Tuesday 30 June 2009

If UPC Support is a lottery, I’ve so many numbers I’ll be a winner soon!


Dear B from UPC/NTL/Chorus,
Thanks so much for all the calls. You called twice on Tuesday, leaving a message on my mobile and my landline, and twice again on Thursday. You might have wondered why you bothered. Did I really gave a damn?
By way of explanation, let’s pretend our screens are going all wavy and wobbly as we drift in time, all the way back to February, when the Snapper found she couldn’t access her Eircom email.
Eircom advised that the problem lay with our Internet Service Provider, which is you NTL/Chorus/UPC guys.
She asked me to help. I couldn’t face phoning your technical support, because I didn’t want to spend hours sorting the problem. I just wanted a simple explanation; either a ‘Do this!’ or ‘Forget it and start again!’ type of response, so on April 27th I sent an email to NTL Broadband Support, asking what a ‘parsing error’ meant to the average bloke? Why was it blocking the wife’s email and what could I do about it?
Instantly I received your automated response:
‘Your query has been given a unique tracking number for your reference - 452724. Our aim is to contact you within 2 working days.’
Kind regards,
Customer Support Team Chorus NTL
On May 8th, just as I was about to give up on your support, one of your colleagues sent an email:
Ref: 452724
Dear Mr Adley
Thank you for your email, my sincere apologies for the delay in getting back to you. If possible, can you please provide your account number so I can escalate your details to our Technical Support Desk?
If you have any further queries, please do not hesitate to contact us on our freephone number 1908 or email us on customer.support@upc.ie
Kind regards,
I didn’t want my details escalated, but naturally I sent off the information she requested, and immediately got yet another automated response: Your query has been given a unique tracking number for your reference - 461272. Our aim is to contact you within 2 working days.
Now I'm getting slightly confused, because I’d been given two unique tracking numbers for one problem. And having actually made contact (albeit by email) with a real human being (herself ‘S’) was my query now back out wandering, lonely and helpless in the NTL Support wilderness?
But no. S came through, thanked me for the details and referenced Ref: 461272, which was the latest most recent number.
Aha! So that’s how it works! The unique tracking number is killed off by the next unique tracking number.
Sometimes it’s terrible having testicles. You’re forced to try and understand everything, even the most boring trifling detail which ovary-bearers quite correctly might dismiss as surplus to requirements.
S said she had “passed your query to our Broadband Support Team for investigation and a member of their team will be in contact with you shortly. Thank you for your valued custom.”
Thanks S, I think, but - and call me stupid here if you must - I’d dared to think that I was already dealing with the Broadband Support Team, because all my emails had been addressed to broadbandsupport@upc.ie.
Silly me.
Anyway, that was May 8th, and then I head nothing. Nada. Zilch and diddly squat. I started to come over all agitato jubilato. This was no longer about the Snapper’s email account, which doubtless had by now been deactivated through lack of use.
Now it had become personal. We’ve paid a tidy amount to Chorus/NTL/UPC over the years, and this is the first time we’ve ever asked for help, yet after 2 months all we’ve been given is a rake of reference numbers and emails telling us how much they value our custom and we’ll hear from them in two days.
When I decide to write about a person or a corporation, I feel it only fair to let them know, especially if it’s part of an existing problem, so on June 3rd, I sent off an email referencing all my reference numbers, saying how I was intending to write about this process, and in the meantime, what was going on with my query?
Obviously, the first thing I got was another pesky automated response, assigning me another bloomin’ unique tracking number
“Our aim is to contact you within 2 working days.”
Which unique tracking number was I now? 452724? 480639? 461272?
The following Saturday morning, my mobile phone rings, and it’s you, B from UPC, and you’re very upset about all my troubles. You are delightful, telling me you don’t really understand computers yourself, but if we set up a time to call, you could patch me though to the technical support team, without me having to wait.
‘Splendid! Fantastic! Are you really calling me on a Saturday? Wow! Lets make it Monday at 11:00. Is that okay? Great, Monday it is then.’
Within minutes I receive your email, B, confirming our arrangement that you will call me on Monday at 11. I send you one back to thank you and yes, get another automated response and another unique tracking number.
If UPC Support is a lottery, I’ve got so many numbers in it, I must be a winner soon!
On Monday I rush around before 11 o’clock, at which time I am to be found sitting at my computer, mobile phone charged and ready to take your call. I sit and wait. And wait and wait and wait, but no call comes.
My heart sinks. I wanted to sort my wife’s email, and then, very importantly, I wanted to ask you, B, why our newly-installed NTL/UPC/Chorus Digital TV box keeps turning itself off, for hours on end? I wanted to ask you why it came fitted with a two-pin plug? Do we live in Greece? Is it even legal to sell a two-pin plug on appliances this country? More to the point, with the inbuilt protector on modern 3-pin sockets, extracting two-pin plugs is tricky at best, but we have to keep doing it to reboot the bloomin’ Digi-tv-box. It feels unsafe.
But B, you didn’t call.
Well, you did, on Tuesday and Thursday, when I was out and busy. Now I lack the energy to deal with NTL/UPC/Chorus anymore. What a shame. All their kind regards, and reference numbers made me feel unique for two nano seconds.

