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Fun in the sun at the Balham and Tooting Community Fun Day!

MP and residents unite to fight carwash application

Tooting MP Sadiq Khan has joined local residents and councillors to fight plans to open an eight-bay car wash on the site of Tooting Constitutional Club on Tooting High Street, SW17. 

73210 at Balham

jon33040 posted a photo:

73210 at Balham

73210 stopped at Balham on the 1145 Victoria to Gatwick. This Sunday morning, Gatwick Express services were calling at East Croydon and Balham due to engineering work.

Dangerous Camping

030Could there possibly be anything more dangerous than asking a bunch of Dads to look after their pre-teenage children on a weekend of camping? Dangerous? Reckless, more like.

Dangerous Club is our pre-teenage youth work at Christ Church Balham. It’s full of kids in years 4, 5 and 6. It’s a great age. And this year, for the first time ever, we went camping. It was absolutely terrific. I’m already an enthusiastic camper. And I’m unqualified in my praise of this weekend. It was great. God was very kind with the weather. It didn’t really rain. It spat. For about thirty minutes. At about bed time, which was actually quite helpful! We had no great ambitions for the weekend other than that we’d hang around in the countryside with our kids. The relational impact on the group was evident when we got back to church on Sunday morning and they went into their Sunday School Classes.

058We stayed in the walled garden at Otford Manor, Kent. And we made full use of their facilities. We explored the woods. We swam in the pool (we’d have swum in a river if that was available). We swung on the rope swing. Repeatedly. We played a wide game. We got badly stung by nettles. And learnt what dock leaves are for. We built wooden shelters and tried to destroy the opposing teams. We burnt a shed load of wood. We cooked on an open grill. We shunned salad. And we ate marshmallows for breakfast. But we also washed and did our teeth. So it wasn’t all bad.

099It was an absolute winner. Though we packed away dew sodden tents at 0800 in order to get back for church, they were dry by mid-afternoon after being hung up in the garden. I’d happily do it again. And I’d happily do it with Ignite, our teenage youth work. In fact, I’m really looking forward to it.


Tooting MP launches air pollution campaign

Sadiq Khan MP, Member of Parliament for Tooting and Shadow Minister for London has spoken out against the government’s inaction on air quality. 

We're Better Together

Dear friend,

The last week has been jam-packed; from the People’s March for the NHS to my regular advice surgery, from the Furzedown Project AGM to Justice Questions in the House of Commons chamber, to name just a few. And tomorrow I’m off to the Balham and Tooting Community Association (BATCA) Fun Day, which is always one of the highlights of my year. I hope to see you there! 

Hospitality

The end is nigh! The world as we know it is about to finish. So how should we respond?

Set the table.

Seriously. Get the cutlery and the crockery. Put something in the oven. And have some people round for a meal.

That’s what the Apostle Peter says. Check it out for yourself. It’s 1 Peter 4:7-11. He begins, ‘the end of all things is near’. And amidst a number of other encouragements, he commands ‘offer hospitality to one another without grumbling’. See, I didn’t make it up.

The Lord God expects His church to react to the news that the Lord Jesus is returning imminently (literally it could happen any minute now), by showing hospitality. I grew up in the shadow of a nuclear end to the cold war standoff. Our playground discussion in response to the question ‘what will you do when the siren sounds’ never once resulted in the answer, ‘invite some people round for a meal’. But before the Lord Jesus comes to finally take us home, the Lord wants His church to provide a place where people can feel at home.

Although hospitality is mentioned only seven times in our English versions, it’s nevertheless a hugely important concept. One reason for that, of course, is that God is hospitable. Throughout the Old Testament that are numerous occurrences where God extends His generous provision towards His people who invariably found themselves isolated, alienated and in need. And so, it comes as no surprise that when Moses gets round to publishing God’s Law, hospitality is meant to become a way of life amongst His people (Exodus 23:9).

