Ramble: THINGS TO DO WHEN YOU’RE ON HOLD TO TELSTRA’S HELP CHAT

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So, since we moved from Parramatta to Mangrove Mountain, we haven’t had a home phone. Our friend, neighbour & landlord has been gracious enough to let us use his wireless so that we are not completely cut off from the world (we’re far enough off the main drag that mobile service is non-existent here on the farm), and we’ve been trying valiantly to get a home telephone service connected for the last two months. I really did think, after trying two providers and being quoted any number of outrageously different prices mid-process, that we’d gotten somewhere last week when a technician came to the house and checked out the existing infrastructure.
As he left, he said “It should all be good to go, but there’s a network infrastructure problem and Telstra haven’t allowed enough copper at the exchange for me to get you connected. It’s their fault, won’t cost you anything but it’ll be a couple of days I imagine.”
The following day, someone from Telstra’s service centre in Kolkata or Lahore or Kathmandu or wherever called me to confirm that my order number ######34 was scheduled for completion within three working days. “That’s fine,” I said. Did I want to have a temporary service made available for me in the meantime? Pretty sure that was a trick question, because if they can’t connect a telephone service due to lack of infrastructure then …well, you know. In order to not complicate things, I declined the temporary service. “No, I can wait another three days, if you’re sure that’s all it will be.”
Today being the third day, and with no phone connection completed and no contact from Telstra to advise of a delay, I ventured into the scary world of real-time helpline chat.
After a substantial wait to get through to anybody, during which time I flicked the job to Tara because I had other things to do, Tara finally managed to learn that
a) there was a hold put on our order for an unspecified reason
b) we need to speak to Nadeem, our account manager to resolve the matter
c) Nadeem can be contacted on the 24 hour service line 1800 blah blah blah, press zero at the prompt.
Borrowing our neighbour’s phone allowed us to quickly ascertain that the 24 hour service line is unattended after 6pm, and we should leave a message including the best return number to call us on. As you may expect, I found that to be a less than satisfactory outcome, so back to live chat I go. After lengthy delays in connection, then lengthy delays while account information is verified, and then explaining the enquiry (again) and then lengthy delays while the operator (M) tried to resolve my issue, he was able to come up with the following information:
a) there was a hold put on our order for an unspecified reason
b) we need to speak to Nadeem
c) Nadeem can be contacted on the 24 hour service line….
At this point, I did not admit to M that I already tried this number. I simply said “How should I do that without a phone?”. More lengthy delays followed while M attempted to make the call on my behalf, only to find that the number is unattended after 6pm. Could I call back tomorrow after 8am? Forgetful types, these Telstra folk, but I was gracious enough to remind M that I still didn’t have a telephone and would be unlikely to get one between now and tomorrow morning. So M, bless his heart, has undertaken to have all the answers I require by 4pm tomorrow on email. I was so pleased with this outcome, I offered to save M the trouble of emailing me first, and asked for his email address so I could initiate things tomorrow, but it turns out he doesn’t have email. I shouldn’t worry though, because he will make sure his supervisor coordinates to have an email sent to me. Hmmm. “OK,” I tell M “I’m sure you will not let me down, because you don’t want me to contact the Telecommunications Ombudsman anymore than I want to do it,” and then we wished each other a pleasant evening.

Now, as fascinating as this story is by itself, there’s more to tonight’s blog than just me snarking about Telstra. All those lengthy delays while you’re on chat mean you have to find SOMETHING to do. You can’t leave the screen. There’s only so many Grumpy Cats you can post on Facebook. So, what else might you do online while you’re on hold to Live Chat?

You could go to my wife Tara’s blog: Cruelty Free Recipes – Cooking With a Conscience for the best in vegan recipes.

If you’re into eating responsibly, and you’re on Facebook, you might also go to The Clean Eating Exchange where the delightful Alicia posts clean eating recipes, tips, stories, and education for those wishing to lead a happy and healthy lifestyle.

Comic book nerds like me will get a kick out of a couple of sites I go to almost daily. The first is Tony Isabella’s Bloggy Thing. Tony, of course, is a four decade veteran of the comic industry who has pissed off enough people that he doesn’t have to watch what he says, as he shares opinions, reviews and anecdotes from his rich career.
The second comic-related site I visit nearly every day is Super-Team Family: The Lost Issues, which is run by a fella called Ross. Six days a week, Ross serves up a fantasy combination cover, of highest quality, that he has made himself from existing artwork. Ever wondered what it would look like if Popeye met Superman? Or if Spider-Man teamed up with the crew from Star Trek? You’d probably find it here, and if not just send Ross a request.

Scandinavia & the World doesn’t post new stuff nearly so frequently, but I always enjoy her view on things.

My friend Kylie posts occasionally at The Amberjacks, because she’s a published author and it’s a blog for writers, by writers.

