like a virgin

I am writing this on the way back from a month’s lecturing in Moscow. During this time, I relied on my Virgin phone to keep me in contact with things in the UK. I had a russian phone too, so, managing the two handsets, I felt a bit like a rather dodgy trader. But needs must.

tom mockridge

Just before I returned, I got a message from Virgin mobile to say that I had exceeded my credit limit. Strange, as I had renegotiated this just before I left the UK when access to my online account had failed for the umpteenth time. I was told then, in October, that I had fallen foul of some sort of systems’ overhaul that routinely upgraded the credit limits of more recent customers but, as a long-standing and loyal Virgin devotee, I had been overlooked, as had many of my vintage. A temporary correction was applied to my account. That appears to have failed in practice.

I rang up the international number on the text they sent and tried to pay off the outstanding debt. My phone, it seems, had been suspended for the last three days. Worrying. And then the real drama began.

I was speaking to a lad called Jack who was based in Manila. He was quite affable though he spent slightly too much time telling me how honest he was – when someone tells me he is honest, I generally suspect something is amiss: “The lady doth protest too much”. Rather like starting a sentence “with respect” something that prefaces complete verbal abuse. Jack was unable to process my payment because my phone was apparently flagged as fraudulent and blacklisted. That was monday.

robert dunnNow once again, there is history, because this had happened before- no fault of mine, and I was told it had been corrected.  I assumed, therefore, that the so-called correction on 13th October had not, in fact, been effective and I had been living in a fool’s paradise for 5 weeks. But that turned out to be untrue. Instead, an entirely new fraud error had been generated by Virgin. It was explained to me later by a man called “Much” who inhabits what is called the CEO office for escalated complaints, but no doubt it is just another call-centre. “Much” was very reluctant to give his real name so I am respecting his wishes in this account.

I cautioned Jack on Monday that I worried our call might be expensive. He insisted that, despite the fact that I was calling from Moscow, the call was free. He had me on hold at various times and the call went on in fact for an hour. There was a second and third attempt to resolve the problem: another two hours or so.

tony hanway

On Wednesday, I spoke to the CEO office who had finally lifted the bar on my phone and offered to pay the £250 there and then to gain access to my phone, but instead, they said the sum had increased to about £400. We may well ask how that happened, because, other than calling Virgin on a free line, I had not used the phone at all. And therein lies the rub: the line to Jack was not free after all. (the number, if you are interested is +447953967967)


When my case-handler finally got round to talking to me on Wednesday evening, he explained that the call to “Jack” in Manila was no longer accessible as a recording and so he was unable to verify whether Jack had, indeed, assured me that calls to that number were free. (In any case, “Much” could provide documents to explain that such calls are not free but charged on a standard overseas tarrif). “Much” told me that he was “only being honest”, like Jack before him. Somehow, Jack seemed more credible. As a “goodwill gesture”, and because “he did not dispute my story of what Jack was alleged to have said,” “Much” was, however, prepared to offer me £70. He also assured me, note, that he believed my story about Jack’s claim – so the offer seems a bit odd, and I feel a bit short-changed. No apology, incidentally, also for the fraud error, which he admitted was Virgin’s- an error produced he explained because of the considerable advances being made by the implementation of new software, but the second such erroneous fraud flag on my account this year! And no offer of compensation. It is a case of “Much” wants more!

maurice daw

I asked for a PUK code so that I could leave Virgin and take my phone number with me, but should I do this – Mr “Much” was very clear- then I would no longer receive the “goodwill gesture” he had been offering me. Astonishing and slightly threatening.

This £70 is not compensation, it is not a refund. It is, in short, a bribe by a company that is quite happy to lie through its teeth to extract as much as they can for a service that falls far short even of the term”shoddy”. I wonder if, indeed, what I have experienced is a form of “misrepresentation”? It comes fairly close to what American gangsters in Chicago would have called “protection”. I am paying for services they themselves have forced me to accept!

