Blog Archive

Monday, May 5, 2014

BT line installation in our new office, the French Pearl Harbour, Parochialism, Customer Service at Oxford Station

Oops - sorry forgot to post this on May 1st!

Honestly BT (formerly British Telecom)are like a bunch of school kids who we have to organise to get anything done. We have been paying the rent on our beautiful new office since April 1st.  The earliest date for BT to come and install our line was April 9th.  So the ‘engineer’ turned up but said there was a problem and would need to get the ‘surveyor’ in who would come the following day or the day after.  We then received a text message to say there was a problem with our order.  So I rang up BT on their free 0800 number that cost me 14p per minute (this is because I called from a mobile - because I couldn’t use the landline they had just failed to install).  I had to speak to a machine which eventually understood me (‘just say Yes or No’) and after several minutes of inputting phone numbers and trying not to shout at it, I got through to a lady with a thick accent who was clearly based on a different planet, perhaps a different solar system - the line quality is the worst I have experienced in some time.  My Skype calls and Hangouts are usually better quality.  I explained the situation and she said someone from BT should have been with us that morning.  I said we had not seen anyone.  She put me on hold (Mozart’s Eine Kliene Nachtmusic terrible quality - poor Mozart must be turning in his grave – all for 14p per minute) and then she came back, apologised profusely for keeping me waiting and said he had called this morning (the surveyor not Mozart) but had gone to the basement and had not needed to call into our office (we don’t have a basement as far as I know) and that the line was now active and could we confirm it now worked.  I asked how I was supposed to do that and she said try making a call.  I asked where she suggested I plug in the phone given we had no socket. Please hold again, 5 minutes of Mozart @ 14p.  She said that the ‘engineer’ should have installed a line and socket and would she like me to arrange for him to come back and do it?  Yes, Hold. Mozart….  Monday between 8am and 1pm.  I asked if he could switch on the Broadband that we had booked later in the week at the same time.  Hold 5 mins Mozart 14p, Profuse Apology.  Good job I called really as clearly they haven’t got a clue about how to install a line and switch on the internet.  I wonder what they are good at? In case you wonder why we went with BT it is because when we spoke to the other providers they said they would have to use BT to get the line installed. It’s called competition or something like that.  Worst part is that I won’t ever be able to listen to Eine Kliene Nachtmusik again. BT have destroyed Mozart for me. Anyway, better news is that when I rang back the following day to check the ‘engineer’ was still coming out on Monday as promised, despite the fact that their online system showed there was a delay and no engineer booked, I couldn't get through but they rang me back within 10 minutes and it sounded like I was actually talking to somebody on the same planet as me with a reasonably good quality connection.  And no Mozart!  If I were a Muslim I would surely have been tempted to go to the prayer room and thank the prophet Mohammed for this piece of good fortune.  (the absence of abominated Mozart I mean).  Anyway the lady at BT confirmed the ‘engineer’ was still due and apologised for the mis-information on their online system.  To cut a long story short, he did eventually turn up - right at the end of his ‘between 8am and 1pm’ slot (how can you run a business and not know where your staff are going to be for half the day?) fitted the line and two days later the broadband service was switched on.  So we got our telephony services installed and activated in just under 3 weeks which I am told is not too bad.  It just feels like far more effort was required on our side than theirs.  Who’s paying for this?  Oh Yes we are.  And now we can move in!  And now we have moved in, and to cap it all BT are charging us from March 26th for these services!

