Gizmo, the Smarty-Pants Phone.

English: "Stripe" Gremlin figure, le...

Never get water on Gizmo the smart phone. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Three weeks before my birthday, Norbert the Nokia kindly decided that I no longer needed the bottom row of keys, lined up like baby teeth at the bottom of my handset. From that moment onwards, I was condemned to only phoning the numbers that were already stashed away in Norbert’s memory, and I crossed my fingers that he would not suffer from amnesia as well as paralysed digits.

But that’s not all. I also had to get my head around a texting world that was devoid of the letters W, X, C, V,  B, M, and N. Texting became as easy as simultaneously whistling and cleaning your false teeth – it was like playing Scrabble with half the letters missing from the box. By the time I had found a synonym that did not need any of the missing letters, the person I was supposed to pick up at the bus stop had given up and walked home.

The major disadvantage of being deprived of these letters was that I was suddenly incapable of refusing anything to my children at distance, as I had no way to type the word “no” in a text message, whatever language I used. The absence of an immediate refusal was therefore interpreted as a tacit consent.

I can hear you all from here. “Why didn’t you just phone them?” I hear you ask. Simple. Using a phone to talk with parents went out with the arc (even if this was the only viable argument they had for buying the thing). When we parents call our offspring, we are generally greeted by the answering machine – taking a call from your mother on the school bus is as high on the humiliation scale as showing a pimple on your backside to your family GP.

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Gertrude and Doris enjoyed calling their children on their mobiles and muttering “I am your Mother” through their gas masks. (Photo credit: Foxtongue)

A teenager’s mobile phone could be defined as an alarm clock that allows its owner to play games, communicate with friends (by text message only), listen to music and avoid being spoken to by the kid in your class who wants to go out with you when waiting alone at the bus stop. It is also an ideal means to reverse those parent – offspring roles and keep constant track of your genitors – a bit like Argos transmitters on migratory birds. When I leave the house at the weekend, I have approximately ten minutes of freedom before the tracking squad kicks in with regular calls demanding where I am and what time I will be back. This makes me feel like a fifteen-year-old girl who’s been caught sneaking out the back door in her sister’s high heels and sequined boob tube when I’m just on a mission to fill the fridge for the second time in three days.

Anyway, I digress. When PF, Bigfoot, Little My and Rugby Boy took me off to choose my new phone for my birthday, I was a happy cookie. My offspring pointed excitedly at ultra thin phones – the technological equivalent of Paris Hilton after a run-in with a steam roller. The things just oozed sexiness, and when I saw the price label I realised why – they’d had enough microchip surgery to keep them looking young until the next model elbowed them off the telecommunications catwalk into early retirement six months later.

A salesman cruised around the corner and mooched over to us. Flashing a pearly white smile, he smoothly ran off the characteristics of the über-sexy model in his hand. When he stopped for breath, I asked, “So, does it phone?” He drew himself up to his full height – somewhere around my belly button. “Yes, madame. You can also takes pictures and videos, surf the web, get the weather all over the world, the news…” When he had finished, I asked: “Does it do the washing-up and bring me breakfast in bed too?”

He blinked. I explained that although it may appear strange, I don’t have an internet package for my phone – I actually enjoy the freedom of not being followed by social media and emails when I’m out. I just needed a phone that phones. I pointed behind him to a bright red candy-bar that could survive being dropped in the Atlantic, thrown off a cliff and run over by a tank. This little beauty had probably been designed by Playschool, and would survive well after the scorpions had kicked the bucket in the Apocalypse. I quickly found myself imagining the scene – I would tuck it under my lycra knicker elastic and be the new Lara Croft, albeit with less generous boobs and extra padding on my bottom half, bounding around the scorched remains of the earth. Yeah. The only girl with a phone that would work to call the President when the other survivor, Bruce Willis, got the network up and running…

The iStone: at the cutting edge of technology.

The iStone: at the cutting edge of technology.

Little My shook her head and dragged me out of my dream to show me another phone. Her siblings agreed: this was the real McCoy. And ever since, I have been the adoptive mother of Gizmo. Gizmo is a smart phone who is too big to fit in my jeans pocket but small enough to disappear in my handbag. He’s not just a smart phone, he’s a smarty-pants phone. His insatiable need for attention has driven me to lobotomise him by depriving him of his lifeline to the internet router after more disturbances than I care to mention. A night with a teething child is probably more restful than a night with a phone that pops its cheek at you through the dark every time someone on the other side of the world posts a picture of their lunch on Facebook.

