(Good afternoon, I am about to use the present tense to describe some events that are from the past. I know, yes, sue me.)
It is Saturday, months ago. I visit my dentist. When I was a small child, this was a rich source of ripping thrills, because it was a chance to sit in a comfortable high-backed armchair with pale blue stripes, and I might be given a complimentary bendy rubber man. Such luxuries are out of place in these austere times, so I am slightly irritable.
I travel by bus. I arrive with time to spare. I buy some paper, a “super economy pad”, which turns out to be disappointing – the ink bleeds right through to the other side. (Always be suspicious when the paper density value isn’t printed on the cover.) I go the the dental practice. “You shouldn’t need to wait long,” the lady predicts, which is what they say in the private sector when you are late. I am not late.
I have not waited long when a man with a beard beckons me into his study. He is a dentist, but not as I know it. He is not my dentist. He has never looked at my teeth before, and his face is that of a man who is having a breakdown. His entire view of the world has just been shattered. Who, he wonders, is this person? “Am I supposed to be seeing you?” I ask. It turns out that I am not – rather, someone else with the same forename as me is. OK.
If I could turn back time, I might have kept up the accidental pretence. What would have happened? Would his beard have melted? Would a black hole have been created, sucking up the whole of North Norfolk? Probably not.
(This is a terrible anecdote. There is a better bit approaching, but it is the difficult beginning that binds it to the other two vignettes.)
When I board the bus to go home, the driver punches a hole through my return ticket and presses it back into my hand. I am forced to double back to receive the ticket, which I do not really need. When nobody is looking, I eat the ticket. It is chewy, and not an especial taste sensation, but the basic elements are there, certainly. If they printed bus tickets on edible paper, I decide, public transport would be so much more popular, and most of the world’s problems would be solved. The idea has legs.
The eating is a form of protest, a protest against the shimmering absurdity of the passenger being responsible for disposing of a ticket. There quite simply could not be a better bellwether for our potently extraordinary society. I have not paid some pounds for the “privilege” of having to dispose of my used bus ticket myself.
“Some pounds”. I am not able to give a precise figure, because the ticket, on which the fee is written, is inside my tummy. Hence, the next time I travel on the bus, I will not have enough of the requisite preparedness to equip myself exactly with the correct number of coins. Look at me, I have egg on my face, I have done a wee on my foot, I have shot myself in the slippers – it it is a terrible cocktail, and none of those metaphorically spoken things have been left out. Some people are unwilling to discuss a pheasant in a river of molasses.
It is some time ago, again, and the time has come for me to peck, using my fingers, at the keyboard of a municipal computer. It’s OK, you don’t need to know the details, but the setting is similar to that of an incident from earlier this year – evidently, such scenes are disproportionately rich sources of material.
I notice, on the floor, curled up with some cables, a shiny miniature consumer electronics good. (Possibly a fast-moving one, but this chap seems pretty stationary to me.)
I slide down from my chair and lurch in the direction of the object. Examination of its rear reveals that it is in fact white. (Naturally, the display – which takes up most of the front of these things – was black, because it was turned off.) The white surface has “iPhone” written on it, and below that, in smaller letters, within a sort of rounded rectangle, “32 GB”. About one third of the screen is fundamentally cracked, and someone has applied Scotch Tape in a defeated bid to mask the system of crevasses.
I lurch back out and continue my life. No, I am not going to liberate the telephone. Would it be permissible to do such a thing? Of course not, but most of all, these telephones have global positioning systems in them. I don’t want to become a walking dot on a policeman’s display screen. Besides, any sensible criminal would wait for one that isn’t cracked. Only an idiot would steal, which explains why so many people do steal these things.
