Monday, April 16, 2018


I have an ambivalent attitude towards my computer. Actually, that's not strictly speaking true. Most of the time I mutter at it in a surly way and if I tell you I refer to it as Beelzebub it might give you a more accurate picture.

It has nasty habits, like suddenly freezing when I've written a long and tricky email. It refuses to accept my decisions; it likes my documents to have 'mark up' and even when I set it to 'no mark up' and save it, when I next go to the document, 'mark up' is back. Sometimes. Other times, it does as it's told for a bit and gets bored and reverts.

When it underlines a word and I click on 'ignore all' it does, but then next time I open the document the underlining comes back. Only sometimes, and only with certain words it irrationally takes against; I click 'Ignore all' again but then whoops! back it comes, next time.

It installs updates to do extra things I don't want, and even whole new systems without my consent – yes, Windows 10, I'm talking about you – which make my life more difficult and awkward. Sometimes it decides it doesn't want to print right down to the bottom of the page and even with visible formatting it's impossible to see a reason for this. (This has defeated several experts and I gather I'm not the only one with this problem.) Its 'help' program has yet, even once, to be helpful.

I know I'm incompetent too, of course, and sometimes whatever is irritating me is my fault because I've accidentally touched a key with mysterious effects. Rick is probably even now shaking his head and muttering, 'Silly woman!' But it's just, well, unfriendly. When my first computer went to the place where far too soon (NB Microsoft) tired computers go, I almost shed tears. I certainly shed tears, but of frustration, with the new one.

It's undoubtedly easier to click on Google than to schlep up to the library for a reference or hunt through every poetry book you own for a quotation. And I'm old enough to remember having to type with carbons in, and using industrial quantities of Typex – not to mention having to retype a clean copy after revision. Not fun. But I was fond of my typewriter; you knew where you were with it and mine still lurks at the bottom of a cupboard, just in case the Russians decide to close down the whole system because they're feeling cross.

Oh, I know it has transformed my working life, so I'm grateful for it, of course. It's nice to be grateful and I was very well brought up. But my gratitude to Beelzebub tends to be of the 'Do I have to say thank-you?' sort.

However, today I am genuinely grateful. Not long ago, some of us were talking about the pet phrases we regularly use, more or less without being aware of them, that can easily catch the reader's attention in an irritating way. This time, revising a new book, I realized the way to control them.

The first time I come across one, I type it in and the lovely Find button immediately parades all the shaming repetitions. I can then work through them all with a triumphant cry of 'Eradicate! Eradicate!'

So a real thank you for this, Beelzebub. I'm not ready to rechristen you – you'll have to do a lot better for that – but I'm prepared to soften my voice when I mention you, instead of snarling.

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