The Writings of Ingrid Pitt

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Ingrid's Obituary


Hobson's Choice or....?

Stick it on the desk, plug it in, turn it on and away you go. The confessions of a fantasist.
Computers

Oh, Technology.

I was enjoying myself. One of those moments when everything is right with the world. I was on top of it. Half way through my second novel, The Perons (Methuen). Already I was mentally bringing the deadline forward and delivering it to the publishers a month or so early. The euphoria ended abruptly. The screen flared up, flickered apologetically a few times - then went the sort of blank which appears on the faces of politicians when they are asked a straight question and don’t want to give a straight answer. But I had an answer. Not very sophisticated, I know, but it made me feel better. I let out the regulatory blood curdling scream, threw myself on the floor and kicked my legs in the air. If there was one thing I had learned at that point it was that if the computer went on the blink and you hadn’t saved what you had written it was bye-bye baby. And I had been typing for four solid hours without once resorting to the save key. Three or four thousand words committed to Neverland.

I had taken on the computer, the Word Processor, under protest. My first novel, Cuckoo Run (Troubadour), had been typed on an electric typewriter. 250,000 words when the editor wanted 120,000. Cutting the book in half was not easy. Pages and pages had to be abandoned and rewritten. Pages which became stiff with Tipp-Ex and tears. Once I even got so mad with it all that I bunged the lot out of the window. A pretty useless exercise as I then had the humiliating job of going out and retrieving it and sorting the numberless pages in numerical order. When the publishers called for a follow up book I decided to put my time in South America to good use and write a ‘faction’ type novel about the mercurial life of Argentina’s Presidential pair, Juan and Evita Peron. Repeatedly I was told to abandon the typewriter and work on a Word Processor. Especially by the publishers who had gone off the idea of wading through pages and pages of badly typed manuscripts and were beginning to insist that their authors used a computer. Reluctantly I bought myself a little APRICOT. It was cute. Not much bigger than a shoe box with a 12 inch screen on top. It had a little slot in front which I was told was for ‘booting it up”. I didn’t know exactly what that meant but I found out that if you put a 3 inch square of plastic in it, a ‘floppy disk’ to the cognoscente, wonderful things happened. And the keyboard wasn’t even connected to the apparatus physically. It was explained to me how it worked but it was beyond me. I concentrated on the bits I could grasp. If I switched on, put the floppy disk into the slot and waited, the screen lit up and informed me that it was ready for action. At this point I had to remove the floppy disk, the ‘Boot’ disk, and substitute a ‘storage’ disk. If I didn’t the dazzling duo from the pampas would end up in the inner workings of the software. I approached it warily. Before long I was putting the typing lessons my mother had insisted on my taking when I told her I wanted to be an actress, to good use. I did have one or two little problems but they were easily overcome. It all seemed to be so easy that I got careless and didn’t, at regular intervals, bother to save what I had written. That was when the power cut in the Richmond area caught me in mid inspiration. In a flicker of the screen my treasured words were lost to posterity. That was enough for me. I heaved my typewriter out from under the bed and swore that I would never, ever, use a computer again. Two hours later I revised my opinion. As fragile and fraught with danger as my little Apricot was it was better than constantly having to get out the Tipp-Ex and paint the paper.

I liked the Apricot so much that when it was time to upgrade I went for another. This one had a 14” screen and an extra slot. This was, I was told smugly, for the Boot Disk. All by itself. By now I was able to enlarge the size of the letters, make double columns, use the word check and even, on one glorious morning, after a companionable chat with fellow computer nerd, Garfield Morgan of The Sweeney fame, underline words. It didn’t last long. I bought a Laser printer which didn’t get on too well with my Apricot so sorrowfully I brought in an Atari. The great thing about this was it was willing to work with my printer and, wonder of wonders, didn’t require booting up every time I wanted to use it. It was all there - just waiting for me to beckon it into life. I was introduced to the miracle of the ‘Hard Disk’. Compared with those found in the latest computers it wasn’t much. A capacity in K’s rather than M’ss or G’s but it was the one small step for which I had been looking. We became great friends but around me the world was changing. Using the computer as a mere word processor was out. Now it was rapidly becoming all things to all men - and women. On a train journey back from Scotland the first stirrings of coming treachery were bred. I read an article in the Times Supplement about a new computer about to be launched onto the amazed public. The Mackintosh iMac. The terms were so glowing that I knew I had to have one. I tried to keep my feelings from my faithful Atari but from the day that I returned from my trip with my half formed decision to defect from PC to Mac the Atari sullenly refused to be accommodating. It instantly developed a schism with my printer and sometimes made it extremely difficult to re-boot our former relationship. Computers know, you know. I rang Computer Warehouse in Isleworth and demanded one of the miracle machines. My enthusiasm waned a bit when they told me iMacs wouldn’t be available for 6 months but I was committed now and put in my order. But in my office the Atari sensed the final act of treason and shut down all communication with the printer. I had my guru in at least once a week but I never managed to come to any accommodation with the in situ hardware. When the suppliers rang to tell me I could collect my iMac I was so happy I ordered a scanner as well as a new printer. A colour printer!

