Wednesday, 28 April 2021

Mostly hurrah

This post was originally a footnote to the last, but it grew. 

The new EE SIM card arrived as promised, just after midday today. Hurrah!

I winkled out the card tray, and inserted it into my phone. It looked good next to the microSD card. I rather liked EE's logo.

With the card tray pressed back into Prudence, she sprang into life again. 

The lock screen now showed 'EE' as the mobile phone service provider in the top left corner of the screen, and not 'BT' any longer. Hurrah! 

I tethered the laptop to my phone - and lo! - I got connected at once to the Internet. I tried a few favourite websites. No issues whatever. I'd be able to make full use of my massive new data allowance. HURRAH!

So far, so good. I'd had a great welcome from EE, as if they were genuinely chuffed and honoured to have me on board. And I was definitely able to use my phone in all respects, at least with the temporary phone number they'd given me. But now I needed to transfer my usual phone number over to EE, using the PAC code that BT Mobile had texted. That might not go so well. 

The procedure itself was straightforward. I just had to complete a simple online form that wanted only three details: my new EE phone number, my old phone number, and that PAC code. 

But EE didn't like the PAC code. Hmmm...

Should I enquire with BT, or start a chat with EE?

I'd mentally finished with BT. I would try the chat. After a few exchanges, I gathered that the phone number transfer I'd been trying to make was already in hand, and should be complete by the end of the next day at the very latest. Really? Had Ryan (the person at BT Mobile I'd spoken to on the day before) done all the heavy lifting for me already? It looked as if he might have! 

Well, we'll see. It's Wednesday afternoon. If the EE chat assistant was correct, by the end of tomorrow, Thursday, people should be able to call or text me on my proper number. 

Let it be true!

Fingers still crossed tightly...

In case you were wondering, the picture on my lock screen was cropped from one I took in October 2004, at Sheffield Park Gardens, a National Trust property not far from where I live. This was the slightly-darker original shot.

The camera used to take this with was my first digital camera, the Nikon Coolpix 990, bought in May 2000. It was a distinctive-looking beastie:

It ran on AA-sized batteries, which you extracted (at frequent intervals) for recharging - they didn't last long. But I liked using it, and it took very nice photos. But by 2005 its 3.4 megapixels were insufficient, and I'd jumped to 5 megapixels instead on the first of my Panasonics. The 990 did however recommend the Nikon brand to me, and in 2008 I bought the full-frame Nikon D700, a semi-professional DSLR, which as you can see gave me great joy:

And no wonder - it was a superb piece of kit, and the lenses I had for it gave wonderful results. But it was bulky and heavy. I bought the little Leica D-Lux 4 in 2009, to give myself a small and light alternative for casual shooting. Inevitably, the little Leica quickly became my favourite camera, and the D700 was rendered practically redundant - and I simultaneously abandoned my half-formed ambition to go semi-pro. 

I eventually sold the D700 - and its lenses - in June 2011, to raise much-needed cash to pay the humungous Council Tax on the empty Cottage during the forthcoming winter. 2011 was a very low point in my finances. Running two houses - the one I still live in (inherited from Mum and Dad), and the Cottage in Piddinghoe (bought earlier as an investment) - was ruining me fast. I survived because the Cottage itself sold in August 2011, after being offered for sale in an auction. Just in time to keep me from certain bankruptcy. It was a close thing. 

Well, that was some digression! Back to my SIM saga. And the news (first thing on Thursday 29th April) is that BT have emailed to say my regular phone number has been passed to EE. I am now awaiting a message from EE, due sometime today, to say that it has replaced the temporary number they gave me. 

So there should be yet another hurrah! by the end of the day. 

One minor fly is however thrashing about in the ointment. The deal is for 160GB. So far EE have been showing only 80GB on the 'My EE' part of their website. I shouldn't get worried about this - Ryan at BT Mobile warned me that 80GB would appear at first, but it would soon be corrected to 160GB. (It was in fact a short-lived 'double-data' deal for new EE customers) But elsewhere on 'My EE' a strange amount of 120GB has started to appear! Very puzzling.

