Monthly Archives: July 2013

DBTG who… is a mobile phone company

Another blog entry from the freshly filled basket of low-hanging fruit, but I’m having the sort of week where sleep and fun are things that other people do and the days go slower than my current DIY projects.  Plus it has been raining quite a lot recently and that is totally killing my buzz.  So I reserve the right not to apologise for writing about something highly non-controversial in the “things that make you swear in public” category.

I am currently preparing to go to war.  My wife has a hilariously over-priced phone contract which was (mis) sold to her 2 years ago by some jackass in a shop who inevitably used the words “this is eeezily the best contract you can get, isn’t it?” at some point during the “negotiations”.  Rhetorical question or not, the answer to his question is “no!”, or possibly “fuck off!”, but she didn’t know that at the time and here we are.  Wary of reproducing this scenario, the negotiation of a new contract has fallen to me. 

I will not be visiting a high street shop to listen to a man-child mangle the English language while wearing a black shirt (collar at least 3 inches wider than his neck) and a purple tie (stupid fat knot: non-optional).  I don’t know what it is about working in a phone shop that so gravely distorts your understanding of dress sense and style and class and hell, dignity, but I made a promise to myself a few years ago to never wear a black shirt with a colourful tie just in case people mistake me for an employee of these places.  I also don’t know how there can be so many different brands in the marketplace, and yet they all have the same uniform?  Asda and Tescos make their staff dress up in different colour fleeces, presumably so you don’t forget where you are, and phone shops could learn a thing or two from their example of brand identification.  The other problems with phone shops are that I have to get up to visit them (always a hassle), there will probably be other people there (all of whom I hate) and if they piss me off I can’t hang up on them.

Instead, I made a call to t-mobile today.  I am already a customer of theirs, and it shouldn’t be too hard to get a second phone added to my bill, at a rate in line with that I am already paying, right?  Hahaha, of course not.  In fact, I had trouble even getting to speak to someone..

There is a massive problem with data protection that I have only recently noticed.  Companies that do business over the phone (or internet) are rightly very nervous about giving someone access to the wrong person’s information.  A couple of years ago I called easyjet pretending to be my father and changed the name on one of his boarding passes (if that is a crime, please assume this is a hypothetical story).  I did this with good intentions, because he had miss-spelt my wife’s surname when booking the flights, and because if he had called them himself he would have lost his temper and no doubt incurred some sort of anger management surplus fee.  The fact that he didn’t know I had done it until after the fact only makes it a better example, because you can imagine his reaction if I’d chosen to also change his name to Mr Shit-Speller while I was there.  I don’t really recall how I was able to talk my way into the easyjet booking system, but I remember it being fucking simple as anything back then.

Today, that is not the case (at least with t-mobile).  So allergic are they to the risk of data theft that the second question I was asked (after my name) was my password.  I have a real problem with this.  At the time of the call, I was in a busy office, surrounded by co-workers who are all nosy little turds.  I don’t distrust them specifically, but reading my password aloud in a busy room doesn’t seem like a smart move.  My bank asks me for several letters from my password, which is a huge improvement because listening to me spelling out “W-A-N-G” shouldn’t give any listeners-in any great insight into what my password might be (though who knows what they are assuming).

I don’t know why t-mobile thinks that getting me to shout my password out loud is somehow going to help me keep it private, but they’re obviously wrong.  The other problem here is that I know for absolute certain that the person I am talking to already knows what my password is (otherwise how would they know it is correct?).  I also know they are a low-paid call centre worker, and not statistically the most trustworthy person in the world (though I have no specific problem with their honesty).  I don’t quite know what I expect them to do with the information, but it makes me feel uneasy.  It probably isn’t logical to trust an electronic database to hold my password safe but not a human being (both have been known to divulge secrets throughout history), but there you go.

