Wednesday, August 13, 2003

The Kafkaesque Irony of British Telcom

Automated Voice: "Hello you've reached Britsh Telecom. Please enter your telephone number."
[I enter my number].
Automated voice: Press 1 for billing enquiries. Press 2 for [huge menu list etc]
[I press a number]
Operator: Hi, his is Sandra Jones speaking. What is your telephone number please?
[I tell her (again!) Why did they ask me to enter it in the first place?]
Operator: How can I help?
Me: I'm moving house on Friday. Can I get a new telephone number?
Operator: What's your customer account number?
Me: I don't know. I always pay by direct debit and throw my bills away.
Operator: In that case we can't do it now.
Me: How long will it take?
Operator: Seven days.
Me: Is there any way I can find out my account number?
Operator: Yes, you can request us to send you a copy of your last bill.
Me: OK, can you do that?
Operator: Just putting you through sir...
[long wait]
Automated Voice: Hello. The Office is closed. Please try again tomorrow.

The next day.
Me: Hello, can I request a copy of my bill.
Operator: Certainly. What's your account number?
Me: I don't know. That's why I'm requesting a copy of my bill.
Operator: I'm sorry. We can't send you your bill unless you have your account number.

And so it goes on....

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

HUrrah for Pop Idol 2 - it's so bad it's gone to good and back to bad again. I always find the first few episodes to the best - because basically all we want to see is Simon Cowell crushing the dreams of deluded teens and their pushy parents. Each tear shed by an insulted hopeful is a drop of blood to an emotional vampire - and we're all guilty as charged! Even after one episode I want the "lacks confidence" Scottish boy with the attractive yet slightly elongated face to win. They've got me investing in the programme and it's only just begun.

Saw two films over the weekend that I've never seen before and had been meaning to watch for ages. Harold and Maude (an off-beat story of a relationship between a privileged 20 year old man and a nutty 79 year old woman). I love Ruth Gordon - she's got a unique way of talking and interacting that is both annoying and endearing. She was great in Rosemary's Baby (one of my other favourite films) as well. I also saw the film Kes - gritty northern kitchen sink dramas being something else I particularly like watching. What I found most disturbing about the film was its depiction of the school system - how cruel and arbitrary punishment was eked out, both by bullies and teachers. It reminded me very much of my own school - particularly the Physical Education lesson with the thick-as-shit, sadistic teacher.

I HATED school. But above all, I hated Games, PE, sports. I was always the boy to be picked last when teams were picked. I spent most of my time at school scheming of ways to get out of going (eventually I invented singing lessons for myself for 2 years and bunked off to my grandmother's where I drank cups of tea and listened to her and her friends gossiping). I used to feel sick to my stomach the night before a PE lesson, and would spend the whole of that day in a state of dazed depression. Looking back on it, sometimes the lessons were enjoyable - but mostly they consisted of standing around in the freezing cold, on a muddy pitch, avoiding the football. The worst period of all though was track sports. I was absolutely useless at throwing things - and it was always a humiliation when the teacher recorded the pitiful length that I had thrown a discus, javelin or shot putt. I was used to being top in everything else - but sports were something where I was most definitely bottom. And for some reason, academic success meant nothing in my school - there was no praise for doing well - only jeers from other pupils, or teachers who called me a swot in front of the rest of the class. I used to dread getting the results of tests because my name would always be called out first, as the highest score and then classmates would threaten to beat me up during the break.

Unsurprisingly, I was bullied unmercifully at school - particularly because teachers were often late or absent from lessons, allowing the class to run riot. During one lesson a bully hit me on the side of the face. Suddenly I couldn't hear anything, and the girls in the class started screaming because blood was pouring down my face. I said something dramatic like "You'll all be sorry now!" and went to the headmaster's office. There was an enquiry, forced apologies from the bullies and I got to change classes. The bullying stopped during my final year, but it left a stamp on my personality - I hate attention, particularly in groups. I hate power structures. I hate being seen to do well (as I associate it with a violent reaction from others). And most of all, I hate school. When I finally left, with the best GCSE results in my year, I felt that I'd achieved them in spite of my school rather than because of it. Kes was therefore a painful film to watch, bringing back some unpleasant memories that I'd rather leave buried.

Thursday, August 07, 2003

Just back from holiday - which was much needed. I love summer, it's my favourite time of year - it can never be too hot for me.

Since I've been away I have decided to brave cutting my own hair. The last time I tried this I was 12 and it all went very wrong as I ended up making a complete mess of it and having to have it all shaved off. I was always too scared to try again, but I've been sick of getting crap, expensive hair cuts that don't suit me - my hair will not go into a Hoxton Fin, although that's the only style anyone wants to give me. Anyway, I am impressed with the results - and it didn't cost a penny!

Big Brother was a complete disappointment this year. But Big Brother America (showing on E4) is a revelation. Stylistically it is a bit silly, with razor-sharp editing, a hyperactive soundtrack and an emphasis on scheming, but god it's good. The rules of the game mean that alliances can be formed and broken, and that the characters don't face a public vote so there's less fakey niceness. My favourite characters are Dana (aka "Man Troll") an emotional New Yorker, Nathan - a probably closeted pretty-boy from the Bible Belt, Justin - a he-man with a deformed ear, and Alison - Justin's ex-girlfriend who is a combination of Lady MacBeth and the evil bitch from Carrie. The programme is addictively good - there's none of this "Day 54, Scott has been asleep for 2 hours and 24 minutes" rubbish. These characters never sleep. They simply bitch, conspire and flirt with each other. Unfortunately David, a rather sexy military man has been voted off, but there's still a lot of mileage in this recreation of Ancient Rome. Watch it and get hooked.

Another show I've become addicted to recently is the Anna Nicole Show. The true star of the programme isn't Anna Nicole though - it's her insipid yet poisonous "deeziner" - Bobby Trendy. Acne-scarred Bobby was put in charge of creating a pink, feathery paradise in Anna's bedroom - but he did it on the cheap and it all went wrong, resulting in recriminations, restraining orders and glasses of wine being thrown in people's faces. Bobby is the perfect pantomime demon - in fact all of the characters on Anna Nicole are like John Waters creations. I love it.

To update you on my recent fracas with my bank (over the "are you a homosexual" question on their life insurance questionnairre) - yesterday I had a 20 minute telephone conversation with their head underwriter who tells me that he is extremely concerned about the perceived discrimination inherent in the question and is conducting an investigation, as he believes that the statistics of HIV infections are based on data from 1995 or earlier - he's contacting the statisticians to see whether there still is any basis to question people about their sexual orientation. I see this as a victory (of sorts) - at least the bank has taken my complain seriously and are going to investigate my points. I don't know whether what they will find will result in changes in policy (I hope it will), but this is an issue which the media have taken an interest in recently (I sent the bank copies of newspaper articles I'd collected on the subject), and I still believe that such a question is unneccessarily intrusive and will result in many people lying (and therefore denying their sexuality) (feel free to disagree with me if you like, although I'm not going to debate it).