Wednesday 19 September 2007

Sleepless in Hamburg

It was my own fault really for going along with it. I went up to Hamburg last weekend to see my son Bernard who is now living there. He couldn't put us up, so Claudia decided we'd do something crazy and book into 'Die Kogge Rock n Roll Hotel'. It's a fine funky place, and very reasonably priced, but I knew it was not going to be a quiet place for getting a night's sleep and boy was I right. What can you expect of a hotel where you can check in any time up to 6AM?
Our room was pleasant: each room has its own theme and we had the romantic room with floral decorations and lots of pink kitch. The odd thing, though, was that the double bed was built like two crates nailed together - there was a wooden beam dividing the two sides.
Having arrived late on Friday night, we met up with Bernard for something to eat and then Claudia decided to go back to the hotel as she was tired. Bernard and I then headed off down along the 'Reeperbahn' - a true den of iniquity: drunks and prostitutes line the street with its rows of sex shops. On the side streets, crowds spill out from loud pubs along the way. Bernard, determined to in some way darken my lily white soul, even took me down a barricaded street that women are not allowed to walk down; it was a street full of prostitutes in shop windows. As we were walking down, one woman had opened her window and, in an argument with some guy on the street who had offended her, threw the contents of a glass she was holding at him. 'What happened?' Bernard asked me. 'She threw her glass of white wine at him,' I said. Bernard urged us to walk quicker. 'I hear they keep their pee in glasses to throw at people who annoy them,' he said. Charming.
I got back from the pub crawl with Bern at 3.30am and reckoned I was tired enough to sleep regardless of noise. Die Kogge was absolutely heaving and the volume of the music was such that I couldn't figure how it could even be legal with neighbours presumably coping with this week in and week out. I barely slept a couple of hours. The music blared until 5am, and then people came up laughing and joking in the corridor as they went to bed.
Hamburg is a wonderful and thriving place, and there is plenty to see and enjoy. Claudia and I went for a long walk along the harbour, and also through the elegant Elbetunnel. But somehow Hamburg feels like a place where you pace yourself for nightfall.
Saturday night, a group of us met for a meal and this eventually became just Bernard and I having a few quiet drinks in an Irish pub. I was back at the hotel at 1.30am and again the place was in full swing. I was awake reading a book at 3.30 because I was woken by the music which had been pumped up louder. Never again. Bernard bravely phoned at 8.30 Sunday morning for us to meet at the famous Hamburg fish market, a place thronging with people down by the harbour. It starts at 6am in the morning and ends by 9.30. Many people drink through the night and then have their breakfast there, and I certainly saw lots of people drinking. In fact, I saw more public drinking and drunkenness there than I have ever seen anywhere. And I'm not talking about some old guys staggering around - we had breakfast at a wharf café and two elderly couples sat at the next table. They ordered three beers. It was 11am.
I look forward to going back to Hamburg again. I'll be there to direct a radio play of mine being produced by a friend - but that's another story, and another blog. And I won't be staying at Die Kogge.

Monday 3 September 2007


This is a rant against my printer and the forces of evil that are at work in the very ink that flows through its black-hearted electronic tentacles.

There's a lot to be said for the Lexmark X5470. It can be used as a fax. It can scan. It prints extremely efficiently. Its colour printing is excellent. There are many adjustments you can make - in terms of print quality - that are also good cost savers.

But what I've only just learned is that all along, my printer has been watching me.

Alright, I could kind of accept the fact that it would start showing alarms that the ink had almost run out when in fact it still had a quarter of its life yet to go. It would pop up an option on my screen to order from Lexmark before going ahead with the printing, and annoy me even more by giving me the option of not going ahead with the printing before ordering a new ink cartridge. But the black ink cartridges are expensive - €25.50 - so after a few times shelling out that much money I went to a local shop that refills cartridges; cost €10. The guy warned me, however, that the computer chip in the Lexmark cartridge might prevent the refill from being useable. I've found out what he meant.

As soon as I put in the refilled cartridge a warning sign came up saying this was not genuine Lexmark ink. The icon supposedly displaying how much ink remains in the cartridges shows the black ink cartridge as empty. There is an 'alignment' action that the printer should carry out when it has a new cartridge installed and it did so under major protest, scrolling the warnings; 'out of original Lexmark ink, warranty does not cover blah blah blah...'.

It gets worse!!!

Now every time I want to print a document, I switch on the printer and it warns 'black ink low'.

Then when I click on a document to print, up comes a sign on my screen saying there is no Lexmark ink in the printer and I should order some. I of course click to shut that option. Then up comes a sign saying I should not go ahead with printing the document because I don't have black ink. I click to ignore that. Then it prints while showing me the sulky sign that there is no ink in the black cartridge. EVERY TIME I USE THE PRINTER I MUST GO THROUGH THIS!!!

Are all modern printers like this?

I am going back to an old HP printer here for all my black ink document printing. It works fine and isn't monitoring me. I'll only use the Lexmark for documents that need extra bells and whistles.

But it bothers me. To what extent are the inanimate things around us bullying us into making more profit for their manufacturers? It's too late to bring the printer back to where we bought it. And for all I know every modern printer is battling to have its manufacturer reap maximum profits. But I have enough difficulty dealing with people who try telling me what to do, let alone a smartass lump of plastic and wires.