Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Let's talk about customer service at an unnamed supermarket

I was driving home from work and wanted to pop into [supermarket] to get some of their fresh bakery products. However, I got the idea in my head of potentially heating up some of the products when I get home, as I thought they'd be quite nice hot. My eternally worrying mind was all "you're probably gonna poison yourself" so I thought I'd phone the supermarket and see if they recommend against it. I was stuck in traffic anyway, so I might as well.

As the phone started to dial [supermarket] I realised that I'm probably wasting my minutes as I'd have to navigate a phone menu to get to speak to someone.

NOPE! After a brief recorded message, I was put through to someone almost straight away, with no menu mazes!

I explained myself to the person on the phone, but they weren't sure if they could be reheated and advised I spoke to the store staff themselves. Okay, fair enough, it's a weird question. I'm on the way there anyway, so I can ask the question when checking out (I like them cold anyway, so I won't push for an answer).

I buy my bakery stuff, as well as other stuff, then head to the till. While packing my stuff away, I mention that I spoke to head office about reheating the bakery items and pointed to the ones I bought. I got an immediate "oh yeah, I heat them up all the time, I like to microwave them for a bit, not very long".

Turns out, head office wasn't wrong! The staff in the store did know. I went home and had a very nice dinner!

Full marks to [supermarket]!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Manchester City Centre Cinema Cituation [sic] (updated 2017-09-06)

Update 6th September 2017: It finally happened, The lone outpost of AMC Cinemas in Manchester is no more. It is now known as Odeon Great Northern, which means full limitless compatibility and, presumably (not checked yet) the full range of Odeon food and drink, rather than AMC's questionable selection. Not managed to visit yet, but since the Chinese films I like to go see have started being shown in the Trafford Centre, I may still be unlikely to visit the city centre location anyway.

Thanks for joining me on this journey of uncertainty, confused customer service representatives, and amusing attempts at alliteration. This has been my most viewed blog post ever, so I'm hoping people have found it useful. Cheers! - Peter

Update 19th May 2017: Odeon have confirmed via email and online that the AMC cinema in Deansgate is now (as of 19th May 2017) accepting Odeon Limitless cards manually in-person, and the functionality will soon be available online to book as well. Whether the types of films shown will change is yet to be seen, and whether there's any further rebranding to take place. At the very least, this restores Limitless use to Manchester City Centre.

Update 13th May 2017: Odeon have confirmed to Manchester Evening News that they are already in talks to rebrand the AMC cinema in Deansgate. Whether this will be a temporary measure or not, it's not clear. If I know companies, the fact that Odeon were forced out of the Printworks into a smaller venue with no IMAX screen, will no doubt prompt them to do some sort of restructuring within Manchester. With the additional cost of IMAX screens as an upgrade, this could potentially be a venue for competition between Vue and Odeon in Manchester. We shall see...

There are changes afoot to the selection of cinemas (cinemae?) available in Manchester city centre, which is gonna cause me some headaches and potentially some financial decisions. But first, some background info:

Right now (at the time of writing) there are three main cinemas in Manchester city centre:

1) Odeon Manchester Printworks
2) AMC Great Northern (the only AMC cinema in the UK)
3) HOME (indie)

A bit further afield, there's also:
4) Vue Manchester Lowry
5) Cineworld Ashton-under-Lyne
6) Showcase Belle Vue (near Gorton)

Now, AMC Theatres is a fairly big deal in the USA and a few other countries. However, the Manchester cinema is their only one in the whole of the UK. That being said, last year, AMC Theatres bought Odeon Cinemas. That's where things start to get problematic.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) recognised that Odeon and the sole AMC being owned by the same company was a monopoly on cinemas in Manchester city centre. The result being that one of these cinemas had to go to someone else. Yesterday (9th May 2017) an email went out to all Odeon Limitless members who used their card in Manchester Printworks that the Printworks cinema would no longer be an Odeon after the 14th May 2017. They didn't mention it in the email, but it was confirmed that Vue would be the new tenant in the Printworks cinema after a short rebranding period.

