Wednesday, 22 April 2015

...So why should it be you and I should get along so awfully?

I'm very comfortable around death.

It wasn't always the case. My ease with all things decomposing hit me like an epiphany. No gradual desensitisation, no video games warping my view on the world, no hard core, ultra-violent B-movies, not even a hint of psychopathy. Just taking the opportunity to earn twenty quid, cash in hand.

It happened when my children were still young, the youngest being a new born, and I was working as a self employed builder. Married, with a nice house and a half decent van, a big back garden and a dog, I worked as hard as I could to provide.

The building game can be quite seasonal and so, once the nights had drawn in and people were saving for Christmas rather than shelling out to have a kitchen wall knocked through or a Velux window installed I took on an extra job working for our friendly, local funeral director, a man that bore an uncanny resemblance to Peter Griffin of "Family Guy" fame,  driving his hearse. It was a doddle of a job and I could easily arrange the week's building work around whichever jobs he had for me.

I always had plenty of notice, an emergency burial is not only rare but tends to require a van and a shovel rather than a modified vintage Daimler and a chap in a nice hat.

One afternoon, whilst crawling around under a floor in Eccles with a torch in my gob, my mobile phone rang. This was at a time when to call a mobile phone required a bloody good reason given the disgracefully high cost and so I was sure it was important. I broke off from stabbing at joist ends with a screwdriver and took the call.

It was the undertaker, Peter Griffin, in a mad panic and wanting to know if I could do an emergency job for him. I told him I was a little busy, imagining he'd probably be better served enlisting the help of Winston Wolf, and asked if it was life or death.

"Death." Came the reply. He was a sarcastic bastard.

I eventually agreed to help. The job, he explained, was driving his private ambulance. A chap had died in hospital and his remains needed collecting from the mortuary and taking to the rest home for Peter to weave his magic and do all those things that you and I really don't want to. The guy he normally employed to undertake such undertakings, an octogenarian with a dicky heart and diabetes, had been taken ill. An octogenarian with a dicky heart taking ill was generally something that was guaranteed to bring a smile to the face of our jovial, local funeral director, but this particular occurrence had occurred at a very inopportune moment.

Twenty quid, cash in hand, a half an hour of my time and I didn't even need to wear my nice hat or have a shave, I scrambled out from beneath the floorboards, told the lady of the house I was off to the builder's merchants and went to acquire a new line for the work experience section of my CV.

I'd never been back stage at a hospital before, only ever having seen a mortuary on the television screen, so I wasn't sure what to expect. As it turns out, the television people have nailed it. Shiny, steel handles on little doors, cadavers on sliding mechanisms within, steel trolleys and echoing footfalls. the only thing I experienced as I approached the drawer in which our gentleman lay that I hadn't experienced through the medium of Starsky and Hutch or Silent Witness was the smell. Not a bad smell, not a nice smell. Just a smell.

I'd been a little nervous in the run up to the big reveal but I needn't have been. The mortuary assistant opened the drawer and slid out the contents with a swish.  The body that glided out in front of me was wrapped from head to toe in a crisp, white sheet that bore the blue stripes and logo of the NHS upon it. I stood by the feet of the deceased and prepared to help my colleague lift him across onto the gurney we'd brought along with us. I wasn't going to have to touch dead flesh or even gaze upon it, a piece of piss. I took a deep breath and grasped the ankles.

"Hang on," the mortuary assistant called out, "I just need to take this...", He unwrapped the body before me, reclaiming the hospital's property, smiled and walked away.

And there it was, with only a hospital gown to barely cover it's dignity, the first dead human I'd ever seen. I'd seen them on the television, real dead bodies, lined up next to mass graves or lying in a street in Soweto, but those real dead bodies weren't real real dead bodies. They were pixels, an illusion, a series of little lights magically blended together by the sorcery that lay within the cathode ray tube in my lounge. Just a picture, not a person. This was a person. A person who'd clearly not looked after his gnarled and discoloured feet, those being the only thing I could focus on.