Ultimately, this second reason isn’t one I can fight and that is why I will give in and answer their “security” questions when I get home tonight and can make the call in relative privacy.  But gaining access to my account and the ability to discuss it with someone is only the first battle in this particular war.  We all know that I will have to negotiate, then threaten to leave and climb up a long-winded ladder of escalated “retention experts” until I reach the rung that will offer me something acceptable.  Only then can I consider this fight won.

I hate that we have to do this.  We both know that I don’t want to leave, and we also know that I am highly unlikely to accept the first offer tabled by them.  Once, a younger version of me dreamt up the shocking idea of a, wait-for-it: honest & transparent mobile phone company.  The premise was simple.  My company (OliCorp) would sign you up on one of a handful, maybe 3-4, of monthly contracts, depending on your expected usage.  No requirement to select top-ups and boosters and free calls to your mum – keep it simple.  The contracts would be overpriced by OliCorp, a fact that we would be totally upfront about.  The reason being that we had to make sure we were covering unforeseen costs, like if you make a lot of phone calls and suddenly the price of electricity spikes and we have to pay a big bill to route them all, or the help desk in India gets unionised or something.  But assuming we don’t come up against any problems, we would rebate the excess profits we make back to the customers in a fair and timely manner, so that OliCorp only ever makes a 15% profit margin.  And we would be totally transparent about how this is done and everyone would be confident that we are making money (because we work hard at OliCorp) at a reasonable margin and not utterly shafting our customer base in the process.  I was fairly confident that people would buy-in to the idea (maybe not investors so much).  Capitalist it is not, but it never pretended to be so.

Sadly, I lacked the a) capital, b) experience, c) energy to do any more than simply dream about this plan.  But I still think it would work, and as a gift to the world, I offer this business plan, free of charge and copyright, to anyone who reads it and has the above list of requirements.  If you wish to offer me a well-paid job or some other recompense, that would be great, but not necessary.  I will be the first customer to sign up regardless.

DBTG who… hates the summer weather

For various reasons, I am finding it very difficult to sustain the levels of hate required to write this blog. Due to my unheralded cheery disposition, I am therefore turning my attention and criticism on to the miserable fucks who are currently attempting to kill my buzz.

(Please note that my wife, who always suffers during any sort of heat, is exempt from being labelled a moaning myrtle on the basis that she is my wife. Also, because I know she reads this. Hi!)

I just need to say this right off: I love summer. And I love the warm temperatures that we have been experiencing in the UK for the past couple of weeks. It is difficult to get angry when confronted with such blissful conditions. There are only two problems with this weather:

  1. my lawn has turned brown

  2. my cats are melting

And frankly, if you will insist on wearing a fur coat in all conditions then you only really have yourself to blame.

Despite the above list being quite conclusive, people who have neither lawn nor cat are clogging up my facebook feed, and real life feed with dreary comments about how it is “just too hot” or how “they can’t sleep in these temperatures”, or that “the trains are a bloody nightmare”. Please! I can understand why people moan about cold weather, snow, rain, clouds, fog, hail and tornadoes. But this right now is the sort of weather that people go on holiday (or even emigrate) to try and chase, and now it has come to you. What’s the problem? British people do love a good weather moan I suppose.

In order to properly understand my total love-in with the current climate, I need to take you on a bit of a journey back in time. Back to the summer of 2006. As I am about to explain, this period of 2 and a half months was arguably the best time of my life. Not the best single day (which has several other contenders), just a sustained period where everything was completely right.

