Rebecca Tyrrel: Days Like Those

'I braced myself for the barrage of reflexive pronouns characteristic of the modern call centre...'
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The Independent Online

I didn't think it would ever end. Nor did I think that I would be the instigator. Could I have predicted the pain? I doubt it. You don't think about these things when you first get together.

"I'm sorry," I said, "I couldn't be more sorry. And I don't expect you to understand, not yet. Maybe one day..."

"Is there nothing I can do," he pleaded, "how can I make you change your mind?" "You can't," I said with necessary coldness, "I am leaving you and that is that. I'm with O2 now and I'm never coming back to Vodafone."

Of course I knew I was a good customer – I had two phone contracts because Matthew's mobile account was also in my name (12 years ago, when we signed up, he had a credit rating worse than Nick Leeson's.) So, yes, a good customer, but not this good surely; they have pleaded, they have played the guilt card, they have played good cop, bad cop and only now, finally have they let go.

It all started when I bought Matthew an iPhone for his birthday last November; iPhones work with O2 only, so the simplest thing was to change to that network. Matthew reciprocated by giving me an iPhone for Christmas and I, too, changed to O2. By the middle of February, blissfully happy with our new multifaceted mobiles, we made the big decision finally to quit Vodafone. "Now is the time," said Matthew, "to finally let go." "Yes," I said, "I know you are right, but it is not going to be easy."

A few days later, I visited the Vodafone shop in Whiteleys of Bayswater, where the staff are so helpful. But it was a waste of time; the assistant told me I would have to write to an address given in quite small writing on the back of my bill.

"Can you not see the stirrings of a little irony here?" Matthew asked. "The world's largest instant communication company, zinging 10 billion emails and text messages around the planet every second, suddenly embracing the dear old Royal Mail. Very subtle, I must say." And then, in a manner reminiscent of Jack Nicholson in The Postman Only Rings Twice, his tone changed: "Ring the bastards," he growled, "and tell them you have no intention of writing."

I braced myself for the instant first-name terms and barrage of reflexive pronouns characteristic of the modern call centre, and phoned. "How can I help yourself today, Rebecca?" asked the young man. And when I told him, he replied that he, himself, could not in fact help myself after all, but he would put me through to someone who could.

"Hello Rebecca, my name is Kate and I believe you are wanting to end your contract with ourselves. Why, can I ask, do you wish to do this?"

I struggle to be rude to strangers so, instead of telling her it was none of her business, I told her politely about our presents and how happy my husband and myself, how happy ourselves were, in fact, with our new iPhones.

"Oh, Rebecca," said Kate. "Well, all I can say is that you must be very rich to afford not one, but two, such expensive phones for yourselves." I told her that that was the business only of myself and, sounding genuinely hurt, she told me to write a letter.

So I did, and quite quickly I received a response – entirely lacking, Matthew noted, in reflexive pronouns. "I am sorry you're thinking of leaving Vodafone," it said. "You're an important customer: is there anything we can do to change your mind?" It didn't quite end with "All my love, Dave Walton, Customer Services," but the sentiment was implicit.

Matthew has fetched the whisky bottle and is asking for the funnel. I tell him I can't find it, which is not quite true, and he says: "In that case a tumbler will have to do." He has recently finished a conversation with a Vodafone call centre.

"What did they say to yourself this time? I asked.

"They said that they were upset at losing myself, and that they themselves feel that I should think again. They themselves said that I, myself, am a very valued customer, and they gave the impression that I mean the world to them."

"And did you tell themselves that you are not actually a customer yourself?" I asked.

"Yes. Myself said to themselves, myself's wife is the customer, not myself."

"And what did themselves then say to yourself."

"Herself, a lovely girl called Marie, in fact, asked me why I had answered the phone if I wasn't the customer and I told her about my credit rating compared to Nick Leeson's. Then I asked herself to make sure that no other selves from Vodafone ever ring again."

Theirselves are taking no notice. They rang Matthew again today and he was delighted because it gave him a chance to use a technique he has stolen from an episode of Seinfeld. "Ah Steve," he said, "how lovely to hear from you, but it is little inconvenient at the minute. Can we speak later? Great. Give me your home number and I'll call you for a nice long chat this evening. What? You don't want to discuss this at home? Well, now you know how I feel. Goodbye."

Myself's contracts will finally end on the 23rd of this month. Truthfully, I think that both Matthew and I, both of ourselves, in fact, are going to miss them.

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