Homing in on the right number

103953419Now I know why big utility companies are able to make such huge profits from public apathy. I have just changed our broadband and TV contract from Virgin to BT. I’ve saved about £20 a month on our phone and TV bills without even losing some of the more annoying, but child-essential channels. But what a palaver it has been! My next job is to try to do the same with my gas and electricity account, but I need a bit of a lie down, first.

For reasons too dreary to go into, I also needed to close my BT account and reopen a new one without, I hoped, losing my phone number in the process. I was told it was almost certain I would keep my old number, but they couldn’t guarantee it. That, to me, translated as ‘better get some new cards printed’.

All went well in the switch over. A new box arrived, we plugged it in – okay, Jack plugged it in – and after an initial hitch it stopped glowing orange and started to glow blue like it was supposed to. Hey presto! – we had a new internet provider.  And no, we didn’t need a man in a van to install the new TV box, but if you don’t have a phone socket in the room where you have the TV, you’ll need a really long bit of wire and even longer patience while you work it all out.

We had a new TV box, a new broadband router and a nice new lower bill, which was just what we wanted. We also had a new phone number, which we didn’t.  It was time to phone BT and find out what was going on. The first thing they wanted to know was what my number was. I don’t know, I said, it’s new. It took quite some time to explain and sort that simple request, but finally I was promised it would take five working days. Then another 24 hours, then another day, then five more days because it had to be done ‘off line’.  And each time they tried, I got a new temporary phone number. We have three sociable teen and pre-teens in the house. Can you imagine the havoc that would have caused in the 1970s and 1980s? The gossip missed, the dates never arranged, the friendships lost?

I was getting increasingly Victor Meldrew-y with every phone call to each new unfailingly polite and helpful BT person. At one point my number seemed to be changing every day – always to one slightly closer to the old one, but never, you know, actually ringable by anyone who knew it.

But did anyone else even notice? The irony is that we use our landlines so little these days that the only people it affected were my uncles, who have yet to go completely mobile, and my sister in Canada, who briefly thought I’d upped and moved without telling her.

In fact, when I asked to use the work phone to ring home, I fully expected to be greeted with the automatic ‘you have dialled an incorrect number’ response that I have had for the last two weeks. Instead, my daughter answered our home phone, in that slightly querulous tone people use in movies when they find a dusty antique phone ringing inside a desk drawer.

“Yay!! We’ve got our number back,” I cried, beside myself to hear a real human on our own number at last. “Really?” she replied. “I didn’t know it had gone anywhere.”

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