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January 2014

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Photo by Andy Dawson ReidAll journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.

Martin Buber

Time for some reflections on our recent sojourn in British Columbia.

The first thing to say is how very deeply grateful we are to our dear friends in Saanichton. They once again took us into their home, fed us, entertained and cared for us. They invited us to share their family Christmas – for which they cooked a magnificent dinner – and they laid on a splendid party at the New Year which was – in large part – also a celebration of my 60th birthday. They lent us vehicles regardless of their own convenience, including one for our four-day jaunt up-island. They went – as they always do – above and beyond at every conceivable juncture and I fear that we did not sufficiently express or demonstrate our gratitude. We will make up for this on future occasions. They are very special people and we wish them endlessly well.

The whole expedition to BC was quite amazing and most enjoyable. It was good to be able to visit friends and relatives in Kamloops, Victoria, Duncan and Nanaimo – as well as to be able to enjoy our celebratory down-time in Tofino. It had been a long eighteen months since my last visit to the province and there was much catching up to do…

…almost too much – though that perhaps sounds ungrateful, which I am most definitely not. When in BC I always find myself – with one eye on the future – trying to imagine the life that we will lead when we have finally moved to Canada. The demands of friends and family – though always most welcome – obfuscate to an extent the true picture of how life will be when each day is simply ‘normal’ rather than being a special occasion.

What is beyond question is that the Kickass Canada Girl and I find ourselves – with each visit – not only more certain of where we intend to end up (almost to the block!) but also more ready than ever to find ourselves there sooner rather than later. I am – however – all too aware of the dangers of wishing away one’s life so I will say no more.

I spent some time this trip re-visiting what have already become favoured haunts around the peninsular – the Inn at the Brentwood Lodge, Russell Books in downtown Victoria itself and Serious Coffee in Sidney… The Girl is in agreement incidentally – regarding the latter – that they brew the finest cup of Joe on the island, if not in the province… and I just love the whole West Coast ambiance.

One small incidental sadness – Orr’s Family Butcher – which used to be in Brentwood Bay and on which I commented here – is no more. They seem to have embarked on an expansion project that was possibly ill-timed. I – for one – will mourn their loss.

So much for looking back though. In the next post I will concentrate on things to come…

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Photo by Paulo Ordoveza on FlickrAfter six weeks – forty two painful days – one thousand and eight excruciating hours – we finally once again have telephone and broadband connections at home. Hoo-bloomin’-ray!

British Telecom (BT) naturally made things difficult to the last. Having informed us – after their previous no-show – that the fault lay without our apartment they subsequently changed their minds and required us to make another appointment. When – following the obligatory week’s delay – an Openreach engineer finally visited us in the flesh he informed us that a test that he had performed outside in his van before ringing the doorbell had demonstrated that the fault was – after all – out in the street. He surmised that the previous engineer assigned to the case had not correctly measured the distance from the cabinet to the break in the cable – hence his mistake and this latest delay.

This engineer was – inevitably – not equipped to fix faults outside the premises, and we had to wait for a further twenty four hours for the situation to be finally resolved.

OK. I will shortly shut up about BT (at least until they try to bill us for the service that we have not had!) but one thing I would say is that I have modified somewhat my views concerning BT’s incompetence. I certainly believe that the maintenance division – Openreach – is deeply flawed in this regard. The first meaningful information we were given was that which the visiting engineer imparted to us – nearly six weeks after the fault was reported. The inescapable subtext of his observations was that Openreach had made no serious attempt to diagnose the problem up to that point! Had they done so the fault would have been fixed in a couple of days. This is just unacceptable.

The Customer Service side of the operation – on the other hand – is clearly broken by design… which is quite simply an insult.

The BT website is explicitly designed to prevent customers from communicating in any meaningful way with real live human beings. Should one contrive – through one’s own extensive efforts – to actually discover a contact phone number, this simply (should one be (un)lucky enough to get through) connects one to BT’s call centre on the Indian subcontinent. The role of the perpetually (and unnervingly) cheerful souls who man this godforsaken outpost of the BT empire is to act as cannon fodder to the angry customer. They can do no more – since they are not equipped so to do. They have no useful information to pass on, and nothing said to them finds it’s way back to the engineers.

Once I had finally made an appointment with the Outreach engineer I was called by no less than four different call centre operatives, each wishing to inform me that an engineer was to visit. Oh really?!

After the engineer had been and gone they called again:

“An engineer will be with you this afternoon.”

“He’s already been.”

“I’ll call back later to update you.”

“No – let me update you!”

…and I filled them in on the nature of the fault. It was clearly the first time that they had heard any of this information.

BT would doubtless try to explain away this sorry excuse for a ‘service’ by pleading the sheer weight of calls with which they have to deal. Well – I have some advice… equip the operatives with useful information to disburse and the customer will not feel the need to keep calling back. I would estimate – from my own experience – that call traffic could be cut by 70-80%! This would also reduce dramatically the amount of time currently given over to listening to the angry diatribes of disillusioned customers.

Right! That’s enough…

Flame off!

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Sagrada_Familia_01Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.

