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Archive for the ‘Gripes’ Category

Once a tax-payer, always a fool?

I’ve been working now for something like 42 years without a break, that is I’ve never claimed dole and for some of that period, in addition to financing the national health I paid for private medicine merely to try to minimise any down-time if I was ill (because really that’s all that actually happens with private medicine in the UK by and large – if you get anything seriously wrong you still end up being treated by the same doctors)

When I was young I recall there was something called National Insurance – the second word being the important one – the idea was that you were insured against unemployment. You paid money – and the more you earned, the more you paid. If for any reason you fell on hard times and became unemployed, the amount you got back was to some extent dependent on what you’d put in.

Today of course that entirely sensible mechanism is history. We’ve sleep-walked into the most ridiculous situation wherein those who pay in the most, at best get no more than others – and overall get even less.

My dad spent most of his life working hard, employing people and paying taxes. At one time I recall our engineering company employed over 30 people, some of whom stayed with us for most of their lives. When he died, my mother lived in modest comfort near the coast. She might have expected more but the recession of the 70s put pay to much of the wealth my dad had worked hard for, but at least she had her own home and modest savings. When some time ago she needed to go into a nursing home as her days were drawing to a close, we found ourselves responsible for administering her estate and witnessed, horrified, as the nursing home funds ate into what funds she had. This despite being surrounded by others, some of whom may have not worked a day in their lives getting similar care and only a few miles North in Scotland, people in similar situation having the same care for free (well, paid for by UK tax-payers).

Today with retirement not yet there for my generation but on the horizon, we read that the government openly admits that care bills will continue to soak up most of our savings. A rising number of elderly face losing “almost all of their wealth” to pay for social care.

This is not about Conservative or Labour politics, it is about a generation of utter financial  incompetence on behalf of those we trust to run the country. Those of use who have “played our part” and helped countless unemployed including those who have never done a day’s work, including those who’d like to pull the system apart yet continue to scrounge from it, throughout all of this we’ve gone about our daily businesses and paid our share of taxes – and for what – to get ripped blind when we are least able to look after ourselves.

A lifetime of contributing to a broken system that in the end will let us down while continuing to fund perfectly healthy people who can’t get their own act together and those who would do us harm.

So who are the fools – the corporates and banks who’ve been ripping us off all these years, or the poor suckers who’ve financed everything with their taxes?

A Very Annoying THREE

It has to be said so I will.. “against my better judgement” my wife bought an HTC ONE X recently from THREE. I’d suggested an iPhone but no, she wanted Android. The move to THREE was partly my fault – as I’d ditched Orange as they kept backtracking with their “unlimited data” offering and generally support was useless – Indian call-centres with people working off scripts – and not very well.

I’ve had no cause to griped at THREE and to be fair the ONE X is a powerful and sleek-looking phone, but today, Maureen’s sparkly HTC ONE X decided it was ready for an operating system upgrade. We followed the simple instructions – and before long we had an updated phone.

No problems, absolutely fine – except that whereas before it was working with WIFI perfectly, now the WIFI was stone, cold dead. Nothing I could do would make it find either of our access points it had previously worked with perfectly.

So at around 5pm I rang THREE. Guess what – Indian call centre, same routine. I could tell within minutes that the guy did not know how to solve the problem – his amazing answer “well sir, we’ll have to restore the phone to factory settings” – in this day and age – do people REALLY find this acceptable? All your settings gone – all your apps needing reloading-  it was THEIR fault the upgrade didn’t work.

The fellow decided the best way was to LOGMEIN remotely to my PC (good job I had a PC). He installed the HTC Sync Centre – the idea being to backup all the files to the PC – well, it would NOT talk to the phone under any circumstances –while he was struggling, I was looking on Google –apparently this is a common failure with the HTC phones! All I got when I pointed that out was a “?”

After 4 hours he ended up telling me how to backup music etc. which I already knew – the hard way. This would not of course backup Apps or contacts – but I’d pretty much figured that out.

I thanked him and put the phone down, backed everything up (4 hours of my time is worth – well half a day!) and reset the unit to factory settings, including removing and re-inserting the SIM.  All done – all back to just-purchased status quo… but no WIFI!!

