I am staring blankly at my bank statement. The baby woke up at four, and my mind is not at its pin-sharp peak. T-Mobile have charged me £43.37. It’s a while since I gave any thought to my phone bill, what with giving birth and failing to buy a house and getting no sleep and all. But I’m pretty sure I’m only supposed to be paying £10 a month.
I cannot in any way be bothered to deal with this, but thirty-three quid matters these days. It is the kind of money we only spend on stuff that is absolutely necessary, like heating, water or an organic free-range leg of lamb. I should at least check that there hasn’t been a mistake. I search for a bill, and then remember that the phone company stopped sending them in 2008, preferring to take random amounts of money out of my account without warning.
I phone the customer service number, and choose from one of six options. Then I choose from one of four options. Then a recorded message: “Due to a high volume of calls you may be waiting for ten minutes. You may find it easier to check the internet.”
I try to check the internet, but this requires a password which is lost in the mists of time and sleep deprivation. 1234? No. My birthday? No. Give up.
Baby Moe wakes up and starts to wail. I pick him up and jiggle him on my hip. Larry is deeply engaged with a Lego dinosaur. I calculate I have approximately seven minutes before he gets bored and starts to moan and tug on my leg. But now I’ve got the bit between my teeth. Why should I let these bastards fleece me?
The hold music tinkles away while I unload the dishwasher, load the washing machine, change Moe’s nappy and start to think about lunch. By this time I am staving Larry off with raisins. Finally a woman’s voice comes on the line. Her accent offers no clue as to where she is from; she might have been raised by robots.
“Madam, you have exceeded your minutes this month. According to our terms and conditions you are therefore subject to this reasonable charge.”
I beg. I bleat. I rage. I invoke the long years I have been loyally keeping T-Mobile afloat by nattering pointlessly all day. The robot woman is implacable. So I get personal.
“Are you happy to be working for a company which extorts money from struggling families?” It’s a cry from the heart. This is not just about the phone bill any more - it’s about all the injustice in this cruel world.
There is a long silence. When the voice speaks again it sounds a little less robotic, a little shaky.
“Madam, all I can do is give you a goodwill credit on your account for the sum of twenty pounds. I would be grateful if you would fill in the customer satisfaction survey. My name is Anita.”
I feel a bit sorry for Anita. Still, twenty quid is better than a slap in the face.