Is There Anybody There?

‘Please do not leave bags unattended. Bags found unattended will be removed and may be …’

The hum of conversation I’d heard from outside the eighth floor office suite had promised the camaraderie I thrive on, but inside, muffled voices from nearby booths were the only sign of life.

‘ … is a no-smoking area. Please extinguish …’

I focused on why I was there – for a job as Customer Assistant. Having already declined two offers, one collecting motorway litter on the grounds that fumes were bad for my asthma, the other sluicing the floor of a nearby abattoir because I’m vegan, I had to show the Jobseeker’s people I was serious about work.

An artificial weeping fig offered scant relief in an interview booth surrounded by high screens. As in a hospital cubicle, I sat on the only chair, wondering when a consultant would come.

A woman’s voice made me jump – the same one that half an hour earlier had said: ‘Booth 3 please’.

‘Thank you for attending the Disembodied Voices Recruitment Agency. Please choose one of the following options. For Trains and Buses, say one. For Stations and Airports, say two. For Post Offices and Shops, say three. For Reversing Vehicles, say four. For Telephones, say five. For other enquiries, say six.’

This seemed more a game than a serious interview. I played along.

‘One,’ I said.

‘Now,’ said the voice. ‘Which of the following would you prefer? If you would like Trains, say “Mind the gap”. If you would like Buses, say “Next stop Museum”. Or, if you wish to hear other choices, say “Menu”.

‘Mind the gap,’ I said.

‘I’m sorry, I did not recognise that. Did you say “Mind the gap”?

‘Mind the gap,’ I repeated.

‘Thank you,’ said the disembodied voice. ‘Now. Which of the following would you prefer? If you would like London, say “Underground”. If you would like Welsh Borders, say “Arriva”. Or, if you wish to hear other choices, say “Menu”.

‘Arriva.’

‘Thank you. Now. Which of the following would you prefer? If you would like Stations, say “We regret that the 14.27 to Holyhead is delayed by approximately thirteen minutes”. If you would like Trains, say “We are now approaching Ludlow”. Or, if you wish to hear other choices, say “Menu”.

This was fun. But as the options narrowed I felt that, despite my love of travel, the category didn’t offer enough. I asked for Menu and chose Reversing Vehicles.

‘Thank you. Now. If you would like Dustcarts, say “This vehicle is reversing”. If you would like G4S, say “We blew the Olympics”.

This too had limitations, so I tried Argos which was even worse, only offering “Ticket number 785 is ready for collection”. Primark only had “Till number five please”, the Post Office only “Cashier number three please”, and with Telephones it was clear you’d never see anyone.

Disillusioned, I walked out and took the lift down, wondering how my benefits might be affected. But something didn’t feel right, and before I’d reached the end of the street I realised the perfect opportunity might have been there all the time. Rushing back to the Agency, I opted straight into “other choices”.

*

It was the voice in the lift that had inspired me. I now work from a small hut near the bottom of an elevator shaft at Birmingham University, with three lifts (some with a library) serving ten floors. 

The work is extremely varied; one minute I can be announcing,

‘Mind the doors. Doors Closing. Going down.’

The next it’s a different permutation, say,

‘Sixth floor. Mind the doors. Doors opening.’

And there’s lots of people-contact. Keeping a careful watch on the TV monitors, I relay friendly advice to customers at exactly the right moment. I’m told they used to do this with a recording! How soul destroying – I can see for myself it takes a proper voice to leave people fulfilled as they go about their busy lives.

The lesson is simple. If you baulk at working in a call centre or McDonalds, there are real opportunities through the Disembodied Voices Recruitment Agency. The lift category is popular, so you may be out of luck. But I hear they have vacancies in Trains. Go for the option “London Midlands apologises for cancellation of this train owing to driver unavailability”. They’ll snap you up.

Good luck!

Paul Costello © November 2012

Web:        www.paulcostello.me

Twitter:    @PaulCostello8

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