Recently I was pleased to travel to England Classic from my home in New England. The purpose of the trip was to speak at the inaugural Macworld UK Conference and it was a real way-hey-hey of a show. (To those of you who didnt attend: you should definitely mark your calendars for the next one. To those of you who did: would whoever it was who walked off with my George Bush ventriloquist dummy please send it to me c/o this magazine. No questions asked; Ive got a gig at a Democratic fundraiser coming up later this month, and Ill look like an idiot if I turn up with just my Supreme Court marionettes.)
It was my first trip to your country and, man alive, London lived up to every (positive) expectation I brought. I returned home convinced that a lifetime of accumulated hype didnt tell me the half of how ginchy the place is, and I can confidently tell you that when the issue comes up this October on the annual referendum ballot, Ill be sure to vote for England as one of those select few nations that that my government should allow to self-rule.
There was just so much to love. Even your television: every programme seemed to centre on the theme of training a C-list celebrity to do something else entirely with their lives, such as become a chef or a ballroom dancer. Ive been advocating this sort of thing for years. Once an actors career is more or less over and the only thing their agents can get for them are reality programs, its only humane to train them for productive careers in the workforce, just as we do with prisoners due for release. A lot of societys problems could be solved by helping the former stars of Knots Landing and Cagney & Lacey get licences to sell real-estate, or possibly dropping them on a tropical island far from the eyes of man, like they did with Godzilla and Marlon Brando.
(I also heartily supported the show where Channel Four got Craig Charles and Caprice to find out what it was like to live with disfiguring handicaps. Finally, a solution to the David Hasselhoff problem!I thought, until I saw the actual show and learned that the disfigurements were being done with makeup and latex and not some sort of hot metal or caustic liquid. But we can fix that when we Americanize the show for network television.)
The scary thing about spending a week in London is that I became yet another unwilling victim of a crime thats claimed far too many of my friends in the past few years: I learned to have sympathy for Windows users. Scorn, disdain, even pity: these feelings were not unknown to me. But oddly enough, just like Craig Charles strolling through a public market wearing half a face full of thick, discoloured scars, dealing with British pocket change gave me a startling glance into a world I little understood.
See, here in the US, our money is very Maclike. First, we take the coins that are only good for pitching at cars from highway overpasses and we make them out of copper so they can easily be culled from the herd. I wont comment on your fetish-like desire for a two-pence coin, but you guys implemented this useful concept OK.
At this point, though, your coinage comes across like the result of some sort of elementary school-art contest. The five-pence is smaller than the penny. The 10p is larger, good, but then the 20p gets smaller again and dispenses with the consistent round coinstandard. This motif is retained with the 50p, but the Royal Mints attention-deficit disorder kicked in again and they decided to make the pound round again& plus its smaller than the 10p and even the 2p, for Gods sake.
The Mint finally got it right with the two-pound coin. Big, two-toned, designed to look like a serving platter from my Grandmas house. As both the native and the tourist alike fishes one out of their pocket change it sends the friendly warning that you are about to over-tip somebody. It commands respect.
Please dont get defensive, dear readers. Take this as a lesson on the challenge of converting Windows users to the Truer Path. Your money system is burdened by an ongoing 950-year-old system of incremental upgrades, backwards-compatibility, and short-sighted stopgap solutions. With the possible exception of the Roundheads in the 1640s (and the Germans three centuries later) nobodys even made an attempt to renovate the whole sorry system from top to bottom, forcing its users to suffer a year or two of awkward transition but leaving them a revolutionary new standard thats eminently practical for these modern times.
And why are Windows users so hard to convince? Mac OS X is so clearly superior to Windows XP that in a less-enlightened age wed declare their users unfit to govern themselves and simply annex their desktops outright, installing the colonial governor of our choice.
Now I know why getting someone to Switch is so hard. Its easy to forget that fundamental change is incredibly scary and intimidating. Im a grown adult. I, you know, own a car and get to fool around with girls and stuff. Yet my first purchase of a copy of The Sun and a half-litre bottle of Coke rewound me right back to when I was five years old: after 20 seconds of uncomfortable confusion, I was forced to hold out an entire fistful of coins and invite the cashier to just take what he wanted.
There, the only thing on the line was my morning caffeine fix and a chance to see a slightly delusional young woman half-naked. When a Windows users ability to run his or her business is put in the hands of a bewilderingly different new operating system, it hardly matters to them how much better the new system is. When you have four days to assemble a bid on a job that will make or break your company, you dont want to feel like a five-year-old kid trying to buy a comic book at the corner drugstore.
Windows users unwillingness to change is now harder for me to mock& and for that I shall never forgive you, Britain. But that was the only negative aspect of my entire trip. Actually, there was a second, but it wasnt your fault at all: the American media had led me to believe that Id be encountering charming, dancing chimney sweeps on a routine basis. I actually saw only one the whole week, and when I showed off the video to my British pals later that day they pointed out that the man wasnt a dancing chimneysweep at all, but a policeman having some sort of seizure on a Kensington sidewalk.
Well, he put on a great show all the same. I sincerely hope he found the 50p that I dropped in his helmet, and he had some fun with the proceeds assuming of course that medical attention reached him before he swallowed his tongue or something. MW