COLUMN: December 12, 2013

I’VE wondered in recent years how high street printers manage to stay afloat, given that everybody has printers at home.

After all, photo development shops were driven out of business by people’s new- found preference for taking 97 digital pictures at a single event and then never looking at them, rather than for taking 12 and putting them in an easily accessible album.

Then I had to produce the order of service for my mother’s recent funeral, and all became shatteringly clear.

Home printers are the handiwork of the devil. They are deceptively expensive, unreliable, and messy. Like Marouane Fellaini. It would have been quicker to use a monk.

As it happened, I had bought a new printer the day before my mum died. The protracted nature of its installation was the main reason why I could not visit her that day. But that is a mere eggcupful of warm water in a Jacuzzi of regrets.

I was quite pleased by the purchase initially – it seemed a bargain for a wireless, full-colour printer with scanner and, I don’t know, teasmade, probably. But that did not take into account that printer manufacturers are the Ryanair of IT.

– “That’ll be £79, sir.”

– “That’s very reasonable.”

– “Now, will you be requiring ink…?”

– “Um, yes. I was sort of planning to use it.”

– “Of course, sir. Here is a small pack of ink cartridges. That will be A MILLION BILLION POUNDS.”

By the time I left the shop, my wallet was actually hysterical. “Leave me behind,” it said. “I cannot go on. Save yourself.”

I took the device home and began the long process of persuading a printer specifically designed to talk to computers wirelessly to communicate with a computer specifically designed to talk to printers wirelessly. It should have been easy. It was not. I didn’t need a manual, I needed a counsellor from Relate.

Eventually, my computer informed me all the necessary drivers were installed and it was ready to set up my printer. All I needed to do was, for this initial installation, connect the printer to the computer with a USB cable.

“Phew!” I thought. “Thank flip for that. I thought this would never end.” I looked around for the cable. It wasn’t next to me. I looked in the box. It wasn’t in the box. I looked at the list of contents of the box. It wasn’t even on the list of contents.

The printer manufacturers intentionally had not included a piece of kit absolutely necessary to setting the printer up. I suppose I was lucky they had included a power cable, or the actual printer itself.

I went to see if I had the necessary USB cable, for I am a man in the year 2013. I have more USB leads than I have pairs of underpants. My drawer looks like a bag of liquorice bootlaces. Did I have the specific lead? Of course not.

Eventually I found a complicated workaround on the internet, and my printer finally whirred into action. This is what counts as a victory in this day and age.

Following my mother’s death, I was going through her effects – effects being what possessions become after death, apparently – and in a box of stuff I found the very USB cable I had needed. A cosmic joke from my mum.

I laughed and took it home. It was bound to come in handy at some point. You know printers . . .

A few days later – the day before the funeral – I had to print out the order of service, and help my brother tidy my mother’s flat before the family descended the following day.

My mum used to produce orders of service for all family members’ funerals, and I thought it would be appropriate to do hers on her own printer.

I flipped open my laptop, which detected her printer immediately. Good, I thought, it’s about time something worked out. I sent a test page. It didn’t print.

“Please install the printer driver,” the computer asked. “Here we go again,” I said.

I did so.

It went on. “To complete the installation, please connect the printer to your computer using the USB cable provided.”

Oh, I thought . . .

And through the quiet of the flat echoed the laughter of my mother.

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