Chatline cheek

The Temp
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The Independent Culture
"HELLO?" "HELLO?" "Hello?"

"Hello," I say. "Who's that?"


"Hi, Kevin. How are you?"

"I'm all right. Who's that?"

"I'm Mandy," I say, because tonight I'm Mandy. Tomorrow I'll be Debbie. Yesterday I was Teresa. I thought I'd already scaled the heights of anonymity, but if you're womaning a chatline, you get a new identity every night. Still, I earn half as much again in five hours as I was earning in the pub, and I get to hone my acting skills.

"Hello, Mandy," says Kevin, and his voice has dropped half an octave. "How are you tonight?"

"I'm very well," I say, swigging on my bottle of water, then giggle. "A bit tipsy."

"Oh yeah? Me too. What have you been up to?"

"Ooh, you know. Went out for a couple with the girls from work."

"That's nice," says Kevin. "What do you do, Mandy?"

"I'm a secretary," - well, at least that's not a lie - "in a big advertising firm."

Well, this lot do advertise. Pretty much every day in The Sun and The Sport, alongside the "Naughty Schoolgirls Lose Their Clothes" lines and just below the stairlift ad. My job is to keep the drunken, lonely or underage lads who call up in search of a thrill on the line for as long as possible; if I can spin the call out to longer than 20 minutes I get a 10 per cent bonus.

"Ooh," says Kevin, "a secretary." We're all secretaries, or beauticians, or work in fashion stores here. These are the ideal jobs; not so high- powered we scare them away, classy enough to feed their fantasies. Of course, what they're all hoping to get is a model, but you only get models on the XXX-rated double-premium lines. And then - if Lauren,who staffs the phone-sex booth next to mine, is anything to go by - they weigh 18 stone and haven't washed their hair in three weeks.

"Is that a good job, then?" "OK." I notice my nails are looking a bit ragged, dig in my bag for a file. "Bit boring. We get famous people in sometimes, though."

"Famous?" Kevin squeaks a little, then returns to his manly tenor. "Like who?"

"Ooh," I say. "We had that Linda Robson out of Birds of a Feather in the other day. And Vic Reeves. He's always doing voiceovers." "Vic Reeves?" splutters Kevin. "You know Vic Reeves? What's he like?" "Quite ordinary, really. So, Kevin, what do you do?" "I'm - " a pause while he thinks something up - "a racing driver." "A racing driver? Blimey! What's it like?"

"Pure dead brilliant. I did 300 miles an hour yesterday," says Kevin. "It's not all glamour. But it's what I'm good at." "Ooh," I say, "have you ever had a crash?" "Hundreds," says Kev, getting a bit breathy. "I drive experimental cars, you see. I almost died once." "Well, I'm glad you didn't. Wasn't it horribly painful?" Kevin sounds sanguine. "You get used to pain in this game. What do you look like, Mandy?" "Well, I've got long blonde hair and long legs. I'm quite pretty, I suppose. A bit like Denise Van Outen." A long exhalation. "And what are you wearing?" His voice pitch slides upwards again. "I'm wearing a silk blouse," trackies, trainers and a jumper, "though it's come a bit undone while we were in the pub. And a short skirt and stockings." Another pause. "And what colour are your knickers?"

"Kevin," - that's it; fish caught. I'll be getting my bonus tonight - "you're not supposed to ask me questions like that." "Are they red? Have they got lace on?" Suddenly there's a squeak. "Oh no! It's my mum!" and the line goes dead. Damn. I dial back into the switchboard and listen as a host of voices goes "Hello? Hello? Hello?" Once line one's been holding for 45 seconds, I pick him up.