I acquired my present mobile phone a little while ago. It is small, light and very shiny. It is a satisfying weight, size and shape. It has a camera that I don't use and headphones to listen to music that I don't put on it. It has a wide selection of ring-tones. For reasons I couldn't begin to explain, I did not simply choose to live with the defaults, but scrolled and fiddled, delved and chose as my ring a reminder of that splendid wireless programme 'Just a Minute', a tinkly version of "The Minute Waltz". This does mean, of course, that there are a few extra seconds' delay in answering while I work out whether it is a phone that is ringing, or whether it is time to settle down with Nicholas Parsons, but I can manage.
Callowness is not among my long list of faults. I am an older, mature person (maturity being one of those qualities automatically granted unless and until otherwise proven). You will wonder at the wisdom of presenting a person whose brain cells are withering daily with something so small. He or she will surely lose it. Frequently. And the shininess means it will be constantly slipping out of shirt pockets. Which it does. Often.
Early one Saturday the phone disappeared (again). A well-practised plan fell into action. I asked Mrs P to telephone my telephone. This may not seem to you - or to me for that matter - an unreasonable request. But somehow it provoked Mrs P. Ire was raised. Now I do admit that it may not have been the first time of asking. I admit that I am prone to dropping things, forgetting things, losing things and generally am neither able nor sometimes even willing to keep track of my few (by now) possessions. But I have come to rely on Mrs P to track and retrieve all my belongings. And now, out of the blue, we have aspersions cast on my sanity, we have doubts cast on my mental well-being, and we have what can only be described as acerbic comments directed at my competence generally. I shrug in as manly a way as possible, as if her co-operation in the phone hunt were of no import whatsoever, and may have been very nearly unnecessary. The request merely a friendly invitation to work as a team, as husband and wife, a pleasant break from ironing shirts. I note that the shirts in question are not mine.
I resort to the house phone. This phone has a short cord, and my mobile phone is set to ring just three times before passing the caller, me in this case, to the message service. You see the difficulty.
I dial the number, and dash like a man possessed around the house which I swear I had not left since last using my phone, listening for the friendly tinkle. Each dash can take just the space of three rings, precisely 60 seconds (Mr Chopin would have been pleased). Nowhere to be heard. Very puzzling, quite exhausting and more than somewhat exasperating. Each call is made of course from the kitchen, where the phone lives and where Mrs P is ironing her shirts. Thus not only am I physically exhausted from all the running about but her contemptuous glances are wearing rapidly away at my morale.
But wait!! Right at the very front of the living room I hear it, very faintly, very far away. I run to the front door, open it and hear it more clearly. The phone has left the house. Alone. I looked round in increasing desperation. Where could it be? Dash back to the house phone, dial again. I gradually narrow the search to the rubbish bin. I open the bin, make another dash to and fro. And the phone tinkles clearly from the bin.
Friday night is take-away night at Pheroneous Towers. I haul out the bags that had contained our many-dished Chinese meal, lined them up on the path, covered as they were in livid orange sweet, sour and MSG sauce, and march up and down with a stern glare and a wagging finger hoping that the guilty bag might show itself and confess, here and now in the cold light of a Saturday morning.
I hear a familiar clattering of bins and chugging of a large diesel. I look up. The dustbin men. The dustbin men? Surely they come on Mondays? It dawns. The next Monday is a bank holiday. They are here early, two days early, possibly in celebration and most certainly on overtime.
I am in a quandary. I can continue my questioning of the bags lined up along the garden path, dressed as I am in slippers, dressing gown, and little else. That will, however, prevent the dustbin men collecting the bins. There is no way a self-respecting refuse operative will negotiate an obstructed pathway. We will be spurned and remain uncollected for another week, a week in which Mrs P will have many opportunities, in the form of overflowing bins, to remind me of my failures as a man and as a husband, most especially in the phone-losing department. I could, on the other hand, gather up the offending take-away bags, stand aside, and let our good refuse and recycling executives do their job. This way I will lose dignity, but retain the opportunity to continue my search after they have gone.
The dustbin lorry moves nearer. The pre-dustbin removal man whose task it is to stroll up the various garden paths, grab bins, and position them on the pavement in a precise arrangement for maximum efficiency from his colleagues, is next door. I have a third way. Gather up the bags, chuck them back in the bin and disappear indoors thus retaining my dignity but necessitating the purchase of a new phone. It has its attractions, but will, of course, attract considerable scorn from Mrs P.
No time for further pondering. The pre-dustbin man approaches my gate. I gather up all the bags, run for the front door, slip on the aforementioned vivid orange sweet-and-sour sauce, do a mid-air twirl in an attempt to retain my balance and fall face down into a large laurel bush.
I have never purchased a dressing gown. They simply appear, usually at Christmas or birthday time. This one is notably short. I am wearing no underwear. The dustman, as he passes behind me, manages a cheerful "Mornin', Guv". Quite an achievement when you consider what he faced from my up-ended form. "Morning," I reply, my voice somewhat muffled by a prawn cracker bag.
I turn my head to see that Mrs P has come to the door to investigate the kerfuffle. I catch her glance. I catch her raising one eyebrow (I never have worked out how she does that) just before she retreats, closing the door behind her. A cruel gesture, I think. I have no keys.
I hear the dustbin lorry pull up at the gate, assuring me of an audience of at least three good men and true. At this very moment my daughter chooses to call, wanting to borrow the car. The phone rings from the prawn cracker bag. I pluck it out, ignoring the sauce even now eating away at the nice shiny enamel, press the green button, and answer, "Of course, my dear." Press the red button.
Thank God for daughters. Mine has inherited my facility for losing things. For that reason, many years ago, we slipped a spare key beneath the hedgehog that you wipe your boots on. (Not a real hedgehog, I hasten to add.) I retrieve it, open the door, replace it - see, I know how it should be done - and enter the house. Immediately I ascend to the bedroom, dress, and retreat to spend the rest of the morning in the garden shed. As I pass Mrs P in the kitchen I detect a satisfied smile, as if she were ironing a straight jacket just for me.