The sun is shining. It’s a day to get a haircut, pick up the precocious student daughter, go to mum and dad’s for some soup, collect a bottle of gas for the new midgie-buster and then laze about in the living room watching the Test Match before scrubbing up for a cracking dinner on Inchmurrin Island, Loch Lomond.
And it was all going very well. Carl at Maison Ronnie clipped and waxed, the daughter, the wrinklies, the lentil soup with bonus rhubarb pie, the cricket and the dinner were spot-on. Even the weather turned out fine.
I did, though, have a problem with my gas.
At lunch dad remembered a place near Paisley which sold the stuff. It’s the kind of information that dads never forget, and right enough there was a Calor sign on the wall at the entrance to the yard. Result. They definitely had gas, lots of gas. A huge caged enclosure’s worth.
When I got to the counter no-one was about. Late lunch, probably, or they were out the back topping up their vitamin D and having a fag. But all I needed was a delivery, so calling the 0800 number seemed like a plan. Back in the car I dialled to hear a posh BBC World Service accent. A Samantha, perhaps. Not the bloke behind the counter in Darnley, I should coco.
“Welcome to Bloggs Builders Merchants. In order to help you and speed up your order…”
Just hearing those words make my heart sink, not just because they were incongruous. It was like a public speaker saying they will be brief. I was now all foreboding. There was a trickle of sweat racing towards my waistband. I should have parked in the shade.
“… please allow us to get you to our nearest store by telling us the nearest town or city to your location.”
I was, of course, outside their nearest store. A place that could, should, give me gas. I could see the gas. I could smell the gas.
“Paisley.” I asserted.
“I’m sorry, I never got that.”
“No. I seem to be having trouble hearing you. Please repeat.” Samantha’s voice never changes.
I repeated, with a bit of an edge this time, I have to say. Of course my ennui makes no difference.
“Please say the large town or city nearest your current location.”
“Paisley… PAISLEY… P… A… I… S… L… E… Y.” Spelling it did not help, quite the opposite.
“No. I’m sorry. Please tell me your nearest town or city.”
I was now getting gas, but not in the way I wanted. Think it was the soup but then, a light-bulb moment. The human brain trumps the machine every time. Paisley is not a place they recognise! It’s not on their big list of towns and cities! The solution is simple.
“Glasgow. You said Glasgow.” Purred Samantha. I thought she purred.
At this point in a real conversation the two of us would be having a laugh at the vagaries of geography and telephony, but my plummy Anglo-American ploughs on, humourless and brusquely efficient. In another context this could be attractive.
“Thank you. You said Glasgow.”
“I know I did. I said Glasgow. Congratulations, Samantha. You are a real trouper.” I am careful not to actually say this or I am likely to set her off again. I wait.
For the most part of our conversation Samantha had no idea where I was and now she says it every sentence. My gas is now at a peep. It may be the heat or it may be that Glasgow is a city six miles to the east of my location. But I let it pass, since at least we are getting somewhere.
“Please tell me the district or region in …. GLASGOW… nearest to your location.” Not quite so articulate when you have to think, Samantha.
I know this one, we have been here before, “Paisley.”
“Queenslie. You said Queenslie.”
“What? Queenslie? No. I said Paisley… PAISLEY.”
With the engine off it was now pushing 35 centigrade and I was thinking of calling Jeremy Vine, or the Samaritans. They needn’t have worried, of course, as I had no gas. Queenslie is on the outskirts of Glasgow to the east, the Edinburgh side. I am on the outskirts of Glasgow to the west, the Loch Lomond side.
“Queenslie.” Sam says again.
“Queenslie is 15 miles away…. Paisley…. P… A… I… S… L… E…Y.”
This sentence completely flummoxed her. There is silence. I’m now thinking the midgies are not that bad. It will be easier for The Snip and me to eat more garlic and start smoking.
“You said, Queenslie.” I’ll say this, she was a trier.
My heart was no longer in it. Of course for all Samantha cared I might as well have been bouncing off the dashboard screaming PAISLEY at passers-by. But no I got strangely calm. Perhaps the waistband of my pants needing wrung out was soothing or the irony of looking for gas, which I had only ever used for those portable Dalek-like fires in a bygone era, made it all suddenly very funny.
Sam ploughed on, “You said Queenslie. Your nearest depot is Kinning Park.”
WTF? Kinning Park? No. I am outside the nearest depot. I am at the front door of the nearest depot. I can see Calor gas canisters. I was, in fact, inside the nearest depot less than ten minutes ago. I never said any of this. The Kinning Park depot is eight miles away.
“Thank you. I am connecting you to our Kinning Park depot.” And she was gone.
“Hello, Bloggs Builders Merchants, Kinning Park, Craig speaking. How can I help you?” Craig was a human being. I imagine he still is.
“Craig. You do know your automated telephone system is a pair of huge sweaty pants.”
Silence for a bit, then an admission that I’m not the first to say so. We have a bit of a laugh. But it’s not funny. Not for him anyway. I’m not going to Kinning Park.
“I’m looking for Calor gas for a midgie buster, Craig. It’s the green canister with the red top.”
“Sorry mate. We don’t do that. It’s patio gas you want. Try B & Q. Cheers now, have a good one.”
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