Category Archives: Getting back

Moving On

Since writing last, my life has taken a rather big change. I no longer reside in the back of beyond. The Northern Star is still a star but definitely not northern. For what reason you ask? Well, for those of you who have been to or lived in Hull, you will know that although the standard of living is cheap, the wages are very low. It’s hard to live and save which is what I was trying to do.

I believe it’s very hard being a graduate anyway. But to stay on in the city where you studied, just because you like the place, makes it even harder. Especially when the city in question has few job prospects. I stayed in Hull for 6 months after graduation, when most of my friends have high-tailed it to London.

Being a student and living and working in a place, are two entirely different ways of life. I have never been to a cheaper place than Hull. It has more pubs per square mile than you know what to do with. Most of those I wouldn’t go near for fear of my life. But the pubs and clubs in the area that I lived were student friendly. Well they had to be because we were the only people to drink in them. My rent was never more than £32 a week either.

For my remaining time in Hull I lived with a friend from university. We both found jobs, but found that the pay, like the city is very poor. Also, looking for a career job in a city like this is impossible, as, basically there aren’t any. Not in field that I want to go into. Media. I also found my social life dwindling, as the cheap club nights that I had enjoyed as a student are on mid-week.

There are 22,000 students in Hull. This makes up the majority of the inner-city population. So when I became a ‘local’ after graduation, I began to feel completely ostracised. Gone were the days of going out in a big gang, and knowing yet more people at the chosen venue. A new intake of students had arrived and taken my place in the queues at nightclub doorways, and were looking much younger than I ever remember being.

I found myself starting to resent them – for two reasons – one was that I wanted the life they were leading, the one I had not so long ago. And two, they are just so bloody noisy. The street I lived on after graduation was also a popular street for students. So without double-glazing in my flat, I was able to hear everything that went on outside. It seemed that people always stopped outside my flat to talk drunkenly, just when I was trying to get to sleep. Or the people downstairs would have a party and being the conscientious working girl I am, I needed my beauty sleep.

So with all things considered, it was time to go. The place wasn’t the same without that drunken, student rose-tinted glow to it. So, after much deliberation, I have done the sensible thing and moved back in with my parents, got a respectable job at an Internet company, and have thus begun to ease myself into the real world. I still have moments of relapse when I’m forced to get out my packed photo album and reminisce, or phone a friend for a good old “do you remember…” session.

But times change and the main thing is that I have a degree. So instead of using it and following my friends down to London (like I know I should), I’m going to put it on the back burner for a while and plan my next escapade, which is travelling. I’ve not decided when, where or how yet, but I’ll keep you posted.

Give me back my line!

Q: How many BT engineers does it take to install a telephone line?

A: I have no idea because I ain’t seen one yet (10 days – yes TEN days and still waiting) – obviously since the turn of the millennium, BT engineers have become a rare, endangered species, due to join their friend the Dodo in the Natural History Museum any day soon!

When I was offered this column I didn’t originally intend to use it to avenge personal grievances but, hey, SHIT happens and it’s time to make someone pay.(If I have anything to do with it that person will be Sir Ian Vallance – the Chairman of BT.)

How can I begin to explain the Byzantine incompetence by which BT have failed to deliver me a decent service when it is so labyrinthine I don’t even understand it myself yet?

Why has the simple act of moving flat become something that BT cannot – in all the combined ‘wisdom’ of their various call centres – get to grips with?

Oh yes… the call centres. If you’ve experienced the delights of phoning BT endlessly every single day for over a week – often in hot, sweaty, salacious phone boxes and having to wait between 30-40 minutes for an automaton to ‘pick-up’- you will know of the particular British torture I am referring.

The call centres… where on Monday, Mavis in Swansea says she’s sorted your order, your BT chargecard (which was working fine prior to your move, but no longer), your call minder service and ordered your new phone books.

Then on Wednesday, Sarah in Shrewsbury says she can see no such things having been processed on her screen and would you mind repeating the whole lot from the beginning?

The call centres… where you will hear (many times a day) the pusillanimous operators proffer the pathetic shibboleth ‘Oh yes, I do understand, Miss Sharanski’ (and if you believe that’s my real name, you’ll believe anything.

