Sunday, 26 April 2020
The latest conspiracy theories around 5G and Coronavirus come as no surprise to those working in telecoms. It is an area dogged by amateur theorists and pseudo-scientists. From the early days of the telephone where it was claimed the new invention would be used to "talk to hell..." other issues have included spying, phantom phone calls, telephones turning into heads, garden gnomes building up big phone bills and the Renault Clio being the ‘only car in the world’ for those worried about radiation. The only answer for mobile operators is to develop matter transfer via broadband…
I’ve been reading about the association of 5G with Coronavirus, seeing posts about it on Facebook by friends confused about this bizarre phenomenon and reading ‘reasoned’ tweets from those convinced that they will be catching the Miley Cyrus via mobile masts. But through a career in telecoms customer service and PR, dealing with some of the UK’s most dedicated conspiracy theorists, I felt a little superior having been there many, many times before.
In 1980 I joined British Telecom, now BT, as a trainee telephone exchange engineer. However, wiring up equipment with only the company of men many years older than me was not the career I was looking for. So when I saw an advert for a role in customer service, dealing with ‘high-level’ complaints from customers whose technical, accounts and ‘other’ issues had not been fixed by the relevant departments, I applied.
At the interview I was warned that it was a role where I would be shouted and threatened with my life on a daily basis, it was so bad that only two years in the job was recommended. But I got the job and was sent on a course to learn how to navigate my way around the labyrinthian company, which comprised a quarter of a million people in 1983. I learnt how to deal with technical issues that occurred in exchanges, in streets and business and residential premises and how to resolve billing problems.
However, what we weren’t taught about was the ‘other’ issues; from my stats over 70% of the issues we dealt with were ‘other’. And other issues rarely included anything that was down to British Telecom: nuisance calls (“Are you wearing any knickers?” and pre-cyberbullying stuff), being ‘spied on’ via phone, phantom phone calls, phones turning into human heads, cordless ‘phonewaves’ causing psoriasis, garden gnomes building up huge phone bills and advice sought from complaint handlers like me on how to complain to other companies.
Being spied on through the telephone was bread and butter. We even had a standard response along the lines of: “Are you now or have you ever been a member of either Her majesty’s or other nations’ secret or special services?” Evidence of being spied upon was usually around ‘clicks’ on the line or other noises, all of which could be explained by the shocking state of wiring and joints in the ground and rain in some places at that time, or electro-mechanical exchanges which were phased out long after steam trains had disappeared from our railways. One customer told me had actually found the bugs on his line. I asked him to bring them in and show them to me and the head of engineering.
“I’m a councillor for the bereaved,” he told us as he removed the ‘bugs’ from his pocket. “My conversations must remain private.”
“What does your telephone line look like now?” asked the head of engineering.
“it’s sagging a bit…”
“That’s not surprising, those are the clips that hold it up,” responded the engineer, leaving the room as he shot me a “Don’t ever waste my time with your lunatics again,” look.
Other people ‘under surveillance’ via the phone included a lady whose extra evidence was planes circling over south-east London as they stacked for Heathrow.
“They tilt over because everyone's on one side looking into my house,” she claimed.
And the scout hut over the road was where people met to discuss her. They wore uniforms so it was definitely ‘government-sponsored’.
One elderly lady called after she was advised she was about to be cut off for non-payment. Apparently her garden gnomes were using her phone all the time and “I’m sure as hell not going to pay their bills,” she told me. Accounts referred her to me as they had no time for this sort of thing, apparently I did.
“Do you think you could be imagining this?” I asked.
“Do you think I’m mad?!” she responded. “And they take all the hot water, ask the police!”
So I did. I called Catford police station.
“Ah yes,” was the response. “We’ve a specialist officer who deals with her.”
He called me back and told me all about her. She was quite lovely and was looked after by carers, family and Help the Aged volunteers so she had an independent life. He said the ‘gnome thing’ was sensitively managed: “I go round and bollock them every now and again. Only I can do it as I have a beard. But it keeps her happy for a while. I’ll let the family know there’s a billing issue.”
After all the warnings about physical threats, which I did receive (and these were the customers who almost always bothered to call back to say thank you: “Sorry about what I said before about breaking your legs…”) the only call that ever kept me awake was the lady who told me that when she gets a call her phone turns into a human head. I told her that I wasn’t qualified to deal with matters like this.
