Saturday, November 20, 2010

Too much already

The absence of Thursday and Friday are explained by the horror of having the school day extended in each instance. Thursday was the occasion of the presentation of certificates to those pupils who had passed the various Cambridge examinations that rule the school with a severity which makes the rigidity of steel seem like the merest wisp of muslin.

As this ceremony (at which I was the official photographer) did not start until seven in the evening the time after school was spent in desultory conversation and despairing attempts to try and finish the latest book which I have been loaned, “The Constant Gardner” by Le Carré.

This book is not quite the normal thriller in that it is set in Africa and concerns the crusade of a young diplomatic wife against the machinations of international pharmaceutical companies as they try and “trial” a new drug to combat typhoid by using it on poor Africans before it had reached the stage for large scale deployment against the disease. The fatal side-effects are suppressed and the novel is a story of greed, corruption, murder and deception which makes for compelling reading.

This is one of those novels where the guilty party is made clear almost at the start of the book and therefore the interest is seeing how the obvious wrong may or may not be righted. I don’t think I give anything away when I say that this is no fairy story and the central characters are flawed by intensely real characters about whose posthumous and living reputations the reader is made to care.

I remember a novel where one of its futuristic details was that the “problem” of Africa had been attempted to be solved by the wholesale nuking of the continent; “The Constant Gardener” does not add to one’s optimism for the future of the continent, and it seems to encourage the depression and all pervading sense of failure that comes with a survey of corruption, war, misery, starvation, political disaster, civil war, exploitation, nepotism – and any other kind of abuse that makes up the present complexion of this disastrous continent.

And yet the individual striving for justice and right is always (however self deluding it might be) uplifting. For a while, until reality forces itself back into the picture!

Well worth reading – and a major motion picture if I am not mistaken. And if I am then it should be.

My lust for electronic, portable and sophisticated has been satisfied by my purchase, at absurd and completely unjustifiable cost, of a new mobile phone.

It is not an i-phone. I have spurned such obvious pabulum for dedicated gadget freaks and gone for the more elevated option of a Samsung Galaxy S. If nothing else the screen is bigger than its all conquering rival and I know (because I have watched incomprehensible videos on YouTube) that is also has other “things” that the unmentionable does not.

For me the USP is the way of inputting text.

My last phone had an on-screen keyboard, but my spatulate fingers only approximated to the relevant keys and I often ended up with the unintended gobbledygook of frustrated miniaturized technology rather than the usual gibberish of unedited flow of consciousness typing!

My present phone uses a truly disturbing form of input where a lazy drawl of a finger approximating to a selection of the keys necessary to form the word, produces, you’ve guessed it, the word!

In as disturbing a display of prescience as I have seen outside those little electronic balls which ask you to think of an object and then in a series of questions to which you only answer yes or no, works out what you have in your mind, the keyboard finger slur does actually get the word more often than not!

This phone (like “The Other”) lives or dies by its use of “applications” which are as bread and mother’s milk to your average teenager but as terra incognito to me.

There is a button, usefully marked as “applications” which, when pressed, reveals screenfulls of gaudily coloured and artfully designed masterpieces of the world of the logo which invite me to delve ever deeper into the electronic universe inhabited by the young.

I noted in the advertising for this machine, which, had it been human would have been burnt at the stake until relatively recently - and in some parts of rural Norfolk and most of the southern states of America up to and including the present day – that many of these “applications” are “free”. This, to my untutored and naïf mind suggests that some, or indeed many of them are not free, and I have a numbing feeling that I am going to tap my life away by carelessly loading something which will drain away my money while I gaze on in helpless misery doing the electronic equivalent of sucking my thumb.

For reasons which are in some vague, indefinable way linked to the Defenestration of Prague; the Begums of Oudah; the Rise of the Protestant Hegemony and The Industrial Revolution mixed with a half understood version of Puritan Calvinism, I have bought my phone thus making it (in a pleasing oxymoron) “free.”

I am not sure what advantage this gives me other than encouraging me to spend vast sums of money on the machine. The “point” of this particular phone is that it has to have almost constant access to the internet for most of the fun bits to work, but as I am “free” I do not have a contract to give me phone access – but that is something I will have to work out as I get to know what the thing is capable of.

I do recall that in my last phone it linked to the internet at any casual clicking on inviting buttons, and I am sure that my present phone will do the same. If I let it. I have no knowledge about how much anything is costing and with a pay-as-you-go attitude, linking to the internet is very much supping with the devil for which long spoons were invented! What I have to do is find the electronic equivalent of the “long spoon” – and before anyone tells me that can be found by not buying a mobile phone which relies on the internet to function, please remember that love of gadgets often moves beyond ordinary logic!

Today it has had the actual temerity to rain. Admittedly it was not for long and the pavements soon dried, but I take it as a piece of effrontery which can easily be linked to today’s temperature which seems to me to be quite unnecessarily cold. We have had to resort to the demeaning expedient of turning on a small portable radiator and talk about hanging curtains to block off the heat sucking extractor which is the open stairs.

I have the uneasy feeling that the suggested solution of a curved rail on the ceiling at the bottom of the stairs with curtains depending from it may give the living room the look of some sultry bordello! I await more concrete plans with a certain apprehension.

Tomorrow I should prepare my bit and pieces for the epic voyage to the UK for the celebrations of Aunt Bet. As I am spending both nights of my stay in deepest, darkest England I am also packing my trusty (!) GPS even though I think that I have a GPS as part of my new phone. It is remembering the small things that is the sign of an experienced traveller – on that basis I am little better than a stay at home! Not only that, but with what little I remember to pack I find myself leaving small reminders of my stay where ‘ere I stop! I suppose it is my way of doing my bit for the alleviation of the financial crisis by spending more to replace that which I leave!

In theory I should be able to download books and music to my phone thus obviating the necessity of taking either with me on this trip. I am not yet convinced but I will see if it is possible in the few days that I have before I go.

Time to experiment.

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