Day 21. ’Ello, ’Ello, Elo

Have you heard of Ello, the new(ish) social networking site? The duck-rabbit only learnt of its existence two mornings ago, when it was listening to NPR. There was the duck-rabbit, just pottering around making peanut-butter sandwiches for packed lunches, when its long and elegant ears pricked up at the following words drifting across the kitchen:

“the online world is watching like a soap opera to see whether Ello lives or dies.”

The duck-rabbit’s mother, who turned 80 this summer, is known as “Elo,” which is pronounced exactly the same way as “Ello.” Her given name is Heloise; she was born Heloise de Moulpied Tindal, a heroine’s name if ever the duck-rabbit heard one. But almost everyone calls her “Elo,” including the duck-rabbit’s children.

Only last Sunday, while the duck-rabbit was trying in vain to talk to its mother on the phone, the younger flopsy-duckit besieged its mother with questions, including, “Is Elo really 80?”

“Yes,” I hissed, moving my mouth away from the mouthpiece while trying simultaneously to listen to my mother.

“That means that she is going to die soon,” declared the younger flopsy-duckit stoutly. [1]

When the duck-rabbit heard on the radio the words, “the online world is watching like a soap opera to see whether Ello lives or dies,” there was a millisecond when the thought flashed across its mind, “what, you too? Come on! She’s thriving, for God’s sake!” The duck-rabbit simply couldn’t hear the word “Elo” (or, rather, its homophone, Ello), without assuming that it referred to its mother. I mean, how often (before recent days, that is) have you heard the word Ello (or Elo, for that matter) on the radio? An obvious exception would be a scenario in which you are listening to a broadcast in which someone has assumed a Monty Python-esque English policeman’s accent (a case to which I will return), but that doesn’t happen terribly often. [2]

After hearing this snippet on the radio, the duck-rabbit of course Googled Ello and discovered a number of interesting facts that it records here as a helpful guide for distinguishing between the new-fangled Ello and the one true Elo.

  • “Ello is invite only.”
  • Elo, on the other hand, is used to people turning up unexpectedly and it doesn’t faze her at all.[3] I think of the number of friends to whom I’ve said, “Oh, you should get in touch with Mum if you’re in London,” and then they have, and then they came over for dinner, maybe they even moved in for a while. Seriously. It is a high number indeed, so many that I can’t count. I suspect Elo’s equanimity on this count must have something to do with the fact that, two months before she married my Dad, his two teenage nephews escaped from West Pakistan (this was in 1971, during the civil war between West and East Pakistan, the latter shortly to become Bangladesh) and somewhat unexpectedly arrived on their doorstep. (My parents were out at a film that night. My cousins had sent a postcard from Istanbul explaining that they were en route to London via the Orient Express, but the postcard arrived after my cousins were already in London.) My cousins lived with my Mum and Dad, starting from that point on, for many years.
  • Ello is “simple, beautiful & ad-free.”
  • Elo is complex, beautiful, and ad-free. (And, yes, I think she would appreciate the Oxford comma.)[4]
  • Ello is in beta.
  • Elo is Generally Available, except when she is playing croquet, singing in her choir, doing Tai-chi, volunteering at the Oxfam bookshop, painting, taking classes at the Highgate Literary and Scientific Institution, reading, doing The Guardian Quick Crossword, attending her book group, keeping an eye on her wayward children, caring for her nearest and dearest (the latter of whom includes, naturally, the flopsy-duckits), entertaining her friends, cooking up a storm, or watching Newsnight. Actually, she’s quite tricky to get hold of.
  • Ello boasts 1)“simple commenting,” 2) “improved error handling,” and 3) “enhanced user discovery.”
  • Elo also boasts these features. To wit:
    • 1) “I think you forgot to comb your hair, dear daughter.”
    • 2) “Oh dear, is it a bit flat? Never mind, once it’s covered with whipped cream, no-one will know the difference.”
    • 3) Enhanced user discovery is achieved via the medium of conversation, from which, when well-lubricated with wine or single malt Scottish whisky, astonishing details tumble forth, such as:
      • a) “That was when we were living in a castle, during the war.” [5]
      • b) “Oh that picture? It was when I was building a road in post World-War II Germany.” [6]
      • c) “Why am I writing a letter to my MP about bees? Have you not heard? Honeybees are being decimated! [7]

Ello vs. Elo? Obviously, there’s no contest.

