O telefone.jpg

O telefone

By JUNE LOVER [email protected]

After 35 years in the TV and film industry, June Lover retired to the Algarve in 2006.  Having owned a holiday property here for 12 years she now lives in the hills above Almancil.

Alexander Graham Bell has a lot to answer for. I’ll be the first to admit that his invention way back in 1876 was nothing short of miraculous and ranks alongside the wheel, the steam engine, the aeroplane and The Simpsons.  

In 1922, he went to that great switchboard in the sky, leaving behind a legacy that would shape the future of communication and develop at a pace that he could never have dreamed of.  Mr. Bell, if you’re listening up there, I sometimes wish you hadn’t bothered. Your amazing device is giving me nothing but trouble, and while you weren’t to know this when you put together your crude experiment, I find myself treating it as something to be feared, a threat, an enemy.

I grew up with the telephone. Just as I grew up with the car, the aeroplane and the steam train. As a child they meant nothing to me. I took them all for granted. Pogo-sticks and roller skates were much more exciting, so it was a long time before I realised the importance of the development of these magnificent inventions.  But eventually, of course, I discarded my childhood toys and the impact of modern developments took over. Cars got faster and sleeker. Along came the jet plane and the high-speed train. And the phone just got bigger and better as it got smaller and cleverer.

And then I moved to Portugal, where the vernacular is still something of a mystery to me, and without body language, facial expressions, and arms like windmills, I am totally unable to communicate. Take these away and it’s like having my right arm cut off.  I’m well and truly stumped.  Face-to-face I can just about cope as my language skills develop at a snail’s pace, but I rely totally on visual contact to make myself understood and be able to understand.  Without this I don’t stand a chance, hence my trepidation to use Mr. Bell’s incredible discovery.  

PT must have read my mind, but if they think they were helping me conquer my fear of this wretched instrument by calling me every afternoon at 3 o’clock with their well-rehearsed sales patter, they were very much mistaken.  At first I was polite and did my best to explain that it was a case of “não falo Português”.  Their repeated efforts did nothing to improve my communication skills, so after a number of weeks I enlisted the help of my tutor, Guida, who managed to tell them in no uncertain terms that I was happy with their service and didn’t want to buy any more of their products thank you very much.  That seemed to do the trick, and the calls stopped.

But not for long.  PT clearly had my number if you’ll pardon the pun, and the calls began again, but this time with English-speaking operators.  I was not amused, and wasted no time in saying so, but it took another few weeks to persuade these charming young people who, after all, were only doing their job, that I wished to be left alone. Cold calling. Who needs it?

Peace at last. The message had finally got through.  Until the worst possible thing you could ever imagine happened. They started phoning me in the middle of ‘Coronation Street’!  I nearly burst a blood vessel.  “Não mais chamadas!!” I screeched down the telephone, which was the best I could come up with in the heat of the moment and resulted in howls of laughter from my husband.  He’ll live to regret that!  So far, touch wood, the calls have stopped, but anyone who phones me now is greeted with a hesitant if not timid “Olá?”

The mobile phone plays an essential part in our everyday lives.  I’m probably the only person you know who doesn’t have at least two.  I thought perhaps it might improve my telephone skills if I switched mine from English to Portuguese.  How stupid is that?  Of course it didn’t!  All it improved was my ability to read the various commands in Portuguese which was totally unnecessary because I can operate the thing blindfold.  The tool that was once a crucial part of my life is now my adversary and I dread the moment that my one-time best friend rings.  For some reason it triggers a ‘forget-every-word-of-Portuguese-you-ever-learnt’ switch in my brain, rendering me speechless.  

I’m not looking forward to next week because I have to phone the fossa man, the log man, and the garage about an ‘antipollution fault’ message which keeps coming up on the car’s computer screen.  In all three cases, no English is spoken so I must rely on my somewhat shaky Portuguese to get through.  Fortified with a stiff brandy I might just be able to manage the first two so long as they don’t ask too many questions.  I’ve learnt how to give directions to my house although this is a waste of time because nobody listens and I always get the “where you live?” call at the appointed time which throws me into tilt as I race breathlessly up the hill to try and intercept them and lead them like the Pied Piper to my house.  Have they never heard of Sat-Nav?

The garage is a real problem though.  It’s too far away to pop in and explain the problem face-to-face and I can’t use my local garage because it has to be the manufacturer’s dealer.  As if my knowledge of Portuguese wasn’t bad enough, my knowledge of cars and their mechanical foibles is zilch. Sir isn’t much help.  His knowledge of cars is little better than mine, but worse than that, he is of the opinion that everyone in the world should speak English. You can see my dilemma.

However, nothing ventured, nothing gained, and I’ll just have to give it my best shot.  Goodness knows what the result will be.  So, Mr. Bell, you’ve reduced me to a jibbering wreck, but it was never your intention so I’ll forgive you, just as you must forgive me for throwing your creation in the river.  I live in awe of your amazing discovery, but the very sound of its ring sends me into a frenzy and is doing nothing to improve the likelihood of ever reaching my goal – to falar Português!