Friday, 1 August 2014

Keep calm – and carry on being grumpy

Even if ‘50 is the new 40,’ as some claim, it’s very much the case that I am now middle aged. And with it, grumpy.

And this has been a week for grumpiness to thrive.

No, I’m not “grumpy” about children being blown to bits as they sleep; or about an increasingly vicious civil war between, on the one hand, a deeply unpleasant dictator and, on the other, rebels that include a bunch of fundamentalists who are too extreme even for Al-Qaeda to want to be associated with.

Or that Iraq is cracking up – as predicted – with some of those same nutters taking over swathes of the country; or that more nutters in Nigeria are kidnapping scores of women and girls, and killing many more hundreds of people in the name of their particular sky pixie.

Or that someone – concrete evidence appears to be somewhat lacking at present – blew a civilian plane out of the skies in the middle of their own grubby, nasty little nationalistic war, killing the 298 innocent men, women and children on board, including many scientists who have been leading the global fight against HIV/Aids.

Or that our own government, hand-in-hand with a complicit media, is continuing to push policies that increase the prevalence of poverty in the UK, including among those who are in work, while at the same time demonising the vulnerable and, in more and more cases, effectively driving them to their deaths.

Or that there is also, in the UK, increasing evidence of an Establishment cover-up of Establishment abuse of children.

These things don’t make me “grumpy”: these things make me fucking furious.

But today, let’s focus on a few causes of the “grumpy”.

It was 29 July when I was told, via Twitter, to contact Carphone Warehouse by phone.

I refused, because I want something in writing – even if only digitally so.

Let me explain.

I had just discovered that the contract for my mobile phone (the only phone I have) was up. The handset was originally from Carphone Warehouse, while the service was provided by Orange.

It had dawned on me that the contract was nearing its end – not least because, on 14 July, I took a call from a young-sounding man who told me as much, and then tried to engage me in a conversation about renewing or a new deal.

I refused to discuss it on the grounds that I was at work and that I didn’t have any paperwork with me. Not that that stopped him from trying to ignore this and push me into the conversation that he wanted to have.

Now I assumed – rather naively, it now seems – that he was from Orange, since he clearly knew about the expiration of a contract I had. To be frank, I’d forgotten that the handset was from a different company.

That was the second attempt to call me and, between then and this Monday, there were at least nine further attempted calls from that number – a Nottingham landline – that I have a record of.

Quit phoning me, you duplicitous scum!
I refused to answer those I was aware of when the phone was ringing, although I was getting more and more pissed off by what was getting damned close to harassment.

I was steeling myself to ring back and cancel my connection with them.

But before I managed that, I took a call from Carphone Warehouse on Monday morning, telling me that my contract on the handset was up and would I like to renew/upgrade etc.

My suspicions were aroused, and I verified with the caller that I now owed the company nothing – even if I kept the handset.

A short while later, over lunch, there was another of those attempts to phone me from the Nottingham number (0115 828 5045).

By this time, I was seething. So I rang the number back – to hear a recorded message telling me that it was a company called

This was the point at which the air turned blue.

What debt? Why the hell is a company with that name harassing me?

I looked them up online – sure enough, they claim to deal with debt, insolvency etc. I Googled further – they have a reputation for harassment, on the basis of comments from people on various forums.

And also from various forums, Carphone Warehouse has form for selling customers’ data.

On Tuesday, after fielding yet another call from Carphone Warehouse trying to push me into rapidly agreeing a new contract, I called Orange to check a few things with them.

Now, here’s where it gets a bit complicated. I have two contracts with Orange – one for the phone that I got from Carphone Warehouse, and one for a tablet that Carphone Warehouse knows nothing about.

Although the handset contract expired this week, the service contract has a few more weeks to run.

The contract on the tablet, which I bought outright, direct from the maker, expired a short while ago. Orange had missed that, as had I.

Now, given that nobody bothered to ring me about that contract, it seems unlikely that it is Orange that is being careless with my data: why would they sell or pass on details of just one contract when there’s another that’s already expired?

And the pestering has, in time terms, come much more obviously closely to the expiration of my contract for the handset with Carphone Warehouse.

Gambling is not one of my vices, but were I a betting woman, my money would be on Carphone Warehouse as the source from which debtmastersdirect got hold of my details.

Now that could mean either that the company sells or hands on data, or that its data security is poor.
I took to Twitter to complain that the company was selling data.

Companies don’t like that sort of social media coverage, so it responded quite quickly by saying: “we are very sorry to hear this Amanda, if you wish we can remove you from our callers lists?”

It wasn’t Carphone Warehouse calling, though – so how could it help to be taken off one of “our callers [sic] lists”?

