Howard Croft column: Analogue man’s struggle with digital technology

Telephone fault led to a lengthy online conversation via a Talk Talk chat room.
Telephone fault led to a lengthy online conversation via a Talk Talk chat room.

I was described recently as “an analogue man floundering in a digital world”. In so far as I was able to attach any meaning to this doubtless clever remark, I did not sense that I had been paid a compliment, probably because it was delivered with a self-satisfied smirk and a top-dressing of contempt.

The reality of what had been said was brought home to me shortly afterwards when we developed a fault on our telephone land-line, the details of which don’t matter and anyway are of even less interest to you than they were to TalkTalk. Gone are the days when in such a situation you could pop round next door and beg the use of their rotary-dial ’phone (remember those?) and get onto the GPO (remember them?) and wait with the kettle on for a thirsty “engineer”.

Mrs Croft, a more persistent user of the telephone than me, sprang into action only to discover that no-one at TalkTalk would deal with her because the account is in my name – a blatant affront to the feminist principles I have cherished for so long. Up steps the master of the house. I am directed to a website where I find myself in a “chat room”, a new experience for me, analogue man that I am. I had thought that chat rooms were shady places where paedophiles, terrorists and teenagers are accustomed to congregate to plan their weekends, unsupervised by MI5. I was nervous.

So began a prolonged “chat” with someone with a unlikely name and an irritating propensity to address me by my Christian name with a frequency that quickly became tiresome. Why we could not speak on the telephone – we are after all talking about a company that provides a telephone service – is hard to fathom. This chat went on for well over an hour, but luckily Mrs Croft was on hand and we took it in shifts to enable coffee breaks, comfort breaks and so on, so they were dealing with a non-account-holder, but they didn’t know it. When I demanded to speak to a human being on the telephone I was asked when I would like to do this, to which my answer was IMMEDIATELY. I was told that I could expect a call between two and four in the afternoon.

I explained that as I have a hearing impairment – we are not allowed to say “deaf” any more – it would be helpful if our account could be in joint names so that in future they could deal with Mrs Croft. No, impossible; they don’t “do” joint accounts. They are, however, quite happy to accept payment of their bills by way of our joint bank account. They would, on the other hand, issue Mrs Croft with a top secret “guest” password for use “going forward”, and they would be prepared to speak to Mrs Croft at once if I authorised it. This I did. I wonder what happens when an account holder dies, not having nominated a guest.

And just as well that I did. We were instructed to dismantle the junction box on the wall where the wires come in and to fiddle about inside it while they monitored things at their end. I delegated this process to Mrs Croft as she has a Doctor of Science degree whereas all I have is “O” level chemistry (grade 6). After about an hour of highly technical fiddling about and much swearing like a docker on the part of my better half, the problem was declared sorted.

The result was that our broadband service had disappeared, but thanks to Mrs C’s fine doctoral qualification, it was restored leaving us with the same telephone line fault that had started the whole process. I am tempted to dump the landline altogether, but of course our mobile ‘phones don’t work so well in the house – whether because of thick walls (our fault) or poor service in a rural area (not TalkTalk’s, you can be sure of that).

So, what to do? We could ditch the whole TalkTalk deal and go back to BT in the hope that there are still people there who were trained by the GPO and that remnants of that culture have survived. If there are any retired GPO linesmen reading this and interested in a private arrangement, please get in touch. It’s good to talk.