Picture of a judge's wigThe Judge RANTS!Picture of a judge's wig

Date: 26/11/05

Ring Out!...Out! Out! OUT!

Mobile phones.

I don't have one.

I wouldn't have one if you paid me (or, at least, not unless the sum were sufficiently large: in which case, I'd have one but leave it switched off all the time).

For most people, what the hell is the point of having one? Unless you're a medical professional on twenty-four-hour call, or on a waiting list for a transplant, I fail to see any reason for them. All they do is annoy other people.

As I don't drive (and that's another category of the wilfully self-'disadvantaged' I'm happy to be in), I travel a lot by bus. In the last couple of years, I don't think I've undertaken a single journey, however brief, which has not been cut across by the ringtone, that latter-day crime against musical sensibilities. This is then followed by an apparently obligatory thirty-five seconds during which the callee delves through her (it's usually a 'her') pockets, handbag or even an entire week's shopping to find the wretched instrument and stop the racket.

(It's funny - that is to say, not funny - how ringtones lodge in your head. Even the most innocuous of melodies can turn into a sworn tormentor in just a couple of hearings. Hear it in the morning, it's stuck between your ears for the rest of the day, frequently in an environment where there's no chance of being able to get to, say, a compilation of classic death-metal tracks, in order to flush the bastard thing out).

One is then treated to one side of someone else's conversation conducted at a volume which suggests that the person at the other end is working in a steel plant, as shouting seems to be the only method of getting the message through.

The conversations themselves (or, at least, the fifty per cent of them which are all too clearly audible) are not exactly of global import either, being largely of the "Where are you?" "I'M ON THE BUS!!!" variety, or the semi-tantalising "I LEFT IT ON THE TABLE IN THE KITCHEN!!!" sub-genre (leaving one to speculate as to what, exactly, has been left thereupon: her cheque book? Her Dutch Cap? What, then?)

To this list of offences must be added the ones committed by those who seem to have totally missed the point of the term 'mobile phone' (i.e. the first part), and who wander off leaving it on the table, in their coat pocket (said coat being draped over the back of their chair), on their desks. All of which leaves the rest of us to either put up with the dreaded bingly-bingly-beep time and time again, or to be brave and answer it ourselves. I have a colleague who used to be terrible for this: in fact, one week I'm sure I spent more time in conversation with his wife than he did.

And this is all for...well, for what, exactly? Rather like the way in which it has come to be the accepted wisdom that having more and more television channels is far better than having just a handful, it has become gospel that the mobile phone is a Good Thing. Its promoters claim that ease of communication is a boon in these hurry-scurrying times. But, as with television, you don't get better communication, only a damn sight more of it, and of an ever-lowering quality.

Besides which, why would anyone in their right mind (apart from the very rare categories I cited at the top of this rant) want to be easily contactable at any time? I know that I certainly don't. Given that nearly all the calls I take on my landline at home are from people trying to sell me things (Telephone Preference Service membership notwithstanding), it's a positive relief to know that 'they can't catch me'.

This is not to say that you can't have a little fun with them. A few years ago, I had to have a mobile phone in work so that I could be contacted in an emergency if away from my desk. The phone was returned after a couple of years because it was never needed. It's not as if it's a big building in any case. But I and two similarly-equipped colleagues were having a conflab in a distant part of the building one morning, when one of us (not altogether wisely) announced that he was going for a pee. I and the other sysadmin gave each other a meaningful look as our co-worker went in through the door of the Gents. We estimated the time it would take him to get into the cubicle, lower his fly and let go...then we dialled his number.

He questioned our parentage after that, I don't understand why.

But this is the tiniest of boons conferred by these wretched devices, and doesn't begin to make up for the annoyance not only of the mobile phone itself, but of the arrogant, self-regarding rudeness of so many who have them. Nothing, it seems, not even the most fundamental social rules, must be allowed to come between them and their tedious conversations about spare socks or dorky boyfriends.

Which is why I salute the actor Richard Griffiths for his insistence that a woman whose phone had gone off three times during the same performance leave the theatre. Mr Griffiths did the same thing last year, when some tosser's phone rang no fewer than six times in the course of a play.

(Read the full story here).

I just wish I had the sang froid, the nerve, the courage, to insist that one of these tormentors leave the bus immediately...while it is still in motion at about twenty five miles per hour.

Failing that, why haven't they developed portable blanking equipment which renders all space within a radius of, say, thirty metres, impenetrable to signals? I'd buy it like a shot.