Archive for the 'Phone calls' Category

It’s all relative

“What’s even worse than having to do a phone interview?” I asked my colleague the other day, as we passed in the corridor whilst doing the annual round of student recruitment interviews.

“Having to do a phone interview via Skype?” he proffered, quick as a flash and stealing my thunder with a much better answer than the one I had been about to give about not being able to do a phone interview because the candidate had put the wrong contact number on their application form.

“Jeez, never even considered having to interview by Skype”, I said with horror.

The thought of the candidate being able to watch me writhe like a worm that’s been chopped in two, as I strained to decipher broken English via an echoey satellite connection, was traumatic. Throw in the unedifying spectacle of fiddling with squealing hearing aids as well, and it made such an inhumane test of endurance for both parties, that I wondered if I could sell the idea to Channel 5 for a reality TV show.

When I did finally manage to make contact with my elusive phone interview candidate on the other side of the world, just seconds before a pneumatic drill started up outside the open window, I simply stuck a finger in the non-phone ear and reminded myself it could be a whole lot worse if Skype was involved.

Quiet Revolution

I am currently having some sort of existential meltdown which is causing me to behave in an uncharacteristically reckless manner, and strangely, it’s very liberating. I defiantly used my hand instead of the cake tongs at the Sainsbury’s pastry counter the other morning, and was amazed to find that nothing happened. No accusing hand on the shoulder, no microbiological swabbing enforcement order, no bill for 25 fruit scones because they’d had to bin the whole basket after I’d contaminated the air around my chosen scone with my hand, nothing.

Wow, I thought, if nothing bad happens when I don’t use the cake tongs, what would happen if I tried something more daring, like saying ‘No’ to a request at work? It was not long before a suitable opportunity presented itself via the medium of the telephone, as I attempted to eat my bowl of soup at lunchtime and answer emails at the same time. The caller got the usual, “Eh? Who is it?” as I missed their name during the vital seconds it takes to rapidly stab the volume button on the phone the ten times it takes to get it to its feeble maximum volume. Then they got an uncharacteristic ‘No’ to their request. I gulped as I saw myself receiving a final warning at a Disciplinary Hearing, but the response of “That’s okay, I totally understand, I’ll see if I can find someone else” took me totally by surprise.

Blimey, I thought, if nothing bad happens when I say ‘No’ to a request, what would happen if, say, I deliberately turned up late for something? I flirted briefly with the idea, before deciding that reckless lateness was a step too far. I needed something less frightening to practise on. I looked around my desk for inspiration. What if…what if I saved the volume settings on the shared office phone handset, so that everyone else had to press the volume button ten times at the start of every call to turn it down, instead of me having to press it ten times at the start of every call to turn it up? I felt an exhilarating frisson of excitement as I picked up the handset, stabbed the volume button ten times and saw the words SAVE VOLUME SETTINGS? appear as usual. There was no hesitation as I hit the SAVE button, whilst letting out an evil laugh in the empty office.

“Everything okay, Moira?” said a puzzled student who had just appeared in the doorway.

“Fine, just fine”, I replied, taking the last mouthful of cold chicken soup.

That’s Progress For You

The end of a brief era of audible phone calls

A shiny new phone system has been installed at work, rendering Moira’s Big Phone, with its beloved Amplify button, obsolete. I sadly unplugged it, remembering the pain which had gone into getting it in the first place. I winced at the memory of the unfortunate Occupational Therapy incident back in February, where I had been hoping to get a decent phone and some low-key advice on acoustics in learning spaces. Owing to a complicated series of mis-communications caused by an over-sensitive spam filter in the HR department, I ended up being interviewed by an independent doctor instead. The whole thing started badly when Doctor Gloucester opened his file and said,

“It says here that you’re Deaf…but you’re clearly not Deaf. Not with a capital ‘D’.”

“Oh god, no…I’ve got some mild Cookie Bite hearing loss.”

