The Electric Bill, The Banking App and Me

This last week I picked up my iPad to pay my electric bill. Yes, the digital world has made it so easy to do things like that. No writing a cheque and slipping it into a pre-paid envelope and then going off into the cold to find a post box. These days you can just click on your banking app and press a button and it’s all sorted. Sometimes though it can all go so very wrong.

My electric bill arrived as usual in my email inbox. I saw it and made a mental note to pay it and then moved on to much more interesting things such as the old episodes of The Saint for instance, currently enjoying a renewed life on digital TV. Roger Moore is so much better at playing Simon Templar than James Bond. Then of course there are so many things to search for on eBay, things I didn’t know I even wanted until eBay showed them to me.

Eventually I finally got around to paying that pesky electric bill. I was tired and did it quickly, far too quickly as it turned out, just before going to sleep. Just as I pressed the button to pay my bill, I glanced quickly at the reference number that had been saved and the thought that that didn’t look like my usual electricity reference number passed fleetingly through my head before I nodded off to a restful slumber.

It just so happens that I’m pretty good at remembering stuff like that, reference numbers and telephone numbers. All I have to do to remember a telephone number is to write it down and I’ll automatically remember it. Don’t write it down and that’s it, I’ll always forget it. Anyway a few days later I had an email from the electricity company moaning that I still hadn’t paid my bill so I double checked everything, yes there was the payment, I had definitely paid it. Before sending off an email to Eon I thought I’d better just check that reference number. I did and I noticed it wasn’t the right one. What was it then? Aha, it was my old mum’s reference number from the days when I used to pay her electric bill. My iPad always remembers her reference number. I usually delete it and add my own account number but that last time I didn’t. Serves me right for paying the bill late at night when I was tired. OK, they had the money but just not in the right account. Could hardly be difficult to resolve, could it?

I dropped an email off to Eon and waited for an answer. Nothing. I called them and got stuck in a call centre queue which believe me, there is nothing I hate more apart from perhaps getting stuck in a traffic queue on the motorway when a lane is closed and there are no road workers working. So, I switched my phone on to speaker, tried to block out the horrible recorded music coming through and started pottering about on my iPad. Forty minutes later after Liz had thrown various things at me because the racket coming from my phone was driving her mad, I retreated into the kitchen and put the kettle on. Just as I was ready to settle down with a cup of tea and a corned beef sandwich someone finally answered.

That someone was a chap called Bakar. Now Bakar spoke pretty good English but even so, it wasn’t a great line and I did have a little difficulty understanding him. For a kick off I couldn’t quite get his name and I had to ask him to spell it phonetically. Bravo Alfa Kilo Alfa Romeo. Exotic names like that can be a real problem in today’s international world. At work the other day I took a call from a motorist (I work in a motorway control room) who had broken down on the motorway. His name was -and here I won’t use his real name but a very similar one that I’ve pinched from a popular comedian, Romesh Ranganathan. I couldn’t for the life of me catch his name so I asked him to spell it phonetically; Romeo Oscar Mike Echo Sierra Hotel and so on. As you can imagine that took a while and that was only his first name. In order to get the AA to come and rescue him I had to give him a major interrogation, name, address, mobile number and so on and then to pass all of that to the AA themselves, which took a bit of effort I can tell you.

Towards the end of the conversation the AA declined to come out because Mr Ranganathan’s policy had expired which to be honest, is something that happens fairly regularly. Let’s face it, as soon as you think you’re fed up paying a ridiculous amount of money for breakdown cover that you never use, you know you’re going to need it.

Anyway, that’s enough about Mr Ranganathan, let’s get back to my electric bill and Bakar. Here’s a quick recap. I’d paid my electric bill to Eon. They had the money in their bank, it was just that it was in the wrong account. From my perspective it seemed to me that there was a simple solution, even a couple of simple solutions. (1) Transfer the money from the wrong account into the correct account. (2) Refund the money to me and then I could just pay it again with the correct reference.

‘Sorry no’ said Bakar, ‘we can’t just credit your account’. Why not I asked? ‘It’s just not possible’ said Bakar without really explaining why.’ OK then refund me the money. ‘Ahh, that’s not possible either,’ said Bakar. ‘Why not?’ I asked. ‘Well, I can’t refund you money from someone else’s account.’  ‘But that’s my mother’s defunct account.’ ‘Ahh yes but she’d have to give us authorisation to refund the money to you.’ ‘Why? It was me that paid the money in!’ ‘Ahh, but Mrs Higgins would have to authorise the payment to you.’ ‘Why? Her account is closed and she is currently living in an old people’s home!’

