Gill Smith
Gill Smith - Comedy Writer & Performer

Gill's Journal, Issue

Quarterly magazine of The ARM Club the Leading Independant
RISC OS Computer User Club.
Who’s the daddy?

At my little sister’s recent wedding, one of my new brother-in-law’s large collection of relatives casually asked Toby if the very sweet little flower girls were ours. Now, admittedly I did share a hair colour with them, and I was dressed in the exact same colour, due to being matron-of-honour, but still! Yes, please get all your ‘Ooooh, matron!’ gags out the way right now, if you still want me to be talking to you by the end of this article. Done? You sure? No, no, it really is hilarious. Every time. Absolutely. Honestly. Finished? Sure? Right then.

The thing is, this pair were five and eight. Now, we got married four and a half years ago next month. We met two years before that. My sister married precisely five days before our fourth anniversary. You can do the maths, I’m sure (or use the computer’s calculator facility) and that’s pretty darn close to six years together.

Gill starts thinking about the problems of motherhood and how to cope with babyspods who don't come equipped with a noise-off switch.
Now, having a five year old would be pretty speedy work on our part, and I’d consider it not a little rude of us not to bring her to our own wedding, but her eight year old sister joining her would have involved time travel. Of course, second cousins several times removed of the latest poor fool to marry into my large, and complicated family, couldn’t know this, but we were shocked at the question. I mean, us, parents?! It doesn’t bear thinking about!

So being an awkward sort, I did think about it. We have always presumed we will be having children, one day. "One day" is defined as roughly five years, on a rolling basis. It was roughly five years when we got married, and strangely hasn’t got any nearer during the past four-and-a-bit.

Actually, I have made progress towards considering parenthood. Babies are no longer disgusting things that people too stupid to use contraception end up with, but a valid and acceptable lifestyle choice.

The Spodfather They can even be cute, sometimes. (Emphasis on sometimes.) I’ll occasionally hold other people’s, so long as neither parent even considers leaving the room. Ideally, there should also be at least one doting grandparent around to pass them promptly on to, but I can often manage ten minutes, before passing the little darlings on to Toby. Well, he ought to get a little practice in not dropping the things with ones that matter to me less than I hope ours will!

My cousin’s two little boys, aged three and two, I even consider rather sweet. They have distinct personalities, and are finally little human beings - no longer screaming and crying machines. One considers himself to be Harry Potter junior, but I blame this on his parent’s appalling lack of having introduced him to the delights of Enid Blyton, Arthur Ransome and Jill Tomlinson. I shall have to start buying them appropriate birthday presents, just as soon as they can read. The affection for these two is, I should point out, solely from the distance of stray aunt.

Toby, naturally, is still less than convinced that practising not dropping babies is a necessary sport. He is a spod (not a card-carrying spod - there’s only one person I know who still keeps out of date Acorn credit cards. I won’t be so cruel as to name and shame. Just shame.) Therefore, as a spod he has a rather severe problem with any device that makes a lot of noise, without having some sort of off switch, even if only to be used in dire emergencies.

Off switch. Toby, like his colleagues, reacts fast when the UPS goes off, in order to shut it up. But the group of them all know their precise incantations to stop it wailing loudly. My cousin’s pair of miniature dynamos have some sort of random programming, that means just because you shut them up last time by handing them to their mother, this time shoving the passing double-handled beaker of ‘goose’ (juice, I’m told!) into the place the noise comes from, might be more effective. How erratic - it could almost be Microsoft! And really, how’s any geek supposed to come to terms with forcing a liquid substance into the equivalent of the speaker?

Distant aunting has taught me a very important lesson on children - never ask silly questions. Let me indulge the proud aunt side of myself for just a moment - these answers to poor mummy are classics. But this is why you ask the question you want answered. The three year old managed a wonderful response last year. His mother encouraged him before dinner "do you want to sit up?" The answer was honest, but perhaps not what she hoped for: "Not really." His little brother, when asked "Are you still playing with your toys, or doing something you shouldn’t" offered equal honesty: "Doing something I shouldn’t." Honesty may or may not be the best policy, but it was certainly the most amusing from where I was standing.

Anyway, to return to the point, other than these freak moments, mostly, we are absolutely fine as we are. I don’t think Toby’s ready to be a dad. I mean, most parents use baby monitors on their young children. To Toby, a ‘baby monitor’ means a mere 15 inch screen. I’m not convinced any spod should be allowed to reproduce. Imagine a whole family of faffing spods! Nothing would ever get done, unless someone got bored enough to automate the process on the Linux box.

