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Brexit: time to escape from the bog

Britain’s struggle with Brexit reminds me of the strangest things.

My wife and I are currently ploughing through a crime series set in Barcelona. One of the characters, a senior judge, is having an affair. He wants to end his marriage. His wife resists his attempts to pressure her into divorce. Unfortunately for him, she knows things that, if revealed, could end his career. So he decides to have her murdered. After she dies at the hands of a bungling hit man, he discovers that she had signed the divorce papers. He is overcome with remorse.

Leaving the EU is not exactly akin to murdering one’s spouse. But it would surely be grounds for national remorse if we failed to prosper after Brexit, and the organisation we left ended up substantially addressing many of the concerns that led to our decision to leave.

Then, I suppose, we could always apply to rejoin, whereas the judge will never get his wife back. But at what cost, while we go through the mind-boggling process of leaving in the first place?

It seems to me that to understand all the nuances of the negotiations, both within the British political establishment and with the EU, you need an advanced degree in Brexitology. Or, to look at it another way, not since the citizens of the Byzantine empire were gripped by an all-consuming obsession about the nature of Christ has a population been so engaged in a single topic of debate to the exclusion of most others.

Al least, that’s how it appears today, though I dare say that a substantial portion of our citizens just want us to get on with it.

As for me, I’ve just about given up trying to follow the latest arguments about the Northern Ireland border, about the merits of single market membership versus a free trade agreement and about the dangers or blessings of no deal. I just want the damned thing to stop.

I want it to stop for the same reason that led me to oppose the leave vote in 2016. We didn’t then, and we still don’t now, have the slightest clue about consequences of any of the alternative paths out of the European Union. Anybody who predicts outcomes with any degree of certainty is as much a charlatan as a fifteenth century weather forecaster.

That’s the big picture, folks. And while the lack of a weather forecast didn’t stop Christopher Columbus from setting out on a journey into the unknown, we, on the other hand, know quite a lot about the monsters that lurk in the deep. We just don’t know which of them, if any, is going to try to eat us.

That being the case, why are we still embarked on such a colossal gamble with our future? We can see the risks even more clearly now than in 2016, but we are no more able to predict the rewards than Columbus was able to see his passage to India, much less the land of milk, honey, gold and hostile inhabitants that awaited him across the Atlantic.

Back in the home port, I have never seen such a political mess in fifty years of adult life. Not since Harold Wilson issued reassuring words about the value of the pound in our pockets, in fact. I have also never seen such a lack of the political talent, at least in the upper echelons, that might extricate us from the mess. Cometh the hour, cometh Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May? Boris Johnson or Jacob Rees-Mogg? I don’t think so.

For this reason, I see no good alternative other than scrapping the whole Brexit project. Whether through a second referendum, a general election or a government of national unity, I don’t much care. We have run into a political bog of our own making, and as every month goes by the bog seems to get deeper and stickier. Unsurprisingly, there’s an increasing number of politicians with a modicum of common sense who are starting to think likewise.

I don’t pretend that rescinding our Article 50 letter will not have its own consequences. Nigel Farage jumping up and down like a demented bullfrog, inciting fire and fury, would probably be one of them. But it will be easier to deal with apoplectic Brexiters now, rather than with an angry, frustrated population later, furious at broken promises and impoverished for a generation.

Provided the decision was made on clear and justifiable grounds, and enacted through a legitimate process, we can surely live with the unrest that might follow.

Should we decide to remain inside the European Union at a time of profound international uncertainty, what will we have learned from the debacle? have emerged?

That if you’re going to murder your wife, or divorce from a political entity to which you’re bound almost like a conjoined twin, you need more than just reasons fuelled by emotion. You need a plan. You need to get your ducks in a row before you go for it. You need to cultivate your friends, and indeed to understand who your friends are at any particular moment.

Perhaps if we’d started our planning a decade before the exit, we would have had some convincing answers to the objections that have caused us to run into our bog. Would it not make sense therefore to stay in the Union, and start the contingency planning now based on our unhappy experience, so that in ten years’ time, if we again determined that our membership was unsustainable, we might be able to make a decent fist of leaving?

