Saturday, 1 August 2009

The Kindness of Strangers

Perhaps I’m going through some kind of early middle age crisis but I seem to be very forgetful of late. The grown up children put this down to ‘just being you, mum’, but I don’t think I’ve always been such a scatter brain. Even if I am blonde.

This week I went to London just to meet up with a friend for lunch. Son drove me to the station and promised to pick me up whenever I was ready. ‘Don’t worry mum, just give me a call or text when you know which train.’ I felt the harsh stubble of my baby boy’s face as he gave me a light kiss on the cheek. Where did all that time go, I wondered as I fumbled for the mobile in my handbag. It wasn’t there. Suddenly I saw my Blackberry where I’d left it, on the kitchen top attached to a charger.

Thinking fast, I told son to email my friend and tell her I had no phone on me. I’d use her phone to let son know which train I was taking back. No problem, a day without mobile communication would be refreshing.

On the train I did what I always do: write notes on whatever project I’m in the middle of. Not having the distraction of the phone was good, as I nearly completed Part 11 of the current blog tale ‘How I came to be in England’ during the hour and a half journey.

And lunch too was undisturbed. My friend and I caught up with news, laughed and enjoyed each other’s company. By the afternoon I’d forgotten such a thing as a mobile phone existed. Until back at Paddington, bottle of water in one hand, the Standard in the other, I remembered I needed a lift from the station at the other end. I’d forgotten to use my friend’s mobile. I scanned the concourse – surely there must be such a thing as a public telephone somewhere?

I’m not sure when I last used a phone booth. Armed with two 20 pence pieces I proceeded to listen to the low female voice telling me to feed coins and press this or that digit, all while trying to block out the loud rail announcements over the Tannoy. After several attempts, and only three minutes until my train was due to depart, the machine had eaten all my cons, refused three credit cards and driven me to complete distraction.

I ran to the train, trying to convince myself a solution would present itself.

The train was oddly empty. I sat in front of a woman with an unsettled baby. She might let me use her mobile, but would I want to be disturbed in such a situation? Most probably not. The baby continued to whine gently behind me as I looked around the compartment. On the opposite side of the aisle two men were deep into their laptops. In front of me I could see a younger man fiddling with his Ipod. Suddenly I felt too timid to ask any of them for help.

After Reading the conductor came into the compartment and I had a brainwave.

‘I don’t suppose there’s a phone on board?’ I said very loudly as the man checked my ticket.

It worked. The young man in front of me handed over his phone.

‘A gentleman,’ the conductor said.

And indeed the young man was a gentleman. He could not have been friendlier as he listened to me explain the situation to son. For the rest of the journey I wondered how we’ve become so dependent on the mobile. And how did we survive before? And how had I lost the ability to use a public phone? Middle age?


Looking Fab in your forties said...

Before mobiles we would have either missed the train to make the call, or just got on the train and jumped a cab at the other end. I must admit if I leave mine at home, I am completely distraught but yes the middle age, cabbage brain thing, actually means I forget it quite often which leads me to worry about the state of my mind!

Helena Halme said...

Going by your blog there's not much wrong with the state of your mind ;)