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.


  1. A cracker as usual! You are so right -that's the worrying thing!

  2. Thanks Antonia! I do try to embrace technological developments but really, I'm just an old stick-in-the-mud. Can we just stop here please, I can just about cope with this!

  3. strangely I was having this conversation earlier in the week with someone.... remembering "life before mobiles" *shock horror* and how on EARTH we managed... (and I'm not old either !!)
    And also how quickly mobiles have evolved over one lifetime, from basic communication device to a complete life-support system.
    We have the "no phones at mealtimes rule" but luckily it's not an issue with E yet, though it won't be long I guess.
    Nice blog...made me smile as always

  4. Thanks Hazel, glad it made you smile :) and how funny that you were having the very same conversation. Great minds...

  5. Lucikly when my children were that age I could still get away with saying 'no' to a mobile phone for Christmas or birthday as they'd only really started to take off - makes me sound ancient - and I resisited having one myself for ages.

    I must admit now though I'd feel lost without mine, and I do like knowing I can contact my offspring whenever I need to and vice versa. Although that means I get an awful lot of calls requesting lifts!

  6. As usual a blog provoking thought on the pluses and minuses of the modern world. It did make me smile especially as I only have a phone that makes phone calls and texts but, having said that it doesn't seem two minutes since I only used the phone for dire emergencies. I have no idea what my first one was called I only remember it as being like a mars bar but weighing ten times as much! Anyway keep blogging, it's ALWAYS worth reading.

  7. Yep, Karen, being instantly contactable by children has its ups and downs! Thanks for reading :)

  8. Thanks Lyn, love the idea of the early phones being like Mars bars. I'd never really thought of it like that but of course, that's exactly what they were like!

  9. Like many others, I got my first mobile about fifteen years ago in case the car broke down. Since then I've broken down once, on the motorway right next to a free phone. I have to say I'm nearly as bad as my fifteen year old for checking emails every ten minutes. I do wonder how we survived before them.

  10. He he! Funny you should mention the breaking down near a free phone, Charlie. I remember breaking down in the early days of mobile phones and the traffic police telling me off for using my mobile rather than walking to the emergency phone as they'd have been quicker at finding out exactly where I was. I suspect that isn't true any more, though.


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