“Mmmmm…” hummed the doctor, “Cookie Bite? Never heard of that. I’ll just do a quick test of your hearing.”

He whispered a series of numbers over my shoulder, in an exquisitely sibilant hiss.

“Sssssssssixty sssssssixxxxxx”

“Ssssssssseventy eightttttttttt”

“Ffffffffffffffffifty ttttttttttwo”

I heard every single one clear as a bell, and this revelation made me wonder whether I should be asking people to whisper using lots of words with ‘s’ in, instead of asking them to speak up.

“Can’t find any signs of hearing impairment, so I don’t think you’d be covered by the Disability Act”, he concluded. “Had a lecturer chap in earlier and he couldn’t hear a thing even when I shouted right into to his ears with his hearing aids in.”

“That’s awful”, I mumbled, eyeing up the emergency exit and wishing my occupational therapy request to HR had remained in their spam filter. Just as I thought my embarrassment threshold had plumbed a new depth, I realised it wasn’t over yet.

“Can I see your hearing aid for a moment?” said the doctor, suspiciously.

Oh my god, he thinks I’m suffering from the world’s first case of Munchausen’s Syndrome by Hearing Aid, I thought with horror. I abandoned the emergency exit idea and contemplated just jumping straight through the window instead, to avoid being exposed as a phone-grabbing malingerer in an expensive two page report to my employer. After a quick wipe on my t-shirt, I reluctantly handed the NHS’s beige property over, wondering how many artificial legs and glass eyes had been passed across the table for independent scrutiny over the years.

Doctor Gloucester examined it carefully, while I cringed in the corner, then handed it back with his verdict.

“Hmmmmm. Could do with one of these myself, but think I’ll wait another few years. Vanity… it’s a terrible thing.”

The Daleks are exterminated

Hallelujah, it’s a miracle. I’m cured! Well, the hearing aid is, at least. It’s been a busy week at work after the holiday weekend so the new settings on the Chroma S have been given a thorough testing. The first challenge was the open stairwell which has always been a reliable source of squealing and distortion, but on Tuesday morning, for the first time, there was nothing but the unadorned sound of stairwell as I headed up to the second floor. I noted with relief that I will no longer appear psychotic whenever anyone stops to talk to me on the steps.

The next test was a studio full of hyped up students, previously a sure-fire guarantee of an earful of feedback and an unwelcome visit from the daleks. Again, nothing. Nothing, that is, apart from the beautiful distortion-free sound of forty chairs scraping across the concrete floor, sporadic bursts of bizarre ringtones, forty students chatting and the occasional sound of gentle hammering. Bliss.

The recent increase in volume in the cookie bite zone causes ambient noise to sound rather like being on a motorway, but the handy remote control eliminates that, thank you Siemens. I was a bit worried about what actually being on a motorway would sound like, but having made a trip up the M8 at the weekend, I am pleased to report that it sounds just like being in a room with the window open. Should I ever accidentally knock myself unconscious in the studio and wake up confused, I won’t know whether I’m lying on the floor waiting for an ambulance to arrive or actually in an ambulance on the motorway, but as long as I don’t try to open any doors no harm could possibly arise from that particular auditory confusion.

After last month’s terrible incident caused by an unexpected in-store announcement at M&S, I was worried about loud noises, but my only sound-induced fright has come from answering the phone at work yesterday. Just as I hit the Amplify button, the caller’s child (or monkey, it was difficult to tell) screeched loudly right into the phone at the other end of the line. That’s one thing not even Siemens can fix unfortunately…

Jumpin’ Jehosephat

When John set up the Chroma S the other day, he decided to play safe by starting off on the lower recommended settings with a view to cranking them up, rather than the other way round. I’m glad he did.

