There is one word that when uttered will leave me spewing a torrent of bile and vitriol so hideous that a horde of marauding barbarians might fear me. This one word has the potential to incite me to acts of violence heretofore unconsidered. This one word leaves me with thoughts so hideous flashing through my brain that I frighten myself.

This word is Telewest.

Yes, really.

Telewest started life as Croydon Cable, back in 1984. For four years it merrily built itself a customer base for the provision of cable services in south east England, until such time that the American cable firm United thought it would make a good acquisition. United merges with United Artists Cable International, which then merges with TCI. In 1991 TCI and US West form a joint venture, which is named Telewest Communications in 1992. By 2001 Telewest Communications has acquired various local cable providers, has an extensive share of cable and internet provision in the UK, and has changed its name to Telewest Broadband. Deciding that it wants more customers, but knowing that it doesn't have the infrastructure to allow for this, it begins a joint marketing venture with ntl. Telewest and ntl cover different areas of the country, allowing them easy cross-promotion. Of course, greedy sods that they are, they figure a merger is the best option, which is completed in spring 2006. By the autumn of 2006 they've grown bored with providing cable and internet to the majority of us poor sods in the UK, and conclude that a merger with and Virgin mobile will allow them the greatest capacity to screw telecommunications customers.

Sorry, I'm running away with myself here, aren't I? None of this is really explaining why I hate them so very much. However, it probably goes someway to explaining what is wrong with them as a company, which has led to me hating them so very badly. The fact that since 8 February 2007 they have been known as Virgin Media, employ 13,000 people, and have 10 million customers in the UK has done nothing to deaden my rage. If anything, it exacerbates it.

From my extensive and blood pressure-raising experiences with this chameleon of a company I have concluded that the major problem is that they themselves do not do what it is that they supposedly allow us to do for a fee: communicate. They lose vital information, they fail to send vital information, and they don't log vital information. Furthermore, it would seem that a vast proportion of their customer services representatives were at the back of the queue when communication skills were distributed. In fact, I think that some of them didn't even know that there was a queue. They can't explain things, and they certainly don't listen. It's all very well being proud of employing 13,000 people, but if these 13,000 people cannot accurately record and convey information, then you might as well employ a team of monkeys. Mind you, actually getting in contact with this customer service team requires endurance of marathon standards, so Telewest ntl Virgin Media who ever the heck they are might argue that it doesn't matter that they can't communicate: no one can reach them anyway.

It would appear that the string of mergers and acquisitions that has taken place over the years has not been followed by a consolidation of departments, branches, and personnel, and you might as well speak to them in Chinese rather than mention the idea of an integrated system. It is one behemoth of a company that has no rhyme or reason. Determining the correct department for your query requires not one, but two degrees in quantum physics. Then finding someone who understands why you might have a problem to begin with — let alone be able to solve it — means having the patience of Job and a choir of angels. Whilst even Interpol can't tell you who the head of Customer Relations is. If anyone can figure if I need the Newport, the Sheffield, the Woking, or the Worthing office, or to speak to the people in Glasgow, then you are a better sleuth than me.

Who would ever have thought that the company that allowed me access to the internet and my email, that meant I could write my nodes and edit yours, would inspire such hatred in me?

It all comes down to two pieces of paper: a direct debit mandate, and what they term a 'Transfer of Responsibility' form. Transfer of responsibility for what, you might ask. Well, in their infinite wisdom, Telewest — or whatever they might be calling themselves at the time of reading — only permits one person to be named as an account holder. If anyone can explain the logic behind this to me, I'd appreciate your time. This rule has only served to cause confusion and frustration for all concerned with my account. Or strictly speaking, that should be my ex-housemate's account. When Jude moved out in November, we requested that the account held in her name be transferred to my name, and I'd pay for internet, tv, and telephone each month via direct debit. We filled out all the forms that they sent us and returned them, along with my proofs of identity and residence. We thought that would be it. How wrong, how deluded, we were.

I know that the envelope arrived. I know this because I've been told that the direct debit is in my name. Problem is, the direct debit and the account are in two different names. At some point in between arriving at their office, being opened, and being sorted, the contents of that envelope have gone astray. This means that Jude is being billed for an account that she doesn't want to hold anymore, and I'm not having my bank account debited for services that I'm prepared to pay. This means that Telewest, through their own incompetence, are not receiving payment. This means that paraclete and I are facing the continuing problem of having our services disconnected because Telewest can't — or won't — take the money that I want to pay them. Adding a £10 late payment fee to our bill isn't going to help them, either. They won't get that £10, or the rest of the bill, if they don't rectify who holds the account. And whenever I have tried to speak to someone to remedy this situation, no one has been able to help me. I had one woman tell me repeatedly that a transfer of responsibility takes six weeks to implement. It didn't seem to occur to her that I had made that particular request eight weeks ago, and it wasn't exactly helping with the imminent threat of having my phone disconnected. I had a manager hang up on me. I thought that was quite a display of astoundingly bad customer service, to be honest. I've been put on hold more times than I've logged into e2, I've spoken to more customer services representatives than I thought was humanly possible, and I've been forced to pretend to be my ex-housemate to the extent that I'm actually forgetting my own name.

When we concluded that our beanbags could no longer take the strain of my Telewest-directed frustrations, we encountered yet another anomaly in the Telewest customer services jungle: the office that deals with disconnections opens between the hours of 9am and 5pm, Monday to Friday. It actually took us four days to speak to someone who could arrange for the account to be terminated. Maybe that's just symbolic of us being part of the instant gratification generation, but when every other department operates 8am to 8pm (well, when you can get through), it seems that Telewest aims to retain its customers by simply being as inconvenient as possible. Strange, that.

9 March is D-Day. We can't wait. Of course, BT will probably be next year's HateQuest entry, but we live in hope.

Just in case you want to check my facts:

  • And of course, all the bills that aren't addressed to me