Despite a hardy laptop, I've still managed to break mine. Photo: AFP PHOTO/Frederic J. Brown
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I chose a laptop that even Nasa couldn’t break. Somehow, I have managed to break it

Nasa only has to worry about the fiery immolation of its crew, should anything go wrong. They do not have to take into account the treatment you give your machines.

Everything is decaying. A few weeks ago, my laptop screen suddenly developed a horrible black blot in the upper right-hand corner. This was unsightly and unsettling at once: like an electronic canker. It signalled the end times for my trusty Lenovo, a machine that has suffered much unintentional abuse at my hands. My friend Toby-who-is-not-Toby-Young is also my computer guru and he chose the model for me: he thought I would like the keyboard (and I do; everyone else’s is rubbish compared to it) and he also knew it was going to take a pounding – these are the machines that were used on the Space Shuttle (and, I think, in the International Space Station).

As he pointed out, although they are not the lightest of computers, and every ounce added to a payload that needs to reach escape velocity has to be considered, their durability and fixability – you can fossick around in its innards in a way that Apple won’t tolerate – made them Nasa’s laptop of choice.

“However,” he added, “Nasa only has to worry about the fiery immolation of its crew, should anything go wrong. They do not have to take into account the treatment you give your machines.”

This is quite true, and sobering. I don’t know quite how I do what I do to my laptops, because it’s not as if I take them on country walks or anything, but they do tend to attract a lot of detritus. The last time Toby had to take it apart to fix something he looked, mesmerised, at the exposed circuitry. Or rather, that which could be seen beneath the layers of tobacco ash, foodstuffs and other unknown and unknowable oomska (to use Uncle Monty’s excellent word from Withnail and I). Some of the more filthy-minded of you may be speculating about any bodily secretions that might be in there, but all that there would be is saliva – when I read something funny, I snort and a fine spray of spit dashes against the screen, which means that every so often I have to dampen a tissue with gin or something and give it a thorough wipe.

It may have been this that contributed to the screen’s ongoing demise. Things have developed since that first ugly blot: another one, and then the sudden appearance of an interesting cross-hatching of lines which rendered, at first, a fifth of the screen unusable; it is now two-fifths. The blots have now made friends and joined up, and their pattern is exactly like something you’d expect to see in an abandoned factory in a pane of glass through which a stone had been thrown, but, interestingly, in one of those ways that computers use the visual tropes of a world they have replaced (such as the stylised envelope denoting mail), there is no actual hole in the screen; it just looks like one. Spreading lines indicate that the process of decay in the screen has not yet come to a halt.

This machine has its tricks: sometimes a key will stop working, unless you jab at it again and again, making my texts look like Oulipan exercises, like Georges Perec’s novel La disparition, written without the letter “e”, but then the toast crumb or whatever it is dislodges itself and all works again. I did have an external monitor the size and weight of a television screen and I used that for a bit, until it decided it didn’t want to speak to my computer any more; so I am back now to a reduced screen.

It is not so bad. I can’t watch films any more, which is a pain, but the tiny screen YouTube offers squeezes in OK; and although I have to do a lot of fiddly stuff to be able to see the whole screen, for the main part what goes on the right-hand two-fifths, as you will know, is a selection of miserably second-guessed adverts, post-horse-bolting suggestions to buy a book on Amazon that have already been looked up, and offers to meet and marry women from entirely unsuitable demographics.

Also, a new computer would cost me money, which I do not have to spare, as I mention from time to time. However, I do realise I am on borrowed time with this machine. This is a lesson that life teaches you fairly comprehensively about itself as you get older, and in case you were missing the point, you get to watch others around you, who were older to start with, get even older than you. Things in you and in them fall apart, and yet, while there is still some life, some functionality, you don’t want to chuck them out, or see them go. I’m not talking about computers now. 

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 11 June 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Who owns the future?

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Why isn't Labour putting forward Corbynite candidates?

Despite his successes as a candidate, the organisational victories have gone the way of Corbyn's opponents. 

The contest changes, but the result remains the same: Jeremy Corbyn’s preferred candidate defeated in a parliamentary selection. Afzhal Khan is Labour’s candidate in the Manchester Gorton by-election and the overwhelming favourite to be the seat’s next MP.

Although Khan, an MEP, was one of  the minority of Labour’s European MPs to dissent from a letter from the European parliamentary Labour party calling for Jeremy Corbyn to go in the summer of 2016, he backed Andy Burnham and Tom Watson in 2015, and it is widely believed, fairly or unfairly, that Khan had, as one local activist put it, “the brains to know which way the wind was blowing” rather than being a pukka Corbynite.

For the leader’s office, it was a double defeat;  their preferred candidate, Sam Wheeler, was kept off the longlist, when the party’s Corbynsceptics allied with the party’s BAME leadership to draw up an all ethnic minority shortlist, and Yasmine Dar, their back-up option, was narrowly defeated by Khan among members in Manchester Gorton.

But even when the leadership has got its preferred candidate to the contest, they have been defeated. That even happened in Copeland, where the shortlist was drawn up by Corbynites and designed to advantage Rachel Holliday, the leader’s office preferred candidate.

Why does the Labour left keep losing? Supporters combination of bad luck and bad decisions for the defeat.

In Oldham West, where Michael Meacher, a committed supporter of Jeremy Corbyn’s, was succeeded by Jim McMahon, who voted for Liz Kendall, McMahon was seen to be so far ahead that they had no credible chance of stopping him. Rosena Allin-Khan was a near-perfect candidate to hold the seat of Tooting: a doctor at the local hospital, the seat’s largest employer, with links to both the Polish and Pakistani communities that make up the seat’s biggest minority blocs.  Gillian Troughton, who won the Copeland selection, is a respected local councillor.

But the leadership has also made bad decisions, some claim.  The failure to get a candidate in Manchester Gorton was particularly egregious, as one trade unionist puts it: “We all knew that Gerald was not going to make it [until 2020], they had a local boy with good connections to the trade unions, that contest should have been theirs for the taking”. Instead, they lost control of the selection panel because Jeremy Corbyn missed an NEC meeting – the NEC is hung at present as the Corbynsceptics sacrificed their majority of one to retain the chair – and with it their best chance of taking the seat.

Others close to the leadership point out that for the first year of Corbyn’s leadership, the leader’s office was more preoccupied with the struggle for survival than it was with getting more of its people in. Decisions in by-elections were taken on the hop and often in a way that led to problems later down the line. It made sense to keep Mo Azam, from the party’s left, off the shortlist in Oldham West when Labour MPs were worried for their own seats and about the Ukip effect if Labour selected a minority candidate. But that enraged the party’s minority politicians and led directly to the all-ethnic-minority shortlist in Manchester Gorton.

They also point out that the party's councillor base, from where many candidates are drawn, is still largely Corbynsceptic, though they hope that this will change in the next round of local government selections. (Councillors must go through a reselection process at every election.)

But the biggest shift has very little to do with the Labour leadership. The big victories for the Labour left in internal battles under Ed Miliband were the result of Unite and the GMB working together. Now they are, for various reasons, at odds and the GMB has proven significantly better at working shortlists and campaigning for its members to become MPs.  That helps Corbynsceptics. “The reason why so many of the unions supported Jeremy the first time,” one senior Corbynite argues, “Is they wanted to move the Labour party a little bit to the left. They didn’t want a socialist transformation of the Labour party. And actually if you look at the people getting selected they are not Corbynites, but they are not Blairites either, and that’s what the unions wanted.”

Regardless of why, it means that, two years into Corbyn’s leadership, the Labour left finds itself smaller in parliament than it was at the beginning.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.