Archived entries for Panic

Sharing the sound

I’ve written previously about bad experiences whilst shopping, so here’s an interesting twist I encountered last weekend. I went into a Philips audio shop to look for some headphones, and I found myself checking out a pair of swish Sennheiser wireless headphones that looked a bit pricey but pretty good. My bad hearing however means that I’m lucky if I notice there’s actually sound coming out of the things, never mind luxuries such as “analytical sound reproduction”, but I was interested in these headphones as a way of hearing the TV better without trailing a wire acorss the room, the coffee table and no doubt the other people watching TV.

I was curious to know, however, just what I’d get for the steep price of what looked like a promising, wire-free solution that might bring an end to other people taking stray headphone wire out of their coffee, or falling towards the door, dinner going everywhere, as a result of the mischievous headphone cable hidden in the shadows. Could I, for example, listen to the TV at the same time as other people, or would I cut off the sound? Could I do the same with my hi-fi? So I called over the assistant of the shop, and here’s where the usual routine differed.

Normally, I might expect an intense barrage of sales-speak, a complete overload of technical terms, functions, some 30 second financial advice and, before I know it, a brisk handshake and a deal done. It usually ends up with the shop assistant insisting that we take a good, all-round tour of not just the product I’m interested in, but, it seems, all the products that everybody else is the shop is interested in as well. Have I, sir, seen this on offer? Did I know, sir, that today and only today I can lay my hands on the first production model of the new Z7000 “Nuclear meltdown ready” mobile phone?

This time I was the one doing the talking.

“With these headphones, will other people hear the TV?”

“Oh no, sir, with these you can listen to the TV without disturbing anyone else. Your very own private cinema.”

“Well, that’s no good, is it? What if my girlfriend wants to watch as well?”

“If you plug the TV into your hi-fi, sir, then she can hear out loud and you can still listen with these.”

“What, so even though these are wireless, you still need to buy an extra wire for connecting the TV to the hi-fi?”

“Er, yes…but only for when you both want to hear the TV. Or your girlfriend could watch with headphones as well.”

(Think about that, for a second. I’d be wearing headphones because I need them to hear. Zoe can hear just fine, so I can hardly imagine both of us sat there, headphones on, snuggling up to a Sunday night film. The sitting room would have all the romance of a flight control tower.)

“Would I also be able to listen to my music with these, on my hi-fi?”

“Why of course, sir. They’re specially designed with a total harmonic distortion of just-”

“Yes, yes, never mind all that. What about other people? Could they listen as well? Can we test it on one of your hi-fi machines here?”

Now he had begun to look like he wanted to cry, I’m sure he had been hoping I would just buy the damn things on the basis of their “intuitive control elements”. Half an hour later, there he was, routing through product catalogues, trying to find something that would satisfy my not overly taxing request for a system which would allow me to hear TV or music better but also share the sound with other people. It was a refreshing break to feel in control as a customer, for a change, rather than be made to feel as if I’m being lectured at by a 12-year-old with a degree in electrical engineering.

I didn’t buy the headphones, in the end. A private cinema would be no good to me, anyway. I need other people there to keep me up to speed when I don’t quite catch the crucial bit in the film where, say, Bond is told precisely where the secret weapon in kept. I bet he never has any trouble in a hi-fi shop.

Flapjack challenge

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So far it’s been a eventful start to the new year. Last week involved a press conference with Martin McGuiness and Ian Paisley and an interview with Hungarian MEP Pàl Schmitt, who happens to be a keep a piano in his office, as you do. Schmitt also happens to be a former Olympic gold medallist, in fencing. Interesting chap. (Too flattering, perhaps? Hey, it’s not everyday you get given a bottle of Hungarian wine.)

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My second week back at work and I’m in Strasbourg once more. As usual on the journey down, we stopped off in Luxembourg for 10 minutes and I had my usual mini-deliberation as to whether or not I would have enough time to go and get a coffee and something to eat. This ritual, I should point out, happens every time I make this journey down here. It’s all about timing. You see, the train sometimes stops for five minutes, sometimes seven, sometimes a whole ten minutes, but you can never be totally sure whether or not you actually have time to go and buy something.
What made it worse, this time, was that I could see the station cafe just down the platform. However, every time I think about dashing off the train, wallet in hand, a little nightmare scenario begins to emerge in my imagination.    
What if you get there, and there’s a big long queue? You spend the rest of the journey without that nice cup of tea and flapjack, muttering bitterly to yourself that you bet you would actually have had time to wait in the queue, it wasn’t that long. The risk, of course, is that as you’re happily putting your change back in your pocket, eagerly anticipating the first sip of your paned, and first bite of flapjack – you’ve been up since half six – you walk out of the station cafe to see the train slowly making its way out of the station. Oh yes, and you thought, genius that you are, that it would save time on Mission Flapjack to leave your bags and laptop on the train so they’re now going to end up in Zurich. Nice one, Mr Bond.  
Of course, all the while as I’m sitting in dreamland, visualising frantic phone calls to lost property in Switzerland and just dreading the thought of having to call the office (“I’m sorry, Matt, I don’t quite…flapjack…laptop…oh god”), there are people cruising to the cafe and returning triumphantly with minutes to spare, three coffees and a small bakery of treats. Next time, I think to myself, I might just risk it.



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