The Salesman and the Programmer: Poem

incompatiblepcsnewMore than twenty years ago now, I had to upgrade one of my PCs from Windows 3.1 to Windows 95. What I’d been promised would be a painless improvement turned out to be a very frustrating experience. However, rather than simmering about it, I was inspired to write the humorous poem below.

I must make it clear that this is intended as a satirical parody. I am not suggesting that the introduction of Windows 95 (or any other operating system) was really a deliberate plot to break anyone’s computer, and I have no evidence to support such a notion!

For product sales, the problem was
Computers were too cheap:
The software was reliable;
The learning curve not steep;
And Windows Three was so well known
Folk used it in their sleep!

The Salesman and the Programmer
Were walking hand in hand.
They were trying to make a new program
To sell throughout the land.
“If we could find a killer app,”
The Salesman said, “That would be grand.”

“We used to make a lot of cash,”
The Salesman said with glee,
“When software was such complex stuff
And our knowledge was the key.
But now it’s all such bug-free fluff,
And Tech Support is free!”

“If we could make them change their files,”
The Programmer began,
“They’d have to learn a new OS —
Oh, what a marv’lous plan!
If we could make it look the same
But so a diff’rent program ran.”

The Programmer, he saw a catch
They’d have to overcome.
“But how could we convince them all?
Who’d ever be so dumb?”
The Salesman smiled, and quietly said,
“Oh — almost everyone.”

And so they built a new OS:
Another type of GUI.
They called it “Windows 95”
And began to spout the hooey.
But who would risk this untried scheme?
Who would be so screwy?

So they showed it off as something great,
To make society better.
They claimed it was a vital tool
For every young go-getter.
They asked us “Where we’d go today”
In papers and newsletters.

For those that were more cautious,
Those that weren’t such mugs,
They told us that it worked just fine,
Between the product plugs.
One million beta testers had been set
To find those minor bugs.

They spent a mound of money
On publicity and display,
And people rushed out lemming-like
To buy it that first day.
What we really should have listened to
Was what they failed to say.

They told us that they’d tested it,
On every kind of system.
They’d questioned all the User Groups
(They’d made a vow to listen.)
Those beta testers found the bugs,
But they didn’t say they’d fixed ‘em!

I didn’t want to buy the thing —
I wasn’t taken in.
My own machine had worked just fine —
It was my main linchpin.
With Windows Three-Point-One, NT,
And lots of RAM therein.

But my client wanted me to try
To change their new software.
“It must be Windows 95!”
They called me to declare.
So I went and bought the CD-ROM,
Which was the start of my nightmare!

And so I ran the setup files,
To install Ninety-five.
My system paused, and beeped, and stopped:
It wouldn’t come alive!
I couldn’t get the thing to run,
No matter how I’d strive.

So I called —

The Salesman and the Programmer:
I asked them what was wrong.
They told me that they’d find a fix —
It wouldn’t take too long.
And until then, I’d work around:
That’s how I got along.

And so, at length, they called me back,
Which brightened my demean’.
The Programmer had checked their code:
He claimed it was pristine —
“There’s nothing wrong with our software:
It must be your machine.”

I told them it had worked for years,
And never had “gone down”,
With every other program known
And all the gear around.
“Well there’s something there that we can’t fix,”
He said, “You break it down.”

The Salesman and the Programmer,
Were happy with their game.
Saw new computers selling fast,
And that had been their aim.
“We’ve stopped your system working now,
And you can take the blame!”

My poem is, of course, a parody of Lewis Carroll’s “The Walrus and the Carpenter”, but in fact Carroll’s poem was itself an adaptation of an earlier work; “The Dream of Eugene Aram” by Thomas Hood.

Hotel Monte Generoso

hotelmontegeneroso1998I visited Switzerland in 1998, and, while walking in the Alps, stumbled across the eerie ruins of the Hotel Monte Generoso. I later wrote a (partially fictitious) poem about it:

A piercing bitter wind is clawing, chafing at the Alpine ridge,
The knife-edge summit, roof of Europe,
The sun’s rays give no succor here,
But tear and burn and sear the skin.
Cascading slopes, drab sepia grass, dry bones that tumble from the dust,
And gaunt white skeletons of birch, that cling for life
Atop the jagged precipice, where far below
Lugano’s dappled azure, gold and carmine glows.

Amid the forest’s whispering stems, in isolated genteel pride
Looms Monte Generoso’s hostel, graceful palace, vast redoubt;
The carefree haunt of Europe’s wealthy,
Where air streams pure and rarefied,
Smooth plastered walls, sgraffito frescoes, portraits of forgotten men
Gaze down upon Chiasso, Como; from mountain rills to sapphire lakes.
Behind lace curtains, from bay windows, cultured wail of violins,
Out on the terrace, cries of children, borne upon the cleansing wind.

Behind the hotel’s sheer façade, the curtains flapping in the breeze,
The rotting carcass stands revealed. Bleached, overgrown, and roofless walls,
Rich sumptuous hangings torn and stained.
The floors collapsed, stark splintered timber,
Where then slept Europe’s proud elite, a social stratum once secure,
Where now, weeds sprout from fissured stone and crumbling bricks,
A string quartet of owlets raucous, huddling up there in the rafters,
The grating screech of rusted shutters mimics children’s merry laughter.

What is that shadow flickering there, up in that rooftop window’s gape?
Was that the barrel of a rifle, glinting in the blinding sun?
For death stalks in this mountain lair
Are partisans behind each tree?
One footstep further, snapping twigs, and then the agonizing blast,
Now life bleeds out, pours down, painting rooftops in the town:
Too late, this hillside’s danger clear. The borderline of Switzerland;
The overspill from foreign battles never planned.

And down there, in the snaking, warm riparian valley,
Along the shores of calm Lake Como, rolls the covert entourage,
Il Duce, halted by the partisans,
Scarce moments from the sanctuary,
Beneath the dominating mountain, below the foliage-decorated slopes:
Staccato rattle from the valley; woodpecker’s rat-tat on dry wood,
Or was that distant chatter gunfire; the verdict from a Schmeisser’s maw?
The piercing wind, the bleaching sun, erode the clutching ghosts of war.