Dialogue: They can stick their digital ...

By Gordon McLauchlan

By GORDON McLAUCHLAN

The Sky Digital service has become a continuing problem because every couple of days it fails. Either you can't quickly switch from channel to channel without undue delays, or you get a note on the screen saying a signal isn't available and to be patient, or you just can't get any Sky channels at all.

At that stage I have to squeeze my head through a tight space at the back of my built-in receiver, pull out the three-point plug providing power to the Sky box, wait 30 seconds, and then plug it back in. For this task I need a torch and an anger-management device known as swearing.

This is obviously so common a problem that Sky has a recorded message on its phone system telling how to rectify it.

On Wednesday, the oaths were rich and fluent. I couldn't get any useful signal at all. Twice I tried the old pull-the-plug-out-and-wait, to no avail. Then a sign told me the service was subject to rain fade. Why this particular shower caused fade after a fairly wet summer was not clear so I decided to phone Sky and ask.

After going through the usual palaver about who should press which button to get which sort of customer service, I came desirably close to talking to a human being.

But no. At the last moment, another electronic voice told me: "We are experiencing high call activity so you may have a lengthy wait to talk to a customer services representative."

If rain fade was widespread on Wednesday night - and high call activity would suggest it was - would it be beyond the intellectual capacity of Sky management to provide on the screen some explanation of the nature of this new phenomenon and an estimate of how long it was likely to last? Or it could give this information through one of those disembodied telephone voices.

I waited on the telephone for a while, hung up, then become one of the legion of rain fade fulminators until a signal came back - a distorted picture that looked like a moving exhibition of Picasso paintings.

Having had a really bad month of this sort of inadequate service, I withheld some of the payment on my last Sky bill to compensate for loss of viewing time, and the time and inconvenience involved in rectifying the faults. I'll be interested to discover how the company reacts to this, but I suggest everyone affected has a go at it.

The problem is that the service is a monopoly and likely to remain so because of the size of the market here, so they think a public apology will do. What I think the Commerce Commission should do is acknowledge that any major company holding a monopoly should suffer some penalty if its service is inadequate.

The corporate concerned should provide clients with log books to enter the time involved in attending to problems associated with faulty service and, following a formula devised by the commission, subtract a calculated amount from the bill.

For example, should the service break down during, say, the last five overs of a one-day cricket international, the viewer should be entitled to a new receiver to replace the one he has surely shattered beyond repair, plus a 25 per cent reduction in the monthly account, plus the cost of a gargle for the anger-managed, expletive-inflamed throat.

For some of us, quick-flick television is all that keeps us going. Programming has become the opium of the people, a function once ascribed to religion by Marx. At the end of a hard day at the word-processor, I like to wind down on this opium.

But it is now so mindless, the artistic quality so appallingly aimed at the feeble-minded, that I have become a channel-flicker. As soon as some commercials come on, rather than watch something I've already seen perhaps a thousand times, I flick to another channel. When a programme becomes especially banal, I flick off it for a while. It's a bit like playing Ludo.

You think I exaggerate? Well, the other morning on the internet I was offered The Wit and Wisdom of Sex and the City. The fourth season, you see, is about to start, and we are offered 40 gems. Here are just a few:

"So many roads. So many detours. So many choices. So many mistakes." - Carrie.

"The only thing worse than a liar is a bad liar." - Lucy Liu.

"He's a guy. They don't talk, they fight. It all that crazy testosterone." - Samantha.

"Turns out Samantha was wrong. Men do talk." - Carrie.

"Can you really forgive if you can't forget?" - Carrie.

"It's a slippery slope, Carrie. Without boundaries you never know what might happen." - Miranda.

You will have gathered by now that Dr Johnson is not among the scriptwriters; but it's not that the script of Sex and the City is especially egregious, it's just that this idle, quotidian chit-chat is offered as wit and wisdom.

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