I had just graduated from a good university with a good degree, and I had a well-paid job lined up to start in September. I had returned to London to stay with my parents until I got round to making plans. I moved back into my old room, which had recently acquired a double bed (you forget how awful it is to sleep in a single bed), and I installed at the end of this bed my new 32” TV attached to my xbox. When nothing else was happening, I got really good at ssx tricky and Need for Speed (never did master Timesplitters). But it was rare that nothing else was happening. My girlfriend (now my wife) had graduated at the same time as me, and for the first time as adults we were living in the same city. 4 years of a long-distance relationship were over, and we spent many days and evenings hanging out together. Our parents had come to accept that we were adults at this point, and we were able to sleep in the same room. I had a job working 2.5 days a week in an empty bar that had a huge tv and a sky subscription, and was paid £5.50 an hour, after tax. This was way more than I could actually spend, and as I was too lazy to go to the bank, by the end of the summer I ended up carrying a load of £50 notes around so that I could fold my wallet properly (I was kind of a dick back then).

Almost all of my old school friends had graduated this summer, or at least were back in town for the summer holidays. I could fill my car with petrol for about £30 and I could do anything, be anywhere at the drop of a hat. The only fixed event in my diary was that on Sunday afternoon, all my friends and I would meet on Wimbledon common and play some casual football, then retire to the pub. We played almost every week, and the regular practice meant that, for the only time in my life, I actually got quite good at football. One day, some guys showed up and challenged us to a game, the same guys who 10 years ago would trip us up in the school hallways and generally make life difficult. And I am happy to report that (from memory) we absolutely fucking buried them. It was awesome.

It was a happy accident of circumstance that everything lined up for me quite as well as it did in those days. I can’t give the weather full credit for the situation, but it certainly helped. Football was always on. Sometimes the sun shone, sometimes it pissed with rain, but it was always warm, so we didn’t care. Myself and 3 friends walked 4 miles after the pubs closed one evening to crash a house party (see? Dickhead) with our shirts off because it was just so damn pleasant. When I went out, I never had to consider whether I would need a jacket or jumper, because I never did. The weather conditions framed what was, for me, the greatest summer ever.

I’m telling you this because since 2006, whenever summer has rolled around, I have waited, poised, for the summer to recreate those moments. And it never has. Trust me, every summer since then has been disappointingly cold or brief. We’ve had heat waves in April to get us excited, and then buoyed by this early promise, July and August have always stood up and promptly shat themselves with the weight of expectation. Last year I didn’t go out once without a hoodie with me, just in case.

As I said, the weather wasn’t the only factor involved at all, but I always felt that without the heat everything else was academic. I’ve waited 7 years for conditions to present me with just the slightest possibility of a summer to remember, and finally they have. Granted, a lot of friends have spread out over the city, country and even the world, but I’ve made new friends this year. I have obligations now, but I am happy to carry them with me. I’m too busy, both with work and play, to stay in and get bored. Last Saturday, I rode my old mountain bike over Esher common with my wife while the sun set on our backs, and I think we will do the same again tonight. I’ve been out the past three Sunday nights in a row…

So far, this summer has been everything I wanted it to be. It’s different, but it’s matching up to 2006 in many ways. So please don’t try and bring me down with complaints about how you don’t have anywhere to store your duvet now it’s too hot to sleep under it. Don’t you dare. Your point is trivial and I don’t want to hear it. If you insist on being miserable while I properly enjoy my life for the first time in ages, go and do it somewhere else.

That all said, the grass could do with some rain…

DBTG who… gets a tan

Last week one of the girls in my office came back from holiday.  She had been away for a week, in Cyprus I think.  That bit isn’t hugely important.  What is relevant to this story is that she is now VERY tanned.  Before she left her complexion was “generic white person colour”, but she has come back with skin which I can only describe as being the colour of a roast chicken.  You know, a deep, golden brown, crispy to the touch (not a perfect analogy, I’ll admit).  What really baffled (though didn’t surprise) me was everyone’s reaction:

“OH MY GAWD, you’re so lovely and tanned.  Aren’t you lucky.  I’m well jell of you tannage babes.”

(that sort of crap).  Needless to say, I am not a fan. 

