Apr 242013

We went to the boat one Saturday morning recently, just to give the engine a run as we had been doing throughout the winter months, we turned the ignition key and the engine turned over. It turned over and tried to start, and then it turned over and died. All the electrics to the cockpit were dead. Even the LED lighting didn’t have enough power to light (although the lights inside the cabin worked fine).

We’d come across this before and assumed it was a battery issue. Although the battery meter told us all the batteries where fully charged, if you left things alone for an hour or two everything would come back to life. We assumed this was down to the solar panel providing a boost to the starter battery. We returned to the boat the following week armed with a new starter battery. The boat was still dead but we changed the starter battery and hoped for the best.


We sought out the Marina owner, a Marine Engineer who also runs a car repair business and found him up to his elbows in a BMW. He agreed to have a look at the problem for us and would give us a call if he found anything.

I asked him if he’d be interested in re-wiring the whole boat for us during the winter.

“What do you want to do that for, it works doesn’t it?”

“Obviously not”, I replied.

We never heard from the Marina during the week and returned to the boat the following weekend to find her just as we had left her, still dead as a doornail. I went looking for the Marina owner thinking he had forgotten us. He swore he’d visited the boat, turned the key and she’d fired up first time. “There’s nothing wrong with it” he insisted.

“Oh yes there is” said I, and he followed me back to our berth. He stepped on board and turned the key. It was a nervous moment. If the boat started now I’d look a right idiot. I was almost glad when nothing happened.

“It’ll be a solenoid” he said, as his head and arms disappeared into the bowels of the boat where most of the electrickery is hidden away. “Bloody el! It’s more like a bleedin’ space shuttle than a boat”, he says.

“I told you it needed rewiring”, said I.

Armed with a small adjustable spanner, there was much scary banging and showers of sparks as he used the spanner to short various circuits. “There’s power” he said over the top of the firework display, and for a brief moment the control panel of the boat flashed into life.

“Whatever you hit then worked for a moment” I said, trying to be helpful. But all it seemed to do was provide a reason for another round of bangs and sparks while I went over the instructions for performing CPR in my head.

“I’ll go and get my test meter”, he said.

“Good idea”, I replied, relaxing a little.

We removed the boats control panel to reveal the brightly coloured birds nest of fine wires behind it. I subtlety hid the spanner while he prodded and probed with the test meter, before declaring “I have an electrician. I’ll get him to look at it this week”.

True to his word, he had his electrician look at the boat and he called me at home to report that the elecmagician had fixed the electrickery and the boat was now sorted. He didn’t know what the root cause was, but It had taken the guy two and half hours to fix and afterwards he’d said, “That boat needs rewiring.”

The next weekend we arrived at the marina, turned the key and the engine fired up first time. With a rather lighter wallet and an expensive appointment with an elecmagician in the winter to look forward to, we headed off into the sunshine for a short cruise up the canal. It wasn’t long before we settled back into the pace of the canal and we appreciated the real value of having a working boat and the sting of bill eased slightly.

They say “A boat is a hole in the water in which you pour your money”. But when you’re pottering along a canal in the sunshine watching the scenery and wildlife slip by to the low hypnotic beat of the engine as it pushes you along a tranquil waterway. You realise the money is an investment in your soul and down payment on your sanity.

Feb 252013

Recently we experienced a fault on our phone line. We hardly ever use a landline phone these days as everyone we know carries a mobile phone. I suspect that many households are like ours and the only reason we still have a landline at all is for our internet connection.

Like many things, it’s not until something breaks that you realise how much you have come to rely on it. It’s not just our PC’s connecting to the web. There’s also on demand TV, Internet Radio, Skype, Supermarket Shopping and suchlike. There’s even fridges that connect via Wi-Fi and send you a message when you’re running low on milk. An internet connection is becoming as much of a utility as a Gas or Water supply.

When the phone line went dead the first task was to report it. I’ve never had a phone line fault before so didn’t know how to do that. Whenever I’m faced with such a problem my first point of reference nowadays is to Google it. But the internet supply to the house was down.

Thankfully I have a smartphone, which gave us an alternative route to get on-line and I googled “BT phone fault reporting”. The first result I looked at gave me a freephone number to call, which of course isn’t free from a mobile phone. However further down was a link to an online fault reporting and tracking tool.

