Pontifications along a road less travelled, Sylvia, her mother and that nice young Doctor Hook.


It’s funny what tunes stick in your head, and in my case last night it was Dr Hook and Sylvia’s mother. Anyway as I was supposed to be trying to sleep, somewhere in my brain decided I obviously had nothing else to do with my time than to listen to it on constant loop.

But after listening through it for a number of times it suddenly struck me. Look at the lyrics.


Sylvia’s mother says, ‘Sylvia’s busy

Too busy to come to the phone’

Sylvia’s mother says, ‘Sylvia’s tryin’

To start a new life of her own’

Sylvia’s mother says, ‘Sylvia’s happy

So why don’t you leave her alone?’

And the operator says, ’40 cents more for the next 3 minutes’

Please Mrs. Avery, I just gotta talk to her

I’ll only keep her a while

Please Mrs. Avery, I just wanna tell ‘er goodbye



Or listen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PvRVekhMf88


Released in 1972 but written by Shel Silverstein some years previously based on an incident in his life. When you start working things out on your fingers, this incident in Silverstein’s life probably happened in the late 1950s, meaning Sylvia was probably born in the 1930s. Somebody interviewed the lady who was probably the original ‘Mrs.Avery’ and she was born in 1907.


It just struck me that this song might be incomprehensible to somebody under twenty, (or perhaps under thirty?)
In our connected society, imagine there being one phone in the house. It was often the lady of the house who answered. So if as a teenager you wished to talk to the girl of your dreams and perhaps arrange a date, unless you managed to impress her mum, it wasn’t going to happen. Forget her Dad, unless her mum was impressed enough by how nicely spoken and polite you were, it wasn’t a case of not getting to first base, you weren’t even going to get into the ground.

And then the operator breaking in! Butting into your conversation to ask for more money!
Oh yes, and the money, Forty cents for three minutes. Apparently the 1960 dollar had the purchasing power of $8.27 now. So that forty cents more is the equivalent to $3.31. Or in real money that’s £2.53.

So when you wonder if your £20 a month phone contract is expensive, it would have bought you twenty-three more minutes with Sylvia’s mother.


And then there’s the bit where Mrs Avery gets rid of him.


“And Sylvia’s mother says, ‘Thank you for callin’

And, sir, won’t you call back again?’”


Now there’s a rare fossil of etiquette. It harks back to the time when the guest in your house was, notionally at least; honouring you by their presence and of course you gave the impression that you’d be delighted to have them back. For a while, the person who phoned you was afforded the same courtesy, and was almost seen in the same light. Certainly it gels nicely with Mrs Avery being born before the First World War.

Obviously that attitude didn’t last. In an era where most landline phone calls are spam that at least is understandable.


But if they ever set this for GCSE, it’s going to need more revision notes than Shakespeare.


There again, if you want to win the heart of a lady, read

As a reviewer commented, “This is a collection of stories about Tallis which go to show that it’s not all drinking afternoon tea or partaking of soirees for a jobbing poet. We discover some of his early life, some of the society feuds he became entangle with, and the story of how he met his wife and acquired the boat on which they live. Great little tales!”

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30 thoughts on “Pontifications along a road less travelled, Sylvia, her mother and that nice young Doctor Hook.

  1. Lexi Revellian June 28, 2018 at 10:01 am Reply

    When I was young we used to have a party line – remember those? It was surprising how often our neighbour was using the phone when we wanted to, and of course we could hear when she picked up her receiver to make a call when we were mid-conversation. Mrs Avery could have used that as an excuse to get the young man off the line.

    And phone calls were expensive – I think to this day I’m ill at ease on the phone because of my mother hovering and telling me to hurry up, phone calls cost money…

    • jwebster2 June 28, 2018 at 10:26 am Reply

      We forget just how expensive they were!
      I remember the existence of party lines but being rural we never had them
      Although occasionally two wires would earth across on one of the poles and we and next door effectively had one 🙂

  2. Sue Vincent June 28, 2018 at 4:44 pm Reply

    It was always exciting going to the phone box to call (or be called by, a a set time) the boyfriend of the day. I sort of miss that, but these days, you’d need a mortgage…

    • jwebster2 June 28, 2018 at 4:47 pm Reply

      yes, and at another level we always phoned my grandparents at a certain time on a certain day

      • Sue Vincent June 28, 2018 at 5:02 pm

        Oh yes. That was obligatory!

