The ‘Phone Call


Friday morning for me in Costa Rica, Friday afternoon for my mother in England.
Time to call her for her shopping list.

She used to have a shopper, but when she retired and handed over to a younger woman mother could not get along with things.
Items would not be bought…didn’t have any….the sell by dates could be as close as the next day….oh, it’ll be all right…or some cheaper alternative would be provided…that’s the brand my kids prefer…

So now I call her on Skype, she gives me her shopping list and I go on line to Tesco and make the order which will be delivered to the door a week later.
Thus she doesn’t have to carry anything heavy and doesn’t have to go out at all if the weather is inclement.

So, the nine o’clock coffee out of the way I wind up Skype.

The ringing tone is answered promptly and my heart sinks as a suspicious voice asks

Who is it?

Glory be, mother’s friend Adolpha, over eighty and hard of hearing, has collared the ‘phone.

I tell her it is me and I’m calling to get mother’s Tesco list.

Fatal error. I hear her saying to mother

There’s some woman here from Tesco trying to sell you something.

As I am about to bellow a correction down the ‘phone in the hope that mother can hear it at the other side of the room, Luzmilla – Friday is cleaning day – comes in from the balcony shooing a dog before her. Volubly.

At the other side of the world Adolpha adds

Some foreign woman.

Seeing I am on Skype and assuming that I am talking to my mother Luzmilla shrieks a greeting into the laptop.

Sounds hysterical!

I suppose they have to meet targets, says mother’s voice.

Plenty of English people would like those jobs replies Adolpha, herself from Austria. It’s a disgrace and she doesn’t even speak English!
Now look here, whoever you are….

At this point I manage to get her to understand that it is me on the line…

Well why didn’t you say so!
Here, it’s your daughter.

We get down to brass tacks and mother is just wondering whether to change her brand of tea bags when Monty the lamb, unable to find Leo and in need of milk, nudges me sharply on the arm and bleats loudly.

What on earth was that?


That doesn’t sound like a lamb….too loud.

Luzmilla, who fed Monty on her lap when he was tiny and adores him, tells me she will heat the milk while I’m on the ‘phone and as Monty bleats again as he sees the fridge door opening she replies with a bleat of her own.

More like a camel…No, I think I’ll stick to the same ones…Now, meat…

We set off again while Monty is fed and Luzmilla moves off into the bedrooms, her progress marked by the banging of the broom against the skirting boards.

Then the insect sets off. I don’t know where it is, I don’t know what it is though I imagine it to be some sort of over endowed cricket but it makes a noise like a dentist’s drill and can be heard over a wide area.

Now what’s going on….I’ve lost my train of thought…
An insect? No insect makes a noise like that…Danilo must be working somewhere…

Lamb chops – but loin chops, make sure they are loin chops – decided upon, the merits of gammon come under the spotlight as opposed to pork….and then the dogs bark furiously as Danilo’s son arrives on his motorbike with the day’s supply of fresh milk for Monty, to be received by Luzmilla with much shouting at the dogs to be quiet.

It’s a madhouse…whatever is going on? The milkman on a motorbike…still I suppose it’s better than mine – a new man I think, comes creeping around late in the morning, when he thinks I can’t get to the door fast enough to complain about the Gold Top! If that’s from Jersey cows I’m a Chinaman.

I think they must water it down, says Adolpha in the background and she and mother discuss the likelihood of this, oblivious to the seconds ticking away on Skype, their conversation ending in
You can’t trust any of them these days.

Mother decides on the gammon.

We have run through most of her list with a slight pause at Evian water as she was sent Buxton water in error last time and does not want a goitre at her age and then she thinks she will have a packet of breakfast cereal….

Puffed wheat, I think…
And then the guinea fowl strike up, legging it past the back door…

I know what that is. That’s those awful birds you had in France who kept trying to drown themselves….
Whatever possessed you to get some more….and don’t let them send me organic puffed wheat.
Tasted like cardboard and a tiny packet for the price….
Yes, that’s the lot….

We say our goodbyes and as I shut down the call I hear Adolpha’s voice in the background

They said it was organic, but how could it be? It came in a cellophane packet….what’s organic about cellophane?


