Belfast Telegraph

Rab's Week: At last the heat's being turned up on cold callers

Welcome to the sideways world of our star columnist

By Robert McNeil

Our family was never big on phones. They connected you to the outside world, which we regarded with fear and suspicion.

Accordingly, we were the last family in our ghetto to get a phone. Even then we hardly used it, regarding it instead as an intruder, as if it had been placed in our midst by Satanists or, worse, the local council. This was, of course, absurd.

Later, for professional reasons, I learned to work the phones relentlessly every day. I phoned Downing Street, Nasa, the CIA, the White House and Bernard Manning with a cavalier disregard for intruding on their busy lives.

I remember one really old gentleman, a colleague, who was told to phone someone early in the evening. He fretted and fidgeted and failed to pick up the phone. When sternly asked 15 minutes later if he'd made the call, he replied: "No, I couldn't possibly. They'll still be at dinner." That was his cue to be put out to grass.

Now I've come full circle, regarding the phone with horror and dreading its unmusical ring.

The reason: cold callers. It's always cold callers. If it isn't cold callers, it's someone wanting a shampoo and set for Thor the poodle (the local pet parlour has a number similar to mine).

I bought a phone that blocks up to 10 numbers, including "international calls", but still they - "caller unknown" - came, even leaving recorded messages by impossibly bubbly English people offering me the chance to have a crippling accident and earn loads of dosh.

So I disabled the answer machine and thought about getting rid of the landline altogether. But, when you've got a problem, who ya gonna call? Why, the Conservative-Liberal Government, of course.

While I believe they should all be imprisoned indefinitely, they've just done something right. They're going to punish cold callers, with their bosses personally liable for £500,000 fines.

And it'll take just one complaint to set this righteous justice in motion. Rejoice, rejoice! Then sit down and think: cold callers are devious and cunning. They'll find a way round this.

But the attempted crackdown is encouraging. Perhaps, one day, we'll be able to pick up the phone again and say with a debonair air: "Hello, how are you? I want to thank you for your call and to say how much I appreciate it. Indeed, let's not bandy words idly: I love you. Hello? Hello?"

Friday: I'm scarred by cannibal seals

Turns out all these badly scarred seals washing up dead weren't killed by boat propellers… but by other, cannibal seals.

That's right, the whiskered galoots like nothing better than chewing the fat. Of their friends and family.

Let's face it: while being human might be rubbish, it's worse to be an animal.

Saturday: It's a monumental relief

Yay, Manannan Mac Lir has been found. The statue of a Celtic sea god was removed from his plinth on a mountain near Limavady last month.

Religious eccentrics were blamed, as the statue was replaced with a big, bog-off cross accompanied by the words: "You shall have no other gods before me."

Bad move. I warned that, in mythology, Manannan had a trusty sword called The Answerer.

My guess is he gave his abductors such a hard time that they'd no alternative but to return him.

Soon, he'll be back on Binevenagh Mountain, once more master of all he surveys.

Sunday: Online funerals a very popular service

I enjoy funerals as much as I enjoy weddings. That is to say, not at all. Both are sad occasions, involving great loss.

All the same, from time to time one feels obliged to attend.

But what if you can't? What if you have the great misfortune to live abroad?

Well, now you can at least watch proceedings online. Funerals Live was set up a year ago by Co Clare entrepreneur Alan Foudy to enable Irish emigrants to pay their respects virtually.

It's been such a success he's about to expand into the UK.

Sounds like he's on to a dead cert.

Monday: McGuinness bowled over by cricket

Harken to the words of Martin McGuinness: "I always admired the ability of a man to stand at a crease and take on all-comers."

Man? Crease? All-comers? What can the Deputy First Minister of this parish have been havering about? Answer: cricket. How peculiar. A man in his position. Or indeed anyone: liking cricket.

Never took to it myself. I'm with Scottish comedian Frankie Boyle, who noted: "I can hear a cricket score and still not know who won."

But Mr M's a fan and gives a passing impression of a man who knows the meaning of silly mid-off.

In aid of the Northern Ireland Children's Hospice, he has dressed for a photoshoot as legendary Victorian batsman WG Grace, who used to catch the ball in his bushy beard and skip round the pitch shouting "Howzat? Howzat?"

There are worse heroes to have, I suppose.

Tuesday: The best advice for rages

Bad news for Stormont and other homes for the disadvantaged: ranting can increase your risk of a heart attack.

Indeed, according to boffins at the University of Sydney, Australiashire, one episode of intense anger can increase the chance of an attack more than eight-fold in the two hours afterwards.

The state of acute rage was characterised by the poltroon under advisement being "very angry, body tense, maybe fists clenched, ready to burst".

That sound like anybody you know or have seen on the news? The moral of the story is that, if you want to live long, relax, chill out and go with the flow. That's easy for me to say, five minutes after headbutting my computer.

I'm not sure other people could change the habits of a lifetime either.

Yesterday, a DUP spokesman said: "We are outraged by this latest study and, indeed, by everything generally. And another thing…"

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