By Martina Delaney

Where I grew up there was only one telephone in use in a terrace of thirteen houses. This was during the 1960s when indeed very few workfolk possessed one, if any.

A County Council man ‘Mr Bell’, who lived in the middle of our row of cottages, held the prestigious possession of the ‘great miracle!’ Impressed by the glory of black and white television and the fascinating programmess with scenes of beautiful people taking phone calls and looking ‘cool’ – perhaps with a cigarette in one hand and a phone in the other in various forms of animation and expression – I fancied that one day I too would have a telephone of my own.

Mr Bell was kind enough to give out his number and it wasn’t unusual to witness either him or his wife ‘Ringlet’ running along the road to one or the other of the cottages in order to deliver a message from far and near.

Messages of notifications like deaths and births mostly. Alas, for most families it was mostly bad news and, to my mind, my own family seeming to be at the forefront in that regard.

I soon noticed the effects of some of those phone calls on my parents when I would witness them in devastation at the end of one of Mr Bell’s visits. News like grandparents passing, family members going to meet their Maker, bad results from hospitals, I soon realised that a certain fear came over me, and all of us for that matter, at the sight of Mr Bell approaching.

And so I suppose ‘tis there that my unbridled dread for the phone came about, regardless of the fact that years later I did manage to acquire a lovely jet-black shiny piece of Bakelite. Yet, despite the fact that I fully appreciate the wonder of this marvellous invention, I must admit that still to this day, forty years on, I shiver a little inside when I hear the sound of a telephone ringing.

Not surprisingly, having in the interim been delivered of some shockingly devastating news along with some welcome highlights like the news of a birth or a homecoming, or simply the voice of a beloved sibling or a good friend for a chat, still it’s the bad news that deep down is the most feared.

And it has now infiltrated itself into my mobile phone. A thing I have a ‘love-hate’ relationship with. In my oddness, I figure if they phone and I don’t answer they can always text, which to me is a little less intrusive and a rather spiffy, modern way to stay in touch!
And so I’m sure it wouldn’t take a genius to tell that by now I am most probably a total phone phobic. A phobia to the point of being funny! And I think I’ve passed it on to my family in some ways too.

Now I notice when the phone rings no one wants to answer! Phone rings…. Brrring! Brrring! Brrring!!!……

We all stare at each other with a sense of impending doom!!

“I’m not expecting a phone call,” someone will say, or “Oh, don’t let on I’m here!!!
‘Smart-alec’ will announce, “Ma, someone else is dead in your home town!” Referring to the fact that this is always a strong possibility at this middle stage of my life and let’s face it from here on in!  

“SOMEONE GET THE PHONE” I’ll shout, as its piercing tone rings on relentless, and places the fear of God in me!

“It’s probably a wrong number,” I’ll offer, while at the same time contemplating getting my coat on and running for the woods.

“ANSWER THE FECKIN PHONE” The father will roar from his apparent demobilising armchair in the corner. And then eventually the person with the gutsiest attributes in the house slinks with determination, yet a tiny shade of reticence, towards the phone, picks up the receiver and says…

“Ha ha haa lll ooooo”……… But the phone had just rang out and there was no one there.
“Must have been a wrong number,” says the father, “Sure if they want us that bad they’ll ring again.”

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