The Eternal Circle

Photo by Gladson Xavier on

Those of you who were with me on Tuesday (The Seventh Seal) will have found me in my usual state of angst, on that occasion about my inability to corral my thoughts along a predictable path from cogent beginning to rational end.  Indeed. those of you stubborn enough to have stuck with me these last few years, through thin and thin, will be painfully aware that narrative thrust is not, figuratively speaking, my ‘thing’.  I prefer to let my mind wander a little, to find its own way through my daily travails, in the hope that I can catch up with it sooner or later and corral it into a last sentence that ties in with all that has come before, that neatly bundles all the threads together and arrives both unexpectedly and yet as expected at ‘The End’.  My style of writing involves little in the way of planning and a great deal in the way of staring out of the window whilst drinking coffee.  I begin each little farrago with the conviction that it will wind up (or down, I’m never sure) if not in the same place then at least on the same page (see figuratively speaking above).  That each piece has a dénouement of sorts is as surprising to me as everybody else.  That beginning and end should fall into any kind of order after taking a waltz around my cranium is nothing short of a eiraclm.  So…

The shower is up and was, briefly, running.  You may gather from that sentence that this is no longer the case.  It remains up, but it is no longer running.  Not, I should point out, the shower’s fault.  The reason that it is currently in an ongoing non-functional scenario is actually the fault of the new shower-screen which, having spent the short time since its erection leaking like a sieve, is currently back in its box and awaiting collection.  (Fortunately I kept the box because I am old and I know how these things go: they go up, don’t work and come down again, whereupon they have to be returned to the supplier in original packing.)  It will be ‘up-picked’, I presume as the result of using a dyslexic Cantonese/English translator, when the new one is delivered, except it won’t, because the carriers know nothing about a new one, as they have only the paperwork for a collection and nothing on the van left to deliver other than a gross of left-handed socks for a shop in Wolverhampton.  This does not concern me: at some stage, when we are not in, the new screen will be delivered and left next door with a slow-cooker intended for somewhere in Hemel Hempstead.  The new screen will go up without incident and will leak in a whole new range of places.

Built-in obsolescence has reached such a stage that things are now obsolete before they are built in.  The expectation is that things will not be as expected.  Modern life is all about managing disappointment.  In days of yore you could rely on a washing machine lasting until the very day after the guarantee ran out.  Then they changed the law: goods, these days, are effectively guaranteed to last as long as they can reasonably be expected to last.  It is impossible to plan.  You have to spend hours researching the reasonable lifetime of a tumble dryer before you can work out when to get the man in.  You have to be aware of the expected durability of a cooker before you make a note of the local takeaway’s number. Things will last just as long as expected, and if they don’t, well, what do you expect?  To tell the truth, I did expect the shower screen to keep the water out – or in – somewhat better than it did.  If I’m honest, the shower made less of a puddle without it.  It strikes me that, if you buy a computer, it is easy to argue that it might not be powerful enough for you and the expectation could be that it might go out-of-date very quickly, it is less easy to maintain that a shower screen is meant to be porous.

So now I’m back in the bath – not ‘this second’ now, you understand, as my laptop has a battery life that is measured in zeptoseconds and has to be plugged into the mains, making it less than ideal for in-bath use, unless you’re writing a piece about the practical effectiveness of defibrillators – and, as much as I appreciate I am taking a risk by stating this, you know where you are with a bath.  The water (unless the bath is full of children) stays in it.  So constantly reliable is the bath that Archimedes was correctly able to assume that he displaced his own weight in water – and also that it would be cold before he managed to top it back up.  It is not the bath’s fault that the towel is always out on the banister nor that the grandkids need a poo the second you settle down in the bubbles, and the downstairs loo is out of use until you can get the teddy bear out of it.  Baths have a single function: hold water – much like the bladder which, at my age is far less dependable.

