Base, To Be Avoided

It seriously grieves me to add another company to the sorry list of companies here in Belgium that treat their customers like trash. Who sit on their bottoms doing nothing while their services are down, and who honestly expect their customers to be grateful that they answer the phone at all after 6 pm.

In a nutshell, that’s the sum of today’s haggling with the cell phone company Base, which I made the mistake of signing up with a few years ago. Today at about 11.30 am, I paid them money online to top up my account. As of 9.52 pm, the money has still not reached my account, and the “customer service” has informed me that they won’t do anything about it until tomorrow because their technicians went home at 6 pm.

With the result that I can’t make any calls on my cell phone, and have been unable to do so during the whole day.

Little did it matter that I did both call and e-mail during the day, before their technicians fled. Little did the argument mean to them that a professional phone company will keep working until the problem is actually solved, rather than dodging off and keeping their customers waiting until they can be bothered to show up at work again. Little did it mean to them that they are sittig on my money right now, without giving me the service I pay for, which in my book is equivalent to stealing.

And don’t expect any compensation, mister. Oh, want to complain? Write a letter to our legal department, was the answer I got.

I’m asking myself: How much more money has vanished from my account?

And the worst thing of all is that they seem to think that this is a good way of conducting business. “Call Belgacom”, they said, “this time of day and you will get a little music and a message saying that they don’t take any phone calls after office hours”.

Progress? Ho hum. Belgacom, the former state monopoly, makes dinosaurs look youthful and virile in comparison. A dead dog can give better customer service than Belgacom. But that’s not what I pay Base for; it’s for a service that is actually in the neighbourhood of the 21st century.

But judgng by their replies today, I should be grateful that they would actually lower themselves to pick up the phone at all.

I grieve, because I like this country so much that it is painful to watch the people here earning themselves a bad name. But sadly, very very sadly, this is only one more example to add to the list of service business companies who behave as if they were government officials whom we should all revere, admire and respect, and tiptoe around so as not to disturb them during their very busy day.

It grieves me seriously to find once again that the idea of The Customer Is Always Right  still has to make any impact in this country.

I’m seriously thinking of switching to a supermarket chain’s GSM service. At least they don’t pretend to have any customer support.

Wheat Panic

The world wheat market is in a state of panic after demand is quickly outpacing supply, due to failed crops and higher demand for cereals for ethanol production for fuel. Prices have reached an all time high on the Chicago commodities market, the Financial Times reports today, and this was also our top story in Foodwire.

There’s a lot to be said about this. Bread will become more expensive, but is this only a bad thing? After all, the Western world’s love for white, wheat-based bread is causing health problems, and these helath problems are being exported to developing countries where people think they’ll be happier if they switch to the white bread that the rich world is already constipating on.

However, the alternatives such as rye are becoming more expensive too, so there’s little chance that this alone will be enough to wean people from wheat-based bread and start asking for healthier dark bread instead. But there’s another dimension to the story.

While there is a quickly approaching shortage of cereals, which will also affect other products as meat and dairy since higher cereal prices mean higher feed prices an, thus, higher production costs for livestock owners, the European Union is annually handing out floods of taxpayers’ money to pay farmers not to grow anything on their lands. Many of these have already been converted for other seage, many of them irrevokably.

The inherent inertia of the system means that the EU still hasn’t managed to ask for ploughs to be put into these fallow fields anew. So while you’re paying more for you daily bread, with the other hand. you’re paying taxes to keep those food prices up (and possible to speed up a global food shortage).

Something’s wrong with this picture.

The Vulture Crows

Today was a good day. A bit of a scoop with prime repercussions on a local radio station, apart from a few other good items. Nice consolation since it’s been slow for a few days. Maybe I’ve earned my pay today.

However, the story in question revolves around the closure of the major employer in a small, remote village where there is little else for those laid off to do. To be frank, it’s a tragedy.

Food for journalists and other vultures.

Chasing Bread

Today, I’ll spend some time chasing after bread. Not the usual dough I get into my bank account, that is, but real bread as opposed to the fluffy stuff people eat around here.

That’s one of the most troublesome things I know when it comes to food and drink here in Belgium: the total lack of proper bread. Which isn’t unique to Belgium, I quickly add: in most of the Western world, the idea of stuffing your mouth full of white, fluffy, dry, inflated cotton-like “bread” is a seriously bad habit that is contributing to generally poor health – a bad habit that is quickly spreading in developing parts of the world as well.

Being brought up in Scandinavia, I have happily adopted Baltic bread concepts and want my bread as dark, compact, and as filled with various crunchy ingredients as is humanly possible. I grieve that they were out of our favourite loaves as we were stocking up just before leaving Sweden last Sunday: football-shaped buns that you could probably cause serious injury to thy neighbour with. Mmmmmmm.

I’m soon going to go out and gather some material for a sidebar about this cultural clash for Foodwire, but first, I have to sit here at my desk at home and wait for the stomach medicine I just took to start working – because all those white loaves of clouds-in-a-crust are causing my stomach to object loudly. AND I have to use my bicycle today because the Mrs is away with the car… that’s not something you want to do when your innards are in uproar.

Oh, send me an edible tree-trunk any minute. -groan-

Into The Fog

No wonder why there’s been so little from me lately – this is time of the year when everything comes to a halt all over Europe. EU people are on holiday, everyone’s on holiday, everything runs at minimum speed.

Not that I blame anyone. I mean, people need more days off, not less – especially in the UK where there’s at least a Bank Holiday coming up next Monday, but too little else in terms of red days in the calendar.

I deliberately placed my own vacation in both July (which is the main vacation month in Sweden, where or readers are) and August (which is the main vacation monthe here), having made the mistake when I was new to journalism to try to work during that time of the year.

Nice though that was, I’m still finding things pretty slow around here.

House of Hangover

Today, August 15, is one of the absolutely biggest holidays in the entire Catholic world: the Feast of Assumption, commemorating the event when the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus, according to Roman Catholic doctrine was taken alive to Heaven and crowned Queen there.

Consequently, the village here in Belgium where we live decided to put on one of the highlights of the last week’s village fête yesterday, and there was much rejoicing and dancing to vehemently loud music all night long. (Well, at least until 2-3 in the morning when we finally fell asleep, I can’t vouch for when they wrapped the party up.)

Consequently, today has been eerily quiet. You could probably go to the village limits and put up large signs saying DO NOT DISTURB. HANGOVER IN PROGRESS without straying too far from the truth.

The local Catholic Church across the street had announced a Virgin Mary procession this morning from the largest local Virgin Mary shrine to the church building (last year I think they walked the other way; maybe they want some change every now and then), but I missed taking a look to see if they managed to gather any faithful. If they did, they certainly were a quiet lot, because there was no discernable commotion from them.

Louder, then, were the church bells, which rang once at the beginning of the event, and, in order to really wake the rest of the village up, once again now at what I understand was the end of the mass, at noon. And to further make sure that no partygoers from last night would remain unaware of their condition, there was a brass band marching off right now to the music of wind instruments and drums. (“Showtime!” exclaimed my four-year-old son at the sound of it. My boy!)

It’s on mornings like these I enjoy most waking up sober.


…from six weeks’ R & R, four of which in sunny Sweden. 1.6 kilos richer. Arrived this morning after driving all night, went straight to work. Asking myself if I should have stayed.