Uncle Phil's Books

10, Mary Slessor Street
United Kingdom

Return to Home Page


Uncle Phil's Anecdotes

All Greek to me

It wasn’t a lot to ask, one might have thought. And I was perfectly happy to offer a quid pro quo – quite a few quid for about ten minutes worth of quo, as it happened. But before parting with my hard-earned I needed some expert advice. Well, you do sometimes, don’t you. And that, after all, is what they’re there for. But let’s backtrack for a minute.

I used to have a home in one location and an office in another. And as advancing years and the want of any female input (or ‘nagging’ to use the technical term) means that I can no longer run my life without relying on an inanimate object to tell me what I should be doing, and when, and to whom, each venue had a computer in it. But for reasons that are irrelevant to this discourse, the office closed, and I now work from home. With the result that I now have two computers on my desk. So? It’s a big desk. And a chap can work with two computers if he wants to, can’t he? It looks a bit flash, and probably doesn’t improve productivity much, but there’s no law against it.

But it occurred to me, after weeks of swapping floppy discs between machines, that it might be a jolly good wheeze to get my two little helpers to talk to each other without recourse to my physical intervention. I’ve got the software – it’s merely a question of the right connection. I reasoned. And while I was at it, it might prove advantageous to have a means of connecting my printer and my Zip drive so that either computer can use them without an orgy of plugging and unplugging. Furthermore, for some months now I’ve had a yen for both a scanner and a CD writer.

So - let’s go the whole hog, I thought. Bite the bullet, James. Sort it all in one hit.

While I’m comparatively computer-literate, and can, given time, work out how to tweak the software to do roughly what it’s told, hardware is a different matter, both in the choosing and in the installation thereof. Computer magazines offer a vast choice, but I get lost in all those identifying numbers – why they don’t take a leaf out of the motor industry’s book and give their products easily remembered names I’ll never understand. Not only that, the acres of 2-point print make my old eyes glaze over.

Worse, all that electronic knitting at the back of the box flummoxes me. I’m well aware, like programming videos, that any 10 year old kid can hack it, but I don’t own a ten year old kid. It’s of necessity a DIY job. I needed help.

Thus it was that this stout, bespectacled, elderly book dealer wandered into his local PC World, wallet full of plastic and heart full of hope. Why PC World? Well – [a] it’s around the corner, [b] one can park outside, [c] they were having a sale, [d] I bought one of my computers there and hoped that they might know what add-ons might be compatible with it, and [e] their adverts promise that they have experts on hand for the express purpose of advising potential customers.


I wandered up and down the aisles, looking for a sales person One can easily spot the sales persons in PC world – they all wear red tops – it’s a bit like Butlins, but with more technology and less Ho-de-Ho. And by and large the clientele’s wobbly bits aren’t visibly trying to escape from optimistically chosen swimwear.

But back to the sales team. Recognising the animal is easy; finding one is another matter. On a good day, to patrol a floor the size of Wembley Stadium, PC World might, only might – it’s not guaranteed – provide two. And one of those will probably be in the loo. You’ve got a better chance of finding an all-day parking space outside Harrods than finding a sales staff in PC World.

Eventually, I got lucky. I stalked one down, lurking over by the scanners, trying not to catch the eye of anything he thought was vaguely customer-shaped. However, he looked like he wasn’t long past the ten-year-old-kid stage, which could be an advantage. I collared him.

“I want various things, but as we’re here, let’s start with a scanner.”

He waved a languid hand along the aisle beside us.

“They’re all along ‘ere.” And turned to walk away. I called him back.

“No – hang on a minute – I need some advice”

His contempt was almost palpable. “Wadgerwanna know”

“Quite a lot, really; for instance, what’s the difference between this one” pointing at a machine priced at about £95, “and that one,” indicating another, going for a mere 200 smackers or so. He looked at me as if I were simple. Pointed at the lower priced article.

“Thass cheaper.”

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. It’s going to be a tough old day. Never mind – patience, Phil.

“Yes – I can see that, but why is it cheaper. What’s the difference?” He waved at the other one.

“Cozzat wun’s better.”

Before I could voice the obvious question, he favoured me with some gratuitous advice.

“You’ll need a scuzzy card. ‘Ave yer gotta scuzzy card?”

He had me, there. While I’ve got a wallet–full of Visas, a couple of MasterCards, an Amex, a cheque card, a Tesco’s loyalty card, (and a Sainsbury’s ditto – so much for the ‘loyalty’ bit) and membership cards from such diverse enterprises as the RAC, the National Trust and the lap-dancing club in Hackney, as far as I know my life is a bit devoid of scuzzy card.

With some trepidation, I asked the next obvious question.

“What does a scuzzy card do?”

“Runs scanners, dunnit.”

He must have read something ominous in my face. Waxed positively eloquent.

“You ‘aveter put one inter yer compu’er, if it ain’t got one already”

“How will I know whether there’s one in there or not”

“ ’Ow old’s yer machine? Wot make izzit? Wheredjageddit?”

“It’s a Packard Bell. Platinum. I bought it here, a year ago.”

