“ Something simply catastrophic has happened,” shrieked my husband, staring at his iPad in almost comic disbelief. “I’ve lost my friends. All of them. How can this be possible? One minute I had masses, the next – whoosh – gone into the ether. Disappeared. I’m friendless.”
“ Dad, you won’t have lost them,” said Tilly sensibly.
“You can’t just lose 300 friends. It’s Facebook. It’s not possible. They’ll be there somewhere.”
“ You don’t understand,” said Johnnie, frantically stabbing the aps on his iPad in desperation. “I’ve obviously touched something and deleted every friend I’ve ever had.”
“ Dad, you’ve got to get a grip,” admonished India. India is 27 and refuses to pander to drama. “Calm down and let me see what you’ve done. Give me your password.”
“ Do I have a password?” asked Johnnie. “ I have so many I can’t remember any of them. Which one?”
“ The password to your iPad,” said India speaking with forced patience very, very slowly.
“ But I don’t have a password to my iPad.”
“ Dad, you do. Think carefully. When you switch on your iPad and play Angry Birds or download clips of Fred Astaire or talk to your imaginary Facebook friends you use a password. What is it?”
By now Johnnie was holding his hands up to his head in despair.
“ But I don’t. Stop telling me I have a password when I patently don’t.”
“ Dad you’re not special. Everyone has a password.”
By now we were all beginning to rue the day we ever encouraged Johnnie to embrace modern technology. He’d stubbornly avoided a mobile for years, impervious to the fact people would just call my phone in order to get hold of him.
“ It’s deeply irritating,” I’d point out “to have to deal with your business calls. I’ve become your unwilling secretary. If people can’t get hold of you at home, they just call me to get your mobile number. Which doesn’t exist, because you refuse to belong to this century.”
After a decade-long impasse, he dropped his defenses, got fed up with our endless chivvying, saw red and went Orange. To begin with, it was an “emergency only telephone” kept in the glove compartment of his car. He kept it permanently switched off because he didn’t want to “run down the battery” and just occasionally would actually use it; always channeling Arthur Lowe in Dad’s Army. He would shout. And enunciate clearly. Conversations were terse and understandably limited.
However, it wasn’t long before his innate love of gadgetry meant he crossed the Rubicon of resistance. The man who used words like “gramophone” with no sense of retro irony, upped his game.
He got an iPhone, and started carrying it in his pocket. He remembered to charge it overnight. He laboriously texted carefully crafted, and insanely long-winded, polite messages to his children. Occasionally, he even texted to say he’d landed safely when he was off on location. He installed a Parrot on his dashboard so that he was able to multi-task and not pull over to a layby every time he wanted to talk. He even – wait for it – bought a rubber sleeve for it so it didn’t get scratched. He loved his mobile.
Then in a moment of madness the children clubbed together and gave Johnnie an iPad for Christmas. Now being given an iPad without ever having been near a laptop is like getting into a Ferrari having spent your whole life in a Noddy car. It’s a recipe for disaster, and the cause of some of our most spectacular family rows.
Forget guarantees. This is the present that ideally should have come with a live-in computer expert. We have to keep one child permanently living here, as Johnnie requires an in-house technician 24/7. He has embraced the ethos of computer technology but has yet to grasp the concept that he is the master and his iPad merely his slave.
“ My iPad wants me to install a new programme, you need to come over and do it for me immediately,” he’ll tell India who is happily ensconced in her own flat watching Grey’s Anatomy.
“ Just say no,” she replies wearily.
“ But it keeps asking me,” Johnnie will implore.
“ Dad, it’s probably also sending you emails telling you how to extent your penis by
five inches, but you don’t have to do it. Ignore it.”
“ But it’s bullying me.”
“ Dad, how many times do I have to explain, your iPad is not real. It can’t bully you.”
“ I am asking for so little, Indie,” Johnnie will say. “ I am begging you to come you over and sort it out. You’re a genius at these things and Mum gets so impatient with me.”
“ I’m not a genius, Dad. I’m just not scaredy-cat at telling an inanimate object to back off.”
And over she comes.
“ Why is it always me? “ she asks. “ Why can’t Tilly or Archie sort this out for you?”
“ They’re not as brilliant as you,” explains Johnnie watching in awe as India flicks his screen on, goes to Safari and types Facebook into his search engine.
“ Or as patient,” I hear her mutter under her breath. “There,” she announces. “ Your friends are all there waiting for you, see?”
“ I swear they’d disappeared.”
“ Well they’ve come back,” she replies.
“ I can never thank you enough,” says Johnnie with the gratitude and wonder of a man who thinks he has just witnessed a small miracle.
“ Now, if you could be a saint and sign me onto my Amazon account and show me how I can order a ladder…..”
“ Go to B&Q,” she snaps. “ With a friend. A real friend. Not a Facebook one. They’re way too flakey.”