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The Other News From England.

22 March 1999.

This week.


British Telecom and Answerlink.

A FRIEND OF MINE is a music teacher who gets nearly all her custom by many people knowing her telephone number and booking lessons over the telephone. She was reasonably successful with this until about a year ago when she took on the services of a firm called Answerlink. The function of Answerlink is to have your calls diverted to their number and then to tell callers that you are not there but that they can take a message.

Everything was fine until my friend went into a bad patch, and was unable to pay her Answerlink account on time. This led to Answerlink continuing to field the calls but without passing them on. They were not going to do that until they got their money. My friend had less and less people coming for lessons, and thus continued to be unable to pay her Answerlink account.

Answerlink continued to divert her calls without relaying any messages for some months (more recently they seem to have taken to diverting the calls without even keeping them!). My friend, realising that she would get into ever greater difficulties if this went on, tried to rid herself of the attentions of Answerlink by asking British Telecom to disconnect the diversion so that Answerlink would not be able to do this any more. Even an answering machine would be better than Answerlink.

British Telecom arranged for the disconnection, and a month or two later Answerlink or some other person or firm were still getting the calls. Sometimes they called themselves Jade Publishing, and sometimes a child`s voice on an answering machine answered the phone. This went on for some time before she resorted to another strategy.

The new strategy was to ask for a different number (thereby losing all the goodwill she had built up), and British Telecom told her they could do this with immediate effect - and as she had been experiencing such difficulties they offered her an answering machine at a not particluarly economical price with the option of not paying for it till the following quarter (gosh wow!). By this time she cannot really have lost more than about 20,000!

She telephoned me to tell me that she had a new number, and was cut off halfway through the call, so I dialled 1471 (which enables you to know the number of the last caller) and found that her old number had been on the line! So I telephoned that number and got the answering machine with child`s voice, then tried the new number and got an unrecognised number, then I tried again, and got call waiting followed by - Jade Publishing. I tried a few other things, but never got either the old or the new number. This all round incompetence must be very profitable for Telecom.

Having wasted a few pounds on this activity I rang off and contacted the British Telecom fault-reporting number, and was offered a selection of explanations but no solution. And then after a quarter of an hour or so they suggested I should try another number, which was equally useless to me, so I gave up and travelled over to her house to tell her I was having some trouble getting through, thus incurring further expense and waste of time.

When I got there, she was trying to get her messages off the British Telecom message service, but they could not be accessed - possibly because she didn`t any longer have a number, or maybe because she now had the wrong number - or even two numbers, with neither of them working.

I have wasted about three hours on this so far, but no doubt it will come to a great deal more before British Telecom resolve the matter.

Meantime, Answerlink are suing for a couple of hundred unpaid account and my friend is counterclaiming (presumably) thousands of pounds worth of lost business!

It may well be she should be suing British Telecom instead - or as well.




A WITCH-HUNT is always useful to a politician because it diverts attention away from the politician's own inadequacies - and in most cases appeals to the yob in us all, thereby winning votes from some of us.

Couple this tendency to the fact that the government needs housing of any kind that can be raised, and you have a formula for something not a great deal less unsavoury than the activities of Adolf Hitler. Not only that, but it could result in a housing shortage just when that problem was beginning to go away.

Recently in Norwich a landlord was fined 12,000 because of a broken lightswitch, and this I am sure must have appealed to the self-righteousness of the judge (was he a certain judge I have mentioned before?) and general freemasonry of court folk present - whilst also having the same useful effect of diverting attention away from their own inadequacies that it does for politicians. I expect they all went home and slept well for a change.

It would probably be outside the court's powers of reason to consider that the tenant may be in some way responsible for this broken lightswitch, and I am sure there was little attempt to find out how it happened since this might lead to the conclusion that the tenant was indeed responsible, and maybe the logic of the situation would be too much for lawyers, but the fact is that a landlord does not normally have any cause to go near any lightswitch except those that are in his own living accomodation, and therefore would be reliant on being told by the tenant of any faults - whilst the tenant would not want to tell him either out of feelings of guilt or a desire to deliberately 'land him in the crap' ('politics of envy', perhaps?).

I don`t know where to go next - lightswitches or tenants.