Better still, should we not reconnect with the Union in a spirit of determination to make it a community that we would not need to contemplate leaving in the foreseeable future? In many respects, the political tide within the EU is turning in our favour. We are not the only nation to be afraid of the effects of uncontrolled immigration on our culture and economy. Uncertainty over Russia’s perceived intentions are leading us to form a military alliance with France. Our expertise in counter-terrorism and cyber-warfare is still in demand beyond our shores.

I began this argument by referring to a TV series. I end it with an identikit sequence from a Hollywood movie: the wagon train, full of querulous characters drawn into a circle for common protection, under attack from all sides by marauding horsemen. One wagon has broken off and made a run for it, only to be picked off at ease.

A crass and overly paranoid metaphor perhaps. We’re not surrounded by enemies – yet. But neither, as Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin have clearly reminded us over the past few days, can we rely on our friends, unless common interests so dictate.

Is this the right time to abandon the wagon train, or to set out across the sea towards terra incognita?

I don’t think so.

Welcome to the ugliest American

Yesterday, as I was strolling through a leafy side street in north London, the air filled with the kind of low-frequency music you sometimes hear coming from a car with high spec sound system, throbbing with menace. Shortly afterwards, the source of noise came into view: two black helicopters, each the size of London buses.

Down below, a couple of builders working on a house refurbishment, stopped, looked up and pointed. “Oi, look”, one of them yelled, “it’s fucking Trump. Shoot the bastard down!”

Though Trump was not in either aircraft – I subsequently discovered that their job was to “support” Marine 1, Trump’s helicopter, presumably with a company of marines armed to the teeth with weaponry of all shapes and sizes – I fancy that he would have appreciated the plain speaking from Brits who he believes like him a lot.

But then again perhaps not. After all he appears to be a person who likes to give it out, but is not so keen on being on the receiving end.

Thus began the visit of a man who treats his country’s allies as vassals to a country held to ransom by politicians who believe that any kind of a deal with the European Union short of a hard exit will turn it into a vassal.

Just as Trump is stomping around Britain issuing unwanted opinions about Brexit, Boris Johnson’s suitability to become Prime Minister and other matters that are none of his business, the BBC is airing Reporting Trump’s First Year: The Fourth Estate, a four-part documentary on the coverage by the New York Times of his first year in office.

Last night I watched Episode 3, which included reaction to the Charlottesville alt-right rally, and included horrendous footage of the car running over anti-Nazi demonstrators, followed by his Phoenix rally in which he incited the hatred of his followers against members of the press directly behind them.

Small wonder that journalists who dare to disparage the man are seeing themselves as being in the front line against his fury. Even smaller wonder after the recent Capital Gazette shootings.

So much has been written about Trump’s followers reacting with glee to their man “telling it like it is” that I’m not proposing to add much to the existing canon. But I still find it amazing that people who, whatever their prejudices, in their private lives are most likely models of civility can applaud so wholeheartedly as their president behaves like a drunken uncle at a party who delights in upsetting his hosts with his provocative opinions.

Now we have this disinhibited would-be tyrant amongst us for a few days before he flies off to Finland to meet a real tyrant, a man who is as tight with his emotions as Trump is incontinent.

I’m not among those who believe that we should welcome the buffoon and shower him with insincere flattery. Now he’s here, we should treat him with courtesy, but let him know privately, in language he understands, that we don’t give a damn about his trade deal, that his opinions on Brexit are not welcome, and that we recognise that as long as he is president, the relationship with his country is no more special than his next chicken nugget.

What, after all, do we have to lose? This is a man who despises the normal conventions of diplomacy, and who appears to have lost any sense of good manners that he ever possessed.

If we cannot deal with this apology for a president, so be it. If NATO collapses at his promting and economies tank because of his trade deals, so be it. Ultimately his country will be among the losers, and American voters will eventually realise that the turkey they voted for won’t be available for Thanksgiving.

Whether it takes two or six years, Trump will eventually be gone. We have no choice but to bide our time and get ready to deal with who or what replaces him. But in the meantime, we don’t have to pretend we’re relishing having him around.

I hope the president enjoys his golf in Scotland, and then flies off to Finland, never to darken our door again.

