The desire to sing comic songs on the ruins

The following telephone conversation (more or less) took place, yesterday, Thursday.

Me: Hello.

Caller: Good morning, can I speak to Mrs Wallace?

Me: I am Mrs Wallace, who are you?

Caller: I am from Telephone Preference Service, I am here to tell you that we are going to block all nuisance calls and scammers to your phone –

Me: You should be doing that already, and you’re not very successful. And I’m afraid I’m highly suspicious of your call –

Caller rings off.

We are an old-fashioned family, and we have a landline. So sometimes the phone rings. This ought to be a good thing. Who can it be?

Occasionally it’s from a person I know, such as one or two of the readers of this blog. “Hello, friend, husband or brother! How nice of you to call!”

Occasionally it’s some other miscellaneous person, for a good reason. Or even a call for someone other than me.

But mostly one of the following happens:

  1. Is that Mrs Wallace? I am calling from a survey company with a few simple questions, I will only take a few moments of your time…
  2. Is that Mrs Wallace? This is a telephone management service/Virgin Media/your internet provider, and we have identified a problem…
  3. (Automated voice) This is a call from your internet provider. Your internet will be switched off in 24 hours, press 1 for assistance
  4. No sound until I or they ring off
  5. No sound until an automated voice says “Goodbye.

All of these are exceedingly annoying. (5) is probably the worst, because one can’t even acquire moral credit for not shouting at the time-waster.

When I say “exceedingly annoying” I mean that they arouse in me a deeper and more furious rage than almost anything or anyone else, except the President of the USA. Why isn’t there a button I can press to give these phony phoners (and their employers) a safe but painful electric shock?

(You may remember the person in the story who was so annoyed by aggressive notice boards that he wanted to kill the man responsible, slaughter his family, friends and relations, burn down his house and sing comic songs on the ruins. I’m not saying I’d go quite that far, but… If you don’t remember this person, you could google “Three Men in a Boat” by Jerome K Jerome, or just “Harris comic songs on the ruins”, and come back when you’ve stopped laughing.)

Back to phone menaces. These people or their computers have got our number from somewhere, and are trying to make use of it to obtain money on their own or some other company’s behalf, honestly or dishonestly, but in any case against our wishes.

Yes, we are signed up for the Telephone Preference Service, but it doesn’t stop them.

These calls most frequently occur between at 8.30 am (getting set up for the day time), 12 and 1 (lunchtime), or between 6.30 and 7 (cooking tea time). One understands why this is – they want to get me in. But I have pots on the stove! GO AWAY!

It has also been explained to me why (4) and perhaps (5) happen – the phone bank calls lots of numbers in the expectation that most of them will go unanswered. So if I answer at the same time as someone else, my phone may remain silent. Again, I understand the fiendish logic, but that doesn’t make me like it. “We want to call you for our convenience to make money out of you, although we know it will almost certainly annoy. Let’s make this even more frustrating for you than it already is, so that we can pester more people in the same amount of time!”

Some of these calls, while VERY ANNOYING, are (I assume) comparatively innocent, ie the survey company is genuine, and notes are being taken. But others are despicable. In the modern world most people’s internet connection is both essential and incomprehensible. To be told that it’s in danger is very bad news. Someone with a landline is more likely to be computer illiterate (like me), older and potentially vulnerable.

You may object that sometimes (as with the “telephone management services/internet provider”) I am assuming it is a scam, when it may not be. I don’t usually let them get far enough to find out. This is true, but the fact that they ring off as soon as I sound suspicious confirms my prejudice. Recently a man claimed to be from the Telephone Management Service (sic), and I rang off. I realised that my assumption that he was a scammer was partly because of his Indian accent. So am I racist as well as rude?

Because I am rude. The conversation quoted above was comparatively gentle. When the phone rings I often pray that I will be polite, and perhaps tell them nicely that they need to repent. But I frequently fail. Many people I know manage to be genuinely charming while turning these people down. (“Thank you for calling, but I’m afraid… I’ll consider it, but…”)

Not me.

Long ago I had a conversation something like this:

Caller: something something survey…

Me: I’m afraid I’m very busy, so I can’t…

Caller: (not listening) It’s just a few questions…

Me (audibly angry): I said “I’m very busy,” so NO.

Caller (audibly shocked): Well, that’s disgraceful, that’s appalling…(mutter mutter)

End of call.

I remember this with shame.

I don’t usually regard myself as an aggressive or rude person, and I’m genuinely curious as to why I’m so harsh, or want to be so harsh, to complete strangers who telephone for what I consider spurious reasons.

Searching what passes for my soul, I’ve come to the following conclusions:

  1. These people cannot get back at me, so I can express my illwill without any need for the courage that would be required if they were standing right there;
  2. More than most people, I take the view that a Briton’s home is her castle, and shouldn’t be invaded;
  3. Also more than most people, I may believe that “my time is my own,” despite the fact that I’ve read “The Screwtape Letters” – “the assumption… is so absurd that… even we cannot find a shred of argument in its defence;”
  4. Years of experience in an office have emphasised my shameful fear of the phone. Phone calls there so often mean bad news, delicate negotiations or trouble, occasionally even shouting.

Blog readers will notice that these are all very very bad reasons for being rude, and especially for being self-righteously rude. The victims of my bullying may be honest people, and almost all of them are trying to earn a living, at the mercy of probably unpleasant and ungenerous employers: the kind of people with whom you’d expect a Christian and a socialist to sympathise.

Love from the PPI Blogger

PS Nice people, please keep calling! Just don’t try to sell me life assurance.

PPS PPI Blogger apologies for the lack of the usual Chesterton quote this week, and hopes you will be satisfied with CS Lewis and Jerome K Jerome.

  • Judith Leader

    7th September 2018 at 5:54 pm Reply

    1) Get caller display.
    2) Telephone preference service cannot block overseas calls. If you know it is not an overseas call you can tell them that it is an offence to call someone who is on the telephone preference list. When that has happened to me I usually get an apology and a promise to remove my number and never hear from them again. If they are rude or ring again (make a note of their number) either report them to the TPL or if they phone again report them. Incidentally I always ask who is speaking before I let them know I am the person they want, depending on who is on the line.
    3) Overseas calls either show, that is when you have got caller display, either out of area or some number that doesn’t look right. I often wait till they have called off and then try and phone back, usually a voice says that the number hasn’t been recognised or something like that. If it does ring I put it down anyway as you don’t know who you are calling or what it costs. It is not much use blocking overseas numbers as they just purport new ones.
    When I read the title of your blog I was immediately put in mind of Three Men in a Boat, it used to be one of my all times favourites and having read it again re book group I was delighted that I still loved it. When I was doing my nurses training we used to do three months night duty in a block, a year. Part of my routine prior to go on nights was to read Three Men in a Boat, I rarely re-read books.

  • Clint Redwood

    7th September 2018 at 8:15 pm Reply

    I regularly get called by people, usually young women, who tell me that they have been notified of the accident I have had.

    I reply politely they have no such information and are just cold calling and hang up.

    However I pity the people who are so desperate for work that they take on a call centre job that involves lying to people all day.

    • Penelope Wallace

      10th September 2018 at 11:36 am Reply

      You see what I mean? Clint is a nice person, who responds with courtesy and pity. I am only like this on a very good day.
      Thanks for the tips, Judith!

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