My other friend Kenn posts far too often for everyone’s good on his tumblr account Mr. Inappropriate. It’s not for the faint-hearted, although the weak-minded should get a kick out of it.

Apart from comics, my other ubernerdy interest is board games. I play online at BSW (download the game client after you register your username; mine is ‘crash9000’).

Annnnnd apart from being a (cool & heaps sexy) nerd, my other big interest is animal fostering, through Porsche’s Rescue. If you’re looking for a pet, or even better a companion animal, you could do worse than adopt from a rescue.

Got any sites you’d like to spread the word about it? The comments section is thataway (if I knew how to post a down-arrow, I would).

Cheers, Darryn

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Poem: SEPTEMBER 29th, 2002

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I have written before, I think, that I deal with depression and anxiety. I don’t ‘battle’ them and I don’t ‘suffer’ from them – although I certainly used to. Some years ago, however, I came to realise that they were part of me, and not some affliction to be permanently cured or a demon to be cast out. Just like a diabetic, or an alcoholic, or someone with specific allergies, there are things I will always need to do to manage my life and make sure I remain in control of the situation, and not the other way around. I take some mild medication, and insist on it remaining mild; my doctor once offered me increased dosage but I declined, for a couple of reasons. One, after half a lifetime of fast food and tobacco, I try to limit the number of manufactured substances I put into my body; and two, because I think the low dose takes just enough of the edge off the depression & anxiety to allow me to make conscious and positive decisions to keep them under control. I don’t want to surrender to low spirits, but neither do I want to yield my responsibility for actively improving my own life.
Apart from the pills, I make a determined effort to stay out of a rut, by trying new experiences and activities every chance I get – new music, different genres of movies & books, visiting places I know nothing about. I guess you could sum it up as making the journey important and letting the destination take care of itself. I eat better – fresh fruit & veg, often raw; a minimum of processed foods; no McDonalds or KFC or other industrial fast food. I exercise, but not nearly as much as I should, although every lifestyle change I make helps with that – I went from driving everywhere to catching buses to walking to work and now that I live on a farm, my aim is to do a minimum of two hours actual physical work every day. I try and do creative and stimulating things as well – from making jam to writing this blog, for instance.
Underpinning it all is a positive choice to have a positive attitude. It sounds redundant and simplistic – “Well yeah the way to not be sad is to be happy” – but it’s far from that. It’s constantly reminding myself that no, this isn’t the end of the world, it’s just a minor setback. It’s putting the mental brakes on before saying something that lowers the mood in a conversation, leading to anger or disappointment or other negative vibes, and choosing to say something constructive instead. It’s always bearing in mind that the big picture is only as big as I let it be, and always remembering that I have been into the pit and managed to get out once, and that’s a pretty damn fine achievement, and I can do it again if I have to.

September 29th, 2002

Why have I let the Darkness assail me so?
Beyond a doubt, it’s always there –
The fear, the anxiety, the pain and inadequacy,
And all the other poisons of the soul;
Beyond a doubt, they will accompany me
All throughout life’s journey.
But I need not let them lead me – no, not at all.
Instead, let them be begrudged companions,
Who insist on staying with me.

Very well then –
Ride behind me, if ride you must!
Keep yourselves in my shadow, or begone!

Today, I stood under the quiet rain of spring.
Tonight, I made sweet and gentle love with
Creation’s most glorious wonder.
THAT is life!
Beyond a doubt, my companions had not left me,
Yet there could have hardly been a more perfect day.
And I become aware, even as I write,
That this very epiphany is but a step.
Miracles of comprehension dawn within the eye of my mind,
Unfolding like crystal flowers in a ritual dance,
But I cannot grasp their bright and perfect symmetry,
And so they evanesce, but regret does not follow.
Rather, I taste a promise of joy to come –
That unique joy born of acceptance and contentment.

Let the journey continue.

© Darryn Roberts 2002

Review: THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY

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More like an unexpected delight! I was wondering how – and why – the prequel to THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy was going to be reasonably divided into two, and then later into three, movies. The book itself is only about 1/3rd as long as any one of the component volumes of the later work, and they were exhaustively treated by Peter Jackson in his film versions. So, yeah … I went in dreading that padding had been added for padding’s sake, to ensure the next three Decembers were good paydays for the producers, not just this one.
I am happy to say my fears were unfounded. Just as in the LOTR films, certain concessions have been made in order to boost the hell out of the box office takings, but the story itself neither suffers or drags because of it. If you want to avoid SPOILERS (but lets face it, we all know – Bilbo finds the Precious) stop reading here and go spend your money on a ticket. Otherwise, press on….