As I work on the continuation of my life, the display lights up all of a sudden, and a picture of the Earth is displayed. (A “wallpaper”.) It appears that a person named “Daddy” (like off of the ketchup) is dialling the iPhone’s number, doing nothing to dispel my impressions that such a fancy-trousers telephone is owned by some kind of wealthy brat. (The heir to a ketchup empire, I expect. Those happy rotters, with their “golden hellos”, can afford to lay snail trails of breadcrumb-coloured iPhones behind them as they go, like impoverished fairytale Germans, not quite understanding the utility of the inbuilt Google Maps.) I do not answer the telephone, obviously.
Of course, the “iPhone” also exists in the form of the “iPod touch”, which is ostensibly not a portable telephone but a portable gramophone. What matters here is that some people call it the “iTouch”, which is fundamentally wrong. I think we can all sympathise with this particular type of portable gramophone. There, that is what makes the story relevant, what brings us back to our theme.
Because it is some time ago, the subject of David Miliband and his brother Ed – of whom I wrote a long time ago, and remain suspicious – is hotly topical. It’s not hotly topical any more, they’re no so longer fresh to the deluxe spotlight, and that’s OK – this is fashionable and stylish “slow blogging”.
Google Docs (short for “documents”, although it could certainly be “doctors”, which seems like a cunning way to misleadingly hide the fact that you don’t really have a PhD, but have people assume that you do) slaps a dotted line underneath – do I mean “moribund”? No, I do not mean that. Is this prescient? No, it probably isn’t prescient. (Google Chrome refuses to recognise “Google”.)
The thing about David Miliband is this: people seem to think that he is called “David Milliband”. That’s a belief that happens to be fundamentally wrong – he is, in fact, called “David Miliband”, and so is his brother. (Well, to be precise, his brother is called “Ed Miliband”, but the point is this: they have the same surname.)
(I don’t know what the Brother is called. “MFC-6490CW” is as likely as anything. It might be an inkjet printer, a scanner, a label printer, a fax machine, you know. I am funny.)
Maybe this confusion will be problematic. Right now, when people vote in elections, they must draw a multiplication sign next to where name of their favourite local candidate has been printed on a piece of paper. But suppose they changed the system, to make it less patronising, so that punters were responsible for writing down the name of the leader of the political party to which their favourite candidate belonged? And any ballot paper where the name was misspelt would be ignored. Such a policy sounds a little recherché, you’re probably thinking, but you have to remember what extraordinary times we live in, times where you can eat biscuits for breakfast. Yes, biscuits for breakfast – whatever next, marmalade for lunch? In such extraordinary times, the only extraordinary thing about my proposed adjustment to the democratic rituals is that it still hasn’t been implemented yet.
Even if things stay as they are, a voter might get confused upon seeing “Miliband” printed on their leaf of paper. “But my favourite candidate is ‘Mr Milliband’. This ‘Mr Miliband’ must be different candidate.” It is correct that only people in the Milibands’ constituencies will be affected by this, but you must remember that every vote counts.
(I did wonder why inkjet printers rarely stood for parliament. Now I know why – it’s because their names are too complicated, and all look the same. If just one took part per constituency, it would be OK – in fact, its name would be especially distinguishable from the human candidates’ – but as soon as one inkjet printer joins in, suddenly they’re all at it, and scenes become unbelievably chaotic. Maybe there are other reasons, too.)
People did think that Barack Obama was called “Barrack Obama”, and that didn’t cause him any problems. In fact, perhaps his becoming, you know, the mayor of America, was at least partly – probably entirely – because people were misspelling his forename, which made other people feel sorry for him. Right now, everyone knows the correct spelling, so that borehole of sympathy has dried up, and the other chaps are overtaking again. Maybe this model for success will be replicated. I don’t have any opinions, so I don’t know whether to shut up and start strategically misspelling his name, but it’s a powerful idea.
I have squeezed at least a thousand words out of this. I am sorry. I managed to avoid mentioning that “prescient” and “president” are a bit similar. Also, has anybody at all ever noticed that “Miliband” sounds like something associated with meteorology? That would be good.