Apologies, fellow Londoners, for not undertaking exciting excursions this week. It has been a bit of a whirlwind week for me, now that Murdoch’s BSkyB deal is off, I can throw my hat in the ring again. So, as soon as the news came in that the wrinkled Australian old man was out of the picture, we have been all a-flutter at Bluebird Towers. My £50 bid is low, but it is noble, and includes hot tea and crumpets for the PM if he says Yes. Here’s hoping!
Two weeks ago I discovered my phone had been hacked at some point in 2003, which caused me mild consternation. A man called Giles (or was it Miles) called from the Sun and adenoidally droned down the hotline at me that they had three messages in their possession: one was from John Lewis saying my curtains were ready for collection, another was from the piano tuner saying he was on his way but lost on the A406, and the other was from Ryan Giggs confirming he had been to Lidl for the pregnancy test (damn the rhythm method!) and would be on his way, as soon as he’d finished doing an Adidas fashion shoot in Salford. Giles / Miles / Charles said they were worth £3.50 or so on the open market. This was mainly because the stories of Ryan Giggs’s sex life were so florid and depressingly numerous that there were thousands of women in every corner of England getting these messages anyway. Lidl had basically sold out of pregnancy tests nationwide that summer. Giles / Miles had put the hours in and was clearly upset. He demanded expenses and asked if I couldn’t be a little less dull next time he behaved illegally, trespassed on my personal liberty and basically did me the disservice of farking up my morning 8 years later and subsequently making me late for an appointment at Kwik Fit.
This brings me to my point: of all the hacking and calling and ringing and emailing and snooping, how much of it reduced our lives to embarrassing levels of mundanity? How much crap did they have to trawl through before anything of any value could be found? How many messages were from people’s mums about ringing Auntie Maureen because it was her birthday, or British Gas wanting to speak to the person who paid the bills? Or beauticians reminding women of their routine waxes? It’s like trawling through a barrage of rubbish in order to come up with a nugget of gold.
And even the most interesting person may not have the interesting aspect of their lives present in their modes of communication. Yes, Sienna Miller is a hugely attractive clothes horse, with doe-eyes, a gamine charm and a winsome bohemian bourgeosie grandeur. But is she interesting? Yes, she has been engaged twice to a man whose hairline appears to be slipping off the back of his head like an eiderdown in the night, but she isn’t famous for her telephone chats. I should know. I rang her up once and she was surprisingly chilly. It was only a short survey, for god’s sake. Her messages are most likely to have been from Somerset-based cheese shops, or Reiki healers, I imagine. How much journalistic mileage can be got from “Sienna buys Red Gloucester: ‘I would have got some mineral water, but it wasn’t organic’ says film starlet”?
After I was hacked, I went on the attack. I downloaded an DM Exterminator App onto my Iphone, courtesy of CrapApps. What it does is it has sensory perceptors that sniff out Daily Mail journalists in an 100m radius, locate them, and then shoot them. All for £1.59. I then realised I didn’t need my iPhone to do this; all I had to do was look for a middle aged, woman-hating man in a terribly cheap suit brandishing a hacking device and an illiteracy problem, who was seen in public writing stories about immigrants roasting English children on a hog roast spit and eating them for supper, and he was almost certain to be a Daily Mail journo anyway. The only solution, my friends : go commando, telecommunicationally. Throw away the mobile phone, shove Twitter, disappear from Facebook. I think the solution might be this : think Victorian novels. Resurrect the feminine habit that remained solid for nearly two hundred years – write hand-written letters daily. Get your pen out.
Kids – kids – stick with me on this. It’s good, I promise! It’s workable. One of the main problems with email and text is that these modes of communication are so perfunctory. They are not designed to beguile, to charm, to incentivize, to dramatize or influence. They allow no stylistic extravagance. They are electronic coughs of information, short, punctual and practical. They make it so very easy for someone else to determine what is going on in your private life. The pen, my friends, is mightier than the text. Read how Victorian heroines get through the day : they use telegrams, use the Royal Mail postboxes to send letters warning people of impending disaster / murder / spies / hackers and problems. The women who want to put people off the scent – and I’m thinking of the manipulative murderess Lydia Gwilt in Wilkie Collins’s Armadale when I write this – use letters to construct the most blatant falsehoods, to send followers off in the wrong direction. With a letter you can foil your enemy : and then, for the ultimate Victorian thriller drama, you can do the thing that really pisses people off – undertake to devise a code. Write your diary in it. Write a letter in bright turquoise ink in code, which only your fellow correspondee can decipher. Don’t write to your solicitor directly, but care off a City of London coffee house where he can pick up his coded mail on his way to a public hanging. Stay one step ahead of your followers. Challenge their methods of research. Send you enemy the odd handwritten haiku and utterly perplex them. If they want information, make them work for it.
This is not to say that the characters in Victorian novels didn’t have to deal with hacking possibilities, though, because they did. In Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White, Marian Halcombe is more or less a prisoner at Blackwater Park (as dark, eerie and slippery as it sounds) and has to go through vastly complex plots simply to get her communications into the outside world without interception from enemies. She is hacked from all sides. Getting a letter to the post office to her London solicitor, in order to try to save her sister’s life, turns into a many paged struggle, in which letters left on hall tables are not posted by staff, and her post from London arrives at her breakfast table with telltale rips around the sealing wax. Eventually, she has to escape from the house unseen, meet a recently sacked housemaid in a local pub, get her to hide letters about her person, and instruct her to post these letters only when she gets to London and not before. Even that doesn’t work. The housemaid is drugged by a mysterious Italian woman ( they are always Italian in English Victorian novels) and wakes up the next morning discovering the letters have been stolen.
What Marian understands is that “any woman who is sure of her own wits is a match, at any time, for a man who is not sure of his own temper.” Patience and biding her time bring eventual success from her hackers. Her hackers are exclusively male, and I’ll bet you Gordon Brown’s voicemail messages that very few of today’s parasitic hackers are ladies. What she invests is feminine wile. It seems that our own systems of communication are too comprehensive to defy hackers and robbers and those intent on tomfoolery. We must become more Victorian in our need to maintain privacy, because if we have more sophisticated pieces of telecommunication than they could ever have dreamed of, we must become so much more sophisticated and expert and dealing with anyone who thinks our information is, in fact, theirs. So, I intend to put everybody thoroughly off the scent. I am planning to leave all of my voicemail messages and texts in my tricky-super-double-autistic code. That’s going to fox ’em. Ha.
Right. I’m off to invest in some carrier pigeons. They are virtually hack proof as they won’t speak under torture. Then I’m going to the theatre again tonight which is very Victorian. However, I sometimes wish people would hack plays, just to make them more interesting. There are, for example, too few car chases on the British stage. I shall report back next week. In invisible ink, of course, and on old parchment that you must burn in the drawing room fire as soon as you have finished reading it.
Please return to the London Bluebird if you have enjoyed this. This blog is updated every Thursday.