I wouldn’t call myself techno-savvy, as folks go. Most new technology I have is either handed down by others when it becomes obsolete or given as a present. I’m not technophobic either – in my last job, my greatest strength was said to be my ability to make things work and my willingness to perform depraved acts for little incentive. So I’m stuck between technophile and technophobe – I suppose you might call me “techno-curious”. In some ways I think it’s a strength. I’m not frightened of machines, nor do I have any pre-conceived notions of how things should be done, and by and large this state of being has served me well.
All this is a very longwinded way of saying that incredible technological naivety is sort of my “thing”. Today I was walking around the West End (again) for reasons that will become clear tomorrow when I spotted a sign for a computer fair. This is held every Saturday at UCL’s Windeyer building. This is easy enough to find, as it is right next to the BT Tower, which you can see from damn near anywhere in London. You can even see it from the top of Egham Hill, which is something like twenty miles away. It’s pretty distinctive, is what I’m saying.
I figured I’d pop in and have a look around. If I started getting sweaty and nauseous, I’d leave. And so I went in. I’ve had bad experiences on Tottenham Court before today, and these days I tend to deal with electronics the same way I deal with rough neighbourhoods. Walk with shoulders back and head up, look like you know exactly what you’re doing and show no fear.
There was a chap in there selling memory cards at remarkably low rates. I figured I could use a new memory card, because the current one doesn’t hold much – about twenty photos on a good day. I surreptitiously checked the camera to see what I was actually looking for. So, I went up, all friendly-like and asked the chap if he had any of that sort of thing. The fellow was both friendly and helpful, and asked how much memory I was looking for. I said, “Oh, as much as possible, really.” He asked me what sort of camera I had, at which I had to admit defeat and say, “This one.” He explained that with some of those, they could only take two gigs (I pretended to know what a gig was and nodded sagely). I decided to go with two gigs. I mean, it was only like a fiver for the memory card. Two gigs was probably what I’d got already. Actually, it turns out that two gigs is about 963 photos. Nine hundred and sixty-three. Who even needs that many photos?
Having said that, like many things you don’t actually need, I ended up using it a hell of a lot and managed to take about fifty photos. Selectiveness be damned. And don’t worry, I won’t be showing you all of them.
Having said all that, here’s a photo of the nearby Tower Tavern. You may recall in a previous entry that I said this pub was built on the site of a previous Fitzrovia pub called “The Bastard Arms”. Apparently this is actually a pretty good pub – it’s just a shame that the architecture is so awful that you yearn for good old-fashioned Brutalism.
I visited a couple of other places on my travels – two art shops in Soho within literally about a minute of each other that I rather like are Cowling & Wilcox Ltd on Broadwick Street and Cass Art on Berwick Street (the latter easily identifiable by the massive slogan “LET’S FILL THIS TOWN WITH ARTISTS”). The two are incredibly close together, carry a broad range of stock and are both pretty cheap. The range isn’t quite as wide as the London Graphic Centre on Shelton Street (Covent Garden), but between them they have most things an artsy bod needs.
Having saved a few pennies, I then went to spend one in the Gents on Broadwick Street. Not that I especially think you wish to hear the details of my micturation, but this particular visit was notable for the toilet attendant. Now, some jobs naturally attract people who like telling other people what to do but don’t have the brain capacity for actual leadership. Traffic wardens spring to mind here. Security guards. DSS officials. I’m sure not all of them are pocket dictators, but if I were to ask you what you think of when I mention those professions, the chances are that your personal experience of them might feature some bossiness on their part.
And there are some jobs that should never, under any circumstances, inspire this sort of attitude. Toilet attendant would be an obvious one. I’ve ranted about these people before, but this one was really something else. She was trying to close up the toilet, you see. Now, using the toilet is one of those things that you really shouldn’t hurry. It sort of happens in its own time. What doesn’t help is a middle-aged woman barking at you to hurry up. What really doesn’t help is when she doesn’t speak much English. Having voided myself sufficiently, she then became annoyed by the fact that I wanted to wash my hands afterwards. I’m no clean freak, but I do work in a hospital, and patiently explained to this woman that I was not going out with unwashed hands, no matter how many times she kissed her teeth at me, because not washing your hands after weeing is totally gross.
I followed a sort of Brownian motion path around the West End thereafter, taking in bits of Bloomsbury, Leicester Square and Charing Cross until I got to Covent Garden, and damn me if Cybercandy wasn’t too strong for me. Cybercandy, if you’re not familiar with it, is a sweet shop that specialises in exotic delights from around the world. Chocolate bars, fizzy drinks, breakfast cereal – if your doctor says you shouldn’t eat it, they’ve probably got it here in more varieties than you thought possible.
Let me explain this for those outside the UK. In Britain, we’re not really people who like having too much choice. I put it down to the Blitz spirit – we’ve become so culturally conditioned to going without that when we’re actually presented with huge amounts of choice, we get frightened. We have eight varieties of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk, and that’s considered quite a lot (for comparison, Ireland have ten and Australia and New Zealand have thirty-three – thanks, Wikipedia!). There are twenty-four varieties of Coca-Cola; we have five, and two of those are pretty new.
So when a British person goes to Cybercandy and sees the insane range of dental nightmares on sale, the reaction is a combination of surprise and delight. The brain tells you to be cool, the heart tells you to spend a fortune and scoff exotic chocolate until you pass out and wake up two days later covered in brown sick. That’s if your curiosity doesn’t encourage you to partake of stranger paths – pepper candies, chocolate-covered crickets, BBQ-flavoured larvae. I tried the last one once, and I can safely say that it’s the worst thing I have ever eaten. It does not taste like chicken.
Today I bought a bag of Haribo salty liquorice dummies. Salty liquorice is an acquired taste, and it’s safe to say that I’ve acquired it. It’s popular in Northern Europe, particularly Scandinavia, and in flavour it’s a cross between Pontefract cakes and having your sinuses blasted out with seawater. The distinctive salty flavour comes from ammonium chloride, a substance used in glue, textiles, shampoo and solder among many other industries. It’s done wonders for me chest though.
I really shouldn’t like it, but damme if those salty little sweets ain’t grown on me. This goes some way to explaining why my teeth resemble Mordor. Hey ho.