On the Thingness of Things by Mari Howard

This comes to you — but might well not have done – since we have these several past weeks been beset by the rebellious nature of our Internet connection.  Was this a curse from beyond or within the house? Was it some malfunctioning of the line, the router, or some other source?

Whatever it was, came the day when the whole thing packed up, and we found ourselves without connection to the outside – the online grocery shop, the Bank to pay for services purchased, the connection to my husband’s office (he works from home), and our various family and friends. Never mind Facebook, Twitter, and the BBC iPlayer… Or that vital thing, the weather forecast.

Never mind vital background research when writing!

When my phone went Chinese
(without being asked...)
It is in such circumstances that the Thingness of Things raises the question – How sentient are the non-sentient Beings which (or who) surround and control our lives? Makes you stop and think – What if this whole system were to collapse – to be collapsed? Well, how often have you tried to book a ticket, an appointment with the doctor or dentist, hairdresser or vet, and been told “We can't do anything at present, the system’s down”?

So – this Thingness – it isn’t, don’t imagine it is – new. Things have always tried to demonstrate their Thingness, which is determined, assertive, and contrary. Far from being dumb articles of usefulness to Human Beings, Things are above all that hierarchical thinking.

  For example, Christmas. Who hasn’t had their oven, fridge, freezer or dishwasher decide that 24th December is a great day to pack up, or at least to temporarily break down? Immediately they hear of one’s plight, friends and neighbours share their own experiences. We, for example, have had (severally) oven, fridge, and tumble dryer all take unpaid leave over Christmas. The oven spectacularly dared to totally conk out one year. And the replacement proved itself cleverer than the two John Lewis employees who were supposed to install it...

Then there was the boiler, thankfully a different year.  And, the electric cable the road – that left a whole group of us in cold and darkness…

And there are the small things. My kitchen food mixer suddenly began, with no warning, an unheard-till-then loud grating noise, in the midst of mixing biscuits... it was kaput... If towels are hung on a hook on the bathroom door, they will often drop (or jump) to the floor with a particular satisfying (to them) thud as you leave… Futon sofa beds  prefer to stolidly cling to the couch pose than to change to the bed pose when an unexpected guest arrives late. Very small things (take the elastic which holds my rolled-up Yoga mat together when not in use) delight in hiding in plain sight – this thing disguised itself within the pattern of an Oriental-style rug. Hairpins, rubber bands, even pens and pencils also play this kind of hide-and-seek.
Just an innocent sofa-bed?
And a friendly oriental-style rug?

Doorhandles stick or fall off. Drawers stick or fall out, throwing their contents to the floor. Talking of drawers, I had a friend at Uni who was so fearful her knicker elastic would snap that she always wore two pairs, one on top of the other… (I know, pretty extreme but… it had apparently once happened… never would it catch her out again…!) Leaves co-operate with the railway line in autumn, as snow does in winter, to make sure trains don’t run.

And, for us writers, our computers or printers find many ways to thwart and hold back our Work in Progress. There is, very definitely, a Thingness of Things. Whether I have thwarted such ambitions will be seen when I attempt to post this on the Authors Electric site… (dictated from  my draft, and entitled, by the dictation programme, “Playing gnarls”: now how did that translate from The Thingness of Things? What are ‘gnarls”?) 

Then, the internet connection failed...again...

Further reading… Paul Jennings, ‘Report on Resistentialism’ in The Jenguin Pennings, pp. 196–206. The French philosophy of Resistentialism has as its basic concept Les choses sont contre nous.


Susan Price said…
'Playing Gnarls' -- it has a ring to it, whatever it means. It seems inanimate objects can be creative too!
Eden Baylee said…
Hahah, what a creative way of looking at 'things'!

As for wearing 2 pairs of underwear, now that is nutty! :)

Enid Richemont said…
"Les Choses sont Contre Nous" - oh yes!! The much-needed things that mysteriously disappear (not talking socks here - those were before things got a lot more sophisticated - but keys, glasses and single ear rings - oh yes, they KNOW!)
Enid Richemont said…
PS. "Thing" points gained by the amount of annoyance caused.
You're right, Mari! I have a theory that when you really NEED something to work, you can actually make it go wrong just by worrying about it. I can zap lightbulbs by turning them on when I am stressed, and have changed channels on my TV without using the remote. Apparently there is now a device you can wear on your head that allows you to control smart stuff with your brainwaves... better keep me well away from that!
Umberto Tosi said…
I love this. Thanks for reminding us that we may have forgotten Murphy's Law, but Murphy's Law has not forgotten us.
Lovely comments, fellow writers - good to know that Things do it to you all too!
PPS - Yep, my friend o f the 2 pairs of underwear was nutty indeed: I remember we all were in stitches when admitted it to us (6 of us shared this house) and we were trying to convince her that 2 was not enough - what if one fell - and she was only left with the other one... she laughed as well... Happy student days...!

Oh I don't know, it might be a sensible precaution... I once had an elasticated waistband skirt that fell down when I was walking through town - and that was rather embarrassing!

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