As Robert the Burns once said, “The best laid plans of mice and men go up the spout!”. He should have added, “And a major cause of this is kids!”
Take last month. I get me gran’son all lined up at my feet, take me empty pipe out (cause I don’t smoke), and inflict a long rambling tale on ‘im — for all the long ramblin’ tales my grandad inflicted on me — and, wouldn’t yer be knowing it, come suppertime the little bugger’s back for more!
“Tell us what it was like before they invented intelligent robots, back in 2010a.d.,” he says.
Well, I say, determined to be really rotten this time. Before they invented proper robots, life were really tough. You won’t believe this, but men actually had to work!!
Aye, they were hard days. Yer had to get up at a ridiculously early time in the morning — an’ I don’t mean 10 o’clock either. Nah! We’re talking 7 o’clock, latest!
Aye, cause when I were a lad, you actually had to go to work. Yer couldn’t do it at home, in bed, or anywhere else for that matter. Nope, you had to haul yourself out of bed, dress in special clothing — designed for discomfort, so yer couldn’t fall asleep — and either stand at a metal pole called a “bus stop” (often in the nose-freezing cold) for a big metal box on wheels — which always cam 10 minutes late, if you were early, and 2 minutes early if you were on time — or traipse to work on foot! Or traipse there in a train; or if you were really lucky (i.e. rich), you could drive there in a smaller metal box on wheels that you yourself owned. Cars, they called them.
Mind you, come wintertime — or summer with frost, as I called it — they weren’t as convenient as they sounded. First you had to spend ten minutes sitting behind their steering wheel, trying to get it start with the ‘Choke’, then spend five minutes trying to choke the wheel because it wouldn’t; then phone a special car repair club to come out, look at your engine, nod knowingly, then pour some fuel into its tank, salute sarcastically, and add insult to injury by sending you a demand for money!
Aye times were tough before Saint Maggie liberated us. Unemployment, they called it. But then they never could understand St. Maggie’s Mysterious Ways. It was all part of her Grand Design to phase out work. Well, at least for men. By destroying all the jobs any man would choose to do, leaving only those no self-respecting fellow’d be caught dead doing. Work fit only for the most brainless members of society: the police, the army, editing magazines.
Aye, that soon put men back where they belong: back at home, lying beneath our duvets, being waited on by robots, and contemplating the meaning of Life, the Universe, and those little bits of pink fluff you find in your belly-button.
And let’s not forget that most edifying of past-times: watching the telly. Course! in my day, television wasn’t what it is today. I can remember when there were only three channels to choose from. Aye, you had to make your own entertainment most nights, in them days, I can tell yer!
But then St. Maggie got us a fourth channel. Then four more through cable TV. Then dozens more through satellite television. And now? Now we’ve got so many, you can have four each!! One when yer feel like a laugh, one when yer’d like a singalong-Max Headroom, one when yer fancy a heartrending soap, and Murdoch’s Sky Page Three for when you don’t feel upto using more than one brain cell.
Mind you, all of this has to be paid for — which is where the quiz shows come in. Cause, afterall, you can’t go paying money to idle loafers who use the absence of any jobs not to work. Nah! So part of her Grand Design was to phase out all forms of DSS payments, and encourage the quiz show! Targeting, they called it.
Now, as soon as you’re born, yer name’s shoved down on a quiz show’s waiting list. Cause, you have to keep yer class distinctions. Just cause nobody works anymore (well, nobody worth mentioning), doesn’t mean we’re all equal. Afterall, yer upper classes have been doing nowt for longer than the rest of us, and yer have to recognise that. So now, if you’re upper class, you’re put down for the £Million “Wheel of Fortune” show; if you’re middle class, it’s “That Price is Correct!”; and if you’re as common as what we are, you’ll have a Blankety Blank cheque pen and book and be glad of it!! Which is just the way it should be. St. Maggie said so.
Mind you, the past wasn’t all tough and bad. Phone boxes were proper phone boxes: small, red, and quaint — never worked, but small, red and quaint. Before they started to replace the things to make them more vandalproof. ‘Orrible, grey, pushbutton affairs they were, that took yer money, put you through, let you speak half a sentence then cut you off!! And they wondered why the vandalism increased!
So then they invented the RAMBO phone. Even look at it the wrong way, it’d shout “Don’t push me!!”, and release a smokebomb. Eventually they had to withdraw the things cause every time someone tried ringing the near-east, the middle-east, the far-east, or Russia (Eastern America as is) the stupid things would fill the caller’s chest full of machine gun fire, and blow itself up with a hand grenade!
Then there was that quaint institution, the post office. Ah, but this long rambling tale’s lasted long enough, that’ll have to be another long, ramblin’ tale. Maybe I’ll tell it yer tomorrow, or the day after, or the time they used to take to deliver a second class letter….on second thoughts, I’ll not live that much longer.
Copyright John Steele, 1992, 2011
The sequel to “When I Were A Lad”, which I hoped might turn into a bookful but I struggled for ideas and didn’t get round to writing a third one. Still, not to waste it entirely, I self-published it in The Bentilean Mini-Mag Issue 9 (28th August, 1992).