• Carol Stobie

Lost Voices

Whose voice would you really like to hear once more?

Is there a lost voicemail from years ago you’d love to retrieve?

I loved writer Chord Jefferson’s podcast, Leave a Message, on the significance of answerphone messages – that almost-extinct custom of the late 20th century.

Friends hear me harping on this theme - that I’d rather talk than text, that I’d rather they rang the landline if they really want to get hold of me out of worktime, as I may not check my mobile as often as other folk do. If it’s a “Hi, we’re in the area and wondered if we could drop by?” kind of message, chances are I’ll only see the text hours later and curse that I missed them. Rats. Did they really mean it? Or just not want to disturb me?

I pester friends to make a date for a proper phone chat (which sometimes we then forget). Do people now feel that landlines are redundant or intrusive? For younger people, they don’t exist.

My elderly father left me a voicemail years ago, when he hadn’t quite gotten used to these things. The message was addressed to some imagined third party and began, “Would you kindly inform Miss Carol Stobie that her father wishes to speak with her?”

Another came from the bookseller with the dry wit whom I had met at a party not long since. It began, “Hello, it’s Neil… the party animal…” and suggested we meet again. We’ve been married 15 years now.

I’d love to have these back if I could, and any of the last messages from my late mother or my friend Bob (pictured). I sometimes conjure up their voices in my head - if I need courage, I can recall Bob saying, ‘Just f***in’ dae it!”

Luckily, in their cases, there are a couple of video or audio recordings I can dig out of the dusty archives in my house, if I really want to see/hear them again. Apparently you can also save digital voicemail recordings too, if you’re organised.

That bring me to the oral history project I recently completed in Edinburgh. Of the 25+ interviews we recorded, two informants have unfortunately died in the last few months. Although it can be painful to hear the loved one’s voice soon after they’ve gone, those recordings will be precious to the families in years to come. They’re also a legacy of community memories which will mean a lot to wider circles of folk.

As a parish minister, my late father wasn’t keen on the idea of couples having their wedding filmed (when that was quite a new idea). I can’t imagine what he’d have said about the live-streaming of funerals which has recently become normalised.

But our resistance to the recording of these life events as a means of preserving memories, and allowing other folk to be included, will surely crumble in the next few years.

So – please leave a message.

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