Wright's Aerials

Sometimes you just can’t make people understand

We went camping over the weekend. Well, it’s not really camping, if you go in a well-appointed motorhome. You just take with you the bits of your life that you like, and leave the rest behind. Anyway, there’s a group of us; we used to be in a national club for people with really old camper vans but there was a schism and we were thrown out. It was the north-south divide that caused it. Those from the north were nice and those from the south were gits. The trouble is, they owned the club, and so they booted us out for being too northern. It wasn’t normal snobbery — you can’t be a snob in a club for people who basically can’t afford a decent up-to-date camper van — I just think it annoyed them that we were paralytic for most of the time. Anyway, the northern contingent ended up as a club-like entity without rules, constitution, committee, subscriptions, or leader. We would have been anarchists but that would have categorised us, and we didn’t like that idea. So basically, what happens now is that Sid looks round ‘til he finds a good venue, then he emails a few of us to find out what we think (although for six months Sid’s email didn’t work because he steamed off his wallpaper and the damp buggered his PC). Eventually a plan of action is hammered out, which goes something like this: OK we’ll all turn up in our luxurious (ha ha!) motorhomes at Barlow Lakes on the Wednesday, or maybe the Thursday or Friday, and we’ll sort of park near each other, and we’ll chat intermittently, and we’ll look inside each other’s vans and then go away and be catty about them, and some of us will go to the pub, and some of us will go fishing, and it will be very relaxed and gentle and good fun, in a low key sort of way.

So off we guz on the Friday. Beforehand my dad has spent three days under his dreadful trailer caravan trying to fix it. I’m sceptical. Last trip I threw a wobbly – said I’d never tow the damn thing again. The body isn’t properly attached to the A frame and when you look in the rear view camera it seems to be trying to overtake you, and it squeaks, and the lights don’t work half the time. I hate towing the blasted thing, I really do.

Every time we go anywhere my dad sits in the back studying his charts, like some sort of Lancaster bomber navigator from the war. I drive cheerfully along, using a combination of local knowledge, guesswork, and satnav. Every time we go over a bump there’s a groan from the caravan owner and self-appointed navigator. The little caravan slaps up, then down, a small helpless appendage at the rear of a large uncaring behemoth. “Your magic eye don’t half take us down some bad roads,” moans the voice from the rear seat.

Eventually we reach Barlow Lakes. It’s easy to spot the non-club. Amongst all the tight, well-ordered groups of immaculate gleaming white motorhomes there is an area of grassy field containing a motley assortment of ancient vehicles of all shapes, sizes, and colours, many of which are so rusty that their arses are hanging out. Various fluids, both vehicular and human in origin, leak copiously and pollute the ground. We never get asked back.

The navigator shakes his head ruefully. “A nightmare journey” is his verdict. Muttering about ‘erratic driving’ he dolefully checks his crockery, all carefully wrapped in pages from the Mirror, and all totally smashed to bits. The fault, of course, is mine. It’s a combination of the afore-mentioned ‘erratic driving’ and my slave-like devotion to the ‘magic eye’. The rest of the non-club watch the ceremony of the crockery through lace curtains, and howl with mirth.

A group of anarchists shouldn’t have traditions, but one has arisen in the Non-society of Northern Reprobates Who Were Expelled. When we arrive we (sometimes) have a cuppa in Sid’s van. But this time . . . it was different! Sid is one of nature’s gentlemen. He puts the feelings of others first. He is a kind, lovely, person. But on this occasion he had a strange look in his eye.

“Hmm,” I thought, “Sid’s got an agenda. I wonder what’s on it.”

I soon found out. Sid’s wife danced about in that peculiar way she has and then burst out, “We’ve future-proofed ourselves!” I wondered if they’d been reading about these cryogenic nutters who have themselves frozen, but it wasn’t that.

