Hilary Fannin: ‘Please hold. Your life is meaningless and your worldview whimsical’

Maybe, as Aldous Huxley once said, this world is another planet’s hell. Or maybe it’s full blown limbo

‘Maybe I, and all the other people on hold the entire world over, have already kicked the plastic bucket and are stuck in some liminal zone.’

‘Maybe I, and all the other people on hold the entire world over, have already kicked the plastic bucket and are stuck in some liminal zone.’

 

“Please hold. One of our operators will be with you shortly. 

“Please hold. Due to Covid-19, we are experiencing higher-than-average call volumes.

“Please hold. Your call is important to us.  

“Please hold. All our operators are busy at present. You are twelfth in line. 

“Please hold. You are seventh in line.

“Please hold. One of our operators will be with you shortly. Your call is important to us.     

“Please hold. Due to high call volumes, all our operators are busy at present. You are next in line.

“Please ho… Hello?”

“Oh, hello. Brilliant. Thanks.”

 “Can you hold the line for a moment?”

“ Sure, yes, okay, thanks.”

 Bee-ee-ee-ee-ppp. Bee-ee-ee-ppp. Bee-ee-ee-ppp.

“Eh, hello? Hello? Are you still there?”

“Please hold. Your call is important to us. Due to high call volumes, all our operators are busy at present.”

“Please hold. One of our operators will be with you shortly. Your estimated wait time is 29 minutes, 13 years and an uncomfortable eternity. 

“Please hold as we play a solid hour of schmaltz into your shell-likes, while you bang your head off the plasterwork. 

“Please hold while you forget what your call is about, strongly consider harakiri and give serious thought to selling your firstborn in a bid not to hear any more Hall and Oates coming out of your telephone receiver. 

“Please hold while you come to the gradual realisation that your life is essentially meaningless, your achievements paltry, your relationships with friends and loved ones shallow and puny, your worldview whimsical and illusory, and your grasp on reality fragile. 

“Hello?”

“Oh, hello. Brilliant. Is that you again?”

“Could you just wait one moment while I put you on hold?”

“NO! No. Please come back. Please…”

“Please hold. Your call is important to us. Due to high call volumes, all our operators are busy at present.”

Maybe, as Aldous Huxley once said, this world is another planet’s hell. Or maybe, I think, this world is actual full-blown limbo. Maybe I, and all the other people on hold the entire world over, have already kicked the plastic bucket and are stuck in some liminal zone, destined to traverse the desert of the mind until they can find someone who’ll talk to them about their vacuum cleaner. 

“Hello.”

“Yes. Hello!” 

“How can I help you today?”

“Are you real?” 

(I think she’s real – she sounds insanely bored and her accent is Mancunian, an accent I like. I can feel the blood returning to my fingertips.)

I risk shattering my illusion by asking her name.

“It’s Nikki with an ‘i’.”

“I bought a battery-operated cylindrical vacuum cleaner, Nikki.”

“Yes?”

“It doesn’t work.”

Nikki with an “i” is dissatisfied with that statement. We have a long and detailed conversation, Nikki and I, about suction. As it happens, Nikki is also the proud owner of the same make and model as my own. Nikki confesses that she often finds herself using a wire coat hanger to unblock her tube. 

“I use a barbecue skewer,” I tell her. I reveal that since my shiny new purchase was delivered, not so many weeks ago, I have spent many happy hours sticking my skewer where the sun don’t shine – and yet the vacuum cleaner still doesn’t work. 

“Have you ever steeped your filter in warm soapy water?” she asks.

“Yes,” I reply quietly. “I’ve done that too.”

There is a momentary silence. I’m not sure where we can go from here; neither, apparently, is Nikki.

There’s an ad on the telly for a cylindrical vacuum, I tell Nikki brightly. In the ad, a resourceful man holds a similar product, from a different manufacturer, and sticks his nozzle into a dog dish just as a crawling baby reaches it. Such is the immense suction power of his stick, I tell Nikki, that he can hold the dog dish over his head, thus preventing the curious baby from developing a liking for chunks of horse meat. Whereas my vacuum couldn’t pick up a cat crunchie. 

Nikki has never seen the ad. She asks me if I have a dog. I tell her I have a moulting cat with a penchant for throwing up her dinner on the rug. Nikki seems lost for words.  

I ask her what kind of day it is in Manchester. She tells me she’s in Salford and it’s cloudy.

“Same here,” I say.

“I’ll just pop you on hold for a minute.” Nikki says. “I won’t be long.”

The Muzak starts. I really don’t mind any more. I feel like I’ve found a friend. 

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