Life & Style
I've kept every text message... for 11 years!
22 August 2011
Everywhere you look there's someone frantically texting on their mobile phone.
But for Tracey Moberly, it has become much more than a quick way to catch up with a friend.
She believes her text messages are so special that she has written down every one she's ever received, to keep a more permanent record of past communication.
It started after she deleted the first text she ever received and her obsession has resulted in a book.
"I got my first mobile phone in 1999 and when an envelope icon popped up on it while I was having lunch with my colleagues, I had no idea what the symbol meant," explains Tracey 47.
"They explained that it was a text and showed me how to open it.
"The message was from an old friend saying he couldn't make our catch-up as he was at a funeral.
"Then I accidentally deleted it and I was so shocked that it had completely disappeared, I vowed to write down every text I received, starting with the next one.
"It said: 'Do you do morning coffee, croissant, lust & indulgence'.
"It was from a guy asking me out on a date and although I never acted on it, I knew if wrote it down, I'd have it forever."
Since that day, Tracey has kept 90,000 texts in 30 journals - sometimes having to transfer them from scraps of paper she had to hand at the time.
And they gained more significance when her relationship with her husband started going wrong. She says: "A week after I began texting, my marriage of 15 years broke down.
"I had no confidence, but my two close friends, Jai and Nick, sent me loads of supportive texts and helped me go dating again.
"When I did, my first crush was a barman 10 years younger, who had an Aztec calendar tattooed on his back.
"He sent me flirty texts, including: 'Always look at me the way you did 2nite gorgeous green eyes'."
Through her work at a gallery, Tracey met and befriended several celebrities - and kept a record of texts from them, too.
"Banksy, Howard Marks and Pete Doherty have all become friends and one day Pete tried teaching me how to eat jellied eels. He texted: 'Eels slip down a treat'.
"Howard Marks and I have texted about how to prepare the potentially fatal puffer fish."
Tracey believes that her texts tell such a story that in December 2007, she selected 3,000 of them to write a fraction of her life story, in a book called Text Me Up.
It includes messages from friends and family, as well as from a couple of experiments she conducted to prove their symbolism.
"Over the years, I've recycled the texts to create art," she says.
"One night I hosted an art exhibition, where I released 2,000 balloons with an individual message and my mobile number attached.
"Hours later a girl texted to say she and had found one during a date.
"Though it was the first time the pair had gone out, he believed the message was an omen. She texted: 'He thinks it's destiny'.
"A man who'd been contemplating suicide had been so cheered up by the balloon he'd discovered that read: 'Friends love u no matter what', he changed his mind. He texted back saying: 'Was feeling confused and lost; it cheered me up. Thank you'.
"I made a record of them all because I love what they say. People are so honest in texts."
To test whether people other than Tracey receive bizarre texts, she held another event asking visitors to write down the last three texts they received.
"One person wrote: 'I've lost the baby'. It made me think even more about the situations people are in, which they text about every day.
"Texts can be misinterpreted, too, as it's not always obvious what they're about. One of my favourites was an urgent message from a friend in 2002, desperate for me to call.
"It read: 'Ask for Elizabeth + she will pass u on 2 me'. So I rang the number and got through to an answerphone in Buckingham Palace! I thought that was a brilliant joke."
But Tracey is aware texts can relay tragic messages, too.
"People have texted me post 9/11, during the anti-war protests in London and after the Haiti earthquake. I'd only been working there three weeks earlier.
"One read: 'Just heard what's happening in Haiti on the news. Devastating. Let me know if I can help organise funds'. Two weeks later we held a charity benefit."
But anyone who thinks keeping every text they've ever received is obsessive, Tracey disagrees.
"Friends and family always say they wished they'd kept the texts that were special to them. I'm so glad I kept mine as they've helped me write a diary of all our lives.
"They're a great reminder of everything that has happened to me and my friends over the last 11 years.
"Last year, I discovered an unopened text from my dad on his old phone my mum was using. It came as a total shock.
"He had died in October 2008. 'It's Dad', was all it said. It looked like he'd started to write a text, only to then accidentally send it to himself.
"Although I don't believe in people speaking to us after they've passed, it was quite nice and I dedicated my book to him.
"I love that we can keep texts forever, so our memories are with us always."