Trevor Laffan: Simpler days... before we became slaves to technology

We have become slaves to technology says Trevor Laffan in his weekly column
Trevor Laffan: Simpler days... before we became slaves to technology

DIAL N FOR NOSTALGIA: Telephone operators at the GPO in Cork in 1965, in the era when you could only take a call at home.

MY son mentioned to me recently that he fancied the idea of buying a site in the countryside and building a house on it.

My immediate reaction was to try and talk him out of it. I thought of my own experience of building our first house back in the 1980s and I didn’t want him following the same path.

We built it by direct labour, as many people did back then, and it was a hard slog from start to finish.

I remember the hassle we had drawing up the plans for a bungalow and the complicated process of applying for planning permission. Organising the materials and trying to do a lot of the work ourselves meant it took two years before we could move into it, and that was only for starters.

Painting and decorating, landscaping, and laying the footpaths, driveway and patios seemed to take forever and continued long after we took up residence.

For those few years we didn’t take holidays. We hardly gave ourselves a weekend break and every penny we had went into that house. There was no day off.

Those memories caused me to discourage my son from following my footsteps, but I immediately regretted it. If that’s his dream, then I shouldn’t allow my personal experience to prevent him from chasing it. After all, we had 25 good years living in that house and created many happy memories there, so it wasn’t all bad.

We were young and fit at the time and well able for the effort. We just got on with it and I’m sure he would also manage fine if he took it on so he shouldn’t take any notice of what I say. Not that he does anyway.

A friend of mine just reminded me of something else I did back in the day that I wouldn’t do again when he bought a caravan. We did the same when the kids were young, and we thought we might knock a bit of fun out of it.

It was a tiny, basic affair a bit like the one in the episode of Father Ted. We enjoyed it at the time but living in such a small space would break me now.

The thought of climbing out of the bed is enough to give me backache. The fact that I have increased in size would make moving about a bit more challenging too. The grunting and groaning from the exertion of trying to reach the chemical toilet in the middle of the night would probably wake the neighbours and I’d be asked to leave.

My friend has taken caravanning to a new level though. He bought an ultra-modern version with a proper kitchen, shower, heating system and it can even be parked by remote control. This guy doesn’t believe in hardship.

Mine finished up as kindling, which was the best place for it, but we did get some pleasure out of that simple way of life I suppose.

I got another reminder of that simplicity recently when I called on a friend of mine. He’s a man in his seventies and he was doing some work on a vacant house in the countryside — painting and decorating mainly — and as I was passing, I called in to see how he was getting on.

As I got out of the car, I could hear the birds chirping and little else. The front door was open, so I called out and found him in the front room painting away. There was no radio or background music to disturb the peace, it was just him and his paint and he was completely content being on his own.

There aren’t many other houses around so I was wondering how he would manage if he fell off a ladder or had some other mishap. I asked him if he had a phone and he told me he leaves that at home because he doesn’t need it and it would only be distracting him.

His family knew where he was and if they needed to reach him urgently, he said they could drive up to him. Otherwise, callers could leave a message on the phone and he’d get it at some stage.

He had arranged to call the owner in a few days’ time to give him an update on the progress of the work and until then, he didn’t need to make any other calls.

The idea of pre-arranging phone calls seems completely alien these days, but of course that’s what we all did back in the day. Before mobile phones arrived on the scene, we relied on landlines and to answer those you had to be at home, so it was common to arrange a call for a particular day and time. There was nothing wrong with that either and we managed fine.

We have become slaves to technology now and there was something liberating about seeing my friend free himself from the constant demands of it. 

He has no interest in social media. He’s too busy getting on with his own life to concern himself with the comings and goings of others and he doesn’t see the point in talking on the phone if he has nothing to say.

He was enjoying the moment and had no intention of bringing any unnecessary pressure on himself. It was hard not to be envious of him. It was another reminder that the old ways of doing things weren’t all bad.

So, I’ve decided not to discourage my son from building his own house or buying a caravan if that’s what he wants, and I certainly have no intention of trying to persuade him to leave his mobile phone behind.

I’d have a better chance of getting him to walk into town naked.

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