Tim Dowling: my laptop’s new lease of life has landed me in a stew

·5 min read
<span>Photograph: Sean Prior/Alamy</span>
Photograph: Sean Prior/Alamy

Carrying it under my chin like a teenager, I’m convinced I can use it, watch TV and cook dinner all at once. I can’t …


Three years ago, I bought a laptop, days before flying to America, because the old iPad I had long used for working away from home had just died.

Compared with the other technology in my life, this laptop was like something from the future. I’m not an early adopter. After my phone was stolen on a train, I went in search of the least-desirable model available for purchase: reconditioned, obsolete, unrecommended.

“Also, rose gold,” I would say, showing people its pink sheen. “I could leave it on the bonnet of a car overnight and it would still be there in the morning.”

In spite of the forward leap the laptop represented, I never used it unless I was travelling. Whenever I opened it in a motel somewhere, the last thing I’d written on it – sometimes many months before – would still be up on the screen, reminding me of past trips. I would read the first paragraph of a column about a fox and a crow fighting in my back garden and think: ah, Marseille.

Related: Tim Dowling: A trip to the theatre is on the cards. To go or not to go?

Then, last summer, the desktop computer in my office shed expired. My youngest son got it working, but it was so taxed by the updated operating system that I sometimes had to wait 20 minutes for it to catch up with itself in the morning. One day I set the laptop down in front of it and used that instead. Problem solved, I thought.

It didn’t take me long to realise that if it was raining I no longer had to cross the wet garden to sit in a cold shed. I could just work in the kitchen. If it was sunny, I could work in the hammock. I began walking around the house with the laptop open under my chin, like a teenager. I am never not looking at it.

It is early evening. My wife and I are watching part five of an underwhelming six-part thriller, but I am also looking at my laptop. When I rise to check on dinner, I take it with me. When I return, I can just see over the lip of the laptop that my wife has switched over to her favourite show: a reality series about a luxury yacht crewed by morons.

“Why is this on?” I say.

“You were gone for ages,” my wife says, switching back to the thriller. “Anyway, you’re on your laptop.”

“I can do two things at once,” I say, thinking: actually, I can do seven things at once. I can check my email, Twitter, my other email, the latest headlines, tomorrow’s weather, and today’s Covid case figures, all while watching this thriller about …

I point at the TV. “Who’s she?” I say.

“The victim’s mother,” my wife says.

“She looks like the other one – whose husband had the affair,” I say.

“Not if you’re paying attention she doesn’t,” my wife says.

“I am paying attention,” I say. “Can you just quickly remind me of everything that’s happened so far?”

“I’m hungry,” my wife says.

I look around for the remains of my wine glass, only to discover I am still holding it

Dinner is a stew that I have been preparing since 5pm, reading the recipe off my laptop while simultaneously watching live updates from a vote in parliament, and also monitoring various metrics that accurately gauge the success or failure of my career in real time.

“It’s basically done,” I tell my wife.

“I’ll pause this, if you like,” my wife says, pressing pause.

“Fine,” I say, standing up, with my laptop.

I call everyone to the kitchen. The stew is meant to last several days, but with all three sons present, the pot is empty once everyone is served. As the three of them sit down at the table, I pick up my plate and my wine glass and head back to the TV, laptop tucked under my right arm.

Before I reach the door I can feel the laptop beginning to slip. I apply more pressure with my elbow, to no avail. As I attempt to block its fall with my leg, the plate of stew leaves my hand, turning upside down in the air. On its way I give it a final, accidental kick, sending its contents flying everywhere before it smashes on the floor. The computer lands beside it.

“My laptop!” I shriek, in the tone someone might use to shout “My baby!” outside a burning nursery. Stew is flecked across the walls up to a height of three feet. I look around for the remains of my wine glass, only to discover I am still holding it.

“Oh dear,” my wife says as I sit down in front of the TV with what remains of my dinner: a very distressed baked potato, and half a glass of wine.

“No comment,” I say, checking my email on my rose-tinted phone.

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