Leave by the Gift Shop. January 2012.

Dear Rowley,

Doesn’t technology make slaves and fools of us all? I’m clocking on at weekends now in the mad dash to finish The Perfect Gentleman but as the prostitute said, ‘it’s not the work it’s the stairs’. Picture the scene in Bloomsbury Towers. It’s Saturday morning, the muse is fluttering around my barnet like Tinkerbell and all is well with the world. I am flitting around the office in a Snow White fashion half expecting to see deer frisking at my feet and bluebirds resting on an outstretched finger. And then catastrophe. While wafting a duster over my desk, my MacBook Air plummets like Icarus to the floor cracking the screen as it falls like a suicide victim from Waterloo Bridge.

Now I am rarely deterred by the whoopee cushions that the gods place under our posteriors when we’re feeling particularly chipper. I’ve got through customs in Florence without a passport by batting my eyelids like Lie Low Lil, found an opera length pearl necklace in Tokyo within minutes of an exhibition opening and pulled diamonds out of the sky with three hours to go before a live BBC broadcast so the fickle finger of fate doesn’t usually defeat me. However, technology is a titan that strikes fear into a generation such as mine old enough to remember writing on a manual typewriter.

I’ve always been a fan of Apple. The products are as sexy and pretty as the rainbow tribe employed in the Covent Garden branch but whenever I enter Apple World I feel like I’m in an episode of Logan’s Run when anyone over 30 should volunteer themselves for euthanasia. The kids speak a different language and, rather like the Moonies, are hard wired to up-sell to their elders who are entirely at their mercy. It’s like going to a dodgy mechanic under the arches in King’s Cross. When a teenager tells me with sagacity that my hard drive is compromised, I feel positively deficient.

I chose a boy who looked like the Aubrey Beardsley de nos jours who fluttered his artefacts and ruled out a repair then passed me along to a perky blonde girl who reminded me of Little Boots. The prognosis was spend £1100 on a new MacBook Air and get my data transferred by the goblins of Gringott’s in the basement. Thus began 24-hours when my old laptop was on the critical list and I felt like a concerned relative waiting for a vital organ to be flown from Bucharest in order to breathe life into the new machine.

Casualty wasn’t even in it. The kids attempted to revive the patient before close of play on Sunday. This wasn’t possible so laptop was left on the life support machine overnight. It crashed and Monday was a bedside vigil hoping baby MacBook would pull through. Well, you’ll be thrilled to know I took delivery of the new machine after an hour and a half holding a lighted candle in the Genius Bar at the Covent Garden Apple Store. Of course all of my ‘operating systems’ were out of date – you ‘aint just whistling Dixie honey – so I had to shell out a couple more monkeys. But this is the price one pays when you’re a stranger in a strange land.

Naturally, I pointed out to the shiny, happy people that the Mac Store in Covent Garden used to be a nightclub. I didn’t share with them the fact that I used to dance on that very spot in my scanties when spam was dinner and Interfacing had a whole different meaning. After two hours in Apple World, I staggered out into the night with my throat screaming for gin and nicotine. Interesting that they choose to package a £1200 laptop in a white bag bearing an apple logo the size of Africa. It’s like a mugger’s charter.

Oh darling let’s get back to more salubrious subjects. While waiting for my technological glitch to be itched I spent a morning taking more photographs for The Perfect Gentleman. I was particularly pleased with my photograph of dragons over London. I also rather enjoyed the shot of the candle-lighters in Fortnum & Mason and Edward VII astride at the foot of Lower Regent Street. I’ve said it before and will say it again. If you want to appreciate and understand London’s history one only has to look up.

I know you’ve always favoured flowing Belle Epoque locks. As late I’ve been growing my hair into what I thought was a Byronesque sweep. Unfortunately, I wake up and think I more resemble those Troll Dolls sold in the less salubrious gift shops. Terribly ageing, long hair on men. This is something I have pondered long and hard. You know the major sign of ageing? When you’re in a public locker room and wrap the towel half way up your waist and down to your ankles rather than neatly folding it in half and forming a Ramses II short loincloth. It’s the test that all of us have to face. When I’m in the camp Graeco-Roman swimming pool and steam room of a morning I still fold that towel. The minute I opt for the mid-chest to ankle is the minute I go to the elephant’s grave yard.

So I have emerged from my ordeal by Mac Store bloodied but unbowed. As Stephen Sondheim says, ‘first you’re young, then you’re middle aged, then you’re WONDERFUL’. Amen to that.