In the New Testament, where there are five encouragements given to encourage us to ‘show hospitality’

  1. Hospitality mirrors the dependency of Christ. Jesus lived his life in a way in which he was continually dependent on the hospitality of others (Luke 9:58). When we’re being hospitable to others we reflect the provision that this world gave when God became man.
  1. Hospitality expresses our love for Christ. Jesus told a parable in which he made plain that any hospitality shown towards fellow Christians would, in a remarkable way, express of our love towards him (Matthew 25:31-46).
  1. Hospitality displays the grace of Christ. Jesus repeatedly offered hospitality to those who might least have expected to receive it. The guest list at his dinner parties reads like the cast list of Benefits Street. And that’s brilliant. And he encourages his disciples to provide for those from whom we have no expectation of receiving anything in return (Luke 14:12-14).
  1. Hospitality demonstrates our unity in Christ. Eating together and sharing a meal speaks volumes about whom we accept. And in a church family we accept everyone, don’t we? Especially those to whom we’ve been united together in Christ (Acts 2:42-47).
  1. Hospitality reminds us of our identity in Christ. Jesus was a stranger in this world. And we, his disciples, are no different in that respect. We too are aliens and strangers (1 Peter 1:1). Living in a context of hospitality where we are dependent upon the generosity of others to provide our needs reminds us that this world is not our home.

So, let’s move beyond the warm welcome and socially accomplished Sunday conversation and get people into our homes. That will no doubt be easier for some of us than for others. But a church captured by the gospel of Christ invariably shows that’s true in the way it treats one another and perhaps especially the outsider, the visitor and the newcomer.

Almost everything here is a rehash and rearrangement of a terrific little article by Jonathan Leeman on the 9Marks website. I stand in his debt.


Sadiq supports commitment to spend 0.7% of UK gross national income (GNI) on overseas development

Sadiq Khan MP has supported a Private Member’s Bill (PMB) which would enshrine in law the UK’s commitment to give 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI) to Official Development Assistance.   

What's this?

tezzer57 posted a photo:

What's this?

Balham, South London

Morning Shadow

tezzer57 posted a photo:

Morning Shadow

Bedford7:72

TheLostSociety posted a photo:

Bedford7:72

Staff Training

The term is now well and truly up and running. Everyone is back at work. The kids are back at school. We had ‘Rejoice’ the CCB annual thanksgiving prayer meeting last Wednesday. And the term’s preaching programme is about to get under way on Sunday. But one thing we hadn’t done was gathering as a staff team to prepare for the year.

We’d had a staff meeting in which we’d reviewed the summer and planned the term ahead. And usually at this time of year we have the Co-Mission Staff Focus which entails a couple of days away to indoctrinate us all once again in our distinctive ministry DNA! Wonderfully this has now been moved to November. And it’ll function more like the ministry conference that it was beginning to become. And so we needed to do something as a ministry team at CCB. Therefore we had our first proper ‘Staff and Apprentices Training Day’ yesterday.

Aside from the rather obvious choice of studying something together, praying together and eating together I had to think what other ingredients should go into the day to make it a success. Though there would undoubtedly have been some wrong answers, I was pretty sure there were also lots of right answers. But I don’t always find that kind of freedom liberating. I’d gone round and round in circles thinking of various things we could have done.

In the end, I realised that I wasn’t trying to be too ambitious. I was just trying to tee us up for the year ahead. I didn’t have a specific agenda or topic in mind that I wanted to address. But I knew that we needed to meet and set us on the right trajectory.

I wanted us to look at something which had a devotional angle because first and foremost we’re disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. And so we looked at an article in Bishop J.C. Ryle’s book ‘Practical Religion’ entitled ‘The Best Friend’. It’s written in that typically organised way but it’s no less engaging for its structural idiosyncrasies.

