Leading Article: Number crunching

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The Independent Online

It might be because I have just had a holiday, but this space finds itself in possession of even more sympathy and fellow feeling than is the happy norm.

Thus forewarned, I invite you to consider the disobliging comments made on Facebook by sometime 118 118 telephone inquiry operators about their clientele. Reader, stay harsh thought; be not the first to cast the phone workers as wrong numbers with no ring back.

For it can be testing, dealing with the callers of Albion, as I know from an interesting early career spell as a customer services operative for British Gas.

There was often a striking lack of the civilities common in direct physical contact; a striking lack now prevalent throughout cyberspace; a lack, indeed, that has now been employed, robustly and regrettably, by these enumerators themselves, as in "People of Britain ... rediscover the phonebook ... you lazy bastards".

Do, though, if you are not one, try to imagine the lot of the lowly paid telephonist, the endless recitative, the Sisyphean litany. Even attempts at friendly banter can pall through repetition, as the 118 118 operatives evidently found with the company catchphrase, "I've got your number".

In such cases, it is the wag's conviction of originality which most irritates. This, I deduce, provoked the dusty reaction I once witnessed from Sir Clement Freud when a forward youth inquired if he had the dog food he used to advertise.

I would urge everyone, then, and especially the disembodied, towards more sensitivity and reflection; in particular, you might find it useful to do nothing until you have counted up to, say, 118.