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  1. Politics
14 November 2013

Will your family relate to one another if you kick the mobile phone habit?

The Squeezed Middle must set an example.

By Alice O'Keeffe

As I push the buggy towards the park, there is something nagging at me; a little itch I need to scratch. I put my hand into my bag and then take it out again as I remember that what I am looking for is not there.

I have never been addicted to class-A drugs but I think I may be getting some insight into cold turkey. I feel edgy, wrong . . . my mind won’t settle. As we near the playground, I talk myself sternly out of giving up and going home for a fix.

I am trying to kick my mobile phone habit. I’ve not only switched it off but left it at home in a drawer, while Moe and I have gone out for our morning walk. I have set myself this little challenge after a terrifying conversation with Curly’s sister, who has three teenagers. In a desperate attempt to get her family to spend some time relating to one another, she has resorted to unplugging the router and hiding it under the stairs.

“But they get on to the net on their phones anyway,” she told me. “It’s a nightmare.”

So, I’ve seen the future and it ain’t pretty. If I am to have a leg to stand on when my kids are older and determined to squander their lives on Twitter, or Xbox, or whatever other intrusive brain-rotting rubbish has been invented by then, I must Set An Example. And that means putting my phone away. Moe is already obsessed with it. If I leave my bag unguarded, he immediately filches it, and if I take it away, he screams as if I’ve slapped him. Not a good sign.

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I didn’t even want a smartphone. I asked T-Mobile for an old Nokia but it was cheaper to get a more expensive phone. That’s how they get you. Just like drug dealers, giving away enough hits to get you hooked. It arrived in a little black box, like a coffin in which to bury my peace of mind.

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Phew, I need to calm down. Perhaps a coffee will do it. I clatter the buggy into the café, order an espresso and take out Moe’s bottle. He smiles up at me with such cuteness that just for a second I forget to wonder whether I have missed an important call or a message suggesting something much more fun that I could be doing right now.

To spend lots of time with a baby, you have to accept a certain lack of witty repartee. They are not going to deliver a devastating analysis of global capitalism, point you towards an interesting editorial in the New York Times, give you a promotion or, sadly, a pay rise. They are pretty much going to want to do the same simple things again and again. To enjoy it, you have either to become very calm and Zen, or you have to distract yourself constantly on your phone.

Ah. The coffee crackles through my synapses. I’m firing on all cylinders now. I’m going to take Moe out to the playground and play with him like he’s never been played with before. I pick him up and take him out to the sand pit. I build a sand castle. He knocks it down. I build another one. He knocks it down again.

There, you see? Just call me supermum.

  1. Politics
7 November 2013

What the ducks at the park made me realise about city living

When I was a kid, Islington wasn’t that posh. It was a place where ordinary people lived – teachers, social workers, writers, and not even famous ones. Parents got together to organise a cheap’n’cheerful playgroup. The local shops included a chippy, a jok

By Alice O'Keeffe

It’s a bright autumn day, and Moe and I are feeding the ducks in the park. These ducks know me well by now. When Larry was just a toddler we used to feed them together, every day. Now Larry is so grown up that he’s gone to nursery by himself for the whole morning. So it’s just Moe and me.

I throw a few breadcrumbs to a friendly-looking lady mallard. But before she can get her beak anywhere near them, a Canada goose barges her out of the way and wolfs down the lot. Cheeky beggar! I throw another handful, deliberately closer to the mallard. But the same thing happens again.

I step back. I survey the scene. There’s no doubt about it – things have changed around this pond. There’s a new hierarchy in place. The mallards used to have a comfortable spot under the weeping willow. There were a few moorhens and pigeons, sure, but they seemed perfectly happy to scoop up whatever the mallards left behind.

Now the whole front section by the fence, prime breadcrumb territory, is occupied by scores of thick-necked Canada geese with beady black eyes and determined expressions. The mallards are lurking hungrily in the water, way out of breadcrumb range. They look miserable, ousted; their once-sleek feathers are ruffled and drab.

Immediately, my heart goes out to those mallards. I know exactly what they are going through. I feel the same way myself when I go back to Islington, where I was brought up. When I was a kid, Islington wasn’t that posh. It was a place where ordinary people lived – teachers, social workers, writers, and not even famous ones. Parents got together to organise a cheap’n’cheerful playgroup. The local shops included a chippy, a joke shop and a shabby boozer.

Now the chippy is an artisan cheesemonger and the joke shop sells laughably expensive designer furniture. The playgroup is full of nannies. This may be fanciful, but to me the new breed of Islingtonians – the ones whose leisurewear of choice is chinos with moccasins; the ones who have upwards of a million quid to pay for a perfectly ordinary house – have something of that beady, determined, Canada goose look about them.

Meanwhile, all of us soft cuddly brown mallards have been pushed out to the suburbs, where we’re huddling together, trying not to feel bitter.

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Right. I scoop up Moe and set my jaw in resolve. I am going to get my breadcrumbs to those mallards if it is the last thing I do. Perhaps if I climb up on to the railing of the bridge and get just the right angle . . .

I throw my crumbs. Immediately the Canada geese start to advance in a menacing flock. But the lady mallard has their number. She is quicker off the mark. She is smaller, and more agile, and dammit, she wants those crumbs more than they do. Before any of those great lumbering geese can get involved she has snapped them all up and glided niftily away.

And I may be imagining it, but as she paddles off she looks to me just a little jauntier, because now she knows that Moe and I are on her side. Silently, I make that mallard a solemn promise: we’ll be back tomorrow. And we’ll bring duck seed.