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 study watching me and lazily picking his nose. Should he should cut his losses now and head off to the Bowls Club for the early evening grudge game against Staines? It’s likely to be more fun than waiting here with me, that’s for sure.
Reality is becoming uncertain. Hope is downhearted. My mind is in Low Power Mode trying to preserve the life force draining from me. How long can I go on like this?
‘You are now 20th in the queue,’ says the automated male voice.
40 minutes 20 places
In the last 45 minutes, I’ve moved up a miserable 20 places. One place at a time. This is not medal winning progress by any measure. But I am content with this small gain, like Dom Sibley, the time mangling England batsmen who grinds out singles 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 quarters of an hour hanging on the telephone has taken me to the outer limits of the Milky Way of my patience. Usually, 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 beetroot and my heartbeat is as fast as a hummingbird. At this point, if I don’t lie down, I’m likely to melt down. Permanently.
A high volume of calls is no excuse
‘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 unexpectedly recovering from a highly 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 day. Why am I so calm today? Is this a new-found late life maturity?
Is my patience a sign of 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’re only deceiving yourself. You’re only being 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.
Six places in one cycle
‘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 or had a heart attack or finally decided to answer the cries of their 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 essential public one. The excuse that ‘call volumes are unusually high’ is a refrain which is too common now and should provoke a social revolution. If it ever does, I will be at the front with my liberty cap on and an invoice for My Missing Minutes.
In the meantime, I can’t afford to worry 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 hang up and walk away, why should I feel guilty about it? Grinders win in telephone queues and five-day cricket matches. Hoping for fast customer service is as deluded as picking Dom Sibley to play ‘hit out or get out’ cricket. He’s programmed to build sandcastles of stupor one grain of sand at a time.
Time sticks his finger back up his nose
I’m so excited by rise in the queue that I shout ‘Get in the hole’ at the phone as if I’ve just won the Ryder Cup 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. Mother and I signed it years ago one summer afternoon after a brief, convivial chat. She was happy to pass on the responsibility, never having had much responsibility or interest in money. It was a sensible decision given the hazards of old age can strike and make you helpless in so many ways, so quickly.
When the new home asked me to send the power of attorney to them, I felt queasy. 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.
‘You are now 9th in the queue.’
We’ve made it to the top ten. Time is getting interested again and stops picking his nose.
‘Nearly there, mate,’ he winks at me.
This is not the time to get complacent. I check my paperwork. I’ve got Mother’s name, date of birth, NHS number, NI number written down in case they need them. I’ve also made a note of the client number for the power of attorney document. I think I’m all set. But you can never be sure. I reckon I’ve got five minutes to go before I hit the top three. Can I go downstairs and get a cup of coffee? Time looks me and shakes his head. After queuing for so long, now is not the moment to do anything rash. Dom Sibley would agree.
A version of this blog appeared in the Chiswick Calendar.