Saturday, 15 August 2015

Cortado in Corbera

The Ebro from its source in Catabria to the delta in Catalonia

The river Ebro 930 kilometres long is famous for its bounteous stock of catfish and carp. As the estuary has grown over the centuries the town of Amposta which was originally a sea port in the fourth century is now several miles inland.

Rice workers keen to have their picture taken


We had coffee a Cortado (or literally “cut coffee”) in Corbera a town high above the Ebro where the conclusive battle of the Spanish Civil War took place. In the 115 days between 25 July and 16 November 1938 the Nationalist forces of General Franco defeated the opposition forces fighting for freedom and Republicanism. These forces included Communists, Anarchists and the International Brigades formed from volunteers from all over the world. It is widely acknowledged that Mussolini’s Italy and Hitler’s Germany supported the Nationalists in spite of their apparent agreement to a non-intervention treaty. 
Ground forces in Spanish Civil War

Their unremitting aerial bombardment was decisive in its effect on the Republican forces who were also weakened by hunger and thirst in the heat of summer.
The number of people who actually took part or witnessed these events are rapidly diminishing although there are plenty of signs that the proud independent spirit of Catalonia continues.

The Catalan flag side by side with the flag of Sant Doningo

Young socialist organisation signposted in old part of Reus
Although there has been a period of ignoring or trying to forget this conflict throughout Spain there are now signs that these memories will be restored. Museums have been built – “centres of interpretation” – perhaps recognising that facts cannot have meaning without interpretation. 

As we stood up to pay for our coffee and go up to the old town a man came up to us to show us an old photo in a newspaper cutting from the 30s of the Republican forces gathered in the street we were standing in. He pointed up to the old town which had previously had 2,500 inhabitants before being destroyed in the bombing.  He was perhaps only in his 60s and therefore born long after the end of the Spanish Civil War – however no doubt friends and members of his family had been killed in that devastating battle.

Church of Sant Pere
On the hill we found the remains of the church of Sant Pere – beautifully restored and its roof entirely missing but replaced by a transparent covering creating a light filled atrium. 

In what seems to be a particularly Catalonian fusion of the imagination and history the church contained contemporary artists’ works conveying the concept of freedom of thought and speech.
The church which is now an art gallery.

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Emergency calls only

“They shouldn’t have told you that.”

This was the phrase I kept hearing during my week of mobile phone blackout. I had spoken to five different “advisers” on the phone (one in Cairo) and three face-to-face in the shop. All eight were courteous and polite but the first seven were instantly sure that they knew what was wrong.

Each assured me that anyone else I had spoken to was on the wrong track.

“The customer helpline have put in the wrong code.”
“Your account is OK now you’ll be back on in an hour. “
“It’s the lollipop (yes) software from Samsung – you shouldn’t have updated.”
“Two orders need to go though and the system is slow.”
“Your account must be blocked – I will unblock it.”

You shouldn't have done that!
It reminded me of conversations I have had with plumbers and builders and even hairdressers who after tutting-tutting over your furred up pipes, wood-chip wallpaper or punk style hair colouring tell you that you have wasted your time and money so far and that they have the solution. 

Harry Enfield’s character who pops up and says “You shouldn’t have done that!” comes to mind.

BlackBerry curve

For years I had used a Blackberry after my employer had provided one as a way of keeping us on call round the clock. I still remember the dread in the pit of my stomach on a Sunday night when I would switch it on and hear the repeated buzz - one after another - of incoming “All staff” emails, diary reminders and texts reminding me to log my hours, go to a meeting or even wish someone a happy birthday.

In spite of this electronic harassment - after I became self-employed I still chose a Blackberry for my personal and business use. I particularly liked the solidity of the keyboard and the speed with which I could put together an email. Internet access was pretty feeble but I used my laptop for that.
I’d gone well beyond the phone update deadline because I didn’t want the hassle of learning all the short cuts of a new phone. 

Samsung S5
They didn’t do the Blackberry update so it was a Samsung S5.  

I loved my new phone but it was slim and slippery and easy to lose.

Of course I lost my phone one day and looked everywhere. 

Just in case it had been stolen and was being used for thousands of £ of mobile data calls I reported this.

An hour later I found it – in the bedclothes. 

They tell you never use your phone in bed and now I know why.

Joyfully I reported it found and it was back on again.

Two days later it was off…………….
Emergency calls only.
Call the customer helpline from my landline (costing me money).
Back on again.
Give memorable information.
Give date of birth.
Back on again.
Emergency calls only.
Off again.
Name of first pet.
On again.

Finally back in the shop and feeling desperate. Within seconds Abdul told me my handset (not my account) had been blacklisted. At last I was getting somewhere.

In other words as far as the company was concerned my phone was still in the hands of someone who was up to no good. The only way to get it off the blacklist was via an email from him to the only department who can take phones off the blacklist. This could take up to 72 hours and had to be done manually.

Twenty four hours later I was back on.  

I have not mentioned the company in this blog so anyone from customer services in a phone company might ask themselves. Could this happen in my firm?