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Life in Solitary: Use Your Right of Reply

Published on: 19 Feb, 2021
Updated on: 13 Mar, 2021

Tony Edwards

The Lockdown Diary of Tony Edwards

Repelling Rip-off “Phone Callers”

We’re in the grip of a plague of phoney ‘phone calls if recent posts on the neighbourhood hub “Nextdoor” are anything to go by.

Increasing numbers of local residents have been asking for suggestions on how to deal with high-pressure sales pitches for things they don’t need or want, like replacement windows, while others are bombarded with more sinister and elaborate scams to seize control of their computers and rip-off their bank accounts.

Cold shoulder for a cold caller

So, for those who may be momentarily lost for words when they need to give the cold shoulder to cold-callers or repel the rip-off merchants, here’s a dozen one-liners I sometimes use to terminate the telephone tricksters:-

  1. This is a crime scene.  Did you know the deceased?
  2. Please hold while I put you through to the Station Sargent.
  3. I’m afraid my computer’s been confiscated by the Vice Squad.
  4. Does it matter that I’m bankrupt?
  5. I’m being evicted from my council flat today.
  6. I can’t talk right now…my house is on fire.
  7. Remote monitors indicate that your blood pressure is dangerously high at 190 over 120. Consult medical help without delay.
  8. My parrot’s getting married today. Can I call you back?
  9. Please repeat your 15 digit access code.
  10. You’re held in a queue at position 476. Wait time approximately 2 hours 40 minutes.
  11. You’re through to The Samaritans.  How can I help?
  12. A conundrum for you.  What’s more intelligent than you seem to think and abruptly terminates ‘phone calls? (Replace receiver).

Spike Milligan used to ask the unwanted caller to hold the line while he sang “his hold music”.  He’d then warble through three verses of “My Old Man’s a Dustman”.

The Secret of Eternal Youth?

I did a Google search this week for “the secret of eternal youth”.  It was a very unscientific, mini-research to see if my whimsical quest might find its way to the sales offices of companies in the business of holding back the years.

Sure enough, within 48 hours, my inbox was bombarded with sales pitches from the makers of lotions, potions, pills and serums offering to rejuvenate my facial features, along with three or four persistent product ‘pop-ups’ for skin creams every time I went online.

Redheads look younger, longer

It seems to confirm the suspicion that our internet searches are not only monitored and recorded but that details also find their way to commercial organisations looking for ready-made sales leads – so maybe it’s time for a state-owned, non-commercial search engine.

You may be interested to know that my haphazard research reveals that your chances of looking younger for longer are greatly enhanced if you have red hair.

Professor Dr Manfred Kayser of the Erasmus University in Rotterdam, says that he’s identified the MC1R gene – which produces red hair – as the same gene that gives people a more youthful appearance.

Less than two per cent of the population have red hair but you might not know that famous redheads have included Florence Nightingale, George Washington,  Winston Churchill, Boudicca, Catherine of Aragon, Christopher Columbus, Leonardo da Vinci, the Marquis de Sade, Malcolm X, Oliver Cromwell and novelists D.H. Lawrence, Mark Twain, Bram Stoker and James Joyce.   It’s rumoured that Guinevere was a red-head too but it’s not clear how they know that.

St Valentine – Patron saint of lovers and beekeepers

Sealed With an “X”

Over a billion romantic cards were sent, world-wide, to celebrate Valentine’s Day last Sunday – second only to the estimated 2.6 billion Christmas cards we exchange every year. And you may be surprised to know that school teachers usually receive the most cards, followed by children, mothers, wives and pets, so the family pooch is likely to receive more hearts and roses than boyfriends, husbands or George Clooney.

But that’s not the only unexpected fact I’ve unearthed during my lock-down research on the subject.  It turns out that February 14th is not so romantic after all; it’s the anniversary of the execution of St Valentine, the Roman priest and Patron Saint of lovers, epileptics and beekeepers. (Could that be why American’s call women Honey?).

He lost his head during the persecution of Christians by Emperor Claudius 11 in the year 270 but legend has it that while in jail, St Valentine left a farewell note for the jailer’s daughter, who had become his friend.

The story goes that he signed it “From Your Valentine”, adding the sign of the cross, which may be why an X at the bottom of a letter is now the recognised code for a kiss.

Guinea Pigs are social animals

The Lone Guinea Pig

It’s illegal in Switzerland to own just one guinea pig.  The popular pets are, it seems, very social animals and would soon die of loneliness and depression if forced to live alone. It’s one of a long list of little known and largely useless facts I unearthed this week in a Michael Caine-style quest.

I was surprised to learn that peanuts are one of the ingredients of dynamite, that the average woman will “eat” an estimated four pounds of lipstick in her lifetime and that one of the most commonly used access codes is 12345.  The second most commonly used is 1232456789.  Not a lot of people know that – hopefully.

