Life off grid.

A friend has just had her fb account hacked. I think that means that everyone who was on her account as a friend is now also hacked so I checked my account and I have 17 people asking to be friends with me. This is bonkers. Some of them I don’t know, some I do know but really don’t have anything in common with, and some – I suppose – will be hackers, ie not the people they are pretending to be. That’s crazy. So I’m coming off Facebook.

I’m toying with the idea of ditching my mobile phone completely. Would that be mad? Would that simplify or complicate life? Answers on a postcard…. has anyone done this? Ditched the mobile?

If we look back to pre-mobile times, there are things that just couldn’t have happened if we had possessed the instant communication we have now. It’s certainly mucked up contemporary drama, where everything is solved by tracking mobiles or downloading phone records, (or that other drama squib, DNA). I suppose that period dramas will soon be more attractive to thriller writers, where detection can depend on dogged sleuthing and the gradual unrolling of a plot, rather than a single phone call to an IT expert.

Nowadays, because of mobiles, we can never be sure who we’re speaking to but, paradoxically, neither can we ever escape each other. Weird. If you have a phone, you can be found, you can always know where your partner is, they can always know where you are. If you’re not sure which flour you’re supposed to buy in Tescos, you don’t have to think about it – just press a single button and you can say “Was it plain or self-raising?’ and you don’t even have to say who you are because your picture has popped up on the screen of the person you’re calling. It’s all very strange.

I type something about a carpet, and an ad for floor coverings pops up.

There used to be an ad for cigarettes ‘You’re never alone with a Marlboro’. Well, you really are never alone with a mobile phone. Amazon and Google and goodness knows who else is following you. And yet, somehow, it’s so impersonal that it makes us more alone than we ever were.

George used to joke that we should never get a sheepdog because you should never have a dog that’s more intelligent than its owner. That’s a bit like how I feel about my iPhone ; I get into my car and there’s suddenly a voice echoing the words of Jesus. Am I having a stroke? No, the phone in my pocket has paired with my car and it’s David Suchet reading the New Testament, the last thing I listened to as I went to sleep last night. I didn’t even turn it on. I certainly didn’t pair it with the car. It just blinkin’ decided to do it.

Thinking about the changes mobile phones have brought reminded me of a family I knew back in the ‘good old days’ (the family of my first husband, Rob) who were so chaotic and so impulsive that every thing they turned to became a funny or frustrating or frankly disastrous adventure. Rob was driven to distraction by their miscommunications and misunderstandings. Just like modern dramas, their lives would have been very different if they had been able to text ….. and that made me think of the Woolwich Ferry day. 

It was someone’s birthday, Rob’s mum’s I think, in the late 1960’s and the whole family was going to celebrate together. There was a bit of humming and hawing about where we should meet but eventually, after a few mild arguments and slammed doors, accusations of utter selfishness and that sort of thing, it was agreed that the Essex crew would come down from Chelmsford, we would travel up from Kent collecting Mum and Pop from Kingston on the way and Rob’s sister and family would make their own way from Ealing (with the inevitable few dogs) and we would all meet up in Woolwich. At the ferry.

The plan was to meet at the ferry terminal at 11am, and from there walk to the Common, to picnic, fly a kite, play football and do all the usual family-outing things. Although everyone would be on foot, Woolwich Ferry had become a roll-on/roll-off service, and Pop hankered to see how it worked (he was an ex merchantman after all) so we arrived early so that Pop could have a ‘go’ on the very unromantic lump of metal he insisted on calling a boat…. and we happily went across and back and across and back to please him (it was just a ten minute, two boat service- maybe it still is). At eleven o clock, we looked around but no one else had turned up.

After waiting for a couple more ferry landings, Pop decided, unfettered by logic, that the arrangements had been misunderstood and that everyone else was waiting on the other side of the crossing. So we stepped back on the ferry and headed north again. It must have been about then – when we were on the water – that the Ealing contingent arrived at the south ferry terminal, a good half an hour late. Seeing no one else there they decided that we all must have already headed off for the park – so that’s what they did. Unfortunately as they set off for the park, we were heading to the north end of the crossing while the Chelmsford branch of that chaotic family were heading towards the south. At some point, the two boats crossed and we saw each other and waved frantically, gesticulating across the noise of the engines and the wind. Each of us was pointing to ourselves and to the bank we would meet on, shouting (probably) the same thing, ie ‘You stay there and we’ll find you’ Of course, none of us could hear each other and while we waited on one side, they waited on the other.

It was then decided that Mum and Pop would take the next ferry, with me and Rob staying on the north side, so that we could relay the correct information if the Essex crew came back. Afterwards Pop always maintained that there were another two crossings before we all arrived on the same bank, but I don’t think it was quite that bad… or maybe it was. Anyway, we finally managed landfall on the same side, at the same time, and there we waited for the Ealing contingent, growing ever more annoyed, finding a phone box and ringing their home number in case they’d forgotten. The phone of course rang out with no answer, and we must have waited for another hour or so before giving up and walking to the park.

According to family legend it was 2pm by the time we all met, and by then Pop was dizzy with hunger and Mum claimed to be seasick. I don’t remember flying the kite or playing football, but I do remember that there was a whole lot of teasing, that the dogs were completely manic, that Pop’s shoulders shook with laughter all day long, and his false teeth slipped, that the sandwiches were left in a rubbish bin and we all had fish and chips to warm up.

That was a day out with the Elliotts.  Nowadays, there is no confusion in my life, but I could do with a bit. I could do with a few slammed doors and heated discussions about whose fault it was, and who said what, and I could do with a bit of laughter and some fish and chips (in newspaper please!) and I’d quite like someone like dear old Pop in my life. There’s a lot to be said for a bit of chaos.

Yes. Maybe I’ll ditch the mobile.

But then there’s the texts and photos I get from the grandchildren… and messages from Lynn….. and my youngest granddaughter and I do Wordle together every day (she quite often beats me) and Sandra has started doing it too…. and I like to listen to Lectio 365 on the beach every morning… and… and…. David Suchet is such a wonderful reader. I would really miss all that.

The spirit is willing but the flesh is exceedingly weak. And then there’s the iPhone camera…..

Hmmm…. I think I better think it out again!

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