If you don't already know, I joined Odeon's "Limitless" membership over a year ago and have used my nearly-unlimited cinema access to go see lots of films I wouldn't otherwise see, including mystery films shown before their release date. The Printworks cinema, as one of the biggest in the area, shows quite a few films that others don't. Particularly when it comes to Chinese, Korean and Japanese films (yes, that includes anime). One of my favourite films of all time is a Chinese film I saw on a whim ("I Belonged To You"), yet had me in tears and I'm desperately trying to find it on DVD or blu-ray. With the Printworks no longer an Odeon, I'm in theory not gonna be able to see these films with my pass on a whim and, as much as I'm into a few things in mainstream cinema, I don't think I'll be able to justify the cost of the pass for much longer.

Here's where it starts getting muddy.

First off, Odeon have three options here.
1) Make their Trafford Centre cinema their flagship. This cinema already shows Indian (Bollywood) cinema, and is where the upcoming live broadcast of the Destiny 2 video game preview will be in-place of the Printworks. This cinema also has the same number of screens as the Printworks, though no premium "Gallery" areas.
2) Allow limitless at the smaller AMC Cinema and/or rebrand it into an Odeon and/or build more screens into it. At only 16 screens, with no IMAX screen, it's much smaller than the Vue. Also, building an IMAX at a second cinema in the city centre (the nearest other cinemas with IMAX screens are Odeon Trafford Centre or Cineworld Ashton) would boost competition for sure. At the very least, this would let Limitless members use their cards and offers there, but perhaps the lack of screens would lead to few (if any) world cinema films.
3) Just build another cinema and close/sell off the AMC as well. A brand new, state-of-the-art etc cinema might well be within the price range of Odeon, particularly with the money they now have from selling the Printworks. Build a big cinema complex somewhere in the city centre. Might struggle to find the space though...

So I do what any cinema obsessed fan does when they have ideas for the future of the company they pay every month: they phone them.

I phoned Odeon up and was halfway through mentioning the transfer of the Printworks to Vue, when I was told that Vue was also owned by AMC, same as Odeon, so I'll be able to use my Limitless card...

hang on...

I'm pretty sure that's not true. Let me check:

Yeah, that doesn't tally. Perhaps this person got some dodge info. Let's call the dedicated Limitless helpline instead.

Different person, same response.


Either AMC have blatantly created a monopoly in secret after the competitions authority told them to sell the Printworks, or the customer services teams at Odeon were told duff info. I suspect they're saying that the AMC cinema will accept Limitless after the Printworks closes, and there's already talk of it being rebranded into an Odeon anyway. Let's do one final check before calling it a day. I'm gonna call Vue.

Vue's response: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

They have no idea, and probably won't until the keys get handed over this coming weekend. There was no comment about the company that owns them though, but I can't find any reference to AMC buying Vue.

In conclusion, I'm keeping a close eye on this situation as I don't want to lose access to my world cinema with my Limitless card. If that does happen, I'm already out of my minimum contract term, so I can just cancel my card if I don't think it'll be worth it, despite living right next to the (admittedly awful) Crewe Odeon.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Let's talk about @ThreeUK's "new customer via reseller" ONLY deals, and other phone contract renewal curiosities

This is kinda complicated and involves some maths, so please bear with me with this.

I am a customer of the mobile network Three, and have been for a number of years to the point where I get "you've been a customer of Three, a very long time!" whenever I phone. My latest contract for £24 a month has reached the end of its term, so I did some searching for the best deal. I used a few comparison sites and found a deal with Three for £12 a month that fell into my more-recent usage figures. There's also a similar deal but with more calls with PlusNet, who provide my home broadband (so they do a deal if you're an existing customer). Those are the only two deals that really caught my eye. But, since Three's deal is better, I thought I could get a straight-forward swap to the new plan without much faff.


