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Bed Reckoning

Claim:   An irritating cell phone user is summoned back to bed by another woman during a call to his wife.

LEGEND

Example:   [Collected via e-mail, March 2012]

After a busy day I settled down in the train from Waterloo for a nap as far as my destination at Winchester, when the chap sitting near me hauled out his mobile and started up:

"Hi darling, it's Peter, I'm on the train - yes, I know it's the 6.30 not the 4.30 but I had a long meeting - no, not with that floozy from the typing pool, with the boss..... no darling, you're the only one in my life - yes, I'm sure, cross my heart." etc., etc.

This was still going on at Wimbledon, when the young woman opposite him, driven beyond endurance, yelled at the top of her voice -

"Hey, Peter, turn that bloody phone off and come back to bed!!"
 

Variations:
  • The journey being taken by the bystander who overhears the exchange is from Waterloo to Winchester or from Strathfield to Gosford.
  • While Peter is usually the name of the fellow making the annoying call, in some tellings he is dubbed John.
  • The fed-up female passenger who summons Peter (or John) back to bed does so at Wimbledon or Hornsby.
Origins:   Modern life subjects us to the cell phone calls of others while we're trapped in public locales from which there is no immediate escape (elevators, subway trains, and the like), thereby forcing us into becoming a hostage audience to the drama of others. While, mercifully, most calls placed or received in tightly-confined public settings are of short duration, sometimes the one on the mobile either doesn't realize he's being annoying or doesn't care that he is disturbing others. At those moments, thoughts of retribution naturally occur among those being imposed upon, which brings us to our tale about an overheard cell phone call on a train in Britain and one woman's way of handling its self-important miscreant.

As satisfying a yarn as this is, it's likely better regarded as a story about an imagined revenge rather than an account of an actual incident. It offers no checkable datapoints that can independently be verified, not so much as date, location, or full names of those involved. The few details that flesh out the anecdote (which cities the train was traveling between, the first name of the man making the call, where along the route the fed up female passenger inserted herself into the conversation) change from telling to telling, as evidenced by the Variations section listed above.

Moreover, certain turns of phrase within it give one pause. While floozy has been recorded as part of the English language since 1911, it's rarely encountered these days, other slang for "woman of disreputable character" having mostly displaced it. Then there's the matter of
typing pool, a term not seen much of since the 1960s and earlier when it was common for certain larger companies to keep on hand a group of stenographers or typists unassigned to particular bosses who could be handed correspondence to be typed by executives that lacked their own personal secretaries. Both terms appear to be part of the tale only to advance the reader's intuitive understanding that the man's explanation for his tardiness is a bald-faced lie, that in actual fact he had been dallying with another woman that afternoon rather than meeting with his boss.

Key to grasping that the story is more anecdote than truth is noting the "Hi darling, it's Peter" lead-in to the call — very few among us identify ourselves by name to our spouses. Yet for the story to work, the man must state his name if the woman in the background who shouts "Turn that bloody phone off and come back to bed!" is to be unmistakably understood by the wife as addressing her husband.

Although this item was presented as a true story in the Sydney Morning Herald in late-March 2012, our earliest sighting of the tale was a 14 February 2012 appearance of it on a British web site. Since that date, the yarn has resurfaced on a number of sites, sometimes identified as a humor piece and sometimes not.

A day after running the bit, the Sydney Morning Herald sheepishly admitted to having been given "a right royal bucketing" from its readers for presenting as a news item what it subsequently discovered was an Internet-spread anecdote of dubious origin.

As a society we remain uncertain as to what is appropriate when it comes to cell phones (e.g., should they be used in public lavatories), but as with anything else, one always knows when a line has been crossed even when it's impossible to define its precise location. Overly loud, boorish conversations inflicted upon others are social transgressions, especially in locales from which there is no easy escape. The fictional gal in this particular legend answered rudeness with rudeness by inserting herself into the exchange between a man and his wife, thereby dealing the lout a sharp, quick lesson about the downside to forcing his private conversations upon strangers; but we are all supposed to take from this tale the realization that there is sometimes a price to be paid for being ill-mannered and thoughtless of others, thus we'd better not make that mistake ourselves.

Telephones and self-important conversations carried out on them feature in another urban legend, one in which an uninstalled or non-functioning telephone delivers its user to the embarrassment he so richly deserves.

Barbara "cell blocked" Mikkelson

Last updated:   16 April 2012

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Sources:

    The Sydney Morning Herald.   "Column 8."
    28 March 2012.

    The Sydney Morning Herald.   "Column 8."
    29 March 2012.