The call centres … who continually try to ring me back on(let’s say)999-1234 (the number BT advised they had allocated to my phone)… and took nine days for themselves to realise they had crossed my line and the number appearing on their screen did not match!

Nine days? The world was created in less(allegedly).

That the call centres have been ringing the wrong number and wondering why they haven’t obtained me (stupid customer obviously – rings up to complain and then immediately disappears the minute she’s put the phone down – must be a nutter)… isn’t half as important as the fact that all my friends, family, editors, employers, acquaintances, hangers-on, stalkers (and bank managers – although maybe they also qualify as stalkers) have also been ringing the wrong number!

Just to add to the fun of the ‘hunt Sharon Sharanski’game, BT also ensured that all the calls for me went straight through to the call minder service on the wrong number, and – you’ll laugh at this, I know I did! – denied me access to my own call minder service.

Eventually – on the ninth day – after so many exasperated phone calls I sound as if I deliberately sandpaper my throat for breakfast – one of the operators realised their mistake and how frustrated I must be. Now this call centre operator did something unique and unheard of – she helped (she must be a temp or brand new on her first day or something – bound to be sacked immediately after this) by setting me up with a PIN code to access my own messages (albeit still on the wrong phone number).

She also agreed that I really really DID need an engineer (despite my having asked, begged and pleaded on numerous previous occasions – only to be told “Oh no, we can sort this out from here”). Therefore, on the ninth day I stayed home and waited… and waited… However it is now 20 hours into the tenth day, fast approaching the 11th and there is still no sign of an engineer.

The only thing she didn’t do – this (somewhat) helpful operator – was to tell me the (real) number of the crossed line that I’ve been using for the past week and a half – oh no – ‘data protection’ you see. Well, sod that – a quick call to me best mate soon sorted that out: I put the phone down, got me best mate to dial 1471 and call me back and tell me what the f**k my own number was! (Good grief and halleluja!)

Really – you never know how much recondite knowledge about the sneaky 141/1471 codes (gained from your days stalking Boyzone, of course) is going to prove useful later in life.

Short of remaining housebound for the next century, I still don’t have a scintilla of hope of getting this fixed before I draw my pension. An acquaintance of mine – a newshound lecturer from journalism college (yeah I went – yawn, yawn) – suggested I phone the BT press office and use my weight as a journalist to get things moving.(*) But why should I have to?

Why is it not possible for BT to provide a decent service to all its customers without threatening negative press, blackmail or nepotism?

And why – last but by no means least – does the image of a group of untrained headsetted primates being paid KP vouchers suddenly spring to mind? Answers on a postcard please… (phoning me sure won’t do any good).

*P.S. The press office couldn’t give two KP vouchers – told me to bog off and that there are lots of people waiting longer than 10 days (oh really? what does that say?).

How to be a Wimble-bore!

Every two years the British viewing public has to tussle for the remote control in a fight for either Euro/World Cup football coverage or Wimbledon. But no more! With this handy guide, 200 hours of tennis coverage have been conveniently condensed to half an hour. You know it makes sense!

Rain delays play. The Australian Pat Rafter complains about the British weather. An unseeded male player complains about overweight and unfit female players. The British spectators complain about the price of strawberries and the length of the queues. The ticket touts complain about nothing.

Anna Kournikova is arrested for public indecency after interpreting the All England Lawn Tennis Club’s “predominantly white” rule as applying to her mini skirt and sponsored sports bra. The tabloids have a field day with salacious photos.

Rain delays play. Bjorn Borg gives his opinion on “Pistol Pete” saying that “six titles is enough for anyone”.

Tin Henman is knocked out by an unseeded “wild card” qualifier from Mongolia, ranked 400 in the world.

Greg Rusedski, that other great “British” player, is spotted on a beach in Rio, having been humiliated on the opening day by the worst player in the history of the game.

Rain delays play. Anyone who’s anyone buys a Fred Perry sweater and an “Anna Kournikova” bra in Lillywhites.

