"Can I speak to the National Telecom account holder please?"
It's taken me two "Hello?"s to get him to say this. He sounds young, probably still wet behind the ears, although his voice has broken and he may have relatively few spots at the moment.
I stumble over my response, but it basically comes out as "Are you a representative of National Telecoms?"
"No Sir," he says. I like the "Sir" - it reminds me of stories I've been told about. I appreciate his honesty, and it makes the next line, my polite but firm...
"Then you have no business talking to me about my telephone account. Bye."
Polite, firm, honest. If it was Tele2, though, I don't know. They should have me on their "Do not call" list.
I'm dreading moving house for exactly that reason. The cold calls, the telemarketers, phoning you up, interrupting you, creating a little pocket of anger in a potentially pleasant evening, just to try to save you money. By making them money. I don't blame the kids making the calls. I don't blame the companies even, because in many cases the companies making the call are doing so at someone else's request.
Even the company whose product I will never knowingly consume as a result of this intrusion aren't really to blame. They wouldn't do it if cold calling didn't work. Someone must actually sign up to these things. Perhaps it's like charity muggers, they believe that if they harrass you enough eventually you'll give in and they'll go away. Yeah, like that's actually going to happen.
If it didn't work, it wouldn't happen. Maybe they piss off a thousand people before they get one customer - but that's one customer that's glad for the call, and a thousand people they don't give a shit about so why does it matter if they're pissed off.
So who's that one customer? Is it you?
Isn't change interesting?
In about four years, Microsoft is going to unleash Windows Vista on the world. As an operating system addict, I signed up for the Beta release in the vain hope that by doing so I might get away from the horrible blue-and-green lego operating system and in to a world of beige and calm.
So, I've been running it for two days now. And my considered opinion after that tiny trial is... I like it. It's not ready to ship yet, kind of obviously, but the gripes that I have found are relatively minor. Except for Internet Explorer. It doesn't work. Admittedly, this is probably my fault.
And the help doesn't help. It comes up with a couple of useful hints on how to fix my problem, but they both involve opening up Internet Explorer. Which, I may have mentioned, doesn't work. So it looks like I'll have to reinstall everything.
That's not bad for beta software, though. It's not eaten all my data, decided that I want to have cheese recipes delivered to my desktop, or harnessed my hard drive and driven it around the flat like mice with a cheese sleigh. So that's something.
I used to think that April was a particularly cruel month - this was back when I was a teenager, though, and it meant exams and fine weather, and the two seldom make happy bedfellows when you're a sixteen year old chap whose mind should, rightfully be on sowing wild oats, reaping the rewards of months of dark cold wet winter and well yes, you get the idea don't you? Don't you?
June is heavy. The mind of a umpteen-year-old isn't that dis-similar from that of a teenager. It feels odd to go to bed when it's still pretty light outside, and odd to get up in the light again the next day. It feels that you're missing out on something, but then unlike my cheerful youth when I travelled in my time machine with my stuffed tiger, the days are far from packed. The days, indeed are anonymous and un-numbered and identical, stretching out before me to retirement when I will roll up the legs on my trousers, wear purple, and sit on a deck chair outside my flat on the fiftieth floor of a tower block and complain about how things aren't as good as they used to be.
And on again, and on again.
I'm racist. I'm sexist, ageist, homophobic and can get in to a righteous indignation if families with young children dare to get in to my path.
I'm not a nice person.
But then again, so few of us are. Having no prejudices is incredibly rare, and most people who will tell you that they don't have any are lying, whether or not they realise it. It's a natural thing, really. The world is so huge and vast and diverse that we have to cling to our beliefs that such-and-such an idea or a way of behaving or a way of looking is right and natural, and anything else is - well, for most of us it's just wrong. It serves a psychological purpose - it keeps us at the centre of our own universe and gives us the ability to go on from day to day without getting exasperated by the futility of it all.
When I give up work and write my great nuvvel, this will be my central theme, maybe.
In the spirit of summer, I spent 20 minutes peeling tomatoes. My poor fingers are all wrinkly. There's something surreal and not quite right about burning your fingers making iced soup.
I remember when I was a kid. That's not unusual, many people can remember being kids. But the weather was so different back then. Summers were hot but no matter how much you ran around you never got sweaty and ratty and had to have a little lie down. Not like now, when a leisurely walk to the local Spar in my shorts leaves me feeling like I've spent four years working down a fire mine without a shower eating hot wings and drinking hot chocolate. In hell.
Winter was different too - it was cold and crisp and dark burnt orange skies. Dark nights meant it was four o'clock, and you could sit upstairs on the bus, and that really doesn't have anything to do with the weather, but the snow used to lie for weeks although by the end it was dirty and just annoying but it was great when it was white and packed and you could slide along it.
But then it was winter, and soup was hot. And in the summer you had ice cream. Which is meant to be cold.
It's weird, this thing where I don't get junk mail. So weird that I went to visit it today.
Hello, junk mail, I said.
It didn't reply.
Six days, six thousand e-mails that I don't miss any more.
The other night we got in to an argument. We didn't mean to get in to an argument, but we were introduced to a friend of a friend and we - purely because of our nationality, pushed one of the prejudice buttons in his head. I wasn't really involved at first, but left on my own with him later on, I found my usual attempts to see both sides of any argument were hampered by this guy's emotional blinkers. It was late, I was drunk, and he wasn't important, so I told him I disagreed with him and left. I slept on it angry, and woke up angry.