The flesh was cold beneath my fingers. Not the kind of cold that shocks you when your significant other puts the soles of his or her feet on your arse in the night, the flesh wasn't giving off cold, it was just not giving off any heat. After a slight delay whilst my opposite number at the other end of the drawer manipulated the dead man's arms into position, rigor mortis having already begun to creep through the newly decaying flesh, we lifted.

The body was an inch or two off the bed when the epiphany struck. I suppose it was a form of very severe aversion therapy. Where, moments earlier, I'd been scared of the dead now, with a pair of cold, lifeless ankles in my hands, I realised there was nothing to be afraid of. It was a dead body, no longer a person. I had never met the man in my life, would never know anything more about him than was written on the paperwork I carried and would never hear of him again. He mattered to someone, but not to me. Not now he was dead.

I went on to do many more of these little cash in hand jobs. That first was the most pleasant. On occasion I would have to remove a body from a home rather than a hospital, sometimes having died weeks earlier without anyone noticing and in a really rather unpleasant state. Once, I removed the remains of an unfortunate schizophrenic who had attempted to remove both his hands with a guillotine and had completed seventy-five percent of the task before the loss of blood resulting from the transfer of blood from within his exposed veins to the walls and ceiling had taken their devastating toll on him. Each job was different, but the cargo was always the same. Just dead bodies, not people. If I'd thought of them as people I couldn't have coped.

I couldn't have coped, because I'd have cared too much.

Bodies, corpses, cadavers, the deceased or the departed. To their loved ones they were people, to those that have to do what their loved ones could never bring themselves to do they were not. It sounds cold, it sounds awful, but those people that do those things can only do those things if they de-humanise our fathers and grandmothers to some extent. The remains of our dearly departed are treated with reverence and respect whilst in the care of these vital members of our society, but the respect is as much for the feelings, love and loss of those he or she left behind as for the fleshy bag of bones and organs that need to be "processed".

This week, Katie Hopkins has been in the news. She scribbled some of her usual brand of odious venom down and caused an outrage which led me to read her bile, if only because I couldn't believe it if I didn't read it for myself. I'm putting no links to her work, that would make me feel dirty, but I'm sure that if you haven't already heard what she said then you won't struggle to find it online.

Her words came just before a further nine hundred people died when the ship they were fleeing Africa on capsized. Many were trapped below decks, the last moments of their lives filled with the thing they were fleeing, terror. Men, women and children, nurses, bookkeepers, teachers, baristas, IT consultants, petty thieves, saints and sinners. People. People so scared of where they were that they fled, they attempted to reach the safety, security and affluence of Europe. So scared that they took a gamble with their own lives, the hope of the ultimate prize, an ordinary life again, a life similar to the one they once had before the bad times came, was a hope potent enough to make the risk worth taking.

Hell, Heaven or death, pick two.

She'd asked to be shown pictures of coffins, bodies floating in the water and skinny people looking sad and claimed that even this wouldn't move her. Then, presumably by the hand of some really fucked up Genie, her request was granted. She'd advocated the use of gunships to turn back the boats that carried them and referred to them as "cockroaches". De-humanising the victims, the real life people that, like you, never dreamt their lives would end in such a way. Regarding them as vermin so that she could bring herself to offer her vile opinions. Opinions she must, on some level, know are vile.

The newspapers and the television have paraded the images she claims won't move her before our eyes. Coffins, bodies, glum looking skinny people, a string of real dead bodies that aren't real real dead bodies, just a visual representation of the real real dead bodies that really lay somewhere other than here and are really dead.

The nine hundred that really died were migrants, as has been repeatedly mentioned throughout these news reports, who perished in a desperate bid to flee their homeland and escape to the relative safety of Europe. "Migrant" is a fitting description of what they were, in the same way as when you're behind the wheel of your car you're a motorist or whilst your in Asda you're a shopper or maybe a shoplifter. It describes what you were doing at a short period in your life, it doesn't describe you. You may have a lovely car or a fridge full of fine cooked meats, but there's a damn sight more to you than that. You're beautiful, or at least passable. You're kind, thoughtful, protective of your loved ones. You support that football team you support and your favourite colour is the colour of your first ever curtains in your first ever bedroom. You're you, a person. If you drop down dead whilst pushing a trolley down the ready meals aisle in Asda you'll be described in the local rag  as a shopper. If you survive the self service tills and make it back to your car in one piece only to die in a fireball on the way home then you'll be reported as a motorist. Killed in a bus collision you'll be either a passenger or an unfortunate pedestrian. That's what the nice man that can do what your loved ones won't will know you as. You won't be someone's father or daughter or the lollipop lady that lives over the wool shop, to them you'll be a cancer sufferer, the suicide victim or that bloke that had died, turned black and swelled up in his armchair because no one noticed he was missing all through July and August.

