Do you ever have one of those days where, when you look back on a sequence of outlandish events, you can pin point the exact moment where you should have turned left instead of right and avoided every last shred of crazy that was to follow?
Today has been one weird thing after another and as I sit here, calm and quiet, I can’t understand why or how any of it happened. Before I get into the story I’ll mention the weird feeling I had a couple of hours ago.
I was stood outside the cash machine by the supermarket, wallet in hand, when I stopped and felt compelled to take a look at the car park behind me. Just for a moment I had to see with my own eyes if everything was okay. I suddenly thought I’d missed something, that the world around me had suddenly lost the plot.
And that tiny moment, I’m talking about 10 seconds here, and that’s long enough, I was deeply worried. Anyone who reads my blog will know I’m a rational, calm, laid back, happy smilin’ kinda guy. I’m never easily spooked and seldom spend much time worrying about things.
But there I was, worried that something had gone wrong, that the world around me had changed. It was like someone had taken the safety switch off society and I’d only just noticed. It’s a horrible feeling. And I mean truly disturbing. I never want to have that feeling again, dear blog reader, because it scared the shit out of me for the first time since I was about 4.
So settle in, dear blog reader, for this might be a long tale! Oh, and it’s going to get a tad macabre in places so be warned.
Let’s begin the banquet of insanity with the Starter – Crazy Salad.
I’m on my way to work. Takes me about 30 minutes through the back country roads. There’s not much traffic at 8AM. I’m taking it a bit slow because there’s ice on the road and I don’t fancy taking a hedge in the face. I get to a bend in the road and slow down, around the bend 3 pheasants are making their way from one field to another. So I slow down further. They’ll be gone by the time I get there.
Only they sat in the road, clucking and checking out one another’s plumage. Nice feathers Pheasant One. Thanks Pheasant Three but they’re not as nice as Pheasant Two. I give my horn a toot but they don’t move. In the distance I can see a big white van coming. It’s not slowing down. I feel a bit foolish now but these are living things and I’m not to barge my way through. They’re not causing me any distress or prompting me to swerve to avoid them. There are no cars behind me.
What does the van do?
Yep. You guessed it. It thunders right along, killing 2 pheasants and sending the other one flying across the front of my car. It bounced on my windscreen, scrambled across the roof and waddled off into a bush to mourn the loss of its feathery friends, or give a whoop of joy for surviving. That’s pheasants for you.
My jaw hits the steering wheel. No way did that just happen. There’s nothing I can do for the 2 dead pheasants. They’re dead. Squashed flat. The van is gone. I can’t understand that. Surely the driver must have seen them and me waiting for them to get out of the way? What would prompt such a vicious act of cruelty? I’ve hit wild life before by accident and it’s a horrible feeling knowing that I’ve just ended another animals life.
All I can do is drive on. Angry and shocked about the van driver.
The Work Bit.
Thankfully nothing weird happened at work.
The Main Course – Crazy Beef Stew and Insanity Dumplings.
On my way home I take the motorway because it’s less jammed than in the morning. I’m in the middle lane of a 3 lane stretch. I’m doing 70 mph and overtaking slow-moving lorries. The outside lane is empty of vehicles. I’m a bit uneasy when a shiny black BMW comes screaming up behind me. I’m sure it will over take in the outside lane but it doesn’t.
It gets so close to my rear bumper that I can’t see its license plate in my rear view mirror. I’m doing nothing wrong. I’m not hogging the lane, I’m over taking the trucks. There’s a lot of them on that stretch. The BMW can easily pass me by but it doesn’t. Then it starts flashing its lights. Flash. Flash. Flash. This is really weird.
Maybe it’s an unmarked police car.
Maybe it’s a high-speed pursuit.
Maybe the driver is on some serious drugs.
I’ve had my driving license for about 18 months now so I’m still very much aware of the law and have not gotten into any nasty habits. So I know I’m driving safely, obeying the laws etc. And yet this BMW hangs on my tail flashing its lights at me. And when another car comes past in the outside lane I realise there’s something very wrong here.
