Thursday, 11 September 2014

11/09/14 - Wiring plugs, and so on

I clearly remember being taught how to wire a plug in a science lesson at school. It felt like a useful skill, and our science rooms had a good earthy feel to them – gas taps on every bench that allowed you to shoot out three-foot flames, sinks with wooden covers beneath which you could hide each other’s books in six inches of water, actual inkwells – so it was a distinctly dad-like task.
Ultimately pointless, of course, for two reasons: a) everything comes with a plug these days, and b) if you need to know how to do it, you just Google it. (As with so many things, in fact – it’s 2014, you don’t need to remember anything. [As long as the internet doesn’t break, then we’re all fucked.] Just don’t tell the schoolkids, it keeps them busy.) I couldn’t tell you with total confidence which wire is which now – not without checking – which presumably demonstrates a certain improvement in the consistency of modern electricity supply, that we haven’t got fuses blowing all the time. There were always spare fuses about the house when I was a nipper. I’ve never bought one as an adult though. Interesting.
Wiring a plug, then, is something that the youth of today would have little interest in. It’s not something they’re all that likely to do. And it’s not the only thing that’d seem baffling and pointless if you tried to explain it, as the following examples suggest…

Tapes & pencils
Sit a teenager down and present them with two objects: a cassette tape and a pencil. Ask them to explain the relationship between the two.
If they’re of a logical disposition, they may postulate that the pencil is for labelling the cassette – the erasable nature of pencil rather than pen going neatly hand-in-hand with the re-recordability of the tape.
But no. It’s obvious to anyone who grew up in the eighties and nineties - a standard six-sided pencil is exactly the right size to poke through the cassette’s reel holes to wind all the tape back in when the machine decides to try and eat it.
Honestly, they don’t know they’re born, with their mp3s and whatnot.

Programming the VCR
A really important element of my childhood holidays was programming the video recorder before we left. It was important to ensure that the machine was on long-play – reduced quality, but doubled run time – so that a 180-minute cassette could be stretched out to a wafer-thin 360. That’s enough space for twelve half-hour episodes of… whatever.
Then I had to make sure that the machine was properly tuned into the channels – all four of them - as it had a tendency to forget about BBC2, and that’s where the best comedy was. Then it was a case of going through the Radio Times, seeing what was coming up in the next month or so (my folks were teachers, we had long summer holidays), and painstakingly programming all the good stuff in. This involved all sorts of tricky timing as most of the good stuff was on Friday nights – if you programmed in Have I Got News For You, you’d probably miss the first five minutes of Whose Line Is It Anyway. And so on.
On returning home, we’d invariably find a tape that was 50% good stuff, 50% randomly recorded episodes of Tomorrow’s World or The Clothes Show, thanks to scheduling changes that the VCR couldn’t do anything about. (We didn’t have VideoPlus.)
These days, I’ve got an app on my phone that allows me to set the Sky+ in seconds. Where’s the bloody challenge in that?

Watching TV in real time
Imagine making the choice between watching something on TV or going out. Imagine missing half of a programme because the phone rings mid-way through. Imagine missing an episode of your favourite series, and having no way of catching up unless one of your mates happened to have taped it. These all seem like incredible and absurd happenings to the modern teen. If you didn’t see it, you just watch it on catch-up, or find it online, or whatever. No-one watches TV when it’s actually on these days, do they?
When I was a kid (sorry, I keep saying that – I’m 32, I’m not decrepit yet) we had four channels, and you watched things when they were on. If you were out at the time, you just accepted that you’d missed it. What a ridiculous, caveman-like way to live.

Writing a letter to a celebrity
It must seem so absurdly old-fashioned to the modern teen, the idea that you’d ever bother to physically put pen to paper and scribble down a few thoughts, then fold it up, buy a stamp, pop it into a letterbox addressed to the person in question’s PA or agent or whoever’s address you’d managed to track down, and cross your fingers for a response.
I wrote a letter to ZoĆ« Ball when I was about eleven or twelve (I can’t remember what I said, probably something along the lines of ‘I think you’re great on Live & Kicking’), and a few weeks later she did actually write back (again, can’t remember what she said, but probably something like ‘er, cheers’). I mean, it might not even have been her, I don’t know what her handwriting looks like. Doesn’t really matter though, does it?
Kids today would just tweet the celeb in question, and either get a reply or not. Instant gratification, or something immediately forgotten.
I should have kept that letter, it’d really help to reinforce this point.

I came up with a whole load of further points to elaborate upon here (getting milk delivered to your doorstep, listening to John Peel on the radio, fondly remembering celebrities of yore without wondering whether they were actually paedophiles, going to the video rental shop, arranging to meet up with friends over the landline, people smoking in pubs, the secrets of preparing a good conker [which always came from a dad or uncle, passed down the generations], paying for things with cheques, going on holiday in the knowledge that you wouldn’t talk to any of your friends until you got back [unless you bought a telephone card and went to the phone box], slam-door trains that you could jump out of while they were moving, being really impressed to know someone who’d been to America) but I’m aware that I sound like a very old man, so I’m just going to stop here. I’m not complaining about the modern world, I like it. It’s just different, innit? A plug on every appliance, and a smooth flow of electricity. Aren’t we lucky?

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