At which point I begin to consider the built-in obsolescence of body parts.  What is the reasonable lifespan of my lungs, my heart, my kidneys?  (I decided to leave my liver out of this – it has quite enough problems of its own.)  Do I need to book the paramedics for the day after my seventieth birthday?  I know that medical science has moved on, but what of flesh and blood?  Are we destined to see out the balance of our lives waiting for spare parts?  Are the ones we have obsolete?  Does everything fail at once or can I expect my brain to outlive my lights?  Will I be told that I’d be much better with a new one, or will they tell me that they don’t make them now like they used to?  And then, of course, we face the inevitability of asking the obvious question, the one to which none of us actually wants to know the answer.  Because that is the ending that nobody wants to see coming…

The Commercial Vision of a Happily Hirsute Man



OK, given the manifold possibilities associated with coronavirus: serious illness, death, bankruptcy, starvation, fewer episodes of Eastenders, it came as something as a surprise to me to discover that many people considered that not being able to go to the hairdresser was the worst problem they could imagine. Now, I realise that it matters so little to me because I am by nature a scruffy bugger, but I can’t for the life of me imagine why it does matter quite so much to anybody else. None-the-less, times being what they are, and philanthropy being the order of the day, I felt that I might be able to help. I remembered, in the years of my sallow youth, that it was possible to buy a DIY hair trimmer, which resembled a Stanley knife blade fixed to a comb, although I could not remember what it was called. Like everybody at the moment, I have time on my hands, so I found myself a comb, a Stanley knife blade and some Sellotape, and I improvised. To my utter astonishment, my little construction worked in exactly the same way as its predecessor of some fifty years ago: it took a huge jagged hank out of my hair and left me with a laceration to my scalp that a couple of weeks ago would have required stitching, but now, a liberal application of super-glue and a hat. But it set my brain whirring.

You see, I was young during the great days of K-Tel and Ronco, when new products, similar to the hair trimmer (Was it the Trim-o-Matic?) appeared upon our TV screens almost daily in a branded nuclear arms race of tat. All of these products had a number of features in common:
1. They were made from the kind of plastic that shattered into a thousand tiny razor-blades if dropped, shook or stared at in an inappropriate manner
2. They were always designed to do something you never knew needed doing
3. They never did what they were designed to do
4. They always broke the first time they didn’t do it.
It struck me that now could be the time for the return of the great days of built-in obsolescence and in my own modest way, I would like to offer the following suggestions. (In my days of yore, somebody would have paid for an illustrator at this point, but I am afraid that you will have to use your imagination. If you don’t have one, do not despair, you may be a chartered surveyor.) I have almost certainly copyrighted these designs, so don’t even think about it…

Self-removing gloves – you all know the problem. You wear the gloves so that you don’t have to touch infected stuff, and then you have to touch the infected gloves in order to get them off. Well, now you can relax. These little beauties are made from an incredible new material, invented by NASA specifically for Russian underwear manufacturers, that falls apart after – or in times of stress during – the first wear. Simply use the gloves for whatever sordid task you have planned and then sit around for an hour or two without touching anything whilst they slowly decompose with the kind of must usually associated with field-latrines. Guaranteed to leave an unsightly stain on all types of flooring that cannot be removed with any generally available cleaning product.

Self-removing glove stain remover – will stubbornly refuse to remove the stain for which it was designed, whilst effortlessly lifting the surface from the floor, the sole from your shoes and the skin from your hands. Please note: this product is in no way similar to oven cleaner and anyone suggesting that it is merely an over-labelled bottle of Mr Muscle will find themselves tight-up against the iron fist of British Justice (or Big Geoff, as we call him).

All-over body wrap – a giant roll of cling film designed to shroud the full body and thus completely protect from the coronavirus. In reality you will be completely unable to find the start of the roll and will eventually shred the whole thing in a huge explosion of impotent rage.

Telescopic ‘shaking’ hand – a slightly soiled and shop-worn mannequin’s hand crudely gaffer-taped to the end of a two meter garden cane which enables you to safely shake hands with people you meet. The hand will fall off the stick during its first use, which is just as well, as it may be diseased and in need of incineration. The soiled hand can subsequently be retrieved with my cunningly designed Clamp-o-Crap – an over-sized pair of plastic scissors from which one blade will shear on initial ‘snap’ and take the crotch out of your trousers, at which point you will almost certainly stop worrying about the tatty plastic hand in the gutter.

The socially-distancing hat – a construction-site hard-hat with a javelin stuck through it. Defy anyone to infringe upon your personal space from front or rear. Perfect for family gatherings and camping holidays

To purchase any of these products, simply email me your bank account details, National Insurance number and a list of dates when your house will be empty.

So now you know what happens when I’m stuck at home on a diet of red wine and peanuts…

‘Homer, lighten up. You’re making ‘Happy Hour’ bitterly ironic.’ – Marge Simpson