The way we ask people to leave our company seems very polite.
My favourite is “I won’t be keeping you.” The literal interpretation is “I know you’re busy and I am sorry if I have held you up”. But we all know the real meaning is more like “be off with you now, and don’t be wasting my valuable time”.
There’s this function on my phone and it flashes up the name of an incoming caller when I am speaking to another person. What I didn’t know is that the person I am speaking to on the phone can hear the tone of the incoming call. So when you say, fairly abruptly, “well it was lovely talking to you” or “g’luck, g’luck, g’luck” and then hang up, the person knows they have been red-buttoned for a more important call. “G’luck” is Kerry fast talk for “good luck.”
We still have the old decommissioned payphone in the pub from the days when there was a button A and a button B.
. A caller would press button A to make sure the coin fell down into the box and then the call could commence. If there was no reply on the other side refunds were obtained by pressing on button B.
So when you recognised the voice of someone you didn’t want to speak to, the trick was to say “Press button A please”. Even though the sound of money hitting metal was clearly audible, the person you are ducking shouts out “hello, hello, hello. Can you hear me?” The caller presses long and hard on Button A, like a debt collector, or a locked-out drunk ringing a doorbell.
There was another series of “hello, hellos”. Most people roared into the phone on long-distance calls. The further away the call, the louder the shouting.
The reply from me was another series of “Press button A please. Press button A”.
It was next to impossible to find a pay telephone that was working, or wasn’t vandalised, and the ones that were working often smelled.
TDs spent more time asking questions as to when the phone box in one of the villages in their constituency would be fixed than on affairs of state. There was some justification for this political insularity. The public phone box was the only way of getting in touch with the outside world in times when it took a pile of money and connectivity luck to get a private phone installed.
The callers who we were ducking were suffering from repetitive strain injury from the constant pressing of Button A. This may seem very cruel from our end, but most of the time they had it coming. The caller would likely be after my dad to perform impossible tasks like write their play from a mad idea they would not give up on – like the time aliens took over the minds of a small village not far from here.
The persistent callers were under the impression the phone wasn’t working and their money was lost. There was no way of complaining as the phones didn’t have a complain function which was very clever. And how could you complain if you are trying to put the complaint call through on the broken phone you were reporting as broken? The hard-working P& T worker who took care of the phones did their best, but were under-resourced.
Then you would hear swear words and the sound of a kick landing on the telephone midriff where the money was kept. Phones used to get an awful walloping back in the old days. There was one phone that was never harmed. The phone box outside the old post office in Listowel was defective. There was always a queue and the locals were able to phone long-distance free of charge. One girl spoke every day to a pen pal in India. This went on for about a year before it was copped.
Listowel, like every other small town in Ireland, was severely hit by emigration. Back in the late 1970s our biggest exports were cattle and young people. Very often the cattle and the people travelled on the same boat.
I met with Peter McGrath and his wife Mary in the park. Peter retired back to Listowel around 20 year ago. He became the principal of a school in London. Peter travelled over on the cattle boat with my dad when they went to England for the first time as emigrants in the early 1950s.The crossing was a rough one with a good few getting sick from the rolling sea and oceans of drink.
He told me dad helped a mother travelling with her six children throughout the long journey. Peter helped too. Dad had a good old heart and saw the mother on to the Holyhead-London train.
The pandemic has kept families apart for almost two years. There was a woman from Wexford in at the Listowel races and she hadn’t seen her daughter since Christmas 2019. The cruel irony of it all was her daughter was living no more than 50km away in Wales, on the other side of the same tide.
The one good thing is that unlike earlier times the phones do work and there is hardly a nana, or granddad, who hasn’t seen their grandchildren on Zoom. Their chat is one of the most beautiful communications. Maybe we should set up a national archive of this precious treasury of endangered memory. Every move from the first step to the first date is recorded and dutifully sent home, almost in real time. Those at home are not kept waiting weeks for a letter, or a phone call from the box that never works.
Most of us got som e idea of how tough it was to be separated from family during the time of the travel restrictions earlier in the year. Soon the restrictions on travel will, hopefully, be fully lifted and we will have a united Ireland once again.
Some of the Irish who live in America have been home. Proper send-offs have been given to loved ones who died during lockdown, when so many who live abroad could not attend. As the late Father Pat Moore used to say, “the Irish do death better than the Egyptians”.
Before long we will be going backwards across the Irish Sea, as Spike Milligan put it. So now it’s downwards to Oz, or across to America or over to England, or in whichever direction it takes to get to the place where our own beloveds live in these days of reconnection and homecoming..