Time for some full disclosure: I am a very white sort of person (both in terms of skin tone and stereotypical behaviour, I suppose).  I don’t tan.  I have two options.  The first is to sit in the shade when the sun comes out, or preferably indoors, or alternatively, I can allow my skin to burn to a lobster pink.  There is a third option, involving sun cream, but I really hate that stuff.  It smells and is really greasy (even the expensive stuff that isn’t supposed to be), and if it’s hot outside (and it will be), my prolific brow sweat redirects a lot of the stuff into my eyes, which also sucks.  If I do get burnt, it fades/peels (depending on severity) after about 3 days and my skin returns to seenaghost white by the end of the week. 

I may as well be upfront about all this, even though you will now assume that this post is simply a nasty case of sour grapes.  Truth be told, there may well be an element of that, but it doesn’t make what I am about to say anything less than completely true: I think tanning is really stupid.

60 years ago, doctors recommended people try smoking cigarettes to treat anxiety & promote weight loss (so I am told).  Similar tales are told about alcohol and things like coca-cola.  These days, the drinks are still tolerated in most societies, but I think everybody, deep down, knows that there is a point where alcohol stops being fun, and coca-cola will rot your teeth if you drink it all the time.  It is rare that anyone will preach total abstinence, but we all know the risks and try and get along despite them.

Smoking is another matter.  I look at my friends and colleagues, and the number of smokers is really very small.  It may be that my peer group is smarter than the national average, but even so.  There was a time when my dad’s accountancy firm had to paint the walls yellow because everyone smoked and it was the only way to hide the nicotine stains.  Those days are gone, as people are starting to understand the health risks and really appreciate what they mean.

And here is the thing.  I genuinely believe that in my lifetime I will see a day when people think similarly about getting a sun tan.  My earlier comparison of tanned skin to cooked chicken wasn’t quite as lame as I made out – getting a tan (or sun burn) is damage to skin cells caused by UV radiation.  Getting sunburnt hurts for a reason.  You are damaging your skin and exposing yourself to the risk of getting cancer.  I really hope that one day we will look back on current tanning trends and say “what were they thinking?!”, just like we do now when considering the doctors who prescribed cigarettes.

There are some counter-arguments that are worth addressing.  First of all, yes, as far as I know, the human body needs exposure to sunlight to absorb/make (i don’t know which) vitamin D.  This is important (ie: essential) and you can’t do it if you’re wearing sunscreen or a big hat.  So yes, you do need some sun exposure.  But I read about how much you need according to the NHS, and it’s 10-15 minutes, 4 or 5 times a week.  Less than 1 hour a week.  I personally would struggle to spend less than this much time outside, so please don’t argue that tanning is anything to do with vitamin D.  If you walk from your office to the station every day, you probably get plenty already. 

Second of all (and this one surprised me actually), people with dark skin are not immune to getting cancer, or getting burnt.  According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, “African American people” (their words) have a natural SPF of about 13.4, vs 3.4 for white people.  But if you spend all day outside, you can and will outlast your natural SPF and do damage.

I know this all sounds very preachy, and it is.  But I also think that is has some merit.  Clearly this little blog is hardly the place to start a huge publicity campaign – this is just something I got to thinking about.  And now maybe you are too?

Don’t be that guy who… abandons his blog

Once again, I am that guy.  In case you didn’t know (care), I was away for a couple of weeks on holiday in America.  It was a lot of fun, but the blog clearly suffered – no updates for over a month?!  You were well into the territory where you wonder if maybe he’s given up on blogging.  Well have no fear (disappointment), I’m back up and running.

