Monday, February 13, 2006


All Mod Cons

I have spent all morning - and I mean all morning - on the phone to the TV Licencing people, trying to get a new telly licence. How hard can it be?

These things are always hard because I don't have a phone that works, so I have to walk to the phonebox to make any calls, and I am notoriously bad with public phone boxes. I once had a campaign to punch in all the screens of BTs new email phones, as I'd discovered one night in a blind rage, after seeing pound after pound go down the plughole without the phone letting me press more than three numbers, that if you hit the screens really, really hard, and in a certain way, the digital display couldn't take it any more.

So, it was with a degree of trepidation that I made my way there this morning. It started well, and I even got a human on the other end of the line, but I got a detail wrong, so I had to hang up and go away for a while until I'd get another operator.

I tried again, and got the automated system. The automated system asks for all your details, and clearly checks them with voice recognition, for when, upon being asked my phone number, I mumbled 'I don't have a phone', it promptly cut me off. Why do they ask my phone number? I don't want them to ring me later - I don't want to be friends with them or anything.

So, back to the drawing board. Except I'd run out of acceptable change, so I had to walk a quarter of a mile to buy a bag of Nik Naks, and ask for the change in 10p's. I travelled to the nearest phone box, but again I was thwarted - this phone wouldn't accept any money, and the returned coins tray was impossible. Now, look - I have abnormally long fingers, and even I was struggling to get my money out, and I was fucked if I was going to leave 10p there after the morning I'd had. So I grappled with the bloody thing, and eventually, after much tugging and cursing, I got the little silver slice of life back.

Next phone box, next try. This time I got a person again - the secret, by the way, is not to let the options list run to its conclusion, but to interrupt with the '1' button - and completed everything, fine. Until. He had just said 'I'll put that through for you', when the line went dead. Wasn't me. So have I actually managed it? Who knows.

I really struggle with technology. Phone boxes should be simple. My confusion and helplessness might be acceptable in some pensionable former seafarer who hasn't seen any advances in technology since 1955, but I'm a child of the '90s, a man about town. To be fair, I find really up to date technology simple, it's just the slightly older bits I can't cope with. Take my television - I know how it works, and I know how to change every setting, and what the effect will be, but I can't for the life of me work out which wire to take out when I want to plug the Playstation in. Or any of my four broken mobile phones - I know all the options, and I can work them pretty well, but for the life of me I can't open the panels at the back.

I was well annoyed by the cost of the TV licence. £126.25 or thereabouts. For what? Then I really thought about it, and it is worth it - not only is the footy not interrupted by advert breaks, but there's BBC Three. The trick with BBC Three is not to watch the programmes they tell you to, like that 'Tittybangbang' crap, but the ones they don't, which they put on sometime after midnight, and are always really bizarre.

My mate insists that 'Gypsy Wars' is an absolute classic, but I've yet to see it. I did, however, see a programme a few weeks ago about sperm which was worth the licence fee by itself. It was about the scientific possibility of sperm eating each other or something, but that wasn't the crucial point. The crucial point was that all the people filmed were genuine British eccentrics. One man, my favourite, was determined to prove that sperm have an 'oscillating motion' or some such, and to prove it he was building a giant sperm in his pond in his back garden. This had taken him months. The fact that it is possible to see how sperm move in a microscope had apparently passed him by, or maybe he just enjoyed it. I wonder what his wife said if anyone called to visit? She probably denied she was married.

Another fellow was trying to prove that frogs can't have sex if they are wearing clothes, and to prove this he'd got little bits of cloth on them. However, his studied nonchalance for the camera was undermined rather by the fact that the pieces of cloth had tiny lacy crennelations and were embroidered really precisely, making it appear that in his spare time he was role playing with them.

There was a woman from Oxford Uni who was asked about people's sex life. She was great. You know how you have that perception that everyone at Oxbridge talks in a really horsey accent? Well, she did, and then some. She even looked like a horse. What was best was that she was being so tongue-in-cheek about her own sexual history, and it began to appear to me that she'd done a fair amount of dogging in her time, given her comments. She was so nudge-nudge, haw-haw about it I fell about laughing.

I want them to put that programme back on. The funniest thing that's been on in ages.

Can you not just get a form from the post office to get a new tv license? You can get all your tax and driving stuff there. Worth a try anyway : )

I always wonder if those detector vans they supposedly use to find non-payers (not making any accusations here stephen!) actually exist. I mean its just scare tactics surely! If someone watches a telly in a bedroom in row of terraces or in a tower block surely they wouldn't be able to differentiate between dwellings? The world gone mad!! hehe! seriously, any info on this much appreciated!!
That dressing up frogs thing should have a TV show all to itself. You could call it Frog's Porn.
Shit, I'm laughing just reading your description of the exquisite humans featured in said show.
So...what do you get for 126? (probably close to $200 American, right?) A password that keeps your TV from shutting down? If you don't pay do you get commercials?
A license to view is a strange concept to me. In the US the broadcast TV is free. Not cable, though. But with cable you just pay a monthly bill. No license.
Of course, the cable bill is approximately $60 a month, so the license you are paying in the UK is far cheaper.
SafeT: you can watch TV without having a licence - your TV doesn't shut down or anything without it. It is, however, illegal. And, as many many adverts keep telling us, you can get a big fine or even go to jail for TV licence evasion.

The licence fee essentially pays for the BBC, which is largely government funded and doesn't have any advertising. It only covers the basic 5 channels on its own, however: all the additional ones like cable, Sky and even extra BBC channels (including the aforementioned BBC3) are only available if you pay more for a receiver box and/or a subscription.

It's a fairly pricey business all in all. But then, British TV is generally a million times better than in the USA, despite the recent inundation of channels and resulting dilution of quality.

Having spent a bit of time in the US, I can honestly say I couldn't watch an average evening's programming over there without at least four beers.
What was the sperm programme called? The great thing about BBCs 3 and 4 is they often repeat so it might be back on before long... I live in hope.
You sure it wasn't a mockumentary though - BBC3 is mainly comedy y'know...
Happy - It was becoming a bit urgent. I wasn't really sure if I had time to post payment, since we had a red letter threatening us with all the force of the law, and so on. Scary, eh?

As for the vans, I'm not sure. I always presumed they did, but I have to say, now you mention the possibility, surely signals would get crossed in densely populated areas . . . I shall look into it.

Hung - I'd watch that.

SafeT - Paul's got it pretty much covered there. There's a growing campaign in Britain to end the licence fee and force the BBC to have commercials. The sort of people who make this demand are the sort of people who don't watch a lot of commercial television, and so don't know how annoying adverts are.

Matt - It may have been on BBC 4 actually, now you mention it. Unfortunately, I can't remember its name, but I'll have a check and see if I can find out.
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