Repost from long, long ago.. includes one of my favourite memories of mater.
Sorry I’m not here to take your call….if you’d like to leave a message after the tone I’ll ring you as soon as I can.”
This isn’t a blog about answering machines. They are old technology now and besides, it’s been done to death the way you can tell personality types or social status from the kind of greeting message people leave.
The standard BT message, after all, belongs to the traditional reserved middle-class person who takes themselves very seriously and wishes to avoid revealing anything remotely personal.
Not for them the kooky family messages “You have reached the Mad House!!! Rory and Steph must be out doing the taxi service for Adam and Sophie. Either that or the kids have finally left home and we are comatose on Tesco’s Finest chardonnay.”
It’s more about the messages people leave. Some are normal, businesslike and to-the-point. There are others, of course, where you hear nothing but the Click of Frustration or a long protracted sigh and a muttered “not there AGAIN….”
Best of all are the messages where people treat the answering machine as a mute friend. My machine would record for 30 minutes if necessary, which was just right for my late lamented mumsie.
Her messages were epic; easily as long as our conversation would have lasted had I been there – occasionally longer.
It wasn’t that she enjoyed the sound of her own voice. She always began with vital information to impart and once in full spate, savoured the freedom of not being interrupted.
Her monologue would ebb and flow as she paused briefly to collect her thoughts, and she delivered those thoughts interspersed with real-time observations about her immediate environment.
Because the phone point was still in the hallway (in its original location from the mid-sixties) mater could answer the door, collect post from the postman and continue her voicemail thread in a seamless flow.
Being Welsh, she was effortlessly articulate and never lost for conversation, especially when no-one else was involved.
“Janie? Are you there? It’s only me…” she’d start.
“Oh. (pause) Maybe you’re in the garden. (pause) But hang on. Ah. It’s only 9.30am. Maybe you’re still out with the dog. Oh well. (sigh, pause….. longer sigh) I’ll talk to you later. I’ve been up since 5.30am. Done everything. Seems like lunchtime already. Ray is picking me up at 11.30 and we’re off to Moreton market. Let me know if there’s anything you’d like me to get?
“Anyway, I only wanted to remind you about Aunty Joan’s birthday. It’s Saturday. We usually just send a card. She never buys anything so don’t feel you have to. We don’t want to start anything now. Anyway, I’ve got her a nice make-up bag. You needn’t get anything though. The last present she bought for you was when you were seven before we left Llanfach.
“Aunty Glad’s never forgotten your birthday. She’s always spelled your name with an extra ‘n’ but I never had the heart to put her right and it’s too late now, forty or so years on. Anyway, it’s not as if you mind.
“I forgot to tell you a horrible black labrador attacked our Buster yesterday. Bloody owner let it off and it came after Buster like grease lightning. I lashed out at it but kicked a tree. My toe’s in agony but Buster had him. I’m still shaking now…”
………and so on and so on.
I especially enjoyed it when she switched into real-time commentary to describe a sudden on-going event.
“Oh! Hang on. (pause) I’m sure that’s Ken’s car. What’s he doing here? Ken’s car’s just pulled up across the road. He must be back. I told you, didn’t I, that I saw him leaving with his suitcases three weeks ago? Josie left them outside. She’d changed the locks by then.
“She hasn’t mentioned she’s expecting him back. Oh dear. I’d better go over later and make sure she’s all right….” etc
Absolutely the best voicemails. They always made me smile. The prosaic and the funny alongside the drama, the reminders, veiled criticisms, veiled sadnesses, the uncertainties, the diary dates, the disappointments were all there. Mater’s monologues could knock spots off anything Alan Bennett ever produced because hers were utterly heartfelt and authentic.
Just occasionally, there would be a gem. Like the day the milkman called.
Mumsie was leaving me a complex message about holiday arrangements (she was dog-sitting for me and needed to know precisely how many pigs’ ears a day would be required for Rolls) when the doorbell rang.
“Hang on. Milkman,” she said, clunking the phone down on the hall table.
I knew she’d opened the front door because of the jangle of the security chain. I heard her trill to the milkman “Hello. Yes. Won’t be a second. I’ll just go and get my purse. I’m on the phone.”
Footsteps to kitchen and back to door followed by prolonged jangling of security chain.
“Oh no. Sorry about this. Can’t get the chain off. It’s tangled.”
I could hear the milkman’s mumbled voice.
“S’ok. I’ll wait.”
“How much do I owe you anyway?” More fevered jangling of metal.
“Thirty-six pounds forty-two pence.”
Noisy struggles continued.
“I’m so sorry about this.”
Mater began to giggle apologetically.
“I dont know what’s going on here. I seem to be making it worse. The chain’s getting tighter and the gap’s getting narrower and narrower…”
“This is ridiculous!” She snorted with laughter.
“I’m so sorry. I can hardly see you now……..I’ll just have to post the money through the crack.
“Can you take it? Can you see the ten pound note yet?
Milkman, laughing now: “I thought it was a fiver but yes, I can see the edge. Shall I grab it and pull?”
Mother, giggling hopelessly : “It’s this stupid chain. It’s got a mind of its own.
“Here comes the second ten pound note…got it?”
The milkman was choking with laughter. They both were.
“Got that? Here’s the last one… Coming through. No, hold on, the edge keeps curling up. I’m trying my best to stuff it through….”
In a lull between hysterics, I just catch the milkman’s voice. He sounds exhausted.
“Tell you what, Mrs R, let’s call it quits at thirty quid.
“We’ll leave the change until next time. I can’t take any more of this. You’ve made my morning, though. See you.”
Mother finally regains her compusure and picks up the phone again.
“Oh my god, J. Did you hear that? That was embarrassing. He’s usually a bit miserable but we were both doubled up. Oh dear.
“Right. I absolutely must go now (said in an accusing tone that indicated that I had been keeping her!!)
“I’ve got to get this damn security chain undone before anyone else comes to the door.”