Ssometimes the best thing technology can do is free you. A phone has the power to translate almost any language, but the time we most want to use this service (on holiday) is also when we least want to look at phones; hence the genius of PocketTalk, which only translates languages. Bang and Olufsen’s Beolab 28 speakers are not an exercise in replacing technology so much as making the technology we have look like something else entirely: art. And Fliteboard — while in theory just an electric motor on a surfboard — gives us experiences that are otherwise inaccessible. Such as surfing with dolphins. . .
Bang and Olufsen Beolab 28 wireless speakers
How do you judge a sound system? I once interviewed the lead singer of Napalm Death who said he liked to make music so loud that it “upsets people’s digestive systems”. He was banned from performing in a concert at the V&A in case he shattered the pottery. That is a serious sound system. It’s also not quite what I’m looking for when I install the Beolab 28 in my living room. It is, on the face of it, a sophisticated sound system for sophisticated people. It sits, sophisticatedly, looking vaguely disapproving that it has landed in a household of audiophilistines. I need some audiophiles. I invite round my neighbors, professional mandolin players who once made a hit single about a parrot that included the rather un-Napalm Death line, “If I joined the army / Wouldn’t it be super! / I couldn’t join the Royal Marines / I’d be a parrot-trooper.” Unlike us, they already have a high-spec sound system. They come to judge us, giving it the grudging approval of a professional. I switch it on and my two-year-old watches, mesmerized, as the wooden slats pull aside to reveal the cylindrical speakers. It is imposing, but not in a scary way. I select some Beethoven on my phone. Then it plays, set to the sort of respectfully robust volume that speakers of this stature deserve. Crockery remains extant, digestive systems remain largely unruffled. But it is still loud enough that Whipple Junior runs into the next room crying, utterly appalled, and demanding to be hugged. It’s not quite rock’n’roll, but I like to think Napalm Death would approve.
Pocketalk S translator
God saw the achievements of humanity and was appalled. “They are one people, and they all have one language,” he said miserably, looking down at the Tower of Babel. Still smarting from the apple and snake debacle, he fretted about what they would get up to if they worked together. “Let us go down and confuse their language, so they will not understand each other’s speech.” What God rent asunder, Pocketalk can at last unite. This device will hear what you say in any language and repeat it back in any other. Just a decade ago, it would have seemed science fiction, four decades ago it actually was – as the Babel fish in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. And now you can put it in your pocket and head off to Greece, confident you can have at least a rudimentary chat. Of course, I can do the same with Google translate. The difference is I’m not paying data roaming charges (the mobile tariffs the EU joined, Brexit has rent asunder) and it doesn’t involve my phone, which I like to turn off on holiday. So what do I use it for? Freed from the barriers of language, what bonds of friendship can I form? As soon as we arrive, we find a use for it. “Can you go slower?” my wife asks the taxi driver. “Please drive slower,” she repeats. “Or we won’t pay you,” she adds, to no effect. She gets out Pocketalk. “Drive slowly otherwise we won’t pay you,” it says. The effect is immediate: a deferential tap on the brakes, a raised eyebrow to me – seeking to deploy the universal male language that says “silly women” – and, when the eyebrow was not reciprocated, a considerably frostier atmosphere for the rest of the drive. Take that, Yahweh.
From £209, uk.pocketalk.com
There is a problem with jet skis. Yes, they are fast. Yes, they are fun. But they also make you look like a total idiot. Everyone else is trying to enjoy a nice day out at the beach and you’re buzzing around on a lethal waterbound motorbike. There is also a problem with windsurfing boards. Yes, you are at one with the ocean. Yes, you are able to whiz noiselessly over the waves. But they also require skill, years of dedication and a favorable wind. Into this gap steps Fliteboard. What, its creators thought, if you attached a motor to a windsurfing board? What if you made it electric so you didn’t sound like a horny teenager on a 250cc trail bike? Would it attract windsurfing wannabes who also have a realistic appraisal of their own skill set? Would it, in other words, attract me? Over the course of a single session in Weymouth I go from wobbling uncertainly on my knees then falling off, to wobbling less uncertainly on my legs, pushing the speed to 20mph while humming Surfin’ USA and then falling off. It is enormous fun, especially when it goes fast enough to use its hydrofoil, leaving me balancing on a slowly-rising platform like the star prize in The Price is Right. Looking at the proper windsurfers, I feel a bit of a fraud. But, crucially, I’m also not being really annoying. I am happily enjoying the sea, not ruining others’ enjoyment of it. As if to underline this, there is a flicker, a ghostly streak of light blue. Two dolphins have come to inspect the board, to judge its credentials. With a leap that causes me to fall off again, they begin a half-hour – one of the best of my life – of frolicking around me. I can only assume that, in their view, it has passed.