last forever and
That night’s gonna feel so cold.
‘Cause it’s dark inside when you’re lonely,
Feeling old.

Better check your dreams for the future
Will outlive the misdeeds of your past.
For the now is but a fleeting moment
We outlast.

And that dream’s gonna take you over and
That dream’s gonna define you.
Will you shine like a star forever
When it’s through?

So take this jagged piece of mirror.
Hold it up to the tip of your nose.
Do you like what you see or must you flee
What it shows?

And that face is gonna know you a long time and
That face is gonna show what you’ve done.
Start now to rebuild for tomorrow
Has begun.

The last dance


I didn’t expect that I would die,
I didn’t know I had to dignify
A bid for future, peace, and freedom
With an iron-clad, no-nonsense, water-tight reason
Why I wished to go out that night
And dance away ‘neath cool neon light.

I didn’t know I would become a martyr
Midst clouds of alcohol-scented laughter
That out of a mist of foaming CO2
A cruelly aimed gun would come thrusting through
And excise the heart of the life I had made
A hope for tomorrow gone with each bullet sprayed.

I never had much, just an old battered case
With a misspelled logo set in the wrong type-face.
But I had a picture of those I had left behind
And on the back Te queremos my mother had signed.
In the early days here when things got too tough
I would take it on out and remember the love.

But little by little I made my way,
I got my own place and I earned my own pay.
I made new friends and I learned who I was
Sent half my pay home and was happy because
My future was mine as I saw fit
And I was damn proud of myself, I must admit.

After a while I got a pay raise
5 times what dad earned in my childhood days.
I moved downtown and forgot day-to-day hustles,
Joined a gym, got a plan, and worked hard on my muscles.
Home and away politics were easily dismissed;
Second amendment rights were never high on the list.

So I lived the dream, and dreaming I danced
By freedom, hope, and my boyfriend romanced.
Then at the height of the day and on the cusp of tomorrow
The spirits of night beckoned and summoned I followed.
The choice was not mine; it was the gunman’s blast
That spun me on round as we danced our last dance.