VENI, vidi, video - or words to
the effect that I came to an electronic devices shop in 1982, saw a video
cassette recorder I fancied, bought it but have only just conquered my
latest one and, ironically, find VCRs are becoming as dead as dinosaurs,
their retail place usurped by the DVD (digital versatile disc) players.
From first purchase, I found operating instructions about as abstruse as
the philosopher Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, but my
wife, who is computer literate and numerate, quickly and efficiently
became Programme Director, feeding the machine with what we supposed would
be a cerebrally-nutritious and visually-alluring diet of tapes, including,
if I remember aright, Panther Girl from the Kongo and I Married A Werewolf
From Outer Space, favourite weather forecasts and shampoo advertisements.
The machine, built like a death-ray apparatus, liked our selections and
began to chew tapes with relish, spitting out bits like pomegranate pips.
I bought another, an ugly brute, that looked as if it could send missiles
to North Korea. It also developed a similar appetite, as did some others,
although our latest one refuses, fastidiously, to crunch any of our
offerings, even rejecting some, probably regarding them as tasteless.
Whatever their faults, VCRs proved an invaluable contribution to home
entertainment. As one who, as a child, remembered adults stroking a
crystal on "cat’s whiskers" radios to coax static- suggesting small-arms
fire and programmes, faintly-sounding as if broadcast on one of the
Martian moons, I have seen miraculous developments in the business of
keeping the human race entertained, informed, and even inspired.
electrified heavens, I have sat before a brown, bog oak wireless cabinet
with rococo fretwork over the loudspeaker trying, over 1938 airwaves, to
raise life from strange-sounding places with faraway names like Hilversum,
Stuttgart and Motala, but only producing sounds suggesting a Dutch
comedian falling flat on his face, some jerkily-rendered opera, faint
French accordionists, lost choirs and Henry Hall and his band playing The
Music Goes Round and Round, inexplicably merging with the massed, menacing
singing of The Horst Wessel Song.
Gramophones? I remember
wind-up ones that made records sound as if played under water and, if the
mechanism began to run down, could make my grandfather’s recording of Dame
Nellie Melba singing Any Old Iron? resemble the despairing wail of a lost
soul in Dante’s Inferno.
I recall also more sophisticated ones of the 1960s
which held a stack of eight 78 rpm records above the turntable. These were
supposed to drop in sequence giving, say, a sizeable chunk of a Wagner
opera, broken only by the crash of descending records. Sometimes several
discs fell at a time or all at once, peremptorily speeding-up the twilight
of the gods.
Stereophonic sound was a boon to those who were
restive if they could not place the exact location of the timpani,
woodwinds or strings. What more could we want? Plenty, and the transistor
radio was a technological miracle that I regarded with the awe of some
native discovering Concorde in a jungle clearing.
ecstatic radio users freely shared their bliss, loudly and in public,
generous actions that almost disappeared with the advent of pocket-sized,
combined radio and cassette-recorders that needed earphones, making users,
silently mouthing lyrics, seem like goldfish absently lipping ants’ eggs.
Vinyl records gave way to the crackle-free but comparatively cold sound of
compact discs, but it is in television, that vital, life-support system of
humanity, that we have seen significant strides.
who had a 14-inch screen - like looking through a keyhole - and can
remember watching programmes like Compact and Emergency Ward 10 as through
a blizzard, I can say that not only have we seen technological wonders but
also the transformation of vacuity from a cottage craft to an industry.
Some screens are almost wall-to-wall, but programmes, with a plethora of
quiz games, chat shows, sexual explicitness and bellowing, boorish
comedians, have not expanded in quality. Truly, television allows us to be
entertained in our living-rooms by people we wouldn’t have in the house.
And now the DVD revolution that will flash brilliantly on fashion’s
firmament and be extinguished by some new, miracle "must have" invention.
The world is full of such wonderful things, we should all be as happy as
kings and, as American writer James Thurber remarked, "you know how happy