Speaking of time

Heather  Kurt

Actors Kurt Shantz and Heather Archibald pretending to live in 1905 and liking it in the Linden House production of Jack Straw by Somerset Maugham, currently on stage (Oct. 30, Nov. 1 and 2) at the Elmwood Theatre. [Photo: Tom Davis]

The thing about theatre is that you can pick the century you want to live in. And, frankly, the 21st is not my favourite. With Jack Straw – the play that Linden House is currently staging – we have moved back to the first decade of the 20th century, and I like it there. Among other things, there are no telephones to speak of.

And by the way, speaking of time, it is 1:47 a.m. at the moment, and Juno the Dog is not speaking to me. Well, if my head weren’t more or less attached to the rest of me, I wouldn’t be speaking to me either. It’s the middle of the night and not an appropriate time to be struggling with technology, but here am I, stuck with a brand new iPhone and writing an indignant blog instead of sleeping.

A couple of weeks ago, I had a mad impulse to join the rest of you in the 21st century. It was a mistake, and I freely admit it. My particular method of travelling forward through time was to acquire an iPhone. My sister said I would love it, and then she left for Istanbul, the rat, so I can’t tell her what I think of that particularly bright idea. Of course, she did not force me to take the gadget upstairs to my bedside table last night when I retired. Unfortunately, the phone has an alarm that has been accidentally set to explode into a deeply unpleasant jingle-jangle tune at 1.30 in the morning, That is my situation. I don’t know how to turn it off.

Who set the alarm, I have no idea. I would accuse Juno, but she lacks opposing thumbs and would rather eat a telephone than program it. It must have been me then, when sleepwalking, or was it that mysterious force that causes single earrings, keys and vital documents to evaporate the moment you turn your back? You know the phenomenon. You leave the keys or that amusing letter from Revenue Canada on the sideboard, and when you come back to get it five minutes later, it’s gone! This is what I believe the scientists call the “chaos theory.” My life is a living example.

Moving on: after a short interval of frantic fiddling, I have decided to distance myself from the problem. The phone is currently sitting outside on the back step where it can disturb only the slumbering squirrels, but I am thinking about dropping it in a bucket of water.

Oh, but the things I have learned in the last little while! These newfangled phones are the electronic equivalent of a Swiss Army knife, and now I know how the flashlight works. And then, there’s “Airplane mode.” Actually, I was afraid to touch that button in case the whole bedroom took off. Oh, and there’s a “Do Not Disturb” feature that remains a mystery to me, because if there is one thing this phone is doing, it is disturbing me. And Juno. She has just stalked off muttering and gone to sleep in the guest bedroom. And what does the command “Snooze” mean anyway? I thought “snooze” was a form of sleep.  Apparently not. Either that, or snooze means something else in computereze, because my telephone is damn well not snoozing. It is singing its bright good morning song at depressingly frequent intervals.

I am going mad. It’s my own fault for discarding the immemorial custom of reading myself to sleep with a book. I thought that I would play Scrabble on the iPhone instead. Now playing Scrabble with a computer is the road to ruin — intellectually and emotionally — because, frankly, the machine cheats. It makes up words. For instance, did you know that “homa” is a word? Do you believe it? How about “kulfi,” “sus” or “pooja,” for all of which the machine racked up a cool 162 points, while I stuck to such common and garden variety words as “pert,” “jive” and “fate” for a measly 64. You see my problem. There is no room for honour when you are dealing with a machine.

The telephone is still jangling. This is depressing. It reminds me of the time, a couple of years ago, when I woke to the gentle bleep of a smoke alarm battery begging to be renewed. Juno was worried and asked me if there was something she should go and bite. I said “certainly not” and got up to visit all the smoke alarms forced on me by an oppressive government. They are a big part of the reason I have given up cooking. There is nothing more irritating than having a loud siren announce that dinner is ready. Anyway, none of them seemed to be bleeping on that long ago night. I pressed my ear to the thermostat: no sound there. I wanted to give up and go back to bed but every time I started upstairs, another faint bleep called me back. I was getting frantic, and Juno was losing faith. I could see it in her bleary eye.

Finally, I decided it must be the burglar alarm, forever unused because who needs a burglar alarm when you have a 111-pound mastiff on your side? I tell a lie, I did put the alarm on once but forgot to tell the cleaning lady, so the police came and billed me for their trouble.  I did manage to find a new housekeeper eventually, but I take no chances now.

Long story short, I had long been eager to murder that alarm, so I went and got my box of tools and attacked the casing with a screw driver. When the plastic covering fell away, however, I found no batteries, but rather a series of coloured wires coming out of the wall, exactly the kind that saboteurs attach to explosives in movies. You know: the hero has to choose which wire to cut; but if he cuts the wrong colour he will go up with a bang; so he spends a long, fraught moment with the pliers poised and sweat beading his brow before cutting the wire with a sudden, bold movement; and he DOES NOT BLOW UP. Never. My situation exactly. I stood there with scissors poised, contemplating the set-up with fear and loathing, “Bleep!” With only a momentary pause for prayer, I cut boldly through the wires, all of them. No sirens sounded. No explosion occurred. Of course, after I removed the rest of the fixture there was an unfortunate hole in the wall which ultimately involved me in repainting my whole house: but that’s another story.

The point is, just as I was putting my tools away, enjoying the silence and secure in having dealt with the problem in a bold and decisive way, I was suddenly shocked to the core.

“Bleep.”

I went back to bed and put the pillow over my head. A visitor who dropped by later that day hoping for a glass of wine was handed the problem instead. The culprit turned out to be the smoke alarm I had forgotten about in crawl space, and that alarm did need a new battery. You begin to see why this is not my favourite century? One of my friends has suggested it isn’t the century that is to blame, and that I might be happier living in a sheltered workshop.

A singing telephone is not the only issue that Juno and I are dealing with tonight. There is also the issue of scent — and specifically how Juno would like to smell and the sickenly sweet, fruity odour that is actually pervading my bedroom. On our walk yesterday, the beast beloved discovered a record number of dead animals and rolled in them sequentially. As is so often the case with Juno, she thought she was doing the right thing and was astonished when her action led to outright assault. We had an unpleasant 20 minutes together after our walk, me struggling with a garden hose in one hand and a large and insulted dog in the other. In the end, both of us were soaking and covered with Wild Berry and Oatmeal Dog Shampoo. All I can say about this soap is that it smells better than dead squirrel. Juno disagrees.

Bathing Juno can be a disappointing experience for the house proud. You see, as soon as I release her, she retires immediately behind her bush – it is large and thorny, so I can follow her only with difficulty – and there she does a little remedial work on her appearance. This involves an installment of digging in the hole she began about four years ago and has been expanding ever since, and then she rolls in the damp earth until the Wild Berry and Oatmeal is significantly modified. I let her be. Though the muddy dog that emerges eventually with a complacent glint in her eye is not exactly what you long to see leaping up on your bed, at least she doesn’t smell of rotting flesh.

Oh dear. There goes the telephone alarm on the back step. I have to go and find a bucket.

PS Just three more performances of Jack Straw. Order online at www.lindenpro.ca or call 613-842-4913.