COLUMN: September 13, 2012

STRANGERS keep asking me for my telephone number and it is disturbing me.

I do not wish you to think this is one of those “It Is Dreadful Being As Gorgeous As What I Am” articles that they have in the Daily As Bad As The Sun And We Even Employ Kelvin Mackenzie But We Apparently Get Away With It Because We Use Serif Headlines.

That sort of thing does not happen to me, a truth to which a brief glance at my byline picture would testify. I am not constantly being assailed by women in the street desperate for a piece of speccy four-eyed awkward action – or, indeed, by men in these times of sexual fluidity.

If anything, sexual liberalisation has merely increased the range and number of people who find themselves consciously unattracted to me.

Nevertheless, I keep being asked for my number by people, for reasons beyond me. Google is a good case in point. I use Google’s Gmail service. It is sort of all right, and I haven’t got any complaints about it. It allows me to receive emails, and to send them, and that is all I require of an email service. I am not Sir David Frost or Rihanna.

But increasingly, as I log in to my emails, I am halted by a screen which warns me of imminent doom. “Imagine if you forgot your email password,” it suggests, in the voice of Ray Winstone. “You wouldn’t like that, would you? That’d be proper naughty.”

Then it plays Good Cop. It hands me a cup of tea in a polystyrene cup and says, “Why don’t you give me your mobile number, sonny? That way, if you forget your password, we can text you, can’t we?”

For a moment, I think that’s a good idea. My password is exactly the sort of thing I’d forget.

And then I remember that Google knows virtually everything about me and the last thing I want to do is give it the ability to text me at any time. I might as well give Facebook my number.

And then I remember that every so often Facebook asks for my mobile number, too, in a sort of Californian, “No biggy. Y’know it’s cool if you don’t want to. It’s just…well, all your friends have given theirs, and, y’know, maybe you’re not getting the best out of Facebook if we don’t know enough about you to blackmail you.”

I recently decided enough was enough with the incredible slowness of my broadband supply, and started to shop around. I had a look at Talk Talk’s site, which suggested I type in my postcode and landline number so it could test my line and see what sort of speed I might get in the event nobody else in a 10-mile radius was using the internet. I was unimpressed and chose a different supplier.

A couple of days later, I got a phone call from Talk Talk, “just following up your query.” The devious swines had managed to winkle my ex-directory landline number out of my grasping hands and were using it against me.

I do not know if you remember libraries – they are what people had before they had Kindles – but I was visiting one on behalf of my children, and thought it was about time I had a library card of my own. I am not a philistine, I used to have library tickets, but the library lost two of them, and when they brought in the card system they refused to give me a card because I didn’t have all of my tickets.

Anyway, I assumed I would be all right under the statute of limitations and filled in the form. Right under my name, the form asked for my mobile number, and I thought for the first time: “Yes! That is exactly what I need. I am the last person who should be trusted with civic property. My failure to return it now becomes your responsibility, Mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson.”

And then I remembered a crucial detail. “I don’t know what my mobile number is,” I explained to the librarian supervising my form-filling. “I never have to ring myself.” I scrabbled through the menus of my phone for a few minutes, under the sceptical glare of the librarian, assuming, eventually correctly, it would be in there somewhere.

If only I’d given it to Google. I’d have had it in a second.

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