It is not always easy to find a mobile phone signal here at Highclere as we seem to be in a bit of black spot. Personally, I am not sure that I think it is a huge disadvantage as it means you have time to gather your thoughts and make a proper phone call, sitting at your desk, after due deliberation.
If you are trying to get hold of someone here, we tend to try to meet, actually to find the person you are trying to get hold of and speak to them directly rather than via that rectangular gadget that is permanently glued to your hand or pocket. If your mobile does ring, the connection is not usually very strong so I can be found leaning out of windows or standing on desks in an effort to hear. As a child I always enjoyed climbing trees and cartwheeling so I suppose it all helped instill innovation and agility. Everyone here has their favourite spot where they think they get the best signal. Some of the team can be regularly seen roaming the lawns waving their phones in the air whilst the gift shop ladies explore their own agility climbing dancing round the courtyard.
I know that we all seem to be addicted to our mobile phones but I sometimes think that husbands in particular have a unique obsession with them. I occasionally ask Geordie whether he would prefer to go for a walk round the gardens with his phone or his wife. Naturally there is no competition and the phone goes on the walk with him. I might ask if I can borrow his phone to look something up which nearly produces a crisis of indecision and panic. With unbelievable reluctance I am allowed to hold it on the understanding I don’t drop it (again) but, before I can find out what I need to know, he has grabbed it back saying he can look it up instead for me.
From time to time I try to ring him on his phone as, in a rather old fashioned way, I believe that apart from all its other functions, it is fundamentally a telephone with a person at the other end. I am quite sure he is the same as many other husbands /boyfriends /partners /children: despite the fact that he never seems to put his phone down, neither does he ever answer it. After 15 missed calls, I cannot decide what I want to do – moving swiftly from thoughts of frustration to divorce and back again and then to immediate worry that something has happened. In fact, of course like all others, he is merely oblivious.
I have found the best thing to do is send a text saying that I took his silences for acquiescence and have just ordered a few more sofas, paintings and hand blocked wall papers and sent it to his account… Miraculously the phone becomes a phone again.
So what exactly do these little gadgets add to our life? They obviously give us the ability to communicate beyond borders but equally they allow us to have no filter unless we remember to reflect first. Like a fire which can give us warmth on cold winter nights they can be positive but if they are the only thing through which we look at and listen to the world, they would seem to me more like a fire which has ignited out of control in the wrong place and can consume us.
Walking round the gardens with Geordie, I just want simply to enjoy it: to smell the first cold air of autumn, to look at the edges of leaves turning, to touch the perfectly smooth white bark of a birch tree, to call for the dogs and perhaps take one photo because that is all I need. It is not about putting us in the landscape, more about observing and looking at the landscape. The names of the phones may be from nature but they are not of nature! Yet mobile phones are miraculous and can bring us together and join us up.
The most useful gadgets at Highclere remain the old black radios that everyone here carries. The banter on Radio Highclere is a treasured part of each day, sometimes functional, sometimes urgent and sometimes just to remind each other we are all here, occasionally augmented by John leaning out his office window with a megaphone, trying to get my attention as I am late for a meeting with him and have neither my radio nor my mobile phone on me.