Only to our loved ones will we still be a person, which is why our loved ones hurt when we're gone. They don't miss a motorist, they miss a mother. A real, tangible person with a real, hard, eventful existence, a person that lived, loved and was loved. Not perfect, not special, just loved. Just like you.

The press report the people that drowned as nine hundred migrants because that's the easiest way to describe what they were and to explain why they were there. It saves ink and column inches, freeing up space for stories about terrorists and advertisements. It would be ridiculous to expect a journalist to write "seventy nurses, two hundred and eighty eight schoolchildren, forty seven gardeners, ninety five waiters, thirty two retired police officers, forty eight babies, seventy seven musicians, twenty nine doctors, nineteen joiners, three baristas, ninety six stay at home wives, fifty eight fishermen, thirty seven taxi drivers and a pheasant plucker", especially given that would be almost certainly wholly inaccurate, so in that medium maybe there's an acceptable excuse for using such dehumanising language.

But dehumanising those unfortunate human beings that are dying every day for the sake of brevity and doing so to allow us to vent our spleens in such a disrespectful and uncaring manner in order to attain infamy, column inches and notoriety are two very different motives. Those that partake of the latter, those that think of and describe fellow human beings as less than themselves, those without the intelligence to see that it's not beyond the realms of possibility they too may one day be faced with the choice of Hell, Heaven or death through no fault of their own, those people should be reminded that it is they, not the migrant, that is a cockroach, spreading the filth and disease that passes for their opinion all around them. And when finally they accept they've no more right to life than a skinny, sad person in a boat and their humanity has been restored, they should be welcomed back into the fold with much celebration. Balloons, party poppers, maybe even a DJ. Hold a street party, put on a spread and rejoice or turn your hats backwards, buy some whistles and have a rave. Whatever floats your boat.

Can you imagine how much more pleasant the world would be if Katie Hopkins repented her ways and became a nicer person? 

Or even if she were just a bit quieter.

Of course, it's important to have the details when deciding on a course of action and to give detail when reporting on a catastrophe. It's up to us, as readers of those facts or deciders of those decisions, to empathise with those involved, to read beyond the facts and to try and feel what the victims feel, or felt in those last terrible moments. To remember that those migrants, in days long before they migrated, once perched upon a parent's knee and giggled and put the cold soles of their feet on their partner's arse in the night. Those feet that they'd probably not have looked after if they'd lived longer.

And to not get too comfortable around death...

...unless you're just taking the opportunity to earn twenty quid, cash in hand.


Sunday, 19 April 2015

Oh brother, where art thou?

I always wanted a brother.

And not just any old brother. An older brother, one who would beat up the big lads that picked on me in the park. One who would wear a leather jacket and repair motorcycles in the garage at home, teaching me the life skills that my father wouldn't. How to get drunk, how to smoke a cig, how to chat up the chicks, how to climb a tree and how to build a campfire. The important stuff.

In my mind, an older brother was a hero. Some of my friends had them. They were the prototypes, the ones that had been around the block a few times, had made all the mistakes already and were able to pass down the secrets of a successful childhood. A blueprint detailing what not to do in the form of a taller, more handsome, overly protective version of one's self.

But, alas, it wasn't to be.

I wasn't only the first born son, I was the first born grandson too. I didn't even have an older cousin. It was me that was the prototype, the one whose duty it was to make the mistakes that any younger siblings fortunate enough to follow in my wake would learn by. It was a daunting prospect.

Even more disappointing than the realisation that I was never to have a big brother was the realisation that my little brother had no penis. My little brother, the one that was supposed to look up to me and learn how to service a two-stroke engine under my tutelage had been born with lady-bits. He was no better than a bloody girl and I was damned if I was taking him under my arm.

