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The difference between “bumming around” in rural Wigtownshire and with comedians at the Edinburgh Fringe

Misty Edinburgh as I left it last night

Edinburgh as I left it last night, worryingly like The Exorcist

I have escaped on the last day of the Edinburgh Fringe to Wigtownshire in south west Scotland, to see if any grains of my mother’s ashes are still around. She died in 2007.

So it goes.

My mother and father grew up in Wigtownshire.

I put my mother in a little space in the rocks of the breakwater by the cottage in which she grew up, just outside the village of Garlieston.

I put her ashes above the high waterline but sometimes the sea is especially high and I thought I would leave it to Nature to decide whether to wash her ashes out to sea or not.

At the Isle of Whithorn, the tide is out and so it T-mobile

The Isle of Whithorn: the tide is out & so is a T-mobile signal

I am currently booked into a hotel in the Isle of Whithorn – well, the only hotel in the Isle of Whithorn – the seaside village where my father grew up. But I am posting this from the confusingly unconnected small town of Whithorn. Same name. Different places, although both share a lack of any T-mobile phone signal.

Being in parts of Wigtownshire is almost like being in the 1920s and 1930s, when my parents were growing up.

As far as I can find, there is no T-mobile cellphone reception within 20 miles, even in the town of Whithorn. And the WiFi reception at the hotel in the Isle of Whithorn is, if I am being kind, erratic.

Edinburgh is a century away and – given the narrow, winding country roads on the way here  – about 45 minutes longer than the SatNav (Oh, it will only be 3 hours and 9 minutes) told me.

Ellis & Rose revealed as Punch andPunch puncher

Ellis and Rose last night, as both Punch and puncher

Before I left Edinburgh, I had a meal with the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show techies Misha Anker and Jorik Mol… and I bumped into Richard Rose and Gareth Ellis, who had no additional visible bodily wounds… and I belatedly saw Almond Roca: The Lost Cabaret at The Hive, which celebrated the cult of almonds.

I went to see the two-hander show because I had bumped into Adam Taffler aka Adam Oliver a couple of years ago, like one does, when I had arranged some spaghetti-juggling in the Grassmarket and he – out publicising his own show – joined in and acquitted himself as well as anyone can when juggling spaghetti.

Nelly as Nancy Sanazi at the Malcolm Hardee Awards Show

Nancy Sanazi at the Malcolm Hardee Awards

I also went because I discovered at Friday night’s Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show that Frank Sanazi’s extraordinarily and brilliantly OTT sidekick – storm trouper Nancy Sanazi – is actually Canadian one-woman dynamo Nelly Scott who is also half of The Lost Cabaret in her guise of Zuma Puma.

Before last night’s show Adam and Nelly, dressed in their white and gold ceremonial costumes. told me that they were not going to perform their normal show. They would, they told me, just make this one up and it would be a bit low-key…

LOW KEY ???? !!!!!

Adam (left) & Nelly (right) with two surprised audience members

Adam (left) & Nelly (right) surprised two audience members

About a third of the way through, Adam ran into the bar adjoining the venue and, as far as I am aware, simply kidnapped a poor unsuspecting girl whom he carried into the venue accompanied by about five of her friends. He ran in carrying her fireman-style over his shoulder.

The anarchy then involved a young man being enticed onto the stage with her and progressed via stripping the young man and painting his body with white paint… to human jousting, audience bouncing, marrying the two punters to each other and much chanting, climaxing with a finale in which both Adam and Nelly stripped naked and ran up and down the aisle.

The Lost Cabaret: Adam (left) and Nelly

The Lost Cabaret: Adam (left) and Nelly performing ‘low-key’

If this was low key, I clearly have to go out more often and stop watching re-runs of Come Dine With Me.

All I can say is that the sight of Nelly running starkers up and down the aisle waving her arms in the air and holding a giant gold-painted almond is one I will long treasure and it makes me understand why the Edinburgh Fringe is the world’s biggest and best arts festival.

Quite what the farmers of Wigtownshire would make of it, I do not know.

When I walked back to my Edinburgh flat afterwards to get my car to drive to Wigtownshire, I dropped into Bob’s Bookshop to say goodbye to Bob Slayer and his hard-working and resigned-to-oddity bar manager Cat.

She showed me an indistinct photo from the previous night’s Midnight Mayhem of a female audience member putting her finger up Bob Slayer’s bottom.

I would like to say this came as a surprise. But it has happened before.

When I arrived in Wigtownshire late this morning, before the phone signal went and the WiFi became erratic, I got what, by his standards, was an explanatory e-mail from Bob. It read:

Stompie, the Half-Naked Chef at Bob’s Bookshop

Stompie, the Half-Naked Chef, in the window of Bob’s Bookshop – the venue of an innocent?