“You might not understand this, but your soul does,” she responded enigmatically. Her voice haunted me for days and I woke at night several times with it in my head.
Regulars included ‘dreamers’, who insisted their phones rang all through the night. With these we put a check on their lines to test for incoming calls and always found that their phones never rang at night. Most took this well and once their brains knew it was a dream they could sleep through. Some resented the ‘invasion of privacy’ but were unable to explain what privacy we had invaded.
It was at this time that telecoms paranoia was joined by accusations of health issues. Cordless phones had been launched and despite them being massive and ceasing to work ever again after thunderstorms they were very popular. But not so popular with some neighbours.
“My daughter’s had psoriasis ever since next door got a cordless phone,” I was told by one person. This was new territory then, and I wasn’t sure what to say other than that sounds ridiculous, which I wasn’t allowed to say. So I said I’d contact our laboratories and see what they had to say.
“That sounds ridiculous,” said the boffins.
In the meantime I got a call from the neighbour, who said her neighbour had told her I had ‘forbidden’ her to use her cordless phone. I assured her that I hadn't and contacted the original caller to say that not only did she or I not have the right to tell anyone not to use a perfectly legal device, it was scientific opinion that a cordless phone was not the cause of her daughter’s psoriasis. I suggested she got some proper medical opinion from her GP and discussed with her what my friends with this condition did, and this did not include distancing themselves from cordless phones.
After some other roles I moved into PR, working with journalists. This went so well that I left my job and set up my own PR agency. Here I took on the PR for a business which had developed ‘mini-masts’, amongst other technology. These were devices that could be attached to lamp-posts and telegraph poles to boost the mobile signal in areas where this was a problem.
A mini-mast had the equivalent power of around four mobile phones and is always, because it was placed on street furniture, several metres from premises. Yet one tabloid took up the cases of people, for example, who were literally living in houses wallpapered in Bacofoil because they had singled out mobile phone signals as carcinogenic. It carried articles every few days for some weeks about what could happen to your child (including the ones with mobile phones) if mini-masts were introduced. It became so bad that despite my efforts and those of a crisis PR agency the project was shelved.
That same tabloid and, in some cases, even the same journalist, then took up the case of people who had a poor mobile phone signal. Advice comprised: “Get a signal booster, there are third-party gadgets called signal boosters that pick up weak signals and produce a full powered signal indoors,” and: “However, while these are available in the US , they are currently illegal in the UK.”
What intrigued me was the fixation on telecoms Electromotive force (EMF). Why not TVs? Or laptops? These are ubiquitous, but perhaps too difficult to live without. At the time of the mini-mast venture the old cathode ray tube TVs were much in vogue and emitted much more radiation than current TVs, which still give off a little bit. But I’ve yet to hear anyone taking up the cudgel against them. Sure, there are the usual quack EMF shields that ‘scare the pants off them’ marketing can sell but aside from that, very little.
Later on in my PR career I worked alongside legal and safety experts in my return stint at the big telephone company. By this time Wi-Fi had arrived and brought with it the new wave of monomania, a word I picked up from legal colleagues who dealt with various cases including, again, being spied upon, mobile-phone signals and now Wi-Fi.
I took a call from a lady who told me that she would not use Wi-Fi because it is carcinogenic and wanted the right (here we go again) to stop her neighbour having a router. She told me that her daughter was a lecturer at the University of Toulouse on EMF prevention. Of course I checked, there was no such person or course. But what really got me was this conversation:
“I’ve got the only car you can buy that doesn’t give off any EMF.”
“Which car is that?”
“A Renault Clio.”
“How is a Renault Clio is different to any other car?”
“I don’t know the technical detail but I told the man at the garage my concerns and he recommended the Clio as the only car that doesn’t give off EMF.”
Well hats off to that salesman for knowing his market. I did what any self-respecting PR person would do and asked her to write in outlining the issues in a proper letter, on paper, with a stamp on it. That usually works. However, I did get a letter, and very detailed it was too. I gave a standard response about the WHO saying there was ‘no evidence’ for Wi-Fi or mobile phones killing us. Though this is dangerous as WHO, quite rightly will not say EMF from these devices doesn’t cause cancer, but it would say the same about slippers or divan beds.
