In many day-to-day ways my instincts are to do things the way we used to, either in the “pre-digital age” (and I appreciate that typing that phrase makes me sound like a dinosaur), or in ways that have been superseded by newer technologies.
I spent decades using landlines before acquiring a mobile phone, so my idea of making a call instinctively involves sitting down and staying in one place rather than moving around. Cordless phone technology (which we acquired in the 1990s) still feels like a very recent development.
If I want to hear a specific song my thoughts instinctively turn to where it’s stored. Where is that album (or single or cassette or CD)? Do I have it on MP3? Or did I record it on Mini Disc? I still have to remind myself that it’s almost certainly available on my phone or laptop: it’s on YouTube or Spotify or Amazon Prime Music. It’s there.
On our holiday in Devon earlier this month technology saved me an afternoon trawling round Torquay or other nearby towns in search of live sport. Kilkenny were playing Waterford in the Senior Hurling Championship semi-final and Leeds were playing QPR in the Championship. If we were back in London I’d have walked to a local pub to watch both matches. I searched for “Irish pubs +Torquay” and asked around at a few nearby places before realizing that there was an easier way to guarantee seeing my teams. Technology, and a recent change in broadcasting rights, meant that I could watch both games hundreds of miles from West London, legally, without leaving our holiday home. We had a good Wi-Fi connection (but almost no mobile phone signal) and our Windows 10 laptop (the most powerful of our available computers – my Mac Book Pro was still at the repair shop). Since 2014 Sky Sports have been screening most of the big Gaelic games, so for £10.99 I could subscribe to NOW TV for a week, watch Leeds lose to QPR and then see Kilkenny snatch a draw against Waterford.
For a few years before 2014 the only way to see Gaelic sports legally in the UK was in pubs or clubs that have a feed from the Irish broadcaster RTE. There was a brief period either side of 2007 when you could watch the games at home on Setanta Sports via Virgin Media, and I did, but before and after that there were many weekend afternoons spent working out which places were still showing Irish sport. For a few years there was the Irish Centre on Hammersmith Broadway (long since pulled down), though sometimes it was closed even when there was a big game on. There was a year or two of The Laurie Arms on Shepherds Bush Road and The Old City Arms by Hammersmith Bridge. Before that I saw plenty of games at the Fiddler’s Elbow on Dalling Road (formerly the Prince of Wales, now called Flynn’s), and stretching back to the 1990s there were afternoons in long-gone places like The Feathers on Hogarth Roundabout and Jack Stamps Beer House on Chiswick High Road.
I reflected on all those years, trawling round West London trying to work out where to watch Kilkenny play, as I sat in the farmhouse kitchen in Devon watching the whole match uninterrupted. I reflected too on how my afternoon might have turned out so differently. It could have involved a forlorn quest around a string of pubs in Torquay with my 11-year-old son in tow. It didn’t. Technology saved us.