The film opens, appropriately but confusingly, about half an hour before the first “hobbit” scene in THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING, just before Gandalf’s arrival for Bilbo’s big party. This establishes the framing device of Bilbo writing his memoirs for Frodo to complete at the end of the final LOTR film, THE RETURN OF THE KING. We then follow old Bilbo’s memory back sixty years, to a time when he was a respectable hobbit of middle years with no interest in doing anything more exciting than wishing strangers a hearty “Good morning!” as they pass his door. Unfortunately for Bilbo’s equanimity, but fortunately for everybody else (including the Dwarves, the rest of Middle-Earth, the genre of heroic fantasy & the heirs of J.R.R. Tolkien) one such stranger is the wandering wizard Gandalf the Grey. He orchestrates a meeting between Bilbo & a party of Dwarvish adventurers who are hoping to kill the dragon Smaug and retake their ancestral homeland, and Bilbo is swept up into their party quite in spite of his own misgivings, in the role of ‘professional burglar’ no less.
These opening scenes establish a tone for the movie – the Dwarves are somewhat comical but can be threatening; Bilbo is quite the opposite of any sort of adventurer, almost effete in his mild hedonism; Gandalf is mysterious and manipulative – but overarching everything is a sense of fun, of being swept of one’s feet into something quite possibly regrettable but most probably wonderful. Of course, that’s entirely the tone in which Tolkien wrote his little novella nearly 80 years ago and for Jackson and scriptwriters Fran Walsh, Guillermo del Toro & Phillipa Jackson to capture that spirit so perfectly is a remarkable achievement, given the opportunity to let so many other things (the special effects, or the melodrama, or the action, or the continuity with the LOTR films) dominate proceedings.
The vast majority of the film is one long chase scene. If you thought Frodo and co had a time of it in the wilderness in FELLOWSHIP, then you’ll be aghast at what Bilbo & his mates are subjected to – nearly cooked & eaten by trolls, chased by warg-riding orcs (and incidentally, these wargs look infinitillion times better than the hyena-hybrids in the LOTR), caught in the middle of a fight between mountain giants, captured by goblins & rescued from a burning forest by giant eagles. A few of the chase scenes look as though they are specifically written as playable missions in the inevitable video game, but that’s all part of the modern adventure movie business, I guess. Bilbo gets separated from the Dwarves for a spell, during which he encounters Gollum and takes possession of the One Ring. The movie ends with Our Heroes taking a well-deserved breather and catching sight (in the far distance) of their destination – The Lonely Mountain, Erebor.
As mentioned above, the writers have taken a few minor liberties with the source material – I don’t recall Bilbo crash-tackling any Orcs in the book, let alone Azog (who is dead in the book by the time the story takes place, but takes the place of the Orc leader Bolg in the film, with a much enlarged role); the film features in great detail some things touched on towards the end of the book by Gandalf which later tie into backstory for THE LORD OF THE RINGS, such as the presence of the Necromancer in Dol Goldur & the ‘White Council’ of himself, Elrond, Galadriel & Saruman; and plenty of material on Dwarven history is lifted from the very voluminous Appendices to LOTR. Also appearing in a far greater role than expected is Radagast the Brown Wizard, who is only very briefly mentioned in the FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING and not at all in THE HOBBIT book. (Sylvester McCoy’s portrayal reminded me of nothing less than Catweazle playing Lewis Carroll’s White Rabbit). However, I found all inclusions to be quite valid and much more true to the source than the (still tiresome after all these years) expansion of Arwen’s role in the LOTR films.
The cast are uniformly terrific, with standouts by Martin Freeman (maybe his Arthur Dent in THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY turned out to be more or less a rehearsal for his Bilbo Baggins here) & of course Sir Ian McKellen, who grunts and gapes his way though this movie as effortlessly as he did the earlier three times he played the part of Gandalf. Barry Humphries does a fine ham turn as The Great Goblin, complete with a goiter that George Lucas would be proud to own. Andy Serkis’ Gollum is a tad more predatory than I recall from the other films, which could be due to script, actor or a combination of both. Richard Armitage is heroically fatalistic in the best traditions of Northern European folklore in the role of Thorin, leader of the Dwarves – but if I have one gripe it’s that while the rest of the Dwarves are elaborately made up, with outrageous beards and prosthetic noses and blocky physiques, Thorin simply looks like a short guy with a grim face. Perhaps Jackson wanted to avoid any chance of the noble Thorin being perceived as comic relief, I don’t know, but it irked me a little.
The sum total of the parts is a wonderful movie, with the production values and attention to detail that made THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy such a joy to watch.  If you kept reading after the spoiler warning (and clearly, you did), well now its time for you do what I said back there – go spend your money and enjoy THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY.

Cheers,
Darryn

Part two of the trilogy (THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG) is due for release Christmas 2013, with the concluding chapter (THE HOBBIT: THERE AND BACK AGAIN) due for release Christmas 2014.

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