OUR COLLEGE telephonist, the formidable Miss Elsie Carruthers is under strict instruction not to forward any messages to me from ‘Cold Callers.’ I have become seriously irritated with such persons and their invitations to engage in redundant intimacies, install new bathrooms, even to augment my ‘equipage’, whatever that is. For any who manage to sidestep Miss C, I have developed a nigh fool-proof means of clearing the line. Thus:
Caller: “Hi Professor! How are you today?”
Dean: “Oh, much better, thank you. The bleeding’s almost stopped now; and y’know that, er…other thing? Well, quite a lot of it came away last night…”
A totally different, but equally effective response is deployed by our Chair of Philosophy, Prof Archibald Mackendrick whose speciality is the fiendish complexity of quantum formalistic logic.
Caller: “Hi Archie! How are you today?”
A.M.: “Thank you. How very kind of you to enquire. However, the answer rather depends on what you mean by ‘How’, doesn’t it? – which is itself predicated on whether you’re utilising that most evasive pronoun ‘You’ in its singular or plural identity, i.e. referring to me, or collectively to my department in the Bourbonesque sense of, Le Départment, c’est moi! Finally, I need to know if you’re deploying that most interesting concept of ‘today’ as a synchronic referent to the present day, e.g. 22nd April, or diachronically to the present era, in contrast to ‘yesteryear’ or ‘futurity’ within the Einsteinian space-time continuum.
Also, the logical sequence of your…
Even more entertaining is the Auto-Answerphone wheeze, dreamed up by Dr Fred Flaxman of our Telecomms Research Unit. All that’s required is a child’s Beeper. Costing just a few pence, this device is held to the phone and Beeped at the end of what the caller believes is your ‘Recorded Message’ – but it’s you in person on the line…
Thus: Ring-ring, ring-ring… (I pick up)
Dean: You’ve reached the Dean’s Office at St Andrews College. Leave a message at the tone; Beep!
Caller: Morning, Dean. Dr James Hutton here, Trinity College, Oxford. Sorry to miss you. I was wondering if you…
Dean: Your call is being monitored for unspecified purposes.
Hutton: I see. I was wondering if you could call me back…
Dean: Error! The name given was ‘Hutton.’ Why should you be called ‘Back?’
Hutton (aside): This is a bloody odd message…
Dean: Expletive deleted. This phone is obscenity-sensitive.
Hutton: Holy Christ, it’s interactive…!
Dean: And blasphemy-aware. We will pray for you…
Another master of the Telephone was the late Chic Murray, thus: Ring – Ring
Murray: Yes? What is it?
Caller: Er…who’s speaking?
Murray: You are!
The telephone is also a grand medium for the dying art of the practical joke, an institution now succumbing, like so many innocent pleasures, to PC and the dreaded Healthy & Safe Executive.
A friend of mine is the CEO of a major finance house in Edinburgh, that is when he’s not on the high seas, racing or cruising in his beloved yacht the Lady Rosalind.
Visiting him at the Forth Marina on the south bank of the river last autumn, I found him raging about the state of the warps (ropes) securing the yacht to one of the Marina’s pontoons.
“Just look at these warps! They’re chafing hard on the pontoon. Just one gale sending big swells into the marina and the thing could part. The Rosalind, plus pontoon, would drift right out into the river! I’ve told them repeatedly to fix it, but oh no, nothing doing – it’s a disgrace!”
A fortnight later, and the morning after a really big gale, his (innocent) P.A. put a phone call through to him – from me. It came, purportedly, from a ‘Commander Julian Richards, RN,’ of HMS Caledonia, the Royal Navy shore base at Rosyth, directly across the Forth from the Marina. Incidentally, the accent of Cdr Richards made Prince Charles sound like a welder…
Cdr. Richards: Mr Williams, are you the owner of a sloop-rigged yacht, the Lady Rosalind?
Williams: I am.
Richards: Was she secured on a pontoon at Forth Marina?
Williams: What? What d’you mean ‘was’?
Richards: Last night we had a Gale Force 8-9 from the N.E. It seems that the swell setting into the Marina caused her warps to part and she drifted out into…
Williams: What ?
Richards: …into the river. The wind & the flooding tide then carried her across to our facility here at RN Rosyth.
Williams: What ! Commander, I knew this would happen! I’ve been telling them & telling them to fix those warps. They won’t spend a penny! Just wait till I get hold of… But wait, thank you so much for calling. Give me an hour to round up my crew and we’ll come…
Richards: I’m afraid there’s another problem. As you may know, RN Rosyth is a NATO nuclear facility. As such, our seaward entrance is protected by a screen of seabed magnetic mines…
Williams: Mines? That’s not on the charts!
Richards: Of course it’s not on the charts, Williams, it’s secret.
Williams: What! The Forth is mined – and it’s secret?
Richards: Do please calm down, Williams. It’s not as bad as you think. We’ve got most of the wreckage here…
Williams: Is that you David?