Category Archives: Anecdotage

The day I met Bernard Manning

Younger readers, this is Bernard Manning.

It’s 1992. I’m a young, fresh-faced freelance copywriter which, amazingly, I still am. I had picked up a few little jobs from a London advertising agency that specialised in film work. That is, they made press ads for when Hollywood films were about to get a video release. I had a lot of fun coming up with ads that were appropriate to the film being advertised, reasoning that this was a key element of my job, but the agency generally rejected my work in favour of a pack shot with the headline ‘OUT NOW ON VIDEO’.

But today my job is a bit different. I am to direct the comedian Bernard Manning in the recording of two radio scripts I’d written. They were to publicise the release of his own video, charmingly titled ‘Banging With Manning’ and allegedly a ‘hilarious’ spoof of sex education videos.

Manning. He was much bigger back then.

I arrive at the Manchester recording studio with the agency’s account lady at the same time as he rolls up in an enormous Cadillac bearing the number plate 1 LAF. No doubt you were supposed to read that 1 as an I in case you were left thinking the plate alluded to the number of actual jokes in one of Bernard’s comedy routines.

The passenger door opens and Bernard, not the lithest comedian on the circuit, grips various parts of the car to leverage himself out of his seat. He waddles across the car park and introductions are made.

“See the boxing last night?” He’s addressing me, correctly assuming that the posh young account lady wouldn’t care one iota about boxing. Neither do I, but I say I missed it while making a face that I hope conveys the idea that this was an unavoidable oversight on my part.

We walk to the studio. “I don’t mind black blokes punching shit out of each other,” he continues, “but I don’t like it when they beat white fellas.”

I don’t have a face ready for a remark like this, much less a suitable vocal response. The account lady and I look at each other. This is going to be interesting.

And it is, and not only in the way I’d been expecting. No sooner does he settle down in the recording studio, still angry about a white boxer being beaten by a black one, than my colleague gets a call from the agency back in London. Apparently the body that oversees the suitability of broadcast advertising has belatedly taken objection to an element of the script. “Which script?” I ask.

“Both of them,” she says.

“What it is about them they don’t like?”

She hesitates. “The word ‘banging’.” The name of the product, in other words.

I glance at Bernard in the booth. Although I can’t hear anything, he seems to be asking the recording engineer questions about the equipment. What’s there to explain? Like all such rooms there’s only a microphone and a pair of headphones, and surely he’s familiar with the former.

“You’re going to have to rewrite the scripts,” says the account manager, “and quickly.”

I look for a place to, er, bash something out while the situation is explained to Manning. He’s not happy. He’s decided that blame for the episode should be laid at London’s door. “Fucking London,” he yells at everyone. “Fucking London idiots,” he adds, getting a bit more specific.

Writing radio scripts isn’t easy. To be honest, I don’t find any writing easy. Those who come up with headlines like OUT NOW ON VIDEO probably do, but I don’t. And although I’m not what you might call precious, I do find a desk and a chair and a bit of peace and quiet help the creative process. Not an enraged shouty comedian stomping about, a product I’m not allowed to mention by name and less than 45 minutes to write and record a couple of 20-second radio commercials.

It gets worse. Once we’re in a position to get something down on tape, it becomes clear that Bernard is as unfamiliar with reading aloud as he is with basic recording equipment. He stumbles over every line, strays from the script, adds pointless pauses and PUTS the emphasis ON all the wrong words. The agency didn’t bring an actual radio producer, someone skilled in the diplomatic art of getting the best work out of the ‘talent’, and all the engineer says after each take is “was that OK?” So it’s down to me to explain to an increasingly impatient Bernard that he needs to read a bit faster, or a bit clearer, or with less yelling, and please can you wait until the microphone’s turned off before saying fucking London wankers.

Luckily, the studio – situated in a largely residential area just outside Manchester, as I recall – doesn’t have any other jobs lined up so we’re allowed to overrun. A couple of hours later we’ve got frayed nerves but two commercials that even the most puritanical member of the radio clearance committee won’t have a problem with.

