Astute observers have noticed a longer than usual gap since the last post, before Christmas. During that period we have moved house and kind enquirers (some of them strangers on the street: ‘strangers’ as I thought, bless them!) have asked whether the associated stress (equivalent as they say to divorce, death and something else) has taken its toll on the literary impulses; there has also of course been Christmas itself. The answer is more prosaic. I have been without a broadband connection.

I contacted BT in good time before we moved. This turned out to be complicated. They would not talk to me without my account number. It’s on your bill, they said. Now BT never send me bills. I opted for online billing, but nothing ever materialised. They probably thought, kindly, that I’d rather not be bothered.

‘Since we’re talking so pleasantly,’ I said, ‘can’t you tell me my account number over the phone?’

‘No,’ they said. ‘Data protection.’

They would however send it by post; you can’t hack Postman Pat.

Armed with my account number a few days later, I telephoned BT and booked a visit from their engineer at about the time of the move. They promised to confirm by email, but they didn’t and when I rang, putting my account number to better than expected use, I was told, ‘Request denied.’

‘Goodness,’ I said. ‘Denied by whom? The date fixed was yours.’

‘Oh, that computer,’ said the lady jocularly. ‘As we told you when we called,’ she added more menacingly.

‘Called?’ I said. ‘No one has called.’

She ignored that. ‘Anyway,’ she said, ‘in the email that we sent you we said that the engineer would call a month later than the date for which request was denied…’

‘Email?’ I said. ‘No one has emailed.’

She ignored that too.

‘But ignore that email,’ she said. ‘The engineer will be with you on the day originally fixed. We’ll confirm by email.’

That all seemed very convenient and efficient. When that email too failed to arrive I thought that I wouldn’t bother the nice lady and attempted to find my appointment on the appropriate bit of the BT website. I entered my name, email address and password. If memory serves they weren’t interested in the account number this time.

The BT website thought about this for a moment or two. Then came its unexpected response.

‘What is the name of your first pet?’

This was not a problem. The dear beagle of my childhood, dead these many years, whom I won’t identify here for reasons of data protection, lives on as a BT security question. We should all be so honoured. I named him without hesitation. The page changed again.

‘Password too weak,’ said BT, in big red letters.

‘Goodness,’ I thought. ‘They always used to like it…’

But I changed it then so that now it conforms with all BT’s criteria of password strength; these can be found on the BT website.

‘Password not recognised,’ said BT, cunningly.

Not having broadband affects not just me of course. I explained to the better half what was going on. She took the view that the problem was probably insufficient aggression on my part. She seized the phone and got through to a different nice lady, who explained that there was no question of the work’s being done before the later date: that was the earliest date that the exchange could ‘switch it on.’ The good news, said the nice lady, was that we didn’t need an engineer. It would all be done at the exchange.

‘Without any wires?’ said the better half, her voice rising. ‘There are no wires. Until your engineer comes there is nothing to switch on.’

‘Um,’ said the nice lady.

‘You’ve been enormously helpful,’ said the better half, ‘but perhaps I should speak to your supervisor.’

‘He will call you,’ said the nice lady, ‘within ten minutes.’

Twenty minutes later a funny thing happened. The better half’s phone gave a little squeal, and when she picked up there was no one there. Simultaneously, I got a text.

‘BT here,’ it started matily. ‘We have been unable to contact you to discuss your BT Telephone/Infinity installation.’ And so on. ‘Do not reply to this message. Kind regards BT.’

Just out of curiosity I repeated the process with a different nice lady. Same little squeal; no one there; same text regretting my unavailability. I was reminded of the childish habit of ringing on front door bells and running away.

And that is how things now stand. We shall see if anyone turns up next week, on the date we have been given. One curious thing: the other day a man drove up in a van and gave me a big package. ‘From BT,’ he said. I hope that that’s a good sign. I haven’t opened it.

Fortunately the one thing that BT have been able to do is to continue to operate my direct debit, so there has been no disruption of service in the reverse direction.

I thought: how much worse it would be if BT hadn’t been privatised. One can only imagine the inefficiency and the arrogance if it were still in public ownership.

Then I thought, if this is the level of communication achieved by our major communications company, what hope is there for the rest of us?

Finally I thought, when it comes to stress, divorce, death and something else have nothing on dealing with BT.

So now I shall see if I can find a Wi-Fi ox cart so that I can upload this. Apparently there is one in Green Street. Not an actual ox cart, of course. Not in metropolitan Plaistow. No ox: harder to spot – but the effect the same.

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