Tales of the City: Keeping tabs on you - and in you

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The Independent Online

Frequenters of clubs will know the sinking feeling you get when, en route home, you realise that you've left your credit card behind the bar.

Frequenters of clubs will know the sinking feeling you get when, en route home, you realise that you've left your credit card behind the bar. You were waiting for your date to show up, you ordered a drink and started a "tab". Your date showed up, kindly paid for your dinner, and you exited, blithely forgetting the three inches of plastic still in a wooden box between the Fernet-Branca and the Malibu, whose absence from you wallet is why you are unable to buy any petrol or fags and are stranded in Stockwell, where feral girls dressed like Avril Lavigne prowl the reeking streets and menace strangers at 1am.

Next morning, you have a long trek back to the Electric Gallery in Portobello to retrieve your card, and then a life-sapping two-day ride across the metropolis to get to work near Canary Wharf...

Well, never again, if bars follow the lead of the Bar Soba in Glasgow. There, instead of tabs, business cards and IOUs, they implant a tiny microchip (the size of a grain of rice) in your arm, under your skin, and programme it with your name, your identity details and your taste in alcohol. Whenever you enter the club, a sensor that will establish that you're a member, a screen at the bar will alert the staff that Harry Thing has arrived, and you'll get there to find your favourite vodka martini-with-a-twist waiting for you, and you can drink all evening, on account.

Having electronic things stuck inside you is very trendy. Think of the box of tricks that Denzel Washington discovers lodged between his shoulder blades in The Manchurian Candidate, and the box of tricks that we suspected George W Bush of secreting in the same location, during the pre-election debates. Having your personal ID under your skin is obviously the way of the future.

Of course, there will be teething problems with the VeriChip, as it's called - when the scanner refuses, like a supermarket checkout machine, to recognise you at the door and you're thrown out; when your programmed identity becomes cross-wired with someone else's and you find yourself at the bar being greeted as "Tasha" and offered a Sex on the Beach; when the club puts more details about you on the chip, and every time you walk in, the screen displays your name, address, phone numbers, and the last three people you were seen with...

What is serious about technological horrors is the alacrity with which people embrace them. Punters at the Bar Soba responded "enthusiastically", we're told, to having an ID chip inserted in their bodies. They have no objection to being scanned by a laser, as if they were a pack of frozen peas. They don't see that letting private details about your life be logged by strangers is a step away from having private details about your life logged whether you like it or not. Information stored without the subject's knowledge is the beginning of the long slide into real Big Brother-land. Don't do it, chaps. A bird in the hand is one thing. A chip in the arm is a refinement too far.

Nice fascia, shame about the logo

By some way, the weirdest car at the Detroit Motor Show was the new Ford SYNus. Successor to the Ford Focus, it's a town runabout designed to resemble an armoured car. The bodywork is wraparound metallic grey, the rear side windows are gun-slits, and the rear door features the kind of handle you'd find on a safe in Fort Knox.

Inside, everything's very cosy, and you can watch movies on a big DVD screen. A huge, squat, steel womb, the SYNus retails at - but hang on, just one goddam minute. How did the car get such a terrible name? I know Ford has had some disastrous problems of nomenclature in the past (remember the fate of the wholly unloved Edsel?) but this is serious. SYNus? Who is going to say, "I used to have a Jaguar, but I switched to a Sinus?". Or, "Could you get my Sinus and bring it round to the front?". Or, "I'm a Ford dealer, I deal in Fiestas, Mondeos and Sinuses". Yeech. The manufacturers explain that the name suggests that the new car is "the Synthesis of an Urban Sanctuary" (but isn't a synthesis a combination of two things?).

Perhaps Ford is on to something, though, and rival car firms are even now designing their own versions. I look forward to the appearance on our streets of the Chrysler Adenoid and the Toyota Tonsil.

Wave of hysteria

Can nobody go on holiday now without someone in the press demanding that they come home this minute? After the tsunami in the Indian Ocean, Helen Boaden, director of BBC News, was upbraided for not scurrying from her Christmas retreat in Yorkshire to direct operations in London. Then the Prime Minister was abused for not returning from his vacation in Egypt, as if it would have made all the difference having him in London, wringing his hands. In the heat of the Harry-the-Nazi incident, the Daily Mail's front page yelled: "Why on earth didn't Charles and Camilla cut short their holiday?"

I wouldn't cut short a holiday unless several close family members were mown down by a freight train. This harks back, I suspect, to the outpouring of mourning when Diana, Princess of Wales, died, and the failure of the Queen to come back to London from her Scottish hols. You can understand the feelings of newspapermen. Here they are, orchestrating all this crazed emotion, and a key figure in the story remains enragingly absent. What the papers are saying, to Boaden and Blair and Charles and Camilla, is, "Look - we're busting a gut here. The least you can do is join in".

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