I wanted us to look at something which had a ministry angle because we’re employed as full-time gospel ministers. And so we read an article from Jonathan Leeman on the 9Marks website about evangelism and church. We could have looked at anything really. There are so many things to address. But I’d been struck by a comment in that article which says ‘Wherever a church’s elders are known for their evangelism, you can expect to find an evangelistic church. Where the elders don’t, you won’t’. That sounded about right. But I thought that the same could be said of the staff team and apprentices. If our hearts beat with a passionate zeal to commend the Lord Jesus to unbelieving friends, then that’s going to speak volumes to the congregation we seek to serve. And so it seemed like a sensible article to read, talk through and pray about. And we did all three.

Lastly I wanted us to look at something that had a personal relational angle because we’re members of a church family. And so we read an article from Jamie Dunlop from one of his adult Sunday School classes at Capitol Hill Baptist on the issue of discontentment. Lots of the material was helpful and it provided a jumping off point for us to talk about our relationships with one another, what we find frustrating in life and how we’re going to deal with our dissatisfaction in the year ahead. This was perhaps the most stimulating of the articles as we worked together to clarify definitions and explore the implications of what was being said.

Here are a few reflections of our hastily compiled CCB staff training day.

I like the 9Marks Journal material. I really do. It’s an easy but stimulating read. It’s hugely practical rather than densely theological. In other words, their concern to see churches implement what they’re talking about predisposes them to being simple, clear and punchy. But it’s probably a little lightweight. We should probably only have had one article from that, or have decided to give the whole day over to one of the issues they’ve chosen to address. For example, they’ve written a journal full of articles on the issue of discipling. That’s got to be worth spending a morning studying and discussing.

It’s always good to get someone from a previous era to ‘talk to you’. Ryle drank deeply from the well that is the Puritans. I haven’t because they didn’t speak my language. It may profess to be English but it’s not written in any way that I can easily understand. And I don’t want to use all my intellectual energy trying to work out what on earth they were saying and end up being too exhausted to interact with the implications of what they were saying. And so there are limits on how far back I’m willing to go. Without a good night’s sleep, Ryle is about as far as it goes! But it’s terrific to open yourself up to the ministry influence of other reformed evangelicals who might put things slightly differently and therefore find new ways of getting under our skin and hitting the target.

It’s worth mixing up the manner in which the material is presented. I didn’t give a talk. I’d want to. But I’ve been flat to the boards since I got back from a holiday break I so desperately needed. I didn’t have time to write something new. And so we ended up reading three articles. We let people read the J.C. Ryle one at their own pace. The other two we took it in turns to read aloud. It doesn’t suit everyone. But it works fine. The discussion it leads to is more important. But, when I have our time again, I’ll dig out an online talk from one of the ‘greats’. It might be hard to get live recordings of J.C. Ryle but there’s more than enough Keller, Carson, Piper and Jensen to keep us going for a few years yet.

Yesterday was such a success that it’s created an appetite to do more of the same. And so we’re planning a half termly training day with a topical theme. The issue of pastoring women is one suggestion. And 9Marks have a journal on just that issue!


Balham's Oak Lodge School reopens after electrical fault delay - Wandsworth Guardian


Balham's Oak Lodge School reopens after electrical fault delay
Wandsworth Guardian
A school for deaf children has reopened today after an electrical fault forced it to delay the start of term. A major electrical problem forced Oak Lodge School, in Balham, to close yesterday on the first day of term. Rumours were circulating that a ...

and more »

Late night - family

jason.zavaglia posted a photo:

Late night - family

Simon Astridge opts for a variety of raw materials in Balham House extension - Dezeen


Dezeen

Simon Astridge opts for a variety of raw materials in Balham House extension
Dezeen
Architect Simon Astridge employed a varied material palette of plywood, concrete, brick and stone to create this extension to a Victorian terraced house in London (+ movie). Balham House interior by Simon Astridge. The client asked London-based Simon ...

