Our house, described by some as a charming two storey revival brick English Tudor, was built in the early thirties. It was designed and built with an alcove for a telephone. On one side of the doorway that leads to the kitchen from the dining room is a phone nook. It’s more than just a hole in the wall; it’s a small sculptured private space that could be mistaken for a prayer niche. The nook is styled to match another nook above the fireplace in the lounge room. The curved arch of both nooks matches the curved arch of the opening that separates the dining room from the lounge room. When we moved into our house the nook was empty; the phone that once stood there had been removed by the sons when they were preparing the family home for sale. We had been told that their dad was in his nineties and was found in the basement at the bottom of the steps from the kitchen. The phone would have rested in the nook as a statue does in a church niche. The nook was the answer as to where to keep the big, heavy, cumbersome telephone and keep it’s mess of cords out of sight.
I don’t remember much about the first phone I had that didn’t attach to a wall; except that it was a flip phone. But you had to attach the phone to the wall to charge it; a phone charger plugged into a powerpoint plug. Since that first flip phone, I’ve lived through a couple of generations of mobile phones. I presently have an iPhone 7 that is already superseded by the next generation of smartphones. Each generation of new phones called for a fresh collection of different cables and charging accessories; a wall charger, a USB power adapter, a Lightning connector to USB cable, and a Micro to USB charging cable. The superseded cables cast aside from previous phones exist as a tangled mess in an old Vionic sandals box; I might need them someday. And now attaching a phone to a wall charger to charge it is passé; mobile devices are charged anywhere anytime using the ubiquitous USB cable. We carry a USB power adaptor, our houses now have combination duplex and USB outlets, and our cars are our personal charging stations.
If fifteen US states have a distracted driving law prohibiting drivers from using handheld cell phones while driving, and more states are considering similar laws, how long will it be before charging phones while driving will become illegal? Attempting to plug your phone into a USB cable connected to the USB cigarette charger adapter in your car’s cigarette lighter receptacle forces you to switch your attention away from the road. How dangerous is that? And, if you have rested your phone in your lap, or between your legs, and have it set on vibrate to announce incoming calls or texts, then what happens when you receive a text or phone call; a serious vibration attention distraction. How dangerous is that? When charging a phone in a moving vehicle becomes a primary offence the cigarette lighter receptacle will return to its original glory and be used to house a cigarette lighter.
There’s a lot I don’t remember from the sixties and seventies but I do remember the cigarette lighter in my Mini Cooper. I had chosen to smoke Kent cigarettes. I decided on Kent because of the glamour of an all-white cigarette with a micro-nite filter. What also helped was that the Kent cigarette advertisements suggested suaveness and sophistication, and an allure of worldly charm and magnetism. Holding a Kent between the first two fingers of my right hand, as I rested it nonchalantly on the steering wheel of my black Mini, I would double clutch to change down a gear, and then accelerate to change lanes into the half a car space ahead. I was the height of chic; I could never be without my Kent. I was forever pushing the cigarette lighter into its socket on the dashboard; as soon as it popped out, the spiral end glowing orange hot, I would hold it to the white cigarette already between my lips, and double-clutch to change down a gear.
On a recent sojourn back to The Lucky Country we chucked a voltage converter and power adaptor, and a one to four outlet adaptor into the Vionic sandals box, and taped the whole thing shut before packing it into our Spinner Suitcase. Australia’s electricity is 240 Volts, and the wall power point sockets are designed to take a three-pin monster plug; two flat metal pins with a third flat pin that forms a vee. A switch on the wall socket turns on the electricity; up is off and down is on.
We needed to change the Australian 240 Volt electricity to 110 Volts to be able to charge several devices so we developed, and refined, how to connect and plug in a Brisbane hotel room; power adaptor plugged into the monster plug wall socket, voltage converter plugged into the adaptor, and the plugin one to four outlet adaptor plugged into the converter. But before anything was plugged into the one to four outlet adaptor the combined weight of the interlocking devices caused the arrangement to angle down, and separate away from the monster plug; the interlocking polyhedron’s weight would have to be supported. Through trial and error, we discovered that a packet of Tim Tams on top of a box of Arnotts Shapes, Pizza Original Flavour, and a packet of Allens Minities on top of the Tim Tams provided balanced support. And in Hobart, we assembled a support truss from a packet of Arnotts Tic Toc, a bag of Twisties, and a box of Jam Tarts.
And then came that fateful day in Melbourne. For the next three days after checking into our hotel we were down at the front desk remonstrating about their standard of housekeeping, the shoddy condition of the room, and their neglectful customer service; each visit escalated in belligerence, verbal aggression, and combativeness. On that fateful day, the polyhedron was braced by a stacked combination of, a bag of mini Cadbury’s Cherry Ripe, a packet of Mint Slices, and a few cans of VB. Three devices were plugged into the one to four outlet adaptor; there was a popping noise from the monster plug and a black powder appeared on the voltage converter and the devices plugged into the one to four outlet adaptor shut down. And the room wall lights were now off; the desk lamp and electric clock radio were also off. I plugged in the electric kettle and flipped the powerpoint switch down; nothing. The television plugged into a powerpoint on the other side of the room was still on.
I had no other option but to go down to the front desk and face the staff who had been my adversaries for the last three days; the foe that I had berated, harangued and castigated. I walked timidly toward the desk; they saw me approaching and attempted to look busy. I looked at no one in particular and casually started the conversation
Me: G’day, guess what.
I didn’t wait for the lift; I took two steps at a time up the staircase until I reached the second floor and our room. I wrestled the polyhedron from the monster plug and quickly disassembled it; the voltage converter into a sock, the power adapter into the laundry bag in the suitcase, and the plugin one to four outlet adaptor onto the tea and coffee making facilities tray. I pushed the tray behind the television. I swept the stack of mini Cadbury’s Cherry Ripe, Mint Slices, and the few cans of VB recklessly with my arm and let everything stay where they landed. I didn’t have a minute to spare when there was a knock on the door. It was hotel maintenance to check the electricity; to see if a circuit breaker had indeed tripped. It was only a couple of minutes after they had left when the electricity came back on. They knocked again on the door; circuit breaker mate.
I retrieved the parts and assembled the polyhedron; except the plugin one to four outlet adaptor. For the rest of our stay in the Melbourne hotel, we only plugged one device at a time into the polyhedron. The only other time I visited the front desk was to finalise the bill. I greeted them with a smile and bid them a warm and friendly see ya later.
Android and Apple phones now support wireless charging; you only need to throw your phone onto a wireless charging pad. And now resonant induction charging is the new wireless charging; no cables and the phone doesn’t have to rest on anything to be charged. This suggests that we could harvest the energy from the movement of our bodies to charge our phones. Next time on my morning or maybe during my laps around Westroads I’ll wave my phone in circles to see if its gyroscope produces enough magnetic or electrical energy to self-charge it. Or maybe I’ll just hold my phone onto my stomach to harvest somebody energy.
I suppose I should throw away the Vionic sandals box.