Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Phone Box Man 

I have found my calling [pun] in life. Today I was on the steets and needed to make some calls, so had to use a B.T. phone box.

The first one I tried rejected all my coins. This made me mad. (I was making the phone call as part of a faff riddled process I was tangled up in - so I was not in the best of moods to start with). I stopped and addressed myself,? I was deviating from my core beliefs and standard operational behaviour, time to get back on track.

I stopped being mad and considered how one may get even with a phone box. I could urinate in it, but it smelt like someone had already done that. I thought about extracting some revenge upon BT themselves, but then I decided I didn't really care that much and it was actually someone else's fault I was in this situation in the first place.

I was about to go find another phone box, when I thought that maybe I should care about the faulty phone. Maybe this phone had been broken for months, people, having failed to use it, had just gone to find another one. Stupid, selfish people I thought. So I phoned the operator and he told me to dial 151 and I was through to an automated service for registering a fault with the phone. There seemed to be plenty of options, dirty phones, dead phones and thankfully an option for phones that did not accept coins. Eventualy the system told me my fault report had been registered in their database and I hung up feeling a bit smug like I do after carrying an old ladies bags off the train. I half expected to see a BT repair van pull up and an engineer leap out.

Off I trotted to find another phone. This time the coin slot was totally blocked, there was no opportunity to have your coins rejected as you couldn't feed them into the phone in the first place. I knew exactly what to do, dialed 151 and reported the fault. I even remembered the key presses required to register a coin problem (1-2-1-1 ?). Now I had a real buzz and had almost forgot about the annoyance of not being able to make the phone call. I really was doing something positive, making a difference, doing my bit to make the world a better place.

This phone was part of a doubler, but there was a guy in the other box so I gave up with the phone call (it was time dependent and I was getting late for the current slot, I'd try again in a couple of hours).

While eating lunch I imagined how far I could take this. There must be thousands of phone boxes in central London. Going by my current observations (2 out of 2) probably a great number of them were faulty. The tool for reporting the faults was simple and powerful, it even gave you a reference number that I could note down on a clipboard for transferring to computer spreadsheet later to track the progress of the fault resolution. I'd get a name for myself, a mysterious do-gooder roaming the streets of London, doing their bit to clean up the streets and put the world to rights. I'd get mentioned in the local papers and get to shake hands with Ken Livingstone. Maybe I could disguise my identity, wear a costume and style myself as a super-hero.

After lunch it was back to the phones. I first tried the phone I hadn't already tried, the one that was previously occupied. I put in one coin and it was instantly rejected (here we go again, I thought). I tried to retrieve my coin and noticed to my surprise that the rejected coin bucket held a number of coins: one 50p, two 10p and my 20p. I put the bonus 50p into the coin slot and the phone swallowed it, but did not register it, it seemed to be stuck. I put in one of the 10p coins in the hope that this would un jam it, but this was swallowed to. Stupidly I put all remaining coins into the phone with the hope of knocking out the others. It didn't work, and I'd lost all the coins I'd found along with my original 20p. I banged and tried to shake them free.

So out of a set of three phones:

- one blocked coins
- one rejected coins
- one swallowed coins

(there's a metaphor for life or love in there somewhere)

I still needed to make the phone call. I tried the second phone box again (blocked slot), but used my credit card instead. This seemed to work, after a while I was prompted to enter the telephone number which I did, but some of the buttons stuck. Every time I pressed "0" it would register that press at least twice, or just hold the button in so I heard a continuous tone. I tried this again, being very gentle with the broken buttons, and nearly managed it once, only to mess it up with the last press and enter an invalid number.

Now I was annoyed. I didn't report this fault as I was more concerned about making the call, and I figured the engineer would maybe spot and fix the problem when attending to the blocked coin slot.

I went back to the 3rd phone (swallowing coins) and tried my credit card. The card reader on this one was broken as it kept giving me a "card not inserted correctly" message.

I returned to the 1st phone (rejected coins) and tried my credit card and it worked and the buttons didn't stick and finally I was able to dial the number and the phone was ringing on the other end and..... it was still ringing on the other end. Nobody answered.

Problems with communication devices seemed to be the order of a very unproductive and pointless day. A Telex message from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Moscow to the Russian Consulate in London didn't arrive in time, so I didn't get my visa and I don't get to go to Moscow - least not this week.

Your blog is a good read. Just wanted to say hi from the states.
I visited your side of the planet years ago and loved it. Next time once the kiddies are grown, I want to go to Wales (my GGGrandparents were from Caerphilly and Cardiff)

Anyway, it's good reading...you travel quite a bit?
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