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April 2005 - Pull the Choke Out

I'm sure I've made brief mention of this at some point before, but I really wish they'd get round to nailing the Easter weekend down to a fixed point in the calendar, rather than allowing it to float about as they do, anywhere from the middle of March till nearly May Day.

Have you ever noticed that, because of it being, literally, the movable feast, it always creeps up on you and appears just when you're least expecting it?

Well, I mean, I moaned on long enough last month that I only had twenty eight days in which to compose my wonderful words of wisdom for March, yet April's edition seems to have had even less preparation time, what with the four days taken up with the holiday itself, plus the three further days you need for all the pre-holiday food shopping.

Why DOES it take three days to shop for a four day holiday, anyway?  No, best I don't get myself started on that one, that's a digression that I might never ever finish.

I'm very tempted to move dear old Comment back to the wireless, you know, where, with very little thought in advance, I'd just wander into a studio, somewhere, and randomly ramble on for the required number of minutes.

Yes, madam, I KNOW I randomly ramble on on here as well, so from that point of view, things would be little different.   No, it's the committing of the ramblings to keyboard which seems to take the time and cause all the difficulties, you see.

Whilst I refer on a regular basis to the writing of Comment, it's an odd fact that it's never, actually, been written, as in that old fashioned task involving pen and paper.

Oh yes, the odd aide memoir might have been scribbled on the back of an envelope from the tax man, with an ancient one-and-a-half inch 2B pencil occasionally, but that's about as close to proper writing as Comment's ever come.

No, for all this talk of writing, ever since I moved on from the radio, the written word's always been the typed word, or to be more precise, the word processed word.

Which, rather obliquely, but amazingly skilfully, takes us directly in the direction of the subject for in-depth analysis in this month's edition of Comment.

We appear to be breeding a new generation of youngsters who have absolutely no understanding of how certain, once every day, items work.  It is this lack of understanding which is to come under the scrutiny of the Nick Harvey Acme microscope this month.

How many of you, out there in Comment devotee land, can remember how to type something up on an old, manual, typewriter?   How many can remember the trials and tribulations of having to hand write a thirty page report for the boss?

Whilst most of us could probably cope with the mechanics of putting pen to paper, or hitting those mechanical typewriter keys about ten times as hard as you have to do with a computer keyboard, I suspect none of us would get on too well coping with the errers, sorry, erors, sorry, errors.

Remember crossings out?   Remember Tippex fluid?  Remember Tippex sheets for the typewriter?

To your modern child of the twenty-first century all a crossing out means is that the price has been reduced from the one crossed out to the new one next to it.

Give your twenty-first century child some Tippex fluid and he'd probably ask you why you want such a small sample pot of white paint.

As for the Tippex sheets, where you used to go back, switch the ribbon lifter off, type the wrong letter again in white, over the black version, then go back again and type the correct letter in black over the white one; well the mind would simply boggle, then probably explode.

Then there's the original version of cut and paste, where you suddenly realised you had your paragraphs in the wrong order.   Get the scissors out, chop the page up into little bits, then reassemble it, in a different order, using sellotape, or before that, in the real olden days, proper paper paste made out of flour and water.

I wonder how many modern cutters and pasters even realise that that's where that phrase originated?

We're all so used to the backspace key, moving the cursor around to correct errors we've noticed and that wonderful automation that is spell checker, that those of us who came up through the manual days would find it damn difficult to go back there now, but those who never experienced it at all would find it practically impossible.

Now, our child of the twenty-first century was round at his friend's house the other day.  As he's a child of the twenty-first century, his legs only know how to walk between front doors and car doors, so he needed to phone his Dad to come round with the car and collect him.

Unfortunately, our child's friend's father is interested in nostalgia and antiques, so when our child asked if he could phone home for his lift, he was presented with a magnificent, GPO model 232, dial telephone to use.   Child of the twenty-first century hadn't got the first idea as to how to operate the dial.

I'm told by reliable sources, that we also have a generation of youngsters coming forward who haven't a clue what a long playing gramophone record is.  Soon, with all the music being converted to just a string of digits on computers, I assume they eventually won't even be able to recognise a compact disc.

I'm used to my gramophone records having numbers, seventy-eights, forty-fives and thirty-threes, so I was a little confused recently when I asked a friend if I could borrow a particular track, to be told that he only had it in an empty tree, or some weird contraption of a similar name to that.

The first records I ever used to play were seventy-eights and you had to remember to wind the gramophone up after you played each one!  The first radio studio I worked in was capable of playing seventy-eights, albeit spun round by that electricity stuff by that time.

Right, on to plot!  Another item that would give the youth of today a hard time, working out how to use it, involves the motor car.

Even as far back as my days at school, we had a senior mistress who was convinced that this particular accessory was purely for her to hang her handbag on, so no wonder its use has become an even greater mystery as even more years have gone by.

Our modern youth will, no doubt, get his driving lessons from a driving school with a moderately up-to-date car where the interior light comes on automatically when you open the door, where the rear wiper comes on automatically if you go into reverse and where the engine computer adjusts the mixture automatically to cope with the external temperature.

Not so in our day, though, dear viewer.  We had to cope with something called the choke control.  Remember that?

Now then, we start with a bijou discussionette of the simply stupid name for this control.  If you choke the young lad from next door, you deprive him of breath and probably bring about his early demise.   If you apply the choke on an old car, you improve its breathing and make the engine run more smoothly in cold conditions.  Dead logical, eh?

There used to be a knob for the choke on the dashboard, next to the starter button and the little hole for the ignition key to go into.   You pulled out this choke knob in order to gradually apply said device and you pushed the knob back in when you'd finished with it.

If you were the senior mistress at the local Grammar School on a warm summer afternoon, you just pulled the knob out, hung your handbag on it and then roared down the school drive at around eighty miles an hour, scattering the youth of the day to the four winds.

Because this device was only used to improve running while the engine was cold, even in my early days of driving I would forget all about it from April to October and then have to retrain myself each November in exactly how far to pull the knob out for a smooth start in which kind of conditions.

The exact positioning of the choke control was an exact science and make no mistake.

So heaven help our poor, dear, child of the twenty-first century if he ever finds himself being asked to drive the vintage Rolls-Royce out of the motor museum on a cold January morning.  Not only will be totally unable to get the thing started; he'll also have no chance at all of ringing for help on the dial telephone; nor any hope of typing a letter to request the user manual; not even a possibility of entertaining himself with the gramophone until somebody comes to help.

I feel sorry for the younger generation, occasionally!

Well, I might have ended up with only about twenty-four days in which to think up this load of old cobblers, but we do seem to have got there eventually.  A slightly jumpy start, perhaps, but I think we got the mixture right in the end.

I note that the whole of April is devoid of any Bank Holiday activity, so the May edition of Nick Harvey's Comment ought to appear dead on time on May 1st, so don't you dare be late either.

Perhaps a good moment to go out for a spin in the country, now.  Right, I'm off, where's me starting handle?

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