“Only Disconnect”: Prelude to an Afternoon on the Phone

Landline-wise, I’ve had to go on permanent answer phone.  How can I sit before my keyboard, to wrestle the best of three falls with words, and suffer for my art, when the phone keeps ringing?  I pick it up, and there is a momentary silence, prior to a recorded message, or there is the background hubbub of a call centre.  At least it affords you a split second to hang up.  Then, an impossibly thick, and indeterminate foreign accent.

“Chello?  May I shpeek plizz, with Chaimes Chamble?”

Or even worse, a local accent, chirpy, garrulous, relentlessly upbeat.  “Hi there!  Is that James? How are you to-day?”  I have an overwhelming temptation to reply, “Oh not good.  I’m so glad you rang.  I think I’m reaching the end of my tether…”   A late friend of mine used to say, “So glad you called.  I want to talk to you about Jesus.”  The line was invariably disconnected.  At his pompes funebre, we exited to the tune of “There’s no business like show business”.

The only time I pick up the phone with any confidence is 7.40 pm when, by prior arrangement, I exchange phone calls with a family member.  I used to think that as the evening wore on the risk would subside, but once at about 9.30 pm I got well and truly chugged by a very charming young lady medical student from Edinburgh University, who told me what a wonderful alumnus I was and talked me out of £50 for the swelling coffers of the alma mater.  It’s not as if they’re short of a bob or two.  I get Edit, the alumnus rag.   As a Glaswegian I can’t help being a little irritated by the smug self-confidence.  Oh yes, Professor Higgs, father of the boson, Nobel laureate, Edinburgh man, don’t y’know.  I really don’t think they should be employing students as rainmakers.  Isn’t it a form of exploitation?

Now that I’m on answer phone, I can listen to some of the messages with a degree of detachment.  They tend to be truncated by my automated reply, so I hear messages like, “…entitled to a new boiler”, or “PPI; for your refund, press 5, to opt out, press 9…”  I pressed 9, but it didn’t make any difference.  So I just press delete.  In New Zealand, I put the opening to Stravinsky’s Agon on my answer phone.  My friends left messages enquiring after my mental health.

Now it’s spilled over on to the mobile.  Mine went off as I was driving home tonight, along the A811 through the Carse of Stirling, and I pulled over and answered.

“Our records indicate that you were involved in an automobile collision within the last twelve months….”

Oh really?

So I hung a right and crossed over on to a farm track and escaped into the beguiling environ of Flanders Moss.  Here, on the edge of a quag, a grimpen, and in a breathless silence only punctuated by the occasional birdsong, I can have an “Innisfree” moment.

I will arise and go now…

Last weekend I entertained an old medical school friend for our annual jaunt up a Scottish hill.  He said to me, “What’s your wireless key?”  I said I had no idea what he was talking about.  He glanced at the label on my broadband gizmo and tapped some code into his phone and said, “Now I’m getting much faster downloads.  Your broadband speed’s pretty good.”  I said, “Is this costing me any money?”

I don’t so much live in a house as in a book depository.  No kindle here.  Me and Madonna, we live in a material world.

We climbed Ben Ledi.  Not quite a Munro – but then neither is K2.   The weather was kind.  It’s a lovely walk.  You ascend from Loch Lubnaig to a bealach west of Loch Venacher, turn right, and strike up over various false summits to the true top.  The wind got up at the bealach, but mysteriously died down completely at the top so that we were able to lunch in complete comfort just off the summit, unusual on a Scottish hill.   Visibility was excellent and we had a panorama all the way from Berwick Law to Lochaber.

Climbing a hill is the absolute antithesis to surfing the net.  There’s nothing virtual about it, the experience is completely real.  You might have attended the transfiguration.  When you descend, you are not the same person who went up.

Actually we descended to a traffic jam.  A good excuse to have a cuppa tea at Loch Earn and come home via St Fillans.  Didn’t Bertrand Russell spend some time in St Fillans and feel the better for it?  I live in the most beautiful place in the world.

Enough already.  One sleep before Click, Double-Click appears.  Hope you like it.

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