Picture of a judge's wigThe Judge RANTS!Picture of a judge's wig

Date: 26/11/15

Ring Off...Fuck Off!

I've mentioned more than once my deep-seated hostility to the telephone.

It's not just the fact that I've never been at ease with the idea of talking to someone I can't see; it's that the wretched instrument means that anyone with access to your number can buttonhole you at any moment they choose and tell you things you have no interest in hearing.

(Yes, I am registered with the Telephone Preference Service, and have been since I got broadband nearly thirteen years ago (which meant that my line - no longer tied up with a dialup modem - was now free for anyone to call). However, their 'protection' seems increasingly to have all the effectiveness of a tissue-paper condom nowadays, and that means that I am plagued - yes, plagued, m'dears - with calls that I most emphatically do not want).

Earlier this evening, I had to endure no fewer than three of these impertinent intrusions into my peace in the space of half an hour, each of them being an example of a different facet of the Curse of A.G. Bell:

All three callers withheld their numbers on this occasion, but even when they don't (either by accident or design), I find increasingly that doing a '1471' gives you a number outside of the jurisdiction or - worse still, and an increasing trend, I find - a number which seems to be 'legit', but actually isn't because it is one digit short.

The simmering rage into which these interferences cast me can't be doing me any good at all, and makes me wish that I could use the implement rather like The General in Dastardly & Muttley In Their Flying Machines, reach down it and grab my tormentor warmly by the throat.

Let's face it, it is extremely ill-mannered to subject someone to communication that they have expressed no desire to receive, and all on the off-chance that you might succumb to their sales pitch after a couple of minutes of call time, if only to get them off the fucking line. I do not regard it as a price worth paying for the privilege of being able to contact others when I wish or need to do so. It is the equivalent of knocking on someone's door and hiding behind the hedge when they open it; or, worse still, knocking on someone's door, waiting until they open it and then pissing on them.

(I think it only fair to point out that sometimes - just sometimes - it has worked to my advantage. Well, OK, it did once. It was about three years ago, when my alma mater was trying to touch me for cash. The young woman who called on their behalf was quite clearly a student making a few bob of an evening (a Sunday, this was as well, if I recall correctly), and - as I had the time to chat, and they were paying for the call anyway - we had quite an entertaining conversation. I'm not quite sure exactly what impulse led me to pick the receiver up again about ten seconds after it ended, but it was obvious that she had forgotten to terminate (to use that ghastly word) the call properly at her end, and she was saying (either to her supervisor or to the person personning the next phone along) some very sweet things about me. I held my breath - and my nerve - long enough to get a bolstering to my ego which was sufficient to get me through most of the following week).

But such occasions are very few, and the distances between them to be calculated by astronomical measurements. They do not in any way make up for what I have to endure between them, although it reminds me how smug I feel never to have owned - and only seldom ever to have used - one of those appalling mobile jobbies.

Yet we seem to be powerless to prevent them. And to say that I need to get one of them there phones with a hundred different ways of blocking unwanted calls (all of which ways will only ever work part of the time anyway), is totally to miss the point because it deals with the wrong end of the problem.

In this as in most other matters, prevention must be better than cure. So with that in mind, may I share some modest proposals with you?

  1. That it should be unlawful to call anyone for any purpose which is related to selling anything (even if - especially if - they claim not to be selling anything) without the express informed and advance consent of the receiver.
  2. That it should be unlawful to withhold your number from any call; or, at least, not without providing a number to call back which is, a) legitimate, b) within UK jurisdiction, and c) not charged at anything other than the cheapest rate possible.
  3. That the punishment for transgressions - unless the perpetrators can convince a court that it was a genuine mistake - would be:

    • Escalating fines levied personally on the owners of the convicted company,
    • A one-month suspension from using the public telephone network for a first offence; a six-month cutting-off for the second; and a permanent exclusion for a third one,
    • A term of imprisonment for the company's owners for a fourth conviction.

I don't pretend that this would solve all the problems associated with this appalling practice - unless you add in the possibility of deliberately and substantially throttling all telecommunications traffic coming from the countries out of which many of these twerps now operate - but it would certainly make the bastards think before they disturb the even tenor of my days, and that has to be worth something.