Monthly Archives: June 2012

Giffgaff, not naff?

Since my post yesterday laid into Giffgaff it seems only fair to offer some praise – they promised to resolve the SIM activation issue within 24 hours and sure enough, this morning my account was working as it should.  Reassured by friends who’ve been using the service a while, I’m content to put the considerable teething trouble down to some exceptional circumstances that hopefully aren’t the norm.

I’ve been impressed by the community spirit on the forums (obviously there were fractious times in the threads relating to the technical problems, but having gone ‘off-piste’ and looked around some of the other areas there’s a great group of helpful people who are largely voluntarily sparing their time to help and advise new users on matters both relating to the network and more general off-topic areas.

The only thing that Giffgaff doesn’t deliver service wide that O2 did was visual voicemail on my phone – I’m not really bothered about that, although I’ve decided to use this trial period to also trial an app called HulloMail which basically is an enhanced version of voicemail.  If I like it I might opt to subscribe (£6 a year), if I think it’s just okay I’ll keep the freebie version with ads – otherwise it’s no hardship to use the old skool method of ringing up your voicemail to retrieve messages.

Of course, if my scheduled number-change for tomorrow goes tits up then I reserve the right to go all George Osbourne on your asses and make a U-Turn denouncing the service again – but so far, so good.  Yesterday’s rant was, it seems, a product of bad timing in that I chose to sign up at a time when they underwent a technical crisis.

Watch this space.  And if you are thinking of joining them, use the link on the right to order a sim card and earn me some points!  Thanks!  For me the jury is now out as I start using the service in earnest.

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Categories: blog, iPhone / iPad / Mac | 2 Comments

Giffguff..

It’s certainly not run by me. And seemingly not FOR me either.

I was pretty excited to join up with Giffgaff – my contract with O2 is up, and I’ve decided that rather than tie myself to 18 or 24 month commitments I’d rather save money and buy my next handset outright.  So the proposition of Giffgaff was quite exciting – a tenner gets me all the minutes I could ever need, unlimited texts and unlimited data.  Awesome, I think, I’m on it.

It took around four days for the free sim card to arrive, along with instructions on how to activate it – it all sounded very straight forward.  I did this on Saturday morning, even with a hangover it was pretty easy – pop the activation code and SIM card number into a form, top up with a £10 goodybag and then wait around half an hour (but on rare occasions up to 24 hours) for confirmation of your new number etc.

So, that was a bit over 72 hours ago – and logging into my Giffgaff dashboard reveals the same message about activation.  I took some time to peruse the community – after all, that’s what the network is supposed to be about – there’s lots of excellent users who advise and help their fellow users there, but aside from disparate and inaccurate updates there’s very little news of this problem from the Agents (people who can access your account details) nor the mysterious technical team who have some kind of firewall to protect them from end users (as a former technical support worker I can understand the desirability of that!).

As well as the community forum you can seek 1:1 support through raising a ticket with an agent – I did this after the 24 hour was exceeded but alas the only updates I’ve had have been “It’s with our technical team” and “It should be working tomorrow”.  It’s all rather frustrating for me, let alone the burgeoning list of people like me, many of whom seem to not have an alternative of just sticking with their contract a while longer.  I’m glad I didn’t cancel O2 just yet, that’s for sure!

Given how crotchety I can be for fairly trivial misdemeanors in customer service I’ve been surprised at how relaxed I’ve felt about this, maybe it’s because I still have use of my phone – but I find myself reluctant to give up on them just yet (helped by the fact I’ve a couple of friends who use it with no problems, and maybe because they sponsor The Big Bang Theory on E4 (sic)).  I am starting to lose my patience though, not because there’s a problem, problems happen – but the lack of information, timescales or just ongoing acknowledgement is very poor customer service.

I’m finding myself increasingly tempted to go for a sim only deal with 3.

Categories: blog, iPhone / iPad / Mac | 4 Comments

Static on the Airwaves..

I can’t remember being this excited about an album release for a long time.  Possibly not since 1995 when the Levellers released Zeitgeist.

Social media and a renewed interest in going to gigs has really reignited what had, on reflection, become a tired relationship with The Levellers.  Whilst I still avidly consumed their musical output and enjoyed it, it’s been some time since I was quite so simultaneously nervous and excited about a new album coming out – Static on the Airwaves is released on Monday but my pre-order arrived early, so I’ve had a chance to listen.

Let’s face it, it’s easy enough to have a listen either via previews or via illicit means but I resisted the urge to do this and wanted to wait until my swanky box set arrived today.  It was worth the wait.  The reviews have been mostly incredibly positive, not something the Levellers always get from the media – and even more credible sources out there were daring to suggest that the new release might go so far as to eclipse their definitive album Levelling the Land.  Hmm. Nerve wracking.

