Telling my husband who’s ringing his phone is beyond the call of duty – Susan Morrison

Susan Morrison wonders where in her marriage vows it mentioned being a Caller ID system for her Yorkshire husband.

Friday, 31st January 2020, 11:40 am
Generations grew up with a phone on a nice table in the hall

The Yorkshire husband’s mobile rang. His rings less than the phone of a has-been contestant from Love Island three years ago. He was so startled he spent a full two minutes just staring at it.

Mobile phones don’t ring that much anyway, these days. We’re all about texts and email now, unless you’re from Spain or Italy, where having extraordinarily loud phones calls on the bus with mother is practically compulsory. We know it’s mum, because we can see her as they shout into the screen in front of their faces.

It’s only oldies like me who hold their phones to their ears the way we were taught all those many years ago by Alexander Graham Bell himself. Today it’s all about staring into the screen like Jim Kirk hailing the USS Enterprise. Bet he wouldn’t get a signal on the Number 22.

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My mum and dad had the first phone in our street. Two tone grey, it was. Terribly 1968. They had to wait six months to get it installed.

When mum asked the engineer about an extension in the bedroom he laughed uproariously and told her that GPO Telephones wasn’t in the business of providing fripperies for housewives.

‘Sorry, wrong number’

The white heat of technology might have arrived, but the warm glow of decent customer service was a couple of decades away.

We’d answer the phone and shout ‘7652?’ in a questioning manner, as if terrified that this was some sort of quiz by GPO Telephones to make sure we knew our number by heart and were ready at a moment’s notice to seize the receiver and get our number right, first time.

It was ok in the beginning when we only had four digits to reel off. As time went on, the number grew to take account of city prefix numbers and STD codes. No sniggering at the back there. Back then, STD was a phrase you could use in the drawing rooms of the most genteel people.

By the 1990s our number was the length of a map reference. You’d always get to the last digit and the other caller would announce “sorry, wrong number”.

Shouting into the receiver was essential. It was a temperamental beast and given to crackling. Perhaps young foreign students have dodgy receivers in their phones, hence the loud shouting.

We solved the problem by hitting it quite hard against the edge of the telephone bench. Perhaps a quick whack on the side of a Lothian bus seat might improve communication with mamma.

The telephone bench was a shrine to telecommunications. There was a cushion to sit on, a mini table for a lamp, the telephone itself and the address book. Don’t know why we had an entire book. The back of a bus ticket would have been big enough for the phone numbers we knew.

I’ve checked my marriage vows

When that phone rang, we had no way of knowing who was on the other end.

Today, we just look at the screen, unless you are my husband, of course, who has come up with his very own Caller Identification system. Me.

His mobile phone rang for some time. He stared at the screen for a bit. He clearly didn’t recognise the number. His bafflement was obvious, so he did what many long-married men seem to do under these circumstances, he looked at his wife – that would be me – and said: “Who’s this calling me?”

I’ve checked the marriage vows. Unfortunately, I couldn’t rewatch the filmed footage of the occasion in 1988, because, in the first place, we don’t have a VHS anymore, and in the second place someone taped an episode of Star Trek over it. Never mind, we went for old school wedding vows. Writing your own vows wasn’t a thing then, which is just as well, since Yorkshiremen aren’t given to flights of fancy when it comes to writing affirmations of love.

His vows to me on that day would probably have run along the lines of, “I promise to change all the dud lightbulbs and kill any spider within a 30-yard radius”, which, to be honest, is more practical than some of the self-penned stuff I’ve had to listen to. Who needs to be adored like an angel when a Scottish tarantula the size of an ice cream van is lurking in the bedroom?

The promises made on that day involved richer, poorer, sickness and health. Nowhere did it mention telepathy. My hitherto unknown superpower appears to include letters, too. He passes me the envelope, as if I’m Uri Geller, presumably so I can feel the name emanate through the paper.

“Who’s sent this, then?”, he’ll say in a cheery voice like a sidekick in an end of the pier mind-reading act. I’m thinking of investing in a blindfold and a sparkly leotard.