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2016: A Swimming Pool Odyssey

13/06/2016 12:18 | Updated 13 June 2016

I am standing on the veranda of a delightful sun-drenched villa in Corsica, overlooking an inviting near-Olympic sized swimming pool. A small forest formed of a myriad species of pine, Bougainvillea rhododendron and palms separates us from the Mediterranean bay which shimmers just beyond where we are lazing away the early afternoon.

The pool is not quite empty though. A long, extremely lifelike pool cleaner is writhing its way python-like hither and thither, its three white wheel discs looking remarkably like sinister, primeval eyes. Let's call him PAL - a pool-dwelling version of HAL, the robot which famously stars in the classic 1968 Stanley Kubrick film 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Every now and then when its long, hose-pipe of a body - as long as the pool itself when PAL is fully extended - breaks the surface, emitting a raucous spurt of water as it continues its endless journey round the pool, sucking up floating leaves and the odd speck of dirt.

But my host David has other plans for PAL. It's early June and after a bout of windy, chilly weather, it's hot enough at last for him to take his first dip of the summer. To achieve this, PAL must be disconnected. Otherwise David risks being dragged off course - or worse - by this snake-like creature if it tries to coil itself round an ankle or an arm.

But just as HAL, in 2001: A Space Odyssey, resists being switched off by David Bowman, the only surviving astronaut of the mission to Venus sabotaged by the soul-less fictional space robot, PAL is not happy. 'Just what do you think you're doing Dave?' He seems to say as David reaches for the off-button. 'I can feel my mind going, Dave. I can feel it...I can feel it.' And then the deed is done. The huge rubber sea snake uncoils and is suddenly motionless.

David reels him in from the pool, to lie, inanimately at the water's edge. Then he takes the plunge and starts swimming lengths in a pool in which the dragon has been temporarily exterminated - or at least disabled.

But even as he lies unconscious, PAL knows he will have the last laugh. He knows that once David has had his fill of the pool, he will reconnect the rubber serpent and PAL will once again continue his journey, darting here, slinking and writhing there, licking the pool clean - until David wants to dive back in again.

What's more, what PAL knows - and David doesn't - is that after dark, when nightingales deliver their fast trickle of high, low and rich warbles in the forest below, and bats flit to and fro above the pool, PAL is only playing dead. He has learned how to switch himself on again.

You can just imagine the conversation that might ensue if ever David, perhaps unable to sleep one night, went for a moonlit stroll by the pool and caught PAL in the act in the middle of the night.
"PAL - switch yourself off" he'd say.

Upon which PAL, had he ever seen 2001: A Space Odyssey, would undoubtedly counter with: "This mission is too important for me to allow you to jeopardize it, Dave"

And David would doubtless try again: "Switch yourself off, PAL!"

Only to be met with: "This conversation can serve no purpose any more, Dave. Goodbye."

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