So, the deal shown on several comparison websites for £12 is only shown on comparison websites, and not on Three's own website. So, when I mention it on the phone, I'm told that because it's a special plan for [comparison website name here], I cannot do a straight swap onto the plan. The only way to do this would be for me to convert my current SIM card into a pay-as-you-go SIM following the 30 day contract cancellation notice period. Then, I'd have to sign up as a new customer (assuming the offer is still available) and start a brand new contract. This would also involve two transfers of my phone number plus an amount of time with a pay-as-you-go SIM card in my primary phone. Not ideal.

But wait, there's more!

Because of the 30 day cancellation notification, I have to pay for an additional month on my existing plan first before signing up for a new one, which may or may not be the £12 a month one as it could be a limited time offer, or the more expensive but more calls £15 a month one.

However, there's another option. Three do have a £15 a month plan that is basically the same as the £12 a month plan, except for one important distinction: existing customers can swap to it immediately. This means, no extra month of the existing plan and no swapping to PAYG for a bit while waiting for all the shenanigans to process. But, it's £3 a month more...what is this in the grand scheme of things?

So, let's maths!

Current plan: 
Monthly: £24
12 months: £288
13 months: £312

£12 Three plan (new customers via resellers only):
Monthly: £12
12 months: £144
Final month of current: £24
Total (~13 months):  £168
Plus PAYG expenditure

Plusnet plan:
Monthly: £15
12 months: £180
Final month of current: £24
Total (~13 months): £204

£15 Three plan (existing customers allowed):
Monthly: £15
12 months: £180
13 months: £195

This makes the £12 plan £27 cheaper than the £15 plan over the course of the 13 months. It's worth mentioning at this point that the salesperson on the phone from Three was throwing around the idea that it was only £12 cheaper, but that's on the assumption that I don't let the current contract end before starting the new one, i.e. basing it on paying the first month of the £12 contract now and also the final month of the current contract, making a 12 month figure of £168 vs the 12 month figure for the £15 plan at £180. It's an easy mistake to make, but probably intentional considering this person's line of work.

Anyway, that £27 difference doesn't include anything I spend with a PAYG SIM card, which I'd have to keep hold of until my phone number transferred to it, and then sign up for a new monthly SIM, and then transfer the number again. So, could be £25 saving or less for potentially a lot of hassle, so I went for the £15 plan with Three. They've got me for another 12 months, oh well.

So, what have we learnt here?
1) Three, and possibly other networks, have deals that are only on comparison websites and not available direct.
2) By implementing intentionally broken computer systems, the aforementioned mobile networks get to avoid giving existing customers the best deal by forcing them through as many hoops as possible.
3) Remember when your contract expires so you can switch as early as possible and take the final month and cancellation period into account. This means, as soon as you have just over a month to go on your contract, look up the best deal and inform your current supplier you wish to convert to PAYG. PAC codes are valid for a month, so phone up again once you know the network you're switching to and there's less than a month to go. The £12 deal via a PAYG conversion would've been a definite deal if not for the additional month of the current contract.

My plan for next year is to request a cancellation just before the final month of the minimum term begins provided I'm not on the cheapest tariff for me. Then I can just join my favourite and swap with minimal disruption and maximum savings. A half hour phone call to Three's retention team taking up my entire lunch break is not something I want to do again.

Monday, January 09, 2017

Peter Shillito's 2016 (ish) film awards

I've seen a lot of films in the cinema in 2016, in different countries too! So, time for some awards! Some of which you might be surprised by...except for one. Definitely won't be surprised by one of these. SO! Without further ado!

The "what? why?" award for critically acclaimed film that was actually awful

Winner: Everybody Wants Some, dir: Richard Linklater

If everyone closed their eyes and listened to the great soundtrack this film had, it would still be a bad film because you'd still have to listen to the actors.
No plot, endorsing stalking and tricking girls into going out with you, characters you can't stand being on-screen, this film is irredeemable. Yet somehow, it got critical acclaim. Nominated for awards even! This film is genuinely the worst film I've seen in 2016. Worse than Batman vs Superman. Worse than Bad Neighbours 2. Worse than Troll 2 (which I also saw for the first time this year).

Honourable mention: Disorder, that weird French film I saw early in the year at a mystery preview screening that nowhere showed after the fact. It was a bad film, but it was still kinda interesting to see what they were doing. It had a plot. It had interesting characters. It was, however, really boring.