Monday 22 June 2009

"Are you eating your own hand, Charlie?" "No shanks, I'm fine!"

The Irish habit of leaving Ireland when times get tough appears strange to this Englishman. Maybe the English stay in England because they love a grumble, while their Irish counterparts mutter only:
“Sure, I’d complain, but what’d be the point?”
Maybe it’s because the Irish are broadly welcomed anywhere in the world, while the English have to overcome post-colonial loathing in so many countries.
Then there’s the two things that Paddy loves best: the leaving of Ireland and the coming back to Ireland. Personally, apart from a couple of weeks’ hols abroad, I hate leaving ireland, but Galway City is another matter.
With Galway I suffer a similar paradoxical conundrum to Paddy’s. I have left it and returned to it three times, each stay being an absolute pleasure, until it becomes unbearable.
Now, as another Summer of festivals approaches, my mind wanders back to the Spring of 1994, the first time I left Galway City.
Truly, it was one of the happiest days of my life.
Two years before I had left England, and arrived at Galway after a few months spent wandering, wondering whether I might live in either Granada, Barcelona, Roscoff, Cork and Kinsale.
Sharing in a tiny house in Salthill, I had partied like a mad thing for two years, but not as madly as the 24-hour party people living next door. My nerves were shot to shit, my liver was the size of Cyprus, and I yearned for privacy and peace. Each weekend I’d hitch out to Connemara, and recharge my soul, gradually realising that what I really wanted was to live out there, alone.
Some things are just meant to be. Through a bizarre twist of fate I called a certain Pat from Ballyconneely on the phone about a house I’d heard he was renting and got through to a completely different Pat from Ballyconneely, who purely coincidentally just happened to have a house to rent, but hadn’t even advertised it yet.
Off the main road, by a lake, with nearby beaches on three sides. the tiny housesheen was perfect, and as I loaded my life’s belongings into my transit van, I was aware that this was indeed a seminal moment in my life: the end of a very long road which ran from the leaving of London 5 years previously, downsizing to Bradford, Galway and finally to the townland of Bunowen.
The sun shone as I drove out of the city, the silhouettes of my broom handle, upturned chairs and boxes of books appearing in my rear view mirror. I’d never had a house to myself before, and was amazed how easy it was to move my stuff into it. There were no parking problems; plenty of space, and unlike flats in the cities of my past, no flights of steps to struggle up and down up and down, with all my stuff.
Within an hour it was all in the house, and I was off to the pub to celebrate.
The next morning I awoke to the sound of grass being ripped from the ground by cows outside my bedroom window. I was in a state of bliss. After walking to the beach I started to prepare my first proper meal in my first solitary house. In honour of the occasion I was treating myself to a lamb shank, with roast spuds and crunchy green things.
As I took the meat out of the oven my stomach growled with hunger as my heart swelled with pride.
I was plain full of myself, so happy I could burst. I had done so well, to get away from all the madness of it all, to be alone at last, wanting nothing from nobody, anywhere, ever.
The sun shone in the blue sky. A hare sat on the gravel outside my house. A soft breeze whispered a scented zephyr through my open windows and the carving knife slid slowly but surely through the tender lamb, out the other side and right through my hand, at the base of my thumb and finger.
Instantly I knew it was a deep cut, and my body settled straight into shock.
Fuck fuck fucketty fuck. Not now please please not now. No no no.
Being a most basic beast, my main concern was for my dinner. All I had wanted was to sit and eat a fine meal in my fine house and feel fine.
My roast lamb was pink, but I was looking increasingly crimson. Having washed the wound and caught sight of something white that hopefully wasn’t bone, I considered asking for help.
Clearly I needed to go up to the farmhouse and ask them to take me to a hospital for stitches.
And then again, maybe if I did, I’d look like an idiot incapable of lasting 24 hours on his own without managing to dismember himself.
No. Nobody needed to know.
Screw it. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
Instead of being sensible, I wrapped my gaping bloodied wound in acres of toilet paper, and holding it high above my head in an effort to staunch the bleeding, I stubbornly proceeded to try to eat my dinner.
Clearly a knife and fork were out of the question, but who cared? I was all alone in the middle of nowhere, and still had four good fingers and one opposable thumb.
The veggies and spuds went down in three or four hand scoops, and as I lifted the shank to my mouth and started ripping into it like a cross between Fred Flintstone and Henry VIII, my young landlord just happened to put his head round the door to make sure his new tenant was settling in alright.
In place of the calm clean Englishman he had welcomed 24 hours previously, he was greeted by the site of an insane gravy-smeared carnivore, holding a blood-soaked arm high above his head, muttering through a lamby mouthful:
“Yesh yesh hime fine, danksh Pat! Good ash gold, shanks!”
Afterwards I wondered if he thought I had chopped off one hand to eat it with the other. Poor guy probably still has nightmares about that. Sorry Pat!
Having once again learned that pride comes before a fall, I proceeded to live a splendid life in that house.
But every two weeks I made an excited dash to Galway City, to see my mates, make sure I still had the power of speech and could behave like a human being in public.

