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Here Comes Treble: Modern Miracles

Who cares about preparing the salad when friends are phoning?

But there other other ways of staying in touch across the continents, as Isabel Bradley reveals.

To read more of Isabel's sparkling columns please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/here_comes_treble/

The salad I was making was half-finished when the telephone rang. Not my mobile phone, which would have been either my daughter, my son or my pianist, but the land line. The land line never rings unless someone wants to sell carpeting, wooden flooring, or my house. Irritated, I put down the knife, wiped my hands on my apron and answered. Delightful surprise, it was my friend, Judy, who I last spoke to in person about a year ago during a visit. I last heard her voice on the phone several years ago. We communicate by e-mail, sometimes three or four times a day, but pick up the phone and chat? Never.

After ten minutes, we hung up, and I returned to the chopping board. Half a green-pepper later, the phone rang again. What was going on? No-one ever phones us. Well, hardly ever. This time, it was Chris to work out a good date for us to take a concert party to a small town in the Free State. It was good to hear his voice.

A third time before my salad spectacular was ready for consumption, the phone rang, with yet another friend on the line wanting to talk. That evening, the salad took an hour to prepare. Hearing the voices of my friends was an unprecedented treat, which had me remembering.

There was a time when answering phones was the biggest treat on earth for me. As a child, the old black circle-dial telephone was up on a high shelf in the entrance hall at home, high enough that neither my brother nor I could reach it. Mom and Dad were the only people to answer its bright, double-ring. It was seldom used: once a week on Thursday mornings at seven, the grocers would phone and Mom would place her order, which was duly delivered promptly at three that afternoon. Otherwise, it was used to arrange musical evenings, musical afternoons, or for Mom to phone Gran’s next-door neighbour to make sure Gran was okay. Twice its ring heralded dreadful news, the death of my cousin while mountain climbing, and a sad message that my aunt had died of cancer.

Once a year, however, Mom would answer the phone, and say, “Isabel, it’s for you!” It was my beloved Auntie Elise, my godmother who died when I was about eleven. Gradually as we grew older, my brother and I were allowed to phone friends from time to time, and to answer the phone. It sometimes turned into a stampede along the sprung-wood passage as we each tried to reach it first. As a teenager, I spent the mornings in my friends’ company at school, and hours on the phone in the afternoons talking to the same friends.

When I first began work as a secretary-receptionist, the ringing telephone terrified me. The telephone at work was grey and maroon, still with a circular dial. I learned to use my pen in the number-holes to dial the numbers my boss infrequently asked me to phone. As I became more confident of my abilities, answering the phones at work became the most enjoyable part of my job.

With two young children to care for, I eventually found a job as receptionist and secretary-of-all-work at a primary school. Helping parents on the telephone was one of the duties I took very seriously. When I transferred to a similar post at the school my children attended, I was dismayed to find that one of my co-secretaries had the switchboard on her desk. It didn’t take me long to persuade the Principal that we needed a more modern system, and that I would do a much better job of answering than Jenny. Jenny, who is still one of my dearest friends, wholeheartedly agreed with me. She hated answering the phones.

Then personal computers arrived on our desks at work, swiftly followed by home computers. I discovered the joys of being able to simply cut and paste instead of re-typing documents, and many other delights. Soon, the miracle of e-mails was added to these wonderful machines, and I was ‘hooked’.

The ringing of the telephone became an intrusion on my other favourite form of communication, writing. Soon, friends who didn’t have e-mail became a small percentage of our acquaintance, and we all but lost touch with them. My post-box at the gate, and later at the post office, became a source of bills and unwanted advertisements, while the computer’s inbox became a source of information, marvellous communication from friends, jokes, beautiful pictures and loving thoughts.

The telephone, that once-preferred form of communication, became a source of annoyance. Whenever I answered it, there was a parent asking questions which had been answered for them in yesterday’s newsletter; complaining about something the school did; or salesmen. Instead of phoning companies for information, it became so much easier to look at their websites and get all the information without any personal contact at all.

Soon, on-line-banking was offered, which I now use to such an extent that I haven’t had a new cheque book in over four years and the only time I go in to the bank and deal with a real person is when I need a bank-guaranteed cheque to pay for a visa to visit Canada. I certainly never need to phone a bank.

As for my beloved friends, even the thought of picking up a phone and punching in numbers to phone them seldom crosses my mind. Yes, in South Africa we’ve graduated, with the rest of the world, to key-pads, cordless phones and automatic answering systems. Even at the school we had an automatic system which saved me answering other peoples’ calls, except our Principal’s.

Recently, we’ve discovered the joys of ‘phoning’ from computer to computer at no charge, with the added delight of those tiny cameras, web-cams, giving us lovely views of our grand-daughter wriggling in her mother’s arms in England. The same system offers extremely low-cost calls from computers to phones, making voice communication with friends and relatives overseas more affordable and, happily, more frequent.

Computers, e-mail and the internet are wonderful tools, there is no doubt of that. I’m using them all now, to write this article and send it to my column in the web-magazine, Open Writing.

And you’re using it now, reading this article on-line instead of holding a glossy-paged magazine, a newspaper or a book… But therein lies another tale!

Until next time, ‘here comes Treble!’

By Isabel Bradley © Copyright Reserved


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