We're in bed babyishly early eating soft-boiled eggs (solace after a run of late nights) and deep into a programme about the destruction of the Sioux nation, when the phone rings. We agree not to answer it, dip our soldiers resolutely. It goes on ringing.

"What if it's your mother?" I fret at last.

Jonathan zaps up the volume on the TV. It takes nerve, this game.

The ringing of a telephone falls into three phases. Phase one - a simple decision: to answer or not. Opt for the latter, and you get to phase two: noise turns pushy (who the hell is this person who won't give up?). And then final, infuriating phase three when, because it may stop at any moment (and you are now taking bets as to the identity of this interruptive maniac), you experience a whole new temptation: to rush to it after all.

I'm in phase three (you always are) when the ringing stops.

I jump out of bed and dial 1471.

This is a Fun New Game. You dial and a computerised voice divulges the would-have-been caller's number. It's an intoxicating thrill - subtly and instantly giving you the upper hand over the phantom phoner.

Devastatingly, this time, "No number is stored."

"I don't believe it."

"Could be phoning on Mercury," says Jonathan, who Knows Everything. "I've got a feeling it doesn't register with Mercury."

"Why not?"

"I don't know. It makes a kind of sense. By the way, do you realise you smell like a PE teacher?"

Half an hour ago, I rubbed my stiff, aching shoulders with Marjoram and Eucalyptus Energising Body Oil. Unlike the kindly, bearded men in sex manuals, Jonathan won't massage - says it's boring and hurts his fingers.

"You just need tracksuit bottoms and a whistle round your neck," he continues. I ignore him - back to the last of the Sioux.

The phone starts again. "Oh, God."

It rings for even longer this time. There is only one thing worse than a phone you have to answer and that's a phone you've decided not to answer.

The moment it stops: 1471.

"What the hell are you doing now?" Jonathan says, turning his empty egg shell over so it looks unbroken and new (troubling family ritual).

"Just checking."

"I have never," he says, "seen someone put so much effort into Not Answering A Phone. No wonder your shoulders ache - look at the tension in your body."

I suppose that 1471 - designed to foil heavy breathers - is something of a poisoned chalice for the rest of us.

If it has taken away the phone abuser's anonymous, protective shell, it has simultaneously removed mine. Much as I want to know who was trying to call me, I don't think I want my own dialling habits laid bare at the touch of a button.

You can no longer dial impulsively, wait to see who answers and then safely slam the phone down if you get cold feet. Adulterers can no longer ring and just replace the receiver when the wrong spouse answers. Even weepy, forsaken lovers are no longer free to torment themselves by ringing just to hear The Adored One speak the word "Hello?" into the void (my main occupation for a miserable few weeks in 1985).

My Auntie Maureen in Leeds - who'd maintain she has nothing to thank Alexander Graham Bell for - will appreciate 1471.

"I don't know what it is about phones," she wrote to me recently, "but just one look at the curly wire sends me hot and cold. And I never once saw your father use one. Maybe something awful happened to us, back in our childhoods - you know, to do with a phone."

"Do you think I'm getting like Auntie Maureen?" I demand of Jonathan, as I get back into bed for the last time.

"No," he says, "I just think you court anxiety."

The following evening, we go to see a chic, acclaimed dance company at Sadler's Wells. An unmistakably Islington audience, so thin and beautiful they all look unwell, and dressed ever so fashionably in shrunken Aertex - rather like PE teachers.

"How do they get their cheeks so white?" always pink as a four-year-old, I really would like to know.

"No doubt," Jonathan yawns, "they swallow gravel." The dance is dull, the auditorium only half full. As we go in, we're given pen torches to hold up during the last dance, rendering the already icily minimal dancers two-dimensional and deathly pale. I use mine to inspect the freckles on my wrist.

Afterwards we go and eat fish and chips at a cheery, communal, gingham table, jammed thigh-to-thigh between two other couples.

"Did I tell you about having the polyps removed from my nose?" the man on my right politely asks his fellow diner. She shakes her head, mouth full of chips. I concentrate on my food, think of pen torches and silvery legs, secretly give their relationship three weeks.

Suddenly, an actress acquaintance we both loathe and haven't seen in months (and hoped we'd shaken off) comes in with a whole bunch of people. Jonathan groans and cowers, but she's seen us.

"Well, what a coincidence! I tried to phone you guys just last night."

We frown, united by our lie. "Really? How odd. We were in. Can't have heard the phone."

"Are you on Mercury?" asks Jonathan suddenly.

"How did you know that?"

There's no room on our table - far rather Mr Nose Polyps than her - so she heads off down the back. We relax and congratulate ourselves on last night's good decision.

Praise the Lord and pass the ketchup.

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