Monday, February 26, 2018

Age and Technology

 One man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages. So says Jaques in As You Like It.
He then goes on to enumerate them from infant to old age in rather less than flattering terms. And so  it is with modern technology, at least in my view. Infants from about the age of three can navigate touch screens almost by instinct, since they're too young to read, and can thoroughly mess up a tablet's or phone's settings, make calls and lose saved data as a result. Anyone who has tried to keep an infant amused on a journey by delegating the task to technology would be wise to "baby proof" the device first or forever hold their peace!

The 'Whinlng schoolboy' fares somewhat better, being able to read if not understand the apps on various devices. I'm sure that instinct still plays a part, though, as any seven year old seems able to whizz through various settings and interconnected devices as sure in their touch as a mountain goat in their footing. Some years ago a friend bought the latest VHS player/recorder (remember them?) and had difficulty installing it so that it worked correctly. He rang the shop for help and was surprised to be asked if he had children. My friend conceded that he had a seven year old. "Give it to him" said the shopkeeper, which my friend did. In no time, without consulting manual or adult, the boy had set up the player perfectly and it worked for many years.

The lover is next, so adept and familiar with new or even older technology that they may even have taken a course. Fleet of finger they dazzle onlookers with their sure touch, and humiliate them by the disdain shown to the uninitiated. When asked, they resort to jargon and acronyms to demonstrate their superiority in the subject. Hubris, I suppose, is part of character at a certain age and it finds a perfect outlet in the young technophile.

Shakespeare's fourth and fifth ages I may, for my purpose, combine. Our lover has matured into the IT consultant, the teacher, the professional computer shop worker or salesman. Day on endless day they grapple with their beloved technology, embracing new innovations and developments. Their hubris may have diminished a bit, but they now display impatience to those uninitiated in the finer points of technology lore. They remain, however, on top of their subject.

Eventually though the speed of change begins to leave our expert in its wake. Valiant efforts are made to stay abreast of new technology by absorbing the jargon. Detail is learned in secret away from the workplace so as not to lose face. Practice is exercised by actually reading instruction manuals and relating the learning to the new technology or applications to preserve an appearance of expertise.

Finally, as with all of us, technology outstrips the ability to learn or remember. This can be related to now clumsy fingers or failing mental recall. Memories of the halcyon days of youth abound and fascinate the grandchildren who regard the stories as from the Stone Age. And so generation succeeds generation, while our hero 's erstwhile expertise fades and he meets obscurity sans knowledge, sans expertise, sans everything.


Monday, February 05, 2018


Yesterday, in a downcast mood, I wrote a piece concerning the non-sale of my house. It was more of a moan than anything and certainly not of interest. Today, on re-reading I was thankful that my habit is always to sleep on a "decision" before implementing and the offending piece has been consigned to the bin.

But it got me thinking. I guess we all suffer (is that the right word? experience?) different moods at different times, and for different reasons. Some suffer what Winston Churchill called his " black dog" and what today may well be called bi-polar. Some suffer (definitely not the right word!) euphoric episodes, which must be just as debilitating, but most just get down in the mouth or a little depressed or just somewhere in between the extremes. Fed up is, I believe, the usual generic term.

I'm not about to offer medical explanations, for which I am spectacularly unqualified, nor am I going to try any analysis for which I am equally inept. However there must be some explanation for why one can awake fresh from a night's sleep and be in a 'bad mood'. Similarly, why can one awake the very next day feeling fit to conquer universes? Changes in mood during any given day are likely due to varying fortunes during the day, but what happens during a night's sleep to change a good mood on retiring to a bloody mood on awakening? Fickle is what it is, and bloody annoying,too!

And while on the subject of fickle, we seem to have acquired a cat. As a family we've had cats since the beginning of time, but on the death of our darling Portia (at 17) four years ago we decided not to have another, which would likely outlive us. Lots of our neighbours have cats, and we've got to know them. Also, and known to Portia, there was a semi-feral ginger job, Archie. He was peripatetic but seemed not to belong; always hungry, spiteful and aggressive.

                   Archie. Notourcat. Mid scratch

In November 2016 there were some very cold nights. We took pity and made a makeshift bed consisting of a cardboard box and blankets, in our garage. Then one exceptionally cold night we allowed him in the house. Need I say more? For the last year he has slept on the bed, and anywhere else of his choosing, come in at night, taken to the occasional drink of milk, and chased string across the floor. We're now able to stroke him, check for parasites, and touch him while he sleeps. When did our compassion become his right? Interestingly his eating habits have modified. He no longer eats everything on the plate, nor does he crave food everytime he comes in.

