Manchester’s ‘Get Me There’ Continues To Get Nowhere Fast

I’m starting to hate my monthly Get Me There card renewal. Every 28 days I dutifully go online and log into my account the day before my expiry date (remember you can’t buy it for the day you want to travel) and every time I’m met with either a painful website or issues seeing or collecting my ticket.

This month though, was a whole new one. When trying to buy my new pass I received the on-screen error “You cannot buy any new tickets until you have collected outstanding purchases.” Firstly, this makes no sense anyway, why can’t you have a current and future pass on an electronic system/card? Secondly, I didn’t have any ruddy outstanding purchases anyway.

Fortunately, even on a Monday morning, the Get Me There Twitter squad are relatively quick to respond. A DM later and they advised my card was ‘full’ and that I needed to go to a tram stop card reader and hold it there for 10-20 seconds to delete some old tickets. Yes, dear reader, you read correctly, an electronic season ticket card is somehow full. As this was Get Me There, I actually wasn’t surprised so dutifully popped to Exchange Square and held it there for as long as possible despite the glare of an old lady waiting her turn and the reader’s own insistence that I should remove my card.

I checked my online account. I tried to buy a ticket. Unsurprisingly the same error appeared. DM’ing my new best friends once more, they came back shortly after to advise the issue should now be resolved following some cauldron-based spells at their end no doubt.

Success! I could buy my ticket!

Failure! Once purchased, both my current and new season tickets disappeared from my online account.

Usually this wouldn’t be a problem, but not with Get Me There. That’s because once you buy a ticket you have to wait a few hours and keep checking online to find out when it’s ready for collection. Another DM later and all I’ve got now is the suggestion to message again tomorrow so a human being can check to see if it’s ready for collection.

There we have it gang, the latest from Manchester’s “smart” ticketing system. The one which leaves you wanting to go back and visit Jeanie in the Travelshop who would stamp a paper ticket like a disinterested librarian back in the ‘olden days’. I’m now left wondering whether my current or new ticket will work, whether a driver or inspector will accept the above in lieu of a ‘dog ate my homework’ and also wondering how less-tech savvy people are coping with such a crumbling set-up.

At least Manchester’s buses have contactless machines on board now…oh hang on, they don’t work with Debit Cards yet.


A Commuter’s Dictionary – ‘On The Tram’

Metrolink Tram

In the latest of this very occasional series (seeing as how the last entry was nearly five years ago) we’re proud to bring to you our guide to that most modern of mechanical worms, The Tram. This should aid first time voyagers as well as experienced campaigners as they encounter all manner of mythical beasts on their journey.

Basil Brush
A person who attempts to cover their visage with all manner of powders and potions as the tram sways and swings through tunnels and around corners. These individuals are likely to go on to become talented darts players or midwives.

Penelope Pigpen
Those who fail to realise more space exists either side of the tram doors, preferring to stay as close to others as possible. Beware! These creatures are likely to tut upon a polite ask to get out of your way.

The Donald
The mysterious Trumper who insists on emptying their gas bowel on, ironically, the least breezy section of the line. Also likely to deny all knowledge of said parping despite remnants of the offending vindaloo from the previous night still being wedged betwixt their gap-teeth.

The act of preaching one’s R ‘n’ B favourites to all and sundry via the tinny speaker on your Nokia 3210. Likely to resist all attempts at either stopping or taking requests, even if it is for Total Eclipse Of The Heart.

BMXican Standoff
The short time between tram driver and youth disagreeing with each other over the concept of ‘no bicycles allowed’. Usually resolved by the tram refusing to move and the child realising it’s quicker to cycle anyway.

Turtle Power
The blissful ignorance of a backpack user oblivious to their shell having triggered the emergency alarm and calling the driver. Usually seen sprawled on the floor once the emergency brake has been activated.

Fumble In The Jungle
Said alarmist desperately pressing all the other buttons to sheepishly apologise to the tram driver and insist he’s not in any danger other than with his Mum who he didn’t inform he’d be out this late.

Station Vacation
The groups of feral younglings who spend their holidays sitting atop benches on platforms and staring into passing trams. Big fans of Gogglebox, these people are likely to end up on reality TV where they in turn will be watched. For 10 minutes.

Cantersaurus Rex
The light commuter jog (flailing dinosaur arms entirely optional) embarked upon when your tram is on the platform but you know the doors will shut in your face.

Button Gloom
The casual tap of the door button after running for said tram, on the off-chance the driver’s feeling generous. He’s not.

The Ting Tings
The noise of a ticket machine giving you change from your £20 note in as much shiny coinage as possible.

The Beep Test
The gamble of waiting for the final change coin or ticket to drop as the tram doors begin to close.

Feeling Doorly
Getting an item or body part trapped in the closing doors, thus failing The Beep Test.

