Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Summary:Fish fingers, rampaging robots and Grateful Dead lyricists cheer Rupert up, but it's nothing Apple and Microsoft can't ruin

Monday 14/3/2005

Our crack reportage squad Dan Ilett and Ingrid Marson are back from Hannover and the sprawling mayhem of CeBIT. It's been a good 'un, but not without incident — especially for Dan. He has a haunted look in his eyes, the air of a man who has come into visceral contact with something from the William Burroughs school of unpalatable reality. I've seen this before in a friend who went to Beijing on business and made the mistake of ordering a dish in a local restaurant that turned out to be very recently deceased snake.

It was all down to accommodation. This is an unsolvable problem in Hannover, a city which tries to live up to its imperial past by being the capital city of European expositions. There aren't enough people there year-round to justify lots of hotels: when the holy pilgrimage of CeBIT happens, therefore, the place is hard pressed to sleep all those well-expensed bodies and you can end up out in the sticks bunking up with a local.

Dan thought he'd got this sorted. Russian antivirus company Kaspersky found out he was going, and offered the use of a friend-of-a-friend's flat in the town itself. Now, the last time the company had thrown a bash in Moscow it was a do of epic splendour — five star hotel, vodka flowing from bejewelled flasks, Faberge eggs in the goody bag, that sort of thing. Not unreasonably, Czar Dan was delighted to accept their kind offer.

He first began to suspect that something was up when the cab driver took him further and further away from the town centre, eventually depositing him in a grim landscape of tower blocks and overgrown allotments. Devotees of cold war Eastern Bloc animation would be right at home.

He found the flat deep within one of the brooding neo-brutalist monstrosities, and tentatively knocked on the door. A large Russian babushka answered: she was pleased to see him, he gathered, but as she spoke one word of English ("This!") and one of German ("Alles!"), communication was haphazard. After being shown around the flat, with much pointing at "This!" and gesturing to "Alles!", he tried to make plain his deep desire for post-journey refreshment. Beer? Food?

"Ah! Vood!" said Babushka, pointing to the freezer. "Errr..." said Dan, but it was too late. She was already at work, frying up ten fish fingers and an egg in a pan full of glutenous oil. She presented this with a flourish, the egg neatly balanced on top of the stack of breadcrumbed cod pieces, and stood back to watch her guest enjoy his meal.

Now, Dan is reasonably omniverous. She was not to know that of all the food in all the world, his most-hated comestible is the fish finger. Why this is, I cannot tell — he's uncomfortable discussing it, and we must assume some complicated childhood trauma — but it's a deep-seated and inviolate disgust. As you may know, he is also polite to a fault. Realising that anyone who'd lived through the Soviet economy would have a certain respect for food, he managed to tuck in and give the appearance of enjoyment. Delighted with that, she delivered the second course — a tin of sardines and a fork.

Things did get better after that — his hostess turned out to be very pleasant company, and the hour and a half trip to the show each day was just one of those CeBIT things. But as he bid his goodbyes, he couldn't help but hear the eerie chuckle of the ghost of Captain Birdseye drift on the cold winter breeze. From such demonic forces, there can be no final escape.

Topics: Tech Industry

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Editor, ZDNet UK. Ex technology/technical editor of ZDNet UK, IT Week, PC Magazine, Computer Life, Mac User, Alfa Systems, Amstrad, Sinclair. Micronet 800, Marconi Space and Defence Systems, and a dodgy TV repair shop in the back streets of Plymouth. Can still swap out a gassy PL509 with the best of 'em.Dear Reader - contact me via our m... Full Bio

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