Bloody Blog

Tuesday, April 26th, 2016

An offer I could refuse.

The call started in the usual way, with the usual heavily accented voice: “Hello, am I speaking to Roger Morris?”


“Good morning, my name is Alex. I’m calling from TalkTalk. We have identified some problems with your router. Your router is constantly downloading malicious malware which is considerably slowing down your computer. I need you to go to your computer now and follow some steps that I will tell you … Are you in front of your computer now?”

I’d had two identical calls on Friday. The first time, I very nearly went along with it. They knew my name. They knew I was a TalkTalk customer. They even said they had details of the direct debit used to pay my account to prove they were legit. And hadn’t I had a letter from Dido Harding, CEO of TalkTalk, reassuring me that my personal details had not been accessed by the hackers who had stolen data from TalkTalk in 2015? Surely it couldn’t be a scam? Could it?

Well, yes, it was. And on Friday, after the first call, I phoned TalkTalk to report it. They reassured me that they would never call customers to tell them about ‘router problems’. They always wait for the customer to report a problem and then do something. Of course. It’s absurd to think that a company like TalkTalk would have the time to monitor all our routers and give us a friendly call about problems we haven’t even noticed.

The advice I got from TalkTalk was to hang up immediately if they ever rang again. But when I got my third scam call on Monday, I decided to have a little fun instead. And make them log up a massive phone bill in the process.

First up, I wasted a few minutes by saying “I don’t understand” to everything the guy said and getting him to repeat every sentence over and over again ever more slowly. And every time he finished I would say, “But I don’t understand”. And make him go through it all again.

I thought he’s bound to get bored of this. But he didn’t. Well, not before I did.

I came clean with him. “Look, I know this is a scam.”

“You think this is a scam? It’s not a scam.”

“It’s a scam. I phoned TalkTalk and asked them do they ever ring customers and tell them about router problems and they said no.”

“You phoned TalkTalk?” He seemed slightly outraged.

“Yes, the company you say you work for. They said they never ring people like this. They said it’s a scam. You’re a criminal.”

“You’re saying I’m a criminal?”


Long pause.

“I’m not a criminal. This is not a scam.”

“It’s a scam. I know it’s a scam.” Surely he would hang up now that I’d rumbled him? But no, he was still on the line, thinking over what to say next.

Eventually it came. His admission: “It’s a scam.”

“You’re admitting it’s a scam?”

“Yes, it’s a scam. What are you going to do?”

“I don’t know. What do you think I should do?”

“You could call the police.” This seemed to be a challenge. He was daring me. Testing me. He knew I wasn’t going to call the cops.

“I could. Do you think I should call the police?”

“It’s up to you.”

“Maybe I will then.”

Long pause, before: “Do you want to come and work for us?”


“Do you want to work for us? You could earn £3,000 a week.”

I pretended I didn’t quite hear him right. “£3,000 an hour?”

“No. £3,000 a week. Not £3,000 an hour. £3,000 a week.”

In my head, I compared that to what a professional footballer would earn. I guessed it was less. Whereas £3,000 an hour would be about the same. “I thought you said £3,000 an hour.” I made my voice sound disappointed.

“How much do you earn?”

“I’m not going to tell you that.”

More aggressively: “How much do you earn? You don’t earn £3,000 a week.”

“I’m not going to tell you.”

“Do you want to work for us?”

“I thought you said £3,000 an hour.”

“Do you want to work for us? You can earn £3,000 a week.”

That ‘can’ sounded a bit weasely to me. Plus, as I pointed out: “It’s illegal. And immoral.”

“Do you want to work for us?”

Weirdly he still didn’t seem at all inclined to hang up. Maybe he really thought he could persuade me to go and work for them. Or maybe he was lonely and appreciated having someone to talk to.

I remembered I had a guy measuring up for a new carpet on the landing. I wondered what he was making of this conversation.

Besides, I didn’t think working for scammers was such a good idea. I’d have to give them my bank details.

I hung up.