Meals On Rails
The casual ingestion of random meals on board the tram. Included are scrambled eggs on toast, chicken chow mien and sushi with full array of chopsticks, soy sauce and ginger.

The winning feeling upon obtaining the seat directly behind the driver and pretending to be on a rollercoaster through some of the hillier sections of the network.

Risky Business
The unscrupulous hovering over the ‘buy’ button on the Get Me There ticketing app on the off-chance of seeing an inspector.

Said hoverer suddenly realising the wi-fi has timed out and being removed from the tram to be given a fine.

The glee experienced when finding out your tram is a conjoined four-carriage metal centipede, giving you room to dance a celebratory jig.

Finding the next post-delay tram is only likely to have room on it for your little finger and maybe half a toe.

The place where points go to die. Also the windiest place in the entire world. A rite of tram passage, every commuter must be stranded at Cornbrook station at least once in their lifetime.

The Woodpecker
The individual who believes tram doors operate by pressing the open button as many times as is humanly possible in quick succession.

We hope you’ve found this latest guide useful, and that you now feel well-equipped to embark upon all manner of tram-based adventures.

The Gender Pay Gap – What Does It Actually Prove?

I’m not sure what the reporting of gender pay gaps really proves. With no comparison over time, we don’t know if it’s better or worse than it used to be. Many of the current gaps appear to be historic causes eg more men at boardroom level but we don’t know that for sure. Women on the radio are now talking about avoiding companies with larger pay gaps, which will only make the situation worse.

No company I’ve worked for has had a separate pay scale for men and women. I know women younger than me who get paid more than I do. Similarly, I know older women who have taken career, travelling or family breaks and have therefore not accelerated in their careers as quickly. It’s a choice they’ve made, and in some ways a necessary sacrifice as there’s little that can be done over the nature of human birth. By the same token I’ve had both female and male bosses and gender doesn’t come into it in terms of respect.

So we now know which companies have gaps, largely driven by taking an average across the whole organisation where there are fewer roles at the top that pay higher vs a higher quantity of roles at the bottom paying less. Great. We knew all of this, and fining companies for not reporting it seems childish and petty. What do we do with this information moving forward? Is everyone going to apply for a job at Starbucks just because they have no gap? Of course not.

In a world where a perceived gender is becoming less and less relevant, why is this necessary now and how will we report on ‘non-binary’ salaries in the future?

All I’d say is do what I do, employ on attitude, experience, team fit and skills for the job. I don’t give a shit what sex, ethnic origin or whatever planet you think you’re from as long as you give 100%.


My My My… My Get Me There – A Travel Ticketing Travesty

There have been a few blogs and articles written in the past year or so regarding Manchester’s erstwhile attempt at Smartcard travel but having now battled with it for around six months, I thought it was high time to share my thoughts. If nothing else I need to for my own sanity…

Firstly, a bit of background. Back in 2007, yes over 10 years ago, trials of the Bolton Citizen Card were apparently that successful that Transport for Greater Manchester thought it would be worth rolling out a Smartcard system to the already-complex Greater Manchester public transport network. In fairness, it actually seemed like a good idea with so many companies operating across the network, both Victoria and Piccadillly Station began to install more and more barriers and ticket prices rose year on year, so getting the most cost effective ticket quickly and easily seemed like a plan.

Unfortunately we should have all seen the signs when the sack-the-marketing-agency levels of clunky “My Get Me There” name for the system was revealed in 2013. There was still a grand plan though, a way to shorten horrendous Travelshop queues and also a way to combat the variety of different companies, all with their own individual ticketing systems and prices that it was possible to encounter on a single, relatively short commute. A case in point, my 425 bus was run at one time by FirstBus during the day and Stagecoach in the evening, meaning I couldn’t get a cheaper First-only ticket, just in case. Anyway, we digress.

Fast forward to 2015 and disaster strikes! It turns out that Atos, the company charged with designing and managing the system are next to useless and can no longer do their job for the money TfGM were giving them. Having already installed smart readers at tram stops, TfGM pressed ahead with using concessionary pass holders as guinea pigs whilst quickly knocking together an app that allowed stop to stop, weekly and monthly tram tickets to be purchased; this might have also been a reaction to Metrolink ticketing machines located at tram stops being notoriously temperamental, but that’s pure speculation, of course.

The app was and is actually pretty good. Although you still officially needed to buy a ticket before boarding, you were now able to jump aboard an approaching tram rather than miss it and quickly buy a stop-to-stop ticket there and then rather than being stuck in a queue on the platform behind doddering dullards fishing through their purses for the right change as numerous trams come and go. Obviously people grumbled when caught by inspectors that they didn’t have any battery left and so couldn’t show their ticket, but that’s the general public, not Metrolink’s fault.

Get Me There Website
ttps://” rel=”attachment wp-att-1216″> What the Get Me There website professes the system can do.