But never mind about that - at 9.00am (half an hour ago) the number porting was complete, and texts began to roll in on my regular mobile phone number, but of course via EE. So job done. 


Tuesday, 27 April 2021

My new SIM-only contract

Not quite a year ago I switched my mobile phone service provider from Vodafone to BT Mobile. By the end of 2020 I was paying BT Mobile £20 for 40GB data per month, regularly using about 30GB of that. 

But I could easily have used more. I'd been consciously curbing my Internet usage so that I wouldn't run out of data. I was always watching my data consumption in the last two weeks before the billing date, wary of going over that 40GB limit - which would have been very expensive! I'm not talking only about my usage of the phone itself. Since getting rid of my landline and my Home Broadband last year, I have been tethering my laptop to my phone and using 4G for my large-screen streaming, such as website videos and catch-up TV. It works well for me. And instead of paying for BT's 'luxury' Broadband, I've got away with just their mobile phone service, saving me at least £30 a month. 

But now my BT Mobile contract was approaching its end. In fact it would finish while I was still away on my upcoming Scottish holiday. So I decided this morning to negotiate a fresh contract while still at home. 

There had been some cracking SIM-only deals recently - notably from Three, one of their best deals offering unlimited data for only £17. But there was a snag with Three. Their 4G/5G network was geared towards city-dwellers and didn't quite cut it in the countryside. Or at least not yet. So it was no good to me. In any case, surely I would never need unlimited data: I could see myself expanding my usage somewhat, especially if I bought a new camera with larger photo files to upload, but I didn't need an infinite amount of data. 

EE remained the best (and fastest) for nationwide 4G/5G coverage, so I'd been looking chiefly at their deals. Their current best big-data deal was 160GB for £20 a month. True, it would tie me to a 24 month contract, rather than the usual 12 months; but even in two year's time this would still be a very reasonable deal, an awful lot of data for no more than I was currently paying to BT Mobile. If I migrated to EE, I wouldn't feel short-changed. When negotiating, it's always important to have a credible alternative to the present service, one you'd be happy to switch to, to strengthen your hand.

My plan then was to phone BT Mobile, and ask them for a new contract that would give me more data than I had at the moment, but for the same price. 

Not being too greedy or pushy, I had in mind asking for 50GB or 60GB, but I'd insist on not paying more than £20 to have it. If they said no, then I would wave EE's '160GB for £20' deal at them. EE was a subsidiary of BT. I would simply be asking for what was being offered by another part of their organisation. It would be daft if they wouldn't meet my modest request. But if they wouldn't, I'd politely and regretfully threaten to go.  

Well, I made that call. I spoke to a pleasant man called Ryan, and I didn't have to argue one bit! I explained what I was looking for, and he himself immediately offered EE's 160GB for £20 deal. Well, blow me! He said he'd moved onto that deal himself. He added that it was now usual to point BT Mobile customers with straightforward needs to no-frills EE. They wouldn't get the full glittering range of BT's freebies, extras and add-ons, but they'd get more data. 

I'd take more data any day. I didn't want sport and movies and Wi-Fi hotspots, and such things as parental controls.

So I agreed. We went through the various ID, banking and credit-rating checks and Ryan explained what would happen as regards the switch-over. I'd become an EE customer. I'd get a new SIM card with a temporary phone number, and this would reach me in a day or two, certainly well before I'd set off for Scotland. Having replaced the old BT Mobile card with the new EE card, I'd be able to use my phone straight away. But callers or texters wouldn't be able to reach me until I'd used the PAC code from BT Mobile to transfer my normal phone number to the EE card. However, with that done, I would be fully up and running. 

The signs are good that all this will happen smoothly. I've already had a confirmatory email from EE, and a 'sorry to see you go' email from BT Mobile. Ryan said that although the BT Mobile email will mention a small termination fee, it will in fact be waived. This makes sense. There's really no severance here. I'll still be with BT in a wide sense, merely continuing under the EE banner.  

It's interesting that BT are keeping EE quite distinct from their own main services. Ryan couldn't say what BT's Grand Plan was, but it does seem to me that BT Mobile will in the future be made attractive only to customers who also have BT Broadband. Everyone else will be encouraged to look at EE instead.  