brigitte trafford

In the social media age, customer service should be efficient and effective. A quick survey of the internet shows very clearly that I am not alone in being frustrated by Virgin’s duplicity and aggression. One of the problems that I would identify here is that customer care and marketing or sales are divided into two completely different (and arguably conflicting) offices and neither has much care about its effect on the other. Beyond that is the infuriating habit of agents refusing to provide surnames and assuming they can use my first name too. This is not just an Oldie whinge about due respect- it is about basic honesty because, when pressed to identify the various people called Val, or Cherie or Jack, the evidence of their existence seems to flush away as quickly as the recordings that betray whatever errors they have inadvertently or deliberately made. Virgin is the harpic of mobile communication. I should add that I also spoke to a lovely switchboard person called Chantelle who was charming enough on 3 occasions to remember who I was and what the issue was. But, as a rule, what is agreed with one person is then denied by another and an appeal to the evidence of the “recording” meets with the response that it never took place or is lost. The fact, therefore, remains- shoddy customer care will eventually have an impact on sales. It is just a matter of waiting for the whole house of cards to collapse.

mine hifzi

And who has a Virgin phone after all, these days? Come on! Virgin is simply a larger scale version of Easy Jet- it’s mobile phone service is an offshoot. The Virgin company began in the Late 70s and was properly registered in the late 80s: a 40-something year history, and it is time for some pruning.

Because I look after a number of students in the UK , and have phones on account for them to use, I have oddly now used almost every phone company in the UK. None are really honest or a pleasure to deal with, but Virgin’s deceit in this instance really takes the biscuit.


I will certainly make an effort to produce some cartoons about this at a later stage. (**22.11.15: now completed, see above for images of current board of directors) But now, I must board my flight! (I am NOT booked on a Virgin flight)








Mormons in outer space

News today that the Mormon church in Utah has made a pronouncement about the children of same-sex couples. Apparently, they must remain unbaptised until they are 18, have renounced same-sex unions and have left their parental home. (The dead, on the other hand, are enthusiastically baptised by Mormons- whether they know about the faith or not. In this practice, incidentally, the Mormons follow the Marcionites)

The result is a mass exodus from the Church in protest, “the first mass resignation in LDS history in response to a specific policy”, said John Larsen. The backlash has been so huge that some of the senior figures from the church have now been wheeled out to “explain” the message…

elder christofferson

I have no real problem with a backwater heretical sect making sweeping pronouncements about morals as long as it is about the morality of one particular so-called sinner. It is their church after all. But I find it abhorrent to read that the children of such a person must equally suffer effective excommunication and to be accepted at all, after their childhood, they must spurn their parents. This is Moronic, and we cannot be silent when children are attacked like this. This takes us back to the Mediaeval period, a period incidentally that the Church of the Latter Day Saints has missed as it was only founded by Joseph Smith in about 1823. Would we still be silent today, would twitter be mute if the innocent were burnt as witches, if illegitimate children were abandoned or chastised for their parents’ behaviour?

If you want a proper history of the Mormon Church, it is available through “south park” or indeed is summed up nicely in the musical currently in the West End called “the Book of Mormon”, (Parker, Lopez and Stone) without a doubt, one of the best shows playing at the moment.

This is how the Guardian summed it up:

Hundreds of members of the Church of Latter Day Saints mailed or handed in letters quitting the Mormon church on Saturday to protest against a new policy barring children of married same-sex couples from being baptized until they are adults.

Leaders of the church approved the policy last week. It added same-sex marriage to acts considered to be a renunciation of the Mormon faith and thus subject to church discipline, including excommunication.

“This is about compassion and supporting our community,” A protest in a Salt Lake City park one organiser, Brooke Swallow, said: “No longer are we going to keep our mouths shut.”

About 1,000 people showed up at the park across the street from the headquarters of the Utah-based church. Long lines of Mormons handed resignation letters to Mark Naugle, an attorney who made sure the forms were complete and promised to mail them the next day.

Others joined a procession to a downtown mailbox and then twice circled Temple Square, home of the faith’s flagship temple.

“I resigned today,” said Paul Pratt, one of the protesters. “I haven’t been active for 17 years. It’s time to separate. I don’t need a bunch of [church leaders] telling me what to do.”

The church has more than 15 million adherents and 85,000 missionaries around the world. A church spokesperson was not available for comment on Saturday.

