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Ten curses for the digital age

March 5, 2020
Image by Pankratos/ Wikip[edia

I love curse tablets. Ancient Greeks and Romans used these little tablets to curse people or objects. Typically, they would drop them into wells, which is why we have been able to retrieve and read them. Most recently a number have been discovered in disused Athenian well shafts. But they are to be found all over the ancient world, notably in Roman Bath.

These days there are not too many wells available should we wish to revive the custom. Instead, we have more than enough opportunity to curse people and things through all manner of social media. The difference is that ancient curses were usually a private matter between the person doing the cursing and the deity best qualified to answer the malevolent plea. Our curses are entirely public, and the deity we invoke is the god of public opinion.

Given the distinct possibility that the coronavirus might carry some of us off in the forthcoming months, I’ve decided for posterity to cast a few of my own curses into the digital well. The possibility that they will be retrieved by some digital archaeologist in a couple of thousand years’ time probably depends on whether, in the midst of a zillion other bits of useless information, they are deemed worth retrieving.

But since for the ancients, the satisfaction probably lay more in the cursing rather than in the misfortunes of the cursed or the immortality of the grievance, why should I deny myself a little malevolent pleasure?

To this end I’ve compiled a short list of objects for my digital tablets. They include phone speakers, the BBC’s Question Time, remote controls, text messaging, car error messages, central heating controls, swatch functions, squirrels, self-service check-out, influencers, vaping, independence, political rallies and demagogues.

For the purpose of this post, I’ve narrowed the list down to ten, some about humans and the rest about the stuff humans create. In no particular order, here goes:

Conspiracy theorists. I don’t actually care whether Covid-19 was invented by the CIA, the Chinese, the Qataris or our reptile rulers. And I don’t care who killed Kennedy or who – other than 19 murderous bastards and their helpers – might have brought down the twin towers. What happens, and how we deal with it, is what matters. My wish for conspiracy theorists is that they be condemned to watch nothing but David Icke videos on the internet and endless re-runs of the X-Files on TV.

BBC Question Time. Any TV programme that deliberately scrapes up people with bizarre and extreme views and implants them in their panels and audiences in the name of “balance” does not deserve to be considered a serious current affairs show. My wish is that it should either be put to sleep or rebranded as reality TV and shown at 2am.

Phone speakers. As with all technology, it’s not so much the machines, but the people who use them who deserve to be cursed. I’m thinking of those who sit on a beach watching a Chinese action movie, or in a train listening to a video on make-up, or in an airport lounge watching a Montenegrin soap opera. Do they think we’re all interested in this omnidirectional noise? At least my wife, when she’s talking to call centres, has the courtesy to retreat to another room. My wish is that they accidentally expel their devices from their back pockets down the toilet, or drop them from an extremely tall building.

Central heating controls. Why does it take an hour of farting around plus an intelligence to match Einstein’s to figure out how to change the timing on a central heating control panel? Surely the manufacturer knows that the first thing you do with the instruction leaflet is put it in a safe place and lose it. My wish is that the designers of these things be sentenced to spending a month putting together IKEA flat-packs using only Burmese instructions for assistance.

Demagogues. Yes, I’m talking about you, Donald Trump, Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson and all the other jerks who lie, cheat and rabble-rouse their way to power. My wish is that you are locked up in a convent ran by sadistic nuns who make you write in an exercise book “I shall not lie to the people” at least 800 times a day until you’re confined to the sanatorium with writers’ cramp.

White goods manufacturers. These are the makers of microwaves, fridges, dishwashers and washing machines who sell you shiny bright stuff for very little money, knowing that their machines will break down irreparably within three years (unless they catch fire in the meantime) and that you will have to buy another one, after clogging up the waste recycling centre with useless tin boxes. They’re quite capable of designing stuff that lasts decades, but that’s not profitable apparently. My wish is that the directors of these companies are made to wash their clothes with mangles for eternity.

Independence. You probably know who I’m talking about without my having to write it down. Believers in the cult of independence, who live with the fantasy that one country can be independent of another, that any economy can exist without reference to another, and that people can exist without other people. My wish for them is that they self-isolate on a remote island for a year, with only the Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions by John Donne for company, and see how they like it.

Car error messages. Those little lines of text on your dashboard that tell you that you have a problem, ranging to annoying to potentially catastrophic. Again, it’s not the messages, but the reality that you can’t fix the problem on your own, which you might have done 50 years ago, and you need to take your car in to some ludicrously expensive garage and are told that you need an even more ludicrously expensive part. I wish that those who design these cars be sent on work detail to Cuba, where they will spend the next five years fixing 1955 Studebaker saloons. And fabricating the parts themselves.

Influencers. I admit that this curse is born out of pure jealousy. The idea that adolescents and millennials earn a fortune by showing pictures of themselves in Instagram, or prattling on in YouTube videos about clothes make-up and vegan dishes makes me curl up and want to die. Even worse, that cruel and exploitative parents turn their 5-year-olds into test-beds for toys, and earn twenty times more than people in proper jobs, like our hard-working, truth-telling, baby-producing prime minister, convinces me that society’s gone crazy. My wish for them is that their internet access is permanently restricted to the websites of their rival influencers, so that they can be eaten up with the same jealousy as mine.

Political rallies. I’m mainly thinking of Trump rallies, wherein thousands of people abandon every last ounce of critical faculty to luxuriate in a warm bath of groupthink. Not just Trump rallies, but any other form of entertainment in which peer pressure requires you to applaud, weep, boo or fart in response to a given cue. So I guess that includes comedy shows, football matches, riots and church services. My wish for British rally attendees is that they be required for three hours a week to listen to the Archbishop of Canterbury recite the shipping forecast, and applaud at each mention of a location and barometric pressure, as in Rockall, Dogger, German Bight and the like. As for the Trump supporters, they can go a place where the only food for eternity is chicken nuggets. Also known as hell.

And finally, squirrels. Grey ones to be specific. Or to be more precise, the little buggers who break into our loft and wake us up at three in the morning with their scratching, nesting, cable chewing, lovemaking or whatever else they do up there. Perhaps there’s no need to curse them, because we’ve recently installed high-frequently zappers that have the same effect on them as Black Sabbath on Jehovah’s Witnesses. But should they return, my wish for them is that after she’s fired from her current job, Priti Patel agrees to take up residence in our loft, equipped with a loudspeaker, a cattle prod and an arsenal of squirrelese swear words in order to create an appropriate hostile environment. If she’s not available, Dominic Cummings will do.

You might notice that I included a bonus curse. That’s because I believe in under-promising and over-delivering. Also because curses are the gift that keeps on giving. You never run out of subjects.

But I suppose I should finish with a recital of blessings, being a positive sort of chap. But who really wants to know about my love of history, cheese, cricket, Emmylou Harris and Russian folklore?

Boring huh? Curses are much more fun, for me anyway.

From → History, Politics, UK

  1. I’m with you on the car error messages. For the first two cars I owned — back in the 1990s — I was able to do pretty much all of the maintenance on my own. These days just checking the oil and water is as much as I can manage.

    And don’t get me started on people who can’t put their mobile phones away…

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