I can see from the electronic display on my phone that this call has lasted 25 minutes so far. I’d also be fascinated to get a reading of my blood pressure at this point. It’s not that the lady on the other end is a difficult customer per se, it’s more that she literally never shuts up. She has called in for help but has barely heard a word I’ve said, partly because she’s constantly talking over me and partly because she is simultaneously having an increasingly aggressive exchange with her long suffering husband.
She’s at it again: "Oh just get away from it. You’re useless. It’s better when I do it myself."
Me: "Excuse me?!"
"Oh no, not YOU darling" she trills back at me, in a more agreeable tone, "I’m talking to my idiot husband. He’s trying to help! But he’s useless!"
"Well, we’re ALL trying to help…" I think but don’t say.
The woman in question has booked shows regularly at our theatre ("I support the arts in ALL sorts of ways" she has already told me, which sounds a bit dodgy) but forgot her password when she tried to log in to our system online. What should have been a relatively simple procedure – to help her reset the password – is rapidly turning into a bit of a nightmare, mainly due to the fact this particular patron of the arts steadfastly refuses to listen. Quite how she keeps quiet long enough to sit through a play I don’t know.
"OK, so let me reset your password for you now, and then you can log in using this one and change it to one you can remember. How is that?" I say, trying not to sound ratty.
"Yes, thank you darling." There is then a very long pause. For the first time in almost half an hour.
Me again: "Hello?"
"So…what would you like as your temporary password?"
"Oh I don’t know. What would you suggest?"
"Look, would it be easier if I just picked one for you, for now?" (Hopeless2018? springs to mind.)
"That would be gorgeous. I trust you."
"OK, why don’t we go with something straightforward like Theatre with a capital T, the number 1 and an exclamation mark?"
"Oh dear. That seems awfully long. I’m not sure I’ll remember all of that."
"No…no…" (I could actually weep) "What I meant was 'theatre' with a capital T at the beginning of theatre, then the number one, then an exclamation mark at the end. Or you could have a question mark, or, well, any symbol really."
"Oh I see. Yes yes I understand now."
"No, I don’t like it."
(I am now deep breathing so hard that hyperventilation feels imminent.)
"Well, what would you like then? I’m here to help."
"I know! What about the names of the cats?"
"Um, yes OK, just remember it needs a symbol and a capital letter in it."
"Of course, darling. So let’s go with ‘Ophelia-ampersand-and- …oh wait, you DO know what an ampersand is, don’t you?"
"Yes," I respond through gritted teeth, "squiggly 'and' symbol isn’t it."
"Oh well done. So yes it’s 'ophelia-ampersand-and-lavinia-eighty-seven'"
"Where’s the capital letter?"
"The O in Ophelia."
"OK…so it’s capital-O-Ophelia-ampersand-"
"And Lavinia. Yes."
"Sorry, let me get this straight" (I’m not now sure if she is confusing me or if I’m confusing myself), "it’s Ophelia 'ampersand' and Lavinia? Ampersand AND 'and'?"
"Yes! And my babies' names!"
Quick bit of typing and it’s done.
"Lovely, all re-set for you. Is there anything else I can help you with?"
"Thank you, no. You’ve been very patient. Goodbye." I don’t get chance to respond but I can hear her starting to give her husband another earful as the phone is going down.
Ten minutes later I’m about to nip out for some lunch when the phone goes again. The voice is familiar. It’s Ophelia and Lavinia’s Mummy.
"It hasn’t worked! This is a disaster!"
I decide this isn’t the best time to ask her to acquire a sense of perspective, and back I go to my screen.
"So you’re trying to log in and what happens?"
"It just keeps saying incorrect password and asking if I’ve forgotten it." (I can hear the indecipherable rumblings of a male voice at her end of the phone.) "Will you just shut UP George. You are being far from helpful." (The rumblings stop.)
"Right, and you’re definitely using the password you gave me, and which I updated on the system?" I reply, imagining my lunch disappearing into the horizon.
"Ophelia 'ampersand' and Lavinia eighty seven."
"Yes" she squeaks, sounding now as though SHE might cry. I’d like to avoid that at all costs.
I try logging in with that and her email address and sure enough, the system lets me in and I can see her account page. Weird.
She tries again at her end. No luck. I try it again. Success. I’m wracking my brains as to what’s wrong here. I ask her to repeat back to me what she thinks the password is…
She sounds bewildered… well, we both do: "Ophelia ampersand Lavinia eighty seven. Capital O for Ophelia."
"Hang on a minute" I snap, almost forgetting that I’m speaking to a paying customer, "you missed out the 'and'! What’s happened to the 'and'?!" I am beginning to shriek like a madman. One of the box office clerks comes to the door and peers at me for a couple of seconds before walking away shaking his head.
"But that’s the ampersand, you silly sausage."
"Yes but when I checked with you before, you said….oh look never mind. Give me a second" – I quickly log in and change the password again, this time to 'Ophelia&lavinia87' – "OK, try it again now. I’ll hold". (If it doesn’t work this time I may not be responsible for my actions.)
She is away from the phone for what feels like ages – perhaps giving Ophelia or Lavinia a little cuddle, or possibly administering a good kicking to her husband – but now she’s back, and she sounds joyful.
"It’s marvellous darling, I’m in!"
"Excellent" I mutter weakly, "I’m going for lunch now."
"Have a wonderful time! But just before you go, I’ve got Theatre Tokens." (Of course! It’s January! Everybody’s had Theatre Tokens for Christmas.) "Can I use those online?"
I feel very weary: "Actually, um, not on our system you can’t, no. We can do it over the phone though". (Bye bye lunch) "What date were you looking at?"
"Well, I’m less bothered about the date and more about the actual seats, so if I tell you what I’m looking for then you can tell me when you’ve got them available…"
That took another fifteen minutes. She was very specific. Very very specific. I kept it together. I finally made it out for lunch. I had soup. It was nice. Can I go home now? But seriously, at least it all got sorted in the end. I didn’t have the strength to tell her that she is now supposed to log back on and change her password as I know what it is. I doubt I’ll ever forget it. But, hey, nobody died.