How exciting cassette recorders were back in the 70s. I recall receiving one for, I think, my ninth birthday. It was oblong and black with chrome (plastic) push-button keys at one end: stop, start, fast forward, etc, and I loved it, mainly for inventing and recording, with a group of friends, The Muck-spreaders, a piss-takes of The Archers. The days before Youtube . . .
My current book is set in 1985, the main character being somewhat techno-phobic, like me. After being told by his ex-wife who can never get hold of him that he must purchase an answer machine, he ventures into an alien environment to do so . . .
An hour later, I’m walking up the Tottenham Court Road in a post-beer dreamy state, mind still buzzing from Mr Narche’s extraordinary words. In passing I glance in the window of one of the many electrical shops and notice amongst the avalanche of sleek and grey, a display of answer machines. Time to join 1985, Hamish – within reason.
I step into the burrow of technology and stand gawping uncomprehendingly at the mass of bleeping, flashing . . . stuff.
“What you after today, sir?”
I jump at the voice coming from behind the counter. A youth clad in a satin purple and turquoise outfit is grinning at me. He pushes a hinged lid down on a small rectangle of orange plastic in front of him. I can just make out the upside-down words: Donkey Kong.
“What is Donkey Kong,” I hear myself ask.
He looks at me as if I have travelled in time from 1837.
“Game and watch – hand-held games. There’s tons ‘appening – the future innit . . .” He gives up realising his adolescent enthusiasm is wasted on me. “VCR? SLR? Pack of VHS?”
“Actually . . . I just want an answer machine – a simple one.”
He nods: “Right-o,” lifts various chunks of plastic off a shelf, places them reverently before me and instructs me in their various attributes. I glaze over after forty seconds and point at one with a rather fetching band of real wood veneer.
He says something that sounds like: ‘sgdtfsj’, ‘tvjjjdsds,’ and ‘sdchduhd’, plus it can, ‘dcsdumaadd’.”
I smile and say I’ll take it. A boxed version is found, slid into a slippery, yellow logoed bag after which I hand over the required sum, walk out into real air and wonder what just happened.