Every time I tell Son and Daughter that they spend too much time staring at a screen, I get a guilty conscience because I can also see a photo of myself, aged about 3, standing 50cm from a bulky, black-and-white television set, staring it, completely mesmerized.
To be honest, even the first words I learned to read were words in a TV advertisement.
But that’s probably not a surprise, considering that when I was old enough to sit by myself, when my hard-working mother needed some me-time so she could concentrate on her studies, she tied me up in a chair with a scarf (so that I wouldn’t fall down) and put me in front of a TV. Especially when the Thunderbirds were on.
In short, I was raised on TV.
It’s not easy to keep ta bird’s eye view when you’re 15. If anything, it’s hard. Time doesn’t really matter, because, what’s another year – to quote the 1980 Eurovision Song Contest song I remember falling asleep to the night Johnny Logan won the whole thing – because so much can happen in a year. Ten years seems like an eternity and yet, you’re in such a hurry at the same time.
So, when I was fifteen, I found it hard to really see the consequences of my decisions, although, I have to say that had I sat down and thought about it, I probably would’ve understood it. I probably even did sit down and think about things, and thought I understood it, but didn’t.
Or, even if I did, I just didn’t get it. I didn’t feel it.
In my defense, life’s not a straight line and even if you do make good decisions at fifteen, you still have to make new decisions at twenty, and twenty-three, and fourty-two, and some of them may be polar opposites of the ones you made at fifteen.
When Liverpool won the Premier League championship a few weeks ago, the first thing I thought of was a Kevin Keegan interview I had taped up on my wall when I was 14. Dad had cut it out because he knew Keegan was my idol and because he liked the message the headline sent: “I always keep my promises”.
But that’s not all I keep.
It must have been something on the table that triggered the flashback. Or, it was a combination of a flashback, and the feeling of having forgot something, I’m sure you know it.
I had just carried a table out of our garage for our garage sale and was thinking whether it was too early to leave, but stayed there, my mind wandering. It must have been that dream stage that made my brain dig up old memories, or maybe it was the fact hat we had been cleaning up our basement and all that old stuff on the table made m go back in time.
Or maybe it was the combination of things.
Anyway, there I stood, minding my own business when I suddenly remembered a sofa.
There was a lot of snow that year. So much so that it came halfway up my bedroom window, blocking the little sunlight that we had in Finland during the Christmas holidays.
I didn’t mind it, though.
To be honest, I barely noticed it because it was also the the year I got ZX Spectrum.
I spent the Christmas Eve night setting it up, connecting the tiny plastic box with the rubber keys to the 14-inch TV set on my desk, and to the tape recorder – the mass storage unit – next to it.
I only had one tape, and it was a collection of programs that came with the computer. To call it a computer makes me smile, because I think there’s more computing power in our fridge than in that Spectrum. The programs on the introduction tape were chosen to have something for everybody.
I could hear them calling for me but I wasn’t ready to come out yet. I was deep underground, in a cave where I was sure an ancient Inca treasure was buried. Or, maybe it was a treasure chest left there by Blackbeard, an infamous pirate, like my friend Ari said.
Fine, I wasn’t technically underground, because the cave Ari and I had built was made out of snow and the pile of snow was most definitely above ground.
I guess it’s needless to say that there was no real Inca treasure, either, but I’ll just say it anyway so that there aren’t any misunderstandings: there was no Inca treasure. There was no pirates’ treasure, either. It was all in our our nine-year-old heads.
One recent Thursday, I hurried across the street in Kallio in downtown Helsinki. Unlike thirty years earlier when I rushed across the street in the morning to get breakfast, this time I walked in the opposite direction.
My old apartment building was still there, as was the downstairs pub, but the store that I used to run to is all gone, and many of the other stores have become coffee shops and restaurants.
Around the corner, where there used to be nothing as far as I was concerned, there is now a small movie theatre called Riviera. That’s where I was headed.
It was the Helsinki media day of my book launch.
My first contact with a computer was a printout of Snoopy made out of x’s and o’s and ampersands. I don’t remember where it was, and not what the computer looked like – although in my head I saw it during one of our field trips during my two weeks with the scouts and it was one of those room-sized mainframes but both claims are just as likely to be fake memories I created as I typed this – but I can see that Snoopy as clearly as if I was holding the two-tone continuous form paper in my hand right now.
To me, it was the work of genius. Looking at it up close, it was just a mess of characters, but once you took two steps back, there was Snoopy dancing! Snoopy!
If that’s what computers could do, count me in! However, it took me a couple of years to get my hands on one.
When Son wants to make fun of me, he pretends to be writing a blog post as me. The punchline? They all begin with “When I was a kid.” I always laugh, because I know he must be kidding. Not ALL my posts begin like that.
When I was a kid, I often sat in a rocking chair in my grandparents’ house. It was best seat in the house. It was in the corner of the kitchen so you could see and hear everything. I also sat right next to a cupboard should you need a hiding place, and it was next to a daily calendar and sometimes I got to tear off a page. Right next to ie, there was a photo of an even smaller me which made me feel very special.
There I sat, listening to my grandmother walk around the kitchen, singing quietly or talking to herself while wiping the table, carrying things from one place to another, or cooking dinner.
Look, there he is. His hair flowing in the air, or at least the half mullet that’s sticking out from underneath his baseball cap, as he rolls down the hill on his Persian green bike, a Peugeot. He’s on his way to … well, nowhere to be honest. He just hopped on his bike and rode around for a while, and here he is now, a walkman clipped to the waist of his shorts, listening to music and taking in a perfect summer’s day. Just as comes to the edge of town and rides by the car dealership he’ll buy his first car from a couple of years later, he hears computer making beeps and bleeps.
He puts his hands back on the handlebar and turns up the volume. He’s never really listened to the song before.
“Good evening. This is the intergalactic operator. Can I help you?”
“Yes. I’m trying to reach flight commander P.R. Johnson, on Mars, flight 2-4-7”