Gizmo is obviously a man – he is very touchy-feely, and constantly requests stroking and TLC. Like a Gremlin, Gizmo must be kept away from water at all costs. Whereas I could just wipe my hands on my jeans and press the button to take a call with Norbert when I was peeling the spuds, Gizmo has to wait until I’ve washed and dried my hands before I can tend to his needs. When he rings in my pocket and it’s raining, I find myself reassuring him that I will release him from the dark just as soon as I find a dry place to stand. The idea of him getting covered in warts, and evil baby smart phones popping up all over the place scares the hell out of me. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go… Gizmo’s ringing.

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Why Kindle doesn’t light my fire.

This post is a reply to this week’s Mind the Gap on the Weekly Writing Challenge, which asked the following question:

How do you prefer to read, with an eReader like a Kindle or Nook, or with an old school paperback in hand? 

I am sick today. My kids have kindly passed on the dreaded lurgy to the family head nurse. My lungs are trying their best to turn themselves inside out and escape from a home that is rapidly becoming a sanitorium.

So I’m going to bed. With a book. A real book. I’ve never had a Kindle, and I could never use one, except perhaps as a beer mat. Read on, and find out why.

A statue in front of a Pezenas bookstore that caught my eye (My photo).

When I’ve finished this, I’ll go upstairs to the bookshelf and run my index finger across the spines of my protégés. They are all lined up haphazardly, a mini Manhattan skyline of different heights, sizes, shapes and colours, all jostling together and crying out to be taken in someone’s hands. Each of them contains an escape route:  an imaginary realm and a fabulous plot dreamed up by someone else who has a passion for the written word. I have a vivid imagination, and tend to anthropomorphise my books. They all seem to be holding their breath in the knowledge that the happy winner will be taken everywhere with me – throughout the house, on the bus or train, in the garden. My faithful book will never have a flat battery or break down before I reach the end of the story. Lost in the depths of my handbag, stuffed in my pocket or tucked under my arm, the Chosen One resists the trials and tribulations of being shaken around, dropped or soaked by mischievous children on the beach, and remains with me until I have devoured every last word and returned “him” or “her” to the shelf.

It is difficult to choose between a well-thumbed favourite and the yet-to-be-read orphans that I regularly save from lonely charity shop shelves. Should I pick humour, a classic or a well-thumbed favourite? The choice is always a pleasure. Choosing a book to read is like picking a chocolate from a box: should I take a story with a mellow, lingering storyline? A bitter-sweet or dark suspense? Or a light, airy plot that fizzes and snaps and makes my mind explode with new emotions? Maybe I’ll take a hardback with a soft centre, or a malleable novel that is as easy to read as pouring caramel over vanilla ice cream. Touching books is of paramount importance to me; deciding from a list on a screen makes the book frustratingly anonymous, ephemeral. I often hesitate and continue along the row before returning to my first choice, holding two paperbacks in my hands and dithering.

Once my choice is made, I’ll curl up under my quilt with my book. Books are a sensorial experience, more than the cold Kindle could ever be. First there is the visual pleasure of the cover. The colours, the choice of the illustration. Then I close my eyes, flick the pages below my nose and inhale the smell of the paper.  I rarely pick up on the odor of fresh ink and new paper, a sign that I am generally drawn to comforting books whose ageing paper releases the occasional tell-tale whiff of home and family.

Then I read, playing with the corner of the page and enjoying the suspense of the developments lying in wait on the other side. Since my childhood,  books have been my springboard out of the real world into an imaginary world where I can happily soak up the emotions escaping from the ink on the paper.

One shelf of my personal playground.

One shelf of my personal playground.

One last point before I sneak upstairs to see my babies. A few days ago, I met up with a wonderful friend I hadn’t seen for too many years. When we finally released each other from a long-overdue hug, I religiously took two books from my bag and gave them to her. I had bought one for her six years ago and forgotten to post it. The other was one that she had lent me years back. When she saw it, she clasped it to her heart with tangible emotion. When she was finally able to say something, she explained that the book had been given to her by a friend who had recently passed away. So for many of us, the humble book is much more than just a physical support on which an author places words. It is not just paper and ink,  it is a physical marker of events throughout our lives, a lasting link between people and their pasts. Long live the book.

Flying in the face of technology.

P.F and I are slowly but surely becoming what the French term  “décroissant”. Although this word conjures up the image of a gallic breakfast reversing off the kitchen table, it actually describes someone who refuses to keep up with the Jones’.

