If I had to give a name to what it is that I kind of do to make a sort of living I would say I am a person who Waits For The Phone To Ring. I am a professional Phone Ring Waiter which is a bit like a Pizza Express waiter but with fewer career prospects. You could say I’m a Writer, and on those days when my serotonin levels are quite high even I could say I’m a writer. But if I was to tot up how the hours in my days are spent I spend many more Waiting For The Phone To Ring than I do Writing. Of course, the second decade of the twenty-first century is a daft time in the development of human careers to take up such a post. With the advent of email and everything else up to and including sitting on the top deck of the number 36 and tutting loudly at the other passengers we’ve all found new ways of communicating with each other other than speaking on the phone.
My phone simply never rings. I can’t believe this is the case for everybody. In fact, I know it’s not – the old woman who lives in one of the flats above Tesco’s at the back of me sits on her balcony during the more clement weather and has an enormous white cordless telephone through which she conducts inordinately long conversations from breakfast time until the wee small hours. With a lot of oohing-and-aahing and the occasional burst of machine gun-like laughter the daytime and much of the night is passed away by her chattering into the mouthpiece. She never has to wait for the phone to ring; no one has the slightest chance of getting through. Maybe she really is a writer.
But for me, as I say, the phone simply never rings. It’s as if I round-robinned the universe some years back asking for all my calls to be put on hold. And the only people not to get the message are the bank’s mortgage arrears department and my mother. The other night just as I’d put my novel about the annihilation of the Lodz ghetto on the bedside table and was beginning to doze off my boyfriend’s phone rang. I sat bolt upright. “Oh my god, what’s happened?” I asked. “Who’s that at this time?”
“It’s my Mum,” said Rory in the sort of calm, relaxed and untroubled voice which was the polar opposite of the one I’d employ if I was saying, “It’s my Mum,” in response to a phone call from my mother – and on my mobile – after seven pm. If she was ringing at that time it would only be with the very Worst News Possible. Although being the sweet and thoughtful person that she is – just like her own mother was - she would probably wait until a more convenient time for me. Back in 1983, my grandmother who didn’t have a phone of her own held off from calling us from a neighbour’s with the news that her husband, my step-grandfather, had died four days previously. She hadn’t wanted to spoil our Christmas. It was heart-breaking that she had thought it best to wait. Although, to be fair, that man’s death could never have been described as the Worst News Possible by anyone. Especially my grandmother.
Anyway, that’s not my point. My mind is occupied by these thoughts of careers, job titles, and all the rest of it by a little incident this afternoon. Walking through the back streets of Peckham on the way to do some light shopping, a man on a bicycle riding towards me suddenly braked in the road. “Excuse me,” he called, yelling to make himself heard over the post van that suddenly passed between us, “but are you an architect?”
“No,” I replied, slightly baffled.
“It’s just that you look so much like one.”
“Really? Anyone in particular?” I asked.
“No. Just an architect. No worries.” And with that he was off.
So what does an architect look like? Balding, bearded and middle-aged, obviously. But I can’t imagine there are many architects wandering through inner London side roads on a Wednesday clutching Lidl shopping bags. And if there are they must surely belong to a particular subsection of the architecture world: Those For Whom It Didn’t Quite Work Out. Maybe it was a famous architect I reminded him of? The only two that come immediately to mind are Christopher Wren and Albert Speer. Like Speer, I too have a capacity for rewriting my role in the war to reflect better on myself. The war I’m referring to however was the spat I had some years back with another driver over a parking space in a multi-storey in Kingston which ended in an exchange of letters via the good offices of NCP. Albert’s record was surely harder to defend. As for Wren, beyond a shared first name the similarity ends. It’s just dawned on me that Rory’s sister Gillian is also an architect but we certainly don’t look alike. As a writer, I can’t help but think how satisfying it would be if Rory’s mother had been calling about her daughter last week thereby enabling me to tie up this little story in a neat and story-like way. But she didn’t. Rather, I recall she talked to Rory about his father’s recuperation from a recent operation, the local ice cream parlour’s opening hours, and the lovely weather they’d been enjoying in Dublin over the previous few days. And as someone for whom the phone never rings that’s better than a pig in a poke.