But too late … he heard Mrs Davenport calling:
“It’s been installed Father Ignatius … would you like to see how it works?”
He couldn’t pretend not to have heard and sneak out quickly, could he? That’s certainly not Father Ignatius’ style; he was honest to the nth degree. He’d heard her calling and that was that; honesty dictates that he has to answer her call.
He reluctantly walked into the living room and was greeted by a smiling telephone engineer, “Good morning sir … I have installed your new Series 12 Telephone Answering Machine and it is ready for action … if you care to see how it works …”
Father Ignatius was not anti-progress as such, but he felt that the phones should be answered by a real person at all times especially if on occasions someone might call the priests in an emergency. But he was eventually convinced by Father Donald and Mrs Davenport that it was time St Vincent Church entered the 20th Century so he finally acquiesced.
“This is the on-off switch …” explained the engineer, “and ideally the machine should be always on. This button here is to allow you to record your out-going message; that’s what the callers will hear when they phone you …”
Father Ignatius nodded passively half-listening; his mind concentrating on the un-eaten toast and marmalade in the kitchen.
Eventually, the engineer asked, “Any questions?”
“Does it make toast?” asked the priest almost instinctively.
“Eh … no sir …” replied the confused engineer.
“Perhaps the Series 13 machine would have this added feature …” smiled the priest, and then thought he’d better ask an intelligent question to compensate.
“At present all phones ring at once, this one, the one in my office and the one in Father Donald’s … one of us answers it first. Will this machine jump in first and answer the calls?”
“No sir … I have timed it that it will only answer after about one minute of the phone ringing … you can augment the time delay with this button here …”
Father Ignatius soon regretted his intelligent question and hoped the machine could make hot espresso coffee instead.
Throughout the day that machine became the center of attraction. Mrs Davenport proudly demonstrated it to every visitor to the Parish House. The vegetables delivery man got a full demonstration of which button does what, and so did the gardener when he came to mow the loan, and three members of the choir; but certainly not Mother Superior who declined politely as she sought refuge in Father Donald’s office for a school governors’ meeting.
Father Ignatius smiled to himself every time he heard her repeat which button is supposed to do what and then ask herself “at least that’s what I think the engineer said …”
“How lucky we are,” the priest thought to himself, “that God does not have an answering machine. We never hear Him saying ‘sorry there’s no one here to take your call’ or ‘call back later’.
“He’s with us always, just as Jesus promised, only a prayer away. Ready to listen, to help us and to guide us all the way back to Him in Heaven.”
Mrs Davenport had certainly taken to the machine and embraced new technology as it entered the Parish House for the first time. Father Ignatius was proud of that, and had not expected it from her. He saw her as more conservative and stuck in her ways.
“One day …” he said to her, “no doubt someone will invent a portable telephone which you take with you everywhere. And people will talk to each other as they walk in the street, as they drive and as they shop and so on … how would you like that Mrs Davenport?”
“But won’t all those wires get tangled up with each other as all the people walk about carrying their phones?” she asked innocently.
Later that evening Mrs Davenport confirmed in the priest’s mind that new technology had not yet reached the Davenport brain after all.
He overheard a conversation with a young Altar boy sitting in the kitchen doing his homework whilst waiting for his mother to pick him up.
The child asked Mrs Davenport who was preparing the evening meal: “If a person is in a vacuum can you hear him shout and scream?”
“It depends if the vacuum is switched on or off at the time, and the amount of dirt in the bag …” replied Mrs Davenport.