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!

Jun 062012

The plan was to avoid as much of the inane media coverage of the Queens Jubilee by spending an extended weekend cruising on the boat. The plan was to set off from Carnforth on Thursday evening and head south towards Garstang, returning to Carnforth the following Tuesday. The first thing we noticed was the number of boats that had been dressed in bunting for the weekend. Avoiding the Jubilee was going to be harder than we thought.

After spending the first night at Hest Bank we moored just on the approaches to the Lune Aqueduct for lunch on the Friday. While lunch was being made I used my smart-phone to take a few photos and shared one on my Facebook page. This was to be the last thing I did on my phone.

After lunch we were getting ready to set off over the aqueduct which is considered one of the seven wonders of the waterways. I decided I would use my smart-phone once more to make a short drivers-eye video of the crossing to post on YouTube. I attached the phone holder to the windscreen and clipped the phone in securely. I opened the video app’ and lined up the shot. Twang went the phone holder as the phone whizzed past my ear followed by a splash!

“What was that?” asked the crew as I hurriedly assembled the landing net and started scooping up mud from the bottom of the canal in a desperate attempt to recover the phone. The phone was renown for its ruggedness and water resistance so I hadn’t given up yet. “If it’s so f’in smart, why can’t the bloody thing swim”, I thought.

After filtering through several nets full of evil-smelling brown sludge and turning the canal into a disgusting looking chocolate colour, I had to admit defeat. The boat was covered in mud, I was covered in mud, the crew was… you get the idea.

Moored by the aqueduct

Last photo taken before my phone went for a swim

After the clean up we continued on our trip, although I don’t have a video to prove it. It soon became apparent and quite disconcerting as to how much I would miss my phone. I have stopped wearing a watch and relied on the phone to be my timepiece so I have no idea what time it was when we arrived at Galgate that afternoon.

After tying up, the first job was to call my network provider and order a replacement SIM card. I borrowed the crew’s mobile. (A simple device that makes calls and texts but nothing else.) I didn’t know the number to call, it had been stored on my phone, but fat lot of use that was now. I had my laptop on board but without my phone I had no way of accessing the web and looking up the number, or reporting the loss on-line.

We knew our sons were at work and couldn’t be contacted and so we called our daughter who was sat on a train heading to Newcastle. She in turn sent a text to her friends asking if anyone had web access to look up the number for us. A text was duly received with the networks helpline number. Isn’t technology great when it’s not lying at the bottom of the Lune Aqueduct.

I called the number and went through one of those infernal press one for this, press two for that call management systems and had almost reached the press nine to slit your wrists option when I finally got through to a human being, a very pleasant Indian sounding lady. “Lost phone service, how can I help you today?”

I told her I’d lost my phone in a canal. There was a pause before she said, “How can I help you sir?”

I repeated that I had dropped my phone into a canal and I would need a replacement SIM card. I got the impression she was not familiar with the concept of a canal. “Is it for the phone you are using now?” she asked.

“No”, I said, “It’s for the phone that is lying at the bottom of the canal”, says I. There’s another pause and the line goes quiet, I have a vision of a young lady in an Indian call centre typing Canal into Google. Suddenly she returns…

“I understand the phone is water damaged?” she asks.

“I expect so”, I reply, “It’s lying at the bottom of a canal. So it’s a fairly safe assumption.”

“We can disable the phone so that no one can use it and run up charges on your account” she offers.

“I don’t think that’s necessary”, I said. “Not unless a Bream can use a touch screen.” The line goes quiet again while Bream is typed into Google. Finally she returns and confirms my details and arranges for a new SIM card to be despatched.

This is the kind of encounter I would normally have shared with friends and family through the medium of Facebook and Twitter. However without my phone I was cut of from my online social networks. Not necessarily a bad thing when you’re supposed to be getting away from things.

That afternoon we made the most of the sunshine and did a bit of Geocaching and fishing while a constant stream of decorated boats chugged past us, all heading north towards Tewittfield where a beer festival was being held. We’d never seen so much traffic on the canal and as one particularly long train of boats passed by; I jokingly called to a sorrowful looking skipper of the last boat, “What do you all know that I don’t?”

“The motorway’s bloody quiet!” he replied.

The following morning we woke to grey cloud and a stiffening breeze and we debated whether to continue south or not. Normally I would have used the Met’ Office app’ on the phone to check the local forecast. Had we been able to do so we may have made a different decision, but we decided to turn around and head back north arriving in Lancaster a few hours ahead of the wind. It looked like we’d made the right call.

We sheltered in the canalside pub watching the moored boats take a beating from the wind. Rain, Hail, Sleet or Snow isn’t a problem when you’re boating. Wind (anything over a breeze) on the other hand can make things very interesting. Canal cruisers only draw a few inches and manoeuvring a big Tupperware box along a narrow ribbon of water while a strong wind tries to shove you into the bank, tree, another boat or bridge can be quite challenging, and expensive if you get it wrong.

As we were rocked to sleep that night we heard the rain start to tap, tap, tap, on the roof of the boat so we weren’t surprised to wake the following morning to a grey, wet and windy day. We’d resigned ourselves to spending the day and another night in Lancaster in hope of better weather to come. That was before the crew went to make the bed.

Above the sleeping area is a hatch in the roof. The hatch has a heavy blind to keep the cabin dark as we sleep. This morning however it was even heavier. It was soaking wet and there was now a constant drip into the boat. It needed fixing and another night sleeping under the leaky hatch was out of the question, so we untied and motored back to our marina at Carnforth. The wind made for an interesting trip but we made it without incident.

After a night at home, during which I ordered a new phone, the sunshine returned and we returned to the boat to inspect the leaky hatch. It was a minor problem which was easily fixed in the dry and we took the chance to do a number of other little jobs around the boat we’d been meaning to get around to. In the end, not a total disaster of a bank holiday weekend, but a bit of an expensive one. Now looking forward to the next…

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