I love my job. This time of year, when the sun rises early and the air is so perfectly clear, there is plenty of time for a walk before work through one of my favourite places in the world (the scene for a recent short story). I’m an early-riser, so a morning mini-adventure clears the mind, washes any stresses away, almost meditative therapy. It sets up a feel-good state for the day. I consider myself to be quite patient, even so, it definitely helps in taking these times to reflect, redirect, and cleanse. And it’s needed, when customers can sometimes behave like patients.
Oh yeah, I do stamp a foot, snap pens, tear cardboard, doodle macabre scenes, grit my teeth when there’s a timewaster, a condescending fool, or someone who won’t stop rabbiting on about Dr Who – they really do, the super-fans:
I’ve never watched it – “How do you know that you don’t like it if you’ve never watched it?”
I won’t ever watch it; really, I just know that it’s not for me – “You don’t know what you’re missing out on unless you try.”
Hmm, I think that I probably do, and I wouldn’t call it missing out. I have my interests – “I like to play computer games too.”
Are you aware that there’s a huge local deer park just five minutes walk from here? Have you considered reading your Time Traveller’s Almanac there, perhaps? In the sun? You’re looking a little . . . pale.
You might get the impression that I don’t particularly enjoying engaging with these folk. But I’ve found a good technique: just say “I just have to go and, erm . . .” then walk away, without finishing the sentence, and pretend to do things until they leave.
If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know that I do like those who are a bit more individual – maybe not wired quite right – who can surprise and entertain. It was a shame recently: a Scottish lady took offence at something (I truly don’t know what) and said “You don’ noor hoo to deal wuth wumen.” I think that the real reason is that she was just flirting, but realised that the long-distance thing just wouldn’t work out. And I have a strong suspicion that she was drunk. I have this feeling that she’ll be back.
Whovians and angry Scottish ‘wumen’ aside, today’s story is about a regular telephone customer from Lancashire. He’s wheelchair bound, on more pills than the Rolling Stones were in the seventies, and has a lot of time on his hands. He’s tough work: he moans, digresses from the simple act of enquiry, talks about his health in great depth and description, and basically thinks that the world is against him. I sometimes think, Well, it might seem that way when you’re so prickly. He can’t just go for a wander through the park in the morning to clear the cobwebs, so the art of dealing with him is letting him go for it and then winding him up – really, he loves it.
So, Victor Valium phoned up to ask for the new Hank Marvin CD. Of course, just asking for us to send him a copy of Hank’s latest album took about ten minutes after layering the conversation with talk about the sons of bitches from the bank. He asked if we’d first send the CD and then charge him later, once he had contacted us to authorise it. Sure, no hassle. We didn’t have it in stock, so it would be a couple of days. “And don’t charge me yet,” he reminded. Of course. I was off work the next day, the day that the CD arrived. So I didn’t think about again.
I’d had my beautiful, satisfying morning walk. Bumbled about doing a few bits. And the phone begins to ring.
Victor Valium: You broke a promise.
Good morning. Uh, who is this? Like I didn’t know . . .
V V: You broke a promise, you did.
Oh, Hi, Victor. What’s crackin’, dude?
V V: You said that you wouldn’t charge me. But you charged me anyway. I’ve gone overdrawn, now, I have. Thirty-five pound, that cost me.
Woah, slow down. Let me look into it and I’ll –
V V: I’m not happy at all. You promised me.
I did, I know. And I guessed that you weren’t – I can hear you frothing into the phone. I’m going to –
V V: What are you going to do about it?
As I was just saying, I’ll look into it and get back to you in a minute. Bumboysayswhat?
V V: What?
I hung up the phone. As we all know, it’s always a good idea to take a few minutes to run over the permutations of these things, check the details. To breathe. I checked the note next to Valium’s order saying not to charge him. Heck, mistakes happen. We all run on automatic, from time to time. So what had happened was what we endeavour to do: send orders out as quickly as possible. I phoned back.
Victor Valium: Well?
Not bad, thanks. I had a lovely walk this morning before work. And then I had a biscuit –
V V: No! You know what I mean: why did you charge me when I told you not to?
