Snakes and ladders

My wife Ellen has been chuckling all day over some daft words of wisdom she has just picked up that cry out for me to share with you. They go like this: "Don't try to teach a pig to sing. All it does is waste your time and annoy the pig!"

It got me thinking about those irritating things in life that waste so much of our time. No. 1 on my hit list must be trying to conduct a sensible conversation on the phone with any of the public utilities like gas, electricity, water and British Telecom itself.

They have all but done away with switchboard operators and now inflict upon us the delights of the voicebox, a remote control system guaranteed to drive customers potty. You may have suffered it already. It's like playing snakes and ladders with a robot.

Phone up and a recorded message tells you to press the star button twice. Panic stations. Where and what is the star button? Sort that out and back comes metallic madam with four or five options. Say 1, 2, 3, 4 or 9, depending what you wish to know. Get your number in quick, otherwise it's a case of "I'm sorry that is not a valid response." Which means starting the rigmarole all over again.

Would you believe, I got to the last fence the other day only to be told by the command module: "I'm sorry all our operators are busy. Please try later." I never once got to speak to speak to a human being.

It's no better trying to beat the system by writing letters. Recently I received an electricity bill for £1,200 for one light bulb in my garage. It took months to sort out that lot, not least because they couldn't find the meter. One inspector thought he had located the missing object and crawled through piles of debris dumped in a neighbour's garage - only to discover it was a gas meter. The final bill was blank. I didn't owe anything.

Another pet hate of mine is those calls from Tele-sales people who seem to be based in the Orkney Islands. They usually come in the middle of my favourite TV programme. Sales persons rabbit away at machine-gun speed with an array of special offers meant to tempt you into spending money. We even had Gallup Poll ringing in the middle of dinner last Sunday.

Even more aggravating is the mountain of junk mail that comes through the letterbox to supplement all those bits of glossy paper that fall out of out newspapers. On several occasions this year companies I've never heard of have kindly awarded me prizes of up to £50,000. Read the small print - if you can find it - and discover your name is in a lucky dip with umpteen thousand other lucky winners.

It's all such a waste of time - just like trying to teach pigs to sing!

'Bye now - see you back here soon

Copyright © 2000 Derek Jameson / Retirement Matters Ltd . All rights reserved.