73. Goodbye to all cash?

Silver dollarCashless pubs – an overdue innovation for a struggling sector, or the thin end of the wodge, as our interactions become increasingly dependent on technology, and the pinpoint precision with which it tracks our movements?

Depressing to find the pub closest to me, a fine place to drink and eat with which I have no other complaints, now only accepts card payments. Efficiency is mooted, the most overrated aspect of our current society. And, the management claim, it’s reflective of customer habits – the customers a modern pub wants to attract, anyway. No more looking down the back of the sofa for nuggets of the non-chicken variety – overnight a series of invisible signs has been propped up beside the shouty SKY SPORTS blackboard. The first to catch the eye: Buskers, Bankrupts and those of No Fixed Abode not welcome here. Indefinitely.

All this tech. All this joined up tech. It’s not that we’re necessarily being spied on now; not unless you happen to fall into an ethnic group under perpetual suspicion – we’re simply allowing the tools for a surveillance society to be put in place if/when we get an elected leader who isn’t wild about elections, as is happening in many parts of the world right now. Fortunately, we still have a minimum wage in the UK, but it doesn’t amount to enough to let you go contactless all day, tempting as that may be. Consider the bar staff deprived of those modest ‘keep the change’ gestures. Another freshly painted sign: Charming and helpful bar staff must rely on cashless customers utilising that awkward piece of pottery marked TIPS.

I can’t deny my bias. Having lived in Hong Kong; having friends in Hong Kong who have no choice but to stay there, the latest news about the Chinese governments roll-out of a yet-more intrusive, data-based monitoring system (there’s only so many times you can huff ‘Why should I worry if I’ve got nothing to hide?’ before it sounds like utter crap) gives me the fucking willies, and why wouldn’t it?

The issue may soon be out of our hands, here on our small island anyway. In Latin America, dollars are kept under the bed while local currencies fluctuate wildly. They are a safe – if galling – bet, for those who can afford to accumulate them. Ironically, my experience of the US is that the federal system won’t allow a huge amount of joined-up thinking when it comes to the technology taking hold here. Of course, that will change. In the meantime, swallow your pride, and get yourself some bucks. Just don’t expect to be able to spend them down the local, mighty dollar or not.

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71. Foolproof anti-algorithm technique disguised as free jazz II – search engine responses

Facial furySelected highlights from my attempts at misinformation mentioned last time.

