It’s no exaggeration to say that getting a smartphone changed my life, for all sorts of reasons. And it’s also no exaggeration to say that losing a smartphone, once you start to rely on it, is like losing a well-thumbed diary, or house keys: in the short term, it changes your life just as seriously.
After Thursday’s late-night electioneering, I decided to take the bus into work on Friday morning. Not only was I fairly bleary, but I also needed to return a portable jumpstarter to my friend and co-worker Brighty (well, via her to her husband Hatmandu.) It was sufficiently heavy – maybe half the weight of a car battery in itself – that attaching it to a pannier and dragging it seven miles in my half-rested state sounded like some sort of medieval punishment. So I put it in a shoulder bag, hoisted my man bag onto my other shoulder and set off.
I complicated matters by buying a coffee while waiting for the bus. The local barista – if indeed Witney can be said to have such things as baristas – I have well trained, and he fills my own sealable mug so that I can smuggle it onto the bus. But that was something else to juggle, even as I took out my smartphone and started to dimly try to work on it (sticking to housekeeping tasks, really: email and the like.) I also occasionally browsed a book I’d brought along to burden myself down even further (not least because my wait for the return journey can be tedious) and fooled with a new MP3 player I’d got for my birthday (ditto.)
Eventually I got on the bus, was jostled by local farm-college students, and ended up being dropped off rather kindly by the bus driver close to the driveway I work down. This meant getting out onto an overgrown grass verge, and cutting across yet another one on my walk in until I was picked up by a colleague for the last half-mile. It was only much later in the day – after Brighty had left with her jumpstarter – and at the end of all these little journey components – walk, coffee, wait, bus, swap seats, grass verge, walk, lift – that I realised I was no longer in possession of either phone or novel.
Having had a great deal of coffee by the time of this discovery, just to keep myself functioning, I began to send panicked communications however I could, to whoever I could think of: no SMSes, remember. I phoned K and warned her that I was uncontactable except through the work phone – this was during the final counts for the elections – and also tweeted Brighty and Hatmandu to ask whether like an idiot I’d put my belongings in with the jumpstarter. I also tried ringing the phone itself a few times, and it went straight to answerphone.
In the mean time, not knowing precisely where I’d left the phone – at the bus stop? On the bus? In a load of overgrown weeds? – I decided I’d have to get the mobile company to block it, and also start changing all the passwords of all the services I had on the phone. The latter was a misery compounded by the fact that I’d only recently changed a number of my passwords, and wasn’t too happy having to do it again. At the point of writing this I’ve already forgotten one of the new ones.
I continued to ring my own phone every now and again, although the network block meant it stopped directing to voicemail. I also heard from Brighty that I’d managed to put my book in the bag I then gave to her, but sadly not my phone. I rang the bus company, having had no luck with their dedicated email address for lost property, and was told I’d have to wait for the end of the day as the drivers wouldn’t radio in or even go past the depot until then.
Time passed, and I had to make my way back to the bus stop for the evening journey. What I really wanted to do – by now I’d had six cups of coffee and needed some sleep – was to make my way from where I got my lift in the morning, retracing my steps while ringing my phone from someone else’s phone. It still surprises me that I got a colleague to offer his phone and a lift so that I could do exactly this. I think it was because he’s still on probation that he did it. But to no avail: no bleating of ringtone was heard from the long grass.
If you drove between Charlbury and Witney at around 5.45pm on Friday, and saw a man listening intently first to a mobile phone and then to the weeds that he would occasionally swipe aside with his hands, and thought him crazy, then now you know: you were right.
No phone could be found, and I bade my colleague goodbye. Bereft of phone and book to read, I sat and waited half an hour for the bus as the usual Cotswoldish drivers hurtled past, almost out of control, a few feet from me. I tried to console myself with my new music player, but even that turned into ashes, or maybe stiff cotton buds, in my ears: did some karmic force detect my acquisition of one portable electronic device, and then decide to punish my carbon-emission hubris by compelling me to lose another one through my own ineptitude? By listening to this music, I wondered, was I somehow accepting my mobile phone’s loss?
Eventually, life intersected with the timetable and the bus pulled up at the stop. As I walked towards it, I spotted through the opening doors the same driver that I had seen this morning – one of the joys of a rural bus service – and as I also began to ask him if he’d had a phone handed in, he broke into a huge grin and held that very device towards me. He hadn’t felt comfortable answering it when it rang, he told me, so was going to hand it in at the depot if he didn’t see me that evening.
With a gratitude far beyond what he felt his actions deserved I took the phone and sat down in my seat, staring dizzily, sleepily but gratefully into space until we got near home. Even then, as I stumbled off, I wanted to tip him five, twenty, fifty pounds: some sufficient reward for the return of my security, my address book, my undownloaded photos. But his manner made it clear he thought it no big thing, and instead I carried on home, to K. and an early bed.
There’s no moral to this story, except that I’m an idiot. You might in fact claim that I’ve only written about losing my mobile phone because I couldn’t chose between any of the three recent times that I’ve lost my wallet.