Joys Of Modern Life: 10: Ceefax

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The Independent Culture
TO MOST people, no doubt, the joy of Ceefax would be that it is an efficient means of eliciting accurate facts on a wide range of subjects. Although I use Ceefax only for its racing service, my relationship with it is not quite so simple.

It is, in fact, my belief that the joy of Ceefax can only truly be appreciated by someone who lives in a basement flat, who is too mean to buy a proper television aerial, whose TV reception is therefore highly eccentric, who desperately wants to know whether the second leg has come in on their double and who, when they press the button for the result on teletext, reads the following:

"4.90 YwrlL!!"

"1. ?hx USqrp 3?1jf."

Ceefax is at my fingertips, but only in theory. For this reason, I can't treat it as a plaything for when, sated with Internet-surfing, I fancy a cheap Luddite thrill. To me it has an elusive glamour, because it always keeps me wondering.

What will happen when I try to penetrate that mysterious world, seething with information, that lurks behind the fuzzy facade of my television set? Will it yield up its secrets and tell me the winner of the 4.50 at York? Or will it hold fast in its codes, to the language of qw-w!w?ery?

For some of us, uncertainty strengthens joy, which means that I love Ceefax in a way that people with proper television will never know. But my God, it's a bastard sometimes. The tricks it pulls, the frustration it causes.

For example, I may use Ceefax to find out the greyhound racing results. What can be guaranteed is that, if I want to know about a dog running at Catford, the alphabetical lists of tracks will start at Crayford. This means that I have to sit through the results of the 20 other meetings that day before getting back to Catford - or C!tfpounds d - again.

Ceefax moves in stately fashion across my television screen. About an hour after I first started looking for them, the results from Catford approach. "Walth!mst&w... W%mbl8dpounds n... Bel"e V+e..." yes, yes, praise the Lord - page two of the 29 is coming round again. Give up thy wisdom, O Ceefax, and tell me what won the 9.28!

And then, as if across the synapses of a schizophrenic, Ceefax will make a leap quite staggering in its sadistic waywardness. The gaps between pages one and three will be filled, not with the Catford results, but with an advertisement which reads: "ROGER THE DODGER LANDED THE GAMBLE OF THE SEASON AT PONTEFRACT LAST WEEK FOR HIS NEXT HOT THING RING 0891- 123456 ONLY A FOOL WOULD MISS OUT." Every word of these adverts is always reproduced perfectly.

Occasionally, of course, I want to experience Ceefax in the normal way, as, for example, when staying with my parents. There, I am a mistress of the situation. Hazards arise only when my father confuses the television remote control, which also works Ceefax, with the remote for Sky TV. Numbers get pressed with ever greater panic, ever more pinpoint inaccuracy, until a quest for tomorrow's runners at Newbury leads us to Bayern 3 and You Rang, My Lord? dubbed into German.

But the true joy of Ceefax lies, for me, in the land where qx-w?wery is spoken. There, all the hope, the tension, the delirium that come with waiting for the racing results is stretched almost to breaking-point; is that row of dashes and pound signs, which came to the screen only when I lambada-ed across a table with the remote pointing at the microwave, really the name of my horse?

If, after 10 minutes of decoding, I decide that it is, what joy abounds! I shall never buy a television aerial with the winnings.

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