Friday, February 14, 2014

In praise of Big Brother

I know it’s hard to imagine now, but there was a time before the internets, when Lolcats were just cats and Amazon was just a river. In this dawn of prehistory if you wanted to buy stuff you needed to actually go and get it, or use nineteenth century snail mail technology to order stuff from a big shiny book. Jack was the product of such a world. He filled the gap between store and catalogue, travelling his patch introducing people to wonders not available in either, as a commercial traveller.

Jack sold Widgets to industry, and as such his products were in demand throughout the Midlands, from sea to shining sea, as it were. He was a master of the highways and byways of a huge swathe of territory. Of course all of this was a long time ago, shortly after the demise of the mastodon I imagine. He’s certainly been retired almost as long as I've been plying my trade, and let’s face it, my spring chicken days are far behind me now.

And so it came to pass, a few weeks back, that Jack came to see me, attended by what can only be described as a deputation of concerned looking daughters. The poor chap looked a little sheepish as the spokes-daughter recounted his recent adventure with an occasional embellishment furnished by the other delegates. It appears Jack had decided to take a drive to get his tea, fridge and larder being temporarily depleted. He hopped in the car and headed for his nearest convenience store, but on arriving there realized that it was half day closing and he would have to find an alternative vendor.

This fazed him a little, but he gamely soldiered on. After all, the supermarket wasn't far off so it should be easy enough. The only thing was, it was already dark, so landmarks were hard to find, and in a fog of twilight and perhaps hypoglycaemia, suddenly Jack was transported back three decades and was on the road plying his Widgety wares. So off he went, travelling the highways and byways.

Some hours later the spokes-daughter arrived chez Jack to find him and his car gone. The neighbours recalled seeing him go out late that afternoon and even that he had told them as he went that he was off to fetch his tea. They’d thought no more about it, but now it did seem odd that he hadn't made it back five or more hours after what should have been a twenty minute round trip.

When they tried calling his mobile they could hear it ringing in the house, as he hadn't thought to take it with him, and so after a quick council of war with the rest of the family the police were called and Jack was reported M.I.A. An hour or so later WPC Watmough contacted the by now increasingly frantic family to say her colleagues in another county had Jack safe and sound by the roadside. Thanks to a combination of number plate recognition software and CCTV they had spent a happy time in traffic control tracking Jack’s progress through every major conurbation in Borsetshire and the neighbouring counties that had formed one of his sales rounds all those years back. Of course in the meantime all the factories he had been selling to had been pulled down and redeveloped into housing estates so he’d had no landmarks to remind him where he was or what he was doing.

Sad to say this little escapade has highlighted the increasing severity of Jack’s memory failure and he has had to hang up his car keys for good, but at least the very technology that has all but done away with his occupation served to track him down far quicker that we would have managed in that far off web-free age.