Loose ends

Tying a few of old threads today.

Since the last time I wrote about my year-long adventure with the gas service, it has finally reached a closure. It took over a month to properly register with British Gas that the meter at our house was not the one that was appearing on the bills, but they eventually figured it out. Using some central energy databank at National Grid, they also determined the initial reading of the meter at the time it had been installed and calculated my bill from there. For 12 months, the damage came to £560, which is very reasonable, IMHO.

And the bottom line, we ended up paying for the entire year in arrears with no penalties, which can only be viewed as a positive in terms of cash flows.

The last bastion of freedom, broadband, also ceased to be free. I have last written about it more than six months ago, and since then accepted that I should not bother. But suddenly, at the end of October, we receive a this-is-your-first-bill notice from British Telecom, with a new account number and the opening date of… October 19th, 2007. Going back to my very first description of the problem, it now appears that when I closed my phone service account with BT, but advised them that I was keeping their broadband service, the new account that they had opened then did not become active until nine months later.

I am not about to point that out to them, I suppose…

The service, by the way, remains somewhat spotty, for which I now have two partial explanations. The first is the low quality of the free router that they provided me with. I have now moved away from wireless and connected two main house computers to the router with good old ethernet cables, and that considerably improved the stability of the connection.

The other explanation for occasionally disappointing service is that our rented house being quite old, it is only wired for broadband line rate of up to 2Mpbs. I have definitively confirmed that with BT, which put an immediate damper on my grand plans to switch providers. There is very little point to be looking for something better when outdated infrastructure is the main limitation. The only remaining point is in going for an “add-on” service with either TalkTalk (our phone provider) or Sky (our Sat-TV company), which I will review in the next couple of days (it will not improve the service itself but it will – now in an entirely legitimate way – make it free).

Finally, almost a year ago, I mentioned that we joined so-called English Heritage Society, which for a not-unreasonable yearly membership fee would provide us with free access to several hundred sights around England. And what do you know!? After we used the membership twice in a row last November, we ended up only needing it once, at Stonehenge. There are simply too few of the covered sights around London, and none in Cotswolds or Bath; and we have not travelled around England much otherwise. (Actually, in Cotswolds, many sights belong to a different preservation society, but it would be really silly for us to sign up for that as well).

After careful accounting, the total cost of family tickets to the three visited locations came up to £60.50 – so, we did not even save enough to cover our yearly membership. So much for a bargain!… Obviously, we are not renewing, even though we found one potentially interesting museum (now closed until spring) right within the confines of Greenwich Park – how in the world did we miss it before? (something to be said about carefully looking through the membership booklet!) – and we are planning a trip to Wales next year, where there are a few member sights that we might visit.

But the fabulous English bureaucracy actually decided to send us renewed membership cards attached to the invitation to renew. The invitation went into the trash bin, the cards into wallet. Given how little scrutiny these cards received at Stonehenge – I basically waved them in the air to have us let in – we just might be insolent enough to try to use them in the future. Establishment’s stupidity must be punished, after all.

I am leaving you today with a completely unrelated, but immensely hilarious catalogue of bizarre laws. Of all the inanity mentioned therein, I actually find the bit about not telling things to the tax man the most indicative of British mentality (and don’t worry, it took me a few minutes to understand the gist of it myself).