And so it came to pass: my trusty laptop, proud survivor of a thousand cigs smoked over it, a thousand glasses of red wine placed by its side (and never spilled), and several dozen Twitter spats with Claire Fox, has finally had enough. It did not, unlike the computers or instrument panels on board the Starship Enterprise, explode excitingly in a shower of sparks, hurling me back several feet, but just started turning itself off and then turning itself on again, in a way that suggested possession, or a severe nervous breakdown.
I took it to the excellent Laptop Chap in the covered market in Brighton, but not even he was able to fix it. He looked at it with deep concern and said, “Have you thought of buying a new computer?” I left it with him and walked miserably, in the driving rain, up the hill again. He said he’d call me later, by 6pm, if he had any news.
I am beginning to wonder about fate, and in particular astrology. My friend A—, who in absolutely every other respect is fearsomely intelligent, is a strong advocate for its practice, and I look on this indulgently, as one forgives the foibles of one’s friends, but not for a second have I ever taken any of it seriously. She once did a rough chart for me and said, “You have a really interesting chart,” but when has an astrologer ever come back to a client and said, “Sorry, nothing much there. It’s really dull.”
But events over the past few weeks are making me reconsider my sniffy attitude. Let us consider the facts. So far, October has hit me with the following: being thrown out of my home; finding a new one; my first water bill for more than 13 years; the breaking-down of my beloved vintage Oris watch, which had been ticking away faithfully for not only the 15 or so years I’ve had it, but for something like 50 years before I found it at a stall in Portobello Market (at 90 quid, one of the great bargains, I think); my phone of ten years finally giving up the ghost; the computer disaster; a potential professional development which may put some cash in my pocket for once (I’m not holding my breath, but still); and, in somewhat better news but still to be filed under the heading of Abrupt Change, a development in my personal life which I won’t talk about in any detail yet but which I will say has made me very happy.
Of course, I don’t want to ring up my friend and say, “By the way, A—, remember my horoscope? Is there any kind of… turbulence that I can be expecting around now?” That would be letting the cat out of the bag, however innocently I framed the question.
At 5.30 I crack and call Laptop Chap. He still can’t find out how to fix it, or if he can fix it, but he’s trying various options.
“I’ll call you back when I know,” he says patiently; his tone of voice, it suddenly strikes me, is exactly like that of a vet gently preparing a pet-owner for bad news. He then says: “I may have to give you some bad news.” As it happens, I am not too devastated when he finally calls me, an hour later, to say that it’s all over, and that he has read the last rites over the machine. (The main reason I’m not too devastated is that the night before, one of my children had to be kept in hospital overnight with suspected appendicitis, and believe me, the anxiety generated by that kind of news is several orders of magnitude greater than that generated by a moribund laptop.)
So I reflect, as I have always done since ejection from the family home, on the capriciousness of Fortune’s Wheel, the way that destiny forces us to do things whether we like it or not. And speaking as someone whose prime directive is to do as little as possible, on the grounds that things are going to happen to you regardless of whether you try to make them happen or not, lately an awful lot of things have been happening to me at once, and all of them seem to be trying to make the same point: that I am not in control.
And so here I am again, not with a neighbour’s borrowed laptop, but with one that Laptop Chap has lent me until I find a new one; when he recommended a certain brand and said I could expect to pay a minimum of £600, I nearly fainted. Where am I going to find that kind of money?
I suppose if I were a member of the House of Lords, like Claire Fox, I could do it simply by turning up at the place for a couple of days, and have enough left over for a very decent lunch.
This article appears in the 04 Nov 2020 issue of the New Statesman, American chaos