Recently I was clearing the loft and came across a whole bunch of my old radio ads on C30 cassettes, including the two with Manning. I ordered a bit of kit called the Tonor cassette tape to MP3 convertor, and stuck the least-crap ones on my website. Grit your teeth and have a listen. 5th and 6th ones down.

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The lady in the launderette

In the early 1980s a  job move took me to new accommodation in a flat in Hornsey, north London. By the end of the second week it was time to wash some clothes. Trouble was, there was no washing machine in the flat. Come to think of it, there wasn’t much of anything in this flat. No TV or radio. No stereo. A tiny two-ring hob in a poky kitchenette. There wasn’t much in the way of conversation, either. The only other occupant – the flat’s owner – was a humourless, vegetarian teetotaller. My small room contained an ancient wooden-framed single bed that made such an alarming series of creaks and groans every time I shifted position that the noise would wake me up. I ended up sleeping on the floor.

Two weeks later I’d be out of there, moving to a much more lively flat on the edge of Clapham Common. Sex, drugs, booze and noisy parties all awaited.

But right now I needed my clothes washed. So I stuffed them all into a heavy duty plastic sack and hauled it to Turnpike Lane, the local high street, where I quickly found a launderette.

I opened the door to an uncharacteristically empty shop. In my experience of using these places when living in other flats around London, your typical launderette would be full up on a Saturday. There’d be people chatting, smoking, reading magazines and lifting great baskets of steaming laundry from one machine to another. Everyone would know what to do and the order in which to do it. Crucially, they’d also have the right change for the different types of coin-operated machinery.

I never had the right change. Nor could I face the prospect of dumbly sitting there while the machines slowly did their stuff. I could conceivably zip off to the pub to while away the time, but harboured the fear that I’d come back to find I had missed the end of the washing machine cycle, and an irate customer had angrily dumped all my clothes in a tangled heap.

So I always opted for a service wash, where the attendant – typically a harried, no-nonsense, chain-smoking woman of indeterminate age, dressed in a floral garment made from some electrically-charged synthetic fibre – would for a nominal fee do all the heavy lifting for you. Hopefully without spending too long judging the general state of your smalls.

There was just such an attendant there in the Turnpike Lane launderette. I approach her with my sack of dirty clothes.

“Hi! Do you do service washes here?” She looks at me while she considers the question. You should know the answer to this instinctively, I think.

“Yes, love,” she says eventually. “Yes we do. You want that little lot washed, do you?” She nods at the sack.

“Yes please, that would be great.” I hand the sack over. “How long will it take, do you reckon?” She gives the sack a once-over. “Couple of hours?”

“Great,” I say. She starts to turn away, then stops.

“What, are you going to wait for it?” Well, no. That would defeat the whole time-saving purpose of a service wash. It would also be a bit odd, sitting there watching while someone you didn’t know washed your clothes.

“No no, I was waiting for a ticket. You know.” Back when people used launderettes, you needed a ticket for a service wash. Otherwise anyone could walk in and claim your washing as their own. Or there could be a bag mix-up and you’d get home to find you’d picked up the clothes of a petite 25-year-old PA. So they’d give you a ticket, normally one of those cheaply-printed tear-off raffle ticket affairs.

“Oh right. A ticket.” She puts the sack down and heads off into her little office at the back. I hear what sounds like heavy wooden furniture being scraped across the floor. I turn to have a look around. No one else has come into the shop. Curiously, none of the machines seems to be in action. All I can hear is the steady drone of the traffic outside. Eventually the attendant emerges from the office. But she doesn’t have a ticket. Instead, she’s dragging an enormous pair of old-fashioned wooden step ladders. She plonks it in front of me, extends the legs outwards, rocks the assembly back and forth to ensure it’s stable and begins slowly climbing up.

I follow her progress. When she gets to about the third step, she reaches up and pushes at a ceiling tile. It moves a little. She gets both hands to it and slides it fully out of the way. Then she climbs up on the next step, and the next, until she’s in a position to climb off the top of the ladders and into a black space above the ceiling. She disappears from view.

