I am reminded of the past whenever a dinner party guest picks up their mobile phone from the side of their plate to show me some YouTube video that they are convinced I will find amusing. Inevitably it is either footage of a cat or a dog exhibiting some allegedly hilarious behaviour; or worse, it is a 20 minute monologue by a ‘stand-up comedian’ who puts most of their effort into the standing up part of the job description.
It’s not that I don’t like dogs or cats, I just don’t find anything that they do funny or even interesting. Comedy acts (and I include Trump) are difficult to respond to when clips are shoe horned into normal conversation. Do I roar with laughter and double over with tears running down my face mirroring the reaction of the live (or canned) audience? Or do I chuckle quietly and thank the phone owner, saying that it has changed my life for the better.
But even before we get to the screening there is the annoying delay while the exhibitor searches through their Twitter and Facebook feeds before starting a new search via Google. During this time you feel obliged to give them your full attention. It seems rude to start eating again in case they think that you are drawing attention to the inordinate time they are taking by suggesting that you are beginning to starve to death.
Triumphantly they start the video feed and hold it up (in portrait mode) for all to see including, mainly, themselves. You may be lucky to catch a sideways glimpse of the postage sized action but without the correct spectacles in place it is unimportant. The sound from a mobile phone speaker is bad enough when relaying a single person telephone call but when the recording of the event is made by an audience member, in the gallery, surrounded by a fully fuelled hen party, it can be a little difficult to hear the punchlines.
So what of the past? I can’t remember doing this but surely in my youth (in the early seventies) I must have exhibited similar thoughtless behaviour. I imagine that when invited to dinner I would arrive in my loon pants and denim shirt, carrying my Double8 projector and reels of home videos. Random street scenes of Dalry Road with irritated looking locals holding their hands over the camera lens when they discover that they were unpaid extras in my latest local history epic.
Being well brought up I would have waited until the sardine stuffed lemon starter had been dispatched and the coq au vin served before crowbarring the subject of my cinematic prowess into a conversation about macrame and basket weaving. Setting up the projector was hindered by the presence of other guests and, at the very least, required the removal from the table of the scented candles and wine bottles obstructing the path of the beam. Battery power was not an option so the length of the projector flex was another limiting factor. Most likely the electric fire that prevented us from contracting hypothermia in the days before central heating, would be required to vacate its 15 amp socket. The projector’s 5 amp plug would be hastily removed using a knife from the hostess’s wedding canteen as a makeshift screwdriver. The bare wires were pushed into the oversized socket and held in place with cigarette foil and matches. It was usual in these days not to rewind films after projection, playing them backwards was an option but the fun wore off quickly, so a lengthy delay occurred while the celluloid was wound back onto a spare reel.
At least by now everyone except me had chewed their way through the toughest chicken dish ever created, traditionally it is made from an aged cockerel. The black forest gateaux is served with a wash of UHT cream.
No screen was needed, the universal wall covering in 1970 was woodchip wallpaper, generally painted magnolia. Avoiding the wall decorations was tricky and you could never get a clear space between the knotwork hanging, the nail and string art or the picture of the pope. I usually chose to include the pope in my collage as it added some interest to scenes of Ryries Public House. Lights out was essential as the projector bulb was not bright and the lava lamp projected mushroom clouds of purple light onto the pope’s face. Mercifully in these days there was no audio track on Super 8 so the audience, some seeing the film for at least the third time, had the benefit of my first hand narration. I used to zoom in on drain and manhole covers, explaining that they were manufactured from iron recycled from cannons captured after the battle of Waterloo. Rewinding short sections so that dinner guests could decipher the fleeting glimpse of the Carron Ironworks mark on the rusty metal.
Fortunately in these days I was the only dinner guest with the technology to bore the company rigid. Nowadays I am generally the only person who leaves his phone at home.