When I was little, my brothers and I used to be allowed to stay up late to watch a programme called 'Tomorrow's World'. It was a fantastic programme, from which we learnt about all sorts of technological advances and new space-age equipment. We would gasp in wonder as we saw demonstrations of such amazing things as a machine which enabled you to listen to music tapes through headphones while you walked down the street, a camera that enabled you to create your own video films, and one of the things that amazed and excited me the most - a video player from which you could print still pictures from the film. We never expected actually to see these things in real life.
Every so often in the last ten or fifteen years, I've wandered around an electrical shop with a sense of awe, seeing equipment which I first encountered on Tomorrow's World, and which is now not only available for the public to buy, but is within my price range.
I was recently looking at a book which my sister bought for my father. It was a collection of letters home written by a young woman who had emigrated to South Africa in the latter half of the nineteenth century. One letter to her mother in particular leapt out and illustrated the reality of emigration in those days. It was dated 16 March, and it began, "I received your letter of 4 October four days ago, and was very sad to read of Father's death..." If the response took as long to reach its destination, a single exchange of letters would have taken almost a year.
It's easy to forget how lucky we are to live in this age of instant communication. When I was growing up and my father was serving in the Middle East, an exchange of letters would take about three or four weeks. Even that would be inconceivable to a child growing up today. Over the last five years or so, I've seen photos of each of my nephews and nieces on the day they were born. Last night, my sister e-mailed the picture from her first scan around the family, and in South Africa, America and England, we all admired this little person.
Emigration today doesn't mean losing touch with the family, and although it's sometimes hard to live in this global village and have to rely on electronic communications, how much easier those electronic communications make it to keep in touch.
Tonight, my mind has been blown by another Tomorrow's World moment. I downloaded Skype and spoke to my brother in the US. I don't have a webcam at the moment, but he does - and I was able to see him, my sister-in-law and all seven of their children, and watch them having their tea. I feel so close to them tonight, and I'm so grateful to live in an age where this sort of thing is possible. I'll be back at PC World tomorrow, buying a webcam so they can see me too.