The Parable of Virgin Media

I wanted to buy a new car. My old one was slow and unreliable. There was only one car showroom in town, really. Oh, there were other ones, but they were a long way out of town, and they sold fairly slow, unreliable cars, and the ones in the Virgin Media shop were renowned for their speed. Oh yes, they would say, we’ve got a Virgin car and it’s awesome.

‘We now do cars that go at 100mph!’ all their adverts declared. ‘And if you buy one, we’ll soon upgrade it so that it goes at 200mph!’ This was much more than I needed. A car that went at 70mph would be fine for me. I’d be very happy with that.

So I went to see the man in the shop, and he was very happy to sell me a car that would do 200mph.

‘That’s fine,’ I said, ‘but I really only need to be able to go at 70mph.’

‘You’ll be surprised what you’ll use that speed for once you’ve got it.’

I was, however, to be sadly disappointed. I very rarely found out whether or not it went at 70mph or not, but I only very occasionally needed that. It wasn’t that bad when it only did 20mph, although it was a bit annoying. Other cars were honking at me, and asking me to get out of the way. I was a bit annoyed myself. I mean, I could have got home in two thirds of the time if the car just did 30mph. And it was supposed to be capable of 200!

No, that wasn’t the worst bit. There were times when the car actually wouldn’t go at all. That’s what it seemed like anyway. Do you know how slow half a mile per hour is? It’s about a foot and a half per second. Easily slow enough for me to get out to see if it had stopped, and realise that it was still going along at, well if not a snail’s pace, the pace of a really lazy cat.

The annoying thing was that it didn’t happen all the time. Oh no. If I wanted to go somewhere at 2am in the morning, then I could in fact drive well over 70mph sometimes. But I didn’t very often want to do that. I could drive quite fast if I set off at half past one in the afternoon on a weekday, too. But between six and ten in the evening, and for most of the weekend – any time you actually wanted to go anywhere, in fact, my car slowed down to a walking pace at best.

‘I’d be better off with a bicycle!’ I said to the man at the shop. ‘What’s going on?’

‘Ah,’ he said, ‘yes, that does affect some people.’


‘Well, you’re in an area that has utilisation issues.’

‘I’m sorry, I don’t know what that means.’

‘Hahaha, sir,’ he said. ‘I’m not surprised. No one does. But utilisation does mean that some customers don’t get the same speeds as others. No one knows what it means, or how it works, but our engineers are trying to fix it for you.’

‘Well, I would guess it means that people are – using their cars. Doesn’t it? Does it just mean that people are using their cars? And that’s why it’s slow for me?’

He shook his head with a smile. ‘Oh sir, it’s far too complicated for the likes of us to understand.’

I pointed out that I had degrees in mathematics and law, and that I could probably understand it if someone who did could only explain it to me.

‘Well sir, since you’re obviously suffering more than other people, I’ll be happy to give you some of your money back until your speeds improve.’

‘And when will they improve?’

‘On December 23rd. Or maybe January 27th. Or maybe later. Who knows?’

‘Well, you should, shouldn’t you?’

‘Hahaha, sir.’

‘This is ridiculous.’

‘Well sir, if you’re serious about that bicycle, I will be prepared, on this occasion, to cancel the agreement, and let you have all your money back if you return the car.’

‘But that’s not what I want! I want a car that goes fast enough to be any use whatsoever. Not one that slows down to snail’s pace – ’

‘I think sir said a “lazy cat”. Best not to exaggerate…’

‘even a lazy cat’s pace – whenever anyone who isn’t an insomniac or unemployed actually wants to go anywhere.’

‘Well, we’d all like that sir, but I’m afraid it’s not possible.’

‘Then why are you telling people that it is?’

I pointed to the ‘200mph VIVID’ sign hanging over a very nice looking Porsche.

‘Oh well, sir, of course, it IS possible for most people.’

‘Just not ones with “utilisation issues”.’

‘Even then, sir, it’s seldom as bad as a – hahahah – lazy cat’s pace.’

‘So why me?’

‘No one in the world could possibly understand that sir. It is beyond the wit of man.’



‘You should say “wit of people”. It’s sexist otherwise.’

‘Hahaha. If sir says so.’

‘So what you’re saying is that I have to put up with going at this speed until the “utilisation issues” are fixed on January 27th

‘Or afterwards, sir. There are no guarantees, remember.’

‘But if no one knows why it’s affecting me, then why do you think they’ll be able to fix it?’

‘Oh sir, I can assure you that it will certainly be fixed when the utilisation issues are addressed.’


‘I beg sir’s pardon?’

‘How can you assure me? If it doesn’t happen, I’ll come back in here, and you’ll just say the same thing.’

‘As I have said, sir is welcome to his money back.’

‘I don’t want my money back, I want what I paid for! Not ½% of it.’

‘Then sir will have to wait and see, won’t he?’

And so this is where we are. And where, I fear, we will stay.

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