Extreme décroissants push things as far throwing out their car, TV and fridge. We’re not that masochistic, yet slowly but surely, I am backing away from much of the intrusive technology I first saw as salutary. I kept up with progress for a while, but now it has overtaken me and is jogging down the road several miles in front of me, with my offspring chasing full pelt behind. You can have too much of a good thing, and personally, I’ve reached saturation level: funnily enough, I have discovered that I have a relatively low tolerance level for high-tech gadgets. A little like eating ice cream three times a day, seven days a week, being permanently available to the world and his brother inevitably became a drag.

That’s how I recently decided to pack in my “smart” phone and its high-tech communication deal, along with all those sophisticated, modern-day bells and whistles for a phone that …. well …… phones. No more, no less. My “smart” phone was in fact way too smart for me. I found it more smart ass than smart; it made me feel inadequate. It told me off for using up too much memory, pretended it had no network when I needed to phone, and snidely reminded me that as thirty days had gone by I should get my act together and save all my contacts (I never established what I was saving them from, but thirty days down the line it was probably too late anyway).

Within two years I had limited my efforts to learning how to send text messages, take photos, read Facebook and news updates, and make phone calls (this is one up on P.F, who still obstinately refuses to learn how to type a text message on the grounds that he still knows how to speak).

Whilst bored to tears on a long road trip, I even accidentally managed to set up my phone to receive my emails whilst trying to get rid of something else. It obligingly woke me up all night for weeks on end with spam from mail order catalogues until I implored Bigfoot to put me out of my misery and give it the kiss of death. I chose to remain happily oblivious to its remaining capacities, which remained dormant until an ecstatic Rugby boy inherited it, irritatingly taming the beast within ten minutes of its adoption.

Bigfoot has caustically dubbed P.F’s basic communication tool “a phone box”. His own phone (which he deems to be “ancient” at the grand old age of two)  is apparently capable of everything bar dancing and emptying the dustbin, and seems to require more tender loving care than a newborn. The visible panic attack when he thinks that he has mislaid baby Sam (Sung) is touching, and I can only hope that he will be as attentive to his offspring one day. Our status as retrograde, back-pedalling, old-fashioned and frumpy K-shoe-wearing excuses for modern-day parents gives us the privilege to rule out the acquisition of an iPhone. Whatever the peer pressure may be, I see no reasonable grounds to justify my teenager wandering around with a toy costing the equivalent of four trolleys of family grub in his pocket. Sorry, kiddo. We need the cash for our Zimmer frames.

Caveman Couple

P.F and M.M out in the urban jungle on the hunt for a mammoth for the family BBQ (Photo credit: San Diego Shooter)

My phone bill has decreased dramatically, and I feel strangely liberated by the fact that social networks don’t follow me outside the house and take my attention away from the things I missed before. Ironically, so many people seem to miss out on real contact with real people because their noses are glued to their Facebook pages.

I think I made a wise move.  After all, the more complicated things are, the more things can go wrong with them. A perfect example of this is Albal, our newfangled Citroën people-carrier (I call her Albal because she’s kitchen foil colour. I know, I need help, but I’m happy this way. Honest). If I invested as much money in myself as we do in that car, I’d be a whole new woman.

Albal is currently at the garage for some very expensive TLC, simply because her central locking system has thrown a paddy. I suspect her of fancying the mechanic, because she’s always finding some excuse to go there and flutter her headlamps at him. She’s a modern girl, with all sorts of electronic gadgets which would be more at home on the Starship Enterprise.

NCC-1701-C

Albal, alias the Starship Enterprise  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

She is also the most talkative car I’ve ever come across,  squeaking with happiness when I lock her, and coyly flickering her indicators at me in the supermarket car park when I return with my overflowing trolley. She also has an infuriating habit of flashing supercilious advice up on the dashboard which is either as obvious as a slap in the face with a wet kipper, or simply a case of closing the barn door after the horse has bolted. You know the type, like “It’s cold out, watch out for ice” when you’re shivering in the driver’s seat, or saying “Gee, it looks like the fuel levels getting low! Too bad that you’re in the middle of nowhere and you only have ten litres left, huh?”, or (my favourite) “Your tyre’s punctured, better stop” (I was lost between two vineyards in the middle of nowhere, and could clearly hear the air hissing out of the tyre after driving over a screw big enough to have dropped off the Titanic).

Helga, our 31 year-old Volkswagen, has never done that to us: she’s the mechanical equivalent of Lego. She lets loose with a contented roar when you hit the accelerator, and the suspension squeaks like it’s full of hyped–up hamsters as you go over the bumps in the road. Park up, press the button down, squeeze the handle, slam the door, hey presto. Locked car. No gadgets, no gizmos. But just like Marks & Sparks bras, Helga never lets a girl down.

Anyway, time to get back to the real world now. I have to dig out those matching bear-skin outfits for P.F and I to wear for Christmas lunch.