Tag Archives: O2

Mobile phones, Carphone Warehouse, dodgy deals and terrible PR in the UK

So, this week I bought a phone from mobiles.co.uk (part of Carphone Warehouse).

When you clicked on the links, the advertised £60 upfront cost was actually £94.99.

Still a decent price, so I bought it.

Now they have taken £95 from my account.

Dodgy dodgy dodgy.

Silly literal penny pinching!

And horrendous PR.

se_60_mobilescouk

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The British telecom incompetence contest continues…

As an addendum to my recent blog about Pipex/TalkTalk, BT and Virgin Media apparently competing to be the most incompetent telecoms company in the UK, Virgin Media seem to be inching ahead.

I was babysitting – well, triple child sitting – at a friend’s brother’s home on Saturday night. The house has WiFi but, perhaps foolishly, I did not check whose.

When we got there, it turned out to be Virgin Media and, of course, there was no WiFi signal.

“When I had Virgin Media in my home,” I said forlornly, “the Wifi only worked for about 40% of the time.”

“Ah,” my friend’s brother said nonchalantly, “I think we had less than that this last week.”

At least Virgin Media are consistent.

They provide consistently bad service.

But, then, in Woodford Green – well within London – my O2 mobile phone and dongle’s reception are, at best variable. So O2 are still trying hard.

And I expect Pipex/TalkTalk to fight back with more cold calling in the coming week.

So the competition is still wide open.

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Spending Christmas 1998 with Malcolm Hardee in Sarf Eest London

It was 22nd December 1998 and the comedian Malcolm Hardee (who drowned in 2005) was still living with his wife Jane. The record label Beggar’s Banquet were just about to release a CD single by his stepson’s rock group The Llama Farmers. It was two years before the turn of the century, with the Millennium Dome (now the O2 Dome) still a new structure. This is an extract from my diary…

***

I spent the afternoon with Malcolm, who has developed a habit of making a wet sound with his mouth, as if tasting his own saliva.

At the end of Malcolm’s road, a house-owner has put a new tiled name on their house: Dome Vista.

“But all you can see from the back windows of his house,” Malcolm told me, “is the bloody great flyover from the Blackwall Tunnel standing at the end of his garden. You can’t see the Millennium Dome. Fucking Dome Vista!”

I had been going to take Malcolm out to lunch but, on the way, as is often the case, he had “a better idea” and we went to the warehouse office of the three brothers who co-own Malcolm’s Up The Creek comedy club to pick up Malcolm’s weekly cheque. Two of the brothers plus wives and five or six staff were having a Christmas buffet meal with lots of seafood and champagne. On the walls of the room in which we sat were drawings of various property developments, including a new Greenwich shopping centre: they already own two existing Greenwich markets.

“He used to live in a mansion next to Rod Stewart in Hollywood,” Malcolm had told me about one of the brothers. When Malcolm tells you a wildly unlikely story, it usually turns out to be true. The more unbelievable the facts, the more likely they are to be true.

“That’s a bit severe,” this brother said of Malcolm’s ultra-close-cropped hair.

“Just had it cut,” Malcolm explained.

“Malcolm,” another brother explained to me, “only has his cut his hair every six months. He lets it grow over six months, so he only pays for a haircut twice a year.”

“No I don’t,” said Malcolm aggrieved and blinking. “I set it on fire at Beggar’s Banquet, in the offices.”

“Why was that?”

Malcolm thought briefly, shrugged and ignored the question. The truth is that he occasionally sets his hair on fire just to have an effect. He set fire to two cinemas in his youth. There has been a lot of arson around in his life.

“It doesn’t catch fire easily but it doesn’t cause any pain,” he mumbled defensively, by way of an explanation about his hair.

“What did Beggar’s Banquet say?” I asked.

Malcolm shrugged and blinked.

“You should make a record like Keith Allen,” I suggested. “You’d get lots of money. Form a group called The Old Lags.”

“I don’t hang round the Groucho Club enough,” he mumbled.

Malcolm recently came back from Australia, where he met his friend Wizo. “Typical,” Malcolm told the brothers, wives and staff over champagne and seafood, “Wizo lost his job the day I arrived and I had to pay for everything. He’d been selling advertising space in the Melbourne Age newspaper. They told him he had to wear a suit, but he got bored and came in one morning wearing a chef’s outfit. They weren’t happy. The good thing about Australia, though, Wizo told me, is that you can be poor quite comfortably.”

Malcolm’s brother, formerly a comedy promoter in Manchester, is now working in Wizo’s old London job – for music mogul Miles Copeland.