Eventually, though, I came to terms with the situation. My brother, as much as I longed for him to be so, wasn't my brother at all. My feckless, useless, half-arsed parents had made a terrible mistake and opted for a girl instead of a boy. A bloody sister. Just what every small boy wants.

At some point, before I reached school age in the early 1970s, my father acquired a shit load of louver doors from a bloke named Chalky and embarked upon a mission to replace every door in our house with them. My father didn't have a younger brother, he was lucky enough to have been born second, so he had no younger sibling to learn from his mistake, that being that doors with gaps in, whilst giving your home that Scandinavian look that was all the rage in those heady days of test cards on the telly and white dog shit on the streets, make for very draughty houses.

Once every door had been replaced, dad still had more louver doors in the shed than you could shake a stick at. Never a man to see good timber go to waste, he used the left overs to construct fitted wardrobes in all three bedrooms. This meant, for a month or so, I had to share a room with my dickless brother, Victoria, whilst my room was completed.

Victoria cried a lot, especially at bedtimes. She was coming toward the end of that period in her life when bedtime meant imprisonment. She'd be lowered into her cot by my mother as my father tucked me into the squeaky, creaky camp bed he'd borrowed, screaming and screeching and demanding she not be left behind those wooden bars that made up her comfy, warm cell.

We were all well used to her caterwauling, it had been an almost constant soundtrack since we'd brought her home, and we'd become mainly deaf to it but, now having to sleep within a few feet of where she lay, I found myself unable to locate the land of Nod.

I loved drawing as a child. I'd draw a picture of a cowboy or a pirate, a monster or a happy house with smoke curling from the chimney before being tucked in every night, and the pencils, crayons and drawing book I'd used would be placed upon the top the chest of drawers that stood between my camp bed and her cot by my father before he and my mother retreated downstairs and turned the television up. One night, in frustration, I took two crayons from their packet and screwed them into my ears. It worked! All was silent. I looked across at my sister, expecting to see her standing with cheeks of scarlet, grasping the bars of her cage whilst her mouth opened and closed, silently screaming.

She wasn't. She was laughing at me.

I took the crayons from my lugholes and smiled back, but her bottom lip started to wobble and so I rammed them back in. Upping my game, I took a pencil and inserted it into a nostril. More hilarity. I pulled the little rubber from the metal collar of another pencil, placing it in my vacant nostril and tilting my head back. I snorted, sending the rubber shooting across the room and bouncing off her forehead. She turned, rummaging around in the bedclothes, found the rubber and held it out through the bars.

"Again." Her vocabulary wasn't all it could be at that point.

Again and again and again and again she returned the rubber for me to fire at her, each time with heavier eyes and a dreamier smile, until, eventually, she fell asleep with her face against the bars.

Each night I'd repeat the procedure, becoming quite the crackshot in the process, until one night I sucked when I should've blown. Coughing and spluttering and making an odd whistling noise as I sobbed, I managed to raise the alarm. My father pinned me to the camp bed and, as carefully as he could, used the penknife he always carried to remove the little, cylindrical bung from my nose, a lengthy process made lengthier by the bollocking he administered during the surgery for doing nothing worse than making a stupid mistake. A stupid mistake that left me with a sore nose and that taught my little sister not to stick stuff up her own nostrils.

The bollocking was probably warranted, as was the swollen nose that kept bleeding for days after and the rather macabre descriptions of what might have happened furnished by my mother the following morning. Warranted and necessary, a lesson learnt by mistake. Three lessons, in fact. The lesson I learnt, "don't stick stuff up your nose", the lesson my parents learnt, "don't leave stuff around that your kids could stick up their nose" and my sister's lesson, "if you don't want your father to pin you down and stick a blade clumsily up one of your nostrils resulting in your favourite Manchester City pillowcase being spattered in blood and stained for evermore then don't stick stuff up your nose, no matter how annoying your younger sibling is".

