back to article The lights go off, broadband drops out, the TV freezes … and nobody knows why (spooky music)

Bzzz. The number of the incoming call is "Unknown". I reject it, obviously. While I am intrigued by the idea of receiving mystery calls from The Unknown, they are disappointing to answer. Bzzz. This guy's insistent: it's the fourth time he's tried to call in the last minute. He must really want me to install that new kitchen …


  1. My-Handle Silver badge

    Supply pipe location

    I have a similar, yet opposite kind of problem. I know exactly where the supply pipe and cut-off valve is for my house. It's at the top of the road, and cuts off all three houses that it feeds. There is no individual valve for my property, and trust me I've looked. As have several plumbers.

    I never thought about stopping paying my water bill. I mean, they wouldn't be able to cut me off without killing the water for my neighbours either side. But then I remember that I live in Northern Ireland, where water bills are rolled into the rates (council tax), so I don't actually have much of an option for not paying it.

    1. Dabooka Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Supply pipe location

      I had this in my current house after moving in last year. To be honest the water board* were absolutely great.

      Built in the '30s, their plans shown the location of the inlet and valve somewhere where it just... wasn't. The lad then spent about three hours walking about with a combination of a little hand held detector and a long stethoscope with a wooden noggin on the end, listening for running water (while I ran taps).

      In the end he found it along the road and on the opposite side directly outside someone else's garage. I would never have considered that as ours, and neither had he. Plans updated, valve checked and off he tootled.

      I'd genuinely try giving them a call and explaining the difficulty. Hopefully you'll be pleased with the results too.

      *Yeah, yeah I know.

      1. Dave K Silver badge

        Re: Supply pipe location

        At the previous house I owned, it was a semi-detached, but was built side-on to the road. Hence although my house was adjacent to the road, the neighbouring house was actually reached via a path running past my front garden.

        The water main to my neighbours ran underneath my house and the isolation valve (which killed water to both properties incidentally) was inside my garage. Thankfully for them, they never managed to piss me off enough to kill their water supply, and I resisted the urge to turn off the valve and see what would happen :-)

      2. My-Handle Silver badge

        Re: Supply pipe location

        I've had the pipe followed from the valve at the road. It runs down the road and branches off twice (once to the house at the top of the road, once to my house, then on to the next house). My branch then runs up one side of my house. There's separate feeds for my kitchen and a pair of outbuildings. No isolator valve anywhere.

        Our local water authority is all kinds of useless. We had a lot of trouble even buying the place, because they couldn't make up their minds whether the septic tank discharged into a legally approved waterway or not. Yet they were in no kind of rush to actually send someone out to find out. We ended up having to work around it with the sellers, the bank and our solicitors because the WA were just perfectly happy to leave the situation stuck in limbo.

      3. Alistair Dabbs Silver badge

        Re: Supply pipe location

        I've since moved house (and country). Here, the water meter is in a cabinet between the front door and the pavement - sort of where it should be.

      4. Bruce Ordway

        Re: Supply pipe location

        Slightly different - where my house was built in the 1920s and it is waaay back on the lot.

        The city was replacing gas lines recently and first they used a tool to check/measure the existing pipe. Unfortunately their tool had a limited reach, designed for modern homes located nearer the front of the lot. They finally ended up estimating from the location of the meter.

        Luckily it doesn't interact with my cable (at least I don't think it does).

    2. Mishak

      Re: Supply pipe location

      A friend of mine moved into a new build. After a few months, they got the first water bill - for £0.00.

      They thought this was a bit strange. Even the children were reasonably willing to wash, so they were sure they had used at least some water. However, maybe it was just because it was the first bill.

      No - the second was also for £0.00. They contacted the water company and told them they thought something was not right. The company sent out someone to read the meter, who confirmed that it still read zero, so where was nothing wrong with the reading.

      The company didn't seem to care that there was obviously something wrong - either with the meter or the identification of which one was theirs.

      After about a year, the guy gave up trying to tell the company he was not being billed for the water they were using. He's kept all the correspondence for when the company take him to court for theft of water.

