Thursday, 7 August 2008

Beans Gone

I dislike cordless telephones. In fact, I dislike most cordless contraptions, including doorbells, TV remotes and wireless networks. But it's cordless telephones that really get on my wick.

Sure, they're small, lightweight and easy to carry around with you. But very, very few cordless handsets are designed to fit easily between shoulder and ear, thereby virtually forcing you to hold them in your hand or put them down and use the "loudspeaker" function. Not so much of a problem when lounging on the sofa, but bloody inconvenient whilst sitting at a keyboard.

And, as an inevitable result of their portability, you can never, ever find one when you need it most - i.e. when it's ringing. I've lost count of how often I've sprinted around the house, following the siren call of an absent handset. Newspapers, cushions, elderly relatives - all are swept aside in my frantic quest to answer that long-awaited, very important phone call.

But, even when the trilling trophy is, quite literally, in my hand, the battle is not over. Gasping, wheezing and weak at knees, I stab at the "answer" button, only to find that the phone's battery is equally exhausted - tired and shagged out after a long squawk, as a certain parrot purchaser might have put it. And so, in a novel twist on the nuisance call concept, many people have been unfortunate enough to call me, only to hear a few seconds of heavy breathing followed by the click of a disconnected call.

For these and many other reasons, I insist on an ample supply of conventional, wired telephone sockets, all fully equipped with an adjacent telephone. Being tied to the wall, we can always find the buggers, they don't run out of charge at a critical moment, and they keep working during power cuts, too. Who could ask for more?

But, this being real life, there has to be a downside, and there is. Wired telephone sockets require - you guessed it - wires, and these physical linkages in the communications circuit are susceptible to damage. Now, Mrs S is a patient sole, but she doesn't take too kindly to a home festooned with telephone wires (though I note she doesn't object to the actual telephones, and use thereof!). Consequently, the many, many yards of telephone cable running around the property are, where at all possible, concealed under floors and in other invisible but infuriatingly difficult to reach places.

With an eye to self-preservation, I will not, on this occasion, go into the gory details of how Mrs S managed (by dint of much effort and an impressive display of hitherto unsuspected gymnastic ability) to rip the wires out of an under-floor junction box, thereby rendering the wired landline in her study as dead as a dodo. I will skip lightly over the flurry of expletives I may, or may not, have uttered upon realising that I was going to have to empty and move several filing cabinets, pull back the carpet and underlay and raise some floorboards in order to reunite four annoyingly small wires with the correspondingly small holes into which they are usually fixed.

The equally small and fiddly screws with which they are fixed, the awkwardness of their position and the absence of light therein were merely additional courtesy irritations, and need not be dwelt upon. And so, having put this odious task off for as long as possible, last weekend saw me bent double over a hole in the floor, a torch between my teeth, a length of cable in one hand and screwdriver in the other as I attempted to fix the bloody thing.

Having thoughtfully brought me a cup of tea to knock over, Mrs S put her feet up on her desk and turned her attention to the online newspapers, keeping me entertained with choice headlines in between offering sage advice - presumably inspired by women's intuition, because it certainly didn't have much to do with reconnecting four wires in a tight, dark, dusty space. As the wires slipped out of the connectors yet again, she announced, in hushed tones, that, according to the Telegraph, the UK is facing a national shortage of broad beans.

It may be that my screwdriver-muffled answer - "'ugger th' 'uckin 'woard 'eans" was not entirely the answer she had anticipated in response to this terrible news, and she went on to explain in more detail. Broadly, things are looking grim in bean-land due to a combination of last summer's floods and a pesky African beetle invasion that's decimating surviving crops.

Supermarkets have run out of frozen broad beans, leaving fans to await the ripening of this year's crop. A comment was sought from the Processed Vegetable Growers Association (never heard of them, but then I don't associate, or grow vegetables for processing come to that) and, having hyped up the broad-bean crisis as far as possible, the article concluded that new supplies would be available very soon. So that's ok then.

Perhaps because I can't recall the last time I ate a broad bean, much less set out specifically to buy some, and being rather preoccupied with my telephonic difficulties, this story did not immediately strike me as something of vital importance. But later, having repaired the phone, re-laid the carpet, returned the cabinets to their home and restored their content, the story came to mind as I relaxed with a beer and a smoke.

For the no doubt very hard working broad bean producing elements of society, it might well be a fairly large disaster, especially in these hard financial circumstances. The success, or failure, of those broad bean crops might well represent the solvency, or otherwise, of families just like Mrs S and me, who are just trying to make a living and get on with our lives.

And, speaking of life, the more I thought about those pesky beans, the more I became aware that life is full of problems, and many of them as hidden from the folks who aren't directly involved with them as that phone cable is hidden under the floor. Clearly, there is more truth in the expression "the grass is always greener on the other side" than one might imagine, although, if one could - and did - imagine such a thing, the expression would be redundant.

Does this mean I've learned some kind of lesson? Not to be so easily compared to Victor Meldrew, perhaps? (Mrs S makes that comparison all the time, but I don't believe it!) Hell, no! It just means that my suspicions are confirmed - life really IS a bitch, no matter who you are or what you do, and there's nothing you can do but enjoy your life as best you can. Which probably isn't very much.

Billy Seggars.

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