“My brother’s throwing a Christmas party for friends and relations,” Malcolm told us. “He tried to charge his guests £70-a-head to come but no-one’s agreed yet, so he’s probably going to invite them for free but have a whip-round for a new washing machine while they’re there.”

The brothers, their wives and staff looked impressed.

After the meal, we drove off to a bank where Malcolm deposited his cheque from the brothers and various other cheques including one for £29 from BBC TV to cover sales to Croatia of a Blackadder episode he appeared in. He was much impressed by the sale to Croatia. He banked about £900 then withdrew £700 and went to a betting shop, allegedly to check if ‘his’ greyhound was running at Catford. Instead, after realising a dog called ‘Oi Oi’ (Malcolm’s catchphrase) had won the previous race and he’d missed it, he bet £50 on a dog at random in the next race… and it won!

“I always win bets on dogs at Christmas,” he told me. “The rest of the year, I lose everything, but I always win just coming up to Christmas.” Then he added unexpectedly: “I part-own a greyhound.”

“You do?” I asked dubiously.

“It’s handled by a bloke who got ‘done’ in the 1970s for greyhound ‘ringing’. He got arrested after he had a very good black dog and disguised it by dying it brown. But, as luck would have it, when the dogs paraded round before the Off, it started to rain and the dye came out.”

This sounded like an urban myth to me.

“Ricky Grover,” I said, “told me a story about the ‘wrong’ dog coming round the final bend at Romford Stadium and someone throwing four footballs onto the track in front of the dogs.”

“Oh,” said Malcolm, never to be out-anecdoted, “I was once in prison with a bloke nicknamed ‘Teddy Bear’. His job was to stand by the rail at various stadiums around the country and, if the ‘wrong’ dog was winning, he would throw a teddy bear onto the track;. The dogs stopped racing, went crazy and tore it apart. His great talent,” explained Malcolm, “was that he could run very fast after he’d thrown the teddy bear.”

After picking up answerphone messages at Up The Creek, collecting mail from a new tenant in his old house in Glenluce Road, attempting to buy his own £7.99 autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake in a Greenwich remainder shop for £1 (they had sold out), visiting the kitsch Emporium shop which sells lava lamps and 1960s memorabilia and buying a Christmas tree from a dodgy-looking man in a car park, we went back to Malcolm’s current home in Fingal Street via Jools Holland’s railway station (to see the top of the mini castle tower he has built) and up a suburban back street to drive past Shangri-La – a corner house the outside of which the owner has decorated.

On the side wall of the house, there are embossed metal horses heads and three large garage doors.

“The anvil’s gone,” Malcolm told me, slightly peeved.

“Has he got three cars?” I asked.

“No, he’s got green astroturf behind them,” Malcolm replied as if that explained it all.

“It’s a strange world,” I said.

“Nah,” said Malcolm, making a wet sound with his mouth, as if tasting his own saliva. “This is South East London.”

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Richard Branson, voodoo dolls and the Commonwealth Games again

Has someone got a voodoo doll of me out there and is sticking pins in it?

Having tried and failed for two entire months (29 July-30 September) to switch my phone line and broadband to O2, I gave up and went to Virgin Media. 

I now have a modem that only recognises its own password about 30% of the time and a broadband that constantly loses connection.

Has the entire British phone market been taken over by the Commonwealth Games organisers?

How did Richard Branson ever get any of his balloons off the ground?

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Data protection, a mad inventor, Mr Methane and the Commonwealth Games

After spending the period July 29th to September 30th trying and failing to move my landline and broadband to O2, I gave up. Instead, I signed with Virgin Media’s cable system.

The day before the switch-over, I got a call from Virgin Media saying they wanted to talk to me about the installation but, first, under the terms of the Data Protection Act, they had to ask me for my security details, including my address and the password on my account. I refused. They said, if I did not answer the security questions, my installation would be cancelled. I told the woman I had no way of knowing for certain who she was but that I would tell her my security details if she told me her bank PIN number and home telephone number and I would then check them. She refused, which I thought was a tad unreasonable. I refused to give her my security details. She said, as a consequence, they would cancel my installation. So I phoned back a Virgin Media number where they confirmed it was, indeed, Virgin Media who had called but that they would still install the phone and broadband service. Their previous phone call had been because they had wanted to check if there were any parking restrictions outside my house which might affect the installer’s van.

I complained by e-mail to Virgin Media that they were asking me to give my security details to any caller who claimed they were from Virgin Media. Two days later, I got a call from the Virgin Media Complaints Dept to discuss my complaint but first, the guy told me, I would have to answer security questions including my password. I refused. He seemed surprised.

