"I enjoy living vicariously through others' experience of installing Linux on laptops."
So, here's my little MSI laptop, bought a few years ago for the express use of doing things, namely being taken into libraries and archives for doing research. Download Mint, burn onto disk. Plug USB disk drive into said laptop, insert disk into drive. Start computer, press function key for boot menu and select boot from USB. Mint disk fires up. Select options appropriate to language and time zone. Wait for installer to do its thing. Remove USB drive and reboot.
I hope you enjoyed that vicarious experience.
"I don't enjoy the litany of all the things that won't work properly without hours of fucking about under the bonnet."
Neither do I which is a good reason for not doing them as in the above.
"I need a computer as a tool for helping me do other things, interesting things, not as an end in itself."
And so do I. That little device is still doing exactly that research recording task. It's also a nice little laptop to take when going on holiday - although it works better when I don't do what I did this week: forget to pack the charger!