Monday 15 June 2009

Deface yourself and become a bamboo!



It started with a simple email from my old friend, the Guru: 

‘Hi, just to let you know I'm closing my Facebook account.'

I wanted to do it too, but my vanity said I should wait a while, otherwise I’d look like a prat incapable of original action. 

But then I got another email from somebody on Facebook, a friend of a friend of a friend who wanted to add my birthday to their Facebook Birthday Calendar and I thought no. 

Nuhuh. That’s it. 

I don’t know their birthday because I hardly know them at all. The people who already know my birthday are the ones who matter to me. 

Of course I could have just ignored it, but that wouldn’t stop more people coming along who wanted to send me a badge, ask me to choose my favourite food colours, or demand I eat my own toejam for a laugh. 

Don’t get me wrong. I completely understand why Facebook, YouTube, MySpace, bebo, Second Life and all the other social networking and Web 2.0 sites are such a success. 

Were I a decade younger or simply a slightly less grumpy person, I’d be out there with the rest of you, sharing my whims, fancies and online farts. But the only reason I signed up for Facebook in the first place was to be polite; to respond to requests and generally feel a part of what’s going on. 

Trouble was, I didn’t belong. I never wanted to play Top 10 Popes of the 1970s, or nudge or poke anyone in any way. The whole thing became depressing, as I saw what my Facebook friends were up to. 

Increasingly I felt like a slightly pervy voyeur, wondering if so-and-so wasn’t maybe feeling lonely, what with all the time he was spending playing inane Facebook games. 

Oh look, that ‘friend’ is going away for the weekend, this one is drinking a cocktail and that one is having a cup of coffee. 

A cup of coffee? 

Why would anyone feel the need to share the fact that they are having a cup of bleedin’ coffee? Go on my son. 

Just tick the button, and yippee, my account is deactivated! Well no, apparently it isn’t over yet. 

A page appears with photos of some of my Facebook friends, captioned by ridiculous assumptions: 

‘Deirdre will miss your messages. Herbert wants you to play ‘Lick my Lapel’ games with him. Jerry will miss seeing your face on your profile. Maeve was going to tell you she loves you but has decided not to now that you want to leave Facebook.’ 