The French Pearl Harbour:  I was shocked to see a documentary on this event which I didn’t know had taken place during the Second World War.  This was the first time that the British and the French had been involved in fighting each other since Waterloo in 1815 and we have been at peace since this event.   It was a tragic interruption in the 200 year period of peace and partnership between our two countries.  By 1940 the war was going very badly for the allies, with the Nazis taking control of France and moving into the Northern ports just 20 miles from the English coast.  Britain ruled the waves at that time with the largest fleet in the world.  But the French had the second largest fleet and had just surrendered to the Nazis.  The combined German and French navies would easily outnumber the British.  So you see the problem that Churchill had to deal with. Having failed to get the French not to surrender, Churchill now failed to persuade Admiral Darlan, the commander of the French fleet and soon to be the 122nd Prime Minsiter of France - under Vichy, to sink his fleet so it would not fall into Nazi hands.  He would not agree to sink it but gave Churchill his word that he would instruct his men to scupper their ships in the event that the Nazis tried to take them.  At the same time, his requests for help from America were also all refused.
So in July 1940, Churchill was faced with one of the most difficult decisions in his life.  Could he trust Darlan?  Would his marines do as obeyed? Would they have the opportunity to scupper their ships in time?  In a speech to parliament, Churchill repeated that the French armistice with Germany was a betrayal of the Allied agreement that forbade each country from surrendering to the Germans without notifying its allies. This French betrayal, added to by the German Nazi government's history of not respecting previous agreements led Churchill to declare to the House “What is the value of that? Ask half a dozen countries, what is such a solemn assurance? Furthermore, the armistice could be voided at any time on the pretext of 'non observance' " The first part of the French Navy that the British commandeered following the surrender of France and the creation of the Vichy regime, was a submarine in a British port.  The British entered by force and surprised the French who refused to hand over the vessel. Some fighting followed and one Frenchman and three British were killed before the submarine was taken.  Not a good start; and it then got worse.  The British sent a fleet of destroyers down to Mers-el-Kebir in French Algeria where the most potent ships in the French Navy were moored.  British Admiral James Somerville, based in Gibraltar, was ordered to deliver an ultimatum to the French, stating: “It is impossible for us, your comrades up to now, to allow your fine ships to fall into the power of the German enemy. We are determined to fight on until the end, and if we win, as we think we shall, we shall never forget that France was our Ally, that our interests are the same as hers, and that our common enemy is Germany. Should we conquer we solemnly declare that we shall restore the greatness and territory of France. For this purpose we must make sure that the best ships of the French Navy are not used against us by the common foe. In these circumstances, His Majesty's Government have instructed me to demand that the French Fleet now at Mers-el-Kebir and Oran shall act in accordance with one of the following alternatives; (a) Sail with us and continue the fight until victory against the Germans. (b) Sail with reduced crews under our control to a British port. The reduced crews would be repatriated at the earliest moment. If either of these courses is adopted by you we will restore your ships to France at the conclusion of the war or pay full compensation if they are damaged meanwhile. (c) Alternatively if you feel bound to stipulate that your ships should not be used against the Germans unless they break the Armistice, then sail them with us with reduced crews to some French port in the West Indies — Martinique for instance – where they can be demilitarised to our satisfaction, or perhaps be entrusted to the United States and remain safe until the end of the war, the crews being repatriated. If you refuse these fair offers, I must with profound regret, require you to sink your ships within 6 hours. Finally, failing the above, I have the orders from His Majesty's Government to use whatever force may be necessary to prevent your ships from falling into German hands.”  Somerville did not present the ultimatum personally. Instead, this duty fell to the French-speaking Captain Cedric Holland, commanding officer of the carrier HMS Ark Royal. The French Admiral Gensoul, affronted that negotiations were not being conducted by a senior officer, sent his lieutenant, Bernard Dufay, which led to much delay and confusion.  As negotiations dragged on, it became clear that neither side was likely to give way. Darlan never received the full text of the British ultimatum from Admiral Gensoul, most significantly with regard to the option of removing the fleet to American waters, an option that formed part of the orders Darlan gave to Gensoul, to be followed should a foreign power attempt to seize the ships under his command.  Negotiations broke down and Churchill reluctantly ordered his forces to attack.  Another example in history of failed communication with catastrophic consequences.  At Mers-el-Kébir, 1,297 French sailors were killed and about 350 were wounded. Two British aircrew were also killed. Relations between Britain and France were severely strained for some time and the Germans enjoyed a propaganda coup.  Churchill's deadly decision reveals the darkest side of Britain's finest hour. Some call his decision a turning point in the war, others call it a terrible betrayal and a war crime. 1,300 French sailors died as a result in what the French still call ‘our Pearl Harbour'. In the words of French survivors, some of whom still regard Churchill as a war criminal, and one of the British sailors who opened fire on his former allies, this is the forgotten story of Churchill's deadliest decision - to sink the French Fleet.  In November 1942, just 6 weeks before Darlan was assassinated, the Nazis gathered outside Toulon where most of the remainder of the French navy was based.  To prevent the fleet falling into Nazi hands, the ships were all scuttled, exactly as Darlan had promised Churchill some two years earlier.
Winston Churchill