Today’s blog will be about my holiday, and thoughts in general on Amercia.  It will be marginally better than sitting through a slideshow of my photos.  On the basis that I’m not known for original formats (and if it’s good enough for fucking buzzfeed), I will continue with the numbered/bulleted list trope that seems to have recently infested my blog:

Good things –

  • Regardless of what any American will tell you , the roads in the USA are really good. Which I suppose makes sense when you consider the amount of driving they do.  Some of the roads (I was told) hadn’t actually been surfaced with the final top layer because the local council ran out of money, and yet they are still manifestly smoother and nicer to drive than basically all of the roads in the UK.  Also, you Americans don’t know what expensive petrol is (it’s like expensive gas) (joke alert!).  I filled our hire car’s tank at a cost of $40 (about £25).  I genuinely don’t remember the last time a tank of gas (actually a liquid vapour anyway, no?) cost less than the notes in my wallet, so that was a refreshing improvement.  Also, you can turn right on a red light, which makes a lot of sense, and they have countdowns which tell you when the lights are about to change, which is also rather helpful.  In short, America is actually a place where driving can be a pleasant experience.
  • Navigating in the USA is pretty easy.  Well, it certainly is if the satnav you have works (ours didn’t).  But even if you have to resort to paper maps, the way that most cities are set out in blocks makes everything very straightforward once you figure out what’s going on.  I have real trouble with street names in the UK (“you know ravenscar avenue, yeah?” why would I?), so knowing that 5th street is between 4th and 6th is a treat.
  • California is a great place.  Everywhere that we visited was clean, naturally beautiful, and made me consider briefly whether I should be moving to live here permanently (answer: not quite, but close).  We did drive through quite a few smaller communities not geared up for tourists, and while it was obvious that not everyone lives in luxury, it still seemed generally pleasant.  Note, we did not go anywhere near Los Angeles, which would arguably have influenced this opinion significantly.
  • EVERYBODY is super polite.  America’s well-known policy of paying waiters/waitresses in tips, rather than a fixed (secure) salary has some notable downsides (and don’t think I support it exactly), but as a consumer it is a fantastic concept.  If you get into the mindset that every time you are rude to a customer you will probably lose half an hour’s wages, it appears that you can quickly become genuinely happy to be serving them (or at least really good at pretending to be).  And if you’re polite to me, it puts me in a good frame of mind, and I’m much more likely to be polite in return.  It creates a circlejerk of nice behaviour, and that’s fine by me.  But even people not working on commission are capable of smiling.  Like the driver of a free bus who should, by rights, be sick of idiot tourists (me) not understanding how the stop request bell works.  I am quite sure that bus drivers in London have a secret sweepstake about how far they can make people run after them, and still refuse to let them on.  In America, you can wave at a bus across the street, and I guarantee it will wait for you.
  • America has great animals.  I will now interrupt the numbering system to announce that following the trip, I have decided to change my 3 favourite animals (this section sponsored by Milgram):

3. The sea otters.  Happy chaps

2. The freaking BEAR we saw in Yosemite national park.  He would actually have got the top spot except that the 4 people who saw him all inexpicably lacked the presence of mind to actually take a photo

1. The marmot.  He neatly combined the idea that maybe I could reach out and stroke his back, with the thought that if that turned out to be wrong, he could easily sever my finger.

Image This guy.

