Friday, October 3, 2014

A bleeding heart writes. But then why not? Please don’t be put off by the rather boring preamble about smartphones . . .

For the past week I have been ‘rationalising’ the household stock of mobile phones. That means I have been selling them. And if I am honest, by ‘household’, I mean ‘my’ stock of phones, or almost all my. There are a few - well three - phones which were used by my daughter, but the other 56 - oh, all right, the other 87 - are mine, picked up along the way I don’t know why, and any further analysis of the ‘why’ will only result in sheer embarrassment for me and you will undoubtedly lower your already low opinion from ‘pretty daft’ to ‘possibly certifiable’.

I always like to claim, quite truthfully, that in context the history of the acquisition of each phone makes perfect sense, and it does. The trouble is that recounting that history - as though anyone might be interested - would take at least ten minutes. I have a rule of thumb which runs along the lines of ‘if any explanation of any kind of unusual behaviour takes lasts for longer than 20 seconds, switch off, count the silver spoons, make your excuses and leave at your earliest’. If that is my rule of thumb, quite honestly I can’t blame anyone else for adopting it and, more pertinently, applying it to me. But given the sheer volume of ancient, old and old-fashioned mobiles cluttering up the various drawers in the house, I am have now started a selling campaign on eBay.

It all started when my son, living proof that the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree, enlisted my help - he’s not daft, though in that respect the apple must have fallen a little further than is usual - to get him an iPhone. He had set his heart on an iPhone 5s. He now has a part-time job washing dishes at a local pub/restaurant and has slowly built up a nest egg.

The puzzle for me was that he had an iPad Mini, bought on the money he had saved from the weekly allowance I give him, but had somehow lost interest in it. He dropped it a while ago, and I organised getting it fixed - by, as it turned out, a set of cowboys in the City - and was generous enough to cough up half of the £140 it cost to put right. But those cowboys did a bad job, and over time the screen became unresponsive. And then he smashed it again.

I suggested that I could organise to get it fixed again, this time at a rather good Apple repair service called Apple Bay (in Mytchett, near Farnborough, a 70-mile round trip, but well worth the effort, and who did eventually do it for £120) but he wasn’t interested. So, being a dad who, like most other dads, thinks the sun shines out of his children’s arse and who gets a kick out of spoiling them, I bought the cracked-screen iPad Mini from him for £45 and got it repaired myself. (Subsequently, my wife paid my £140 for it and gave it to your daughter who has just started college 140 miles away, but that’s another story. And for those who aren’t as good at maths (US ‘math’) as they should be, I am still £25 out of pocket, although it is charmless of me to mention it.

So when, three weeks ago, my son enlisted my help in getting an iPhone I was puzzled. For one thing, he doesn’t make any phone calls. He had counted up the money he could spare and decided he could only afford an iPhone 5c and asked me would I mind getting one for him on eBay? He then handed over £300, which was almost all the money he has earned these past few months. Well, being the dad who thinks children - not just mine, by the way, but all children - were born to be spoiled rotten, I took the £300, but bid for and won an auction for a new iPhone 5s for £360, contributing the extra £60 myself.

Then came: Chapter Two - the bloody awful Sony Experia SP my daughter has on contract from O2. A few years ago, I stopped paying my daughter her weekly £10 allowance and agreed to take out a contract with O2. The first phone she had was a Blackberry. Then - and I can’t at all remember the details, she upgraded and got another Blackberry. Then she decided that she wanted a touchscreen smarthphone - ironically, as for a couple of years up to that point in which I had outlined the benefits of touchscreen phones . . .

But, dear reader, I have got to this point and not only is this entry becoming ineffably boring, but, more to the point, I am becoming ineffably bored writing it. So can we agree that it should end there? Please? If, of course, there is a groundswell of opinion that, having marched all you saps halfway up the hill, I am morally obliged to carry on marching you to the top, I shall gracefully conclude it. But until then . . .

 . . .

I was watching Channel Four News earlier tonight and, as usual, the news was all dire. And the direst piece of news was just how fast the ebola virus outbreak is spreading. So I watched avidly, ‘feeling bad’ for all those poor folk living in shanty towns in Sierra Leone and Liberia exposed to the virus, but then, again not for the first time, I felt like a complete fraud.

