Alarmingly deaf

I thought I’d get tired of the subject. After all, I’ve read so many articles about it, listened to commentator after commentator go on about it and, of course, we’ve all winged to each other about it on numerous occasions. It’s that scourge of the modern society: mobile phones. We all hate them but nearly all of use them; even those who proclaimed they never would. You’d think we’d reach a plateau of disdain for the way they’re used but it never ceases to amaze me the way other people’s phones interrupt my life.

I was in my own little world the other day being interrogated by a hole in the wall machine, persuading it that I really did have enough money in my account, when I nearly jumped out of my skin. A man crept up behind me and suddenly started shouting in my ear. I thought I was being mugged for the twenty quid I’d conned out of the bank. But when I turned around, he wasn’t even looking at me. He was gazing down the street and screaming into a mobile phone that he’d have a chicken madras and he’ll be home in ten minutes. Ending the call with a flourish, he smiled at me and went on to mug the cash machine. Thank goodness we aren’t expected to talk to those as well otherwise the whole town would have known his PIN number.

Why do people feel the need to shout into their phones? It’s not as if owning a mobile means you’re important – well not any more at any rate. I do remember the happiness I experienced carrying the 2lb lump of phone I first got in the eighties even though nobody knew it’s number. It belonged to the firm I worked for and I wasn’t allowed to make outgoing calls because the cost was astronomical. But just carrying it made me look like a VIP because hardly anyone else had one. Now many people have two – and carry them both. That’s not withstanding the immobile one at home, the one by the bed, in the office and goodness knows where else.

I’ve floated a little theory about why it seems people shout into their phones. Maybe we only overhear those that are talking to slightly deaf people and that all the other calls, the ones we don’t overhear, are being made to people with perfect hearing. I wouldn’t dare phone my Mum from a train as I’d be a very obvious figure of hate.

Because that’s one of the places where we hate them the most isn’t it? Phones used on trains could be left in their friendly vibrate mode and the owners could use a voice volume level no greater than that they use to speak to their travelling companion next to them. It’s not rocket science. And it’s the same with restaurants. They’re supposed to be places where we go to relax, to chill out and unwind. So why do some people have to upset everyone’s dining experience with their phones?

To make the point, I was in this very nice Newcastle restaurant some time ago with a couple of business colleagues when we heard this irritating beeping noise in the background. It went on for ten or fifteen minutes. I happen to have some pretty strong opinions about these type of noises being allowed in restaurants during opening hours and made them clear to my companions. The table next to us was obviously getting agitated by the continuing beep, beep, beep. Then we saw the waiting staff had been sent on a search exercise to locate the source of the noise and I thought to myself they really ought to know their restaurant better than that.

But, all of a sudden, after about twenty minutes of this damn noise, a sudden realisation came over me. Unfortunately my colleagues saw the blood drain from my face and there was no way I was going to be able to sneak my hand into my pocket without them seeing me to switch off the alarm on my mobile phone.

They laughed so much the next table realised what had happened but were very understanding. But the restaurant staff never did find out where the mystery noise was coming from. If they read this column, I’d like to take the opportunity to apologise for their little diversion and I promise I’ll never, ever do it again. I hope.

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