The iMac was as easy to install as the leaflet claimed. Five connections, if I remember rightly, and it was hey-ho Silver. I soon got the hang of the scanner and only swore when the printer insisted on gouting out great wads of paper simultaneously or insisted on drawing aesthetically displeasing white lines across the page. There was one tiny drawback. No floppy disk facility. It didn’t strike me until I wanted to have a look at some stuff I had written on the old Atari. I drew this to the attention of the bloke I had bought the computer from and he sold me a zip-disk. I still couldn’t access my old floppies but what the hell - I now had a little machine which could store over three times as much information. Which I soon found out was surprisingly little in the realm of mega-bytes. So was the amount of RAM. In the original computer there was just a paltry 32 m. I had that pumped up to 96 and felt smugly superior. Then I read about the eMac - only a few months after buying my wonder machine - and the sunshine went out of my virtual world. But my iMac was a sturdy companion and other than having the irritating habit of telling me that its scratch card was full and freezing at inconvenient moments, everything looked rosy. Then I had a Chicken Licken moment when the CD ROM drive went into meltdown. I rang Computer Warehouse and told them my problem. Of course the Warranty was out of date by now and they couldn’t help me. So they gave me a couple of addresses to ring. Which I rang and rang and rang..... I scoured Yellow Pages and put a call through to practically everyone in the book. My opening line was, “I’ve got an iMac......” The instant retort, before I went further was, “Don’t do iMacs!” I finally tracked someone to his lair - in Oxford. He professed to love iMacs and would be with me the following day. In the morning. I dressed, smeared on some slap and waited - and waited - and waited. By the time he turned up in the early evening I was seething and almost turned him away. I calmed myself down but retaliated by not offering him a cup of tea. I felt decidedly queasy when he gave me the bill.

Months passed peacefully. Then the CD Rom thingy went walkabout again. This time I found someone a little nearer home after only a couple of day’s search. They got it back on track but told me that my pretty little iMac was passe. Under powered, no facility to burn CDs and barely able to support my software. I dismissed what he said. What did he know, He was obviously having trouble finding the bath tub. Unfortunately he was right. A few weeks later I bellied up to my desk one dark and stygian morning, switched on and - nothing! I checked everything. Still I was staring at a blank screen. In desperation I resorted to the Yellow Pages and got the “I don’t do Macs” routine. Then one sympathetic soul gave me a telephone number in Wandsworth to try. I rang Honeylight and my pleas for assistance were received sympathetically. I paid an extra fee for my iMac to have an on the spot health check. They told me what I already knew. My iMac was an antique. Several generations old. They could help me out but suggested that I should consider buying myself a new computer. Heresy ! I took up their offer of putting in a new analogue board and stretching the memory to bursting point. But in my soul I knew that we had come to the parting of the ways. That the next thing that went wrong with it would be its last. It was time to look for a new computer. Should I stick with Mackintosh or should I look into the murky world of the PC? I asked around. Everybody seemed to think that the Mackintosh marque was rather posh but then confessed that they had a PC. From my own experience I have found that there is an ethnic barrier between Mac and PC. All the goodies which are given away by magazines or in cereal packets are strictly PC. Whether this can be described as discrimination I will take under advisement. In the meanwhile I have to wrestle with my conscience. Do I desert the company I have befriended for years to submit to the flashier blandishments of another or do I stand firm and true?

Micro Mart 10th January 2005

The Writings of Ingrid Pitt