Mistakes are a handy thing to encounter. The reason the big brother knows how to drink, to smoke, to kiss and to fight is because he tried, failed and tried again. Older brothers make our mistakes so that you don't have too, but we cant fuck everything up for you. If you never make any mistakes of your own you've scant chance of ever learning anything. Everyone makes mistakes...

...that why they put rubbers on pencils.


Wednesday, 1 April 2015

It's not a valid defence in law, you know?

I grew up in a time when bad news was hard to come by. As a child, with my education well underway, I existed in a world where, once I'd clunked my clunky way through the shiny, black gates at the end of the drive, laid my bicycle on its side (Being careful to lay it on it's left side to prevent any damage being done to the Sturmey Archer gear hub) and fastened the gate behind me so as not to be followed by the family dog, I was "off the grid". If, whilst I was busy in the park building a den, damming the stream to catch sticklebacks or booting a ball around, my granddad died or our house burnt down I would continue building, damming and booting with a snotty smile on my face until home time, my fun uninterrupted by the selfish deaths of aging relatives or the destruction of my family home. Ultimately short lived but blissful, ignorance in the age of innocence.

Of course, sooner or later the bad news got through, but by then the fun had been had, the dens and dams built and the balls booted and booted until eventually ending up stuck in a tree, popped by the guy with the garden fork on the allotment or, on one occasion following an explosion of glass and the clarion call of "LEG IT", on the rug in Naggy Harris' front room. Once fun's been had, it's had. Receiving the worst news you can possible imagine upon returning home hungry, happy and with twigs stuck in your 1970s David Essex curls can't strip you of the laughter and smiles you've already laughed and smiled, although maybe they get put to the back of your mind until the pain has faded.

It wasn't just us street urchins that had to wait for bad news either. Way back in those heady days of my youth, while my father still worked at the timber yard and before he bought the pub that ensured he was always on hand to deal out punishments, the phrase "just you wait until your dad gets home, you little bastard" was bandied about with unnerving regularity. My father would leave for work at the crack of dawn, before my sister or I were awake, spend his day toiling away by the bank's of the ship canal and then make his weary way home without once hearing of the multitude of misdemeanors his mini-me had made. Generally, what with all the overtime he was forced to do to keep the roof over our heads, he'd not get home until his kids were in bed and his wife had forgotten about the phone call from Naggy Harris or the stink bomb that had gone off in his son's pocket whilst sat at the dining table, the bad news he was due becoming, with a little distance, not worth mentioning, mainly forgotten and not imparted. The trials and tribulations of my mother's day fading into memories that, maybe one day, would become nothing more than funny stories told to embarrass her son with when introduced to every new girlfriend the poor boy would ever get. The cow.

Then the end of the age of innocence snuck up on me. My birthday falling in early September, I was one of the first of my group of friends to pass my driving test and have a car, a beautiful, beige MKII Escort. One evening I found myself in a rather swish bar on the newly developed Salford Quays. As I sat, feet dangling from the ridiculously high stool I was perched on and gazing out at the ship canal on which my father worked before the posh people had moved in, my friend Andy arrived. Unusually for Andy, he was wearing a suit. Not his own suit, it was quite apparent he'd borrowed it from his father, a man a good six inches shorter than himself, and the half mast, flapping turn-ups of the trousers revealed not only his mismatched Playboy socks but a good half inch of hairy leg. Normally, I'd have latched onto this wardrobe disaster and mercilessly taken the piss, however this evening he carried with him a curious and intriguing device. It appeared to be a car battery inside a suitcase and with a telephone handset perched atop. He was sweating profusely, having carried this portable, but bloody heavy, device from the office of the company that, as of this evening, employed him and the establishment in which we'd arranged to meet. He heaved the device onto the tall, round table, narrowly missing my pint of lime and soda in the process (I'd given up drinking as soon as I passed my driving test, preferring to wow the chicks with wheels rather than fail to impress with drunken shenanigans) and sat opposite me with a grunt.

Andy, having recently been given the boot from the chicken counter at the local Tesco, had made a dramatic career choice and was now salesman for a telecommunications company selling their space-age, and to me almost magical, mobile telephones. The device that now sat before me, in a puddle of lime and soda since, for some reason, those trendy wine bars that popped up all over the place in the 1980s refused to furnish their patrons with beer mats, hummed as it intrigued.