Hearing about Ello and contemplating its (presumed?) pun on ’ello took me back to a sketch devised with my cousin, Penny, for which I must give her full credit. This was probably when I was about 8 and Penny was 12, and we were putting on a performance for our families. I thought Penny’s idea was the funniest thing ever. It consisted of me standing with my hands clasped behind my back and plié-ing, policeman style, while saying, “’Ello, ’ello, ’ello” to my mother, Elo, who was, naturally, sitting right in front of me.

That was the sketch in its entirety.

Pure comic gold.


[1] The younger flopsy-duckit has become very matter of fact about death, recently. Only this morning she observed that she was still growing, “just like a plant.” She paused and then continued, “And then, just like plants, we will all die!”

[2] I have looked in vain for a clip or even an image of a bobby saying ’ello ’ello ’ello for those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, but, mystifyingly, I was unable to find an image that captured all the requisite elements. I did find this joke, though, which at least proves that it’s a cliché that policemen say this:

A policeman gets home and finds his wife in bed with three men.

“‘ello ‘ello ‘ello” he says.

“Are you not speaking to me then” his wife replies.

[3] I called my Mum just now to confirm some of the facts in this post and, for real, she said, “Oh, let me just take this in the other room, I have a guest staying with me.” “Who?” I asked. “Oh, it’s the daughter of my friend Chandana who ran the school in West Bengal where I taught on my gap year [my Mum took her gap year when she was 70, after retiring from her job as a social worker]. She’s been doing her Master’s at SOAS but she doesn’t have any accommodation for the next three weeks! I only knew she would be coming to stay last night! We’re just about to make some supper!”

[4] When I was a little girl, I got into an argument with my Dad. My contention was that Mum was the most beautiful woman in the world. My Dad refused to be swayed by his partiality for his wife and laid down the following judgment. I remember his words quite clearly. “Mum is a very beautiful woman. But she is not the most beautiful woman in the world. Sophia Loren is the most beautiful woman in the world.” At the time I was absolutely outraged on my Mum’s behalf. But now I’m like, “nice one, Dad,” because coming second to Sophia Loren? That is a pretty great back-handed compliment.

[5] My mother writes, “it’s now a ruin with only the keep left standing … I must have been 5 at the time and only have fleeting memories, but slightly scary ones of spiral stone stairs and thunderstorms – but also of a beautiful garden with a lake. It belonged to (or was rented by?) a great uncle on my father’s side – and he was very ill, being cared for by his two eccentric sisters, so we (my mother and us 4 children) had to be very quiet all the time – it must have been a nightmare for my mother … All my life I have always set fairy stories with castles in this castle!  This picture [see below] was taken by Mary Claire [my mother’s eldest sister] on her little box camera in 1939.”


[6] This was in Eckardtsheim near Bielefeld in the early 1950s.

[7] See


2 thoughts on “Day 21. ’Ello, ’Ello, Elo

  1. Elizabeth Corlett says:

    A superb read and a beautiful, fondly humorous tribute to your mother. If I were your mother, I’d cry. And then spend the night drunkenly Googling images of Sophia Loren. Anyway, throw in a pinch of waspish self-loathing and a taxidermy anecdote and David Sedaris has a challenger to his crown.

  2. Liz! This absurdly over-the-top praise is all the more touching given that I know that David Sedaris is your hero and more particularly given your own hilarious and uniquely Corlettian way with words. In the formidable clusterduck of wits that makes up the duck-rabbit’s circle of dear friends, you, dear lady, consistently rise to the top.

    (Note to everyone else: Are you just going to silently take that? I wouldn’t if I were you.)

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