Bip-bip-bip, beeep-beeep, bip-bip-bip.
The sound indicating the arrival of yet another text message rang out across the crowded pub, cutting though the rumble of conversation and the clatter of glasses. How many people knew what that sound actually means, I wondered. SMS, in good old-fashioned Morse Code, standing for Short Message Service, although almost nobody calls it that these days.
The bloke whose phone had just beeped put down his pint, picked the Nokia off the table and casually flicked the cover open with his thumb. His face twisted into a smile as he read the message, nodding his head and stroking his beard thoughtfully. After a few seconds, he turned the screen to show it to his companions. They displayed a variety of different reactions: some laughed aloud, some chuckled silently with their shoulders heaving, while yet others reacted with a nod and a thoughtful silence. The recipient then pressed a few buttons on the keyboard, presumably to forward the message to some contacts of his own.
Soon, it seemed that every phone in the place was alerting to the arrival of a message. Beeps, buzzes and ring tones of every kind erupted throughout the public house, including that immensely annoying one announcing "A Message from the Dark Side, there is," in a voice vaguely like that of Yoda from the Star Wars films. This twenty-first century instant communication technology jarred irritatingly, I considered, with the contrived but familiar ambience of the English country pub, with its atmosphere steeped in log fires, low beams and horse-brasses.
No-one seemed to care. Throughout the bar, people interrupted their conversations, and rummaged in pockets and handbags for their phones to read the message. I watched as they demonstrated varied reactions on a theme of mild amusement and wry smiles, then almost invariably showed their companions - if they had any - to further amusement for all. Another topical text message joke doing the rounds, I thought.
I suppose I must be a bit old-fashioned, a pre-historic relic of a dinosaur – the green scales are usually concealed beneath my everyday clothing – as I do not regularly send or receive text messages. No-one sends me these jokes, although sometimes an acquaintance shows me one, or reads it out in the office across the low partitions which separate the desks. I laugh politely, of course, but I never ask for the joke to be forwarded on, and decline any such offer, suggested that they should save their money for someone who would appreciate the thought. Now, everyone who knows me even slightly does not even bother to ask.
Oh, I know how to text, of course, and I do send messages very occasionally: to warn that I will be late for a meeting at work, perhaps, or sometimes to announce that I will be late home - best to avoid the "your dinner's in the dog" scenario with the good lady wherever possible. When I do send a message, it is always spelled and correctly punctuated, with capital letters and everything. Personally, I cannot abide that lazy abbreviated modern style which is apparently intended to make the sender's task easier while transferring the effort to the comprehension of the recipient.