Incidentally, whilst in this job I worked with a colleague who came into work extraordinarily distressed one Monday. A neighbour had tried to get into her house to take her cordless phone as she said it was “Killing my children.” For me it was a trip down memory lane, back to the 80s.
“Wait until you tell her you’ve got a TV, a Wi-Fi router and a microwave,” I said. “Actually, tell her that when she gets rid of her TV, Wi-Fi and microwave, you’ll get rid of your cordless phone.” I’m not sure this advice was gratefully received by either party but sometimes I’m just at a loss for words on this stuff.
The latest nonsense around 5G is totally expected, by me anyway. But like the anti-vaxxer ‘campaign’ the sinister turn it is taking is scary. Burning down masts could prevent emergency call access and abuse of engineers could lead to tragedy, on either side if my experience of old colleagues was anything to go by. The Government is right to stop transmission of manipulative nonsense that is already leading to vandalism of vital equipment and violence, and the fact that it is doing it transparently is even better.
My suggestion as a PR professional (OK, I failed on mini-masts but I’ve upped my game and learned from that experience) to telecoms firms is this: pretend that you’re toying with matter transfer of people via broadband. That would present all sorts of ethical and medical issues for the dedicated conspiracy theorist to get their loosening teeth into. And in the meantime you could get up to 8g without anybody noticing.
Thursday, 10 October 2019
|Dad, on the left, rampaging through Belgium, commandeering German equipment in-between sleeping with princesses|
My ol' man was a terrible father but a great soldier. He went from Private to Lieutenant Colonel in WW2 and was commissioned at the request of King George VI and further promoted at the direct recommendation of Monty.
He was rescued by HMS Skipjack at Dunkirk, which was sunk the next day. He was disgusted at the leadership of the army at that time, which largely comprised ex-public schoolboys placed by their fathers, schools or starry-eyed generals despite lacking any aptitude for their roles. After Dunkirk there was a significant clear out of these people, which gave people like my ol' man a chance. He was at El Alamein and then D-Day, where he rampaged to Belgium.
He boasted loudly to me and my brother in a Belgian restaurant in the 90s that a certain Belgian princess was an 'old slapper'. We remonstrated with him and he responded: "Even I slept with her..."
After he left the Army he refused an MBE. None of us believed the latter, but my daughter found the records online.
But the thing that impressed me the most was his story, which he has written down, and which I mean to translate into usable English, about Monty's request that he find a route into the USSR from North Africa for a possible retreat should Rommel push us back.
It is a fantastic story of getting a platoon of men through exotic middle-eastern places, and over geographical boundaries, eventually reaching and passing into the Soviet Union.
However, there was one major drawback. And it was pretty big. Nobody had told the Soviets. So when the ol' man pitched up to some Soviet army base expecting a warm welcome and pint of vodka, he and his men were immediately arrrested as German spies. Even this bloke from Hoxton couldn't get past the famous Soviet distrust of anybody, even each other.
He was invited into the local commandant's office to discuss the situation. But rather than a discussion, he found out at the end of the cosy chat that this was, in fact, the trial. The translator, who grew up in New York, told him him: "Jeez, I feel sorry for you guys, but at least it'll be quick." They were to be shot the next day.
He and his men were locked up with some Kurdish prisoners, who had been planning an escape. I don't know the detail of this until I make some real effort with the ol' man's manuscript but somehow the Kurds got themselves out, and my ol' man and his men, and they all made a break for the border.
One of the reasons I found my dad hard to deal with was his hypocritical racism. He was opposed to the UK accepting Ugandan Asians into the UK, for example, but made a fortune selling them refrigeration equipment they bought with Government and other grants, and made friends with many but criticised them being here behind their back, as so many British people did (and still do).
But if you said anything against the Kurds...
Wednesday, 24 July 2019
I heard John Cooper Clarke, the punk poet, on Desert Island Discs the other day, I found it really inspiring. So much so that I'm adapting much of the copy from my A-Z of Cynicism in the Workplace into some cynical poetry. Here's the first one.
Will never fail
To drive you fucking insane
His ski-ing prowess
Will create much stress
With endless tales of Gastein.
He's sold more than you
And clients love him too
He'll lead you to understand
His bonus is massive
And his Rolex is magic
Wiping his arse with its minute hand.
