Gas Lamps, Harry Randals, Sat Navs and iPads: a brief update

Before the Internet

Before the Internet

I posted this once before but I thought I’d offer an update to the story and post again.

I hope you don’t mind.

Those of us who have grown up in the middle and latter part of the twentieth century, take a lot for granted.  We know how to use a telephone and may well have first used one in a red phone box with the old-fashioned, ‘push button A or B’ method of making a call  usually via the ‘operator.’  Many didn’t have phones in their homes back then and so a call box was the only option. We then got to grips with phones in our homes and now, of course, we nearly all carry a mobile or cell phone. Just think what they are capable of.

Press Buttons A or B

Press Buttons A or B

Our family got a Television when I was quite young so I can recall ‘Watch With Mother’, ‘The Wooden Tops’ and ‘Bill and Ben the Flower Pot Men’ – all in  Black and White – back when Children only had an hour of Television programming daily.   Now television is going twenty-four hours a day with an over-abundant choice of channels to watch.

I was lucky to grow up taking electricity for granted and never questioned its availability.  It was there to light my bedroom when I did my homework, powered my hair-dryer and record player.  We listened to ‘the wireless’ back when wireless didn’t mean WiFi.

Imagine then, my conversation recently with an elderly relation (aged 83 at the time ), who has been given an iPad as a gift, to keep her occupied and provide some company and interest as she sits alone day after day gazing out at the world passing by her front window.  She has mastered the TV remote and digital TV, can send texts and has used a microwave for decades, but the iPad filled her with terror.

‘You seem to forget, I was born into a home with ‘Harry Randals’ and Gas lamps,’ she sighed, ‘I’ll never get my head around all this.’  I should explain that ‘Harry Randal’ is a well-known English way of saying ‘Candles,’ for those of you reading this outside England.

Harry Randle holder (Candle holder)

Harry Randle holder (Candle holder)

She is right.  She was born into a home with gas lamps, and the only lighting upstairs at night was by candle light.  There wasn’t an indoor bathroom or W.C. and so the ‘Gerry’ was kept under the bed (‘Gerry’ is another name for a chamber pot), for emergencies on cold nights when a trip down the garden path to the outside ‘privy,’ was a step too far.  Bath night was in  a tin bath in front of the fire in the living room, the water heated on the blackened stove fired by coke and logs.

Ceiling Gas lamp

Ceiling Gas lamp

It was rare to own a car back then, rich people had them, but normal every day folk used their feet to get about or a bicycle – her mother rode something called a ‘sit up and beg’ which I have to say is still in use around the village to-day, having been sold several times since they owned it.  it is still going strong and was made in England!  So I guess you can imagine how alien many of the items we use to-day would appear to someone from her era.  

(c) Jane Risdon 2014

(c) Jane Risdon 2014

She never learned to drive although her family did have a car which was the preserve of her late husband, she being content to be a back seat driver.  Now she competes with Sat Nav (GPS), from the rear of any car she is travelling in, shouting at the female voice giving instructions, telling her that she is going the wrong way, the directions are wrong and ‘why doesn’t she listen?’  It is all a bit ‘too much.’

Satnav replaces Ordnance Survey maps

SatNav replaces Ordnance Survey maps

My elderly relation opened the iPad, hands shaking with the start of a stress headache.  I knew how she was feeling.  We spent several hours going through ‘how to’ do this and that when suddenly she asked to send an email.  Although it was obvious she had no idea just what an email is – she kept getting it confused with texting – I did eventually get her to understand that we needed to get on to the Internet to send emails.  She wanted to know if I could turn on Facebook so she could send emails….it was hard going.

I rang and arranged for a sister to set up broadband access for her as I had to go back home.  However, I was sure my relation knew how to do the basics with her iPad, and could keep herself amused until she was on-line.  My head was killing me – you forget how much we accept about technology and using it; we (I – the baby boomer generation), seem to have the basics where technology is concerned; well, enough to get our heads round most things we use daily.   It is all a bit much for someone growing up in the early nineteen thirties.

Public Domain - Steve Jobs - iPad launch

Public Domain – Steve Jobs – iPad launch

Broadband was installed and ready to go, so I called in to get her up and running, ready to learn the next steps.  All the time I tried to get her online she chatted non-stop, asking me questions that had nothing to do with the situation I was dealing with. 

‘One step at a time,’ I kept telling her.

‘How can I goggle at people?’ If she asked me that once she did a million times. 

‘If I goggle at people, how can they know and can they goggle me back?’

‘I want to email Face-time, make sure I can email Face-time.’

‘Get me onto Facebook, but I don’t want perverts getting me.’  ‘Make sure you blockade them.’