Breaking newsEmergency works at Balham school force first day delay - Your Local Guardian


Breaking newsEmergency works at Balham school force first day delay
Your Local Guardian
A major electrical problem delayed the start of the school term in Balham, but rumours a sinkhole could be to blame have been quickly scotched. Teachers at Oak Lodge School for deaf children, in Nightingale Lane, Balham, were thought to have been ...

and more »

Comedians, khachapuri and chippies: it's Balham's best bits - Time Out London


Time Out London

Comedians, khachapuri and chippies: it's Balham's best bits
Time Out London
Balham's kept sated with good yet affordable places to eat: Lamberts on Station Parade is the best, a smart British restaurant with terrific cooking. It also has several decent cafés, including, on Balham Hill, the Georgian (as in the country). Try the ...

We Brought Beer brings 'growlers' to Balham - Time Out London


Time Out London

We Brought Beer brings 'growlers' to Balham
Time Out London
When was the last time you popped out to the off licence and picked up a growler? It's becoming a more common occurrence these days, as growlers – the heavyweight glass bottles sold by beer off-licences to carry beer home in – are starting to appear ...

Pray. Don’t. Panic!

Pray. Don’t panic. That’s about the size of it. But when you put it like that it sounds so naïve. And crass.

There’s no shortage of things to worry about in modern life. Was it always thus? I’m not entirely sure if we’ll ever be able to establish whether we have fewer anxieties than our ancestors did. We don’t have wild animals and high rates of infant mortality to contend with. But then again they weren’t having to tutor their kids to secure a place at the local grammar school. Swings and roundabouts. I suspect it’s a fun but fundamentally fruitless exercise trying to compare the worry quotient of different eras. What is clear, however, is that ‘back in the day’ church members felt that they had plenty of reasons to be anxious. And they were right.

Of course, the complex issues of anxiety and worry are unlikely to be solved in a 700 word blog post. I know that. But the fact that in Philippians 4 the Apostle Paul dealt with it in 40 has emboldened me to try!

This is what he wrote,

‘Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus’.

Philippians 4:6-7

Look briefly at Paul’s 40 words. They include a command, an instruction and a promise.

The command is ‘do not be anxious about anything’. That’s quite something. Let me put it another way, there is nothing in this world about which we ought to be overly concerned. That’s not me saying that. That’s the scriptures. It’s a comprehensive claim. But we can’t deny that Paul said it. He did not think that Christians ought to remain in a settled condition of anxiety. And so he commands us to deal with it. But presumably he was confident that there’s a way of encountering anxiety and overcoming it. Look at what he writes next.

The instruction is ‘present your requests to God’. The problem is anxiety, the solution is prayer. It’s not quite that simple. But that’s the gist of it. What Paul wrote is this, ‘but in everything, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God’. In each and every situation where we’re tempted to respond to life’s circumstances with worry, Paul says that we’re to pray. On this verse, Don Carson says ‘I have yet to meet a chronic worrier who enjoys an excellent prayer life’. Ouch! But he’s right, isn’t he? For those of us for whom worry is a frequent and unwelcome companion, it’s worth asking whether we’ve actually prayed about the issues that plague us. Have I actually outlined before the Lord what it is that unsettles me? Have I actually asked for His specific help for the issues that throw me off my equilibrium? It may well be that we need others to help us with that. I may need my husband to pray with me every day. I may need an older woman, a trusted friend or my small group leader to spend an evening a week praying through the issues until I’m able to do it for myself. It’s probably overly simplistic to say that if we’re still worrying then we’ve not prayed enough yet. But there’s something in that, isn’t there? After all, Paul does not seem to anticipate that anyone would remain in the condition of anxiety for any length of time after they prayed. Look what he writes next.

The promise is that ‘the peace of God, which transcends all understanding will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus’. God’s peace is beyond explanation because it transcends understanding. It just is. But it’s for real. And it’s for every one of us that prays. The Lord never promises to remove us from the circumstances in which we face our problems, but He does promise to give us the resources we need to cope. In particular God’s peace protects us so that we feel stable enough to withstand whatever life throws at us.

Probably a few more words than 700. Certainly more than Paul’s 40. And because it’s such a delicate issue there’s probably more that needs to be said. But that’s the essence of it, isn’t it? Is the vibe of the thing. And it’s a place to make a start. When you’re doing your head in with worry, get on your knees in prayer. Because the Lord promises that He’ll protect us.