The "the hype is real" award for actually good film despite the hype

Winner: your name., dir: Makoto Shinkai

Turns out, this was actually a good film. With it selling trainloads of tickets in Japan, China and now South Korea, I was sceptical, but it turns out I fully enjoyed this film. Heck, I even cried a bit on my first viewing at Scotland Loves Anime. A few people argue that it's not the best animated film this year, typically citing A Silent Voice as better, but I didn't enjoy that film tbh. It made its point, then kept trying to hammer it in harder to the point of it just getting tiring. I also had the experience of having a girlfriend who used their disability as an excuse to pushing hate and blame onto others and being a genuinely bad person, so perhaps I have an extra barrier to these things. But of course, everything is subjective, so I won't begrudge people considering this film better than your name..

Honourable mention: Deadpool. This film had quite a lot of hype despite being a superhero film. I was cautious what with it potentially relying on breaking the fourth wall a lot for comedy, but it turned out great! It was a great film I thoroughly enjoyed.

The "hipster bullshit" award for film nobody else saw that I rate as one of the best films of the year

Winner: I Belonged to You (从你的全世界路过), dir: Zhang Yibai (張一白)

Living and working within a not-unreasonable drive or train to Manchester means I get to see some foreign films quite regularly. The Trafford Centre shows a lot of Indian films, while the Printworks shows Chinese and Korean films. By sheer chance, I went to a screening of the Chinese film "I Belonged to You" in its short run in the Printworks cinema. The synopsis appealed to me as it is partially focussed on a recently dumped radio presenter (been there) but also several other characters all with their own quirks. All the characters' lives overlap and we see couples form and break, either naturally or unnaturally. It's a lovely film, and possibly the best film I've seen all year. When it's funny, it's hilarious. When it's sad, I'm crying my eyes out. I cared about every single character in this film. As it's a Chinese film, I am struggling to find any evidence of a release on disc in the west, but I'm keeping an eye out. Worst case scenario, I've got an import from China on the way. Shout outs to the Chinese student who spoke to me (the only white person in the screening) afterwards and recommended I try to read the book that the film was based off. Sadly, said book seems to be not available in English. Guess I need to learn Chinese...

Honourable mention: A Flying Jatt. This Indian (Hindi) superhero film was hilarious and comparable to Deadpool in terms of enjoyability. Again, a limited run for this film, but it was great fun, had impressive fight scenes with a limited about of CGI due to their casting choices (actual wrestler for the baddie, for example). As with all Bollywood films, the soundtrack stood out particularly with the usual dance sequences Bollywood is known for. The second half got a bit ropey, but it was a definite great film.

The "is it Aikatsu?" award for the series tie-in film of the year

Winner: Aikatsu Stars! the movie, dir: Shinya Watada

I was honoured to see this film in the cinema in Japan, and since it's a series I'm somewhat invested in (both culturally and financially, yes I have the blu-ray on order) I had high hopes for it. Despite watching it with little Japanese knowledge, I could follow a lot of what was being said, at least from how people were reacting and a little background reading on what it was about. As an added bonus, the film had an original Aikatsu short (though I think it was episode length?) before the Aikatsu Stars film itself. It was certainly one of the highlights of my trip to Japan in 2016. I won't get another until 2018 at the earliest :(

Honourable mention: Girls und Panzer der film. It came out in 2015 in Japan, but 2016 here. It was a pretty good film also. Once again, the Scotland Loves Anime crowd boosted the enjoyment of the screening for sure.

The "shut your face, it's actually a good film" award for film I seem to be the only one who likes

Winner: Ghostbusters (2016), dir: Paul Feig

Putting aside the whole sexist angle that a disappointingly large number of people are following for hating this film, I have heard some genuine and well thought out criticisms of this film that I will gladly accept as opinions. That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed this film. For real. I hope they do more, and I will re-watch it in the cinema plenty of times I suspect. I did for this one!