Now, I’m sure there are some spods - maybe even reading this - who have enjoyed the privilege of becoming parents. For some of you, that may have been back in the dark ages when baby monitoring was having a house too small to leave the infant out of crying range. For your sake, and for that of any confused spods considering reproduction, I’ll explain baby monitors. They’re devices to hear when the little darling cries, sniffles, or does anything other than sleep.

They’re a bit like walkie-talkies, except that the baby doesn’t need to learn to press the button and say "Echo-three-five-nine, this is Bravo-four-seven-three? Do you receive me? Over," before being able to start bawling and demanding attention from the appointed adult, or preferably a different one, to ensure the ruining of all possible grown-ups’ evenings.

I fear that any child of a spod today will be the lucky recipient of baby monitoring with a 24/7 webcam on the cot. This means both the mother and the mother-in-law will be able to e-mail the poor mother constantly with what she’s doing wrong. Oh joy.

Thank goodness my mother can’t work out much more than switching the computer on - so all I’ll have to worry about will be my technologically aware mother-in-law (where did you think Toby got it from?) I’m wondering if I could find a way to loop it, so that the five minutes baby is happy and smiling in is always on? Even if I just fix it for the in-laws’ IP addresses? I am, after all, married to the tech support for her! No, she’d probably just worry that baby wasn’t getting enough varied stimuli. As if baby’s own in-cot Iyonix wouldn’t provide lots of things to stimulate the mind! Last Eureka’s review seemed to miss out how chewable and dribble-proof the machines are.

So, you can see why I’m scared for any child we have, and why I fear any other spods becoming parents. I think Toby’s probably better than many, but let’s face it, none of the Arm Club committee will ever be found rushing to the local park to play football with their sons. No. Of course, they will help their little boys to improve their headers, but those will be solely e-mail ones.

To be fair on Toby, he is a specimen of spod-hood who has managed to find a wife. He is one who is capable of interacting with women (me, both mothers, my two sisters and the girl at the office!) This means his grasp on normality is better than that of many spods. The flip side of this is the increased likelihood of becoming a dad, and having to deal with problems that simply can’t be solved in hex.

I mean, let’s face it, for most spods, the nearest they’ll get to parenthood, (if they hadn’t managed it pre-1984, when computers started to become more common) is to hope that their programs create child processes. No, I don’t have a clue what that means, but those are the only children in Toby’s life so far. I worry that some of you out there will right now be sighing with broodiness at the thought of these delightful little bundles of coding.

So what would it be like to be the child of a serious spod? You could be sure that your father wouldn’t miss any of those all important moments of your life - first smile, important sports game, graduation - or if he somehow did, he’d make sure the webcam that was recording it saved every moment for him to watch later.

A spod’s child would be documented online from moment one. The recent stereotype of fathers getting out of holding the mother’s hand at the birth, due to holding the video camera can go - your true spod will have set up a carefully balanced webcam. They’ll probably even have had a pre-natal table of force of all baby’s kicks, and frequency of contractions will have a webpage update every 3 seconds.

The whole of the actual birth will be going out live on, and all the relatives can joyously share every moment of the lucky mum screaming and pushing.

If they’re lucky, a caring spod-cousin, sibling, or member of the ARM Club will be able to save for the new dad that very moment that his wife / partner / significant other / person-who-right-now-hates-him-most-in-the-world holds the spod’s hand so tight it breaks. (Argh! How can you code efficiently with only one hand?! Thank goodness the birth website is all already automated!)

From there, pictures can be beamed out non-stop. If this saves the new mum from an immediate visit from her mother-in-law, the constant filming may even be forgiven. Baby’s first cough, his or her first being dropped by daddy, and their first glare at the camera can all be recording for posterity (just who is this posterity chap, and why exactly does everyone save so much stuff for him?)

Baby Spod would naturally have an e-mail address of his or her very own, probably from shortly after conception. Voice recognition software could be set up to read it out to baby in the womb, and translate the ripples of water, kicks and hiccups into baby’s courteous replies.

Post-birth, this could be helpful to those hearing the child once it’s starting to talk. Currently only a mother ever knows that the noise ‘blerk’ is the child trying to express it’s deep affection for it’s wonderful mother. The recognition software would naturally progress with baby, and realise that it’s trying to ask for a drink, in spite of the fact that that silly woman just keeps hugging it, and cooing, "Yes, babyspod does love mummy, and mummy love babyspod too."