      • jwebster2 June 28, 2018 at 5:21 pm

        wasn’t a bad idea, it meant you’d had time to save up things to say 🙂

      • Sue Vincent June 28, 2018 at 5:55 pm

        Bt there was always the weekly visit too 🙂

      • jwebster2 June 28, 2018 at 6:09 pm

        we didn’t get weekly, but as children we’d go and have a holiday with them every year 🙂

      • Sue Vincent June 28, 2018 at 6:34 pm

        Grandparents and great grandparents…along with a number of great and great great aunts and uncles… were within walking distance. Duty 😉

      • jwebster2 June 28, 2018 at 6:38 pm

        I think all of mine were in what we now think of as South Cumbria, but it was an hour’s drive to get there
        And farming, days off weren’t that common. If they wanted to see us, they knew where we lived 🙂

      • Sue Vincent June 28, 2018 at 6:41 pm

        There were only kids, not cows, to herd at our end, so we traipsed to the grandparents at least once a week…and these days, I am so glad we did.

      • jwebster2 June 28, 2018 at 7:13 pm

        Oh yes, various of the sisters would collect up their nephews and nieces, we ran together as a litter at times 🙂

      • Sue Vincent June 28, 2018 at 7:27 pm

        Christmas… five generations all at once 🙂

      • jwebster2 June 28, 2018 at 7:32 pm

        most I ever experienced was five generations
        Although I did give a speech at my grandmother’s 21st Birthday 🙂

      • Sue Vincent June 28, 2018 at 7:53 pm

        That is probably a story worth telling 😉

      • jwebster2 June 28, 2018 at 7:55 pm

        simple, her birthday was February 29th 🙂

      • Sue Vincent June 28, 2018 at 8:44 pm

        Ah… my great granny’s birth certificate had her born on “the thirtieth, the last day of March…” she celebrated both 🙂

      • jwebster2 June 28, 2018 at 8:56 pm

        well the Queen has two birthdays 🙂

      • Sue Vincent June 28, 2018 at 9:24 pm

        That’s what granny said 🙂

      • jwebster2 June 28, 2018 at 9:26 pm

        I’m with her in that one 🙂

      • Sue Vincent June 28, 2018 at 9:30 pm


  3. Scottie June 28, 2018 at 11:40 pm Reply

    Although not that young , these events are somewhat before my time. Nice to know how they did it in the ancient past. 😃😄😉😎Hugs

    • jwebster2 June 29, 2018 at 6:24 am Reply

      cheeky 🙂
      Strangely few people I’ve talked to remember it either!

  4. Scottie June 28, 2018 at 11:44 pm Reply

    Oh and thank you, I added the song to my Itunes library. Nice song. I have not heard it before. Hugs

    • jwebster2 June 29, 2018 at 6:25 am Reply

      Yes, Doctor Hook is worth exploring, I wouldn’t rate him as one of the all time greats but some of his stuff is actually rather nice 🙂

  5. patriciaruthsusan June 29, 2018 at 1:11 pm Reply

    My family didn’t have a party line until we moved to the country. Eventually, we got our own line. Ohio Bell sent a man to put the phone in and it never seemed to wear out. Now a phone and everything else wears out. Even my children didn’t have cell phones. I got angry with the mother of a friend of my daughter picked her up after school and didn’t let me know. The family didn’t have a phone. Now many carry their phones with them. How times change and it doesn’t take long. 🙂 — Suzanne

    • jwebster2 June 29, 2018 at 1:21 pm Reply

      yes. being a smaller country we didn’t have bad phone connections, so we got our phone when I was still under eleven

      • patriciaruthsusan June 29, 2018 at 1:38 pm

        Until I was nine in 1950 we lived in the city and there was never a time in my life we didn’t have a phone. My dad was a fireman so we always had to have one even when we moved to the country. Troubles seemed to come after The Bell Telephone Company was broken up. It was supposed to improve things but didn’t seem to. —- Suzanne

      • jwebster2 June 29, 2018 at 2:23 pm

        in the UK when the state monopoly was broken up suddenly it became possible to get a phone installed in days rather than months!
        And of course the mobile revolution then took off as well

  6. patriciaruthsusan June 29, 2018 at 1:11 pm Reply

    Reblogged this on Musings on Life & Experience and commented:
    How times change.

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