The Weasel: Ghosts in the machine

Share
Related Topics

Once in a while, you see a cartoon that goes beyond funny. It speaks to the depths of one's soul. It happened a few years ago with a drawing in The New Yorker by Charles Barsotti.

With face frozen in a catatonic rictus, a man stares in disbelief at a heap of paperclips on the floor while holding a small box he has opened upside-down. Caption: "Breaking Point." Another cartoon that uncannily mirrors my world appears in the current issue of the same journal. By the excellent Roz Chast, a Rembrandt of middle-class angst, it consists of three separate drawings. Top left is an anxious, elderly woman. Bottom right is an evil-looking TV emitting ominous fizzing noises. In the middle, there is a large remote control with buttons variously marked "Lose sound", "Lose picture", "Never saw this one before", "No clue", "Utter mystery" and "TV explodes". The caption reads: "How Grandma sees the remote".

I am Grandma. Or, rather, we are. Mrs W is even worse at using the remote control than I am. You can tell our intimate grasp of the workings of this device by the nickname we have given it: "The whizzy thing". Of course, we do use it, but only certain parts. Much remains a no-go area. The consequences of accidentally pressing the baffling buttons – why the hell does one have a little heart on it? – are variable. Sometimes nothing happens, though there remains the strong likelihood that you've only stored up trouble for yourself. Sometimes you have to live with a superimposed green arrow or an even larger, unfathomable visual intrusion for weeks afterwards. We respond to the occasional TV injunction "Now press the red button" with fear and loathing.

The ability to master technology declines with age. I was a whiz with the Dansette but find myself clueless with our CD player. Doubtless, it is the youth of the designers that results in gadgetry being loaded with superfluous features. As a result, all these little grey gadgets look pretty much the same – yes, I have been known to point the telephone at the screen in an attempt to get David Attenborough – and are equally perplexing. The symbols that occasionally appear on our wireless telephone are as impenetrable as Chinese calligraphy. Why an envelope, a spanner or a little wrapped-up present? They can't be for when we want to ring up Rymans, Kwik-Fit or Liberty, can they?

Even though I happen to come from the corner of West Yorkshire that gave birth to Luddism, I am not entirely averse to technology. As recently as 18 months ago, I acquired my first mobile phone. I've used it maybe three times. At present it's lost, something that never happened to the old flex-tethered model. For the life of me, I cannot see the great advantage of carrying a mobile when we have – or had – a perfectly good nationwide network of phone boxes. I mean, do we carry round an espresso machine because we occasionally want a cappuccino? Moreover, anyone over a certain age – maybe 35 – looks more than a little absurd when talking on a mobile.

Texting is even more idiotic over a certain age, say 17. No, I've never done it. Y4? This irritating hi-tech fidget – the telecom equivalent of crochet – achieves annoying apogee with the Blackberry. In many ways, this gizmo is a needless miniaturisation of a technology that reached perfection in the Olivetti Portable typewriter. Just because technology keeps advancing – or, rather, getting more complicated – it doesn't mean we have to use it. I know from a friend who interviewed Keith Richards that the great axeman's preferred mode of communication is the fax machine. Technology reached a certain stage that suited him, after which he wisely lost interest. The opinionated Stone is dismissive of both computers (he once said they were fine for secretaries) and the internet: "I'm not interested in what some other arsehole at the other end of the world thinks about this or that." I don't go quite that far. I found that quote from Mr Richards on the internet, but computers are not always the massive advance that we assume. My Apple Powerbook has been on the blink since I dropped the Oxford Companion to Food (892pp) on it. The Olivetti Portable would have shrugged it off.

****

Possibly because Leap Year is regarded as a time of ill-luck – you are doubtless aware of the Scottish proverb "A Leap Year is never a good sheep year" – there are very few celebratory comestibles associated with 29 February, which falls this coming Friday. In fact, the only one I know comes from the world of cocktails, a milieu that rarely passes up the opportunity for inventing a snifter. Created by the legendary barman Harry Craddock for a celebration at the Savoy Hotel on 29 February 1928, the Leap Year consists of (per person): 40ml gin; 10ml Grand Marnier; 10ml sweet vermouth; 5ml lemon juice. Shake with ice and serve in a cocktail glass with a twist of lemon peel.

This potent concoction should be handled with caution. According to the Savoy Cocktail Book (1930), it was "responsible for more proposals than any other cocktail that has ever been mixed". It certainly had that effect on Mrs W when, jumping the gun a bit, I tried it out on her. "Lovely orange colour. You can taste the gin in it! Whoo-hoo! Rather astounding. I propose we have another."

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing & Sales Manager

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable organisation within the leisure i...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Recruitment Genius: Doctors - Dubai - High "Tax Free" Earnings

£96000 - £200000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Looking for a better earning p...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly expanding company in ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
British Prime Minister Tony Blair (L) pictured shaking hands with Libyan leader Colonel Moamer Kadhafi on 25 March 2004.  

There's nothing wrong with Labour’s modernisers except how outdated they look

Mark Steel
 

Any chance the other parties will run their election campaigns without any deceit or nastiness?

Nigel Farage
Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee