English: Austin J40 toy car, police car model

English: Austin J40 toy car, police car model (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I recently had a car accident.

I know this because somebody from the Accident Helpline just phone me and told me  so. He just needed to verify a few details. Unfortunately he didn’t have any details to verify – “the date of the accident?”, “where it happened?”, “vehicle registration number?”, “make of vehicle?”.

No – “but it was definitely someone on this  telephone number”. (That would be this ex-directory, telephone preference service registered telephone number).

And you’re right, dear reader, he gave up.

And I’m fuming. I usually treat these types of calls as a a bit of a nuisance, but this reminded me of a conversation I had a while ago with someone who’d had a similar call. The thing is that she was an elderly lady and, being elderly assumes that people are basically truthful. She was worried – she thought back and remembered an incident ten or more years earlier when she thought she’d scraped against a vehicle in a local car park and hadn’t been able to identify the owner. She was worried for days. She lost sleep over it.

There’s nothing new about this. These are the same techniques that have been used by psychics, mediums and other charlatans for thousands of years – make a vague statement that is likely to apply to most people to create the impression that you know something about them.

As always happens with these things, you put the phone down and then think of the killer line that you should have used. I think that next time I might plump for “would your mother be proud of you if she knew what you did for a living?”

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