Broken, battered and bruised

Automobile crossing rope bridge

Automobile crossing rope bridge (Photo credit: The Field Museum Library)

Buying your first car is a rite of passage so it seemed fitting that Dad came with me to help me make a sensible choice. I don’t know why this made so much sense at the time because all of Dad’s cars came from that twilight zone between bangerdom and the crusher. Every crap car from British Leyland and Ford had broken down with us in it, usually during the journey to or from our holiday destination. Nevertheless, armed with a thousand of my own hard borrowed pounds, we made the pilgrimage round the classifieds in search of the perfect vehicle.

Car after car didn’t make the grade as Dad carefully looked over them. A superb looking Mini Clubman with sporty spotlights was dismissed as too sporty. Another car went because there was more rust than car. Some cars were too big. None were too small. At the end of our trail, we found the Goldilocks car, a white Renault 5. It was the rock bottom, bargain basement, base model. It didn’t even have the most essential item of equipment in it, a stereo. It had an 850cc engine which had just about enough power to make the thing move and it cornered on its wing mirrors (or it would if it had any wing mirrors).

An awful lot happened in that car. A few weeks after I bought it, I drove along a residential street. I wasn’t going very fast because the Renault didn’t do fast. From in between two parked cars out came a football bouncing into the road. In the time it took my brain to make the connection that it might be followed by a child, a terrified boy appeared spread-eagled on my bonnet before he bounced off. I think it’s the only time I’ve ever hurt anyone. After the police disappeared and the boy went off in an ambulance, I got back in my car, shaking like a leaf. Before I drove off, I noted with sadness that the child’s mates were still playing football in the road despite the earlier accident and the fact that a football field lay on the other side of the road.

Various bits fell off the car and just about everything failed. The brakes failed when I came down Midland Hill once. The car in front of me braked and came to a stop, indicating to turn off. I braked and my car didn’t stop at all. In the end, I had to drive up the bank at the side of the road. The clutch failed when I went to college. I dropped it over at the clutch garage one September morning and made my way to college. That was the day that the hurricane hit the UK. Late afternoon, I gave them a call to see if it would be ready to take me home.

“Errr… we’ve been having a few problems today mate. Was it the Renault?”

His use of the past tense alarmed me.

“You see, the roof’s fallen on it and we’re still digging it out.”

I really appreciated all the time my Dad took to help me choose the right car, but when I bought my second car, I went alone.

When you think about it…

A 12" record, a 7″ record, and a CD-ROM.

It struck me the other day that I have been working for over 25 years and in my lifetime so far, I have seen an incredible amount of technological change. When you think about all the changes in communications, entertainment, transport & media, it makes your head spin.

As kids we used to listen to vinyl records. Occasionally, we might transfer the songs on those vinyl records to cassette tape so that we could make compilations of songs we liked or so that we could listen to them in the car. I would venture to suggest that there is a sizeable number of people alive today who wouldn’t recognise either of these two modes of listening to music. Vinyl records gave way to compact discs, but when was the last time you bought a compact disc ? I certainly can’t remember the last one I bought.

The TV we watched at home used to be black and white. It used to take an absolute age to warm up so for a long time, you only heard the audio. When you turned it off, the picture slowly disappeared down to a central white spot as bright as a pulsar before finally winking out leaving the screen slate grey. The screen was far from flat, it bulged out into the front room like Big Brother’s eyeball and the TV was so deep, it was roughly the same kind of proportions as the fridge.

The buttons were of the mechanical push the new one in and the old one pops out kind of touch. You had mysterious settings like vertical hold and horizontal hold and you had to tune the thing in which involved a screwdriver. When we moved once, our new house had six channels – that was twice as many as we had in the previous house. I suspect that if you exposed children to that kind of environment today, they would be on the phone to childline before you had retuned the TV.

My Uncle Nobby once showed me an Irish phone box during one of our trips to Ireland. It had a handle that you used to wind and wait for the operator to answer. You then told the operator which number you wanted and they would put you through. I thought that the whole thing was terribly antiquated because at home, you could ring anyone in the world.

Number by number, you would stick your finger in the dial and drag it round to the stop and patiently wait for the dial to slowly return to rest. The whole process would take about a minute to a minute and a half for a long number. I used to remember phone numbers – I still remember nan and grandad’s (01793 724159) mainly because I remember the way nan used to sing the number out whenever anyone called the house. How many numbers can you remember today?

When I was given a pager by my company, I thought I was the bee’s knees. I could be contacted anywhere in the UK. Whenever you had a message, the thing would beep and buzz and you found a landline and called a special number to speak to someone who read out your message. Typically the message would be to phone someone else, so you would have to write the number down before ringing off so that you could make another call. My next pager had an LCD display where the actual message was displayed. Whoever was leaving the message still had to phone up and speak to an operator, but at least it was progress.

Cars in those days routinely had no power steering, no power assisted brakes and no electric windows. They routinely only had four gears (or three if the car was an automatic). Many cars had plastic seats. Unless you drove  a Volvo or maybe a Saab, they were pretty much death traps. Crash testing was in its infancy, so there wasn’t much effort put into crumple zones unless you owned an old British Leyland car which would probably spontaneously crumple all on its own.

I remember when I was given my first camera. It was a Kodak brownie which like all cameras of the era took film that you had to load into the back. Mine could take up to 24 pictures which you then had to get developed which meant putting the film into an envelope and posting them off. When they came back a week or two later, it would be your first look at the photos you had taken.

When you are living through it, technological change seems to pass agonisingly slowly. It is only when you look back at how things were not so very long ago, you realise how quickly things evolve. It is this pace of change which makes me so excited about what will happen over the coming decades.

I am incredibly excited by the smart goggles under development by Google. Pretty soon, I won’t be handing over the cost of an iPad to my optician ever couple of years. I will have some electronic glasses that will automatically adjust to my degrading vsion. Not only that – but I will see the whole world in augmented reality. If as they suggest that they will be able to make these available as contact lenses – I think the whole world will start to wear them regardless of their state of vision.

I am also incredibly excited about the low barriers to entry that we see everywhere. Want to publish a book – no problem go right ahead. Want to make a film – as Iron Sky has shown, you can crowd source your investment and away you go. There has never been a better time to start a business. In a matter of hours, you could have your own website with umpteen different ways to pay and you could get your wares in front of potentially anyone.

I think the pace of change can only accelerate.