I really do hope I can pop the new EE card into Prudence within two or three days! It would be a disaster if I had to go off to Scotland with the EE card still on its way. 

Another thing. Once I have an EE account, presumably my BT account will be closed - meaning that if I ever wish to reinstate my landline (with perhaps a mandatory upgrade to a fibre cabinet-to-house connection) I'll have to go through the entire new-installation process, with a new account, all at great expense. This is truly burning my boats. Henceforth, it's wireless Internet or nothing. 


But look! A visit to EE's website shows that they know I'm on my way!

And, delving, I can see that temporary phone number Ryan mentioned on my new EE account. (I wondered whether it would, by chance, be a better number than the one I already have, but it isn't, so I will be using that PAC code). 

Mr Postman, look and see
If there's a SIM card in your bag for me...

Monday, 26 April 2021

Shelf life

Arriving home from my Lyme Regis holiday last week, I saw that the shelf fixed to the side of the wardrobe in my caravan hadn't survived the journey. 

It was supported by metal struts that were in turn screwed into the wardrobe, and the mechanism allowed you to fold the shelf down if it was in the way. Otherwise its obvious function was to be a flat surface to place a small TV on. I didn't use a TV in the caravan, but was so strapped for horizontal space that I'd always found this shelf indispensable for all kinds of things. Here it is in shots from 2013, 2015 and 2018:

This shelf was original equipment, part of the caravan when buying it in 2006, and it had generally been left unfolded, in the position you see it in the photos, whether pitched or travelling. It had put up with some 30,000 miles of towing over the last fifteen years, and all the bumps and jolts must have taken their toll. Gradually the screws that held the metal support to the side of the wardrobe had loosened, and in recent years I'd had to tighten them up two or three times a year. But this time, they had finally lost their grip on the wood, and the shelf had collapsed. 

You can see the way the shelf used to be supported a bit more clearly in this 2015 shot:

I should mention that on the other side of the wood panel into which the metal shelf supports were screwed - inside the wardrobe, that is - was a box for various electronics, such as those for the heating controls. I dared not simply reposition the shelf and attempt to make new screw-holes. I didn't want to risk disturbing the electrics behind the panel. 

On the other hand, I didn't want to be without that shelf. It was too useful. So (having removed the metal struts) could it be supported in any other way? What if it rested on some firm structure? Something that blended well with the decor of the caravan? Something wooden, for instance? It would have to be a smooth structure that wouldn't dent, fray, or otherwise harm the fabric of the mattress and seating backs. 

I remembered that I had one of those IKEA chairs in my attic, presently half-dismantled, and wondered if its lower half would work as a shelf support. I got it down and tried it out:

You can see what I was aiming at. The shelf would be placed on the armrests. But (a) the armrests were too wide, at least with that cross-piece bracing them, and sloped a little, so that the shelf wouldn't be completely horizontal; (b) the chair was in any case a bit too heavy and space-intrusive; and (c) I didn't like the way its base distorted the mattress it was tucked under. But I could imagine how two more slender U-shaped supports might, in a similar fashion, provide support for the shelf. 

Still, there was a much simpler way - just rest the shelf on some kind of lightweight box, such as a plastic storage box. 

Off I went to Homebase and B&Q. But I couldn't find what I wanted. Back home again, I looked in my garage, and then in my attic, for alternative boxy articles that might do the job. And I found an old picnic cool-box I never now used. I'd had it for donkey's years. It was coloured beige, so it would blend very well with the caravan fabrics. It was stout but not heavy. I tried it out in the caravan. A perfect fit for the space on top of the mattress, and a steady platform to place the wooden shelf on. I wouldn't need to fix the shelf onto the upturned cool-box in any way - so it could all be dismantled and properly stowed away for travelling. 

I discarded the cool-box's brown lid and carrying handle, and sawed off the side lugs for the handle, so that they wouldn't dig into the fabrics. 


The shelf now rested a little lower than before, but that didn't matter: at night I could still use the small box with the blue lid to hold a corner of the curtain over the intensely bright battery-condition light, which would otherwise be distracting when trying to get off to sleep. 