He causes office division
Whilst oozing narcissism
With slicked-back hair
And a leather office chair
From which he can wipe his jizm.
His car's a Maserati
And his bit-on-the-side is nasty
With a mouth only made for slagging
She'll insult your suits from her Gucci boots
Not knowing who else Alpha is shagging.
I'll stay in my baggy suit for now
Waiting for my chance to wow
Like the alpha-male does
With his designer fuzz
And a wife he refers to as 'Cow'.
Sunday, 31 March 2019
Brexiteers: put your money where your mouth is!
The Remlic Card, pre-Brexit life for Remoaners on plasticIt looks the men of the people like Rees-Mogg, Johnson, Farage, etc, have persuaded (some of) the people that despite their public-school backgrounds and careers that their parents worked so hard for them to be given, that a vote their way is a vote against the establishment. So, if you’re a Brexiteer you’ll have won for them what they wanted. Let’s just hope they look after you when things don’t go as well as they promised you they would.
No doubt you’ll be proud of what you’ve achieved. Maybe you can write down what exactly this is in a quiet reflective moment. But in the mean time I’d like to propose something that will make it easier to push through what you wanted so much, and enable you to confidently back what the Daily Mail, Sun and Daily Express recommended you do with your vote.
As a dedicated Remoaner who never wanted your country handed to over to the hard right, who never wanted to see a neo-Nazi preaching and being lauded by our cenotaph, who didn’t want to see your standard of living wrecked, your jobs decimated and your services lost, I’m suggesting that all Remoaners down tools and let you get on with it, on one small condition, that you put your money where your mouth is.
I’m suggesting a two-tier society where you get exactly what you voted for, it’s the Remlic card: the Remoaner Life Insurance Card. You got blue passports (made in France), we want a good British Remlic card. This will provide us with:
- NHS queue jumping over Brexiteers. There will be less money for the NHS after Brexit so we want better odds of getting treatment for the tax we paid. We want that money to be spent on our bunions and haemorrhoids, not on ensuring your heroes got a crack at being Prime Minister.
- Access to health services overseas like we had with our EHIC cards. If you go to Spain and fall off a bar stool after sixteen pints of Tennents, get your mates to sort you out and drive you home.
- If there is any rationing, double coupons for us and our families, a bit like double Green Shield stamps from the halcyon days of the 60s. I’m slightly concerned that some warnings on this might be a bit overkill but don’t want to take the chance.
- 20% more than you on foreign exchange. When you go overseas and you suddenly realise a pint costs you nearly as much as those crimplene trousers in the back of the Daily Express, you can always blame the EU, like you’ll be told to do, and that’ll take your pain away. We will blame you but as we’re not allied with the BNP or Stephen Yaxley-Lennon we won’t give you the good hammering you deserve. Knowing that we’ll get our drink cheaper will sort us out.
- Discounts on goods that get a Brexit mark-up. Again, you will blame the EU. You will also blame our politicians, yet before the referendum you agreed with me that they were useless and never did what you wanted. But I will blame you, you were warned about this, yet you chose this.
- We can resort to those pesky EU laws that the Daily Mail told you that you didn't want. So if your shoes or union flag fall to bits after one wearing or waving you can just buy some more. We can have a two-year guarantee on ours.
Thursday, 31 January 2019
Last night I was asked to accompany a friend to Wembley to see his beloved Spurs, at Wembley as their house isn’t ready yet. I’ve been lucky enough to visit many grounds across the UK, but all of them feature ‘football fans’. Last night’s special subject amongst Spurs fans holding court over various sections was ‘Fernando Llorente and his contribution to Tottenham Hotspur’. It wouldn’t have taken Stephen Hawking to work out that Fernando was unpopular. He was described for 80 minutes as “useless” and a “c*nt”. Some of the more mathematically gifted worked out and argued over how much he was being paid per minute to besmirch the lily-white shirt with his Spanish body. Derision was also aimed at Spurs’ manager, who apparently had ‘no balls’, when there were two substitutions yet Fernie was left on.
And then he scored.
I’m not saying that football fans are fickle but the calculators were put away and every positive thing the heroic Fernando had ever achieved for Spurs was recounted lovingly. He could have married their daughters, and whilst waiting for the wedding he would have been invited round for Sunday afternoon intercourse with their wives whilst the husbands looked on and admired his technique.
