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Friday, August 16, 2019

Comic Cuts - 16 August 2019

This is the first comic cuts column for four weeks, the first to be written 30 days after our internet service died.

At mid-day on Wednesday, 17 July, our telephone and broadband provider, Talk Talk, switched us over to a new fibre connection. They sent an e-mail confirming the new service was live (see above). Unfortunately, it wasn't anything of the kind.

Unaware that they had switched because we didn't receive the confirmatory email, I thought it was just a glitch and left it for a few hours. When four o'clock arrived with no return of service, I phoned Talk Talk to find out what was going on, and a month of frustration began... and the problem is still not resolved.

We were initially told that the problem would be fixed within 24 hours, possibly up to 72 hours. When I called on Saturday (20th July) after the 72 hours had elapsed I was told that the time didn't start until the day after my call and weekends were excluded. When I phoned the following Tuesday (23rd July) I was told it would be an additional 48 hours and I would receive a call from Talk Talk.

There was no call back. This was the first of half a dozen calls that have been promised over the past few weeks that Talk Talk have failed to meet. Nobody at the call centre in the Philippines could answer the simple question: Why was the system not working? I heard that the problem was a hydra cable, a problem at the exchange, that there had been an "infrastructure event" at the local cabinet, that BT Openreach had sent out the wrong engineer (a bit of a "wrong kind of snow" excuse if ever there was one), and even, on a couple of occasions, that the case was resolved.

We had a Talk Talk engineer in the house on 1st August, and, as he could not find any faults, he – a nice guy called Phil – said that the various tests that had been done by Talk Talk on the line showed two problems: a problem at the exchange and an "authentication" issue.

A BT Openreach engineer was supposed to come round the next day. Nobody arrived. Apparently he'd been cancelled without anybody bothering to tell us.

This meant that a problem we'd raised about a loose wire at the box outside the house wasn't resolved. During last week they managed to miss three scheduled calls and I finally received a call back on Monday (12th August) to tell me that they were arranging yet another visit from a BT Openreach engineer for the next day. He turned up this time. Another very helpful guy who tested everything that he could between the house and the local cabinet and exchange and finding no fault whatsoever. He fixed the dangly wire, so that's at least something.

When I spoke to Talk Talk on Wednesday, they said they were escalating their response and a Talk Talk software engineer was being assigned to the problem within the next five days.

Whatever the engineer did, he did good, for at around 11.20am yesterday (Thursday, 15th August), after 29 days with our router looking like HAL, the little red dot turned white. Our spanking new unlimited fibre broadband line was live. I'm writing this on Thursday evening and the connection seems stable. One or two things are a little slow, but we've achieved download speeds of up to 2.4 mb/sec. Not the 40 mb/sec promised, but a start.

During the period it was down, we've had to come up with a few alternatives to keep going.

As you'll know, I have been selling stuff on Ebay for a couple of months. Well, that ground to a halt for a few days. I wasn't too worried back in mid-July... 24 hours... even 72 hours. Treat it as a bit of a holiday. I'd been sorting through some old family photographs, so it seemed like a good opportunity to scan the last of the pictures—a total of 163 photos which I also cleaned and tidied up.

I scanned a load of magazines and books in preparation of getting back to Ebay business. I dug out some old boxes and sorted through those, so I have a few dozens of film magazines that will also be making their way to Ebay eventually. There are boxes I've not had a chance to sort through because I simply ran out of space.

As the problem continued, I began to panic. Travelling into Colchester is an expense I couldn't afford, so I had to look locally for somewhere I could get a free connection to the internet. I'd bought a cheap tablet late last year and it has proved invaluable. For three weeks I was spending up to three hours a day working on it, piggybacking off the wifi at a local vegan restaurant for the cost of a cup of coffee.

I've already thanked them, but they earned what little publicity I can give them. So if you're ever in Wivenhoe, The Olive Branch in Station Road deserves your attendance. Pay them a visit. Pay them a few quid. You'll get fantastic service and very nice food in return.

