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Donkin's World: Night Caller

Richard Donkin is tormented by a phone call in the middle of the night.

Do please visit Richard's well-stocked Web site

Details of his book Blood, Sweat and Tears which is acclaimed world-wide can be found here http://www.amazon.co.uk/Blood-Sweat-Tears-Evolution-Work/dp/1587990768/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1214554429&sr=1-2

It doesn't do much good, but I value my beauty sleep all the same, so I wasn't too amused and nor was Gill when the telephone awakened us at two in the morning. Gill answered to hear the kind of beep you get from fax machines. She put down the receiver and five minutes later the phone rang again.

We switched off the ring tone but the phone kept ringing in other parts of the house, disturbing everyone.

This time I decided that something had to be done. I dialled 100 to get the operator. It was an answerphone. I had to listen to three options before getting a fourth option enabling me to speak to an operator.

Operators used to be such useful and helpful people. Not any more. I'm not sure whether this one was actually employed by BT or whether they were in the UK, not that their location mattered.

I complained about the call and asked for the caller's number to be blocked (I had called it back and found it was engaged. I presume it was an automated fax machine). This is the number if you would like to check it yourself: 0207 719 8407. I rang it at length just now and no-one answered. Maybe I have made an enemy. I did write a negative book review recently.

The operator put me through to something called the nuisance call service. The person manning this service gave me another number to dial - 0845 070 0702 - for the Fax Preference Service and gave me an online address www.fpsonline.org since it did not have a 24-hour switchboard.

By this time I was becoming a tad irritated since it appeared that, after being passed from pillar to post, that BT did not have a remedy for my immediate problem: how to get a good night's sleep without being interrupted by an inconsiderate fax.

So I called the operator again and got a bit cross. The operator - it was the same one and she remembered me - got a bit cross too and passed me on to her supervisor who soon became as cross as the operator. They have training for this kind of thing (highly frustrated, grumpy, sleepless man fed up with being fobbed off) but the training is designed only to ensure that the operator (and supervisor) can stay relatively calm and professional while explaining that nothing can be done.

Having had no such training I cannot claim to have remained relatively calm. I didn't want a service that would become active in 28 days (what they were offering). I wanted the caller at 0207 7198 407 to be wiped off the face of the Earth.

The supervisor did offer one piece of advice. "You could unplug the phone," she said. But I had phones plugged in all over the house and some of the sockets were in places that are difficult to access. I didn't want to go on a plug hunt at what was now 2.30 am. I asked for the private number of Ian Livingstone, the BT chief executive, so I could call him that minute for a chat about things. But the supervisor, who was also grumpy by now, said she did not have it.

What irritated me most is that I did not have a beef with the operator (or the outsourced service that is employed now to tell nighttime callers that they cannot be helped), but with the fax machine operator. Who was it and why were they ringing me at that ungodly hour? I unhooked my fax machine long ago, about the same time that I got rid of the pony and trap.

Gill, meanwhile, explained that there was a master plug for the phone. Why didn't she tell me earlier? I went downstairs and unplugged it.

By this time I was wide awake so reached for my bedside book, The Book of Eels, by Tom Fort. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Book-Eels-Trail-Thin-heads/dp/0007115938 This also happens to be about slimy nocturnal creatures, but ones that manage to go about their business without disturbing people.

"What? You're going to read now?" said Gill. She couldn't stand any more and went off to sleep in the spare room. What was going on? Why did I feel guilty when this whole fractious episode had been caused by an automated fax system.

There must be some privacy issues here. It can't be right that we can be disturbed in our beds in this way and we shouldn't have to instigate various services to deal with it. Yes, there is a Call Prevention Registry but this is a subscription service. http://www.callpreventionregistry.co.uk/index.html Why should I have to pay for my privacy? A call to the operator should be enough.

NB. I called the operator back during office hours today and had a much better reception. This time I was put through to someone who actually seemed to care about my problem. The number, she said, was not registered with BT and was probably dialling our home number by mistake. She would get on to the relevant service provider and ensure that it didn't happen again. I hope she's successful.


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