SATURDAY’S CHILD: Phones R us
In the old days or, as we say, “long time”, having a phone in your house elevated you to village royalty. The “phone” (referred to reverently) sat in solemn Bakelite splendour in a favoured place in the living room, a mahogany cabinet or tall teak corner-table, almost like a shrine, on an antimacassar or crocheted doily, generally white. Most times the only other phone was in the police station.
Some phone owners would sometimes accept calls for other villagers and it was always a major occasion. The little children would run to your house, panting and jumping up nervously, “They have a call for you, on the phone. Neighbour say to hurry as they can’t hold on too long.” Heart beating fastn you would wonder, “Who is that? What they want? Who dead?”
I had grand designs on a young lady whose parents owned a phone. They were the only people around who were willing to take calls for the rest of us. Apart from the one in the police station, there were one or two other phones in our village but they were owned by the rich people who were extremely reluctant to say “Good morning” or let their children play with us.
Then the telephone company put a phone booth in front of its substation and it was such a novelty that instead of going to the young lady’s home down the street from me, I walked across to the High Street to use the pay phone with my ten-cents piece or “bob” (basically my lunch money at the time) in my hand, surrounded by my friends who heard only one side of our daring conversations. Her sister invariably giggled in the background.
Now, only a few years into the world of mobile telephones, I wonder what we did before they became essential and simultaneously habit-forming. What I have learnt is that Caribbean people cannot work and talk at the same time and now, with cellphones around, productivity (which was never our forte) has almost disappeared just like rotary Bakelite telephones.
In the old days you had a little time to reflect before reaching a telephone. Today, thought is action and people spring into it without hesitation. For many people, this is the worst thing that can ever happen.
In my communication workshops, I emphasize that communication is irreversible. Once you send something out, you cannot recall it. Lawyers, knowing that, say outrageous things to influence the jury knowing that the judge will tell the jury to disregard what they heard. But the damage is already done.
Having a phone handy has put a lot of people in trouble. The Independent Newspaper recently reported a story of a man who got into trouble with a call from, of all things, a phone booth: “Like many a groom before him, Neil McArdle spent the eve of his nuptials double-checking his to-do list, from keeping track of the rings to laying out his suit. It was only when he got to the undelivered form for booking the wedding ceremony itself that he realized he had a problem. But rather than tell his bride-to-be that their big day was the subject of a significant last-minute hitch, McArdle decided on an alternative course of action – shortly before the ceremony he nipped out to a call box and delivered a bomb threat to the register office.”
But then, forgetting the anonymity that the call from the phone booth offered, McArdle “used his personal mobile phone to call the venue and try to call off the hoax. He was arrested at 4 p.m. on the same day after police traced that call.” McArdle has been sentenced to a year in jail where although he is in a cell he would have no access to any type of phone. Instead of exploding in anger or dialing “M” for murder, his fiancée has stood by him.
Talking about phones and trouble, this one is a classic. The telephone rang in the mansion of Lord Glenarvan and when the butler answered the call he heard, “It’s me. Please go to my wife’s bedroom and tell her that I’ll be home late from the club.” The butler replied that milady was asleep but when the caller persisted went to wake her up only to report that her ladyship’s door was locked, and when he knocked, a man’s voice told him to go to hell.
The butler was then told, “Damn them! Get a rifle from my collection, break down the door, and shoot them both.” Without hesitation the Butler agreed and then returned to the phone and reported, “My Lord, I tried my best. I killed your wife, but as I was about to shoot the man, he jumped through the window and into the garden, and got away.” The confused caller then said, “What garden? There’s no garden next to the bedroom window.” “In that case, Sir,” the butler replied politely, “I am afraid you dialed a wrong number. Good day.”
My favourite is about the Trinidadian businessman who, during the heyday of kidnappings, overslept while at his girlfriend’s home and woke to see that it was already dawn. He grabbed his cellphone and told his wife excitedly, “Don’t pay the ransom. Don’t pay the ransom. I escape.”
Tony Deyal was last seen recalling the Rodney Dangerfield joke. “A girl phoned me the other day and said… ‘Come on over, there’s nobody home.’ I went over. Nobody was home.”