There was a problem with her connection and no amount of relocating the router and checking her Password would sort it out.  I rang the company who informed me there was ‘nineteen hours, fifty-five minutes and four seconds,’ until my case could be dealt with by the technical team, however, ‘my call was appreciated and I was valued,’ etc.

So I had to put it all on hold and come back another day as time was moving on and I had things to do.  My relative then decided she didn’t want any of this ‘nonsense,’ and would I take it all away. 

‘I’ll just send emails on my phone.’  Which of course would be another migraine, setting up and teaching her to do. Ye Gods!

‘You don’t know what you are doing, I’ll get an electrician in.’ Was her parting shot.

Ten days later and my sister and I have been fiddling with the phone socket, the router and following instructions being issued my our, now expert, elderly relation who has had a conversation with another relation six thousand miles away, who knows all about putting in broadband, and getting the iPad to work – well he should, he gave it to her and there is a hefty price on his head now!

We decide that we need to get extension leads and use the main phone line into the house instead of the socket our relation insists on using.  The leads are not long enough and the router doesn’t like being anywhere else.  By this time my sister has a migraine too.  Our ‘expert’  has told us both how to set up the router, connect the leads and filters and how to ‘get online,’ more times than we’ve had spam!

To cut a long story short, we got it sorted and gave her another lesson in getting online, and sending email.  We told her we would do more next time.  We didn’t want to overload her with too much information too soon.  Within days we were getting bombarded with emails and phone calls…..’I have not had a goggle from anyone, why is that?’

The latest is that a brother called in to visit and managed to get her using Google.  He messaged Facebook to say he had to disappear to the local (pub), to sink a few pints for an hour or so, before he went back to see how she was getting on.  Apparently she now wants to ‘Surf the net’, so she can find out what we are all doing to keep us all ‘logged on,’ and ‘wasting time on the internet.’

It has been a quite a journey from Gas lamps and Harry Randals to Sat Nav and iPads for one lady born before the invention of The Internet.   She has taken to it like a duck to water and has opened up a whole new world for herself; one she is not just watching, but is taking part in once again. 

The rest of us will never rest in peace again – she’ll find Facebook and then God help us all! – my Facebook page.

That was then (2014) and this is now:

God indeed needs to help us – she is now on Facebook and life will never be the same again!

There is NO hiding place.

No comment unnoticed and noted. NO photo unseen and questioned. No activity fails to be judged or admonished.

We can all run but we cannot hide.

An 85 year old has been let loose on Facebook.




  1. Bless you, Jane, for your patience and what a great relation – your perseverance seems to have paid off and you’ve opened up a whole new world for them. Times have changed indeed and so rapidly. I wonder though if they faced the telephone and television with the same positive adventurous spirit. Oh, like the Cockney rhyme, something new I’ve learnt today!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You have an amazing amount of patience Jane, I was getting a migraine reading about what you went through. A least she’s up and running, I’ve got to go and Goggle now.:-)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh the latest is Facebook…we are all trying to put her off as we will have no privacy at all. I have learned patience. Lots of practice. She is happily goggling away and you never know who she might conjure up!! You enjoy your goggling too. x


  3. There were no personal computers and laptops when my mum was alive (she died very young), but my only surviving aunt who is 86 this year has a mobile phone and sends texts like there is no tomorrow, has a laptop and keeps up to date with email and chat forums – saves her photos she takes on her digital camera or mobile to her computers and is thinking of starting a Pinterest page. . She took to them like a duck to water and at times speaks of hard drives, memory sticks and the like as if she had been born and bred to use them!! As she said a few years ago, she could either ignore them and refuse to learn to progress in the modern world, or be a part of it right up to her dying day and enjoy what is left of her life. I admire her so much and hope to God I will be as positive and as accepting of the new ways as she has been.
    Hugs, Jo. xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jo I am sure you will be positive and game for anything. Besides we have grown older with a lot of this stuff….think back to what the 50’s were like…we coped with everything ‘new’ ever since….we may not have learned a lot of new technology at school, but we are self-taught, using a lot of this technology today. We are open-minded and know we need to join in or get left behind. I guess fear is the biggest barrier to a lot of older folk…your lady is a great spirit and I am happy she has embraced it all…it is life changing. Thanks for popping in, appreciated. xx


  4. This is lovely, Jane.

    My mum sadly passed away from cancer six years ago, but would have been 81 this year. She didn’t have a computer, but used ours, mainly for chatting to her ‘friends’ online in the Fuchsia Forum on a Sunday evening while I was cooking tea. She had a mobile phone, no problem with the remote and recording TV programmes etc and never bothered us with anything much. It was all pretty remarkable, since she was deaf, but was a whizz at sign language and lip-reading.

