I spent several hours on the Children in Need call centre on Friday night. I don't know if you know how these things work, but the basic idea is pretty simple: you turn up when you say you're going to turn up, and you then man a phone for a few hours and take as many donations and pledges in that time as you can. I've done this several times before now, so I know the ropes. The graveyard shift, 23:30 to 02:00, is generally quite busy. People are coming back in from the pubs and sticking the telly on, and people who have been watching the TV all night are starting to feel guilty about not having given anything already. Now, the target audience for Children in Need is a little bit different to that of Comic Relief. On the Comic Relief call centre, you are far more likely to get the drunks ringing up when they get in from the boozer. They often try to be funny. They almost always fail. With Children in Need, you often receive calls from very young children on their way to bed having been allowed to stay up late. They ring in with a bit of help from their mum, ask if you will say hello to Pudsey for them, and then pledge their pocket money. It's rarely more than a fiver, but it's so, so sweet. At the other end of the age spectrum, you also get a fair number of pensioners. Sometimes they sound a bit lonely and just want to have a bit of a chat. They don't often give very much, but you get the impression that they've been genuinely moved by what they've seen, and they want to do what they can. They often say that they wish they could afford to give more, but I always tell them that if everyone gave as much as they do, then the charity would be doing pretty well.
Calls often come in batches: you may get several calls end-on-end, and then you may have a few minutes of respite before the next appeal video is screened on the telly and you get another batch of calls. The phones don't ring or anything, instead you are warned of an incoming call by a series of three pips. By the time the third pip has sounded, the caller has been transferred to your phone and you're on the air. In one lull on Friday night, I started telling the guys around me an anecdote that a chap at work had told me. We'd been talking about how I was going to the ground on Saturday to watch England playing Australia, and he'd decided to share a story about his last visit to the ground. Apparently, and you have to remember that I was sat in the call centre with my headset on when I was telling this story, this chap had gone to Twickenham on some kind of corporate do. I don't think there was a game on, but there was a dinner with a number of speeches from former players. My colleague is a strapping great big welsh bloke, and he was having a whale of a time on a table with Micky Skinner. At one point, his wife leaned over to him and indicated Martin Johnson sat at the table next door.
"He doesn't look so big and tough now he's retired does he?"
My colleague looked over at the glowering six foot eight retired England World Cup Winning captain and returned his attention to his drink.
A little later on, and several beers further into his evening, my colleague made an inevitable trip to the gents. He was halfway through his business when he noticed a looming figure at the urinal next door. He looked up and up and up to see Martin Johnson standing there. He couldn't resist it:
Johnson looked over. "Yes mate?"
"My wife says you don't look so big and scary now you're not playing".
Johnson considered this statement for a moment, sized up the drunk Welshman standing next to him, finished what he was doing **PIP** and said **PIP** "Fuck off". **PIP** Hello. You're through to BBC Children in Need. How would you like to make your donation this evening?"
There was silence on the other end of the line. There was someone there, but they were silent.
Is it possible that the call gets connected before the third pip and I'd just told someone, perhaps a child with his pocket money or an elderly person with a bit of their pension at the ready, to fuck off?
I'm sure they found another way to make their donation.
(and if they happen to be reading this, I'm so, so sorry about that. I don't get paid as much as Jonathan Ross, remember....)
The rugby at Twickenham was fairly miserable from an English point of view, but two good things did come from it:
1) My mobile phone provider (and sponsors of the England rugby team) invited me into a private bar and gave me a free pint and a quality pie with mash. For nothing. I think it's the first time they've ever done anything really useful for me.
2) Almost every Australian at the game under the age of 40 seemed to have a moustache that looked suspiciously like it was about two weeks old. Of course, every Australian over the age of 40 already had a moustache....