My ability to almost play the opening bars of Chopin’s Revolutionary Study may seem like a futile skill to have. But I never lost faith that it was going to come in useful one day. I can only play the first bit because I was halfway through learning the piece as a teenager when my piano teacher informed me — compelled, I presume, by some music teacher’s Hippocratic oath — that I would never make a concert pianist, and so I hadn’t the heart to put myself through two hours practice a day any more. I went on playing, but without worrying too much about the precise coordinates of my fingers.
What I lack in precision I make up for in volume, however. It is a very good stress-buster, although not so much for the neighbours. I once knocked on the door of the flat upstairs to complain about an all-night party only to be told by the horrid woman who lived there, ‘I hear you with your rubbish piano-playing.’
How did it come about, therefore, that my ability to hammer out an approximation of the opening bars of a Chopin study helped me to make my peace with call centres?
Well, like anyone who works from home, I am plagued about every 20 minutes by cold callers ringing my landline. I have toyed with the idea of disconnecting it, but every 32nd call it is my mother, asking whether I am alive or dead as I haven’t replied to a text message, which invariably she hasn’t actually sent.
So I pick up the landline when it rings and, 31 out of 32 times, there is silence at the end of the line for a few seconds, then someone chirpy says, ‘Hello, is that Mrs Kite?’ before security checking me to make sure I am who they think I am, even though they clearly don’t know who they think I am, or they wouldn’t call me Mrs Kite. Only then do they reveal what manner of payment protection compensation scam they are pushing.
‘It’s Ms Kite!’ I say. ‘Sorry, Miss Kite.’ ‘No, that’s not what I said. I said Muzzzzzzz Kite!’ ‘I’m so sorry, Miss Kite.’
The other day, however, an idea occurred to me during the silence. The phone rang, I snatched it up and instinctively I took an enormous breath. And then when the chirpy voice said, ‘Hello, is that Mrs Kite?’ I let out the most fantastic roar.
And the line went dead.
Twenty minutes later, when the phone rang again I decided to try a scream. Not just any old scream, but a Hammer Horror film damsel-bitten-by-a-vampire scream. Click. This was fantastic. I had found a use for cold calls. Twenty minutes later, and largely because I was all screamed out and feeling quite mellow, I decided to develop the innovation still further. Ring ring… ‘Is that Mrs Kite?’
‘We’ve only just beguuuuun…to liiiiiiiiiiiiive! White lace and proooooomises! A kiss for luck and we’re oooooon our waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay!’
But the lady in Leeds, or possibly New Delhi, failed to appreciate any of it and put the phone down before I could get into my stride. Fine. No more Ms Nice Guy.
Ring ring… ‘Is that Mrs Kite?’
‘Out on the winding windy moors we’d roll and fall in green!’ Click.
The next one got the chorus: Ring, ring… ‘Is that Mrs Kite?’ ‘Heeeeathcliffe! It’s me oh Cathy I’ve come home now! So coooooooooooold let me in your window woa-hoo-hooooo!’ Click.
Thus emboldened, I sat down at the piano in my living-room with the handset of the landline perched on top and waited.
I can’t put into words what my practice-less rendition of the opening bars of Chopin’s Revolutionary Study sounds like. Suffice it to say it is not dissimilar in style to Eric Morecambe’s brilliant performance of Grieg’s Piano Concerto (by Grieg), as conducted by André Preview.
‘I’m playing all the right notes, not necessarily in the right order,’ said Mr Morecambe and I say, ‘Amen to that.’
Ring ring… ‘Is that Mrs Kite?’
‘CRASH! Diddle-eedle diddle-eedle, diddle-eedle diddle-eedle BANG! Diddle-eedle diddle- eedle diddle-eedle…WALLOP! Diddle-eedle diddle-eedle…’ Click.
Feeling positively elated, I decided to switch tactics again to really get my money’s worth.
Ring ring…silence… ‘Can I speak with Mrs Kite?’
‘Do you ever wonder what it’s all about?’ ‘Mrs Kite?’ ‘Let me put it this way. Have you ever had a dream where you’re dancing a foxtrot with Eric Pickles? And the weird thing is…’ Click.
Ring ring… ‘If a tree falls in a forest when no one is there does it make a sound?’ ‘Is that Mrs Kite?’
‘I don’t know. Is it? Come on, think woman! If a cold caller rings an empty house is the cold caller really there?’ A few seconds of silence. Then click.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated 16 February 2013