Follow the reluctant adventures in the life of a Welsh astrophysicist sent around the world for some reason, wherein I photograph potatoes and destroy galaxies in the name of science. And don't forget about my website,

Thursday 23 February 2012

The Struggle For Liberty

In 480 B.C., the combined forces of Athens and Sparta defeated Xerxes's mighty Persian juggernaut. This ushered in the next 25 centuries of Western civilisation. In 1280 A.D., William Wallace fought bravely but ineffectively against the tyranny of the English. The result of which was rather less significant - all that Western civilisation has to show for it is a very unsubtle Mel Gibson flick and an irritating Jabba the Hut impersonator.

More recently, I face my own epic struggle AGAINST the forces of Liberty. I don't have to lead an army or endure horrible torture. Unlike other rebels I don't even have to call in NATO for assistance, although it's tempting. Instead, I struggle daily against the more devious and subtle forces of monstrous incompetence, a truly glacial yet Quixotic battle which only Liberty can ultimately win.

When I arrived back, I had no television, water, phone or internet. As I've mentioned, the first two were easily remedied. Not so the latter. Having tried every variation on the old "switch it off and then on again" routine to no avail, I called my ISP (Liberty - haha, see what I did there ? aren't I witty) from work. They promised to send a technician round a few days later.

All well and good. On day of said appointment, I skipped work and waited at home. Taking a day off work without the internet is at least as much fun as watching Steven Spielberg's A.I., but to get my 10Mbps connection back it's a sacrifice I'm willing to make. But, having endured over an hour past the appointment time, I went into work and called Liberty again.

I have already related my shock on learning that the technician had tried to call my broken phone, failed and so decided not to come. I therefore carefully explained that next time the technician should phone my work number before he arrives, making the reasonable assumption that he might need directions to find the house, or even try to meet me somewhere less non-descript.

So, appointment day 2 arrived. Having waited patiently in my office all afternoon, I eventually decided to call them to check on things. They claimed that the technician had tried to call me hours earlier, which, if it was on the office line, was a straightforward lie. By now I'd determined that the fault lies with the modem (having borrowed my neighbour's and found that it worked first time). So I asked if they could simply send me a new modem, by post if possible. It was not to be.

This meant they had to book yet another appointment, now over two weeks since I'd first called them. This time the technician DID call me - at work no less ! The problem ? He only spoke Spanish. Not one word of English.

By now becoming physically sick of Liberty's 15 second repeating hold "music", I opted to book another appointment for the next day. By 11am I phoned to check what time the technician would arrive -  they told me it was actually scheduled for tomorrow. So, on that tomorrow, I waited patiently in my office - again - all afternoon. I missed an interesting seminar waiting for the call. I skipped the usual afternoon tea/Dominion session. I phoned them several times -

11am : "Between 12 and 5"
3:30pm : "In about another hour"
4:40pm : "Another 20 minutes"
5:50pm : "He called by the house but no-one was there. He tried to phone the house...."


Buh - ?



Then it gets worse. Now having enough pent-up frustration to actually complain, I make it quite clear to the operator that I've been waiting nearly 3 weeks and there have already been many delays. I tell him in simple terms that I shall spend the next day waiting at my house for the technician. Which I do. It's as tedious as tedious can be.

This time my landlord was around, so I borrowed his phone twice to check on when the technician should arrive. "Between 1 and 5" is the initial response. Fine. That's just my morning wasted, then. At 4pm I phone again. "Yes, he will come today, but we don't know when." Grr. Does he show up ? Like hell.

At about 6pm I borrow my neighbour's phone and make another call. This time they tell me that the technician - wait for it - called my work number didn't get an answer, so decided not to bother.

Frak me SIDEWAYS these people are stupid !

What do they do next, I hear you ask ? Book yet another appointment for the very next day. A Saturday, so marginally less inconvenient. This time the phone monkey assures me that the technician will not try to call any numbers, he will just attempt to find the house. Of course, the phone loses signal partway through the call and cuts out. So I try again, and apparently succeed in making the appointment.