I stare at the darkly forbidding aperture. The seconds tick by. Anyone glancing in through the window would see a 20-something man standing motionless in front of a pair of tall stepladders in an otherwise deserted launderette. My mouth starts to feel a little dry. The sounds of more objects being moved around reaches me from above. There’s a muffled thump. At least something’s happening up there, I think.

Eventually a leg appears, its foot searching tentacle-like for the uppermost step of the ladder. It makes contact. The attendant slowly descends a few steps, stops to replace the little trapdoor in the ceiling, then makes it all the way back to terra firma. Plumes of dust fly from her crackling nylon housecoat type thing as she brushes herself down. She reaches into a pocket and hands me the ticket.

It’s the customary raffle ticket. I look at the number. It reads ‘1’.

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Born in ’54

2014 is the year I turn 60. No, I can’t believe it either. I wanted to know who and what I share my anniversary with, so here are twenty or so examples of others celebrating their 60th birthday this year.

SUNSILK SHAMPOO

Unilever first launched this famous shampoo in the UK. Now it’s the biggest name in haircare and is sold everywhere. A 1960’s ad campaign for Sunsilk featured a jingle composed by John Barry that was subsequently released as a pop single. Don’t look it up; it’s awful.

UNIVERS

Univers is described as a neo-grotesque sans-serif typeface and was designed by a Swiss guy called Adrian Frutiger. Frutiger also came up with, er, Frutiger. Alas, Univers isn’t on the WordPress menu so you’ll have to settle for whatever this is. Palatino?

THE GEODESIC DOME

A strong yet lightweight structure consisting of a lattice of interlocking icosahedrons, patented (but not invented) in 1954 by American hippy hero R Buckminster Fuller. The best examples in the UK can be seen at Cornwall’s Eden Project.

SLIDING DOORS

Not the movie, the actual thing. One breezy day in 1954, a couple of Texan dudes noticed that the wind was always blowing swing doors open. So they set about inventing the world’s first automatic electric sliding doors. Today it is estimated that there are lots of sliding doors everywhere.

THE MOGEN CLAMP

A tool used in circumcision procedures and invented by Brooklyn rabbi Harry Bronstein. Bronstein’s invention had an inherent design flaw in that the very act of applying the clamp made it impossible for the circumciser to see what he was doing. So Rabbi Bronstein is probably known as ‘that goddamn bastard’ by the various men who lost more than was religiously necessary.

PHOTOVOLTAIC PANELS

Also enjoying its 60th birthday is the photovoltaic or solar panel. Back in 1954 you needed a whole square yard of solar panel to power a single domestic light bulb. Today it’s more like 0.836 square metres.

TRANSISTOR RADIOS

The original transistor radio was called the Regency TR-1 and entered the US market costing £29.45, or about £250 in today’s money. Surviving examples are much sought after by collectors but rarely by music fans. I mean, look at it.

1717 ARLON*

Discovered in 1954 but actually born much, much earlier, 1717 Arlon is a small asteroid with its own tiny moon. It’s visible to the naked eye, but only if you’re viewing it from a spaceship that’s cautiously threading its way through the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.
* Asteroid shown may not be 1717 Arlon

NUCLEAR STUFF

1954 was a big year for all things nuclear. America launched the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine, the USS Nautilus, while Russia built the first ICBM, opened the first nuclear power station and exploded its first hydrogen bomb. Thanks, 1954!

NON-STICK FRYING PANS

Widely and wrongly believed to be an offshoot of NASA’s space program, the trusty non-stick pan was actually invented in France by one Marc Gregoire. However, it is true that US scientists one day saw Marc’s frying pan and thought to themselves ‘wait a minute – space travel!’

