A salt and battery


Sometimes having your very own personal Sage can be almost handy. Admittedly the salty old sod has cost me a fair amount of grief in the public relations department (on one occasion nearly got me arrested) and put me in deep schtook with The Spouse until she began to see him too but he can be quite handy, albeit unintentionally. Sometimes.


Have you ever gone into a store with nothing more than a desire to buy, but only after you’ve surveyed at leisure what’s on offer?

Recently I decided that a new cellphone may be in order. Old Faithful has done sterling service for years but some of the buttons are becoming sluggish and the lettering is wearing off of D/E/F.

So last time in town I called into some stores to cast an eye over the bill of fare and was quite surprised to see how just far modern celephones have come. All I wanted was a basic clam-shell that could speak and do texts. But they only had the one flip-top and it wasn’t rubberised like my elderly Motorola. Bugger. I like phones that bounce.

The salesman was very helpful, not. Actually, a bloody pest. But he was only trying to do his job after all; his turf, not mine. So I let him tag along as I worked my way through the piles and switched to Plan B (tune him out). It was a marriage made in heaven. He was happy doing his job babbling about bells and whistles and so long as he was by my side I was bulletproof, no other pesky sales-folk would come near.

Apparently my desire (the clammy flip-top) is passé now, being uncool to the nth degree: “Not even dear old Grandad would have one of those. Yuk.” … “—but on the other hand, Sir—”

I like Sir. It doesn’t happen often these days, mostly it’s “Outa the way ya silly old far—”

“Keep it seemly, Lad.”Oh goody, The Sage is back. It had to happen.

I nod imperceptibly. Now I have two voices to tune out, annoyances in stereo and only one of them is real. Well done. I’ll have to be careful lest I get chucked out. Again.

Steven (unless he’s swiped someone’s else’s name badge) is just getting into his stride, jabbing at the white phone (phone? All I can see is a panel with more buttons than a brass band) with wild enthusiasm.

“—built in GPS accurate to within three millimetres anywhere on the planet—”

“Very handy if I need to mark a target for cruise missiles then?”


“Never mind—”

“Oh, yes, I see, Sir is being funny. Indeed, yes, ha ha ha, very good; and it has maps for every city, town, village—”

“Who’s the popinjay?”

I shake my head. How do you tell a Sage from the sixteen hundreds about modern salesmen and cellphones?

Steven misinterprets the gesture, he relaunches The Show So Far and my mind drifts back to clamshells. Absently I reach into my pocket—ah, yes, still there—

“—miles covered and time lapsed, which means how long it took and calculates ETA—that means Estimated Time of Arrival, Sir, provided of course that you told it where you’ve started fro—”

My first cell phone—before wee Steven here was even born—was a huge brick that only barely qualified for ‘mobile’. If you hauled out the antenna you could use it to block highways. Even half-hauled you could have duelled all three musketeers simultaneously and still—

“—makes the coffee but you have to enter the style … here, here, and here—”

All I want is something that can send texts to The Spouse. I never talk on those things, I don’t like the idea of a radiating aerial so close to the little grey cells with only a thin layer of skull—

“—to ten metres, that’s about thirty feet. Below that you’ll need the custom pressure-resistant case, that’s extra—”

A drainage ditch
A drainage ditch

I remember when I lost the boss’s cellphone once when I was working in a peat bog. Heard a plop as I jumped a deep goo-filled drainage ditch, never did find it. He replaced it with a bright pink one so I’d stand a chance of finding it if ever I dropped it not into a deep goo-filled drainage ditch, again.

“—free, but don’t call them twice in a twelve hour period or they’ll set the ferrets onto you—”

“Aaaah. Them pocket-sized telling-bone things.” He’s swift I tell you. “In my day we did it all with signal flags and lanterns.”

My mind momentarily boggles at the idea of me running up the Blue Peter on our car’s aerial to let The Spouse know I’m ready to go home.

“—but white always goes first, of course. And it doesn’t castle—”

Not a good selling point with me, dammit. My computer beats me, The Spouse beats me, even my blasted Sage beats me although I have to move his pieces for him. The last thing I need is a blasted phone beating me too—

“—walks the dog, you just attach it to his collar, here—”

“You cheat, anyway.”

“What?” (Oops …)

“I said walks the dog and babysits the kids. You just switch it to ‘eavesdrop’ mode and leave it by the cot—”

“You cheat! Sometimes you move my pieces to a different square than the one I ordered—”


Momentarily Steven stops in mid-babble, looking at me sideways before eventually he resumes, but I can tell his heart isn’t really in it anymore.

“—car wash attachment. For only thirty thousand dollars extra you get the six by ten colour-steel shed fully plumbed—”


“I do not cheat!”

“—built in weather station complete with barometer readouts tabulated over the previous month, temperatures, trends and foreca—wot? Cheat? Who cheats?”

“No one!”

“You said you were a cheat?”

“No. Eek. I never said that.”

“Oh! So I’m the cheat then, is that how it goes?”

“Yes. Er, no, not at all. Errrrrr … pass?”

“So you think that by showing you the present stage of affordable phones you think I’m trying to do you out of your hard-earned pension? No?”

The Sage has moved round right in front of him and is making rude gestures.

“Don’t do that! Oops—”

“I’m only putting it away … Sir … and if you should still be interested in  … buying … a phone I’ll get old Thomas to stagger out here and show you our range of tin cans and string!”

He flounces off leaving me momentarily monarch of all I survey but before I can reach for the clamshell flipper I’ve just spotted The Sage alerts me to no less than three salespersons closing in. Fortunately the direct route to the front door is still clear. I make a snap decision—Old Faithful has served me well all these years and still purrs like a carton of contented kittens. Stet.

I sally forth just as the first—a pretty girl with long blonde hair and one bowsprit labelled ‘Sally’—arrives. Sufficient unto the day, as they say, and my head is spinning.

Sorry Sally, another day perhaps … signal flags, now there’s a thought. And no batteries required …




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