Friday, 13 August 2010

BT are rubbish

I thought that to provide some light relief from my recent rants about the Cycle Hire scheme I would treat you to a post on my woes with BT.

As some of you may be aware, I have recently moved to a nice newly built building complying with all sort of yet to be enforced standards in construction and very much ready for the future in matter of telecommunications.

I therefore found myself under the misguided impression that it would be a cinch to get a phone line connected for my Internet access. How wrong was I!

You see, I am getting a fairly good deal on broadband from my mobile phone provider and I almost never use the landline for calls (I am infact considering not even giving out the new number once I have it), so I am only interested in renting the line for Internet access.

This right away discounted my previous provider who, as I have learnt, are using using a technology called local loop unbundling (LLU). Apparently this means that they can offer cheaper deals but it also mean that I would have to take on all sorts of bundles (including broadband) I am not remotely interested in (and incidentally pay more than I did so far).

So the only option seems to be BT. I therefore gave them a ring, set up an account and an appointment for an engineer to come round and connect the line was set up. I booked some time off work.

A couple of days before I received a text confirming the appointment but showing my former postcode. I rang them to make sure that they had the right details and that the appointment would indeed happen. All was fine, I was told.

The day of the appointement came and I dutifully spent the afternoon (from 1pm to 6pm) at home waiting for the engineer to come. He didn't.

By 6.30pm, I was on the phone to BT, asking why the engineer hadn't turned up and why I hadn't been notified.

It turns out that Openreach, BT's provider for connections, had decided that some extra external work was required for the connection to happen. And that BT had been notified of this by the time I had rang them to confirm the appointment. You know, when I was told that all was fine...

I wasn't particularly impressed, especially when I knew that other people in the building had already had their lines connected by Openreach...

I was told to ring again in a week and was offered a free month of line rental as compensation. That's £12. Yes, 12 measly pounds, when I have wasted a day off, spent an afternoon waiting and will have to pay £127 for the connection to take place.

But sadly, this is not all.

A week later, on the Tuesday, I was on that phone asking what was what. I was told that as expected the work was mostly completed and that my line should be connected (note without the need for a visit by an engineer!) on Wednesday. I would be sent an email to confirm that.

On Thursday the email hadn't arrived. I sent an email to BTcare (yes, I know!), the customer service, who to there credit a fairly responsive if totally ineffective and was told that all was good and that the line should be working by 8pm that night.

That was last night. This morning, the line is still not working and I am starting to lose my rag.

I am waiting for BTcare to get back to me with whatever wooly explaination they can come up with. Needless to say, I am not recommending BT to anyone. The most frustrating that, due to my circumstances, I am stuck with using them. Where is the competition in this? Ofcom, who has been contacted, doesn't seem to see any problem in this situation.

Watch this space for an update, if you can bear it.

Update - 13 August 2010 - 11:17:
Well it looks like some has been telling porkies. The line is actually not ready to be connected. As per the latest email from BT: "Openreach have advised that there is still a lineplant issue which means cabling is not fully installed in the area around the property and is required to complete the work. They are reviewing the next steps today and following that discussion they will advise of a way forward. They also advise that they are ready to go ahead with installing the additional cabling required so the resolution should not be to far away."

Strange that, really... Since 2007, London's tallest residential building comprising more that 400 units has been under construction and it is only now that people are moving in that BT/Openreach realise that the inhabitants of said building may want to get phone lines and that they should perhaps do something about it to have the external infrastructure ready... Good planning, guys!

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

[Bankname] Cycle Hire Scheme 3

I am rather pissed off this morning. One of the few items on the list of things that can make me angry is my time being wasted by other people's ineptitude, in other words, people not keeping their promise.

So far and despite the various problems I have already encountered with the Cycle Hire scheme, I have been willing to relaxed about it and ascribe all those problems to teething problems as people call them (incidentally, I am still waiting for that callback I should have received on Monday).

However the scheme has now been live for almost two weeks and I do think that most of those problems should have been sorted by now. It is becomeing apparent that the systems behind the schemes are not ready and should not have been launched, even if that meant waiting until next summer to ensure at least some fair weather for people to enjoy the ride at its inception.

This morning, I blithly walked to the second closest docking station from where I live (the closest was not operational all week-end and I was hoping to avoid the disappointment of possibly finding it still in that state) to get a bike and cycle to work. I had left my bike there last night without a problem.

Unfortunately, I couldn't release any of bikes at the station despite trying most of them (I spotted one with its amputated pedal delicately resting on the handlebars). Yesterday, I had read on the London-SE1 forum stories of people's accounts being suspended and £150 fines being applied repeatedly for no apparent reason and I was already thinking that something similar had happened to me while still thinking that there may be something wrong with that particular docking station.

