Biscuit (engl. Originalversion der Kolumne in der htr vom 17.10.2013)
‘You’re going to London in search of peace?’ My friends find this amusing and I understand why. Usually London means museums, galleries, theatre, shopping, eating, drinking, clubbing, lots of energy, lots of noise. But I’m staying in one of the quietest and oldest parts of London, in a cul de sac on the edge of a park. My phone is off, my brain is on. I might as well be on a desert island.
Biscuit is the quietest cat I’ve ever met. I’ve been here three days and I still haven’t heard him use his voice. When he wants breakfast he appears at the side of the bed like a ginger ghost and pats me gently on the arm. The only sound he ever makes is when he crunches his own biscuits – low calorie, high-fibre, meat-free – followed by a lot of silent stretching. He’s the feline version of Linda McCartney.
The residents in this neighbourhood are as polite as their cats. They speak in low voices and step to one side when they pass you on the pavement. The builders working on the façade of the house apologise every time they see me for making noise. But today is Sunday, and I haven’t seen the builders or anyone else for two days. The Ginger Biscuit and I have lived in harmonious silence for 48 hours.
I sit and work, and crunch through Digestives, Huntley & Palmers Cream Crackers, Carrs Water Biscuits, Chocolate Fingers, and Hobnobs. The English do biscuits very well. I could live this way for days. But I’m starting to think I should speak to someone other than myself.
The high street hasn’t changed much in the past fifty years. A bakery, a post office, a drycleaners – and that great British institution Marks & Spencer, the old-fashioned department store where you can buy school uniforms, shoes sturdy enough to resist being run over by a bus, port wine, cake, and birthday cards.
Inside, however, I find that the twenty-first century has arrived in full force – in the form of self-service checkouts. My heart sinks. As I approach the checkout with my basket of carrots and custard and curries, I begin to feel flustered.
I’ve used self-service checkouts a few times before and they’re a nightmare. Sometimes all you want is a cosy chat with a real person: ‘Terrible weather, isn’t it? Tried our new Balsamic Vinegar crisps?’ Instead there’s an eerie automated female voice repeating over and over, ‘Problem with item. Call for assistance. Remove unidentified object from bagging area.’
As the red light blinks above your head, announcing to the world that you have Problem Bananas in your basket, an assistant rushes up - blank-eyed and wordless – jabbing in a secret code before rushing away to deal with the next Unidentified Object. At this point you realise you need three hands: one to swipe the groceries, one to pack the bags, and one to insert the money. And when you leave you still haven’t had any human contact.
I arrive home with my self-serviced dinner. Biscuit gives me a silent wave of his paw. I make ratatouille. The only sound in the whole world is the zucchini squeaking between my teeth.