49 thoughts on “The ‘Phone Call”

  1. Haha, doesn’t sound like technology made that call any easier. How wonderful that you order your mother’s groceries for her, though, and that they can be delivered to her door. That part about technology is certainly nice!

    1. I find it quite amazing that we can do this….but I could do without the distractions!

      At least this way the basics are delivered and she can nip out shopping if she feels like it.

    1. It’s not so bad if mother is on her own….I’m used to her having a discussion about what she wants to buy as she is the same if we go out shopping together and at least she is interested enough in her food for it to be important to her.
      But when her friend is there….and is hard of hearing…and determined that mother should not be bothered by cold callers….farce happens.

  2. Fantastic storytelling, but what a blessing to be able to do this for your mother. The one great guilt of being an expat is not being near for your elderly parents and this is one way modern life eases that.

    1. I’m still somewhat surprised that the technology exists to do this….I can remember being surprised that I could ‘phone home from a remote French village in the seventies…

      Guilt? No, I don’t have it. She has her life, I have mine. I do and will do what I can, visit when possible, but my chief concern is for my husband.

  3. What a wonderful post, Helen. I felt as if I was looking over your shoulder and eavesdropping the conversation. YOu should put some of these pieces in a book, or at least an ebook.

  4. Wonderful story. I wish my mother had been as amenable as that, she would have insisted on buying a computer at vast expense so she could do the ordering herself, then when she inevitably got it wrong would have blamed me for “making” her do it.

    1. Oh how familiar that sounds!

      Mother is far from amenable…..she was determined to see the ‘new’ house in Spain last summer so I arranged to take her.
      Having found flights and trains, arranged assistance for her and getting her there, she enjoyed poking about the house, climbing stairs she would normally have said were too steep for her…visiting the village, going to a restaurant for her birthday…..
      We returned.

      Now she tells me that her hair has become thin since visiting Spain…with the underlying notion that she was dragged there…at her age…!

      I’m used to it…but I don’t appreciate it.

    1. No, I don’t!
      But it has to be done…and I must admit that the bit about the organic puffed wheat coming in a cellophane packet did amuse me!

      I’m used to the long discussions about what to choose….at least she is still interested in what she is eating – and has a good appetite.

  5. Another Saturday in Costa Rica! Now that I am the age my mother was when she lived with us in this house I look around at the “conveniences” we’ve installed, like proper hand rails, and am ashamed for our negligence 25 years ago. So, don’t mind the distractions; they won’t last forever.

    1. Her place is fitted with all the conveniences and appliances she needs….though she gets about with more ease now that she has had her hip and knee replacements done while in her nineties.

      She likes to go out shopping, but cannot carry anything heavy; the change of shopper did not suit her at all, so this is the best alternative we can come up with – even if it does sound like Old McDonald’s Farm from my end…
      Good job the Tesco website doesn’t have ears….

  6. This is hilarious! I think Skype calls tend to be confusing at the best of times because they take in everything around them, instead of the conversation being limited to what goes into a mouthpiece. But your call with your mom takes the cake!

    On a side note, I wish our grocery stores in North America did orders like the ones in the UK. It is a great service, and one I know my mom would appreciate when the weather is bad and she doesn’t feel up to driving.

    1. I hadn’t thought of it like that but yes, Skype does give you ‘all round sound’!

      I’m surprised that your supermarkets don’t do this….it’s a boon for elderly people, or people generally when the weather is bad.

      Mark you, I don’t think they do it here in Costa Rica either.

  7. What a wonderfully surreal conversation! Tesco shopping ordered in Costa Rica, A Tesco cold caller. A thirsty lamb. A strange drilling sound. Scampering guinea fowl. Organic cellophane. You couldn’t make it up.

    My 91 year old mother still goes out food shopping. The only problem is she impulse buys and her kitchen is jammed with food she’ll never get round to eating.

    1. As kristieinbc points out, Skype gives – shall we say – an all too good audio service!

      Mine likes to go out for odds and bods….when she is in the mood…but she’s not a great impulse buyer – luckily!

      Aren’t we lucky that they are both still going strong at their ages!