I hopped on the nearest bus and went to the next docking station (the other side of the Elephant and Castle) and again tried several bikes to no avail. I decided to ring Cycle Hire to see what was happening. Uncharacteristically, I managed to get through fairly quickly and to someone actually working for the scheme (not one of those overflow call centres that just take your details and promise you'll be called back within 24hrs).

After acertaining that everything was fine with my account, I was told that the terminals were rebooting and that I would have to wait about 1 hour to get a bike. I am not sure whose idea it is to reboot the terminals at rush hour when the scheme is probably the most used but I think they should think about that again. Hard.

It was time for me to get on a bus to work. My frustration was added to by the fact that I saw Cycle Hire bikes being used in the City. I am now wondering if the guy I talked was just placating me with a lie (he didn't know which stations I had tried and he seemed to be talking about all the treminals being rebooted).

In the end, it took me about 50min to get to work from the time I left home. I probably could have walked to work in about that time.

I should also mention that the "activity log" on the website, which should show me the transactions made on my account and the trips I have made, while not being totally fictious gives a wide range of freedom to the computer's creative licence. Mine lists trips I have never made or even shows me have made two trips at the same time. I have also just noticed an entry for £1 called "subscription" the significance of which completely escapes me. I would call them to ask for an explanation but do I really want the hassle?!

As I have repeated several times, I enjoy the cycling but Cycle Hire are truly on the verge of spoiling it all for me. I am even considering cancelling my account and asking for a refund since they are clearly not delivering the service I have paid for.

Perhaps I should start posting on

View my growing number of posts about the scheme here.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Velib versus Boris Bikes

Tory Troll has posted a helpful little table first published in the Evening Standards which provides figures of comparisons between the Paris and London cycle hire schemes.

Strangely the ES manages to claim that the London scheme compares favourably with the Paris one (the biggest such scheme in the world). Judge for yourself.

VelibLondon Cycle Hire
Number of bikes
Initially 10,648, now 20,600
Docking stations
315 (400 originally planned)
Area covered
90Km2 in 20 arrondissements
Bike weight
Subscribers in 1st year
As yet unknown (30,000 in 1st week)
€90m from JCDecaux (about £75m)
£140m from taxpayer + £25m from Barclays sponsorship
Annual subscription
€29 (about £21)
(I have added/amended some of the info).

Still according to the ES, and because obviously too much positive bias towards Boris wouldn't be on, the "French prefer our ‘stylish and beautiful’ Boris bikes to Velib". Personally, I can see very little difference between both bikes, apart from the colour, they look pretty much the same.

And finally, there is already a conspiracy theory around the schemes.

View my growing number of posts about the scheme here.

Monday, 9 August 2010

[Bankname] Cycle Hire Scheme 2

Well, I would have been too good, if things had gone smoothly after all the problems I have had so far.

On Friday, I cycled back from work and when I got to my local station (off the Elephant and Castle), there was no space to leave my bike. I had to cycle to another one. I had been told that there was a way to get an extra 15min free in case this happens but I haven't been able to find a mention of it and of how it works exactly.

It seems in any case that there is a problem with this station (I have reported it) since it remained full all week-end and people were not able to take bikes from it. I couldn't either when I tried this morning.

In any case I have heard and experienced what will no doubt become THE major problem of the scheme when the non-members can start using it at the end of the month: the repartition of the bikes during the day, with some station being either packed and not allowing people leave their bikes or other station being without available bikes (note that this could happen to the same stations depending on the time of day).

This morning I received an email from TfL, thanking me again for being a "pioneer member", as the call us and stating that "We are using these first weeks of operation to learn more about how Londoners engage with the scheme, including patterns of use and how we can best support customers."

Hopefully this means that they will have some system in place to shift bikes around during the day to keep some sort of balance. I did spot a car with a trailer with a capacity of a dozen bikes, the other day, so this may be it.

No mention of the other problems everyone has been experiencing in that email, incidentally...

Problems, such as that of the ghost docking stations. With our membership key we were sent a lovely map showing the location of all the 400 docking stations available. The problem is that only 315 have apparently been installed due to some councils refusing planning permissions, it seems. My experience seems to point at the Tory-held Westminster Council as a main culprit for blocking the Tory Mayor of London's project.

On a (slightly) brighter note, I finally got my call back on Sunday afternoon (way of the mark from the 24hrs that had been mentioned, though); and there the birghtness stops because the person who rang couldn't do anything about my problem (the count-down to the end of my access period starting 2 days too early, if you remember) and someone will have to call me back. Within 24hrs, of course...

Still loving the cycling though...

View my growing number of posts about the scheme here.

In these shoes?

In these shoes?

Another proof that I am probably a closet extrovert or just a weirdo?

Itunes had thrown up Kirsty MacColl's song In These Shoes and, being a bit bored, I started dancing along.

Soon I was digging out the shoes I had bought over six months previously for my first attempt at drag on the occasion of a friend's birthday cum leaving party. The rest is not history but the picture before your eyes.