Firstly, I didn’t. (Of course I have to make this clear . . .) I wasn’t here yesterday.
V V: Well why didn’t you say that I wasn’t to be charged, eh? Why did you allow this happen.
I explained that a note had been left on his order. That it was just an unfortunate accident.
V V: Twenty-five quid that’s cost me, you know that?
Yeah, you did say. Do you like the Hank CD, though? Is it worth it?
V V: Well, it’s . . . Yeah, I like it. But that’s not the point. I’ve been on the phone to the bank, you know?
I bet they loved that.
V V: They did not love it, you cheeky sod.
Why don’t you phone them back; explain to them what happened? You can say that it was an honest mistake, that you shouldn’t have gone overdrawn. You can tell them that I’m sorry, if you like . . . Even though it wasn’t my doing.
V V: I died the other day.
I let that hang for a moment whilst I processed what he had just said. I looked at how long we’d already been on the phone. I wondered how long I’d live for.
V V: Four minutes it was, I was dead.
This was awesome. As soon as you get Vic Val off topic, his mind starts whirring away, finding ways to stay on the phone and forgetting the original gripe. He’s one of those who aren’t happy unless there’s something to be unhappy about. And then he blames it on his pills. Quite a few customers tend to do that, thinking about it. I must remember to use that one next time I realise I’m being a Three Card Trick.
You died? Oh right. You sound pretty good for a dead man. You know, a bit whingy. But I guess that we’re the same conscience in the afterlife, all told.Ha. Well if you had died – like actually died – then you wouldn’t have had to worry about a measly little bank charge. What a Catch-22: dead or bank charge?
V V: Do you know what I saw when I was dead?
Erm, the set of Coronation Street, probably. Or, I don’t know, your youth in black in white? I know! Your credit card statements papering a room with a fiery coal floor . . .
V V: Nope . . .
Long pause. I’ll play along then.
Naked can-can dancers wearing cowboy hats, dancing to Little Mix? I don’t know, what did you see, Vic?
V V: Nothing. Ab-sol-utely bloody nothing.
Victor Valium explained to me that he’d been changing the wires on the back of his stereo when he’d touched a live cable and had been “thrown across the room.” He’d had time, crippled against the wall, to dial 999, but couldn’t talk. They’d arrived in time to save him: “broke the bloody door down, they did. They won’t pay for it to be fixed, you know? More bloody charges for me . . .” Anyway, he was all better now, a couple of days later.
Well, I’m glad that you’re feeling okay; that you survived.
V V: Me too. I suppose. It makes something like a little bank charge seem irrelevant, in the grand scheme.
I couldn’t agree more, Vicky.
V V: Vicky?
Sorry. I mean, er . . . Lazarus.
V V: Anyway. I don’t want to fall out with you over something like that – a simple misunderstanding.
I feel exactly the same. Tell me, though, I’m curious: you said that you were changing the cables around. Was that to listen to the Hank Marvin CD? Did we nearly have your death on our hands as well as the fact that by charging you against your wishes you went overdrawn?
V V: No, not at all. There was a Dr Who special on t’radio . . .
Oh right, sounds rubbish. Anyway, got to go. It seems that we all have a life we should be living. Gobshitesayswhat?
V V: What?
So we finished the call with him thinking that we were back to being best friends again. I don’t mind Victor Valium’s calls at all, but for the fact that most of the content of them is absolute balderdash, totally irrelevant to anything – certainly not relevant to me doing my job, except for pacifying him; even though I sometimes feel that I double as a care-worker. He’s a lonely dude; he likes to spend time on the phone to waste away his day. He phoned back twice that same day to place two more orders. So job done.
After the first call I thought about it for a minute . . . He’d initially said that he was charged thirty-five pounds for the bank charge; when I phoned back he said twenty-five quid. I’m quite certain, even though we did make a mistake, that a pound is a quid and that he didn’t go overdrawn at all. And his story about being electrocuted by changing the wires on the stereo, being thrown across the wall and then dying? Sweet miracles, eh?