The ‘received wisdom’ with the Levellers is that they got a bit shit after Zeitgeist, deviating from their ‘roots’ (whatever they are) and experimenting with their sound in a displeasing manner.  I’ve never really bought into that, whilst subsequent releases didn’t quite get to the excellence of their earlier albums, I’ve enjoyed them all – and am personally of the belief that their last album Letters from the Underground was a considerable step up in quality (oddly I saw it described as ‘metal’ in another review of Static on the Airwaves!).

Levelling the Land is an album I fell in love with as a young’un – not immediately when it came out but as friends had introduced me to the Levellers in the mid nineties.  It’s provided a fairly consistent backing track to my life since then – it’s going to be hard to expect anything to topple that kind of influence and time-to-develop-unrepressable-fondness.  The very idea of suggesting such a thing is, whilst of course exciting, rather uncomfortable too!

So opening up my box set, containing an LP, a smaller record of the recent Truth Is single, the CD, a t-shirt, a sticker, a bottle opener and a signed poster, it was quite exciting.  Before realising the box-set was available I’d pre-ordered a signed CD too, so I have two CDs – one signed.  The poster is the same as my reward for providing photos that were used in the Levellers video release for ‘Our Forgotten Towns’ too – so I’m awash with duplicates.  It wouldn’t be the first time, and they make fine additions to my collection of Levellers ‘precious things’!

Being truly digital I set about ripping the CD to iTunes (the unsigned one – I’ve kept the signed one sealed..) ready for an eagerly anticipated first play.  I’ve heard snippets of most of the tracks through the YouTube videos the band released, but only the two singles released all the way through.  So I fired up the Apple TV and accessed my music library on iCloud (these tracks uploaded as obviously iTunes won’t match tracks as yet unreleased on iTunes).

Without going track by track the plaudits are justified, even to this admittedly biased listener.  There’s some progression, there’s a degree of maturity, there’s anger, there’s melody – there’s everything.  Mark’s vocals have clearly benefited from his recent solo material and touring, the whole album is put together in a way that says they are a band comfortable in their own skin, growing in stature and ability but doing so organically rather than dramatically.

Is it better than Levelling the Land?  I’m not sure – I can’t cast aside 16+ years of obsession so readily – but to say I’m not dismissing the notion out of hand suggests that as my listen-count for Static on the Airwaves gets beyond the two full times I’ve played it through there is a chance I’ll develop just as strong feelings for this one too.  It’s that good.  I’m really looking forward to seeing them perform some of the tracks live – particularly the ridiculously catchy final track ‘The Recruiting Sergeant’.

Given the echoes of the era in which the Levellers spewed forth into the gigging and festival scene from a Brighton pub, it would seem that they produce their best material when we’re being governed by the Tories.  Mark, Simon, Jon, Simon, Charlie and Matt have really come up with the goods here – thought-provoking, haunting, beautiful and some energy-infused singalong and stompalong anthems – it’s a delicate balance delivered brilliantly.

I’d merrily argue with anyone who wrote the Levellers off as has-beens prior to this release (or, more likely, I’d ignore them with the sense of contempt they warrant) – but certainly it’s definitely fair to say that Static on the Airwaves represents a significant step-up on their recent musical output, which has always been cursed with the ‘it’s not as good as Levelling the Land‘ proclamation.  For this new release that claim is at least being mooted quite widely.

In all honesty, I never thought I’d even entertain the possibility of that being achieved – that marks this out as absolutely top notch – an amazing band operating at their very best. Oh, and since it’s still the 23rd of June, a big happy birthday to Mark Chadwick!

Categories: blog, levellers | 1 Comment

Our forgotten towns are calling..

I really like, nay, I love The Levellers.  I know I don’t mention it very often.  So it’s rather exciting to report that following a campaign prior to their latest music video released I’ve managed to get two photographs included in it.  The brief was to find photos evocative of ‘Our Forgotten Towns’ – closed or run down areas.

Having wandered aimlessly around Grantham I took a couple of pictures of the closed down Game store there – this is the sixth image shown in the video.  There’s one I took in Nottingham too of Murphy’s Bar and Grill on Parliament Street, which is all boarded up.  To say I’ve found this news monumentally exciting is somewhat of an understatement.

Not only to have have the singular honour of getting a name credit at the end of the video, but the band are kindly sending me a signed poster by way of saying thanks.  The countdown is on for the new album release now, it’s not long!  In the meantime, here’s the video:

Categories: blog, levellers | 2 Comments

Out and about again..

Lots more exploring of late – some re-explorations, some expansions, new discoveries and future plans.  I’m not quite sure what has prompted this odd behaviour but it’s getting me out and about and helpful for project Fatty, so I’m not complaining!