But, beware! When his ears go back, or he swiftly moves his head towards, he's going to bite. His paws are definitely a no-go zone. One's own feet are not safe either, at any time, as he's quite likely to attack ankles

We know his owner, who acquired a dog which caused Archie to leave home and she's relaxed about him living here. She will also allow us to adopt (he seems already to have done his bit) if we move as she says that now he never goes home she at least knows he's being cared for. Soon I'm going to have to stop referring to him on Twitter as #Notourcat.

Fickle is what he is, definitely!

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

When I Were a Lad

I've said elsewhere that I don't understand politics, but having lived through too many Parliaments I do have views on individual politicians (who doesn't?)

It seems to me that in days of yore our front bench politicians, and some backbenchers, were people of gravitas, or bottom as my father would say. Not only were they serious people concerned with the future of the country, but many of them were fine orators too. It's true that with our adversarial system of Parliament there have been myriad occasions when robust opposition has been mounted, but with the object of seriously debating the current issue of the day for the benefit of the country at large. I may be mistaken, but that is my impression.

Contrast and compare today's politicians, of all parties. Whilst many of them are serious and professional, most seem to be in the game for themselves. So long as they can have the letters MP after their names it seems to be a goal in itself. As for our current "Loyal Opposition" they present themselves as a bunch of playground bullies, finger pointing and name calling, and calling themselves politicians. Their idea of opposition is to yell at the government benches, and try to beat them at every division. That's not opposition, that is posturing. They are hell-bent on power for its own sake, but couched in terms so mendacious that one might almost be forgiven for thinking them serious people. And where are the orators? Speakers who can move nations and change history with the power of their words? To paraphrase Lord Halifax, let us mobilise the English language and send it into battle!

Alas we seem now to be in the age of talking, not speaking. The likes of Lloyd George, Churchill, Tony Benn and Enoch Powell with their galvanising oratory are long gone. One of the last may be Ken Clarke, but even his best harangues seem to have ceased. Now we have the likes of Mr Corbyn, Mrs May, and Sir Vince Cable. To call them lightweights is to overstate their abilities. Bring back the true heavyweight politicians like Nye Bevan, Harold Wilson, and Barbara Castle, politicians of serious public service intent, even if we can't digest their opinions. Parliament and by extension the country would benefit. As it now is we have no real Parliament, only a theatre of ego; look at me, look at me, look at me. 

MP's with serious intent and real ability are more often than not sidelined, ridiculed or called out of touch, and the Members given public prominence are the likes of Mhairi Black, and Jared O'Mara. The state and quality of the lawmakers of this land needs to change in attitude and personnel. Drain the swamp is a current slogan, let's start with our mediocre puppet Parliament, all of them, and really take back control of our Country.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Up Sticks

For some time the wife and I have been contemplating Anno Domni and it's inevitable deleterious effects. This has not been in a morbid way but a pragmatic approach to advancing years. We live at the top of a looong steeeep hill which neither of us manages to climb well, but 30 years ago when we moved in was somehow less steep and shorter. All of our small town's facilities are, of course, at the bottom!

Elsewhere in the town new developments are being built and we thought that it would be nice to have a brand new house, on the flat, within walking distance of shops, doctor, and of course the obligatory coffee shop. So last October we went to see a show house.

We were blown away. Facilities that didn't exist 30 years ago, like wifi are built in and en-suite bathrooms that we thought were a luxury come as standard. Double glazing, state-of-the-art insulation, central heating too all provided. Why have we not contemplated a move before now? We were in love!

Unfortunately the builders will not take a deposit until we have a firm offer on our property, which has been, and is, elusive. We keep in touch with the sales people and our preferred house is not yet built, but time is running out.

This week we have had three viewings. No feed-back yet but one seemed to take more than an hour, is that good or bad? We continue to de-clutter and to keep the place tidy. We have also redecorated the main living room and have new furniture so that it all looks very smart. There's also a great view. Someone must want it, please. Maybe a price adjustment, we're open to offers of a reasonable level.

No wonder it is said that moving house is stressful, almost as much as having children!

Friday, February 06, 2015

Three Card Trick

The small town where I live is administered by three separate councils. The Town Council looks after matters unique to the town, the BoroughCouncil looks after borough-wide concerns, and the County Council administers, inter alia, the roads network; except for trunk roads which come under the Highways Agency.

At about 2.30pm on Wednesday we lost our WiFi connection. It turned out that the guys digging holes in the road outside had severed the telephone cable. They assured me that their accident had been reported, and BT was on its way. Nothing happened for the rest of the day.

On Thursday I rang the Borough Council who referred me to the County Council who said it was down to SSE as the supplier of street lighting, as it was their contractors digging holes to replace street lamps. At least I now had a reference number, and the promise to pass on the complaint.

