Thursday 31 March 2011

That Mobile Phone

It was my baby’s 11th birthday this week. No, don’t leave! I’m not going to talk about her, my pregnancy or, God forbid, her birth – not even the £247 taxi ride (paid for by my husband’s then employer) to get back to Leeds from London to be there when his second child arrived, a little unexpectedly, three weeks early.

When we were buying her birthday present together, her first phone, I couldn’t help smiling at the difference between phones now and in the year 2000. Remember the Nokia 5110? Everyone had one! The chic, slightly sparkly, sturdy silver case, the discrete aerial merely peeking over the top, those eye shaped buttons, angled for easy access and yet no camera, no downloads and certainly no wi-fi. They stayed charged for a week, probably because you never used them and they never rang because nobody wanted to call you on your mobile, goodness only knows how much it would cost.

We had a Nokia 5110, back then, and for years after. It was The Mobile. ‘Are you taking the mobile?’ we’d call to each other, hoping that the other partner’s need for it wasn’t as great. The evening before my daughter’s birth my husband had taken the mobile, making me promise that I would call him if there was an emergency. I was poorly, I had terrible gastroenteritis. The next day it was worse, I couldn’t even lift the spoon to feed my daughter. Well, I could, but I had to place it back on the tray to gather strength before lifting it again.

My friend arrived, ordered me to bed, fed, bathed and read to my eldest and came to say good bye. We had a little chat, she pointed out that the particularly bad pains seemed to be coming regularly, seemingly about every two minutes. She said that we should ring my husband. Back to the Nokia 5110. ‘I can only ring him if it’s an emergency,’ I said. My friend looked at me. ‘And of course it will be turned off during the speeches.’ £247, four hours later, he was home. We went to hospital, our baby was born.

It’s this, ‘of course’ which tickles me; a graphic picture of how our lives have changed. Of the 200 delegates, my husband’s was the only phone which rang during the speeches that evening. Only when word had filtered around the room for the reason for the call, did the looks of disdain soften.

I couldn’t imagine being at a business function today and turning off my phone. What if somebody wanted to arrange the next social occasion, my child’s temperature was raised or, let’s face it, a publisher was desperate to speak to me about my novel?

And yet we did manage didn’t we? With the mobile firmly ignored in his pocket, my husband probably had more quality conversations in that single evening than he’d have in three now, because he had people’s full attention and they had his. People still managed to communicate. The message that his wife was in labour certainly got round. All sorts of unlikely people were pooling their suggestions as to which of the trains, planes and automobiles would get him home quickest.

I’m not sure, however, that today’s phone culture is a totally retrograde step. Yes, it annoys me when people answer their phone when they are being served in a shop, picking up a prescription, being served in a bank. It’s just rude isn’t it: disrespectful? However, I pack friends, family, sport and work into most days because organisation of it is so quick and easy. I like the fact that my daughter chose to text me from school to tell me she’d had her first ‘neg’ (that's a bad thing) and that holidays with my sisters in America, Switzerland and South Wales are all being organised in snatches via email from my phone waiting for the kettle to boil.

It is, like so many things, all about moderation I say to my youngest when we discuss mobile etiquette in the Buxton household. She smiles when I say that it is not acceptable to look at your phone when other people are talking to you. ‘I know that,’ she says. My other daughter’s ears prick up when I suggest that there are times of day when the phone needs to be off, such as homework time or during meals. ‘You don’t need to tell us this, Mum,’ she points out. She looks me straight in the eye, her phone I notice, hasn’t left her bag since she got home from school. ‘Remember the questionnaire?’ she asks.

Ah yes. It was about concentration. Would your child be able to manage without her phone for the whole day, was one of the questions. I answered that she would, most definitely. Same question to me. No, I wouldn’t, I was forced to respond.

