Making an Arse of Myself in Wellington

I think I have put it this way before: it is a sad sight to see a shop-keeper react to four thousand people simultaneously bursting into his tiny little antique business. He sweeps up the broken china, splintered wood and glass, eyes his ruined business and then casts me a baleful glare. ‘But you asked me to tell people about your shop!’ I want to cry out, but he shakes his head and turns his back on me and I tip-toe guiltily away feeling as if I have been the most awful bully.

Google, YouTube, facebook, Amazon – I can of course be sure of the biggies bearing up under any kind of strain but otherwise I and my two little Twitter helpers have established a system whereby everyone who wants a charitable or useful cause tweeted has to go through my website and see what you might call the terms and conditions. It involves emailing and being told how to set about “applying” for a mention or RT. That in itself isn’t a guarantee of course. I may decide that a sponsored backpack up the Inca Trail just isn’t enough, or that I’ve tweeted about libraries six times that week and I should give them a rest for a while.

I honestly don’t otherwise know how I could run that side of twitter without constant mishap. As it is I carelessly break my own rules from time to time and will unthinkingly hit the RT button and crash someone’s site. I did it the other day to a kind New Zealand girl who had written a blog that had, it seemed to me, precisely got the point behind my most recent debacle. More of that in a moment.

Be yourself…

Above all — and I have been dispensing this advice to people who have asked me about joining twitter since it began, politicians, entertainers, friends, journalists, whoever — I have to be myself on twitter. It is utterly useless and painfully transparent and wholly counterproductive to construct a false personality, or always to be in exactly the same mood. If I tweeted regularly, always in the same restrained, friendly, perfectly pitched and framed register, it would (in my opinion) be creepy and unreal. Twitter is a social network, and man as a social animal is a victim of moods, appetites, weariness, phases, energy loss and any number of other imponderables. I am not a machine, my tweeting is not regular, consistent, predictable or flawless. And sometimes, I tweet like an arse, without thought or sense.


There are days too when the very prospect of opening Twitter fills me with dread. I cannot face the number of DMs, the potentially upsetting insults, the sorrowful appeals for help. I keep the lid on the box closed and get on with whatever else I’m doing. There are other days (and I am going through such a time now) when I might be on a film set, in a country thousands of miles and over a dozen time zones away from home. My tweeting device of choice will have to be switched off while I’m working and when finally we wrap, it’ll be six in the morning in Britain and I’ll be ready for nothing much more than a Martini and bed.

And then sometimes, without one ever seeming to spot it, another Incident rears its ugly – or sometimes fascinatingly beautiful – head.

How did it happen?

Here I am in New Zealand, a country that I love, working on a film, The Hobbit. I have rented a little house in Wellington and it has a broadband connection provided by just about the only player in the game here, TelecomNZ. If you are British think of them of the rump of a denationalized Post Office, much as our GPO became British Telecom which in turn became  BT and  Cellnet and O2.

Well, I won’t take you into the full details, but one morning I found, much to my surprise, that my (already rather slow)  connection had been strangulated to a crawl. A data download limit had been reached and, all unknowing, I had fallen victim to the dreaded throttle. Pioneered by the unpopular Comcast, who own so much of the infrastructure in the US, the throttle is applied here in New Zealand and over the Tasman Sea in Australia as well, to those who exceed a contractually agreed download limit. It might be 50GB, it might be 200. Now, if such a system is mutually agreed, this might be regarded as perfectly fair and reasonable, and doubtless it is in many people’s eyes. I confess that in my lazy way of being accustomed to Britain’s service (which is by no means universally perfect) it just never crossed my mind that a civilised country would do this. Maybe it’s the future and will happen with electricity, gas and water. But as a “power user” who regularly downloads new beta versions of whole operating systems (but doesn’t file share or bit torrent) and the partner in a production company I do get to down and upload large files.

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19 comments on “Making an Arse of Myself in Wellington”

  1. KarenInglis says:

    Stephen – this is a great post! Spot on. I don’t catch your tweets that often [Following just 150 odd people I find it difficult enough to see the wood for the trees...] :) But when I do they are always a joy to read – and so nice that you are just ‘yourself’. Keep it up :) New Zealand sounds wonderful. @kareninglis x

  2. bfountaine says:

    Stephen, I’m a Kiwi, living in England, and have of course experienced broadband from both sides. I have to smile at the reaction you have received to an offhand tweet, the words storm and teacup spring to mind. I love being a Kiwi and love NZ as a whole and a lot of the attitudes/reactions my people give to many situations, Kiwis have an amazing capacity to care, and pull together and support each other but sadly in this instance I’m afraid you’ve inadvertantly stumbled upon a fairly typical Kiwi reaction, when not much happens, mountains can easily be made out of molehills. I love that one tweet can be escalated to government level and that you got a full page advert in the newspaper in response but have to say, be proud you’ve given a nation of 4 million something to talk about for 5 mins and rest assured the next storm will be brewing in a teacup somewhere else in the country as we type!

