The phone with no ring
April 13, 2005
Yesterday I went to the basement of Carphone Warehouse in London's
Oxford Street, a first-aid centre for mobile telephones. The older
gentleman in front of me looked familiar. I asked if he was a writer.
"Yes," he said. It was, as I had suspected, the novelist and essayist
Berger. I was chuffed. Even great writers line up to get their
phones fixed. He asked what was wrong with mine. It has a torch
that works, I said, but doesn't ring. (Like a car that has
spell-check but no wheels.)
I told him I met Salman Rushdie a few
months back. He was in a pub with his partner Padma Lakshmi. I
patted him on the shoulder
and said, "I'm Iranian and on behalf of my country
I apologise". Rushdie laughed but gave me a look of unease
as if I might shout "Blasphemous swine!" and stab him.
That was my cue to leave but I asked if he would endorse the book
I have written. He said he might and that I should send it to his
publisher. I haven't yet. Written it, that is.
"Why don't you ditch Salman for me," I wanted to tell
Padma, who is beautiful and my age. "I'm not quite
as distinguished yet but I am rather hip." Imagine prising
Rushdie's wife off him. In what would be a poetic role-reversal,
he would issue a fatwa on an Iranian.
John -- we were on first
name terms now -- asked if I did any writing. I told him, sir,
if you write, I scribble with a blunt
pencil. I didn't actually but I wish I had. Bugger. His wife
appeared. I forget her name, maybe Bernadette. I asked how things
were in Switzerland -- John was being served now. "We
live in France," she said. "Not Switzerland." She
told me that a Berger season is running in London and that's
why they were here. She quizzed me about why my family had left
Iran, after which they left the shop. I refrained from insisting
on coffee lest I frighten them. They both seemed surprised someone
had recognised John in Carphone Warehouse.
At the repair desk the
image of a mobile phone with hands and feet, its head bandaged,
white coat on another -- the doctor treating
it -- decorated a glass panel behind which was the fix-it lab,
with a green hospital cross on the door. I was glad to have told
John that I think the cell phone industry should be nationalised,
with people's phones, dull as East German Trabants, issued
free-of-charge to single mothers among others. No cute ring tones
and no cameras, I said -- like mine. His wife smiled. Although
I admitted, "If I did have a camera I could take a picture
now with Mr Berger". Consumerism has its merits, after all.
I checked my phone in at the counter, oddly humanised in cartoon
form, with arms and legs, in a mass communication culture that
dehumanises the poor, especially if they sit on oil, so that they
can be colonised and their limbs blown off. Fortunately the couple
escaped this lecture. That's what you do when you meet big
writers, you want to impress them with your ideas. Berger was one
of few whose writing influenced me as a student, partly because
his seminal book "Ways
of Seeing" had bold type and
pictures, perfect for when you're stoned.
The cell-phone doctor,
wearing puppy stubble, name badge, shirt and tie, examined my
Nokia so thoroughly it belied a suspicion
that I have no friends who might call.
("Can't fix your social
life here mate, there's a bar next-door.")
"That man you just served", I told him, "he's
a great writer." He looked at me, nodded and pressed a button.