Shortage, what shortage? Get ready for the ration books

This might sound a bit churlish as my compatriots in public places across England rely upon carbon dioxide to create fountains of beer every time we score in the World Cup. But as a veteran party pooper, I’m not quivering with anxiety at the current shortage of CO2. I don’t like fizzy drinks, be they Diet Pepsi or that toxic yellow liquid that masquerades as beer.

Fizzy drinks make you fart, belch and bloat. The alcoholic versions have no useful purpose other than to anaesthetise bored grown-ups at barbecues. Oh, and England football matches of course. So-called soft drinks turn our kids into hyperactive, screaming monsters. One famous lager is known in my neck of the woods as The Wife-Beater because of its ability to turn reasonably civilised men into raging lunatics.

A temporary shortage of the gas – or at least the pure form that has some use beyond saturating the atmosphere and frying the planet – can’t be a bad thing if it brings us a limited respite from the worst effects of its use in keeping us lubricated. That said, if I was reliant on somebody’s kidney arriving in good shape from sixty miles away to be transplanted into me, I might think differently.

But in this bone-dry British summer, it’s perhaps no bad thing to be reminded of what we take for granted. Another month of hot weather, and the farmers will be worrying about their crops. The potato harvest will fail and MacDonald’s will run out of French fries. Soon we’ll be appointing a Minister for Rain, just as we did in 1976. H2O will join CO2 in our ever-growing list of worries, conveniently diverting our attention from the imminent catastrophe of a disorderly exit from the European Union.

We in Britain are not used to shortages of what we consider to be the essentials of life. Just as we go into a screaming panic after a few days of snow prevent us from flying to our favourite winter holiday spots, we start fighting each other at the petrol pumps when, by reason of incompetence, politics or both, we run out of fuel.

A small number of church-going people deliberately deprive themselves of stuff they like – such as chocolate – during Lent. A much larger community endures the rigours of Ramadan. In both cases the deprivation is voluntary.

Despite the negative consequences of involuntary shortages – on jobs for example – we surely benefit from the temporary absence of commodities that we rely upon for our “normal” lives, because they remind us how fragile our normal actually is. Supply chains are not as robust as they seem. Remove a link and you have an instant crisis.

Nobody wants to see London transformed by kind of drought recently suffered by Capetown. But even if the rain returns, I can think of a few other shortages that might jolt us out of our affluent complacency.

Take lithium. It’s a rare metal used mainly in batteries. If we go short because of instability in one of the producing countries, we might have to cope with the unimaginable horror of not being able to replace our mobile phones every couple of months.

And what would our comfortable lives be like without regular shots of coffee? I hate to think of the crippling headaches I would suffer during withdrawal. I would probably have to resort Red Bull, the coffee drinkers’ methadone, until supplies got back to normal.

We need to be prepared for the worst. When the trade barriers go up, what will we do without iceberg lettuce, avocados, mangos and pomegranates? A thousand fancy diets ruined. Prostates endangered. Time for our grandparents to start regaling us with stories from the age of ration books

Since we’re rapidly approaching the point at which we have no friends any more, perhaps shortages will turn into permanent non-supply. Should we not therefore start stockpiling the essentials: cocoa beans, razor blades, toilet rolls, Prozac, AK-47s, bottled water?

Hell’s bells – I think I’m turning into a preppie.

Summer in Russia, winter in America and the opium of football

Nizhny Novgorod, Samara, Rostov-on-Don, Volgograd. Until this summer these were places that only some of us might have recognised as being in Russia. For others they could just as easily be in Australia.

Were it not for the World Cup, such cities would not be on most people’s list of holiday locations. In fact, thanks to Russia’s image as a country full of grim-faced gangsters, secret policemen and vodka soaks, it’s hard to imagine more than a small fraction of the thousands of football fans who have flocked to Russia setting foot for any other reason in a country whose face to the world is epitomised by the half-smile of Vladimir Putin, an expression that only occasionally breaks through a stern, cold-eyed mask.

And yet the visitors from Japan, Croatia, Spain and yes, even plucky little England, are having a whale of a time. They are discovering that Russia is full of warm and welcoming people who have entered into the spirit of the occasion, their own exuberance fuelled by the unexpected success of the Russian team.