Since four houses were affected my neighbour decided to call BT directly. Eventually he was able to speak to someone, who knew nothing, but he insisted that the problem was inside the house! However he did agree to send an engineer, but not till tomorrow. Meantime I had a call from the County Council to say the problem would be addressed next week! Thursday was a day of frustration, many phone calls using mobiles, liaison between neighbours, and general commiserations. The situation was far from satisfactory as two neighbours run businesses from home and were thus losing trade and money, and another is a nonagenarian who has heavy dependency on the telephone for family communication. 

Friday. During breakfast SSE rang to say they hoped to solve the problem, to which they'd been alerted by the County Council, "early next week" and the Council rang to say they'd passed on the message! My neighbour rang to say that the BT engineer had arrived, appreciated that the fault was a severed cable (he had no idea four houses were affected) and he would report it as urgent. I got indigestion.

By the time I got home an engineer was busy in the road reconnecting cables. It transpired that the cable had been cut in two places and is at risk of being cut again when the lamp standard is eventually replaced. After several hours we were reconnected and peace, Internet activity, and neighbourhood well being was restored. It's sobering to realise how much we have all become not just reliant on modern technology, but how we all feel at sea if we're denied it. So all's well that ends well? Perhaps, but that lamp standard still has to be replaced...

I came across this draft from 2015, never published. Whilst the challenges have remained resolved I thought it a good illustration of how quickly modern life can disintegrate. Enjoy

Friday, January 09, 2015

In Defence of the NHS part 3

During pouring rain a day or two ago, my wife had a fall on wet ground and was in extreme pain. She managed to get into my car, which I was able to position very close to her, and I took her to A & E.
By the time we arrived the pain was acute and my wife was unable to walk or to use her right arm. I located a wheelchair. I gave surname and date of birth and the receptionist brought up all details instantly! Impressive. 

Within ten minutes we were seen by a nurse, and within another 10 minutes by a doctor. Pain relief was administered and we were despatched to X-Ray which revealed a broken ankle. The arm remained unusable but was not broken. Because of mobility difficulty my wife was admitted to the orthopaedic ward. 

We had to wait some time in A & E firstly for the therapists to assess mobility, and again for an available bed, but overall we were dealt with swiftly, courteously and professionally. We have no complaints.

By the way, this was on a day when the A & E departments across the UK (according to the mass media) were "in crisis" with unprecedented numbers attending. The staff performed superbly. God Bless'em! 

The above was written in 2015, but I thought I'd publish it now as the plaudits remain valid and the NHS is again facing criticism. Just one example of how good it really is.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Ghost of Christmas Past

Besides being a Christian festival, and whether or not it was an usurped pagan festival date, Christmas in our modern world, to my mind, is for children. When my own children were small we tried to add to the wonder and magic that attends the festivities. Presents were hidden before the day, decorations transformed the house overnight on Christmas Eve, stocking were hung for Santa Claus and we did what we could for mutual fun and enjoyment. And of course there was the Christmas lunch. Prepared with care and a great deal of hard work, mainly by The Wife, the repast was enjoyed (sprouts and all) in mid afternoon. Games were played thereafter, charades, board games and others. Children grow, of course, and we had to adapt our traditions and practices accordingly involving the children in the preparations as their ages dictated, but trying always to create or maintain that sense of magic which attended our family Christmases.

As the children left home to begin their own traditional Christmases, our arrangements necessarily shrank but the ethos prevailed. Eventually our last child left home and our Christmas dynamic changed irrevocably. Two of the children, now adult, are still within visiting range and so we tried initially to perpetuate our traditions as far as possible, the late onset of the decorations, the after-dinner games and so on, but for various reasons it was not a success. This year we thought that major surgery was necessary; we decided to dine out for Christmas lunch.

The great day dawned with The Wife feeling at a loose end with no dinner to cook, but the family arriving for breakfast. After breakfast came the present exchanges and coffee with much delight and laughter and the time until needing to depart for lunch passed very pleasantly. The Wife doesn't drink so she volunteered to be the taxi driver and we arrived at our chosen venue in good time. The place was packed, unsurprisingly, many apparently just drinking.

From then on Christmas lunch turned into a very poor imitation of a pub lunch. From waiting 40 minutes beyond our booked time for a table, through inedible turkey and tired vegetables, to inadequate dessert portions the experience was lamentable. However, the company was exceptional, the conversation entertaining and there were laughs aplenty. In some unfathomable way the shared vississitudes served to unite our party to the extent that this Christmas was at least as enjoyable as the best of them, the ghost of Christmas past. 

We are considering a similar venture for 2015 but the venue and the details may change as there will be a new infant on the planet, and Christmas is for children first, isn't it?

Happy New Year!