      1. MutantAlgorithm

        Re: Supply pipe location

        Very similar thing happened to us with the gas supply in a rented flat back at the start of the millennium. We'd been "happily" paying British Gas for a year when we got a letter saying that they were sorry we were leaving them, when called they refused to say who were were supposed to have been moving to and queries to the National Grid gas people to find out which supplier claimed the pipes were ignored so in the end we gave up. We were in that flat for 7 more years and never received or paid a bill. When we moved I left a note for the new tenants explaining the situation and suggesting they just keep quiet so for all I know it's still happening!

      2. Uncle Slacky Silver badge

        Re: Supply pipe location

        I had something similar when I moved into a new build. It was the middle of a row of 3 terraced houses, the three water meters were grouped together in the road in front. The meter reader would only read the meters for the other two houses, even though the third meter (ours) was clearly visible alongside the others. We wrote to the water company several times to alert them to our existence (and to avoid any future accusations of avoiding payment) and after a couple of years they eventually added us to their system and made us (over)pay by installments to make up for the lost time (how kind of them!).

      3. Aus Tech

        Re: Supply pipe location

        "After about a year, the guy gave up trying to tell the company he was not being billed for the water they were using."

        That probably means that his water supply is coming through another persons place, and they are paying for his water supply. Obviously, someone stuffed up big time with the plumbing.

    3. Annihilator Silver badge

      Re: Supply pipe location

      To be fair (in the UK at least), it's illegal for the water company to cut you off, even if you owe them massive amounts. So I doubt it's ever come up.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Supply pipe location

      > "But then I remember that I live in Northern Ireland, where water bills are rolled into the rates (council tax), so I don't actually have much of an option for not paying it."

      Nope, the rates in NI do *not* cover water charges, they were included in rates prior to 2007 and the then intention was to introduce a separate water charge (though they did not reduce rates costs once water was removed from it!).

      The UK government used the "threat" of water charges as a way to get power-sharing introduced in NI.

      "Gov to local political parties: see the water bills are all printed and ready to post, they're going out in a couple of days time if you don't agree to form an Assembly where you can cancel their introduction."

      One of the first things the Assembly did was to cancel them and instead since then the Assembly has been paying all domestic water costs "on behalf of the general public".

    5. Mage Silver badge

      Re: Supply pipe location

      They complained I had a leak or excessive consumption.

      We turned off the main stop cock and consumption continued.

      After an hours investigation he turned off the water entirely. Except it didn't.

      The meter and tap in the street in front of our house works next door's water.

      Ours is two up the street. He thought the one in the middle didn't have an outlet.

      So next door had high consumption.

      But the toilet and washing machine in the shed gets water from somewhere else.

      1. Mooseman Silver badge

        Re: Supply pipe location

        We had a leak at our (newly installed) water meter. Water was pouring out and running down the street (costing us money) so we complained to the water chaps several times. Eventually a man sauntered out, lifted the cover and poked about with the gushing pipe, causing it to leak with renewed vigour.

        "Yeah, it's knackered", he said when asked what the problem was, chalked around the cover in blue chalk, and off he went. 10 days later (with neighbours down the road considering sandbags) another van turned up and the leak was duly repaired.

        We were informed that we wouldn't be charged for the excess water that had simply run down the slope to the nearest drain, huzzah! A few weeks later we get a bill for many hundred pounds from the water company. We rang up, explained, quoted their email, and eventually they grudgingly accepted that we didn't have to pay. Great. Two days later we get a bill in red, demanding the immediate payment of the outstanding many hundreds of pounds. More calls and emails ensued.

        "Oh yes that's fine, just ignore the bill, it's all automated," we were told. So we did. A second very red bill duly arrived, more calls and emails, and eventually the billing machine (I assume) was quietly informed that it could stop now.

        Phew, we thought.

        A week later we got a bill from the waste water company for many hundred pounds as they calculate their bill as a (quite large) percentage of the incoming water used. More calls and emails.

        "We need a letter from the water company" they said, so we rang them and they said they'd send one explaining the situation, not to worry. A week later we get a red bill from the waste water people. More calls and we were told they had sent the relevant letter, if we really insisted they would have to resend it at great inconvenience (resending an email is such a drag). We insisted. Cue very red bill, more calls....