What a nasty attempt at emotional blackmail, just to try and make me return to Facebook. Now, what’s this? 

Yet another page, demanding I click a box in a list of possible reasons why I’ve decided to deactivate my Facebook account. None of them come close to reflecting how I feel, so I just click ‘Other.'

Up comes the dreaded internet red print, telling me that having ticked ‘Other’ I’m compelled to explain further in the text box below. 

Failure to do so will result in the cancelling of my account deactivation, bad breath, plague, leg falling off, that kind of thing. Barely managing to restrain the darker side of my vocabulary, I type: 

‘Precisely because of this attitude.’ 

in the text box, and hit return. 

'Tick this box if you don’t want any more emails from Facebook.'

I tick the box, feeling blissfully liberated for a second. At last, my account has been deactivated. No more emails from Facebook.

Bing! A new email arrives ... from Facebook.

It says should I ever want to return to Facebook, all I need to do is log in as normal, and my page and details will still be there, just as I left them. 

So what in God’s good name was all that deactivation shite about, if it’s all still there? 

And, despite the fact that I specifically asked for no Facebook emails, they immediately sent me an email. 

The whole process was truly nasty, and I am delighted to be freed of Facebook. It seems I am not alone. Many others were inspired by the Guru’s leap of faith, and have since defaced themselves, as I call it.

Do I miss it? 

Do I hell!

There’s a physical life out there, with extraordinary people doing fantastic things. Galway City is crammed with them, and sure enough, just the other day I met a particularly amazing human being. Joël Francois was raised by nuns in a Belgian orphanage, and introduced to Martial Arts at the age of 6. 

Recently he passed his Yondan, a 4th Black Belt grading of Traditional Japanese Ju-jutsu. For anybody this would be an extraordinary achievement, but to attain that level by the age of 39 is astonishing. 

Yet the quietly charismatic man refuses to talk about his achievements, instead enthusing about the Martial Arts Festival he is organising in Galway City. 

“Our code of honour in Ju-jutsu is: Integrity, respect, discipline, peace, love with balance. We must be like a cane of bamboo. When times are hard and the wind blows, we must be flexible and bend, so that when times are good we can be strong and upright.”  

So unplug yourself from the recession, the internet or whatever might be getting you or your kids down, and head on down to the show. 

Deface yourself, and make like a bamboo. You just might rebuild your body and free your mind. 

Try doing that on Facebook!

Contact: Galway City School of Judo Unit 27 Oldenway Business Park Ballybrit, Galway, Co. Galway, Ireland 086 251 0909 www.gcsjudo.comocial networking

Monday 8 June 2009

“I can see Galway now, the race has gone, all of those pretty flowers will disappear...."

