The Hound found a phone on Hampstead Heath last week. The two of us were mooching about in the grounds of Kenwood House when he started sniffing something under a bush. Usually such nasal activity is connected to another dog’s poo, pee or passing bum, but this time it was a phone battery. Scattered nearby was the front and back of a new-looking HTC smart phone. I gathered up the pieces and put it back together, intending to find the number of the phone, ring the owner and reunite them, but my cunning plan failed immediately because I hadn’t got my reading glasses with me, so the hi-tech keypad was just an blur of random colour, like a psychedelic 70’s album cover.
Back at home and specced up, I found the list of recently called names and numbers. The first one I tried, Sara, went straight to answerphone.
I tried name two: Si.
After a few rings a man barked “What?”
Actually, “WOT?” would be a more accurate description of Si’s first word. A stroppy irritated, What the hell do you want now? type “WOT?”
I launched into my little speech. “Er, you’re going to think this is very weird, but I found this phone on Hampstead Heath about half-an-hour ago, so I’m ringing your number because it was in a list of dialled numbers.”
Now, in the movies, the script would go something like this: Grief stricken recent widow with no intention of finding romance ever, let alone after only six months and three weeks (previous scene shows her investigating becoming a nun in a non-silent order, but only if the habit is black and white and relatively stylish), arranges to meet Stroppy Si to hand over found phone. Widow arrives at appointed rendezvous (Kenwood House again: if it was good enough for Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts, it will do for my movie) sans slap, haggard-faced, wearing a dog walking jacket stuffed with black poo bags, to be confronted by six-foot dishevelled hunk with sad eyes (due to his own grief at losing his wife, not because he’s been crying over losing his smart phone). There is an instant electric connection, but both freaked-out by their feelings, they beetle away in different directions and the next two hours of the film are spent in a “Will they? Won’t they?” game. (Yes they do!)
That was a nice little diversion wasn’t it? I’m thinking Sandra Bullock and Hugh Laurie for the lead roles. The Hound has asked to play himself and be paid in squeaky balls.
Of course what actually happened was that Stroppy Si said in a voice that dripped with annoyance, “It’s my wife’s phone; she’ll have dropped it out jogging. I’ll get her to ring you,” and we exchanged mobile numbers and landline numbers. Then his wife called and gushed about how honest I was (given that my BlackBerry is on its last legs, don’t think that I didn’t have a brief thought of pocketing it) and how I had saved her life because she was due to collect a new nanny from the airport later that night. And instead of my little fantasy of arranging to meet Si in front of Kenwood House, Si’s wife arranged to meet me at my house later that afternoon, which she knew because of the ruinously expensive private school opposite.
She turned up and was just as I imagined her to be, because living in this part of north London I am surrounded by women like her: honed, toned, glossy, accessorised, confident; black shiny 4×4 parked in the road, hazard lights flashing, causing an obstruction. Did I ever mention that The Daily Mail saw Gwyneth Paltrow hanging around outside my garage? OK, so The Daily Mail didn’t actually specifically mention my garage, but I heard that she was standing over the road from the school gate which is directly opposite my garage. She was picking up the fruit-named child from the school with her chum, Beyonce. It’s like that round here, but if you’re trying to outdo Gwynnie and Jay-Z’s wife, you’re on a loser to nothing. I don’t even try to compete, but in any case, I suspect that the glossy posse of mums think I’m the hired dog walker, if they even deign to glance their Boxtoxed faces in my direction.
Anyway, Glossy Mum thrust a bottle of posh Prosecco in my hands as thanks and rushed off. As I closed the door clutching my fizz I felt unbearably sad, not because I had no one to share the bottle with, but because Glossy Mum had her husband and I didn’t, and her husband didn’t sound pleased to see her name flash up, but I knew mine would have been; JS wouldn’t have answered with an irritated, “WOT?” Perhaps Si was having a rough day being an international
wanker banker, or maybe they’d had a row that morning because she’d warned him not to make a pass at the new nanny which was why the last one left, or any number of reasons that usually loving couples are short with each other. We had a code: If JS couldn’t speak because he was busy, he would either leave the phone to ring and I’d leave a message, or, answer it and say, “Can I phone you back?” Perhaps some of those times he didn’t answer or said “Can I phone you back?” was because he was irritated with me. I know I used the same tactic when I was irritated with him. But if he did answer and wasn’t busy, he always sounded either pleased to hear from me, or at the very least, interested in what I had to say.
Well, not always…
Twenty-plus years ago, JS went away on business. Instead of going back to my little pad in South East London, I decided to stay at the flat he was renting in town, a swish place (compared to mine) entirely decorated in cream (sofas/carpets/walls/the works). I also decided (with his permission) to use his car (smart very powerful Audi Quattro) as opposed to my car (Citroen AX 1.1 – a motorised tin can: 0 – 60 in fifteen minutes). It was icy, and I tried to take the Audi out of the car park at the flats, said car park having a steep ramp out onto the Grays Inn Road. What I didn’t realise was that to engage all four wheels I needed to press a little button. As I accelerated up the slope, the car slid sideways and slammed into a concrete pillar. Unfortunately, in trying to negotiate away from the pillar, I simply embedded the concrete further and further into the side of the car. I have trouble remembering my husband’s voice from seven months ago, yet strangely the sound of concrete screeching on metal two decades after the incident is toe-curlingly familiar.
Anyway, in floods of tears I rang JS to tell him what had happened. Instead of his deep voice telling me everything would be OK, his first words were, “What do you expect me to do about it?” I should point out that I was ringing him at his hotel in the middle the night (his time) in New York, but even so!
As another digress, that week was also the time when sitting on the cream sofa which rested on the cream carpet in JS’s rented flat I jumped up to answer the phone, totally forgetting that I had a plate of haddock and chips and tomato sauce on my lap. Don’t think I ever confessed that to him. Too late now…
Anyway, I felt immensely sad that JS would never again ring me and I would never ring him, and I wanted to phone Stroppy Si and tell him to cherish his glossy wife because no one ever knows when the ‘Until death us do part’ stuff is going to kick in, and you don’t fully realise the implications until it’s too late and you’re choosing coffins out of a flip book instead of flicking through holiday photographs.
So I kept mulling over Si and his jogging phone-losing wife, and then twenty-four hours later when I was out and about I got a call from Orange. I’d been having terrible trouble with Orange, and in the end I sent a two page letter to their head office listing my complaints, threatening to approach Watchdog if they didn’t sort everything out. I’d been keeping JS’s BlackBerry going because of business calls, but in the end, such was the hassle with Orange, I asked them to close JS’s account for simplicity. The woman on the end of the phone agreed they hadn’t treated me well, offered me a £50 discount off my next bill and then said, “Your husband’s account will be deleted in the next few minutes and his phone will be disconnected.”
It was what I had asked Orange to do, JS’s phone was costing me money, I knew he would never ring me again, every time his phone rang it made me jump, emails were still coming through as were Twitter feeds, and yet as I walked home, the fact that somewhere someone was pressing a button cancelling JS’s number floored me. I had to sit on a bench at a bus stop to get myself together.
As I sat there, I fished my husband’s phone from my bag.
The screen already proclaimed: Unregistered SIM.
Little by little JS is being pulled away from me; our life together is disconnecting and there’s not a damn thing I can do about it.
Sitting on a bench on a busy street looking numbly at a dead mobile belonging to my dead husband was never supposed to be a scene in the movie of my life, whatever Sandy and Hugh end up doing in the script.
I demand a re-write.