For many of us who grew up in the 1950s, the landline telephone was our treasured source of communication. When the phone rang, it sparked a surge of excitement and anticipation.
My mother would almost invariably answer, as my brothers and I were thought too young to cope with callers — be they grandmothers or other relatives, friends of the family, parents of our school friends inviting us for a play date, or those wanting to invite my ex-politician father to speak at one gathering or another.
When I was in primary school, we lived in various houses on the Mornington Peninsula. Dial phones were not yet available. Instead, it was a matter of lifting the receiver and asking for the number.
When we moved to a small farm 70km outside the Melbourne metropolitan area, the phone had a handle on the front, which one turned vigorously to connect with the telephonist, who then obtained the desired number. Sometimes my mother would have a quick chat before being connected.
I was by then in my early teens and had my first girlfriend. Courtesy of American teen cul- ture (through films and Teenager’s Weekly) I knew the phone had become the centrepiece of boy-girl relations.
That is, one could coolly call a girlfriend’s home, get straight through and be able to have the most intimate conversation unencumbered by parents. Or if a parent answered, they would say something like: “I’m sure Barbara will be thrilled that you rang, I’ll just get her for you.”
If only this scenario could have been replicated in my case. After much effort I had managed to obtain the phone number of the girl of my dreams and dared to call her. But it was her father who answered and he was in no mood for teenage affairs of the heart: “Yes — who is it? ... No, she’s not available. Please don’t call again.”
It was best, we decided, if she called me at a given time. As the appointed hour approached, everyone seemed to be crowding around the phone. The place was full of noise. I didn’t know what I would say; I only knew that I was desperate to hear the phone ring.
How times have changed! We still keep a landline for making overseas calls, but actually live in dread that the phone might ring. Invariably, it is another cold caller — maybe a well-known charity with an impeccable marketing strategy — trying their luck. With everyone similarly afflicted, a call to a landline number rarely gets a response; at best, one will get through to voicemail.
Some may say that this doesn’t matter because there is always the mobile. For my part, I say that it is the beginning of a breakdown in communications.
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