A view backstage at Beverley Minster

I have heard the call – let’s get to work

Beverley Minster virger Neil Pickford is near the end of his tether.
You may remember how, last week, I discovered that I, YES I! had been CHOSEN to lead a crusade for the betterment of the human condition. Yeah, verily and all that, I had received a Divine Sign that I was The One who was to achieve great things.
My messianic zeal took a bit of a battering when it was pointed out to me that a divine spray of water that alerted me to my special status was, in fact, merely the result of a well-known hole in a window. This spray manifests itself every time hard-driving rain blows onto the Minster from the west – which it often does.
Nonetheless, one should never casually dismiss an honest attempt to change the world for the better, whether divinely inspired or not. After all, in the blink of an eye I had been struck with an idea that would end an obvious injustice that needs to be addressed and improve the living conditions of millions of people around the world.
This huge Wrong has been around for many years, on and off but I’ve been blissfully able to ignore it until the last week or so. But suddenly, for no apparent reason, it accelerated up the annoy-ometer to become a real Grade A pain in every single appendage and, unlike most weeks, I’ve decided that SOMETHING NEEDS TO BE DONE!
So today marks the launch of my campaign to Abolish the Slavery of the Telephone Call Centres.
Yes, this is the great crusade that has inspired me and will command my fullest energy and attention for at least the next half hour.
It was prompted by six different calls over a short period of time. In every instance it was heralded by the normally welcome sound of a ringing noise, a sound that signifies so many good things: efficient, low cost modern technology that unites friends, answers questions and/or facilitates modern life. I was smiling as I answered the first, eager to find out which of the above was about to happen and delighted to welcome any of these potentialities into my house.
“Hello,” I projected warmly, choosing a somewhat unoriginal word but nonetheless using it in a sincere manner. There was a pause and then an unfamiliar voice asked, in a slightly tentative way, if I was ‘Mr Peeekforth’. The temperature dropped, I knew what was coming.
Now I feel very sorry for the poor drones who have to do this sort of job because it’s unbelievably horrible. Hour after hour on the minimum wage, staring at a screen, trying to establish a rapport with complete strangers and persuading them to do something they wouldn’t have done by themselves. In at least 99 times out of a hundred they never get the chance to finish their conversation or build a rapport: in the one per cent of times they do it’s an entirely artificial relationship producing, at best, a fleeting sense of pleasure followed by an almost immediate sense of loss. Just time for one heartfelt: “YAHOO!” and then the system starts punching out numbers for the next random dopey sucker whose positive response justifies, in cost terms, the anger and frustration meted out on the other 99 per cent of the population.
I have sympathy with the poor types who are forced to do this work, but none at all for the work they do. I was courteous, firm but polite, with the first caller. I was firmer, but still polite, with the second. The third was, I’m afraid, interrupted in her flow by me pointing out that: “I never, ever buy anything over the ‘phone, thank-you-good-BYE!”
The fourth phone call of the day was a friend of ours. I think she was expecting a warmer greeting than the brusque: “Yes?” that punched through the ether, although at least she was forgiving when I explained my bad manners. She’d had three such calls herself that morning.
The fifth call of the day was a machine, and that did annoy me because I’d switched back to my happy: “Hello, how are you?” persona and I somehow felt the call centres had won a little victory over me.
Off-balanced, I was a sucker for the sixth caller who was well into her spiel before I could stop her. When I did finally get a word in edgeways it wasn’t easy to persuade her that I genuinely was not interested in suing the banks over payment protection insurance.
“Why not?” she said in tones of incredulous disbelief, unable to understand that anyone would give up the chance for easy money, (after paying a huge fee to whichever money-grabbing toe-rag was financing this invasive sales operation, of course).
“Because I didn’t buy it in the first place,” I explained. “Because I don’t  buy anything over the phone – AND NEITHER SHOULD ANYONE ELSE!!”
These poor souls are trapped, enjoying only minimum wages reluctantly dribbled out by brutal, uncaring employers – it’s a crime against humanity, theirs and ours. It’s time to launch an international campaign to end their abuse and it’s…oh bother, the phone’s ringing.
Oh dear, I’ve quite lost my thread now. Sorry, what was I saying?
First published June 2011


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