Technology is a terrible thing — particularly when you have to try and live without it. Five years ago, I managed to survive totally happily without the Internet, but to lose it now would be a total disaster, in ways from the cultural to the emotional. And even worse is having to live without a VCR; the mere prospect of this sent me scurrying to Tottenham Court Rd, wodge of cash in hand, to buy a replacement.

For my beloved Grundig multi-system VCR was clearly on its last legs, and the time had finally come to put it out of its misery. It had been a relatively swift decent into recorder senility, starting with occasional flickers into b&w when playing British tapes. These gradually became more prevalent, until it was finally turning every PAL cassette into something looking like a 40’s film noir. This, in itself, wasn’t terminal — it still recorded fine and, after all, I never watch that many PAL tapes these days; I could resurrect my trusty and ancient Panasonic if necessary (best part of a decade old and still working fine, apart from it’s irregular fondness for ejecting tapes with the venom of a West Indian fast bowler).

However, things continued to degenerate. When you rewound a tape, it would stop, then switch itself off. You’d put it on again, it would whirr…then switch itself off once more. Taking a tape out required a combination of patience and savage button-punching, to the extent that the eject button was on the verge of caving in. And then the motor really started to give up, mangling the speed of tapes so that they either sounded like the Chipmunks or secret messages from the Mysterons. Any one of these could have been rectified by a visit to the repair-shop, but all three convinced me that Mr. Wallet needed to pay a visit to Mr. Bank Machine.

The thing about Tottenham Court Road is that you have to go there with a firm knowledge of what you want: it’s not Curry’s or DIxon’s. The shop assistants there can smell fear or ignorance, and will pounce in a wolf-like manner, sending you home with several boxes of not-strictly-necessary technology, a raped credit-card and a vague sense of unease. Keep repeating the mantras which will convince them you have a clue about the subject: in Dixon’s, “Does that come with a plug?” will awe the typical spotty Saturday assistant, but on TCR, “Is that NTSC 3.58 or 4.43?” is closer to your starter for ten. Look knowledgeable, write everything down in a notebook and NEVER SMILE. [Women can try batting their eyelashes, but I suspect these guys are immune to anything up to the level of Catherine Zeta-Jones]

So I come home bearing another Panasonic beast; multi-system, six-heads, stereo, for 300 quid [and a fake address on the receipt — last time the house bought a VCR, someone tried to burgle us shortly after. Though the security on the house is now one step short of requiring visits from UN inspectors, I’m taking no chances]. It should now be a simple case of removing the old one and connecting up the new one, no?

No. Not when the old one [or, in Lovecraftspeak, the Old One] had totally different connections. Two happy man-hours were spent plugging things in, unplugging other things, and debating whether “VIDEO IN” meant into the VCR, or from it into something else. Ah, the joys of home entertainment. Finally, it’s all more-or-less connected, and more-or-less works. But the goddess of technology had one final trick to play on us. Y’know I said my other VCR was a Panasonic? Guess what happens when I hit play on the remote? Yep: *both* machines spring into life, with perfect synchronicity. Still, nothing that a spot of masking tape on the old one can’t solve…

There are some things that you do, then swear you’ll never do again, knowing as you make the promise, that you’re lying: get hungover, move house, watch “Who Wants to be a Millionaire”. To this list can now be added, buying a VCR. It’s over. For now. But they did have some rather nice DVD players… 🙂