London Note

Feb. 21 2002 2:56 PM

London Note

Tomb phone.

A lady of our acquaintance who lives in Holland Park is thinking about her future. When she dies, she would like a telephone placed beside her inside her coffin. Not a mobile phone: The reception would be poor, the batteries of even the best Motorolas or Nokias wouldn't last, and what with all the mobile phone muggings in London, she wants to leave nothing to chance. What she would like is a landline, along with a reliable answering machine or voice mail service that can store an infinite number of messages. She has lots of friends and a large family, and all of them she believes will be keen to let her know how they are getting on. She plans to put aside enough money for British Telecom to debit her bank account directly for 20 years.

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The lady, who wishes to remain anonymous for now, intends to abandon all such reticence after her death. She would like to be listed in the London telephone directory, a bold move since she's been ex-directory for most of her life. And she wants her telephone number inscribed on a tombstone large enough to accommodate BT area code changes in years to come, in case a stranger, wandering through the cemetery, might feel the urge to make a call. She is also sure her unusual request will soon be much imitated, since it will be the only way of keeping in touch in the modern world when people are too busy to visit your grave. In years to come, ringing a dead relative or friend could become as popular as visiting cemeteries was in the 19th century. The lady has agonized over the wording of her outgoing message of her future answering machine, which she will record ahead of time. Typical greetings obviously won't do: "I can't get to the phone right now, but please leave a message and I'll get back to you as soon as I can." Instead, she has chosen the following: "Hello! I'm so glad you called. I won't be ringing you back, so don't feel you must leave a message, but it would of course be very nice if you did. Goodbye."

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