So we rang THREE up and explained. Would you believe they were offering options like sending the phone for repairs with up to 28 days downtime!!! This is a virtually new and expensive phone. You can imagine how we handled that. Right now after much shouting and bawling, we’re down to 10 days down-time – as against a replacement phone on Monday, which is what we need… not to mention compensation for all the time I spent and will spend re-installing everything – it’s being escalated to complaints and they will ring us back tomorrow. What a USELESS BUNCH.  A phone that can’t handle an update and a company that don’t know what to do about it. This would NEVER happen with Apple – I’ve upgraded my iPhone and iPad umpteen times without a single hitch!! I’ve also had stuff out of warranty replaced at the Apple store without question. Customer first.

Update 30/8/2012 – Only after getting stroppy with customer services did we eventually get them to agree to send an envelope to arrive Monday – with a “promise” verbally and “we will try” in writing to return the phone in 5 days. The PROBLEM is if they don’t find a fault they want to charge £20 !!! 

Here’s the deal, we went to the market today and lo and behold the WIFI started working – great – went home – as we approached home – one of our WIFI signals started to work – GOODNESS…. but by the time we got up the hill to the house – the signal had vanished. In the living room with the router – nothing – not a SAUSAGE. By now I was beginning to have ideas – so I went to the bedroom at the far end of the house – CONNECT. I did a series of APP downloads – flawless. I then walked back downstairs to the living room where the signal originates and unbelievably – the signal got weaker – and eventually disappeared as I got to the living room.

I can and will REPEAT this and put a video on YouTube – because otherwise tech support at Three won’t believe me.

Sunday Trading – more, not less, please

Many moons ago there was a time in the UK when most of the shops were closed in England on Sunday. As a non-religious person I used to  get bored to death on Sundays, about the best you could do was to visit an over-priced garden centre or go to the beach.

Today of course all that has changed and yet we STILL in the 21st century have some really silly, out-dated laws governing opening times even though we don’t need this to protect employees (minimum wage and the working time directive etc.) – and I don’t recall as a consumer or citizen ever being ASKED if I wanted these silly restrictions to continue.

The government is now putting out signals to indicate there could be a permanent change in the law (HURRAY) and yet watching Sky this morning I couldn’t help thinking we were back in the dark ages with the shopkeepers association unbelievably griping about the possibility of longer hours. Would these perhaps be the same people who said that consumers would not want to go shopping on Sundays (I remember the arguments well and I also remember the step-change in habits when shops DID start opening on Sundays) – even though certainly my experience suggests that Sunday is THE most popular day to shop – the MetroCentre in Gateshead is PACKED on Sundays – perhaps because many who are NOT in the retail sector are working most other days?

The sooner shops are allowed to open when they want and not when the government wants – the better. Bring it on!

Global warming my backside

Constant, never-ending, ceaseless, relentless, continuous,incessant, eternal,non-stop, uninterrupted rain. I’ll bet they’re still on a hosepipe ban down south.

Crappy British Weather in July

Another week of this and I’ll be potty by the time we go on holiday… this is what we Brits are missing.. central Spain forecast for the next week.. notice “chance of rain” at ZERO… fortunately I’m off to Blackpool tomorrow so there’s at least a chance of a little sunshine….


Froot Loops or not–Sadly–NOT

Here is a letter I’ve just sent off to Tescos and to Kelloggs…

I would like to complain BITTERLY about the product I bought yesterday at Tescos in Hexham, Northumberland.

The product is CALLED “Kelloggs Froot Loops” – and bears NO RESEMBLANCE to the Froot Loops I first enjoyed several years ago in the USA and still do today thanks to the American store in the MetroCentre – and Ebay. I am worried that this product will do these people out of business and damage the reputation of the product.

As you can see from the photos below (sorry the colour balance is not identical in the images) – the FROOT LOOPS from the USA are shown on the left (package) and middle.

The package is virtually identical to the UK one which states it is a limited edition – presumably as it is new to the UK.

The problem is – the British product is as near to the original as Milky Ways are to Mars Bars… notice firstly the absence of blue, yellow and red – and the watered down colours of the British product.

What you can’t see however is the most important – the taste – Froot Loops have a particularly unique taste and they are very good – which probably accounts for the popularity. The product released in Britain tastes NOTHING like the original – unless your tongue is dead.