Cynics would say that Russia is putting its best foot forward, just as it did during the 1980 Olympics. Drunks and vagrants cleared from the streets, and not a shadowy FSB goon in sight. If so, clearly it’s working. Football fans will surely be returning to their home countries with stories of the incredible tournament they witnessed, and of the sights they might never have seen but for the World Cup.

Their eyes will have been opened to the possibility that regardless of the regime in power, you can visit most countries in the world, with the possible exception of North Korea and Syria, without encountering the dark sides so vividly presented by the world’s news media, social or otherwise.

And yet image is everything. Think of Russia, and you might think of winter. Of German soldiers freezing outside Stalingrad. Of Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow, littered with the bodies of men and horses. Of Stalin, Ivan the Terrible, Brezhnev and Putin. Death and despair overshadow Tolstoy, Tchaikovsky, the Bolshoi, the Hermitage, Lake Baikal and the Black Sea.

Now think of America, whose birthday it is today. The big country. Open-hearted, generous, welcoming, where everyone wants you to have a nice day. Even today, provided you are considered worthy of entering the US, you can visit any number of places where America is as it always was – tourist heaven, hassle free. Fishing villages in Maine, shopping in New York, Route 66, music in Memphis, Disney in Florida, sequoias in Oregon, lobsters in San Francisco, or perhaps one of those small towns where nothing much ever happens, but where you can encounter sweet, upstanding people straight out of a Norman Rockwell canvas. Places where ugliness exists only if you go looking for it.

But here’s an odd development. Just as the world is discovering that Russia has a summer, that it’s not defined by its grim-faced leaders, by its venal oligarchs and by Novichok nerve gas, the opposite is happening to the United States, whose image has always been sunny without it even having to try.

America is starting to be defined by the glowering face of Donald Trump, by babies in cages and by young men with assault rifles rounding up people at the dead of night. By videos of policemen shooting or tasering black people for no apparent reason. By Trump rallies full of people whose faces are twisted in hatred. By people on both sides of the political divide hurling insults at each other. And by the cynical sneer of Steve Bannon.

I last visited the US in the summer before Trump’s election. The signs were there then. Vicious bumper stickers excoriating Hillary Clinton. Marines with rifles guarding the platform entrances at Penn Station in New York. They were still easy to ignore, and an idyllic train ride to New Hampshire, followed by a weekend fishing for sea bass and hanging out with American friends at an old-style seaside holiday home, more than made up for the acid tinge of public discourse at the time.

Now the toxicity is hard to avoid unless you turn off all news feeds and allow yourself to bathe in a balmy summer of football and barbecues. And if you’re British, you can thereby also escape the equally toxic conversation on all matters Brexit, blissfully unaware of how our country’s image is being transformed by a gurning Prime Minister and her cabinet full of feral backstabbers, not to mention knife-wielding gang members and neo-Nazi thugs.

For those who are consumed by the football, the World Cup is throwing up unlikely underdogs whose national images are sure to be burnished. The gutsy Japanese who only just failed to beat Belgium. Other gallant failures include Iran, Nigeria and Senegal. None of them are tourist hotspots. But all showed courage and decency on the field that did their nations credit.

Much as I’m enjoying the spectacle, I find it hard to switch off from events elsewhere, especially when it comes to America, a nation I’ve always respected despite all its flaws.

Even as Trump’s policies play out and the consequences unfold, I’m watching the second series of The Handmaid’s Tale, set in Gilead, an America taken over by religious extremists, in which state-employed gunmen lurk on every corner, threatening, intimidating, menacing. The series is set in winter, and the action is dark.

The vision is grim yet imaginable, so much so that every so often, when I see on Twitter an example of America’s descent into authoritarianism, I retweet the post with a single word: Gilead.

When the heatwave is over, and the fans have left Russia in tears of joy or despair, will we turn our attention back to the scorched earth of trade wars, to the ambition of third-rate politicians, to irreconcilable Brexit negotiating positions, to Trump’s grand but empty summits and to the slow grind of Robert Mueller’s investigation?

Or will we keep our eyes shut and hope for a best that may never come, only to look back later to a golden summer that ended in catastrophe?

