Now, every Argos store I’ve ever been into (ever!) has had paper catalogues. You know, proper books. This one didn’t; it had a bank of electronic screens. And on the electronic screen was a box, underneath which was writ Type in a keyword or the catalogue number if known. I looked for a keyboard on which to type in the keyword. No keyboard, so I called to the supercilious-looking young man at the counter:
‘How do I type in the keyword?’
‘Use the keypad.’
‘There isn’t one.’
He walked slowly towards me, looking in all directions except the one in which my eyes lay and oozing the kind of disdain which is the almost exclusive preserve of modern youth on the lower rungs of the corporate ladder. He tapped the box on the screen and a keypad appeared below it as if by magic. And then he walked disdainfully away again.
Well, come on, how was I supposed to know that’s what you do? Is this another example of the arcane knowledge to which only belongers are privy, those possessed of smart phones, tablets and other gadgetry I don’t even know exists yet? Do I look like the sort of person who would possess such wonders and know how to use them? My mobile phone makes and receives calls and texts. It doesn’t even take pictures, much less keep watch for signs of alien intelligence or give you a privileged view of President Putin’s freggin' bathroom.
I managed manfully from there, even discovering something interesting in the process of poking and stroking the screen (which methodology I learned only from watching people on trains, you understand.) I discovered that if you stroke the screen in precisely the wrong way, the software thinks you’ve poked it instead and gives you a different picture. I wonder it doesn’t have the intelligence to flash up an angry message in pulsating red:
NOW LOOK HERE! WAS THAT A POKE OR A STROKE? BE MORE PRECISE, MORON, OR I’LL TURN MYSELF OFF AND THEN WHERE WILL YOU BE? HUMANS!!
But it didn’t. It remained quiet and I continued my education, trying – mostly successfully – to balance the fun of learning against rising irritation.
And do you know what? The electric blanket I’d found in the paper catalogue wasn’t in the electronic version, which just serves to prove…