8 NOVEMBER 2003, Page 95

Q. I have a pressing question. Although I am as

addicted to my mobile as anyone else, I do try to keep conversations in public to a minimum. But I have noticed that on London buses there is a very plague of incessant chatterers. These people always seem to shriek as long and loudly as possible, and invariably in a tongue which sounds, to my terribly untutored ears, like duelling magpies. What can one do? The only thing I have been able to think of is to go up and say, 'I am a doctor and can tell from the sound of your voice that you may have early signs of sublingual metataxis. I would advise you to rest your voice immediately and see a throat specialist as soon as possible.' The problem is, I don't in the least look like a doctor, and am afraid I wouldn't be able to keep a straight face. I might also be asked for a referral, which I would be unable to give. It is also possible that the person might not understand English. Can you recommend a foolproof method for dealing with these noisy persons?

B.T., by email A. Mobile telephones have made all our lives more nasty, brutal and probably also shorter. They are one of the great plagues of our age. along with headlice, and both plagues are out of control. The only course is to turn the situation to your advantage by simply assuming there will be this sort of public nuisance on any overground transport and arriving prepared for it with a set of sonic valve eatplugs (i18 from Holland Holland). In this way you will be able to concentrate even more fully on your reading matter, or even drift off into total reverie. Meanwhile, you can paraphrase Oscar Wilde: 'We are all surrounded by cacophony but some of us are enjoying our private thoughts.'