The sound of silence

Your blog is about to be recorded into an audiobook. If you could choose anyone — from your grandma to Samuel L. Jackson — to narrate your posts, who would it be?

I can’t actually think of anything worse than being recorded into an audiobook. My God, people would be playing my spur-of-the-moment ramblings in their cars, in the bath, even. I used to work in a call centre and people would occasionally respond to my market research surveys in the loo. That tell-tale echo. Voice bouncing off porcelain. And sometimes you could even hear….tinkling. But I digress.

But, since this is a hypothetical audiobook…

I thought at first they’d have to be Scottish – simply because I’m not. They would have to sound as unlike me as possible because I don’t like the sound of my own voice. Well, I don’t recognise it. At the above call centre, they used to summon me to Quality Control; we all got summoned: I mean, I don’t think I was summoned more often than anybody else. And they didn’t like the word summoned. They preferred invited.

Quality Control was a claustrophobic’s nightmare, a tiny hot dark little room with a kind of blue control panel and computers, and one of those two-way mirrors like they have in NCIS. While you were standing there, waiting for the Quality Controllers to finish spying on – sorry, monitoring – the current call you could peer out at the call centre floor and watch your fellow interviewers picking their noses, biting their nails, chewing gum, gossiping or canoodling. That bit was fun; the Controller’s nit-picking over one’s performance, not so much. They usually started by telling me I had a good voice, But… (that’s known as the ‘sandwich’ approach to giving feedback – positive then negative then… positive again).

Never mind the But bit. The point is, they would insist on playing the interview back to you. You would hear yourself stumbling through an interview with a wine-sozzled yuppie from Kensington or a deranged housewife from the outskirts of Eastbourne, and you would know, in advance, which bits QC were going to zoom in and slate you on. And it never sounded like me; it sounded exactly like my youngest sister. Why did I sound like her on the outside and like someone else inside my head? It freaked me out.

I did actually have one of my ‘works’ read by an actress. It was a poem – I can’t remember – did I win something? Anyway, I know I had to go to the room above the library and ‘mingle’ uncomfortably with other ‘minglers’. I believe a glass of champagne might have been involved. And she read it so beautifully. I must say, at that moment, I fully realised what actors and actresses were for. Acting is a real skill and it sounded so much better, the way she read it; almost like a proper poem. And somebody asked me for my autograph. My one and only ever autograph request from an African lady in a startling multi-print robe and a toque. Bless her.

And then I thought – maybe Scottish is too narrow: anything Celtic would do. I’m technically a sixteenth Scottish, and prefer to think of myself as a Celt. Just watered down a bit. Does it have to be a woman? Because I was thinking maybe Robert Carlyle (I have rather a thing for men with Scottish accents) or Sean Connery.

And then I thought – no – the perfect disguise – and yet somehow matching my oddness, oldness and quaveriness (yes, there is such a word) would be Barbara Mullen, who played the housekeeper Janet in the ancient, long-running TV series known as ‘Dr Finlay’s Casebook’. There are lots of episodes of Dr Finlay on YouTube but I couldn’t face watching them all in order to find one scene where Janet makes an appearance. But I did find her episode of This Is Your Life, which I will append.

Watching it reminds me how very much I disliked Eamonn Andrews even at the time, and also how dreadful and dark black and white TV was in the sixties. I mean, you feel like you need a torch. What’s happening in there?

In my increasingly faulty memory, the late Barbara Mullen, alias Janet the Housekeeper, was Scottish. Listening to her now I realise that the accent she gave Janet was in fact Irish. Also, having looked her up on Wikipedia, I discover that she was in fact American. You could have knocked me down with a feather, as they say. Her parents emigrated to Boston from the Isle of Inishmore off the coast of County Clare, Ireland but she didn’t return to this country until she was twenty. So she must have had an American accent, and borrowed the Irish from her mother and father. I like stuff like that.





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