Zapping doesn't always achieve the desired results - sometimes you have to practise diplomacy

Marina Lewycka has an imaginary zapper but our political leaders have real ones

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The Independent Online

I have a little zapper that I carry around with me that helps ease my way through life. It eliminates all impediments, annoyances and dangers in a puff of vapour and a satisfyingly on-target little noise – spluk! Nothing so vulgar as an explosion.

Tonight I've already used it on the sound equipment of the students next door – not on the students themselves, they are quite nice. I use it without pity on the idiot who revs up his motorbike in the street below my window at 1am. (It is drone-compliant, so I can use it without actually getting out of bed.) Spluk! And his noisy friend. Spluk! And the woman who lets her dog crap on the pavement outside my house. Spluk! Spluk!

I know I'm not alone in my zapping habit. People I know would zap you for looking at them in a funny way, for hogging the middle lane of the motorway, for wearing the wrong shoes, for yakking on your phone in the Quiet Coach of the train. (Actually, so would I.)

Recently, I used my zapper on a whole field of bulls (well, they may have been cows) in the Peak District. Spluk! Spluk! Spluk! Spluk! Spluk! Spluk! Mission accomplished, I bravely crossed the field, picking my way between the carcasses of the bulls/cows. Last week, I used it to blow out all the tyres of a big black car that had blocked me in at Waitrose. Spluk! Spluk! Spluk! Then I left a note on the windscreen.

A well-aimed zap can be comforting. Faced with the carnage on the streets of Paris a fortnight ago, I reached instinctively for the zapper. If I could just zap Isis cleanly and efficiently, in Syria or Iraq (my magic zapper has an unerring target-locator), and totally eliminate them in a puff of vapour, I would do it. Isis is more terrifying than a field of bulls/cows.

I am now nervous to be in crowded places, though I go anyway, to show defiance, which is more than I did with the bulls/cows. And having to take off my coat, belt, necklace, scarf and shoes, get out my laptop, decant my liquids, each time I pass through an airport is a darn site more annoying than being blocked in at Waitrose.

I would gladly zap those self-regarding fools whose outlandish ideas of world conquest force me to go through this inconvenient, time-consuming charade when all I want is to sit back and enjoy the in-flight movie.

Fortunately, my zapper is imaginary.

But our political leaders have real zappers, and their zappers are not little hand-held models like mine that just go 'Spluk!' They have the latest deluxe kit. Remember lovely Ragheh Omaar talking so coolly into his microphone with the skyline of Baghdad exploding in the background like fireworks? Wasn't that great? Shock and awe, they called it. Let's do it again! Let's show those jihadis that when it comes to carnage, they're just beginners. Our politicians can always tell the difference between bulls and cows, even at a distance, can't they?

The thing about my pocket zapper is that it has no sense of history. It lives in the present. It knows nothing about consequences and blowback, and that's what makes it such fun to use. But the history of zapping is not edifying.

"Blowback" originally described the clouds of mustard gas in the First World War that would drift back across the attackers' trenches. The term was first used metaphorically by the CIA about their action against the Mossadegh government in Iran in 1953.

Mohammad Mossadegh was a secular prime minister who had nationalised BP. So they zapped him, and put the Shah back in power for 25 years; then the Islamic revolution of 1979 brought in Ayatollah Khomeini on a tide of Islamic fundamentalism. Thousands died, and Iranian oil was nationalised anyway.

Three other attempts by the West to unseat secular leaders in the Middle East and north Africa – Mohammad Najibullah in Afghanistan, Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Colonel Gaddafi in Libya – gave us civil war and the Taliban, Al Qaeda and Isis. Sometimes an imaginary zapper can be more reliable than a real one.

But the imaginary zapper, satisfying though it is, doesn't always achieve the desired results. Sometimes you have to practise diplomacy. What a bore. With a sigh, I put on my dressing gown over my nightie and go and bang on the students' door.

Now is the time I could really do with a bit of shock and awe (in case the sight of me in my dressing gown on the doorstep at 2am is not enough), but I just ask nicely, "Would you mind turning your music down a bit please?" It usually works.

Marina Lewycka's novels include 'A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian' and, most recently, 'Various Pets Alive and Dead'