The Emperor's New Clothes (31/03/13)

It's always disappointing when the phone rings and it's a cold caller. Or maybe not. Mike Higgins finds a silver lining...

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When my landline at home rings these days, it's generally one of two people: my mother, a mobile-phone refusenik; or a cold caller. By cold caller, of course, I actually mean a salesperson. The response to the interruption is almost Pavlovian: a pulse of adrenalin, the tightening of the throat, then a mini-cadenza of barely controlled middle-class outrage.

There I was, doing washing up of national importance, when this white-van man of telephony crashes into my flat, puts a gun to my head, then asks for money with menaces. Well, he (or she) asks if I'm I am "happy" with my mobile provider/energy supplier/current level of charity donation. But it's the same thing, right? I even have my own little speech prepared. "Actually," I say, all clever like, "it's none of your business." Boom! End of call, thank you, good night!

Then, last week, along came Simon Shepherd, a 25-year-old solar panel salesman. He cold called an 84-year-old woman and noticed that she was having trouble breathing. He rang off, consulted his supervisor, who said get her back on the line, ask for her address and call an ambulance. All of which Simon did, saving the life of Jessica Robbins, who had been in the throes of a stroke.

Damn it. Cold callers are people too, then. Yes, there are the scam artists and the ambulance chasers. But there is the decent desk jockey, holed up in a warehouse off the M6, tolerating my scorn for not much money. The poor bloody infantry of our poor bloody consumer economy. Though they're by no means all cold callers, it's estimated that a million people are employed in call centres. Yet I suppose that cold calling works: if it didn't, the calls would stop.

Like you, I smiled when I heard about the man who last year successfully sued a marketing company for repeatedly cold calling him. But, next time it isn't Mother on the phone, I'll take a deep breath, politely listen to the patter, regretfully decline to take the matter further, and ring off.

Then I can indulge another favourite middle-class habit: smug self-satisfaction.

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