[/caption]The only downside to all this was that you could only get tram tickets on the app so for me, it wasn’t that useful for my regular bus and tram combi-commute. Fast forward again to 2017. The My Get Me There card is unveiled and upon visiting a Travelshop to buy my normal bus and tram combination monthly pass for £112.50 I was informed I could get a whole Metrolink network card along with my bus pass for only £3 a month more rather than the named stop to named stop one I had currently. This sounded good on non-paper; I took the odd journey to Chorlton or on another tram line so this would save me the extra money in one trip. I could also renew it online each month so I wouldn’t have to visit a Travelshop ever again. Bonus! There must be a catch. Well, yes of course there was. In fact there’s more than one as I’m about to explain.

Firstly, despite my card having full network validity, I am still required to tap onto and off my tram. Not a huge hassle I suppose, but something I didn’t have to do with my paper ticket and an utterly pointless task when I’m not having money taken off me depending on the journey I’ve taken a la Oyster.

Secondly, what happens if the card or a reader fails? I soon found out when a bus driver told me my card was “empty” despite it having another two weeks or so to run. I phoned the Get Me There helpline after this embarrassing incident to be told the best thing to do was to keep my paper receipt with me at all times to prove the card’s validity. Yes, that’s right, keep a piece of paper with a new shiny paperless transport ticket. The mind boggles.

Thirdly, picture the scene. It’s January. The month when you’ve eked out the most cost-effective tickets in December to get you through the odd days you’re working. Remember kids, for no good reason you need to buy your new My Get Me There pass the day before you need it! Okay Dad, I’ll go online and buy it on the 2nd so I can use it on the 3rd. But wait! I’ve bought it, and now it says it will only be valid once tapped on a Metrolink card reader? But I use my card to get the bus to the tram stop where the readers are? What am I to do? Onto customer services again, “that’s something we’re looking at in the future”. How about looking into such a fundamental flaw before launching such an inept system?

Lastly, what happens when it ALL breaks down? Having had my card for about three months, it started being a bit temperamental when tapping in and out at Metrolink card readers. I spoke to customer services again and they could find nothing wrong with the card. I took it to a Travelshop (remember I thought I’d never have to do THAT again) and the woman scanned it and said it was fine. It may well have worked for her on that single occasion but there was no getting through to her that it only worked on about 50% of scans for me. Taking the hit, I asked to transfer my pass to a new card in case the physical item was the issue, and here’s the good bit; to do so would take a week. So, for that week, I’d not be able to use the pass I’d already paid for and would have to buy a separate weekly ticket. What on Earth is “smart” about that? Where do they send these cards to transfer an ELECTRONIC balance, Gibraltar?!?!?!? Obviously, an easy way for Get Me There to get around this would be to keep it all electronic, right? Then I could tap my phone or watch on a reader instead. The apps already live and working after all. No, that would be too easy – the app and the physical card are on two separate systems. You cannot see your card in the app, and you even need a completely separate account to use the app and the card’s top up/renewal website. Whoever dreamt that one up honestly needs taking out the back and putting out of their misery.

App hoverer
A Get Me There app hoverer in action.

And these are just my issues, believe me there are plenty of others. Take the exploiters. I’ve now lost count of the number of times I’ve seen people cue up a ticket on the Get Me There app, getting it all the way into their basket before hovering over “buy” in case of inspectors. Judging by my experiences too, inspectors have no way to scan a physical My Get Me There card for validity either so in theory you could just carry an empty one and wave it in their faces and get away with it time and time again. Oh and did I mention you can’t use it at all on trains? Yeah, that…

To be fair to the staff of the Get Me There/My Get Me There helplines and social media accounts, they are responsive and they do their best, but you can’t help but think they’re battling in similar ways to us commuters. As for the Travelshop staff, they seem so bitter that someone’s taken away their 1980s inkpads, they’ve reverted to computer-says-no levels of idiocy and denial just to make things even worse.

So, what are we left with? A system that doesn’t make sense. A system that was designed in 2007 FOR 2007. A system that leaves Greater Manchester public transport even more disjointed than before, and in a similar state of underfunding and complexity that the card was meant to eliminate. Hopefully there will be improvements, or it might be an idea to scrap it and start again, accepting contactless payments at readers instead. After all that seems to work okay for London, right? Either way, Manchester is a bit of a laughing stock over the whole thing and with 2018 price rises again, it seems only more and more frustrating to those of us having to deal with it day in, day out.

A Commuter’s Dictionary – ‘On The Train’

The English language is very versatile but many words never even make it into the spoken lexicon despite describing some of the sights we see day in day out. Well, all of that is about to change as we begin an occasional series aimed at enlightening you into a few terms that you may find useful in everyday use.

Today, we look at the topic of ‘On The Train’

Avoiding eye contact with the person who occupies the same position opposite you on board public transport each day and could be a future lover.

The line of back-arching commuters whose spines fit into the curved shape of many train doors in order to be the last ones who make it aboard an overcrowded service.

