My Aunt Janet, who lives in Manchester, is an intrepid traveller but it must be said that she seldom returns home from a jaunt without an injury of some kind. Her latest trip was to visit my father and his girlfriend Catherine at Catherine's home outside of Amsterdam. There, his lifelong engagement in The War Of the Inanimate Objects conspired evilly with Janet’s innate proneness to accidents. Here’s my father’s account of events.
The day that Catherine’s Blackberry hid itself in a balloon was the day I realised that we might be losing The War of the Inanimate Objects.
You’ve all been in the firing line. With the chair leg that makes contact with your big toe when you’re not wearing shoes. With the knife that takes a slice out of your finger when you’re chopping onions. With the car door that closes on your fingers, the lemon juice that squirts directly into your eye, the screw that you drop on the floor and never find again...
The balloon was a hot-air monster in which Catherine, a Dutch TV presenter, was doing a shoot for a travel series. When she disembarked, her cellphone didn’t. It was slyly out of sight in the basket that was last seen heading for the outskirts of Amsterdam. Score one to the enemy.
Then at 3.30 in the morning the onslaught really begins. The burglar alarm, which isn’t primed, decides to come alive. And stay alive. No amount of putting the code into the keyboard will switch if off. We can’t hear the first telephone call from the alarm company because – you’ve got it – the alarm is shrieking away. Janet suggests I switch off all the power and switch it on again. I switch it off. The alarm doesn’t stop. I switch it on again. Nothing happens. We’re in total darkness. Score two to the enemy.
The alarm company is now trying to phone a mobile landline that has no power. They can’t phone Catherine’s cellphone because it’s in the hot-air balloon. We go outside to get away from the noise. I make contact with the alarm company with my South African cellphone. For security reasons they need to phone me back but don’t have international roaming facilities. Score three.
After a minute or two the power comes back on. But we’re now outside, in the street, Catherine wearing only her bathrobe, me in my Bjorn Borg underpants (the paparazzi would have had a field day). The front door closes and locks. We don’t have a key. The score is 4-0.
I bang on the door. Janet and her husband Brian can’t hear me because the alarm is still wailing. But finally I manage to get their attention. Janet rushes to open the door, and trips and falls down the stairs. Score five.
Brian opens the door. Janet is moaning on the floor. Catherine runs around, making an ice pack for Janet’s ankle. The alarm is still shrieking. Finally we make contact with the security company again and receive instructions how to disconnect the alarm from a mass of electronics that looks like the arming system of a nuclear bomb.
Final score: 5-1. Plus we have no burglar alarm system, I have a bed-ridden sister with a severely twisted ankle and a ruined holiday, and Catherine has sleepless neighbours who are not amused and a dog traumatised by the bizarre behaviour of the humans she’s been brought up to love and trust. And there’s still the prospect of a drive through morning horror traffic jams to Amsterdam to collect the Blackberry.
So who says that inanimate objects are exactly that? That they don’t retaliate? And here we are surrounded by them. The War goes on. Watch out for that banana peel.