My Sunday Highlight – Summer Preaching Programme

It’s the summer. And I’ve just got back from camp. It’s now August. And so I can legitimately and officially ‘down tools’. I’ve got a month off from preaching. And, might I suggest, a well-earned rest!

But that means that someone else needs to fill the schedule. We don’t have a pulpit to fill. We use a music stand. But since the staff is mainly off, swanning around on the continent, we need someone to step into the breach and continue to serve our congregations with faithful Bible teaching.

This week it was one of our much cherished elders. And he did a good job. He stitched me up somewhat by showing that it is in fact actually possible to preach a sermon in fifteen minutes. That wasn’t helpful. But it many other respects, it was. I was prompted to think about Jesus’ comment that he’s the gate for the sheep to a full life of protection and provision. That fed my soul. And it led to some great conversations with our kids over lunch.

There’s something wonderful about having your elders preach. You can’t do it too often. They’re busy men. And after a while people will start to wonder why we employ a Minister. But it’s good for the congregation to see their elders teaching the truth and refuting error at the front of church. After all, everyone knows that they get the ‘party line’ from me. I’m paid to be a reformed evangelical Christian preacher. For the record, I don’t just do it for the money. But there’s nothing hugely surprising about me saying the things that I do from the passages that we cover. But it’s different when someone who’s not in the paid service of the church family gets up and gives you the very same gospel with the very same passion and conviction, when they preach Christ and then call people to repentance and faith. These senior mature Christian men don’t get paid to say this stuff publicly. But when they do it comes with years of accumulated integrity. It’s just a shame we tend to get them up when not everyone’s around to hear them.


Home from the Holidays

Home from Malaysia, after an epic 36 hour flight back on Emirates. KL to Dubai leg was fine. Then we boarded the A380 at Dubai at about 3.00 for the 3.45 leg back to London. At 5.45 they took us all off the plane, having been delayed (1) by customer who had checked in, then never boarded, so they had to find their luggage and take it off the plane (2) then there was a problem with the plane's computer, which they tried in vain to fix, but no joy, so got a new computer, but also didn't work. So eventually they disembarked all of us and we sat around in the airport until about 9pm, after which they said we would be leaving at 7am in the morning and would be taken to hotels. Then we queued 4 times in total for the hotel vouchers, with each counter performing one small task on the hotel voucher. Each queue took about 30  minutes. In the end, I gave up on the last queue (which for the 10 minute bus ride to the hotel), where they were using just 1 10-seater minibus to transport about 200 people, and got some dirham from the airport ATM and took me and the kids to the hotel in a taxi. One good thing about DBX - they have a special woman taxi driver queue for women travellers, which I did feel much reassured about using, compared with having to drive off into the night with a male taxi driver in a strange place that you'd never intended to be in, in the first place. Another queue at the hotel to check in, where I had to throw a wobbly because after queuing for 15 minutes to get to the head of the queue, the guy at checkin promptly went wandering off without a word of explanation. Got to the rooms, the door cards wouldn't work, so had to go back down and get them both reset. Got to bed at midnight, fell on the bed and slept till 4am, then got the kids up and were on the 4.10 bus back to the airport. Entire flight fuelled by Burger King and McDonalds. Moderate throwing up by Sam and me. Very very glad to get back to UK. There were people on that flight coming from NZ, who had already been travelling for 33 hours BEFORE the delay in Dubai. With young children. The horror.

Now busy digitising the whole of my father-in-law's CD collection, which C is gradually transferring over to our house from Wolverhampton. He is in Wolvo today, helping MIL to clear out the house, prior to her putting it up for sale and moving back to Nottingham, after FIL's funeral.

Reading Talleyrand's Memoirs and Little Dorrit. Watching Series 1 of Merlin. Listening to Moby. Planning trip to Galways to see Smiggle and fulfil girls' fantasies of riding ponies along deserted Irish strands.

First Direct Update

Earlier in the week I talked about my concerns with First Direct’s new password policy. I got an email from them about this, but it really wasn’t very reassuring.

