When I'm learning Windows
The delivery man, sinking slowly under the weight of a multimedia PC and attendant gubbins, couldn't rid himself of his burden until I had at least acknowledged his presence. But something had caught my eye: on the masking tape, alongside the Research Machines logo, it said, "Do not accept if this seal isbroken".
I felt sorely tempted to divert his gaze, break the seal and insist that he took the machine away. You see, I've owned too many computers not to know that the moment you allow a new one across your threshold, life is never quite the same again. It was only now that the thing had arrived that I seriously questioned whether I needed - to quote the ads for Windows 95 - "32-bit pre-emptive multi-tasking". Or whether I knew what it meant - or, indeed, whether it really sounded like the sort of thing that I should be doing.
But I couldn't explain that to a delivery man - especially one whose complexion is edging towards the purplish end of the spectrum. I wanted to tell him that I've always been loyal to the Mac, and that, like Acorn users, Apple devotees are fanatically partisan. They hate PCs. They'd sooner give house room to the Hound of the Baskervilles. Or Liam Gallagher. Or both.
So why didn't I slash through the seal and send him packing? Am I suddenly "hot for Windows", to quote the latest advertising slogan? No, I'm still somewhere between tepid and a Wall's Cornetto. All I'm doing is simply bowing to the inevitable. If it hasn't already done so, the PC is going to win the great battle of the operating systems - and I don't like being on the losing side. So I bit the bullet and signed the delivery man's proffered docket. I felt much as the Pope might, taking delivery of a sash and bowler in readiness for an Orange march.
After that, it was all disconcertingly easy. I vaguely assumed that setting up the hardware would be a major undertaking. In fact, Research Machines is so cocky about how simple they have made the procedure that the instructions have been reduced to six labelled pictures on a single laminated card. You don't need a PhD in electronics to understand these: for example, the last picture, which is hardly any more taxing than the others, is of an electric plug being pushed into a wall socket.
The software provided presents even less of a problem. It is already installed on the hard disc - so all you need to do is key in your Windows 95 registration number. From then on, you will find an abundance of on-screen help, and, for those who are new to this sort of thing, thereis a 10-minute tutorial which acquaints you with the basics.
It is vital at this stage to copy the contents of the hard disc on to floppies. That might sound daunting, but it honestly is easy - and it is boring. I didn't do it. Nor make a note of the serial number, nor read the licensing agreement (does anybody?), nor, as a safety precaution, skewer the machine to the desk (with the screws and bolts thoughtfully provided). By cutting these corners, I could have started running any of the applications within about 30 minutes of opening the box.
Of course, I didn't. There is, I quickly discovered, too much else to do when you're a Windows 95 user. I don't mean twiddling with on-screen the clock, the calculator, the paint box, the word processor, the thing for recording your voice - or even those silly digitised card games which, for some unfathomable reason, are more addictive on a computer than they are in real life. Before doing any of that, new users will want to choose from a selection of garish screen savers - and then find the Paracetamol when the one they have chosen startsgiving them a headache.
I suppose I could have left it at that and lived with the default colours. I could even have endured Research Machines' choice of background design - surprise, surprise, it's a giant logo. But, it seems to me that if we all are going to be Windows users, we should do what little we can to assert our individuality. At the very least, we should personalise the display. I won't rest until mine defiantly signals to the rest of the world that my personal computer really is personal.
The choice, however, is bewildering. Cobblestones, Thatches, Cloudy Sky, or Waffle's Revenge? And the colours - lilac, pumpkin or spruce? It's going to take me days to make up my mind. Then I'll be able to get down to some serious 32-bit pre-emptive multi-tasking. Once I've found a red jack to put on the black queen, that is.
* Arnold Evans would be interested to hear from other computer users who are coming to terms with Windows for the first time. You can e-mail him at email@example.com