Before I leave the subject of my doffness completely, there's one other incident I've had a big chuckle about…well, more than one chuckle, to be honest. It's not about absent-mindedness, this one. No, it's about that other symptom of advancing years…the inability to keep up with modern technology.
I should say I've never been one for buying the latest and newest piece of techno-gadgetry. On principle, I will buy second-hand stuff rather than new and that extends from phones to cars. I've only ever had one new computer, and one new car in all my nearly sixty years. These days even my smart phone is not smart at all and I cannot work out how to use touch screens, tablets or pods with any semblance of dexterity; I'm just not that savvy…or maybe it's that I'm not that interested.
So when the day came that I flew to Birmingham this last August expecting to drive a hire car, imagine my consternation when they introduced me to a vehicle from out of some kind of sci-fi movie. I'm really serious. I couldn't believe what this thing did.
What happened was that I'd booked a car online (as one does these days) and I'd specified I wanted a manual gearbox. I've never driven automatics so I always tick the box to show I want a normal car with a normal gear stick.
Well when I arrived, things started out badly anyway, which set the scene for further dismay. I was already hot, bothered and frustrated because I couldn't find the car hire office but then even madder at myself because I'd put the wrong return date on the booking form and found I had to pay more than double I was expecting to bring it back a day later. As a result, by the time they took me out to my hire vehicle I was definitely not in the best frame of mind.
The receptionist showed me to the car - at least that's what it looked like. I don't remember now what it was, but on the outside at least it seemed quite normal, bar one thing. It didn't seem to have any mirrors. Never mind, I thought. Perhaps they pop out when the car starts (I really did). I knew things had changed since 1995 which was when my old Opel was built so I was prepared for some small surprises. But, as they say, this was not all...
The receptionist handed me what looked like a small credit card and told me that was the key. She showed me where to poke it in and then hurried off to deal with another customer.
I got in the car and looked around. This was when I started to get worried. Nothing looked normal. There were only two pedals; there was no proper gear stick - just a lever thingy - and there was a computer screen where the speedo and rev counter should have been. I realised to my concern they'd given me an automatic, but then what was this screen? How did I start the car and where were the mirrors?
Still, trying (but in truth failing) to be courageous, I stuck the credit card into the slot where the receptionist had shown me. The computer screen sprang into life and filled up with numbers and blinking symbols…but the car hadn't started. At least I couldn't tell if it had or not. There was a faint sort of purring, but I couldn't find a resident cat and nothing else seemed to be moving.
Frustration set in. I tried again at least three times and still the car didn't seem to do anything except purr faintly. Was it or wasn't it running? I really couldn't tell.
So it was that eventually I marched back to the office and demanded help. The astonished assistant who was now at the desk listened to my complaint and then said, "But madam, it's a hybrid car. Don't you know about them? It's electric, so of course you can't hear it."
"But it's got no gear stick either!" I wailed.
"No, madam, it's an automatic. Look," he said patiently, "I'll come and show you how everything works."
Still deeply troubled and very suspicious, I followed him back to the now-dubbed space invader.
We got in.
"Put the card in the slot."
"Now watch the screen. As soon as it says 'ready', you can drive. Just remember never to use your left foot"
"Oh? Why not?"
"Because there's only an accelerator and a brake. You must never use your left foot, see?"
Okay… well, not really, but...
"Now watch the screen again. Put your right foot on the brake and keep it there. Now put the car into drive."
"But it's not running!" I said, confused.
"Yes it is, the screen says so."
"The screen says so…right…"
"Put the car into drive and watch the screen."
"What must I be watching for?"
"What's behind you, that's what," he said patiently.
"But why can't I use mirrors?"
"There are no mirrors, madam."
I looked at him, I looked at the alien controls of this automatic hybrid thing that I couldn't hear and couldn't feel and decided I was absolutely not going to give up control of my already iffy directional sense to a computer screen.
"Nooooo!" I exploded. "I can't do this, I'm sorry, but I'm NOT driving out into rush hour Birmingham in this thing. Find me a proper car!"
The assistant looked totally flummoxed.
"But it is a proper car, madam."
"No. It isn't!" I squeaked. "I wanted a car with everything in the normal place…and a gear stick...not this…whatever you call it!" To my shame, I burst into tears.
Well, that convinced him. After making embarrassed but soothing noises, we got all my luggage out of the space invader and I was led back to the office until they could find me something else. After about half an hour someone delivered a small manual drive Peugeot complete with standard speedo and displays (although even some of these were digital) and they hurriedly handed me the keys and sent me on my way.
When I told my family this story, we all had a good laugh at my histrionics, but it was a bit of a salutary lesson. I've now acknowledged I need to go on a course or two on how to cope with some of this 21st century technology. I dread to think what I'll do otherwise when my old and trusty car (with wind up windows and old fashioned cassette tape deck), computer and phone (no touch screens in sight) give up. Or maybe I'll just have to accept it's time for me to give them up too! What do you think?