This driver is a nutcase.
I think back.
Did I cut him up somewhere back in town? No.
Did I do anything to annoy him? No.
This is road rage up close and personal.
This goes on for about a mile or three. Eventually I pull into the inside lane and take my turning off the motorway. The BMW follows me. Okay. Now I’m worried. Is he going to follow me all the way home? What the hell does he want? At the junction I turn left. He does too. Still right behind me. A few twists and turns later I make a few lefts so I come back around on myself.
By this time I know he’s not going to give up. The only thing I can do is stop or carry on and hope for the best. Naive thinking? As luck would have it he got caught in traffic through another village and I lost sight of him.
I get home. Turn off my engine and wait. I really expected him to scream around the corner and skid to a stop. But after sitting in my car for a minute I realised I was being foolish.
Drama over. For now.
The Phone Call Side Dish.
I’ve been in the house about 20 minutes when we get a phone call. The display says UNKNOWN so I know it’s a nuisance call from a call centre in India somewhere. Someone trying to sell me insurance or PPI something or other. Usually I just lift the handset up then put it down again. But we get roughly 4-8 calls like this a day and it grinds my gears.
These callers are connected via their PC in a call centre and there’s usually a delay of silence for about 5 seconds while the call is connected. Most often when I make the mistake of answering I just tell them to get lost or “please don’t call again” and hang up. I’ve been known to be rather rude to them. This time I ask the Indian guy to stop talking because I want to tell him not to call again, but he keeps going, doesn’t listen to me, so I sigh and say something I consider to be very rude but totally worth it:
“Come on man, why don’t you go fuck your mother.”
And I hang up.
Okay. That’s shocking. I apologise. I love swearing but there’s a time and a place for it. I was tired and fed up with stupid calls and let my anger slip out when I shouldn’t have. The guy in the call centre doesn’t care. He’s probably onto his next call by now.
But he isn’t.
10 minutes later I get another call.
Same number: UNKNOWN.
I answer the phone: “Hello?”
I wait. Silence.
I can hear noise. People talking. It’s the call centre.
Then a voice comes. But it’s not a human voice but that robotic tone you get when you use an app on a smart phone to interpret text. Now this next bit is very shocking for which I apologise in advance. The robot voice says:
“Your mother is going to die. I’m going to kill her.”
If that was heard by anyone else, easily scared and intimidated, it could have caused serious panic. An elderly lady hearing that? A young kid? It’s so wrong I can’t even begin to think how these people think that’s acceptable. I laugh and hang up. I know who it is. The same guy I told to go have some happy fun time with his mother. I’m not that shocked. I’ve heard far worse. And part of the reason why I’m not that shocked is because my mother died when I was 19.
So, about 4 minutes go by and the caller returns. UNKNOWN.
Same call centre noises in the background.
“I’m going to rape your mother. Then I’m going to kill her. She’s going to fucking die.”
I kid you not. Those were the robot voice’s actual words. The idiot guy from India has taken the time to type this into his iPhone or whatever so the robot voice app can say them over the phone. Again, this is totally amazing. I’m stunned that someone would take that sort of thing so far. I laugh again and hang up. No point keeping talking because it’s what they want, to get me angry or make me cry. Whatever losers.
So, I’m explaining this strange set of events to a friend when the phone rings again. I don’t have to answer it but it’s hard not to. I’m not upset or scared or anything, curious really.
This time the guy is using his real voice. It’s the same guy as the first time though. He starts talking about one of the PC’s in our house using Microsoft products is downloading and using illegal content and spreading virus’s. Was I aware of that?
Yes sir. However, we can help fix it for you. If you could start your computer I can talk you through how to fix these problems.
