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The saga starts…

On Monday 29th February, 2016 (hereinafter referred to as Day 1 of 4), my wife Carol and I travelled from our daughter’s place in France back to the UK. Our journey took us from their house to Geneva mainline railway station where a train change took us on to Geneva airport to connect with an easyJet flight back to London Gatwick. Here’s what happened.

Day 1 of 4

As we struggled to board the train at Geneva mainline station, Carol leading with one suitcase and me lagging with another, a young-ish woman pushed between us on the boarding steps to the carriage. I thought it odd that she should do this but was more concerned to find a handrail to pull myself up the steps. By the time I’d entered the carriage, Carol was sitting down. The woman, clearly of East European origin and around 25 to 30 years old, was still in the aisle next to Carol’s seat. She turned, shoved passed me, and rapidly left the train.

As we settled in our seats and the train started to depart, Carol noticed the front zippered pocket of her small backpack open and you can guess the rest… yes, she’d been pickpocketed during the boarding process. It turned out the highly-talented woman had lifted Carol’s iPhone 4s encased in an $84 Michael Kors case, similar to this:

MichaelKorsCaseFortunately, nothing else was missing. Credit cards and cash were still intact in a separate wallet in another compartment of her bag. Carol tried calling her phone using my antiquated mobile phone. The number rang but went straight to messages. Carol’s message was “You arsehole!” I thought it appropriate. Carol then phoned number 2 son, Kevin, back in the UK and he rang EE, the service supplier and cancelled the phone’s International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number, meaning that the phone was now of no use to anyone anywhere except as a doorstop.

On arrival at the airport, we reported the theft to a nice West European lady in the police station who made copious notes (in French), took our photograph (in case the CCTV on the platform had picked up the event) and then let us continue our journey. As always at Geneva airport, the easyJet queue was long (skiers returning from the slopes) and the security check-in took time (these days, I need extra time because the large lump of metal in my left knee always triggers the alarm necessitating a full body pat down plus enjoyable cavity searches – joke, joke!), but we made the plane comfortably. It was delayed anyway which, this time, worked in our favour.

Okay, so far, so good. All we had to do now was claim the loss of the phone on our insurance policy and obtain a replacement. That’s when the nightmare really started!

Day 2 of 4

Following a phone call to the insurance company, the agent said he would arrange to have a replacement iPhone 4s (used but refurbished) mailed to us but we would have to talk to EE to obtain a new SIM card. Now, Carol’s phone contract was originally with T-Mobile but T-Mobile’s 3G/4G services are now provided by EE. Store this useful piece of information. You will need it in a minute.

We donned winter coats and went to our local EE shop to sort out the SIM card. After a 20 minute wait Carol got to speak to a female EE customer representative. She told Carol that because the contract was originally with T-Mobile, only T-Mobile could issue a replacement SIM card with the same telephone number. She couldn’t issue a T-Mobile card but offered to replace it with an EE SIM card for £102. Carol declined the offer (vigorously I believe), returned home, called T-Mobile and ordered a replacement SIM card. “You’ll get it in the mail tomorrow,” she was told.  Our breaths were bated.

Day 3 of 4

Sometimes the gods (if they exist) are kind. Both the replacement phone and the new SIM card arrived in quick succession, one by courier and the other by regular mail. The first problem we had was neither of us could open the compartment that houses the SIM card. It’s on the side of the iPhone and is sprung by inserting a paperclip into a small hole. We tried, oh we tried, both of us. We went on the web and found tutorials about how to insert a SIM card into an iPhone. We were doing the right thing but damned if that compartment would open. We poked. We cajoled. We swore. We even just sat and looked at it, willing it to open. In desperation, Carol leapt into the car, drove back to the local EE shop, and a customer representative opened it in less than a microsecond. While it was open, she fitted the replacement SIM card and said to take the phone home, charge it up, switch it on, and just follow the onscreen setup instructions. Simple enough, you say? No.

Very early in the setup procedure, we received a message that said the SIM card was invalid. Actually, the message was long and tortuous and full of mobile phone jargon that even I had difficulty understanding but I am writing this with the hindsight of knowledge gained under great stress.

