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Victor said to me: “Grandad, don’t you think it’s time that you upgraded to an iphone?” I was sending a text at the time…digitally…using one finger. I said: “No.” I sensed his incomprehension and a slight impatience. “Why not?” I had to think for a moment. There must be something of the Luddite in my genetic makeup. I think it was Pope Leo XIII who first had a telephone installed on his desk in the Vatican. (Pope’s telephone number VAT69 and also his favourite tipple) He looked at it in wonder and declared: ” This is a marvellous device. I shall never touch it.” He wrote Rerum Novarum in an attempt to reconcile traditional Church teaching with the social and scientific advances of the 19th century world. Progress was the buzz-word at that time. Nowadays it’s Change.
He was not alone in his scepticism towards gadgets and new devices. Lord Kelvin, a man regarded as the ultimate authority on scientific matters, in 1899 rejected the possibility of heavier than air flying machines and radio. He denounced Xrays as a hoax. He once declared that everything that could be invented, has already been invented. Western Union rejected the fanciful notion of the telephone. The British Post Office in 1876, stated their lack of interest in a telephone service, saying: “We have plenty of messenger boys.” H.M. Warner dismissed ‘the talkies’…”Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?” Famously, Decca Records rejected the Beatles….”Guitar music is on the way out.” I’m not that bad………, although it took me a while to accept the cash-dispensing machine. I half expected a boxing glove on a spring to shoot out, in answer to my request for a few bob. I saw that in a Goon film and feared that it would catch on. I still prefer to locate a human being, when I go into a bank. I can ‘interface’ with a human being but machines intimidate me. No. I just don’t trust them.
Pope Leo warned against the prevailing moral degeneracy of the times, the unequal distribution of wealth and the neglect of the poor. He would have his work cut out for him today. What would he make of advertisements for makeup called Naked Perversion, Nude or Urban Decay, Opium, Poison. This stuff is flogged to suburban women in department stores with the suggestion that it will make their lives more exciting and glamorous. I made my way through a kohl forest of cosmetics the other day, in search of some clogs, a shepherd’s smock and a pitchfork in order to kick start my Luddite career. I detoured around some obese young women who were having their faces painted with a new one….Urban Sprawl. I just invented that one. It’s paint.
Which brings me in a slightly roundabout way, to marmalade. My father was the unacknowledged world marmalade-balancing champion. He could balance two inches of marmalade on a square inch of toast. None of those fine cut or no peel abominations. It had to be the Old Time Irish, COARSE CUT version, made by rude peasants from oranges harvested from Irish bogs. in times gone by. On the label you could see the cooking pot hanging on an iron crook, over a turf fire. There was a three-legged stool for the pot stirrer to sit on and a black kettle for the tae. The old time Irish lettering proves that the recipe was taken from The Book Of Kells a thousand years ago. There is a cat warming himself by the fire, a picture of domestic comfort and tranquillity, when our forefathers and foremothers lived simpler lives. I remember how the young fruit pickers travelled out from Dublin to Lambs’ fruit farm in Donabate. They were allowed to eat all the fruit they wanted, goosegobs, strawbries, apples, razzbries, red and black currants but apparently not oranges. I know this because sometimes they ate too much and threw up spectacularly on the way home in the train. It was impossible not to notice that there was no evidence of oranges. Strange. The real marmalade disappeared from the market for a time. I had to make do with imposters. Happily it has come back, still with the ancient Irish script.
As for my grandson’s question, I didn’t give him all this stuff. I said that I don’t want to be obliged to verify every fact instantly on my iphone. I want to learn stuff gradually, even by reading. I don’t want peremptory instructions from sat nav. I quite like to get lost occasionally. Being retired and easily distracted, I am rarely subject to punctuality. I don’t want to own a gadget with masses of capacity that I will never learn to use. He said: “Ah.” A hopeless case of Luddism. I offered marmalade to his two year old cousin, Seán. Seán said: “No.” I showed him the old Irish kitchen. To my dismay it has had a make-over. There is an armchair in front of the fire. I know it has a foam-filled cushion, a fire hazard. There is a rocking chair instead of a stool. There is no cooking pot or crook to hang one on. The pussycat was still there, but in abbreviated form. “Look at the lovely pussycat,” I suggested. “No. That’s a dog.” Does he not think that with my accumulated knowledge of almost a quarter of a century, I can tell a pussycat from a dog? “That’s a pussycat.” “No. It’s a dog.” He’s very good at the word NO!. I let it go. The marmalade is now made in England anyway. (I found that out on Google. I’m not completely technologically illiterate.)
I found out that Victor, the ipod,ipad,DS,youtube,itunes,computer aficionado has bought a record player with a turntable and needles. He is buying vinyl records. Aha! Gotcha! I must recommend Mr. Edison’s recording cylinders, the coming thing for the phonograph. And it is a cat, Seán. I Googled all the old labels. Not a dog in sight.
Two Irish lads on pilgrimage to Rome, over-indulged in the Pope’s favourite whiskey. “It’s no wonder they have to carry him around in a chair,” said one of them ruefully. The present man walks or takes a bus. Give him a call on your mobile, if you’re in Rome.