I had a surreal experience in the run up to Christmas. Cursing the fact that it generally took so long to drive the short distance into town to do my present buying due to the long trail of cars of, err, present buyers, I decided a single minute before its departure that I should catch the train instead.
The station, on a good day, in indifferent weather, without traffic on the only road I have to cross and with a clean pair of heels, I can reach in two-and-a-half minutes. And so it was, sliding over the black ice, dodging the plentiful, albeit driving very gingerly, stream of vehicles, that I saw the train pull in. I gave one last sprint up the hill. As my toe hit the platform, the doors slowly, but defiantly, closed. However the conductor, with Christmas spirit a-plenty, laughed and re-opened the doors. I say, ‘doors’, more accurate would be, ‘his’ door, the one at the far end of the train and thus forcing me to run the entire length, passing every single waiting passenger en route, now fully cognisant as to the exact reason for their delay.
No matter, it was my lucky day.
Oh dear. In the rush I’d forgotten my phone. Once I’d chided myself for the inconvenience, settled down the panic that one of my perfectly well children may be taken seriously ill at school without her mother being contactable and once I'd surmised that the texts and e-mails I’d usually answer seated on Northern Rail would be waiting for me once I got home, I realised I had no watch. Its new battery had been on my to-do list for weeks but there had never been any hurry, my phone chooses to flash the time at me at every available opportunity.
And so I arrived. With no phone or ready access to the time, I sped off towards the shops with one foot firmly trailing in my youth.
Slightly stunned to have ticked off the remaining items on the Christmas list with my stomach barely grumbling for lunch, I sat myself down for a sandwich and began to write. With no alerts, notifications, texts or invitations to get ahead of the game with a seven-egg-white-a-day diet commencing January 1st, I wrote two chapters.
I asked a lady on the next table if she had the time. She looked at her watch. She never remembered her phone, she said, much to the annoyance of her friends and family. I remembered a text from a friend who said she’d tried umpteen times to ring – I’d been driving and only for ten minutes – and the reason for her call wasn't pressing. I don’t blame my friend for her frustration but do ask myself whether it’s a superior world we’ve built where people are irritated if we can’t be reached at every moment of every day - even though we’re so much more contactable than I was in my youth with my 2p coin and a red phone box.
I caught the train home, timing it so that I only had a five minute wait for its departure, don’t ask me how. My children had survived their day at school without a line to their errant mother and while I boiled the kettle, I answered my messages.
Did I enjoy my step back into a pre-nineties world? Yes, I truly did. I was calmer and my memory was better; I didn’t once have to retrace my steps into the shop to remind myself of the purpose of my visit, for instance. Was my day more productive? Yes. Was I more efficient, more satisfied? Yes, definitely yes! And it was so pleasant to chat with a stranger, as I always used to do when I caught a train or stood in a queue. Would I do it every day? Probably not, unless everybody went with me on this, I think I’d find it quite lonely on a regular basis. But as a brief reminder that the world doesn’t stop when we’re not contactable by at least three methods at any one time, and of the time it really takes to perform everyday tasks when they are constantly punctuated by a glance at the phone or a response to a text, wouldn’t do any harm.
Happy new year everyone! May the year be filled with fun and happy times and here’s to technology working for us all.