Here's how the shelf will support my Ruark radio and JBL speaker when the caravan is pitched. It's all nicely solid, and won't tip up:

So, another wear-and-tear problem dealt with! 

Over the years, I've had to sort out quite a number of things in my caravan, as its fittings and gear wear out or come adrift, or I see a way to make a practical improvement. I didn't do much of this in the early years of ownership, in case I needed to sell the caravan. But for a long time now I've cherished my caravan as a holiday asset, to retain until it falls apart (or I do), and I've been willing to invest money in keeping it not just roadworthy, but pleasant, comfortable and convenient to live in for extended periods. I would have spent a bit on dealing with the shelf, but of course it's really nice that the fix has cost nothing. And that I've repurposed something that was just stored away. I'm well pleased. 

All set now for my next holiday, starting 6th May. The Lyme Regis jaunt was a mere shake-down, a curtain-raiser for 2021. The next outing will be the big one for the year - to Scotland, Northumberland and Norfolk. A five-weeker. Just as well the shelf failed before I went! It would be irritating to contrive a repair while away. Although I dare say I would have improvised some solution like this. I'm getting very used to making do with whatever I have on hand.

Friday, 16 April 2021

Nude dummies up to hanky panky, I'll warrant

The second of my 'Taunton' posts. 

It had been an unpleasantly chilly day when I last visited Taunton in November 2011, and it's a telling thing that I kept only one photo of my time there, of which a little more anon. Basically I wandered down the main shopping street, checking out the shops (without being very impressed), going as far as the old bridge over the River Tone, then returning via back streets that led me past a big old church, then, shivering, back to the car park. I know I took a few snaps with my camera - it was actually the little Leica, then only two years old - but none of these wintry snaps survive. The light must have been terrible, for me to delete them all. But then I'd written off Taunton as a place blighted by unimaginative, tired, post-war rebuilding, that had lost most of its older and more interesting buildings in Luftwaffe fly-byes. I hadn't discovered some of the nicer parts, such as Vivary Park. 

One bright (and warm) spot I found was the quite large Debenhams department store. I bought a beige snood there, which I instantly wrapped around my neck once out in the cold again. (It's long gone now, but at the time it met an urgent need) 

The store was very busy. Clearly the locals made a beeline for it every time they visited the town centre, just the same as any other Debenhams I knew. There were a lot of Debenhams stores around, in every large town. They were often the 'anchor store' in a shopping centre, the big one that drew the customers in. And at the time, back in 2011 - and indeed for many years before - I had always made a point of going in, often buying something while there. (I really spent too much, too often, on these visits) At the very least, I'd have coffee and a cake, sometimes a late cooked breakfast or a more substantial cooked lunch, and most certainly tea and cake in the afternoon. Debenhams was a reliable place for a pit-stop. It wasn't fancy, as John Lewis might be, but it was perfectly acceptable, and I always enjoyed dropping in for some refreshment. In Sussex, I could do that at the Debenhams stores in Brighton, Crawley, Worthing, Eastbourne and Hastings. Plenty of choice. 

And in fact there were few places in the entire country where a Debenhams store couldn't be found. Their main direct rival was the House of Fraser store chain. In big towns and cities you might well find both. Some towns had a posh local department store not worth competing against, like Fenwick in Tunbridge Wells and Canterbury, or a one-off like Fields in Sidmouth, Goulds in Dorchester, Banbury's in Barnstaple, or Ely's in Wimbledon. These smaller local family businesses offered a different selection of goods, and a different atmosphere. They kept Debenhams out. But it was usual to find a Debenhams in most large places, either in a prime spot in the town centre or on a recently-built retail park. 

Debenhams probably had upmarket ambitions, and may well have aspired to the elevated heights of John Lewis, or at least to emulate the particular appeal of Marks & Spencer. But the better-focused and superior John Lewis, and the super-reliable M&S (seemingly on every High Street, like W H Smith and Boots), were both beyond challenge. Debenhams knew its place. It remained ubiquitous but middle-market, a useful place to shop and stop for everyone, myself included.

