Diary of a Channel 5 retuner

`Ms 005' is knocking on the nation's doors, helping to bring a new channel to the masses. Groped, berated and thrown out, this is her account of a typical week

Channel Five, Britain's last terrestrial television service, was due to hit the airwaves next month. But the launch has been postponed to the end of March, because the job of adjusting the nation's video recorders, to pre-empt interference from the C5 signal, has been far trickier than expected. Thousands of retuners are fiddling with millions of VCRs in a race against time.

Monday

Get up, check the weather: cold and wet. Should I wait, hoping it will clear up, or start right away? On an average day I'll have three to five appointments. The rest will be cold calling - aptly named. Couldn't they have launched this channel in the summer?

First appointment is a little old lady in pink, a kind of shrunken Barbara Cartland. Opens the door and starts to show me her family photos. The walls, tables and mantelpieces are lined with them; it's like a shrine. I meet her granddaughter in Philadelphia, her son-in-law in Crawley and numerous cousins, before arriving, with my cuppa, at the television set. Turns out she has no video recorder. So I retune her TV, even though we're not supposed to.

Doing this job you get a kind of community feeling; I'm like a fairy godmother with a tool kit. We all work in our own neighbourhoods, which can lead to awkward situations, but I get very fond of people I meet. I see them around. I've made a lot of friends.

This feeling is dispelled by my next call. It's not an appointment. The man thinks I'm selling something, tells me to "eff off". I shout my explanation through the closed door. Finally he agrees to give me a signature to show I've been there (that's how we get paid). As I pass my clipboard through a gap in the door, all I can see is a pair of tiny eyes and a string vest.

After I finish, I get an Indian takeaway. Retune their three videos upstairs while I'm waiting.

Tuesday

Approaching the first address on my list today, can't help noticing it's a cemetery. Leave a card through the caretaker's letterbox and hope for the best.

One of the hazards of this job is people who work in television. They demand a lot, ask loads of questions, and they've all seen a Watchdog programme that's the bane of our existence. It reported on two incidents from the early days where retuners had lost all the TV channels and then left. That's pretty rare, and even if it happens, it's not hard to retune.

Today I have to do a telly man's TV. He's very suspicious, wants perfect pictures (even though they weren't great to begin with). Spend ages with him. After I leave he comes haring down the street shouting it's all wrong, come back. Go in and find he's unplugged the cable box. That makes my day.

Next man comes to the door with bits of shaving cream on his face, wearing a towel. It's amazing how many people do this. I can't retune the video because his dad wants to try it himself. Can't convince him otherwise, but at least get a signature.

Wednesday

Walking down the street this morning and someone in a red Sierra screeches to a halt and asks to buy my Channel Five jacket. They give us a jacket, trousers, shirt, sweatshirt and shoulder bag, all marked with their logo. They'd stamp it on our bottoms if they could. People pass me and say "Give Me Five" as though I've never even heard it before.

My first really threatening experience happens at the next house. A young man, seems OK at first. Have to retune a video in his bedroom, which is full of porn pictures. Don't have my test tape, and the video he gives me is called Anna and her Animal Friends. That's when I drop my torch. He hands it back and tries to feel me up. I'm outta there in seconds. No signature.

I'm one of only a handful of women retuners. There were very few of us on the training course, and the advice we got on security was not to go into a house if you don't feel safe. I wonder if any other women have had narrow escapes?

Thursday

Children follow you around like the Pied Piper when you're doing this job. They want to know if Channel Five will show cartoons. I say yes, though I have no idea.

Today I have to call at a house with three children under five. People's houses are usually clean, but in this one, the carpet sticks to your feet. There's bits of cake all around. The remote control is covered in old porridge.

Discover I've forgotten my screwdriver, have to borrow theirs. Accidentally drop it, look down, it's landed in a pile of baby poo. Now what? Manage to tweak the video with a combination of a 5p coin and my fingernail. Before leaving, tell the woman her screwdriver is in the other room.

Next appointment is on the other side of the neighbourhood. My bum has lifted an inch since I got this job, from all the walking. Run into a woman who wouldn't let me in last week (Watchdog again). She heard from a friend that it was fine and I was nice, so she invites me back. When I finish she gives me a pounds 2 tip "to buy some sweets".

Friday

Start the day with a bang. Turn up for an appointment and man immediately starts shouting and screaming. How much training have I had? Do I know what I am doing? Trying to make me feel small before I've even started. So rude, I just leave.

Work my way down the street. At least four people warn me about doggy house, number 17. Get there, can hear barking and smell dogs even from pavement. Decide against going in. I may feel like a dog's dinner but I don't want to end up one.

Go home for lunch and a warm-up. Ring the rude man to say I'm not coming back if he shouts at me. He's desperately contrite. Evidently I had walked into a "domestic".

Last call of the week. Big family, can smell Mum getting the tea. Can't wait to get home myself. Start checking out the TV when WHAM! Press one button and all the stations disappear. It only happens with a certain older TV set. Try to retune before anyone notices, but whole family filters into the room, and watches me struggling on the floor. Five minutes to go before Home and Away - just make it.

Thank God it's Friday.

Interview by Nancy Platt. The events depicted are true; the names and certain minor details have been changed to protect the innocent.

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