I know this very much comes under the banner of first world problems – what with wider issues in society such as the threat of nuclear war and how Andy and Serena will do in the doubles at Wimbledon – but I experienced the most frustrating hour of my life earlier in the week.
On the face of it, it was quite a simple thing. Last Friday I received a letter telling me I had to appear in court over a speeding offence committed on December 30.
This came as a surprise as while it is true I had committed an offence – driving at 37mph in a 30mph zone I had not heard anything from the police since I responded to their initial letter confirming I was the driver. In fact two weeks after that, having heard nothing, I rang to notify them they hadn’t yet sent me a fine, which must make me the politest criminal of all time.
I heard nothing further, so to learn, six months later, I had to go to court because I hadn’t paid the fine, when I hadn’t even been sent a fine, was a shock.
It was a scary letter. At the bottom was a number for the magistrates court, so I rang it and listened for about 40 seconds to an automated voice go through a bewildering array of options, none of which suited my case.
I am not lying when I say I tried every single option and whichever number I dialled or button I pressed, the same thing happened – the phone would ring about 27 times before the line either went dead or another automated voice clicked into life and said, cheerily, ‘there is no one available to answer your call’.
This whole process took about 40 minutes, and each time I was charged for the call.
I tried all the numbers again, and again all rang for an inordinate length of time. I was becoming increasingly convinced that every option from one to nine actually went through to the same phone in the same office, where I imagined a room full of people eating lunch and having a lively chat about last night’s Love Island, while occasionally glancing over to the phone and remarking, ‘persistent that guy, ain’t he? Leave it for now – he’s bound to call back later’.
The result was that 54 minutes after trying to reach the magistrates court I still hadn’t spoken to a human being and had heard the same recorded message approximately 129 times. I dare say that it would have been easier to get hold of Kim Jong-un and have an in-depth discussion about North Korea’s next nuclear missile test.
Finally, just as I was on the verge of smashing the phone repeatedly against the wall, a woman answered. I felt the same elation I experienced when my wife gave birth. It took all my discipline not to cry ‘Hallelujah!’ and break down in tears of joy.
Initially she said she couldn’t help but I think she heard the sound of me reaching for a rope to tie into a noose, so got me another number, this time for the police.
By this point I was driving and realised the only thing I had to write with was Mrs C’s lipstick which she keeps in the glove box. And so it was, in a lay-by off a busy main road, I found myself scrawling a number for the police on my forearm in bright red Estée Lauder Pure Colour Envy Sculpting lipstick.
Using my arm as a phone book, I dialled the number. The first time it went dead immediately, the second time was even more frustrating – I was put on hold for four minutes before the line inexplicably went dead. I felt the same despair I felt on my wedding day.
Then, at the third time of asking, and after another six minutes on hold, finally, mercifully, a human being answered and I was able to talk to someone, a real live person, about my case and I am now waiting to hear if I have to go to court.
I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime if you try to ring the magistrates court any time soon, put at least one hour of your day aside and have a pen, as opposed to lipstick, to hand.