Some ring the Samaritans. I prefer to call Mumbai


Some people call the Samaritans when they’re depressed. Other people call their relations for a chat. And some really desperate folk call radio stations. But I prefer to call Eircom, O2, or Bank of Ireland, with whom I have an account, when I want to cheer myself up.

“How can I help you this morning, sir?” the operative on the other end said, and he spoke with an Indian accent.

“Where are you from?” I wondered.

“Mumbai,” he said.

“What a coincidence,” I replied, “I have a friend in Mumbai.” There was a pause.

“Shall I tell you his name?” I continued.

“If you wish, sir.”

“Sudhir Mishra,” I said proudly. But the phone operator had not heard of him, even though Mishra is a famous film-maker. The operator waited for me to get down to business.

“Isn’t it terrible how violent India has become for women nowadays,” I remarked.

But for all I knew the operator might not have lived in India for years. He might be in a call centre in Tallaght or Tonbridge.

And I didn’t want to be blunt and ask him where he was speaking from, so I said, “I’m calling from Leitrim. It’s raining here.” I thought that might tempt him to reveal his location, but it didn’t.

“How can I help you this morning, sir?” he said again, ever so politely.

So I decided to cut to the chase, as they say in Bollywood.

“I want to speak about my rescue policy,” I said. “I can’t figure out why I am paying €10 a month extra for a separate rescue policy since I don’t do any mountain climbing.”

Apparently I had taken out an extra insurance policy in 2006, at some dizzy moment of affluence during the boom.

“Why do I need a rescue policy?”

“In case you have a breakdown,” he said.

“Oh well that’s fine,” I replied. “In fact I had a nervous breakdown last year; can I claim for that on this policy?”

He said: “It’s not for you. It is in case your vehicle has a breakdown.”

I said: “Jeeps don’t have nervous breakdowns.” And he said: “The jeep is insured against mechanical failure.”

“Ah,” I said, as if I had just figured it out, whereas in truth I had been pretending to be as stupid as Dougal in the hope of having a good chat.

“Do you ever watch Father Ted?” I inquired.

“No,” he replied.

“Fine,” I said, and I hung up.

But at least the day was off to a good start. I was refreshed from the brief conversation, and then the General arrived. He’d been clearing out a shed at the back of his house, with ambitious intentions for the spring, when a big fat wasp emerged from the woodwork and stung him on the neck. He got into his car and drove straight to my door. He should have gone to the doctor, but he didn’t want to spend €50, so instead he drove in my gate in terrible stress.

We rushed into the kitchen and opened a laptop and scanned the internet for information. Rubbing vinegar on the sting seemed to be the most popular remedy online.

We sat watching the puss rise as the kettle boiled and a bottle of vinegar dribbled down the General’s neck.

“Is it the bee or the wasp that has only one sting?” the General wondered.

I hadn’t a clue, so we surfed again but couldn’t find the answer.

Then, as often happens on the internet, we stumbled on an extraordinary fact: a male bumblebee leaves his penis in the lady bee’s vagina after he has ejaculated, to ensure that no other bumblebee will get in after him.

“My God,” the General exclaimed, “such heroic dedication.”

The sting on the General’s neck grew into an enormous and alarming red mound of puss. “Perhaps I should go to the doctor,” the General said.

Yes, I agreed, perhaps you should. And when he was gone I surfed again and found a trailer for Sudhir Mishra’s new movie, and then I found a video on You Tube of two bumblebees in coital ecstasy with a soundtrack by Frank Sinatra. But the download speed was so slow that the bees kept freezing, and so I resolved that on the morrow I would call Eircom customer care and ask them to do something about that.

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