        1. Terry 6 Silver badge

          Re: Supply pipe location

          This seems to be a recurring theme, which seems to appear with tedious ( except for the victims) regularity. Customer service staff unable/unwilling to divert automated systems that were triggered in error. In many ways it's the same "The computer says..." problem that infected the Post Office and destroyed the lives of those poor postmaster.

          Just because there's a computerised system all semblance of human initiative is dumped.

    6. Martin an gof Silver badge

      Re: Supply pipe location

      I have a similar, yet opposite kind of problem

      We recently re-built our house. Building regulations in our neck of the woods require sprinklers for new builds, so we had to upgrade the mains from the ½" Copper that fed the original house to 32mm MDPE. During the build we kept a standpipe attached to the original ½" and the new connection was made towards the end of the "wet trades".

      We had been paying water "rates", which was actually advantageous for us while the children were small and discounts were available, but the 32mm connection came with a mandatory meter.

      Leaving aside the shenanigans when the water board cut through an electrical cable while digging down to find the main, the new meter was fitted next to the old stop tap, in the pavement at the front of the house. All very good, but then they buried the old stop tap inaccessibly next to the new meter, without disconnecting it.

      So we have a standpipe on the driveway which could give us limitless unmetered water (but we resisted the temptation to connect it in to the house!), and if the ancient ½" pipe decides to spring a leak, theres no way to turn it off, short of calling the water board out to dig up the pavement again.

      Have to echo some other sentiments though. Our waterboard (Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water) has been very good on the whole. We had quite a difficult issue to sort regarding sewers, and they always did what they said they would do, when they said they would do it. Might have cost a bit more than you'd hope, but the level of service we received (DCWW is not-for-profit) was generally excellent. We had similar good service from Western Power Distribution (electricity) and Wales and West Utilities (gas). The engineers were all great, happy to help, anything to get the job done properly. Definitely can't say the same of our energy "supplier", who faffed us about no-end, but that's another story.


    7. Bob Dunlop

      Re: Supply pipe location

      After 27 years we still didn't know the location of our supply pipe or external stopcock.

      Last year mid pandemic a leak upstream of the in house tap forced us to get the waterboard in.

      They acted promptly and with enthusiasm, but could not at first locate the pipe, dug a trench in the road with a big yellow machine at the obvious spot. Turned off taps by water troughs in neighbouring fields etc. Even dug out (at the suggestion of a retired water inspector) an as it turned out disconnected meter point on the golf course.

      After ten days 180 degrees out from any direction expected metal detectors found the pipe and a couple of spares. In an hour a Polish guy (why are they all Polish) dug a hole, cut the pipe and fitted a brand new plastic stopcock. The original has never been found.

      Just think of the man hours (at one point we had six people on the job) that could have been saved by a simple plan or map.

      Still suspect we're stealing our water from the golf course's metered supply.

  2. Dr_N Silver badge

    Bundled TV over internet "service".

    "My cable TV service delivers 900 channels of unwanted reality shite 24 hours a day in UHD without a glitch"

    You say that as if you have a choice in accepting/paying for said service, instead of being force to take it, Mr Dabbs.

    1. Evil Scot

      Re: Bundled TV over internet "service".

      Try Cancelling it.

      Phoned up ISP "I want to cancel my TV. The channels I am interested in are available cheaper on another platform. And they don't have adverts on it*"

      They gave me a free sim and could use the box for OTA channels for half the old cost.

      My plan was to Cut the cost by a quarter. They cut it in half.

      *Probably do have ads but the source is on a blacklist at the DNS level.**

      ** probably explains the spinning wheel when the above show's title card is shown.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. Dr_N Silver badge

        Re: Bundled TV over internet "service".

        Evil Scot> Try Cancelling it.

        You cannot. Here in France it's a bundled package.

        And if you change now you have to take fibre or 4G. You cannot have a new DSL contract any more.

        (Unless in an area with no 4G or fibre.)