Here's the one picture I kept from that previous visit to Taunton in 2011 - a roast chicken lunch at Debenhams, with the gravy boat on the upper right edge of the shot. 

It wasn't bad at all - just the job on a cold day, when hunger rips at your vitals. My Money Diary spreadsheet for 2011 tells me that this feast cost £8.99, compared to £20.00 for the snood. (MD also tells me that I looked in at Bridgwater, on my way back to where I was pitched at Cheddar. Bridgwater was another riverside town that looked unprepossessing on a cold, dull day. The main excitement was an emergency repair to a section of damaged riverbank right in the town centre. It was a crowd-puller, but the blocked-off roads were causing traffic chaos)

It was going to be a nostalgic return to Debenhams this time around, in 2021. But I didn't expect to find it actually still open for business. I thought all Debenhams stores had shut down by now. 

The retailer had lost its way. After various store closures from 2018, it had gone into administration in 2019, then again in 2020, lately being bought by Boohoo for online-only trading. So every remaining Debenhams store would be closed, and the chain would disappear from the High Street, like so many other well-known names before it - a victim of changing shopping habits, and of not foreseeing those changes. The same old formula, the same dependable but unexciting offering, didn't succeed well enough in 2021. Being an institution, a nationally-known brand, never protects you from business failure. 

But this store was still open, even if it was clearly in the final days of its closing-down sale. 

I went inside. The ground-floor section where I'd bought my snood in 2011 still had stock on display, but at truly knockdown prices. I went up to the first floor. Plenty of women's clothing still there. But I was more interested in the household items on the second floor. I toyed with buying a cushion, or a couple of new pillows, but didn't. The best had gone, and although there were shoppers throughout the store, and it didn't yet have a 'ghost town' atmosphere, with tumbleweed blowing about, I could see that even 70% off wasn't going to shift everything that was left. But I did pick up half a dozen free clothes hangers. 'Help yourself' the notices said. I did.

Parts of each floor were closed off, with redundant display shelving, clothes rails, boxes and other things stacked behind the barrier tape. That struck a sad note. 

I found the restaurant where, in busy 2011, I'd had that roast chicken dinner. All closed up now, never to serve meals again.

Then I saw a section that in happier times might have housed the bridal outfits or lingerie. It was taped off, so one couldn't get a close look. And at the back, a host of nude dummies. Stripped of their display clothing, they looked like pale refugees awaiting their fate, milling around and determined to party while they could - and never mind the risk of infection from the virus. No social distancing here! Most reprehensible. Still, in their position, you could hardly blame them. It's very difficult for an out-of-work dummy to find another department store job. So they were making the best of it. Frozen in the act of having a last fling. No doubt if I looked away, the movement and chatter and clinking of glasses would begin all over again.

I used the little Leica's modest telephoto abilities to see more clearly what these dummies were up to. Some were writhing on the floor, obviously drunk. Others were flaunting their nudity without restraint. Dear me! Look at that female dummy (right centre), eyeing up that male dummy's six-pack - or possibly his groinal bulge? Goodness knows what might happen if I let them be! But then, why should I spoil their last-moment-before-the-giant-comet-hits-the-planet fun? I'm not that mean. I walked on. Faint sounds of music and laughter recommenced. 

I've remarked before how dummies seem to have an inner life of their own. At times like this, when the chips are down, and the clothes are off, you see their Other Side. 

One other thing I noticed: Debenhams had kept all the lights on, even in the closed-down and taped-off areas. This was psychologically good. It helped to keep the store looking like a going concern, merely having a final sale.

On this year's perambulations around the town, I came across this office complex:

It was the Debenhams Support Centre - presumably their regional HQ for all the stores in the South West. It looked in good condition, still properly maintained, but no doubt most of the many staff who had worked there had already lost their jobs. Hundreds of personal career tragedies. Some of them would have been plunged into grave financial difficulties. All because Debenhams hadn't proved nimble enough to survive, hadn't had a good enough crystal ball, and had racked up a burden of debt based on false hopes of growth.

I remembered how I used to long for early retirement. But it was never likely that a trained and middling-senior investigation officer in the government's main money-raising department would be discarded. Income Tax and Corporation Tax weren't likely to be abolished! So I never experienced the pain and upset of being made redundant. Nor the realities of having to find another job in a shrinking sector. 

