My computer has been giving me more than the usual daily dose of difficulty in recent months. Six total crashes at the start of a single day and then perfect for the next week (no reason, just so), then blue-screen-of-death several times in a row, followed by a full-body virus scan and disc integrity check that, of course, reveals everything to be in perfect working order. I restore the registry, remove what little deadwood remains from my daily C-cleaning, check all drivers (everything A-OK) and start again. No problem. Perfect service for another week then WHAM, it declares all my texts to be “read only” and demands to see my administrator’s rights.

Even the people at Microsoft have thrown in the towel. They tell me they no longer issue updates or security patches for my version of Vista. After all it’s, like, four years old, dude! For a small fee they want me to change to Windows 7. Everyone says this would be a very good idea and that I’d be making sense for once in my life. That’s exactly why I’m not going to do it.

I’m a member of the mumbo-jumbo generation. I marched for the right to believe in nonsense: peace & love, nuclear disarmament, ethical governance, leadership that leads, fair trade and fair conditions of work, an honest day for an honest dollar, food from farmers who actually work the land, bankers who look after our money etc. So why should I give up on the mumbo-jumbo, system 32, touchy-feely dream that Vista represented when it came out? Why should I now choose the well-trodden road of pragmatism when I have already rushed like a lemming into the romantic abyss of delusional, voodoo electronics? No, of course not, I’ll take it into the village and get it fixed.

And this is how I came to be standing yesterday in front of my local computer store at nine in the morning, with my PC cradled under my arm, looking at a sign that now read: “Yves De Radermaeker: Chauffage Central et Installations Sanitaires”.

Like the good Woodstock warrior that I once was, I have always believed in the importance of supporting local trades, crafts and companies. That’s why I bought my computer from two pimply, twenty-something nerds with no business experience instead of driving to the nearest big town and paying half at some super-store enslaved to big capital.  It was the right choice, and not just ethically. After all, the two lads were always there for me, except when they weren’t, which seemed to be during normal working hours. They clearly rose late and breakfasted well, which is a very good habit if you’re going to spend the remains of your morning listening to the many customer complaints backed up on your answer-phone. I got the impression they would then retire to the back-room to take a long lunch of the submarine sandwich and spliff variety, while balancing a soldering iron on one knee, to at least maintain the illusion of customer service.

During this time, while the sounds of swearing and skater music issued from a lean-to at the back of the building, the shop door would remain obdurately closed, despite a large printed sign to the contrary. But I believe in miracles. So I would try my various words of power until the door finally opened at about two thirty, when I would mysteriously find myself at the end of a substantial queue of people who had apparently worked out some alternative means of ingress … through the sewers, via the internet?

The upshot of my incursion would usually be that the cheery lads would fail to find any solution to my problem other than suggesting a cracked version of XP they could install for free, while urging on me the paramount importance of backing everything up on a daily basis. So I would end up buying a few Giga-bytes of rather expensive but cute little flash drives and go home feeling I’d done something substantial for data security and the survival of our local high street. They would then spend the rest of the day at the pool, impressing the babes with their flabby abs and soggy visiting cards.

Trust the little sods to go bankrupt! What should I do now? On the slim chance that they’d set up business somewhere else, I stepped inside Monsieur Radermaeker’s emporium to ask if he had their new address. It seemed Monsieur Radermaeker was out servicing someone’s furnace, but a charming girl told me he’d be in tomorrow. No, she didn’t know anything about the lads who ran the computer shop. She’d only been working there a week.

Because she offered a sympathetic and pinkly shell-like ear, I told her I’d been having computer issues. She replied that they only just got their own network up and running after several false starts and that heating systems are noticeably more solid and reliable. I told her my PC says it hasn’t enough CPU available even to re-install its own operating system. She suggested a bigger reserve boiler, at least 200 litres. I added that my download speed seemed to be suffering as a result. She surmised that smaller debit piping at each wash basin would be a way to increase pressure, or of course I could always replace my gravity feed with a pump.  I told her I’m unwilling to upgrade as I’ve got used to working with this particular interface, and anyway I think the sidebar is really cool. She insisted that a lot of their systems are so space-saving and clean that you can install them almost anywhere. Was the bar I was referring to in the cellar? That should pose no problem at all. I mentioned that I’m becoming paranoid about backup, I could lose everything. She was certain that a few solar panels would go a long way to allaying my fears. The latest models are polyvalent and highly efficient. Even if the Russians were to suddenly cut off our gas supply in the middle of a cold snap, I could still keep warm. I told her my house is high-ceilinged and draughty. She said that Monsieur Radermaeker does estimates for free, any weekday afternoon between four and six. Perhaps I might even consider her brother Gregoire, he installs thermal windows. I said that Microsoft had already offered me version 7 at a big discount. She thought it would be best to get an energy audit done first, and then choose the type of window-chassis (double glazing, triple?) on the basis of the house’s calorific requirements in off-season use. That way, for the winter months, I could manage with a far smaller and more efficient system. I said, yes, I’d been thinking about getting myself an iPhone 4s for Christmas. She said I’d probably be better off waiting for the 5 and going with an iPad 2 for now. Her toddler can work it. He just loves the games, they’re so intuitive. I got the subtext. It was time to leave. I arrived home feeling much better and with a whole sheaf of full-colour brochures.

The experience had been much the same as visiting a homeopath. You feel lousy. He asks in great detail just what kind of lousy you feel. So you tell him. It takes a full hour of self-indulgent whining. He sends you away to come back a week later. When you return he stands three tiny, sealed vials on the table. He says they are the three most likely remedies based on his diagnosis. One of them will be exactly right for you. He asks you to hold any one of the vials in your right hand and raise your left arm to a horizontal position. He says he will now try to pull your left arm down. He does so with an easy movement of one hand. You feel puny.

Then he tells you to pick up one of the two remaining vials. This time, even when he hangs on your left arm with all his weight, it doesn’t budge an inch. You feel like Schwarzenegger. You could carry your homeopath around, hanging from your arm like a towel on a towel-rail, for weeks if you wanted. He writes a prescription for the stuff in the second vial and you go home feeling better already. You know its mumbo-jumbo. You know there’s not a shred of scientific evidence for it. But you also know it works, not just for you but for millions of others. It even works for horses and cats, and they can’t be expected to fall for any self-deluding hocus-pocus. Homeopathy is humbug … and it works. Ever since I came home with the heating brochures, my computer has been running like a dream. QED.

My cousin Fiona swears by Ayurvedic medicine. This involves curing illnesses, even the most grave, simply by eating certain foods that are designated as “hot” or “cold”, “dry” or “wet”, depending on your condition. Your condition depends in turn on the balance of your humours. This stuff is Shakespearian. It’s mediaeval. It is just the kind of nonsense we quite rightly banished from serious study back in the 18th century. It cannot withstand the grave, scientific gaze. It’s feel-good mumbo-jumbo, quackery. But Fiona’s neighbour was “riddled” with cancer. They (and we know who “they” are) gave her three months at the most. That was seven years ago.

Kurt Vonnegut said it best, when referring to the array of arcane, Masonic symbols on the dollar bill: “In Nonsense We Trust”.

Hell, yes! Because it works, that’s why!

Edwin Drood

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