But I’ve also been occupying my time attempting to disprove a couple of other little known facts – that it’s impossible to lick your own elbow or successfully tickle yourself.

I’ve also unsuccessfully tried to join the (approx) 25% of the population who can raise just one eyebrow at a time and the 1% of us who are ambidextrous. I can now (almost) write with my left hand.

One of the most interesting facts I’ve unearthed is that Albert Einstein’s last words were spoken in German but nobody at his bedside understood the German language so we’ll never know what he said.

A particularly topical fact is that only 60 people on the planet are known to have Hyperthymesia – that’s the ability to recall where they were and what they did on any specific date and time, on-demand.  I reckon I can do it and I expect you could too if the period in question happened to be March 2020 to March 2021.   “Stayed home”.

Questions to Camille

I’ve received a copy of Taylor-Wimpey’s latest Community Newsletter.  It’s obviously intended to up-date us all on the company’s ambitions for Three Farms Meadows, the former Wisley airfield, and features two watercolour images which are described as a) an “Indicative drawing of what the site could look like” and b) an “Indicative drawing of what the green space would (look) like”.

What could replace this open farmland?

If you haven’t seen them, I can tell you that they take us to picturesque parks, with peaceful ponds, pretty plants and people picnicking. The T-W Newsletter even features a small dog carrying a stick, walking with his master, and a brightly coloured butterfly hovering in the top left-hand corner of one of the two idyllic scenes.

A mere handful of houses are largely hidden away behind the luxurious foliage so we’re encouraged to think country estate rather than Coronation Street. But guest newsletter contributor Camille Soor (TW’s planning manager) neither confirms nor clarifies the company’s aspirations, revealing only that “an outline planning application is due to be submitted in the second quarter of 2021”.

Camille invites us to get in touch if we have any questions so I asked her when we are likely to see a little more detail on what this former green belt, productive farmland would look like if TW ever managed to obtain planning consent – rather than the somewhat vague “indicative drawings” we’ve seen so far.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, she confirms that the outline planning application will not provide “in detail design of the homes”.  But, she adds; “That being said, the style of the homes and density are important considerations.”

Couldn’t agree more Camille – that’s why I asked.   Surely a £5.94 billion company like Taylor-Wimpey must have a slightly clearer idea of its expectations by now?

Would I Lie to You?

Scientists announced last week that they’d discovered how to tell if someone’s telling the truth or lying through their back teeth.  Dr Louise Goupil, who headed-up the study from the University of East London, says that the voice is the big give-away so we should listen out for partners, pals or politicians who speak with a) a rising intonation, b) quieter volume and c) a slower speech rate.

But Dr Goupil warns; “People who are good liars may have learned to control their voice.”

So the main conclusions of this scientific study, published in Nature Communications, seem to be that the voice is the tell-tale clue to discovering if someone is a liar – unless they are good liars, in which case it’s not.  Glad we’ve cleared that up.

Cold Weather “Keep Fit”

One of the coldest winter’s we’ve had for ten years or more has sent media hacks scurrying to report on the latest kit-off, keep-fit activities for the cold weather. But, while we’re used to seeing the usual gaggles of eccentric Cold Water Swimmers breaking the ice on The Serpentine for their daily dip, Bare Skin Running is something of a new craze that seems to be gathering both publicity and popularity.

Hot blooded athletes simply strip-off to their shorts and running shoes in sub-zero temperatures and jog-on until they reach a natural high.  Enthusiasts claim “Bare Skin Running” also boosts the immune system, improves circulation, increases libido, burns-off calories and reduces stress levels. There’s no mention of pneumonia or iced-up arteries.

I’ll probably stick to my usual early morning, mid-winter work out – Warm Duvet Dozing.   This requires the experienced athlete to lay perfectly still in a foetal position in their bed of choice with a 15 tog duvet pulled up tight around the ears. More experienced dozers may pull the duvet higher until it covers the head but this should not be attempted by novices without supervision.

For those who don’t feel quite ready for the full Warm Duvet Doze, I’d recommend Arm Chair Snoozing which can provide many of the benefits of Warm Duvet Dozing without having to get your kit off.  It can also be performed while watching day time television or reading a book.

Playing it safe 35 years ago

Michael Jackson’s Pre-Covid Face Masks

Michael Jackson first wore one of his trade-mark surgical face masks back in June 1986 – a  full 35 years before Covid  19.  It’s rumoured that he feared the spread of a dangerous virus and predicted a global pandemic, which is why he also wore gloves.

Others insist that the mask was merely to hide his face after some of his more drastic plastic surgery ops. He died of a heart attack in 2009.