    We always had a telephone and TV in our house when I was a child. Our neighbours didn’t have a telephone, so their relatives used to use hours. Mum used to bang on the wall with the poker when anyone rang for them and they would come round and take the call.

    Nobody ever locked their back door. Neighbours used to just stroll into each other’s houses, shouting ‘hello, can I come in’ as they shut the door behind them. I was never a latch-key kid, because mum was always there.

    In 1968 we had a big colour TV delivered – I was the envy of all my friends, who used to come round to watch it after school, and mum used to make us all a big plate of jam sandwiches and mugs of milky coffee.

    I do remember, though, when I was about six or seven, not being allowed to watch children’s programmes on ITV (it had to be the BBC children’s programmes as they were more educational). I wasn’t allowed lucky bags, chewing gum, comics or what mum called ‘rubbishy’ sweets.

    I can still remember the smells of Persil-washed clean clothes and Vosene shampoo. The background sounds of Juke Box Jury, the Billy Cotton Band Show and the Black and White Minstrels on the TV will always be with me and the soundtrack from Dr Who still gives me the willies! I used to hide behind my dad’s big chair when Dr Who came on because I was terrified of the Daleks, especially the black one that could levitate up stairs.

    I am thankful for my happy childhood memories. I had good parents, a comfortable home and always felt safe and secure.

    We were lucky, weren’t we?

    Liked by 1 person

    • We were lucky Anne. I love your childhood memories, many are mine too. I grew up in an Army household so we were on the move and no point in putting a phone in until that stopped. My grandfather (paternal) had a home phone when I was born and I grew up with his in the house when I lived there. He had TV with a sort of painted light in the shape of a fish on top, something to do with eye strain prevention. I have no idea. We watched a lot of the shows you mentioned when we were back in the UK, and my Dad made me a transistor radio when I was a teenager and Radio One and the Pirate stations were on the air for the first time. My own family got a phone long after I left home, but again I was living over-seas when I left home and so I have no idea if they got one in the country they were living in after I’d gone. My teens when I was back in the UK now and again, were spent in the phone box, making calls via the Operator well armed with pennies ready for the instruction to ‘put the money into the slot.’ Dr Who is a distant memory for me, I think I saw a couple in B&W with William Hartnell as the Doctor. I cannot say I was that impressed as I’ve never had the urge to watch it since. My own family were great wireless fans – when I was young – and Sundays especially found us listening to Billy Cotton, Around the Horn and lots of military band and classical music. I think we must have been the only kids who knew all the words to Gilbert and Sullivan’s operettas. Those were the days Anne.


  5. Great blog Jane. It made me smile. An elderly lady I know – 85 – won’t entertain the idea of any technology except a mobile, which she uses on a weekend only (some special tariff). She won’t text & won’t pick up messages that people leave for her! Tell your elderly relative the ipad takes great pictures too. If she downloads kindle for free she can read on it too. I treated myself last year and I love it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have Penelope as that is one of the reasons she also wanted to use it. It took her some time to get round to texts but she has been doing it for about three years now. She is keen to do face-time with the family and to play crosswords and jigsaws online, she is a whiz at cryptic crosswords and Sudoku, and all general knowledge quizzes too. This will be fun for her. I would love an iPad having shown her how to use hers. Oh well. Hope you are feeling better Penelope.


  6. Great post. We had the same experience with my husband’s parents. We gave them an iPad before moving to Paris so we could communicate with them via e-mail. They are 89 and 85 and it has been quite a learning experience for them but it has worked. They are following our blog and sending & receiving messages. (Suzanne)

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Oh, Jane, this is great! There’ve been so many technological changes in the last century haven’t there? I’m so glad your relation was, in the end, flexible enough to learn the iPad. I know people heaps younger who are much more reluctant than you’d think to try new technology. And if she now feels more connected to you all, that must be a source of comfort to her even if it does mean a flurry of emails for you…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Margot, glad you enjoyed it, thanks for popping in again. I know what you mean and it is great to have that contact. There are teething problems but she has mastered most things fast. She is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to General Knowledge, Suduko, and Cryptic Crosswords and her memory is knife sharp so there is no reason why this will be any more difficult for her. Trouble is I have a PC and am not that familiar with an iPad and she thinks it is all the same. It will be fine, I am sure. Have a great week. I have a back-lot of your articles to catch up with when time permits and I get a quiet moment.


    • Am glad you enjoyed it Michael, double edged blessing really – our lives are now filled with emails about everything she wants to know about the internet. But glad she has something to occupy her as well as jigsaw puzzles and crosswords.


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