Telephone Pests asking ‘Is That the Bus Company?’

Telephone Pests

The trouble started when an ex-girlfriend decided to make abusive calls. My new girlfriend, a telephone operator no less, suggested we change our number. A simple thing since she worked at the then state-owned monopoly phone company, and allocating numbers was part of her job. I agreed, adding that if the number was free why not just increment our own? Then we could tell our contacts to simply construct our new number algorithmically by “adding 1 to our old number”. Possibly the simplest of all algorithms, but complex enough for sure to preclude any guesswork or deduction by our pest-caller. The number was available so we took it, anticipating pest-free calls from thereon.

But it got worse. A lot worse. Unknown to us, the new number was being given out by our local and regional authorities as “Bus Inquiries”, due to some ancient clerical error. They were publishing it on the “information leaflets” they unhelpfully gave out to the sort of people who go to local authorities to look up telephone numbers.

The majority of callers apologized for the mistake, hung up and never called back. As any rational person might. The irrational callers seem quite content to pay for all the verbal and psychological abuse thrown their way, and some even went so far as to merit transcription:

A man calls:
– hello
– What bus do I…
– Sorry, wrong number.
– Is that 6-9-6-9-7-0?
– Yes it is, but it’s not the….
– What bus do I…
– …bus company number.
– Says here 6-9-6-9-7-0.
– Well that’s wrong or out of date.
– I got it from the community centre.
– It’s still wrong.
– Why would they give me a wrong number?
– Dunno. Mistake maybe?
– What number should I call then?
– I’ve no idea. Try directory inquiries.
– Can’t you give me the number?
– 192
– Is that the bus company number?
– No.
– What is it then?
– Directory inquiries.
– Will they know?
– Why don’t you ask them?
– click-brrr

Some callers consider themselves to be like HAL – incapable of error. They need to be placated with a kind of telephonic placebo before they’ll get off the line:

– hello
– oh hello, is that bus inquiries?
– Wrong number.
– Could you put me through to inquiries please.
– No, you’ve got the wrong number.
– What is the number then?
– I don’t know. Look in the book.
– Well can’t you just put me through then?
– No, you’ve called the wrong number.
– I called Bus Inquiries!
– No you didn’t. You called 6-9-6-9-7-0.
– That’s Bus Inquiries!
– Not any more. They changed their number. The new one is in the book.
– Just tell me how I can get to…
– One moment, connecting you.
– (…)
– Inquires are busy at the moment. They said can you call them back on their new number in about 10 minutes?
– What’s their new number?
– It’s in the book.
– ok, thanks. bye.
– click-brrr

This next series of inept calls involves a stunningly clueless misuse of the otherwise useful redial function. The caller would not accept any other truth than her own interpretation of it. Self-professed lies in the real world were seen as self-evident truths on whatever topsy-turvy world she was dialling-in

Phone rings.
– Hello
– Which bus do I get…
– You’ve got the wrong number. This is not the bus company.
– Oh, I’m sorry.
– click-brrrr

Immediately afterwards, phone rings:
– Which bus do I get…
– Did you just hit redial?
– Yes.
– I told you it was a wrong number. Last Number Redial isn’t going to help.
– What number should I call?
– I don’t know. Look in the directory or call the operator.
– ok
– click-brrrr

Immediately afterwards, phone rings, same person obviously hitting redial again:
– Is that the bus company?
– Alright, I lied to you the last two times. This is the bus company. Now what do you want?
– (sotte voce, to room) It’s alright, it is the bus company.
(to phone) Which bus do I get to the prison?
– Prison? They locking you up?
– No, I need to go near there.
– Have you been there before?
– Yes.
– Which bus did you get last time you went?
– Number 237
– Still goes there.
– oh good. What bus should I get back?
– You could try the 237.
– Is there another bus I could get?
– Sure. Take any bus, they all go your way.
– What time do they come?
– Every two hours.
– Two HOURS?!?.
– Yeah, we just stepped-up the service.
– click-brrrr

I would sometimes try to improve the quality of misdialled calls, using an altogether different approach. And if that didn’t work, the balls-out rude approach was always available to fall back on:

– hello
– What bus do I get…
– Which bus.
– Sorry?
– Which bus.
– What?
– No, which.
– What?
– “Which bus do I get…”
– Yes.
– No.
– I’m sorry?
– It’s “Which bus do I get”, not “What bus do I get”. Didn’t they teach you that in school?
– click-brrr

Sometimes a kind of sixth-sense alerts the caller that something isn’t quite right. Maybe they expect public inquiry lines to identify themselves, which would be normal. So when I answer, in the manner of a private individual trying to relax at home, they are often lost for words and play little part in their own call.

Phone rings.
– hello

– hello?

