Saturday 11 September 2021

The Saturday List #321 - Ten things I didn't anticipate doing on computers in my house in 1983

When I started to put this list together, I hadn't realised just how depressing it would be. We now do so many things on our phones etc, but so much of the joy of living has been lost. For me it has been an interesting journey, but as I look back, I'm not sure it has really made life better. We have simply become impatient. We can't wait for anything or savour anything. I'll start with a little trip back to where this journey started for me. 

If you took a time machine back 38 years, you would find me half way through a government run Training Opportunities Programme course studying Computer Operations. This had been necessitated by my being skint and also having a crush on the girl in the Golders Green job centre, who ran the training desk and told me she wouldn't go for a drink unless I got a well paid job. She suggested that I do the Computer Operations course at compucentres in Euston, and then come back when I was minted. 

I did the course, got a decent job working for one of the top IT companies in Great Britain, but never went back for the drink. The company was called SPL International and they were based in Windmill Street, just off Tottenham Court Road. My job was to "look after the in house machines". They were super state of the art Tandem Computers. All sorts of exciting software was being developed, including a command and control system for the Northumbria Police and a shipping tracking system for freight shippers Nedlloyd. All of the screens were green. The systems churned out tons of paper, boxes of green lined paper were delivdered every week. One of my jobs was to order these and when they arrived lug the boxes into the 'computer room'. Other glamorous tasks included doing tape backups of the work, arranging for disks to be cleaned and checking the temperature on the air conditioning, as if the computers got too hot they would blow up. The Tandem system was the six of six large machines. For the techies among you, it was a 32 bit machine with 64K RAM and had 3 x 440 MB disk drives. These were the size of washing machines.

As I perused these impressive machines, with their banks of flashing lights, little did I imagine that I'd have a phone in my pocket that was almost infinitely more powerful than these magnificent beasts. Even less did I imagine some of the things that the IT in my phone would be able to perform. I thought it warrented a list, as there are so many things we take for granted. 

1, Buying tickets. Do you remember getting tickets in the 1980's? I queued all night for tickets for the 1981 FA Cup final replay. For most gigs, if you wanted tickets, you'd go to the venue box office and buy them. If you were brave, you may send a cheque through the post. I remember back in 1972, my sister wanted to see Slade a the Earls Court. The gig was promoted by the Daily Express. She sent off her cheque for the tickets. The Express was also promoting a Rod Stewart gig. The tickets arrived and she excitedly opened them. The Express informed her that as Slade was sold out, they'd sent Rod Stewart tickets instead. Initially she was disappointed, but went to see Rod and was blown away. After that we heard nothing but Rod Stewart for a couple of years.

2. Getting dinner delivered. In the 1980's if you wanted a take away, you had to go down the road and get it. I remember when the local Chinese restaurant started taking orders by telephone and delivering. My mother said that anyone who wasted the cost of a phone call and paid the 25p delivery charge was both foolish and lazy. I recall my mum visiting her sister and my Dad taking great delight in ordering a banquet over the phone, with a strict order 'don't tell mum'. He was even more delighted when they told him he'd ordered so much grub they'd waive the 25p delivery fee. 

3. Finding a girlfriend/boyfriend. As I alluded to above, getting hooked up was a pretty random business. I met my missus in the Three Hammers pub, she was with a group of attractive young ladies and we had finished a band rehearsal and just invited ourselves over to join them. Both myself and the other guitarist in the band ended up with children from that chance encounter, in my case a long term relationship to this day. I am not really sure that the young people of today would even understand the concept of a 'good chat up line' to be deployed on a bus or in the launderette?

4. Listening to music. There were two ways to listen to music. One was to listen to someone elses selection on the radio. Shows such as John Peel on Radio one were required listening. The other was to go to a record shop, buy a record and take it home and play on a turntable. I loved this experience. I especially loved weird and wonderful specialist record shops such as Honest John's in Camden Town.

5. Organising five a side football. I've played football more or less since I've been able to walk. I've also been involved in five a side kickabouts since I could book pitches. BAck in 1983, when I worked for SPL, I organised kickabouts on the public pitches at Whitfield St. I'd go up every week, pay a fiver in cash to book it. I'd then phone up all of the players and make a list on a piece of paper. Everyone would pay 50p in cash to me at the end, then we'd go to the pub.  Nowadays, we have a Whatsapp group. We are one of the few Powerleague customers in Mill Hill who still pay cash. When we die, I think that will be that for cash there.

6. Ordering a pint. With the pandemic, we are starting to loose one of the best things about going to the pub. I've always enjoyed going up to the bar, perusing the beers, having some banter with the barstaff and walking back to my friends, beers in hands. The advent of ordering by app and table service is a bit of an anathma to me. I was horrified when I went for a drink with my daughter for my birthday and she ordered the beer via the pub app.

7. Booking a train ticket. I've always enjoyed travelling by train. Wherever you want to go, it is quite simple. You go to the ticket office at Mill Hill Broadway and ask for a ticket to Dumfries, for instance.They ask all the questions and advise you on the best ticket. A You hand over a few tenners, they give you your change and give you a ticket. pparently, you can now also do this on your phone?

8. Learn how to make butterfly prawns. Wanna cook something? Well the first thing I'd advise is to develop your palate. Learn what ingredients in food make it taste good. Then you experiment. If I go to a restaurant and something is nice, I mentally deconstruct it, work out how they did it and then go home and try it. I'm no good with cakes etc, but I don't really eat them much. Sadly there is a whole industry based on cheating. Wanna make butterfly prawns? Here you go.

9. Taking pictures. When I was about seven, my Dad bought my sister a Kodak Instamatic camera. This was perhaps one of the most exciting moments in our lives. My Dad was an excellent photographer and had expensive cameras, light meters etc. He understood the technicalities, having learned in the air force. He was an air accident investigation officer and photography was a key skill. It was a dark art. The Instamatic was a revealation and a joy. We'd take pictures, then take the film  to Boots. A couple of weeks later, we'd collect the pictures and whoop with joy at the results. It was glorious. The iPhone had destroyed the fun and joy of photography. You take a picture and that is it. I loved waiting two weeks to see what it looked like.

10. Watching Football. When I first started watching football, if you wanted to watch football live, you had three choices. Go and see a game live, wait for the FA cup final or wait for the World Cup. On a Saturday night there was Match of the Day, where if you were lucky, your team was one of the three sets of highlights. Then the Big Match started on ITV on a Sunday, so you got another chance to see the game. Then they started to show midweek European ties. Then cup final replays. Now you can watch just about any top flight game, if you are savvy with streaming. During lockdown, this was a godsend, but do I actually like it? I'm off to Hadley FC today. That is my answer to that one.

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