Use of the short attention span as a literary device

Britain's best-loved replacement columnist

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HI. AS I sit here staring at the computer screen, it's hard for me to believe that summer is here once more.

It seems like it was only yesterday that it was last summer, and my editor was ringing up, desperate - and I mean desperate - for me to fill in while a regular columnist was away on holiday.

And now here we are again, albeit with a different editor, on a different paper. Never mind. We'll just pick up where we left off.

If you remember, I had just invited all my readers to engage in a little competition to pick the worst key on the whole computer keyboard.

Response had been fairly light, thanks to all that Diana business and, perhaps not surprisingly, nobody got the right answer. It was, of course, Caps Lock!

You know when you're just typing along merrily, and you suddenly hit Caps Lock by mistake aND SUDDENLY YOU LOOK UP AND EVERYTHING IS IN UPPER CASE. nIGHTMARE!

As a writer, I can safely say that there is nothing more annoying than having to go back and change what I've already written. It completely destroys the whole stream-of-consciousness-style spontaneity thing I'm trying to have.

Since that last column I've had a lot of things to think about, and it did occur to me that Caps Lock is perhaps a bit of a male choice.

Women, who in my experience type more thoughtfully and gently than men, probably hate Alt and Ctrl and F8 and any other key which serves to remind them that they threw away the computer manual without reading it.

Increasingly I find it a bit dangerous to assume I know what women are thinking, so I thought I had better conduct a little survey.

First I asked the girl who works at the place where I buy my mints what she thought the worst key was, and she said Q. I'm not sure she really understood the question.

Then I decided to ask my girlfriend what she thought but, perhaps not surprisingly, I got no reply. I'm not even sure what's-his-name gave her the message.

Which reminds me: how long is a trial separation supposed to last? Six months? Longer?

We men will simply never understand all the arcane little rules that govern relationships. I confess I often find women exasperating, even though I'm as sensitive to their needs as a man can get without actually being gay. Not that I've got anything against gay men. I'm no backward African bishop.

Naturally, I think that people of all sexual orientations should be free to stand up and tell the whole world what they are. Which is why I always tell people right away that I'm not gay.

Which brings me to today's subject: drugs. It would be quite impossible for me to gauge accurately the effect drugs have had on society over the past 30 years without doing a tremendous amount of research, but I do feel that I have the benefit of a certain amount of experience.

I've taken drugs in the past and I'm not ashamed to say so, although for obvious reasons I prefer to be hazy about actual dates and amounts.

There is something terribly irresponsible about the way so-called "experts" talk about the "drug problem", when they have never taken drugs themselves. They completely miss the point.

For one thing, they never address the very positive effect drugs, or at least rehab, can have on other people's lives. What seems so ironic to me is that alcohol - the so-called "legal" high - has done more to raise my insurance premiums than all other drugs combined.

Of course, I don't drink as much now as I did a while back. In fact I'm quite enjoying my single lad's existence these days.

At last I have the time to fit that extra 16 megabytes of Ram into my laptop, to pinch out the side shoots on my tomato plant, to learn the chords of Fly Me To The Moon and, of course, to write, write, write.

Over the past several months, my work has helped me to become more reflective, more thoughtful and more self-aware, and in turn this introspection has helped me to express myself much more clearly, to say what precisely I mean, which is, quite simply: "Julie (not her real name), I can change."

Incidentally, I was at a close friend of mine's sixth birthday party some time last week, and I asked him what he thought of the recent cabinet reshuffle. He said, perhaps not surprisingly, "What's a cabinet reshuffle?" which, if you think about it, makes perfect sense. sEE YOU NEXT WEEK, i HOPE1

Wallace Arnold is away.

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