Ralph Waldo Emerson 

You have to hand it to the Universe!…

On any given evening last week – following our reluctant return from Victoria – the Kickass Canada Girl and I were to be found musing as to the timing and destination of our next expedition.

The first time I experienced this particular phenomenon it came as something of a shock. I am by now – however – well used to the fact that the Girl habitually cures herself of the post-excursion blues by immediately instigating the planning phases of our next trip (or two!) regardless of whether or not the scheme is feasible, practicable or – more importantly – affordable.

In this instance we were attempting to get through the immediate post-Canada low by contemplating the possibility of a little ‘budget’ jaunt to some European (or other!) destination for a couple of days in early spring. A cheap winter break in the Canaries mayhap? Or perhaps a weekend in Bath (The latter usually more expensive than the former!)? Conversation turned idly the fact that the Girl has never been to Barcelona – which is a pretty lovely place to be at that time of year. Hmmm! What to do?

We sighed deeply. If we were honest with ourselves we would have, reluctantly, to admit that in all probability – and in spite of our week of extensive musing – very likely none of these pipe-dreams would come to fruition.

And that might have been that…

…were it not for the fact that on that very Friday afternoon the Head of Drama at the School collared me in the cloisters (!) with an unexpected enquiry. ‘How did I feel about spending a few days in Barcelona over Easter’? Needless to say I practically bit his arm off!

The Theatre Studies boys are visiting Barcelona for a week’s study trip to a performing arts college there. The Head of Drama is in need of additional staff cover for half the week. We get one air fare paid – accommodation for three nights – food for half the week and some additional expenses. The Girl and I rushed to our nearest coffee shop to get onto the InterWebNet (still no broadband at home – grrr!), booked another flight for her and found a hotel in the city itself for a few days after my duty is done.

Hey presto! A spring break in Barcelona at half the cost…

Are we not lucky dogs?!

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800px-IceStormPowerLinesAt the risk of boring the gentle reader…

I find that I now have a terrible compulsion to continue my explication of the train-wreck that is our current contretemps with British Telecom over our broken phone line and non-existent broadband – from which I am apparently unable to avert my attention!

Sorry about that…

After Openreach’s total failure last Friday either to show up during the specified five hour period that I waited for them, or to inform me that they were not actually coming after all… nothing happened! Though they had now identified that the fault was outside the property – somewhere between the cabinet in the street and the neighbouring telegraph pole – they declined to do anything about it.

When nothing had also been done by Tuesday I felt it my grim duty to contact BT anew to demand to know why not. I tried to call the fault contact number.

BT has a fancy-pants automated answering system. I have no idea for whose benefit this is meant to be, but it clearly is not the customer’s. It works like this:

  • The customer calls BT. The robot answers and asks the customer to state – in a few words – the nature of the enquiry, adding – as a helpful example – “to order a new circuit?” (note: not to ‘complain about BT’s inexcusable failure to fix a long-standing fault!’)
  • The customer – who has by now been through this process a number of times – responds with a pithily sarcastic observation implying complete lack of confidence in BT’s ability to hit a barn door with a banjo!
  • BT’s automated system magically interprets this correctly as a request for an update on a fault and asks the customer to type the number of the phone concerned on the keypad.
  • The user does so – carefully!
  • The system totally fails to recognise the number, declares that since this is not a BT number they are unable to assist, and terminates the call abruptly!!

After several attempts this particular customer decided to try an oblique approach instead. I called again, but this time answered the first question with – “I’d like to order a new circuit”. As if by magic I was connected to a real-live person who sweetly enquired how he might help. “You can connect me to someone in your faults department” – I snarled – “without forcing me through your wretched automated system!”…

The faults department operative – speaking from the far side of the planet – did not know the answer to my plaintive questions but promised to call me back. “Use my office number” – I pleaded – “as there is no mobile signal in our building”. Naturally they called the mobile instead and left a voicemail which I found later when I left the building to go home. The message informed me – brightly – that the fault had been ‘escalated’. Not fixed – of course! That would be too much to ask.

When I checked the fault log on the BT website again later I discovered that this ‘escalation’ had apparently empowered BT to push back the target fix date to next Friday – more than five weeks after the fault was first logged!

An email plopped into my inbox. It was a telephone bill – from BT. Not only do they want to charge us a line-rental fee for a connection that has not worked in more than a month, but closer inspection showed that they also want to make us pay for a number of calls to the USA that we didn’t make – from the period that our line was crossed with someone else’s!

I called the far side of the world again.

The bright young man promised that once the fault was fixed (displaying an optimism that I, for one, found hard to summon) the bill would be adjusted accordingly and that we would not be asked to pay for this absence of service.

He then – shamelessly – tried to sell me a BT Broadband service!!!

If BT reward their telesales staff for chutzpah – this young man must be raking it in…

 

…Our phone line still doesn’t work…

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bah…with rage!!

The year has gotten off to a shaky start. We still have no phone or broadband at home (I am yet again sitting in a coffee shop availing myself of their generous free service) and at the risk of boring the gentle reader I simply have to vent!

Regular ‘Imperceptibles’ will be aware by now of my recent battles with British Telecom (BT) to get this fault – which first appeared almost a month ago – resolved. I posted at some length on the subject here and here.

