As I grew older I began to recognize the telephone as an honorary door in our house.   We were never allowed to answer it, I don’t think I knew our telephone number until I went off to college and was instructed to give ‘three rings’ when I’d arrived safely.  This canny form of Morse code ensured that my parents only had to listen to a series of rings to determine the message, a very primitive form of caller ID.  Two rings and then ring again, was a family member calling and wanting to talk, three rings meant we’d arrived safely, three rings and then one meant we were heading home.

Just pick up the phone, I’d think, and I’ll update you on my whereabouts!!  The telephone was and still is treated as an intruder in my mother’s house.

My father carried on regardless to the accompaniment of the bell tones, as if they were part of the noises the old house was making as it stretched and moaned through the 20th century.

In their quaint little cottage in Broadstairs, where they retired to from London, my father is still deaf to the phone although his hearing is excellent.

He is confident that after about twelve rings, (I’ve counted) it will either stop because the caller has given up or because my mother has eventually been brow beaten into answering.

They have two phones one in the bedroom, my mother’s, and one hooked up to an email machine that sits on the hall table next to the front door.  As its title suggests this telephone performs an additional function that has never been mastered by either of my parents.

It does however have a hands off feature that intrigues my father who prefers to pop in and out of others’ conversations and with this gadget he can pick up the extension, engage the speaker phone and  potter around the cottage listening to the conversation my mother and I are having coming from the front hall,  occasionally startling us with a few words of wisdom.

When we say goodbye he relies upon my mother to disengage the phones.  Sometimes he forgets to switch his receiver off, resulting in a busy tone for days.  Many’s the time I’ve had to beg a tolerant neighbour to pop along and remind my father to hang up his ‘hands off’ device.

What’s more my parents talk to the phone, I’ve heard them, or at least my mother, my father tunes it out as I’ve said.  The instant it begins to ring my mother mutters,

“Who’s that?”

My father ignores her and the phone.

My mother then continues with what she is doing, reading, watching tennis, putting washing in the machine, or making lunch only in a more harried fashion.  She becomes more frantic as the rings continue despite the fact that she is otherwise engaged,

“I’m busy!” she calls out in the general direction of the intruder as if the caller can sense the mounting atmosphere.

More rings.

“Oh, for goodness sake, I’m coming…..” she cries at the tenth ring and makes her way begrudgingly through the kitchen or living room door to the phone and snatches up the receiver.  With the weight of all the pent up emotion she barks,


I envision this little scenario each week when I call for our Sunday chat; when Mummy picks up and barks in exasperation I am immediately thrust into the role of intruder.  I am the errant caller, and I am ready to hang up.  I can envision my mother pushing a wisp of hair back out of her eye and letting out her breath with a exasperated sigh after her frantic 1 yard dash to the hallway,

“Mummy?”  I say, vowing that one of these days I’ll come up with a stress free communication device.

“Who is this?” she snaps.  How many women call her Mummy I wonder?

“It’s me,” I venture, wishing I could just knock on her door and then banishing that thought with a shudder.

“Who?”  she growls, clearly irritated by this fruitless exchange.

“Vivienne,” I say patiently, “from America,” I add, realizing that I have been forgotten, “your…daughter.” I whisper.

“Oh…hello dear, you’ll have to speak up,” she says, reluctantly resigning herself to a conversation.

“I’ll just get your father on the extension………Leonard!  Leonard, its Vivienne, darling, from America.”

As I hold patiently waiting for one of them to come on the line again I hear her chastising Judy, the Jack Russell, for trying to jump on her bed.

“Can you hear her?” she’ll say, to which I always answer,

“No”.  I refuse to be drawn into a conversation about the dog.  The dreadful clatter of plastic on wood and then a thud signals that my father has picked up.

The Sunday morning hour with my parents has officially begun.

“Why don’t you buy yourselves some cordless phones, then you could have one in the living room with you?” I once asked.

“Oh no, it would interrupt our television programme love.”

“Well, it’s going to do that anyway!”  I exclaim.  Why do I even bother?

“Not if we turn the ringer out here down it won’t,” chips in my father.

“Do what?”  I ask, it dawns on me that no wonder I find it difficult to raise them sometimes when I call.

“You should really turn the ringer back up,” I suggest knowing that my words will fall on deaf ears,

“Oh no, it’s fine dear we can hear it just the way it is. Now what was it you wanted?”

As an honorary door the telephone heralded unwelcome interruptions in my parents’ lives.

Quite the opposite for my children who walk around all day with their devices in hand and hubs and I are rapidly catching on to the convenience of instant communication.

My parents would not have been amused.

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