Friday, 24 October 2008

Computer says no

They’re supposed to make our lives easier, aren’t they? But ever since mere mortals have been let loose in the world of IT there’s never been a bigger time waster. Tried internet banking yet? In the old days, the nice bank clerk would take my cash deposit and write my balance on a slip of paper. And smile at me. They’d set up my standing order, direct debit, whatever I like. They’d even give me a receipt for my records. Now, I have to do it all myself. Print the damn thing off using my own paper (and not, I might add, nicked from work). I am transferring this, transferring that. I am the banker in my spare, precious time.
Log on, remember the correct login name, password, keyword, passcode. I write them all down – sharp intake of breath – because how am I supposed to remember when I have ebay, paypall, facebook, egg card, googlemail, yahoo all on the go?
And as for my new best friend Norton. When he works, he’s brilliant. That little friendly green tick that tells me I am safe from ‘bad men’ on the web. But when he gets a cob on and a red tick appears – I’m terrified. What can this mean? How long have I got before my precious hard drive begins to self-destruct? And the emails from ‘support’ are no good. Every single step they tell me to take is not what appears on my screen. IT support bods must be continually rolling their eyes at the likes of me who whine: ‘I can’t work the key, you know the tab, the button, the thingy.’ Computer bods mostly just tell me to switch it off and on again. Usually does it.
But then, when it works and the whole of the web is laid before me, how great is that? Must be the best invention, ever. Sharing info, reaching people in an instant, checking the weather, checking the form. Having a bit of a nose.
As a writer, my lap top is an absolute miracle. Imagine having to type and retype every time there’s so much as a typo, messing around with carbon paper, dabbing on oceans of Tippex. I learnt to touch-type on a cranky old metal manual more years ago I care to remember right now (in the year BM - before mobiles). Blind carbon copy, anyone? I wouldn’t go back.
Computer says, all right then.

Monday, 6 October 2008

Feels like home

Two years ago – remember that long hot summer we had? – I cursed the Metropolitan line. The weather was blistering and, because the tracks were melting, the trains had to go at snail’s pace through the boiling suburbs. The only ‘air-con’ on those creaking old carriages are the pull-down windows. If I was lucky and the train got up a bit of ‘lick’ a breath of air might just puff through the throng of passengers. But now – good news – Mayor Boris is going to gift us Metroland folk with brand new air-conditioned trains. And I’m feeling a little bit put-out.
Born and bred in Harrow and commuting for twenty-three (count them) years, I have a love-hate relationship with the Tube. Missing a train by seconds due to signal/points malfunction has me spitting with rage, but sometimes, seeing that familiar silver-grey train rumbling in to the platform exactly in synch with my travel plans, it’s like greeting a long lost friend.
The pleasingly retro maroon livery and the high-backed seats get me all misty-eyed; they are trapped in another era. Think between the wars, Brief Encounter and Betjeman. I love the way I can start my journey on the Met Line in the deepest rural Chilterns, stay on all the way to Liverpool Street and emerge where the city meets the East End and plunge straight down Petticoat Lane. Whether chugging through leafy Bucks, past the semis and back gardens of Harrow or over the high Kilburn viaduct where it seems the whole of London is laid before me, I feel comforted. I’m either on my way somewhere exciting (well, most often work, but then again my work is in London, the finest city in the world) or I am on my way home.
Thing is, I feel at home on the Metropolitan Line. Air-con comfort or not, I fear Boris’s new carriages will change all that.