He then sent me an e-mail saying that, under English law, Virgin Media had to ask for my security details before discussing subjects with me. Virgin Media tell me the Data Protection Act forces them to ask me to give out my security details if they cold call me and want to ask me if I have parking restrictions outside my house. And the Data Protection Act forces them to ask me to give out my security details if they cold call me and… erm… want to inform me that they have to ask me to give out my security details if they cold call me.

Have Telecom companies in the UK been secretly involved in organising the Commonwealth Games? It somehow seems likely.

Virgin Media should think themselves lucky. When I was having trouble with BT and O2 I had pre-emptively arranged for eccentric inventor John Ward to come down to London one afternoon and be photographed with his Bullshit detector (labelled B******T Detector) outside the BT headquarters building. The next day Mr Methane, the world’s only professional farteur, had agreed to come to London in costume and fart at the BT building to see if it made any difference to the hot air emanating from the building. The third day would have involved a farmer whom I know slightly with a large muck-spraying machine.

My current Virgin Media service is erratic. John Ward, Mr Methane and the agricultural muck-spreader remain on standby.

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Of credit fraud, Rocket Science and an elf

(This blog originally appeared in What’s On Stage)

It’s as inevitable as rain at Wimbledon or mud at Glastonbury – things going wrong immediately before the Fringe, just to add to the last-minute pressure and increase my chocolate-eating.

On 16th August, my home phone is moving from BT to O2 and my broadband is moving from Pipex to O2. All arranged – letters from O2, BT and Pipex confirming everything… then, today, a letter and text from O2 saying they’ve cancelled it all. Eventually (after 50 minutes with O2, BT and the mysterious Equifax company), it turns out I’ve suddenly developed a bad credit rating (despite being Mr Squeaky Clean) and O2 have turned me down as untouchable despite the fact I already have my mobile phone with them.

The very dodgy-feeling Equifax credit agency won’t tell me why they’ve given me a bad credit rating without me telling them endless security details about myself over two days – details which they don’t appear to have.

I have a funny feeling this may go back to a bizarre letter I got about a year ago from Littlewoods saying they were going to stop my account because of credit problems. This surprised me as I had never had any account with Littlewoods and it seemed to involve someone ordering goods via my address in North West London for delivery very close to the home of a dodgy South London semi-gangster who appeared in Killer Bitch, the soon-to-be-a-cult-classic movie which I financed.

Dealing with the Chaps has its downsides as well as its upside.

The upside is ease of problem-solving. I once told one of the Chaps about a person who was giving me hassle and he said: “Back of a pillion. Pop-pop-pop. End of your problems.” I declined, though with profuse thanks for the offer.

The downside is you may get your identity stolen and/or end up in a packing crate on a dockside in Albania.

Time will tell with the very unhelpful Equifax – well, the next two days – including tonight when I’m videoing Helen Keen’s late night Camden preview of her Fringe show It Is Rocket Science! V2 and tomorrow when I’m leaving London at 0600 to drive up to Edinburgh with elfin comedian Laura Lexx (she once worked as an elf in Finland) and Helen Keen’s set and props.

Helen Keen’s preview of It Is Rocket Science! V2 last night got a very fast and very good review at lunchtime today, around twelve hours after it finished. An admirable example of the power of modern technology, which is also evident in the release today of a Janey Godley Nokia app for mobile phones.

This clever little app keeps the user updated on the move with what’s going on in the sometimes very very very odd world of “the Godmother of Scottish Comedy”… “Scotland’s funniest woman”… “the most outspoken female stand-up in Britain”.  You can check her 500,000-hits-per-week blog (I have seen the figures and think that’s usually an underestimate), watch videos she’s uploaded to YouTube and download the regular podcasts she’s currently making with her daughter Ashley Storrie.

All this techno stuff is enough to make the late ‘godfather of alternative comedy’ Malcolm Hardee turn in his urn. He found even simple e-mails a bit daunting although (unlike me – but who knows what the future holds) he was arrested and imprisoned for credit card fraud. He found it surprising in his latter years that he was bombarded by letters from American Express and other credit card companies offering him gold cards immediately, no questions asked.

Malcolm is in my mind because, last weekend, the Independent on Sunday listed its Top Ten Tips for comedy shows at the Fringe this year. Number One was Aaaaaaaargh! Malcolm Hardee Documentary Preview. It’s possibly the first ever time a film, as opposed to a live performance, has been recommended by a national newspaper as the best comedy event to see at the Fringe.

It’s definitely an event rather than a film, as it involves the screening of a 32-minute documentary The Tunnel (about the notorious comedy club which Malcolm ran), plus the trailer for a longer documentary currently in production: Malcolm Hardee: All The Way From Over There plus a trailer for that longer film. There is a trailer for The Tunnel short itself on YouTube here.

Ah! 21st Century Comedy!

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