Monday, 26 May 2008


Those who have recently bought (or, from a policy of social inclusivity, stolen) an MP3 player or a mobile telephone will probably have been given, out of the kindness of the hearts of our corporate masters, a pair of budget headphones. These will inevitably be of the kind that are so easily frightened that they wind themselves into a tiny tangled ball as soon as you look at them. The 1980s had the Rubik's cube, the noughties (or what's left of them) has unravelling headphone cables.

Said headphones come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, and the only thing they have in common is that, like house keys when you're drunk, none of them will fit.

The most common seem to be the comma-shaped ones that fall out with such a small movement that the only people who can wear them are mimes. I think they are supposed to cling on through sheer force of earwax, but if your ears are that hideous I doubt you can hear anything anyway. I'm sure that Gregoire Lue (the Frenchman who invented artificial adhesive, don't'cha know?) had earwax on the list of sticky things to test before he settled on horse dust (which is like a cheap, sticky version of gold dust), probably in between soggy rice and computer scientists at house parties, but it just isn't enough.

Then come those big buckets that look like you've just walked out of a call centre and forgot to remove your headgear. These are designed either for people who want to look like a monster from Doctor Who, or for those who have exceedingly small heads and are quite self-conscious about it. Whoever thought they'd be a good idea clearly had good eyesight, because wearing them with glasses is a bit like paying a gas bill: unnecessarily complicated, and liable to give you a headache.

Equally unfriendly towards the bespectacled music-lover are the fish-hooks. You know the kind - the ones with a special 'ergonomic' design that's supposed to strap around your lugs so you can do proper head-banging without them falling off. The reason why they look a bit like devices of torture is because they also feel like them when you put them on.

These aside, my particular foes are the miniature hair-dryer variety, which you're supposed to jam so far inside your ears it feels like they're coming out the other side. Recently released secret documents from the designers have revealed that these are actually constructed with in-built malice. They take any opportunity they can to bound away from your head: too much swing in your step, an over-vigorous hat-doffing, or the dancing of an impromptu jig will almost certainly leave you without music, and, even worse, with a couple of irritating plastic leads swinging around your neck like corks on a comedy Australian hat. Even in those brief moments when they are in your ears, these newfangled 'phones will leave you so deaf to the outside world that crossing the road becomes as perilous as crossing the Siberian wastes wearing nothing but an 'I love gulags' t-shirt.

This is not to say that I dislike headphones. They are wonderful, and infinitely better than playing the latest rhythmic urban poetry out of a tinny speaker on the back of a bus. No, I very much approve of private music listening. I just wish somebody would invent a really snazzy way of doing it for people with shoddy eyesight and freakishly shaped ears. I'm sure there are plenty of us out there.

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