The insistence on reading a broadsheet newspaper aboard said overcrowded service.

The art of dodging ground-based urine whilst using on-board facilities.

The teenage gang doing pull ups on the luggage rack.

The youth who falls and injures himself undertaking said feat.

The ingestion of entire fruits including pips and cores to avoid the trip to a litter bin.

Fat controller
A train conductor who insists on making public address system japes on all topics including lateness and the train turning a sleeping hobo into mincemeat.

Being able to Shazam the music emanating from a particularly leaky set of £400 headphones.

Starfleet commando
The person commandeering an entire table with upwards of six gadgets under the pretence of doing work of a higher importance than anyone else.

The sneer given to anyone eating a pasty or burger on a train during commuting hours. See also: Cheese Doritos.

Those carrying suspiciously large items of luggage aboard a train.

The uncertainty over whether to give up one’s seat to an apparently pregnant bystander who may just have ingested one too many items from Greggs.

The gentle shimmy away from a snoring stranger as their head lolls towards a resting place upon your shoulder.

I hope you find these useful as we guide you through the perils of your day to day life. You’re welcome.

The Ten Commuting Commandments

The Ten Commandments
Brought to you in association with Charlton Heston.

It’s no use pretending that commuting is easy. Considering we do it at the busiest times of day, surrounded by hundreds of people all with their own agenda, it was never going to be the most fun part of the working week. Fortunately, there are some simple rules to follow which I picked up on a recent commute to Mount Sinai…

1) Thou shalt always move down the carriage

Possibly the golden rule of commuting on all forms of transport, there is very little point in simply boarding a vehicle and then just standing there at the nearest available area. The herd behind you still need to board and so you’re delaying your own journey. It’s a relatively simple equation and one that makes even more sense when the aisle spec actually gives you MORE room than being pig-penned in when the train fills up further at the next stop. Expect me to shout if you don’t do this. As Bobby Brown quite rightly once commented, that’s my prerogative.

2) Thou shalt not pay for purchases under £5 with thy Switch card

Whether I’m in a hurry or killing time waiting for a delayed train, there isn’t anything more frustrating than being behind someone in Starbucks who is using a card to make a regulation loose change payment. We don’t live in a cashless society, and the use of cards simply causes a myriad of mis-read chips, declined transactions and machine failures that could be avoided via the use of old fashioned pound notes. This one is intrinsically linked to the unwritten eleventh commandment about sensible cashpoint usage; you can usually guarantee that there are other ATMs available other than those directly next to the station platforms, so stop queuing in a triple snake of 400 people and getting in my way.

3) Thou shalt not conduct banal conversation

There are a few occasions when it is acceptable to speak to someone on a train:

a) When asking the conductor for a ticket.

b) When apologising for accidentally bumping into someone due to a sudden train sway.

c) Asking someone to move themselves and their increasingly offensive family of mouthbreathers out of your way so you can either move down the aisle (see Commandment 1) or somehow extricate yourself from the rickety deathtrap.

Every other reason for opening your stupid trap on public transport is entirely unacceptable. Do I care that Margaret is back in the ‘hospikal’? No. Am I bothered about how you got to the station and how much traffic there was? No. Do I need to know what you had for tea last night (bearing in mind I can probably still smell it)? No. Keep all thoughts to yourself.

Commuter Train
How to make friends on the train.

4) Thou shalt not make friends on public transport

Sometimes this can go hand in hand with the above, leading to dangerously repetitive conversations spilling over from the previous day. Presumably, if I have overheard that same joke before (accompanied by that same forced laugh) then you’re a pretty boring dullard and your accomplice is only speaking to you out of sympathy and because you historically assumed the same spec on the platform. This practice is very risky, and can lead to going for coffee or even an alcoholic beverage together. Be warned.

5) Thou shalt not bring thine own wheels onto public transport

Ah, the bicycle. A wonderful invention for a weekend jaunt into the countryside or a quick trip to the shops in the daytime in order to save the ozone layer. But let’s face it, it isn’t for carrying around with you like some sort of wheeled handbag. If you’re so serious about being a helmeted lycra-clad warrior, then maybe consider sitting on your little saddle and moving your legs in a circular motion? The trend of taking bikes on trains (without having to pay extra for the additional space taken, natch) is getting worse with the now-mandatory Brompton hate machines turning up in each carriage. Handy tip – in the time it’s taken you to transform your Decepticon, I’ve walked to work.

6) Thou shalt have thine ticket ready for inspection

Picture the scene; you get the same train to the same station every single day. You’re in a rush. So why is the last thing you bother to think of to prepare your annual gazillion quid pass for inspection once disembarked? It isn’t hard to keep it in the same pocket, or maybe even in a special pouch on your utility belt, so please don’t make me walk straight into you as if I’m performing a particularly violent piece of early-morning anal savagery whilst you fumble about. It’ll only end in tears. Oh, and you’ve just missed that connecting train.

