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Saturday, 1 April, 2000, 01:43 GMT 02:43 UK
Hello darling, I'm stuck in the local...

"Yes, I'm at the office and I'll be late home..."
Have you ever sneaked off down the pub and then had to ring your partner, boss or mum with an excuse?

Did you find it difficult to pretend that you were stuck in the office, or waiting for that train, when all around you was the noise of clinking glasses, excited shouting and drunken laughter?

Well, an Essex pub is helping its punters' excuses sound just a little bit less lame.

Partners apparently fall for it every time
The Travellers Joy Hungry Horse pub in Rayleigh has installed a "rescue phone".

The phone looks and feels like an authentic, old-fashioned red phone box.

But attached to it is a CD with a range of authentic sound effects, from telephones ringing and keyboards tapping, to sirens blaring and car horns beeping.

Customers can simply phone their home or office, make their excuses and click a button to play the appropriate background noise throughout the call.

Pub managers Bernadette Williams and Colin Benham said they built the phone themselves, after spending hours listening to customers create elaborate excuses to explain their late arrival home.

Dinner in the dog

Ms Williams told BBC News Online: "It's only been installed a couple of days but we've already had to move it because it's been so popular. We realised it was clogging up the food serving area."

The most popular effect, apparently, is the "railway platform" - and they are expecting the "airport" to do well in the summer months when people reluctantly come home from their holidays.

"We get a lot of people here on the way home from the City, and they see the pub as a haven after a tough day's work. So the railway soundtrack is almost worn out.

"It's mainly partners they ring - but it's not just men, the women have been quite good at using it as well."

And it appears that the trick is quite convincing.

"We haven't had any repercussions from any irate partners yet," she says.

Hungry Horse is so impressed with the phone that they are considering rolling it out across their 100 or so pubs nationwide.

Dinner will never be in the dog again.

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See also:

19 Apr 99 | Education
My homework is in the dog
06 May 99 | UK
Wrong sort of excuses
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