Magazine article The Spectator

Real Life

Magazine article The Spectator

Real Life

Article excerpt

Once upon a time, it was perfectly possible to ask British Telecom to do something in return for money. You would ring an 0800 number and someone in India would politely accept the premise that if you paid them, say, £70, they would send an engineer to your home to carry out repairs.

This used to be true of Sky TV as well, before they decided that there was virtually nothing about their £50 a month service they would fix other than by giving you instructions down the phone to make you fix it yourself.

'But the box has blown up into a million pieces!' 'Yes, madam, and we are going to talk you through reassembling it using the simple principles of thermonuclear fusion.'

But that's another story. Let us stick to the nightmare in question, which was what happened when I rang BT to ask them to move my broadband router. You see, with the Home Hub at the back of the house, the signal doesn't quite reach the front room, so I rang the number for broadband help:

'Welcome to BT. If you are calling about sending a monkey to the moon, please press 1. If you are inquiring about chiropody services, press 2. If you want to arrange an appointment to see a clairvoyant, press 3.'

It was that irrelevant. There was nothing even vaguely close to booking a visit from an engineer. And so I was condemned to the always disastrous 'For all other inquiries, press 4':

'Thank you for calling BT. Calls are recorded in the hope that if we make you angry enough you will start swearing and then we can blame you for everything.

'In order to help us deal with your inquiry, please enter the number of bones in a giraffe's neck, followed by the hash key.

'Now, using the keypad on your telephone, please play the opening bars of Rachmaninov's third piano concerto.

'Thank you. You are now in a queue. In order for us to queue you properly, please select from the following options. Press 1 to be made to listen to crap music, 2 to have the phone line suddenly go silent so you are not sure if you are still connected, 3 for a sweet, northern lass to claim she doesn't know anything about anything. . .

'Hello, you're through to Hayley. . .'

'Oh thank god, I was about to burst into tears.'

'Can I take your account number, please?'

'But I just spent ages keying that in. …

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