Column: September 21, 2011

I WAS having my morning shave, fending off the incongruously ginger beard which has threatened to overwhelm me for the past 20 years.

I have one of those battery-powered wet-shave razors, which is like an ordinary wet-shave razor except that it buzzes, so I was finding it difficult to hear John Humphrys cutting short various studio guests on the radio.

Much as I enjoy listening to arguments and Garry Withersport, the radio’s primary use for me in the morning is to ensure that I get out of the house on time. “Have I got time to attend to my monobrow with my buzzy razor?” I ask. “It’s a quarter past seven,” says James Naughtie. “No,” I say.

But, halfway through John Humphrys stopping somebody from talking, John Humphrys stopped talking. I whirled around, shaving foam flying all over the shop.

The digital radio was dead. “Gah!” I thought. “The batteries have run out.”

I panicked and grabbed my toothbrush. I picked up the toothpaste. It was in one of those new- fangled standy- uppy tubes, with a plunger on the top which one depresses to dispense a uniform amount of paste. I pushed the plunger and nothing came out. It was completely empty.

“O tempora! O mores!” I cried out, or words to that effect.

“What?” came a voice from outside.

“Nothing!” I called. But it was not nothing. I was fuming. This would not have happened when I had a normal FM radio and a proper squeezy toothpaste tube. Because they would have given me adequate warning that their stocks were running out.

The radio would have become gradually cracklier and quieter, the toothpaste tube would have been obviously curly. And the day before I would have replaced the batteries and the toothpaste tube, or, more likely, it would have been done for me because I would have forgotten.

Once again, something designed to make life easier for me has turned me into a slavering monster full of hatred for humanity.

I have been involved in the creation of new products myself, and I know that a lot of research goes into their likely reception, so it is inconceivable these failings had not cropped up. The only explanation is that the manufacturers have done it on purpose. I wonder why this is, and here I am wondering . . .


MD: Well, this is all very impressive, Figgis. A toothpaste tube which distributes a uniform amount of paste! And a radio with crystal-clear sound as long as it isn’t raining and access to 400 Absolute Radio stations, all playing more or less the same music! Teething troubles?

FIGGIS: Weeeeell, we haven’t given any indication that batteries or toothpaste are about to run out. But that is easy enough to fix . . .

MD: Over my dead body!

FIGGIS: Sorry?

MD: I love the uncertainty! We are cosseted in this world of fax machines and antibiotics, unlike in Medieval times when people were dropping dead all the time and people just said: “Oh, good, dad’s dead. More gruel for me.”

FIGGIS: Erm . . .

MD: What better way to remind people of the arbitrary nature of the Grim Reaper’s cold touch and the need to seize the day while one still lives than not giving them any sort of clue when their appliances will go pear-shaped?

FIGGIS: But won’t people, for example a man with glasses in his late 30s who just wants to get to work on time in the morning and doesn’t want to have to look for bloody toothpaste at a quarter to bloody eight in the morning, hate us and want to throw rocks at us?

MD: Mark my words, Figgis, we are making the world a better place. One day, even he will come to love us.

I promise you I will grow a ginger beard before that happens.

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