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It's Your Call

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One of our duties in the Met. Service is to answer phone calls. There are routine ones, like those from the Security Officers (S.O.'s) to various Ministers, who call in the morning to get the day's forecast. Sometimes the Ministry of Foreign Affairs might call because they are receiving some visiting Head of State or foreign dignitary at the airport & want to know the expected weather at the time.

Once, D played an April Fool's joke on me by calling & pretending to be the S.O. to the Prime Minister. I was very polite - until I found out it was actually him.

We get more calls just when we don't have the time to attend to them, which is during bad weather. Imagine having to answer the phone when you're issuing 15 different lightning risk warnings, monitoring the radar to see if you should extend/cancel any of them, trying to finish your routine work, & issuing trend statements. On a worse day, the pc might hang, so you have to waste time rebooting it, & when you do you discover someone has changed the password & no one seems to know what it is now, or the printer will get paper jam & you have to fix that.

Sometimes an earthquake in Indonesia can trigger tremors here, mostly in highrise buildings. We also get a surge of calls then; the first time this happened, people vacated their apartments because they thought the building was going to collapse, & they were too afraid to go back in. The phone simply rang nonstop that night ... the minute the forecaster on duty put the phone down, it rang again. Finally he had to ignore it or he would never have gotten his routine work done.

During another such incident, an American woman called & said, "Will you please talk to my husband. I told him I saw the walls moving and he doesn't believe me."

We've also had several "Serial Callers". One was a retired lawyer who would call whenever it was raining heavily over his house. He would talk for ages, telling us how long it had been raining there, that his roof was leaking, ask what the outlook for this year was, what season it was, & so on. He had his "favourite" forecasters (i.e. those patient enough to accomodate him & answer all his questions), one of whom was Pat, & also C (our toothbrush man).

Sometimes when attending to him, my mind would be elsewhere because he always called when the weather was bad meaning I was also doing several other things at the same time. This would displease him; he would ask my name, then tell me he'd spoken to my colleagues Pat and C before, they were very kind, etc etc.

One day when things were busier than usual, one of the forecasters asked Mr Lawyer to call back later. This annoyed him, & he promptly faxed a complaint to our office. Since it's office policy to treat all complaints seriously, our boss had to waste yet more time responding to him.

There was also a Caucasian man who would call in the morning for the day's forecast. After you'd given it to him, he would continue asking, "but will it rain in the morning? What about the afternoon?" "Will there be thunder?" "I'm afraid of thunder" "What about the evening?" "What about tomorrow?"

After that he would call again several times during the day & repeat the entire sequence of questions. We never really found out who he was. One colleague claimed he was a chef who worked in Cockpit Hotel & that he was returning to Australia soon. Another said his accent wasn't real & that he was actually a Singaporean masquerading as an Australian. All I know is that his tel no had 666 in it & whenever I saw the 666 flash on the caller display, my heart would sink. He may have really returned to Australia in the end, because he eventually stopped calling.

Then there was this elderly man whom we nicknamed "Basil's Brother" because his voice was similar to Basil, one of our technicians. He didn't want the forecast; he only wanted to talk, and only to the ladies. If a male answered the phone, he would hang up. One day one of our technicians answered the phone, and for some reason, Basil's Brother started cursing & swearing violently at him.

We have a short, plump, feisty office attendant called R, & the following day when Basil's Brother called again, she grabbed the phone from me & said, "Who are you ah? Why you keep calling?" Basil's Brother promptly exploded & started screaming! I was standing a few feet from R & I could hear him shrieking, "You pig! Pig!!!" R is a devout muslim so I thought she'd get angry, but she didn't. Fortunately, he stopped calling soon after that.

Then there are those calls that I remember fondly, like the night a woman called, excited, and said she had seen a UFO near Kheam Hock Rd. Shortly after a newspaper reporter also called & said people had sighted UFOs over the Botanic Gardens. Next, someone from Tanglin police station called & said the same thing.

I don't know why people call us for such things. After all, this is a weather forecast office. I could only tell them that we don't have an observation station in that area so I didn't have any information for them. Some time later, there was another similar incident when the UFOs turned out to be spotlights from an outdoor concert shining onto the bases of some low cloud.

Then there was a man who called one night because he could see a lot of lightning in the sky. I looked at the radar, but there were no echoes. Either the thunderstorm was very far away (at least several hundred km, possible because at night lightning can be seen from a great distance) or there was an electrical storm nearby with no precipitation.

Anyway, he was really excited. He seemed to think I didn't really understand what he was seeing. He said urgently, "You've got to see it! Go out and take a look!" I really liked how enthusiastic he was, because Singaporeans generally aren't very passionate about the weather.

There was also another man who called me at 2am in the morning because he'd seen a meteor falling. He, too, was terribly excited. "It was still burning when it hit the ground!!!" He said he'd been watching tv when he saw it, and had switched the tv off and just stood at his window for a while waiting to see if another would fall.

He kept repeating, "It was still burning when it hit the ground!" He really wanted to see another one, & asked me if it was possible. I didn't want to disappoint him, so I said yes it was possible, there are times of the year when you get many of these, & reminded him about the Leonid meteors (there was a lot of fuss about these in Singapore at the time). After he'd hung up, I could imagine him standing at his window, peering out hopefully for another shooting star. I really hope he got his wish.

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