I just looked in the mirror. A mistake.
I’ve not been up long – given it’s lunchtime. I slept really late. Later than at any time in the last 35 years or so, I reckon. And now I look as if I didn’t sleep a wink.
But, even at half past nine, this sloth was reluctant to face the day.
I grudgingly switched on the kettle, then padded down the hall to my study and fired-up the desktop.
The kettle boiled. I made tea. Took a biscuit from the tin, for dunking – well, why not?
Picked up the two newspapers I didn’t hear delivered before eight. Realised, too late, I should have cancelled one.
Sitting in bed – come on, it is the weekend – I began to read ‘my’ paper, but felt a kind of nagging worry, squatting behind my eyes like an evil sprite.
Then I remembered.
I sprang – sort of – out of bed and hurried back to the desktop.
You see, the reason I slept so late was – I was awake late. Not because I was partying, nor reading a gripping novel, nor watching an enthralling film – but because it’s been three days without an email from Archaeo-Man.
He’s off doing a pilot study.
It began well. He arrived to find his bedsit had a working shower, electricity and wi-fi.
Two days, two nights, several emails – and even a blog post* – later, I settled into communication complacency.
Oh, great nations of Africa! Let me never be complacent.
He’s in Ghana.
We were there for a week, two years ago, around this time. I loved what (little) I saw. Which is what enabled my imagination to run not quite riot, but certainly peaceful protest, with possibilities for the silence.
No wi-fi was the obvious reason. But others lurked.
A car crash (the traffic’s horrendous – and there was a casual, emailed remark about driving on the wrong side of the road).
Arrest (it’s happened before).
Sudden illness … and so on.
This morning there was a two-line email.
‘I’m ok and everything is going smoothly.’
Mains power’s been off three days. No wi-fi. But he’s fine. And, in line two, remembered it was St Valentine’s Day. Which is more than I did.
We used to buy each other pink roses when we lived in London. Delicate, just-after-dawn pink, not peachy.
These days, if things are getting me down, a box might arrive, sent by first class post from the Scilly Isles. In it, 50 fragrant winter narcissi, or scented summer pinks – gillyflowers, to use my favourite of their names. Their perfume’s just plain blissful.
But I digress.
I had to laugh at myself, once today’s email had arrived.
Worrying? After three days? Ha!
In 1993 we took a trip to Zambia. Archaeo-Man found a site worth excavating. Went back later (without me). For three months. Camping.
No phone, no email.
Airmail letters, written as if under a microscope to maximise use of the limited space, would arrive after two – even three – weeks. Delicately crumpled, the blue paper would be dappled with charcoal smudges. Looking like it’d been trodden on, or carried in a soft sack for a long, dusty distance. Which it probably had.
The stamps told stories. The dust told a story. The creases told a story. And the letters told several.
After a while, Archaeo-Man learned there were two telephone numbers in nearby Mumbwa (shudder, one place in Zambia I really don’t like). He found he could use the one that worked, in the Post Office, to receive calls. Sent me the number, asked me to ring each Saturday morning, nine o’clock their time, eight o’clock mine.
Sometimes it worked. A hurried conversation would ensue, subject to irritating echoes and time delays. The satellite had a bossy recorded voice to tell us when it didn’t want to connect us – but terminated our calls in an arbitrary, silent way, as if to say, that’s enough, I’m bored.
Sometimes the Post Master would have a really good Friday night and I’d sit there, at eight o’clock, ringing, ringing, ringing … to no reply. The Post Office was shut till the hangover abated.
I’d be left with a long, long Saturday – and a long, long wait till the next one.
In Mumbwa, Archaeo-Man would head back to his ramshackle camp, termite-ravaged sacks of soil samples and regular visits from Harry the policeman. And the jackal.
I’m not sure the erratic availability of that phone helped. But once the possibility was there, we couldn’t ignore it.
I’m lucky. Being by a landline all day I’m not addicted to a mobile. I see polite people suffering withdrawal jitters when they put away their phones for half an hour. There, but for the grace of working at home, go I.
One day we may have permanent connections implanted in our brains. And then who will daydream? Or become bored and find something interesting to do, or read, or think about?
Whose brains will be free to create, invent, imagine?
The expectation of communication is its own problem. We can, ergo, we expect. And do.
But I still remember that cranky satellite. And I imagine what would happen to the world if a solar flare put out our phones and emails and …
You can have too much imagination.
*If you’d like to find out more about what Archaeo-Man’s up to here’s his blog site: http://www.stoneageghana.wordpress.com