Now the not so good things –

  • The above good things can quickly fall apart when you really don’t want them to.  For example, when we arrived in San Fransisco, I walked to the local newsagent to buy the public transport tickets that we needed to get around the city over the next few days.  I was told, politely enough, that they were sold out, but if I walked 2 blocks thattaway, the next newsagent would have some for sure.  Nope.  The next place didn’t, but if I walked… etc.  After being told this maybe 3 times, I realised that maybe they just didn’t give a shit.  Also, I had now walked 8 blocks away from our hotel, and I was migrating out of the nicer neighbourhood into a place called the Tenderloin.  The name brings up thoughts of a pig’s vagina, and in that regard its quite an apt name.  It was the sot of place I didn’t really want to go to.  In the end, I actually felt reasonably safe, (in America, police protection will always be afforded to the white man), but it would have been better not to have to do it in the first place.  Also, I got a bit lost on the way back, and when I went to the front desk of the poshest, whitest hotel I could find (know thyself), I was politely told that no, they would not be providing me with directional assistance at that time (fuck you, The Wyndham San Francisco!).  But I did steal a map from them when I left, so I officially had the last laugh (and found my way back).  That wasn’t a great afternoon.
  • Las Vegas is weird.  It is not my sort of place, frankly.  If you leave Las Vegas in any direction, you quickly find yourself in really, genuinely beautiful wilderness.  The desert isn’t some featureless wasteland, its stunning landscapes that are frequently used as film sets, and contain awesome wildlife and stuff.  But the city itself is something else.  Some day, America will find itself in a less prosperous position that it is currently in, and when that happens, I truly believe that Las Vegas will be used as a case study into why.  They built a city in the middle of a desert, drained the nearby water sources to keep their front lawn looking lush, and they use electricity just to blast powerful beams of light into the sky just to incentivise you to gamble.  Admittedly the electricity is mostly hydroelectric, but still, they surely could have found a better use for it?  And the gambling.  When the casino you are in can afford to deck the public toilets out in Italian marble, you don’t have to wonder for very long as to whether the house usually wins or not.  And yet people still wander in, empty their pockets and wander back out.  It’s interesting, and some parts are great, but it isn’t the bit where streetvendors flick prostitute calling cards at you…
  • Immigration is not so great.  We entered the US through Canada (because we flew via Toronto) and it was relatively ok.  But still awful on an absolute scale.  I don’t want to rant about this at length (again), so I will gloss over the fact that I got swabbed for traces of drugs TWICE on the way in (behaviour which would surely be illegal anywhere else).  However, I cannot ignore the following exchange between a tourist and immigration officer while queueing for the body scan machine:

“sir, don’t even think about it!”

“pardon me?”

“sir, I know what you’re thinking, and i’m warning you, don’t try it.”

“i didn’t say anything?”

“sir, I could tell that you were thinking it”

“i’m just standing here.”

“i’m telling you NOT to leave this queue”

After maybe 30 seconds, I turned around to exchange a silent “wtf” glance with the guy in sympathy, and he was gone!  Not in another queue, not anywhere in sight.  I think I saw a guy arrested for thought crimes, and if that doesn’t terrify you, you need to think a bit harder about it.

  • Walking in America is not as easy as driving.  I decided to hike a short trail in Yosemite to see one of the giant sequoias.  Helen decided to wait for me at the bottom.  A sign at the head of the trail said “tree – 0.6 miles”.  I didn’t have a compass or even a map (because I dropped it), but I am quite good at walking and navigating on the fly, plus the path was very clearly marked.  After maybe 5 minutes, I checked my watch, because obviously if I walk in one direction for too long, I had missed the tree, and probably got lost to boot.  11 minutes after that, I come across a sign saying “tree – 0.4 miles”, which suggested I was walking at less than 1 mile an hour.  About 9 months ago, I walked 50 miles in 14 hours, including rests, so I dispute that claim, especially seeing as it took me another 3 minutes to complete the final 0.4 miles, suggesting I then ramped it up to a much more ambitious 8 miles an hour for the final stretch.  America, your signs are bollocks!
  • Despite what you might hear, there aren’t many fat people in America (the bits we saw).  Admittedly, you do sometimes see a pink blob parking in a disabled bay, but generally people are not flabby.  However, they are mostly big.  The gyms were busy, but full of people pumping iron.  Never mind that they’d collapse trying to walk 0.6 miles, ‘fit’ in America means muscular.

Now, I don’t want to end on a list of bad things, so I will close with a final good point – the food.  Portions have shrunk (or I have grown) since I was last in the USA, but that didn’t really matter, because I was generally getting double breakfast.  I ate a lot of Helen’s food because she was suffering quite badly from morning sickness.  Which means that, yes, my wife is pregnant and in February 2014 I will become a father!

Good times.

p.s., this is the tree that I hiked to see – known as the faithful couple, it’s two trees growing together /metaphorImage