'Comedy' at the touch of a button

'You shouldn't be allowed to have a mobile phone!" I have managed to successfully forget who in the drama club tossed this jocular brickbat at me. But I remember it was Bob who followed up with: "Oh, yes, you're like my mother! She never has hers switched on."

Cellphones (we call them "moblies" – to rhyme with "go miles" in Britain; much more friendly) are more ubiquitous here today than brollies. If you leave home without yours, you feel undressed.

Actually, unlike Bob's mother, I do remember to switch my mobile on – mostly. But I admit to a degree of operational incompetence.

The thing is, I haven't figured out how to store other people's numbers in my mobile's "address book" (or whatever it's called), so I always ask someone else to do this for me. But you have to select such helpers with care. Some look incredulous that anyone could be so lacking in technological nous, and the slightest hint of techno-superiority at the corners of another's lips can be disconcerting to those of us who have been around long enough to remember the excitement of windup gramophones.

Apart from the obvious usefulness of mobiles, I do feel they add significantly to the merriment of everyday life. Take ring tones. I am aware that some grumpies would like to curb them by legal enforcement. Not me. I love the comedy when, in a crowded public place, a ditty tinkles in a bag or pocket and everyone around searches for their mobiles.

When my phone was recently upgraded, I sadly lost my William Tell Overture – tum tiddle um tiddle um tum tum – although it's true that no one else ever reached for that one; far too embarrassing. My new ring tone is much less distinctive.

There are other comic aspects of mobile-phone culture that should be stoutly celebrated. Take the business of texting. For one thing, all the efforts of simplified-spelling campaigners over many decades produced little change. Yet now, in a few short years, text messaging has brought about a radically compressed acronymic lingo. Even the word "shorthand" has become "shorth@." Hamlet has speeded up: "2B|^2B dats d Q." Melville has been modified: "911 Ishmael." Lincoln abbreviated: "govt of d ppl, by d ppl, 4 d ppl, shll nt perish from d erth." And Jack 'n' Jill "went ^ d hill 2 fetch a pale of H20."

Ah, changed times!

Temporarily mislaid mobiles are now a fairly frequent feature of life in our house. One day, my wife's had gone astray for so long that we had to resort to the lost-golf-ball technique.

Well, I didn't actually throw my mobile in the direction we thought hers had flown, but I rang it from mine hoping that, wherever it was, hers would respond. After several unsuccessful attempts in several rooms, we arrived in the bedroom. A very faint little ring tone of uncertain location answered.

As I strode about, it became a touch louder. Then, at one end of the sofa, by the curtains, I was convinced I had found it. But I still couldn't see it. I fished under the cushions. No. I fished behind the curtain and under the sofa. No. Then it dawned on me: It was in the waste bin! How it had ended up there, nobody knows.

I am not one of those who believe the world is ending in a welter of mobile technology, although I admit these little gadgets, ringing unexpectedly, can break up dinner conversations and disrupt theatrical performances.

Because mobiles are often pocketed, they can, if the keypad isn't locked, sometimes be touched inadvertently and make a call. My wife's mobile called mine like this one evening while we were watching TV. To answer without spoiling the program for her, I left the sitting room and went into the hall. At first I couldn't understand why all that I could hear on the other end of the line was the sound of a TV program.

And while I was writing this very essay, the home phone rang on my desk.

I lifted the receiver. All I could hear was a muffled "shhhh" sound.

"Whoever you are," I said curtly, "I can't hear you. If you can hear me, please ring back."

I hung up.

But five minutes later, the person had not rung back, yet the sound on the phone was still that "shhhh" and not the dial tone.

I got quite cross this time. "Please get off the line," I said, summoning my crispest actor's voice.

It was much later (I mean, mch l8tr) that I discovered what had happened. The mobile in my pocket had rung the telephone on my desk. I had been getting ratty with myself!

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