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A Hundred Days of Solitude

Blog Number 20 [Tuesday 5th May] 

As I suspected, M did not like Slaughterhouse Five. It’s a slim book, less than 150 pages, and I would find it abandoned on the sofa, bookmark showing little signs of progress. I made the mistake of mentioning this.

‘You don’t seem to be enjoying Slaughterhouse Five. I see it lying around so I guess you haven’t been reading it much.’

‘You’re checking up on me, are you?’

‘No! I am just saying. If you’re not liking it, why not give it up?’

‘You said it gets better later. [Did I? That was unwise] And I’m waiting for that.’

M finished it yesterday. 

‘Did it get better?’



The truth is that you should never recommend a book to anyone, certainly not your nearest and dearest, especially one like Slaughterhouse Five, which is regarded as a classic. M goes on to say that it’s a man’s book. Now I would normally take offense at that because what she really means is that it’s full of gratuitous violence, puerile humour and the female characters are all male fantasy figures, either Madonnas or whores or both. Not that this is true of Slaughterhouse Five, except the violence but then it is set in the 2nd World War. And okay, there is a porn star called Montana Wilding with whom, Billy Pilgrim, the hero, has great sex on the planet Trafalmadore. And the only other female character of note is hugely fat and stuffs herself all the time. And the constant refrain of writing ‘So it goes’ when anyone dies, and they die a lot, is not everyone’s cup of tea. Maybe it is a man’s book after all. 

Do you have a problem with technology? My old laptop is wheezing, not anything to do with the coronavirus, but the battery life, old age and, frankly, abuse. I have frequently shouted at it VERY LOUDLY and once I almost hit it, though I deflected my fast-descending fist on to the desktop. The pain did not improve my mood, I recall. M has been urging me to get a new one. The unspoken text is that it would stop me complaining all the time. So I get one. And Jeff Bezos notches up another cent that he can put into building his Faustian skyrocket. The problem comes in transferring data from the old to the new. I am told that all I have to do is find the Migration Assistant, an interesting choice of name, and stick the laptops side by side and they will do it all for me. As always in these situations I start with a breezy confidence that masks the underlying thrum of anxiety that it will all go horribly wrong. The laptops start off well enough, recognising each other and holding hands so to speak. But then a message comes up.

‘It says it will take 7 hours and 38 minutes to do the stuff,’ I shout to M who’s a few feet away in the next room. After the obligatory, ‘what did you say? I can’t hear you’ and my repeating it at a volume that most of Beech Croft Road could hear, M comes and has a look.

‘That’s seems a very long time,’ I say.

‘Did you get rid of all the stuff you didn’t want from the old laptop first?’

‘Should I have done?’

‘Maybe,’ she says diplomatically when she means ‘Yes. Duh.’

My hand hovers the cursor over the CANCEL icon. 

‘NO!’ she shouts. ‘Don’t do that.’

Too late! 

‘Shouldn’t I have done that? Oh God they’ll now hate each other and refuse to meet again like on a bad Blind Date.’ 

Fortunately, computer designers know how stupid most users are and I have to press again to really cancel. So the laptops press on. Hours pass. The send out messages to me, almost all of which are saying the equivalent of ‘hey, won’t be long now,’ which we all know is a lie. For the last 2 hours the message reads “Just 8 minutes to go.” I am reminded of the fact that time passes more slowly in the mountains and I think maybe it’s even slower in Digital Computerland or wherever these laptops are disporting themselves. I ring tech support.

‘Kate, it’s on APPLICATIONS and say 8 minutes to go.’

‘That’s okay,’

‘But it’s been saying that for 2 hours.’

‘Ah. Just cancel. Some apps may not transfer. It’ll be fine.’

I did. It was. But not completely. However, if I told you all the ins and outs, you would lose the will to live, as I did several times.

Antidote 20

The wonderful Nicola Benedetti playing Vaughan Willams’s The Lark Ascending. Bliss.


  1. An all-time high, this blog, John! Brilliant handling of the ‘Slaughterhouse Five’ exchanges with M and your struggles with the new computer.

    Incidentally I couldn’t agree with you more about the pitfalls of recommending anything to anyone ever. I learnt that lesson back in the 1960s when I raved about the Brazilian film, ‘Antonio das Mortes’, to our mutual friend Reggie. I really thought I was on solid ground here since its director, Glauber Rocha, was already hailed as a leader of the new wave ‘Cinema Novo’ movement and he had received a Best Director award at Cannes. And I mistakenly thought that the film would have a particular appeal to Reggie given his part-Iberian family background and his own exposure to Latin America. How wrong could I have been?! Reggie hated – and I mean absolutely hated – ‘Antonio das Mortes’ and for a while I think hated me for recommending it to him. [This story, as you know, has a happy ending and we managed to remain friends but for a while….]

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