Just at that moment, my own phone beeped. It was a discreet feep set at a volume intended to alert just me, rather than being audible to all fifty people in the pub. Even so, my drinking friends stopped their chat for a moment and looked at me slightly strangely, as if I had erupted in a fanfare of discordant oompah music to the accompaniment of tortured piano accordions and the brisk slapping of lederhosen.

"It's just a text message," I explained, reaching the mobile from my pocket.

My acquaintances looked at each other.

"I didn't realise you actually had a mobile phone," one said, while the other nodded in agreement.

I snorted, a harrumph of good-natured tolerance, or so I'd like to think. My friends shook their heads again and returned to their political conversational topic.

I read the message that had just arrived in silence: "Thirteen year old dad Alfie Patten has joined Fathers for Justice. He doesn't understand the politics but he already has a Spiderman costume."

It was the first joke text message I had ever received.

But who on earth had sent me this? I did not recognise the number, and there was no corresponding name stored in the phone's address book memory. I did not want this kind of interruption, this distraction in my life. Irritated, I swallowed the last of my drink and stood up to leave, making some excuse about a busy day at work tomorrow to cover my confusion and annoyance. I walked back home up the hill to the welcoming blare of Coronation Street on the TV, still fuming.

I soon put the unexpected message out of my mind - although I have come to think back to that evening in the pub with increasing frequency. I have started to get these messages myself, on a regular basis; jokes and anecdotes, usually topical and often witty, each time a different number and always from a number I did not recognise.

These texts rapidly became a kind of low-level annoyance in my life, the kind of irritation best overcome by following the adage grin and bear it. I set the phone's message alert sound level even lower, but I could not bring myself to turn the sound off altogether, just in case there was a genuine emergency at home or work I had to react to immediately. So, ten or twenty times a day, I would find myself distracted from working, or a conversation, or just my own peaceful ruminations, just to delete yet another carefully-punctuated joke message.

Not all of these jokes were topical, of course. Presumably the copywriters still had to produce their quota even when there was nothing particularly troubling going on. "A company has come up with a new medicine for depressed lesbians. It's called Trydixagin." Even so, these messages always seemed to provide a comment on the modern world and our place in it.

When the texts started appearing, I sometimes called the number from which they appeared to come. Invariably, I would get a bland recorded message, or the number would simply be unavailable. No human being ever seemed to be available, or returned my calls. After a certain amount of frustration, I simply gave up trying.

Part 2 Part 4