Monday, 27 April 2015


At the TEDx Conference run by the London Business School at the Royal Geographical Society on April 24th there was one stand out presentation.

Gareth Cliff at 37 is regarded as a stalwart broadcaster in South Africa. He is the founder of the Cliff Central radio station which has the slogan - “Uncensored. Unscripted. Unradio”.

Cliff is a contrarian who has created a show which he describes as follows:-

real conversation about everything in the news, guests, edgy material and a healthy dose of inspiration and intelligence. Without limits... there will be entertainment, provocative content and unhinged reality.

His talk was inspiringly positive. No doubt he ridicules the absurd and has rows with politicians but in modern Africa he can. His thesis was about the new found freedom of speech and the explosive effect on the continent’s growth this would bring.

Digital is the new voice of Africa with over 900,000 mobile subscriptions. Now everyone is a broadcaster. By 2018 Africa will have overtaken the USA for smart phone ownership.

The story of democratisation was novel in the context of an African narrative of Ebola, Boko Haram, Somalian piracy and 91 year old Robert Gabriel Mugabe. Cliff talked about this old man to whom something happened recently which went viral.

Mugabe fell awkwardly on some stairs after addressing supporters in Harare. The blameless bodyguards have all been fired albeit not executed. Now in the past this minor incident would have been censored but this is 2015 and not only did it get full coverage but the satirists have got to work. The web was full of Mugabe in action from breakdancing to football and more. Cliff mildly observed that personally he had no reason to make fun of a very old man but wasn’t it great that everyone out there thought it was safe now to take a pop at this long serving dictator.

Cliff’s vision of Africa was impressive. It may be far from perfect in pockets, for instance he and the South African President Jacob Zuma are unlikely to be bosom buddies after Cliff posted a piece to him explaining what a crap job Zuma was doing.

Recently Cliff questioned the cost and need for a very expensive public funeral for a footballer called Senzo. Imagine a state funeral for a Wayne Rooney. There was an explosion of outrage from people calling him racist to which he responded in his blog:

I was called every kind of vulgar thing by a horde of the least eloquent, most furious, marauding lunatics I didn’t know, and who couldn’t have all known Senzo either.

Hurray! They are out there in the open talking, shouting and even laughing.  Democracy and free speech works.

Postscript to the BT Soap Opera.

To conclude it’s not working at BT.  The engineer due to fix up the TV (three weeks after we’d moved house) was about to go to our old address and said he was unable to come to the right address for “health and safety reasons”. Aaagghh!!!!!

Monday, 20 April 2015


When you move house or office or anything like that a fair amount of disruption follows. For me the most intriguing thing has been the array of tradesmen who’ve been to call checking a variety of utilities, mending the broken and quoting eye watering sums for the potential beautification of the house.

All of them real craftsmen, impressively knowledgeable and attentive to our needs - including BT when they got here.  My concern about beastly BT is they’ve constructed an unwieldy and commercially crass structure until a real human being, the BT engineer comes to call. He was smart, assiduous and all is well - I’m back on line. But here’s the odd thing, the maddening thing - before he arrives I’m called by BT saying I can set myself up without an engineer (no I can’t and yes I know having an attack of rage so early in the morning can’t be good for me) and then even whilst he’s here I’m being texted to say he won’t be coming now for another two days. I show him this and he says “take no notice” and carries on working.

My dispassionate and utterly serious point to you BT is you cannot afford to carry on wasting time, money and talent doing the little stuff so badly. Please can I tell you how to solve the problem?

Be as big as you wish but behave as though you were small. When your customer interface parades your scale you are doomed. Thus with the banks. I bank with NatWest - I always have. At a branch level (yes I go to branches ever since being told by a banking friend that bankers never bank online - “are you insane?”) the service is brilliant, charming and helpful. Out there however beyond the phone, in the call centres life gets trickier. Thus with the retailers. Tesco suffered in part by seeming so huge. Wherever you went that 1970s logo reminded you that “every little helps”. Pretending to be little when they are really big and beastly. Thus with big government, it doesn’t work. Only small, can-do fix-it-it people can solve things.

It’s time to put human faces back into customer service like B&Q have done employing retirees who are D&Y fanatics and who really know what they are talking about.

And it’s time to break down the myth that big is better when it’s usually confused. In the case of BT left and right hands belong to completely different bodies. Imagine a left hand whom you don’t know and isn’t yours trying to blow your nose. My BT experience has been that bad.

Oh and it isn’t over. They called to say could they fix the TV by sending an engineer? Suspiciously I agreed. Then the paperwork was emailed. They are planning to go where we used to live. The trouble is I can’t get through to them to say don’t go there we’ve moved.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015


The late David Abbott created this wonderful advertising campaign for BT starring Bob Hoskins with his gritty, man of the people voice. At the time I thought it was perfect, capturing as it did the raison d’etre of this big cuddly company.

This month I’ve changed my mind.

Over the several hours that I’ve talked to BT employees over the past month I’ve concluded this lumbering beast needs dismembering and fast. Everyone I’ve talked to from Jordan, Louise, Kate, Mia, Dali to Helen and many others have been articulate, intelligent and well mannered. But the cock-up over which they’ve calmly presided is baffling.

On the 18th of March they accepted my reporting of an imminent change of address and my order for fibre optic broadband with all the bells and whistles at the new address.

A week later having received no confirmation of the order I called and was unable to reach anyone apart from the BT sales team trying to sell me BT Mobile. It was like enquiring  what the next train for London was and being asked if I wanted to buy a banana. Eventually I got someone who said they could help and they told me the first order had not been processed for technical reasons and a new one would be raised.
Hurray. It was and I was e-mailed confirmation and told an engineer would call to sort everything at the new address on April 2nd and that the kit would be sent.

The kit arrived. BT were really bringing it all together. So ‘twas on a Wednesday morning when the BT man came to call….only he didn’t.

And when I complained was told the earliest anyone could call was April 16th.

And then called again to say that was now April 20th. Because the sun was shining, Brighton is laid back and England had just won a cricket match I didn’t shout and was calm and reasonable and the Indian said wistfully “thank you Sir for being so nice in these circumstances”.

And then I got an invoice for the old address for my office which is where the broadband is based which didn’t mention termination so I rang and they denied all knowledge and said the line would remain live till April 20th this being the earliest they could react.

So I have broadband working where I used to live and nothing where I do live.

And about four hours of my life have been spent talking to people who are doing their best but do not grasp that the customer’s always right and needs to be satisfied.

But it’s all clearly my fault and I should be so lucky as to have BT supplying me.

BT is a beast.

I’m going to have to fire them but they’ve been family all my life so it’ll be a real wrench.
I’m going to check out alternatives and move on from bureaucracy….or not.

As Bob Hoskins might have said “it’s good to walk”.

Sunday, 5 April 2015


As Easter is upon us, I'm pleased to say almost all is well in the new Hall household, relocated after weeks of effort and some anxiety.

However, as regular readers will know, Richard had weeks of multitasking to carry out in the run up, as his gorgeous assistant (and love of his life) suffered an attack of some virus so severe it seems as if it must have been man-flu (- strange in itself as this means it jumped the gender barrier!).

Kate is well now, but Richard is puggled.  Partly this is due to two weeks of skirmishing with BT whose warm words and reassuring customer service platitudes bely astonishing failures and delays in transferring his broadband service to the new domain.

Consequently Richard will not be writing this week.  Sit tight friends and he will return next week.


The Blogmeister.