Perhaps, after the football’s done, the two superpowers will return to type. Morning in America will trump American Carnage. And in Russia, exuberance will fade as citizens digest the impact of having to wait longer for their pensions.

The World Cup will come round again. And in eight years’ time it will arrive in Mexico, Canada and the US, assuming that the co-hosts are still speaking to each other. Even if they are, one wonders how Trumpist America will cope with thousands of Muslim fans from countries like Egypt, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia. Not to mention Mexicans, Colombians and Costa Ricans.

Would it not be a supreme irony if the multitudes who were welcomed into Russia in 2018 ended up having to endure the interrogations of Gilead before being allowed to set foot in the Land of the Free?

Happy Independence Day, my dear American cousins. It’s not too late to turn back the tide.

My name is Smythe. Spiffington-Smythe

My uncle at Oxford (top row 2nd left). Resolutely single-barrelled, but I’m not sure about his mates.

In my previous post I talked about acronyms, and how many of them have mutated such that it’s no longer possible to use them in conversation without the listener believing that the speaker is trying to communicate in some yet-to-be discovered language from the Amazonian rain forest.

Having got that obsession off my chest, I’ll now move to a second trend that I find a bit baffling. A while ago anyone sporting a double- or triple-barrelled name was highly likely to be posh – or at least to have aspirations in that direction. So if your name was Jago Smirnoff-Bullingdon-Drax, you were highly likely to own a house in the country, a pied-a-terre in London and a couple of very nice cars, one of which would have been a Range Rover. You would probably also have a liking for spanking derived from your years at one of Britain’s elite private schools.

If, on the other hand, you had all these things but no family ancestry to boast about, you probably wouldn’t be happy with plain Smith. You’d change it to Smythe, and expand the name to Spiffington-Smythe. Much more impressive. Then you could definitely walk tall in the Royal Enclosure at Ascot Races.

But now the currency is debased. Just about anyone who’s anyone has a double-barrelled name. It’s usually the result of the offspring taking both their parents’ names. Fifty years ago a top-flight footballer would be laughed out of the game if he sported a posh surname. Now in the England team currently taking part in the World Cup, we have Reuben Loftus-Cheek and Trent Alexander-Arnold. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain would have been there were it not for injury.

In case anyone who follows football in the UK thinks that the trend is a black thing, it’s not. Everyone’s doing it.

This is all fine by me. It’s ridiculous that a small elite should be able to be identified as such by their baroque family names. It does cause problems for football shirt manufacturers, who have to try and accommodate those long names on the back of their apparel. They must be grateful for the eminently sensible Brazilians, who are content to be referred to as Fred. Since half of all Brazilians are called Silva, it’s doubly sensible.

But for us stubborn Europhobes, it’s to be hoped that the cowering rump of EU residents who are left over after Brexit don’t jump on the double-barrel bandwagon. Otherwise we’ll have to contend with Zabrze-Szectenny and Flugelhorn-Schlacht. Try spelling those over the phone.

Even more troubling is the question of what happens to the offspring of the newly anointed double-barrelled. Will they also take the names of their mothers and fathers, and thus become Quentin Hampton-Jones-McLaren-Smellie? This way surely lies madness.

It’s entirely possible that once we’ve arrived at quadruple and octuple surnames, sanity will return. Maybe our grandchildren will adopt the Arab way, wherein wives retain their family names when they get married, and husbands keep theirs. But the problem is that the offspring automatically get the father’s name, which doesn’t work if the mother wants the child to bear her name.

Or perhaps they will come to realise that it matters less what their names are than what sort of person they turn out to be. Should they decide that celebrity isn’t much fun after all, Smith, Jones, Leclerc and Mousa will be quietly waiting in the wings. And if those names are too boring, they can select from a massive canon of single-word English surnames, such as Hogsflesh and Bloodworth, which were the names of two boys at my school. Needless to say, they became firm friends in adversity.

Which leads me to advise any would-be parents agonising over names for their children: give them the blankest possible canvas, and let them paint their own pictures.

 

Acronym soup – getting lumpier

The world is full of innovations that fogeys like me find it hard to understand.

There was a time when acronyms were devices used to spare us from having to spell out concepts and things that can only be described by using multiple words. Unlike the Germans, who happily string nouns together in concatenations that take up entire lines of a page, we English-speakers consider compound nouns rather bad form.

