Howard Jacobson: Too wired to have a relaxing holiday

Outside, the waves broke; inside, two adults, tired from travel, hammered at dead computer keys

My wife left her Kindle on the plane, but then wondered if she might have left it in the taxi on the way in from the airport. It used to be sunglasses. Not that I'm in any position to take a tone.

My BlackBerry fell out of my pocket as I searched for local currency with which to tip the hotel porter, and when I stooped to retrieve it I stood on my camera. In the blinding moment of rage I realised I couldn't remember bringing the cables for either.

In fact my wife hadn't left her Kindle anywhere. It turned up, after we'd finished unpacking, between two sunhats. Inexplicable. And my cables turned up, too, packed around with tea bags in the travelling kettle. Nor had the camera suffered any damage. I photographed us settling into our room, tearing our hair out. Smile!

This was meant to be a wirefree holiday. Two weeks in the sun without technology. No radio, no television, no computers, no mobile phones, no pads, no pods. A Kindle was excluded from these exclusions as it is no more than a book acquired technologically; it doesn't discourse to you. Kindle apart, we would live as though the scientific revolution had never happened.

So what was with the BlackBerry? Good question. I hate having a BlackBerry: I hate its name, I hate its fiddly keyboard, I hate the way a would-be cultured voice orders me to "Say a command!" whenever I press something I shouldn't. "Fuck off!" I command, obediently. But what am I to do? You have to have a mobile. You can't park a car now without telling somebody by your mobile that you're parking it. And better a BlackBerry than an iPhone. At least a BlackBerry isn't a cyber kindergarten. As for why I'd brought it, the question is beneath notice. I'd brought it for the same reason my wife had brought her waffer-thin laptop and her multi-apped iPhone (we feel differently about iPhones). They were for an emergency. In case friends back in England needed to tell us we were holidaying in a trouble spot. The deal was that that they'd stay switched off and we'd consult them only every fifth day when the sun went down.

That the hour of our arrival constituted an exception to this principle we both acknowledged. You have to make the transition to alien systems, ensure you've said an electronic hello to the local cellular carriers, aka your "roaming partners", log on to the hotel Wi-Fi, collect the necessary passwords, etc.

Were I to aver that this all went smoothly I would not be believed by anyone who has ever travelled further than Eastbourne. It went as it always goes: the hotel gave us wrong passwords, our roaming partners declined partnership, the waffer-thin laptop, though ultimately showing signs of a willingness to receive and send messages, did so so slowly that we calculated we'd be back home by the time they arrived in either direction. And then, having Skyped her mother to tell her we'd arrived safely and in good spirits – "Say a command!" my BlackBerry shouted from under the bed where I had kicked it – my wife discovered that Skype was illegal in the country we were visiting. One Skype and you're out. Thereafter her phone went dead, a sign saying "No Service" appeared on the screen and stayed there for the fortnight we were away.

Outside, the waves broke; above, a scimitar moon sliced open the night sky; inside, two adults, tired from travel, hammered at dead computer keys and yelled down unresponsive phones. We'd been here an hour and already we needed another holiday.

We agreed to turn everything off immediately, regardless of the progress we had or hadn't made with passwords. I wondered if we oughtn't to go further and lock the lot away in the safe. That way, I argued, we would not fall to looking longingly in their direction, waiting for a boing or the flashing of a red light. My wife reminded me that once they were switched off they wouldn't boing or flash, but I maintained that switched-off phones can be even more mesmerising than switched-on ones in that they bear the cultural memory of communication, for which reason you go on staring at them nostalgically.

Against putting them in the safe was the argument that I always forget the code, being of the view that for security reasons we should never use the same one twice. Fresh in our minds was our last holiday when I had taken the precaution of writing the code on a piece of paper and then locked the paper in the safe. Then there was the question of batteries running down. Since we'd brought all this equipment to use in case of an emergency – we were on the same continent as Egypt, for God's sake! – didn't it make sense to ensure they'd be usable when the emergency occurred?

Thus began what is known to all technologically burdened travellers as the saga of charging. Have you brought the right leads, the right plugs, the right adapters? Our solution is to bring every length of wire with a plug or any other attachment at the end of it that we possess. In my wife's suitcase are sundresses, shorts, bikinis, sandals, beach bags, suncreams. In mine, are two shirts and a thousand metres of data sync cable. The problem of which data sync lead goes into which data sync socket I solve by the application of brute force. Say a command? "Get in, you bastard!" And then blame the service provider when there's no service or the iSomething goes up in flames.

The only pity, on this occasion, was that our room, though well supplied with every other amenity, was not well supplied with power points. What we had to decide upon, at the last, was priority – Kindle, BlackBerry, camera, other camera, waffer-thin computer, or electric mosquito killer. And when it comes to mosquitoes there's no argument: better to be incommunicado in the midst of a revolution for a couple of weeks than to be eaten alive in an hour.

So how was it after that? What do you think? By the middle of the following day I was wrapped around in cables like a telecom engineer and my wife was online on three separate devices. And for what? To learn that the country in which we were holidaying was safe – a fact we could have ascertained by going outside – and Rooney had scored a supergoal.

Say a command? "Grow up!" But I'm not listening. A phone, or is it a laptop, or is it a camera, is trying to tell me something.

Comments