Blu Tack

We’re going to get our cat chipped, and I mentioned, casually, to our little ones that it would be a good time to get them chipped as well, so we could keep an eye on them.

Cue massive and sustained uproar from the back seat of the car lol.  I had to confirm that I was “definitely joking” before they calmed down.

But it made me think how much mobile phones curtail your freedom.  Of course, they are handy, but there are no free lunches. 

When I was “scheming school” (local slang for playing truant) as a kid in the ’70s and ’80s, fortunately there were no mobile phones. We had a free annual public bus-pass which you were only supposed to use on your relevant Ulsterbus route, i.e., home village to school and back again, but you could usually get away with trips further afield if you acted natural

So, when checking up on me, the Headmaster could only call my parents on the house landline phone. On most of those phones, you could unscrew the earpiece cover – see the cream coloured one in the middle below:

Inside was the circular aluminium device, with some audio holes in it. The trick was to fill those holes with Blu Tack (an adhesive, re-usable putty), and cover it with Scotch tape. That prevented the Blu Tack from being squeezed out when you replaced the earpiece cover.

The effect (as reported back) was hilarious, as my folks were unable to hear a thing, due to all the ear-piece sound holes being stuffed full of Blu Tack. The caller’s voice was reduced to a faint, inaudible squawk. Yet the caller (e.g., my headmaster) could hear my folks perfectly, and so knew the line was good.

I heard afterwards (from the brother of a teacher in my school) that the Head was always in a foul mood after he rang my parents, as he assumed that they were either deaf as posts, or quite mad, as they just kept saying “WHAT?” and “SPEAK UP, PLEASE” and “EH?” and “WHO IS THIS?” and “THIS PHONE ISN’T WORKING AGAIN“, and never heard a word he had to say.  

That Headmaster, when he nabbed you in some suspected misdemeanour, and you were lying though your teeth to him, invariably would say: “You’ll have to speak up, lad – I can’t hear you“.  He knew well that being asked to repeat a lie more loudly was more stressful, and would test your acting skills more thoroughly, than if he let you away with a mumbled excuse.  So the knowledge that my parents were always turning the tables on him by yelling at him to “speak up” and saying that they “couldn’t hear” him always made me chuckle. 

My folks then would drive to a public phone or neighbour’s house and telephone the phone company (BT), and, next day (service was good in these days before they improved everything), a wee man in a blue van would come out, check the phone and line, and go away scratching his head, having pronounced all to be in perfect working order (again). Which it was, as by then I of course had removed all traces of Blu Tack and Scotch tape. He must have thought that my poor parents were some sort of telephone hypochondriacs … 

You’d never get away with it nowadays.

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