I did all the checks at the master socket as the site advised before attempting to log the fault. The on-line tool was certainly not mobile phone friendly but after much scrolling and zooming in and out I finally managed to log the fault. You’d think someone at BT would have had the foresight to consider people reporting a fault with their phone may have to resort to a small form factor device to do so and created a mobile friendly page.

While I was there a spotted a link to the BT customer charter which informed me that they aim to solve all connection issues within three days, which seemed both reasonable and comforting.

The next day I received a text message informing that my line had been tested and that it had a fault on it (duh!) which was somewhere near to my house. This was accompanied by dire warnings that if the engineer found the fault was with my equipment I’d have to fork out a hundred pounds for the visit. 


The next thing that happened was I received a call on my mobile from a nice Indian lady wanting t arrange for an engineer to visit. Once again her script was full of dire warnings about the potential cost and she asked if I wanted her to go ahead and arrange the visit. I resisted the temptation to say “No” and “I want to carry on paying for a service that doesn’t work.” I wasn’t sure that such sarcasm would be fully appreciated in India.

I asked her to proceed, only to be reminded once more about the dreaded charges which could be inflicted upon me. “Was I really sure?” she asked again as if trying to scare me off. I realise it wasn’t her fault and she has a script she has to go through, so I did my best to hide the building frustration in the voice as I once again asked her to go ahead and arrange the engineers visit.

The fault tracker was promptly updated with an estimated repair date which was four working days after the reported date. So much for the customer charter.


I checked the online fault tracker each day but there were no further updates. The estimated repair date passed by and still there was no update. I fired up the smartphone once more and googled “BT fault complaints”, which took me to a web form where I asked for an update on the tracker as I now had no idea if and when my fault would be fixed.

I eventually received a call on my mobile from Christine, who apologised for the delay but all the engineers are ever so busy, blah, blah. Totally missing the point that I wasn’t interested in how busy they are, I just want to know when they will fix my line. If it’s going to be week, a month or whatever, at least be honest and tell me. Instead all I got was a message put on the line to advise callers the line wasn’t working and a promise that they’d assign an engineer as soon as possible.


Eleven working days after the original report the tracker showed that an engineer had been allocated to resolve the fault. The engineer told us the fault was at the exchange and not near my home as initially reported. I later received a text to say the fault had been cleared and I would just need to reboot my router to restore my broadband connection. The call was closed on the tracker and the fault message removed.


I called home on the landline and passed on the good news to my wife. I looked forward to getting back on-line after work that evening, but before then my daughter tried rebooting the router without success and called me back. I reopened the fault on the tracker to report that broadband was still not working.


The following morning things had got worse, we not only didn’t we have broadband. The phone was dead again too. I updated the tracker and waited. Christine called… Another engineer would be sent out. The new engineer duly arrived the next day and over two days found and repaired the line fault. It was near the house after all.


However my internet connection was still not working. Christine explained that this was because they had removed my broadband providers TAG from the line, which they were allowed to do to restore a service but they could not replace it without permission. I would have to chase my broadband provider to get my internet connection restored.

I was reluctant to close the BT fault as my internet still wasn’t working. I suspected this was the first ‘fix’ at the exchange, which turned out not to be the problem anyway. Christine agreed to leave the call open but I would still have to chase my internet provider to resolve it.

I called my internet provider, and after sitting and listening to old pop songs interspersed with apologies for my wait I eventually spoke to a surprisingly cheerful sounding Kieran who did all the usual line checks and had me reset my router and go through all my settings even though nothing had changed at my end.

I told him what BT had said about removing the TAG from the line but he insisted the TAG was present, everything at their end looked correct but he couldn’t fathom why I wasn’t connecting. He would have to escalate the problem to the next line of support.


Two days later I received the following message from a different support engineer.


I told them the fault had been fixed and reminded them what BT had said about the TAG.


Later that day Christine called again too. I reluctantly agreed that BT could close the fault (four weeks after I reported it). I still had no internet but now it was my problem, not theirs. 

What makes this story so much more frustrating is that in 2006 my internet provider was bought out by none other than BT.



Two days later I was again asked by yet another support engineer to check my router settings. I pointed out that I had already been through this during my original call with Kieran and asked them again to contact my exchange.



Two days later and yet again I was asked by yet another support engineer to check my router settings.


Albert Einstein once said; “The true definition of madness is repeating the same action, over and over, hoping for a different result.”

I can attest to the truth of this statement as each time they asked me to check my router I got a little madder. I suggested to them that despite being with them for many years the quickest solution may be to change providers.


Later that afternoon, my router connected.


Yeah right!