Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Friday 1/10/2004A friend of the diary relates the following tale of misunderstanding by remote control. He was preparing to leave his home for work one morning when his mobile phone rang.

Friday 1/10/2004
A friend of the diary relates the following tale of misunderstanding by remote control.

He was preparing to leave his home for work one morning when his mobile phone rang. He'd left it in the bedroom and raced upstairs to get it, but the call had fallen through to voicemail by the time he got there. He checked the caller ID -- it was his parents, who had gone on holiday the previous day.

At first, he thought that something had gone wrong with the trip and they were phoning from the airport -- but then realised that the number was their landline. He called back immediately, but the number was engaged -- voicemail was being left.

Finally, the number became unengaged and he got the ringing signal. No answer. Then his phone bleeped -- the voicemail had worked its way through the system. He dialled in.

What he heard chilled his blood. There was no voice, just what sounded like objects being moved around in the hallway of his parents' house. Someone was hard at work; someone who had presumably dislodged the cordless telephone in the hallway and hit last number redial. The voicemail went on for a couple of minutes, then cut off.

Once again, he tried calling back. No answer.

His parents lived about 100 miles away, in the depths of the countryside. The only thing he could do was to call their local police station -- local only in the sense it was in the nearest town, a good 20 minutes from their house.

Calling the police is not as simple as it sounds. They answered quickly, and then said "We'll put you through to the resource room" -- under-resource room would be closer to the truth, as that phone rang unanswered for five minutes. Finally, a chap answered, took all the details and said a car would be there as quickly as possible. Oh, and would it be OK if they broke in? They could re-secure the premises but it would be at our friend's expense.

Well yes, said the friend. What else can you say?

About 20 minutes later, the plod called back. They'd visited the house and found everything in order. The next door neighbours had a key, so no size 13 Doc work was required, and they'd expressed some surprise at the arrival of the police as the parents had departed not 10 minutes previously.

And so it transpired: the parents, my friend surmises, had decided to leave a day late, and that sound was his father lugging the baggage into the back of the car, having accidentally hit the phone in the process. The police seemed vaguely amused by this (to be honest, not a lot goes on up there) and the diary chum felt mildly stupid.

The parents, needless to say, are of the generation where they don't turn their cellphone on unless they want to make a call -- and they never make calls. A rather terse text has been left for them when they next decide they want to communicate.

Next time he's visiting, he says, he'll get them onto broadband and will leave a motion-sensitive Webcam hooked up. Saves so much bother.

(Fans of Mun Kotadia will be pleased to know he's not gone to India after all, but has skipped off to Australia where he'll be writing for our sister site, zdnet.com.au. As we and they share copy, we'll be seeing his byline back where it belongs here on zdnet.co.uk -- assuming he can get over his surprise and delight at finding a 24-hour pub opposite the company office. )