And then poor old Fernando needed a rest. He knew that after he’d scored he could go down if a Watford player so much as gave him a sideways glance, and then stay there whilst waiting to be tucked up in a duvet by Spurs fans now concerned about what his ‘work rate’ had done to his geriatric 33-year old body. Contrast this with the reaction of the Spurs faithful who had demanded throughout that Watford’s keeper, Ben Foster, be executed for time-wasting each and every moment he got the ball.
The other observation is about fans of the same team fighting amongst themselves. In football crowds things are said that couldn’t be said elsewhere. They are not always ‘politically correct’ and thankfully most of outright racist comments have disappeared. And some of the things said are very funny.
But an incident I saw last night was funny in its abject hypocrisy. A man of about 70 stood up and laid into another, younger man. “Don’t you f*cking swear in front of my son!” he screamed. “You can f*ck off to another seat if you want to f*cking swear you c*nt!” The son looked on bemused; he was about 45, and looked as though he’d like a good swear himself. Eventually the stewards intervened and settled them down. But then it all erupted again and the protective, sweary father and sensitive son decided they would move to two of the other 70,000 seats available in the stadium.
The only other crowds I’ve been in that are as amusing as this are at the ballet, and possibly the rugby where you can drink with abandon and trade insults with opposing fans who won’t try to murder you in return. At baseball you can sleep and eat your own weight in burgers as the ‘sport’ is as dull as the audience. At cricket you can also get a*seholed but as it goes on for so bloody long you can leave and visit an art gallery during a game and not miss anything so drinking yourself into oblivion won’t waste any money spent on the ticket.
Who wants to take me to another game?
Friday, 27 October 2017
Sometimes, something happens that demonstrates so well what you'd struggle to convince anyone would happen until it happens. And here it is.
So simple, yet beautiful and tragic at the same time. Of course, anyone actually interested in the news and what's happening in the UK currently (and the US) would spot instantly that a company run by one of Britain's most outspoken Brexiteers would be most unlikely to make such a statement around poppies. It's also bleedin' obvious that not many Muslims (the usual target of anti-multiculturalism commentators) ever visit a Wethie's for a pint and a full English.
But that didn't stop Britain's army of anti-social commentators delivering hate by the pint at Wetherspoon's and its Brexit-batty owner Tim Martin.
Which is funny because it's the exact audience that's turned on Martin that he went after with all his matey petty nationalist Brexit nonsense, along with Britain First, Murdoch, the Daily Mail, Express, Sun, Gove, Johnson, Farage and a whole host of other horribles that you wouldn't want to drink next to.
Because the truth is that apart from a few nutcases, no-one finds the poppy offensive; what is offensive is using the poppy to generate hate and being gullible enough to be sucked in by this nonsense.
Thousands of Muslims died in the two World Wars, some Muslim associations sell poppies. Yet even when we've got past this latest 'poppygate' we'll be into the Mail/Express/Sun telling us people 'somewhere' are being forced to say 'Winterval' or 'holiday' instead of 'Christmas', or 'We can't have Christmas decorations/nativity plays because they offend Muslims'. The latter always confuses as to how people are taken in by this as the UK is literally dripping with Christmas lights and other paraphernalia, and people complaining that Christmas has come too soon.
So congratulations to spoof site @Wetherspoon_UK. A tiny step to demonstrating to the UK how it's been shafted on Brexit by some of Britain's greatest manipulators.
Oh yes, £350m for a pint anyone? Before Turkey joins the EU. All our beers are made in Brussels, and so on.We can sort Brexit over a nice pint of beer. Watch your pockets though...
Monday, 19 June 2017
"Start questioning what you hear, even if you think you agree with it."
If you don't, Farage, Hopkins, Banks, Waters and Robinson will have got what they wanted from you, and I promise you this: when you are on fire, they will not urinate on you.
I quite like the Facebook post (below in italics) from Al-Radaideh Moh'd, it makes some good points and demonstrates very well how our mainstream press simply lies to its audience, saying what it wants hear, to support sales and political ends.
Propaganda has been used for 1000s of years to help achieve the objectives of a few, through manipulating many.
