Ill met by candlelight

The strange ways of Atlantic Electricity

We woke up this morning to find our electricity power at about 5% of normal, all our landline phones pinging, the freezer beeping and the main pc dibberdeedibbering. I’m typing this, offline, on my netbook, by candlelight. It feels very odd.

Even odder was the realisation that I’d no idea who our electricity supplier is. They’re called Atlantic Energy, but I’m none the wiser because I’ve never heard of them. This gave me a sense of unease: that last time I had to call one of these bods, it was called South West something.

Atlantic, says the strapline, are all about Energy Made Better. I’m not sure how you can make electrical energy any better: it’s one of those things that just is, and it’s the same as everyone else’s energy. But today its output is 95% worse, so there’s another slogan become a hostage to fortune.

On their bill, the line to fix the meter is big, bold and on the front page, because that’s the till, and they wouldn’t want anything going wrong with that. The number to get a power cut seen to is in among the flysh*t on the back, in grey. You have to pay to dial it, if you’re on a mobile phone. And as everyone these days has electrically powered walkabout landline phones, you will be on a mobile. And they say there’s no such thing as intelligent design.

Stop me if this is boring you, but when you dial the power-cut hotline, an android asks for your landline phone number. You type it in, and it then tells you your postcode, asking you to press star if it isn’t your postcode. One way Atlantic could make energy better, and save human energy, is just to ask you what your postcode is, thus folding two steps into one.

Anyway, the robot then says, ‘Your service will be restored at’. The X-Factor-style suspense shtick is clearly entering every pore of our national bodies. I was just about to yell into the lengthening silence, when another metallic voice (male this time) said ‘nanayem’.

Now, this certainly beat sitting on the phone for an hour waiting to hear that I’m Gretchen and how can I help you today. But the whole exercise depressed me yet again.

The brand has no provenance for me, hundreds of people were fired to achieve the efficiency, I didn’t speak to a single human being, nobody said sorry or told me what had caused the failure, and people ten years older than me probably (a) wouldn’t have a mobile and/or (b) would fall at the first fence of being asked to tap in the landline number. And what do all those under 35 do, who don’t have a landline at all any more?

In short, Atlantic (which, I now discover, is the trading name of SSE Energy Supply Ltd*) is the very antithesis of what I’d like a utility company to be – viz, local, mutual and personal, with no remote shareholders.

I realise this immediately frames me as a card-carrying destroyer of technological civilisation, but then I’m right and the civilisation is wrong. So really, there’s no problem for me in being positioned like that, because I’m used to it. Before 2007 began to look wobbly, Google’s spiders from Mars didn’t even bother to crawl about the site. I was saying that a world banking crash was coming, you see, and so who was going to read crap like that?

The electricity is back on again. Welcome to another week of My Alternative is the Only Alternative so Agree With me Now, or We’ll be on this EuroDisney roundabout Forever.

*Which in turn is a subsidiary of Scottish Southern Group.