My line of work, like many people’s, involves answering the telephone on an hourly basis. As I’ve explained before, this is something fairly nerve-wracking for me, but there’s also a substantial amount of curiosity to be found in the task. Recently, at one of my two workplaces, we’ve been receiving a steady and noticeable stream of wrong number calls from various people. When you answer the phone to them, some pre-empt what you are going to say, admit their mistake and immediately hang up on you. Others are ensnared in a moment of confusion; I will open with my usual professional greeting, and they will question why they aren’t speaking to their mate Derek before the penny quickly drops and they leave me be. In my particular experience, there have even been elderly people who – mistaking my workplace for the local hospital – have proceeded to describe gruesome ailments in considerable detail before my awkward admission that I am not medically qualified to deal with their complaint. They can put you off your lunch at times, as it happens.
Whatever their reasons for calling (albeit unintentionally), these people do all have one thing in common, at least in my view. Because they’re totally anonymous – the calls generally don’t last long enough for me to establish their identities – I always do wonder who they are, and what their stories are. Why might a phone call to the aforementioned Derek be so important? Was it intended as a simple catch-up between friends, or was he being sought out as part of the resolution to a life or death situation? When I am mistakenly contacted by confused hospital-goers, how worried are they about the problems they face? Are they looking for an answer to a simple question, or are they frantically searching for a second opinion on something that could potentially change life forever? All I can do is ponder, as any writer might. Whatever the truth may be, that’s what this is good for – imagination and inspiration. As annoying, inconvenient and brief as some wrong number calls may be, they do make me think – so maybe the people on the end, whom I generally speak to for no more than a split second each time, do have a much bigger impact on my day than I could ever have anticipated.
That’s it. I have passed the point of no return. What’s done is done and now I must face up to whatever is to come in the next minute or so. I take a deep breath, doing my best to calm and mentally prepare myself while I still can. Here I go – I raise my trembling hand to my ear, and it is greeted with a moment of eerie silence. Then the tones, in bursts of a single second each, ring deep into my mind for what seems like an eternity. Will they ever pick up? There is silence again, but I barely notice it before the sinister crackle…and then a warm and familiar voice. “Hello?”
Yes, the amateur sleuths amongst you may have worked out that I have just described the build-up to a phone call. This is an act to which millions around the world would not even give a second thought, but to me – even as I approach the ripe old age of 20 – it is still something strangely alien. Indeed, you’re reading a post by a man who would rather conveniently “forget” to plug the phone in at his last job, just so that he didn’t have to answer it and risk making a fool of himself. I don’t answer the phone at home either, and have been known to ignore its rings even if I’m sitting right next to it. The main reason for this is very simple, and I believe it is also commonly known as “verbal diarrhoea”. It doesn’t matter how meticulously I may have any phone call or response planned out in my head, because any hopes I hold of a seamless and flowing conversation are usually dashed as soon as I open my mouth. This is something my friend – who I am normally more than capable of speaking to without a problem – fully found out when I rang them the other day, while feeling the crushing pressure of sticking to the script I’d taken the time to form to myself beforehand.
The nervous gibberish that ultimately seeped out from between my lips seemed so incoherent that it’s a wonder we aren’t still finishing an originally straightforward exchange now. I’ll definitely have to apologise to my friend when I next see them – I feel like I wasted their time! Maybe I can also attribute my lack of phone confidence to the added pressure of trying to remember important information when it’s quite literally going in one ear and out of the other. It’s especially difficult if you’re frantically trying to find a pen or paper to record it on at the same time – if what someone is telling me is really so crucial, why can’t they just text me, email me or send me a letter, so I have whatever I need in black and white before my eyes? It’s reassuring to be able to see such things as many times as I want rather than to hear them once, which is why this blog’s email address is open to collate however many messages it may receive. Besides, I like reading, and responding to one gives me an opportunity to do that. Plus I’m a creative bloke, and I get to carefully consider and write a reply, so what’s not to like about that?
No phone calls please. I won’t be available – so you’ll have to leave a message after the tone. At least I can replay those!