I thought I heard a muffled ringing ...

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The Independent Online
I really do not have time to write a piece today, as I am sitting by my phone waiting for it to ring with an offer of the editorship of Punch, in the wake of the departure of Peter McKay.

I think in all modesty that I could do the job for at least as long as Peter McKay did it, perhaps even a couple of issues longer, and if I couldn't I could instead claim the record for being the most short-lived editor in Punch history, a record currently held by Peter McKay, who has just broken the previous record by several years.

You will notice, by the way, that I said just now that I am "sitting by my phone waiting for it to ring". I said that because it is a nice old cliche, and I used it unthinkingly. In fact, it is untrue. People do not sit by their phones any more waiting for them to ring. They put their phones in their pocket and take them with them, waiting for them to ring.

In the old days, when you telephoned someone, you had a mental image of where they were. You could visualise the man at the other end of the phone because you knew where his phone was. You knew he would be at his desk, or in his kitchen, or in his Georgian drawing-room under the lovely leather-bound first editions of Victorian pornography.

But now, when people have mobile phones, the person at the other end has no idea where the mobile phoner is unless he tells him. That's why you hear people on trains saying: "Hello, Jim, I'm on the train all right, but I don't think I'll be there in time for the start of the meeting as the service is running 25 minutes late, so could you make sure they discuss the new agenda on repackaging ...."

This also explains why I have not been on a train for the last day or two. If and when the man does ring up offering me the job of editor of Punch - which could take time as he obviously has to ring other people first, like, well, like Richard Ingrams, who has always wanted to be ex- editor of Punch - then I don't really want to have to discuss it on a train with lots of people listening as I say things into my mobile phone like, "Of course, I'll need whatever McKay was getting plus a few grand more" or, "I would really rather prefer not to come to an office but to edit Punch from home, so could you arrange for McKay's mini-bar and cocktail cabinet to be brought round pronto? Oh, taken it all with him, has he?"

Of course, back in the days when we didn't have mobile phones, but were pinned to one spot, we used to fantasise about the future of phones. And the odd thing is that we didn't fantasise about phone mobility. What we fantasised about was being able to see the person we were talking to. It was only a matter of time, we thought, before phones would be combined with TV sets and we could have a telly-phone conversation. And, lo and behold, nothing of the sort happened at all, and phones were not combined with TV sets but with radio sets so we still can't see the person we are talking to, which is ironic because with mobile phones it is more important than ever to see the person at the other end to make sure he is actually where he says he is.

In my case, when I say I am sitting by my phone waiting for a call to the Punch editorship, that is only half-true. I am sitting by my phone waiting for anyone to ring. Because when someone rings, I will then be able to locate the position of my phone. Somewhere in the mass of papers on my desk, in the piles of unanswered correspondence, in the stacks of interesting but old newspapers, under the old invoices, receipts, VAT forms, empty Jiffy bags which could probably be reused and unread copies of Punch, there lies a phone. I do not know where it is. It is somewhere in there. I wish to make a phone call, but I cannot until I find it. And I cannot find it until someone rings me, and I can detect, from the ringing noise, where it is.

If indeed it is a call from a man offering me the Punch editorship, I shall accept gratefully, and say that I will immediately take Punch back to the gentle days of the 1950s when you could write mild rambling pieces about your own domestic difficulties, such as the troubles caused by telephones.

He will say it is too late for that kind of thing now and readers wouldn't stand for it any more.

I hope he is wrong.

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