Never Too Old

by Chrissie Loveday

I used to think I was going potty, talking to myself. It's amazing how quickly you get used to it. Once Charlie had passed on, I talked to myself for company. I tried not to let anyone see me or hear me, I should say. Then Raymond came into my life. Once he started chatting to me, bingo, I wasn't talking to myself any more. Well, not as I understand it.

'Cursor on Post. Click. That's it, my loves. My message will be waiting for you in the morning, while I'm fast asleep. Now then Raymond, I'll make my cocoa and we'll get ourselves off to bed.'

Whoever would have thought I'd get into computers and all that stuff? And me a grandma. Never too late, our Billy said when he brought it round. I told him straight. I didn't want any of that electronical nonsense taking up space in my living room. Well, it stood to reason. Where would he and the family sit, when they came round for their Sunday tea each week? That's when he dropped his bombshell. They wouldn't be coming round for their tea. Not after next month.

I had to sit down. It knocked the stuffing right out of me. The computer was supposed to be a peace offering. It's got something called a modem in it and I was expected to use it to write to them. They'd also send pictures with it, somehow. They said I could even use it to speak to them, like a telephone, if we got it all co-ordinated, as he put it. At first, I thought he was having me on. Always one for a joke was our Billy. But no, they were going to Australia and we were to use this Internet thing to keep in touch. I told him straight. 'You can get it out of here. I'm having nothing to do with this new-fangled nonsense.'

As always, he took no notice. I'm not sure what age your kids start knowing more than you do. Really know, I mean. Not like when they're just kids and think they know it all. It comes hard when they start telling you what's best for you. Especially if they happen to be right.

Our Billy came round every day for the next two weeks, to teach me how to use it, this computer thing. Actually, it wasn't so difficult, in the end. Once I stopped being frightened of it and what it might do. Actually, it's quite useful for keeping my accounts. Not that I have much money, but it's surprising how you see prices going up each week, when you keep a record. Then I discovered computer games. You can get them quite cheaply, through the second hand sale columns on the Net. I've got hooked. I daren't tell anyone round here. What would they think? I've even thought of getting a colour printer so I can print out the pictures of the grandchildren. They send them ever so often. It's a pity not to be able to show them to my friends at the club.

But I haven't finished telling you about my Raymond, have I? You're going to think I've gone completely potty now. No. I don't think I'd better say any more for now. I'll go and make my cocoa.

* * *

It's no good. I have to tell someone. Raymond is my fairy godfather. I know you're supposed to have a fairy god mother but he's a bloke. I have to think of him as a godfather. I had the same problem when I was in hospital, years ago. There was this great bloke in charge of the ward and they expected everyone to call him Sister. Doesn't make any sense, does it? Anyway, back to Raymond. I noticed his reflection when I was sitting at the computer one night. Didn't half give me a scare. Seemed to be standing behind me. I turned round but there was no-one. I looked back into the screen and there he was, a sort of fuzzy face looking at me. I thought it was something to do with this Internet thing, even though I wasn't connected at the time. Then he smiled at me. I had to smile back. He has such a dear little face. I never used to like a beard on a man. I always thought it hid too much of him, if you know what I mean. But it suited Raymond to a tee. He got less fuzzy when I spoke to him. I thought it was like that bit in Peter Pan. You remember, when all the children have to shout that they believe in fairies, to save Tinkerbell. As long as I believed in him, I could see him. Raymond gets the irrits (that's what my grandchildren say, now they're little Aussies) if I ask too much about who he is. He once told me that no-one is too young or too old to believe in fairies. Made me feel a bit strange when he said it. I mean, you can't call real people fairies these days can you? It has other meanings, like gay doesn't mean happy any more. I think he's some Internet phenomenon. Probably someone having a good laugh at my gullibility. But he's made all the difference to my life. Even my Billy admitted he was amazed the way I'd taken to computing. He wrote out a list of instructions for me and gave me friend's phone number in case I got in a mess. But I've never even spoken to the friend. I worked through our Billy's instructions and learned them off by heart. No problem. Largely thanks to Raymond, I might add. If ever I look like doing something stupid, he gives me a little warning bleep. No too loud but enough to make me stop and look to see what I'm doing. I have to say, he's stopped me in the nick of time so often, I'd have lost hours of work. Then his dear little face appears and he wags a finger at me just like a dad scolding a child.