– hel-lo?
– Who’s that?
– I beg your pardon?
– Who’s speaking?
– That’s my line.
– What?
– You’re saying my lines.
– Eh?
– Did you not read the script?
– What?
– You called me, remember?
– Yeah.
– So it would be reasonable to assume that you, the caller, know who it is you called, right?
– …?
– I’m supposed to ask you, “who’s that”. Do you want to come in again?
– click-brrr

Those who called at insane hours, such as 05:00, simply got hung up on before they could even speak. There is, however, no reason to spare them from the harsh unforgiving abuse they deserve. A definite technique is required in order to convey the message and at the same time eliminate any putative call-back and the risk of violence such a call might entail. The bedside handset should be lifted from the cradle just enough to connect the call, ensuring that a) the ringing stops, and b) the asshole on the other end of the line gets to pay for the call. Immediately this has been
achieved the handset must be slammed down with a perceivable flourish.

It must communicate to the caller an intense emotional conviction that their lunatic call was most definitely not welcome and they are never to dial this number again.

Other times, you simply can’t be bothered:

– hello
– I need to go to Elmsworth Ave on Sunday at two o’clock in the afternoon from the Church at 14 Glyndawr Street. I have a “Weekend Savers” card and I…
– I think you’ve got the wrong number.
– …will be travelling with two children, one under 13 and the other under 5…
– You’ve got the wrong number.
– …could you please tell me …
– Did you hear what I said?
– I want to know….
– Do you want bus inquiries?
– Yes please.
– Hold the line please, Caller.

– (pause for the time it takes to go make a cup of coffee and light
– a cigarette)

– Caller, are you still there?
– Yes
– You’ve got the wrong number.
– click-brrr

But it isn’t only foot-passengers that make ravingly idiotic calls. Subscriber Trunk Dialing can be complicated, especially where young love is involved. As a result, I once got to be Cupid to the stupid:

Call 1, a young lady on the line:
– Is Jimmy there?
– Wrong number sorry.
– click-brrrr

Call 2
– Is Jimmy there.
– No, you’ve got the wrong number.
– Come on, let me talk to him.
– Sorry, you’ve got the wrong number.
– click-brrrr

Call 3
– Can I talk to Jimmy please.
– How many times do I have to tell you?
– I know he’s there.
– You have a wrong number. Please don’t call again.
– What number are you?
– You dialled it.
– I called 6-9-6-9-7-0
– That’s my number. Nobody called Jimmy here, bye.
– click-brrrr

Call 4
– I want to talk to Jimmy now.
– Will you stop calling me please?
– Not until I speak to Jimmy. I know he’s there….
– click-brrr

Call 5
– I wan….
– PHEEEEEEPPPPPPPP!!!!!!!!!!!! (the sound of a whistle, specially designed
as an anti-telephone-pest device, followed by the inevitable click-brrr)

Call 6
– Please. I really just want to speak to him. He gave me this number last night and said to call him today.
– who is this Jimmy bloke anyway?
– I met him down the pub last night.
– And he gave you this number did he?
– Yes.
– Maybe he doesn’t want you to call him.
– He said he did. He said he wanted to meet me in Cardiff tonight.
– Cardiff?
– Yes.
– Is that where he lives?
– Yes.
– Are you in Cardiff too?
– No, I’m in Maesteg.
– So why don’t you try using the bloody Cardiff dialling code in front of the number?
– click-brrr

Call 7
– Jimmy?
– Look, Jimmy can’t talk to you because he’s dead. Right? Now don’t call me again.
– click-brrr

The eighth call was outgoing. Dialled to a tactical number in an effort to out-flank the caller and bring an end to this madness.

– Caerdydd 696970, ‘Allo.
– Is that Jimmy?
– Its Jimmy it is. On the telephone like, isn’t it.
– Was you supposed to be meeting some girl you met last night, but she hasn’t called you yet?
– Who is this speaking, boyo?
– Doesn’t matter who. Do you happen to know her number?
– aye. I knows it like.
– Then can you do me a really big favour and call the silly cow and explain to her how to use a telephone? She’s been trying to call you all evening.
– No calls by yuh, lovely boy.
– Because she doesn’t understand that she has to put the Cardiff area code in front of your number. I’ve been trying to teach her how but she’s driving me up the wall. She insists on talking to you, but it’s looking unlikely to happen unless you call her. Personally I wouldn’t, but I need the favour.

– Is alright mun. I will, you see.
– click-brrr

The Final Call
– Jimmy’s not dead. He just phoned me up! click-brrr

All’s well that ends well.

An interfering busy-body relative was suckered by the ex into giving her our new number. So those abusive calls never stopped either. At least, not until I emigrated.

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