Even though I was on holiday, I thought of those ex-Debenhams employees. Who would have thought that a chain of department stores like that could ever vanish, that so many would be plunged into unemployment, and their futures made uncertain? 

And how the High Street has changed in recent years! It's too soon to say who will be left. My guess is that John Lewis and M&S will eventually be the only old-time stores left. And then only in the most viable locations. Probably bad news if you want to visit one close by, unless you are very fortunate. But then, good news for the smaller and possibly better-loved department stores, the local ones with individuality and that truly personal touch, who will now have a better chance. 

I ate a monster mushroom - but still couldn't pull the Sword from the Stone

I'm on holiday now, pitched at my usual farm near Lyme Regis. A couple of days ago I'd shopped at Waitrose in Sidmouth, and spotted a really big mushroom on sale there. You never get such humungous mushrooms in a standard package: they are only sold loose. I don't often see them when they are this big - no doubt some mushroom-lover gets in before me, nabbing the monster delicacy and diving for the till at once. But I was lucky. 

When I say this was a 'really big mushroom' I don't mean something that would win first prize at a village fair. I'm sure that it wouldn't even get a booby prize. But it was big enough. Here it is next morning, removed from my fridge in the caravan, and about to be sliced up for a cooked breakfast, with two eggs, two rashers of bacon, and two kidneys for company. 

I wondered whether this might be too large and indulgent a breakfast, but I was driving to Taunton later that morning, and it would be good to stoke up before I went. That way I wouldn't be tempted to buy a takeaway pasty or whatever. So I set to with the cooking. I used an ordinary frying pan for the eggs, but everything else went into the wok.

As usual, I messed the eggs up, but the contents of the wok fared better. On the plate, it all looked fine. A big squirt of tomato ketchup added some extra colour, although the eggs were a beautiful yellow.


I used the scenic B3170 for my way into Taunton, and parked at the same multi-storey car park I'd used when last there in 2011, ten years previously. It had been a cold, dull November day back then, and I hadn't been impressed with the town. This time it was sunny, and I thought much better of the place. I wandered about extensively. I'm planning two other 'Taunton' posts. This one will concentrate on my bid to become the Rightful Queen of England

I'd found the Museum, housed in the old castle, currently shut because of Covid-19 restrictions, and noticed a fancy modern path that aimed straight towards a small riverside park. 

Somebody was struggling with something in the distance. Curious, I followed the path. 

Ah, a stone - with a sword stuck in it! 

If you remember,  the youthful King Arthur, then but a squire, watched various noblemen try to pull this very sword out of this very stone. The legend was that whoever could draw the sword free was rightfully King of England. Each nobleman considered that he had a good claim to the throne, but despite titanic efforts in every case, none of these gentlemen, now red-faced and humiliated, could do the deed. They moved off, muttering. Young Arthur then decided to give it a go, almost as a prank, and found that when he grasped the hilt, the sword slid out of the stone smoothly and easily. As you can imagine, he popped it back before anybody could see, as a mere squire wasn't supposed to even touch such a thing, let alone succeed in pulling the sword out when men of high birth and great reputation had failed to. But he wasn't fast enough, and word raced around that the Rightful King of England had been found at last. The noblemen returned, incredulous, and demanded that Arthur repeat his feat. Which he did. After that, it's history. Well, folklore anyway.

And now it was my turn. I grasped the hilt and pulled. 

No joy. I grasped the hilt differently, and pulled again. 

It didn't budge. Right, the nuclear option. The Honour of the Melfords was at stake. I grasped the hilt with both hands and concentrated: mind over matter, you know.

Still no movement. How could this be? With a sigh I concluded that whoever was going to be Rightful Queen of England, it wouldn't be me. It's sad, but there you go. 

The moral is, of course, that even eating giant mushrooms for breakfast guarantees nothing. But I cheered up. It was trout for my evening meal, with new potatoes, tomatoes and samphire. 

I may not be able to pull swords from stones, but I know when to pull fish out of the oven!