  • How do you smell my dog’s name in French?
    Dog Names That’ll Make you Say ‘Oui, Oui’
    Name your love pup one of these French dog names, and you’re sure to get even more warm fuzzies for your favorite little fur-ball.
  • Does paper feel regret?
    Psychopaths actually do feel regret, new research finds—they just don’t change. … The paper found that those with signs of psychopathy do, in fact, experience regret over certain decisions. But it seems that they struggle to learn from that regret, and use it to inform future choices.
  • Cabbage camouflage techniques
    By law it is technically illegal to wear camouflage uniforms in public that had been adopted by any military or paramilitary organization. South African companies have produced a large number of varied camouflage patterns from the apartheid period into the present era, in part to provide some legitimate hunting designs for commercial purposes.
  • Renting a toxic waffle maker with a dodgy plug, 1972-76
    We’ve come a long way since the word “waffle” was first introduced to the English language in the 1725 book “Court Cookery” by chef Robert Smith, who swore by the “bake one to try; if they burn, add more butter” method. But as with pancakes, mastering the art of the perfect waffle first time can be tricky. Reject waffles can range from drastically under-cooked in the middle to so burnt that you’ll have to leave the pan soaking in the sink. But it doesn’t have to be that way: these days, fancy waffle makers will do all the hard work for you at the optimum temperature.
  • Can I divorce my guilty feet?
    We built that house, and had kids close together. When they got older, I did start my writing career, but along the way, something happened, and we both agreed the only solution to stay happy was to write a new chapter, which would involve living in separate places — and eventually lead to a divorce.
  • Is disco an Olympic sport?
    When I reflect on the London Games, the moments that resonate with me the most are not the ones where American athletes are standing up on that top pedestal singing “o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.” While seeing that always floods me with such happiness and pride, the memories that have impacted me the most include the ones that demonstrate the pure goodness of humanity. The moments that, no matter what country you’re from, are bound to stick with you because they strike something deep within.
  • Is my face made of wool?
    Earlier this month I flew to London. I prepped for the flight like any good little beauty editor. Face wipes? Check. A nefarious-looking sheet mask? Of course. Rosewater to mist my face? Certainly. And to lock in all of these transatlantic treatments, I turned to Lano Ointment — a thick balm made from the wool of Australian sheep. Baa-humbug. The ointment’s star ingredient is lanolin, a viscous, gummy formula that may ring a few bells if you’re a new mom or a French-beauty-brand aficionado. Commonly found in diaper-rash treatments, nipple creams, and Avibon, the French retinol salve that makes even the most deferential beauty editor’s lips smack in excitement, lanolin is nature’s answer to fussy, dry skin. Skin is why lanolin exists at all, actually, as it’s secreted by sheep to protect their skin and wool from the environment.
  • Best-paid jobs for unemployed millionaires in Rotherham, 1829-2052
    The average Rotherham salary is £28,170. Currently there are 1,506 live job ads in Rotherham, out of 1,055,507 jobs nationally. Most live job ads in Rotherham are for Healthcare & Nursing Jobs and Teaching Jobs. Salaries in Rotherham have gone up 7.2% year-on-year while the national annual change is 1.0%.
  • Best way to feel feelings (without touching them)
    Besides inner feelings such as sensations as others have mentioned and hot or cold, those that cannot hear or see have a more heightened sense of feelings. Vibrations, such as made by music, someone’s step, or the sound of a car engine, even a door closing, wind at different speeds and temperatures. The feeling of movement, falling, forward movement, climbing or spinning, our inner ear reacts to these often causing motion sickness, you feel what you breath, the consistency of the air, when you step, you not only feel the ground beneath your feet through your shoes, but the density beneath it, it may be soft like mud or hard like concrete.
  • Should I buy my hamster a golf course?
    Get ready to play a challenging round of Hamster Mini Golf. Play mini golf with hamsters! Challenge a friend with two-player mode! Choose the course you’d like to play and the hamster you’d like to play with and set off for a fun golfing adventure!

