Wright's Aerials

This job would be great if it wasn’t for the customers (part 1)

 We’d completed the installation of a brand new satellite and terrestrial distribution system at this apartment block a few months previously. There are always a few people who complain about something or other in the aftermath of a job like that. The cause nearly always turns out to be something utterly daft, but you get used to it.

Thirty-six miles up the M1, and what did I find? The elderly lady had complained that the satellite didn't work. When she answered the door she looked at me as if I was something she’d found on the sole of her shoe, but she grudgingly let me in. Sure enough, No Signal Was Being Received. A quick look over the back of the settee at the wall plate established that the satellite flylead had been cut and two Belling plugs fitted. Between these was a line connector and a cheap plastic ‘Y’ splitter. I queried this arrangement. "Oh, my son did it so I can have a satellite box in the bedroom as well, but it isn't that."

"I think it might be."

"No it’s not, it's the dish thing you put on the roof. I had Sky out and the man looked at the picture – it said there was no signal, just like it does now – and he said the dish was facing the wrong way. I had to pay £60."

"How long was he here?"

"He was in and out like a shot."

"Did he look behind here?"

"No, like I said he just looked at the picture and went. He said the dish must be [blah blah blah]"

As it happened the polarity switches on this particular system pass little or no signal when there are no volts on the coax, and the splitter had no DC pass. I removed it and then noticed that the flylead was RG59. I replaced it. I then power cycled the box and hey presto, 'Welcome to Sky' appeared. I demonstrated the operation of the Sky box and asked the lady if her son had checked reception on the two Sky boxes. "Yes, but it wouldn't work in the bedroom — he got it off that Baywatch thing on tinternet — so he took it home."

"But didn't you notice that it stopped working in the living room?"

"Well yes it did stop working a few days after so I rung Sky."

A few days after, my arse. How can old grannies be such blatant liars?


That was one of them sorted. Next, a very aggressive lady of about 60 with a terrifying hairdo who said that since she bought a Freeview box the picture had been dark, so the aerial must have damaged her set. For crying out loud, lady! The Freeview box didn't work either, and that was my fault as well because the man she'd bought it off had said so when he'd brought the box. She'd paid him an extra £20 to install it. He’d shown her the message 'No Signal' on the telly then took the money and ran, having blamed the aerial for the lack of reception. To my astonishment the aerial was connected to the VCR, then looped to the telly, with no connection whatsoever to the Freeview box except for the scart lead. OK, here's my theory. This particular building has lifts that work about two days out of three. I reckon our man found himself on Level 8 without a male-to-female aerial flylead, on a liftless day. Maybe he hadn't even got one in the van. So he decided to cut and run. I decided not to bother explaining all this because she really was a ghastly old cow, going on and on about how the aerial had made the telly dark, interrupting whenever I spoke, and declaiming "So you say!" in an offensively mocking manner whenever I did manage to explain anything to her. I picked up the remote for the telly and found that the menu button didn't work. However I found a button with a novel symbol on it that cycled between three brightness levels. I switched to the brightest setting. I showed the lady how to operate the button and she said "That's all very well but why did the aerial make it dark in the first place?"

"I think it was more likely the bloke who brought the Freeview box," I replied. "He must have done a bit of random button pressing."

"So you say!" she rejoined. I normally have a very tolerant attitude, and I spend a lot of time showing people how to work their telly and their various boxes with no chance of reward except possibly in Heaven, but I'd had it up to here with this old bag. As I headed for the door she started to ask me how to work the Freeview box. I suggested that she rung the gentleman who'd sold it to her, and went on my way.


A week later there was a message to ring Dr Pfizer. He’s another resident of this same block. He was the one who complained about the noise of drilling when we were putting the aerial up. I rung him and he was dead snooty and mardy.

“I’ve just got back from my vacation and the television aerial doesn’t work.”

“Is your aerial lead plugged in?”

“Yes, I took it out of the hole for safety reasons . . .” (one of those people who speak like an instruction book) “. . . and now I’ve put it back it doesn’t work. The aerial must have fallen down while we were away.”

“Have any of your neighbours had any problems with their reception?”

“Oh I’ve no idea.”

“Well I was just thinking that no-one else has complained, and I’m sure that if the aerial had fallen down someone amongst the (thirty-five) other residents would have told me. It would have affected their reception as well as yours you see.”

“Oh well I don’t know I’m sure.”

“Could you ask a few of the neighbours?”

“Oh no, we don’t err . . . there’s no-one at home . . .”

I tried a different tack. “Are you sure you’ve plugged the flylead in properly?”

“Yes of course. I’ve pushed it into the hole but it seems rather loose.” Hole? Loose?

“When you say ‘hole’, do you mean the wall plate – the outlet socket – the square plastic thing on the wall? It’s below the window that looks out onto your balcony.”

“Oh no, there’s nothing on that wall. We push the wire into the hole in the wall behind the television.”

“Look, I know this sounds stupid, but bear with me. Just what do you push the aerial cable into?”

“The hole in the wall as I said. Look, with all due respect Mr Wright” (doncha just hate that?) “I think you should stop asking me questions and come out here as soon as possible. We need our television. We’ve got guests coming tomorrow.”

“The thing is, I’m wondering if you’re connecting the aerial up correctly. You see if we come out and it turns out that the fault is something that’s really your responsibility we’ll have to charge you £80 + VAT.”

“That’s absolutely preposterous! (splutter splutter) I’ll be contacting the management agent first thing tomorrow I can tell you! You took thousands of pounds from the residents here and now you’re refusing to mend the damned aerial when it falls down!”

“Just humour me for a minute will you? Do you mean that you’re pushing the cable into a hole in the wall? Just a hole? Not a fitting of some kind?”


“Yes. As I told you before, we push the end of the cable into the hole in the wall. Always have done and always will do. What’s that got to do with it?”

“I think you need to connect the aerial cable to the socket on the wall under the balcony window.” There was no immediate answer, but I could hear the grunting of an obese human being as he struggled to move and then peer behind some heavy item of furniture. Then:

“Ah yes, there is a thing on the wall. Didn’t know it was there, I’ll just . . . ah . . . yes, that’s better. It seems to be all right now. I’ll ring you if there’s any recurrence of the poor reception. Thank you.” Click. No proper word of thanks, you’ll note. No apology for being rather abrasive without good cause. No humble recantation of the threat to report me to the management agent. Not even a comment like “Oh dear I am a wally. Sorry to waste your time.” I wonder what he’s a doctor of? Human relations? Common sense?


There were a few other daft complaints, and then it all died down, like it always does. Then, about a year later, several complaints came in all at once saying that some satellite channels were missing. This sounded like a genuine fault, and so it turned out. The building is eight stories high and stands in the suburbs, where it is by far the highest structure in the area. It was a cold winter day when I got there and the wind was bitter, and it was sleeting. It was shockingly unpleasant on the roof, but I thought I’d have a go anyway. The analyser showed a strange hump in the middle of low band, about five multiplexes wide and the same on both polarities. Muxes in the area of the hump had a hopeless c/n ratio. Holding up a spare LNB I could receive the mysterious hump at massive strength without a dish, as long as I held the LNB horizontally and pointed it at a dish-festooned tower about two miles away. Keeping the LNB aligned on the tower and walking slowly behind the tank room caused the hump to disappear, so I transplanted the dish from one side of the tank room to the other and hastily got back inside the building. Of course I was never able to convince the residents that the dish hadn’t come loose due to our incompetence. Never mind.

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