Hang Ups

11th August 1995 at 01:00
While the rest of his family relaxed on the beach at Whitesands on the Pembrokeshire coast, Colin dashed off to buy sun tan lotion, little flags to stick in sand castles, charcoal for the barbecue and a pocket calculator. His wife tells me that he has made a similar purchase on every holiday they've ever been on: there comes a point when he suddenly feels compelled to spread himself out on the beach and do some frenetic calculations. He calls it sum bathing.

He juggles with the very figures he spends every other week of the year trying not to think about: mortgage repayments; insurance premiums, road tax, cost of putting the kids through college and the rest of that grisly ledger of expenses which force him to keep his responsible nose firmly to the grindstone. Colin sets out to prove to his family (who stopped paying any attention to these euphoric outbursts many holidays ago) that it is feasible for them to sell-up and make a new life for themselves in whichever beauty spot they happen to be gracing that year.

He keys in economies they'll sell the car, make their own wine, keep a few chickens. But, try as he might, he can never make the figures add up not without the annual salaries that he and his wife would have to forgo if they ever dared to move beyond commuting distance of their London offices. And it's no use pretending that they'll be able to find comparable employment it's a sad fact of life that the lovelier a place is, the fewer decent jobs it has to offer.

His finger numb from crunching numbers and his battery nearly flat, Colin was on the verge of accepting as he does every year that he's stuck in his rut and that there's nothing he can do about it. But then he met me the smuggest man on the beach. As I brandished my notebook computer and mobile phone, I was able to explain to him that, thanks to IT, I am one that growing number of fortunate people who are able to work without the inconvenience of ever having to go to work. If you're a teleworker all you need is a PC, a modem and one of those wily employers who appreciates that it saves money not to have you cluttering up expensive office space when you could be twiddling with your mouse equally effectively elsewhere.

If Colin chose to uproot his family and move to Whitesands, he'd need his own hardware, of course, to keep in electronic touch with HQ and his clients. But he would also find that he was within easy distance of the dozen telecottages in Pembrokeshire. These high-tech oases, equipped with computers, fax machines, modems, photocopiers, digitisers and suchlike, have been created to ensure that remote areas with high unemployment aren't going to be by-passed by the information superhighway. There are over a 100 scattered throughout Britain, from the Crofts Telecottage on the Shetland Islands to Mevagissey, near Land's End.

But, as I explained to Colin and his horror-struck family, he shouldn't feel obliged to stay in this country. Thanks to the Internet, he could choose to live virtually anywhere on the planet. For instance, he could consider buying a property in Colletta di Castelbianco a medieval village near Genoa in Italy. What makes it special is that it has been sympathetically redeveloped specifically for teleworkers. The village has its own Internet server, a cybercafe, a teleconferencing centre and 60 homes which already have ISDN fibre-optic cable installed. It means that villagers can take advantage of the most advanced telecommunications , while at the same time enjoying a perpetual holiday, sipping Chianti in a picture postcard paradise.

Colin has decided to devote the rest of his holiday to learning Italian.

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