WEIRD CULTS

Scientology was founded in 1954. With their belief that everyone on Earth is descended from the souls of murdered aliens, they make practitioners of the Wiccan pagan religion, also founded in 1954, seem positively rational. Tom Cruise is a famous Scientologist, while Alan Whicker was a Wiccan*.
* Wasn’t

THE BLACK BOX

The guy who can probably claim most credit for the invention of the modern flight recorder is an Australian called David Warren. There are two things we know about the black box. One, they aren’t black and two, we’ll probably never find the one from flight MH370.

BLOOMSDAY

The annual Dublin event (read ‘pub crawl’) celebrating the life of Irish writer James Joyce. The day is named after Leopold Bloom, the main character in Joyce’s book Ulysses. Have you ever read Ulysses? Neither have I.

LOVE HEARTS

When I was growing up in the 60s, these iconic items of confectionery carried messages like ‘Groovy’ and ‘Swing it’. There’s currently a competition to dream up aphorisms for their 60th anniversary, so expect to see lots of OMGs, WTFs and ROFLMAOs. DYSWIDT?

1954 MOVIES

There were some good ones, like On The Waterfront and Rear Window, as well an abomination called The Silver Chalice, starring Paul Newman in his first role. When the film ran on TV in 1966, Newman took out ads in the trade press begging people not to watch it. His plea inevitably backfired.

MUSIC OF 1954

Mantovani, Dean Martin and Max Bygraves were the year’s big hitters. Bill Haley briefly lit up the charts with Shake, Rattle & Roll, but it wasn’t until 1955 that rock ‘n’ roll really took a hold. The number one when I was born was ‘Cara Mia’ by David Whitfield. I considered adding it to my party’s playlist. Then I listened to it.

THE ROUTEMASTER

Who doesn’t love the iconic Routemaster? Apart from people in wheelchairs, I mean? Some 2,876 Routemasters were built between ’54 and ’68, with 1,280 still in existence. They’re still operated on the ‘heritage’ routes 9 and 15 – plus there’s a phantom Routemaster that occasionally ‘appears’ in W10.

MONSTERS OF ‘54

Specifically, Godzilla and The Creature from the Black Lagoon, both of whom made their first appearance that year. Godzilla dealt with the prospect of humanity unleashing something beyond its control, i.e. atomic weapons. The Creature from the Black Lagoon was just a monster movie, although a 2014 remake is slated to be about the pollution of the Amazon.

FALSE NAILS

Artificial nails had been around for centuries, but the type used today came about by accident when US dentist Fred Slack broke a nail and used the tools of his trade to make a false one. The rest, as nobody says, is history.

THE ELECTRIC TOOTHBRUSH

The first one was called the Broxodent and it was invented by a Swiss dentist named Dr Phillipe-Guy Woog. Dr Phillipe-Guy Woog never met Dr Robert E Moog, or who knows what we’d have been subjected to whilst brushing our teeth.

SUBARU

Subaru is part of the Fuji Manufacturing Corporation. Not a lot of people know that. Subaru is the Japanese name for the Pleiades star cluster. Not a lot of people know that, either. And in the US, Subarus are popular amongst lesbians. Who the hell knew that?

FAMOUS DUDES

Simpsons creator and massive Zappa fan Matt Groening was born in 1954, along with John Travolta, Neil Tennant, Denzil Washington, Elvis Costello, Ang Lee, James Cameron, Ray Liotta, Annie Lennox, Angela Merkel, Arthur Smith and Jermaine Jackson.

Arthur Smith provided the comedy for my 40th birthday party. He was brilliant.

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President Who: One weekend, two momentous events

If they haven’t started already, the next few days will see plenty of people attempting to tell you where they were the day President Kennedy was assassinated. I’m afraid I’m about to join them.

My account of the incident won’t help our understanding of it or provide much of a snapshot of life in 1960’s Britain, but it was certainly a significant event of my childhood. So I’m recording it here because, one, some horrible illness may one day prevent me from remembering it with any clarity, and two, the act of writing it down rather than telling you orally means I won’t see you start scanning the room for someone more interesting to talk to.

