Sunday, 12 January 2014

80. Plastic boxes that go beep

Gin is sitting at the other end of the sofa with her feet in my lap, and I am painting her toenails. Amanda is lying on the floor painting my nails, with her legs crooked up into Gin's lap so Gin can paint hers. I would love to see what we look like to the outside viewer.

It's seven o'clock. We are listening to the Craig Charles Funk and Soul Show and drinking our way through a jug of Gin's homemade margaritas. The original plan was to go out for dinner and then on somewhere, but it's starting to look as if it has been cancelled due to not moving.

Gin has chosen bright parrot green nail varnish, Amanda sunshine yellow. I've picked midnight blue.

"How's Martin?" says Amanda, slyly.

Amanda and Gin don't mention Martin all the time. They sometimes go weeks without mentioning his name. I think the plan is that if they drop him into the conversation suddenly I might react somehow.

"He's fine," I say.

"Have you made a move on him yet?" Gin is flank-attacking from the right.


"Has he made a move on you?" Amanda again.


They look at each other.
"Did you get the tickets for next Saturday?" I say, hastily.

"Yeah," says Amanda, stroking blue across my big toenail.

"How much do we owe you?"

"Nothing." Amanda blows on my toenail softly to dry the varnish. "I got the tickets for free."

"Free? Free?" Gin says. "What? Who from?"

Amanda suddenly looks caught out and I realise she's said more than she intended.

"The box office website is a bit - antiquated..." she says, trailing off. Oh dear. I know where this is going.

"You hacked into it and got free tickets?" Gin says.

Amanda looks wounded. "Well, if you want to put it that crudely."

"I do," says Gin. "I do want to put it that crudely."

"Music should belong to everyone. I hate the way it's become just another way for The Man to make money."

"Don't turn this into some kind of political rebellion against the system," says Gin. "I don't want to be caught with a skeevy ticket at the door. I have more self respect than that."

I don't know a lot about computers. Amanda doesn't talk about her job much and I am not sure exactly what she does, except that it is freelance and she seems to make quite a considerable amount of money. She works from home, in a room full of happily humming plastic. She ignores the usual sleek black minimalist computer-geek style in favour of covering all her equipment with street art stickers she bought from Redbubble.

Machines respond to Amanda in exactly the same way as animals respond to animal-loving humans. Everyone she knows brings her their laptops with screen-freeze, sulky touchscreens and PCs shivering with viruses, and she delicately presses and searches with her long, sensitive fingers until the hidden door pops open or the screen flickers, and she smiles.Then she presses a couple of buttons, maybe types a word or two, and they work. Sometimes she hands it back and says there is nothing she can do, and she always looks sad to break such terrible news.

This leads me to some strange conclusions. A machine is a machine. How can it know? But there's no denying that some people can make anything work and some people break everything they touch. Is it just a matter of being heavy handed? Or is it some fundamental lack of sympathy?

"Alice! Tell her!" Gin's despairing voice makes me tune back into the conversation. I've lost track of what's going on and I'm not sure exactly what I'm supposed to tell Amanda, but fortunately Gin launches straight back in with: "There's more to life than plastic boxes that go beep!"

Amanda grins at her. "Look, if you're not comfortable, I'll give your ticket away. You don't have to come."

Gin looks uncomfortable. This promises to be a fantastic gig, and it's sold out. This is the only way she's going to get in, and she knows it.

"I'm not happy about it," she says, capitulating. "Musicians should get paid for their work."

"It's sold out," says Amanda. "They're sold out all over the country. They'll make enough to eat tomorrow."

"But if everyone had the same attitude as you - "

"If everyone had the same attitude as me, all gigs would be free because musicians would receive billions in state funding from the Ministry of Music. I consider that a much better use of public funds than nuclear missiles." 

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