“A couple of years ago, I had a young girl in the audience reply to my statement that she should be shocked by my nonsense with the words: You will not shock me.

“When she laughed at the most shocking thing I could say to her, I told her I was approaching 40 and had not yet had my prostate checked.

“One thing led to another and she ended up donning a rubber glove, spitting on the finger and double knuckling me.

“In the early hours of this morning, I told this story at the end of my Midnight Mayhem show. I told the audience: That girl gave me the all clear… but I don’t think she was medically trained…

“A woman in the audience asked me if I wanted a second opinion… It turned out she was a nurse.

“There followed another live prostate examination in front of my audience and I am glad to say it was confirmed that I do have the all clear.”

I do not know what the moral is to this blog about two worlds – the Edinburgh Fringe and rural Wigtownshire.

But I suspect it says something about something.

And, for some unknown reason, the words Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire spring to mind.

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KIS KIC Apple computers can teach you how to be a good writer and comedian

Who says you cannot lick a new Apple product ???

I have never bothered with a smartphone before, but I got an Apple iPhone 4s yesterday because I think it might help me understand how to use Twitter (which I never have) and because it means I do not have to buy a new iPad to get 3G coverage – I can just tether my iPhone to my old non-3G, WiFi original Apple iPad.

You will gather I like Apple products. I also have an iMac and a MacBook Pro.

I first bought a computer in 1989. It was an Amstrad. I bought my first Apple Mac in 1993. I have never bought a Windows PC.

A prime example of why is what happened to me in Ireland.

It was my first day working on a contract at the late Tara TV in Dublin; they had PCs using the then-new Windows 98 operating system. I was the last and only person in the office in the evening. When I had finished, I tried to shut down my computer. I could not find any way to do it. There was no on-screen button anywhere. Eventually, I had to phone a friend in England and ask how to switch off the system.

“You click the Start button,” she told me.

This seemed to me to epitomise Microsoft products.

In order to shut down the computer, you had to click the Start button.

Why?

It was the only way to do it.

You had to know the rules and follow them.

I once heard a Microsoft executive proudly say they had done market research into what people wanted in their computers and found that most of what people wanted but said they did not have was already in the Windows operating system.

He took this as an example of how good the system was. I took it as an example of how Byzantine the system was. People had no idea how to find or do anything.

The difference between Apple and Microsoft Windows products has always seemed to be that Windows works in a certain way and you have to follow the rules to do anything. Apple  computers really are intuitive. If you want to do something, you think, “How would I do that?” and you can probably do it the way you think you can. But there may be five other ways to do the same thing, because different people think differently. Apple designs with the user in mind.

Setting up my new iPhone yesterday was simplicity itself, because everything appeared on screen logically, simply and in plain English, not in nerd-speak.

I think, when Apple design ‘ways to do things’, they do not think “We are creating a system here and then have to tell the user how to use it”… They seem to think, “If I were a user, what would I want to do to use the thing I am using?”

In that way, I think it is like writing.

People who sit down to write thinking “I want to say something. I have an empty page. What am I going to write on it?” may tend to write badly.

The trick is not to think “I am a writer writing this.” The trick is to think “I am a reader reading this as it appears word-by-word on the page.”

I think the best way to communicate (which is all writing is – or should be) is to think “If I read these words appearing on the page as I type, what are they telling me as the reader (not as the writer) and what will I need to know next?”

It is like writing an autobiography or a book on any subject. If you tell the reader absolutely everything you know in total detail you will clutter everything up with thoughts and facts, like Mr Casaubon in George Eliot’s brilliant Middlemarch. (Something I did not need to mention.)

KIS KIC

Keep it simple. Keep it clear.

There used to be a television ad for a tinned fish supplier which had the selling line: IT’S THE FISH JOHN WEST REJECT THAT MAKE JOHN WEST THE BEST.

It is keeping an eye on what you exclude – even more than what you include – that makes a difference to the end product.

Good writing is created by a writer who looks at it from the viewpoint of the reader not the viewpoint of the author.

Good comedy is created by a comedian who looks at it from the viewpoint of the audience not the viewpoint of the comic.

Good computer operating systems and programs are created by nerds who look at them from the viewpoint of the user not the viewpoint of the nerd.

That is why I buy Apple computers.

They KIS KIC.

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Filed under Comedy, Computers, Technology, Telecoms, Writing

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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Are Pipex/TalkTalk, BT and Virgin Media in a contest to be the most incompetent UK telecoms company?

Right… Standby for a pointless complaint about an insanely incompetent British company. Indeed, companies. No enlightening information. No message for Mankind.  Just a rant… You have been warned… What’s the point of having a blog if you can’t have a rant?

Is there actually no competent telecoms company anywhere in Britain?

Really.

A serious question.

