Northern Drains. The future, 7.40pm
‘Hey Great-Grandpa, show us that hand-typing thing you can do,’ says Great-Granddaughter #1.
‘Yeah, yeah!’ yells Great-Grandson #2, his spectacles clearing. ‘Show us that… that…’ He looks puzzled, and turns to Great-Granddaughter #1: ‘What is it again?’
‘Hand-typing,’ she says with the superiority that comes with being eight. ‘Great-Grandpa can type messages – with no apps, no software at all. Not even hardware. He just does it with his hands.’
‘Like this?’ says Great-Grandson #2, his spectacles digitally clouding, his four-year-old hands stretched out in front of him, fingers typing in the air.
In the room, iSpecs immediately cloud over, handhelds buzz and flash, and four great-grandchildren laugh as messages flit around the room. For some, fingers dance in the air; for others, thumbs skip across glowing screens.
There are cheeky glances my way among the laughter, but I don’t know what they’re saying. I mean, I could touch the control on my ear tech and join in the communication, but, despite the Silent Speak Message and Virtual Viagara apps, it’s still just a hearing aid to me. So I hear nothing except buzz and beep, giggle and laughter. Very clearly.
‘Actually, it’s handwriting,’ I say.
‘You can’t read it, though,’ Great-Granddaughter #1 announces to the others. ‘It’s olden stuff. Like driving cars.’
‘Driving cars?’ says Great-Grandson #1. ‘I drive a car. I drive to school.’ (He’s seven.)
‘No. It was different in the olden days. You had to steer and stuff,’ says Great-Granddaughter #1. She knowledgeable. Well, she is eight…
‘Oh my god!’ says Great-Grandson #1. ‘That’s crazy.’ He mimes some radical steering and crashes into Great-Grandson #2. They fall over, laughing.
‘I can read it,’ Granddaughter #2 says, seriously. ‘Great-Grandpa showed me.’
I did. And she can. Despite being the youngest, she’s the only one who can do handwriting. And read it. Must be a throwback gene. I like her.
‘Show us the hand-typ – writing,’ says Great-Grandson #2.
‘Yes, Great-Grandpa,’ say the others.
I take a fountain pen from my bag. The kids giggle.
‘I need paper,’ I say.
I can still source ink for the pen through Google store. Indian ink, of course. Everything is made in India these days.
‘Where’s some paper?’ demands Great-Granddaughter #1. ‘Quick. Grandpa needs paper.’ She’s the boss. Well, she is the oldest. (And noisiest…)
Three kids shrug their shoulders. A moment passes. Too long. They’re bored now. iSpes cloud over, bodies start to hunch over handhelds. Silence.
Then Great-Granddaughter #1: ‘I know! Grandpa’s toilet!’
She races off to grab some of my toilet paper. (I’m just not as wash-n-wind sort of bloke.)
‘Did you really steer a car by yourself, Great-Grandpa?’ asks Great-Grandson #1.
‘Yes. I had full control. Acceleration, braking… everything,’ I say.
‘Wow! You must have been special.’
‘No, everyone learned to drive a car. It was a skill. Like handwriting. Like mathematics. Like reading a map. Like having a conversation. Like – ‘
‘I have paper!’ yells Great-Granddaughter #1, re-entering the room, one sheet of toilet paper in her free hand.
‘Could you go as fast as you wanted?’ asks Great-Grandson #1. ‘Like really fast? Or did the computer stop you?’
‘There were no computers in the cars.’
‘What! No computers? Really?’
‘Nope. They came later. Started parking the cars, changing the gears, planning the route, finally replacing human skill altogether.’
‘Show us the handwriting, Great-Grandpa,’ says Great-Grandson #2.
I place a sheet of toilet paper on the table. The great-grandkids gather around. Great-Granddaughter #2 hops onto my knee and puts her hand on mine, so she can learn. I put pen to paper. I write:
I wish you could write with a pen. I wish you could drive a car. It was fun.