The Electronic Era.
Not many people know that it’s 32 years since, after some gentle arm-twisting, your scribe found himself serving a 2-year stint as Clerk to the Parish Council of Abbotts Ann. In those days there were plenty of electric gadgets, but electronic gizmos were hardly out of nappies. Brick-sized mobile phones worked in some cities, but to approach the power of your current smartphone would require a large roomful of hot, whirring machinery. So much paper was being used for communication that people started “Save the Trees” campaigns. Desk-top computers were just beginning to appear in schools and offices, but no-one thought of having such a monster at home. I wonder how many of you remember the BBC B “Acorn” computer, which you plugged into the back of your TV; its memory, fed by a portable cassette recorder (itself an electronic marvel) wasn’t much better than a fruit fly’s. You could do some sums on it, but its main use was as a word-processor, for which you needed to connect it to an electric typewriter and so add to the burden of the postman and endanger more trees.
It’s only 9 years since my second go at the clerkship began. It’s hard to believe that the internet was in its infancy such a short time ago; letters were still the main form of official communication, and mobile phones were just portable versions of the one in the hall at home.
Returning from a holiday one might find half a dozen letters on the doormat. At the end of this month’s nightmare experience of the westbound A303 the Clerkly Inbox was flagging up 65 emails. There were no social media tweets or messages simply because this household hasn’t caught up with these latest digital developments.
The digital age is still young, and its gadgets and apps clearly attractive to younger folk. “Senior surfers”, (yes, I find the title rather condescending, too) may well be into emails and Google, which are similar to pen and paper or encyclopaedias only quicker, but they are reluctant to learn newer tricks. The laws regulating the activities of local councils haven’t quite caught up with the digital age either. For instance, strictly speaking Agendas should be in hard copy and posted through the Councillors’ letter-boxes, minutes of meetings have to be preserved in a book and the Council has to pay bills by cheque. But the Powers that Be are rolling up their sleeves, and it’s clear that future Clerks will have to be more digitally savvy than this one.
So, after 64 working years, it’s time to retire properly anyway, and to say Goodbye to leather-bound ledgers, crisp headed notepaper, pens, blotters and Minute Books, and a warm Hello to the new Clerk, Arthur Peters, who needs no introduction, and who takes over from the next Council meeting on September 11th. By the way, we’ll have to see whether it’s Goodbye to the Parish Magazine…
Adrian Stokes, still Clerk