“And nowwwww the end is neeeeear, the race yachts faaace the final keel turn.....”
No, that’s not it. Too punny and painful.
How about
“I can see Galway now, the race has gone,
All of those pretty flowers will disappear.
There’ll dog poo again upon the Prom,
Gonna be a dry wet grey Galway-ay day...”:
I love Galway and I love living in Galway, but thanks to those who run the place, I feel a bit like a student living in a hovel with the parents coming round for Sunday dinner.
Cripes, we’d better clean this bloomin’ mess. Quick, shove some plants into the roundabouts! Throw a lick o’paint over that wall! After the race, sure, we can flog the flowers and yeh, I know that paint won’t last and that old mouldy damp will soon show through, but sure feckit, it’s called whitewash for a reason.
I’m house proud, but there’s no point in my home only looking good when I’ve got poshies over for tea. I want it to look its best all the time, ‘cos I live there. Yet somehow, in their efforts to spruce up the city with hanging baskets, arty murals and the annual ceremonial relaying of the cobbles on Quay Street, those who seek to make Galway look great manage to make us Galwegians feel generally a bit crap.
If they can make it look fab and clean and fun for 2 weeks, why can’t they make it look at least half as good for the other 50?
Don’t Galwegians deserve that? As they say where I come from: ‘What are we? Chopped liver?’
Mind you, 5 million wooden planters aside, we won’t be able to see our city until all those photographic facial avenues of power-seeking underachievers are taken down.
Some of the nicest people I know are politicians.
Well one of them is.
Poopers, I was trying to say something touchy-feely about our elected representatives, but I just couldn’t, because essentially they all seek power, and beyond Coco Pops and cluster bombs, I can think of no more abhorrent product.
I am very grateful for my right to vote, but what purpose does it serve if there is no reason to use it?
The MP’s expenses scandal in England has shown once again that corruption knows no political boundaries. Left and Right were all at it, while here all the political parties habitually fail to convince us that they truly give a damn.
If only we had the right to vote for None Of The Above, as they do in Ukraine, Spain, France and Colombia. Then we could really show those pompous politicos exactly what we think of them.
Imagine: the Irish vote in a massive majority for None Of The Above, and force all the political parties to go back to their think tanks and drawing boards and country estates and tax-free havens and come up with a better idea or five, because all of a sudden they’re facing a worthy and powerful opponent: active democratic dissent.
“How dare you!”, they will cry. “How dare you make us work so hard to come up with new ideas? Why should we have to do this all over again?”
To which we, the downtrodden masses with blissful grins on our collective faces will reply,
“Oh poor diddums. Did ickle wickle wannabe leaders forget how you told us that you didn’t like our vote on the Nice Treaty? Didn’t you tell us to go back home and have a good think and come back and vote the way you wanted us to vote in the first place? Didn’t we know you were never going to give up until we employed our democratic liberties to do exactly what you instructed? And aren't you about to ignore the way we voted for the Lisbon Treaty and ask us to go back home and have a good think and come back and this time bloody well behave ourselves and vote the way we were told the first time?
So with this majority for None Of The Above we have a mandate to send you home and come up with some morally sound compassionate policies that won’t force us to choose between a geriatric’s hospital bed or a mile of motorway.
And while we’re on the the subjects of motorways, which we weren’t at all, I have a proposition to make.
There’s a roundabout just beyond the Dublin Road/Oranmore roundabout, on the way to Clarinbridge.
It’s a small perfectly formed roundabout, yet it lacks a certain something. Built at the tipping point of the boom, it was meant to offer an entrance to an estate that will now most likely never be built.
It is a dead roundabout. It is not sleeping, nor pining for the fjords. This roundabout is going nowhere and it desperately needs a function in life, beyond just slowing down the traffic a bit and confusing tourists.
Out in Recess, on the Galway/Clifden Road, a monument declares that ‘On this site nothing happened’.
Well hell, we can beat that.
This colyoom suggests that we formally name our pointless roundabout the ‘Dead Tiger Roundabout’, and pile high upon it twisted ‘00’ car number plates and smashed-up Estate Agents ‘Sold!’ signs.
It will serve as a national monument to greed, lucre and hubris, until a far-distant future when the High Kings return and proceed to build giant grassy burial tombs on all the major roundabouts in the country, despite outcry from radical extremist civil engineers who will camp out, sit in and beat protest rhythms in clipboard circles through the night, and fight against what they see as the abominable and hateful greening of Ireland, and the mindless destruction of its ancient motorway network.
Galway is meant to be Ireland's capital of Arts and Culture, with capital As and Cs, so let’s get down with our interactive circular installation. Let’s turn our impotent roundabout into a living breathing (it’s got grass, ain’t it?) meaningful sculpture.
Eat your shark’s heart out, Damien. Suck our sheets, Tracey baby.
Interactive? I should coco. You can drive around it, can’t you?
What use is a roundabout that goes nowhere? As much use as a vote for someone you don’t want to win. Fight for the right to elect None Of The Above. As the Anarchists say: “Whoever you vote for, the government gets in.”

Monday 1 June 2009

It’s my party and I wouldn’t cry if I was able to get to it!