I was sitting in the office having a nice chat with my boss about the miracle of jellyfish reproduction (look it up, it’s fascinating), when a sudden involuntary contraction of all my major muscle groups propelled me right out of my chair. In the milliseconds that followed, a huge surge of adrenaline flooded my system and the words “Jesus Christ!” exploded from my lips. Only then did I register the cause. It was the phone ringing. The boss was carrying on normally, so I deduced that no-one had tampered with the ringer settings on what has come to be known affectionately by my colleagues as Moira’s Big Phone. It seemed that with greater battery power behind the ear and some amplification action in the high frequencies, I was now embarking on a new, and literally terrifying, voyage of hearing aid discovery.

Trembling, I took the call. To preserve my dignity in front of the boss, I used the phone with the deaf lug rather than demonstrate the handset too high up the head and squealing hearing aid thing. As usual, I also did the desperate toggling on the Amplify button during the first vital seconds of the call, missing all useful conversational cues. Fortunately the caller was even more aurally challenged than me and was looking to speak to my boss anyway.

With the students still on holiday, the rest of the day was mercifully quiet, and on the way to meet the spouse for a pizza, I popped into M&S to treat myself to some stylish socks. The ‘M&S Singers’ copyright-free version of ‘There She Goes’ by The La’s was playing in the background and, disconcertingly, the reedy notes of one singer’s voice seemed to be drilling straight into my auditory cortex. As I sampled the heady delights of the sock display, the La’s impersonators reached their tinny climax and some familiar squealing and bleeping noises suddenly stopped me in my tracks. In a movie soundtrack of the scene, an unrelenting low-frequency note would now be commencing a slow crescendo. Sensing something awful might be about to happen, I hurriedly joined the long queue at the till and started feverishly adding up the cost of my purchases to allow me to get rid of some more never-ending spare change from my purse. I was just neatly stacking the final few pennies, when a terrifying noise assaulted my left eardrum, triggering another explosion in my adrenal glands and causing me to jump like a deranged puppet. Several times.

Never before has the In-Store announcement “Ladies and Gentlemen, this store will be closing in ten minutes” had such a profound effect.

Lost for words

I decided to phone The Pensioner this morning to see how she was coping in the aftermath of Andy Murray’s defeat in the Australian Grand Slam. The instant picking up of the phone and the blaring sound of some black and white movie in the background told me that she was comfortably installed in her favourite place in the whole world, her bed. After making herself a coffee from her mini kitchen on the bedside table and telling me that she was totally over poor Andy’s defeat, she made the mistake of asking me how things were going at work. About ten hours later, I was tetchily getting to the dénouement of my ‘quest for an amplified phone’ saga when she interjected.

“What do you need a phone for? You’re on the phone just now…you must be able to hear me”

“Yes, but…oh, never mind, I can’t be bothered explaining.” I was having a terror flashback to the hearing aid fitting and the suited audiologist demonstrating the hearing aid-and-phone technique of holding the handset in a very peculiar position far too high up the head. It had the tragi-comic appearance of someone who’s drunk being asked to touch the tip of their nose and missing. But with a phone instead of a finger.

Returning to my fascinating saga, she decided she’d better show some sympathy.

“That’s that thing…er…what’s it called, you know, oh god what’s the word…not constructive dismissal, it’s kind of like that…political correctness, er, to do with dis…disability…”

“Discrimination?” I volunteered.

“Yes! Discrimination. That’s it. Discrimination.”

I was relieved I’d hit the lexical bullseye so early, but I knew we were now about to head off on a tangential journey before I’d got to the bit in my amplified phone saga where Jamie the Janny innocently stopped me in the street to say “DID YOU GET YOUR BIG PHONE MOIRA? I LEFT IT ON YOUR SEAT IN THE OFFICE WHEN YOU WERE OUT. YOU’LL BE ABLE TO HEAR PEOPLE NOW.”

Mama, having lobbed in her conversational smoke bomb, swiftly seized her moment to derail my rant.

“God, sometimes I worry about myself,” she said.”After watching that documentary the other night about that thing, you know, oh god, what’s it called, it’s the thing that really frightens me…”

Jeez, where do I start, I thought, my contextual sensors, despite being honed to a fine sharpness by years of undetected Cookie Bite gap-filling, were failing me.

