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About A Week: Talking To Oneself

Peter Hinchliffe confesses that he talks to his computer - and also to himself.

Oh dear! Here I go again. Talking to my computer.

“Come on,’’ I say out loud. “Shut down. You’ve been working hard all morning. Time for a rest.’’

The computer stubbornly refuses to switch itself off.

In fairness, my computer is getting a bit long in the tooth. Suffering probably from the electronic equivalent of arthritis. It is developing annoying quirks and foibles - and one of these is failing to always shut down when asked to do so.

The screen goes blank, except for a solitary white line in the top left hand corner, which continues to flash, as though expressing insolence.

“Have it your way,’’ I say, switching off the power supply.

It’s not just the computer. The older I get the more frequently I find myself talking to objects and non-human creatures.

“Why this morning?’’ I demand, as a shoelace breaks as I attempt to tug it into a tight bow.

“Nice dog,’’ I say, as a neighbour’s boxer comes to the fence, barking aggressively as I walk by. “How are you today?’’ I add, hoping my voice sounds confident, and not the least bit fearful.

I have this theory that if you speak to a dog, acknowledging its right to be in the world, it won’t bite you. It’s worked so far. The one time when I was bitten - and quite badly bitten - an Alsatian attacked me from the rear. Before I had chance to say nice dog, its teeth were into the back of my thigh.

I talk to my computer, talk to my shoes, talk to dogs… No surprise then that I sometimes talk to myself.

Scattergun outbursts of words.

“…how do you justify a bill like this? …All you’ve done is change the oil…’’

“…we don’t need a new carpet… how many times do I have to say…’’

“…argue all you want… …what difference does it make…’’

Just when I was thinking of psychiatric treatment I stumbled on a Web log, Tokyo Redhead. And the subject under discussion? Talking to oneself.

“Don’t know where you live,’’ writes Redhead “but I’m noticing more people in my neighbourhood and on my commute home talking to themselves. Leaving aside the odd drunk or nutter, many of these people appear relatively sane.’’

“It’s not just you,’’ says Spartacus. “Where I live, it’s like an epidemic! A virus spreading very fast, helped by stress and solitude. Welcome to the XXI century!’’

Actually I don’t feel the least bit stressed, except for those times when my computer is intent on exerting its individuality. Nor do I feel detached from the world. Solitude is not a problem.

Fact is that when I am alone there are so many thoughts swirling about inside my head that some of them, very occasional, burst forth.

Last month I was in Valencia, travelling on a local commuter train. An old Spanish gent was sitting across the aisle. A disheveled raggle-taggle elderly gent.

I thought he was talking to the young woman sitting opposite him. He wasn’t. He was talking to himself.

Soon the old chap began to sing. In Spanish, of course. Jolly songs. Not a bad voice.

I recognised one of the songs. I had to restrain myself not to join in.

OK, talking to oneself is odd. In our tight-lipped, corseted society, a self-conversation makes those who chance to hear it feel uncomfortable.

And singing to oneself is even odder.

But is it? When I was a boy, men often wandered around whistling to themselves - and never an eyebrow was raised. It was accepted that they were feeling cheerful.

I quite like the idea of living in a society where folk yield to the impulse to sing.

We might all feel a lot happier if we could join in a sudden street chorus of All You Need Is Love.

FOOTNOTE: Sympathetic words were lost on my computer. It became more and more crotchety, refusing to do what my fingers told it to do. It has been pensioned off. Today, for the first time, I am using a gleaming new machine. I am so much in awe of the thing that I have so far not even dared to bid it “Hello’’.


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