But I kept digging. And on Thursday I got a bit more information from “^GD” on the @firstdirecthelp twitter account. It still doesn’t answer all of my questions, but I think we’re a lot closer to the truth. Here’s what I was told.

The obvious question that this raises is why, then, do they limit the length of the passwords. I asked and got this (three-tweet) reply.

To which, I replied

And got the response

I thought that “as a business we are satisfied” rather missed the point. And told them so.

I got no response to that. And @brunns got no response when he tried to push them for more details about how the passwords are stored.

So, to summarise what we know.

  • First Direct say they store the passwords “encrypted”, but it’s unclear exactly what that means
  • It was a business decision to limit the length of the passwords, but we don’t know why that was considered a good idea
  • It still appears that First Direct believe that security by obscurity is an important part of their security policy

I haven ‘t really been reassured by this interaction with First Direct. I felt that the first customer support agent I talked to tried to fob me off with glib truisms, but “^GD” tried to actually get answers to my questions – although his obvious lack of knowledge in this area meant that I didn’t really get the detailed answers that I wanted.

I’m not sure that there’s anything to be achieved by pushing this any further.

The post First Direct Update appeared first on Davblog.

First Direct Passwords

I’ve been a happy customer of First Direct since a month or so after they opened, almost twenty-five years ago.

One of the things I really liked about them was that they hadn’t followed other banks down the route of insisting that you carried a new code-generating dongle around so that you can log into their online banking. But, of course, it was only a matter of time before that changed.

A couple of weeks ago I got a message from them telling me that Secure Key was on its way. And yesterday when I logged on to my account I was prompted to choose the flavour of secure key that I wanted to use. To be fair to them they have chosen a particularly non-intrusive implementation. Each customer gets three options:

  1. The traditional small dongle to carry around with you
  2. An extension to their smartphone app
  3. No secure key at all

If you choose the final option then you only get restricted (basically read-only) access to your account through their web site. And if you choose one of the first two options, you can always log on without  the secure key and get the same restricted access.

I chose the smartphone option. I already use their Android app and I pretty much always have my phone with me.

Usually when you log on to First Direct’s online banking you’re asked for three random characters from your password. Under the new system, that changes. I now need to log on to my smartphone app and that will give me a code to input into the web site. But to get into the smartphone app, I don’t use the old three character login. No, I needed to set up a new Digital Secure Password – which I can use for all of my interactions in this brave new world.

And that’s where I think First Direct have slipped up a bit.

When they asked my for my new password, they told me that it needed to be between 6 and 10 characters long.

Those of you with any knowledge of computer security will understand why that worries me. For those who don’t, here’s a brief explanation.

Somewhere in First Direct’s systems is a database that stores details of their customers. There will be a table containing users which has a row of data for each person who logs in to the service. That row will contain information like the users name, login name, email address and (crucially) password. So when someone tries to log in the system find the right row of data (based on the login name) and compares the password in that row with the password that has been entered on the login screen. If the two match then the person is let into the system.

Whenever you have a database table, you have to worry about what would happen if someone managed to get hold of the contents of that table. Clearly it would be a disaster if someone got hold of this table of user data – as they would then have access to the usernames and passwords of all of the bank’s users.

So, to prevent this being a problem, most rational database administrators will encrypt any passwords stored in database tables. And they will encrypt them in such a way that it is impossible (ok, that’s overstating the case a bit – but certainly really really difficult) to decrypt the data to get the passwords back. They will probably use something called a “one-way hash” to do this (if you’re wondering how you check a password when it’s encrypted like this then I explain that here).

And these one-way hashes have an interesting property. No matter how long the input string is, the hashed value you get out at the other end is the same length. For example, if you’re using a hashing algorithm called MD5, every hash you get out will be thirty-two characters long.

Therefore, if you’re using a hashing algorithm to protect your users’ passwords, it doesn’t matter how long the password is. Because the hashed version will always be the same length. You should therefore encourage your users to make their passwords as long as they want. You shouldn’t be imposing artificial length restrictions on them.

