I was at a quiz in Loscoe when a muffled voice started to shout “Message, message, MESSAGE” in an ever more frantic tone, until it finally reached a point of absolute hysteria and then lapsed into silence. Everyone looked around accusingly but no-one reached for their phone. Five minutes later, it started again and this time a harassed gent pulled his mobile phone from his coat (phone now screaming fit to burst) and said to the assembled throng “It’s never done this before. I don’t know how to stop it” So he didn’t, and his phone kept screaming every five minutes, which was quite funny at first but soon began to pall. This made me realise that we may have come a long way telephonically, but some of us are still struggling with the basics.
Many years ago I worked at Harold Wesley Ltd in Victoria Crescent, Burton. This was a place that had more than its fair share of characters, such as a very soft voiced manager who insisted on talking on the phone (and they were very old fashioned Bakelite phones) with the handset at a 90 degree angle to his face. This meant that the microphone end was a good 9 inches away from his mouth and thus every telephone conversation involved a considerable degree of guesswork.
I was somewhere between 6 and 9 years old, and at my Auntie Liz and Uncle Ron’s house on a Saturday evening, when my own telephone training took place rather unexpectedly. I’ve mentioned before that my Auntie Liz was ‘cool’ in that she was very modern and up-to-date. She had a fridge when most people didn’t, which meant I could have ice cubes in my orange squash (a great treat). She used her front room as a living room, when most still kept theirs as a sort of shrine. But, importantly for this article, she had a telephone. Inevitably, it was in the front room, about two feet from the front door.
On this occasion, mum, dad, aunt and uncle were going to the pub and I was to stay and watch television for the short time they were away. This quite suited me because ATV were showing “The Strange World of Gurney Slade”. I don’t know if you remember this? It was a surreal comedy with a very haunting theme tune, which involved Anthony Newley walking out of a TV programme and wandering the streets. It was an odd programme that I loved but everyone else thought was “too daft to laugh at”. Before the grown-ups departed, I asked what I was to do if the phone rang (I was very aware of it brooding in the corner of the room). Auntie Liz schooled me in what to do and say. If it rang, I was to pick up the receiver and say “Burton 4827, hello” and take a message if necessary. I solemnly noted this and retired to the settee to watch whilst they headed off to the heady delights of The Coopers Arms.
It was great to have the TV to myself and be able to flick between channels (both of them) then troop back to the settee to join Judy, their dog, who was notionally tasked with guarding the house and me. However, my enjoyment of the TV programmes was somewhat blunted by the presence of the phone. I was acutely aware of its potential to ring at any moment.
Inevitably, about half-way through Anthony Newley’s surreal meanderings, the phone rang. Given how tense I was already, it was a wonder that they didn’t find me splattered across the ceiling. Instead, I approached the phone with trembling hand and voice, picked up the receiver and recited my script. Gales of laughter erupted from the other end. Inevitably, the adults had been unable to resist the temptation to ring up from the telephone box at the corner of Anglesey Road and Walker Street, on the spurious grounds of ‘wanting to check you were alright’. To which the answer should have been, until you rang, yes!
As the man in Loscoe discovered, phones can menace you more directly now. Whether this is progress or not, I’ll leave you to decide.