7) Thou shalt not read large newspapers in enclosed spaces

Common sense once again, if we’re all cramped up like a jar of particularly over-friendly anchovy fillets, there probably isn’t room for you to whip out your daily rag. Even more importantly, if you decided instead to pull out your mobile telecommunication device and boot up the icon labelled “Internet”, you’d probably find news that is less than a week old anyway. I can probably reveal today what will be in next week’s editions of the litterer’s favourite “Metro” anyway:

  • Man makes pair of shoes out of lobsters.
  • Leathery celebrity mistaken for antique bedside table.
  • Being alive makes you dead one day.

Newspapers on trains – it’s what Kindles were invented for.

8) Thou shalt not buy leaky headphones

Let’s face it, very few people have exactly the same taste in music, so it’s pretty frustrating when even your own headphones can’t drown out the wailing of the latest R&B chart-botherer or the jungle bass crunk of a dance floor anthem. The only positive spin on this is my invention of the soon-to-be-turned-into-a-TV-show-hosted-by-Ant-‘N’-Dec game, Leaky Headphone ShazamTM. Not only does being able to use your own mobile device to identify the track in question highlight the biggest offenders, it also tells you which are the latest, most hateful ‘artists’ in the hit parade. Two wins for the price of one.

9) Thou shalt not bring an entourage of children and shopping bags onto commuter trains.

The scourge of many a commuter, the last minute dash for a soon to be departing train is acceptable when unavoidably delayed, but not when you’re too self-important to avoid busier times and laden with 739 bags of tat from your once a year trip to town. Let’s face it, all you’ve spent the past five hours doing is trying to squeeze your fifty stone frame into a £4.99 Primark bikini for ‘yours holidays’. No excuse for being late. And leave your caterwauling lifestyle choice on the OUTSIDE of the train next time would you?

Ecco The Dolphin
Ecco – Texting away on his very own TransPennine Express.

10) Thou shalt set ALL mobile device tones to ‘off’.

The fact that I can no longer count on both of my hands AND feet the number of times I have assumed Ecco the Dolphin is aboard the same train as me, clicking away, is deeply, deeply disturbing. I really have no idea what people get from having keypad tones set to tap-tap mode, other than it being some form of reminder that their hearing still works, or that they are still alive despite their obvious lack of mental capability. Also on this list are those still chuckling to themselves at their ‘hilarious’ “Help! I’m in your pocket!” ringtones, along with the clown car horn honk and the radar text alert. For clarity, no, you’re not a ship’s captain or a kidnapper. Well actually, you might be. And you’re definitely a clown…

The Commuter Scoring System

Regular subscribers here and to my Twitter feed will be more than aware that I have lots of fun each and every day dealing with transport, the general public; pretty much life in general. To sum up how my mind works on a day to day basis, I’ve decided to reveal the factors that determine just how miserable I’m likely to be on any given morning.

I begin each day with 100 Morning Points, but a selection of events can make this rise or fall, and here are just a few examples of how:
(Note – these are in no way copyrighted by me, so feel free to play along at home. And when you hear this noise *ting*, please turn the page).

Train Delays
Minus 456 points.

-10 points for having to get up at 5.30am.
-10 points for the bus being late.
Additional -5 points if it’s so late you miss your train.
-5 points for every banal conversation overheard before having a chance to insert headphones.
+10 points for seeing someone run for the train only to have the doors shut in their face.
-20 points if it is you.
-10 points if the train is so busy you are massively interfered with.
+5 points refunded if it’s by a fitty.
+10 points for beating Running Man out of the station.
+15 points for your preferred Starbucks staff being on duty and having your coffee ready before you’ve even ordered it.
+5 points for Mentalist Man making beheading gestures.
+10 points for seeing someone trip up the stairs in Piccadilly Station.
Additional +5 points if they were carrying coffee.
+5 points for getting your favourite spec on the tram.
-10 points for the tram breaking down or being insufferably slow.
+5 points per fare-dodging scumbag getting hoisted off the tram and publicly ridiculed at Pomona.
-5 points for every copy of the Metro left on a public transport seat.
-5 points for each person getting the work lift to anything lower than the Third Floor.

Generally I am left with so few points each morning that my life force ebbs away like the skeleton graphic on Knightmare, leaving me a withered old bag of bones by the time I hit work. Nevertheless I get on with it, and look forward to out-scoring myself the very next day.

You can of course extend this into a fully-fledged game of Commuter Bingo, and to give you an example of a potential scoring system, see the gallery below. Enjoy.

Sony – The End of a 20 Year Love Affair

Sony logo
Sony and The Affs – the end of an era.

Those who know me will be aware that I’ve always been a massive proponent of Sony technology, so you may be surprised to hear that myself and Sony could well be over.

