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Between a Rock and a hard place

Between 1992 and 1994 I had a brief love affair with Apple products. I can pin-point the start of it because it was the year that the outcome of the infamous ITV franchise process instigated by the swivel-eyed Maggie Thatcher took effect, in the sense that those companies who had lost theirs had to begin preparing for ‘life after death’, including by making their staff redundant.

On 28th April 1988 ITV broadcast a documentary in Thames Television’s This Week series called Death On The Rock which was critical of the Government’s actions in the aftermath of the shooting of three IRA would-be bombers on Gibraltar.

The programme did not take a stand on the rights and wrongs of the shooting of the IRA operatives per se, but alleged – and proved in many people’s opinion – that the shootings had not complied with the relevant ‘rules of engagement’ in place at the time (which required the giving of a challenge and an opportunity to surrender) and that the Government had deliberately issued false information and briefings to the media afterwards: these had suggested that a sudden tip-off had been received; that urgent action was therefore required to prevent a serious terrorist outrage; and that the IRA men, who were feared to be armed and on their way to plant and/or detonate a bomb, had been shot in accordance with the ‘rules of engagement’ by the Gibraltar police.

In fact, in liaison with British secret services the Spanish authorities had been trailing the IRA gang throughout their car journey down through Spain to Gibraltar; at the time of their shooting they were unarmed and simply on a reconnaissance mission prior to, at some point later, planting their bomb; and lastly they were shot dead in cold blood, at least one of them in the act of trying to surrender, by a British SAS cell. The suggestion was made that, at least technically – in contrast to the impression the Government had sought to peddle – they had been unlawfully killed.

Maggie Thatcher and the Tory government were naturally piqued at the effrontery of the programme makers in challenging the official version of events, not least bearing in mind the potential embarrassment the challenge might cause.

And so came the ridiculous 1991 ITV franchise process – which some still hold to this day was deliberately designed to gain revenge on Thames Television.

It included the ‘rules’ that (1) the necessary assessment of applicants’ programming intentions would pay no regard whatsoever (as had always been the case previously) to the quality of programming already produced any incumbent applicant; and (2) once any applicants for a particular ITV area had passed the theoretical ‘quality’ assessment for their submitted programming plans, the contest thereafter would be a simple matter of which of them bid the most.

As a result, Thames Television – the London weekday franchise holder and biggest of the fifteen ITV companies, which made 45% of ITV’s peak-time programming on its own and had won shafts of UK and international awards down the years for every type of programme – lost its franchise to Michael Green’s Carlton Television. Thames had bid £34 million per annum for a renewal of its own franchise, but instead Carlton won because it just happened to bid about £2 million more. It was of course a significant irony that Carlton subsequently produced only about 20% of what it had pledged in its ‘programming plans’ pitch.

Elsewhere the absurdities of the process were further revealed. One of them was the tale whereby Central Television won its own franchise back. Having discovered that there was going to be only one candidate bidding against it, Central simply came to a secret accommodation with said entity whereby it withdrew from the process, leaving Central as the only bidder. Which explains why its winning bid was a derisory £2,000 per annum.

Anyway, all that’s got nothing whatsoever to do with today’s post.

Faced with unemployment in the wake of Thames’s demise, I fell in with a pal who had been working in digital media. He assured me that Apple products were ‘the gold standard’ in said sector for the simple reason that they were infinitely superior to all others.

Thus I bought, and then came to love, an Apple laptop. Until it got stolen by a burglar.

When I arrived in my next job after that and announced that I wished to be an Apple man, my colleagues said that they all operated on Windows computers and therefore so must I.

Thus I bought my first Windows laptop and I’ve been a Windows man ever since.

Most everybody I know, including my kids, have Apple products – especially iPhones – and swear by them, giving me the old ‘Come on in, the water’s lovely …” garbage. Which hitherto I’ve ignored.

Until this week, when my bank suddenly emailed me saying I had a vast amount of unused ‘loyalty points’ and if I didn’t redeem them this month I’d lose them forever.

iPadThus I ordered an Apple iPad Air on Monday which duly arrived by courier yesterday. It’s gorgeous. I’ve seen them before but never used one.

And thereby I came to the bane of my ‘oldie’ life – the inevitably ‘blank’ as regards modern technology.

Suddenly I had to come up with a numbered code to ‘get into’ my new iPad; then I had to create an Apple iD, which of course had to have both a user name and a password. That was the next problem – my first password was rejected for being too weak, could I please include a number and a capital letter in it?

By the time I’d done that I had reached the outer limit of my understanding and indeed powers of concentration.

However, it finally seemed as if I was ‘in’ and could start playing with my new toy.

The first ‘app’ (or whatever it is they’re called) I tried, as an initial step, immediately asked me for my Apple iD.

By that time, getting frustrated – all I wanted to do is have a ‘look-see’ play going round what my IPad contained – I was getting confused between what my ‘signing in’ code was … what my user name was, what my password was (was it the same as the email account’s password that I was suing as my user name?), was it the same as my Apple iD (or not?) … and so on. It wasn’t long before I was having trouble remembering my name, let alone one of the three passwords I appeared to have created in the past hour of wrestling with this example of modern technology.

typewriterIn the end I had to give up, put the bloody thing down to one side, make myself a pint of very strong gin and tonic and settle down to watch television.

When will one of these confounded computer companies make some device that works just like a typewriter and paper used to do?

I reckon there’s about a billion people worldwide like me who’d be seriously interested …

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About Martin Roberts

A former motoring journalist, Martin lists amongst his greatest achievements giving up smoking. Three times. He holds to the view that growing old is not for the faint-hearted. More Posts