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The Helpline

2nd of May 1997

by Neville Thomas
Is that the AA?
A smooth impersonal voice came through the air.
If you require information concerning becoming a member of the AA say ‘yes now. Slight pause. Silence.
If you require information concerning the facilities available to you as a member of the AA say ‘yes now.
Another pause. Silence.
If you require information regarding traffic conditions say ‘yes now.
Yes. I thought ‘Gosh, I wonder: whats going to happen now?
If you require information about traffic conditions in London, say ‘One.
Well, actually, I dont really want London. I think I shall only skirt around the,edge. If you require information about traffic conditions in Kent, Sussex or Surrey, say ‘two.
Well, Im sorry to be a nuisance. I might well need Sussex or Surrey, but I dont think I am going through Kent at all.
If you require information regarding traffic conditions in Essex, Hertfordshire or Buckinghamshire, say ‘three.
Well, actually, I do want Essex, but only on the way back.
At this juncture, a somewhat irate disembodied voice came across the ether.
‘You silly twit, now you have gummed up the works. Why cant you do what we tell you and use your intelligence like a normal human being?
I thought, Well, stone the crows! For an impersonal robot to talk about behaving like a
normal human being is a bit rich. I now became slightly annoyed and just shouted into the telephone:
Twenty.
After a short pause the disembodied voice came through again.
We have no reports at present of any traffic problems on the Stornaway Bypass.
Lucky old them, I thought. I was becoming exasperated by this time, so I rang up the
emergency number. I was immediately cheered and surprised by the friendly female voice – a real live human being. She asked how she could help.
I intend going by car to visit relatives in Sussex over Christmas and Id just like a bit of advice on which would be the best day, time and route to avoid the worst of the traffic.
She actually chuckled and said ‘Ill put you through to someone who I think will be able to help you.
My spirits were rising by the minute.
A friendly young man came on and gave me some useful tips about my intended journey. I thanked him and said how much I appreciated talking to a real live person. Whether the tips actually worked had become secondary. I was in harmony with my fellow human beings
once again.

 
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