My relationship with the brand began when I inherited my mum’s stereo. It was a turntable-topped, double tape deck, CD drive-based beast. I used it constantly, stunned by the sound from those great speakers, and forever showing off its monolithic appearance to my circle of friends.

It wasn’t long before everyone started getting Walkmans (Walkmen?) so I just HAD to seek one out (with a radio on it too) to keep me occupied on those long car journeys to far flung parts of England on the annual family holiday. A massive supply of tape-recorded albums and mix-ups courtesy of my friends would be a god-send, along with cassettes of some gigs recorded directly from the radio (swearing usually included due to sluggish broadcast-delay editing).

A Sony Discman soon entered into my Sony-stash, a good £100’s worth of prime tech, pumping pristine shiny disc music into my ears wherever I went. It may have been bulky and it certainly skipped every time you moved too quickly, but it was still a revelation in portable music technology.

When the offer of a new stereo came with my 18th Birthday, I had no hesitation in picking out a magical neon-lit five-CD changing behemoth from the company I knew I could rely on for quality and for design spectacle.

Mini-disc arrived next, and I bought a little silver Sony machine with great build quality and an (admittedly now misplaced) view that I was staring at the future of portable music.

When I went off to University I took my Sony kit with me and added a Sony dictaphone to my stash. A staple requirement on any journalism course, I was once again unconcerned with paying that little bit extra for a trusted bit of tech.

After finishing University, I treated myself to the hugely impressive PlayStation 2, finally getting a DVD player in my life along with a whole world of possibilities. I’d skipped the original PlayStation as I’d previously been a Sega fanboy, but as they slipped away from the video game hardware world, I defected to the new Japanese pretenders.

When portable music took a new turn, this time towards a digital future, I bought one of the first Sony MP3 players that saw the light of day. I wrestled with the god-awful Sonicstage software, insisting to people that the sound quality and reliability made it better than any grey-screened iTunes-locked down iPod or web developer friendly Creative Zen box of tricks.

I then bought a house, and used the opportunity to kit it out with the latest and greatest from the Sony Corporation. Trinitron TVs both upstairs and down, with matching VCRs and DVD players. Even the bedside clock radio was a Sony device, preferring that to cheaper models, despite it largely being a glorified timepiece. The PSP soon followed, seeing me again fighting against early reports of a a clunky, non-ergonomic design and Game Gear-like battery life. I even bought the PS3 on launch day for a mammoth £425, and more recently the PS Vita, a new HD Sony Bravia TV and a bedside iPod/iPhone dock radio.

I’ve also owned Sony earphones for a good three or four years now. This was a no-brainer compared to Apple’s own shockingly bad buds, but I still turned down Sennheisers and other top-name brands in order to go with safety and security from a brand that I trusted.

Even last year when it was time to spend my hard earned cash on a new laptop, I turned a deaf ear to those insisting I should go with a MacBook Pro, purchasing instead my second Vaio, along with a netbook for on-the-go scribbling. But now I can’t help but think I should have listened all these years.

Back in October, my then 15 month old Vaio would not turn on. Initially thinking it was a charging or battery issue, I plugged it in, charged it overnight, all to no avail. Quickly searching the Internet, the main reasons people had reported were with the motherboard itself. I was initially shocked that the main board of such a new machine could die so quickly, but knowing it to still be in warranty (I got a free two-year extended warranty when I bought the laptop) I went about getting it looked at.

My first port of call was the Sony Centre from where I had originally bought the product…until I realised it had shut down. With no other Sony store nearby I went online and followed the process to log the fault electronically. I soon received correspondence back saying I would receive packaging via DHL in which I should place the laptop and send it away for them to look at. So far, so good.

I got the DHL man to come to my place of work, expecting him to hang around whilst I popped the unit into the box, but oh no that would be far too easy. The box arrived but the courier was “not allowed” to hang around. Instead I had to package my laptop up and call DHL to get them to come back again and pick it up. Painful, but not the end of the world.

Again, service was quick and I soon had a voicemail from Sony saying the engineer had looked at it and it would cost £320.08 to repair. Knowing this to be a mistake as it was still under warranty, I called back the offshore call centre who had left the message.

They stated that the engineer in the UK had found the fault to be caused by liquid damage and this was something not covered by the warranty therefore it had to be paid for. I vehemently protested this diagnosis, as the laptop had never even left my house, let alone ever had anything spilled on it., but there was no arguing with the operator who only seemed capable of reading from scripts and so I had no other option than to request they returned it to me, unrepaired.

Looking at my other options, things appeared bleak. I knew of a few people who were handy enough to replace a motherboard, but getting the appropriate part for such a new model looked like costing the same as it would via Sony. I wondered how the machine could have got such damage and as it was certainly not caused by myself, I could only assume that the fault was present at purchase and corroded over time, so I sent Sony UK Customer Services a letter stating that I wished to get the machine repaired free of charge under the Sale of Goods Act.