This conversation went on for some time and Bakar successfully deflected every idea I had for resolving the issue and come to think of it, he didn’t bring any of his own ideas into the conversation. How I didn’t smash my phone into a thousand pieces I don’t know but I would like to think that you, the impartial blog reading public are on my side, surely Eon could have sorted the whole thing out easily. However, their final piece of advice, was to contact my bank and ask them to contact Eon’s bank for the return of the money. Bakar, and the Eon help desk which he was representing went right down in my estimation but there was no choice but to contact my bank after, I might add, telling Bakar how disappointed I was in him and his organisation and penning a strongly worded email complaining bitterly about my treatment. His final comment was that if I didn’t pay my bill soon, I would be incurring a late payment charge (numerous swear words deleted here).

After a fresh cup of tea and the now slightly stale corned beef sandwich followed by some deep breaths to calm me down, it was time to dial my bank. Once again, I went through numerous menus, all advising me to put the phone down and use the bank’s internet app. I did check the app, but nothing there was of any help to my particular problem. After a relatively short wait I found myself talking to an operator who seemed eager to help but felt that a colleague in another department could provide more information so once again I was condemned to phone menu music while I waited.

After a short wait the same operator came back. Clearly that other colleague was busy so he’d have to try another one in a ‘specialist’ department. Cue more music and finally a lady came on the line, a lady who sounded very much like she was at the end of a very long tunnel. I explained the situation once again, in fact I’d explained it so much I was now word perfect. Pity I couldn’t have been as perfect when I was narrating the short introduction to one of my new videos the other day which I had to re-record many, many times. Yes, that imagined career in voice overs I was contemplating may just not be happening.

I repeated my sad story of paying my electric bill using my mother’s defunct electric account number yet another time, and then repeated it once again as the lady at the end of the long and echoing tunnel didn’t quite get it the first time. I went on hold yet again and finally was told the electric company’s bank had been contacted and they had asked for my money back which apparently might take up to four weeks. Four weeks! Four weeks in this instant internet digital world. Yes, apparently so.

The whole sad saga brought to mind the old joke about the guy who phones up his psychiatrist. He too gets a phone menu and the electronic voice at the other end says this:

If you are obsessive-compulsive, please press 1 repeatedly. If you are co-dependent, please ask someone to press 2. If you have multiple personalities, please press 3, 4, 5, and 6. If you are schizophrenic, listen carefully and a little voice will tell you which number to press. If you are paranoid, we know who you are and what you want. Just stay on the line so we can trace the call.

Anyway, here’s the moral of the story, next time you pay your electric bill always check that reference number!


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The ups and downs of the Internet

quotescover-JPG-11As you can guess if you’ve read any of my other blogs, I just love the digital age. It’s enabled me to do so many things; share my writing with everyone here on wordpress, share my pictures on Tumblr and Flickr and my videos on you tube.

What’s been a highlight in particular is that I’ve been a motor racing fan since I was a school boy and when I was younger I spent a lot of time at my local circuit, Oulton Park in Cheshire, watching motor races and taking pictures. I had a whole mountain of pictures that had only been seen by me and have been sitting in an album upstairs in my back room for years. Now Flickr has enabled me to share them with other race fans and my Oulton Park collection has had hundreds of views, when a few years back it was just one.

image courtesy everystockphoto.com

image courtesy everystockphoto.com

Social networking is so interesting and varied. The main social sites are probably Facebook and Twitter. I’m on both of those sites but they are very different. Twitter is in a lot of ways a real-time web site. Many people comment on sport and TV shows while the shows or events are still in progress but personally if I’m trying to comment on an F1 race I feel as though I’m missing the action whilst I’m tweeting. I suppose in that way Twitter is ideal for the smart phone whereas Facebook is somewhere you can post your status and then come back another time and respond to further comments. On Twitter most of my friends are pure internet acquaintances, especially now as I’ve been promoting my work heavily on that site. I get other authors asking me to like their pages and posts and in return I like their pages and posts so we both benefit with extra web exposure.

The same thing has been starting to happen on Facebook with increasing traffic from non-friends, people who just like my blogs, so I’ve had to create a Facebook page for myself as a writer so that I can keep separate my business and personal friends.

Another aspect of the internet is that it enables you to check out your old and long-lost friends and a site like Friends Reunited started a trend for connecting with old friends. Friends Reunited was one of the early success stories of the internet but in the last few years it fell by the wayside, it’s popularity overtaken by sites like the aforementioned Twitter and Facebook. Now the site has been taken down and it’s web address is just a dead link.

I’ve traced quite a few of my old school friends thanks to Friends Reunited, for instance one of my primary school pals that I have made contact with emigrated to Canada, was successful in the computer industry and now lives in semi-retirement on an island off the west Canadian coast. Pretty good for a lad from a Wythenshawe council estate. That was an interesting find and my friend Paul and I have exchanged a fair few e-mails. Both of us are happy and literate writers, perhaps we’re really old-fashioned letter writers now turned to e-mails but I find that today it’s easy, at least for some people, to fall into a kind of text speak even on social media that sometimes slips over into e-mail messages.

