The phone had gone to its own Valhalla. I restarted it: a yellow exclamation mark and the message "Firmware upgrade encountered an issue. Please select recovery mode in Kies & try again." was all it would show.
Now, Kies is the phone management software that Samsung suggests you use to keep your phone up to date, synced and with your media in order. I'd installed and run it earlier, to make sure the phone had the latest official software — and also to take a backup. Which was a grown-up thing to do, just not very useful: Kies has a sort-of recovery mode, but it requires a magic PIN which, research showed, nobody understood or could generate. Moreover, the phone refused under any circumstances to go into download mode, which would make any further updates an interesting exercise in prayer and magic.
Things were not looking good.
This was the bleakest moment. Not only would the phone not do anything but display the error, the back was getting warm: energy management in modern smartphones is a very complex and dynamic business, and I suspected the CPU was just running at full tilt in a loop somewhere. Would the battery even charge? There was no sign of that, and the phone wouldn't start up with the battery out and USB power applied, so if the battery went flat I could be in Scatsville, Arizona. That I was conducting these experiments in the wilds of Orkney in Christmas Week also limited my options, much like being stuck on a leaky rubber raft in the middle of the Atlantic with only a paddle.
At least I did have that paddle, and its name was Google. The Android support community is lively, international and young; it talks to itself in a peculiar almost-English even when it's not using its own highly compressed jargon, and it's spread out across many different places online. For every question you have, you'll find at least twenty different answers. Some will be wildly inappropriate. Some will cause more damage. Some will be entirely incomprehensible. Some will be correct in every respect, except for the small detail of not actually working. One, if you're lucky, will work.
It took a little while and a few increasingly desperate experiments, including wild goose chases through the dark forests of USB drivers and complete re-installation of everything on my host PC, but eventually the culprit came to light: my choice of kernel. Which was for the American T-Mobile Samsung Galaxy S2, a very different beast to the European T-Mobile Samsung Galaxy S2 and entirely incompatible.
I found the right one, by being far more specific in my search terms and checking for positive reports from UK users. I won't link to it because it will change, but look for GT I9100 (and try to avoid the Indian version. Unless you're in India).
But my phone was still sulking. All I could do was to load the right kernel into Odin, ignore the message on the phone screen and click the same button that had brought me low in the first place.
There was a pause — then, all at once, everything was better. Odin was green and happy; the phone rebooted into my familiar home screen via a new, ugly and very welcome 'you're using an insecure kernel' yellow triangle of success, and the joyful chirp of texts, emails, IM and Twitter updates sounded, sweet as the song of angels.
I had my phone back. It worked. There was nothing to stop me achieving my ultimate aim — that of silencing the shutter and evicting the loathsome TopApps from my life forever.