Wednesday, 18 April 2012

A snooper in my cabin

I was not in the airiest or most trusting of moods yesterday, having discovered one of the chambermaids standing at my desk in the cabin at my open laptop, which I had left closed to charge it. I asked her her name, which she gave me, adding 'I was not...' (leaving the sentence unfinished). I told her how angry I was, and, shaking with emotion, unplugged the laptop (which I had gone to the cabin to collect because I had discovered there are points all the way along the skirting of Deck 4,the one which has wifi, where I could continue to work watching the beautiful scenery go by while also charging the laptop). It did not help that I had just finished reading a detective story: Dorothy Sayers' Five Red Herrings, nor I suppose, when it comes to it, that I spent 30 years of my life visiting the Soviet Union where such activities were assumed to be the norm. But Norway? On a respectable cruise-cum-mail ship? I was shaken. To further affect my mood: I am half way through reading Ray Monk's life of Ludwig Wittgenstein, a man whose whole life was consumed by the need constantly to examine his motives at fever pitch in order to do the decent thing. In my heightened state, I went straight with my laptop to reception where I reported the incident. The woman on duty nodded and assured me the matter would be dealt with. Four hours later I went back to reception and found someone more senior with lots of gold braid on her uniform on duty. I explained again what had happened and she started to fend me off with (to my mind) irrelevant comments such as that there were 'a lot of new people'. Then along came the head housekeeper, and we asked her if the incident had been reported to her. A conversation took place in Norwegian, and I could tell that the housekeeper, shrugging, was saying - using a gesture - that the girl had told her she was 'dusting' the laptop. I intervened and said that you do not stand with a laptop open, that had been left closed, looking at the screen to dust it. Moreover, I said shaking with rage, you appear to have accepted her version of events rather than mine. I went on to make feeble threats about the leaving the ship. So, having now slept on it: what to do? I could leave the ship today, but have decided that would be to cut off my nose to spite my face. I have told as many people as I can on board what has happened, so that they can take whatever precautions they think appropriate to prevent such a thing happening to them. The detective in me, the watcher of Murder She Wrote and Columbo on daytime TV asks: what was the girl doing at my laptop? There is no wifi in the cabins, as she must surely have known. Who was she? The housekeeper muttered something about 'a lot of new people'. What if it had been discovered that the name she gave did not belong to any of the housemaids, and the girl herself, following the incident, had vanished (we were in port at the time, and there was a safety drill while nearly all the passengers except me were known to be ashore on a long excursion) during which now that I come to think of it the doors to the saloon I was sitting in closed automatically. At the time I entered the cabin, had she been downloading information from my laptop - and if so, what possible interest can my photographs and correspondence about meeting friends at cinemas or what sort of gate to put in my new garden be to anyone ? Or maybe she was uploading something, to be retrieved later electronically? Might my recent emails to and from Russia in connection with our conference in Moffat in September have been encoded in some way and she was the operative sent to retrieve it? Had I world enough and time, all this might have become the kernel of a best-seller. As it is, I am going to take the coward's way out. Not, I hasten to add, by jumping overboard, but by continuing to sit quietly by the enormous plate glass windows of this comfortable ship, watching the scenery slip by under blue skies and on a calm sea, reading my books and eating three excellent meals a day.

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