So. It’s a Friday evening in Bournemouth, England. My dad has to collect something from the home of his mother-in-law who lives about a mile away. He doesn’t want to do this at all; he just wants to eat supper and start his weekend. But for some reason the errand has to be done now. He gets me and my brother to go along with him.

How does this help? Well, my dad has a stiff leg; the result of being shot during the war. Walking presents no problem but climbing up and down stairs is a little trickier. So my brother and I are dragooned into helping. We’ll be able to bound up the stairs, grab whatever it is we’ve been sent to collect, and charge back down to dad who’ll be waiting in the car with the engine running.

Another reason might be that dad won’t have to get into a potentially evening-sapping conversation chat with granny. Why he chose to take two sons when one could have done the job just as well is a mystery. Give mum a bit of peace, maybe.

President John F Kennedy, moments before the fatal shots that etc etc
Credit: Reuters

Anyway, we get to grandma’s house and run up the stairs to find her huddled close to the radio. (She’d have called it the wireless, of course.) She looks up and tells us that the President of America has been shot. We sit down and listen to the announcer for a while. I was only 9 years old but I’d heard of President Kennedy and, even if I didn’t understand then what a huge event this shooting was, the tone of the announcer’s voice must have told me that it was very grave indeed. We listen as the news unfolds until eventually we hear our dad sounding the car horn. We grab whatever it is we were sent to collect and rush downstairs to the waiting car.

Dad’s furious. Why did we take so long? When my brother tells him that we were listening to news about the President being shot, he doesn’t believe us. He thinks my brother’s making it up. I chip in and tell him that it’s true, but he won’t have it. He’d prefer to think we’re storytelling than imparting the biggest news story since war was declared. So he drives us home in angry silence. We’re angry too: the worst thing when you’re a kid is not being believed by an adult. Especially when it’s your own father.

Salvation of a sort occurs as soon as we pull up in front of the house. Through the kitchen window we can see mum staring straight ahead. Uncharacteristically, she doesn’t acknowledge our arrival. We go indoors and notice that she’s actually crying. Dad asks her what the matter is. Through tears she tells him that President Kennedy is dead.

“Christ, not you as well!” shouts dad.

Not really. That would have been a good punchline to the story but the truth is, my memories of the day stop at that point. My only other Kennedy-related reminiscence is of a special assembly held the following week at school. Everyone was told to pray for America and for the world. Me and Steve Green had a go at praying when I went round to his house for tea, but we soon started giggling and changing the prayer to include the presents we wanted for Christmas. A Johnny Seven for me, probably.

Death and birth

The other big event that weekend in 1963, as everyone knows by now, was the first-ever transmission of Dr Who.

It struck me then as being unlike any children’s television programme I had previously seen. Clearly aimed at kids but with quite sophisticated ideas, it’s probably true to say that discussion of this new series overshadowed talk about Kennedy’s assassination in school playgrounds on the following Monday. I still believe that the thinking behind the Tardis warrants the tag of genius. A time-traveling machine that was bigger on the inside than the outside fits perfectly with the theme of ‘time and relative dimensions in space’, AND gave the writers carte blanche to do what they like within the Tardis’ four (?) walls, subject to the  production department being able to achieve it. Then, devising a backstory that ‘explained’ the appearance of the Tardis (it was supposed to adapt to whatever environment in which it materialised, but there’d been a fault with the mechanism) was another masterstroke. It was also  deliciously British – there was never a problem with the Enterprise that wasn’t the result of battle.

Cantankerous old bastard – the first Dr Who, played by William Hartnell. Plus other actors.

Did I do the now clichéd thing of hiding behind the sofa during the scary bits of Dr Who? Yes I did. The series that particularly frightened me was the second time the Daleks made an appearance. Their arrival in London brought the terror too close to home and made the sense of hopelessness all too real.

So there we have it. One life-changing weekend – or life-ending, depending on who you were – in November, 1963.

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VHStalgia

That looks a bit like the name of some extreme Nazi PoW camp rather than the amusing portmanteau word it sounded in my head. Nevertheless, it sums up what we have here: a nostalgic look back at a few VHS cassette boxes.