BT had decided before we went to Canada that the fault was internal to our premises and that a visit was thus required. I was not at that point able make an appointment for such a visit on a date after our return because BT would not take bookings that far ahead.

I therefore endeavored to set up the appointment whilst we were in Canada. I failed! The BT website – which had at one stage offered me a helpful link to create such an appointment – no longer did so, the fault having been ‘parked’ in a manner that did not allow it. Lacking any other practical means of communicating with BT – and struggling as ever to make any sense of their ludicrously unhelpful website – I finally emailed them using their online form. On this form I specified that they should communicate with me by email.

I heard nothing!

On our return to the UK I discovered that they had actually tried to reach me – by calling my mobile phone! They had left a voicemail. Now – I had specifically directed them not to do this because Vodafone – my mobile provider – are only slightly less unhelpful than BT. Whereas they were quite happy to inform me – in Canada – that I had been sent a voicemail message, they would only let me listen to it had I set my account up in a particular way before we left the UK! 

Doh!

The upshot of all this was that BT would not attend on the one day that one of us – the Kickass Canada Girl as it happened – was going to be at home – and I had instead to take time off work to be in residence this morning between the hours of 8:00am and 1:00pm.

Hours passed. No engineer appeared. Finally the clock struck one! In a state of considerable annoyance I called BT. Having been told repeatedly by a recorded message just how busy they were (I – of course – had nothing at all to do) I was eventually put through to someone on the subcontinent (how ironic that BT can connect customer service calls to the far side of the globe but they can’t give me a phone line in the Home Counties!).

BT Customer Services were unable to advise as to the missing engineer but promised to contact BT Openreach (the service component of our national carrier) and to call me back. When they did so they told me that Openreach had done some further testing and had decided that the fault was – after all – not within our premises and that an appointment would thus not be required.

Soooo…! BT had decided not to visit me, but didn’t think it worthwhile to let me know. I had sat around for 5 hours – with no broadband – for absolutely no reason!! A day’s leave had been wasted and it was now too late to drive into London to go to the office.

Even worse – since the fault did not require a visit after all it could in fact have been resolved at any point during the previous month!!!

The phone and broadband still do not work and we now face another weekend without before BT’s new deadline to fix of Monday next. I’m not holding my breath!

I am finding it difficult to convey exactly how furious I am at this demonstration of incompetence on such an epic level! BT’s perversity is almost heroic!! I asked the BT Customer Service lady how I might complain about Openreach’s disdainful level of service (or lack thereof!). She told me that I could not communicate with them directly because they are not ‘customer facing’. That’s right. The people who come to one’s residence to deal with installations and faults are not ‘customer facing’!! Just what sort of business are these people running?!

It is a vain hope, I know, that someone involved with British Telecom or Openreach might one day just idly Google the terms ‘Openreach’ and ‘incompetence’ and find a reference to this blog – but the thought that someone might accidentally do so makes me feel just the tiniest bit better.

Thank you for listening!

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Twilight drops her curtain down, and pins it with a star.

Lucy Maud Montgomery

Sitting in Vancouver International waiting for the flight home is always a sad time. We have said goodbye and many, many, many thanks to all of our dear friends in Victoria and must now wend our weary way back to the UK, to be thrown immediately into the maelstrom of work. The Kickass Canada Girl has discovered that her charity is to be inspected almost immediately on our return – so clearly little recovery time will afforded to us.

Hey ho!

I will reflect more on the totality of this trip later. For now a few final sunset images…

 

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson Reid

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Herewith a collection of images of favourite coastal locations on the southern shores of Vancouver Island.

These of Sidney – on the east coast of the Saanich peninsula.

Photo by Andy Dawson Reid

Photo by Andy Dawson Reid

Photo by Andy Dawson Reid

These are of Brentwood Bay – another of my favourite spots on the peninsula.

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson Reid

And these – finally – are of Tofino…

Photo by Andy Dawson Reid

Photo by Andy Dawson Reid

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Photo by Andy Dawson ReidEach age has deemed the new-born year
The fittest time for festal cheer.

Walter Scott

First and foremost I should take this opportunity to wish the gentle reader – both regular and occasional – the Happiest of New Years. May your 2014 improve upon 2013 in every way.

Here in Victoria we were greatly blessed to be able pass the turn of the year with excellent companions – both our lovely friends from Saanichton and their sons, as well as other wonderful people to whom the Kickass Canada Girl has introduced me over the past half decade and more.

I was personally also greatly honoured that our dear friends chose to make the evening a double celebration, having prepared a splendid West Coast repast in honour of my birthday. This epicurean feast culminated in a gorgeous birthday cake of such sensual delight that it almost makes one wonder if the experience of consuming said ambrosial confection might actually be better than sex! Hmmm! Almost – but not quite…

These dear friends had also clubbed together to present me with something that I have coveted for quite some time  now… a nautical chart book covering the Gulf Islands. We may not yet live in BC – I may not yet have a boat – but I can at least get to work studying the charts of the waters that I will soon – with all good fortune – be sailing.

Happy New Year!

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