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Away from it all with a phone call

I bet you are not reading this paper on the day of publication on a foreign beach. For those (count me in) whose budgets have not stretched to a worldwide extravaganza this year, there is still hope without the lottery. However, it comes with a health warning. Let me explain. If you use BT (and up here in the north we have few alternatives) you have no doubt read about the Friends and Family Draw. The idea is more simplistic than the actuality. First, encourage telephone account holders to identify their most used numbers and claim a discount for dialling those numbers. Then put the icing on the telephone bill cake.

Regularly, BT holds a draw of all those account holders who use Friends and Family and the winner gets to take all their friends and family on a grand holiday with much spending cash for the holiday-makers and much publicity for the aforementioned telecommunications company. The good news, for those of us with no vacation booked, is that there are two draws yet to be held; one in August and one in September, so keep your fingers crossed that you win, but read on for the cautionary tales. BT tells me that all winners to date live in England, so make sure you have persuaded some contacts down south to include you on their list.

Then, consider the people that you include on your Friends and Family list, and let's assume they are all either a pal or immediate kin. Does this make for the ideal holiday grouping? Are your friends compatible with your family, or perhaps more aptly, does your family get on well enough to contemplate a holiday away together? These days, family can mean and involve numerous former in-laws, step-grandparents and the like, and while the relationship may be exemplary between each and the hub (that's you), their links with each other may not be so pleasurable. Do you really lust after a hot foreign holiday that much?

The problem would seem to be overcome if the winners could pick and choose from the Friends and Family list. And then I realised the full implications. Can you imagine knowing that you were on a winning list, and they crossed you off? The perfect end to a good friendship or familyship. I rang BT to find out if pick 'n' mix was an option, and received two completely different answers. Jason says Yes and David says No. What I did learn from them was that, as expected, people include all sorts of other phone numbers alongside traditional family and friends. Hairdressers and doctors were quoted to me as examples, and when I posed the possibility of a lover being on a friends and family list, the help desk agreed this could be problematic.

It is quite usual for Friends and Family lists to include the phone number of an organisation, and experience warns of the potential outcomes. While teaching, two colleagues visited an exhibition, and filled in a prize draw ticket, answering the questions together but only including one name. They casually agreed that if they won they would go away together. You'll guess the rest. Win they did, and argued about the ownership of the prize to such an extent that it destroyed their professional relationship and nearly split the teaching establishment. David (or was it Jason?) confirmed what I already knew. Most dial-up Internet users include their Internet service provider (ISP) on Friends and Family, so the chances of Compuserve or Demon winning a holiday are growing by the minute. Would you want to take your ISP's representative on holiday with you? Somehow I doubt it. In all fairness, you should consider it from the other point of view. Our business, a Highland-based ISP, has considered the issues. Would we want to go away on holiday with our customers and their great-uncle, ex-husband and old friend from Outer Somewhere? Would they quiz us about exciting concerns like modem strings, or the latest Gatesian update? Would they let us have a holiday at all?

My position is now clear. If I win in my own right, I'll go and take my circle of friends and family, but if I'm on someone else's circle I'll want to be really sure that they are my ideal companions. Enjoy your hols.

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