Archived entries for Interrogation

Sharing the sound

I’ve written previously about bad experiences whilst shopping, so here’s an interesting twist I encountered last weekend. I went into a Philips audio shop to look for some headphones, and I found myself checking out a pair of swish Sennheiser wireless headphones that looked a bit pricey but pretty good. My bad hearing however means that I’m lucky if I notice there’s actually sound coming out of the things, never mind luxuries such as “analytical sound reproduction”, but I was interested in these headphones as a way of hearing the TV better without trailing a wire acorss the room, the coffee table and no doubt the other people watching TV.

I was curious to know, however, just what I’d get for the steep price of what looked like a promising, wire-free solution that might bring an end to other people taking stray headphone wire out of their coffee, or falling towards the door, dinner going everywhere, as a result of the mischievous headphone cable hidden in the shadows. Could I, for example, listen to the TV at the same time as other people, or would I cut off the sound? Could I do the same with my hi-fi? So I called over the assistant of the shop, and here’s where the usual routine differed.

Normally, I might expect an intense barrage of sales-speak, a complete overload of technical terms, functions, some 30 second financial advice and, before I know it, a brisk handshake and a deal done. It usually ends up with the shop assistant insisting that we take a good, all-round tour of not just the product I’m interested in, but, it seems, all the products that everybody else is the shop is interested in as well. Have I, sir, seen this on offer? Did I know, sir, that today and only today I can lay my hands on the first production model of the new Z7000 “Nuclear meltdown ready” mobile phone?

This time I was the one doing the talking.

“With these headphones, will other people hear the TV?”

“Oh no, sir, with these you can listen to the TV without disturbing anyone else. Your very own private cinema.”

“Well, that’s no good, is it? What if my girlfriend wants to watch as well?”

“If you plug the TV into your hi-fi, sir, then she can hear out loud and you can still listen with these.”

“What, so even though these are wireless, you still need to buy an extra wire for connecting the TV to the hi-fi?”

“Er, yes…but only for when you both want to hear the TV. Or your girlfriend could watch with headphones as well.”

(Think about that, for a second. I’d be wearing headphones because I need them to hear. Zoe can hear just fine, so I can hardly imagine both of us sat there, headphones on, snuggling up to a Sunday night film. The sitting room would have all the romance of a flight control tower.)

“Would I also be able to listen to my music with these, on my hi-fi?”

“Why of course, sir. They’re specially designed with a total harmonic distortion of just-”

“Yes, yes, never mind all that. What about other people? Could they listen as well? Can we test it on one of your hi-fi machines here?”

Now he had begun to look like he wanted to cry, I’m sure he had been hoping I would just buy the damn things on the basis of their “intuitive control elements”. Half an hour later, there he was, routing through product catalogues, trying to find something that would satisfy my not overly taxing request for a system which would allow me to hear TV or music better but also share the sound with other people. It was a refreshing break to feel in control as a customer, for a change, rather than be made to feel as if I’m being lectured at by a 12-year-old with a degree in electrical engineering.

I didn’t buy the headphones, in the end. A private cinema would be no good to me, anyway. I need other people there to keep me up to speed when I don’t quite catch the crucial bit in the film where, say, Bond is told precisely where the secret weapon in kept. I bet he never has any trouble in a hi-fi shop.

Shopping’s not that simple

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An appropriate end to my first year in Brussels, marked in the same way it began with a party hosted by the Welsh assembly to mark St David’s Day. After twelve months here, it seems fitting to embark on my first serious move to new accommodation, and this weekend Zoë and I installed ourselves into our new home for the next twelve months. The flat is lovely; it’s got a decent kitchen, wooden floors, and a terrace. It’s similar to the previous flat I lived in that I find myself once more above a dentist’s surgery, which is probably good for things like securing a reliable electricity supply: “I’m terribly sorry, Monsieur Redon, but we’ll have to finish the root canal operation another time. We’ve been a bit naughty, you see, and forgotten to pay the electrics this month, what with going away and everything; we’re still in holiday mood! What’s that, sorry sir? Painful? It is, isn’t it? Coming back from holiday, back to the same old routine of work, imagining that this time last week you were…ah, right, er, I’ll just try and find you something. Try not to bleed onto the carpet.”


While we’re on the subject of change (glad you’ve still with me), the European commission has put up yet another of its vague banners onto the side of the Berlaymont building.

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This time, it’s supposed to be about consumer rights, but personally I find the choice of imagery a bit strange. I mean, promoting better consumer protection is all very well, and I’d imagine a picture of, say, a happy shopper and a happy till assistant, smiling because of course your average Sunday shopper always walks into the supermarket in the full knowledge of the latest EU initiative geared towards the consumer. Just like the lad that packs the bags for you was briefed only that very morning on the latest proposals. Happy vibes all round then, courtesy of Santa. Sorry, I meant that other well known bringer of goodwill, Maglena Kuneva. Easy to get the two mixed up, isn’t it?

Anyway, the image the EC has chosen isn’t remotely like this at all. It’s a female shopper with, yep, a bag over her head. The slogan is: “Know your Rights. Use your Rights”. Now, maybe it’s just me, but personally when I see that image, all I can think of is, well, the sort of situation where you have a bag over your head. Such as when you’re being interrogated. By an anti-terrorist squad or something. The slogan just adds to the confusion because it implies that the woman with the bag over her head hasn’t got a clue, not only about what on earth’s going on outside the interior of the paper bag, but what rights she’s entitled to. So, to recap, she’s being interrogated and doesn’t have access to a lawyer. She might, in fact, not even be allowed to have access to a lawyer at all, because when she was captured and had a bag put on her head, maybe they decided that she no longer had legal status. Otherwise she’d get a lawyer, just like people without bags on their heads. When you come to thing about it, there are loads of us without bags on our heads that don’t have a clue what rights we have or don’t have, that’s why we employ lawyers in the first place. As you can see, this poster might very well lead to mass confusion where the average Sunday shopper suddenly becomes very agitated because the EC has announced that if you didn’t know that you’re paying too much for those frozen peas, well, you might find yourself woken up at four in the morning and the next thing you know, they’ve got you on tape saying that yes, you’re very pleased about the great value that the European commission gives to the well-being of European consumers and could you please go home now.

I can’t wait for the next banner.



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