        And hooking-up the fibre is a 3 visit job at least.

        1. Alistair Dabbs Silver badge

          Re: Bundled TV over internet "service".

          hooking-up the fibre is a 3 visit job at least.

          My neighbours found this to be the case too. Perhaps they were too easily put off.

          When the clueless fibre contractor turned up at our house, he said he'd need to book a cherry picker and all sorts of mental equipment. I surprised myself by telling him in broken French what to do and how to do it and that I would lend him ladders if necessary.

          I had gigabit broadband within 2 hours.

          1. kiwimuso

            Re: Bundled TV over internet "service".

            @Alistair Dabbs

            ".....all sorts of mental equipment."

            Mental equipment? Like a brain, perhaps????

      3. TRT Silver badge

        Re: Bundled TV over internet "service".

        I wanted to take advantage of a new subscriber deal so my flatmate who was moving with me became a new customer. Would they actually accept that I wanted to sign off their services? No they wouldn't. I ended up telling them that I was moving to Norway for a 3 year work contract in a remote area with absolutely no mobile coverage and which I had already looked up did not have an international subsidiary associated there, and that my bill forwarding address would be my parent's house - they even tried telling me they were going to connect my mother's house to their cable network - I'd chosen that address because they live a mile down a shared private road and that either the cable company wouldn't pay to dig it up, resurface it (which TBH is desperately needed) and install a new cabinet with a repeater just for the sake of keeping one paying customer OR if they did do that, the £60 a month they wanted was far, far cheaper than even getting the road resurfaced, paid for on a credit card!

        I think you know which beard astronaut's name was part of the company branding.

        1. Dr_N Silver badge

          Re: Bundled TV over internet "service".

          TRT> I think you know which beard astronaut's name was part of the company branding.

          Was it Cap'n Birdseye?

          1. TRT Silver badge

            Re: Bundled TV over internet "service".

            Beardy astronaut's company name was...

            Ah yes it was. Cap'n Birdseye himself.

            "Only the best for the tapped tin cable."

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Beardy astronaut / Cap'n Birdseye

              If I was in advertising, I think I now know what my next fish-finger themed pitch would be.


              This is probably why I'm not in advertising. :-)

              1. TRT Silver badge

                Re: Beardy astronaut / Cap'n Birdseye

                TBH I've never seen a fish with fingers but then I've never fished off the coast near Sellafield.

                1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

                  Re: Beardy astronaut / Cap'n Birdseye

                  Next time try Windscale ;)

  3. chivo243 Silver badge

    You forgot to face Mecca and then face Stonehenge in your ritual... at noon...

    1. Alistair Dabbs Silver badge

      You forgot to face Mecca

      Nah, they closed down my local bingo hall.

  4. Spasticus Autisticus

    'He is a floating sports fan ... '

    SailGP and the America's Cup are great floating sports, although with the foils it's now closer to flying. Available for free on Youtube and more exciting than F1

    1. TimMaher Silver badge

      Re: More exciting than F1

      So is watching Astro-turf grow.

  5. Andy Non Silver badge

    French water meters

    When we moved to France I was asked to give the local water company the meter reading. I couldn't find the meter anywhere. Eventually they sent someone around to get the reading themselves. It turned out the water meter was deep under a concrete manhole cover submerged under two feet of dirty water. The guy had to bail all of the water out to get to the meter to read it.

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Re: French water meters

      That's interesting. I thought there were standards on that point in my country.

      In every house or appartment I have ever owned, the meter to my property was either in a cabinet labelled as such, or in the garage.

      As it is in the house we live in since November 2017. I have the meter and the cutoff lever in the garage, just like I had it in the house we lived in before for 20 years.

      On the other hand, in this house I have no idea where the public water mains is if ever my water meter needs replacing.

      Interesting, isn't it ? There are some bits of technology that simply don't fail. How come we can't do that with light bulbs or garage doors ?

