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Hamish sat in the blessed quiet of the classroom. His hands were loosely clasped upon the desk in front of him and he gazed at the far wall. It had been a very long hour.

A computer screen at the back of the room was flashing indignantly, protesting the dreadful abuses inflicted upon it. Hamish watched its reflection in the window. He ought to get up and do something about it. He sighed and closed his eyes. He considered his position, wondering if he could possibly do without the few extra pounds this class earned him. Then he remembered the mortgage, the four payments still outstanding for Christopher's geography field trip, the boiler that was wheezing its last. He sighed again, very, very deeply.

At last he summoned the strength to get up and attend to the poor misused computers. He checked each screen in turn, carefully checking all the programmes had been closed properly and powering them down.

He reached the blinking screen at the back of the room and stared at it. A riot of message boxes flashed across the window, each trying to out-compete the rest in its demands for immediate attention. He shook his head. The one they all called Edith but who insisted he call her Miss Ballard sat here.

Miss Ballard/ Edith was a frantic clicker. She reasoned that if something wasn't working, keep clicking until something happened. Usually lots of things happened, none of them good for the wellbeing of the computer. Each week he spent a disproportionate amount of time with her, patiently explaining that sometimes things didn't always happen instantaneously and it was important to allow the computer time to process the information.

She would then launch into a long lecture about the war and rationing and how she knew very well thank you that sometimes one had to wait and anyway what was the point of computers when you could jot something down on a pad in a fraction of the time. And he would sit there agog.

It wasn't as though she had been forced to take the class as penance for some criminal activity. As far as he knew, the only crimes she committed were those she inflicted upon the devices in his classroom. What was more, whenever one of her peers expressed any manner of frustration with their own progress she was quick to give them a stern dressing down, warning them it simply did not do to allow oneself to fall behind modern technology.

And how many times could a man explain what the ENTER key was before he lost his hold on his sanity? Every time he had told them to press ENTER, he had been confronted by a sea of blank faces. In the end he had drawn a picture of it on the whiteboard and pointed to it each time it was required, but they still didn't seem to get it.

No. That wasn't fair, he reminded himself. One lady, a quiet person who smiled the whole time and who wore typical older person garb with the exception of her bright blue trainers, had proven a quick learner. He smiled. Melinda Perkins. Not really an older person's name. Her name matched her trainers, as though she had borrowed someone else's because hers were in the wash. He chuckled.

Yes, Melinda Perkins understood every word he said. She knew her way around a keyboard, was something of an expert with a mouse, or at least she understood the differences between left click, right click and double click, and she never seemed to have difficulty finding the relevant icon on her screen.

Ah, icons. That had caused a stir. When he had explained that the little pictures on the screens were links to various software programmes and that they were known as icons, the class had descended into chaos. The general theme of the discussion was the misappropriation of words for entirely new things. It was a discussion that was to recur many times during the course.

It had been a surprise to everybody when Melinda Perkins had jumped up and bounced to the front of the class in her blue trainers, smiling and tugging at the washed out cardigan she always wore. Everyone, including Miss Ballard/ Edith, had fallen silent and turned to watch.

Melinda Perkins, apparently unaffected by all the attention, smiled broadly at everyone. 'Just think of the screen as a rather messy bookshelf,' she said. 'On that bookshelf are lots of books with different information, or puzzles, or stories, whatever you might like. Now, think of the icons as the spines of the books. Look for the one you want and select it, like you would a book.'

To Hamish's astonishment, they had all instantly understood. He stared at Melinda, who smiled back at him and winked.

'You have to take the language back a couple of decades for us old duffers, dear,' she said sweetly as she passed him on the way back to her desk.

She had come to his rescue several times since then, but even she struggled to get through to Miss Ballard/ Edith. As Hamish gently restored order to the embattled computer, he considered the class. When he got right down to it, they weren't so bad. He realised, thanks to Melinda Perkins, that a lot of their difficulties stemmed from the fact that they had never been taught the language of computers. In fact, now that he really thought about it, there was potential for a book that would teach that language, so natural to him, yet so alien to anyone over a certain age.

Once all the computers were safely powered down and the lights turned out, he strode from the room, whistling. Perhaps teaching this class might not be so bad after all.


© 2014 Kay Lawrence.


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