Monday 14 March 2011

Newspaper Round

Today , I went running.  There, I’ve said it. I don’t like to admit to it too often as it perpetuates the myth that I do have some extra time when I could be cleaning.  But now I have, I’ll tell you that that there was a frost on the ground and a clear blue sky.  There wasn’t a car on the road and the birds were singing to me. It’s what I class as perfect running conditions. 
I exaggerated about the cars on the road, there was a tiny yellow van which kept passing me, pulling up ahead, then overtaking me again later.  Generally I run in another place, populated with a  great deal of fairies and abstract thinking but I did take a glance back into reality to see what significance this yellow van held to my sunny day in March.  It was a newspaper delivery van.
I thought about this van and decided that delivering newspapers in a motor vehicle was not very environmentally friendly. I suspect this may have been an electric vehicle which is highly commendable and as soon as they introduce gas pumps on street corners within 50 miles in all directions of my home and take a nought off the sale price, I’ll be first in the queue for one.  But nonetheless, nobody could claim an electric car to be as environmentally friendly as going on foot or even by bike.
I ran over the hump-backed bridge, onwards to the half-way point.  There it was again: the yellow van.  Where have all the newspaper boys and girls gone, I asked myself.  Some would say that teenagers won’t do menial jobs anymore and that all they’d do anyway is sling a bag of fliers over the hedge.  I would be inclined to think that teenagers, in this case, like every other teenage generation before them, were being given a raw deal.  
I suspect there would be the odd delivery person who would cast their sack of fliers and free newspapers over the wall and have the job ‘done’ in a fraction of the time.  I suspect this because there were people who did that when I was a teenager in the eighties.  Given half the chance, the next generation of teenagers would be doing that too. 
But not all of them.  And, if my experience of today’s teenagers is anything to go by, not many of them.  They’re desperate for work.  Some of the traditional routes to a bit of cash have been barred to them.  Babysitting jobs are being snapped up by those in their mid-twenties, back from their degree courses, earning the minimum wage if they’re lucky and living back with their parents while they look for something better.  Traffic has increased, as has an unhealthy response to health and safety and where once our offspring would have cycled to their place of pocket money, they are no longer allowed to so.  Thus, unless their parents can drive them or public transport operates in the hours they wish to work, they can’t.
I realise the newsagent has to make money and I can’t expect him/ her to single-handedly attempt to rescue our youth from pocket money poverty but is he (forgive me, it’s just simpler to stick to ‘he’) really better off?  Let’s forget the environment for a moment.  The van will have cost a few thousand pounds, as will the fuel, insurance and maintenance. Then there’s the driver to pay.  Would two or three newspaper boys and girls really cost more than that every week? And would it be really so difficult to find the ones disposing of great sacks of media and release them of their employment? Surely it needs little more than a spot check now and again.
And the paid for newspapers would look after themselves: Mrs D Mail would only miss her paper a couple of times before calling to check its whereabouts.
In my experience, people too lazy to do a proper job are generally too lazy to work out a covert defensive strategy.  When I was growing up, we knew exactly where the delivery people used to abandon their wares, it was in the same place every week, over the back wall and into the compost pile (her family were very forward thinking) of Christabel’s garden.  By the way, I lived in Northumberland, Christabel was nowhere near as proper as she sounds.
As I reached the half-way point and turned back towards home, I waved at the driver of the yellow van, we’d smiled at each other so often on route, somebody had to move the relationship on.  He was of around retirement age and I felt guilty for a moment for depriving of him of his job, albeit only in my imagination, so I switched back to being practical.  Why couldn’t the job be open to all – a set fee for delivery of all items?  The job would then be open to all individuals of all ages to carry out in the manner they saw fit.
The final time I passed the parked van, the delivery person was inside and wound down his window.  “You’re making me feel tired,” he said.
 “It’s much more fun than it looks,” I replied and laughed to myself.  While I’d been running, he’d delivered only to those houses on my route.  He’d have been just as quick to put on a pair of trainers and a ruck sack and his health and the environment would have been better for it.  He’d be even quicker on a bike. If he’d wanted to walk, he could, surely, he’d just take longer which would be his prerogative: these kind of things are always paid by the job rather than the hour. 
Staggeringly, the way fuel prices have risen lately, for the price of a single tank of fuel, his employer could furnish him with a decent pair of trainers.  I rest my case.  Go newspaper boys and girls! Stand up and be counted!

Tuesday 1 March 2011

Hush Down Cobwebs

My friend has just had her fourth baby.  I wouldn’t say I was broody but my twelve year old and I did have a great time in Mamas and Papas cooing at the new-borns lying in their prams, with their serene faces and arms up in the air, as we searched for the perfect gift.  No, I’m not broody.  Did I mention their white bonnets and their tiny fingernails? No, really, I’m fine.   

Needless to say, we went in with the intention of buying some practical babygro’s and came out with an impractical, fabric pram toy sporting numerous educational hangy things including our absolute favourite, the vibrating bee. 

Writing the card I remembered the final verse of a poem I’ve been inflicting on new parents ever since I received it with great relief after the birth of my first, the aforementioned twelve year old.   I think it’s called Babies Don’t Keep but can’t find an author on the internet.  Please excuse me if I should know the poet’s name.

On sight of second babies and beyond, however, I do admit to doctoring this poem to suggest that it’s actually acceptable not to coo, rock, play and chat with your baby sometimes, such as when you have to put on your shoes to protect your feet from the un-hoovered carpet or open the fridge door in private for fear of the forgotten cheese broadcasting your slovenliness.

I’ve decided that the poem can teach writers something too as novels are not vastly dissimilar to babies.  As everyone’s who’s ever attempted to write a novel knows (or has been in the unfortunate position of supporting somebody in their attempt) it all starts as your cherished secret, bursts into your life, swamps it, grows and gains its unique personality, giving you immense pleasure whilst driving you to complete distraction.  But most of all, there’s nothing you wouldn’t do to see that baby flourish. 

So, here it is, a little changed again.  Many thanks, Anon:

I hope that my book looking back on today
Remembers a writer who had time to write.
Books get published while we are not looking
There’ll be time enough for cleaning and cooking.
So hush down cobwebs, dust to go sleep
I’m writing my baby and stories don’t keep.