In more recent times Hitler used it to turn the population of Czechoslovakia on itself in order to make his invasion easier. He claimed atrocities against people of German descent; some of these were real (he had whipped them up through propaganda like ISIS uses idiot right-wing hate propaganda here so that it can recruit saying "Look they hate you!" to idiot Muslims who fall for propaganda) and some were simply made up for media that he controlled (sounding familiar?).
It's happening here in the UK with the likes of Farage, Hopkins, Banks, Tommy Robinson (real name Stephen Lennon, son of Irish immigrants, hates immigrants), Anne Marie Waters, The Daily Mail, Express and The Sun, all of whom want salaries, power and/or sales. And in every incident we experience you can see the hand of propaganda getting those to act who will not question what they've been told.
You're better than this UK. I don't care who you listen to, moderate right, moderate left, or moderate middle but start questioning what you hear, even if you think you agree with it. Otherwise you'll end up hating someone who at worst might be indifferent to you. If you don't do this, we will all suffer, apart from the likes of Farage, Hopkins, Banks, Waters and Stephen Lennon; they will have got they wanted from you, and I promise you this: when you are on fire, they will not urinate on you.
Facebook post by Al-Radaideh Moh'd after A van was been driven into a crowd of pedestrians near a London mosque, killing one man and injuring eight other people.
To clarify a few things.
To clarify a few things.
1.) Anyone trying to justify this attack as some sort of "revenge" attack, are themselves supporting terrorism. The same exact logic is used by ISIS members to justify attacks on British civilians. Eg that they are revenge for Western military wars, attacks and strikes in Iraq, Syria and Libya.
There is NO justification for the killing of innocent civilians, least of all in barbaric acts of terrorism.
2.) If you believe Muslims didn't come out in force to condemn all the ISIS terrorist attacks then you are ignorant, perhaps likely even a bigot or racist, who only sees things that suit your own particular preconceived agenda. Tens of thousands of Muslims, like me, came out to offer thoughts, prayers and support for terrorist victims, and donated money too.
3.) If you believe Sadiq Khan stated that "terrorism is part and parcel of living in a big city", you are woefully ignorant, misled by the right wing media.
Here is Sadiq Khan's full quote to that infamous lime.
"What I do know, is part and parcel of living in a great global city is you've got to be prepared for these things, you've got to be vigilant, you've got to support the police, who are doing an incredibly hard job. You've got to support the security services." - Sadiq Khan
Are you all suggesting that being prepared for terrorist attacks isn't or shouldn't be part of living in a great city? That we should instead stay unprepared??
Khan NEVER suggested terrorism was part and parcel of living in a big city. Just that being prepared for terrorism was!
The full quote is in the video I've linked above, and is the source of ALL these articles. There is no other. But here's how the Daily Mail reported it.
Terror attacks are 'part and parcel of living in a big city', claims London mayor Sadiq Khan The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has said that living with terror attacks - like the one that hit New York at the weekend - is 'part and parcel of living in a big city'.
Notice his full quotation is missing from the article completely. The Daily Mail and other right wing rags only actually quote one piece of the his full quote, and essentially fill in their own fabricated version of the rest.
A classic propaganda technique used to mischaracterise or misconstrue the facts or actual truth. Written in a way to intentionally target and misinform the already ignorant.
4.) As the second far right terrorist attack in just a year (Thomas Mair killed Jo Cox June 2016) it is clear that far right or White supremacist extremism is also becoming an issue here in the UK, and as such I think it's only fair that far right leaning supporters are also watched, vetted and investigated, the way thousands of mostly innocent Muslims are. At the end of the day, it's about the security of British people, irrespective of race, religion colour or creed.
5.) Just remember, British people died in this attack, even if they were Muslim.
6.) In the same way people call for Mosques etc to be monitored, it's clear we now need to monitor far right organisations and media for potentially breeding terrorists or hatred too. This means taking a look at The Daily Mail, The Sun, The Express, Britain First, EDL, Tommy Robinson and so on, who have all in certain less indirect ways, inspired division, hatred and discourse.
7.) Hopefully we can come together to reject terrorism on all sides, and show unity, love and compassion, the exact thing that ISIS and Far Right extremists do not want, since creating division, fear and hatred is their modus operandi.
In any case, my thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and all those affected, as they do each and every time an evil, heinous attack like this tales place.
Peace and love.