Conversations with cold callers

I feel sorry for people who have the job of cold calling people to try and sell something.  It must be a cruddy job and I imagine there to be very little satisfaction in it.  Despite my sympathy for them, I don’t like answering the telephone to cold callers.  Who does?  I think everyone has their own strategy for dealing with it.  My housemate tends to keep them talking and will push the conversation to the most ridiculous places to see how long they put up with it.  While I admire his front for doing this, it feels just a shade too cruel to me.  They are people just trying to do their job after all.

I have found that sharing a house with someone who isn’t my partner frequently gives me an excellent opportunity to really confuse cold callers and I can get them off the phone within 5 minutes without being rude and without feeling really mean.

So when I answered the phone this morning this is how the conversation went (for the sake of clarity, let’s assume my housemate is called Rob Smith.  He isn’t, but it’s easier with a name):

Caller: “Hello, is that Mrs Smith?”

Me: “No.”

Caller: “You’re not Mrs Smith?”

Me: “No. I’m absolutely not.”


Caller: “Are you a relative?”

Me: (slightly sultry) “No.”

Caller “I was calling to talk to Mr Robert Smith … (tails off)

Me: No, I’m definitely not Robert.

(awkward silence)

Caller: “Oh well thank you.  Good bye.”

Every time I try this it has a similar effect and it is always the caller that terminates the call, not me.  There are a few thing I like about this.  Firstly they start the conversation, obviously, and its the caller’s assumptions or lack of certainly about how to proceed that persuades them they should just leave me alone.  Secondly, in my working life I generally work really hard to supply information or prompt the people I work with to make sure conversation flows productively and we all get a good outcome.  This facilitating communication aspect is a huge part of my job and it surfaces in many different contexts (e.g. day to day chat, supervision of my junior colleagues, facilitating meetings, dealing with students).  It is nice in my personal life to sometimes exercise the choice to leave taking responsibility for this.  Thirdly, it demonstrates the power of saying the word no.  A confidently said “No” with no justification and no excuses can work wonders in some uncomfortable situations as it gives the other person very little to argue with you about.

Does finding great amusement in doing this make me a bad person?



Celebrating my birthday or, in other words, my friends are amazing!

It was my birthday at the end of June and I decided to have a proper celebration last Saturday, leaving it a couple of weekends for various reasons.  I wanted to try and get a fair number of my friends together for it – they are diverse bunch and I thought carefully about what I could arrange that would be fairly low key and appeal as widely as possible.  I settled on having a bbq in Preston Park with invitees bringing their own food.  My first mistake was choosing an outdoor event!  I spent no small amount of time worrying about the weather and disappointing people if it wasn’t good enoug to bbq.  I had a panic the Monday before where I managed to convince myself that if the weather was bad everyone who turned up would stand and stare at me in undisguised boredom and/or contempt.  Not that I hadn’t a back up plan – that was one of my first decisions after choosing a bbq.  My back up plan was to head to the nearby pub.  A plan that, in all likelyhood, was not going to go down badly.

So I had my panic and my housemate talked me down, nice chap that he is.  As the week wore on I spent more and more time obsessively checking the weather forecast and wondering what the day would bring weatherwise.  I was anxious about when to make the call to abandon all plans to bbq, especially as people would be bringing food with them.  I was anxious about parking near the park.  I was anxious about us managing to meet up (even though, at the suggestion of another friend, I had specified meeting at the clock tower).  I was anxious that my friends wouldn’t get on.  I was anxious that no one would turn up.  I was anxious that people would turn up and I would disappoint them.  All this anxiety, though, is pretty much par for the course in my life.  In fact, I suspect that I would find things to worry about, bbq or no.  At least the focus of organising a bbq meant I had something to look forward to at the end of it and a constructive focus for my anxious tendencies rather than random/unanchored anxiety.

I remember wailing to Martin (my housemate) on Monday, very possibly with full dramatic lip wobble,

‘Nothing ever goes right for me unless I plan it to the nth degree, things never just “work out in the end” for me!’

Oh the melodrama!

As it happens, we drove into Brighton (Martin very kindly drove), found a place to park immediately and also realised we parked right near the bbq spots.  We were also in direct line of sight to the clock tower.  Result!  The weather was fab in the afternoon – blowy but very sunny and warm.  The next lovely thing was that friends started showing up.  For once I didn’t have to turn up somewhere on my own and wait, because Martin, his son and I got there together.  I started on making up the Pimm’s (which has somehow become my signature contribution to outdoor events in the summer) and permitted myself to feel pleased.  Then other friends started appearing.  Michele was first, followed closely by Juan and Elona.  Juan immediately got involved with the bbqs; he was my partner in fire-creating-crime for the staff bbq I organised at work recently.

While I am off on a tangent about the staff bbq – I organised a bbq for approx 80 people on a budget of £3 a head (money recouped by donations from attendees).  That was a bit scary, but organising a bbq for my birthday with only my friends was scarier.  Perhaps because the people at work were a captive audience – I had managed to negotiate with the Head of School to have the bbq as the last School meeting of the year which was a fairly popular decision.  And I had more help with the staff bbq.  Perhaps also because my birthday mattered more personally.  My professional reputation may well have been more at stake with the work bbq, but my feelings and my sense of identity within my group of friends were much more at stake with my birthday celebration.