I have always had a fairly soft spot for Mormons, and was friends with some very hard-working and much abused lads in Athens who were regularly marched into police custody for attempting to Proselytize, something forbidden in modern Greek law. One of them, an ex-catholic from a good Italian family, showed signs of strain. While the theology is based on cod-KJV english and anticipates some of the madder fantasies of the Scientology people, there is little doubt that most Mormons I have met are committed and good people. That is what makes this pronouncement so frustrating – because suddenly, it exposes the whole cult as vicious and mean, a nasty savage, spiteful dictatorship that punishes the young and the innocent. It is one thing to condemn gay people. It is quite another to condemn their children. And it is wrong.

I made a video about the theology that underpins the strict Catholic, Orthodox and Jewish point of view about Homosexuality, and I think there are some serious flaws in the stricter interpretation. However, it is also clear that, in practice, there has been tolerance as well as condemnation in all these religions, and often today, spokespeople err in favour of compassion. Even in Islam, for all the hellfire quoted (or mis-quoted) by fanatics and the barely literate, there are today a number of “gay Mosques” and a growing number of wise scholars and imams who recognise that compassion and culture both play a vital role in this debate. Not so the Latter Day Saints! Not now.

And yet surely, last year or the year before, Donny Osmond (“lollipops, lips and lipstick”, “love me for a reason”, “Puppy Love”) was on the Graham Norton show? In that interview, incidentally, Donny explains that it was Walt Disney, not Andy Williams who discovered the Osmonds. It was I recall an interview of great charm -what else can one ever expect?

Here is something more ad rem that Donny said a while ago – he was very careful,

There are many gay individuals that are members of our church. I know many of them. In fact, some of my best friends are gay. I am grateful for my associations with them, and enjoy working with many of them.

We all determine for ourselves what is right and what is not right for our own lives and how we live God’s commandments. I am not a judge and I will never judge anyone for the decisions they make unless they are causing harm to another individual. I love my friends, including my gay friends. We are all God’s children. It is their choice, not mine on how they conduct their lives and choose to live the commandments according to the dictates of their own conscience.

But can this same loveable Donny Osmond really now support the pronouncement of unadulterated hate coming from the mouth of Utah that children must be punished for their parents’ lifestyle? This simply revives the smear of illegitimacy. The call of “Stand up for bastards!” rings through the theatre once again…of course in King Lear it is the nasty one, Edmund, who has that line…but does it matter? We should no longer distance ourselves from a bastard, or from the children of a single-sexed marriage.

These mormons have lost it. No doubt we need to go into space to find out what the scientologists think.

all terrorism is wrong


The Paris attacks are horrendous

and all terrorism is always wrong.

One of the problems we have today is that we are still distinguishing between one form of violence and another. We have, in other words, taken the saying that “one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist” a bit too seriously. Any form of terrorism is a statement against civilised behaviour and, therefore, by definition, to be condemned. Frankly, what James Bond is doing in films would be as horrendous if it happened in practice as what was done in Paris last night. None of this violence is acceptable.

There is no need to go into details here, because there are plenty of examples. But while societies champion any form of black ops activity, they are also in effect giving some licence to the terrorists to defend their own despicable behaviour. This is no defence. There is no moral credibility in killing, maiming, or terrifying another. There is no such thing as “collateral damage”. There has to be an understanding that there can be only an absolute condemnation for all such activity.

The ISIL/ISIS/Al Qaida campaign and response can only stop when there is a clear understanding that terrorism is unanimously wrong. This needs to be clearly established in the West and in the Islamic world. It is a moral and a religious issue more than a political one. Politicians will always adopt a pragmatic goal, but we need to establish and re-affirm some absolutes because the rhetoric of retribution can sometime confuse the issue. These absolutes are already in the key texts but they need to be repeated because of the damage done to the texts by revisionists like, for instance, Khomeini: suicide is always forbidden in Islam and the death of any innocent is always forbidden in any conflict. These two statements alone rule out most of the acts of terror we have been witnessing recently. There can be no way to challenge this and we badly need a pan-Islamic council recognised throughout the Muslim world to champion this fact. Everything else is a footnote to this.

Then, we have to undertake as civilised societies to stop the secret war- to reign in the assassinations and the abductions. Bond might make great entertainment, but it is not the way to conduct international business or to fight this campaign. It is time to draw a line.

shock! sensational news about Dumbledore direct from the US!

