by Dave Cross
Chapter 4. The Computer Expert
In which Christmas dinner is eaten
* Pip: hey magwitch. happy xmas * Magwitch: do u do all that xmas shit with your family? * Pip: yeh. it's dull tho'. we've got loads of people over for dinner * Magwitch: do you watch the queen's speech * Pip: fuck that! * Magwitch: will you be able to, you know, later? * Pip: not sure. they might all go off to the pub * Magwitch: i'll try again this afternoon then * Pip: good plan. try about 4
At that age I wasn't as anti-Christmas as I liked to appear to Magwitch, but I suspect that I was just starting to question why we had to fill the house with people who we had no time during the other 364 days of the year. My sister always insisted on cooking far too much food and inviting obscure relatives who she spent the rest of the year slagging off. I expect that this was about the first year that I started to get seriously pissed off with people ruffling my hair, telling me how much I'd grown and slipping me a couple of quid.
The worst culprit was Joe's Uncle Pumblechook. I never worked out if he was a real relation or just a friend of the family who had insinuated himself into our Christmas celebrations years before I was born and had since become an annual fixture. In retrospect I suppose I should have been grateful that he only came to dinner once a year, but it's hard to be so logical about it when you're 12 and are being treated like you're about 6.
The other problem with Pumblechook was that he was the kind of person who thought that he knew more than anyone else in the room about any subject under discussion. When the other people in the room were my family and their friends this was often true, but he chose the wrong subject when he started pontificating about the internet. I think we were just coming to the end of the main course.
"They're talking about connecting the office to the internet," he said (Pumblechook worked in the City for a merchant bank that no-one had ever heard of), "Can't see the point myself. The business has run perfectly well without it for almost two hundred years." He was always very proud of the firm's long history. You would sometimes think that he'd been there for all of those two hundred years instead of the, more accurate, thirty or so.
"But you have to move with the times," I replied, "don't spreadsheets and word processors make your life easier?"
"Well, when they work," he agreed, "but often computers cause more problems than they solve." He then went on to roll out a dozen or so standard stories about computers issuing cheques for £0.01, sending letters to dead people and causing nuclear reactors to explode.
"But none of that has anything to do with the internet," I argued, "surely putting yourselves in better contact with your offices in other countries and even your customers, has got to be a good idea."
"Ah, the optimism of youth," I hated it when he got really patronising, "the internet is still new, what makes you think that it won't have the same problems as any other computer program."
Anyone who describes the internet as a computer program is obviously worthy of complete contempt, but I had one last try.
"The internet isn't new. It's been around in various forms since 1969," I knew my stuff, "even the world wide web was first demonstrated over five years ago."
He wasn't listening, so I gave up. He wouldn't take me at all seriously. He had been distracted by my sister appearing with the Christmas pudding. Over the pudding, Pumblechook launched into a monologue about the history of various Christmas traditions. I have no way of knowing if he was any more knowledgeable on that subject, but I very much doubt it.
An hour or so later the dinner table had been cleared and the dishes were slacked carefully in the kitchen waiting to be washed up at some unspecified point in the future. Everyone was semi-dozing in the lounge when Joe suggested a trip to the pub. There was a certain amount of debate. They had beer at home. They were warm and settled at home. But on the other hand there would be lots of interesting people at the pub.
Finally they decided they would go for a couple of hours. My sister asked if I wanted to go with them. She was sure that the landlord would stretch the law on Christmas Day. I told her that I wanted to stay in and watch The Great Esacpe and after an agonising wait for them all to find various coats, gloves and hate, they all left and I was alone.
I switched the PC on and waited for it to warm up. As quickly as I could I connected to the chat server and joined the private chatroom that had been created by Magwitch for our liasons.
He wasn't there. I assumed that he had been held up by his family too. I started playing a game of Doom while waiting for the beep that would tell me he had come online.
An hour later there was still no sign of him.
Last Updated: Mon 03 Nov 2003, 23:06
All material © 2003, Dave Cross. All Rights Reserved.