Falling down…

Once again we join our regular Friday columnist Ben Harvey…

  • I’m writing this article with my cricket-helmet on. Not because I’m playing cricket, of course (there isn’t a pitch in the land that the rains haven’t turned into a rice-paddy), but instead because the seemingly eternal threats to my life have inspired me to protect myself.

    The news is full of hazards these days, to the extent that I don’t leave the house without cladding myself in armour. If there’s not a half-arsed plot by incompetent terrorists then there’s some scare about the weather wiping out all our crops & thus sending Britain back to the Dark Ages (unless you live in Essex, of course, in which case the Dark Ages would be a slight improvement).

    You can’t even go for a relaxing swim in the sea without having to check the water for Great White sharks first. The other way I unwind is to go for a bit of a drive, but that’s right out the window too – since that bridge collapsed in the States I’ve been too paranoid to go on the roads, lest they buckle and shake and ditch me to my doom faster than my last girlfriend.

    Regards that busted bridge, by the way, it raised the traditional issue – in times of acute peril – of cellular networks collapsing under the weight of people either calling 999 (or 911) or, more likely, calling each other to see if they were OK. This happens every new year’s eve, of course, but when a plane crashes, or a bomb goes off, or a bridge surrenders to gravity and hurls itself into the longest river in the world at rush hour, then for some unthinkable reason the network gets a little…constipated.

    And don’t think that couldn’t happen in the UK, either

    Now, the cellular networks being swamped by these Himalayan peaks of demand is unfortunate but unavoidable; it’s not anyone’s fault, it’s just a question of bandwidth and of economics and the fact that two million people trying to phone each other at the same time is a bit of a headache, if you’re the poor girl at the telephone-exchange who has to stick the right plugs into the right socket.

    Actually, I take that back – a lot of it is the government’s fault; you remember that one time that the terrorist bombs in London actually did go off? The one time when they used the right chemicals, instead of chapatti flour (72 virgins? 72 boyfriends, more like, for the Al-Qaeda work-experience kids we’ve had recently. Welcome to HMP Belmarsh, gentlemen…) things went tits up because the government didn’t have even a vaguely capable radio net in place for the police, fire & ambulance services to use…

    …but I digress. Mobiles are useful in nationwide emergencies, it seems, just so long as you don’t actually have to use them to call anyone.

    For example – you may or may not have heard, this week, about a lad whose life was saved when he was having his appendix taken out. The surgeons had just opened him up and were elbow-deep in his innards when there was a power-cut. This being Argentina, it turned out later that someone had siphoned all the diesel from the backup generators, but the net effect was to leave the surgeons stood, scalpels in hand, in total, utter darkness. Since the only doctor who could operate with his eyes closed was Harold Shipman this posed a bit of a problem.- one solved by a family member of the hapless patient shining the ambient screen-light from a few handsets over his belly so they could finish the job and stitch him back up.

    Of course, if the balloon does go up, and if you can’t quite bring yourself to call someone you love to let them know how you are, then you could always just ring 999 to talk to the nice man on the other end about how your sleeping-pills give you ‘a bloody hangover”; as this transcript from someone wandering the country lanes of Somerset shows.

    …in fact, I’m thinking we should actually issue licences for mobile phones, if only so we can stop cretins like this from using them ever, ever again…

    Communications operator: “Police Can I help you?”

    Caller: “Yeah this is… er…I’ve been tired, see. Tired. I beat-up one of your coppers last year and I can’t get health insurance because of it. Now I know it’s over a year and I’ve been very polite and I’ve tried to ring the court …”

    Communications operator: “Right, Madam is this an emergency 999 call?”

    Caller: “Yes! I would like to talk to the sergeant at Bath Prison – Nick, his name was”

    Communications operator: “Yes, Madam this is not an emergency call”

    Caller: “Yes it is!”

    Communications operator: “Well I’m afraid you’ll have to ring on the normal number which is…”

    Caller: “What 999? I’ve just done that…”

    Communications operator: “That is the emergency number for life and death and emergencies…”

    Caller: “How do you know I… they been all day! I pays my taxes!”

    Communications operator: “Right, let me just warn you now that if you swear at me again…”

    Caller: “You’ll put the phone down on me and I can die…”

    Communications operator: “What is the problem right now?”

    Caller: “I’m in agony and I’ve took all the painkillers I can…and nobody cares…”

    Communications operator: “Well, have you rang your doctor?”

    Caller: “[Sigh] You ring your doctor they put you through to the NHS and then you get…”

    Communications operator: “Right, so tell me something if you’ve got a medical problem why are you calling the police?”

    Caller: “Because I would like to go to sleep and I don’t want to take Zopiclone because they give you a bloody hangover…”

    Communications operator: “Yeah, but…”

    Caller: “I don’t want to drink. I’ve been dry over a year. I’m celebrating but I actually ripped my back yesterday and I might have ME…”

    Communications operator: “Right, Madam it’s five minutes to four in the morning…”

    Caller: “I know what time it is…”

    Communications operator: “Right, so why?…”

    Caller: “I’m just trying to get some help! My doctor’s told me I’m anaemic and I’ve got to take more valium…”

    Communications operator: “Alright, I’m cutting you off.”

    Ah. The power of modern communications.

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