I was shocked to read the following rubbish from US preacher Kevin Swanson, (and I trust this is indeed his swan-song). Quite apart from the length of time it has taken this twit to process the rather old news that Dumbledore is gay (not in the book, so we take it on trust that JK Rowling knows more about her characters than she was prepared to commit to an already over-long and overblown set of novels- alright, “the Prisoner of Azkaban” is a brilliant bit of writing, and up there with the stuff of Ursula Le Guin and probably Philip Pullmann), he also tells us that he plans to sit in a pool of excrement when his gay son gets married.


I did not know much about Kevin Swanson. I thought he was a character from “Family Guy” and had to check. He is. But it is not the same Swanson. The Swanson to hit the news today is a crazed Revivalist pastor who is much given to sensationalist homophobic rants. I suppose it was only a matter of time before Dumbledore caught his beady all-seeing eye.

Swanson – who recently called for the extermination of gay people – said “we are on the very cusp of judgment as I see it and we need to call America to repent.”

“America, repent of your rebellion against God.

“America, repent of stumbling the little ones! America, repent of Harry Potter. America, repent of How to Train Your Dragon.

“America, repent that Dumbledore emerged as a homosexual mentor for Harry Potter, that Hiccup’s mentor in How to Train Your Dragon emerged as a homosexual himself in order that history might repeat itself one more time, in order that little six- and seven- and eight-year-olds might stumble, in order that tens of millions of parents, it would be better that a millstone be hanged around their neck and they be drowned at the bottom of the sea than that there would be so many people stumbling so many children in public schools, in movie theaters, in homes in which children are raised to be stumbled by the Dumbledores and by the mentors of Hiccup in How to Train Your Dragon.”

Swanson is also on record condemning Disney’s Frozen as another form of gay propaganda.

I am so sorry there is confusion about this man’s identity. Clearly, the crazy pastor belongs in a cartoon and the little lad who went off to Iraq, the older brother of Susie (one of Stewie’s old flames) called Kevin Swanson, voiced so beautifully by Seth McFarlane, who does everything well, must now be the stuff of real life. I always thought that “Family Guy” was worth watching. It certainly must be, if the alternative is a crazy bible-thumping madman who believes his bile is inspired by God.

Mr Corbyn criticised

There are many reasons to criticise Mr Corbyn but the manufactured row about his modest bow at the Cenotaph is really not one of them. It is quite true that, with its limp and unspoken reference to a former Labour leader who destroyed his own reputation as one of the greatest parliamentary rhetoricians of the modern era with a silly wardrobe miscalculation, it makes a much better headline than Corbyn’s attack on General Sir Nicholas Houghton.

Mrs Thatcher, whatever opinion might prevail today in the disturbed bowels of the V&A, never made a wardrobe gaff in her political career. That alone is reason to rejoice and I think we should be given a chance to celebrate her choice. I remember a wonderful interview with the Lady where she explained how she matched and mixed her outfits and adjusted the hems to suit the prevailing fashion. She believed in costume change, and a fresh look, but she also knew how important it was to project the right image. Another Politician who understands this is the current first Minister in Scotland who has the personality, in addition, to carry off bold colours with aplomb! I wish that Mrs Merkel and Mrs Clinton, whose understanding of wardrobe is fairly dire, would take more notice of the way others have taken advice and who recognise the power of a public image.

As Mr Foot found out and Mr Corbyn is discovering, if a politician fails to offer an appropriate photo opportunity, one will be provided for them. In today’s world, it is not the soud-bite but the photo opportunity rather than what is said, that is of importance. We have become a very visual world. It is arrogance to assume that what is said is of greater importance than what we look like, or how, and where we spoke. The great politicians of the 20th Century already knew this- Churchill, John Paul II, Kennedy, Reagan, Wilson and Blair were masters of the image, and because they got the image right, their words were remembered. No one remembers today what Mr Heath or Mr Callaghan ever said. It’s an effort, indeed, to remember what they looked like. But I bet we remember the bushy eyebrows of Denis Healey, enough to make the butler in Downton look fairly manicured.

As for the Donkey Jacket- well, Mr Foot actually looked uncomfortable in that as well. Mrs Thatcher could have worn the Donkey jacket and got away with it. Mr Foot could not, and nor can Mr Corbyn. They lack the theatrical or televisual vocabulary that is the key to communication today and they belong to an earlier era.

Here is a picture in the meantime-

the modest bow