      1. Andy Non Silver badge

        Re: French water meters

        There may be higher standards with new builds in France, but this was an old stone and cob farmhouse in rural Normandy. It had electrical wiring that looked like Napoleon had installed it and an illegal fosse septique (spelling?) that just consisted of a large tank that a local farmer came around and emptied occasionally, spraying the contents onto his fields, overflow from the tank ran into a nearby stream. There was no gas supply to the property, that is quite common though, and we had to buy gas cylinders from the local garage. There was no broadband and the phone line hung off a couple of the poles into a field for the cows to play skipping with. French telecom/Orange wouldn't fix the line as they said "it still works". My internet consisted of 22k dial up. So much for the services. Despite that we did enjoy our ten years living in France. :-)

        1. Rich 11 Silver badge

          Re: French water meters

          electrical wiring that looked like Napoleon had installed it

          No light fittings higher than 5'2"?

          (Desolé - 1,57m.)

      2. Anonymous Custard Silver badge

        Re: French water meters

        How come we can't do that with light bulbs or garage doors ?

        @Pascal - we can do it, at least for light bulbs. The problem is that they don't want to, as then they'd go bankrupt after selling that initial everlasting one per socket when the income-stream dried up.

        Same as with many white goods these days, engineered to fail just after the warranty expires.

        Can't comment on the garage doors, as I haven't had one of those (or a garage to put it on) for over 20 years now.

        1. H in The Hague Silver badge

          Re: French water meters

          "@Pascal - we can do it, at least for light bulbs. The problem is that they don't want to, as then they'd go bankrupt after selling that initial everlasting one per socket when the income-stream dried up."

          To get an incandescent light bulb with a v long life all you used to have to do was to "underrun" it (i.e. operate it at lower than the rated voltage). Disadvantages: 1) the light is too red, 2) efficacy (lumen/watt) is greatly reduced, so not actually saving you any money.

        2. Missing Semicolon Silver badge

          Re: French water meters

          See BigClive on "Dubai lamps". Specially made LED lamps where the components aren't massively over-run so they last (and are more efficient)

      3. stiine Silver badge

        Re: French water meters

    2. Dr_N Silver badge

      Re: French water meters

      +1 for old water meter in a concrete box in the ground, full of water, with a soggy rotten straw bale to keep the frost off.

  6. Potemkine! Silver badge

    I guess I'm lucky with fiber broadband, probably because I don't forget to sacrifice a chicken every three months at midnight during a full moon night.

    For the last two years, it was made unavailable only once, because it was the "accessible to everyone" kind, and someone had the hilarious idea to pull the cables enough to tear them off. My bad, I was short on chickens.

    Before that, the last time I sat down in front of the TV just to watch a sports final was for the Six Nations rugby competition in March.

    Pheww. Before that sentence I was close to believe you were irrecoverable.

    1. My-Handle Silver badge

      I'm not lucky enough to be on fiber (I'm out in the sticks in Northern Ireland), but I took the time to construct a ward over the cable coming in to the house. The old double-square with a horseshoe, four-leaf clover, bird skull and a hair from the head of a virgin at the cardinal points works wonders. Only lost connection once in the last three or four years.

      Also, I switched from BT to Zen a while ago. That might have had something to do with it as well.

    2. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      USA here -- several years ago, I got a notice in the mail that my copper POTS line would be disconnected on [date], unless I allowed them to replace it with fiber. "OK," I thought, "this is my opportunity to get fiber installed for free." Told them to go ahead, and the fiber was duly installed and tested. I waited a month, then cancelled the phone service and replaced it with OOMA ($40/mo vs $5/mo) over my cable TV ISP (Comcast, if you must know).

      At the time, Comcast and FIOS were neck and neck as far as speed and cost, so no reason to switch, and I was satisfied with Comcast. Fast forward to 2020. I noticed that FIOS had halved their price and doubled their speed compared to Comcast. "Right," I thought, "now's the time to switch." Called FIOS and initiated the process. Easy-peasy, I thought, since the fiber has already been checked out and was installed only a few years back.

      Nope. Guy comes out to "install" my FIOS service. Looks at the ONT, shakes his head. "You have a problem," he says. "Hmm...worked when they installed it," I mutter. He points at the red "Fault" LED. No signal. So, this is 4 PM on a nasty, rainy night. I resign myself to waiting another week. Fortunately, Comcast is still connected.

