On the scrapheap

22nd November 2013 at 00:00

I spent a surprisingly moving couple of minutes at the school's refuse area the other evening. "Don't be silly. They're just a couple of old trolleys," I tried telling myself. But they were not ordinary trolleys. They were two of those noble "wheeled warriors" of old who, for decades, held and protected within their steely uprights a once-precious video player inside a bolted box, with a television fixed majestically on top.

Despite the indignity of being made to stand in the rain, one TV trolley still managed to retain a degree of stateliness. Its friend was in a more humiliating position, lying helplessly on the ground in wet leaves. The former still had a firmly fixed front-loading security "brassiere" halfway down. The other was in a pitiful condition, with bits coming off everywhere. In the quiet gloaming, you could imagine the two of them cursing the day our school began installing those cocky little classroom computers and digital projectors.

Both trolleys had been stripped of their video player and TV. There, in all likelihood, lay a second sad story. I would dearly like to believe that the TV and video - lovers for 15 years or more in that feisty scart-socket relationship - had been allowed to stay as a couple after the trolley dismantling. It would be lovely to think of them now happily showing movies together to communities in a less fortunate continent. However, I suspect the truth is much less uplifting.

I am sure all the other TV trolleys around our school will have sensed the chill in the air. They will recall the grim fate of those other once-indispensable classroom friends of theirs, the overhead projectors, in "the great cull of 2011". I suspect every surviving TV trolley in the modern world knows that the school "caretaker" will come for them soon.

But, dear friends, it does not have to be like this. There is another way. We could find some compassion in our hearts and look after our wheeled elders in a way that sets an example to the young around us.

We could operate as a kind of nursing home for these technological heroes of yesteryear, rather as we have done until now. Businesses, conference rooms and training centres mercilessly pushed them all out on to the street at least 10 years ago, but we can show children that we are committed to caring for these aged, much loved, if increasingly pointless figures to the very end.

Besides, we do still need these brave old troopers from time to time. They may go for months without doing a thing, but then we suddenly wheel them to centre-stage when the classroom computer stubbornly refuses to play a DVD or we realise that the AVA support team have not yet got round to upgrading all our favourite early-90s VHS documentary clips (they are doubtless still reeling from the great World at War VHS-to-DVD conversion, a project that lasted almost as long as the war itself).

It is, of course, not hard to work out why some of us feel such sympathy for TV trolleys. To drift so quickly and easily from being indispensable to being antiquated is a chilling warning to us all. It could happen to anything. And to anyone.

Stephen Petty is head of humanities at Lord Williams's School in Thame, Oxfordshire, England.

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