Sunday, 17 February 2013

A few of the pains of modern life

Modern life has many things going for it – but also many things that make you want to walk away from it.

For instance – technology is great, isn’t it?

Well, in many ways yes, but …

As the lone member of staff on the till in WH Smith struggled patiently with a customer the other morning, I gave in and opted for one of the self-service tills.

I usually refuse to use the damned things on the simple basis that I am not in the business of helping to put people out of work.

And it is equally worth noting that no store has yet suggested deducting the cost of serving oneself from the product that one is buying.

There’s another reason, too. The ‘service’ is crap.

‘Have you got your own bag?’


‘Please put it in the bagging area.’


‘Please wait while someone comes to validate your bag.’

In the end, I waited behind the awkward-squad customer until I could be served, quickly and efficiently, as it happened, by an actual human being.

Not that that is the only example of what makes me grouchy about the modern urban experience.

Less than two months after giving up fags (again) and as the flu finally cleared off to go and torment someone else, my own sense of smell went into overdrive, to the extent that, as never before, I am conscious of the smell of traffic. It’s unhealthy – but it’s also downright repulsive.

But before I was subjected to that, it was a case of a woman at my first bus stop who always arrives when other people are there – and then tries to barge onto the bus ahead of anyone else. And she gets off around the corner! It's so staggeringly rude.

And then there are people like the man who sat next to me on the bus the other day and gabbed for the entire journey to someone on the phone, via his hands-free headphones and mic, all the time twirling his brolly.

Why do some people think that having a phone conversation is something to subject everyone else to? There’s something quite invasive about it – people imposing their concerns (private or business) onto total strangers. Only last month, I had a train journey that was marked by some goon two seats back holding – loudly – a video conference.

How wonderful it is that the French have notices everywhere on their trains saying that, if you wish to make a call, you should do so in the area between carriages.

The mobile phone as megaphone syndrome is little different from people thinking that they can play their choice of music so loudly that everyone else gets to share it.

Indeed, why is it that such music is usually total crap? It’s unfailing something with a simple, repetitive beat. It’s never a piece of Chopin. Or Miles Davis. Or Ella Fitzgerald. Or even Abba.

It’s not Bohemian Rhapsody or Smoke on the Water or Purple Rain or Why Do Fools Fall in Love? – just thump, thump, thump thump.

And because there are so many people living almost in each other’s pockets, we’re compelled to listen to this musical dross, played so loudly sometimes that we can even feel it physically.

Not that the only dumbing down in today's world comes in the form of something that can loosely be described as 'music', the media is on the same path, with so-called newspapers convinced that the really important stories are about whom shagged whom or who tweeted what.

And the sound of music it hardly the only noise intrusion: in the city, there never seems to be silence – not least from the sirens blaring around; traffic on the roads and in the air. It's only when you get away form London that you realise how inured you've become to being under a major route into Heathrow.

On a different note, is the amount of litter around a modern phenomenon? Walk anywhere and you can’t fail to see the mess that people leave behind them – most often in the form of the left-over wrappings or containers from beer or sugar-laden soft drinks or fast food or assorted snacks and crisps. Was it always this messy?

In the planters at the front of our flats, people even consider themselves entirely free to chuck plastic bottles and chocolate wrappers into the ivy.

Damn modern life, because sometimes it feels as though all who sail in her are damned.

There: a rant – and I haven't even mentioned cyclists on pavements.

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