Reflections on water bills… No, really.

I’m dubiously assured by the clever scales at the gym that I am around 64% water, which according to a quick Google search is either 4% too much or 6% too little but, by any way of reckoning, it’s significant proportion.

Water is essential to us being alive. Not only is it the majority contents of the meat bag behind this keyboard, but it’s also crucial in so many day to day activities – washing, cooking, cleaning, flushing, and – of course – without it, those waterproofs you’re keeping in the drawer would be entirely pointless.

There have been, and continue to be, public debates about how our water companies work. The FT does a relatively regular article in which they point out the folly of the way things are run; political parties argue for nationalisation; others talk about giant sewers cutting London in half; but what no one seems to talk about is the real issue affecting us all.

No water company, and I’ve experience of 3 (which feels like it might be above average) seem to have put any effort at all into their billing process – despite, presumably, water being the main thing a water company sells.

I have just had a quarterly statement which is what prompted this post; once again it brought news that having used some water, which was not what they expected, they needed to change the amount of money I am paying each month. It follows the last bill which told me I’d used some water, which had surprised them, and prompted them to put my bill down.

In seven years with this company, I have received 28 quarterly statements and 28 of them have told me I need to change what I’m paying, while also reporting – like most of our water bills, I imagine – a mundane, relatively consistent water usage. I live in a flat, I haven’t suddenly got a pool to be filling.

Where one bill professes that I have overpaid and can take a bit of a break – reducing my payment down to around £2.99 a month – the next will assert “you are not paying enough” and put it up to £40. And then the cycle will repeat.

By now at least 50% of my bill must be going on the admin team associated with changing the direct debits alone, and another 10% must be funding the 8 pages of charity fundraising and explanations of why I have to pay for water included with each one.

Why, in a world intelligent enough to have created gravy granules, can a water company not develop a billing system capable of working out – after six years of collecting evidence – how much water I use in a year, and, adding a smaller buffer perhaps, divide the cost of that by 12?

It’s not the biggest issue facing us today, I know, but we’ve got to start somewhere – and it’s these things which really niggle me.

You don’t have to do anything you don’t enjoy

Like you, I’ve had quite a lot more time to spend on the Internet over these last few months, and maybe like me you’ve also noticed that some of the fear, confusion and boredom of that time has been driving some of the worst parts to the fore.

When I joined Twitter back in 2007 it was a very positive place where people came together, and shared things they knew or had found. I followed my friends, and some people I’d never met, along with some celebrities.

I met people on there who I’ve since made into real friends (and a husband), and in 2012 I wrote my dissertation all about how Twitter was creating a place for us to meet and discuss the issues that affect us all.

But it has long felt different to how it used to; the echo bubbles abound and – as someone seeking to find both sides of the world and try and understand them – I’ve often felt caught between two warring tribes, convinced the other half are not only wrong but have poor intent.

What’s the point in sharing an opinion, on a platform perfectly designed for it, if your only persuasional technique is to say it louder, or with a more critical tone?

And as it (I’m guesturing wildly) went on, that only got worse.

And as it got worse, I remembered a book I’d read back in 2009. How to Leave Twitter, by Grace Dent. And more specifically I remembered the advice in its first few pages: you can unfollow, and follow whoever you like.

But 13 years of collecting people I now realise I might not want to hear from is a lot of people to unfollow. And for what?

Maybe when this is all over I’ll sit down and go through who I follow; when the world looks a little less scary and the predictions a little bit less close to my reality.

After so many years I guess I hadn’t remembered: I could just walk away.

And that’s an important lesson that we’d all do well to remember more often, I think. You do not have to do anything you don’t enjoy.

Sure, there are consequences sometimes to that choice – you don’t have to take your next breath – but if you’re not enjoying something, it’s worth checking the consequences of stopping are worse than the consequences of keeping going.

Oh, someone else will sort it

Coffee shops are fascinating from every perspective. I think so anyway.

Firstly, I reckon the shop someone plumps for when faced with a choice between all of the ‘chains’ and an independent (or more) says as much about their personality as their star sign of MBTI ever could.

But inside them, too, there are all aspects of human nature on show – at their best, and their worst.

There’s the groups competing to consume the fewest calories when out for lunch, the one who doesn’t care what anyone, and the mother (or father) who just – just – wants a few moments peace.

Perhaps I’ve spent too much time in coffee shops – I did work in and run them for 4 years, so I’ve kind of got an excuse – or maybe I’m just paying attention to the wrong things.

There’s one aspect above all that I think most closely resembles human nature – and that’s when someone moves dirty items from one table (unoccupied, but dirty) to another (unoccupied, but otherwise clean).

Walking to the kitchen area, or finding someone to hand the tray to would probably take a very tiny amount more energy and effort. But still, almost universally, we chose not to do this – and instead simply shift the problem elsewhere. Someone else will deal with it now.

There’s been effort put in, and the short term goal has been achieved – they get the table they wanted – but overall it’s all been a waste of time.

Because there’s still the same number of dirty tables.

And that’s a little bit like life, and the choices each day. We’re all to often, by nature perhaps I think, focused on the short term aims – not the long term goal.

One day, we might want the table they’ve just dirtied.

Books of 2018

Each year I set myself a goal of reading 12 or so books, and then at the end of the year I try to come here and review them. It’s a silly idea, because I can barely remember what I thought at the time when it comes to doing the review.