Technical writers and bureaucrats are encouraged to spell out a term the first time they use it, follow it with an acronym in brackets, and then use the acronym thereafter. That makes sense. After all, why would you want to spell out North Atlantic Treaty Organisation or Personal Identification Number more than once in a two-thousand-word document, especially when everyone knows what the acronym means?

But now, it seems, since acronyms started to be used to describe people as well as things, they seem to have become organic. They mutate and expand. They evolve.

This is fine if you understand the evolving species, but if not, it can be deeply confusing.

Here’s an example. I don’t have a problem understanding what LGBT means. Even with a Q attached I’m just about there, though I fail to understand how the word queer defines a set of people who you would think are covered by the first four letters.

But now things get complicated. A couple of days ago I happened upon an article on the BBC website about someone who’s getting married, but claims that she will always be bisexual. Which is fine by me, and in this day and age hardly worthy of comment, you might think.

And yet, judging by this quote from the article, this is clearly not the case:

“Bisexuality often needs an explanation. It isn’t something you can often ‘read’ on a person and because of that bi people sometimes feel like an invisible part of the LGBTQIA community.”

The letters LGBTQIA stand for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, intersex and asexual or allied.

Crikey. The original acronym has mutated into something that feels as if it has been crafted by a committee on sexuality and agreed upon after much negotiation. It sounds more like one of those old trade union names – Boilermakers, Brain Surgeons and Allied Trades, for example – before media-savvy unions started using snappy names like Unite.

It’s also mutated beyond the point that it can be used in normal conversation. NATO pretty easily trips off the tongue. After all, it only has two syllables. But LGBTQIA has seven, and I find it hard to imagine anyone saying it out loud. Nor, I imagine, would anyone, if asked which category they fall into, reply that they’re questioning or allied.

Which for some reason reminds me of a fond fantasy I had in the punk era. In Birmingham, where I lived at the time, there was a celebrated disc jockey whose stage name was Vic Vomit. I remember desperately wanting to call his home, and, when his mum picked up the phone, saying “good afternoon Mrs Vomit, may I speak to Vic please?” But of course I was far too polite.

Anyway, back to acronyms. I still regard myself as someone who’s aware of social trends and the language used to describe people who like to categorise themselves one way or another. BAME, which stands for Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic, is another term that’s gaining traction in the United Kingdom. But I still struggle to get a fix on that one. Does it refer to anyone whose skin is not a reddish pink (depending on how much alcohol the person regularly imbibes)? Or do Latvians, Poles and Transylvanians – who are still as far as I know minority ethnic groups in my country – fall into the category?

Perhaps it’s time to embrace this hunger to categorise oneself. The only problem is how. White Middle-Aged Middle-Class Southern English, or WMAMCSE? No, that would never do – what about ethnic origin? “English” is just not good enough these days. Now that DNA testing has become quite popular, should one not add “of Viking, Anglo-Saxon and Mongolian origin”, creating, for a small subgroup of citizens, WMAMCSEVASM? Or just VASM for short?

Actually, I prefer temporary acronyms that describe one’s political affiliations. On that basis the category I most neatly fit into is Anti-Trump Brexit-Loathing Centrist, or ATBLC. Now that’s pretty concise, is it not?

But I can’t help thinking that “liberal” would do the job just as well. Just as long as nobody calls me a liberal gammon….

The broken phone syndrome – a view from Gilead

These days it seems as though any view that singles out the characteristics of one gender in contrast to that of the other is unacceptable. Even the suggestion that there are two genders is sufficient to arouse a twitterstorm if it comes from the keyboard of somebody with sufficient followers for their comment to be noticed by the righteous watchdogs of the internet. Except in Margaret Atwood’s Gilead, of course, where Aunt Lydia can be relied upon for robust views on the difference between men and women.

Fortunately my profile is not high enough to be on the radar of shame. So I can probably get away with discussing an issue that might cause me to lose a TV series or to be the cause of social media users wasting the equivalent of a small town’s daily energy consumption in rebuttals, expressions of outrage and virtuous condemnation.