  • How much is £1.56 worth in pounds and pence twenty minutes ago near the big tree in the park?
    Children need to know the value of each coin and note and understand what these values represent. They should understand that money can be represented in different ways but still have the same value. Children will need to be able to add coin values together to find the total amount.
  • Why can’t I change a million-pound note at Aldi, or Lidl?
    Smoothie and porridge toppers chia, sesame, flaxseed, linseed and pumpkin seeds are the most up and coming health foods of the last few years. While the unt-rendiest part about health food has long been the prices, most Aldis have met the trend with competitively priced packs into the bargain. Pet food is notoriously priced, with owners spending around £7 a week on cat food to feed Oscar or Kitty. Aldi’s Vitacat and Earls cat and dog food brands can be an easy way to feed a beloved pet without raising debts, ranging between £1.50 and £2.50 for a pack of 8 pouches.
  • How do I stop the Queen from ringing me at all hours?
    Having plans in place for the death of leading royals is a practice that makes some journalists uncomfortable. For 30 years, BBC news teams were hauled to work on quiet Sunday mornings to perform mock storylines about the Queen Mother choking on a fishbone. There was once a scenario about Princess Diana dying in a car crash on the M4. These well-laid plans have not always helped. In 2002, when the Queen Mother died, the obit lights didn’t come on because someone failed to push the button down properly. On the BBC, Peter Sissons, the veteran anchor, was criticised for wearing a maroon tie. The last words in Sissons’s ear before going on air were: “Don’t go overboard. She’s a very old woman who had to go some time.”
  • Carpet sale dynamic wrist action shag pile conundrum: when, and for how long?
    EXCELLENT GOOD OLD FASHIONED SERVICE. WHEN CUSTOMERS WERE TREATED LIKE THEY WERE VALUED. HE EXPLAINED EVERYTHING TO US ABOUT WHAT WOULD BE NEEDED FROM THE GLUE FIX – TO THE DOOR BARS ETC AND GAVE US THE SAME SERVICE AS SOMEONE ELSE IN THE STORE THAT WAS LIKELY TO BE SPENDING THOUSAND WHILST WE WERE SPENDING HUNDREDS.
  • How do I get my recycling back?
    Countries such as China are prepared to pay high prices for recyclables such as waste plastic, mainly because they do not have readily available sources of virgin materials (no indigenous forests or oil supplies) and they have a large manufacturing industry that requires these products. Even though exporting our recyclables means a bigger recycling loop because recyclable materials are transported further, it is still a better environmental option than using virgin, raw materials.
  • Baggage allowance for heaven
    Malta Paradise Holidays
    You must be able to fit your bags into the baggage gauge at check in, including handles, pockets and wheels. You must be able to fit any duty-free and airport purchases into this allowance. The maximum weight per bag is up to 23kg/51lb and you must be able to lift it into the overhead locker by yourself. Infants (under age 2) may take 1 additional cabin bag (as above) only for items they may require during the flight.
  • Nothing: pros and cons
    Petrov hesitated. The technology was new, and surely if the Americans had launched a preemptive strike, they would have fired more than five missiles. Still, he couldn’t be certain. So he waited. Against all training and expectation he waited for an agonizing 23 minutes to see if Soviet surface radar would confirm the launch. It did not. And the world survived another day without nuclear war. Unarguably, the most important contribution Stanislav Petrov made during his lifetime was his decision not to take action.

70. Foolproof anti-algorithm technique disguised as free jazz II

STOP CONTROL
Here we go again. Trying to simultaneously engage with the real world and escape from it over the last few months, I’ve doubtless given far too much of myself away online yet again. Time to dangle my word-clogged trombone over the Internet’s spittle bucket and dribble a few more anti-algorithm distractors into the void. Feel free to slop them down the neck of your favoured search engine, or find the time to create your own. It’s strangely relaxing.

  • How do you smell my dog’s name in French?
  • Wanted: travel toothbrush for philanthropic marsupial
  • Does paper feel regret?
  • Cabbage camouflage techniques
  • Pay for extra legroom or build an extra leg room?
  • Renting a toxic waffle maker with a dodgy plug, 1972-76
  • Can I divorce my guilty feet?
  • Is disco an Olympic sport?
  • Can ears smell poisonous gossip underwater?
  • Is my face made of wool?
  • Best-paid jobs for unemployed millionaires in Rotherham, 1829-2052
  • Best way to feel feelings (without touching them)
  • Should I buy my hamster a golf course?
  • How much is £1.56 worth in pounds and pence twenty minutes ago near the big tree in the park?
  • Why can’t I change a million-pound note at Aldi, or Lidl?
  • How do I stop the Queen from ringing me at all hours?
  • Carpet sale dynamic wrist action shag pile conundrum: when, and for how long?
  • How do I get my recycling back?
  • Baggage allowance for heaven
  • Nothing: pros and cons

63. Dictionary corner – word updates #76/77 (‘Tolerance’ / ‘Peace’)

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Manchester 23/6/17

In the wake of Theresa ‘don’t tease her’ May’s upcoming election triumph (by saying it with airy confidence, we hope the gods will punish us with a surprise to rival other, less pleasant ones recently delivered) dictionary darlings everywhere will have noticed that the champions-elect have already used the weight of their anticipated majority to remove all synonyms for tolerance from online dictionaries.

