the_ogre is my new guru and spiritual leader. He managed to fix the main thing that was wrong with the laptop (refusing to boot) in minutes. It turned out to be an entirely moronic problem. I have an SD card adapter which allows me to plug the Micro SD card from my phone into the laptop. This was being stored in one of the EeePC's SD card slots. For some reason, it is configured by default to boot off the SD card in preference to flash or USB drives. For some reason, it was unable to sense that the SD card adapter was just an adapter, not a card, so kept checking it to see if it was bootable and could not progress beyond that. Popping out the card completely cured the problem. Duh. The touchpad is still broken, owing to the fact the connector is held on by sticky tape as shipped, but this was curable by buying a US $12.99 mini USB mouse.
Currently the weather here is absolutely awful (sandstorms), and several people who left for the airport have had their flights cancelled and come back to the con. I hope this isn't still going to be the case tomorrow. I'm at the stage of holiday where I really want to stay here with all the shiny people, but I also really do want to get home and hug my Richard.