Silence . . . not enough to convince me the line is dead. Then a small and pregnant pause, like the gap before your jam sandwich hits the floor jam-side down, and then a voice, which I don’t recognise, saying: “Good morning. May I speak to Mr Pearce.
Pity the line wasn’t dead. I want to reach down the phone line and throttle this voice dead in its place.
“Speaking,” I say.
Third mistake (the first was answering the phone; the second was saying hello).
I assume, from the accent, that he means Dalby, near Bombay.
No, I am not a racist. I like Indian people, Chinese people, Mongolian people â€“ anyone, really, who doesn’t try to sell me stuff over the phone.
I couldn’t be entirely sure he was trying to sell me stuff because I couldn’t understand much, but why else would a complete stranger, and a complete foreigner, call me from Dalby, which is no more to me than a dot on a map?
Possibly an Indian map.
I wish I were more assertive. I’m certain the simplest way to deal with these calls is just to hang up, but I’m aware that in Dalby, Bombay, my failure to buy might result in his family going hungry.
And even if I don’t buy I see no reason to make him feel like a pariah just because he has a really, really, crappy job.
But after a while it became embarrassing because I had to keep repeating “I beg your pardon.” I’m sure he was as grateful as I when, finally, I did hang up.
Not so the insidious little turd who called me yesterday.
“Hello Colin, how are you today?”
“Great, Colin. Got a holiday planned, Colin? You know this is the best time of year for a Queensland holiday, Colin–“
“Colin, what would be your favourite part of Queensland?”
“Because we can offer you fantastic value hol–“
“GET OFF MY PHONE, YOU ODIOUS RATBAG, OR I WILL . . .!!”
And there’s the rub. What can we do?
If I ever met one of these people at a dinner party I’d probably find a way of poisoning them (unless they were Indian), but we never do meet them at dinner parties!
Do you know anyone who is in telemarketing (which is corporate speak for ringing people up and rendering them either murderous or suicidal by trying to sell them stuff they don’t want in ways that range from stupid to positively seedy)?
Of course not. These people know the risk they’d be under; and that their wives and children, uncles and aunts, and all their ancestors and belongings would be under, if anyone knew!
So they keep coming â€¦ disguised as researchers â€¦ or with every phrase garnished with your first name so that you begin to hate the sound of it yourself â€¦ or persistent to the point of turning us all into axe-wielding psychopaths.
But don’t despair!
There is help out there. Luckily for those among us whose nerves are now so frayed our fingers could not be trusted on the trigger of a semi-automatic weapon, the government has invented www.donotcall.gov.au
If you go to this website you can register your telephone number as one that salesmen and women are not allowed to call on pain of â€¦ well, having the government reach down the phone line and throttle them.
I’ve just joined. Apparently it takes a few weeks to kick in, but when it does I shall be able to have confidence that when I answer my phone it will be someone I recognise, and possibly even like.
Of course, it’s not entirely foolproof. Some people are still allowed to call you: people who provide a public service.
They include bona fide researchers, charities (there’s a public service involved in trying to sell me a teddy bear?) and political parties.â€¨
What? What! Political parties provide a public service?!
I’d happily throttle them, even if they don’t ring me.
The world’s gone mad.