‘Yes, good afternoon’, says the phone in Spanish, ‘my name is Josefina. I would like to talk with the subscriber of this number, Don…’
It was awhile after lunch and I’d just got into bed for an enjoyable siesta. After all, there’s one thing about Spain, people leave you alone after your midday meal so you can have a rewarding kip. I’m wrapped in a sheet, four blankets and a wooly hat. It’s cold this afternoon. And now the phone is ringing.
‘Lissen here, Alberta, or whuddever your name is, I don’t want anything. I’ve already got one. We are delighted with the service. Please go away’.
‘…with the subscriber of this number’.
‘Jiminy Cricket, Penélope, he’s away on his hols’.
‘When can I talk with…?’
‘Between us, Genoveva, he’s in the Tower of London having his toenails removed. Why don’t you call back when they’ve let him go, say in about ten year’s time?’
Don’t you just hate it? You’ve got all snuggly under the covers, the TV has been switched off, the dogs have had the scraps from a very satisfying lunch the remains of which is gently bubbling and writhing its affable way through your upper intestine. Even the last remaining fly of the season is comatose, wandering slowly around on the ceiling out of harm's way. Why would any person call at this time? Especially some girlie from the phone company. Don’t they sleep, these people?
I unplug the phone from the wall before Josefina can find any reinforcements and get back into bed. ‘It was a wrong number’ I tell my wife, who has managed to doze through the whole thing.
God I hate telemarketing. That fellow who rings once a month rain or shine and wants to help me invest my fortune on the Stock Market. The joker who tried to sell me a course in English (‘but I am English’, ‘Yes, but you could improve your language skills with our system’), the stupid people from the phone company who want only to be told how deliriously happy I am with their service. And they do not take ‘no’ for an answer. They will ring at the most inappropriate moments - rather like my bank manager come to think of it - and they will expect courtesy from your part.
Yesterday, somebody rang me with some sales gimmick… and suddenly put me on ‘hold’! It’s a wonder I didn’t ring him back.
The whole thing is worse than the spam you get on your emails, which is, at any rate, now pretty much under control these days. Nigerians, Russian girls and improbable prizes. In America you can now register your phone with the government with a program called ‘Do Not Call’, and sales-people will apparently voluntarily agree not to harass you. The only callers free from this are those who conduct surveys (‘Hello, what do you think about the new telemarketing laws?’) and, of course, political ‘vote for us’ calls.
Sometimes here in Spain, the telephone lady will insist on speaking to the ‘abonado’, the subscriber. Perhaps when I’ve neglected to pay the phone-bill. Sometimes I say I’m ‘me’, when the fact is I’m not, really. You see, there’s a small problem, as I never reported the passing of my dad to Telefonica, and so the listing remains in his name, some 23 years after his death.
Well, it seemed like too much of a performance, you know what they are like here: we just love that paperwork.
The other day, I had to go to the correos to pay the phone bill. They have a special thing on the post office computer: phone number, amount owed and the ‘NIE’ (tax number) of the subscriber. Click, fiddle and pay. All done, have a nice day. Unfortunately, I really didn’t have any idea of my Dad’s old residence card number and, without it, the computer will do its level best to shrug its shoulders and waggle its eyebrows. Can’t be done, Old Sport.
But here the mobile phone comes into its own.
‘Hello, can I speak to Josefina? Listen girl, do you remember me? Can you tell me my dad’s ID number because I’m in the GPO and I’m trying to pay the bill and, because the phone is cut, I can’t ring him and ask him what his…’
‘Really, that’s great, thanks’.
That’s right, she told me.
I get messages on the mobile phone as well, things with moving shapes, pictures, filmettes and text. I can’t see them, don’t want them and distrust their nasty ways. Where is the button to delete this stuff?
You want to watch out for these messages – the other day some company fired half its staff with an SMS.
Man, that saves some time and stamps!
The kids love it, though. They send meaningless tripe (I’m sorry, I meant ‘interesting messages of high social value’) to each other with a speed that is quite remarkable. The muscles they must develop in those thumbs!
My great grandfather was a journalist, and he was called along by Alex G Bell – apparently by a messenger pigeon – to witness the invention of the telephone. You probably know the story. Alex is standing there, surrounded by journalists – well, three or four of them, the rest were covering the latest invasion of Afghanistan – staring at this black bakelite doodad sat on a table.
‘Well’, said my ancestor after a suitable pause, ‘what’s it called?’
‘I call it a telephone’.
‘And what, pray tell, does it do?’
‘Until somebody else builds another one, I’m buggered if I know’ replied the Great Man.
Communications have advanced wonderfully since then and now we are never far from our mobile phone. Many new expressions have come into the language, like ‘What, I can’t hear you’ and ‘I’ve run out of credit’ and ‘blasted thing, I don’t have coverage here’ and of course the latest ‘hold on, there’s a police car on the side of the road’.
We all do it. Today, I saw our local cop speeding off towards some intrigue, with a phone pressed firmly to his ear.
I had a call this morning ‘hello, are you Lenox? You’ve left your phone in my bar’.
Ah for the good old days. A squat black phone on the hall table. Eccles, the butler picks it up:
‘Pennsilvania 65000? – it’s for you Sir’.
Now they are in every room, in every pocket.
So anyway, my great grandfather, alerted by a second carrier pigeon, returned the following month to the home of the inventor.
‘Look, now it works a charm’, he said proudly, ‘in a moment, it will ring’.
‘Good afternoon. My name is Josefina, I would like to talk to the subscriber…’