And today, I watched Gentleman's Agreement. Thought it was amazing.
The basic premise is that a young Al from Quantum Leap asks his poppa, a journalist why people hate Jews. And so poppa goes undercover as a Jew to find out and write a sizzling exposé. In this day and age the journalist role would be played by Renée Zellwegger and it would be a laugh-a-minute romp. But what follows is a very human story. Gregory Peck plays the main character, but he's not the heart of the film, not in any sense. He suffers the prejudice, rails against it, and everything he says about it is right, but it's through the characters around him that we get some insight in to the practicalities of the operation of prejudice, the complicity, and the evil that arises when good men do nothing.
File off the serial numbers, and it is a film about any sort of prejudice going, and at its heart the message is probably that we're all prejudiced. We may not realise it. We may want not to be, and we may even be less prejudiced than other people. But it still doesn't make it right or good or fair.
Yesterday, I was sick. So I redid my spam filtration. That's what I do when I am sick, you see. That and jumping around caves in a tight-fitting evening gown. More on that another time, I think.
So, being the celebrity and playboy that I am, I get a lot of mail. I mean a lot. I mean, about 1200 bits of junk e-mail a day. This is not good. This is worse than not good, it's really, really bad. If I was to take up all of the offers, I would have the world's biggest chicken, I would be irresistible to women, and I would never be depressed again. What would the fun be in that?
As of yesterday, I now get virtually no mail. None. Want to know how I did it? Course you do.
I set up a new e-mail address. Easy enough, nice and secret, and I'm never going to give it to anyone. That's where I'm collecting mail from. My old e-mail address still exists, though, and it forwards mail on. But not to my new address, no. It forwards it on to Google.
Like 99% of the right-thinking people in the civilised world, I used to think that Google was benevolent and kind, like a favourite uncle who brings you sweeties. That's still partly true, and so they give away lots of free e-mail space in an effort to encourage you to tell them all your problems so that they can sell your psychological profile to the CIA. Mibby. Google offers lots and lots of mail space, pretty good junk filtering, and autoforwarding.
So my mail goes to Google, Google picks out the precious special ones and forwards them on to the new address.
Pop... mail drops in to Outlook. By now it's pretty clean, but I'm running two spam filters on there, so it gets picked clean and at the end of the day... nothing. Nobody writes to me. Mind you, when they do I don't reply for months, so why would they, eh?
Still, it's the thought that counts.
I know I'm being naive, but prohibition is the surest way to promote piracy I know. I'm thinking here about something like a Digital Right Management system that allows you to play a CD on your PC, but not copy it to your MP3 player. Now, most people would consider that to be a fair use, but that's really beside the point. Companies want to protect their intellectual property - that's not really the point either. The fact is that we're told that making a copy of a CD for personal use is fair, we're marketed devices to let us do it, and as nobody is clamping down on them, society and the legal system are telling us that it's okay to make a single copy for personal use.
So you've bought your CD, you want to listen to it while you are sittng on a train, running in a park or doing press-ups on a willing volunteer. And you can't. What's the next step? There are two alternatives. Either give up or download a copy.
If you're a record company (or CD company) you're stuck here. You've sold the music once. If the customer gives up on listening to it, then on the one hand you don't care, because you've made your money. On the other hand it may discourage them from buying any more CDs by the same artist or - if they're smart enough to notice the difference between them - the same label.
It'll be hard to sell them a download After all, they've paid for the thing once, and the new technology isn't new enough, different enough, to make them buy it again. It's not like the 1970s, where you bought the book, the 1980s where you bought the videocassette, and then you bought the DVD in the last couple of years. This is a CD you bought yesterday. The customer isn't prepared to call it obsolete.
So, let's be honest. The copy protection makes it more likely that the customer will steal a copy.
And once they've stolen one, they'll see how easy it is to steal again.
And that hits sales of CDs, hits profitable sales of music, and hits the artist. And more, because the customer doesn't pay anything for the music, she doesn't place any value on it. She may not even listen to it more than once, maybe not even that as it's so easy to flick from track to track.
Is copy-protection killing music? And if so, does it matter?
Ah, silly season. The time of the year when the most interesting thing on the telly is a bunch of freaks locked in a prison on public display, so we can all pay our metaphorical penny to laugh at the pretty freaks.
This is great if you're an insomniac. You can lie awake half the night listening to half a conversation between two people with half a brain. Between them.
Ah yes, Big Brother. Now in its seventh year. It used to be a fun "game" show. Now it's a form of endurance test, a psychological test for its contestants and a guilty secret for its audience, equally delighted and repelled by the mix of the scary people and the rest of society that chooses to hide away from the long tedious summer of sport.
With nothing but each other for entertainment, much of the time, we get a chance to see human nature at its most raw. And what horrible people we are. We lie, we cheat, we confuse, we are confused. It's an ugly mirror of society, but at its heart it tells us something about the values that society places on individual character traits. Every year it is won by the bland or the underdog. The micro-social scene in which the contestants live their lives and the macro-social landscape of society are hugely different. And that's where the tension lies, the interest.
The one thing I have learned from Big Brother this year - so far - is that bullies prosper, but only in small ways, and never forever.