“Microwaves?” I offered hopefully.

“No, no, I’ve never been able to remember what a microwave’s called, it couldn’t be that.”

This statement sent my brain into a paradoxical spin which threw me further off track.

“Mobile phone masts?”


“Electromagnetic radiation? The Cuban Missile Crisis? Cancer? A stroke? Mice?”

“No, it’s that thing you keep going on about,” she said, “it’s to do with words…getting old…”

“Alzheimers!” I’d finally got it. The Hallelujah Chorus resounded majestically in my head. With the mid-frequencies totally intact.

“Yes, that’s it,” she said gratefully, “but I don’t think I’ve got Alzheimer’s, I think I just don’t get to talk to enough people.” Could’ve fooled me, I thought as I remembered her birthday night at the restaurant. She went on to elaborate,

“Besides, they said on that programme that you lose weight with Alzheimer’s, but that obviously doesn’t apply to me. Not with my embonpoint. Especially since I’ve been on the Metformin and the cholesterol stuff, oh what’s the name of it…begins with an ‘s’…”

Hello…is anybody there?

When good phones turn bad

Occupational case study 1

Phone on a tea tray for the hard of hearing.

There are many things in everyday life that start off as a highly irritating temporary solution to something beyond your control and then progress imperceptibly, through inertia, to becoming a permanent fixture and almost invisible. Like this phone on a tea tray arrangement, created some time ago by my good self because the phone extension isn’t long enough to reach my desk after an office restructure. In my pre-hearing aid days I would happily balance a pile of vital papers on top of the teapot and mugs as I took notes during a phone call, I would marvel at how illegible writing is when not done on a firm surface, and laugh gaily every time the phone fell off the tray as I stretched to get a pen from my desk. If someone was making tea at the same time as my phone call, my eyes would light up with joy and I would gratefully indicate my milk and sugar requirements with the spare hand.

Now I have to strain to hear people talking on the clapped out phone in a silent room, so add in the boiling kettle which now sounds like a DC-10 taking off, clanking dishes and a bunch of students innocently laughing at the noticeboard just outside the open office door and the ridiculousness of the phone on a tea tray arrangement suddenly becomes visible again.

The ideal solution to this fresh insight would be the provision of a louder phone with a greater than 12 inch flex. This is currently proving elusive, so my ingenious new highly irritating temporary solution to the original highly irritating temporary solution is to just not answer the phone.


People in Glass Houses

It was The Pensioner’s 76th birthday this week, so the spouse and I are taking her on the annual Birthday Blowout. These are legendary because, unlike me, she’s a total extrovert. She doesn’t go out and about that much these days, so once she does,  no taxi driver, waitress, or complete stranger on the train is safe from her pent-up conversational charms. Resistance is futile in the face of one of mama’s stories, but fortunately in Glasgow most people are quite happy to join in with her madness anyway.

I had to phone her last night to tell her about the arrangements. Phones are giving me gyp at the moment cos I can’t hear through the aid in my phone ear, so I’m having to adopt the practice of grinding the handset into my non-phone ear which is painful and leaves an unflattering imprint on the side of one’s face. I decided it would be wise to give mama my mobile number in case of a repeat of two birthdays ago, where she vanished en route to Glasgow Central and we thought something awful had happened.

So back to last night’s phone conversation and the exchange of mobile nos.

“Okay, ma, it’s 0700, ‘oh seven hundred…'”

“right, four seven hundred”

“No, oh, not four… zero…”

“right, oh four zero”

Was it the pensioner brain, or the pensioner ears, I couldn’t tell. We were in Fawlty Towers territory now. The phone was hurting my ear. I eventually got the whole number out and asked her to repeat it back to me.

“…….four seven six…”

“no, mum, it’s five seven  six”

“That’s what I just said. You must be going deaf right enough.”



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