Hang ups

Mark Lawson, in a recent Guardian review, claimed that despite its modern-day trappings the BBC sitcom, Next of Kin, belongs in the Fifties. To prove his point, he drew readers' attention to the fact that the principal characters still use a hot-water bottle, "when people of this couple's class and lifestyle would almost certainly have purchased an electric blanket years ago".

My wife and I broke out in a connubial cold sweat when we read that. Through a long and often tempestuous marriage, we have always striven to be typical Guardian readers. We have heard of electric blankets, but both of us wouldn't recognise one if we tripped over it in IKEA. Without realising how ludicrously naff and offensively Luddite it must have seemed, we've clung to our out-moded hot-water bottles.

I'll have to break ranks momentarily, and say - at the risk of sounding unfashionably macho - that I don't need anything to keep my tootsies warm in bed. It's my wife who does. She has a brace of bottles, purchased in Superdrug, which have travelled the world with us.

I have watched the matres d' in some of the finest hotels in Europe cringe as, at the bewitching time of cognacs and bon soirs, she has brandished her hot water bottles and demanded "de l'eau chaud - complet".

She had every intention of using them - unless the rubber perishes or she loses a screw-top - well into the next millennium. But Mr Lawson's article has shaken her faith in the old technology. She now feels that someone of her class and lifestyle should be opting for Sunbeam's BEAB-approv-ed "Blanket with a Brain".

It is going to mean installing a new socket, facing bigger electricity bills, and mugging up on yet more jargon. But that's how it has always been with new technology. You toddle along blissfully unaware of the latest gizmo. Then your best friend tells you - or worse still, you read in The Guardian - that everybody who is anybody has not only got one, but also has the latest model. And don't kid yourself that you are immune from such peer pressure.

At the moment, you might be stoically indifferent to the hype generated by the Internet, but you also know that it won't be long before the only address that will matter will have @ in it.

Like it or not, you are going to be the proud owner of a fax machine, an electronic organiser, and a decoder that will enable you to watch hundreds of new channels that you don't want to watch.

How much of this new technology do we really need? Writing this on a state-of-the-art word processor, it is sobering to reflect that Shakespeare wrote with nothing more sophisticated than a goose quill.

New technology is certainly revolutionising the way we do things, but that shouldn't blind us to the fact that in the old days people still seemed to manage quite well.

The enthusiasts who read the IT pages of The TES are now going to have to face the terrible truth that it might even be possible to educate children without the aid of computers, CD-Roms or information superhighways. If the thought brings you out in a cold sweat, may I recommend Superdrug's inexpensive range of hot water bottles.


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