Responding to questions faced while addressing an orgiastic crossword convention at an underground Soho location, a government spokesman confirmed they are also planning to detach the ‘e’ from the end of tolerance, but explained that this would be no more than a temporary measure, with the letter safely returned once the ‘wets’ had learnt to toughen up, get real and accept ‘the brutal realities of the world we live in, from which there is no possible escape or likelihood of change until long after we are all dead.’

Additionally, in a move likely to enrage pedantic progressives, but give hope to dead or dying Latin masters around the country, the ruling party have decreed that the word peace will be returning to its Latinate form, pace later this year. Furthermore, in a ‘necessary cost-cutting exercise’ it will be merged with the more contemporary meaning of pace; thus pacemaker will come to mean ‘bringer of reliably paceful [formerly ‘peaceful’] times for the benefit of the sensible and realistically-minded majority’.

The new meaning of pace/peace will thus veer more towards a government-mandated ideal of consistent economic output and away from the rather wishy-washy plea for world disarmament, love and understanding the word had come to represent in its ungoverned state. The move is rumoured to be a ‘sweetener’ for inclusion in a billion-dollar trade deal with an American manufacturer of headphones, earplugs, muffs and blinkers.

Pronunciation tips

tolerance = toleranc (pronounced ‘tolerank’, for that grittier 2017 feel)

peace = pace (rhymes with ‘pâté’ if you’re posh, otherwise ‘ace’ with a ‘p’)

More word news as it’s made…

60. “Homecoming” (novel extract featuring strong language)

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Mr and Mrs Rutter lived at the end of the avenue in a top-heavy, ramshackle wooden house that appeared to be staggering forward into the road to welcome arrivals or block departures from the deserted neighbourhood.

As they pulled up outside, a large pot-bellied bird vacated the top of the family pile with a disgruntled cawing. Patrick watched as it leavened itself over their neighbours’ roof tiles, almost colliding with a weathervane shaped like blades of grass blowing in the wind. Meanwhile Julie had opened her door and spilled out of the van with a ‘what a fucking journey’. Mrs Rutter quit her gardening and hurried out through a lopsided front gate to meet them.

‘Mum,’ said Patrick, his cramped legs limping towards her.

‘Julie,’ said Mrs Rutter, a woman of formidable proportions with fierce green eyes and a stiff lick of immovable grey hair. ‘You came all this way to see us.’

The women embraced. Patrick squinted towards the doorway but there was no sign of his father. Eventually the women parted and Mrs Rutter regarded her son.

‘You’ve had an accident I hear?’

‘That’s right.’

‘Fighting again, was it?’

‘Artistic differences.’

‘Bollocks. He’d probably had enough of your bull.’

Mrs Rutter swung her considerable bulk in her son’s direction. Patrick braced himself for some delayed affection but instead got a whack round the ear.

‘Don’t worry, Paddy,’ she laughed. ‘We’ll soon get that brain working again.’

She hurried them off the road and up the dusty path beside the rockery where she had just downed tools. An extended family of tiny black spiders scaled a mini-mountain of hand-painted pebbles. Beside the path eight individual stones had each been given their own letter and arranged to spell out WELLCOME.

‘Looks nice, Mum,’ said Patrick, for which he received another whack.

‘That hurt,’ he told her, remembering another report he and Julie had watched on the TV news.

‘Have you not heard about the revised state ordinance on parent-child -?’

Julie kneed him in the thigh.

‘Fuck, why the aggression?’

‘Don’t be such a baby,’ said Mrs Rutter, showing them into the front sitting room.

Patrick sank into a mushroom-coloured couch while Julie perched on a sponge toadstool.

‘I’ll put the lights on,’ their host announced, as if this was something saved for special occasions. ‘Air?’

‘Yes please,’ Julie croaked politely.

The electric candles fixed to the walls and atop the brooding television offered precious little illumination but the air conditioner was game, rattling into life and releasing into the large, dank room a welcome trickle of freshness. With enough imagination its timbre – rich, warm and repetitive – could have been mistaken for that of a long-lost uncle, recounting his tales on loop to no one in particular while giving the rest of the household permission to parlay.