So this year I’ve made a change. Instead of just a number of books, I’ve picked fourteen actual books and as I finish them I’m going to come here and update this post. My aim is 12, but I chose 14 because I’m bound to want to abandon at least one if not two.

This does mean, of course, that you’ll all see me start off with good ambitions and slowly stall before, in about November, realising I’m well behind and going on a reading spree.

Books marked with a 🎧 are audiobooks.

Completed

  • Shop Girl – Mary Portas 🎧
    I found myself disappointed that I’d come to the end of this, which is a rarity because even with books I’ve enjoyed reading by the final few chapters it’s starting to feel a bit predictable. Onto the next challenge and all that. This book, however, concluding as it does while Mary is still progressing through the early stages of her career and continuing to recover from the loss of her Mother and Father, was a disappointment to reach the end of. Autobiographies are always a win with me, and given I’ve been enjoying Mary’s work on the telly for many years I’m not surprised that I enjoyed it – particularly as she read it herself. My surprise with the fact that stores used to have prop departments and employ oh-so-many people to dress windows was only replaced with sadness when I got thinking about how much we lose with our mass-produced world. I’m hoping there’s a second book on the way.
    📅 9 February 2018 | ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
  • Too Much Information… or Can Everyone Just Shut Up for a Moment, Some of Us Are Trying to Think – Dave Gorman
    I found Dave Gorman last year in about November (I was aware of him, but I’d never really paid attention), and the next few weeks were filled with just a little bit too much Dave Gorman. This book filled a gap that’ll keep me going until his show in November. A top read if you like stats, facts, logic and being taken on a journey which feels coincidental but which is entirely intentional.
    📅 3 April 2018 | ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
  • And Furthermore – Judi Dench 🎧
    Fairly entertaining, but not exactly revealing the woman behind the actor, this book is basically a look back into how things “used to be”. A nicer time, perhaps? Certainly a lot more density of talent and a much more considered theatre. Who can’t love Dame Judi, anyway?
    📅 26 February 2018 | ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I’ve also read some extras which I hadn’t planned…

My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises – Fredrik Backman 🎧
A nice bit of escapism, mixing an easy-to-guess story with harder-to-guess twists in a way which pleases me – just because I’m really impressed when things pan out to have been planned all along. Which, of course, they were – because it was bloody planned, pitched, commissioned and written. Still, one to keep you company on a long car ride.
📅 28 March 2018 | ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

WTF: What have we done? Why did it happen? How do we take back control? – Robert Peston
WTF. Quite.
📅 14 March 2018 | ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

In progress

Still to come

Abandoned

The future of television, they said

Like any self-respecting gadget enthusiast, when SkyQ arrived at my house last May I was excited to find out what new and exciting ways I’d be watching television, to find out how the platform would develop over the next few months and what excitement would arrive.

A few days after it was installed, I was pretty impressed. What Sky had done with SkyQ was take a ‘breaking change’ approach. Sometimes the compromises of modifying something which has been around for years, and which, remember, itself built on top of something even older, are just no longer worth it. They’d done good: a modern interface, and using fancy technology to make satellite more like analogue used to be: multiple feeds from a single cable.

Sky pitched the future was fluid viewing – moving from room to room, device to device – and on demand driven. It even had YouTube, and much to Tim’s annoyance that the TV Guide moved several more button presses further away than was comfortable. It supports Ultra HD, can do picture-in-picture and the ‘planner’ is now shared across boxes.

What Sky has actually done with SkyQ is built everything, from the ground up, with the same philosophy they’ve always had.

It was, to be frank, all of the things those of us who’d been paying attention wanted Sky+HD to be. But 18 months later, it still feels the same.

Sky Q is more about delivering the same thing, in a really slightly different way, and being able to charge more for it than about any future of television. It was about renting, not owning, the box, and about doing just enough that the people, who haven’t already, don’t stray to Netflix.

Some bits are amazing: the expansion of Watch From Start with on demand meaning tuning into a TV show 90% of the way through is no longer a problem, being able to download content to your phone or tablet and take it away is great, and knowing that no matter what box you sit down at you’ll still be able to watch that show you recorded is marvellous.

But: content discovery is still awful, on demand still insists on ‘downloading’ before it will play and the apps are so crippled with rights management that even they are clunky, awkward and frustrating to use.

And then there’s the experience: Sky use LoveDigital to work with ‘shared dish’ set ups, and Love Digital made my experience of getting set up unforgettable through sheer incompetence. Since then, they’ve been back to replace the equipment they fitted twice, and once more in between those two to add a booster that, it turned out, had made things worse.

I became bessie mates with Jodie-Ann in their Croydon call centre, and she was never anything but polite and friendly, but ‘fluid’ was not a description appropriate for the process I experienced.

LoveDigital irritated the landlords with their ‘sales pitch’ call to get permission to do the work, and managed to make normal terrestrial television unwatchable for the other seven flats in the building for about three weeks.

The first nine months were plagued with pulling out power cords after a box had gone unresponsive and deleting unwatchable recordings made so either by a box in the cupboard upstairs that wasn’t working, or software that had gone a bit glitch.

Sky Q isn’t the future of television. 18 months in, I’m convinved it was a life support machine for Sky’s existing business model being sold as a totally new one and launched months before it was ready.