Removing the TV from my life was harder than I expected. Not because I crave it, but because the people that control the fact 99% of homeowners own a TV make it really, really hard for you to give one up.
In my case, it’s Virgin Media.
I hate Richard Branson, I hate his company and I hate giving them my custom. So I was delighted to call them today and tell them I would no longer require their set top box. I didn’t anticipate the reaction, but what follows is further proof that the people in charge really want us to keep watching TV. Which in fact reminds me of the best quote from my anti-TV book. When TV first became popular, a government official said: ‘Well, we have to think of something to do with them when they’re not at work.’
We’re not lemmings! We’re not robots! Come on people, pick up your TV and throw it out the window! Take up a hobbie, learn a new skill – opps, sorry. Tangent. Smug Moron. But Virgin’s reaction reminded me how sinister the notion of television is and my soap box was gathering dust.
A highlight of any call to Virgin has to be the endless ‘press one’ lists before you finally get through to a real person. In India. Before I’d even got to that stage, an automated voice told me that, peril! Calamity! It looked as thought I hadn’t updated my smart card and I was in danger of losing channels. In danger? That’s a bit of a drastic choice of words.
OH MY GOD, MY BOAT IS SINKING, I’M IN DANGER.
MY HUSBAND IS TRYING TO KILL ME, I’M IN DANGER.
MY TELEVISION IS THREATENING TO CUT ME OFF, I’M IN DANGER.
Ridiculous. I ignored the message, because I was here to cancel my TV anyway. How very dangerous.
‘Option One,’ Virgin begins. ‘To add more channels to your account, press one.’
No, Virgin, I don’t want more channels. I want less. I want zero channels. Which button do I press for zero channels?
The automated voice bangs on. ‘Option Two,’ bla bla bla. Finally, in the dark recesses of the handset, the number no sane person would be waiting to press: ‘Option nine, to make a change to your account, press nine.’
'Hello, I will no longer be using my set top box. Would you like to come and collect it or shall I throw it away?’
‘If you throw it away we’ll charge you £250,’ came the curt reply. Well trained, Branson, well trained.
‘Alright mate, I’m only asking. I’d like to remove my TV package from my account please.’
'TV is evil.'
'What do you mean by that?' he asks, unamused.
I explain and request for someone to pick up the box. He begs me to ‘stash’ it in a cupboard somewhere, because it’s likely I’ll change my mind in a few months.
Complete stranger, telling me it’s likely I’ll change my mind.
'I won't. Can you arrange for someone to pick it up please?'
'Are you sure you don’t want to keep it in a cupboard, just in case?'
'Please hold while I put you through to an advisor.'
Brilliant. Isn’t this a marvelous system? I’m having so much fun. I could do this all day, just listen to the Virgin music and get passed from pillar to post, being told what I feel and why I need to keep my TV. I haven’t had this much fun since I called the TV license company and told them to cancel my direct debit.
Yes, I had to call them, because nowhere on their website is there an option for canceling your license. Sinister, no?
When I finally got through to them, I was told that in no uncertain terms, if I was lying about no longer having a TV, I would be fined. And that an officer may call round at any time to check up on me. I would be charged £1000 if I was found to be using my TV.
Crumbs. Thank god I replaced it with losing scratch cards, so the officer won’t have anything to complain about.
However, if he’s bored while he’s inspecting my property and looking for potential televisions I may have hidden in the fridge, perhaps I’ll give him Virgin’s number – always a good way to wile away your afternoon.