Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Hello, Barbara, please stop bothering me while I write

“HELLO, is that Mrs Semmens?”
“May I speak with Mrs Semmens, please?”
“I’m afraid there’s no one of that name here.”
“Are you Mr Semmens?”
“Then may I speak with Mrs Semmens, please?”
“No. As I told you. If you want my mother, she has a different number, but I can’t give it to you until I’ve checked with her whether she wants to speak to you.”
“Is she Aidan Semmens?”
“No. I am.”
“Then perhaps I can speak to you, Mrs Semmens… ”
Do I sound like a Mrs to you? Since you probably don’t know the answer to that directly, does the photo of me at the top of this page look like someone who would sound like a Mrs to you?
Later that same day…
“Hello, is that Mrs Semmens?” It’s a different voice this time – this one sounds like a woman – but with the same obviously Indian or Bangladeshi accent.
“No. This is Mr Semmens.”
“May I please speak to Mrs Semmens?”
“There’s no one of that name here. Can I help you?”
“This is Barbara, calling from [name of some company I’ve never heard of and have forgotten by the time the conversation’s over]. This is just a courtesy call. How are you today?”
Well, I was fine until I kept being interrupted. Your understanding of the word ‘courtesy’ – or at least the concept of courtesy held by the company [name forgotten] you have the misfortune to work for – is obviously a little different from mine.
And while I have friends from the sub-continent, and a friend called Barbara, they are definitely different people. I know of no one called Barbara – nor, despite claims made in other recent conversations, any Peter, Richard, Michael or Mary – who has that particular accent. (Though, come to think of it, I did once know a David from Calcutta… )
The proliferation of such nuisance calls is getting beyond a joke. Heaven knows how much worse it might be if our number were listed in the phonebook.
It’s almost 18 years since I left the Labour Party after getting a series of cold calls asking for money. There were other, more significant, reasons – not least the party’s alarming lurch to the right under Tony Blair – but the calls were the final straw at the time.
The charities I support don’t bother me by phone, thankfully, though others occasionally do.
Neither, less happily, do they take any notice of my requests not to keep sending me begging letters through the post. Presumably they take the view that it would be more expensive to administer the opt-out than to keep sending the letters – though I should think it must be a close call.
The mountain of junk mail that builds up on the doormat is probably much more wasteful of cash and resources than the deluge of unwanted phone calls. And both must cost a lot more than circulating spam emails, where the marginal cost of each one must be practically zero.
In every case, of course, whether begging for donations or trying to sell me something I don’t want, it’s my money they’re after. And, frankly, they can’t have it.
But it’s the phone calls that really get my goat.
Junk mail is easily dropped straight in the recycling bin. And while the spam filter is a long way short of foolproof – the biggest danger being messages you would have wanted that get flushed away unseen – it doesn’t demand your attention as insistently as a ringing phone.
One friend of mine has instructed her children to respond to cold calls by saying, “Hang on, I’ll just get my mum”, then leaving the phone lying on the table while they go off and do something else.
Another is routinely and loudly foul-mouthed to cold-callers. That seems unnecessarily unkind to the callers themselves, who are, after all, only doing their job. And not, one imagines, a job they would choose if there were anything better available.
This does not excuse the caller who was startlingly rude the other day to my sister when she declined to fork out a substantial sum for the privilege of being removed from the offending firm’s database. Which sounds to me like a clear case of attempted extortion, and therefore illegal. In this country, anyway, which is probably not where the call was made from, or the database held.
“Hello, is that Mr Semmens? This is Tracey from [some other company]. Just a courtesy call... ”
“Hang on, Tracey, it’s really nice to speak to you but I’ve got to finish a column I’m writing for the Ipswich Star. So why don’t you just stop wasting my time and yours? Goodbye.”
Meanwhile, a short distance across town, my mother, the real Mrs Semmens, keeps getting calls demanding that she be Mrs Harrison…

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