Red means ‘go’!

One of the refrains with which one of my kids used to regale me at traffic lights when she was very young, was “Red means stop! Yellow means get ready! Green means go!”

I have no idea where she picked it up, but I suppose it’s the sort of thing kids tell each other in order to prove how clever they are.

If I could go back to those days, I am afraid I would have to tell my kid that it is not always that “Red means stop!”


Yes – that’s what my mobile phone is telling me!

Now, throughout my life, I’ve had trouble with technical stuff. As a boy, one of the most frustrating of my experiences was getting the toy-guns given to us at Christmas time, to work. They were called kako. I still don’t know whether that was a corruption of the English word cock (as in cock your gun) or an onomatopoeic word meant to represent the two-tiered sound the gun made – as in: cock the gun (ka) and fire it (ko!)

Or maybe it was a corruption of the word cork, which was the substance containing the sulphur or gunpowder that exploded and made a booming sound, when the trigger of the gun was pulled.

My guns did NOT always fire when the trigger was pulled.

Either because the gunpowder in the cork had somehow got wet. Or because the sharp nail-like object inside the barrel of the gun that served as its trigger had become blunted, or had otherwise become blunted, or crooked, or whatever. It could therefore not blast the cork with enough force to make it fire.

I would take the cork out and dry it with a cloth to wipe away any water that might have got into it.

Still no dice.

I would try to tinker with the nail-like object in the barrel. It would still not fire. Meanwhile, friends of mine would be aiming their guns at me and firing. And their guns worked!

I would silently curse the show-owner who had sold my father the dud gun and its cork “bullets”. But most of all, I cursed my luck: why did I have to get a gun that could not fire? I couldn’t, of course, ask my father to take it back. Suppose he took it back to the shop-keeper, and the shop-keeper claimed that I had done something to the gun? Would my father be able to prove that I had done nothing wrong with it? No – forget it. I couldn’t allow my father to get into an argument like that. Just sulk stoically.

I also had problems when I tried to construct a “lorry” to carry buckets of water from the river to my house. I would be able to cut a bough to the correct length that would make the main part of the lorry. I would even be able to make the “steer” (steering wheel.) The lever nailed to the wood on which I would hang the bucket – a chain-shaped bit of iron taken out of the lid of a kerosene tin – would be no problem either.

But when it came to making the all-important wheels that pulled the entire contraption along the ground, I would be stymied. I could never cut the wheels out of a plank of wood quite smoothly enough. No matter how hard I tried, it would be rough-edged and even jaggy. Yet if you tried to drive a jaggy wheel along the ground, you got a very rough ride. A bucket of water driven along by roughly-cut wheels made for a rough ride, which emptied the water on to the road in cupfuls. By the time one reached home, there would be very little water left in the bucket.

Then, when I was about ten, my elder brother bought a bicycle. He used to leave it with me to hire it out, at a rate of one penny for five minutes. Many boys came to hire it, so we got good money out of it. And my brother gave me a good share.

But often, the chain of the bicycle would come unstuck. You would see the guy who had hired it walking on foot alongside the bike. Bad news, for it meant other boys waiting to pay a penny for a ride would be denied their pleasure. And our coffers would be empty.

If my brother was around, then no problem. He would just put the bike on its seat, take the chain off and reattach it to the bike. He taught me how to do this, but when I tried to do it in his absence, it never worked. So, if my brother did not come back to the shop early, we would lose a lot of income that day. I hated that, for I suspected it made my brother think I was daft.

The first means of transport I ever purchased for myself was a Lambretta scooter. It was all right as far as those things went, but both the accelerator and the clutch had wire strings in them which sometimes broke. I felt cheated whenever these wires gave out. Why could engineers create such an ingenious machine make it vulnerable to the whims pieces of wire?

But my problems with the Lambretta were as child’s play compared to the problems I had when I graduated to cars. One of my favourite early sports cars, a Sunbeam Alpine, was fast, had a throaty sound, and excellent road-holding.

But the battery was placed in a small iron box under the rear seat – just on top of the rear suspension! I suppose that in Britain, where the Sunbeam was designed, the roads were so smooth that the chances of the battery-wire coming off when one was driving were remote.

Well, not so with our roads in Ghana! I remember one day, I was driving from Accra to Koforidua when at Mampong, I was surprised by a bridge that had a huge hump on it. I braked. But too late! The car jumped over the hump and landed hard back on the road.

The battery-wire came off. The engine conked out. The car began to roll backwards.

I had to pull the handbrake hard to augment the main brakes. I did all this while trying to appear calm and on top of the situation. Because – in the passenger seat next to me sat a beautiful young lady I had been trying to impress! Imagine my embarrassment!

So it’s an understatement to say that I have been nursing a long feud with bad designers all my life. I never had much trouble with my beautifully-conceived Datsun 280C, for instance. And my BMW 2000CS was such a delight that I could even forgive it for a singularly fragile part called the centre-shaft bearing, which, on Ghanaian roads, proved to be a disgrace to the Munich engineering geniuses.

Now, my anger decibels are ringing to high heaven again. For my cellphones are driving me crazy. I always stick to one brand when I am updating, because I stupidly imagine that the battery-chargers made for one of their models would be able to charge their other models as well.

Big mistake. For although I have four models made by the same manufacturer, each uses a different charger!

So when my main smart phone runs out of power, I have to thrash around seeking the right charger for it!

Someone suggested that I buy a charger with multiple plugs. I did. But I found that only one of the six plugs on it was what I needed. And that one broke without giving me any service.

So I went back to my main cellphone’s own charger. But it could charge the phone only if I placed it flat on the floor! Now, it has stopped charging, no matter where I place it!

However, by accident, I have discovered that one of the other chargers works with the phone. But – alas – the charging is extremely slow! And even when the phone is fully charged, the red light that says the phone is still being charged, stays on! I never get a green light! It will be on red after an all-night charge, yet when I unplug it and check, the charger-meter reads 100%.

I have seen advertisements claiming they are now making chargers that are “wireless”.

I should be jumping about happy that this has happened. But I am not. Why? Because they have annoyed me so much with their nonsense that I no longer trust them.

How do I know that when the battery has lost all its power, the phone won’t be showing me a green light? If they can make a mistake once, why can’t they make it again?

Red says I’m charging; green says I’m absent!

Thanks, but no thanks.

 Cameron Duodu

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