Thanks a lot Orion, I have managed to get it to work, at last.
It turns out that, on my laptop (Lenovo U300S, Kubuntu 11.10, default mouse/touchpad settings with synaptiks), I couldn't get the mouse to do anything useful, but I did manage to get the touchpad to work. See below for a description under "SOLUTION".
With a right-click of the mouse, the top-bar menu is pulled down, but no action will make the cursor move in any direction, no amount of touchpad scratching, no arrows, no tabbing, all it does is show the menu but does not allow me to navigate through it. Double-clicking does not select the first entry of the menu either, it just opens and closes the menu very quickly. So the mouse actions available on my laptop are useless. I fiddled with the options in the "mouse" settings, to no avail (while my investigations were thorough they may not have been exhaustive).
With a double-tap of the touchpad followed by a downward brushing of the pad, I can scroll down the menu and select any item.
I discovered this after some fiddling prompted by your remarks. My initial attempts did not uncover the trick because neither a single tap nor a double tap do anything but very briefly show the menu. To actually be able to navigate the menu, you need to DOUBLE-TAP PLUS, immediately after the double tap, BRUSH the pad, with a single finger, only then does the menu remain visible.
what an exciting life I lead.
thanks a lot for your help Orion, I can now benefit from this great soft!