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Borrowed from Bill (Part One)

Whilst searching for a US Dave Gorman equivalent style of humerous pointless quest story writing in Barnes & Nobles last week (Conclusion: There is no US equivalent of a Dave Gorman, something that I might have to correct myself one day), I did stumble upon the travel writing section, and in particular the Bill Bryson book I’m a stranger here myself. Yes, it’s almost ten years old now but it’s still painfully accurate and highly amusing.

Now Bill is older, wiser, has a better lexical flair than myself – not to mention the ability to grow facial hair better than me in way that only pre-pubescent boys should really be dreaming about – but basically has the whole ‘been there, done it’ vibe on me except that he did it the other way round. He spent 20 years living in the UK getting acclimated to that only to go back home again and having to adjust all over again.

So in a year of self adjusting where (to actually borrow a favourite line of one of my other all time favourite writers, Nick Hornby) I can now “See how it’s kind of done” (Quick recap: 3 months: It’s like a holiday, 3-6 months: “Oh shit what have I done”, 6-9 months: “It’s getter better all the time” (Shedsters), 9-12 months: “I’m getting the hang of it now”), he hilariously picked up on something that I’d been meaning to bitch about for ages. Only that he’s in favour, and I’m vehemently against. What? This:

Telephone numbers that are supposed to be easier to remember as words.

Call now! 723-RENT (if you want to rent an apartment in Charleston), 722-TAXI (if you want to book a cab), or better still: 72-BRIDE (see what they did there?) for a bridal shop here downtown, or perhaps even 722-KILL for the local pest control. Ok, so I made that last one up, but it really should be, shouldn’t it?

So … to quote Mr B. (who remember, loves it)

“Not many changes in the past two decades have made life immeasurably better for simple folk like me, but this unquestionably has. My big idea though is that we should all have one number for everything. Mine naturally would be 1-800-BILL which would make my phone ring appear on my checks and credit cards adorn my passport and be able to rent me a video”.

And now to quote me – Mr M. who thinks it’s a friggin’ pain in the arse.

“It’s a friggin’ pain in the arse”.

Because it’s actually harder to dial if you ask me. Seriously. I am BRITISH. This means that we are really good at:

  1. Queuing
  2. Being self-deprecating about ourselves, our nation, and our whole country (but woe betide any outsider who tries to join in)
  3. We like doing things in a slightly more complicated way than our American cousins (for whom everything is drive-thru easy), and guess what … WE LIKE IT THAT WAY.

Therefore, when I had to dial a number-word this week, I was told to pick up the phone and press ‘722-POST’, I actually had to stop and act like my dad using a computer keyboard by hen-peckig my way around the phonepad translating the P to a 7, the O to a 6, the S to a 7 and the T to an 8.

Seriously … it slowed me down. Easier to remember? Maybe, but if someone tells me I have to dial 722-7678, then I actually find that easier to dial, rather than to have to transpose the alphas to numerics. And I think that we like it that way. I think we like the fact that it’s not been dumbed down for us. And I don’t ever want to change.

To comment on this article please, type something into the 26663687 box below. Or call me on 1-800-GEOFF.

13 responses to “Borrowed from Bill (Part One)”

  1. Alan Perks says:

    I’m with you on this one Geoff; it’s a load of 26556257!

  2. Yorkie says:

    In first year university halls it was quite neat that I ended up with 8884455 as my room phone number. Although it had no use, the ‘4455’ bit would spell my surname.

  3. Bryson moved back to the UK a few years back. He has seen the light.

    Of course, British area codes are words translated into numbers.

  4. Chz says:

    No US equivalent of Dave Gorman. Goodness. You say that like it’s a bad thing. 🙂

    North American area codes (the (xxx) of (xxx)xxx-xxxx) were originally dished out according to how difficult they were to dial on a rotary phone. Thus Manhattan has 212, while Fairbanks, Alaska is 907. For some reason, all the original area codes had a 0 or 1 in the middle but they’ve quashed that rule in recent years.

    The second triplet of numbers is like the UK system – it was originally an exchange name. 447-1234 would’ve been “Grange Hill 71234” once upon a time. Obviously newer numbers don’t follow any system at all.

    That should fill everyone’s quota of useless knowledge for the day.

  5. Andrew says:

    Since I find it harder to remember telephone numbers than to tap it into a keypad, I’d much prefer the 278-POST system rather than 278-4526 or whatever. Hell, my follow-me-everywhere mobile phone number uses my surname, but of course no-one would use that over here.

    Interestingly, I know someone whose job it was to *find* these names hidden in numbers, and sell them to related companies. Imagine doing that all day…

  6. sam says:

    Bill Bryson is a ledgend in my opinion. Does that book have a different title in the UK because I’ve definetly read about the numbers before but it wasn’t that title?

  7. It’s “Notes from a Big Country” in England

  8. David - Lightwater says:

    The cup holder story is a good one, from that book. You should read the lost continent is you get a chance. Bill Bryson is good!

  9. brent says:

    Agreed, Geoff. Just the other day I had to call TimeWarner cable and the number I had was 25-CABLE (2522253). Took me writing down the numbers on paper while looking at my cell phone to actually call them! 🙂

  10. Rhys says:

    I actually agree that they’re a pain in the ass to dial, they really are simple to remember however and typically whenever they’re written down so is the translation.

  11. stroppycow says:

    It’s crossed over you know… 0800 REVERSE has been around for a while (very popular for children whose mobile has been confiscated and who don’t have cash on them). Probably a pain to dial but easier to remember than 08007383773 when you need to make that still ever so slightly tipsy, slept past your stop on the last train and need somebody to give you a lift call and you don’t have change on you. =)

  12. Fimb says:

    Think of it like texting. You don’t need to peck away when writing a text using predictive text..

  13. geofftech says:

    Well how about that? Six years in New Hampshire, and they did indeed go back to Norfolk in England back in 2003. What a wise chap… 🙂 Lights seen indeed.

    Marvellous useless facts Chz, thx!

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