NO matter what other surprises may be unwrapped this Christmas, it’s hard to imagine anything causing more excitement than the old carrier bag my wife unearthed from the back of the garage.

Inside, hidden amongst a tangled nest of wires, were 18 mobile telephones from different periods of recent history: Samsungs, Sonys, Nokias, HTCs, O2s, and a battered Blackberry – each of them symbols of growing up in the digital age.

Our four ‘children’ – Chris, 33, Hannah, 31, Jack, 30, and Max, 26 – are home for Christmas, and the bag of magical memories made them more animated than I’ve seen them since those far-off childhood days, when they were jumping on our bed at 6am, to open their stockings.

“I remember this little fella,” gushed Jack, pressing the buttons of an 02 Mega Pixel, and giving the flip-up screen a little stroke.

“No, that was definitely mine,” claimed Max.

“Oh, I loved my Blackberry,” chipped in Hannah, on the other side of the room.

“I just can’t believe the size of them,” added Chris.

That was the thing the struck me most – how tiny they were compared to the big screens of the latest models.

The ‘kids’ continued to fondle them, then dived into the bag, looking for chargers in the hope of bringing them back to life, while the names of old boyfriends and girlfriends popped up amid the chatter.

As I watched, I couldn’t help but reflect on the irony that me and their mum had done our ‘courting’ (now there’s a word you don’t hear anymore) when the only mobile phones we’d seen were on Star Trek.

Having met on the journalism course at Darlington College, we were embarking on our first jobs, living miles apart in rented accommodation, often without the luxury of landlines. The only way to chat was to use the nearest red telephone boxes that had those circular dials, rather than buttons.

Memories came flooding back of working for my first newspaper, the Scunthorpe Evening Telegraph, and standing in the dark, opposite the launderette in Frodingham Road, waiting for the phone to ring, or cursing the fact that someone was already using it. How bloody dare they?

The feelings of anxiety and frustration still resurface when I think back to the time I arrived at our phone box on a snowy, windy night to discover it had been vandalized, and was out of order. We had no Plan B. It was a catastrophe – a love story left hanging.

Oh, and I don’t think I’ll ever forget the smell of that old phone box. Without going into detail, it wasn’t pleasant, but it was all we had…

Now, more than 40 years down the line, 34 of them married, our four children are home for Christmas, and reliving memories of mobile phones from yesteryear.

My wife was intending to chuck them out – or try selling them on eBay – but the kids aren’t happy about her plans.

They’ve been put on hold.


A couple from the Dad At Large archives…

MAX, aged six, and his Auntie Hazel were leafing through his new book on insects and bugs.

They were talking about how insects could walk on water, and Hazel commented: “Jesus also walked on water.”

“No, he didn’t!” replied Max with an authoritative air. “He ran – cos the boat was leaving Bethlehem and he had to catch up.”

HAZEL Davies, secretary of the Durham branch of the Marks & Spencer Retired Staff Association, told me how she’d been travelling on a bus from Sunderland to Durham.

It was a week before Christmas, and a little lad in the seat in front got up on his knees and started drawing with his finger on the steamed-up windows. His mother told him to stop, and sat him down again because it wasn’t safe, but the child kept getting up and continuing his drawing.

“That’s enough!” she scolded him when he defied her a third time. “When we get home, I’m going to tell your Daddy what a naughty boy you’ve been.”

The response from the boy was immediate: “Well, when I see Daddy, I’m going to tell him you had a wee in our new plastic bucket!”

As laughter spread through the bus, she got hold of him and said: “Come on, we’re getting off.”

“But it’s not our stop,” protested the boy.

“Well, it is today!” she declared.