COLUMN: June 6, 2013

I QUITE enjoy the Bourne films for their realistic take on what it’s like to be an assassin for the CIA who has lost his memory but still knows eight languages and how to do kung fu.

But there’s one part that niggles away at me, where I am unable to suspend my disbelief, and that is in the last film, The Bourne Ultimatum.

(Technically The Bourne Legacy is the last film, but you can’t count that. That’s just a movie about things that happened to some other man at the same time as The Bourne Ultimatum. They could have made a film about the things that happened to me at the same time as The Bourne Ultimatum, but you couldn’t call it a sequel. Or interesting.)

In The Bourne Ultimatum, Bourne is meeting a journalist at Waterloo station, but he knows he’s being watched by the CIA. So he secretly slips a phone he’s just bought into the pocket of the doomed hack and calls him to give him instructions on not being shot by the baddies.

And that’s where the tissue of fiction is blown away by the runny nose of fact. Because in reality he would have had to wait three days for the phone to be registered, and be sucked into the hell of dealing with a baffled call centre in Mumbai, if my experience last weekend is anything to go by.

For reasons which need not concern you, my household obtained a £10 phone last Friday. It was switched on, and a text received explaining it would take up to 24 hours for the SIM card to be activated properly, at which point a second text would be received.

Eighteen hours later, like Adele in that video, I was still waiting for a text. I was antsy, as I needed the phone by late afternoon, so I decided to contact the network – let’s call it Lemon – and find out what was going on. I called the helpline from my home phone.

A recording of a woman – let’s call her Audrey – asked me to enter my Lemon phone number. I didn’t know my Lemon phone number, because my phone hadn’t been activated.

So I went online to check my account. But I couldn’t get into my account because I did not have my Lemon phone number. My eye was starting to twitch.

It was time to cheat. I called the contract helpline. “Hello, this is Alec,” said a man with a Scottish accent, “How may I help you?”

“Hello, don’t hang up, my phone hasn’t been activated and I need my Lemon phone number to find out why it hasn’t been activated but I can’t get my Lemon phone number because my phone hasn’t been activated.”

There was a pause. “Are you a contract customer?” he asked, still in a Scottish accent.

“No, I’m not, but I can’t speak to a pay-as-you-go operator because I don’t have my Lemon number, and I can’t get my Lemon number until I speak to a pay-as-you-go operator.”

“I don’t know how to help you,” said Alec, now in a distinctly Mumbai accent. Either his script was written phonetically, because everybody trusts Scots, or I was actually speaking to Peter Sellers.

“Look, just please put me through to a person, please,” I begged.

“Putting you through to a pay-as-you-go operator,” he said. “Thank you!” I cried.

Audrey came on the line, cool automated Audrey. “Please enter your Lemon telephone number,” she asked. “Aaaarrrggggh!” I cried. I think I actually cried.

“I did not catch that,” said Audrey. I slammed the phone down, and rang Alec back. This time Satish answered. Good, I thought, no more fake Scot charades.

I explained what had happened. “I see your difficulty,” said Satish. “Let me give you a telephone number to call.” He read out a number. As each digit was read out, my heart sank deeper. He was giving me Audrey the Robot’s number.

I have never shouted at a call centre worker before, but I think I was having a stroke. “No! Put me through to a person! A person with a head and internal organs and dreams.”

“Yes, sir,” he said. “I will give you the number for the correct technical department.” I was ridiculously grateful. I took down the number and called it.

A voice answered. “Hello, Audrey,” I replied. This time Audrey asked for my SIM card number. I had that! I typed it in.

“Your SIM card has not yet been activated. It can take up to 24 hours. Thank you,” she said. “I know this! I know this!” I shouted. At a computer down a line.

I gave up. The phone was activated on Monday morning.

If I ever become an amnesiac assassin for the CIA, I’m coming for you, Lemon.

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