Did no-one at Kelloggs or Tescos do their research? The manager at Tescos certainly seemed unaware that the American product currently sells over here for as high as £7 or more – whereas the watered down version is £2.63 – now I see why.

I bought 2 packs of this and was ready to go out and buy more – now I feel completely and utterly cheated. Makes me wonder what else Kelloggs bring out here that tastes bland and boring compared to the originals – ALL of them??? These packs should CLEARLY be marked they are they are NOT the original product.


Middle – USA product… right – watered-down UK product

Faster Rural Broadband for Rich Shoppers

Mr Graham Jones, Labour MP for Hyndburn, Lancashire is attributed this weekend to saying that  "Faster Rural broadband will only help rich shop online". That’s according to The Daily Telegraph, Saturday 1st of June.

Is it REALLY that possible to be so stupid as to make such a comment or is it possible Mr Jones had been on the pop at the time and the journalists caught him after his 10th pint.

If not, it seems to that the people of Lancashire need to reconsider how they do their voting.. maybe mandatory intelligence tests before the elections?

Read for yourself..


If you read the blog he even seems to think that selling off Telecom was the root cause of problems.  I had to say this Mr Jones but I was around at the time – telecom costs in this country were HORRENDOUS before they were split up and things were so bad that you were not even allowed to connect your own phones to the line – the VERY BEST thing that ever happened to Telecom was breaking it up and the most competition we get, especially in rural areas the better. I VERY CLEARLY remember the USA having access to plug-in 2400 baud modems while our own telecoms company insisted we plug mechanical covers over phones achieving a fraction of that speed. I remember them telling me that UK touch-tone phones would be incompatible with the USA phones… I’d need a BOOK to tell you all the things that were wrong with our National phone service.

But then, it would not matter what the Tories did, would it..

Orange Crappy Modems

Despite my own issues with Orange as a phone company, Maureen has her own longstanding account and continues to use them – the reason is simple – as an Orange mobile customer, for a while they were offering home broadband for a fiver, including free calls (VOIP phone) to /orange mobiles.  As our mobile phones don’t work in Wark, it’s handy to be able to call the kids on their Orange mobiles for free.

Before anyone is daft enough to go down this route however, consider this… originally we received an Orange modem with the deal – you have to use theirs, a large, ugly grey thing, otherwise the free calls don’t work (this is deliberate – you CANNOT use another modem and still get the free VOIP calls). It is without a doubt the crappiest modem I’ve ever owned both to look at and to operate, so much so that I realised some time ago, when it continually packed in at random but about once every few days, that the only way to keep it going was to fit a 24-hour timer and reset it every night. That seems to have done the job. Hardly ideal.

Last week we went to the Orange store and asked about an upgrade. Well, apparently when Maureen’s contract is up for renewal, she can also get the latest modem. I thought there might have been a ray of light here as the model on show in the Orange shop is a sleek black Netgear modem…. that is until I looked at the reviews on Amazon – Orange, true to form have done it again.

Take a look at these reviews… not hand picked but straight off the page. Pretty much says it all, really… this is the new modem – not the old!!! I can see a move elsewhere coming on.

Orange modem reviews

The Future could not be further from Orange

Even when I was WITH Orange they could never get it right – and now that I’ve LEFT them they STILL can’t get it right.

Until recently times I’ve had an Orange mobile phone since, oh, well, last century. I’ve never had a signal in Wark but we live in home and from time to time I’ve written to Orange to try to push them along to improve the signal. Along the way their customer service has been attrocious to say the least and recently it’s been just too much. I’d had enough by mid-2011 and due to that and continued utter lack of signal at my home and no plans to get it, I finally managed to get Orange to agree that I could scrap the mobile contract and go elsewhere – this was in May 2011.

This agreement was put on my record.  I rang them up and confirmed I wanted to leave Orange – and asked what the procedure was. I was to put my phone in an envelope, send it off to them and I’d then get a final partial-month bill – and the info I needed to transfer my number elsewhere.