Of course, this could lead to many deeply embarrassed relatives, as each takes their turn cuddling lucky baby, only for the software to loudly announce the baby’s gurgles as "Get that hideous old crone away from me. I’m scared those wrinkles are catching! And is a nose job really too expensive?"

I’m not entirely sure at what point in child development Piaget lists a toddler learning to type for themselves. MayB bb wll lrn 2 txt 1st, and of course the delights of emoticons :-). Then the little darling will be able to communicate with friends, relatives, and of course stray perverts on the net whenever it likes. Just the thing to warm a parent’s heart.

Bouncing baby. I have to warn you that personally, I’m not convinced that baby’s first computer will actually be an ARM machine. I suspect it’ll be more solid plastic, chewable, and it’ll make a far wider variety of ‘ping’ noises. But it will have buttons to press, don’t you worry about that. Baby’s first mobile will look enormous to its by now exhausted parents, who dare not put theirs down, in case they get lodged in baby’s throat.

And the state of the parents will be fun. Instead of getting the chance for regular sleep and the odd hour on the internet to upload latest pictures and reply to well-wishing e-mails, daddy will be a nervous wreck. Any cables baby hasn’t tasted by age three months will need to be hidden before six, when baby discovers a great way to make daddy pull all sorts of funny faces, just by pulling hard on the nearest bit of wiring.

Mummy, of course, will be sleep deprived and wondering how she ever thought she could combine a career - or possibly, just a life - and a child, given that every time she tries to work, the child must be watching in his or her webcam, and knowing to let Mummy settle down, get the computer booted up and ready to go, and then pause, breath deeply, and this moment is exactly when it’s best to scream the house down. The neighbours just think she’s battering the poor wee thing.

And when the poor mother tries to ring her own mother for a quick ten minutes sobbing (if only baby will keep enjoying his or her newfound skill of crawling around for that long) she discovers no dial tone. Exactly who taught baby how to remove phone cables? Will daddy kindly remove her poor darling’s fingers from so close to the socket right now, and if he teaches baby anything else like that, he can put his own fully in there, as far as she’s concerned.

Yes, it’ll be a relief for both parents once the child is old enough to upload it’s own webpage updates. At least, that’s what you’d have thought. I mean, who was to know that your four year old would be so swiftly accepted as webmaster of and be spamming school officials in a desperate bid to get out of French homework? Who knew that your toddler could successfully conduct a denial of service attack, given they haven’t yet managed to say it?

And who could have guessed that the Pentagon’s latest hacker wasn’t the Norwegian dissident your child claimed, and actually that particular five year old, with their better developed Linux system than the entire of the US Security Forces. And to make the little darling even more smug, they’ve now discovered this fact.

Thankfully you manage to persuade the authorities it was all just a mistake, and that your pride and joy thought he / she was playing a little joke on a friend. Ooopsie. It doesn’t help that their pre-school sibling keeps coming out with George W. Bush’s private passwords, although to be fair, ‘President’ would have been an easy guess for anyone.

Naturally, all sporting ability has been carefully removed from this child’s genes, but at least when they’re picked last for the rounders team yet again, they can teach the annoying athletic children a lesson by e-mailing them a virus created specially to sound like the bully child is busy studying internet porn. If it doesn’t get the kid into trouble, it should get them a slap for getting dad all excited and then letting him down.

And when teachers fail to realise that the reason something isn’t working is because they didn’t plug it in, at least your spod-child will have had enough experience of hiding their giggles from all those times when their grandmother did the same, and have at last learnt to find a tactful way of explaining the problem.

Computer lessons will be difficult, because your well brought up child will be eager to answer the questions, but when the teacher asked how you’d add a column of numbers, they were trying to introduce the class to the use of Excel spreadsheets, not encourage a discourse on the differences between programming languages, and a full analysis of which would be best in this given situation.

But at least, in adulthood, your darling offspring will have learnt the virtue of patience - mainly through too many people incorrectly using computers. They will be able to stand up for themselves. And they’ll get a really good job. It’ll be something in computers, that even the spod-parent wont understand a word of by then. Ah well, at least it’ll mean that when the time comes, they can easily afford to bung both doting parents into a fully flood-wired nursing home.

Written by Gill Smith, © Published Summer 2003 Reproduced with permission.