First Carol called the local EE shop: can’t help, it’s an iPhone problem. She called Apple’s Help line who figured out that the phone was locked to another provider, Vodafone, and would only work with a Vodafone SIM card. “Could the phone be unlocked?” Carol asked. “Only by Vodafone,” came back the reply so Carol phoned the insurance company to request a second replacement, this time unlocked and thus able to take the T-Mobile SIM card. The insurance company agent, a man with an Indian accent (oh dear), suggested Carol take the phone to a Vodafone shop whereupon Carol hit the roof. I was listening to her side of the call and I tell you, I was impressed. It was a full-blown “I’m not going to any more shops nor making any more phone calls. I’m fed up with this. Send me an unlocked iPhone.” Finally, the man who sounded as if he came from Mumbai (maybe he was actually in Mumbai) agreed to this. He also asked Carol if she would like him to log the fact that she was fed-up. She said yes! What nice chaps these people are.

We sat down to await tomorrow’s courier with the second phone. We thought it a good idea to remove the SIM card from the first replacement to use in the second replacement but, you’ve guessed it, we still could not spring the card out. In desperation, we called Kevin, who lives close by and he duly turned up and did it in microseconds, just like the girl in the EE shop. I don’t know what we were doing wrong. I have a similar SIM card holder in my Kindle and I can pop the card out very easily using a paperclip but I couldn’t do it on the iPhone. Beats me.  Maybe it’s an over-70s thing?

Day 4 of 4

The second iPhone arrived and this time Carol succeeded in popping the SIM card holder and she inserted the card. She started the setup procedure and glory be and alleluia, it worked. After some jiggery-pokery setting up her e-mail account and some iCloud mucking about with her contacts on her iPad, the new iPhone is back in use. But, I have questions. Why are mobile phones locked? Why can’t they be unlocked by the service providers? Why are Apple’s error messages so abstruse? Why could neither of us open the SIM card compartment? Why is Apple such a successful company when their products are so user unfriendly? And why did it take four days to sort the problem? There has to be an easier way.

Anyway, Carol’s back up and running and if she’s happy, I’m happy.

Love my iphoneBut wait. The title to this blog is “Recent Encounters (plural) with East Europeans” so who was the second East European? The answer is, a barber.

On our first visit to the local EE shop, I left Carol in the shop and went to the close-by Vodafone shop on separate business. There were three service stations, all occupied by young good-looking well-groomed representatives talking earnestly to older customers desperately trying to understand what was being said to them before signing their lives away. I joined a queue of two people thinking it wouldn’t be long before it would be my turn. I was wrong.  I stood in that queue for 25 minutes and nobody budged. The lucky three customers being served didn’t finish whatever they were doing and the queue grew from three people to seven. There was no coffee, no papers to read, no chairs to sit down on (my back was starting to ache) and to make it worse, the man in front of me tried to engage me in conversation. I have no chance of conversing in a noisy shop and in the end I had to tell him I couldn’t make out what he was saying to me. He took the hint.

After 25 minutes, I decided I’d had enough and walked out muttering loudly and clearly not impressed with Vodafone’s customer care. Just outside the shop was a temporary men’s barber advertising haircuts at £6. Now, I normally pay £8.50 and being in need of a haircut, walked in and sat down. Within minutes, my time came and I sat in the chair, told the barber what I wanted (regular short back and sides, no dressing) and then went to remove my hearing aids. But, the barber spoke to me first and I realised he was an East European. He gave me a pre-Soviet-Union-dissolution East European haircut. He attacked my head with a large pair of hair cutters and sheared off most of my hair with the expertise of a champion Australian sheep shearer. I now look like a Serbian drug trafficker or people smuggler. Take a look. I’m cultivating the face stubble to compensate for the lack of head hair.

HaircutSo, over a period of four days, our lives have both been affected by contact with East Europeans. I blame it all on our membership of the European Union.  I know what way I’m gonna vote on June 23rd.