      The tech pulls out some equipment and attaches it to the end of the fiber. "No light," he says, "probably a broken fiber. I'll be back." He walks out into the rain and drives off. Comes back in 15 minutes. "You have two or three breaks in the run back to the box" I think of all the ice and snow storms in the past three years, and how many trees have come down. Not surprising at all. What was surprising, was his next statement: "I'll call construction and see if they can get someone out," he says. It's around 7 PM. He drives off. Comes back about an hour later. "Should be OK now," he says, and hooks the fiber back up. "Fault" light goes out. He calls his office and tells them to turn on the data. We have a nice chat about telephones, and I find out he's been with "The Phone Company" for 25 years. I fire up my laptop to test the connection. He gets the OK from the office and we hook up and do a speed test. He tells me, "You have 200/200 service, but you'll probably see 300/300 because the box is only half full". And that's what I see. I thank him profusely, and he heads out.

      That was a year ago. FIOS internet has been flawless since then, all through WFH. I ran it for a week, with Comcast still hooked up, then dropped Comcast. I'm fully aware that my experience was unusual, to say the least. I probably met the last remaining telephone company employee who actually gave a damn about customer service. And, yes, when they sent me a "how did we do" form, I praised him to the heavens.

      So, Dabbsy, there are still a few left. Hopefully one day you will get one of them.

      1. Alistair Dabbs Silver badge

        I probably met the last remaining telephone company employee who actually gave a damn

        Years ago one summer I complained to Virgin Media that my phone line was always crackling regardless of handset or socket. A technician had a look and said he'd book some guys replace the ancient Post Office cable buried under the grass between the road and my house.

        So they waited until the depth of winter to send out a team of poor sods to dig up the frozen, iron-like turf with pick axes. IT took all day.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          my phone line was always crackling regardless of handset or socket

          Many, many years ago in the days well before t'intertubes, when through lack of funds I could only dream of connecting a 1200/75 modem to my BBC Micro, I still wired up a couple of extensions to the bedrooms, "just in case", once BT had changed the socket.

          My dad was going through a bit of a hard time at work and much crackling on the line (definitely not my dodgy wiring!) convinced him that his employers were tapping the line and trying to collect some kind of incriminating evidence against him. Particularly as it often only started a few seconds into a phone call.

          One day, while speaking on the phone to - I dunno - aunty Beryl or someone, he said, rather loudly, something along the lines of "yes, I'm sorry about the awful noise on the line, it only happens when they are listening in".

          The next time we made a phone call the line was perfectly quiet, and the crackling never returned. His problems at work eventually got sorted.

          Perhaps dad wasn't so paranoid after all...

          1. Rich 11 Silver badge

            'They'are listening

            Living in Cheltenham as I do, when talking about an action designed to undermine the state and/or the natural party of government, such as manning a Greenpeace stall in the town centre or distributing half a gross of Green Party flyers during a council election, it's standard practice to preface the deeply suspect part of the telephone conversation with "Hi, GCHQ!".

            1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

              Re: 'They'are listening

              What are the odds that spooks [and other interested and foreign bodied parties] from more than just the likes of a GCHQ cruise El Reg type waters phishing for prey and praying they don't get savaged by any novel technology which escapes them to privately haunt and publicly taunt them online in the virtual spheres in which they are remarkably inept but find themselves distressingly addicted to because of the rewards and attractions which success in ITs Advanced IntelAIgent Fields so clearly can Offer and Deliver?

              That's why they are listening, which is akin to them being up to no good, and no great good has ever nor ever will come of such behaviour which would be favouring theft of exclusive elite executive second and third party proprietary intellectual property over simple purchase of licences to thrill with IT which may not kill them stone dead with the present future bill fully paid and realised in regular much easier to launder/stomach/justify instalments.

              IT aint FCUKing Rocket Science for Crash Testing Dummies, Uncommon Nearly Perfect Sense.

          2. Anonymous Custard Silver badge

            Perhaps dad wasn't so paranoid after all...

            Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't out to get you...


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