And that’s why people who know about computer security will have all shared my concerns when I said that First Direct imposed a length restriction on these new passwords. The most common reason for a maximum length on a password is that the company is storing passwords as plain text in the database. With all the attendant problems that will cause if someone gets hold of the data.

I’m not saying for sure that First Direct are doing that. I’m just saying that it’s a possibility and one that is very worrying. If that’s not the case I’d like to know what other reason they have for limiting the password’s length like this.

I’ve send them a message asking for clarification. I’ll update this post with any response that I get.

Update (17 July): I got a reply from First Direct. This is what they said.

Thank you for your message dated 16-Jul-2014 regarding the security of your password for your Digital Secure Key.

Ensuring the security of our systems is, and will continue to be, our number one priority.

All the details that are sent to and from the system are encrypted using high encryption levels. As long as you keep your password secret, we can assure you that the system is secure. As you will appreciate, we cannot provide further details about the security measures used by Internet Banking, as we must protect the integrity of the system.

Our customers also have a responsibility to ensure that they protect their computers by following our common-sense recommendations.  Further information can be found by selecting ‘security’ from the bottom menu on our website, www.firstdirect.com

Please let us know if you have any further questions, and we’ll be happy to discuss.

Which isn’t very helpful and doesn’t address my question. I’ve tried explaining it to them again.

The post First Direct Passwords appeared first on Davblog.

Sky Broadband Update

It’s probably time for an update on my Sky Broadband situation.

I last wrote about Sky on 16th April. That was the date of their second failed attempt to connect me to their broadband. It was the date that I decided to cancel my order and go elsewhere.

First the good news. I was considering alternative providers. I called Virgin Media and they told me that I could have a 50 Mb fibre connection for an extra £2 a month over what I already paid them for my TV and phone package. And, as a bonus, they could do it within a week – still five days earlier than Sky had scheduled their third attempt at connecting me. I ordered it, they came round on the promised day and everything works fine. Very happy with them.

This then left me trying to cancel my Sky order. This was slightly complicated by the fact that Sky had successfully connected my phone line[1] and also the fact that this phone line is used for monitoring my ADT burglar alarm. I didn’t want to cancel the phone line until ADT had moved the alarm monitoring to the Virgin Media line. I explained all this to Sky and  they seemed to understand.

A chap called Andy in Sky’s customer service took it upon himself to take on the project. He took to phoning me weekly to ask me what was going on with ADT. To be honest, I got a bit lazy and it took me a while to get in touch with them.

Then my hand was forced. In the middle of May, some error lights on the burglar alarm started flashing. I called ADT to see what the problem was and they told me that it looked like the phone line was dead. I plugged a phone into the line and was able to confirm this. The phone line had been disconnected – despite my explicit instructions about not doing that until I asked for it.

I was a bit stuck. Calling Sky’s customer support from a non-Sky phone line is very expensive. And the only Sky line I had was dead. I tried their online chat facility, but the people you get on that are absolutely useless. Luckily Andy was due to call me for a progress update the following day, so I decided to wait for that.

When Andy called, I asked why they have disconnected the phone. He said that they hadn’t. He ran a few line checks and discovered a fault on the line. He offered to send an engineer to fix it. I told him not to bother and to go ahead with the cancellation. He told me that there was some problem with their systems that prevented him cancelling the contract right away but that he had reported the bug and would let me know when it was fixed.

Time passed.

Earlier this week, I wondered idly what was going on so I sent them an email asking for a progress report. A woman called and told me that my records said that someone (Andy, I assume) had been checking into my account daily and leaving notes explaining why he still couldn’t close the account.

The following day, I got a call from Andy (I’m sure it was pure coincidence that this was the day after I had chased them). He told me that the bug had been fixed and asked me to confirm that I still wanted to cancel the account. I told him that I did and he started the process. He warned me that I wold receive a few automated emails.

