Compared with Beirut (where I was this time last week) the traffic in London seems eerily quiet. Whereas Lebanese drivers regard the sounding of horns to be as essential to their progress as the use of indicators is irrelevant, here the opposite applies: horns are rarely sounded and, when they are, it is usually in anger at the tardiness of others to use their indicators. One could become annoyed by the constant honking of Beiruti drivers but I chose not to after I had a Damascene moment in a café, where the oddly eclectic soundtrack included Bob Dylan’s Just Like a Woman and, just at the moment when the harmonica solo came in, a passing car sounded its horn loudly but precisely on cue and perfectly in pitch with Bob’s opening note. From then on I was all ears, listening for tonal coincidences and accidental harmonies.
Nevertheless, I adjusted straight away to being back in the UK (unlike my PC which, for the first 24 hours, insisted on trying to connect to a wi-fi router in a Cypriot airport) and re-engaged immediately with the preoccupations of the Western world. Some of them, admittedly, do seem ludicrous on re-acquaintance: the news, for example, that geeks have implanted sensors in a hairbrush so that data transmitted to your smartphone will alert you to the possibility that you might be brushing your hair “incorrectly”. Given that humans are biologically equipped with sensors that do the same job, are they now supposed to be redundant in the face of electronic substitutes? That would be gizmology for the sake of it, surely? I was still thinking of this on a visit to the recently re-located Design Museum in Kensington where I gazed nostalgically – and covetously – at a stylishly designed music system of the late 1960s. It might now be considered ludicrously lo-tech but it was – and is – gloriously hi-fi nonetheless.
And I was further convinced that older technology still has its uses when, the next day, my old friend took me up for a spin in his newly-acquired helicopter. Nothing fancy: in fact he describes it, in simple terms, as a vintage-design tractor engine with two seats bolted on top, a perspex canopy enclosing them and a drive-chain hitched to a couple of rotors. Perceived that way it could be a scary proposition to venture into the skies, but it works – and it’s a lot more fun than the series of rides I have recently experienced in Boeings and Airbuses. And when we landed we had a slap-up ‘all-day-breakfast’ at Denham Airfield cafe, personally prepared by the proprietor, Dave, former boxer and leading member of a Hawkwind tribute band, who single-handedly provides an egalitarian service for crew and passengers alike. England at its traditional best.
It was quite cold up in the air though, and I was glad I had put on the winter-weight shirt I had bought a few days previously, though the choosing of it was not straightforward. I had previously read this mysterious line, the ring always believes that the finger lives for it, and was unsure what it really meant. Now I know. Most shirts appear to think the same way: they want your body to fit their conception of what a shirt should be. Now I don’t consider myself to be an unusual shape or size, but it is apparent that the garment industry has its own standards, so finding a good fit is not easy. Perhaps, as a friend of mine once remarked, the older you get the more you have to spend on tailoring.
Old as I am, however, I do expect to experience the next really useful tech advance: driverless cars. I have concluded that, since their horns will never be sounded in anger, they might be programmed to play the first few notes of Just Like a Woman, which I would find very uplifting.