Really? That would be cool. Thanks
Yeah right. I’m far from stupid. I know an awful lot about technology. I know that he will attempt to lure me to a web page, download a virus, keylogger, extract credit card details, blah, blah, blah. So I ask for his name, nice and calm. He says “Red Brown.” Yeah. I’m puzzled too. I ask for a phone number, he gives me one that I’m sure, if I rang it, I’d be charged £50 per minute. Eventually I ask how he got my number. And here’s what he screamed down the phone at me:
“Because you’re a fucking bastard!”
And then he hung up.
I call BT and get through to their complaints department surprisingly fast. I relay my story, apologising for my language. The BT guys laughs and says not to worry, he’s heard far worse. Now here’s the advice part I’ll share with you.
- These callers can’t be blocked. The number is unknown and comes from a PC, routed through God knows how many servers.
- The callers can’t extract money from you via your phone bill, not unless you make an outgoing call they give you.
- The companies that get your telephone number acquire them through old telephone books and old mailing lists. Let’s say you subscribed to Banana Digest – Your Monthly Guide to Banana’s back in 1997. Then you cancelled after a few months. To get the subscription you had to provide contact details, telephone number included. This information is stored somewhere then sold to a broker years later. This is then sold to a marketing company who uses it to try to sell you crap you don’t need or want.
- The point is that like QuickQuid, there are enough people falling for these scams for it be worthwhile making international phone calls.
- The best advice is when you see UNKNOWN on your telephone display, lift the handset and replace it.
- Don’t speak to them. I know it’s hard. I’m proof of that. But the more you answer the more they’ll keep your number in circulation.
Desert – Would you like a Slice of Crazy Pie with that sir?
After all this I decide I want a pizza from the supermarket because chicken stew in on our menu tonight. Ew! Yucky! So I head out of the village and nearly get run of the road twice by an idiot boy racer in a little car with big tyres and big boy exhaust. He narrowly avoids a crash between 3 cars, me included three times. And by the time I arrive at the supermarket car park I’m wondering why I even bothered getting of bed!
I stroll across the car park, wallet in hand, checking if I have enough cash. I see an ambulance speed past the supermarket. A police car follows it. A few seconds later another police car zooms by in the opposite direction.
Outside the cash machine two men are fighting. Really brutal stuff. Shoppers avoid them. It’s horrific stuff. I’ve stepped in and broke that kind of thing up before but I hesitate this time. I’m not 18 any more. I have a job and responsibilities. And even though it pained me not to get involved and stop them, I couldn’t bring myself to be put at risk. Experience told me it wouldn’t be worth it.
So I back away and the two guys wrestle, kick, punch and shout at one another until they move away. Out of the supermarket come 3 people, running fast, they sprint across the car park. No idea where or why. I watch them and have a sudden worrying feeling.
Something has gone very wrong.
I don’t what that is but I feel it like a sixth sense. It’s then that I have to turn and look around at the car park. It’s a dark and worrying moment when you suddenly have that need to question your immediate surroundings.
Am I safe? Is this supermarket safe? Has anything bad happened? Are there riots going on? Has Iran exploded a bomb in London because of the shit storm at he British Embassy? Has the population lost the plot? Have the strikes in the UK turned bad? What the fuck is going on with all the lunatics today?
As a writer I like to imagine worst case scenarios and the What If…? ideas. For example my novel, The Range, is about a modern post war England, riddled by a plague, a place where anarchy and chaos rule and survivors band together against adversity. The apocalyptic nature is just a back drop for a story about friendship, courage, honour and overcoming adversity and aggression.
I watch documentaries about the downfall of modern civilisation through collapsing financial markets, oil prices, eco-systems gone mad and all manner of other apocalyptic stuff. It fascinates me. But I know what reality is and I know I live in a stable country where tomorrow will be the same as today. But the same cannot be said about the rest of the world, and in some highly unstable places tomorrow can become a true nightmare.
I’m not easily influenced by anything. I make rational judgements based on considerable thought. I don’t leap to conclusions either.
But in that ever so slight moment outside that supermarket I was truly frightened.
And that worries me.
- Behind the Wheel: Who’s driving on our roads? (netcars.com)