Martin Newell’s Joy of Essex: This is the modern world, but I’m not sure how to handle it

Our bewildering online and mobile world has caused confusion in the Newell household this week.

Our bewildering online and mobile world has caused confusion in the Newell household this week. - Credit: Getty Images

The bewildered baby-boomer of Essex was in full battle order again last week. I lost almost two working mornings attempting to redefine for myself the ever-changing parameters of the new consumer age. I write this because I wonder how many of you are having similar problems.

Last week I was informed by our nice postmistress that from now on the Post Office would no longer be able to supply me with the forms necessary either for buying or cashing in Premium Bonds. I telephoned National Savings for their advice. Everything, they told me, would in future be going online or transacted by phone. Premium Bonds, for the uninitiated, are a safe if unsexy way of storing money popular with those of us who’ve been aged in oak-casks. “So what will the significant proportion of the ones who aren’t online now do?” I asked. “Telephone us and we will send you a form,” was the answer. So, the new system means that you’ll wait for the form, fill it in, return it to Glasgow, and then, eventually, the transactions will take place as usual. Why not just keep the system as it is, I asked.

The young woman at the end of the phone couldn’t answer me but added that this process may now take up to 21 days. I gave in. I went online and downloaded the form to make me eligible for telephonic or digital transactions. I filled it in on the computer, printed it out, found an envelope and posted it off. I considered this situation: their form, my printer ink, my envelope, my postage costs and my time. The picture was becoming clearer.

Meanwhile, over in Mobile Phone World, I was called a few weeks ago on my pay as you go, bog-standard piece of space-junk by a company rep. Did I realise that I’d spent £30 on PAYG calls in just one month? I hadn’t realised, actually. What with a family crisis, an eye operation in London and my mum dying, you can burn up quite a lot of phone units while you’re ping-ponging between towns in trains and taxis Wouldn’t it make more sense, for me to simply go on contract?

The deal would give me 1,000 minutes and would cost under £12 a month. “Yeah, yeah, yeah...” I said, in between calls to lawyers, the bereavement suite, the undertakers, family and all the other people with whom I still conduct a meaningful telephonic interface.

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Many weeks later, having managed to hack into my own online phone account so that I could view my phone bill, I discovered an extra £24 charge. I spent a subsequent hour and a half on the phone establishing the following facts: ringing my bank, which is free on my landline, is classed as a premium number on my mobile. This means that any minutes talking to my bank are not among those 1,000 which the phone company has allocated me. I’m locked into this deal for another nine months. If I want to return to PAYG, they will charge me £97 to nix the contract.

I also discovered I have two passwords. One is for my online account, the other is for my telephone. This will speed things up only marginally, should I ever wish, say, to complain that my online account won’t recognise me. Luckily, they texted me to say that they’ve just changed one of my passwords. Not only have they not informed me what the password is, they haven’t told me which of the two passwords it might be. In the middle of this nonsense, they asked me if I’d like to take a couple of minutes to fill in their survey, to tell them how they were doing.

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Another thing which happened on this day of days was that the replacement handle for my electric oven arrived. Naturally, it was the wrong one. The appliance company told me they couldn’t refund the £40 which I’d paid until they received the object back. Meanwhile, after a further half hour on the phone they established that they’d now found the correct handle. Unfortunately I’d have to pay for it in advance.

Four days later, along with their pre-paid postage sticker for returning the first wrong handle, the new one arrived. It was the wrong handle – same model as the last one. I now had two incorrect oven door handles and had paid the company over £80. I spent another half an hour on the telephone. They’d definitely located the right one this time. They emailed me a picture of it. Unfortunately it would cost me nearly £60 payable in advance. I told them that first I wanted my £80 back, then I’d buy it.

They said they’d send me out another pre-paid postage sticker for the return of the second handle. Exhausted with it all, I’ve left it like that for the time being. I now have a name, an email address, a picture of an oven door handle, an order number and two phone numbers. I also have a mobile phone with which I daren’t dial them, because anything beginning with 08 is classed as a premium number.

I’m also waiting for my new Premium Bond registration and security details to arrive so I can cash some in and pay my tax. It’s been a terrific week... Is it me?

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