Man in the Middle 73: Don’t leave me hanging on the telephone

Man in the Middle is the fictional diary of a Boomer coping with the demands of an ageing mother with dementia, his millennial children and his own impending obsolesce. Bowed down by Brexit, Covid and self-pity, all he wants is more ‘me time’.  Will he succeed? Or is he destined to be stuck forever in No Man’s Land in the war between the generations?

If you’d like to begin at the beginning and missed the first instalment, you can read
No. 1: The Letter here

No 73: Don’t leave me hanging on the telephone

I’ve been hanging on the telephone for 45 minutes waiting to speak to the Office of the Public Guardian. Time is lounging in the corner of my room lazily picking his nose, wondering if something interesting will happen here or if he should head off to the Bowls Club for the early evening league game against Staines.

My mind has slipped into Low Power Mode as it tries to preserve the life force draining from me. I’m living in an episode of Star Trek where Scotty has turned off all but the essential life support functions.  Reality is becoming uncertain.

‘You are now 20th in the queue,’ says the automated male voice.

In the last three quarters of an hour, I’ve moved up 20 places, one place at a time. This is not glorious progress like Edmund Hilary’s and Sherpa Tenzing’s ascent of K2. But I am triumphant at these small gains, like Dom Sibley, the time mangling England batsmen who grinds out runs one at a time, with the grim satisfaction of a man with chronic constipation voiding his bowels.

Frankly, I’m gobsmacked I’ve hung on this long without exploding. Three quarter of an hour hanging on the telephone is at the dark edges of the Milky Way of my patience. Normally, I start raging like a baboon if I’m kept waiting for more than three minutes and, by the time I’ve been waiting for ten, I’ve hired Rudi Giuliani to press charges for mental cruelty. After fifteen minutes, the air is foul, my face is red and I’ve got a heartbeat as fast as a hummingbird and must lie down or melt down.

‘You are now 18th in the queue. We are experiencing a high volume of calls and it may be quicker for you to access our services and forms on-line.’

Two more small steps forward. I marvel at my own resilience like a doctor watching a patient recovering unexpectedly from a demanding operation. My god, I say to myself, if I keep calm and carry on, I may make it to the front of the queue by the end of the week. Why am I so calm today? Is this a new-found late life maturity?

Time flicks a bogey at me and laughs.

‘You can pretend this is the flowering of your Boomer sainthood in the face of the provocations of modern customer service if you want,’ says Time.

‘But you’ll only be deceiving yourself. You’re patient because you’re powerless. They have something you need and without them you’re f****d.’

Time is right. I’ve lost the original copy of the power of attorney which gives me control of my mother’s financial affairs. She’s moving to a new care home soon and I need the document to prove I can make financial decisions for her. I (literally) can’t afford not to wait for them to answer the phone. Until they give me that copy, I’m as powerless as a dog tethered to a lamppost.

‘You are now 12th in the queue.’

Six places in one go! Hallelujah! This is a big jump. I realise my good fortune must be the result of someone else’s bad luck or despair. To move this fast up the queue, several people ahead of me must have given up hope, had a heart attack or finally decided to answer the cries of their hungry, suckling babies rather than hold on.

I sympathise with them. Having to hang on the telephone this long is insufferable for any service, let alone an important public one. The excuse that ‘call volumes are unusually high’ is a far too common refrain which should provoke a revolution. If it ever does, I will be at the front with my liberty cap on.

But, in the meantime, I can’t afford to let myself to go soft hearted and social democratic about the misfortune of others. Queuing is a dog-eat-dog business. The only thing that counts is getting to the front. If others want to walk away, why should I feel guilty? Grinders win in telephone queues. And five-day cricket matches. Asking for a more equitable system is as logical as voting communist or asking Dom Sibley to play ‘hit out or get out’ cricket when he’s programmed to build sandcastles of stupor one grain of sand at a time.

I’m so excited by my fast jump in the queue that I shout ‘Get in the hole’ at the phone and walk around the room making fist pumps at an imaginary crowd. Time applauds briefly and then sticks his finger up his nose again.

‘Only 11 places to go,’ he reminds me, sarcastically.

I don’t know how I lost the original power of attorney document. We signed it years ago one summer afternoon after a brief, convivial chat. Mother was happy to pass on the responsibility. It was a sensible decision given how the hazards of old age and illness can make you helpless in so many ways, so fast.

When the new home asked me to send it to them, I thought I’d put it in the filing cabinet in my office in the drop file marked ‘Mum’. But, of course, I hadn’t. Nor had I put it in ‘Wills’, ‘Mortgages’, ‘Insurance’ or ‘Stuff’, which is where almost all the paperwork is. In fact, it was nowhere in the house.

‘You are now 9th in the queue.’

I’m in the top ten. Time has stopped picking his nose and is looking interested. I check my notes. I’ve got Mother’s name and date of birth written down. I’ve also made a note of the client number for the power of attorney document. I’m all set.

I wonder if I’ve got time to go downstairs for a cup of coffee? After queuing for so long, so patiently now is not the moment to do anything rash. Dom Sibley would agree.

Read more blogs by James Thellusson

Read the previous one – Man in the Middle 72: The right to make eccentric decisions

See all James’s Man in the Middle blogs here

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