At 42 the Calls – a proto-boutique hotel in Leeds, which I’ve been frequenting for a decade or more on book tours – I am upgraded to a suite. And what a suite! This is no aircraft hangar, like the suite-with-gymnasium at the Hotel de Vin in Brum, but a charming collection of rooms: bedroom, bathroom, sitting room, tastefully rendered in white plaster and featuring low, rough-hewn wooden beams. However, the sitting room is dominated by an oval black table, complete with six high-backed chairs, and a wide-screen interactive television. It’s as if Anne Hathaway’s cottage had been impregnated by the Starship Enterprise and produced bastard offspring, all interior and no surface.
The interactive television is the focus of my attention because I have to file some copy late that evening, after I’ve given my reading at the local Waterstone’s. The receptionist assured me on the phone that morning, when I called from London to enquire, that this gizmo would enable me to send and receive email. I took her at her word, and didn’t hump along my laptop, because the following day I was intent on some major hill walking in the Peak District.
Late that evening I settled down on the bridge of the Starship Wattle and Daub, and started faffing around with the interactive TV. The approved list of email servers didn’t include my own, when I logged on to the web and plugged in its URL, the dratted interactive TV didn’t respond either. Nice Tim, the manager, had already been up once to sort out the infrared keyboard — which wasn’t working — now he came back up to faff alongside me. Suddenly I noticed we’d been faffing for over an hour and it was past 11pm. “Jesus!” I keened, like a fishwife who’s lost her husband and five sons off Dogger Bank, I’ll never manage to get to my bed in time to be up at 6.30 at this rate!”
Tim invited me down to the office to use the computer there. He even said no one would mind if I smoked my Hoyo de Monterrey petit robusto. We went down, I logged on to my server and began typing my observations on the woeful progress of John “Castrate All Sex Offenders” Reid at the Home Office. And typed. And typed. And then, after about an hour, hit “send”, only to be told by the server that my “time had expired”. My copy had, naturally, been consigned to the ether. And no, I hadn’t saved it.
I moaned and spat expletives like a man whose testicles have been shot off in the front line of a bitter and yet strangely useless counter-insurgency operation. I considered — seriously, coldly, with great deliberation — laying waste to human civilisation, to a point at which it would take many thousands of years before technological advancement resulted in the re-emergence of electronic data transmission. I swore some more. I apologised to the night manager (it was by now that late) for my histrionics. Then, like Sisyphus, I put my weight to the plastic boulder, and began pushing it back up the hill with finger stroke after finger stroke.