It’s not that I have a problem with modernity, but upgrading one’s life isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. Of course there are benefits but there can be losses too. What seemed like an obvious advance can give rise to pangs of nostalgia for the old way of doing things – was the decision to change correct? Over the last two weeks I have twice been confronted by such questions. Both arose following the installation of modern equipment. In one case it was a water pump, in the other a television.
A year ago we discovered a well in our front garden in Brittany. [Magic Well. Greyhares blog, 7th August 2013]. From the very start I saw the water as precious, almost belonging to the well itself rather than to us and, by rights, using it should require some effort. The supply of water had to be earned. In that spirit, several times last year during the very hot July, I used a pail attached to a rope to haul up a hundred or so bucketfuls for the garden We have three large plastic water butts strategically placed around the garden and they all needed replenishing. Filling them took around two hours and much effort. But it felt right.
That was last year. Now we have had a pump installed. So, with the turn of a tap, water is drawn up from the well and can be used to hose the garden – a big advantage. On the down side, the pump is industrially noisy and the long, glistening plastic pipe that sits in the well shaft is an eyesore. Indeed, next to the beautifully honed curved stones of the shaft, aligned by masons over two hundred and fifty years ago, the pipe appears almost insulting. Yes, watering the garden will now be much easier, but haven’t we been unfaithful to a fine old lady – our well? Doesn’t she deserve better? At the moment, the premodernist in me would prefer to go back to pulling up buckets one-by-one.
Then there’s the matter of the television. In France for years we have had a radio with very unreliable BBC reception which makes getting most wireless news too frustrating to even attempt. Not surprisingly, we have hummed and harred about whether we should buy a TV and living in a TV-free house has offered a special calm. Our cottage is a simple, stone-built, slate-roofed former stable, probably built around 1800. Apart from the general disruption TVs can cause, our worries were that the set would dominate any room in which it was sited, when it was on there would be nowhere where non-viewers could go to escape its sound and that anyway, an aerial on the roof would be unsightly.
Earlier this year the ‘for and against’ equation changed. The recalculation took into account that this summer there would be football World Cup, with coverage beamed from Brazil, that a satellite dish belonging to our neighbour had recently appeared on our shared chimney stack, and that the next-generation of slimmed-down receivers were now available. So, last week after much deliberation and research, an ultra slim set with all mod cons, including wireless headsets was installed, tucked away on a bookshelf in a study-bedroom upstairs.
It turns out that sitting alone late in the evening watching football and wearing headphones is a staggering anticlimax, to the extent that many games have been turned off by half time. I recall having heard the final whistle only once. Somehow, in the grand picture of things, watching games live actually adds little or nothing to the BBC’s news flashes that can be read on my tablet. And the gap between flashes adds a touch of suspense!
Two modernisation misjudgements in as many weeks makes for a poor record. Perhaps I will gradually adapt to our new devices but, on reflection, both the water pump and the TV now feel like unnecessary, unwelcome and costly intrusions. Hindsight is a wonderful thing!