When the restaurant started getting busy, I'd make myself scarce, so it was not the ideal place to work. The only other place I could find with free wifi was a pub, which, again, is not ideal. We needed to get connected at home.

By now July had turned into August. Mel, too, has also been struggling through all this, having to adapt to the lack of internet at home by looking up stuff at work and arranging chats with friends through Whatsapp rather than online. She did the research and we decided that our best bet was a dongle that 02 were offering which had quite a generous data plan.

Unfortunately, the shop was out of them and, when I called their customer store, we discovered that they would not have replacement stocks for over six weeks. Was this a problem?

Yes. Yes it was.

We then spent a fruitless few days with a SIM card, a borrowed smart phone and a newly created giffgaff account, trying to create a wifi hotspot in the house. Didn't work. The phone recognised giffgaff, but we could not get a network connection.

So we decided that we'd get a SIM from 02 and sign up to a pay-as-you-go plan. We went back to the shop we'd visited the week before and spoke to the same guy we'd talked to about the dongle. When we mentioned the six week waiting list, he asked us to hang on, went to the back room and emerged with a small box containing a mobile wifi device. They hadn't had one the previous week but this was just in.

And that's how I'm talking to you today. We signed up with 02 but can quit the contract at any time. We've had to buy the mobile device (about £35) but it's a small price to pay, albeit a price I could do without at the moment.

Our mate Iain had figured out how to get into my e-mail account, which had been inaccessible for some weeks. The account simply said I had 999+ emails, so I spent  a few days deleting what I could. Over 600 deleted messages later, the account still told me I had 999+ emails. The system could only show me so many, so the earliest mails were invisible to me until we fitted the wifi device. A few minutes later, we'd used up about 7% of our monthly allowance downloading 1,106 emails.

A lot of them were Ebay relistings and correspondence I'd managed to deal with on the tablet, but it still took the whole of Sunday and some of Monday to get it down to manageable levels. Amongst the mail was the weekly Commando and 2000AD updates, so I cobbled those together to keep the record of those releases going. I still need to add some cover for the Commando titles, but I'll get to that shortly.

What I've been up during my enforced break I'll come back to in another post. Briefly, I've been noodling around typing up some notes that are meant to be for a book I've been planning. For the moment, however, that will take a back burner while I try to re-establish myself on Ebay and flog a few Bear Alley books, as sales have been pretty bad of late.

It may take a week or two to get back to my normal output, so if I miss a day or two it'll be down to time, not the internet falling over again. I hope. If anything bad happens, I'll let people know via Facebook. It's worth a note that I posted updates on FB rather than here because I was able to access FB without problem. Blogger wanted me to authenticate the device I was using (my tablet) by sending me an e-mail... and, of course, I couldn't at that time read my e-mails. It was only last Friday that I was able to get into my backlogged mail server and prove who I was.

By the way, I'd like to send out a Thank You to the kind folk who got in touch, some via FB, some by e-mail (which I've only now been able to read) wondering what was happening and offering their support when they found out. To all those well-wishers, I offer my thanks.

Let's just hope the broadband doesn't collapse again. As I said on FB: If you believe in God, pray for us. If you believe in dogs, pet your dog for us.


  1. I know from hard experience that TalkTalk is a nightmare to deal with. Told me they'd send out an engineer at no cost, then tried to charge me £60. Turned out the noise on my line was to indicate that there were messages in my TalkTalk answer service (which I don't use as I've got an answering machine), which the various TalkTalk people I spoke to on the 'phone could have told me, but didn't. Every time I have to talk with them, it takes hours because their English-speaking assistants aren't English-understanding assistants. I always end up with a massive headache.

  2. So much for the nonsensical saying that TalkTalk is cheap. Isn't it high time they started doing the WalkWalk? Or else take a running jump into the nearest rubbish compactor?

  3. Well, some good came out of it for you. I realised you're on Facebook, had a look, saw that you were selling a book I wanted (One Lonely Knight: Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer by Max Allan Collins), and bought it.