It happens at least three times a day, according to my telephone’s log. Sometimes it can be three times an hour.
Someone I don’t know, in a place I have never been to, places a call through a robot dialler and attempts to convince me that, despite a suspiciously subcontinental accent, they are called Belinda – or jauntily assures me with a pleasant Scottish twang that I signed up to receive marketing calls from their clients (what sort of imbecile would knowingly do that?!).
Who are these people who make these calls – and how has it become socially acceptable to force yourself on someone’s time like some irresistible cyber-pedlar? When did it become okay to ignore the pitifully ineffective Telephone Preference Service system so that a student in Glasgow or a housewife in Bangalore can drag you out of the loo, only for you to hear the ghost in the machine click and the line fall dead, your tormentor waiting until you resume your thronely duties to try again?
Sometimes, in my more conspiratorial moments, I wonder if TPS sells lists of numbers just to piss us off.
It is yet another mark of the slow and painful death of manners in the modern age (see Kino rage: the death of cinema etiquette (or… Be quiet!)). It strikes me as quite ironic, really, that while political parties – generally not the most popular of organisations – go to great lengths and expense to ensure their phone lists are TPS-compliant, following the guidance of the Information Commissioner’s Office, it is companies, sales canvassers and charities – yes, even sodding charities – that regularly show a maverick disregard for the law.
So, in an act of defiance which makes me feel a little more like Han Solo (assisting rather than leading the Rebellion), I have taken to rarely answering my land-line unless I recognise the number – or I want a little sport.
Callers for my ex-wife, who left ten years ago, or my ex-partner, who left a year and a half ago, are met with a stunned silence and a stifled sob, before being angrily told they have just dredged up the most painful of memories that I have spent many years trying to bury. (Just to be clear, for anyone who might be concerned I am suffering relationship-related PTSD, this is not true.) In the wrong moment, callers for “Is that Mr Williams?” may simply encounter the version of me that has suspended all rules of civility and receive a stream of epithets worthy of the bluest sergeant major. More mischievously, I might assent to their request to speak to him if they provide the right password. That can be a source of some bafflement.
Or asking extremely technical and detailed questions, before declining.
Or simply answering “yes” to every question.
And finally, those concerned people from Windows (yeah, right) who are at pains to tell me that there is a problem with my computer and that I need their very expensive computer services are usually flummoxed if I request details of the IP address they logged for my computer. Or better still, if I deny the existence of the computer at all and express my concern that there is clearly one planted in the house and operating without my knowledge and request their assistance locating it.
I don’t buy this crap about them “just doing their job”. Of course they are – but their job is intrusive and bloody annoying. If I were being paid to walk around behind people in the street in a giant sausage suit and stick Bockwurst in their ears I would be rightly pilloried for being an annoying arse. “Just doing my job” is not a defence that would get me very far – particularly if those people had paid for a service in all good faith that expressly prohibited people from following them around in giant sausage suits and sticking Bockwurst in their ears. Therefore, when you interrupt the film I am watching, or the book I am reading in the bathroom (currently the rather brilliant collection of short stories by William Trevor), or the long-range sniper shot I am just about to take on the Operation Firestorm map, you’ll have to forgive me if my reaction abandons socially acceptable norms.
In responding like this, I realise that the last laugh is probably on me. I am adopting behaviours that further erode the Blyton-esque values of trust and politeness and goodwill and friendliness that were the bedrock of my growing-up and which seem increasingly absent in many of today’s social transactions.
But they started it. They broke the rules first. Not me.
So. Game on.
Other tips for dealing with cold callers greatly appreciated.