“They’re going to turn television off in 2007, so we’ve gone satellite!” said Sid’s wife. I was dumbfounded. The premise was wrong, and the conclusion was highly dubious. My mouth opened, and closed again. I suddenly realised how tired I was. I’d had a week in which I’d suffered many fools. Usually it hadn’t been gladly. I’d also been a fool myself, several times. The best example of this, it seemed, was coming on this Goddam camping trip. Wearily, I said, “Go on,” but I needn’t have bothered. Sid’s wife gabbled on, explaining how all television was going to be turned off in two years, so everyone would have to have a dish. In order to prepare themselves and their campervan for this Armageddon they had purchased, from Maplins, a kit in a box. It comprised

  • a tiny dish
  • an LNB with a noise figure of 0.6dB, well below current standards
  • a satellite receiver with no card slot and no UHF modulator.

Sid said, “There’s just one problem we’d like you to help us with. How do we connect it to the telly?”

I said, “Show me your telly.” The telly was produced. It was a five inch black and white job, the sort of thing that you can get on the market for about £20. The sort of thing that doesn’t have a scart socket. I felt an almost overwhelming urge to commit one of those crimes that the press and defence lawyers call ‘inexplicable.’ Previous impeccable character, clean record, pillar of community, etc etc. I took a deep breath. “To start with, television will not be switched off in two years.”

I was about to explain the details of the change-over to digital, but Sid’s wife jumped in, “Oh yes it will. We heard it on . . .” She got no further.

Abandoning all the conventional social mores of the Non-society of Northern Reprobates Who Were Expelled I yelled “Look, I think I know what I’m talking about in this particular area,” (I was very very tired and stressed; that’s all I can say in my defence) “and I can assure you, Sid’s wife, that television will NOT be turned off in 2007!”

Sid’s wife started a counter attack, based on something her sister heard in the chip shop, but Sid stepped in. Sid’s a nice man who hates a barney even when one’s needed, sort of like Neville Chamberlain, so he decided to appease me, even though he knew I was wrong. He commenced a vague and rambling statement in which he conceded that possibly the information upon which they had acted might not in theory be 100% accurate, although really he could not think how. With cuppa in one hand and chocolate digestive in the other I drew myself to my full height (allowing for the low ceiling in Sid’s van) and interrupted him. I gave a full account of the history and future plans of the UK television transition from analogue to digital. I made especial reference to the analogue switch-off dates and I was careful to explain how digital transmissions had already started. I suppose this took about ten minutes.

At the end Sid said, solicitously, “That vein in your forehead looks as if it might burst, Bill. Have you had your blood pressure checked recently?”

Sid’s wife said “Well, I don’t know. It’s all right, all your fancy talk, but that woman in the chip shop, her son works for Comet, and my sister said she said . . .”. Sid hushed her, presumably fearing for his upholstery should my blood vessel burst.

“Look,” I said, “This thing you’ve bought from Maplins. It’s a total waste of your money. Firstly, it will not allow you to watch Channel Four and Channel Five because it hasn’t got a card slot . . .”

Sid risked an interruption. “Oh well, haven’t you heard? We won’t need a card for Channel Four and Channel Five soon. The man at Maplins told us.”

“When’s ‘soon’?”

“Oh, any day now he said.”

“Well don’t hold your breath,” I said. (This all happened in 2005, by the way).

“Apart from all that technological taradiddle what doesn’t concern us ordinary folk,” said Sid’s wife dismissively, “How do we connect it to our telly?”

Now out of patience and tact I said tartly, “You don’t.”

There was a shocked silence, then Sid said, “As I see it I need a lead with a scart plug on one end and an earpiece plug on the other. You must be able to get them.”

I tried to explain that that the 3.5mm jack socket on the little telly was an aerial socket and would not accept ‘scart signals’, and that the satellite receiver lacked a modulator and therefore would not provide ‘aerial signals’ – but really it was hopeless.

I retreated from Sid’s van exposed as a total failure and charlatan. I had been unable to connect his satellite receiver to his telly and, outrageously, I had tried to make out that the Maplin kit was unsuitable for the UK market. Furthermore I had contradicted the woman in the chip shop. I slunk back to my van humiliated and disgraced.

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