Play continues sporadically on the sacrosanct “middle Sunday”. Cliff Richard declines to put on another impromptu performance, saying it will damage his career if he becomes known simply as “the man who sings at Wimbledon when it rains”.

Tara Palmer-Tomkinson is seen out with Andre Agassi who is desperate for some publicity to detract from Mr Perfect Pete Sampras. Steffi Graf (Agassi’s girlfriend) scowls at the press.

Arantxa Sanchez does a “McEnroe” by swearing at the umpire and incurs a court violation fine after using the end of her racket to dig into the sodden turf to demonstrate how “pathetically wet” Wimbledon is.

DAY 10
Talk is briefly mooted and swiftly dropped again about the possibility of a part-enclosed stadium with a sliding roof over Centre Court. Des Lynam suggests that the wishy-washy tennis players should play at Selhurst Park and let Wimbledon FC’s “Crazy Gang” take over the All England Lawn Tennis Club.

DAY 11
Mr Blobby, coached by Noel Edmonds, reaches the quarter-finals and is hailed in the press as the next great British hope since Fred Perry in 1936. Mr Blobby instantly disappears in a puff of obscurity and fails to reach the first round next year.

DAY 12
Mary Pierce loses her semi-final and leaves the stadium in tears, blaming “family problems” once again.

DAY 13
Martina Hingis beats Lindsay Davenport in a thrilling two-hour, three set final which goes to 20 -18 in the final set. Men still complain the women’s game is boring.

DAY 14
Pete Sampras and Lleyton Hewitt reach the Men’s Final for a repeat of their showdown at Queen’s. In a three set final lasting just 59 minutes and containing 60 aces, 30 double faults, 0 rallies and 0 volleys, no one cares who is the winner.

Caravan of Love?

Is this really summer? I’m so depressed about this lack of seasonal weather that I’m seriously considering joining the ranks of thousands of people who have already contacted the Met Office to complain, and demand that something be done about bringing out the sun. It has been several days now since the sun shone – in fact the last time it shone I was encased in a greenhouse-like structure called a supermarket.

The only possible way to tell that it is summer is to take a look at the traffic on the dual carriageways, and motorways of Great Britain. One word – Caravans! There they are in all their 50-mile-an-hour-jack-knifing-across-two-lanes-glory.

What the hell possesses people to think that dragging a hunk of plastic, and metal halfway across Britain, and Europe constitutes a holiday? When I think of a holiday I think of sun-drenched beaches, air-conditioned apartments, and travelling by aeroplane. I do not think of flop-me-down beds, extremely dangerous gas cylinders, shared showers, and chemical toilets.

People who enjoy (how can they?) caravanning defend their actions by using the excuse that you can have all your belongings with you so that you feel like you’re at home. Who in their right frame of mind would only consider going on holiday if they took their Royal Doulton, and other such tat with them. If you really need to feel this much at home, here’s a thought – why not stay at home? Why not save us all the bother of having to join the convoy of articulated lorries, buses, and Sinclair C5s overtaking you, and yes stay at home.

These people who like the home comforts that a caravan offers are quite often the exact same people who visit far-flung destinations (as far-flung as you can get when making like a tortoise) and never sample the local food, because it’s foreign. Of course it’s bloody foreign. In a foreign country even you are foreign. They won’t even consider the notion of purchasing a dictionary so that they can translate their unadventurous food requirements to the ‘foreigners’. Instead they just turn up the volume on their grinding, monotonous voices, and generally point and gesture in the style of Lionel Blair.

I remember being on holiday many years ago (yes it’s been a long time) and overhearing some philistines discussing what they would and wouldn’t eat. The scene was an Italian motorway stop, and yes these people were towing a caravan. They had already sampled baguettes with pastrami in them, but this had resulted in one of the women’s false teeth becoming dislodged, so they were about to choose something else. They looked incredulously at the food that was on offer (a damn sight better than our motorway offering of mushy peas, and limp fish), and discounted most of it because it was foreign. They eventually decided that they would have what they deemed British food. It was pasta. I refuse to associate myself with people like this merely because I live in the same country. I mean where the hell do these people get their education from?

