Man's World

THERE ARE some things I thought I would never do because they were too much like selling out: things such as learning to drive, getting married, shopping in Finchley, owning a mobile phone. Well, the other day I drove with my wife to a shop in Finchley where I bought a mobile phone.

Regarding the latter, my excuse is that it's primarily so the nanny can contact me in extremis. And I hereby swear that I will never do what a man beside me on a train to Oxford did this week, namely make three calls in half an hour, saying each time: "Are there any more messages for me?" like a child greedy for chocolates.

Nor will I upgrade to one of those remote, hands-free systems, so I can lope down high streets booming: "Yah, I think I've got a window at six, John!" while appearing to be talking to nobody but myself.

On purchasing my phone, I resolved, in fact, to be the only male owner of a mobile phone in the United Kingdom who is not a total jerk. But it's an uphill struggle.

All the hallmarks of the total jerk are rapidly accumulating about me. The other day, for example, I recorded what I had imagined to be a bland addendum to my answering machine message but, on playing it back, I heard the unmistakable sound of a total jerk saying: "...or try me on the mobile on..." in a tone at once affectedly casual and archly proud.

Next came the recitation of the irritatingly long number, which I found that I had delivered in time-honoured mobile phone-owner style - ie, just that bit too quickly for the caller to hear.

Then, only a few hours later, I passed what may have been the point of no return. I was sitting in a Polish restaurant in West Hampstead and the mobile rang. Upon answering, I explained, rather loudly - because it was a bad connection, after all - that I was sitting in a Polish restaurant in West Hampstead.

As I did so, all the diners around me naturally turned to one another and muttered "See that guy? He's a total jerk", while giving me that murderous look that I've been directing at mobile phone users for years.

I was appalled to be on the receiving end if it, though, and I felt like shouting: "No, please, I'm not like the others! I only have this mobile phone for my kids' sake!"

Yet I'm perfectly well aware that every mobile phone call I take is a slap in the face of the people around me; that every time I speak into the thing, it's as if I'm saying: "My immediate surroundings are not sufficiently important; I can, and will, transcend them."

This arrogant subtext is at the root of the mobile's macho appeal, which is slowly getting to me. I don't wear mine on my belt like a gunslinger, but I have found myself letting its subliminally phallic antennae protrude from my jacket pocket. It's a shame because that earlier Andrew Martin, the one who existed before the mobile came along, he wasn't such a bad bloke, really.

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