`Hello darling, I'm on the train'

Hunter Davies
Sunday 16 May 1999 23:02

I HAVE just bought something I said I never would. I said the same about a computer. Still haven't got one, managing with my cheapo Amstrad PCW 9512, now an antique, on which I have shifted a million words. The machine is an antique, not the words. They are always new. Or newish, or newishly arranged.

I love my Amstrad. Why would I want anything more sophisticated, full of fancy facilities, filled with rubbish like the Internet, which I don't need and will only go wrong and be hellish to understand? Daft, I call it.

I said the same about video. Why would I want to copy TV programmes when I don't watch television anyway? Except for football. Then came the avalanche of live matches, masses of them, arriving in droves, from all directions, sometime up to four at a time, so naturally I had to get a VCR to pin down and capture the ones I had to miss. I now love my video.

I thought faxes were dopey, when they first came in. What's wrong with the post? No need for all that faffing around. Then the post started getting worse and worse. The service in 1999 is now about 10 times less frequent, 50 times less reliable than it was in 1899. So I have a fax.

But no, I told myself, I will never, ever, no way, get a mobile phone. They are for poseurs, drug dealers, yuppies and the insecure young who feel they need to be constantly in touch in case they might miss something exciting. "Hi, what are you doing?" "Oh nothing really." "Yeah, same here."

Once you get over 35, you know you are missing nothing. What you want is not to be bothered, not rung up, not kept in contact. You know from experience that the contact is likely to be either annoying or boring.

This was until last week. I had gone to rural Cheshire to meet Dwight Yorke, the Man Utd footballer, the one with the nice smile and a whole host of medals lined up, possibly. I got a taxi from the station to his address, could see his security gates, about as big and impressive as the ones at Downing Street - but then he is better known throughout the world than Tony, and richer.

I could see a little entry phone thing, so I paid off the taxi and let it go. What a mistake. After all these decades of interviewing people I should know the first rule of hackery: never let the cab go till you see the whites of the victim's eyes.

I went to the intercom thing and pressed it. Not a sound. There was a mass of figures and letters. I then realised I needed a security code before I could even speak into the intercom. Oh no.

I stared through the gates down the long driveway. I could tee a Mercedes, a Range Rover and a Ford outside his triple garage. No sign of his Ferrari. Was he still at training? Had he totally forgotten?

The tree-lined line road was deserted, this being stockbroker Cheshire in mid-afternoon. A woman with a dog appeared and I asked where the nearest public phone box. "A phone box?" she replied. Or did she say, "A handbag?" Anyway she hurried on.

As I stood, the heavens opened and my white suit got absolutely soaked. Martin Bell was in bed that day, so I'd borrowed it, wanting to look smart for my first meeting with Dwight. I know footballers. They tend to judge strangers by the size of their wallet, their clothes, their car.

I had Dwight's phone number, but couldn't ring him to tell him to open the bloody gates. I walked to a crossroads and stopped an elderly gent and asked if by chance he had a portable phone. He looked alarmed, as if I was trying to sell him drugs or Cup Final tickets.

I then saw a signpost to a stately home, half a mile away, so I ran there. There was a caff but no public phone. I asked the waitress if I could use their phone.

"Is it an emergency?" she asked.So I explained.

"Oh that's OK then. I thought it might be an accident, or someone giving birth, that sort of emergency, cause we're just closing."

I rang Dwight, then ran back to his mansion and he opened up. I'd lost 40 minutes of my life and got myself in a muck sweat. That's when I vowed to give in.

Next day I bought a mobile phone at Carphone Warehouse in Hampstead - pounds 79.99 a year, all in, no rental. If I never use it, it won't cost me another penny. If I ring out, it's 40p at peak time but I get 250 minutes free otherwise.

I've had it two days now. Still can't understand half the features, but getting on the train next day I felt awfully grown up. I plonked it on the table in front of me, as one does, like cowboys at a bar putting down their pistols. Once we set off from Euston, I rang my wife and spoke the immortal words: "I'm on the train..."

I've joined the modern age.

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