I had one e-mail a while ago from an old school friend asking if I was the same Steve Higgins who he knew at school. I replied back that yes I was and added a good few paragraphs about my life, what I had been up to in the intervening years and what I was doing now. Nothing came back for months and when I wrote again to say ‘did you get my e-mail’ a reply finally arrived. ‘Yes, great to hear from you LOL.’

That particular friend I’ve not seen for over thirty-five years and I’m none the wiser about him now, despite him wanting to contact me! Oh well, that’s the internet for you.

One more area of life that’s been revolutionised by the Internet is shopping. Yes, from the comfort of your own home you can search the Internet for all those tricky Christmas presents. There’s Amazon, and E-bay, and all the big stores have their own web sites and many frequently e-mail us about some great bargain. I had one a while ago offering me thirty razor blades ‘compatible’ with my Wilkinson’s razor at a very cheap price indeed. Blades are pretty pricey these days, so, OK, I clicked on the link, bought my voucher, then went to the razor blade site, and added my voucher code. OK so far but then I had to add a few quid for postage. Not happy! That extra money was eating into my savings. Anyway, eventually the blades arrived at my door. Not sure what kind of service was used but one wonders if a camel or even a tortoise was involved. OK, I get the blades but then there’s another problem: They won’t fit on my razor! Now, things get confusing because there are so many razors available these days. There’s the Hydro, the Quattro, the Quattro Titanium, and a shed load of others I couldn’t even begin to name. The blades were for a Hydro which I didn’t have but guess what? Someone on E-bay was selling one for a pound with free postage. Not only that, I had mentioned to Liz the previous day about some of the things I had noticed being sold on E-bay. A used razor for a pound? What plonker would even think of buying that?

Yes, that would be me . .


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The Ups and Downs of the Internet

As you can guess if you’ve read any of my other blogs, I just love the digital age. It’s enabled me to do so many things, share my writing with everyone here on wordpress, share my pictures on tumblr and flickr and my videos on you tube. What’s been a highlight in particular is that I’ve been a motor racing fan since I was a school boy and when I was younger I spent a lot of time at my local circuit, Oulton Park in Cheshire, watching motor races and taking pictures. I had a whole shedload of pictures that have only been seen by me and have been sat in an album upstairs in my back room for years and now flickr has enabled me to share them with other race fans and my Oulton Park collection has had hundreds of views, when a few years back it was just one.

image courtesy everystockphoto.com

image courtesy everystockphoto.com

Social networking is so interesting and varied. The main social sites are probably facebook and twitter. I’m on both of those sites but they are very different. Twitter is in a lot of ways a real time web site. Many people comment on sport and TV shows while the shows or events are still in progress but personally if I’m trying to comment on an F1 race I’m feel as though I’m missing the action while I’m tweeting. I suppose in that way Twitter is ideal for the smartphone whereas Facebook is something where you can post your status and then come back later or the next day and respond to further comments. On Twitter most of my friends are pure internet acquaintances, especially now as I’ve been promoting my blogs and book heavily on that site. I get other authors asking me to like their pages and posts and in return I like their pages and posts so we both benefit with extra web exposure.

The same thing has been starting to happen on Facebook with increasing traffic from non-friends, people who just like my blogs so I’ve had to create a Facebook page for myself as a writer so that I can keep separate my business and personal friends.

Another aspect of the internet is that it enables you to check out your old and long lost friends and a site like friends reunited is all about connecting with former school friends. Friends reunited was one of the early success stories of the internet but now it seems to have fallen by the wayside a little, it’s popularity overtaken by sites like the aforementioned  twitter and Facebook.

I’ve traced quite a few of my old school friends thanks to Friends Reunited, for instance one of my primary school pals that I made contact with emigrated to Canada, was successful in the computer industry and now lives in semi-retirement on an island off the west Canadian coast. Pretty good for a lad from a Wythenshawe council estate. That was an interesting find and my friend Paul and I have exchanged a fair few e-mails. Both of us are happy and literate writers, perhaps we’re really old fashioned letter writers now turned to e-mails but I find that nowadays it’s easy, at least for some people, to fall into a kind of text speak even on social media that sometimes slips over into messages.

I had one e-mail a while ago from an old school friend asking was I the same Steve Higgins that he knew at school. I replied back that yes I was and added a good few paragraphs about my life, what I had been up to in the intervening years and what I am doing now. Nothing came back for months and when I wrote again to say ‘did you get my e-mail’ a reply finally arrived. ‘Yes, great to hear from you LOL.’

That particular friend I’ve not seen for over thirty five years and I’m none the wiser about him now, despite him wanting to contact me! Oh well, that’s the internet for you!


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