The Ingrid Pitt column: filthy computers

Once upon a time, Ingrid thought a computer might help her in writing a book that she was working on. One power cut later...

Ingrid Pitt

I know exactly how a Tyrannosaurus Rex would feel if some boffin cloned its bones and brought it back to life in the present day. It is a moot point who would be running away from whom.

Every day my letter box is stuffed with offers of cheap laptops, computers, MP3s, extra storage, mobile phones that do practically everything but gestate and computer games. I know I should be interested but as I don’t understand how the advertised items are going to make the world a better place or enhance my life, I simply dump everything into the environmentally friendly waste bin.

Just lately the products on offer have taken a change in direction. And I don’t just mean Grand Theft Auto and the hundreds of games of a similar hue. Now the screens are reaching out and trying to seduce the innocent into competing with surreal images to go through the agony of superfluous exercise.

Although I have never really understood the way a computer functions I must admit to finding the word processor a great help. Way back when the only way to edit a book or up-date a script was by the tedious process of applying huge amounts of correcting fluid and then typing over it, I thought that was the height of artistic sophistication. Especially when I got my first electric typewriter. Could things get better? I didn’t think so. Then a computer weaseled its way into the household. It was called an Apricot and needed regular feeding with floppy disks to keep it sweet. When I refused to get friendly with it I was laughed at. How could it possibly be better than a Remington?

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But like all things, if you are around them long enough you get curious. I was writing a book about a woman racing driver called RED. The book and the woman. My agent kept demanding rewrites (never listen to your agent) and, as the stacks of mutilated paper threatened to bury me and my desk, I was persuaded to have a bash on the Apricot. I took to it like the proverbial Mallard to H2O.

Unhindered by having to reel out the paper, open the bottle and carefully apply the fluid and then line up the written lines and overprint, the novel grew like Topsy. Until one bright Sunday morning when I found out just how treacherous the machine can be.

The story was going well and I had been thrashing away at it from early morning. I had just finished a stormy chapter where Red had been seduced by Count de Benedetti in his castle beside the beautiful Lake Como. It was the night before the Italian Grand Prix in Monza, a dozen or so miles away, in which Red was about to compete. I read it through and congratulated myself on a seduction well executed.

I started to write the next chapter. Without warning the screen flared up and then went blank. It was as if I had suddenly ceased to exist. I sat there desperately banging away at the keyboard and praying for a miracle. It was obviously trying to connect up with the wrong Saint. The local electricity grid had conked out. Probably due to the steamy stuff I had been writing. I called for help.

The first thing my putative saviour asked was whether I had saved what I had already written. Dumbly I confessed that I had been so looped up in what I was writing that I had forgotten that little duty. When I was told that I had lost half a day’s work I threw myself on the floor, kicked my legs in the air and went into a tantrum.

Finally I was persuaded to rework the morning’s out-pourings while it was still fresh in my mind. Two hours later it happened again. It was too much. That was it! I was never going to touch a filthy computer again.

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Monday morning the Remington was back on the desk. I had hardly finished the first sentence before I diddled when I should have daddled and the correcting fluid was back in business. But at least I was in control – wasn’t I? An hour later I had managed about a quarter of what I could manage on the word processor and I was beginning to fall out of love with the correcting fluid guzzler. I called a break and had a cuppa while I considered my options. Since then I stick to a Biro for Christmas and a word processor for life.

While all this was going on the computer was reaching out, through the world wide web, finding other Geeks to conquer. The computers’ versatility reached into sphere so far untouched. I can vividly remember spending hilarious hours on the sofa playing ping-pong with my daughter. Do you remember it? A clear green screen except for a white line, representing the net, down the centre. On each side of the net a small vertical strip which did service for a bat. You released a white blob which was the ball and you twiddled the bats so that they hit the blob backward and forward across the net. If you missed it you lost. Hi-tech stuff which I felt must represent the very pinnacle of electronic wizardry.

But no! Hard on the thrill of ping pong came the ‘Snake’. Here you had a maze and you had to insinuate the snake into it and gobble up other snakes. The snake got bigger as it gobbled and became harder to handle. It’s so long ago that I have forgotten what the point, was, if there was one. All I know is that it had a great ‘Wow’ factor. With me at least.

The years rolled by and electronics left me behind. Now we have Wii. I tried it at an exhibition. I’m sure it has all the refinements of a Curate’s egg but I just don’t see the point of it. It’s on the level of going to a gym and riding nowhere on an exercise bike or pounding away on one of those treadmill thingies. I used to think that the golf simulator was the ultimate exercise in futility. Now I’ve seen the Wii I’m not so sure. Probably the hardest thing I did manage to cope with was the mouse. I’m still not completely happy using it but I manage. Even have a tentative tilt at the Internet if I’m feeling really brave. I’m always being tricked into corners of the computer’s innards which are definitely well passed my understanding. I wonder if you can still get Ping-Pong or the Snake?

Incidentally, if you want to read the inside stories of the drivers from the Golden Age of Motor Racing you could do worse than log on to www.thosewerethedays.org.uk.

Ingrid writes every week at Den Of Geek. You can read last week’s column here.

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