Since the power cut every clock in the house was wrong. I know – I thought – I’ll phone the speaking clock. Or TIM as my mother used to call it, which was less incongruous when the voice was male. Nothing could be easier – simply dial 123.

But things had changed. The woman was almost singing at me.

‘You have reached the Time Enquiry Service sponsored by Zedog Digital Instruments. If you have a tone phone press the star button now.’

Done.

‘Welcome to the Time Enquiry Service. If you want information about the Zedog product range, please press 1.’

‘If you are an existing customer of Zedog Digital Instrumernts with an enquiry about a current order, please press 2.’

‘If you wish to reserve tickets for the Zedog Time Experience, please press 3.’

‘If you wish to be connected to a known extension number, please press 4, followed by the extension number.’

‘If you want to know the current time, please press 5.’

‘If you wish to speak to an operator, please press 6 or stay on the line.’

‘Should you wish to speak to an operator at any time during your transaction, please press the star button.’

I pressed 5. Soon I would know the time.

‘Welcome to the Zedog Automated Time Line, sponsored by Zedog Digital Instruments. If you wish to know the current time using the 24 hour clock, please press 1. If you want to know the current time using the 12 hour clock, please press 2.’

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I really didn’t care so I pressed 1.

‘This is the Zedog Automated Time Line. You have elected to receive the time according to the 24 clock.’

‘You will hear the time announcement followed by a digital beep. The beep marks the stated time point. The time is given at 10 second intervals. If you wish to have the time repeated TWICE before the digital beep, please press 1. If you wish to hear the time followed by a 5 second COUNTDOWN to the beep, please press 2.’

I decided to go for 2. If accuracy was on offer I may as well make the most of it.

Nothing happened. Pressed 2 again, and again.

‘Due to a technical problem we are unable to connect you. Please hold the line.’ Vivaldi’s Four Seasons played relentlessly in the background.

‘Hello this is the Time Enquiry Service sponsored by Zedog. This is Charles your personal operator speaking, how may I help you?’

‘I want to know the time.’

‘Putting you through…’ he sang as well.

‘No, no Charles! Don’t do that. I have already tried and there is a technical fault, I just want to know the time.’

‘I see. I’ll find out the situation for you. Please bear with me.’

More Vivaldi and then more Charles.

‘I’m sorry the system seems to be down at the moment I’m not sure what is the problem. Could you call back later?’

‘Look all I want to know is the time. Surely you can tell me that?’

‘Please bear with me, I will enquire further. Putting you on hold….Hello..I can confirm that we are having a technical fault and I cannot connect you to the Automated Time Line at this time. We do apologise. Could you try again later?’

‘Look, are you wearing a watch? I just want to know what time it is. That’s all. You must have a watch or a clock in there. Please just tell me what time it is.’

‘I’m sorry we are not allowed to give personal information.’

‘I don’t want personal information. Surely you can just look at your watch and tell me the time.’

‘I’m sorry, that is against our policy. We are only able to provide official information from the Automated Time Line.’

‘But that’s ridiculous, why can’t you just tell me the time?’

‘I’m sorry but we have been informed by our legal advisors that we can only connect callers to the Automated Time Line. The Line is relied on by many industrial and scientific processes and absolute accuracy is essential. We cannot risk being liable for any damage as a result of providing inaccurate information. This is also consistent with our Total Quality Management Policy and our Corporate Mission.’

‘But I am not a critical process. I’m not going to sue you, I just want to know the time! I don’t mind if it is 5 minutes out. Just a vague hint would be fine. Anything… Please?’

‘I’m sorry but it is our clear policy. I regret I cannot help you. May I suggest that you call again later when the system is once more operational. Meanwhile are there any Zedog Digital Products which you might be interested in…’


© Allison Hill, 2016

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