BT treats its customers with much the same care and respect as the Libyan and Syrian governments treat its people.

But Pipex/TalkTalk appears to be in some sort of heavy-handed contest with BT and Virgin Media to win a prize as the most PR-stupid and professionally incompetent telecoms company in the UK. They seem to manage to be devious, deaf and incompetent simultaneously. At least Virgin Media is not devious, it’s just plain incompetent.

Virgin Media claims to have the fastest broadband in Britain but, in my first-hand experience, its broadband does not work for 60% of the time and constantly drops. Someone else I know reckoned, for her, Virgin Media’s broadband was perhaps 10% the speed of her former BT line for 90% of the time. Perhaps it has the fastest broadband in Britain over a measured two second spurt. Try to get any customer service, of course, and you might as well be trying to play football underwater.

As for Pipex/TalkTalk…

In the last five weeks, I have had five cold calls from them using an 0161 (Manchester) telephone number but actually phoning from abroad to avoid the restrictions on cold calling within the UK. When I asked the man with the Indian accent where he was phoning from, he said South Africa.

At least Pipex/TalkTalk’s people are comprehensible, if unwelcome. BT, in my limited experience, have ‘help centres’ in ‘proper’ India staffed by unfortunate people with accents more incomprehensible than drunken Glaswegians wearing gas masks. That’s not racism, it’s a rant against BT’s stupidity in having foreign help centres. They might as well have their help centres staffed by deaf mutes in Guatemala for all the good they do. When will BT realise that saving money on help centres costs them more in lost customers and disastrous damage to their already low image?

I used to be with Pipex. I left because they were generally incompetent, they couldn’t actually supply me with VAT bills and two separate Pipex people told me I had to make phone calls to them not use the internet because the Pipex online service was “insecure”. Not reassuring in a telecoms company. What I didn’t know then but do know now is that apparently Pipex routinely cut off customers who left them before the changeover date for a new supplier so that customers were left without a line.

Now they are trying to tell me they are part of Pipex/TalkTalk and are a brand sparkling new company and offer sparkling service.

I think Colonel Gaddafi’s spokesman has been saying much the same thing about the Libyan regime every few weeks over the last few months. I can’t say I’m convinced.

I work on the principle of three strikes and you’re out.

If I get cold calls, I ask to be removed from the list of the company. After trying this twice – or, if they’re lucky, three times – the phrase “Fuck off, you cunt,” tends to get used in the hope they put me on a list of people who perhaps don’t altogether want to be cold called and might just hurl random verbal abuse at anyone who calls me.

If I forced my way into the home of the chairman of Pipex/TalkTalk five times in five weeks, I somehow think the sentence “Fuck off, you cunt,” might be very justifiably used by him to me. If someone forces their way into my home, uninvited, via my telephone line, I feel much the same applies. If you come into my home uninvited, you can’t complain I am being unreasonably impolite if I tell you to fuck off out of it again.

I find “Fuck off, you cunt,” is often an effective deterrent to unwanted calls and far less hassle than complaining to any alleged regulatory body. With luck, the company has some list of abusive potential customers. Pipex/TalkTalk seem not to understand the words – simple enough to understand, I would have thought.

Like I say, five calls in five weeks.

Clearly they think it is good PR to circumvent the UK restrictions on cold calling by phoning from foreign soil. And clearly they think it is good PR to keep calling an ex-customer who is not a current subscriber and who had zero interest in re-joining them even before these annoying phone calls.

They’re not alone, of course.

I had much the same trouble with BT. I eventually left them when they would not stop making marketing calls to me despite the fact I was on the Telephone Preference Service list to receive no calls.

“We can’t stop marketing calls,” I was told by two separate BT Helpline people. “It’s another department… No, I don’t know which department. It must be one of our marketing departments.”

A friend of mine tells me the tale of BT harassing her dying mother with marketing calls which could not be stopped. It added to the distress of her mother in the months before she died. This same friend has had  a worse time than me – she herself had hassle from BT marketing calls for months and now has had computer-generated calls from Barclaycard for six months (using an array of different originating numbers and still continuing) because their computer got her confused with someone else. The calls say – “Please call this number”.

Can she get the calls stopped by calling the number(s) given? No she can’t. Can she get the calls stopped by writing to Barclaycard? No she can’t.

I am currently with the very efficient Sky TV, though their lines are supplied by the appalling BT and occasionally drop in two of my rooms. But, unlike the utterly unspeakable Virgin Media lines, at least they work almost all the time.

Sky seem to be the only British telecoms company that has anything like a customer-friendly policy – or a broadband service that works – or any corporate ideology that values PR.

So Rupert Murdoch is OK with me.

But perhaps I am tempting fate…

(There was a later mention about this in my blog on 22nd May)

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