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It’s every conference delegate’s – and speaker’s – nightmare. Yes, the dreaded ring of the cell phone, inadvertently left on despite the organisers’ warnings.
Such a fate befell The Moodie Report at Monday’s opening conference to TFWA World Exhibition. Rushing into the hall about one minute before proceedings began, a certain Publisher took his seat at the end of the row in close proximity to the stage.
Carefully juggling a combination of (my gleaming, brand new) iPhone, digital tape recorder, blackberry, Flip video recorder and camera on my knees, I proceeded to settle down for what promised to be a compelling conference.
But as I went to switch my iPhone to silent mode, another bunch of latecomers arrived, led by a woman wearing (I was soon to discover) high heels. As she pushed past me into the seats beyond, the iPhone slipped from my knees onto the floor below. Simultaneously the room went dark as the opening video began.
For the next 90 minutes or so my attention to the excellent content of the various speeches was significantly diluted by a series of unsuccessful searches for my iPhone. It was nowhere to be found neither by my feet nor in the aisle alongside. Nor was it under the seat in front of me.
I knew I would find it once the lights went up at the end of the conference but my big fear was that it would go off during one of the speeches. Despite my concerns, all was well through Erik Juul-Mortensen’s opening address and the ensuing presentations from Jacques Attali and William Lauder.
Knowing how many calls I normally get in an hour, I even started to doubt I had actually brought my phone with me – perhaps it had been the one item within my burgeoning technology portfolio that I had forgotten, I surmised.
My hopes were soon dashed. Minutes into Sir Bob Geldof’s searingly inspirational speech, I heard the unmistakeable lilting sound of my iPhone’s chosen ringtone – the harp. But where was it coming from?
Stealthily bending myself into a contortionist’s shape, I tried to simultaneously reach under my seat with my hand and the seat in front with my right leg. Nothing!
Geldof, fortunately, was in full swing, and speaking in a loud and at times angrily, raging voice. By the time the call went into voice-mail mode, no-one seemed to have noticed its ring. Saved. For now.
With an increasingly curious Colm McLoughlin in the row behind me looking on, I went down on all fours to look for the cursed phone. It was nowhere – nowhere – to be seen. Perhaps the man in front of me had the same phone with the same ringtone, I wondered. Mine was clearly not here.
And then again… off it went. Was it my imagination or was that harp playing just a little louder? Would Geldof, who had already used a certain expletive twice that morning, turn to me and say: “Would you turn that ****ing phone off- NOW?!” And just imagine if I had chosen the rooster crowing ring tone option instead of the harp…
Again, no-one but me – now in a cold sweat – appeared to have heard it. Despite the stunning quality of his presentation, I prayed for Geldof to end. It was not only him that didn’t like Mondays.
And then again… normally the sound of harps preludes a visit to heaven but I was rapidly descending into my own private hell.
Fortunately some not so discreet coughing and shuffling of papers covered most of what turned out to be the final call from a repeated offender who could have ruined my career there and then (can you imagine the phone going off again after Geldof had warned me?).
After the conference concluded I got down on my hands and knees, not to beg forgiveness but to locate the cause of my suffering. The pain was about to get much worse.
Firstly, there was no iPhone to be seen. “Colm, would you mind ringing me?” I asked the Dubai Duty Free Managing Director, who looked at me with a raised Irish eyebrow as if to say “Martin, you know, it might just be easier to talk face to face.”
I explained my dilemma. “Ah yes, I heard it going off in the middle of the conference,” he said, cheering me up not a jot.
Colm rang. And so did the harps. But where was the phone? Now, as the conference hall emptied, Colm’s wife Breeda joined the search.
“There… there’s a flashing light,” she said triumphantly, her eyes fixing their target like a spanner tightening its nuts.
And indeed there was. A single flashing red light that beckoned me towards my precious iPhone, somehow wedged firmly behind my seat and its base.
But now, alas, it was not so precious. The iPhone looked as though it had taken a single bullet to the top left hand side of its screen, with a ripple impact through the rest of the glass.
The effect was similar to that of a car windscreen that has been hit by a flying stone from the car in front. Except this was clearly the work not of a bullet but of a high heel.
Besides its defacing, the phone had been rendered absolutely unusable, all those wonderful iPhone ‘apps’ obscured by a screen mired in a combination of whiteness and spider web-like lines of broken glass. Well, I exaggerate, one thing worked – the ring tone.
One temporary Nokia handset later, while I await my replacement iPhone, I urge readers to take the following advice.
1. Never select a silly ring tone for your phone. It could become very embarrasing indeed.
2. Always turn it off in conferences.
3. Avoid women in high heels.