A bird you set free may be caught again; but a word that escapes your lips will not return

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It stands to reason that those writing topical weekly newspaper columns should avoid making too much reference to their ignorance on any subject under examination, but I fear this week might well be an exception to prove the rule.

I seem to waste a lot of my thinking time wondering about the merits or otherwise of the baffling range of systems available to us on mobile phones, giving instant communication to anyone anywhere in the world.

Describing this as a social revolution is no exaggeration, as mobile phones have opened up person-to-person communication to the extent that I occasionally see quite small children passing my home with a mobile phone pressed to an ear; just a sign of the times I suppose.

I’m OK on the internet and hopeless at texting, the rest is all mumbo-jumbo to me, my main preference being to write a letter if I have anything to say, although to be fair my arthritic handwriting has often been likened to a draft copy of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

When I was of a similar age to these youthful tweeter and texters, some time had yet to pass before I actually made a telephone call to anyone.

I remember the first call I made as a lad – it was to my grandfather to wish him a happy 80th birthday.

Installed in a neighbour’s house, the device in question, was, believe it or not, one of those strange telephones consisting of a black bakelite base with a round shiny dial, a vertical stalk with a speaking bit at the top, with a cloth-covered cord leading to an earpiece that one pressed to the lug of one’s choice; just like in the old black and white movies.

Since Grandfather was a person who shunned such new fangled things as phones, our conversation seemed to start off with caller and called bellowing “hello ... hello” at each other several times, before a prompting parent urged me to wish the aged one a happy birthday, receiving a curt acknowledgement before the telephone was snatched away and I was sharply told to buzz off.

That suited me fine as by that time I had reached the ceiling of my technical confidence and was eager for a chance to bolt.

Like most other families in the village we had no phone in our own house.

That did not arrive until the mid 1960s, by which time the younger members of our family were dispersed to various places and countries, creating the need for a phone to keep in touch.

If I recall correctly, the telephone bills were not very big as it was something of a family creed that if somebody was out of hollering range they were well out of mind, and it remained so until well after I left home for the Army.

It was often the rule for junior soldiers leaving camp to possess four old pennies, the big copper jobs, with which they could contact the guard room if they came unstuck in any way.

The guard room staff might require you to prove you knew the right telephone number, but by and large this rarely caused problems as a call for help in dire circumstances might result in the duty driver coming to your rescue, although there were always repercussions.

The only benefit came if an extended dalliance with one of the charming young ladies of Kilmarnock, Irvine or Troon continued after the last bus back to camp, in which case calling in to announce that fact might, and only might, persuade the duty sergeant that you had made an effort to rectify the dangerous situation of being at liberty after the return deadline.

After walking the long miles back to camp, assuming no lift from friendly Ayrshire folk of which there were many, the reception at the guard room could be frosty, although some sergeants seemed fascinated to know the intimate details of the late returner’s evening.

In the strange world of military morality, social success of a certain kind was considered mitigation for the terrible crime of being late.

But that is all in the past; what appears to be a majority of the world’s population are now constantly in touch by a wide range of electronic marvels, most of which are to me a complete mystery.

Being something of a social pariah has its advantages in that few people other than cold callers have any great desire to contact me, and the feeling is quite mutual.

But man oh man, why is it so many people in the public eye seem hell-bent on circulating their thoughts in a way that is almost certain to land them in the poo.

It seems one of the less attractive features of being a professional footballer, perchance a cricketer, is a compulsion to transmit via a tweet or similar something nasty about anything or anyone that pushes their personal irritation button.

Needless to say, the object of their displeasure soon gets to hear of it and sets the grievance ball rolling without delay.

Sport, politics and racism are high on the list of tricky subjects, but there are many others.

Thus we see the practice of broadcasting one’s deepest thoughts can be risky; it is all too easy to post an acerbic comment or two, only to realise it was not your best idea of the day; and you can’t easily get it back.

It could be the case we should adopt a habit of saying or transmitting less, and certainly inserting a suitable pondering pause between thinking up something we consider either pertinent or clever, then committing it to the airwaves.

I am reminded of the wise old saying that well-timed silence has greater eloquence than speech; for many who are currently in the public gaze this must surely be good advice, especially when speaking to plebs.

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