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Further Writing by Swan Morrison


When Florence Ramsbottom opened her front door, she was surprised to see an official looking man and woman standing on her doorstep.

Her visitors were wearing smart, freshly pressed, blue trousers, and the letters RSPCC were embroidered in gold thread upon the breast pockets of their matching, blue shirts. To complete their appearance of officialdom, they both wore peaked caps – also embellished with the golden letters, RSPCC.

‘Mrs Ramsbottom,’ said the woman in a questioning but friendly tone.

‘Yes,’ Florence replied.

‘My name’s Joyce,’ the woman continued as she held up an ID card for Florence to inspect, ‘and this is my colleague, Nigel.’ The woman pointed to the man. ‘We’re from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Computers. Can we come in and have a few words with you?’

‘There’s nothing to worry about,’ said Nigel reassuringly when, five minutes later, they were all seated in the front room of Florence’s bungalow. ‘It’s just that we’ve had reports that you own a computer and that you’re having a bit of trouble looking after it.’

‘My son helps me with it,’ Florence cautiously admitted.

‘We gather that you’ve had to ask him ten times in the past month how to cut and paste text, and that you’ve never succeeded in updating a file in Dropbox,’ Nigel responded, consulting his notebook.

‘This modern technology’s very complicated for us old folk,’ Florence replied in her own defence.

‘I don’t think that’s an excuse, Florence,’ Joyce responded with a touch more assertiveness. ‘You’re an intelligent woman, and you had a responsible and complex job before you retired. Lots of people who are many years older than you are managing their computers perfectly well. Lots of young people can understand computers too – despite modern standards of education.’

Florence looked anxiously at the computer on the table by the window. ‘I love my computer,’ she said, tears forming in her eyes. ‘You’re not going to take it away from me … are you?’

‘What would you think,’ Nigel responded to Florence’s obvious anxiety, ‘if your neighbour owned a dog but seldom fed it. Suppose that neighbour said she found it too complicated to open tins of dog food unless her son explained, every single time, how to operate the tin opener.’

‘I’d think that she wasn’t the right person to own a dog,’ Florence replied.

‘That’s right,’ said Joyce – once more in a kind and sympathetic tone. ‘It wouldn’t mean that your neighbour was a bad person, or that she didn’t love her dog, but the RSPCA would have no choice but to take the animal away and rehome it.’

‘So you think I’m not a suitable person to own a computer,’ said Florence.

‘We’ve had another report from your nephew,’ Nigel explained further. ‘He says that you’ve rarely succeeded in adding or removing an attachment from an email – even though he’s showed you how to do so, time and time again. Also, if by chance you’ve removed an attachment, you can’t find where you’ve put it within the computer’s filing system.’ Nigel paused. ‘That’s just the same,’ he leaned towards Florence, gently took her hand and then continued speaking in a quiet, kindly tone, ‘as if your neighbour never took her poor doggie for a walk because she couldn’t work out how to put on or take off its lead.’

Florence was silent for many seconds. ‘Now you put it that way,’ she said with tears trickling down her cheeks, ‘perhaps you should take it,’ she glanced fondly at the machine, ‘and find it a good home. … Will I be able to visit?’ she added.

‘We’ll try to make arrangements for you to stay in touch,’ said Joyce. ‘In any case, I’m sure you’re making the right decision.’

‘Will I get into trouble about this?’ asked Florence anxiously.

‘We want to protect poorly treated computers and the long-suffering people their owners ask for assistance,’ Joyce replied reassuringly. ‘We don’t want to harass the sad individuals who aren’t coping with their machines.’

‘Sometimes people are prosecuted for “gross digital incompetence”, as the law calls it,’ Nigel added. ‘They can be fined and banned from keeping computers. As you’ve been so cooperative, however, I doubt that any further action will be taken.’

‘Miss Roberts from Rawlings Towers, was banned for ten years from owning any digital equipment,’ noted Florence. ‘I read about it in the paper.’

‘That was an exceptional case,’ Nigel replied. ‘She’d homed any discarded computer that she’d found – she finally had eighteen living with her. She clearly loved them all, but, sadly, she didn’t understand their needs. When the police broke in to her flat they also found the floors littered with old CDs, usb sticks, HDMI cables and other discarded computer peripherals.’

‘When her computers were examined by our IT expert before they were taken away for rehoming,’ Joyce took up the story, ‘she found that Miss Roberts had regularly forgotten her Skype password, had no idea where any of her documents were stored within the computers’ filing systems, and had never managed to print a Gmail to fit an A4 sheet of paper.

‘A trainee RSPCC officer who was involved in that visit was physically sick after he left the flat,’ Joyce revealed, shaking her head. ‘Thankfully, cases like that are very rare.’

As Florence watched Nigel carry her computer from the bungalow she felt sad but also, in a strange way, relieved. Deep down, she had known she was not treating the machine properly – and at least now it would be safe.

Florence resolved that, first thing in the morning, she would go to the local shops and buy a pad of paper and a pen. That technology had been good enough for her mother and her grandmother. She now understood that it was also the right thing for her.