The cat hasn't left his chair in days. He occasionally moves in it, to avoid bedsores, but otherwise all is still. The dog occupies the other kitchen armchair, casting looks of pure tragedy at anyone foolish enough to pay heed. I spend my time wading through the grass under the beeches in search of chanterelles, reading about 1930s dope fiends, and sorting out the Luddism of my kin.
It's not easy, you know, being a techno-queen in a family who practically cross themselves at the sight of a computer. Living in rural Aberdeenshire doesn't help: everyone around here seems to take pride in not understanding things electronic. I think there's an element of the class thing involved, a belief that microwaves and videos are the province of wideboys, like barbecues, swimming pools and fish-knives. But then, my folks have always been a bit slow on the uptake, prone to reading the instruction booklets on radios.
Ten years ago, they won a colour television in a raffle. Nine years ago, I came across it, still in its box, lurking in an outhouse, while the ancient black-and-white juddered along, turning Panorama into myopia. I trotted indoors. "Why," I enquired, "aren't you using the colour telly?" "Oh, well, we can't use it. We've only got a black-and white aerial." A year later, I was telling this story to another family member who, instead of finding it hilarious, got very indignant. "Well," she said, "that shows how much you know. We spent pounds 179 having our colour aeriel installed." I don't identify her to protect her from a queue of people trying to sell her Tower Bridge or something.
On my first night home this visit, I remembered, at the last minute, that there was a film I wanted to tape. No luck. All channels presented nothing but snow: the video was no longer picking up a signal. "Oh, it's been like that for months," they said. "It just suddenly went like that." On asking a couple of questions, I found that the strange phenomenon had coincided with the launch of Channel 5. "Didn't the retuners come?" Father frowned. "Retuners?" I explained the term. Eyebrows were raised. "Really? No one told us." "Didn't you see the ads?" "Ads?" "Yes. In the papers. On the billboards. On the telly?" There was some thought, then the answer came. "Oh, well, we saw those, but we didn't want Channel 5, so we didn't pay any attention to them."
I heard one of those little strangulated "aargh" noises issue from the back of my throat, sat down with the manual and retuned the vid, discovered that the telly was knackered anyway, sorted that out as well. The previous generation gathered round, cooing with amazement. "It's been the talk of all the dinner parties," said Patricia, "the fact that all our videos broke down at the same time." Seems that the entire county has been convinced that they have been subject to some weird X-Filey phenomenon, caused either by UFOs or the English. Of course, to some extent the latter could be said to be true.
Meanwhile, the great saga of the telephone continues. Christmas brought a free trial of Call Minder, which caused kerfuffle because the letter telling them about it had been dumped as junk mail and a month's messages had piled up before they were discovered. This part of the BT sales drive, thankfully, is now over, but the enraged calls go on. "People keep ringing up and asking if I got their message," says Patricia, who in point of fact is a great communicator. She's obsessed with the 1471 function now she's got her head round it, and should be a prime customer for these gadgets. "They get a woman's voice saying I know they're calling, but I've never had any of their messages. And another thing," she continues indignantly, "I keep getting this annoying beeping noise when I'm talking." They have been given a trial of Call Waiting. And their friends, bless 'em, have been burbling over the top of it and assuming they're being recorded.
Maybe that's the function of technology, though: to give each generation a sense of superiority over their forebears. And my dada may have required instructions to work a cashpoint, but at least he can post a letter without damaging himself in some way. Ducking under the dripping branches of a pine wood yesterday, I let out a fine Highland whoop, executed a somersault more perfect than anything I ever attained in gym class, and exploded my left ankle for the third time since December. The dog was delighted. The old man, who has, touch wood, passed the threescore and ten without so much as chipping a bone, lent me his walking stick to hop home, and now I'm sitting in front of a fire, full of Ibuprofen and whisky, and wondering which is better: knowing how to work an invalid carriage or simply never having need of one in the first place.Reuse content