The kindness of strangers: a highly charged issue

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The Independent Online

Last week, the European Parliament voted that, from 2017, all mobile phone chargers must be compatible with all mobile phones. It's as though the MEPs had been to our house, and inspected the boxful of old chargers, some Tipp-Exed with the initials of one son, some with the initials of another. One simply has a question mark. It is as if the MEPs had also joined me when, a few years back, I took the boys on a camping holiday to Cornwall. Leaving London, I realised I had forgotten my charger. The holiday lasted a week, and I spent three days of it driving around trying to buy a replacement. The shopkeepers would frown, "You're after a Nokia charger, you say?" After a while it became hard to keep the bitterness out of my voice as I replied, "Yes. Nokia. The largest manufacturer of mobile phones in the world."

Speaking as a freelancer, the longer I go with an uncharged phone the more certain I become that I have received a message that concludes: "… So this is a life‑changing offer that will increase your income 10-fold. If we don't hear back in 15 minutes, we will assume you don't want to take it up."

Eventually, I managed to buy a charger. There was then the problem of where to plug it in. My eldest son had just discovered "the environment" and all the moral superiority that accompanies supposed knowledge of that subject. Even now, the phrase "You should have bought a wind-up charger" is guaranteed to send my blood pressure surging.

Charging is a big issue at the moment because iPhones need to be recharged so often. My current phone is not very "i". In fact, it was free, as long as I bought a £10 top-up. I find that my more technical friends are tolerant of the excuse "I couldn't call because my phone was out of charge", because that could happen to them. But they won't stand for "I ran out of top-up", and "I couldn't call because I ran out of top-up and my battery was flat" is tantamount to a termination of friendship.

In Paris recently I saw numerous phone-charging points in railway stations. It was like time travel, in that the people waiting at them were doing old-fashioned things; some had been driven to such desperate measures as reading a book, or paying attention to their children. These facilities don't seem to have made their way over here and so I, like most people, have been driven to rely on the kindness of strangers. I was once allowed to recharge my phone in an estate agents' office I happened to be passing in Newcastle.

If it had been a pub I would have bought a pint by way of thanks, but I could hardly make an offer on a three-bed semi in return for 20 minutes of charge. The agents, though, were very charming, even indulging me in my time-killing conversation as the phone charger did its stuff. ("What's the best area for houses in Newcastle?") They were tolerant because they knew the score: in this technological era, anyone who is nominally recharging their phone is, in effect, recharging themselves.