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Home entertainment of the cordless kind 

Caring concern for the computer gamers of the New Forest 

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The latest chapter from writer and crafter Mark and cartoon magician Hugh. Grandparents especially will potentially smile particularly. 

"Some of my warmest memories revolve around the time that my family, just returned from a four-year stint in Mauritius, lodged with my father’s parents in a tiny council house in Plymouth. My grandfather, Sydney, was a welder who worked in Plymouth Dockyard, a career spent amongst toxic fumes and abrasive dust that would end his days prematurely. My grandmother, Jessie, was in the old-fashioned way, a housewife; I remember her horribly twisted fingers, deformed by years of wringing out washing by hand. We were there in 1966, the year that England won the football World Cup. Coal fires were commonplace and even today the slightest whiff of coal smoke takes me back to those grim but happy times.

I wonder what will be the touchstone that rekindles our memories of these Covid times? The sight of a mask perhaps? The cold sensation and alcohol odour of antibacterial hand wash? I personally feel that we have all enjoyed an increased sense of community and sense of caring for others. Certainly, our little neighbourhood has been brought together. I wonder if the virus has ‘re-set’ our values and priorities? Perhaps the mind-numbing media repetition and parliamentary confusion has turned us away from the television and towards our neighbours? It would appear that the combination of lock down and furlough has, in a strange way, brought us closer together.

In the evenings it was often the case that the black and white television was switched off and the grubby, dog-eared playing cards came out of the drawer. They were so greasy and sticky that shuffling them was a trial. We used to bet using pennies, strictly speaking this was underage betting but it was all innocent enough. Also, we would play dominoes which I seem to remember was an easy game to play but a difficult game to win, especially against experts like Sydney and Jessie. Today I have forgotten those games which I find a great pity. You see, I can still remember the restful silence as, with the clock ticking and the coal fire glowing, we pondered our choices. Today, home entertainment is almost always televisual and is generally accompanied by a speaker system that could deafen a county. Whatever happened to thought?

Children, easily fooled by wily Grandparents

My grandparents had a little game, the secret of which was kept from us for many years. Sydney would arrange random objects on a table, a pepper pot, a mug, that sort of thing and then he was asked to leave the room. We always checked to make sure he couldn’t peep. One of us would reverently touch one of the objects and then the drama would begin. We children hardly dared to breathe as Sydney came back into the room and, Svengali like, slowly wafted a spoon over each object in turn. The tension for us children was exquisite. The boredom for our parents, who were fully aware of the gig, extreme. As the spoon passed over the chosen object, Jessie would give the tiniest cough or sniff. Naturally, Sidney would make several more passes with the spoon as he waited for ‘the vibrations’ but eventually he would tap the correct object. Time and again, we were amazed at his incredible psychic gift.

A friend once told me that her father had a secret trick which he would play every Christmas without fail. As they were eating the Christmas pudding, he would carefully reach into his pocket to retrieve a tightly folded ten-pound note. Then with the note pinched between finger and thumb he would reach into his mouth and exclaim to the family that he had found it again! To compound the agony, he would slowly unfold the note in front of the gullible children. The secret was kept for many years.

There is an ever-increasing array of electronic entertainment and information available to all of us and, seemingly, on every subject. However, there are simpler pleasures to be had of the unplugged variety. It’s down to us to gently guide the younger generation away from the mindless stuff and towards the thoughtful stuff. Not an easy task, but one that I know you are capable of.

The smartphone, an incredible two-edged sword

They do say that good parents lead by example. Imagine you are a grandparent at a family dinner, perhaps a celebratory gathering. Would you ever dream of ignoring everyone as you studied your smart phone? I think you’ll agree that good parents, and grandparents, help to foster good conversation by intervening when there is poor behaviour. The addictive nature of smartphones is well documented. Apparently, youngsters check their phones for messages roughly every fifteen seconds. Perhaps if parents and grandparents were to make a stand against this kind of behaviour the result might well be interesting and engaging conversation. After all, we’re only talking about good manners.

Who remembers the term ‘Party Piece’?

My father told me that back in his day everyone had their party piece. This is because without modern home entertainment you simply made your own. The alternative would have been to stare at one another like so many cows in a field. Many could sing and had memorised whole songs with the audience joining in for the chorus. Some, like Sydney, had learned tricks of various kinds. Essentially everyone was expected to bring something to the party. Those who could play the piano were especially in demand. As you can imagine, those who were supremely talented often ended up on the stage but the level of expertise at domestic level was more than enough for an enjoyable Saturday evening with friends.

I suspect that these days if there was a power failure the majority would be utterly stumped, incapable of entertaining themselves or others. How sad.

I don’t mean to criticise modern computer games but….

As a lad I enjoyed darts. On the face of it this is the simplest of games You simply stand at a line and throw pointy things at a wall, hardly Mastermind. But there’s a catch, and that is of course, maths. If you want to learn multiplication, division, addition and subtraction, play darts. If you think that a maths examination is arduous then try to ‘chalk’ in front of a group of seasoned players. Any errors will be spotted immediately and roundly mocked. Generally, darts is a quiet game in that when a player is throwing others tend not to chatter. As for simplicity? Imagine you have 104 left. An expert player will tell you, in no more than a moment, that you could try a single nineteen then a treble seventeen in order to finish on double seventeen. Did you manage to work that out? When I was a player my mental arithmetic was superb, why not buy a board and watch as your children and grandchildren prosper while laughing.

Scrabble, the perfect game for resting the ears and expanding the mind. We all know that there are fanatics. Those who spend hours memorising words arcane and obscure in order to use up those last tiles to win the game. The rest of us stumble along, considering it a minor miracle when we achieve a three-letter word. In my circle of friends, a six-letter word earns a round of applause! (Then afterwards the inevitable, simmering, silent envy). There is maths to be found here as well. Far simpler than darts but maths all the same, our eyes are drawn to the triple word squares as we yearn for just one precious vowel. We hope that somewhere, in some language there is the word xydeliv, (there isn’t).

Personally, I worry for the computer gamers of today. I see more and more basic errors in maths and English. The gamers of today could probably count the number of blisters on their fingers and thumbs, but without a calculator? Not much else. If you are under the age of twenty and reading this, why not try one of the pursuits above? Let a little silence into your life. Rest the ears, stimulate the little grey cells.

 Dutch Lockdown Monotony

 Image supplied by Rijksmuseum Amsterdam. With acknowledgement to Johannes Stroebel’s ‘Syndics of the Leiden Saalhal’ 1866

More tales and cartoons from Mark and Hugh

If you enjoy these skilfully told tales and cartoons and you don't already receive our Weekly What's On e-newsletter to receive each week's as it's published - sign up here! 

 
Meanwhile if you'd like to read previous articles on diverse subjects written by Mark and illustrated by Hugh's cartoons here they are, click the links embedded in the titles:

The joy of sheds
When the Isle of Wight was just Wight
Bucklers Hard

Salisbury Cathedral 
Pond Life in our Forests 
Bombs Away 
Baileys Hard 
Rufus Stone and Sir Walter Tyrrell
Graffiti through the ages
Freedom of the roads
Heath fires
Lymington Lido
Watch the birdie
Unstoppable momentum of nature
Socially distanced socialising
Calshot Spit, a curse for mariners...

 

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