Honourable mention: Jem and the Holograms. It only came to the UK in 2016 way later than everyone else, and it was a fairly enjoyable romp with some amazing outfits and make-up. The directing was a bit of a mess (a lot of a mess) but definitely not the worst thing ever! (it wasn't Everybody Wants Some).

The "still got it" award for film from years ago that was worth seeing in the cinema for the first time

Winner: 2001: A Space Odyssey, dir: Stanley Kubrick

I've seen this film at home before, but never in a cinema. I was fortunate to be available for a film festival at Manchester Printworks where they made a point of showing the film exactly as intended. If I remember right, it featured longer blank screens with music and also a 10 minute intermission which was omitted in both the home release and many cinema showings of it since. It was the perfect way to see this film.

Honourable mention: The Shining. Also Stanley Kubrick, I'd never actually seen this film in full before, and the version showed was an extended cut ("the longest possible cut" according to Odeon themselves) which was an added bonus.

The "Peter Shillito endorses this movie" award for film of the year

The final award for this blog is a tricky one. I could be lazy and say your name. or I Belonged to You, or even be daft and say Aikatsu Stars. But that doesn't seem fair. What's the film that, further down the line, I won't forget and consider the film that defined my 2016.

Winner: Kubo and the Two Strings, dir: Travis Knight

This film is beautiful, heartwarming and unforgettable. I heartily recommend people go see it. I particularly like the designs for the aunts, who remain genuinely terrifying just from being a static figure through to being a moving threat.

Honourable mention: everything else I've mentioned in this blog (except Everybody Wants Some). All of these films are great in various ways, and I strongly recommend trying some of the Indian and Asian films that come out in the cinema here in the UK.

Also, when's the next Aikatsu movie?

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Meeting your idols

My experiences with meeting famous people in real life are kinda strange. I seem to be very inconsistent in how I handle things. Here's a list of situations that come to mind as far as this goes:

1) Meeting three members of Aikatsu Stars, August 2015, Tokyo
On my first visit to Japan, I was quite fortunate to have timed it to a few weeks before the launch of the new Aikatsu movie. Amusingly (read: tragically), I left Japan a week before it launched in cinemas. Gutted. Anyway, news came in of this event to me while I was staying in Kyoto with two friends. The day of the event, my friends were hiking up Mt. Fuji. So, I did what any good friend would do: leave them to it and go to Tokyo. I got the first Shinkansen train from Kyoto up to Tokyo (discounting the subway prior, the Shinkansen was at 6:14am, so I slept for most of my first ever journey on the Shinkansen, go team!) then made my way to Tokyo Skytree where the event was being held.

On the way there (when I wasn't sleeping on my first ever Shinkansen ride) I was trying to figure out what I was going to say to the members of Aikatsu Stars were I to get to say anything to them. I wasn't sure if I would be able to get a ticket to the thing as they were on sale beforehand, but I would try anyway and get to visually see them if nothing else. So I was using what little Japanese I knew combined with getting some words from Google Translate, then typing out in Google Translate in Japanese and seeing if the result made some sense (I figured just typing English into Google Translate and trying to speak it would just get me into trouble and I wanted to understand what I was saying).

So I arrived, bought a variety of Aikatsu goods, and then three members of Aikatsu Stars (Ruka, Mona and Miki) arrived and did a little speech about the film and that they're honorary shop managers for the day or something. I got told off by someone in the crowd for taking a photo (NO PHOTO) and then wandered around Skytree until my timeslot.
Here's the interesting bit. This is the first time I've met someone famous, let alone someone who is so integrated into my life (music, anime, radio, etc) so, as you can expect, I was a nervous wreck! I got in the queue quite early, and it seems to be an unwritten rule that the old idol fans let the kids go in front of you (which is fair, as making kids queue kinda sucks). This means I was the second person to speak to them in this timeslot. First adult, and only blatant foreigner. No pressure. So I promptly forgot most of what I wanted to say save for "Nice to meet you, I'm Peter and I'm British. Thank you for your singing/music." The amount of time they gave me seemed longer than I was expecting, and ended up saying "thank you" a bunch of times. Maybe they gave me more time cos I'm a foreigner, I dunno. Either way, they were all pretty impressed when I said I was British (I suspect it's not common that there's someone British going to an Aikatsu Stars idol meet and greet). Then I got my poster, and that was it. It wasn't much, but I got to meet them, say thank you (a lot) and got a signed poster. I'd say it was a good day.