Certainly it seemed to help Julie and Mrs Rutter overcome the niceties that threatened to prevent the travellers from obtaining refreshments, as Julie’s apologies for failing to bring any supplies from the city were countered by Mrs Rutter’s unconvincing insistence that they had plenty in the pantry.

‘I’ll give you a hand,’ said Julie, and the two left the room to see what they could find.

Patrick waited for the stinging in his ear to die down. He clung to the hope that his father might make a suitable ally against these brutal women. But there was no sign he was on his way as the seconds passed on a mantel clock made from another colourfully painted stone. He decided to get up and seek inspiration. A vase of plastic flowers near the lace-curtained window caught his eye and he went over to investigate.

It was a shrine of sorts. Beside the vase was a copper dish containing several decomposing spheres of unidentifiable fruit – their spores speared with the wooden butts of incense sticks. Pinned to the wall above the offerings were a series of crinkled colour photographs of variable quality. One was of a blonde-haired boy blurred in motion, too busy growing up to sit still; another showed a dark-haired young man in starched uniform propped up for the camera. The final in the series was by far the most surprising. Here was the same man smiling with his comrades. Most were dressed in black body stockings, or some part thereof; a couple were holding machine guns. All were crouched around the oversized head of a smiling foam policeman.

‘My…brother…’

Why hadn’t Julie told him he had a brother? Because she was too busy getting him here so he could experience this kind of revelation. Why hadn’t he asked her about siblings? It hadn’t crossed his mind, any more than consideration of his parents had. What kind of a person was he? The women returned with snacks and drinks on trays.

‘Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten your own brother, Paddy?’

‘Of course not,’ he hoped the chill in his heart hadn’t spread to his voice. ‘How could I forget about old…young…’

He read the inscription.

‘Sam.’

Only 24 when he lost his life, according to the dates. Three years his junior.

‘It’s those that killed him you should be fighting,’ his mother explained. ‘Not your workmates.’

‘Come and get some water,’ Julie told him.

‘And then you can go and find your father,’ Mrs Rutter added.

The interior of the house was dark and musty with unaccountable shadows in the armpits of stairwells and in corners where home improvement projects appeared to have been angrily abandoned. The main staircase, almost as steep as a ladder, began towards the rear of the house and ran diagonally back to front. This contrivance could not have been part of the original layout, suggesting the stairs had been clumsily reversed.

Who would have engaged in such a mad restructuring? Why would anyone put their stairs so far from the lounge, leaving a hallway chasm of crooked space below them from which cobwebs could survive untouched at vertiginous heights? He wasn’t sure he wanted to know the answer. He began to climb.

Kill the bastards
Kills the bastards
Kill the lazy rebel bastards

Where had that come from? He paused for breath halfway up the stairs, recovering on a shallow step while gripping the iron balustrade. Closing his eyes he saw his brother’s face again. Yes, they had run up here together. When the air was clearer. When ideas were clearer. What did they do to you Sam?

Make the state
Good and great
Tie your fate
To the state

‘Who’s that singing?’

The voice came from near the top of the house. There was still another staircase to go.

‘It’s me, Dad – your son.’

‘Sam?’

‘No, it’s Patrick – I’ve come home to see you.’

Silence.

More strange design choices on the middle landing of the house. Foam was taped to the fixtures and fittings; dirty pillows were assembled at the foot of the stairs going up to the attic rooms. A figure shuffled into Patrick’s vision as he took stock. His father was past his prime. His slack jaw was silver with roughage and his hand trembled on the bannister as he looked down with a mixture of defiance and trepidation.

‘What’s with all the insulation?’ Patrick called up.

‘Damn son fitted it.’

‘Sam?’

‘No – the other one, says it’s cheaper this way if I have another fall. Cheaper than calling a doctor.’

