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24 September 2023

Ancient wisdom helps me survive a storm, but does little for my laptop

My computer is my window on the world. I go to ridiculous lengths to protect it.

By Nicholas Lezard

I write in haste, for I am off to Oxfordshire again in an hour and I have left everything till the last minute as usual. Oxfordshire is where I go when I want to look after a cat called Tybalt and get a fix of countryside. I am writing this now instead of on the train or coach because I fear for what would happen if I closed my laptop and then tried to open it again. I suspect that it would split like a wet Kleenex and I am not in a fit financial condition to go around buying laptops like some kind of mad billionaire.

I go to ridiculous lengths to protect my laptop from the strains and stresses of life. Take last Sunday night. There was a terrific storm that came steaming in from the south-west, which provided everyone on the south coast with a free son et lumière of the kind of intensity that made you ask yourself what we had done to annoy the gods this time.

Anyway I went for a walk to look out to sea as the lightning was building and turned back to the Hove-l just as the first fat raindrops were beginning to fall. I was soaked by the time I got back and the storm was getting nearer.

Now I don’t know about you, but some time after around ten in the evening I become vaguely aware that my cognition is not quite as focused as it was at, say, six. I have a metaphorical Post-it note stuck to my screen that says “No social media after ten” because after then my arguments become sloppier and I feel a mischievous urge to say things that – how to put this? – skirt the margins of convention.

On the evening of the storm I dimly remembered a ritual from my childhood: the unplugging of the TV during a thunderstorm. My father’s somewhat Thurberesque reasoning behind this went as follows: a lightning bolt could hit the antenna on the roof, and the electrical surge would go right down to the set, making it explode and so killing or maiming anyone foolish enough to be watching it. To be extra safe, both the plug and the aerial were disconnected. As for using the phone during a thunderstorm, that was more or less suicide, and a couple of frames from a Tintin book (The Calculus Affair) during which a phone call is made during a storm showed a bang and a pair of smoking empty shoes where the Captain had been standing. That more or less settled it as far as the science went, for me.

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I don’t have a landline or a telly any more but my laptop is my window on the world, so what I did was unplug the machine from the mains adapter and, for good measure, also unplug the wireless router. I then texted my children to tell them what I’d done, because they like it when I do things that only a confused old man would do, and added that they’d be laughing on the other side of their faces when the electronics of every personal device south of Carlisle fused, apart from mine, because I had remembered this wisdom from ancient days.

You can imagine what happened afterwards. The storm passed, and I reconnected the router and the laptop. Naturally, they refused to speak to each other. For reasons too tiresome to explain, I do not have a conventional means of connecting to the internet; a little bit of trickery is required. The problem was that it was getting even later, and for some reason I could not precisely recall the protocol. So I gave up and went to bed.

In the morning, refreshed, my memory returned and I rejoined the online community, and was able to keep up to speed with what people were saying about the alleged hem-hem Russell Brand. So edifying. (For those sitting on the fence about him, just bear in mind that those who have leapt to his defence include such people as Andrew Tate and Toby Young. And if that’s not enough for you, then I hope the fence gives you splinters in a sensitive area.)

But heigh-ho, I have to finish this piece and then I am off to pack, followed by a gruelling journey by rail and coach to deepest Oxfordshire. I wonder what high jinks I’ll get up to over there. I had tentative plans to meet Philip Pullman in Oxford but it looks like he’s busy. Ditto Mick Herron, whose latest spy novel has just been published (it’s excellent). Wine and food and firewood have been laid on – and, most importantly, a cat. We parted on amicable terms last time I was there; I hope he remembers me, for he is a very fine cat indeed.

[See also: A fan’s loyalty is unwavering – unlike the players they support]

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This article appears in the 27 Sep 2023 issue of the New Statesman, The Right Power List