Something for the Weekend, Sir? I have a self-flushing toilet.
Not one of those novelty models from Japan, mind. No indeed, my self-flushing lav uses a unique system; it must be a DIY job, er, I mean a custom build.
But what do I know? I had a peek inside and the insides are so unfamiliar I may just as well have been staring into an alternative toilet dimension of Lovecraftesque proportions. It's all cogs, levers and pendulums surrounded by barbed wire and mystic runes. I think I spotted a Mayan calendar at the back and I can hear monks chanting. Cthulu would refuse to snip a cable on anything less.
"Do you have a screwdriver?" asks the plumber, who has turned up literally empty handed. "And a flashlight? Oh, and a pencil and some string?" Next he’ll be asking me for a wrench, copper piping and a blow torch.
I have called in a plumber because I do not want a self-flushing toilet.
Call me unadventurous but I would prefer a conventional crapper that flushes when you press a button, turn a handle or yank a chain. The one I have at the moment triggers the flush mechanism all by itself every 23 minutes, day and night. The noise is driving us nuts, not least that of the water meter by the front door tick-tick-ticking through the euros with every useless drain and refill.
The plumber keeps whistling through his teeth, puffing out his cheeks and making clicking noises with his tongue. At first, I thought he was trying to communicate in one of those South African languages and I wondered if I should respond in semaphore or by tapping out Morse code on my knee with spoons.
How hard can it be to make a privy work at the touch of a button? After all, everything works at the touch of a button these days, or at least the sales and promotional material say it does. Whether it's a smart speaker for the home, a project management suite for civil engineering or a surgery stuffed with brain surgery robotics, it'll be marketed as "simple" and "easy to use." One touch is all that's required!
Obviously this is not true.
I saw a smart speaker advertised to say my entire library of banging tunes was instantly streamable upon me saying a word. What, one word? Which word? "Skelf"? "Adscititious"? "Oxyphenbutazone"?
Or do they mean I can assign a unique single-word shortcut to each track? So, for example, instead of having to clumsily request Der Mussolini by Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft three times while Alexa laughs at my accent, I could just say "Dwaal". Or to save me the trouble of ordering the device to play Bomb by Bush, I could simply utter the shortcut "Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis."
My electricity provider tells me I can call up my bills on screen "at the click of a mouse." I tried this and it doesn't work: apparently, I have to switch on my computer first.
Then I have to run a web browser which, depending on how I set things up, might itself require two clicks, albeit in rapid succession. Even assuming I have already bookmarked my electricity provider's website, I need two more clicks to find the bookmark and launch it. Then I have to log in with a username and password, which my password manager might deal with but I still have to click the "Connect" button. After this I have to dismiss cookie notices, notification requests and the pop-up Helpbot window with further clicks in order to navigate the site's impenetrable menus and eventually locate the billing section.
Then, finally, with a single click, I can call up my bill.
This strikes me a being a bit like a grocery shop claiming "We're located just around the corner!" when in fact you have to drive the first 27 miles to get to that particular corner they're just around.
The plumber has given up humming, hissing and tutting – which is just as well as it has been sending my smart speaker into a tizzy. Who knew that muttering "Ah no no no, tut-tut" was the shortcut to play Anthrax's cover version of Kylie Minogue's I Should Be So Lucky featuring Leonard Cohen on the twanging ruler?
He admits to me that he has never seen a flushing mechanism like it before in his life, which makes me feel a lot better as he reluctantly returns my screwdrivers, pencil, spot welder, electron microscope, ladders and forklift. He says he'll email me a quote and politely takes his leave. The barstard's still walked off with the string I lent him, but no matter: while he was huffing and puffing over the cistern, I lifted his house keys from his jacket by way of collateral. We can exchange later on Glienicke Bridge.
The plumber's reaction reminds me of that of the owner of a small independent garage that used to service my car for many years. The garagist eventually sold up because, he told me, cars had become too computerised for his oily-rag-and-wrench motor mechanic skills.
I imagine that similar emotions were experienced by the transport boss on the Toronto transit system when it fell victim to a ransomware attack last week.
It wasn't exactly The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, was it? Instead of slamming up and down a noisy control room, yelling quotable one-liners in a Bronx accent while sporting a tartan shirt and mustard tie, the transit manager probably ended up in a tiny side-office stacked up with broken monitors, dancing from one foot to another while a PFY poked around on a keyboard.
Ah, good, my groin has lit up. I must have new mail.
I wake up my laptop to check and my email program announces it has updated itself while I was away. I must remember to fix this. A while back, in a fit of pique, I denied it permission to send me notifications, and now it just does whatever it wants without asking me first.
The plumber's email is waiting for me in the inbox but just as I am about to click on it, a message gets in the way to thank me for updating and to announce that I can now call up a list of its revised keyboard shortcuts "with a single touch."
Just the one, eh?
Since you ask, the new magic keystroke is CTRL+Y. I gave it a try using just one touch. Apologies for any typos in this week's column, but my finger is still in a splint.