It was a Sunday afternoon, and we were watching television. No cricket, no tennis, so the box was predictably boring. Then the phone rang.
I turned down the TV volume and picked up the handset. The screen displayed a number beginning with 03 …
Drat! Another nuisance call from Melbourne. I decided to have some fun.
Foreign-sounding voice: Hello. Am I speaking to Peter?
Me (telling a lie): No, but I can get him if you like.
Caller: Yes, please. That would be good.
[I put the phone down and pretended to call out.]
Me: Peter … Phone!
[I waited a few minutes. The aim was to teach these cold callers not to interrupt my afternoon. Then I made some footstep noises and picked up the handset.]
Me (in a different voice): Hello.
Caller: Am I speaking with Peter?
Me: You certainly are.
Caller: And your surname is Stanhope?
Caller: So your full name is Peter Stanhope?
Me: I have a middle name.
Caller: Ah, can you give me your middle name?
Me: Yes. It’s Villhimenamozzikpolkagevizzelvich.
Caller: Oh? How do you spell that?
Me (being deliberately obtuse): T … H … A … T
Caller: No, how do you spell Vill … the name you gave me?
Me: V … I … L … L … H … I
Caller: Wait, wait, I cant keep up. Perhaps it would be better if we go with Peter Stanhope. Okay?
Me: Agreed. You are not the first person to have trouble with that middle name.
Caller (now back on his script): And you live at 115 Oleander Ave?*
Me: Yes, we have always lived here.
Caller: Good. And your suburb is Figtree?
Caller: And the postcode is 2525.
Note: The script these callers follow is designed to keep the householder saying yes, in the hope that the ‘victim’ will continue to say yes.
Me: Can I have your name?
Caller: Yes sir, my name is Rameesh.
Me: Hello Rameesh. And where are you calling from? India? Pakistan? Indonesia?
Caller: Oh no sir, I am in Sale in Victoria.
Me (being deliberately obtuse again): Oh, you’re having a sale?
Caller: Oh no sir, I am calling you from our office in Sale.
Me: You’re selling your office?
Caller: No sir. Perhaps we had better move on.
Me: Is this call being recorded for quality assurance and training purposes?
Caller: Oh yes sir. We maintain the highest standards of quality and service.
Me: Then, I hope you don’t mind me recording the conversation at my end as well.
Caller: Just a moment sir, I might have to check with my supervisor.
(He’s right off script now. I can hear muted voices in the background.)
Caller: That’s totally all right sir. My supervisor told me to tell you that.
Me: Good. Now, why is it you wanted to speak with me?
Caller: Well, sir, I need to ask you if you pay your electricity bill on time.
Me: Oh, are you a debt collector?
Caller: Oh no sir, I represent the Inova Electricity Company. We give 27.5 per cent discount to people who pay their bills on time.
Me: Oh, we always pay our electricity bill on time. If we don’t they might cut us off, and then I would not be having this very pleasant conversation with you.
Caller: How is that?
Me: Well, my phone works through an NBN modem, which has to have electricity to work. Isn’t our NBN marvellous? Before the NBN, my phone used to work even if there was a power outage. Now, when I lose power, I also lose my phone. That’s certainly progress, don’t you think?
Caller: Sir, power is what I am calling you about. (He’s back on script) How do you pay your electricity bill?
Me: With money.
Caller: No, no, I mean how often do you pay your bill?
Caller: And you told me you always pay on time, correct?
Me: Yes. I am a valued customer.
Caller: Sir, we can make you a better offer than your present power company.
Me: I am very interested. (How could he know what my present plan is?)
Caller: Would you like to receive this offer as an email or in the post.
Me: In my letterbox. You already have my mailing address.
Caller: Sir, how much is your regular power bill?
Caller (I can sense his confusion): Sir, how can it be zero?
Me: I’ll tell you in a moment.
Caller: Sir, what is the date of your birthday?
Me: What?! You don’t know that?
Caller: No sir. Not as yet.
Me: Then how can you send me a birthday card if you don’t know the date of my birthday. You apparently know everything else.
Caller: Sir, we need to know the date of your birth so we can calculate how old you are. Our offer is open to all who are between the ages of 17 and 74.
Me: But that’s impossible.
Caller: Why is it impossible, Sir?
Me: Because I am about to turn 77.
Caller: Oh. Before I conclude, can you tell me why you don’t pay any electricity bills?
Me: Certainly. We have a roof full of solar panels, and we make four times as much power as we use. In fact, the power company pays us every quarter.
Caller: Sir, I think I had better hang up.
Me: I agree. You are in enough trouble already.
And that’s where the call ends. I hope the poor guy didn’t get the sack. And that they use that training recording.