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Open Features: Calling Cousins

Brian Lockett's delicious tale proves that being alone can be fun - if you have a telephone.

To read more of Brian's words please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=Brian+Lockett

Gerald had a rather unusual way of answering his telephone. He would pick up and say Warrington Wire-Pullers Union or Lord Derby’s Stables or The Jewish Gymnastic Society, or some such.

One Monday morning he said: “Elderberry, Brook and Bustard, Commissioners for Oaths and Notaries Public”.

A woman’s voice said: “Can I speak to Mr Elderberry, please.”

He paused for only a fraction of a second.

“Elderberry speaking. Who is this?”

“Grace Honiton.”

“I’m afraid the name doesn’t ring a bell Ms Honiton.”

“Am I speaking to Ernest Elderberry?”

“No, this is his son Donald. My father died three years ago.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. I really had no idea.”

“Can I help you, Ms Honiton? Were you one of my father’s clients?”

“I was in a manner of speaking, but I wanted to speak to him on a personal level. It seems that won’t be possible. I’m sorry to have taken up your time. Good-bye, Mr Elderberry.”

“Good-bye, Ms Honiton.”

As Gerald put the phone down, he felt a warm glow. Something akin to what Robinson Crusoe must have experienced on discovering another’s footprint in the sand. He felt both thrilled and intrigued. He used call-back to reconnect.

“Gillingham Patent Office.”

“Could I speak to Grace Honiton, please?”

”We do not have anyone here of that name. If you have a patent application reference number I can connect you with the officer dealing with it.”

“No, thanks. I think I must have misdialled.”

He hung up.

The phone rang about the same time the following morning.

“Downside Abbey Information Service,” said Gerald. “Can I help you?”

“This is The Beekeepers’ Federation. Is Father Dellick available, please?”

“One moment.”

He covered the mouthpiece and thought for a moment. The voice was that of Grace Honiton. He deepened and slowed down his own voice as he spoke.

“Father Dellick here. Can I help you?”

“Hello, Father. You don’t know me, but I know you from your articles in The Tablet. I am the secretary of The Beekeepers’ Federation and I am ringing to ask if you would be interested in writing an article for our Beekeepers World, a monthly journal with a very large circulation covering many countries.”

“On what subject? I know nothing about bees.”

“Don’t worry about that, Father. We have a lot of people here who know a great deal about bees. Look, I can see that you are not altogether hostile to the idea, so I would like if I may to continue this conversation when we both have more time. I will ring you again tomorrow. Good-bye for the present. And thank you.”

The phone went dead.

As Gerald rang the call-back number he wondered why so many people believed that the art of conversation is dead.

“Lost Property, British Museum.”

The voice could have been male or female. There was an attractive Scottish lilt to it. He cleared his throat into the mouthpiece.

“Mr Dunbar, please.”

“He’s on leave at the moment. Anyone else do?”

“Mrs Dunbar, perhaps?”

“Look, if this is some kind of joke, I’m going to ring off right now. Do you want Lost Property or don’t you?”

The belligerence came across loud and clear. Gerald stifled a chuckle of admiration.

“I do want Lost Property and I do want Mr Dunbar.”

“Well, you’re out of luck. I’ve told you he’s not here. Anything else? Or shall I put you through to the supervisor?”

“No, no, that won’t be necessary.”

Impetuously he added:“We must meet. Ring me tomorrow morning.” He put the phone down.

Gerald spent a sleepless night. He didn’t know why he had suggested a meeting. He didn’t like meeting strangers. Truth to tell, he didn’t like meeting anyone at all. He rarely came face to face with anyone other than shop assistants, girls on the check-out, meter readers, postmen. There didn’t seem much point.

The telephone didn’t ring at all the next day. The following day it rang shortly after breakfast. He hesitated before picking up. His voice was not as confident as usual.

“Larry Grayson Fan Club. Dennis speaking. If you let me have your membership number, I’ll get your details on the screen.”

There was a pause and then a peal of laughter.

“Larry Grayson Fan Club. I like that. It’s the best yet.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that. If you let me have your name and address I’ll send you an application form.”

There was a pause. Then: “Do you really want to meet me? I don’t go out much.”

“Neither do I.”

“We won’t know what to say to each other, will we?”

“We’ve been talking to each other almost daily for some time now. We could have one of those conversations, if you like.”

“They’re telephone conversations. They’re not real.”

“Are we real?”

“I ... don’t ... know. Perhaps if we meet we’ll find out. If I ring tomorrow, who will I be speaking to?”

“Tomorrow? I don’t know. It’s usually a spur of the moment thing. Let’s say The Temperance League of Great Britain.”

“The TLGB it is then. You have a Miss Adelaide Norris there, I believe. Got an MBE in the last honours list, if I remember rightly.“

“Right, I’ll see that she’s here.”

He put down the phone.

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