Eventually I received a call from Sony’s complaints/customer services department in this country. They explained that my first port of call should be with the shop from which I bought it as they, as the retailer, would be responsible under the Sale of Goods Act. Explaining to them that the store was no longer open, they admitted that they’d had a similar problem with other customers as many Sony Centres had closed down. They then admitted that Sony Centres were in fact unrelated to Sony themselves and weren’t even franchises. They advised that I should look for head office details on my receipt to try and find who may now be able to help, and after taking an email address for Sony’s department in case I needed them again I grudgingly began to explore this route.

Unfortunately there were no head office details on the receipt, so I started digging around on the Internet for contact information for the administrators. I received no response from them, and so I emailed Sony customer services again to explore my next options and to express my concern that I and many others buy Sony products from Sony Centres as we expect to get suitably preferential after-sales care from a seemingly affiliated outlet. The next email from Customer Services did admit that although they were un-affiliated, the level of service they offer does impact on the Sony brand. Nevertheless, there was nothing more that they could do to help.

After running through my options, I decided that my only choice was to pay to get the machine repaired, get all my data and information from it and then sell it in order to part fund an Apple MacBook Pro.

I emailed Sony again, simply to enquire whether I needed to log this repair as a new job or if I could just package it up in the box I still had and get a collection arranged. A few weeks passed and on chasing my request again, I was eventually told to phone an 0870 number.

I did so, and was promptly on hold for over half an hour, before being put through to an offshore operator who could not help and would need to arrange for me to receive a callback from the team who could deal with pick ups and charge any pre-pick up fees. I strongly informed the operator that I had already received a quote for the repair and had been charged no fees previously and after trying to pull him away from his script, he eventually admitted that I would pay no more than was originally quoted, £320.08.

When I received my callback, the latest operator I spoke to told me that I would need to pay a £60 “logistics fee” as in my reporting of the repair, I had told them it was due to liquid damage which was not covered by warranty and so the DHL costs were also exempt from Sony picking up the tab.

Outraged, I suggested to the operator that I could, in theory, simply telephone back and report the laptop as being faulty, without suggesting a reason, thus avoiding this charge and she admitted that I “could do”. I decided to pick the issue up with the UK-based Sony team again to see if I could get some rationality and common sense and again after an extended wait I then received a call, during which I again expressed my disappointment with the time taken to resolve my issue and also with the inconsistent messages coming from the company’s various departments. The customer service agent did eventually agree to waive the logistics cost and arranged for me to receive a call back from the collections team once more.

A day or so later, I received the call, and again I enquired whether to save everyone’s time and effort I could just package up my laptop in the same box as last time. I was told that I couldn’t as I needed a new address label (the possibility of sticking this over the top of the previous one appeared alien).

I then asked whether the DHL courier could wait whilst I packaged up the laptop, but again the only scripted response I received was that he would need to leave and I would need to phone to arrange a new pick up. With no alternative I had to again follow this ridiculous process, phoning DHL to arrange pick up almost immediately after the original driver had left the building.

Two more days passed, before I received the call from offshore advising of the cost…it had gone up, and was now going to cost me £343.26.

I again had to call Sony, to ask why on Earth this cost had risen and they confirmed that a logistics charge applied. After checking with their supervisor, they agreed to remove it, bringing the cost down to the previously quoted amount.

I now await delivery of the repaired laptop so I can go about the process of getting everything off it,  restoring it to factory settings (if it isn’t already in that state) and then getting shot of one arm of Sony’s hideously admin-heavy, customer-unfriendly corporation from my life.

So that’s it then. One of the biggest companies across the globe has finally lost my business. And do they care? Doesn’t look that way. The majority of responses have been hugely scripted with no research into an individual’s issue and zero personal service.

I don’t necessarily expect Sony to be be less than faceless due to their size but there ARE plenty of companies out there these days that deliver a personal touch. Take Virgin, O2 or Tesco for example to see a classy, modern online customer service strategy in action. Instead, Sony make the customer jump through hoops, forever implying that they are in the wrong and charging hideous fees for anything that doesn’t suit their approach to warranty-related repairs.

All I can say is thank you Sony. Thanks for the previous 20 years, but no thank you to the next 20. I’ve spent a lot of money with you over the years and recommended others do the same, but that isn’t going to happen any more.

Modern Life Is Rubbish

I always feel a little resentful on the day I part with another £100 monthly train & tram ticket, but when it’s a Monday as well, you know it’s not going to be much fun.

I do think though that things could be so much better if people were more considerate and less incompetent.

I know I bleat on about First Manchester’s godawful peasant wagons but it only takes a few small tweaks to make things at least 50% better. At the moment, the things turn up late with the wrong number and/or destination on the front and the driver never has any change. Surely better training, better punctuality and greater attention to detail can’t be too hard to find?

