Living in an unwanted-call hell

My solution to cold calls: make companies pay so we can block them

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I like living in a flat, rather than a house, especially when it comes to nuisance calls.

When we moved in, I had one call from a gas supplier, to whom I explained that the supply is dealt with by the building management and that none of the residents has any control over it. They never called again, which explains why I have the time to read improving books, unlike the poor saps who are on the telephone pester-lists.

I feel especially lucky now I know that British Gas alone makes marketing calls to as many as 4.1 million homes a year. In a survey carried out in 20,000 homes, British Gas was found to have made 7,000 calls to just 900 homes last year. That’s more than seven per number. I cannot pretend that I would be polite to all of those callers. And that’s what I hate most about nuisance calls: they disturb you from thinking high-minded thoughts or bellowing the answers at quiz shows or whatever, and then you are the mean one when you yell that you don’t need new windows because you have a set already which came with the house.

I slightly prefer the robot-voiced woman who is convinced that I have been mis-sold payment protection insurance. Obviously, it would save my time and their money if she wasn’t a robot, because then I could tell her that I have not, in fact, been mis-sold any insurance and have never knowingly protected a payment in my life, although I like the gangsterish implications. But at least robot lady doesn’t make me feel guilty for swearing at her.

The problem with nuisance calls is that they are a blunt instrument. Companies ring all of us (even those of us who have registered with the Telephone Preference Service, though this reduces unwanted calls by a huge margin, in my experience) and they prey on the weak: those too polite to tell them to bugger off.

It’s a rare day when I agree with a Lib Dem MP, but Mike Crockart, who is setting up an all-party committee to consider nuisance calls, is bang on the money when he points out that for some people, the phone is their only contact with the outside world. Answering the phone to a constant barrage of aggressive cold-callers and those creepy silent calls provokes the already isolated to stop answering the phone altogether.

Ofcom has been feeble on the issue of nuisance calls. So I propose a solution. Any company that can afford to hire cold-callers can afford to pay into a fund which would provide call-blocking tech to anyone who gets more than, say, five unwanted calls a year. Blocked numbers would simply receive a permanent engaged tone when calling us. Nuisance gone.

Herr Kohl meets Brothers Grimm

Wicked stepmothers have existed for as long as we’ve had fairy tales. But even the Brothers Grimm might be surprised to see how the issue is transfixing Germany today. Helmut Kohl, the 82-year-old former chancellor, married a much younger woman, Maike Richter after his first wife died. 

Now his sons are dishing the dirt on the stepmother who they believe keeps their father virtually imprisoned. Peter Kohl, the younger son, told a chat show that he hasn’t seen his father since May 2011, and that he had read about his father’s wedding in a tabloid.

The weird fairytale element is only emphasised by the information that the chancellor’s second wife has apparently appeared in public wearing his dead first wife’s clothes, which really crosses the line between ghoulish and thrifty. Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the oddest of them all?