If this man`s tenant was anything like a certain tenant I know rather well, he had a situation where the tenant was doing regular damage but refusing to let him get anywhere near to fix the damage. This damage, then, once every two years, could be used as a lever to get the rent officer to register a lower rent than would otherwise be registered. What does surprise me, though, is that they didn`t go in for the plant-spray trick instead. With the plant-spray, you spray a certain area of wall that is suitably positioned to have credibility as penetration of damp - and of course it dries out in a few days, but if you time it right the wall is damp when the rent officer calls. This helps to keep the rent down, and the landlord pays for any repairs necessary if one overdoes the spraying.

Now let`s talk about switches and other electrical stuff.

I am old enough to be able to tell you that the switches and sockets and all the wiring in my family`s house which were put in during the fifties (when electricity first came to certain country areas!) are still in good condition and safe. The only way they could be made unsafe would be by a fairly major accident or deliberate vandalism.

This landlord, as the owner of the building, is unlikely to want to vandalise his own fittings, and if he had an accident it would be reasonable to suppose that he would repair the damage ASAP to avoid further problems. Therefore, it is reasonable to suppose that the broken switch was the doing of a tenant, and the only question would then be which tenant and whether the tenant told the landord without the landlord taking appropriate action, or decided to keep the matter a secret until it was needed as a lever, or as a means of punishing the landlord. A tenant wishing to maximise the damage and possibly their own compensation for 'harrassment' would do well to not tell the landlord but to tell the court that they had told the landlord.

The other day, a barrister suggested to me that a hearing in the local county court would only be a 'beauty competition', in that the outcome would be likely to depend on who the judge found to be the most attractive person, and not on the law at all. That more or less reflects my own experience, and according to tradition landlords are more wicked than tenants - the only exception I know of being the Duchy of Cornwall when brought before the Lambeth County Court. The landlord in the matter about which I have written was reported to have said that he would appeal. The problem is that he is a landlord, and so whatever the facts he is a loser.

I would love to see some real justice in this area.

Yet more Southwark.

there appear to be two people in Southwark whose job it is to serve notices requiring repairs to buildings in disrepair. One is Frank Whittle, and the other is Trevor Stennett.

Years ago I had a collection of repair notices from Southwark, which did not appear to apply to the areas of the building that needed to be fixed (this was probably because had they referred to the appropriate areas Southwark would have had to give a repair grant), and the specifications of which where written rather in the manner of a salesman of proprietary brands of DIY materials. They were the sort of remedies that you can see all over the country in half-finished houses that come into auctions because they are in such an appalling state that only a property dealer would buy them.

They have originally been bought by ambitious cowboy builders who later realise they have bitten off far more than they can chew, and then get into debt and are forced to sell a half-finished job (just as well, really, because with people like this the more they do the worse it gets).

I would like to reproduce one of these specifications for you here to show you the kind of thing, but unfortunately the manufacturers of the proprietary brands mentioned might sue me for maligning their product (it might need maligning, but I can`t afford the action).

The other day Mr Stennett came round to show me what he meant in connection with one of his notices, and I referred him to what I considered to be the excessive, long-winded, confusing and rigid specification, telling him I thought it was almost as bad as one of Mr Whittle`s.

'But it`s only a tiny area, a few square inches,' he said!

In that case, I don`t understand why he hadn`t decided it needed to be done with an 8 ton truck, tail lift, pneumatic hammers, concrete (Southwark are very big on concrete), thirty men all with shovels to lean on, a site foreman, carpenter, electrician, architect (just to make sure it isn`t done in a normal way), site agent, shuttering, scaffolding, tea-breaks, a freemasons' hut, hoardings all round the site, hard hats must be worn, no dogs, smoking outside only, borough engineer on call 24 hours, tenants should be moved out and back in after the works are satisfactorily completed, all areas to be dust-sheeted, Health and Safety Regulations must be observed.............

early Othernews - 1992, 93, 94.

Early Other News essays.

There were a few essays that went out with the early Other News as a freestanding item. You can read these by clicking below.


The Soup Designer`s Handbook.

The Soup Designer`s Handbook.

London Journey - a trip from Docklands through Beckenham and back to Docklands.

Friday Woodworkers.

(Friday Woodworkers are suffering a temporary break due to some of the episodes not having been fully edited at the time of writing. It may take some timne to fix this problem.

Episode 17.