I sent the phone off and verified with the post office that it was delivered and signed for – that was 2 weeks from first writing the this blog in May. I heard nothing. I wrote to them – and heard nothing.  I went online to their ATTROCIOUS website which never works properly – I had SO MANY attempts…. just to get my final bill for £36.  It said there was a PDF waiting for me – but every time I went there…


I am SO glad I dumped these losers. Oh yes, I went to mobile company THREE and yes, their website works, NO they don’t have a “fair use” policy – and they give you a free premium subscription to Spotify… and their 3G works in every rural area I’ve been to up to how – Orange say they have better COVERAGE – but I think I’m safe in saying that THREE have better 3G coverage. I can play music almost anywhere I go as it streams it off the web, be that Internet radio or Spotify…  what a different world….

Check out this catalogue of errors…..

Update 5th September 2011 : I’ve just returned from holiday to find a bill from Orange (I never did hear any more from them otherwise).  No, it’s not for the outstanding £36 – but for a whopping £114.68 AND they’re threatening to "disconnect" the service – that should be good for a laugh as it has been disconnected since June (07773 819894 – discontinued) – it’s as if they have no knowledge AT ALL of the contract ending. I spoke to someone on the phone today and they have records of me ringing in… but could not progress as the guy I spoke to may be on another shift – or some such excuse  – so I’ve written off to them to point out they have the phone and the contract’s been dead since June…  Amazing.

Update 9th September 2011 : After writing off to Orange a less than pleasant letter in the post regarding the so-called £114.68 overdue bill, I received a call today to apologise for the screw-up – it says “With reference to your recent enquiry, we can confirm that your account is now settled and that no further action will be taken against you. Your credit reference records will be updated accordingly.”

Update 13th October 2011: All the time I was with Orange I had to put up with their total inability to get things right. I’d almost forgotten what it was like – until this morning.  On the 9th when I spoke to them – as you’ll see above, all was well. Well, THIS MORNING I got a bill for £69.33 – I’m sure they just think of a random number, hopefully if ANYTHING still works over there, there recorded messages from the 9th should clarify that this is WRONG – you have to wonder…

Update 14th October 2011:  2 days after Orange sent a bill for the wrong amount – they sent off a THREATING LETTER. This one says they’ve contacted me a number of times “ERM NO!”. Apparently if I’m still within my contract (which they KNOW I’m not) I’ll be liable for monthly service plan charges.  What is it about this lot that make me think of a large office of people walking in straight lines, banging their heads against walls then bouncing off in search of another wall. Dealing with Orange has been this dis-organised since I bought my first Nokia Smartphone from them last century when we lived in Newcastle…thinking about it – there was no signal there, either. Still – I’ll never have to do it again!

Update 30th October 2011: I’ve returned from a short break – this time to find a letter from Moorcroft Debt Recovery Limited who sent a particularly obnoxious for £148.27 (remembering I owed Orange £36 and I had already send them a cheque on 14th October to sort this once and for all despite not having an invoice for it).  I rang Orange (amazingly this simple cancellation has now been going on for 5 months) – the operator put me on hold for his manager, his manager put me on hold for debt recovery – but their phone isn’t working today and so I have been told by the manager, a lady, that this is in NO WAY MY FAULT (you don’t say), that she’s emailed the dept recovery agency to SCRAP this and someone will ring be back tomorrow between 10.30am and 11.30am. I was just about to thank her and put the phone down when she started talking about UPGRADES… I very CAREFULLY explained this was nothing to do with upgrades but due to a cancellation because Orange never has and never will provide a signal where I live.  It is hard to believe that this company actually has computers and keeps records.

A quick look at the timeline…so far…

  • 5th September – no invoices (and no disconnection code either) – but the bill is now £114.68
  • 9th September I’m promised I’ll get a bill for £30
  • 13th October a bill for £69.33
  • 26th October a bill arrived for £148.27 and a load of threats from Moorcroft debt recovery Ltd – and a promise from Orange that none of this is my fault. Meanwhile they seem unaware I’ve already sent a cheque for the REAL outstanding amount together with a long cover note including this blog.

Update 17th November 2011: I checked with Moorcroft and sure enough they cancelled the order against me – and they don’t do anything with credit records – one down, one to go. The latest bill from Orange turned up, no cover letter, nothing – but THIS TIME they OWE ME several pence. Well, I suppose that’s a step forward, perhaps I should get an agency to harass them for non-payment…  but importantly no confirmation that they’ve set the credit record right – and no promised letter to say we’re all done – which means I could just as easily get another bill from them at any point setting us back to square one. I guess another letter is needed to try to wrap this up, again.