  3. themarkcraig says:

    Fantastic article Stephen! laughed all the way through. I am a Scotsman living in Wellington and just LOVE how New Zealanders, bless them all, jump on stories like your tweet. It hit the websites mere minutes after your tweet and indeed did have the honour of breaking news for about half an hour! I do agree with you and feel that while this is a fabulous country with great people, they do have an opportunity to be at the very forefront of technology/broadband/internet if they wanted to be! Love Telstra’s reaction to it all as well …..very clever!

  4. passcrow says:

    Incredibly well said. Let the wind blow, never change.

  5. DominicSayers says:

    Pedantry alert: it’s Distributed Denial of Service. I know you like to get the geeky stuff right.

  6. minnican says:

    Excellent reading Mr. Fry….. a welcome break in my day over coffee and cake….!

  7. ElvinaGB says:

    Never apologize for a good rant. It’s a healthy thing to do once in a while. Have a great time filming in NZ.

  8. mitchpixx says:

    Stephen, if your broadband and time allows you to read this :-) I follow many on Twitter who will regularly ‘retweet’ as requested… and I have to say, its boring and bordering on the banal! It reminds me of those people who go to concerts and gigs and are constantly striving to gain the eye and attention of the band/group/performer etc. Its pathetic and serves absolutely no purpose! So, please continue to tweet as inanely as you wish – I for one find it amusing, uplifting and eye-opening at times and would never take offence at finding out that you are, against all odds, a human being! (@MitchPixx, should the desire to thank me personally prove too much to resist ;) )

  9. Thistleryver says:

    That TelstraClear ad is quite funny. It would have won them a fan if I wasn’t already a customer (disatisfaction — grass is always greener with the other ISP).

    I really think that nothing less than half a page could be called a “rant” and nothing without capital letters, an excess of exclamation marks and a few swears could be called an “outburst”. I’m moving to make these official definitions. :P

  10. Agrarian says:

    They say it takes a big man to admit his mistakes! Personally I totally celebrated your remarks. NZ broadband is the pits and Telecom is totally unresponsive. My broadband is scarcely faster than dial up, but regrettably, I am just a customer and Telecom is not interested.Nor are they going to reduce their extortionate $100+ per month fee. But, your comments were front page news. Thank you. Have a great time in Godzone, and if you are inclined I for one would be happy for you to make the odd provocative comment.

  11. jyork89 says:

    Thank you Stephen for this great blog post and hopefully it can put some of the naysayers at rest.

    As a New Zealander I understand all to well just how lousy our internet is. While we once were considered to be the pinnacle of technological innovation, New Zealand is now held back by our dated telecommunications network and overpriced internet. Anyone who claims otherwise is either still using a typewriter, does not know what the internet is, is in denial, or a combination of the three.

    I have traveled quite extensively myself and am always shocked to find countries that are often considered to be developing or on the lower spectrum of developed (Eastern European for example) having better internet than my own country. Your “outburst” was simply stating what many New Zealanders already think and anyone who is will to look outside their front door will instantly realize.

    Not only is the internet here in a terrible state it proves a valuable lesson against the dangers of monopolies. Even now Telecom has far more power than any single company should have. And as a result we are now ripped off in exchange for extremely poor services. I believe simply by reigning in Telecom even further, the government could lead to improvements of the internet by competing private parties. From what I understand though, right now other ISP’s still have to pay a line charge to telecom. So even if they have the best intents their service will still be overpriced due to Telecom ransoming them.

    Don’t get me wrong. I love my country. I love the people. I love living here. And even though I might one day leave I will likely return eventually. Yet the internet is such a major part of my lifestyle that it unfortunately strongly influences my opinion of my country. Getting a $180 internet bill every month makes me wince. Especially since I am getting slower internet than many comparable countries.

    Being a resident of Christchurch I can understand my internet will probably be lousy for a while. For now the priority for much of the country will be the rebuild. But regardless of that we should definitely not forget about the other issues. If we over focus on Christchurch we will wake up 50 years from now realizing that the rest of the world has flying cars while we are back to horse and carriage.

    As far as I am concerned, have as many “outbursts” as you wish. If anybody gets their knickers in a twist, just claim that it was merely constructive criticism. Frankly, I am amazed it took so long for someone to say what you did.

  12. Orcmeister says:

    Dear Stephen,

    Given the deluge of electronic communication you subject yourself to I’m not even sure you’re going to read this, but here goes anyway

    Just a couple of points (in no special order)in response to your sprawling epic of a blog:

    1) Whenever you are in Wellington, you seem to bring less than brilliant weather with you. Have you considered the possibility you’re the reincarnation of an Antipodean Douglas Adams-esque rain god?