My three-part question is this: is it true that the vast majority of broken mobile devices are those owned by women? If so, why? And, depending on the answer, and in the absence of Aunt Lydia’s ferocious imagination, what’s to be done?

In raising this subject I’m driven by personal experience. Apart from me, our infant grandson and my son-in-law-to-be, all members of my immediate family, including the dog, are female. And every female member of my family, apart from the dog, have at some stage over the last few years had phones and iPads with cracked screens. There have also been instances of phones that mysteriously drop down the loo or, in the case of other people we know, into the bath. Note my careful wording. I’m not suggesting any fault on the part of my nearest and dearest. These things just happen.

The loo possibly because at least two of my loved ones insist on keeping their phones in their back pockets, and the bath because relaxing in a hot tub clearly isn’t a complete experience without easy access to the phone.

The cracked screens? I have no idea why objects that are so dear to them end up in splinters, and no idea how said objects manage to escape spontaneously from their cases, which are specifically designed to protect the glass.

It’s not the cost of replacement that bothers me, and anyway I’m not a patriarchal treasurer of the family fortune. It’s that phones and tablets are in their pristine states things of beauty, and it grieves me to see them with shattered faces, even if mostly they work perfectly well.

But it does piss me off that replacing the screens sometimes costs as much as the residual value of the entire device. And it makes me cross that phone designers spend so much effort in producing whizzy new features, and yet can’t bring themselves to equip their products with shatter-proof glass.

No doubt my loved ones will point out that I’m talking out of my ample backside. That I once lost a mobile phone, having forgotten to pick it up out of one of those little boxes they provide for the airport security check. This is true, but in my defence I would argue that I’m losing at least  5-1 in the lost phone stakes.

They will probably also say that my laptop has a broken screen because I was foolish enough to allow Ryanair to put my cabin bag into the hold, trusting that my Lenovo would be OK if I buried it under several layers of clothing. To which I would reply that at least I didn’t drop the bloody thing.

They might also argue that I only use my mobile phone for the occasional call or text, whereas for them hardly five minutes elapse when they’re not doing something utterly critical, life-saving or life-enhancing with theirs. Therefore, given the difference in usage, it’s not surprising that theirs break occasionally and mine doesn’t. To which I would reply that their fingers don’t break every few months, so why do their phones and iPads, which appear to be equally important to their well-being?

Then they could also roll out with old chestnut about women being the great multi-taskers, and men being unable to walk and chew gum at the same time. Therefore am I not being jealous in citing a minor by-product of their relentless productivity? And I might gently suggest that phones are more expensive than chewing gum.

Is this just a Royston family phenomenon? I suspect not. I was chatting with a friend the other day, and I noticed that his phone was cracked. How did you manage that, I asked him? It turned out that he’d lent it to his grand-daughter, and twenty minutes later it came back broken. Not exactly conclusive evidence of a widespread issue, but enough to convince me at least that Houston, we have a problem.

There is, however, a potential solution. I understand that a local council is planning to section off an area of their pavements specially for people who walk along buried in their phones, thereby helping them to avoid oncoming traffic. Perhaps I should create an area of our house, covered in tasteful polystyrene and bubble wrap, specifically dedicated to phone and iPad use. Oh, and we could install netting over the bathtub.

I have yet to come up with an answer to the loo problem. Perhaps an app that makes a gurgling sound whenever its owner inserts their phone into their back pocket. Or maybe a class action against manufacturers on the grounds that their devices are unfit for purpose would get their attention. After all, so many phones seem to drop into the porcelain that there must be some underlying purpose behind dunking your device as opposed to switching it off.

Surely Apple and Samsung can come up with a better way of stopping the NSA and GCHQ from hacking into their phones?

I may be wrong in ascribing a gender dimension to this phenomenon. Perhaps this is a man thing also, in which case I apologise in advance to my family and to women everywhere. Though whether or not I’ve unwittingly propagated fake news, I suspect that after I post this there will be a second inhabitant of the doghouse for a while.

Back in Gilead, I’d be off the hook, so to speak. Aunt Lydia would no doubt have a view – something to do with phones damaging women’s fertility. And she would be busy in a torture cell preparing the cattle-prod, chains and gas ring in order to deter her handmaids from using the cursed things under any circumstances.

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