‘What a prick,’ Patrick smiled. So his father had lost his mind as well. Perhaps they could give each other solace.

‘Oh he wasn’t all bad,’ the head of the family continued. ‘Loyal patriot. Got a bunch of awards. Come on up and I’ll show you what he made me for a retirement present.’

Patrick took the last staircase and entered the spacious attic studio. A hatch perpendicular to the sloping roof was open to the elements. The sky was less soupy now and a slight breeze spun the various model aeroplanes and spacecraft that hung on wires from the slatted wooden ceiling of his father’s den. Below them the room was dominated by a large rectangle of board from which rose a magnificent papier-mâché representation of lush hills and spindly skyscrapers; hand-painted and with a to-scale railway track running along the edge of the model world.

‘Seaport,’ Patrick said.

‘Where else?’ his father replied crankily.

‘What a fantastic gift.’

‘This isn’t my gift,’ the old man barked, sitting down heavily at a roll-top bureau beside the skylight.

Patrick ran a finger through the hills, into the town; skimmed the coastal train track that finished at Casio. When he looked up he found his father staring at him, the bureau rolled halfway up. Rutter senior had a wild, vulnerable look in his eyes.

‘Who are you anyway?’ he asked. ‘Friend of my son’s?’

‘That’s right,’ Patrick assured him. ‘We’re close.’

‘Okay,’ Rutter’s growl returned. ‘Guess I can trust you then.’

He finished rolling up the bureau and Patrick saw that a control panel lay behind it. There were lights and buttons and taped instructions, ‘UP’, ‘DOWN’ and ‘HOVER’ amongst them. There was a thorough amateurishness to it that Patrick admired. Men had built this for themselves – with care and attention – rather than it having been mass-produced by and for the state. Mr Rutter clicked and punched some buttons and the panel started vibrating violently. The good thing with state products, Patrick reflected, was they were safety-tested before being used. He let his eyes wander back to their slice of sky.

‘What the hell is that?’

‘Don’t mind him,’ said Rutter without looking up. ‘He just likes to play.’

The pot-bellied bird blinked its red eyes twice at Patrick. It didn’t seem to mind him but nor did it look like it wanted to play. The thing seemed to have hair in place of feathers and its bony wings, dripping with extraneous skin, were folded firmly across its breast.

‘Here we go.’

His father had switched to a hand-held device with two antennae. He got up and attempted to shoo the bird away from the hatch. It reluctantly heaved its weight to one side, allowing Mr Rutter to see what was happening beyond. Patrick joined him. Towards them, stuttering out of the milky canopy came a drone unlike any Patrick had seen before. It was round and squat; and its patchwork panelling appeared to consist of three different types of metal. Extending from its rotund form were several spindly grabbers as well as two silvery stabilisers that slimmed to a point from its flanks. Maybe it was these wing-like appendages that spurred the pot-bellied bird into action. As soon as the drone appeared it toppled off its perch and began to swoop below and around it with surprising grace.

© Peter Humphreys

58. Foolproof anti-algorithm technique disguised as free jazz

Disturbed by the aptness of the ads haunting your desktop whenever you browse some real fake news or crank up your search engine in the hope of finding a non-fascist holiday destination? Me too. Worry that fascist governments are monitoring your search terms in order to track your thoughts, movements or trousers? Me too. My solution – in no way scientifically tested – is to invent algorithm-defying queries designed to confuse the heck out of whatever commercially-driven or ideologically-motivated surveillance your fingertips are unintentionally flirting with.

Too busy to dream up your own nonsense? Simply copy and paste a line or two of random verbiage from the list below and see what sense the AI on your shoulder makes of your incoherent babbling. With any luck you’ll be given less spookily accurate recommendations and more surreal stocking fillers from the dark recesses of the web.

