Ah, it started so promisingly... just over a year ago I was very chuffed, having signed up for T-Mobile's Web'n'Walk Pro service. It was - and no doubt still is - a very good service, and probably the best value for money available at that or any other time. For £20 a month I was getting effectively unlimited downloads. The service that has superseded it, Web'n'Walk Plus, is, I think, £28. And even that beats most if not all other providers' prices for a similar service.
Trouble is, I haven't been using it, since Warrior's been finished (well, phase one) and we returned from the grand tour. The card has been stuck into the laptop only once since August, so I've been paying £20 a month for nothing. Other things have happened too. My dear old Woolworths-purchased Virgin pay-as-you-go phone is starting to feel distinctly wobbly and has given up on ringing, occasionally making rather pathetic little chirruping noises instead. Sometimes it works if I give it a good shake, but you don't want to be doing that to an old friend, and anyway, it can only make matters worse in the long run.
So I needed a new phone. Normally that would mean another trip to Woolworths (or Wolwoth, as we call it, in the light of longstanding missing letters at the Newhaven branch). But since working in the big city, I've been getting ideas above my station. I see people with Blackberries, and all manner of other impressive devices. I thought, wouldn't it be good if I could check my email without lugging the laptop around...
So I thought, I know, T-Mobile have been really good, so I'll go back to their branch in Eastbourne and see if I can trade in the Web'n'Walk (on which I have fulfilled my contractual obligation) for a nice web-enabled phone. The first disappointment was that T-Mobile no longer seem to employ knowledgeable, well-informed people in their shop (or perhaps I was just lucky last time). The girl I was dealing with hadn't heard of Web'n'Walk Pro, which she thought was entirely understandable as she had only worked there since it was discontinued (er, training?). We decided what tariff I wanted (and it came to £37.50, so things were clearly already getting a bit out of hand), and then I went to choose a phone ... we were still on quite good terms at this point.
I decided that I'd only splash out as far as a phone that was free with that rate, and found one that was quite nice. I think it was a Sony Ericsson K810i. Anyway, we had it all packed up and ready to go, when Kim (for that was her name) said she'd have to ring up and see what it would cost me as an existing customer. OK, I thought, maybe I'll get a better deal for being a loyal user of, ooh, fourteen months' standing. After waiting about ten minutes for a reply, she said that for me, with my discount, the phone I'd chosen would be £50. Erm, I said, but you just told me - and it says plain as day on the display - that it's free with that plan. It is, she said, if you're a new customer. Well, I said, I'll just sign up as a new customer and cancel the old deal when I get home. And Kim replied, do you want to do that, then? (no, I want to spend fifty pounds quite unnecessarily. What do you think?) The next hitch was that the old T-Mobile bill I'd taken with me has my down as Dr, while the bank, bless their little hearts, insist that my debit card has to say Ms. This caused great consternation.
(As my cheques also say Dr, I can foresee further difficulties here. To digress, I resent being expected to use a title at all; a name should be perfectly good enough. Particularly as banks are largely happy for male customers to have just their initials, but insist on appending a sex-based appellation to female ones. While it is not on its own sufficient reason for undertaking five years of intellectual toil, being able to wield the non-gender-specific title Dr certainly is one of the rewards. The bank claims that it's an anti-fraud measure. If a bloke tried to use my card they'd have him sussed and bang to rights straight away on account of anyone could see that he wasn't a Ms. I cannot begin to explain how stupid - and indeed, counterproductive - this is. Ye fraudster can, presumably, read, so would employ a female sidekick to impersonate me. If indeed such impersonation were necessary now all fraudulent purchases are carried out online anyway. Whereas if Mr A Fraudster didn't know whether the rightful holder of the card was male or female he'd have a 50% chance of getting it wrong and thus being caught. Still, I guess no one is still labouring under the misapprehension that any intelligence is required to be a bank.)
Back to the point. I had grudgingly agreed that I could be Ms on the new contract, when I overheard Kim's colleague telling a different customer that they would need a phone with Windows (starting price about 300 quid) to access Outlook email. As this is what I planned to do, I thought I'd better double check. Kim asked a podgy youth who had clearly stolen a badge saying 'Manager' from some poor geek who was now locked up in the broom cupboard, and he replied, we don't recommend that phone for web browsing (i.e. the first thing I had asked about when I walked into the shop) ... I walked out, having wasted about forty five minutes of my life.
Next stop, Carphone Warehouse. Not for long - their lack of enthusiasm and interest was a very successful strategy for discouraging those pesky customers. It was pretty quiet in the 3 shop, but their big display about how they cover 99% of the UK population reminded me that they have the worst coverage in terms of geographical area, so I didn't bother them.
That left Vodafone. Well, give Kayleigh (herself a third generation narrowboat fan) and Amanda a bonus. They were super. I asked whether I'd be able to access my Outlook Webmail without Windows, and Kayleigh tried on her own phone - no problem. There is one downside to the otherwise excellent (and cheaper) Vodafone deal compared to the Web'n'Walk; the download limit is lower, which means I'll have to be careful when using the phone as a modem with the laptop, although it shouldn't be a problem using the web and even downloading stuff with the phone itself.
But, notwithstanding that, for less that I would have been paying T-Mobile for a fairly ordinary phone, and less phone/text usage, I have got a Nokia N95 8GB. I didn't think I was much of a gadget freak, but I am besotted with it. I had to get up just then and go and pick it up, slide it open (with such a satisfyingly solid little clunk). It does all sorts of things I never knew I needed (though of course everyone else knows that I need GPS). It has (and this is sheer madness) a full length feature film preloaded on it. It can afford to; it's got an 8GB memory. Crazy, but I love it. It has a 5 megapixel camera (plus another, smaller one, on the front for video calling), which I didn't even realise until I got home.
It's like a Swiss Army Knife; it's exactly the right weight in my hand.
Better still, I have already mastered its main functions. I can make phone calls, send texts and yes, browse the web. I can indeed access my emails, and send them. I am determined to read the instruction book from cover to cover (usually Baz does this and tells me what I need to know on a strictly need-to-know basis) and to implement it. My next task is to use the MP3 player and FM radio. I am, in short, a lost cause.