It is better to give than to pick up the receiver
It was brief respite. We knew it couldn’t last.
For a year, maybe more, we had been relatively untroubled by call centres ringing at lunch time, tea time and supper time wanting to sell us double glazing and associated products. We had registered with a service that filtered out these sales pitches.
Although we still don’t get this kind of cold call, we have lately been besieged by people wanting us to take part in a survey.
Which of us will break first and answer the phone? I’m not moving . . . but it might be an emergency . . . and it’s probably my turn.
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“Good evening, I’m calling from (enter three official sounding initials) and we are conducting a survey into car ownership. May I speak to a driver?”
My favourite way of letting them down gently is simply to lie. “I’m sorry, there are no drivers in this household.” I cannot condone telling untruths, but it does mean they go away and, usually, don’t come back.
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There is the occasional repeat caller. For months we had been called by someone asking if my husband was available.
“I’m sorry, he’s at work,”
“Who’s that on the phone, Lynne?” calls my husband from the sitting room
“No-one, darling.” I yell with my hand firmly over the earpiece before returning to the phone. “Er . . . yes, my husband is definitely at work.”
“I’ll ring back another time, thank you,” says my caller politely and without indicating she knew very well he was there.
Over the next few weeks my husband was either not back home yet or had just gone out each time we got a follow-up call.
Last week, though, I must have been feeling especially benevolent or, perhaps, off-guard because when someone called and promised their questions would only take a minute of my time, I caved in. “Yes, all right.”
“Do you have a disc?”
“Yes, a disc on your house.”
By now it was clear my caller was not from round these parts by a distance of about 4,000 miles.
“Sorry, you’ll have to run that by me again.”
“A disc for getting the television; Sky.”
“Ah. No we don’t have a disc . . . dish.”
“Are you happy for one of our associates to contact you?”
I think the minute was probably up, but it wasn’t steaming through as quickly as we’d hoped so I decided it was only fair to give him another minute.
“Can you tell me if you would consider making a donation to the RSPB; yes, maybe or no?”
This is when you have to gauge what will happen in response to each answer. If you say “yes” you might get a fundraiser in an owl suit arrive on your doorstep. If you say “maybe” you may get a friendly letter, possibly with a free bird sticker, inviting you to join the RSPB. If you say “no”, you are a cruel, heartless person who lets birdies die.
This wasn’t going to be easy.
Relentlessly, my inquisitor went through his exhaustive list of charities, including those supporting lifeboats, blind people, deaf children, breast cancer research and Oxfam (initially misheard as Oggs arm).
Along the way, I’m afraid I consigned millions to a terrible fate and I wasn’t very proud of myself, but at least, I thought, I won’t find myself on any more mailing lists.
Hardly a day goes by when I am not the lucky recipient of an amazing offer.
But it’s no fun being invited to transfer the outstanding balances on all your credit cards to one card, interest free for six months, when you have only one credit card.
This is also the month before my car insurance has to be renewed and I am being bombarded with special deals for the “over-50s” and “three months’ free cover” offers. The shredder is white hot.
My charities caller, a little subdued by now, asked me how old I would be on my next birthday. It was tempting to tell another lie, but, by now I was feeling so bad about myself that only the horrible truth would do.
After I managed to force the number 56 out of my mouth, he then read out my full address and asked me to confirm it and then asked me to confirm my name.
At which point I decided I must have been on the phone for at least five minutes, an experience that had already left me feeling like a worm.
“No, I’m not going to tell you my name. I think I’ve answered enough questions, thank you. Good evening,” I said and put the phone down.
Four days later a letter arrived addressed to “Mr Withheld”.
What organisation could possibly be interested in a merciless old harridan who doesn’t want to give a penny to charity, who doesn’t have a satellite dish and has a highly suspicious surname?
It was a tabloid newspaper and its companion Sunday title promising: “The hottest stories for less,” and “scorching revelations every day.”
So I bought a Big Issue.