I'm hoping next time, I manage an actual conversation, and also I hope Nanase is there. The events I went to the following year (2016) had all seven members in a row and you were kinda funnelled through each one pretty quickly, but these were events with a mini-live concert, so were a bit different. Perhaps they're getting too big (both in numbers and in popularity) to have them on a table for you to chat to for a little bit. I dunno. From what I understand, several of the members are affiliated with DearStage, so they might turn up at the cafes and the like. I only found out about it towards the end of my most recent stay in Japan, so this is something to check out for next time. I could also do with chatting to the various Aikatsu fans on my Twitter timeline to find out where I should go, as I've seen several with signed polaroids of members (particularly Ruka).

2) Meeting Charisma.Com at Hyper Japan, July 2016, London
Charisma.Com is a group I've been into for quite a while, so I made a major effort to get to Hyper Japan to see them. Only a month before going to Actual Japan™, I made my way to London and watched the live performances on both the Friday and the Saturday. The accoustics were awful, the floor was level (so those at the back probably couldn't see anything except for that bit when Itsuka was on a stepladder) but it was a damn good show, full of energy and character. I was also very impressed that the set-list for each show was different, so those seeing them every day got a few songs different each time. Honestly, I feel like they're way too big and professional a group for Hyper Japan, but I'm not sure if we'll see them again in the UK. I'll keep an eye out. Anyway, after the show, they came out for signing autographs. Special thanks to @digikerot for giving me a spare "Shikishi Board" as I left my CDs and vinyl at home (I was really hoping to get them to sign my vinyl, maybe next time). I got to speak with them a bit too, which was cool. They were very down-to-earth and knew a little English, and I knew a little Japanese, which also helped. Of course, I have to ruin everything. Gonchi asked me a question and I was very confused about what was said. Turns out, she was asking if the CD I left at home was OLest, their most recent album at the time. It was, by the way, and this was essentially them asking if I'm an avid fan and importing their music from Japan, which I am lol. Very disappointed in myself for getting confused by this. "OLest" is a strange enough title for an album that I should've recognised it immediately >_<

3) NOT meeting bis at The Deaf Institute, May 2016, Manchester
Sometimes, you just bottle out of something you really wish you did. I've been a fan of bis for quite a few years, although I've not really got all their music yet (more on this shortly). Until comparatively recently, I've been too nervous to go to gigs/concerts/etc on my own, so this was a big deal for me. So I made my way down to Manchester after work and after getting food, etc, I got to The Deaf Institute a fair bit earlier than necessary and found a space in the already very full bar. It was then that I spotted the members of bis at a table on the other side of the room chatting and having drinks. I then promptly spent about half an hour trying to encourage myself to head over and say hello/wish them luck for the show/etc. This is a band I am very fond of and listen to almost every day along with the usual Aikatsu stuff, so yeah, I'm a fan. Of course, I couldn't do it, and instead spoke to the person who sat next to me because there were no empty tables (hello Rachel, I am glad I met you, you're cool).

So then I went to the music hall and watched the three bands playing: iLL, BIG ZERO and bis. Three bands with reckless disrespect for capitalisation. iLL and BIG ZERO I had never heard before this gig, so it was cool hearing something new, and both I bought CDs from. This was a very informal gig and both bands came down to watch bis later on. I ended up chatting to members from both as well, so that was also really cool. bis, on the other hand, mostly played songs I've never heard of before, so that shot my idea of being a "big fan" right down hahaha! Still, this turned out okay with chatting with members from iLL and BIG ZERO, plus a couple of people I met in the bar earlier. Overall, it was a good social experience. Hopefully, if I ever see bis in a pub again, I'll say hi, but I'll probably end up glancing over occasionally and blushing into a pint of dandelion and burdock.