Within half an hour I got the first email, telling me that my services would be cancelled on Thursday 6th June. Hooray. But that wasn’t the end of the story.

The following day, I got another (presumably automatic email) offering me twelve months of free line rental if I changed my mind. Then I got the same message by text. And today I’ve got a missed call from a number which Google tells me is Sky’s customer retention department. They certainly seem keen to keep me. It’s a shame they didn’t put so much effort in back in April when they might have been able to salvage something from the disaster.

Oh, and I’ve received a bill. They want to charge me a month’s line rental for the phone line. A phone line that only ever really existed to serve a broadband connection that they weren’t able to provide. A phone line that I’ve used to make one call – the call to Sky customer services on 16th April when I first told them to cancel my order.

I’ve cancelled the old Be Broadband direct debit that they were planning to use to take the money. I’m amazed that they wouldn’t just waive those charges.

So, two months on I’m still (to some extent) a Sky customer. But the end is (hopefully) in sight.

Oh, and throughout all of this, the  @SkyHelpTeam Twitter account has been a source of much amusement. They reply to every mention, but haven’t got a clue what is going on. They use a social media customer tracker called Lithium. But they must have it configured wrong because each conversation starts with them knowing no history of this problem at all. And, having watched the product video, that’s exactly what Lithium is for.

Throughout this hold affair all of Sky customer service people (with about two exceptions) have shown themselves to be rubbish at their job.

[1] You’ll have noticed, no doubt, that we had to phone lines. The home phone (along with our TV) has been provided by Virgin Media for years. I also had another phone line for the broadband. I had this on a separate contract because it had been paid for through the limited company that I use for contracting.

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Ritherdon Road street party promises a fun-filled day for all the family, Sunday 8th June!

RR street party 2014The Trader’s Association of Ritherdon Road invite you to join them on Sunday, 8th June for the annual street party and fun day on the pavements along the parade.  This popular event will welcome back all the favourites from previous years, including a wonderful selection of stalls selling a variety of items such as handmade silver jewellry, children’s toys, cheese deli items, knitted cushions and much more.  They look forward to welcoming back Simmons Creperie who will be dishing out freshly made authentic French pancakes, and this year there will be a traditional hog roast to delight your taste buds.

Take part in the colouring-in competition for a chance to win a signed print by Johny Midnight. Bring your best effort to Gallery Midnight on the day of the street party by 4pm, where the entries will be judged and the winners will be announced! Pick up your copy of the picture at Gallery Midnight.

Head to The French Cafe and win a bottle of wine with their ‘C’est Moi’ competition, or ‘Name that Puppy’ at Quirky Dovetail to win shopping vouchers. If you win Jacksons estate agent’s ‘Pick a street’ competition you could be the lucky winner of Johny Midnight’s limited edition ‘Tooting Lido’ print. Robbie’s Photographics want you to get creative by snapping up photos of the street party and entering them into their competition to win a bespoke canvas of your photo.

This year will see the return of the Balham Ukulele Society and The Hayward Sisters. We’ll also be welcoming The Balham Pram Chorus and the mighty talented Del Mandel. Make sure you make your way to the photo booth to get some snaps or enter the lucky dip! The team from Party Faces will be painting the faces of fairies, butterflies, princesses and mermaids too!

Join us at the street party to show support and raise funds for this year’s chosen charity partner First Touch who support sick and premature babies at St George’sHospital.

Please join us in thanking our sponsors: Jacksons estate agent, The Balham Partnership, Gallery Midnight, Quirky Dovetail, Dee Light Bakery, The French Cafe, Bodean’s, Robbie’s Photographics, Ecole de Danse of Balham, Nappy Valley Net, Movers & Shapers, Essential Local, Feel Good Balham, T M Ryan & Sons, Balham Electrical Services, Health reCentre, Mucky Paws, The Hayward Sisters. The Ritherdon Road street party is kindly supported by the Balham Town Centre Partnership.

The post Ritherdon Road street party promises a fun-filled day for all the family, Sunday 8th June! appeared first on Balham.com.