Meanwhile my new THREE service continues to work a treat, they’re not immune to incompetence – but at a much lower level. I’ve now had several attempts to stop them sending me text messages every 5 minutes when I’m overseas – their Indian call centre promised me this would never happen again but a text confirmed that the operator had no authority to say that and they can’t actually stop them – well, honesty is a virtue I suppose.

Science… is it necessary?

This afternoon I happened to stumble upon this recent recording of the BBC with Professor Brian Cox


The subject matter was interesting and Brian Cox is emerging as a great orator, the kind of person we really need to reverse the current trend away from scientific thinking and back to mysticism which I personally find extremely worrying.

In a world where some understand more than ever about the world and universe around us but in terms of numbers, less and less people can be bothered to try to understand the world around them, the BBC must take much of the blame (for the UK – religion pretty much takes the blame single-handedly in other parts of the world). There was a time when "Tomorrow’s world" at least made an attempt to explain the new emerging technologies but since then the BBC has been on a path of deliberate dumbing down, appealing to illiterate children and adults at the expense of doing what a taxpayers auto-visual tool really SHOULD be doing – and that’s educating us.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the audio recording above as the hapless interviewer tries his best awkwardly to make fun of quantum mechanics instead of taking the opportunity to learn and to help the audience learn from Mr Cox.

I so hate being forced to pay for the continued existence of the BBC – they need to be forced to fight for survival – how many Brits I wonder when comparing SKY with alternatives realise that ITV don’t get the TV licence, so of all the many channels (except for the variations on the BBC) only the one company gets our money (which we have no alternative but to part with) – the BBC – yet when presented with the opportunity to help enrich our knowledge – the best they can do is make fun – thinking we’re just as stupid as they are and won’t understand or care about what Brian Cox and others have to say. What a wasted opportunity.

You could not make this stuff up….

I can’t honestly remember a more stressful or more comical day than today… you couldn’t dream this stuff up…

After 2 days of struggling with dodgy broadband, I got up this morning, the plan being to hold a video conference at 11am. We use a package called ooVoo as it handle multiple video locations (Skype does that but not that well). All was ready. All I had to do was remind everyone to check the videos early. No matter what happened I was prepared – ORANGE broadband on one telephone line, FSBTELECOM on the other – what could possibly go wrong?

I should have known when I could not get through to the right people that it was all going to go wrong. So, with minutes to spare, people started coming into the video – all but the most important who could not get through.  It turns out that for various reasons my request for the fully commercial ooVoo had not gone through – and the free use of multi-video that ooVoo offered earlier this year was no longer an option. The program started asking for money and eventually we gave up and reverted to that old standby – the TELEPHONE CONFERENCE.

Can’t go wrong with that can you..  of course as I don’t even own a normal phone, it was SKYPE for me – but I have an account where I can make calls for a penny a minute – I NEVER run out of credit.

Only a couple of minutes later we were JUST about the start the conference when my wife Maureen came into my office with a message “the telephone guys are dismantling the post!!!!” -  I rushed outside and sure enough the crane is outside and they’re starting to take the post apart.  “What about the telephone lines” I asked. “Oh they’ll be disconnected for a few hours” came the reply.

I’ll miss out the bit about soaring blood pressure and profanities etc but needless to say, shortly thereafter the telephone guys went back off in their van, the pole intact.  I went back to my meeting, amazed. No doubt they’ll return at another inconvenient time to rob me of the chance to do my job. Between that and 2 days of no electricity only a couple of weeks ago – which led me to fit uninterruptable power supplies all over… so the broadband would work no matter what (well, who would expect the pole to disappear!!??)

And of course I’m doing all this running back and forth in the mud as our garden’s still not recovered from the farmer’s field overflows.

I wasn’t back in the meeting for 5 minutes and the phone went dead – no SKYPE credit. I’d neglected to think about the fact that it was an 0844 number and they don’t come into the normal cheap pricing bundle – I was getting hammered by the minute and my credit, enough to last weeks normally, evaporates in minutes.

This then, was the start of MY day today and it’s been like this all day – one episode after another. If I don’t have a heart attack today I’m good for another 20 years.

How was YOUR day….

(relax… deep breaths….)