On the evening of my retirement, while I was at a restaurant with my colleagues, thieves were ransacking my car in a nearby street. The only upside was that it gave me a chance to update my elderly mobile phone which, stupidly, I'd left in the front of the car. The pace of technology being what it is, I don't mean that my phone was the equivalent of two tin cans and a bit of string. I mean it was three years old, but it did what I needed: allowed me to make telephone calls and send texts. And since it was pay as you go, a fiver lasted me most of a year.
I knew things had moved on, but I was unprepared for the range of technology in the phone shop. Or the sales talk. "There's a special deal on this one, Sir. It comes with 500 free texts when you top up at midnight every third Friday in the month, provided you have our deluxe bonus agreement giving you weekend calls at four pence off our standard rate... " Since my wife and daughters own flashy phones and seem able to control them, I succumbed to the suggestion that I move into the 21st century and bought an attractive model with lots of pretty lights and buttons.
Almost immediately I was in trouble. Playing around with it that evening and doing things on the internet, I discovered the number for checking my balance. It seemed I'd already used #163;6, more than I'd used in months on my nice little clamshell. Assuming something must be wrong, I dialled the help number and was put through to a lady in India. Yes, using the internet was costly indeed, Sir, and if my main aim was making calls and sending texts then I would benefit much by the racoon. Furthermore, we have a special offer of 500 free texts if you top up ...
Bewildered, I thanked her very much. It was bad enough that I was bamboozled by this new phone. Now I was being told I needed a bloody racoon. "It'll be a price plan," said my daughter, who knows about these things. "When all else fails, try reading the instructions."
And indeed it was. I could choose from a range of nature's creatures, and opting for Racoon meant I could make a call or send a text for just 12p. All I had to do was dial 452 and I'd be put straight on the plan. Simples. Except it wasn't. Sorry, a voice said, we can't put you on Racoon right now. Please call customer service. Back to India, and by midnight I had it sorted.
Then, a week later, I discovered a very odd thing. I'd made hardly any calls and yet checking my balance online showed it was decreasing daily due to something called GPRS charges. Any problems, said the site, email us and we'll answer in 48 hours. Sorry, came the reply, we're experiencing many queries and can't answer for seven days.
That evening customer services rang and said the problem was a Roman. Related to the Racoon, I wondered? Or a Trojan, like the virus? I could get rid of this Roman, apparently, but I was in heavy traffic and curtailed the call. A 15-year-old in the mobile shop eventually explained. "Your phone is doing internet roaming updates. Look, just cancel this setting."
A week later, a little clamshell phone, just like my previous one, came up on eBay. Mint condition, with charger, three quid.
And you know what? I love it to bits.
Mike Kent is a retired primary school headteacher. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.