Old story: self-determination means nothing gets done. I could still be here in 20 years time, rubbing my eyes, flicking at the keys aimlessly; even looking out of the window and saying to myself: "There is a whole world out there, women too and what am I doing?" Databases. Databases are not sexy but without them we would still be up to our ears in fiddly card files and besmudged appointment diaries earmarked with elastic bands. Have you noticed that people always make a case for computers by invidious comparison? And there I was thinking that the once-pristine association of technology with progress had been tarnished.
I have not heard from my online tutor in two months. I long for a "well done". Or a smiley face stamped in the corner of a school-book page. Red biro, I long for red biro; the ruddy signifier of pedagogical authority. I email my tutor again, kidding myself that he is really there at some other terminal, waiting. "I've got my hand up," I write and then I wait. I don't think he likes me.
I know it is time to go in and take one or all of the online tests and maybe get my license, but I can't seem to muster any enthusiasm. I have a recurring dream about summoning the courage and making my way back to the college; but 10 years has gone by and the college is now re-clad in mirror glass. It looks more like an international bank. I don't recognise where I am. Then I have to pay to get in. For a minute I think I am actually in a multiplex cinema. A white-haired man with a beard appears on a large screen in the lobby. Sympathetically lit, the wrinkles still show. "You are on your own," he says. "Time to catch up or die", and then he laughs hysterically. We live in an age so obsessed with technology that this theory of survival surprises me little. Mankind is now just one big Wide Area Network and I just sit here waning and waiting. What did EM Forster say? "Only connect". But not without a modem, these days.
I am now the owner of a mobile phone on the recommendation of a hairdresser from Ilford who has replaced the cutlery salesman as my new e-contact. She, like me, joined the course a few months ago and has not yet ventured back to Mother for approbation for fear of getting a smack instead. Hair and text messaging are, it would seem, the tracks upon which her wheels run. She texts me between appointments and I, the fool that I am, text her back from my PC at work. In the evening we meet up in the unreal college, both pretending that we are hard at work. As we are both studying the database module, we discuss the efficacy of the tonsorial database that dictates her daily routine. I text: "Do you remember what was used before computers?" She can't. Stationery is done for.
I ring the college call centre that orchestrates proceedings and book a test. It is time to put the ghosts to rest and arrive as a fully-qualified member of the future. When the day comes though, the Underground is on strike and so I ring to apologise, expecting them to be concerned; even probe me about why I didn't take the bus instead. They don't even want a note. I say I'll get back to them and by God I do.
A week later
I text the hairdresser on the way into college. I am reassured to see that the college has not changed. The style: Council Corbusier, from the heady days of Herald and just as grey-faced. I naively expect my tutor, but find a cheery invigilator. The computers are already logged on. There are others, some who have already begun. I realise that these are my classmates but sense that they don't want to know me. They just want to get their computer licences and go back to work. I get a text from the hairdresser just as I begin. "Perming. Good lzxzuck."