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The blower July 14, 2006

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.

Darlings, between you and me, I’m a phonophobe. A terrible screener, phone-call ignorer and flagrant pretender that I haven’t heard the mobile going off, which, admittedly, it doesn’t do too often. And praise be for that. I know this is frowned upon in many quarters, and many a friendship has been put under strain by my taking fourteen years to answer a call, or answering it with an SMS (and then, of course, dashing to turn off my phone), or an e-mail, or even a hand-written letter. (I think folk should be grateful, of course.)
The Russian has gone from being a happy-go-lucky phone-picker-upper to an anti-social old misery in the however-long-it-is-since-we’ve-been-together and it is not uncommon to see him carry on pottering around with his affairs with the phone going harassingly away in the background. The Russian could shop for… well, Russia, and came home a bazillion years ago, just when we’d moved to Berlin, with a ludicrously expensive-costing but cheap-and-shoddy-looking phone. I was slow to join in with his euphoria. “But look at that,” he said, if my memory deludes me correctly, pointing to a little screeny bit atop the number buttons. I peered, wanting to know more. “It shows the number of the person who’s ringing.” I was taken with the possibilities immediately. I might even have rubbed my hands with glee – it was getting on for winter, after all – and gone out onto the balcony, crouched down so that I couldn’t be seen and thrown pebbles at passing children. But I might not have either. There would no longer be any mystery about whether to screen or not to screen. The number would – admittedly, not always, but it often even works from abroad – flash up and I could say to myself, “Auntie Brenda from Ross-on-Wye? What the fuck does she want?” and ignore till my heart’s content.
And so went the telephonic lives of BiB and the Russian, in happy silence, until a couple of weeks ago. Then, all of a sudden, all the phone’s posh functions died. Not only does it not now show the number of the person calling, it can hardly be bothered to ring at all and makes a little whelp as if implying it would really like to be pensioned off. This has led to a dilemma. We have a built-in answering machine that only allows you to listen to the message once it’s done and dusted so we don’t even have the option of picking up as soon as we hear a desired voice, panting, as if just having run out of the bathroom because we just couldn’t have got to the phone in our enormous flat a second earlier. (To improve the sound effects, I recommend leaving a glass of water by the phone so you can drip drops of it into the earpiece to replicate the sound of residual shower-water.) So we are faced with the terrible ordeal of just STRAIGHTFORWARDLY PICKING UP THE PHONE. Terrifying. Nine times out of ten it’s some bastard trying to sell you insurance, or someone wanting to give you work – cunts – or, worst of all, someone thinking you actually want to spend forty-five minutes talking about this and that. Are those people quite mad?
Anyway, the phone rang this evening. The Russian and I looked at each other in horror. “Shall I?” “Oh, go on then.” I saw the Russian’s features contort into an expression of terror. “Yeees, I fine, sank you,” he wailed, all the while flailing his arms at me to show it was my mother. I thought I’d let him stew for a while and have the same conversation he’s had every time he’s picked up the phone to her in the last six years. “Oh, sank you, my Eeeeenglish byettyer? Oh, good, but BiB speak me only Raaaaaaaaaaaaaashan.” (Whispered aside, “BiB, pick up the fucking phone, it’s your mother.”) “Yeeeees, I still staaaaaaaaady, and vöööörk. Very beeeeeezy.” (Aside, louder whisper, “Pick up the fucking phone.”) I imagined my mother saying, primly, “Oh well, it’s much better than before,” and then using colloquialisms that I am hard pushed to understand. (My brother once rushed into the room to tell me and his wife, when we had all converged chez my mother in London, that she had just said to the Russian, “Soon time for din-dins.”)
I eventually put them out of their linguistic misery and picked up the phone. We then did a high-speed rundown of everyone’s gossip. “How’s that sibling?” “Oh, you know, much the same.” “And how’s Auntie Brenda in Ross-on-Wye?” “Oh, you know, the op went well, but her sight’s suffered.” “We’ve got a lovely storm lashing here at the moment. Thunder and lightning. Can you hear it?” “Lightning?” came my mother’s quivering reply. “Yes, lightning.” “I’d better go. It might come down the phone and kill you.” And she rang off without once complimenting me on my almost fluent English…
So that’s the way to do it. If you want to get off the phone, say, “Dark o’er Bill’s muther,” and they’ll be off like a shot. Phonophobia, like all good weirdnesses, comes in many forms.



1. Bowleserised - July 14, 2006

My mum does that too – as soon as she’s talking to anyone who doesn’t have English as a first language she inadvertantly lapses into the most idiomatic British there is. Cue much confusion.

2. BiB - July 14, 2006

We always used to have Spanish students staying with us when I was young and this led to much linguistic hilarity as my utterly monolingual parents didn’t have a clue how to adapt their English for the occasion(s). My mother once sent an eager young Spaniard to the shops to buy “a bloomer”. “Blumerrrrrr?” the Spaniard questioned willingly. I think it might have caused fisticuffs at the baker’s.

3. daggi - August 1, 2006

A Spanish girl asked me last week what the German for “I am going to clean my tits” was. I obliged, to much merryment. Only later did she realise why. Oh, how we laughed.

4. BiB - August 1, 2006

Monty Python’s English phrasebook for Hungarian tourists springs to mind. Very good. (Were her breasts clean?)

5. daggi - August 2, 2006

After using her titpaste with flouride, I presume so.

6. BiB - August 2, 2006

Well, I’m very impressed by your didactic/pedagogic skills. Helping youngsters out on both the linguistic and personal hygiene levels.

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