I WAS working on Tuesday the 5th of January in my home office when an almighty crash rocked my world. I thought, at first that there had been a car accident in the street, but found on closer inspection that an enormous pine tree branch had broken off in my backyard.
The force was so great that it cracked a brick lying underneath it, and completely severed the Telkom line – in fact the term to use would be hook, line and sinker. The box was completely ripped out of the wall and the wires were scattered over the driveway.
What is it with human nature that even if we know something for sure, we still have to just make absolutely sure – like when we have to touch the wet paint on a bench that says “Wet Paint”? The optimist in me nevertheless picked up the landline. I was met with a deafening silence.
The party begins
And then the fun started. To the backdrop of a fairground tune, I was instructed to press various numbers and prepare to wait to speak to a real person. And wait, And wait.
And a voice on the line telling me endlessly that difficult problems might have simple solutions, and chatting to other users might help me. Yeah, right. How many other users have had their phone line smashed by a tree and managed to fix it themselves with the help of another customer from Benoni or Port Nolloth on the community chatline?
While I am on the rampage, why can’t we listen to an SA accent of any description while we wait? We have plenty from which to choose. In an effort to get to what I suspect is supposed to be a neutral accent, the endless recorded male voice seems to have a distinct Mediterranean lilt to it. But then I am no expert.
This might take a while
Whatever time of day you phone, you are told that they are experiencing ‘high call volumes’ and that it might take long for my call to be answered. You don’t say.
I am a patient person. But clearly not quite patient enough as the last three weeks have been enough to make me understand why people get involved in bar fights. I have never been driven to violence (and that says something after teaching adolescents for 16 years) but today I could hit someone. Anyone. Especially after being told twice that they were “remotely testing” the line. Test away, guys, but I did tell you it was lying in the driveway.
I have a reference number 188CWK050116 – and after 5 or 6 calls (I am not counting the endless ones I eventually hung up) and a message on the community line and the Facebook page I now have an ‘escalation number’ – whatever that might mean: 808493. Is anyone out there listening? Hallo?
I did get the following inspiring, hopeful and personalised message from the Telkom website:
Following message sent to xxxxxxx425: Dear Customer, Fault 188CWK050116 has been created for Service ID xxxxxxx619 Telkom will endeavor to resolve the problem ASAP. Please do not reply to this SMS
Make no mistake, the staff, from Grantford (not sure of the spelling), Noluthando, Nobesuthu and several others were polite and friendly but nobody could tell me when or if my phone was going to be fixed. Several times I was told “Maybe tomorrow” but in their slight, collective hesitation I could hear that I was more likely to get a visit from the Easter Bunny in drag. They just wanted to get me off the phone asap and I don’t blame them. Would you want that job? I thought not.
I do feel bad moaning about something relatively inconsequential, when there are people in the country with no water, the rand is falling like a lead balloon, and the Western Cape is on fire. But working from home is after all how I make a living.
Three weeks, and waiting
The cables are still lying on the ground. The phone is still dead. I have spent several days at home waiting for the promised technician, I am spending a fortune on working from home using a Vodafone dongle, and am now ready to bribe someone, or cry, or break things, whichever opportunity arises first.
I don’t make a habit of considering bribery (it is after all illegal), but I can now understand how people can be driven to it in the face of astonishing inefficiency with regards to a large bureaucratic monopoly. I have followed all the normal channels over and over and nothing has worked.
Should I go completely wireless and off the grid? Relocate my office to the nearest coffee shop with Wi-fi?
I am now off to go and take a tranquiliser. Or two. I think I am losing it finally. The voices in my head are beginning to experience ‘high call volumes’.
Time to give the opposition my business? Oh yes, of course. There isn’t one. And this is exactly what happens when there isn’t.
It is two days later. The line has been fixed after 3 weeks and one day. If you listen carefully, you will hear the sound of me ululating in the background. Two delightful technicians, Toby and Asanda, who is in training, came and sorted everything out – with a smile. I am told by friends that I was lucky to get help so quickly. Maybe it had something to do with the intervention of a Facebook friend of a Facebook friend, who works for Telkom – apparently he made some discreet enquiries on my behalf just to see where in the process my query was. I think he could tell my sanity was at stake.
* Susan Erasmus is a freelance writer.