Tuesday 14 May 2024

Alice and Progress by Judith Skilleter, pear cider

Alice is baffled. She does not understand progress. She does not understand change. Change and progress just for the sake of it is not necessary as it leaves marvellous things behind, forgotten.

For example telephones. She has a mobile telephone. It was bought under protest twelve years ago after her daughter became totally fed up not being able to get in touch with her. She worried, her mum was then, after all, in her 60s and not that good at getting about. Alice still has that mobile; she fiercely resists upgrading or getting a new one with all the apps. “What on earth are Apps?” thinks Alice. “I have managed without them for 70 years and I will continue to do so.” So Alice’s very old mobile “does what it says on the tin”. It is a mobile phone through which she only and reluctantly receives telephone calls and occasionally makes them. If asked what her phone number is, Alice always gives her landline. She reluctantly got rid of her old and trusted landline telephone when her daughter, the same one, the worrier, insisted that she had an answering machine, just in case of emergencies.

Then there is olive oil. To Alice’s horror when she was last at her granddaughter’s house for tea she watched her fry with olive oil. She cooked with olive oil!  Surely not. What is the world coming to? Olive oil is for earache. Alice remembers her childhood ear problems and the teaspoon with its sides bent inwards so warmed olive oil went directly to the ear drum and didn’t dribble down your neck. As a soothing agent for sore ears it could not be bettered and Alice still has a small bottle brought from her chemist, not the supermarket, for just that purpose. It must be years old but you don’t need much. What a waste using expensive olive oil for cooking. “What is wrong with lard or beef dripping?” thinks Alice.

We must not forget progress in television and television programmes. No, No, No Alice does not want a new TV with all sorts of channels, with all sorts of choices and those bloody Apps again. And all with very high costs. Alice is very happy with the four terrestrial channels thank you very much. But  four is still three too many; she rarely moves from BBC 1. She does have colour TV, bought as a gift after many discussions where she expressed strongly her doubts and lack of need for such a contraption. She lost that argument but is now pleased with her colour TV; it is a neat size that suits her living room.  But now she sees that there are huge TVs that take up and are fastened onto an entire wall. Since when has television become so important? Do people not read anymore?

And let’s not forget duvets. What is the point of them? Alice has been promised a series of duvets, all different tog values, and she has refused the lot. She would not give duvets house room. Alice has, and prefers, her series of blankets that she peels off in order as winter ends and spring progresses, although spring has been very late this year and her system is a bit behind. And then as summer ends and winter draws in the blankets are put back, one by one, in sequence. In between they are washed on good drying days and then put away with bags of dried lavender until they are needed again, needed in sequence of course. And no Alice does not have a dryer and does not want one. They are far too expensive to run and her washing loads are never such than one would be needed. As for bedding Alice has no time for fitted sheets. They do not stack or store neatly. No thank you. She is very proud of her hospital corners when she makes her bed.

Alice has a freezer, bought after a series of discussion and arguments with her daughter which she lost. It is small and neat and is full of ready meals in case of emergencies. No way was she having one of these big chest freezers. Apart from anything else there is no room in her small kitchen for such an unnecessary, in her case, device. Alice likes to shop two or three times a week at local shops where she can feel and prod the fruit and vegetables for goodness and ripeness.  Bread she buys daily when she goes for her paper. There is no need, given her circumstances, for her to have lots of frozen food, lots of small portion,s which she might have forgotten to label.

Alice writes letters, she does not have a computer. She has never received an email or a WhatsApp message much to the frustration of her family. All her business and banking and insurance dealings are done by Royal Mail – even though the price of stamps these days is ridiculously high. She prides herself on her letters carefully written letters with her blue Quink Ink and her treasured Waterman fountain pen bought by her husband shortly before he died. The family pressure continues for her to have an iPad, especially from her grandchildren who, to her surprise, would like to have more frequent contact with her as visiting is less easy now they are away working or are at university.  Apparently WhatsApp enables you to see the person you are talking to. Amazing.

Alice is surprised and secretly delighted to know this and can feel herself weakening. However, if she buys one she will insist that they help her understand how it works. And if she weakens they must accept that she would always prefer a telephone call to her landline which is based in her hallway next to a comfy chair and a bowl of jelly babies. Also, thinks Alice, iPads will fit into a drawer upstairs and could be forgotten about. The iPad would be a small and considered acceptance of modernity that might not intrude too much on her way of life.

Alice knows her way of life annoys and frustrates all her family whom she loves deeply and they love her. It is not her way to be difficult or belligerent but her family must understand that her ways are not just habits that could be changed easily to suit them. They are memories of a wonderful married life with John, who was taken from her all too soon. John had a fatal heart attack some years ago that left her to bring up three young children on her own. It was not an easy time. This was long before the internet and duvets and freezers and all the progress that people of today take for granted. And she does not want to give those memories or him up.


About the author 


Judith Skilleter is new to writing fiction after a long career in social work and teaching. Her first children's novel The April Rebellion, has recently been published. Judith is a Geordie, who settled in East Yorkshire forty-five years ago and is married with four grandchildren 

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