My mobile phone rang when I was sitting in the tractor a couple of weeks ago.
Now, this used to be a moment of great excitement.
When you’re as sad and lonely as me, and you spend most of your time sitting on your own, going up and down a field, having a chat with someone is a welcome break from the tedium.
I’ll tell you how sad I am; when I ring the local radio station to answer one of their mind-bendingly difficult quizzes (“Who sang Like a Virgin? Was it a: Madonna, b: Neil Armstrong, c: Scott of the Antarctic, or d: Attila the Hun?”), they’ve already got my name on their screen before they answer. Mind you, I was their Eurovision Song Contest analyst for several years. Now that’s really sad.
My joy at having someone to talk to was spoiled as I squinted at the screen, trying to focus on the number: it was another of those 0845 calls. I’m getting a bit fed up with these. Sometimes it’s one every day – sometimes two. I really can’t remember taking out payment protection insurance, or telling someone I was interested in a new boiler, but the automated calls keep coming. Sometimes I ignore them.
Sometimes I press five, wait for someone to answer and try to sell them some wheat. (“Well, I don’t want what you’re selling, either.”)
My latest wheeze is to adopt an outrageous Spanish accent and swear at them.
It’s amazing just what obscenities you can get away with while sounding like Manuel from Fawlty Towers. It achieves nothing, but is great fun.
Anyway, as I say, my phone rang. I ignored it. It rang again, 10 minutes later. I ignored it again. When it rang the next day, I was out of the tractor, and wearing glasses. This meant I had a good look at the number on the screen. And just as I was about to launch into my stream of exquisite expletives, I had a funny feeling that I recognised the number. “Hello?” I answered cautiously.
“Oh, hello, Mr Flindt. This is the RPA.”
When the RPA rings, there’s usually a problem. And as a man who has had several years’ experience of “Where, oh where have my entitlements gone?”, my heart sinks when I hear the phrase “This is the RPA”.
Luckily, although there was a problem, it was a relatively trivial one: the aerial photo team reckoned that a block of trees had grown – as trees do. An acre or so needed to be knocked off next year’s area for Cheyney field.
“Oh thank you, Sir, yes, Sir, anything you say, Sir,” I blithered.
I must have sounded pathetic in my relief that he hadn’t said that my forms didn’t seem to have arrived this year – or something equally catastrophic.
I was also relieved that I hadn’t launched into my lengthy lexicon of earthy English – with or without Spanish accent. My SFP form might well have found itself mysteriously missing. Forever.
I pointed out, as respectfully as I could, that the RPA might not be doing itself any favours by using an 0845 number to ring out.
He did remark that he was finding it difficult these days to get people to answer the phone when he rang them. That would explain it.
I asked if he’d ever been sworn at.
“Not yet”, he said.
That was a relief.
Charlie Flindt is a tenant of the National Trust, farming 380ha at Hinton Ampner, in Hampshire
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