It’ Christmas Eve, 1988. I’m working for a telecoms company as an engineer modernising telephone exchanges and as part of that, we contact customers to tell about changes to phone numbers or breaks in services when the new exchange goes live.
We also, at this time, still have bars in our office buildings open at lunchtimes, evenings and for things such as Christmas Eve. We’ve just come back from the party at the bar and it’s around 3.30pm … I clock off at 4pm.
The entire phone number system for the country is undergoing a major change over the next few years as we are running out of numbers so they are changing dialling codes … think 0234 12345 is becoming 0**1**234 12345**6**. So phone numbers are getting longer.
In addition, London callers had, until now, been able to call towns that surround London using short access codes where they put a couple of digits in front of the number rather than dialing the full code… Think instead of dialling 0234 12345 they would dial 81 12345. This made the number in these non London Towns seem to be in London. *This is important*
We have all been trained to answer phone calls in a certain way, in fact, people used to put on their CVs that they were (phone company) telephone trained as it was a big thing.
Oh and by the way, the reason that I can recall convos so well after all these years is I have an eidetic memory. I type at 80wpm so with calls, I would transcribe convos into the records and these stay in my mind.
Now, I’m not drunk. But I’m merry and giggly. It’s Christmas Eve and I have 30 minutes to go. My boss decides that we should take the calls as it’s good customer service.
Me: Good afternoon, (phone company), OP speaking, how can I help you?
Caller (C): What the hell have you done to my phone number?
Me: I’m sorry, could you explain where you are calling from and what it’s in relation to?
C: I’ve just got this letter and it says you are changing my phone number to a Staines number
Now Staines (now rebranded Staines on Thames) had a reputation that you would expect from the name. Mostly it was unwarranted, but snobby people who lived just outside, but had a Staines phone number liked to put on their stationery the short code and number as it made them look like they were not living in Staines.
Me: I understand your concern caller, but we are making no change to your phone number. It was 0784 12345 and it will still be 0784 1234. What we are doing is removing the short dialling codes that people in London use to call you. They will have to dial the full number, just as they would do for dialling say Harrogate.
C: NO, I HAVE A LONDON NUMBER IT’S 8112345. You have moved me from London to Staines. I don’t live in Staines.
Now, I’m looking up their details on our system and they postal address is The cottage, little snoozing, posh village, STAINES.
Me: I’m just checking your address, can I confirm that it is The cottage, little snoozing, posh village, STAINES?
Me: Which is not in London, but is in fact, a small village in the outskirts of Staines?
Me: so your phone number would be via the Staines telephone exchange and therefore have a Staines area code
Me: huh? (Ok, not an approved response, but I was mildly drunk and my brain was now seizing up)
C: You have moved my house to Staines
Me: Caller, I can assure you that we have not moved your house, it is definitely where you left it, posh village, Staines
C:No, you have moved me from London. I DEMAND YOU PAY ME COMPENSATION FOR MOVING ME FROM LONDON
C: All my friends in London will now know I live in Staines because you have moved me from Londond to Staines
Me: (my brain at this point was over heating) Caller, the letter we sent you about the removal of the short access code clearly states that this code was, according to your contract, NOT permanent, provided only as a non paid service, and should not be published as your main contact number. We have not moved your house, we have withdrawn a way of dialling your number
C: I need compensation because of embarrassment. My friends will now know I don’t live in London but am near (gasp) STAINES (there is now the sound of faint sobbing and slurping and I realise that the caller is more drunk than I am)
Me: Caller, whilst I really appreciate that this is of concern to you, there is absolutely nothing I can do about the fact that you physically live near to Staines. So, I’m going to end this call now
C: You don’t care. (sob, slurp) I’m going to be ostracized by EVERYONE now. (sob, slurp, slurp)
Me: Caller, there is NOTHING that I can do for you. It’s Chrsimas Eve and I am now going to end this call as it’s time for me to finish. Good bye
It was decided a few years later to close the bars … the idea behind them was that it was better for our engineers to have a beer at one of our offices rather than park their vans at a pub. Then they decided that it was better that they didn’t have a beer at lunchtime!