You can always tell. No matter what time of day (though around dinner-time is always a bit of a giveaway) you just know, the moment it starts ringing. Probably this has everything to do with the fact the landline rings so infrequently these days, so the odds are higher. But I swear there is a slight tonal difference in the actual ringing sound of the phone ringing, so that well before you pick up, before a word has been exchanged, you just know.

"Hello," you say. Then there is the telltale delay before the voice on the other end of the line replies. In that void of a second, or maybe two seconds, your worst fears are confirmed: this is a cold call and inevitably, at some stage in the not too distant future of this conversation, the voice on the other end of the line is going to ask you for money.

Cold calls from telemarketers are, unfortunately, a fact of life. Do I need more insurance? Have I considered selling my house? Would I like to take advantage of this exclusive holiday offer? My personal least favourite of all the cold callers are the charity ones; especially those who tell me that a year ago I donated to a charity I have never heard of.

What, exactly, is the angle there? Are they working on the slim hope that I might start to doubt my memory and donate (again) when I become consumed with guilt over my forgetfulness regarding the at-risk children who cross unsafe roads?


There are, of course, many ways of dealing with cold callers. Hanging up the moment they start talking is the most abrupt method, if a tad impolite. A polite "no thank you" and then hanging up is a more traditionally Kiwi way of avoiding both the call and a confrontation. Of course confronting the caller, in an irate voice, demanding to be taken off whatever list they're working from, is also an option. Personally, if I have the time and inclination to go down this path, I find it can be great fun to assume a phone persona in order to toy with and torment the cold caller.

Among the guises I have assumed in dealing with unwanted cold calls are Mr Obtuse, who will pedantically question every single aspect of everything the voice at the other end of the line will say; Mr Stupid, who is like Mr Obtuse but much, much slower on the uptake; and Mr Deaf, who tends to hear a very different version of what is actually being said. The desired result for all these incarnations of myself is to get the person on the other end of the line to go off script and reveal their true nature. Or for them to hang up, which is also a good result.

There are times, I will confess, that I get off the phone as Mr Obtuse/Stupid/Deaf feeling just a teensy bit guilty for treating the cold caller as if I were the domestic house cat and they were my personal teeny, tiny little baby bird I had so proudly caught. Most of these people, I'm sure, didn't grow up dreaming of becoming that voice on the other end of the telephone line. They are simply working people, doing their jobs, trying to earn a dollar. My dollar, as it happens. Then I remember that I was once happily at home, under the delusion my unwanted social interactions were done for the day, when they called and harshed my mellow. I find then that the guilt goes away.

Of course, sometimes the cold call is not as benign as a desire to see me insured up the wazoo; sometimes there is actual malice involved.

The other night the phone rang and before I could answer it my son picked up downstairs, in the basement where we keep our children. A few minutes later a voice floats up the stairs: "Dad, is there something wrong with your computer?" "No," I reply, "why?" The voice from the bottom of the stairs replies, "Guess it's one of those hoax calls then." There is a pause, and then the voice adds: "Yep, must be; they've hung up." Well done son, good work.

Cold calls, be they malicious or simply just annoying, are an unfortunate by-product of the age we live in. The sanctity of the home is breached, on a daily basis, via the damn telephone. Thank you, technology.

But then, in an old-school approach, there is that knock on the door. The knock when you weren't expecting anyone to knock. And there is something in the nature of the knock, the jauntiness of it; the insistence of it, which means that even before you open the door, you just know.