Too soon? We’re all still obsessing with audio C90s? Oh well. These’ll still be here when the next retro phase kicks in.

A trip down Memorex Lane

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Progress. At a price.

I was round my mate Geoff’s house the other day. He likes his gadgets, does Geoff. Old gadgety Geoff.

His latest was a Sonos sound system. Working via your home’s wi-fi, it lets you play music from your iTunes library and also from sources outside your house, such as Spotify and LastFM. The sound was deep and loud and rich, and the remote control was insanely easy to use. (This part was critical. Geoff’s previous foray into this area involved a system so complex that finding a song – any song – would take him ages standing in front of a huge screen and jabbing buttons on a paperback-sized remote control. The impenetrable operating instructions effectively excluded the rest of his family from ever selecting their own music.)

When I can next justify it financially, I thought, I’m going to get one of these Sonos systems.

Then last week I started noticing their ad campaign. No easy matter, as the adverts are discrete and understated virtually to the point of invisibility. But they got me looking for a stockist in Basingstoke, where I was working at the time, so the campaign worked to that extent.

The instore demonstration was pretty compelling. The guy showed me how the remote worked, talked me through the various systems and explained how to get the best out of it. Although my iTunes library probably wouldn’t be up to the job, he cautioned. Why ever not? Well, apparently when you import CDs to iTunes, it rips them at a less than optimal setting. For purposes of speed, I guess. For the least compression and hence the best quality, I would have to import all my CDs again on the Apple Lossless setting. Hmm.

Another thing that perplexed me was the set-up of the speaker. I belong to a generation conditioned by everyone from hi-fi mags to the Melody Maker to position speakers six to eight feet apart. That was the way to replicate a live performance and the best way to enjoy any stereo effects created in the studio. Mono? Pah!

How to listen to music

But here was a £350 system with only the one speaker. A backward step, surely? Not so, said the people at Sonos when I’d mentioned this very point on Twitter. Each Sonos system in fact included two speakers, left and right. You couldn’t separate them – separates are so last century – so the way to enjoy stereo sound was simply to buy two systems! You turn the left-hand channel off on one and place it to the right, and do the opposite with the other and bingo, stereo sound. (“You want to take a passenger on your motorcycle? No problem – just buy another motorcycle!”)

I thought about the number of times I actually sat down in the precise way recommended by speaker manufacturers and hi-fi buffs and realised that I didn’t any more. Not much, anyway. So the lack of true stereo might not be such a big deal after all. OK, I thought, I’ll take it. Just one problem – that store didn’t have one in stock in my choice of colour. (There are two: Apple white and Apple black.) But their Camberley store did have one. I got them to reserve it and headed back to the office.

During the afternoon, doubt started to creep in. £350 is quite a lot to pay for something which would involve me doing days and days worth of ripping. The ‘sound in every room’ sales schtick wasn’t that convincing either when I realised I pretty much had that already. And there was that whole back to mono thing. But on the other hand, the sound was truly amazing and the idea of using that chunky little remote control to summon up music from pretty much anywhere was  difficult to resist. So I made a deal with myself. If I get work for next week, I’ll buy it. If not, I won’t.

I checked my emails. Yay! I had work for the following week. A couple of days, anyway. So that evening found me in the Camberley hi-fi store, punching my PIN into the terminal and looking lovingly at the box of music that was about to be mine. I checked with the salesman. “It’s got the manual in there, I take it?” Manuals are a waste of paper, he glumly told me. There’ll be a CD-Rom in the box. I nodded. I prefer manuals. This idea that a manufacturing process involving polycarbonates and aluminium and a reading process that required a £500 computer and a semiconductor laser was somehow better than printing a little booklet was unconvincing.

“And the remote and everything?”

He shook his head. “There’s no remote. The remote is optional.”