As seems to be the case of most of my impromptu self-portraits, it has turned into an exploration of appearance and, in this case, gender representation.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

The Road to Warsaw: Homing

This is day four in my "report" of the trip I made to Warsaw with the London Gay Men's Chorus for Europride between 15 and 18 July 2010. The days leading to the trip, the journey itself and the first evening in the city are described here. The second day can be found here. The third day is here.

Pictures of the day.

On the Sunday, the last day of the trip, I started the day (after breakfast and checking out) by a quick visit to the swimming pool of the hotel before joining a small group of people in the visit of a controversial exhibition on homoerotic art at the National Museum.

IMG_3666The exhibition gathered some lovely moving pieces and I enjoyed it but when it seemed to want to highlight the universal and timeless appeal of the theme, the exhibits themselves seemed to focus a little too on Polish artworks.

My favorite piece was called love and consisted of two white shirts hanging in the air and stuck together at the chest.

On the way back from the exhibition to the hotel, we went up to the 30th floor of the PNiK to the viewing platform that gives 360 degree views over Warsaw. This only confirmed my impression that Warsaw is not a pretty city.

Back to the hotel and unto the coach taking us to the airport. After some delays because of a downpour, we were soon in the air, hurtling toward Blighty.

Sitting next to me was a middle-aged Polish woman who soon asked me why there were so many men on that plane. We started chatting about our trip and Warsaw. Also on the plane was a member of the group which had been travelling with Nick Herbert. We got chatting when leaving the plane and in the massive queue to the passport check.

He said he is a political advisor to David Cameron on LGBT matters; one of those fabled gay tories! We exchanged cards and during the week, a meeting was organised in Downing Street (in the Thatcher state room!) to chat about LGBT History Month. Despite my follow up email, I haven't heard from him since that meeting, so I am guessing he got the information he wanted...

East London from the plane.

Finding myself at work on the Monday was a trying experience. My brain was clearly not yet back from Poland. This was I think the best trip I have had with the Chorus. I enjoyed it because of the (relative) importance our presence at Europride but also for the social side which I have experienced more than in previous trips.

I hope we tack part in more similar actions which, in my view, at least, get the Chorus closer to fullfilling its mission of fighting prejudice than several of the things was have done in the past.

The Chorus is now on holiday until September when we will start working on our Christmas show, Make Your Own Kind of Christmas (10th and 11th December at the Cadogan Hall).

All my pictures from the trip are available on my flickr account here.

[Bankname] Cycle Hire Scheme

I can't remember if I have mentioned it on these pages but for months now, I have keenly been waiting for the cycle hire scheme that was implemented on Friday in the capital.

I think it is a fabulous idea and Ken Livingstone should be applauded for starting the process that sees it come to life now. Yes, the "BorisBikes" were Ken's idea, let's not forget that.

Online registration to the scheme opened on Friday 23rd at 6am and at 9.35am, I was one of the first to register.

Unfortunately, this is also when my travails started. Despiste three attempts with 2 different cards, my payment could not be processed. Although the website's log page looked like my bank accounts could possibly have been debited 3 times (They have a very confusing way of showing transactions called the "Oyster Maths" apparently).

I had to ring the call centre where the otherwise friendly operator didn't seem to quite know what to do. Finally we had to go through the whole payment process again over the phone a couple of days later when I was called back.

My key arrived promptly and I was able to activate it online without problem.

On Friday 31st, I went to my local docking station, hoping to cycle to work and be among the very first to use the bikes. Alas, something wasn't working properly and despite trying 2 different bikes, I had to take the bus to work as usual. In the evening I tried my luck again, but that didn't work either.

In the meantime, however, the count down on the 7-day access period I had purchased had been started as of the morning. Again I had to ring the call centre and again the operator, while helpful, didn't seem to know what to do and said I would be called back by someone from the customer service department. Six days later I am still waiting for this to happen.

On Sunday evening, on a whim I decided to try to get a bike from the station on Wardour Street and this time I did manage to do so.

Since then I have been using the scheme several times every day without problems and I am absolutely loving cycling around London. Getting the bikes and discarding them is as easy and practical as I was expecting.

I have two reservations about the bikes though:

First the carrying element at the front of the bike, is too small and unpractical. I can't put my backpack there for example. The fact that it's open on the sides doesn't help.

Second: the gears are not hard enough. I only use the 3rd gear (which should probably be the first one) and often finding it pointless to carry on pedalling when in a gentle slope.

But appart from all that, I am loving it and am considering getting a year membership.

Update - 06/08/10:
I am now on my third promise of a call back from TfL and not being very hopefully. This morning I had to take the bus to work because my access had run out (as it should have, had I been able to use the bikes on the first day when I tried). Being trapped again in that trundling sardine tin, made me reflect on how liberating cycling around London is.

I have now purchased an annual access, so hopefully all the administrative problems I have described above are now a thing of the past.

View my growing number of posts about the scheme here.