Back to the arrivals of my friends.  Harry showed up soon after, and was subjected to a mild inquisition about his recent vegetarianism.  Next to arrive was Mark.  Later on some of the group with whom I jaunted to Amsterdam earlier in the year arrived – Jason, Rob, Grant and Kevin.  Even later, when I had completely relaxed and forgotten who else I’d invited, James (there are many people called James I know – this was a chap from work) and his girlfriend showed up.  We cooked loads of food, worried a bit about food poisoning, drank and were merry.  At some point I stopped finding things to faff about with to distract from my anxiety and relaxed.  The weather was fab and I was surrounded by lovely people who clearly had an interest in celebrating my birthday.  I brought chocolate gingerbread cake (I make myself a birthday cake every year, because I love making cakes).  Elona decorated it with leftover strawberries and it looked fabulous when she’d finished with it.  James started off a rousing chorus of Happy Birthday and I thoroughly enjoyed being the centre of attention.  I haven’t had any one sing me Happy Birthday for years and it was wonderful!  They sang so loudly and I jumped about and threw my arms in the air so joyfully that we attracted stares from the nearby group of people bbqing.  I was thrilled to bits!

After all that we played frisbee for a bit and Martin very kindly drove back home with the rubbish and left over bits, leaving me free to linger as long as I liked.  People had started drifting away by this time, but a few of us were still sitting chatting at 7.30 pm.  I remember interjecting to a conversation between Mark and Harry, where the objective was to persuade Harry to use twitter.  I remember Michele bringing fabulous chips from Bankers and a bunch of beautiful flowers.  I remember enthusiastically recounting my recent dating fail, which amused those that hadn’t already heard it.  I remember lying on my back, staring up at the sky, listening to the conversation around me and feeling incredibly happy.  I remember recieving many thank yous for organising a get together, which I find amazing; I organised it simply because I wanted to.  I wanted their company and I wanted to do something fun and make a bit of a fuss about my birthday.  They obliged me, not the other way round.

There are other friends who I know wanted to make it and couldn’t, so thank you to all of you: those that came along on Saturday and those that couldn’t/didn’t, you are all instrumental in my life.  I would be nowhere without my lovely friends who keep me sane, listen to my neurotic ramblings and for some reason continue to find me interesting.  You are all wonderful and I love you all dearly, you know who you are.

Once things wound up, I went for a lovely wander along the seafront with an especially dear friend meaning I didn’t have to go home too early, but could step down from the business and bustle of a largish group which is what I needed at that point in the day.  I normally struggle with winding things up/finishing things, but it all worked perfectly.  I got to do the shouty, organisey, in charge bit; the fun, chatting, soaking up sunshine, drinking bit and the winding down with philosophical musings bit.  What a perfect day!

BBQ here

The wheels on the bus

This morning on the bus, after noting a conversation about fares between the driver and two young international students had been going some time, I stuck my nose in and asked if they were short of change.  It turns out they only needed £1 and I gladly gave it to them so they could get where they were going without further difficulty.  Aside from doing a good deed and helping them in a way that wasn’t any big deal to me, I also enjoyed the thought of playing for a minute the character of an anonymous, mysterious young woman who, unexpectedly, and with expert timing, offered assistance and then went back to listening to her mp3 plyaer as if it were nothing out of the ordinary.

It is curious for me, curious enough to blog about such a random and, on the face of it, unexceptional fragment of my day because it did feel somewhat exceptional.  I enjoy the drama of making a decision to insert myself into a scene I could quite easily not interfere and testing my hunch that I can make a positive contribution.

My standard tactic for years was to ignore the goings on of other people in my vicinity unless they directly concerned or threatened me.  The irony of this being that I have always wanted to help.  I have always believed offering help when you can reasonably and practically assist is the right thing to do.  What stopped me for years was a lack of confidence in my ability to judge:

1) whether I can reasonably and practically add something of value to the given situation,

2) the balance between my vanity and the actual benefit I can offer is such that I am not making an excuse to be really quite obnoxious.

It is a pretty big thing for me to be able to return to an aspect of my character that I am really not proud of (vanity and desire for attention/recognition) that I have attempted to repress for years, tackling it by trying to find its positive side and the ways in which I can temper it.

I suppose, in essence, what I am trying to do is to find a way to reconcile the values I hold that centre around two different points.  Firstly: politeness, not making a scene, not interfering with other people’s business, not being obviously self serving, showing restraint.  These all seem to come under the umbrella of dignity and saving face.  Secondly: care, compassion, passion, creativity, expressing what it means for me to be an emotionally driven and sometimes irrational human being, reaching out to other people, sharing with other people.  I suppose in another way they could be thought of  as kinds of behaviours that have traditionally been divided by the distinction between public and private life.  I have struggled with this tension for years and years and have mostly resolved the problem in ways that (when I look back) seem even more bizarre than my penchant for spending far too long musing about my values and the minutiae of my everyday life.

I honestly feel, therefore, that this constitutes progress.  Make of that what you will 😉

In actual fact, I suspect I gained a lot more from this interaction on the bus then the two young lads did.  They only got £1 out of it.  I got an opportunity to examine my character, hiearchy of values and to confront one of my demons and also a topic for a blog post!  Not bad, eh?