Having visited Mum and Dad’s new house and had a MASSIVE mixed grill I headed out for a long walk to work off some of it – I ended up off down the old railway track, this time I found a way through to the Netherfield Lagoons near the end of the railway line.  This does hark back to childhood, my Dad used to often take Rich and I down there (when it was just abandoned industrial land).  I got down as far as the River Trent.

Looking back to Gedling from Netherfield Lagoons

I must revisit and find some old haunts – I ended up on some rather sinister open railway crossings whilst idly looking for some old tunnels we used to use to shoot Dad’s air rifle.  I didn’t find them so eventually started to head back in the direction I’d come – the walk ended up being around seven miles and a fairly brisk pace, I was flagging a few times as my body came to terms with activity and the monumental amount of dead animal it was breaking down.

A new discovery for us was a joint mission with Cat – we headed out for a jaunt to Gedling Woods, this too was working off the excesses of Dad’s 60th birthday party where much buffet and drink was consumed.  It started with a wander through the streets and alleyways and eventually we found ourselves at the top of a steep hill and at the woods – we lapped the woods, then lapped the meadows near Carlton Le Willows school before heading back – finding some mystery footpath which eventually dropped us onto the railway track.  We ended up with a four mile walk.

Looking towards the River Trent from the top of the meadow at Gedling Woods

Then another rediscovery – my previous tunnel antics had awakened the interest of some friends so I’d agreed to act as a guide for another visit.  So Rich, Phil, Chris and I went for a wander in the old tunnel again – it was a good laugh.  I have other folks interested too, perhaps I should set up a business.  I was reading about the future development plans for the site – there should’ve been 700 houses there last year, I guess the recession is biting, it’s doing me a favour though!

Hopefully the development continues to stall, whilst the industrial part of the site isn’t that pretty, and most of the nature reserve will be preserved, it would be a shame to have a new big estate right on our doorstep and the inevitable closing off of the tunnel which will be really close to where the housing is planned to be.  We had a few amusing ideas regarding the tunnel, perhaps more on that later.  I await my next party to tunneldom with excitement!

The ol’ ‘torch under the face’ routine makes me look a bit like my mate DanR!

Then a future plan – thanks to Mike observing our exploring antics on Facebook he’s alerted us to an abandoned half-demolished asylum that is ripe for some wandering about for strange middle-aged men – so in that spirit we’ve made plans to do so on Sunday afternoon/evening when there’s apparently no security there.  I shall take the camera, of course.  There’s a couple of embryonic thoughts of sites in Nottingham to look at too.

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Underground, overground, wombling free..

Lambley Lane crossing over the disused railway line

So, having been exploring the Gedling Pit site and as an offshoot ending up going underground, I was pondering the feasibility of hooking up with the old Great Northern railway line that ran through the tunnel in the other direction, getting a different view of areas I’m very familiar with.  Effectively the line actually very nearly connects Cat and I’s current home in Gedling with my old house in Netherfield.

Burton Road from above

It’s really easy to get onto the Railway line at the back of the park on Lambley Lane – and it’s pretty much open, and quite widely used, I encountered a few dog walkers, some kids who ran away from me before reappearing to ask me where the track led, a couple of blokes using it as a shortcut from the shops.  Walking from the pit site you get to go over a few of the small bridges that I’ve driven under countless times, past the former Gedling Railway Station and then over the bigger bridge near the bottom of Shearing Hill crossing Burton Road.

Alongside the Recreation Ground there’s an attempt to block the way off with fences where the old route crosses the active railway lines, but the fences have been ‘adjusted’ and you can get through, you go past the allotments, and the route arcs towards Victoria Retail Park and under the Colwick Loop Road before terminating at Victoria Road on Netherfield with a substantial fence and no gaps that I could  find.  Shortly after this crossing the line rejoins the main and still-active line near Netherfield Station anyway, so it’s not too frustrating to have come to an end at this point.

Surprise little wood…

So I turned back and decided to head through a well-worn path off to the side which took me to a path that leads through to Netherfield, to the right there was an idyllic woodland that occupies the space between the Railway Line, the Loop Road and the Allotments – very pretty, with paths all over it none of which seem to lead anywhere in particular.  So, I headed back to the path to Netherfield, took that and meandered in and around the Loop Road before ending up back at Burton Road Recreation Ground.

The spire of All Hallow’s Church in Gedling

Then it was a case of walking back home on the road route, which meant I could see glimpses of where I’d been from a more familiar position of the roadside, it also meant I could walk back through Gedling itself which through familiarity is sometimes easy to take for granted – it’s a place with many lovely things about it, even All Hallows Church – a temple of oppression – is ridiculously idyllic.  The until-now unnoticed information board near there taught me a few things, including a revelation of J.R.R. Tolkien being a visitor to the place.

So there you go, an overground ramble close to home that shows you familiar sights from unfamiliar angles – in a way I’m really kicking myself that I’ve never troubled to find these things before.  All the pictures I took are here on Facebook should you want to have a peruse.

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