The Good Old Days


If you are under 18 - in fact, if you are under 28 or 38 - I would prefer if you discontinued reading now. We don’t need your sympathy, those of my generation who remember the good old days and resent being figures of modern fun.

In the good old days there were no iPods, video phones, alcopops, play stations, pierced noses or bellybuttons. One’s hair was licked and stuck down, not gelled and stood up. Men’s hands were calloused. Any woman worth her melt had varicose veins. Only the insurance man and priest owned a car. Everybody went to confession, Mass and Communion at least once a week, and only in England did people win the pools, get divorced or strangled.

(Of course, one major lie that has been told about the good, old days in the North and that is that Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter all loved the Glorious Twelfth celebrations.)

In the days before remote controls one had to physically rise from the chair or settee, cross the linoleum, approach the radiogramme and switch on a knob. You had time to clear out the ashes, light the fire, eat a fry and smoke two Park Drives before the set warmed up. Under ‘British rule’ we could manually tune in to a choice of four stations, whereas in the ‘breakaway’ twenty-six counties they had only one - Radio Athlone! In the case of television we switched a knob for a choice of BBC or UTV which we could watch until closedown at 10.30.

Life was so simple. Fair enough, every other gusty night you had to send one of the male offspring that you sired up into the cobwebbed and sooty glory-hole to take verbal instructions - via granny in her favourite armchair, Ma in the hall and you on the landing - on which direction the aerial should be turned for optimum reception.

Those were the days when you could tell honest Protestant homes not just by their flagpoles but by their firm, proud and secure aerials abreast tall chimneys and their neatly folded licences in the sideboard ready for inspection. But you knew which areas wanted a united Ireland. There, stranger-spotters were on the alert for the detector van and in their sleeked homes the cunning natives kept the TV volume at low, to ‘keep the signal in’. Not one outside aerial was to be seen, but each guilty home’s telltale sign was a son who resembled a chimney sweep.

Folks, I am feeling nostalgic because last week we parted with an old but working TV and bought a TV which needs a 40-button remote that could have landed the Huygens probe on Titan, were I able to use it. There was nothing wrong with the old television, but when for my birthday my brother bought me a CD/DVD player (whose remote has 39 buttons) I discovered that we needed a new TV with two SCART sockets if we were to be able to continue watching the video. The new TV is great but we can no longer record programmes and might have to buy a new video – if they are still making them.

I have yet to conquer the new television and the tricks it can perform, like forcing Gerry Adams and Michael McDowell together on the split screen, or shrinking and enlarging Ian Paisley like in a hall of mirrors. But those are the least of my problems.

Our coffee table now looks like NASA control. There are remotes for the radio, the TV, the cable box, the CD/DVD, the video, as well as a remote handset for the house telephone and a mobile phone connected to a charger. With help from Age Concern we got them all tuned in.

It’s very simple, really. You need one remote, let’s call it A, to switch on the TV; another, B, to surf cable channels; go back to A to work the teletext, but use B to view the cable guide. For some reason we can no longer switch through the channels by using the video remote, C, but have to use A to activate C. We were told that C would be overridden if we pressed D, the remote for the CD/DVD, and vice versa, but they have been tuned to different ‘EXT’ channels and so to access D you have to go back to A and press a button which deactivates B.

The CD/DVD came with a book slightly smaller than ‘War and Peace’. I have been reading it for a month now in bed each night and thought I had the plot worked out. The player has a facility called ‘Locking the disc tray (Child Lock)’ and explains that this is ‘to prevent children from opening it’ whereas, in practice, it penalises adults. For example, ‘Analyse This’ has been locked in it since we got it. The booklet does explain that to remove the disc you can unlock the tray when it is in ‘standby mode’. So I went to the index to find out what ‘standby mode’ was and there between ‘Speakers’ and ‘Subtitles’ it was not to be found.

The new television is the only thing that works though sometimes it can trap one inside the mode for TV Guide and that can be very frustrating. I recently had a medical and my blood pressure was unusually high. The doctor asked me had there been any change in lifestyle that could account for it and I told him I was having personal difficulties adjusting to the seven remotes and handsets that now lived with us.

We don’t use our CD/DVD much, nor, since we got the TV, the video which can now only play with blue waves undulating across the picture, making one seasick.

We spoke to the salesman in the television shop. “Ah! You have heterodyne interference,” he explained with aplomb.

Is there anything we can do about it, we asked in desperation.

He smiled. “No problem! What you need is a new remote which will cure everything...”

Oh well, it’s not the end of the world: why watch DVDs anyway when you can go to the picture house (if it is still called by that name) and see films on the big screen.

My grandson, Lorcan, aged 2 ½, comes in, hits a few buttons and has a cartoon in the top right hand corner of the TV while surfing through several other channels and doing a quiz on teletext.  He is even able to access RTE channels and TG4 whilst he lounges majestically on the sofa and giggles hysterically at granda.

And I think to myself, how would you like to go up to the glory-hole, little man, while I listen to the radio.

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© 2007 Irish Author and Journalist - Danny Morrison