Phones are a device I need but hate

I have never liked telephones, not even old fashioned ones, and my first job back in 1971 was working in Telephone House in Cardiff as a Sales Officer and it was hell! Basically I had 13 telephone exchanges and a constant stream of letters and phone calls from would be customers, who often had turned from being polite and friendly to angry and abusive.

You see, at that time the Post Office, which later became British Telecom, had an advert which said "Make someone happy with a phone call." It featured a bird character called Buzby and was displayed in public everywhere, even on bus shelters and billboards. There were Buzby T-shirts and badges too.

There would be a phone number given to contact to get a phone put in, and if you happened to be in any of the areas I covered that meant that call went to me.

Well, I am sure you are thinking, that all sounds fine and good marketing on behalf of the phone company, and so it would have been if they could have delivered what was advertised. You see, most of the exchanges I had were unable to supply phones due to a shortage of lines or exchange equipment.

So I would do what I was supposed to do and get all the details like name, address, what model of phone they would like and colour, and it would all be going along just fine until the customer would ask when they could expect the engineers to call to install the new phone. I would say they would have to wait a while but I was putting them on a waiting list. I would apologise for having to do this.

But then I would be asked: "When you say a while, how long does that mean? Do you mean weeks, or months?"

At this point I would have no option but to tell them the grim truth, which in some exchanges such as Merthyr Tydfil was not months but years! If the customer was elderly they would say stuff like "My husband and I might not be here in years because we are old-age pensioners, so what do you mean years?"

Eventually customers like this, having become angry would demand to speak to someone in charge. I was instructed to tell them I was that person but if they really put up a fuss I could hand them over to my boss who used to pretend he was the Telephone Manager. When we answered the phone we would announce that this was the "Telephone Manager's Office."

Cisco 7960
Credit: In Public Domain

Telephone managers

Fortunately for me some of these very angry customers became what were known as "Telephone Manager's cases." Some of these were where the customer had contacted their MP. It was a horrible job in every way and the phones kept ringing and the intray pile never went down for long.

I knew that nearly every customer I spoke to was likely to be an unhappy and unsatisfied one and the work actually made me ill and I was diagnosed with gastric ulcers starting as well as depression and anxiety states. Eventually I quit!

Since then my later experience with the phone has not been good apart from some enjoyable conversations with friends and family and in later years as a means of getting Internet access. But it has come at a heavy price.


Back in Wales

When I was back in Wales I had no end of trouble with ntl, the company providing my phone and Internet access and I ended up finding the nthell website where other dissatisfied customers shared their woes. ntl often used to disconnect me when I was in the middle of doing something. No explanation. No apology!

Officially the company said they were having problems because they had too many subscribers and weren't geared to cope with the traffic and demand.It reminded me of the old job I had where we could not deliver what was advertised.


I was glad to leave ntlworld behind when I moved over here to Tenerife in the Canary Islands, only to find that the Telefónica company also has just as many unhappy customers and complaints about their service or lack of it are common in the press here.

Nevertheless, they have the monopoly and I need Broadband Internet connection so was glad to be able to take over my former landlady's  line when she moved back to Guernsey.

When I myself moved up north in Tenerife I transferred my number and Telefónica turned up within days to connect me. I was very pleased with their prompt service but it has been a battle since with my phone, which has a whole range of problems.

I had had to buy a cellphone in order for Telefónica to be able to phone me to say when they were coming to do the work. Until that point in time I had resisted all efforts to get me to get such a phone and had said I would never get one. This is because I believe that the dangers of electromagnetic radiation from such devices is very real.

I got one but still don't understand how it all works although I have used it a few times since to phone my boss to tell him my phone has gone down and so I am unable to work right now. It appears that the SIM card on the horrible thing has run out now so I cannot use it without buying another one which I am very loathe to do.

The normal landline phone I have doesn't ring properly and just gives half a ring at times. When you try to have a conversation it can become impossible because of the crackling on the line that is so loud you are unable to hear what is being said.

Also it can and does disconnect the Broadband meaning you have to reconnect. At least that was what it did with the old modem I had. I now have a new PC and a fancy-looking router with flashing lights and an aerial but the problems persist. Now I get disconnected totally - the phone goes off and the Internet with it.

Last year, I couldn't stand any more and got in touch with Telefónica who sent engineers around. One called first and spent many hours testing and examining the wires and he said he thought it was due to old wiring in the building. He went away for lunch and came back hours later and in all this time I had no access to the Internet so was getting behind with work.

When he returned he informed me that it wasn't possible to fix it. He showed me a cabinet in the wall down the corridor and a bunch of cables in it that he pulled out and drew a diagram on some paper to explain that all this section of the corridor and apartments were fine but the part I lived in was not.

Conversation between me and him was difficult because his English was as bad as my Spanish and we were both struggling to explain what we wanted to say. I got him to understand that I needed a connection for work and asked when it could at least be put back on but working badly.

It was Friday then and he said Monday at the earliest. I knew I was going to be way behind if that was the case and was feeling stressed and sad.

Then a second engineer who had been doing something on the floor above called down to him and after a conversation between the two they said the good news was they would be able to get it back on for me by the evening.

I went back to my apartment to wait it out. I was so depressed about how the day had turned out I got out my guitar and tuned it so I could play slide and ended up writing a blues song about the horrible experience.

Then, at last, there was a ring on the doorbell around 8pm and it was the two engineers plus a supervisor. They said it should all be back on but they had to do a few checks and see it was all working again.

They came in and did their checks and the boss wanted to see if my Internet Broadband was now on again. It wasn't. He messed around with the modem box and the leads for the phone and the PC. He went on the PC and tapped around on my keyboard and finally announced that the problem was the modem.

He tried something else and then said it was the phone that was faulty. He said I needed a new one. They all got up to go and I thought they were getting a new phone for me.

A few minutes later the first engineer came back not with a new phone but to tell me they could not supply one but I would have to get one myself. I was feeling really fed up with it all but went back to see what, if anything, I could do. Amazingly the phone and Internet connection were back on and stayed like that the next day.

I concluded that if three trained men, including a supervisor, were unable to decide for sure what the problem was - it had been diagnosed as old wiring, a modem and a faulty phone but now it was all on again that I would make do with what I had.

Sadly the problems were soon to start again some days after. But what is really weird about all this is that I have had weeks when all has worked fine and then the trouble starts again. It is all very random and can strike at any time.

Anyway, my current problems with it have got so bad that now the whole phone can go dead and of course the Internet is then unusable. It was off all last night from the point of view of being usable for anything but is back on again at present, which is how I am able to do this.


Author and journalist CJ Stone knows well that I am a technophobe and horrible experiences like this make me that way. Both CJ and I have a friend called Willow who takes the phone thing even further and has been known to refuse to speak on them.

Mr Angry - Michelangelo (Steve Wright in the Afternoon)

Steve Wright in the afternoon

BBC radio presenter

It takes a lot to get me really annoyed but over the last couple of days I have been fuming at times when the Internet and phone has gone dead. I am reminded of a radio show I used to enjoy by BBC Radio 1 and Radio 2 DJ Steve Wright. Steve's show, which was and is called Steve Wright in the Afternoon featured a character called Mr Angry.

Mr Angry would say in a very irate sounding voice: "It makes me so angry, so angry I could throw the phone down!" The way I have been feeling I could happily throw mine out!

Copyright © 2012 Steve Andrews. All Rights Reserved.