Remember, it was a Nottingham number that leads directly to a company calling itself debtmastersdirect, which obviously has sidelines in trying to duplicitously bully people into new deals.

I asked Carphone Warehouse if that tweet meant that they were admitting selling data. They responded that they never, ever sell data.

They suggested phoning their customer helpline. Nope. I want this in writing.

They suggested I use the complaint forms on their website. I did, sending them a lengthy screed on Tuesday, detailing the situation and asking, politely, for an explanation.

As of right now –more than 72 hours after been emailed a serious complaint – they have made no reply. So much for customer ‘service’.

And that is what makes me grumpy. One way or another, this is a company that has decided that it has a business ethos of ‘screw the customer’, then ignore them and just hope they go away.

Orange were a little more helpful: once I’d clarified that I had no debt with them, they admitted that, while they say they do not sell data, they do sometimes share it with companies that they have business relationships with, and the very non-pushy human voice at the end of the phone told me that, “unfortunately” they have no control over that data after that.

I may have been naïve in instantly believing that that Nottingham caller was from Orange. But when did we develop into a society where we start from an assumption that businesses can simply treat us with contempt, that it is entirely acceptable for grubby little companies to harass you duplicitiously – and that’s it’s our responsibility to check all these things first?

That’s remarkably similar to throwing the onus for dealing with bullying on to the bullied, isn’t it?
Right, that’s one of this week’s gripes.

One of London's typical sights
Up next is the total lack of bins around King’s Cross station that I noticed when I was walking through just this morning.

Oh, there are plenty of places to pick up a coffee or a can of something or so on, and public space in front of the renovated station, which is just so much better than the ’70s monstrosity that it has replaced, includes a mass of places to sit – but where the hell are the bins?

It’s no wonder central London is such a shabby, scruffy mess every single day.

Having used a single incident of the IRA planting a bomb in a railway station bin as an excuse to get rid of vast numbers of bins and thus save the money required to have them emptied regularly, councils have now hived off refuse collection to private companies that do as little as possible in order to gain as much profit from the taxpayer as possible.

The other thing that’s visible with the rubbish is a clear increase in the number of rough sleepers in central London.

I was at Euston station early on Monday morning for the first time in some months. Now I have a clue about what’s happening in this country, but even I found shocking the sight of at least three people folding up bedding on the grass outside the station, while another lay cocooned in a dirty blanket. I have never seen that before.

There are frequently rough sleepers outside the old Thameslink station when I travel through in an early morning, while recently, I’ve also seen people on a mattress on Northdown Street, while earlier this week, there was someone asleep on the wall outside an office building on lower Pentonville Road.

But that’s not the stuff of grumpiness – that’s the stuff of fucking furious.

And for today, let’s stick with the grumpiness – and let’s talk about cigarettes. Or, to be rather more precise, Gauloises.

Now set aside the health issues. I smoke. And I do like a Gauloises.

Until recently, they were available in some shops in the UK. In Hackney, I could get them at a Costcutter on Hackney Road. However, since the Co-op took that over and rebranded it, the range of tobacco products has been cut – including those.

That left a shop on Marchmont Street and one opposite Borough Market. A newsagent off Euston Road found them from one of the wholesalers and would get them regularly for me – he also found that, once he had them in stock, then other customers would buy them too.

Not for Brits any more
But now nobody has them.

Yesterday, via Twitter, Imperial Tobacco – which bought the brand in 2008 – told me that: “Regrettably we took the decision to cease distributing Gauloises in the UK”.

I’ve asked (politely) why, and am awaiting an answer.

In the interim, I assume that, since there is no indication that the company is ceasing production – and it was easy enough to get them in Paris – it’s more a case of there not being enough’ customers wanting them in the UK to make enough’ profit.

But the wider point is that it provides yet another illustration of the reduction of choices available in many areas of life to UK consumers.

Where, for instance, do we have the sort of small, independent tobacconists that one finds in every city and every village, not just in somewhere like France, but in places like Germany too?

French newsagents fascinate me in general, with a range of magazines that goes way beyond what most places stock here. They have magazines about philosophy – on general display! And not just in Paris!

We, on the other hand, have an increasingly homogenised world, where vast corporates get to decide what we will be sold and what we will not be sold; a world where meaningful choice, via a wide range of small independents rather than vast numbers of a very small number of companies, is being continually reduced – not least if you have a limited budget.

So there you have it: three snapshots, taken over just four days, that reveal something about this lunatic asylum of a country, and what 30-plus years of greed-is-good, cut-throat, no-such-thing-as-society, screw-you, bankocracy and corporatocracy-supporting politics means in day-to-day terms.

And strangely enough, those very same political attitudes have played a substantial role in causing all the things I listed at the beginning of this post too; the things that make me rather more than merely “grumpy”.

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