Sunday, 3 February 2013


The phone rings, shattering my peace and interrupting my train of thought. But I have to answer it: what if one of my daughters is sick or in trouble? What if she needs money? What if somebody I love has died, or a friend just needs to talk? And finally, what if by some crazy quirk a wonderful bit of good fortune is about to fall into my lap? I am both an optimist and a pessimist, so I absolutely have to answer the phone.

And of course it is an annoying telemarketing person, just doing the only job she can find, but still driving me half wild. These people have been tormenting me for years now. They have brought me flying into the house from the garden; they have forced me to scramble down from ladders; they have vexed half a dozen sleeping cats who have been dumped off my lap so I can rush to the phone and be interrupted. Even one or two of these calls a week is too many.

And then a tiny lightbulb of inspiration flashes in my brain. I will have some fun with this call: it is my phone, it is my time, and it is my right.

"Hello?" I say in a low, respectful tone, the kind of tone you would use if there was an elderly invalid in the house and you were a totally out-of-touch menial whose job it was to answer the phone.

"Hello," says a brassy voice. "Is this Mrs. -- uh . . . " There is a long pause and then the lady mispronounces my husband's name.

"I'm sorry," I say in the same quiet voice. "With whom do you wish to speak?" I aim for posh east coast American since I can't do British.

The woman repeats herself, doing a little better this time, but still struggling with the consonant cluster.

"Ah," I say. "Just a moment. Madam is sleeping at present, but I will see if I can awaken her again." I pause. "This may take some time."

The woman apologizes so quickly I feel a twinge of remorse. "No, no--please don't bother her! It was just a courtesy call!"

Courtesy call. My remorse vanishes in an instant. "May I take a message, then--?" I start to say, but the woman has hung up.

I put the receiver back in its cradle and go back to what I was doing, smiling a smile of deepest satisfaction. I'm still nowhere near finished with the chapter, but I have still managed to achieve something extraordinary: in barely 30 seconds, I have managed to get a telmarketer to hang up on me.