It was worse than expected. Getting Granny online. It was my one New Year resolution while we were ‘home’ over Christmas – ensuring that communication between my tech-obsessed children and my landline-loving parents is improved this year.
The project began cheerily enough with my father-in-law requesting my husband help him purchase an i-pad – he admits he feels a bit bamboozled in an Apple store, and to be fair, I completely understand.
So off they trundle to the local mall, enjoying a father-son bonding lunch in the pub and returning home with a nice new ipad in a smart new cover. So far so good. Two weeks later when we’re back in Hong Kong, a letter arrives in the post from my mother-in-law. That’s right, a lovely old-fashioned, hand-written note in a creamy Basildon Bond envelope. To tell us that they’ve changed their email and to inform us – in capitals – of the new address.
It was more than a facepalm moment. I couldn’t even bring myself to tell my husband. But at least we are still communicating, which is more than can be said of relations with my own parents.
So by Christmas Eve my mother had got wind of the fact that the whole of the rest of the family was talking via a special WhatsApp ‘Christmas in Blighty!’ chat and wanted in on the action.
“But you don’t have WhatsApp,” I point out, casting my eyes across her home screen.
“Don’t I?” she asks, peering at the phone from over her glasses.
“Doesn’t she?” exclaims the Tween Child, grabbing the phone from me. “Seriously?”
“No, you don’t,” I say firmly. “While I’m here mum, why don’t I set it up for you?”
“Ok,” she agrees warily. “If you’re sure. Usually your father does this sort of thing.”
I sigh and raise my eyebrows to heaven, and then raise them even further when I can’t find the Appstore. “Oh my god, you have no Appstore!” I exclaim.
“What?” shrieks the Tween, trying to wrestle the phone off me again.
I grab it back and turn to my husband for help. “It’s a 4,” he informs us. “And it hasn’t been updated – ever, by the looks of it. You’ll have to re-install apps in Settings, but you’ll need the password to do that.”
My mother looks at us blankly. The Tween Child is convulsed with laughter. Granny’s phone might as well be as ancient as the Terracotta Warriors she was studying last term. Or as ancient as Grandpa who, rumour has it amongst the grandchildren, was born before the radio was invented.
“Is there any chance you could buy yourself a more up-to-date handset, mum?” I ask.
“I don’t know,” she says. “This really is an excellent phone, the calendar is second-to-none, and it’s lasted and lasted!”
I begin to explain that every phone has ical and that longevity really isn’t something to get excited about when Apple brings out a new handset every ten minutes. She’s right, though, and Apple is wrong, stuff should last long-term. My arguments fall on deaf ears.
“I really don’t want to spend any more on a phone. I don’t want to turn into one of those people that is addicted,” she adds.
In the end, we manage to wrestle her out of the house and into the Apple store the day after Boxing Day and return home triumphant with a 7+. “Ok,” I say, sitting down at the kitchen table. “Which Apps do you want?”
An hour later and she’s rejected pretty much everything I’ve thrown at her. Why would you want to use google maps when you’ve got a perfectly serviceable road atlas (“if it’s like that silly sat nav thing I don’t want it,” she says firmly. “It took Margaret and Bill all the way through the town centre in the rush hour last month, any fool knows you need to take the bypass after 4pm”).
Why would you want to download newspapers and magazines when you can pop up to the paper shop?
Why would you want to download an album when you’ve got several cupboards full of original vinyl?
Why would you want to use Facetime at all (“don’t be silly darling, I don’t want to look at you when I’m on the phone to you”).
But bizarrely the Teen Child seems to be having better luck. By some random quirk of personality, it turns out my mother is quite partial to the odd blog. And Instagram, once she discovered you could follow @kensingtonroyal, @homesandgardensuk and @countrylifemagazine.
In fact the latest is she will be making a ‘Stop The Press!’ guest appearance on the Teen Child’s beauty vlog. “It’s epic mum, she doesn’t use ANY cleanser, just soap, and she never highlights or uses conditioner!” This is headline news for the Teen Child’s posse back in Hong Kong, which possesses more pots of cream and palettes of colour between them than the Lane Crawford beauty counter.
Anyway, vlogging aside, we’ve settled on WhatsApp as an ongoing means of communication. My next challenge is to marry that piece of technology with the current eight-hour time difference between London and Hong Kong. I really don’t need to know at 2am which florist Meghan Markle might be using at her wedding. Or that petunias are making a comeback this summer.
But I guess at the end of the day as the saying goes, it’s good to talk, or even to text – just not the in middle of the night.