The Joy of Travel


No. 5  Pardon?

I have no idea how many people pass through Stanstead every year – millions, possibly billions. And I assume most of them reach their destinations, with or without their luggage. Which is something of a miracle if my recent experience is anything to go by. The incomprehensible screeching that passed for public announcements would do a good job of shattering glass and put any self-respecting parrot to shame. As to fulfilling its purpose – forget it.

Where on earth do they recruit these people? What criteria do they use in interviews? Maybe they select perfectly normal people with perfectly normal voices, though with a preference for those on the shrill side. Or maybe you really do have to speak on a frequency that would have even dogs whimpering and covering their ears. Perhaps it’s all in the training. Maybe in boot camps where recruits are required to begin  at a normal speed – getting faster and faster and higher and higher as they progress towards their diplomas. Somewhat along the lines of the old speed typing tests except with the added requirement to run the words all together so as to be indistinguishable, one from the other. With extra brownie points for slurring.

Bad as it was in the departure hall, the situation at the boarding gate was even worse. I was a going to try to replicate it here to try and give some idea of what it sounded like but the nearest I can get to describing the tone is the sound of nails being scraped down a blackboard or the high pitched shriek of metal grinding against metal. The only two words I caught were ‘the back’. Whether that was to say we were to board from the back (no sniggering please) or that the plane was for some unaccountable reason going to fly backwards it was impossible to say.

A long line of hopeful passengers milled about like sheep that were one dog short of direction. I approached the desk hoping for enlightement. It did me no good. I still couldn’t understand a word. All it achieved was more confusion, a cold stare and hurty ears. It wasn’t much better on board. Given the vital importance of some safety instructions this is less annoying than alarming. We are all a bit blasé these days about life jackets and whistles and oxygen masks – we know they are more to reassure us than a having any practical use. But the stuff about electronic equipment really does need more than a quick slur. And why not spell it out – mobile phones, MP3 players, iPads and computers can all make the plane crash.

The captain has just made an announcement. All I understood was that we are makings good progress, despite being bounced about like a celestial tennis ball. Whatever he did say was I imagine meant to reassure us. A bit pointless really since he too seems to have been to boot camp with the rest of them.

P.S. For those of you who have yet to see it, this video is hilarious. But it does rather prove my point; I could only catch about one word in five. Nevertheless, I wish all the flights I was on had attendants with such a sense of humour. There’s an interview with Ellen here.

Is it just me?


CallImportantI know I’m not alone in being irritated by call centres, scripted responses and having to press a million options to get to speak to a real person. However, while I have a very short fuse when it comes to such matters, it’s nothing to my reaction to the current proliferation of automated voices. The real ones are bad enough. They obviously recruit them from some Stepford-inspired suburb, sort of artificial posh but not really posh. A bit Mrs Thatcher after the elocution lessons but with the underlying, and not entirely disguised, shade of Estuary. They always sound so bloody smug as well.

Let me waste even more of your time

Before I jump up and down about the automated voices – I’ll get there in a moment – there’s something else that has me chewing the furniture. Yes, that’s right, it’s the spiel about the Internet. More or less compulsory, these days, it goes something like this.

“Lucky you, we’ve finally answered! You have pressed eleventy ten buttons and perhaps, just perhaps, if the planets are not in retrograde and the fibre optic fairies are not having a bad hair day, you have got to the right department. So let me just waste a bit more of your time, and money, telling you that you’d be better off going on line and finding out what you need on our website. Oh, and by the way, I’ll take my time telling you about it. ”

Listen, lady – or bloke – if I could do whatever it is that I want to do online I’d bloody well do it online, wouldn’t I!” The only reason I’m wasting the precious minutes I have left on this earth, making this stupid phone call in the first place, is because I can’t do whatever it is I want to do online. Doh!

Your call is important to us. Oh yeah!

Equally infuriating is the moronic phrase ‘your call is important to us’. Oh really! If our call was that important you would surely have found some way of making it easier for us to speak to you. So please, don’t insult our intelligence. I am convinced that, somewhere in an evil empire, there’s a gaggle of intensely annoying creatures whose sole purpose is to think up moronic phrases guaranteed to have normally peaceful customers smashing their handsets in fury. You know, the sort of people you try to avoid at social gatherings and who cling like limpets. Whiney voiced and supremely irritating,

Hearing voices

Speaking of voices. I don’t quite understand why it is, since there’s so much else that’s infuriating, but automated voices push every single button (no pun intended). Including some I didn’t even know I had. It’s partly the voices themselves. There’s something very superior about them – ‘de haut en bas’. A smug sort of nannyish ‘I know best tone’ that raises the hackles. They ask you a question. You start to reply but hardly have you begun than they interrupt with an example. As if you were a complete numpty. So then you have to wait for them to repeat the question. And when you finally get to speak you inevitably get the reply ‘Sorry I didn’t hear that!’ and they repeat the question as if to a recalcitrent child. You can almost hear their sigh of exasperation. You try again.

“I didn’t hear that.”

“Oh for f***** sake. I said MAKE A F*&$$$ PAYMENT.”

“Sorry, I didn’t hear that.”


“Sorry I didn’t hear that. Did you say …


These so-called service providers obviously don’t give a stuff about their customers. I think it goes further than that. I believe there’s a sinister purpose behind it all, a cunning plan. I believe they aim to wear us all out, give us strokes or heart attacks or goad us into violence so that we end up incarcerated in prison or in the asylum. And then they won’t have to bother with us at all. Except to take our money. Of course.