Mobile madness

Vodafone. Can’t live with ’em. Can’t live without ’em, eh? I swapped to  Vodafone a few years ago, when it looked as though I was going to be spending more time in Cumbria than Manchester and they seemed to offer better coverage than O2.

So far, I’ve had little cause to complain and you learn to live with the network dead spots. (Although it still amazes me that you get a better signal on the summit of the world’s highest mountain than you do on Haystacks. Not that I’ve tested the Himalayan end myself, you understand. But I do know a man who has. More than one, come to that.)

But this ‘checking your account online’ business? Pants. Or it certainly was this weekend. All I wanted was to quickly check my account before heading off to Workington to replace my ancient handset with something a little more twenty-first century. Two days later, over several hours comprising two lengthy 191 calls, two even lengthier ‘live’ chats online (‘live’ being something of misnomer in the first instance, given the long gaps between responses), interspersed by a trip to the shop, twenty-one ‘change of password’ emails and twenty-six texts, and a good deal of querying whether I understood the term ‘upper case’, and I still was no nearer getting into the account I’d accessed only a couple of weeks before.

I won’t bore you with details (frankly, I’d rather not relive it) but the root of the problem seemed to be that they didn’t have a mobile telephone number on record, to which they could send a security code. Yes, really. Everything else was just me and whichever ‘representative’ I was talking to at the time, churning round in ever decreasing circles.

The very nice young woman in the shop (Helen I think she was called) was very helpful (and did set me up with a new phone), but said it was outside her jurisdiction to fiddle with things like that. She advised getting them to delete the account then re-register. But when I instructed Karim to do this (live on the phone the following day), he refused. Meanwhile, Ayushi (more alive online than his or her predecessor) said they couldn’t register my mobile phone number to that account because it was already registered! Fancy that.

The parting shot from Karim was that he would raise a ticket with the online account department, that there was no service level agreement so he couldn’t say when it would be resolved, no I couldn’t have that in writing, no I couldn’t speak to them direct and no, there was nobody else there (or anywhere) who could help me. But he really was sincerely sorry. I just had to trust. Ommm.

I should probably make clear that everyone I dealt with was very apologetic and polite but that’s not the point really. However, Karim is clearly a man of his word. About half an hour later, I tried logging in again with the most recent temporary password and username provided and, as if by magic, it worked. Thank you, Karim.

For a split second, I yearn for the days before mobile phones, those halcyon days when you answered a ringing telephone with the name of your exchange, followed by your four-figure number, and could instantly recite the phone numbers of all the important people in your life. You might even speak to them, sometimes for hours on end, rather than making do with a quick text chat – because that’s all either of you now have time for – or struggling with a decent enough wi-fi signal to see your pixellated self reflected back at you in all its unflattering glory.

Then I remember. I’m getting a brand new toy this week. New handset. New case. New apps. New games. Squeaky new everything. I might even get to find Pokémon! Yay!!!

OldTelephone
Those were the days, eh? © Voxxphotography. Dreamstime.com 

Coffee and blogs

‘What’s your topic this time?’ asks Andy, hands ahead of him, tapping away at an imaginary keyboard, when he spots me – once again – in the corner, cappuccino and iPad at the ready (no cake yesterday). Well, I’ve been meaning to write about my favourite ‘coffee and blog’ stop for some time, so here we go…

Thing is, I don’t really do coffee. Or didn’t. Generally speaking, coffee has me gasping for air, begging for water and peeling myself off the ceiling. Especially when it’s brewed by certain coffee-loving friends, its grounds so thick and strong they’d literally support that oft-quoted upright spoon (you know who you are).

Then I moved to Cockermouth and everything changed. (Bit of a recurring theme here, you’ll note – but then, so much HAS changed since I discovered that the ‘North West’ didn’t end in Lancashire).  

This is a place where (at my last count), there are 16 places in the town in which you can happily sit alone, laptop, iPad or Times & Star to hand, feeling perfectly at home whilst secretly imagining yourself in an episode of Cheers.

That’s not including a couple of venues which are yet to reopen post-floods, various pubs, the slightly-out-of-town garden centre and the two ‘High Street’ names now serving at the filling station (evidence of which can be seen strewn in hedges all the way up the road into town). 

But, despite all this choice, a couple of times a week – at least – you will find me sampling the cake menu at Coffee Kitchen, reading emails, doing my crossword and tapping away on my iPad. For someone whose self-employed work ethic has predominantly been ‘keep going till your eyes glaze over with fatigue’, I have adapted surprising well to this ‘bunking out of the office’ business. It’s my guilty pleasure. And look! I’m still working. A little.

It certainly beats staring at the bigger screen at home – especially now this latter comes with a barely orchestrated accompaniment of chugging, bleeping diggers – and there’s a wholesome walk thrown in which amounts to more than the few steps I’d otherwise take to the kettle. I can catch up on the news, research material, copy-check my latest project, even write the odd blog post. And, yes, drink coffee.

CoffeeAndCake
Cappuccino, Westmorland fruit and pepper cake with smoked cheese and the Times crossword © Hackette on the How

But what is it about Coffee Kitchen coffee?

When I admit – shock horror – that I don’t even like coffee, Andy (who owns and runs this and the equally appealing Coffee Kitchen Bakery) reckons it’s down to the Union brand. 

‘It cuts through the milk so you get the real coffee taste,’ he tells me. ‘Union trades direct with reliable growers so there’s no middle man, and they roast to order.’ So those coffee beans aren’t sitting around on a shelf for ages, just waiting for the call.

Union coffee is such high quality, it’s in the top 2% of the world’s coffees. Their coffee beans are roasted by hand, in small batches. According to their website, it ‘typically takes 10-15 minutes to roast a batch of coffee but every batch is different’. It’s the last minute that ‘makes the crucial difference’, so all their care and attention goes into that last minute.

In fact, the Union philosophy pretty much sums up Andy’s philosophy too, if his regular postings on Facebook are anything to go by. ‘Quality of coffee. Quality of Life. Quality of business.’

Back on the cake front, every visit brings a new favourite. Raspberry Bakewell. Westmorland fruit and pepper cake (with smoked cheddar). Almond butter, blueberry and maple syrup slice. Banana and peanut butter cake (and, guess what, I’m not that keen on peanut butter, either). Summer berry oaty cake. Chocolate brownies. All served with a smile by Grace or Steve, Hannah, Emma or Sarah. Or any of the other girls and boys who work there part-time.

‘Best Newcomer’ in the 2013 Cumbria Life Food and Drink Awards and LBA (Local Business Accelerators) Winner for West Cumbria 2013, they’ve also enjoyed a certificate of excellence from Trip Advisor for the last four years, meaning they’ve earned consistently high reviews from visitors, so don’t just take my word for it.

One reviewer said the home-baked goodies left him walking around with a smile on his face for the rest of the day. Another said she’d be begging friends to go there next time they visit. Inevitably there are a few carpers on there – the sort of people I can’t help feeling make it their business to find fault with anything, just so they can have a whinge on Trip Advisor – but there is clearly a regular clientele who share this guilty pleasure with me. Every day you’ll find them. Tucked in their corners. On their own. Tapping away at keyboards, or hiding behind newsprint. Coffee and cake at hand. Chatting with the staff. Sometimes, even meeting friends. Each in our own special episode of Cheers.

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