“Good News Media Plea

Proof that the media is trying its best to inject a few fun stories into the largely miserable news comes this week from ITN.  5 News producer Eleanor Gregory has e-mailed PR people like me, asking for light, heart-warming stories for next week.  “Human interest must be at the heart of it,” she says.  “But it can be based anywhere in the country.”

I’d be happy to pass-on any heart-warming, newsy stories from Dragon readers.

Avoiding Face-to face Contact with ESD

The text from Ocado said that my order would be delivered by Damian between 11am and 12 noon. He’d be driving an onion van and there were no missing or substituted items, so good news all round.

I assumed Damian might be lost or delayed, however, when he telephoned at 10.45am it was simply to say that my groceries were on my front doorstep and that he was now leaving.

I opened the door in time to see him wave goodbye as he turned right out of the drive after what seems to have been an exercise in ESD – that’s Enhanced Social Distancing, where nobody is ever face-to-face at any time.  It’s likely to be the way of things for quite a while, together with no longer having to sign for parcel deliveries.

Making Restaurants Less Intimate

On the subject of ESD, I’m a bit concerned about the future of my favourite Italian restaurant, the Sale-e-Pepe in Knightsbridge –  famous for its jam-packed, intimate atmosphere since the 1960s. I mentioned it in a novel about the world of celebrity PR called “Dark Glasses”, published long before the pandemic.

Back then I wrote: “It isn’t the clatter of cutlery or the animated conversation that have earned the Sale-e-Pepe its reputation as one of the noisiest restaurants in London; it’s more to do with the amateur operatics of three Italian waiters who sing loudly, in their top register, as they slip effortlessly between the tightly-packed tables.”

Tony, the Sale-e-Pepe’s manager, will have to find a way of socially distancing the chock-a-block tables in the limited available restaurant space when things get back to “normal”.  I’ve no doubt he’ll somehow manage it but, I fear, some of the atmosphere will be lost and waiters will no longer be permitted to sing in their top register as they serve the best frutti de mare and tiramisu in town.

Giving it up for Lent

Two Days of Abstinence

I’ve been thinking about things I could give up for Lent – which started on Wednesday.  It’s considerably more difficult this year as most of the things I enjoy have already been banned by the lock-down but I’ve finally settled on red wine.

I’ve designated two days this month as wine-free periods so I shall be avoiding the “wrath of grapes” on the 29th and 30th – recommencing on March 1st. Wish me luck.

A Fiesta of Fragrances?

Two “Life in Solitary” columns ago I suggested there could be a decade-long, national rave-up when lock-down restrictions finally ease – echoing the “Roaring Twenties” period, following World War I and the Spanish Flu outbreak.

Now L’Oreal’s CEO, Jean-Paul Agon, has declared that Britain is gearing up for a long, post-pandemic period of partying.  “This will be like the ‘Roaring Twenties’,” he confirms, but adds; “There will be a fiesta of make-up and fragrances.”

As boss of the world’s largest make-up brand, I suppose he would say that, wouldn’t he?

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test 4 Responses to Life in Solitary: Use Your Right of Reply

  1. John Pitt Reply

    February 19, 2021 at 6:26 pm

    Regarding Tony Edwards’s problem over Lent, is it not very
    simply solved by ignoring this tiresome historical hangover?

  2. John Pitt Reply

    February 20, 2021 at 12:01 pm

    Correction and apology to Tony Edwards: “Tiresome historical hangover” referred solely to too-long-suffered Lent.

    I am a long-standing admirer of Tony’s column.

  3. Harry Eve Reply

    February 20, 2021 at 5:45 pm

    Another excellent diary entry from Tony Edwards which I found inspiring in these difficult times.

    I liked the suggestions for responses to telephone tricksters. We sometimes keep them talking by pretending to be out of touch pensioners who haven’t got a clue when it comes to online security and may be a soft target.

    I am worryingly good at this pretence and cannot think why. Perhaps I have an undiscovered talent for acting (surely not). This act – pretending to follow their instructions while actually being nowhere near a computer, is an important, voluntary, public service as the time it takes for the penny to drop is less time for them attempting to trick vulnerable people.

    “Questions to Camille” also caught my eye as I had also received the glossy newsletter from Taylor Wimpey but, sadly given my interest in wildlife, I had failed to notice the butterfly in the picture. It is not a native species and this raises the possibility that a new species to the UK has colonised Wisley Airfield.

    On further investigation, I decided that this butterfly appeared to be entirely new to science and needed a name. I settled on Notitia eiectiones.

  4. Jules Cranwell Reply

    February 22, 2021 at 10:04 am

    Dr Manfred Kayser was beaten to it with his theory of the longevity benefits of red hair by Robert Heinlein nearly 50 years ago, in his novel Time Enough for Love. A great read from an awesome author.

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