Do my 320 seconds of ‘empathy’ really do the slightest bit of good? Does it change anything in the slightest? Of course, it doesn’t. For having ‘empathised’, this chap, the kind of chap who can, apparently without second thought, ‘spoil’ his kids and help buy them smartphones they really do not need, will metaphorically shed a tear for those ‘less well off’, then forget about them entirely and absolutely and spend a great deal more time worrying about his own sorry self until the next time he watches or hears some other heart-rending report when the ‘empathy’ will kick in again for a minute or two.

I don’t for a minute doubt that the lives of those folk in Sierra Leone and Liberia, and in the shanty towns of South Africa and Brazil, or in rural China and even in the sink estates of Britain aren’t always utterly miserable. I don’t doubt that for an hour or two, maybe even longer, when they are together with friends and family, they laugh and joke and do not perpetually reflect on what a poor hand life has dealt them.

For one thing humankind adapts to everything. So what if you have raw sewage running down the middle of the lane outside the shanty house you occupy in your shanty town; so what if, as a women, you yet again put up with being screwed by

Not posed by models. At least they are young enough not to know the shit that faces them later in life

your man even if you don’t feel like it because it’s simply the easier thing to do even though you might risk getting pregnant again or contracting Aids? So what if supper tonight is the same old boring bowl of boiled maize you have eaten for the past 20 years? A joke with a friend, a chat, can help you forget it for a minute or two.
But, face it, we who imagine we can insure ourselves against almost everything except death and know all about ‘our rights’ are a million times better off however sorry we feel for ourselves. A little earlier today I came across this on the BBC website.

I have no idea of the lives of those reading this (and I noticed a great deal of interest in this blog from folk in Ukraine, who have troubles of their own), but I doubt whether anyone obliged to work in that silver mine in Bolivia for eight hours from 2am on, before walking off to school in the vague hope that an education will get them out of the hell their lives have become, has the leisure to fire up that computer, connect to the net then visit this bloody blog to see what crap Patrick Powell is coming out with today. Read the piece I have linked to if you don’t understand what I am saying.

So where is this all leading to? I don’t know. But I can say that for a guy almost universally assumed to be ‘conservative’ politically I don’t half feel like throwing a few bombs sometimes.

At college I was, at least in the early days, regarded as the typical ‘public school’ boy who didn’t know shit from sausages. For example, I distinctly remember how, a week or two into the first term of my first year when we were all getting to know each other and hadn’t yet formed our circle of friends, a gang of us went down to the students’ union bar one lunchtime for a drink.

Now, at 18 I wasn’t a big drinker at all, and having tried one pint of Scottish ‘heavy’, I most certainly knew I didn’t want to try another. So there we were, five, six of us and the question went around ‘what are you having?’ And I replied ‘a schooner of sherry, please’. That will have marked my card for a month or two. Throughout my college days, all four years as it was an honours degree course (though in the event I only landed an ordinary, and that was a stroke of luck) I was regarded by ‘the Left’ as ‘on the right’ and by ‘the Right’ as ‘on the left’.

Actually, I was neither. I didn’t have one political thought in my head. But I did, even then, have a heart. And my heart told me, even then, though I would have been greatly troubled to articulate it, that the world is unfairly stacked. And nothing I have heard, seen, eaten, drunk or screwed since then will persuade me otherwise.

There, dear reader, I shall leave you, for either I do that or I go on for another 3,00o words, but it is late and I am in danger of becoming inarticulate as I have just polished off a bottle of wine - I wonder how many folk in Freetown and Monrovia have been able to polish off a bottle of wine tonight in the certain expectation that they can, switch off the light and go upstairs to a comfortable bed of clean cotton and that when they, perhaps, get up in a few hours’ time to have a slash, they can flush it away with water 1,000 times purer than they are obliged to drink?

Rest assured at my age - I joke about being 97, but the truth is that I shall be 65 on November 21 - I know it’s ‘not all that simple’. I know that a bomb thrown here, a pamphlet printed there does very little to ameliorate the lives of several billion people. But there are times, increasingly many as I grow older, when I wish I did know what I might, practically, be able to do to improve this shitty world. I am really no longer content with ‘empathising’ for a minute or two once or twice a week.

A few more piccies in case you think I’m talking through my arse:

Again, not a model in sight. This chap is pushing a wheelbarrow through shit for real

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