At train stations, I know why there aren’t any bins, but what are the alternatives? Why hasn’t some genius thought up a way to prevent the strewn Metros, Gregg’s coffee cups and heart attack pasty wrappers from littering the platforms? And while they’re at it they may like to consider enforcing that smoking ban they’re so keen to bang an auto announcement out about too.

None of this is of course helped by the general public. I don’t think I can remember the last time a polite hand stifled a yawn or smothered a hacking cough. Instead there seems to be a competition going on to see who can contort their face the most whilst bellowing out a noisy yawn or how far it’s possible to shower one’s infected bodily fluids over others.

People should all have one basic mantra to live by; go about your business in a manner that respects others. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be much of this going on anymore.

Instead we’re left with a place that no-one cares about anymore. A place so run-down and poverty stricken that it may as well be in the third world. The cost of basic foodstuffs goes up whilst unemployment does the same. The attitude of your average man on the street is no longer full of the Bulldog spirit, it’s one of thinking they are owed all the trinkets they desire rather than having to work for them. The whole mentality of this country is wrong.

As it stands, this country doesn’t need multi-million pound infrastructure investment anymore, it needs to be taken out the back and put out of its misery.

Solving Problems On Britain’s Train Lines: Free Consultancy For National Rail

As a child I was taken to Bristol Temple Meads station during the summer holidays and would while away hours spotting some of the majestic steam and diesel locomotives that powered much of our great nation. Noting down their names and numbers in my notebook, this was a great, simple (and presumably cheap for my parents) pleasure in an age before cameraphones and Netscape Navigator, but it was all good clean, harmless fun.

Since the glory days of the mid 80s locomotive movement and the subsequent privatisation of the entire network, it could be argued that things have gotten a little silly on Britain’s trains. I for one have been using regular services into and out of Manchester for the past 11 years and before that was a frequent flyer (railer?) on trains between Sheffield and Bristol in my University days. Regular readers will be familiar with my trials and tribulations aboard the old puffers, but I thought it was time to stop moaning about the quality of the service (or lack thereof) and instead focus on a few ways in which I can help to make the whole kaboodle better. Listen up National Rail, this one’s for you.

1) Trespassers on the line.

There have been a few times when my trains have inexplicably slowed down and even stopped, even on short 15 minute journeys. After sitting there for a while presuming there had been a signal failure or somesuch, the conductor has then announced that there have been reports of “trespassers on the line” meaning the train has to either stop or run at a reduced speed. Now, to me this just means that these trespassers (whoever they may be) aren’t going to be taught a lesson, as they will have succeeded in delaying hundreds of people who are going about their daily business. My suggestion, therefore is that the trains should actually speed up, thus scaring the pubic hairs (if they have them) from these urchins. I’ve been on board a train when it’s hit someone and despite a bit of a bump (imagine a truck going over a large bag of cow legs) and a lengthy delay to hose down the nosecone, little harm was done, so I see no real reason why this delay cannot be overcome.

2) Ditherers

The act (or art) of boarding a train is relatively simple. You should stand next to the soon-to-be-open doors, allowing plenty of room for people/pushchairs/Bromptons to disembark before filing on politely and making your way to a seat or a standing position WITH AWARENESS FOR HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE STILL TO BOARD BEHIND YOU. There are many issues that can confuse matters including a) trying to find your reserved seat, b) not knowing if you’re on the right train and of course c) trying to get on a busy commuter train with a week’s worth of shopping or a full-sized mountain bike.

All three elements cause dithering as people look up and down the carriage trying to ascertain, Crystal Maze-style ‘what they have to do.’ I propose what is essentially, again, a quick and easy solution; cattle prods. Just as UEFA employs additional touchline officials at major tournaments, surely Britain’s train operators can employ additional conductors (I’m solving Britain’s unemployment crisis here too) to keep an eye on problem doors and ‘encourage’ anyone taking too long (I’m flexible on what the dither-time cut off should be) by giving them a short sharp shock?

3) Platform Alterations

One of the main issues that delays trains is the amount of people concentrating more on their Android mobiles and Dr Dre headphones than they are on boarding a locomotive. I would, therefore encourage more platform alterations to keep people on their toes and get them to pay attention. It’s pretty dull that I know each and every night that my 1756 train departs from Platform 3. It’s been going on for a while now, and in all honesty, I’d quite like a change, so why not mix it up? Maybe try a rogue Wednesday on Platform 10 (training people how to get on at an even-numbered platform in the process) The amount of drones left behind due to a lack of awareness would only serve to free up more space for us sensible folk and ensure that the conductor isn’t stood waiting for Jemima Waddleduck to trot up at the last-minute with her 15 Primark bags and 29 children. She would still be quacking away on Platform 3 unaware of the possibility that the train isn’t always as predictable as her.

So there we have it, three simple suggestions, and I know there will be a lot more. If only National Rail, Network Rail, or whoever bothers turning up to work in the morning and pretending to run our train lines would pay attention, I don’t hesitate to think that Britain would be a far, far better place.