A colleague was telling me that she had decided years ago not to be like the old people who let technology get so far beyond them that they gave up. And that it had already happened to her.

I feel the same way. #2 daughter did not get to the entire list of technical things I had saved up for her, but she was able to help me with some of them, especially the shopping parts. This is where I tend to feel especially helpless.

Five years ago, my entire telecommunications investment consisted of my phone bill. Now I have cable TV, internet access on two computers and a Playstation, phone, cell phone (not for me, but for my husband, and all the kids also want them), and sometimes even gaming subscriptions. And the kids want cable internet and, as already mentioned, cell phones. And their Christmas lists are largely electronic.

When shopping for electronic things, I am at a grave disadvantage. I can’t go look at the quality of the materials and workmanship, read the table of contents, or indeed use any information from my senses at all. Often (as with phone plans or internet options) there is nothing to look at, just lists of numbers, none of which means much to me. Even electronic objects such as MP3 players cannot be evaluated in the normal ways one evaluates an object. The salespeople tell you freely that the $50 model and the $500 model use exactly the same parts. And again there are all those numbers, and codes which mean that it is possible to end up with something that only works in a car, or which requires more things before it will work.

If you are lucky enough to find a helpful salesperson, you still need to be able to figure out what questions to ask. I tend to pick a bored-looking young bloke, hope I remind him of his own mother and that he is fond of her, and say, “Tell me about MP3 players.” I probably will not be able to recognize an MP3 player when I see one, I know. I may not be able to distinguish it from a camera or a speaker or a port or something. I certainly can’t tell which one will be a good choice. I am at the mercy of the guy I buy it from. I can overcome any feelings of intimidation by reminding myself that he probably couldn’t buy needles and yarn successfully by himself, but that doesn’t help with the knowledge that I could easily put something under my Christmas tree that will turn out not even to be the object I thought it was, let alone the one the kid wanted.

Here is “Watchman, Tell us of the Night,” another great Advent hymn:


It is the story of a traveller getting news from a watchman. Nowadays, of course, the traveller would have gone online for the information ahead of time and used his cell phone if he felt he needed more information.

This might not have helped much. Over the Thanksgiving weekend, my family used Mapquest twice, and on both occasions found ourselves lost. On the first occasion, we followed each other around getting more and more lost, with people in the backseats of both cars shouting out unwanted advice and instruction till the drivers nearly lost their minds. On the second occasion, I was the driver, so I stopped as soon as we felt uncertain, and asked a human being for directions. Had I been the traveller in the song, I would have asked that watchman what was up.

As indeed the traveller does, thus allowing us to enjoy the mysterious-sounding tune, Aberystwyth. The name will give you a hint that this is a Welsh tune, another of the great and highly singable contributions of that nation. You could definitely stomp your feet to this tune, it is excellent for group singing, and somehow I can also hear it on a violin.

Sir John Bowring wrote the words in 1825, and it has been sung to many tunes. In American churches, it is usually sung to Aberystwyth, the tune you will hear if you click on the link. However, there are plenty of other tunes if you like the words and not the tune. In fact, it used to be common practice in hymn singing to pick out some words and sing them to whichever tune they fitted, that the congregation knew. That’s why there are little numbers on the hymns (Aberystwyth is That way, you know that you can sing those words to any other tune in the book. (Do I mention this in order to prove that there are some numerical codes I can use? Possibly).

There are also art song settings. I was not able to find any recordings. Of course, if you have an MP3 player, you can download one and carry it around with you. Otherwise, you will just have to sing or play it for yourself.