    2) You’re welcome back in Wellington any time but please continue to be yourself. I suspect you’d be far less interesting if you weren’t.

    3) I shouldn’t feel too apologetic about your broadband storm in a tweet-cup if I were you. You only said what most Kiwis already feel.

    I hope you to continue your time Hobbiting away here in Wellington. My daughter is an extra at the moment, taking the pivotal role of one of your fellow citizens of Laketown. Fair warning, if you find yourself in the catering tent one lunch you may be very accosted by a long-haired young lass and politely asked for your autograph!

  13. Mark Lincoln says:

    Crikey, quite a blog post! Nice to hear your full side of it. I actually blogged about your Telecom Tweets ( I took Telecom’s side at the time as the fault wasn’t really theirs and yet so many Kiwis were so keen to jump on the bandwagon and lay into them!

    Then again, they’ve recently reported a 6 month profit of $1 billion so I guess there is room for some investment in a few cables there!

    Enjoy the rest of your time in New Zealand.

  14. michael says:

    i’ve never been to NZ (though i’d love to just for the birds :) )

    but whenever i visit my hometown in rural oklahoma i’m pretty much cut off from things that my coworkers expect me to have access to.

    there is nothing but dialup unless my folks want to buy a big satelite dish…and i can only call or text someone if i’m standing out by the barbwire fence & holding an aluminum can of dr pepper up in my other hand for an antenna. totally not good during lightning storms…

  15. Msconduct says:

    Stephen, you’re entirely right about the suckitude of our broadband, and if your remarks actually make a difference I’ll be pathetically grateful. Thank you also for the graciousness of your other remarks about New Zealand. There’s nobody Kiwis love more than an Englishman who a) discovers how wrong the image is that most Britons have of New Zealand of being a little England stuck 30 (50?) years in the past and b) broadcasts it. Keep this up and you’re in serious danger of becoming an honorary Kiwi.

  16. NinaJC says:

    Dear Stephen,

    I’ve resisted registration on this lovely site for reasons of mere efficiency; as when one goes to a large department store, rather than to boutiques, I would like to gather all of my information and cultural experiences in a one-stop-shopping effort with the minimum number of passwords and other of the detritus of digital life. However, that hasn’t proved successful, since some personalities and world views succeed in combining high with low, practical with beautiful, and, I might add, some very attractive merchandise – I may break down and get the cab/squid T-shirt yet.

    I so admire the breadth of your talents, that I may make this day (one year only) Stephen Fry Day and whistle up some old episodes of Blackadder. (Your registration page demands birth date, so you will have some idea of how far back my catalogue goes; I had a Cab Calloway indulgence last evening – that man was HIGH a good deal of the time, I feel sure….and to good effect, on film at least).

    Anyway, I tried to see if you’re a presence on Google+ so that I could my laziness, and having no luck at finding you registered there to blog, I made an attempt to cross-pollinate by referring to one of your posts and linking to your site; it really is lovely, especially the graphic on the home page. Finally, you make tweeting seem possible and fun for the long winded.

  17. larry229 says:

    I’m not on twitter, but I heard about your complaint pretty fast! I wouldn’t feel too embarrassed, I don’t think I know anyone who is actually pleased with Telecom Broadband. I believe when I was looking up internet plans in Consumer Magazine their customer satisfaction was only around 40%. As for it causing a storm in a teacup, well, that’s the thing about New Zealand. We’re rather small and, earthquakes aside, we’re a rather slow news sort of place. The Hobbit is big news, and any celebrities who deign to come here are big news, and you happen to be big news on both counts. And our broadband really does suck.

  18. Nitro says:

    I don’t mind writing when I’m drunk and angry, so I shall and…

    Wait a damn minute here!

    You’re NOT a public service?!!

    Then why the hell is there this “SF” tax of 15$ on my utilities bill every month?

    All this time I thought it was a Stephen Fry tax.

    Hmmm…maybe it actually stands for San Francisco…

    I don’t follow you on twitter and, in being myself, have to admit I don’t really care about all this floffal about whatever happened when you said some thing. I just want your blogs to get better. The kind you wrote before you were always defending yourself and referencing your followers and etc etc etc.

    You can be really eloquent on some pretty cool topics ( please don’t do geek stuff too often….I’m a geek and they make me nervous, not droolie ).

    Oops, the fun stuff’s kicking in so I better bail out here. Bye. :)

  19. Kate Terence says:

    Dear Mr Fry, I loved reading about your journey. It is so easy to assume that people in your position (successful, famous, talented) never experience these types of incidents like we mortals do. Travelling, traffic and toilets are three of the great levellers in life, don’t you think? Yours with smiling admiration, Kate Terence, currently blogging Kate Terence’s Letters from Hollywood

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