Brian Viner: Country Life

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The Independent Online

Far be it from this column to acquire a vaguely Victor Meldrewish air of irritation with the modern world, but I would like to issue another cri de coeur following my recent whinge about train services, which itself followed an "I don't belieeeeve it"-style rant about a pub at the foot of a popular walk in the Malvern Hills, which refused entrance to me and a friend because it had been raining and we were, yes, wet.

The object of this week's burst of crabbiness is British Telecom. When you live in the middle of nowhere, as we do, a fully functional phone is important. Moreover, we run two holiday cottages, and this is a busy time of year for taking bookings. So we were duly irritated to find the other day that our phone was out of order. I called BT on my mobile to report the fault and was left waiting for 45 minutes, while a woman invited me every couple of minutes to be patient, telling me what I had shrewdly already worked out for myself, that they were currently experiencing a very high volume of calls. In the end, I reduced their volume by one and gave up.

At 7am the following day I tried again, hoping to catch them off guard and perhaps even get a heartbeat on the other end of the line. But first I had to suffer the usual tiresome "press 1 for this, press 2 for that, press 3 for the other" carry on. The last time I endured all that was at 6pm on New Year's Eve, when I tried to get through to the Sky engineers to report that we'd lost our satellite signal.

Eventually I found myself conversing with a nice chap who guided me carefully through various complicated manoeuvres, in the manner of a grounded pilot trying to talk down a novice at the controls of a 747. We were in the middle of all this when I heard lots of whooping in the background. I asked whether someone was having a party. "No, we're wishing each other happy new year," he said, brightly. "It's midnight here in Bangalore." Bless him, he'd missed the kissing and the high-fiving just to reconnect me with my beloved Sky Sports.

As for BT, I pressed all the numbers I was told to press, only to get instructions in a foreign language at the end of it all, as if I'd specifically asked for help in Urdu, which I hadn't. I tried again. Same thing. Then I tried another number, which cut me off altogether, although not before I'd been hanging on listening to The Carpenters for 10 minutes.

Finally, I dialled an 0800 number listed at the top of a recent phone bill. By some miracle I got straight through to flesh and blood, although she told me that, as we have another service provider, our phone line was not BT's responsibility. We'd assumed that because we still pay BT line rental, they would have to repair the line, but not so apparently.

So we phoned Toucan, our service provider. A charming woman in Sligo, called Pamela, tested the line and said that yes, it was indeed faulty. She would contact the people responsible for finding the fault, she said, which, as you've guessed, turned out to be BT.

Until it was fixed she would divert all calls on the faulty line to my mobile, which proved more disruptive to my working day than I had anticipated, especially when I got a call that I was expecting to be from the former England football manager Kevin Keegan, but which turned out to be an elderly woman on the Wirral wanting a three-night break in Manor Cottage.

Funnily enough, until I hit the keyboard, this column was going to be about trees. We have a small orchard in which we've just planted 15 new fruit trees, and I was intending to write about the place I bought them from, a wonderful nursery just across the border from us in Worcestershire, wholesomely called Trees For Life. But then I got the call from the woman on the Wirral and thought I'd moan about BT instead. I'll come back to the trees next week. Unless in the meantime we have a power cut, that is, or the water supply gets cut off.

You never know what's going to be cut off next in the country, and that applies especially to an acquaintance of mine from the King's Head, who almost lost two fingers of his left hand last week, in an accident far too complicated to explain, involving a fork-lift truck and some cheese.

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