I do actually speak to him, out loud but he doesn't really talk back. Not in proper words. He makes his bleep noises and sometimes, words appear on the screen that I haven't typed. I don't understand it at all really. He seems aware of the time and if I've got past my normal lunch time, he wags his finger at me and pretends to eat something. Munch, munch, his little mouth goes. If I don't go and make myself something to eat, he doesn't let me get on with anything.

Look. Look ... he's there again. See him? 'Hello Raymond. Yes, I know it's bedtime but I was just thinking aloud for a bit.' Can I see what word? Rainbow? Yes that's it. Whatever does it mean? It's dark outside so there can't be rainbow. It's probably one of his jokes. He's just teasing me and I haven't got it yet. Well, I'm off to my bed.

* * *

I slept really well last night. But I'm feeling a bit shaken this morning. You'll never guess what I just heard on my radio? I always listen to the local radio in the morning. Nice and chatty and I always feel glad I don't have to go out into the traffic jams they talk about. Anyhow. One of the things they do is pick a horse running in some race or other. Yesterday's meeting was at Haydock Park ... guess what won? Rainbow. Can you believe that? Do you reckon Raymond was telling me something? I don't even know how to put money on a horse. Don't hold with gambling. Oh well. I'll just log on and see if our Billy's sent me a message.

Raymond's put a load of numbers up. I think he's giving me lottery numbers. I know I'm an old fool but I'm going to buy a ticket today. The local shop sells them so I know that nice Mrs McClaren will help me. Amazing it would be if it won, wouldn't it? Just like some fairytale. I've made a note of the numbers and I'm off to the shop now. I shall hardly be able to wait till tonight's draw. Well, he was right about that horse. Rainbow. It's only a pound after all.

I had a restless night last night. Got up at two this morning to make a cuppa. Needless to say, I didn't win the lottery. Serves me right for thinking I'd ever get something for nothing. I'd quite made my mind up to visit our Billy and the family as a sort of surprise. I got so carried away, I even started looking through my mail order catalogue to buy myself a whole new wardrobe. Mind you, if I had won I could afford to buy anything I liked from Masterson's in the High Street. Can't think who else could afford their prices. It makes you think though. If everyone goes through this hope and disappointment after the lottery every week, no wonder the country's stressed out.

Got an e-mail from Billy today. They're all OK and the boys have done very well in their exams. I'm so pleased. Raymond hasn't been around. I suspect he may have been offended when I cursed him about the lottery numbers. Still, it only cost the same as a packet of chocolate biscuits. I probably eat too many, anyhow. Our Billy says there's a surprise for me. It's coming by post ... snail mail, he calls it. I have to wait for that of course. Nothing instant, like the Net. I'll just send off my e-mail then I'll try my new game. It's brilliant. I am a silly old fool, aren't I? Much too old to be playing games invented for the youngsters.

* * *

Raymond showed his face again. Just as well. The computer shouted that I'd performed an illegal operation and was about to shut down. Illegal operation. Honestly. What do these programme makers think they're doing? Makes me sound like an international gun runner or something. Raymond showed me the numbers again. I asked if it was anything to do with the lottery but he shook his head. Thank heavens. It saves me wasting another pound. He just smiled his little smile and crooked his finger at me. I suppose he knows what he's doing.

* * *

Couple of days since I even switched on (booted up, I should say) my computer. I've been that flummoxed. I found out what Raymond's numbers were about. You'll never guess. My Billy has only sent me an air ticket to Australia. My Christmas present. I'm to go out there for two whole months. The numbers? The very same ones are written across the top of the ticket. Something to do with the airline. I really should let Raymond know. I'll do it when I've been through my catalogue again. I shall have to order some new stuff. After all, it'll be mid-summer in Australia. I feel weak at the knees just thinking about it. Who ever would have thought it? Me, a granny. I think the family emigrating, has given me a new lease on life. I'm in touch with them even more, nowadays.

* * *

I seem to have lost my little friend. Raymond. I've tried everything but he seems to have disappeared. Gone. I'll miss him. I suppose I don't really need him any more, do I? P'raps he'll come back some day. Hope he'll be around to help me beat the Millennium bug, if it ever happens. I'm a bit sad, really. I can't ever tell anyone about him, can I? They'll think I'm a potty old woman. Funny though. Raymond bears an uncanny resemblance to a garden gnome I once had. I never thought about it before. It's all just like some wonderful fairy-tale.

Australia, here I come!