Gas Lamps, Harry Randals, Satnavs and iPads. Jane Risdon


Those of us who have grown up in the middle and latter part of the twentieth century, take a lot for granted.  We know how to use a telephone and may well have first used one in a red phone box with the old-fashioned, ‘push button A or B’ method of making a call usually via the ‘operator.’  Many didn’t have phones in their homes back then and so a call box was the only option. We then got to grips with phones in our homes and now, of course, we nearly all carry a mobile or cell phone. Just think what they are capable of.

Our family got a Television when I was quite young so I can recall ‘Watch With Mother,’ ‘The Wooden Tops,’ and ‘Bill and Ben the Flower Pot Men’ – all in black and white – back when Children only had an hour of Television programming daily.   Now television is going twenty-four hours a day with an over-abundant choice of channels to watch.

I was lucky to grow up taking electricity for granted and never questioned its availability.  It was there to light my bedroom when I did my homework, powered my hair-dryer and record player.  We listened to ‘the wireless’ back when wireless didn’t mean WiFi.

Imagine then, my conversation a while ago with an elderly relation (aged 83 at the time) who has been given an iPad as a gift, to keep her occupied and provide some company and interest as she sits alone day after day gazing out at the world passing by her front window.  She has mastered the TV remote and digital TV, can send texts and has used a microwave for decades, but the iPad filled her with terror.

‘You seem to forget, I was born into a home with ‘Harry Randals’ and Gas lamps,’ she sighed, ‘I’ll never get my head around all this.’  I should explain that ‘Harry Randal’ is a well-known English way of saying ‘candles,’ for those of you reading this outside England.

She is right.  She was born into a home with gas lamps, and the only lighting upstairs at night was by candle light.  There wasn’t an indoor bathroom or W.C. and so the ‘Gerry’ was kept under the bed (‘Gerry’ is another name for a chamber pot), for emergencies on cold nights when a trip down the garden path to the outside ‘privy,’ was a step too far.  Bath night was in a tin bath in front of the fire in the living room, the water heated on the blackened stove fired by coke and logs.

It was rare to own a car back then, rich people had them, but normal every day folk used their feet to get about or a bicycle – her mother rode something called a ‘sit up and beg’ which I have to say is still in use around the village to-day, having been sold several times since they owned it.  It is still going strong and was made in England!  So I guess you can imagine how alien many of the items we use to-day would appear to someone from her era.  

She never learned to drive although her family did have a car which was the preserve of her late husband – she being content to be a back seat driver.  Now she competes with Sat Nav (GPS), from the rear of any car she is travelling in, shouting at the female voice giving instructions, telling her that she is going the wrong way, the directions are wrong and ‘why doesn’t she listen?’  It is all a bit ‘too much.’

My elderly relation opened the iPad, hands shaking with the start of a stress headache.  I knew how she was feeling.  We spent several hours going through ‘how to’ do this and that when suddenly she asked to send an email.  Although it was obvious she had no idea just what an email is – she kept getting it confused with texting – I did eventually get her to understand that we needed to get on to the Internet to send emails.  She wanted to know if I could turn on Facebook so she could send emails….it was hard going.

I rang and arranged for a sister to set up broadband access for her as I had to go back home.  However, I was sure my relation knew how to do the basics with her iPad, and could keep herself amused until she was on-line.  My head was killing me – you forget how much we accept about technology and using it; we (I – one of the baby boomer generation), seem to have the basics where technology is concerned; well, enough to get our heads round most things we use daily.   It is all a bit much for someone growing up in the early nineteen thirties.

Broadband was installed and ready to go, so I called in to get her up and running, ready to learn the next steps.  All the time I tried to get her online she chatted non-stop, asking me questions that had nothing to do with the situation I was dealing with. 

‘One step at a time,’ I kept telling her.

‘How can I goggle at people?’ If she asked me that once she did a million times. 

‘If I goggle at people, how can they know and can they goggle me back?’

‘I want to email Face-time, make sure I can email Face-time.’

‘Get me onto Facebook, but I don’t want perverts getting me.’  ‘Make sure you blockade them.’

There was a problem with her connection and no amount of relocating the router and checking her Password would sort it out.  I rang the company who informed me there was ‘nineteen hours, fifty-five minutes and four seconds,’ until my case could be dealt with by the technical team, however, ‘my call was appreciated and I was valued,’ etc.

So I had to put it all on hold and come back another day as time was moving on and I had things to do.  My relative then decided she didn’t want any of this ‘nonsense,’ and would I take it all away. 

‘I’ll just send emails on my phone.’  Which of course would be another migraine, setting up and teaching her to do. Ye Gods!

‘You don’t know what you are doing, I’ll get an electrician in,’ was her parting shot.

Ten days later and my sister and I have been fiddling with the phone socket, the router and following instructions being issued my our now expert elderly relation who has had a conversation with another relation six thousand miles away, who knows all about putting in broadband, and getting the iPad to work – well he should, he gave it to her and there is a hefty price on his head now!

We decide that we need to get extension leads and use the main phone line into the house instead of the socket our relation insists on using.  The leads are not long enough and the router doesn’t like being anywhere else.  By this time my sister has a migraine too.  Our ‘expert’ told us both how to set up the router, connect the leads and filters and how to ‘get online,’ more times than we’ve had spam!

To cut a long story short, we got it sorted and gave her another lesson in getting online, and sending email.  We told her we would do more next time.  We didn’t want to overload her with too much information too soon.  Within days we were getting bombarded with emails and phone calls…..’I have not had a goggle from anyone, why is that?’

The latest is that a brother called in to visit and managed to get her using Google.  He messaged Facebook to say he had to disappear to the local (pub), to sink a few pints for an hour or so before he went back to see how she was getting on.  Apparently she now wants to ‘Surf the net,’ so she can find out what we are all doing, to discover what keeps us all ‘logged on,’ and how we are ‘wasting time on the internet.’

It has been a quite a journey from Gas lamps, Harry Randals to Sat Nav and iPads for one lady born before the invention of The Internet.   She has taken to it like a duck to water and has opened up a whole new world for herself; one she is not just watching, but is taking part in once again. 

The rest of us will never rest in peace again – she’ll find Facebook and then God help us all!

I should add I originally wrote this in 2014.

God indeed needs to help us – she has been on Facebook since 2015 and life has never been the same again!

There is NO hiding place.

No comment unnoticed and noted. No photo unseen or questioned.

We can all run but we cannot hide.

She is now an active Facebook user belonging to lots of groups which is really cool when you think of it.

An 87 year old has been let loose on Facebook.


It could happen to you.



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