By the time you read this I’ll have been 49 years old for two weeks, and as I write this now, I’m not feeling too excited about my birthday tomorrow.
Most people are thrilled about becoming 21, and find deep and meaningful significance in turning 40. Neither really meant anything to me.
My 21st birthday party was a hoot for a lot of people, but for me it was a bit of a nightmare. We all went up to the West End, where I had booked a table to see the great Horace Silver play at Ronnie Scott’s.
In my pretentious youthful mind, I envisaged us sitting around drinking in a darkly-lit smoke-filled pit, but as it turned out, the famous jazz club was lit loud, while the silence imposed on the audience was oppressive.
We were a young and giggly bunch, secretively pouring vodka from hidden hip flasks into our orange juices. None of us had imagined that we’d have to sit back and say nothing at all. What about all those jazz clubs in the movies where the Mafiosi meet to make deals while strange men send Martinis to women at distant tables?
Ronnie Scott’s was not an informal swinging joint, and as the voddies tickled our fragile laddish brains, we started to chuckle a bit to each other.
After all, this was a party, wasn’t it?
I was right in the middle of telling a funny story to my friend Jon when the music suddenly stopped, mid-song. I turned around to find Horace Silver himself staring at me, his head cocked to one side.
“Some of the folk here have come to listen to the music. I say why not let them?”
As I sank lower and lower into my chair, a round of applause rippled around the room. Part of me was cringeingly embarrassed, the other pretty pissed off with having been made to look like a right royal prick on my big night out.
As soon as the band finished their set, I dashed off to the loo, but when I came out there was no sign of my mates.
I checked the ladies loo and then stood outside the club, waiting for some or all of them to turn up, but no, the low basstids had scarpered, gone without me.
Even more annoying was the fact that I knew precisely where they had gone, and how they had got there. Back in those days I had an account with a minicab firm, and had ordered three cars to meet us outside the club to whisk us off to my sister’s house, where I was staying while she and her family were away on holiday.
On paper it had looked like a great night: cool jazz followed by a hot party in an empty luxury house.
Trouble was, the gig had been a nightmare and I wasn’t at the party.
I called the minicab firm, but by now it was peak time on a Saturday night and they had no spare cars. Eventually I resorted to spending a week’s wages on taking a black cab all the way to the outer suburbs, where I finally found the drunken dribbling detritus of my own 21st birthday party.
Naturally, my friends all thought it absolutely hilarious that I’d missed my own party, and the fact that I’d been told off by a famous Jazz musician was the icing on the birthday cake none of them had thought to buy.
So my 21st birthday didn’t ring my bell, but it didn’t matter. It wasn’t important; just numbers, and what difference could a bunch of numbers make to me?
Maybe I’d feel different at 30, but no, that landmark came and went without so much as a mental twitch or whiff of mortality.
But then, out of the blue, 35 hit me really hard. I just couldn’t work it out at all, but for some reason I suddenly felt my age, didn’t like it, and had to come up pronto with some kind of explanation to calm myself.
Eventually I decided that maybe the reason I felt so dreadful about being 35 was because my Dad was always going on about the ‘three score years and ten’ we are allocated in the Bible. 35 being half of 70, I accepted that there might be some sad corner of my subconscious that felt I’d passed the half way line and was now headed down the inexorable slope towards death.
40 came and went without a whimper, but then, blow me down with a feather if 46 didn’t come along and knock me sideways. Why was it that such a seemingly arbitrary age made me feel so very low and miserable?
Why couldn’t I just conform and attach significance to the same big birthdays as everybody else?
And then, of course! I realised that the reason 46 hit me like a blow over the back of the head was because I was all of a sudden nearer 50 than 40, and evidently didn’t like that feeling one bit.
So now a few mere hours from being only one year from 50, with old school friends celebrating their half-centuries all over the place, I face the new frontier.
I know that 90 is the new 80 and that there are nutters climbing Everest at 75. I know that and 50 is the new 12, and that what with advances in medical science and the application of horse chestnut bark cream and octopus rennet mud and sand flea blood compound you can feel as right as rain and twice as fruity, even deep into your dotage.
I know, but I don’t care. I’m getting older and accept that. I have no choice. The other day I spotted some of those ‘old people’ freckles on the skin on the back of my hand.
So I take comfort from the words of the late great Jim Morrison, a man who embraced an early death and certainly lived life to the full. Addressing his own mortality, he offered the following comforting prayer:
“I tell you this. I tell you this. I’m gonna get my kicks before the whole shithouse goes down in flames.”
Amen to that, and a Happy Birthday to me.
Well, if I make it to tomorrow, that is!