A chip on my shoulder (and another in my lap)

LAPTOP COMPUTERS are all very well, but what I really want is a laptop life, compact and portable. It came to me suddenly, in the courthouse. I was sitting there waiting to be asked difficult questions on behalf of a dreadful, horrible man, when there was little "Bing!" from inside my rip-stop nylon laptop-computer bag.

"Something just went 'Bing!' inside your bag," said the woman next to me. I unzipped it and had a look. My computer had decided to call it quits and start afresh. "Ooh dear," said the woman, "it's a computer. I used to have a computer but it wouldn't do. My husband was up all night getting pictures off the, what is it, Ultranet. Trollops with their knickers off, at it. Well, he was Greek, or I wouldn't be here now."

I asked her what she was doing in court. "Ah, well," she said, "it's a question of the law, you see. Essentially ... it's a legal matter. But you know what they say. Ignorance of the law is no defence. So by and large I'm hoping for the best."

She didn't look too hopeful: a beaten sort of look about her, as though she'd given up trying to guess where the next blow would come from. The best she could hope for was not to get hit again in the immediate future.

We stared at the floor in silence. A scrawny solicitor in a cheap tweed jacket picked his fingernails with a General Motors credit card. "All the flotsam and jetsam of life in here, then," said his colleague, an Estuarine phoney with a face like a robber's dog.

"It's all very well for them to sneer," said the woman, "but they're the worst of the lot. Cashing in. Profiting from other people's misery, I'd have been a doctor. Still; Sean Connery started off as a coffin-polisher. That's where he got the voice, I expect. Undertakers. When we buried my Nan it was a pleasure to listen to them. It's funny how things turn out, isn't it? Here we are. Legal matters. Who'd have thought it?"

"Excuse me," said a black man in track- suit bottoms, a suit jacket and an Old Harrov-ian tie; "I couldn't help overhearing what you were saying."

We waited, but the Old Harrovian had said his piece. His small pale friend looked at him admiringly. "We are confident of victory," he said.

"What are you here for?" I asked him.

"I am here for nothing. Nothing at all," he said. "My friend is here to undergo the Oral Examination of a Debtor." The Old Harrovian nodded proudly and tapped his breast pocket, which bulged with documents. "A statement of means and assets," said his friend, "with supporting documentation. We are witnesses!"

"I didn't know they had witnesses for an oral examination," I said.

"Jehovah's Witnesses," said the Old Harrovian. "I couldn't help overhearing," he added.

In its rip-stop nylon bag, the expensive bag with a patent Neoprene cushioning support device, my computer went "Bing!" and started life afresh.

I wanted to be like it. I had a multi-function pen in my pocket; it had a pencil and a biro and a sort of highlighting refill. There was a yawning space in another pocket, aching for a Pilot. A Pilot is a little thing that somehow sucks all the important things out of your computer so that you needn't carry it around in an ex- pensive rip-stop nylon bag, going "Bing!". I yearned for a Pilot. Being in court would have seemed more acceptable - glamorous, almost - if I had been reminded to be there by the glowing LCD screen of my little Pilot, the size of a packet of fags.

I had other things, too. A split-second chronometer which told the time in six continents. A pair of reading glasses with special lenses of higher resolution than the Mount Palomar telescope. A Global Positioning Sys- tem receiver which could pinpoint my position on the Earth's surface to within 10 metres.

I had yearned for all those things, just as I had yearned for the Solara- cloth lounge suit, the MonteCristi panama hat, the conjuring trick which enabled you to pass a pen through a banknote without leaving a hole, the tube of King of Shaves Ultragel with Advanced Delivery System, the Dunhill Shell Briar pipe, the kangaroo-skin riding boots.

And here I stood, in the courthouse, kangaroo-shod, shaved to the bone, suited, hatted, twiddling my pen from biro to pencil to highlighter and back again, Dunhill clenched between my teeth, a man of substance and gravitas, globally positioned and able, at a moment's notice, to astound bystanders with the banknote trick ... and nothing was different. Nothing had changed. Here I was, gadgeted to the hilt, still surrounded by troubles and insanity, flotsam, jetsam and ... legal matters: just the same damned life, plugging along.

My computer was a better man than I. It lay silently in its rip-stop nylon bag, cradled in its patent neoprene cushioning support device, untroubled by desire. Fast, sleek and dispassionate, it would attend to its duties with exemplary skill and flexibility, and, its work done, retire quietly into its shell to await further instructions. Occasionally, when things weren't going well, it packed up its troubles in its old kit bag, went "Bing!" and quietly reset its life, starting again with a clean slate and no bad memories. From time to time, in the night, it would do some housekeeping; clear out the dead wood, rid itself of pointless stuff which was getting in the way of its dextrous impassability, rearrange the necessities of its existence.

I envied it. It would never have to show up at court to explain itself; never roam round a strange town at four in the morning, looking for strong drink and loose women; never cause pain when trying to act for the best. They talk about artificial intelligence: what if, one day, computers acquire it? It seems to me they already have. Its tricks are better than mine. We can both do Sleep. We can both Shut Down. But the banknote trick is nothing compared with Restart. That's the one I want to do. Restart! Bing! Bing! See? Nothing happens. !