    1. It seems to work quite well – fingers crossed.
      If our lines were to be down I’d have to go up to town to an internet cafe, but as I’ve saved the payment details with Tesco there is not too much risk making the payment online on an unsecured computer.

      We’ve also arranged that if she can’t contact me with her list – lines down – then I’ll get her basic list plus a few extras…..I know generally how well she is stocked up…so emergencies shouldn’t throw the system.

      Most of the big chains seem to have this service, but she doesn’t like Waitrose’s prices, loathes Sainsbury and since Asda has been Walmart doesn’t want to shop there either.

      It saves her having to carry heavy items, or having to get a taxi to and from the shops…and still leaves her free for a wander round the shops if she feels like it.

      Do try to persuade your mother…

  8. Brilliant, we used to have a similar riotous time when we did Mark’s father’s shopping on line for him. The weekly phone call was enhanced by him being completely deaf and having to use a text phone….he spoke, we heard him, we spoke and someone, somewhere typed up what we had said…..and got it wrong quite often….. it was chaotic, but we were not often nudged by lambs mid sentence. Good luck with next week’s order. Jx

  9. Ha! I’ve stopped listening to ‘Hancock’ and the ‘Goons,’ now, I just read your blog and fall about laughing, not that I actually laugh obviously, I just sympathise loudly…..
    Any talented friends who could turn this into a sitcom?

  10. What a great service supermarket online shopping is. I hadn’t thought of it with regard to the elderly, but it’s a life-saver for them – no more heavy bags to lug.

    The conversation setting it all up is surreal though. Life at its most potent!

    1. It is a super service…..friends in France tell me there is now a ‘collect’ service at their local Leclerc which is one step on the way.

      The ordering is usually long winded, mother likes to mull over her order…but when her friend is there with her the whole thing degenerates into farce.

  11. Ha ha, we have similar calls without the interference of animals at this end. Nigel’s dad is going quite deaf and his hearing aids never work properly. All sorts of words get twisted around. Of course if he has a friend there they always take the call first and yes it does add complications. So funny afterwards but not at the time. Nigel always makes sure he has a glass of wine next to him when he makes a call to steady his nerves! Keep well Diane

  12. Gosh this is way over my head. No computers for my parents back then. Just telephones and us travelling back and forth, and carrying heavy bags from t’ supermarket. You’re lucky.

  13. Oh, that was truly brilliant, Helen, so funny and so beautifully narrated. ๐Ÿ™‚ We’re not yet doing Tesco orders for my mother-in-law, though it may come to this one day, but we do them for ourselves at times and find the service very good indeed. When we were snowed in last Easter and Tesco delivered to the top of the lane it was a life-saver.

    1. They certainly provide a good service as far as mother is concerned – though they do trip up occasionally – thus the Buxton water…..but so far they have not been faced by a situation like yours!

  14. Absolutely priceless, Helen! The combination of you all crossing wires in the ether is delightful – and being joined by Monty and the chorus of cicadas – I have laughed out loud. Axxx

  15. This is great, Helen. ๐Ÿ™‚ For the record, I do love lamb chops! Lamb anything, actually, it is my favourite meat. ๐Ÿ™‚ And sorry about the chaotic video I posted on my blog this evening! LOL! I kind of miss those old tap dances, and I felt that, after that storm, people might feel like dancing. ๐Ÿ™‚

  16. Ahhh ‘traditional’ shopping at its best, only now the conversation is via skype instead of round the kitchen table ๐Ÿ™‚
    I’ve now started ordering online with SuperU and pick it up on my way home from Tours. Lovely girls on the pick up desk and they load it into the car for me if I want.

    1. Friends tell me that their local Leclerc offers this service and they find it a great boon as they can visit their daughter and do the pick up in one trip – otherwise by the time they had done the shopping time was getting on, or they would have to cut short their visit to do the shopping…

  17. Absolutely brilliant! I could just hear that Skype call as I read – fantastic.

    When my mum first got Skype, she managed to put it on some setting that meant her computer automatically answered after a couple of rings, and for months I would listen to her singing along to the radio as she made dinner, for yonks until she turned around, saw me starting at her from her laptop and screamed the place down.

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