Hurrah! At last we get the MP3 player we bought our son for Christmas to work. Four adults, working in shifts, couldn’t get it to work on Christmas Day. The same four adults, still working in shifts — very ill-tempered shifts — couldn’t get it to work on Boxing Day. The instructions, provided by Hyun Won Inc., and most loosely translated from the original Korean, were not of much help: ‘Pause now you are in shortly, stop.’ The Internet site we bought it from had shut up shop until well in the New Year. We tried the people at PC World. Utterly useless, predictably enough. We waylaid anyone who had the look of a geek about them. (A well-thumbed copy of Lord of the Rings is usually a promising sign.) No joy. In the end, I had to wait for the site to open to be talked through it, which took most of a day, what with uploading and downloading, folders and sub-folders and sub-sub-folders of the sub-sub-sub-folder variety. I was thrilled when I got the first bit of music to play, and charged downstairs when I heard my son come in from school. ‘I can work it! I can work it.’ ‘Great,’ he said, ‘but the thing is I think I’ve changed my mind. Can I have a mobile instead?’ No, I didn’t take it badly. ‘What a joker you are,’ I said, as I sold him to some passing gypsies. ‘Also, your artwork is crap and I only put it on the fridge out of consideration for your feelings,’ I added, as I waved him off.
Anyway, we haven’t had such a traumatic time on the Christmas present front since what is still referred to as ‘the Year of the Playmobile Castle’. Bloody thing. In the end, we had to pay an architect his full hourly rate to come and construct it for us. To his credit, he did also put together two Kinder Surprise toys for free, so saving me from having to take a day off work, but it would have proved cheaper buying a real castle in Scotland, perhaps with its own salmon farm so that in quiet moments we could watch the salmon swimming around in their own poo and getting toxic. We still have the castle, even though over the years it has slowly un-constructed itself, so that, even now, if you pad to the toilet in the middle of the night there is every chance of impaling your bare foot on a bit of turret or a pointy mediaeval maiden’s hat. (I do think householders should be able to use any means, reasonable or otherwise, to defend their homes against pointy mediaeval maidens’ hats.) Meanwhile, a friend of mine recently requested that, come her son’s birthday, please, please don’t get him anything that comes in titchy pieces. Please, please get him something that’s just one big piece. I bought him an Edam cheese. Of course, he was so thrilled he burst into tears and hasn’t spoken to me since.
Putting my own problems aside, which is always a tiresome business, how my heart goes out to Professor Colin Pillinger, who sent his Beagle out into the world —nay, the universe — and hasn’t heard a word since. Not a pip, not a squeak, not a bleep, not a signal. Not a call, not a card, not a thing. But we all know how it’s going to end, don’t we? Sooner or later, the Beagle will come traipsing home with all manner of excuses — lack of phone credit, couldn’t find an unvandalised public call- box anywhere — plus a big bag of washing, a demand for further funds and, likely as not, an unsuitable girl. In this instance, she may even be green, with big bulging eyes on the end of antennae. If I were Professor Pillinger, I would put that Beagle over my knee and give it what for, claiming, ‘This is hurting me more than it’s hurting you’, which can only be true, as a spaceship on your knee is no joke and is, it is said, very bad for the ligaments.
Talking of professors, I’m intrigued by the proposal of Professor Tim Brighouse, Commissioner for London Schools, who has suggested that the families of children who are failing in school get a £500 one-off payment to spend on theatre and books and the like. This, he argues, will help bring them up to speed with their more successful, more middle-class peers. How will it be policed, though? Will receipts be demanded? Otherwise, how else will they know that the money hasn’t been spent on Malibu and crack and kebabs, which is certainly how I’d spend it? A couple of years ago, when my son was still at the local state primary, a boy who was the most awful yob and was always being excluded and then re-included, because there was nowhere else for him to go in the borough, was knocked over by a car outside school. An ambulance was called. His mother was called. ‘What do you expect me to do?’ she asked. ‘I’m having me dinner and then it’s Neighbours. Piss off and mind yer own business.’ Can we assume that this sort of scenario would not happen under Professor Brighouse’s scheme, as they’d both be at the ballet?
Oh, age, and the increasing forgetfulness. You start searching for a word at breakfast and if you get it by supper that’s a good day. You phone people and as soon as they pick up, you forget who you called. ‘Um ...who are you? Oh, right. Do you have any idea why I called you, by any chance?’ I remember my mother getting to this stage and once calling me up — ‘Who are you?’ ‘Your daughter’ — to say, ‘I’m always forgetting things. I think I’m getting ...anorexia.’ My mother later called back — ‘Who are you?’ ‘Your daughter, still’ — to say that of course she didn’t mean anorexia. ‘I meant alopecia.’ My mother made me promise never to repeat this anecdote, but she’ll have forgotten, so that’s OK. As for my father, my brother recently gave a speech at his 80th birthday do which was the same as the speech he’d given at his 70th do. ‘Who is going to know?’ However, I think I took it to a new level the other day when I took the cat to the vet and forgot the cat. It wasn’t until the receptionist looked me over quizzically — where was my pet? Did I have a mouse in my pocket? A small dog tucked into my sock? — that I realised the cat was still at home, in its box, in the hall. Toodle-pip, until the next time! If I remember, that is. (PS. Can you get amnesia and déjà-vu at the same time and, if so, does it mean you can remember having forgotten something before?)