Parochialism is the state of mind, whereby one focuses on small sections of an issue rather than considering its wider context. More generally, it consists of being narrow in scope. In that respect, it is a synonym of "provincial". It may, particularly when used pejoratively, be contrasted to universalism.  The term originates from the idea of a parish (Latin: parochia), one of the smaller divisions within many Christian churches such as the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches.  It occurs to me that many, if not most, of the world’s disputes are the result of our parochial upbringings and mis-communications. I recently saw a French comedy film called “Qu'est-ce qu'on a fait au Bon Dieu?” roughly translated as “What did we do to God to deserve this?” in which a conservative traditional French couple (very ‘gaullist’) see their four daughters getting married.  The first three are already married to an Arab, a Jew and a Chinese man and the film is about their fourth daughter’s wedding.  She announces during another difficult family gathering that she is going to marry a Catholic man called Charles.  Her parents are delighted that at last, a ‘proper Frenchman’ is going to join the family.  They advise their local priest that they are going to have a traditional catholic wedding and start planning lavish arrangements.  The only thing their daughter had neglected to tell them was that Charles is a black man originating from Abijan, the largest city in Ivory Coast, a former French colony and the third largest French-speaking city in the world (after Paris and Kinshasa).  The film plays on the stereotypes that we are all brought up to believe in, and contrasts them humorously with the fact that we are all actually very similar in many ways. For example, Charles’ father and the girl’s father both immediately hate each other and make ridiculous demands, hoping that the wedding will be cancelled.  But of course when they are thrown together and have a few too many drinks, they discover that they both have the same fears and concerns about the same issues.  One of my favourite scenes is one of the simplest.  The girl’s mother, in an attempt to bring the family together, invites them all to their beautiful country house and decides to prepare a meal based on each tradition.  She buys a halal chicken, a kosher chicken and then goes to the local Chinese restaurant to order a lacquered chicken.  She steps in and asks to speak to the cook.  The proprietor looks at her in horror and asks ‘Health and Safety Inspection?’.  There are several stereotypes built into these few words: a white middle-class woman in this establishment can’t be a regular customer, if she wants to see the cook it must be an inspection, the horror with which he speaks implies the kitchens must be filthy.....  The whole film is like this and it not unsuccessfully challenges the stereotypes our society drill into us as we grow up.  The Halal butcher says, as the woman leaves with her chicken ‘I can’t believe even white middle-class women are turning to Islam.  This is too much – they are going to ruin it for us; maybe it’s time to leave’ ridiculing the normal reverse position.  The great thing about this film is everyone gets to laugh together and it brings us all a bit closer.  Whether this will actually make a blind bit of difference as the millions who watch this film step out of the cinema is quite another matter.

Customer Service at Oxford Station: Having written some negative things about First Great Western (trains) in an earlier blog, I thought it only fair to describe the following event that took place a while ago:  Last year my youngest son spent a year studying in Paris.  On one of his visits home he took the metro to Gare du Nord, then Eurostar to St Pancras, tube to Paddington and train to Oxford.  Unsurprisingly he was a little tired by the time he got to Oxford and managed to successfully exit the train, greet his mother who was waiting for him at the station and when she asked him ‘Where is your Suitcase’ reply ‘Oh I must have left it on the train’.  What do you do in this situation?  Well of course you ring me.  My reply (the cleaned-up version) was ‘What on earth do you expect me to do - speak to the station staff!’.  I then googled the problem (as you do) and learned that the procedure was as follows: when the train gets to the end of the line, left luggage is collected and sent to lost property in Bristol.  This takes about a week.  It can then be collected in person at Bristol office on payment of a fine.  Well there were quite a few problems wrapped up in this short statement including the fact that he would be back in Paris by then.  And I was really not (really not) relishing the thought of a potentially wasted trip to Bristol at some point in the future having already had to purchase replacements of all the urgent stuff!  You are probably expecting this story to be another horror story criticising the railways, the process, the staff, etc.  I am delighted to inform you that it is in fact exactly the opposite.  Imagine this: the station staff told my son to go home and they would see what they could do.  They took his mobile number and rang him less than an hour later to tell us to come back to the station.  They had radioed ahead and got the train staff to find his suitcase and take it off the train further up the line at Banbury.  The station staff at Banbury then took the suitcase and carried it back over onto the opposite platform and put it on the next train back to Oxford.  The train staff then took it off the train and gave it to the Oxford station staff who had organised all of this.  So an hour or so later we had the suitcase and no trips to Bristol! No delays and no fines to pay!  I gave the station manager a bottle of champagne to thank him which he was at first reluctant to take.  I chose not to thank them through the official channels as they probably broke every rule in the book.  This is about people respecting other people, helping strangers and going the extra mile.  The station staff are to be congratulated on acting like humans with emotions rather than machines following a process which leads to Bristol.  Thanks guys!  Keep up the great work which I hope makes your days a bit more interesting too!

Based on Putin’s actions in Crimea, it looks like he subscribes to Josef Stalin’s quote from 1923:
“It doesn’t matter how the votes are cast, but how they’re counted.”

By the way ‘putin’ is a pejorative word in French meaning ‘whore’

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