Sunday, January 31st, 2016

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Monday, January 25th, 2016

On rereading Crime and Punishment in the era of Making A Murderer.

Crime-and-Punishment_Oliver-Ready2016 is the 150th anniversary of the publication of Dostoevsky’s masterpiece, Crime and Punishment. To celebrate, Leeds University is holding a Dostoevsky Day on the 19th of February and I’ll be taking part.

It seemed like a good excuse to read the novel again, especially as Penguin have recently published a new translation. And the translator, Dr Oliver Ready, is going to be there too.

It’s been a few years since I last read the book. The last time I did was when I was writing my own Dostoevsky-inspired novels, which feature Porfiry Petrovich, the investigating magistrate from Crime and Punishment. So, in all honesty, I wasn’t really reading as an average reader would. I was a little too focused on my own purposes.

There is a freshness and an immediacy about this new translation that I really like. The characters come alive with a clarity and energy that’s incredibly impressive. It doesn’t feel like you’re reading a translation – there’s none of that usual stiltedness, particularly in the dialogue. Yes, there are some oddities of expression, but that is as much to do with the different culture and the historic distance. (Thankfully it doesn’t follow the trend of many BBC adaptations, where they make everyone from the past speak like a character from Eastenders. Remember The Ark?)

There seem to be things that I notice in this version that had never struck me before. I would even say the novel makes more sense to me now than it has ever. I’m more awed than ever by its greatness. And, too late I’m afraid, more sensitive than I ever was at the time to the complete effrontery of my outrageous act of literary purloining. In retrospect, I am almost unable to forgive myself for my own ‘crime’. I can only turn my face to the wall and stare at the fascinating flower in the pattern of my wallpaper, as a hot sweat of shame breaks out all over me.

What I had forgotten was the novel’s amazing psychological focus. It’s as if Raskolnikov is being observed under some kind of psychic microscope. Every twist and turn of his thought process is laid out for us. Dostoevsky has entered into the mind of a murderer and he compels us to enter it too. Needless to say, it’s not a comfortable experience.

The narration of the events leading up to the murders, and the murders themselves, as well as the immediate aftermath, could hold their own against any piece of crime fiction writing in any era. It’s the observation of the telling detail that does it for me. There is a remorseless, not to say ruthless, honesty to Dostoevsky’s gaze. He refuses to look away, refuses to flinch, even at the most dreadful moment. And he holds our head in his his grip so we’re forced to look too. For example, he just has to show us the tortoiseshell comb – or the fragment of a tortoiseshell comb – pinning up the old pawnbroker’s hair, the second before Raskolnikov strikes her on the crown of her head with the butt of his axe. Genius.

But with its moral, philosophical, social and religious preoccupations, the book is so much more than just a crime novel.

I think one of the most extraordinary sequences in the book is Raskolnikov’s feverish dream in Part One, Chapter V, where he dreams he is a boy again with his father, and together they witness a group of drunken peasants gleefully beat an old nag to death. It’s one of the most savage, humane, awful, devastating, vivid passages in literature. Is it simply the dream of a criminally insane man, or a metaphor for the fate of Russia? Or an elegy for a lost innocence?

So I’m rereading the book at the same time as watching the Netflix documentary everyone is talking about, Making a Murderer (not literally, but you know what I mean). I’m up to about episode 5, so don’t spoil it for me. Anyhow a thought struck me the other night as I was watching it. It was the episode where the learning disabled sixteen-year-old Brendan Dassey is making and retracting his various statements. His mother asks him how he could say the things he said in his ‘confession’. He says he was ‘guessing’ – just like he used to guess when he did his homework. In the end, he writes a letter to the judge trying to set the record straight, with the heartrending postscript “Me and my mum think you are a good judge”. The whole thing just seemed so Dostoevskyan to me, especially as Crime and Punishment features a young man who falsely confesses to the crime.

Dostoevsky used to scour the newspapers for true crime stories, as well as tales of suicide and tragedy. There are references to real crimes in the novel. I couldn’t help thinking that he would have been riveted by the series.

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