Moving apartments two years back, I was doing all the usual stuff when the issue of getting a landline installed came up. As I’ve never owned a *portable telephone* you’d think that this would have been an especial priority for me. But the longer I left it, the more I thought it might be possible live happily without a telephone of any kind. And I have.
Friends were incredulous. Was I planning to become an extreme aesthete who next planned to have my utilities cut off and live like Dennis Severs, the eccentric American who in 1979 bought a Georgian house in Shoreditch and rather than overhaul the house proceeded to live there using candles rather than electricity and a chamber pot rather than a lavatory? (No, I’m a total modernist.) Or was it a sign that though previously the most incorrigible sexagenarian reveller in Brighton & Hove I was planning to become a hermit, like Margaret Gallagher of County Fermanagh, who has happily existed for 80 years off-grid in her remote farmhouse without electricity and running water? (No, I’m a big humanity fan.) Would I soon move into a primitive cabin on the South Downs, like the Unabomber in the wilds of Montana? (Yes, I am a sociopath.)
My decision not to bother with a telephone was partly because of my temperament; I am a hyper-social lone wolf, equally happy surrounded by mates at a fun-strewn restaurant table or alone. But, because of my extreme temperament, I’m not keen on having half-a-person with me, ceaselessly hovering. Co-habitation can feel like that - and so can having a telephone, as it squats malevolently there, ready, willing and able to change one’s world for the worst at a moment’s notice. I have noticed that my emotional thermostat is much steadier than most people’s, and I do wonder if this has a lot to do with it. Somehow emails aren’t as alarming, even when they bring bad news, as it’s possible to collect oneself before responding. The telephone is the enemy of reason.
Maybe some of it is cultural. I grew up with a mother who would visibly flinch whenever the telephone rang and after 8 PM actually cry out in alarm. Talking of the Cat’s Mother, an additional reason I’m glad to be phone-free is that over the years - especially after turning 50 - I became tired of cold-callers who, on account of my youthful voice would ask ‘Is Mummy there?’ Towards the end I became so incensed at being mis-generationed that I would sometimes snap ‘No, Mummy isn’t here, and there’s two reasons why not. Firstly, because she died twenty years ago - and secondly because I’m practically a pensioner, you clown!’ And on the subject of loved ones, nothing can perpetuate a disagreement like a drunken phone call; at least with drunken emails you can make sure they’re perfectly worded and thus escape with a modicum of dignity. Then there’s the scams. Many times a day the mobiles of my friends ring when we’re out, bringing not an offer of some cornucopia of earthly delights but rather the opportunity to get rinsed by some chancer. Being media savvy is no protection; the winner of Interviewer Of The Year at the British Press Awards last year was cleaned out by a phone scam the morning after.
But phones can facilitate far darker events than losing a fortune. Unless we’re very strange indeed, we’ve all been shocked by surveys which show that boys as young as nine are being excluded for ‘sexual misconduct’ and girls even younger and going right up to school-leaving age feeling that there is simply no point in reporting sexual offences against them, so prevalent are they. This situation has largely come about - after a short period when girls were relatively safe from ceaseless sexual pestering - because of mobile phones and the free, hardcore pornography which infests them. The sort of smug parents who would think that other parents deserve the death penalty for serving their children Turkey Twizzlers have no reservations about buying their primary school-age son the latest *smart* phone, and allowing him to take it school so he can make his female classmates lives miserable. And it’s weird that that the type of bed-wetters who claim that words are *weapons* are always glued to their mobiles - or *smart weapons* as I call them. It’s odd that teachers who made such a fuss about pupils returning to school with a very low risk of catching Covid seem so lukewarm about the Education Secretary’s suggestion to ban mobile phones in schools, even though the nasty little things appear to be eating a good proportion of their pupils brains.
‘But what will you do in an emergency?’ I’m often asked. Well, I could ask my adored downstairs neighbour if he can make a call for me - or I can stick my head out of the window and rely on the kindness of strangers. Either way, I find the idea of people helping each other out appealing - like we did all those years ago before so many of us became slaves to a screen, seeing themselves and others through glass, darkly.