I love my job. I carry out painstaking linguistic cosmetic surgery on scientific articles, correcting and rephrasing here and there to make it squeaky clean and ready for publication; the linguistic equivalent of transforming David Cameron into Winston Churchill (although the English I correct is rarely that bad). My nose glued to the screen, I sniff out the mistakes like Lindsay Lohan on the scent of a line of coke. Concentration is a must – the house is silent as I batter away on my keyboard and repeat sentences out loud until they sound right. So when the phone interrupts my progress through the thrills and spills of biophysics, turtle genetics or decision-making in primates, I always get up muttering incantations. Only the news that Dr Evil is holding PF hostage in his office would be deemed urgent enough to interrupt my scientific soliloquies.
So I generally stare at the phone and try to work out who it is before picking it up. It’s not an easy mission. The screen of my phone has finally given up the ghost after too many failed bungy jumps out of paint, chocolate or cake-mix covered hands. Its display panel now looks more like a half-finished Tetris game than a line-up of numbers. So when it rings, I can never see who is calling.
If I ignore it, I generally miss a call announcing that Rugby-boy has redecorated the school corridor with vomit, that my long-awaited parcel has gone back to the post office because I didn’t reply when he called, or that P.F. has missed his bus and is stuck in the most unpleasant part of town whilst bored teens with shaved heads lob pebbles at people getting off the tram.
So it goes without saying that when I pick up the phone expecting one of the above situations, there is in fact a brief silence followed by the droning voice of a disinterested human robot who tells me that he or she is delighted to have me on the line before embarking on a ten-minute long speech about roof insulation, window replacements or newfangled technology that will turn my home into the most sexy, ecologically sound joint in the universe.
At the beginning, I listened patiently, before telling them that I didn’t have time. Oh, yeah? No problem, they’ll call you back. Oh, it’s dinner time? No problem. They’ll call you later – just after you’ve brushed your teeth, for a goodnight kiss to your bank account sent all the way from a call centre in India. The next few times, you gratingly explain that it’s very kind of them to think of you, but you don’t need their solar-cycle-powered water heater even if it is the best thing since sliced bread. They insist, and are getting your back up now. No, honestly, you really don’t need their services, and yes, you are still fully capable of making your own decisions without the help of a complete stranger who has just interrupted your afternoon of work/shower/quiet five minutes of reading on the loo (the only place the kids don’t track you down within seconds). No, you don’t need the insulation replacing, and no, unless he has a camera stuffed down the phone line, he cannot presume that your roof has more holes than Jamie Oliver’s sieve.
Six months later, you have had it with being polite with people who won’t take no for an answer. You angrily tell them that if you had said “yes” to them all, your house would currently be in the process of being demolished and rebuilt, and you would be up to your eyeballs in debt to pay for the installation of technology that will be out of date within two years anyway.
You take to acidly informing callers you are not the person they asked for, because they have massacred your name so badly that you don’t even recognise it as your own. Then you really get narked, and start slamming the phone down on them. I did it last week – I had got to the point of no return. I soberly admitted to my pillow that I had been rude; I had compromised both my values and my education. But did I have to waste time listening to all their drivel for the sake of politeness?
I therefore got working on a few solutions that would safeguard my legendary British cool. Here are my favourite new techniques for cold callers; I’ve been trying them out this week, and am proud to say that they work beautifully.
Firstly, immediately interrupt their spiel asking sweetly who they are (Nathalie who? How do you spell that?) and what company they are from. Then tell them they have 30 seconds to tell you exactly what they want to sell you. Asking them to cut to the chase not only takes the wind out of their sails, but also irritates the pants off them when you don’t behave as planned on their sheet.
If this doesn’t put them off, move in for step two. This one has four possible levels.
Level one. (Annoying but unaggressive caller.) Method: Quietly put the receiver down on the table and get on with whatever you were doing. They generally get bored with speaking to the plant within minutes.
Level two. (Insistent caller who refuses to stop machine-gunning you with his pre-printed sales patter.) Method: Inform them that you are passing them on to the household decision-maker. This makes the more chauvinistic callers purr, “Ah, very good wife, you are passing me to Môôsieur.” Then plop the telephone in Smelly Dog’s basket, point to it and say “eat”.
Level three. (Aggressive caller telling you that you will hear them out, or they will call you back.) Method: place on carpet beside vacuum cleaner. Switch on said appliance on highest possible setting. Repeat as necessary.
Level four. (Very aggressive and tenacious caller who no doubt spends his or her evenings sticking pins into the wax effigies of those who refused their calls, before melting them over scented Ikea candles.) Method: Place telephone beside speaker. Switch on Bigfoot’s AC-DC. Turn up volume.
Do you have any good techniques that I have not covered here? Are you a cold caller, and if so, what have you been subjected to by reticent homeowners?