My two younger boys were traumatised when a few years ago I threatened to throw the older one’s mobile into the Med. I only just restrained myself at the time and I can’t remember what prompted my outburst.
On Tuesday, while I was relaxing at home with a glass of Puisseguin 2017, my own telephone rang. It’s a Chinese number, the phone that is, an OPPO, which connects me constantly with Peking so that they can listen in to all my calls in case I say ‘Free Taiwan’ or something else equally inflammatory. But it cost only 112 euros at Fnac and I take it everywhere with me. It cost so little it’s more or less disposable and the camera works well enough if I remember to remove my thumb.
It was my youngest son. “Bad news,” he said. I’ve learned over the long years of parenting that this is true. It will be bad, very bad, or unspeakably bad. But it would not be just a little bit bad. I waited to find out which it would be this time.
Eighteen months ago the same thing had happened when my middle son called me to tell me that there had been an accident. “Anybody hurt?” I asked, of course, which meant the news wasn’t unspeakably bad. No, there hadn’t been any life-threatening injuries but he had nudged the back of a stationary motorbike at a traffic light in Roquebrune. Only a little nudge, he told me. Nothing, really. However, the rider had fallen off dramatically and rolled around. The French police turned up, as did the Monaco Fire Brigade and an Ambulance.
I had to imagine the scene from my conservatory in Devon where I had enjoyed a perfect day – so far – on my hands and knees revarnishing the floor. I pieced together in my head the whole tableau of exaggerated injuries, incomplete paperwork for my car, and the irritation of the emergency services.
It turned out that the Police, the Fire persons and the Ambulance crew had all been very helpful and almost apologetic. The only lasting damage was a hike in my car insurance.
Back to last Tuesday.
“He (name redacted to protect the guilty) accidentally dropped his phone off the digue and into the sea.”
“Why didn’t he call me himself to tell me,” I asked.
“Daaad,” said my youngest, with infinite patience. “He couldn’t call you because his phone is at the bottom of Port Hercule.”
“Aha,” I said, pretending that I had figured that out already.
“How is he dealing with it?”
“Well, he jumped in after it but couldn’t find it. It’s very deep just there. He took his shirt off ‘cos he didn’t want to drown.”
A small crowd had gathered and when my middle son resurfaced he let out a very anguished yell of “FFFF…K!”
I spoke again to the youngest, who had my other phone with him as he has lost the Apple ID for his own. “Please bring him home ASAP.”
That was four days ago. It has not been an easy time. Not only were all his contacts on that phone – an expensive iPhone – but his bank log-in details and this app and the other app and his whole life. For four days he has lived in suspended animation, cut off from all his mates, his bank account and everything else that matters in his young and totally digitalised life.
I offered to buy him a Chinese OPPO, but apparently he’d rather drown than sink so low.
Views expressed by Jeff Daniels do not necessarily reflect those of the publishers