First Published in 2001

I admit I was stressed at the time, but the telephone companies really did let me down.

One year old Yosl started the day at 5am, which is never a good thing and with my partner Asheley out for the day, resting a bad back ahead of a long-standing evening commitment, my Sunday was going to be a major bonding exercise with the boys. Luckily, 2½ year old Alex can be very grown up and helpful some of the time.

We had been to Queens Park in Essendon to see the black swans and their two cygnets and then on to what we call Possum Park in St Kilda for a ride on the pony. The boys have perfected the art of shift-sleeping. If both fall asleep in the car at roughly the same time, I can buy a coffee and read the paper for half an hour or so, and recharge for the next adventure. But they never fall asleep at the same time.

Sandwiches had been consumed and squashed into the car seats and blackcurrant juice neatly dribbled into those dark crevices where the seat meets the car interior. A couple of times I thought it was a little strange that Asheley had not called the mobile (how I hate the mobile!) after 5 hours away, but she needed the rest. I knew if I phoned it would be moments after she had finally found a comfortable position in which to sleep.

Arriving home, the explanation was clear. A power outage courtesy of AGL and high winds had taken the phones out along with the computer and all those horrible digital clocks that needed rebooting and resetting.

I tested the two phone lines and both were dead. I called the AAPT 1300 number on the filing cabinet magnet. An automaton voice said it was a wrong number. I called the AAPT Smartchat 1800 number on a different magnet and another automaton said the call was outside office hours.

Having previously tried Telstra's alleged service difficulties and faults number which is hard to recall and harder to look up in a telephone book and being given the run around several times, I tried my Telstra mobile's help number. A couple of blips later I apologised for calling the mobile service and said I needed the land line service. How come Telstra won't give us a simple number for the operator, like 100? Buried on page 16 of the White Pages is the not-easy-to-remember 132203 number, which has the usual Telstra automaton options. For this press one, for that press two, for what you really want, go live on Mars.

Several times I was warned that Telstra supervisors might listen to the call or tape record it for quality control of customer service purposes.

Eventually Bronwyn in Queensland answered, only to tell me that I was not with Telstra and should call my service provider. I explained through now impatiently gritted teeth that in fact Telstra IS my line provider. It was not a fault with my telephone, but rather the lines were down and all my AAPT bills show me the outrageous amount of money Telstra - the phone line monopoly - charges me for use of Telstra lines, which were down. She transferred me to Katherine who refused to identify herself or her call centre but confirmed that the line was indeed down as I had said.

I'd been home, well, in my office, for nearly half an hour on my Telstra mobile and I can't recall whether it was Bronwyn in Queensland or unidentifiable Katherine in Wholesale who told me I would need a Telstra Touchphone (trade mark registered) to test the line. She said something about Tuesday for repairs. When I tried to confirm that she was saying it could take until Tuesday before the phones were fixed, she abruptly hung-up.

Now I don't like using the media inquiries line for privileged access, but I was getting upset and felt a story coming on, so I called Telstra's media inquiry number, which is actually more prominent than the service difficulties and faults number on page 16 of the White Pages.

Emily answered and, with the family in the background, contained my anger while giving both barrels of my stressed Sunday shotgun.

She apologised for the inconvenience. She was polite. I calmed down and said that hers was the first polite voice I had heard since this debacle started half an hour earlier. The duty officer for the day, Emily said she would get the right person to call me straight back.

Meanwhile, Asheley had received a call that meant we had to be in St Kilda Rd. Now. As we left, Telstra's Rosie called and with a boy in each arm I tried to encapsulate the problem. We drove to the Arts Centre and Asheley and our friend Jill went to see Max Gillies.

Back home, I rebooted the entire house and retested the phones. This time they all worked. I called Rosie and thanked her for her assistance. I don't know if the lines were repaired or if my phones simply needed to be switched on and off or both. But the first call to the phone company should have been all that was required.

Alex, Yosl and I sat down to a healthy dinner of leftover party pies and sausage rolls with sticky apple and blackcurrant juice and Yosl's chocolate birthday cake for dessert.

With great trepidation, I picked up the telephone and gingerly called the Victorian Arts Centre main number to find out what time the Gillies show finished.

"Victorian Arts Centre, John speaking," a human voice said, startling me.

"Is that really a human and not a choice of touchpad options?" I asked incredulously.

"Yes, it is," John replied, clearly aware of the syndrome. "How can I help you?"

("You don't know how much you already have," I thought to myself.)

"What time does the Max Gillies show end?" I asked.

"Mate, what time does Max Gillies end? Seven?" John called to a colleague. "Seven o'clock".

A human being had answered the phone and in fewer than 60 seconds had resolved my inquiry. Perhaps in its search for quality customer service, Telstra could downsize its inhuman resources department and touchphone answering service and learn several lessons from the Victorian Arts Centre.

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