Peter Rhodes on M&S insurance, a breakdown at BT and obituaries written by the dead

A reader, studying the obituary of the Fleet Street legend Peregrine Worsthorne who died on October 4, noticed that it was written by a fellow journalist Stephen Fay who died on May 12. My reader says:“It seems a bit strange to have one's obit written by someone who's already dead.”

Simon Armitage – new lines?
Simon Armitage – new lines?

Actually, it happens all the time. There are still boxfiles of yellowing celebrity obituaries (I mean the obits are yellowing, not the celebs) in most newspaper offices, written ages ago by journalists, usually on a slow news afternoon. Wise old sub-editors spot that the writer of the obituary died some years ago and substitute another name. Many years back I worked for an editor who, faced with such problems, used the byline “by R E Porter”

I wrote about a reader in January whose car-insurance premium with Marks & Spencer shot up 20 per cent. M&S offered her £50 worth of vouchers as a sweetener if she paid the new premium. She agreed and was told to expect the vouchers within 60 days. Nothing happened. Despite repeated phone calls, the oft-promised vouchers never arrived. But a few days ago – nine months after the agreement - M&S quietly transferred £50 to her bank account.

What's going on? During the year I heard whispers that a number of voucher schemes were in trouble. Certainly, no-one is going to complain about getting real money instead of vouchers. But next time, M&S, why not just do the decent thing and knock £50 off the premium?

Writing about the pandemic on May 25, I said: “Things will be back to normal by August. But I do worry about October.” Frankly, anyone could see it coming. The relaxing of lockdown during the summer was the medical equivalent of fire fighters switching off the hoses while the fire is still smouldering.

Poetic justice. Only a few days after the Poet Laureate, Simon Armitage, unveiled his poem in celebration of BT's broadband service, the system crashed yet again. Friday's email outage started at 8.48am and affected thousands of customers across the UK. One BT customer tweeted to complain of “having a server that's down more times than it's up?!"

There was a certain irony in BT's onscreen announcement: “ Hmmm… can't reach this page” when the page in question was their own. More alarming was their advice that customers should “Try checking the connection. Checking the proxy and the firewall. Running Windows Network Diagnostics.” Goodness knows how much damage the untrained customer could do, tinkering around with that lot. BT's first assumption that the trouble lies with the customer's equipment reflects a syndrome that goes deep in the world of communications. My old mob, the Royal Corps of Signals, refers to it as “otherenditis.”

So now, a few more words that the Poet Laureate may care to add to his poem about BT's service: “Once more it has gone down the pan. / We're doing the best that we can.”

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