Thursday, September 3, 2009


The Bell Does Not Toll For Me

It was called Ma Bell in the old days. Not because its service was so great. It was just seen as a good investment for widows.
Today, people are wondering whether they should still have land lines from companies like Bell or go completely with their cell phones. Ma Bell lost her charms years ago.
Occasionally I wonder why Bell still survives when you consider how inept they are when there's trouble on the line or no dial tone at all.
I've just spent nearly two weeks without phone service at home despite the $6.95 I pay monthly for something called Wire Care Maintenance Plan. Since Bell started to charge horrendously for when its personnel had to come inside your house to repair the latest problem, I thought it would be a good idea to protect myself since I seem to be calling Bell several times a year. This way there's no squabble about where the problem is.
The latest problem began with a wind storm that ripped roofs off houses north of Toronto and dropped the neighbour's tree branch on his line. It sagged near the ground and I thought logically that was the reason we had no service too.
We phoned and when nothing happened, figured it was due to an overload of calls due to the storm.
Three days later, I called again. Oh yes, a woman assured me (from India I think), Bell did have a record of the original service call. So why did nothing happen? Seems they weren't too sure what the problem was. And they couldn't come for two days.
I have done you a favour by translating what was said in atrocious English. I had to ask her to repeat every sentence..
Nothing happened again. My son called for the second time after I called for the second time and was told that my trouble calls hadn't been completed.
Funny. Bell had the name, the address, the phone number, my cell phone etc. Wotinhell else did they need?
Nothing. happened. Again.
My wife called and got a nice man who spoke English and knew all about the previous calls and a serviceman would be coming the next day. My son waited and waited but he didn't show. So my son went out, the chap showed (was he watching around the corner?) but unfortunately for him, the cleaning lady was there.
He told my son later by cell phone that he fixed a problem inside the house, which had nothing to do with the storm. Now that seems strange.
Unfortunately we didn't have full service back. So we called again. We also found a battered service call sheet in the driveway from the first repairman, which was unintelligible. The next chap showed, of course a few days later, with a trainee. He says he fixed the problem permanently. (If I could get that in writing, I would cancel the repair insurance.)
I have too many shares of BCE, which is of course is Bell in the parental guise, and we are reassured that the stock price will go up because of all the cost cutting they are doing. That must include service personnel and people who actually can speak English in a rudimentary way.
At the cottage, where I have had continual problems, partially due to the repair chaps showing up on the day I said I would be in the city, the latest service men have given me their home phones because they want me to call them first and then they will book the call with Bell. Why? Because they're afraid that Bell is going to pay them per service call, so they want to build up a private inventory before that strikes.
Not having service for almost two weeks means no answering machine, which is vital when you're away a lot, and a lot of extra charges on our cell phones, especially for my son Mark who is visiting from China and whose cell phone is still hooked there.
I'm not a fan of Rogers cell phones but if this keeps up, I'll cancel Bell land lines, sell my BCE stock and not have one moment of nostalgia for the good old days of Ma Bell. It's a wonder in this day of computer voices, inept service from call centres on the other side of the world, and repairmen who never seem to be able to come at the right time, that Bell hasn't gone bust.
It seems "sorry wrong number" is now its way of life.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


What A Musical Delight

It's not every day you get to conduct the Toronto Symphony.
And it's not every day you get to witness a startling memory.
Both happened to me in the 1980s when the Toronto Sun got tired of being dubbed a blue-collar tab and decided to go upscale at least for one promotion.
So the Sun partnered with Labatts and did a Jeans and Classics concert where everyone got a free beer as well as a delightful pops program.
And since I was the Editor, the idea was to get me involved with the concert.
Now I've been going to listen to the TSO all my life and can currently be found eight concerts a year in the front row centre, thanks to the great tickets my son Mark received when he talked about cancelling his subscription.
I've sung in choirs and glee clubs but play no instrument. No matter, the symphony folk said, we'll find something to bang or tootle.
I showed up for the afternoon rehearsal to find a dressing room with my name on it and Erich Kunzel waving in a sea of musicians.
He explained that I was to play the nightingale, sort of a giant whistle, in the Toy Symphony. "I'll point to you and you blow as long as you can," Erich explained.
I said I had a lot of wind, or so the family told me, and I could blow for a long time if only someone warned me before Kunzel pointed at me. For some reason the nightingale came out of the percussion section so I suggested some percussionist who wasn't busy could stand behind me and poke me just before the wand pointed.
Kunzel laughed and said:"You don't understand, John, the point is to make you look ridiculous."
It all went well, or so people said to my face. During the beer-and-pizza party afterwards, I introduced my son Mark to Kunzel and said he played the trumpet.
The Sun decided to do another Jeans-and-Classics concert a year later.
It was wonderful because all of Kunzel's pop concerts, and I've been to a few, were wonderful. His joy in music shone through, and he had a marvelous rapport with the audience.
The star in this concert was Art Eggleton. He conducted the orchestra briefly and waved his mayoral bum at the audience. They roared with laughter, because Eggs had a stuffy reputation. (He he had successfully hidden his horny side that finally cost him a federal ministry.)
Kunzel handed me his baton after I again played some tiny bit on some forgettable instrument and I stared down at the musicians, wondering would they stop playing if I stopped waving. But there was a glint in some eyes, particularly from the concert master, which suggested that I better not push this conducting bit too far.
So I swooped the baton a few times and everyone applauded and I got out of there.
Afterwards, at the beer-and-pizza session where the players come down from their performance high, I pushed Mark towards Kunzel and introduced him again.
"Oh yes," Kunzel said, "you play the trumpet. And how is that going?"
Just imagine! Since he had last met Mark, there had been thousands of introductions, hundreds of musical scores, dozens of cities, and the turmoil of busy life that conductors at the top of their game experience.
But he remembered Mark's instrument.
That is why when I heard of Erich Kunzel's death at 74, I drank a toast to him in my favourite Grolsch beer, Classic not being available. A toast to a man who brought pleasure to millions but could still care enough to remember what a high school kid played.