(These articles were written in 1988, and were my first attempt at writing. Some people when shown these fell about laughing, some smiled faintly - and some yawned. I thought I was going to write a technical book, but it soon became apparent that I was much more interested in the people than the technology - and that is the main reason there are no drawings - although it might be rather good to do a couple of caricatures sometime.)

Index of Friday Woodorker articles (and a means of access).

Progress is slow but we`re still moving on.

We are still redesigning The Other News From England.

There is at least one new article this week, and articles on many subjects in earlier issues (which can be seen by clicking below).

Index of earlier issues.

Gabriele Gad on alternative therapy.

A READER COMPLAINED that it was not possible to go back more than 6 articles in Gabriele`s area. Regrettably this is because there is no index, and I have not the time to organise one yet. However, for those determined enough to find the early ones, they should be accessible by going to an early Other News and clicking through from it. This will not be fast, but I think will do the job. They started about November 1997 I think.

Cartoons and graphics.

drawings click here.

sheet music click here.


(I wish someone would make a contribution before I am forced to put in some of my own stuff here).

So new, in fact, that there is nothing there. I want to open a section of this site to be used as a kind of green reference. Ordinary folks usually know what to do in order to be green, but there are times when (a) they don`t know the technology, or (b)they are short of ideas, or (c) they would like to see what some other people think.

So the purpose of this area will be for people to describe to others how they made their own electricity, or saved a great deal of domestic water being wasted, or captured the methane gas from their cesspit, designed their solar bicycle with regenerative braking and portable overnight windcharger, caused plants to grow in a desert, made a solar water pump, etc.

A site for forward-looking people, in fact.

It may be very difficult to edit, but I would like a few articles and tips that are concise, easily understood and ecologically useful. These will be left on the site, and gradually as the number of articles builds up hopefully somebody will construct an index. I won`t volunteer myself, as I have yet to make a subject index for the whole Other News site.



Last week but three carried an article that might be of interest to anybody thinking of taking out an Abbey National mortgage - or those who already have one.

Interestingly, one of the London papers described them as being "among the greediest".

There will soon be a new twist to this story, but I am not sure what it will be until it happens. They are trying to make it as difficult as possible instead of as easy as possible to resolve the present dispute.

The Health Service.


(see last week but one).

This Lexmark business gets worse. I refilled the black cartridge with an ordinary cartridge refilling outfit and it won`t print despite telling me that the cartridge is full and that it is printing.

In an earlier issue I told you about my feelings regarding Tempo retailers and the Lexmark 3200 printer I bought from them. I have now found out another thing about it.

The Lexmark 3200 printer I got from Tempo must surely be the most uneconomical printer I could possibly have bought. The black cartridge only does about 250 pages of ordinary type - for 28! That makes each sheet cost 11.2 pence plus the cost of the paper and probably another 11.2 pence more if any colour is used! - ABOUT 22.4 PENCE A SHEET! Nearly a pound for every four sheets!

I wouldn`t recommend you to buy it - but also look at my earlier article for an idea of Tempo`s service.

PIPS Alternative disco.

(held over again.)

These people keep springing up and then disappearing again. They have used a selection of names, but the people always seem to be the same. They are a disco without smoke, alcohol or drugs, and serve refreshments (probably very healthy, macrobiotic, veggy, etc) and dance to a wide range of types of music - including "classical", I am told. Sometimes they go to the Bonnington Cafe afterwards. Also, they occasionally turn up at a LETSSwing gig as a dancing group, and make the dancing a great deal more fun.

Saturdays 7-10pm , 6 March, 3 April, 8th May, at The Contact Centre, 60 Hambolt Rd., London SW4. (10 mins from Clapham Common tube stn. or buses 137, 35, 37. For info ring Kathy Hughes 0181 671 7300. They would like more participants.


A person to help make up a subject index for the growing numbers of articles on The Other News From England. Email

8- or more-track tape recorder. email

Also want good working VW or Volvo 7 series 2.4litre turbodiesel engine. This is the type that goes in an LT van or a Volvo 740TD. email

2,000,000 at 0% interest would quite good too, although I would probably waste quite a lot of it employing musicians to do the great work.

All material on this site is copyright. Contact me if you want to use it. I am quite flexible.

Educational non-profit use is free - but ask for permission and print an acknowledgement. If you can`t think what to print, put:

From The Other News From England.

That`s all this week folks