“Gawd. Dead obserlete, them are. Nah – dat won’t avva scuzzy card.”

His voice positively dripped derision. It was the ‘dat’ which got to me. I felt like something that had crawled out from under a stone. Have you any idea what it’s like to be The Man Who Was Caught In PC World Admitting To Owning An Obsolete Computer Without A Scuzzy Card? O the shame of it! I’ll never be invited to a Royal Garden Party now. I’ll never get past the door at Stringfellows. Next time I walk into the pub there’ll be an embarrassed silence followed by a forest of pointing fingers and much sotto voce tittering. Unclean! Unclean!

I decided to change the subject. We could get back to the finer points of scanners later. Glossing over the fact that my other machine almost certainly wasn’t in the scuzzy card club either, I began to tell him about my communication problems vis-a-vis the two computers.

He didn’t let me get far.

“ ’Sno good arskin me. Technical, that is. You go’er talkter Technical.”

By the time I managed to get the question out as to the precise location of Technical, he was half way down the next aisle, on his way to confuse his next victim into a state of helpless catatonia. “Up the front…………..”, he called out, his voice trailing away into nothing.

I made my way ‘up the front’. I couldn’t find any obvious clues as to the whereabouts of the omniscient Technical, but there was a counter, with a sign above it saying ‘Customer Services’, or some such. That’ll do.

I queued for about half an hour while the sole red-top job behind the counter engaged in an abstruse discussion in fluent gibberish with the anorak in front of me, concerning the finer points or otherwise of a square piece of green plastic with lots of bits soldered on and with various wires hanging from it. I don’t know what it was, exactly, but it looked suspiciously like I reckon a scuzzy card ought to look. Very computery.

Eventually, they finished, and I began to relate my tale of woe to the red-top. Once again, I didn’t get very far.

“Oh, “ he said. “What you need is a network kit. Cost you about £150”

Now – as I said, I have the software to run the two machines in tandem, once connected, and this points out quite clearly that you don’t need a ton-and-a-half’s worth of Network kit, merely about twenty quid’s worth of cable. All I needed was said cable, with the correct fitting at each end, and some idea as to where exactly to plug them in. I pointed this out, hopefully sounding more confident than I felt. I wish I hadn’t bothered.

“No, no. no. You can’t do that because the squizzlefark will undisquat because the murgles aren’t compatible with the fanglebeep and the skemperclods won’t interscrodge with the hellegumps. You definitely need a network kit. They’re over there. In boxes. “

Waving in the general direction of the middle of the store. About half an acre of assorted goodies. All in boxes.

“ Ri-ighttt”, I said, “but before I go and look, can you tell me about CD writers?”

For a moment, I thought I’d cracked it. He came round from behind the counter and led me to the nearest aisle.

“These are what you’re looking for. They’re all roughly the same price, and roughly the same spec – personally I’d go for this one”

I picked one up. The box was pretty, if less than informative. “How do I fit it? “

“Simple – you just plug the cable into the parallel port in the back of your computer. “

Now one thing I do know is that there’s only one parallel port in the back of my computer ( either computer, thinking about it) and that my printer is already plugged into it. I imparted this information.

“Don’t worry - “ he said smugly – “buy a UHT cable and plug it into the UHT Port. Does your computer have a UHT port? “

In all honesty, I’m not sure about the ‘UHT’. It could have been ‘UVL’, or ‘UHF’, or ‘UFO’. Or ‘PMT’ for that matter.

“ I’ve no idea “ I admitted, suddenly wary. “I wouldn’t know a UHT port if I was drinking it.”

“ How old’s your computer? What make is it? Where did you get it?”

With a certain amount of trepidation, borne of experience, I imparted this information. He visibly and not very successfully tried not to fall about laughing, and edged away, as if I had a communicable disease.

“Look – I’m sorry – I’m not supposed to be on the sales floor – I must get back behind the counter. Why don’t you ask a sales staff?”

I’m sorry, PC World, but at that point I gave up. Walked out. Sans scanner, sans CD writer, sans network kit, sans anything.

All I asked was to buy the goodies I needed, to be given some idea of how to connect them all up, to be reassured that it would all work, and to solve the problem of connecting my two computers. Forgive me, but I thought that that was what you do. It’s certainly what you advertise you do.

Surely I’m not being unreasonable in expecting to have my problems solved, preferably in English, preferably without A level buck-passing, preferably without being dragged down into the nerdworld of UFO ports and scuzzy cards, and preferably without being treated as an object of derision because my computer, which I bought from yourselves barely a year ago, is as obsolete, as far as your staff are concerned, as a Model T Ford.

A final thought. When I eventually manage to find somebody to sell me a scanner, will I need to buy a brace of scuzzy cards, or will the one do both machines?

Don’t bother to tell me - I don’t think I want to know

Further Anecdotes

A Cynic's Philosophy
Scripture for His Purpose
All Greek to Me
Beef and Mustard
The Day the Music Died
Unconsidered Trifles
For Such is the Kingom of Heaven
Laid on with a Trowel
De minimis curat lex.


©Uncle Phil's Books 2004