A friend once told me about the time he called his boyfriend at home and the boyfriend answered thinking it was the person he'd just been talking to on a chat line. Tricky one to worm your way out of, that one, and a relationship defining moment if I recall. But there again, if your boyfriend wants to be on the chat lines, he is probably hankering after the single life, or has gone off you anyway, so best to let him go and then crack on with something more useful.
So chat lines.
Many years ago, in a Bronksi Beat stylee time long forgotten, in the offices of a long forgotten pink publication moniker of Vada, I escorted a friend to one of the darker corners of Grays Inn, as he dropped off 800 words on queer theory vs. thongs and poppers. It was all faxing, catching the last post and in an emergency using couriers in those days, and then presumably some poor boy or girl had to retype it all into the 'desktop publishing' software, or have it sent to the typesetters. Publishing certainly appeared to be run on a cocktail of Windows 3.11 and steam up until the mid 90's.
So it was a large one room operation. The room was zoned into four areas, entrance area, office corner, sofas and tea and coffee corner and then in the last quarter was a long table at which was sat a solitary young skinny gay in a headset. Whilst the copy chat was taking place with the editor and next week's piece being planned, I wandered over to the table to take a closer look and to try and work out what the skinny boy was doing. He smiled and motioned to me to take a seat. He was chatting encouragingly into his head set. 'We've got a new caller from Nottingham, hi, do you want to introduce yourself.' My eyes were drawn to a large sign on the wall which said 'Do not cut silent callers of for at least 30 mins'. So there I was, I was sat at a chat line. I had seen all the adverts on the back pages of the Gaypers, but I had never been drawn to call any of the numbers, knowing intrinsically that the hunks in Speedos in the ads would never be on the line and wouldn't be throwing their heads back and guffawing with me over cocktails after that first call. Somehow even though I had no idea about how they were run, or that it was just a table and a skinny boy in Grays Inn, I knew they would mostly be silent callers from Nottingham.
At the other places around the table were more headsets presumably waiting for other skinny boys to come on shift and jolly people along 'Why don’t you introduce yourself and tell 'everyone' else on the line all about yourself?'
The skinny boy motioned for me to put a headset on. This was too good an opportunity to mainline straight into a richly flowing voyeuristic vein, not to take up. So I slipped the headset on and listened. There weren't many people on, and it was all very pedestrian, depressing and only really kept going by the skinny boy's jollification. 'Well I live in Nottingham and like going to the bars, and I live with me Nan and have a Capri'. Stop, stop why don’t you, you're turning me on, it's too much, I can't hold back - NOT.
There were a lot of accents, perhaps indicating more of a social need outside of the southeast, but these poor buggers were being fleeced, for nothing. There was no sauce, no spice, no 'tantalizing hot chat'. The ads offered 'chat with guys like you' but that is not what people wanted. They didn’t want to chat with guys like them; they wanted to chat with guys like there were in the ads, in Speedos with big muscles and an XR3i. But there was no trades’ description act breech. They were chatting with other guys like them.
Whilst I was drinking it all in, the skinny boy looked straight at me, smiled and said 'We have a new caller from London on the line, why don't you introduce yourself and tell everyone else on the line all about yourself'. Ideally I've have taken the silent caller option, but here I was I was on a chat line and I had to say something. I felt so sorry for the skinny boy trying to make a handful of dull callers who were not inclined to chat, sound as close to guys guffawing in Speedos as he could. Now as we all know you can't gold plate a turd, but then I remembered that you can roll it in glitter, so I launched in. 'Hi I'm Martin from London, Hi everyone', ’Hi Martin'. The skinny boy then said 'So Martin tell everyone what sort of guys you like'. So all I could think to say was that I liked tattoos. This then prompted the 'host' to ask the other callers whether anyone had any tattoos or also liked tattoos. Oh but it was like pulling teeth. You know when you are at an ice breaker session at a the beginning of training and no one is in the mood to talk, or even be there - well it was just like that, although these poor fuckers were paying through the nose for the displeasure.
The whole thing must have been such an anti-climax for all involved, apart from the company who would have been pocketing a good chunk of the 0898 fee. No hunks in Speedos, just some twat from London saying he likes tattoos and then ringing off. I suppose it is like dates, most of which you go along to thinking you are going to meet some interesting, fun, intelligent, sexy guy, whereas you get some nervous burbite with whom you share no cultural reference points and whose jumper is made from manmade fibres. You know I once went on a date with someone who had been working as a temporary postman after having completed a doctorate in something really complicated and interesting sounding. He didn't spend the evening bamboozling me with theses and romanticising me with dreams of faraway galaxies, or showing off with his plans to rule academia, no, he spent the whole date talking to me about the little red card they pop through your door when you are not in. He made the 'sorry you were out' card last a whole date.
The only other 0898 number I have ever experienced was whilst working in a shop many years ago. The ad, my colleagues decided to ring on speaker phone during our break, promised all sorts of pornographic delights and titillations beyond hither too chronicled arousal levels. What we got was something along the lines of a very poor Carry On film, with a lady explaining that she worked on the buses, and how the men were forever looking at her. She then repeated at regular intervals 'Oh my uniform is so tight. Oooohh! so tight!' and that was as filthy as it got and all for a pound a minute.
You see no Speedos and no astrophysicists just Kenneth Williams screaming 'I was once a weak man' and Hattie replying 'Once a week is enough for any man' and then someone popping a red card through your letter box saying 'Sorry you were out'.
All life is here, but it will cost you a pound a minute.
All life is here, but it will cost you a pound a minute.