I blame supermarkets – no surprise there then.

The Real Transport Crisis

One of the worst things about living in the Midlands – apart from, you know, living in the Midlands – is the tedious and painfully slow journey involved in schlepping down to London, for those times when life requires a bit more than the Black Country can provide. While I’ve been shocked at just how many people around here have never, ever been to London (what’s up with that?) and thus have no idea that there is more to life than this little hole in the Earth, I also regard them with a bit of envy. After all, they who know not the horrors of Virgin Trains and Silverlink services are blessed individuals, indeed.

I do thank my lucky stars that I’m only about an hour and three quarters from the capital, as God knows how much complaining I’d have to do if I had to trek to London from someplace like Manchester or Glasgow. But that’s small consolation when the woman sitting next to you – inexplicably, as there are plentiful vacant seats all around – removes her shoes and socks, stretches her legs out to rest on the seat opposite, and you look at your watch and realise you’ve got another hour and a half before your train pulls into Euston. I mean, really.

So went my most recent trip to Londinium, which was relatively uneventful, as train trips in this country go. I travel out of Birmingham New Street, which is regarded as the cause of nearly all train delays across the rest of the UK, as it’s such a major link to the entire nation. Basically, this means that I never have to worry about being late for a train, because the trains are rarely on time, anyway. But should I happen to arrive with nary a second to spare, you can rest assured that everything’s actually running to schedule, and I’m left loitering in WH Smith for an hour while I wait for the next train. Strange, that.

Last Friday, though, I timed everything perfectly, arriving at the station with just enough time to purchase a grilled chicken sarnie and Diet Coke for the journey south, as I’d skipped breakfast and lunch. I waited until the train had travelled past Birmingham International and on to Coventry, and then proceeded to take tiny, careful bites out of my sandwich. Not that it made much difference, as I still ended up with a lovely orange drip of sweetcorn mayonnaise on my crisp, bright white shirt. That was nice. Luckily, I had four days’ worth of clothes packed in one of my bags, and was able to change tops; I’m sure my fellow passengers thought I was a bit odd, but the fact was that I didn’t think much of them, either.

As per usual, there was one Twentysomething who looked completely uncomfortable in his suit – no doubt purchased from Austin Reed or Kensington Freak – and insisted on making call after call on his mobile. Then, totally overestimating my friendliness, he asked me if he could read my NME when I was through with it, and tried to strike up a conversation with me about Coldplay. The thing is, right, that I’m actually quite a sociable person, and always try to smile at people and not regard them with the disdain I’m really feeling on the inside. It’s called being false, and I’m good at that. But this bloke was utterly creepy, and I just did not want to engage in any sort of chitchat or small talk whatsoever with him, and proceeded to hand him my NME without a word.

When I came back from the loo, where I’d escaped to get some fresh air (I shit you negative – the woman with the bare feet was sucking all the good oxygen from the car, and the toilet was positively glorious compared to the airspace surrounding her), he had returned the paper to my seat, and was talking loudly on his mobile to someone about the ‘classic’ Brian Molko interview he’d just read in the NME. Um, yes, because the two minutes I was gone gave him ample time to read a three-page interview. I glared at him from my seat, sending as many, ‘You sad little FHM wanker,’ vibes his way as I could manage without breaking a sweat.

Happily, this particular train journey saw no sign of the Hell-sent Child (who’s usually far too old to still be allowed to shriek in public, and whose parents seem far more interested in the contents of the buffet cart than in the fact that their child is running up and down the aisle, screaming and kicking random passengers in the shins), the Bridget Jones Wannabe (in her late Twenties, moaning on her mobile about how fat she is, how much she’s dying for a fag and how no men seem to want to date her, making her fellow passengers go crazy while they try to resist informing her that her bitching and self-absorption may have something to do with it) or the myriad of mid-life crisis-suffering businessmen on their way home from work, reading the Financial Times and rubbing their forehead with such an intensity that one fears they just may peel their face off completely. Not to worry, though, as I’m sure I’ll be catching up with them again sometime.

But if I ever become them, or am travelling with one of them, please be a dear and shoot me at once. Ta!