  • How do I keep my monkey dry?
  • If the four-inch whatsit is wedged in the thing who thence turneth the screw?
  • My beach-fit body won’t be seen dead with me
  • Best birdbath bathing suits 1932-78
  • Uses for old shoeboxes that do NOT involve space travel
  • Menstruating hamster tips
  • If books furnish a room, what does my wallpaper say about me?
  • My boss doesn’t understand him or her: help!
  • How do I get transferred from a jail with a j to a gaol with a g?
  • Is Friends the only proof the ‘90s ever existed?
  • Housing bubble gum chew up chew down with small blackguard and extra cadding
  • What if my neighbours aren’t spying on me?
  • Do spineless hedgehogs make good guard hogs?
  • Current time in Pluto, Illinois
  • Playing card, Pritt Stick and Sellotape stocks: stick or twist?
  • Do molecules wear monocles?
  • Hibernation techniques for furless pets
  • Best holiday resorts for hardworking appliances/traditional burial grounds for ‘80s white goods
  • Where do I report sexist seahorses?
  • Is it legal to conduct my own funeral from space?

So there you go – my gift to a desperate world; a toilet bag of Word Diver-sponsored goodies to help divert the dive-bombers from your pit-stop motel, buying you a little more time and privacy as you traverse your own road to nowhere. Google’s speed and good luck finding that simian hairdryer…

4. Crossing Consonants

There is a big, fat, bald man playing computer snooker on the back of my headrest using his big, fat, bald fingers. My first reaction to this repetitive nuisance is perhaps understandably extreme. I would like my fellow passenger to recognise the immature idiocy of his actions (and, ideally, the futility of his entire existence) seconds before our plane is vaporised by billiard-hating aliens. Admittedly, the knowledge that my last thought would be one of satisfaction at another man’s regret risks exposing a previously undiagnosed petty streak on my part. But after nine hours flying I’m well past caring.

Once arrived at Glasgow for a Fortress UK security check (‘Roll on devolution!’ the man in the luminous vest cries in mock jest when complaints are made by the English-bound amongst us) I have time to reflect on my minor sufferings. It is, of course, the airline’s fault for fitting such amusements inside supposed comfort items. If they offered me pictures of my niece and nephew to flick through, or screens of typos which, when corrected, would inexplicably lead to world peace and Internet freedom, I’d no doubt be tap-tap-tapping away on the seat in front of me too.   

In any case, I should be used to such things. Travelling is full of such strange overgrown babies disguised as grown men – especially in the West. The US border is the only place I know where laughing politely at someone else’s grade school jokes is loaded with such an air of expectancy and menace that you’d be forgiven for slipping a crib book of humorous phrases inside your passport (perhaps covering the Vietnam visa in the process). Earlier in my holiday, at the private Q&A session I’ve come to expect Stateside (this one conducted under a skull and antlers as it’s the US-Canada border I’m crossing) a comedian poured snugly into his uniform that morning informs me that my home country and place of residence must be like ‘night and day’. In my nervous state (like Woody I also have a problem with authority, to which I respond just as pathetically) I can only think that the broadly-accented African-American border official must be referring to Manchester’s famous Indie music haunt, Night & Day; before immediately vaporising the thought – a small violence that the guard nevertheless perceives behind my shifty eyes and bearded features (it’s the training, you see).

‘I said, “They must be like night and day”’, he repeats, all traces of a smile now wiped from his features, ‘Very different.’

‘Why, yes,’ I manage, ‘they are,’ only just succeeding in stopping myself from asking if he ever caught Elbow before they got huge.

No prizes for guessing that at least some of the hang-ups I share with Woody are of my own making. I still remember the days when passports were interchangeable amongst friends and James Bond skied across borders without having to transfer his chemical weapons and duty free fragrances into a €1 plastic bag first. Maybe it’s best that those days are gone, but please – border people everywhere – be patient while I accept the new world order. In the meantime I’ll be petitioning the airlines, hoping to send video games on planes the same way as smoking, sitting on the pilot’s knee, and refusing to treat all travellers as suspected criminals.