That sounded odd. How am I meant to operate it without the remote? He told me it was done via an app on my iPhone, iPad, Android phone or a desktop interface. All very well for me, as I’m never far from my iPad. But Mrs Bravenewmalden doesn’t have any of those things. Well, she’s got a PC but there was no way she, or anyone else for that matter, would be prepared to sit down in front of a computer just to skip ‘Octopus’s Garden’.

“How  much extra is the remote control?”

What the salesman said next brought to a sudden end my brief flirtation with Sonos. “£280.” My jaw made a rich, room-filling sound as it crashed to the floor. No, that wasn’t a mistake. The remote represented 45% of the total cost of the system.

“So, that’s two motorcycles.Thank you sir. Now I suppose you’ll be wanting some handlebars, yes?”

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This is one weird way to buy a phone

A 'carphone' 'warehouse'.

My iPhone 3G has been getting very slow recently. It has to think about every action, much like a sluggish PC. Installing the latest operating system didn’t help. In fact I think that was a ruse by Apple to get all iPhone 3 users to upgrade to the latest model. And it worked. That’s why, a few weeks ago,  I found myself stepping into the local Carphone Warehouse.

The last time I was there was to buy my current iPhone and to switch networks from T-Mobile to O2. I remember the process being very quick and simple, leaving the store after around an hour clutching my new phone. The phone was great, the network less so. From Canary Wharf to Soho to Clapham Junction, there seemed to be vast swathes of London where the signal was weak or intermittent and where the 3G network may as well not have existed.

Hopefully, the combination of a new phone and a new network would provide me with the service I sort of expect for £35 a month.

It didn’t start well. Vodafone wanted to see various documents so that they could carry out a credit check. I had my driver’s licence and credit cards and business cards, but they were never going to be enough. The Carphone Warehouse sales guy said I’d need to bring in a bank statement or utility bill. For reasons of expediency,  I could email them.

So I went home, scanned in my driver’s licence and a bank statement and emailed them to the guy at the address he’d given me. The following weekend I returned to the store, looking forward to start playing with my new phone. You know what’s coming, don’t you?

“Vodafone have mislaid the documents I sent,” said the assistant. Apparently he’d received my email, printed the attachments, faxed them to Vodafone who’d promptly lost them. (I’m writing this in 2011, by the way, just in case seeing the word ‘fax’ makes you think that this is a blog from 1998.)

Thing is, I don’t think that straight when I’m cross. Otherwise I’d have asked him why he didn’t email the documents himself. Why he’d used a fax machine. Why, when he learned they’d gone missing, he didn’t simply send them again. Why he didn’t warn me against making a futile trip back to the shop. And why he gave me his hotmail address rather than a ‘guy@carphonewarehouse’ email address.

Instead, I made noises about hoping to get a better deal on the rental or the upfront cost as some sort of recompense for all the inconvenience I’d endured, and said I’d return the following week. My third visit.

This time, I rang the store before making the schlepp into Kingston. Just to be certain. That was the idea, anyway. In the event it was an utterly pointless precaution as I never managed to get through. My call was important to them, a recorded announcement kept assuring me, though clearly not so important that it would actually be answered. So I got on my bike and headed into K-town.

The store was surprisingly devoid of customers. The staff were milling about, chatting to one another. No sign of my guy. The manager was there, though, and he told me that the person I’d been dealing with had the day off.

“Perhaps you can help me, then.”

“Well, no, not really,” explained the manager. “You’ve been dealing with him. I don’t know anything about it. You’ll have to come back tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow? Actually, I think ‘never’ works better for me.”

I must admit there was a swear before I walked out of the shop. But like I say, there were hardly any customers there to be offended.

So there we have it. A company engaged in the business of communications not answering phone calls. Not liaising with one another. Using fax machines. Encouraging their staff to give out personal email addresses. And one of Britain’s largest companies asking for private data to be transmitted via one of the most public platforms in existence.

I’ve packed letters off to both companies saying that they will be held jointly responsible if I become a victim of identity theft and I’ve also alerted the Information Commissioner’s Office. I’ve written this ranty blog. But I still don’t have a new phone, and now I’m not sure what to do  next.

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