The Partially-Online World

In which The Author wonders whether everyone will get connected eventually

I’ve got three similar but unrelated stories for you today. Once you’ve read them, you can decide whether or not the websites I’ve described are of any use or not. Let’s start with…
Exbibit A: The Welsh Blood Service.
On Thursday morning last week, I remembered that the blood donor clinic was coming back to Aberdare on Tuesday (May 27.) I missed them last time they were in town, as I was hors de combat with flu. I thought I’d better make an appointment for the Tuesday session, so I went to their website. I’d assumed that I’d simply type in my postcode and be taken straight to a list of the sessions in my area.
No such luck.
Instead, all that came up was a map showing the places where they can normally be found – Tesco’s car park, the Michael Sobell Sports Centre, and Asda’s car park. I already knew that anyway. It wasn’t a great start.
After fucking around for a couple of minutes, I was able to find a calendar of their forthcoming clinics, and eventually located the one I was looking for. Then I fucked around for another couple of minutes until I found the online booking form. I filled in my details, selected a suitable time slot, and submitted the request. Within a few moments I had an automated reply, telling me that a provisional appointment had been made, but that I should wait to hear from WBS before marking it in my diary.
I waited until Friday morning for a second email, a phone call, or a text message confirming my appointment. Nothing happened. On the way into town, I decided to phone them to see what was happening. Luckily, it’s a free call, so I went to the phone box and dialled the number on the back of my donor card. I got a recorded message telling me that the number was out of order.
In the event, I went to the Sports Centre on Tuesday and was seen as a ‘walk-in’ donor. I mentioned the online booking fuck-up, and the nurse asked me to fill in a complaints form while I was having my refreshments afterwards. She told me that it happens frequently, and if enough people complain, it will highlight the flaws in the system. Yeah, right…
Exhibit B: The Stagecoach in South Wales website
I’ve been called for jury service in Merthyr Tydfil Crown Court, starting in the first week of July. Last week, I spent a considerable amount of time trawling the ever-helpful (not!) Traveline Cymru website to explore the various public transport options open to me.
The quickest way for me to get there from my house is a twenty minute journey by bus, straight to Merthyr, at a daily cost of £6.50. On the other hand, I could spend the best of two hours walking to Aberdare, sitting on the train to Abercynon, waiting there for twenty minutes, and then sitting on the Merthyr train. It would cost less than £4.00 a day to do that (and, of course, the return leg is a straight reversal of the outward journey), but when you weigh the time against the cost, it’s not really much of an alternative.
I had a look at the Stagecoach in South Wales website, to compare the range of weekly tickets which they offer. The fares were revised at the end of March, and I wasn’t surprised to find (eventually!) that the updated ‘Tickets to Go’ brochure hasn’t yet been uploaded.
I sent them an email yesterday afternoon, and they replied at just after 10am today, with the up-to-date booklet as an attachment. So, we know that they know how to attach a document to an email. All they need to do now is to learn how to upload it to their website, and the job’s a good ‘un!
Exhibit C: The HM Courts & Tribunals Service website
This is a dead loss, to be perfectly frank. I wanted to try and find an email address to which I could send a general enquiry regarding my travelling expenses. In the event, I had to go back to the letter which accompanied my jury summons in the first place, where the email address was printed clearly at the top. It’s clearly not a state secret, then. Why not publish it on the website, so that everyone can find it?
My regular readers will already know that I spend an inordinate amount of time trying to track down information which should be available ‘at the click of a mouse’, as Radio 4’s Eddie Mair is so fond of saying.
So why the fuck does it actually take so long to find it, or (worse still) turn up a complete dead end, like the Stagecoach and WBS sites? I’m sure I’m not alone in this. either – and I’d modestly describe myself as pretty good with this Twenty-First Century technology. It’s no wonder that Loteks lose patience when they’re trying to do things online, is it?
The UK Government is avowedly aiming at a ‘digital by default’ culture for mundane tasks like taxing one’s car. If one of their executive branches can’t even manage to put a contact email address on their own fucking website, it’s obvious that they’ve got a very long way to go to make this vision a reality.

The Incredible Vanishing Country

In which The Author contacts the BBC yet again

Dear Sir/Madam
I listened to the whole of yesterday’s [Radio 4 PM] programme, eager to learn whether Plaid Cymru’s share of the vote had held up in Thursday’s election. In hindsight, I should have bought the evening paper instead.
By the end of the programme I knew all the details of UKIP’s results; I knew exactly how Labour and the Conservatives had fared. I knew the fortunes of the SNP. In one sentence I learned how the Green Party had beaten the Liberal Democrats into fifth place.
I also knew the outlines of the results in France, Germany, Denmark, Italy, Greece, and several other mainland countries.
I’d just about given up hope of hearing about my little corner of the country, when suddenly ‘Wales’ got a mention. Not a single mention, mind you – but five mentions, in rapid succession.
In the weather forecast.
I know we haven’t got a referendum on independence in the pipeline. In fact, since our political representation in Europe hasn’t changed since 2009, we obviously weren’t worth a sentence. We won’t be affected by HS2 in the slightest. Our health service and education system are somewhat insulated from the Westminster privatisation frenzy. The austerity measures which have hit the rest of Europe with a fury are old news here, where parts of the country have been in economic decline since the 1920s.
This would explain why, as far as London was concerned, there was obviously no Welsh news to report. Did we even have an election on Thursday, or did I just imagine the whole thing?
Yours faithfully
Steve O’Gorman