Andy and I spent much of the rest of that evening driving around Salford and Stretford, parking outside our friends houses, looking up our friends phone numbers in the diary I carried with me and calling them.

"Hiya Shirley, it's John. Ask me where I am."

"Hiya John, where are you?"

"Look out of your window."

We'd watch for the twitch of the net curtains, wave frantically with maniacal grins plastered across out faces, blast the horn and wheel spin away. I felt like James Bond.

A few years later, now married with children and still at the tail end of the age of innocence, I found myself working as a jobbing builder. I'd managed to get contracts with a number of care homes through "contacts" in the pub. Each night I would call in to the pub and be given a list of jobs that needed doing, but getting hold of me through the day if an emergency cropped up was difficult.

And so it came to pass that I purchased my first ever mobile phone.

Unlike Andy's miraculous device, this was a Motorola Personal Phone, a mobile phone so small it could be carried in your pocket, so long as you were wearing cargo pants and didn't mind having a bruised thigh. It had buttons rather than a dial and a skinny, plastic, retractable aerial, ideal for chewing when pensive or cleaning ears, usually also while pensive. It was the beginning of the end.

I pulled up outside my house with my new acquisition lay on the passenger seat. I picked it up and dialled.


"Hiya son, ask me where I am."

"Where are you dad?"

"Look out of the window."

I watched for the twitch of the net curtains and waved frantically at my son, peering confused from within, with a maniacal grin plastered across my face as I blasted the horn. James bloody Bond.

Now my days were busier and far more fiscally rewarding. On call, always available in an emergency and with a very reasonable call out fee, I wondered how I'd ever lived without such a device.

But there were drawbacks.

No more could my wife defer punishment for whichever misdemeanor my own mini-me had perpetrated until his dad got home, more often than not calming down before then and forgetting all about it. Now, no matter how insignificant a felony he had committed, his father could be phoned and could provide, remotely, a suitable scolding.

That phone came and that phone went, to be replaced by another phone. And another. And another. It's pushing thirty years since first I phoned a friend from a Ford, since I wondered at the brave, new world that this incredible invention seemed to be opening up, and in that time I've become more and more reliant on the little box of inedible chips that I carry with me.

No longer can the box of chips really be called a phone. Where once the pinnacle of mobile phone technology came with an alarm clock and a ridiculously basic but highly addictive game to while away potty time on it, nowadays your mobile phone is better described as a portable computer that fits in your pocket and doesn't bruise your thigh, with a phone on it. The advent of this miracle of modern day marvels has brought with it an end to the ignorance of fathers all over the world. No more brief respite from the role of the parent to be scared of, no more are we just an idle threat of a vague punishment that may or may not come to pass, now paternal admonishments are "on tap". Now, daddy can be just as angry at his offspring as their mother is, whenever their mother is. The age of innocence and of ignorance is no more.

Ever contactable by anyone we share those eleven digits with, whenever it's convenient for them to call and whether or not it's convenient to be called. On the lavatory, paying for your groceries or in mid conversation, that incessant, repetitive, relentless beep of our phones is enough to force us to answer, dropping change at the checkout, hushing the person conversing with us or desperately clenching our buttocks for fear of an audible "plop" or "ffffffffrrrt" noise being converted into digits and resonating remotely in our mothers lounge or bosses office.

And, should we refuse to answer our flashing phones, there are text messages. And emails. iMessages, KIK, twitter, facebook, a myriad of methods to make sure you can't claim "I didn't know". You have to read the messages because even if you don't the sender will still think you did, still be angry if you don't respond, still claim they told you when, technically, they bloody didn't. No more ignorance sounds like a good thing, but there's an awful lot of that shit you could do without knowing.

This week, my contract on my phone came to an end. For the first time ever I managed to get to the end of a whole contract without breaking the phone I received for signing up. No scratches on the screen, no dents in the case, no loose buttons. A perfectly serviceable iPhone 5. So off I went to the to a local branch of a major phone shop intending to walk out with the same phone in my pocket that I walked in with, but with a greatly reduced monthly charge. During negotiations it came to light that not only could I have a vastly reduced bill for a greatly improved service I could also, for no extra charge or work, walk out of the shop with a brand new, shiny, gold iPhone 6. I didn't want the new phone, but I'd have been a fool not to take it.