At about 11am the next day I see one of the most disheartening sights I think I've ever seen. A Liberty van drives straight passed. It's a bit like watching Littlefoot's mother die all over again.

Naturally I call Liberty again, borrowing my neighbour's mobile. After some time struggling with poor signal and operators who misdirect me to Spanish-speaking menu systems, I eventually get through. Now I'm told that a) the van that drove past wasn't the technician dispatched (err, yeah, right, because there are ever so many Liberty vans in the area) and b) the technician needs a contact number.



Ahem. I didn't say that. What I did say, after momentarily pausing out of sheer exasperation, was that no, I explained this yesterday, it isn't possible. Mobile phones only work outside here. All of my neighbours have gone out for the day. He then states the directions they have on file - the previous phone monkey already confirmed these with me - which I'm only half-surprised to find are now somehow completely wrong. And then, with the tragic comic timing so perfect it smacks of a Gypsy curse, the phone cuts out.

I then try something new. It's obvious that the problems of short, phone-based conversations are just too overwhelming. Therefore, using my neighbour's wi-fi (which only works in my kitchen, and not terribly well) I send them an online service request :

Dear Liberty,
I have a technical appointment scheduled today to repair or replace my modem. Since this is broken it will not be possible to phone the house [it's a voice modem, my phone is connected to it]. Unfortunately, cell phone coverage in this area is very poor, so I cannot provide an alternative contact phone number. I attempted to phone you earlier, but the call was disconnected due to poor signal. I am sending this service request using my neighbour's internet.
I understand that it may be difficult to find the house, as your customer service department appeared to have incorrect directions. Here are the precise latitude and longitude you may use with a GPS system, or Google maps, in order to locate the property.
Alternative directions :
Heading south along route X, you will see a Texaco gas station. Turn left and proceed along route X. Continue along this route. Proceed until you see a junction with a sign for the Arecibo Observatory - follow this sign (to the right) to continue south along route X. After approximately 10 minutes you will reach the house. It is X, the front part is painted orange. To the left is a large pink house, and my next-door neighbour's house is pale green. Ahead a sign is visible with a large yellow arrow pointing to the left. If you reach La Esperanza with its white cemetery, you are on the correct road but have gone too far south.
[I'm not blanking directions out of paranoia, oh no. It's a competition to see who can find my house on Google Maps.]
If you could send me (via email) even a very approximate time the technician will call, I will happily wait outside in order to ensure he can find the property.
Please help, as I have been waiting for 3 weeks to have my internet restored, and on 4 separate occasions the technician has failed to arrive.
Thank you,
Rhys Taylor

What happens ? Well, about an hour later the status of the service request is changed to "closed". That's. It.

At this point it seemed that my only options were to either cry at the operator or try and flirt with them like a mad thing. I'm no good at either. I'm even worse at getting angry at people who work in call centres. So I make one more effort at booking an appointment, which again fails to transpire.

Finally, based on me neighbour's suggestion (who had a similar though less epic battle with Liberty) I write an email to the managing director of Liberty. It's very polite, in the tone of the above service request. There was no direct response to this, so after a few days I again rang and booked yet another appointment (number 6, I believe). Once more I told them to phone my work number. This time they tell me the technician should phone at around 8-9am.

Although having as much confidence in this as I do in David Cameron's economic genius, I nonetheless duly went into work at 8am. Of course, they didn't call. This time I decided to go to the seminar, then lunch, and then phone them. They rang the technician, who promised to call me around 3, and I again gave my work number just to make sure.

What happened next ?


Extraordinarily, the technician rang my work number (at 2pm), spoke good English, and arranged to meet me in a convenient location. 10 minutes later we were at my house. 20 minutes after that... everything was done. Exactly as I knew would happen, all he had to do was to replace the modem. There is, of course, one and only one possible response to this.

And that's it. I may not have overthrown a tyrant or secured Scottish independence, but I damn well got Liberty and justice for me.

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