So I spent last night playing with the new phone, to all intents and purposes a slightly lighter and larger version of the one I already had. Downloads downloaded, updates updated and restore restored I settled down to read a book, on my phone. Something I've never done before but, given the now larger display in my pocket, I thought I'd try. It wasn't an unpleasant experience but, being a lover of actual, physical, warm, musty, papery books it's not one I'll be repeating often.

This morning I left the house. As ever, I went through the routine of checking my pockets in order and ensuring I had everything I like to have with me with me. Keys, wallet, spectacles, a can of dog deterrent to fend off the feral Staffies that roam Horwich and, most importantly, my phone. My day was already well underway before I realised that I'd picked up my perfectly good old phone rather than my perfectly similar but a little bit larger new phone. What's more, last night as I was updating the newer model I scrubbed clean the memory of the old and so I was bereft of podcast to listen too, of Twitter to while away minutes and of any way of telling the time. It felt like I'd lost a leg.

Strangely, the only thing I wasn't sorry to not have with me was the ability to be contacted by anyone.

Sitting at a bus stop I noticed that, even though I knew the phone in my hand was redundant, I couldn't help but keep glancing at it and clicking the little button on the top. I was bored, terribly bored, and I longed for my wireless connection with the world. Looking around me I noticed everyone else at the bus stop had their own phones in their own hands, staring at their own little screens and tapping away at their own little buttons, sometimes smiling, sometimes not. All stood within a few metres of each other, all conversing with people near and far, passing the time with people that were absent when all around people were present. People that they may never see again, right there, right then, available and, just like them, eager to converse with someone. Bloody ignorant, some people.

I stared out of the window of the bus as we chugged along Chorley New Road, watching the texters text and the tweeters tweet as they shuffled along the pavements, and traveled the few miles to the supermarket.

Basket in hand I weaved my way through the other shoppers, occasionally selecting an own-brand item from a shelf and doing a bit of mental arithmetic so as to ensure no embarrassment at the checkout. Suddenly, a young lady came around the corner and began making her way up the aisle in which I stood. Head down and tapping away at the keys of the phone in her hand, she was on a collision course with me. I was sandwiched between a stack of boxes on a pallet truck to my right, a pensioner with a trolley to my rear and some semi-skimmed milk to my left. The only way to avoid a collision was to leap up high, grab hold of the "This Week's Specials" sign that hung above my head and swing to safety into aisle six where, if the owner of the tinny voice on the tannoy where to be believed, there had been a spillage a little earlier.

Of course, I'm not bloody Spiderman, so I was forced to brace for impact.

She walked straight into me, phone first, and immediately muttered an apology. I was looking right at her face when the impact occurred. Not even for the briefest moment, not even whilst apologising, did her gaze leave the messages on the screen before her. She took a pace or two back and then, still without tearing her attention from her phone and plainly imagining that everyone around her knew how important her messaging was, walked into me again. Again, an apology and again no glance from the screen.

When she struck me for the third time she realised something was amiss. She looked up, an angry expression on her face, and glanced around desperately for someone to vent her fury on. She saw she couldn't get through the way she'd intended and so angrily span on her heels to find another way through. Unfortunately, another young lady, possibly engrossed in a Twitter spat, was coming up behind young lady number one. Their phones clashed together, tumbling from their respective owner's grips and falling to the floor. Both young ladies were, obviously, very upset by this unexpected turn of events and a particularly loud argument followed during which, it emerged, both thought the other to be an ignorant bastard.

The new-fangled phones that had brought an end to the age of ignorance have now, a few short decades later, brought forth a new age of ignorance.

No need to converse with, interact with or even acknowledge those around us. No need to form new, real life, flesh and blood friendships with the people we encounter every day. Now we can happily take our own little bubble of ignorance outside with us and enjoy it 24/7. That in itself is by no means the greatest gift science has bestowed upon the modern world...

...but at least now we can let our children know their granddad is dead via WhatsApp.